Authors: Gina Azzi
Kiss Me Goodnight in Rome
Copyright © 2016 by Gina Azzi
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Cover design and interior formatting
by Deborah Bradseth of Tugboat Design
The Senior Semester Series:
Lila Avers, Mia Petrella, Maura Rodriguez, and Emma Stanton are inseparable. They have been that way since their freshman year at McShain University. More than just friends, they’re sisters.
Now at the start of their senior year, the four girls are parting ways for the fall semester. Lila has accepted a medical internship through Astor University in California. Mia is spending the semester studying abroad in Rome, Italy. Maura is staying behind on campus for her last season as a member of the McShain University rowing team. And Emma is psyched to land her dream internship in Washington, D.C. During their semester apart, all four girls grow, learn, evolve—and ultimately, fall in love.
Follow the series to live their senior semester—and all of their drama, laughter, and life lessons—with them!
“What about this?” I ask my friends, smoothing my hands over my hips.
Maura, Lila, and Emma lounge around my childhood bedroom in New York, assessing my wardrobe and offering advice. I involuntarily bite my lip as I study my reflection. The dress is black, knee-length, with a square neckline and thick straps. It’s classy yet understated. I wore it to the Junior-Senior dance showcase during my sophomore year at McShain University.
Lila rolls her eyes, tossing her long blond waves over her shoulder. “You’re kidding me, right?” She stares at me incredulously, her cornflower blue eyes laughing.
“What’s wrong with it?” I ask, angling my head. “Is the neckline too low?” I tug it up higher.
“You look like you’re going to a funeral!” Emma chimes in.
I look to Maura for her opinion. She nods in agreement.
“Don’t question Emma, Mia. She may not be right about everything,” Lila says, blowing an apologetic kiss in Emma’s direction, “but when it comes to fashion, just take her advice and go with it.”
“You’re going to Italy, Mia.” Emma leans forward from the headboard of my bed. “The home of Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, Valentino … the epicenter of fashion. Embrace it. Wear colors and try new things. Italy is not some stuffy ballet theater. It’s … well, it’s everything.” Emma pushes her bangs out of her face, her eyes shining with excitement.
“What does that even mean?” Maura asks, raising a sculpted eyebrow and waiting for Emma to explain.
Emma huffs. “You girls just don’t understand.” She returns her gaze to me. “This…” she indicates my black dress “…isn’t going to cut it for Rome. Luckily I brought some options. Nothing too crazy,” she clarifies as I open my mouth to protest, “just a few simple, basic staples.” Emma stands up and walks over to her overnight bag, unzipping it and pulling out several articles of clothing.
“Perfect!” Lila exclaims clapping her hands. “This is a good thing, Mia, especially now after our pact. This…” she waves her hand in the direction of Emma and her clothing “…is just what you need to break out of your shell, embrace Rome, and be present in the moment.”
“Tall, dark, and handsomes,” Maura adds, rolling her eyes at Lila as she references Lila’s favorite topic: boys.
“Exactly.” Lila agrees, completely missing Maura’s sarcasm. “We all promised.” She whines, reminding me of the pact the four of us agreed to only hours before while we ate pizza and drank wine and sangria at Dante’s, an Upper West Side Italian favorite known for its rooftop terrace.
This is it. Our senior year of college. Fall semester. The ultimate semester. The four of us are all going our own ways for the next four months and will be separated for the first time since we met freshman year. We made a pact to make this semester one for the books. Four months of living in the moment, pushing past our own self-imposed boundaries, and having a defining, collegiate adventure. We raised our glasses and drank to this new journey.
And now I feel stuck. The fear of moving to Rome tomorrow morning for my study abroad is thick in my throat, causing my tongue to stick. I can’t respond to Emma’s fashion suggestions as she holds up her basic staples to expand my limited wardrobe. I can’t meet Lila’s eyes as she chatters on about hot Italian men and Ferraris.
Why did I agree to this stupid pact? I like my comfort zone. That’s why I’ve been in it for so long. I don’t know how to make friends, mingle with strangers, and go out by myself. I don’t even know what to do with my time when I’m not committed to a strict schedule full of practices and rehearsals. I’ve never traded study sessions in the library for nights out with the girls. I don’t know how to do college without my friends, without dance, without the familiarity of McShain.
Maura squeezes my hand. “It will be fine.” She turns me toward my full-length mirror. “I know you’re nervous because it’s new and different. And you’re leaving tomorrow, but, Mia, there is more to life than dance practice…” she looks down, grimacing “…or rowing.” After a pause she adds, “I’m really proud of you for doing this, for being adventurous, for being brave. And I know your mom would be incredibly proud too. You’ll find your own way, trust me.” She smiles, reading my mind. Somehow she always understands how I’m feeling without me having to say it out loud. Maura squeezes my fingers lightly before releasing my hand.
I nod, studying my reflection in the mirror. My fingers still fidget over the lines of my black dress. My straight brown hair falls limply to my shoulders. I can’t stop staring at my bloated stomach and thick, fleshy, thighs. They seem to expand right before my eyes. Gross.
