Authors: Taylor Hill
Tags: #New adult romance, #mafia, #mafia romance, #italy, #Crime, #gangster, #Thriller, #young adult, #love, #novella, #short story, #Italian, #Sicily, #Suspense, #Adventure, #action
Published by Choco Lune Imprint 2014 at Smashwords
Copyright Taylor Hill © 2014
This book and its contents are the property of Taylor Hill and Choco Lune Imprint and may not be copied, shared or re-sold without prior permission from the author or publisher. This book is a work of fiction and all characters and situations depicted within should be considered as such.
All rights reserved.
By now civilization was already far behind. The cracked and boiling Italian highways had long ago given into roads that could scarcely be called roads at all—winding, narrow dusty tracks that ascended and curved around the great green and golden hills of the Sicilian countryside—while the rickety old bus that traversed them seemed like it could fall to pieces at any moment. Well ok then, Rebecca observed, taking a deep careful breath, if you’re looking for adventure then you’ve come to the right place—so there’s that at least.
On one side of her, the vast steep hill (almost a mountain really) continued to crawl lazily towards the azure sky, its rocks and ridges entangled with olive trees and grape vines, while on the other, the side closest to her—the one right outside her window—it disappeared completely into heart-stopping nothingness. Outside her window, mere feet from the edge of the road, the hillside gave way to a steep and jagged cliff-face, beyond which the entire geography of the island lay beneath like a tapestry, from the rich white sands to the endless sparkling Mediterranean ocean. If only she could actually bring herself to look, she was sure she would find it beautiful. Why, oh why hadn’t she sat on the other side of the bus?
Rebecca did not have a head for heights. Rebecca in fact, did not have a head for many things. A fact which had always bothered her and had, in a roundabout way, served as the impetus to take this spur-of-the-moment trip in the first place. It wasn’t like she was a coward, she could stand up for herself whenever she needed to, be assertive in the face of ill treatment from others (which, to her great frustration, she had found her anxiety seemed to invite more so than for others). No, it was more like something in her biology, a sensitive, uneasy constitution. Anxiety. Anxiety with a capital A. Always and so often, despite the truth of who she was, the fear was never far away. That was why, despite having now been almost three months on the trip of a lifetime—a language studies exchange in Naples—she had, for the most part, not enjoyed it at all.
Run towards your fear, that was what the book said, live in the moment, meet each anxious experience with open, courageous arms, because that is your opportunity to grow. It made sense, even if she knew it mightn’t be easy. She glanced into her bag, at the crinkled spine of the self-help book she had bought on a whim late one night while browsing Amazon and ran her thumb thoughtfully along its edge. She
be more. She
ready to seize the day. All it would take was some good old-fashioned bravery. And so, with a gulp, she turned and looked out of the window, over the daunting edge and out at the majesty of the island below. And yes, it was beautiful.
The world seemed to freeze, the electricity of anxiety converting seamlessly into the powerful exhilaration of awe as she looked out at the sprawling world before her. She was so lost in the sight of it that it took her a moment to realize that the world actually
stopped—or at least the bus had anyway. Raising her shoulders she looked up over the edge of the seat in front of her to see that they had pulled in beside a rusty old bus stop at the side of the road. It seemed like a strange place to put a bus stop—there was nothing around for miles, save for a stony old graveyard that looked like it hadn’t been in use for decades—but nonetheless there
one passenger waiting to board.
Rebecca wasn’t one to stare (she preferred to avoid the possibility of an embarrassing confrontation) but she was still so stricken by what she’d seen out the window that she didn’t take her eyes away as the young man boarded the bus. Dressed in a dusty cream-colored linen shirt and old slacks, with a farmer’s cap pressed down over his smooth olive-tinged brow, the guy looked like he’d stepped out of the nineteen twenties. In one hand he held a leather suitcase, while with the other he fished in his pocket for change to pay the driver, before turning into the aisle and looking right at her. Her, not anybody else!
Rebecca’s heart immediately jumped into her throat. He smiled, with lips smooth and soft and almost pink in comparison to the darker tone of the rest of his face. His beautiful face, which was rich and smooth and handsome, big brown eyes that were open and honest, slightly inquisitive as they peered right into her own. Rebecca immediately dropped her gaze as she felt a stinging blush break out across her cheeks. Ok, so there was still work to be done and if the way to beat anxiety was to face it willingly, then she would just accept this particular bout for now. Because there was no way she was looking back at this guy. He walked further down the aisle and, with her eyes firmly to her lap, it seemed to her that he paused slightly as he passed her seat, before continuing down to the back of the bus.
Ten or fifteen minutes later they reached the small mountain village of Montagna Del Mare. The photos she had browsed online before setting her destination—the ones that had filled her with such warm romantic wonder—in reality didn’t do the place justice. The pale white-bricked buildings were even more quaint, even more magical in the warm blue of the real sky than they had seemed on the screen of her worn-down old laptop. But what was she going to do now that she was here? What next?
The other passengers disembarked, while a fresh wave of painful anxiety came over her. Just what was she doing here anyway, she wondered?
This time she didn’t notice as he passed her, she was too caught up in her own personal misery to see that now he really did pause and consider her carefully as he went by, before gripping his suitcase and stepping off of the bus. Now she was the last remaining passenger and she had to get up—there was no other option. She glanced into her bag again, picked it up in one hand and stepped off.
