Authors: Shannon Bell
Niccolò was absolutely terrifying, yet in a heart-stopping, exhilarating sort of way. He was attractive in every sense of the word and he made me weak in the knees at the very thought of him. The way he could read every single thought which was in my head was more than nerve-wracking. Most importantly, he was a vampire. He was an actual immortal, blood-drinking vampire who let me live.
Every part of me throbbed with an intensity that craved his touch. My head hit the pillow but sleep was the last thing on my mind.
I WOKE LATE in the morning uncertain if everything I went through last night was real. The smarter part of my mind convinced me that it was all a dream. If that was the case, why did my turtleneck smell like honeysuckle? No, Niccolò was real. I was also sure he wasn’t going to kill me – not yet, anyways.
My trip was almost over. Five days from now, I was supposed to get on a plane and leave all this behind. As it was right now, there was no way that was going to happen. Leave Niccolò, the very thing that had always kept me going? I needed more time.
The airlines could move my flight. More time in Italy…that’s exactly what I needed. I had to find out more about Niccolò.
My stomach growled and it took me a few minutes to remember the last time I had eaten anything. It was almost noon. I was meeting Niccolò at eight. He might not show up, but I wanted to make sure to be at the bistro on time regardless.
The massive stone bridge stood before me and beckoned me to cross it. With my messenger bag slid over my shoulders, I started weaving in and out of the pedestrian traffic standing around it. The jewelry shops fought to take over the entire path and the sales people were pushy with their strands of gold in my face and requests for me to step inside. I ignored them and finally made it into South Centro, near Tornabuoni, where the buildings stood tall with all its posh clothing stores.
Mannequins stood behind the glass windows in all the latest fashions. Some were too short for my liking and others were too daring. Then a black skirt caught my eye and called out to me. I was going broke and getting tired of the same outfits in my suitcase.
The prices were high. Without even going inside, I knew that they were more than what I could afford. I still had a little money left, and even though I knew I shouldn’t, I couldn’t resist the urge to go inside to see what mysteries the stores held.
Leather and lace. Tempting…so very tempting. Every rack had a different combination of black leather, white leather, black lace…. The European sizes had me lost so I held a few up to my figure in the mirror to my right and took a few to try on. A sales clerk was in the back but it sounded like she was fighting with a boyfriend on the phone and I didn’t want to interrupt.
A black leather skirt hugged my hips as I stared at my reflection. The slit in the back was daring but not slutty. The tag almost gave me a heart attack but it had been a while since I’d splurged on anything for myself. I thought of meeting Niccoló later. Would he like the skirt? Would he notice? Before I could think of anything else, the skirt was in my hand and my credit card was being swiped for the purchase.
I headed out the open glass doors and stepped onto the curb. A large tour bus with tourists hanging themselves out the windows to take photos of the famous shopping district and the stone statue that stood to my left was stopped at the light. I crossed to the other side after it passed in search of a place to grab a quick slice of pizza.
A small restaurant and bar was around the corner, appropriately named Yankee Bar. I’d heard about it in passing from other tourists. It was one of the few American bars around where you could order a drink in English without having to worry about whether the bartender understood you or not. The bar wasn’t what caught my attention. It was the sign on the dark wooden door about a bartender. They were hiring. I contemplated going in to make an inquiry. After all, managing a bar qualified me. Getting a job here would solve so many problems. More money meant more time…and possibly some more outfits, too.
“Can I help you?” A twenty-something blonde man came to the door. His blond spiky hair was a contrast against his wire frame glasses and small build. I must have stood there a little too long since he noticed me. His American accent was welcoming.
I nodded towards the help wanted sign.
“I used to. Now I manage a restaurant back in the States. What kind of money are the bartenders making here?” It certainly wouldn’t hurt to find out a little information.
“Ahh, you’re American! Great! The clientele is a bunch of tourists and they tip really well. Most of the crowd is a bunch of trust-fund kids who travel around Europe on mom and dad’s money, so—”
“Citizenship’s not an issue?” My eyebrows rose in question, wondering if that would be the thing to hold me back.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. “My name’s Matt. Why don’t you stop by on Thursday and we can talk about that and some other details then?”
I took the card and slid it into my back pocket before I extended my hand. “I’m Dylan. And yeah, I think I’ll see you Thursday. Thanks again.”
“See you Thursday,” Matt commented, closing the door to the bar.
I wasn’t sure what my plan was, but I felt like I was getting closer to having one. I was convinced that if I could land a job bartending, I could stay in Italy longer. Plus, I still couldn’t get the idea of having some more clothes available to me. Back home I was a huge clothes junkie and living out of a suitcase with limited possibilities was putting a huge damper on my style.
The leather skirt in the fancy boutique bag hung from my wrist as I continued down the street.
I got back to the room around six and hopped into a shower. The hotel-supplied shampoo smelled like lavender and invigorated my senses as it worked into a lather on the top of my head. I grabbed my razor and managed an awkward pose in the shower to ensure that every inch of stubble was removed. Not that I expected anything other than conversation, but it still had to be done.
I grabbed a towel and twisted my hair up to give it a chance to dry naturally before I took a hairdryer to it. The few steps over to my bed assured me that my outfit was ready to go. The black skirt laid there just waiting to be worn.
The window across the room showed me that it was still light out. The sun was just starting to drop. Would Niccolò be up yet? Would it be rude to even ask?
I managed into black panties and zipped up the black skirt that ran the better part of my left side. A black and burgundy print top hung off one shoulder and I stared down at my naked feet. Neither black boots, sneakers, nor brown sandals were good options. The brown sandals would clash, the sneakers would make me look like a tourist, and the black boots would make me appear as if I wanted more than conversation from him.