I look pale. Dull and void eyes stare back at me. All sparkle vanished after I lost ballet, which snuffed out my future dreams and aspirations and shattered my heart all in one moment. I close my eyes and silently count to ten. When I open them my bland expression and boring black dress greet me in the mirror. Yeah, I need this semester abroad. I need a change. I need … something.
“It’s the new you!” Emma’s voice breaks through my thoughts as she unzips the back of my dress. It slides down my body and pools around my feet. I wrap my arms around myself self-consciously as I stand clad in only my panties and bra. “Seriously, Mia, if I had your figure, I would definitely flaunt it a bit more. You’re one of the lucky ones, everything looks amazing on you. So please do us thicker girls a favor and slut it up a bit. Here, put this one.” She hands me a short, olive green sweater dress. “I stole it from my sister, so there’s a tiny chance that it will actually fit you and not just hang off your limbs.” She laughs, patting her abdomen.
I smile slightly, pulling the dress over my head and smoothing it down my frame.
“Pair it with tights and these boots.” Emma holds up a pair of brown leather boots with a chunky, low heel. “They’re comfy. Swear it.” She tosses the boots into my open suitcase.
“Oh, you are going to turn heads and break hearts, Mia Petrella!” Lila shouts, turning toward my desk and picking up the bottle of wine she placed there hours ago. She digs into her purse for a corkscrew and expertly opens the bottle, taking a long swig. “Here…” she hands me the bottle “…you’re going to be a rock star.”
I tentatively take a sip. The wine is strong and coats my throat, loosening some of the fear and doubt.
Maura takes the bottle from my hand and drinks up greedily. Her newly discovered appreciation for wine, or any kind of alcohol, is evident when she smacks her lips. “I’m kind of jealous you’re going to drink this nectar from the gods like the rest of us drink water.”
“I swear, I would marry the first man who called me
,” Lila chimes in, dreamily placing her hand over her heart. “You look hot. I like this color on you.”
“There’s more!” Emma holds up a pile of shirts and sweaters. “I’m just going to pack them in your suitcase, right here, next to your T-shirts and Converse sneakers. Really, this is going to be good for you.”
Maura laughs quietly and shakes her head at Emma and Lila. “Tall, dark and handsomes,” she mouths to me.
“Rome is going to be amazing. Think of all the sexy Italian men you’re going to meet. I bet they’re all tall, dark, and handsome.” Lila sighs, twirling around my bedroom.
Maura and I share a private chuckle.
I smile at my friends, grateful for their attempts to calm my nerves and provide the support I need to get on the plane tomorrow morning.
We’ve been joined at the hips since we were assigned the same quad dorm our freshman year. For the first few weeks, none of us knew what to make of each other. I’ve always kept to myself and was so busy with dance that I didn’t really notice, but the night Maura was initiated onto the rowing team she came back to the dorm completely wasted. She couldn’t stop vomiting. She even threw up a maple leaf! I’d never seen anything like that, and I wanted to call an ambulance and have her stomach pumped.
Lila and Emma were doubled over, clutching their own stomachs in laughter. I think they were actually a little impressed. They assured me she would be fine, we would just have to take care of her for the night. So we did.
As we sat around, waiting for sunrise and for Maura to sleep off her inebriation, we started to talk, to share pieces of ourselves. After that night, we were friends. Not just any friends, but the kind of friends you make in college. The ones that know your deepest secrets, wildest aspirations, biggest mistakes and never judge you for them. Despite what anyone says, I think you really grow up the moment you have to do your own laundry and figure out how to cook breakfast. We learned all of that together.
Now, I’m the first one to leave, flying to Rome for my semester abroad. Lila will be leaving too; she’s headed to California for a medical internship at Astor University. Emma accepted an internship working on Capitol Hill in DC for a senator from her home state of Delaware. The only one staying behind on campus is Maura. She brushed us off when we begged her to do something fun this semester, quickly dismissing the notion since she has rowing. I think she’s still grieving the death of her twin, Adrian, and can’t bear to leave Philadelphia so soon after his passing.
“You can do this, Mia,” Maura whispers, scattering my thoughts and causing me to blush since I was just thinking about her and the grief she’s struggling with. She hands me the bottle of wine.
I take a large gulp.
Rome, here I come.
The growl of the engine beneath me rips to life as I switch gears and dart past the car slowing me down. I overtake four cars quickly and glide into the fast lane, weaving in between the traffic. A horn blares loudly and I flip the driver off, smiling at his angry expression.
I sigh, relaxing into the seat and tapping out the beat to the Avicii song bumping through the speakers on the steering wheel. I’ve missed this, the rhythmic weave and gait through traffic, pushing the boundaries on the open road, driving with no destination in mind. It’s been a long four months since I totaled my last Maserati. In the meantime, I had to get by sharing my sister Claudia’s, Alfa Romeo. I almost preferred taking the metro.
But now the purr of my new Maserati GranTurismo hums around me. Sleek. Fast. Fierce. Red. A welcome change from my usual preference: black. And for the first time in a long time, I smile.
The shrill ring of my Bluetooth interrupts the moment of solitude and my smile disappears as Claudia’s name flashes on the car display. What now?
“Pronto,” I answer, trying to keep the annoyance out of my tone.
“Enzo!” Several swear words. “Where are you? Mama needs help at the restaurant,” my sister replies, her Italian rapid and clipped.