Outside, the heat was amazing and the blue sky above seemed to sprawl across the entire globe, bathing everything in its powerful glow. Come on slugger, she told herself (that was what her dad always called her, “slugger”), you can do this. Make the most of this, all this beauty. She looked down the road as the bus turned and went back the way it had come, rumbling down the steep mountain road and disappearing around the bend. Ok, what now? She began walking towards the village and she’d barely passed the corner when she heard a voice call out from across the road.
She turned to the sound of the voice, soft but deep and thick with the Sicilian accent. She felt a jolt as she saw that it was the guy from the bus, who had taken up a seat at a small metal table in the corner of a wide sunbaked courtyard outside a café across the street.
“Speak English, yes?” he called, “American or British?”
Rebecca smiled, hoping that her uncertainty wasn’t showing. “Um, yes, American,” she said, “you’re from here?”
“Sicily yes, though far across the island.”
“It’s very beautiful.”
His eyes lit up with delight and he smiled beautifully, broad and honest and gleaming. “Yes, it is.” He gestured to the seat across from him. “Please, it is hard to talk across the road, no? Will you join me? Unless… you are waiting for somebody else?”
Her smile faltered slightly. What was she waiting for exactly? She began to form her polite refusal, but it wouldn’t come out
. Live in the moment, run towards that which you fear… that is how you grow
. Before she was even aware of what she was doing she found herself walking across the road towards him and, as she did, his smile broadened even further. He stood to pull out a chair for her.
“My name is Piero,” he said, “and I would be honored if you would join me for a coffee while I wait.”
Oh My God. Her heart raced and her mind was awash with flitting thoughts and voices as she struggled to make sense of her situation. This kind of thing never happened to her and if it did, she made sure to get out of it as soon as possible. What was the correct procedure here? What was the etiquette? More importantly—what was his interest in her? Romantic or merely friendly?
“You are a little flustered no? The heat is too much?”
Rebecca smiled, using all of her strength to get a grip on herself. Deep breaths, deep breaths. “Yes,” she lied, “yes, it’s quite hot for me, I’m not used to it. Back in Chicago at this time of year it could still be freezing now, snow…” her voice trailed off into a mouse-squeak.
Piero raised a brow as he considered her, the smile falling from his face into something more serious. “Chicago,” he said, “Al Capone, bang bang bang…”
“Ha, yeah,” Rebecca smiled, “I guess that’s what it’s famous for, that and the blues, but really it’s just like any other city.”
Piero smiled again. “Well I am a glad to hear that,” he said, “and the blues—I love the blues—such powerful music, such sorrow. Do you play?”
“Do I…? Oh, no, I played a little piano growing up but not much. Do you? Play, I mean?”
“Yes,” Piero nodded. “I play, I play and sing, though not the blues. Not the American blues at least. I sing the folk songs of the island, which are, in their own way, also sorrowful.”
Woah, so he was a musician too? And, by the way he spoke, she wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he was a poet as well. Rebecca wasn’t sure if she’d landed in heaven or hell. It all depended on whether she blew it or not.
An old woman appeared from the arched doorway of the café and Piero clicked his fingers at her, authoritatively but not rude, before unleashing a spiel of rapid Sicilian-dialect Italian that Rebecca could barely make out. Pausing he turned back to face her.
“Do you speak it?” he asked.
“Oh, um… a little.
. But your dialect is hard for me to understand.”
“No problem, I tell her that we would like some coffees, sound good?”
“Yes,” Rebecca smiled, “thank you.” She turned to the old woman, whose wrinkled weather-beaten face was inscrutable in its expression. “Thank you,” she said again and the woman nodded slightly in return before going back inside, leaving them alone once more in the sun.
“So, are you visiting somebody here?” she asked Piero.
He nodded solemnly. “Yes.”
“No, not family.”
There was something in his expression that made Rebecca not want to press him, as though he had come here under somewhat tragic circumstances, perhaps to a funeral or to visit the grave of an old friend—which would explain why he’d been waiting at that old historic-looking graveyard further down the mountain. Now that she was beginning to calm down a bit and get back in touch with her emotions, she found that it saddened her to see him that way. Though they’d only just met, she felt that he was a good man, a deep soul even, though maybe that was just her own projection of him. Regardless, she preferred this cute Italian stranger when he had that big open smile of his.
“I must apologize,” Piero said, “I have invited you to join me and I have not yet even asked you your name…”
She smiled. “Rebecca.”
“Rebecca,” Piero repeated slowly, sounding the word out to himself, before smiling in a warm, self-satisfied way. “It is a beautiful name. Rebecca, I am very glad that I could make your acquaintance today.” He reached out his hand, almost formal in his manner, and when she took it (or rather, let him take hers) she felt a tingle shoot down her spine and into her belly at the touch of his warm, smooth palm.
She was spellbound for a moment and sad when he let her go again, drawing his own hand back to his side of the table.
“I hope you do not mind that I asked you to join me,” he said, eyeing her expression with a look of puzzlement.
“Oh,” Rebecca blurted, “no, of course not. I’m glad you did.”
Piero smiled again. “Good,” he said. “And you are not due anywhere else for now?”
“No,” Rebecca said, “I’m just visiting for the scenery. I don’t really have any plans.”
Ok, she knew she shouldn’t say things like that to strange men while on vacation in a foreign country—especially when no one knew exactly where she was right now—but she felt certain she could trust this handsome, open young man sitting across from her. It seemed like a risk she was willing to take.