The bartending job was looking better and better because I could go back and get those cute strappy black heels that the mannequin was wearing back on Tornabuoni.
I spent too damn much on the skirt not to wear it so I zipped the boots up the length of my calves before another moment’s hesitation.
There wasn’t much time before I had to go meet Niccolò. I was only vaguely aware of where the street was but my map hadn’t let me down yet. It was in South Centro, though, so I would need time to cross the Ponte S. Trinita Bridge.
By the time I crossed the front of Palazzo Pitti, the boots were killing me. The glances I was getting from some of the local men told me I looked good, though, so it kept me moving forward.
A gelato shop at the base of the bridge was packed. I crossed the narrow street to the other side to avoid the line. The bridge itself had a small walking path where a few others walked, headphones crammed in their ears. Cars were parked in rush hour traffic on the bridge while their drivers honked their horns and waved their hands. A few scooters daringly maneuvered through the traffic and continued on their way.
The piazza was to my left and the next road was supposed to be Vellutini. Instead, I stared at a small stone church, dilapidated from centuries of abuse. The small placard embedded in the stone told me I was at Parione, not Vellutini. These road names were so frustrating.
The night sky was getting darker and was already streaked with shades of red and pink. The lampposts were cascading shadows across the sidewalks. I stood under one to see a little better and held the little pop-up map in my hand so I could trace the roads and figure out the
I was supposed to meet Niccolò at.
My foot incessantly tapped the concrete where I stood. I turned the map every possible way but the name of the road was not listed on this damned map. I tried to look it up in my phone, but that was no help, either. Would he leave if I didn’t get there right away? I was hoping not. I glanced at my watch and noticed it was 8:10. Damn it! All the road names seemed to be different deviations of the same word.
Bellatini. Bellalago. Vell…
I should have asked him for a landmark or something before just eagerly agreeing to the place he told me.
Couples bustled past me but none slowed down. They were probably tourists, too, so they wouldn’t know where it was any better than I did.
A little gelato shop was at the corner from where I stood. It was one of the few I hadn’t been to yet and I was contemplating going over if I couldn’t find the road soon.
“Ciao,” a voice whispered.
I looked up. “Niccolò,” I whispered in shock that he really showed up. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized I was convinced I’d never see him again. “Hi.”
?” He asked with a grin.
My mortal one
“I couldn’t find the street.” My frustration subsided as I folded my map and shoved it in my purse. I looked back up at him, fascinated by the sparkle in his eyes. “I’ll follow you.”
“Sure. I was late as well. And please, it’s Nico.”
I looked up to question, but he took me by the hand and led the way. I was surprised at the strength in his hand. It was like being able to squeeze a statue, as if it was made of a not so pliable clay. I was holding hands with a vampire in the middle of a crowded street and no one seemed to notice.
I didn’t understand how this could happen. How could people not notice?
“Nico?” I was hoping he could shed some light on this for me.
“Not now,” he calmly replied. “Wait until we’re completely alone and then you can ask your questions.” He walked into the crowded restaurant with me at his side.
I nodded while he held the door to the
was a very quaint family operation on a busy corner across from a fancy hotel. A menu board stood outside, where today’s special was the four cheese ravioli and pasta fagioli. Couples going in and out of the place kept the small dining room perpetually full. Small was an understatement; there might have had fifteen tables total, all of which were spread between two different rooms and separated by a wood burning oven.
He seated us at a table in the darkest corner of the smallest room. “I don’t actually scare you, do I?”
“Yes and no. Yesterday in the alley, you scared the shit out of me. I was convinced you were going to kill me. Then there was the….” My cheeks flushed. “Now, though, not as much.”
I was not sure if I should have said that last part. Maybe he wanted to make sure that I was scared all the time.
Niccolò pushed the menu at me. “Are you hungry?”
“A little.” I eyed him cautiously before asking, “Are
“Dylan, Dylan, Dylan,” he whispered, as if toying with me. “I haven’t been hungry for anything on a menu in a very long time.”
“Right,” I said dryly while paging through the menu aimlessly. Of course not - I knew that. I made a mental check mark next to my ever-growing list of questions that I would ask if given the chance.
A petite waitress with her dark hair pulled up into a knot on the top of her head came over to the table. She told us the specials and seemed to bounce in place with all of her pent up energy. I looked up from the menu and ordered in my bastardized Italian. Nico said a few more things to her before she nodded and disappeared. I raised an eyebrow and wondered if he was going to translate what he just said to her.
“I was apologizing for your poor Italian. Where did you learn to speak like that?”
My face burned with embarrassment. “Audio CDs.”
He started laughing. “Do me a favor, will you?”
I looked up at him, waiting.
“Get your money back,” he said, laughing again. He had a thick, rich laugh that was warm and inviting. The sound alone played along the hairs on my arm.
I couldn’t get over this. No one seemed to notice that he was a vampire. They treated him just as they treated me. Could people not see the difference? His skin was a paler shade of the olive skinned people surrounding the restaurant. His eyes were a true blue, not the muted shades everyone else seemed to have, and had a sparkle that made me wonder if I had ever understood what blue
until I looked into them. Other than that, though, it
hard to tell. Although he could actually pull it off, I knew the truth and could never look at him the same as everyone else.
I snapped out of my daze and looked up at him. “Yes?”
“Calm down. Your mind is spinning out of control and it’s hard to decipher everything. You will have your chance to ask questions, I promise. Everything will be fine.”