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Authors: Amabile Giusti

When in Rome

BOOK: When in Rome
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2014 Amabile Giusti
Translation copyright © 2016 Sarah Christine Varney

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Previously published as
Trent’anni... e li dimostro
by Kindle Direct Publishing in 2014 in Italy. Translated from Italian by Sarah Christine Varney. First published in English by AmazonCrossing in 2016.

Published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle

www.apub.com

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and AmazonCrossing are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781503951273
ISBN-10: 1503951278

Cover design by Laura Klynstra

For those who know love . . . wherever you are. “For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes?”
Jane Austen,
Persuasion

ONE

The girl’s got an hourglass figure, and she’s wearing a polka-dotted piece of floss that she’s trying to pass off as underwear. She’s rummaging through my fridge, reaching past a hunk of lukewarm cheese and a bunch of tomatoes for a can of beer that’s frosted to the back wall.

I stare at her, my eyelid twitching with rage. I should have just stayed in bed, but how am I supposed to sleep when the walls are shaking? All that noise—the slamming of the door, the coarse giggling, the creaking bedsprings, and of course, the moaning of the hungry lioness unleashed in the next room.

Of course, I didn’t expect to find myself in the presence of the moaner herself, planted in front of the fridge. Ass and giraffe legs in plain sight, my pink hair tie in her hair, she’s displaying all twenty-five years of her bold beauty as she grapples with the imprisoned can. She mutters something controversial about defrosting the goddamn ancient thing.

I’d like to tell this nosy tart that I’m the one who decides when and how to take care of my appliances. And since this is my home, my fridge, and my Strawberry Shortcake hair tie, I have every right to grab her by the collar and throw her out. Well, maybe not by her collar, as she seems to be wearing only a thong. But I swallow my profanity and stay silent, observing her as if she were made of organic manure. A deafening rage builds in my chest, but it’s nothing compared to what’s beneath: I’m so desperately jealous.

Suddenly, the young lady realizes she’s not alone and turns around. Her boobs are so unbelievably perky that they almost touch her neck. Unfortunately for me, she’s pretty. Her fiery red hair is shaped into a perfect bob. She has green eyes, plump lips, and teeth that are so white they belong in a whitening ad. So obviously, I hate her. I hate that she slept with Luca; I hate that she’s criticizing my fridge and wandering naked through my house. But I especially hate Luca.

Not that I’m surprised he managed to seduce her. He’s the kind of guy that women want and men detest. Unless they’re gay, in which case, they want him, too. His shoulders look like they’re cut from a mahogany tree trunk, his ass chiseled like a Greek statue’s. He has cherry lips and eyes that are either green or black, depending on his mood and the light. When he laughs, he tilts his head back, gazing at the world from underneath his eyelashes as he runs his hands through thick, messy hair. Basically, Luca is gorgeous. At first, my friends were convinced that we must be secretly hooking up. But the truth is, in the six months that we’ve lived together, the most intimate moment we’ve shared was when I got sick of the dirty clothes piling up in his room and put his boxers in the washing machine—with salad tongs.

I catch the girl leering at my frizzy hair and my ridiculous red pajamas, a Christmas present from my aunt Porzia.

“So, do you have any more beer? This one’s stuck,” she says brazenly, gesturing to the iceberg in my fridge. She lisps the letter
s
.

“Nice to meet you, I’m Carlotta!” I blurt out, practically hysterical.

Luca comes in, naked except for a pair of excessively tight boxers. They don’t leave much to the imagination. I think I deserve a little more consideration, and I stare pointedly at him, but he ignores me. He smiles at the girl and gestures at her to come finish having fun. She cackles like a hen. No, like a hyena. She pretends to put up a fight and then puts her hand right
there
, like she’s grabbing a microphone at karaoke night. If I had a bowling ball, I’d knock them both over. Strike!

I must be radiating hatred, as Luca suddenly turns to me, the redhead still firmly holding her microphone.

“What are you doing up?” he asks.

What kind of question is that? I actually contemplate slapping him and his thong-wearing mistress as he bends over to chip the can from the ice block, but I restrain myself. The girl loosens her grip and sits on the table; her legs dangle for miles. She stretches a foot to the place her hand just vacated, completely indifferent to my presence.

“The whole neighborhood heard you,” I say through clenched teeth. “And you, would you mind getting your ass off my table? I eat off of that, and there’s not enough rubbing alcohol in the world to disinfect it.”

The lisping tramp just laughs again, still not stooping to acknowledge me and playing her inappropriate game of footsie. I envision using my own foot to punt her off the table. Luca hands her the can and rubs his cold hand.

“Poor Carlotta,” he murmurs. “You’ve gotta get up early tomorrow, and we’ve kept you awake.”

He gives me a little hug, as he usually does when he makes fun of me, and lifts me off the ground, which is pretty easy because I’m small. He has clearly forgotten that he’s practically naked, and a shiver runs through my body as I feel him pressed up against my legs. But I don’t let on; instead, I hide behind a horrified look and a punch that forces him to let me go. Luca gives me a friendly peck on the cheek, and the girl stiffens and murders me with a stare. I almost feel sorry for her now. I want to warn her that Luca is not her property, that after tonight, he’ll shake her out of the house like a tablecloth full of crumbs. Luca’s kind of disgusting that way. He never gives his conquests a second chance. He won’t even remember this girl’s face tomorrow, and when she calls for round two, I’ll be forced to answer and invent a bunch of lies. I guess you could call Luca a modern-day sex god. He’s got a collection of condoms in every color and flavor in his nightstand, and he never sleeps with the same woman twice.

Now that he’s put me down, I soften up. In all honesty, I’m in love with him. But that’s one secret I’m not going to reveal. I just pretend that he’s as intriguing as the marble cherub atop the fountain in my mother’s garden—just something nice to look at. No one will ever know that I pretend my pillow is Luca, holding it like a child does a stuffed animal. While I may look furious because I’ve lost sleep, I’m actually furious because of the tormenting thought that the man of my dreams just rolled around in a twin bed with a woman he met tonight. I prefer to put on a brave face, but the harsh truth is that I want him the way a dehydrated plant wants a burst of fresh water. When he’s around, I feel complete. He fills my life with his infernal mess, his laughter, the acrid smell of his cigars, the rhythmic clicking of his keyboard, and his spectacular body like carved granite, which he shows off without a second thought—as if I don’t have eyes, hormones, or a heart. My anger tonight probably stems from sexual frustration. It’s been ages since I’ve gotten laid.

My mother thinks I’m too dull and that I should hike up my skirt and put myself out there. Although, since she had a fling with her salsa dance instructor after twenty-five years of marriage, I’m not sure if she should be giving me advice. But can I help it if there just haven’t been any sparks with the men I’ve gone out with? Can I help it if the only thing I can think about when they kiss me is whether or not I’ve paid the phone bill? Can I help it if when they touch me, my knee-jerk reaction is exactly that—to knee them in the balls?

Luca pats me on the cheek, but then the girl grabs him by the hips. He squirms like a dog shaking off the rain.

“I’ll be good. Go back to bed, little butterfly,” he tells me.

Obviously, he’s in love with me. We just don’t sleep together.

He walks away, leaving me with the rear view of his barely-there briefs. The girl must not be entirely stupid, because she has clearly noticed that something’s up. She looks annoyed as she leaves hesitantly. I watch them disappear into the bedroom and, despite the fact that I know he’ll keep his word, I am slammed with jealousy that makes me sour, like a bitter old maid. I rummage through the pantry, but all I can find is a Hershey bar. It’s probably been here since I moved in five years ago, but whatever. I’d eat it even if it were moldy.

I lock myself in my room with my loot. I chew the chocolate angrily, as if punishing it, then swallow it spitefully, subjecting it to its digestive fate. Of course, in a couple hours, I too will probably be punished—by a formidable bout of intestinal unrest.

I sit on the edge of the bed, in front of the mirror, and observe myself. Here I am, Carlotta Lieti. Chronically insecure, sarcastic, and compulsive. Specializing in bad luck and all things related. I’ll be thirty in a few months. I have no boyfriend. Not even a friend with benefits. I just lost a job that was actually less lucrative than begging on the street. Tomorrow I have an interview, and I have a zit on my nose.

I bite into another piece of chocolate. If zits are a symptom of youth, I’ll gladly take a few more. Better that than crow’s feet. I smile, and two dozen fine lines crowd my eyes. Damn. I haven’t missed out on any of the symptoms of aging. My nose seems to have grown some hair. And is it just me, or are my ears bigger? They say that aging isn’t graceful, that everything falls apart—my only consolation is that I have unripe apricots for boobs. They’ll at least resist gravity a while longer. But along with my ass, they will droop to my ankles soon enough.

I’m not afraid of getting old—I’ve always thought that aging is simply an essential part of living a long life. What I
am
afraid of is time itself; I’m terrified of running out of it. I’m terrified of having nothing, of not having left my mark on this world. Especially considering that I’m almost thirty, clad in ridiculous pajamas, eating an expired chocolate bar, and watching my face break down while the man I love treats me like a houseplant.

My attempt at a smile fails. What if the same thing happens to my hair? The only advantage of the wild curls on top of my head—somewhere between brown and orange—is that they make me look taller. With a hat, I’m about as tall as Naomi Campbell’s chin. I swallow the last square of chocolate and lick a finger. My stomach burns like I just swallowed lava. This is a terrible nightly habit.

I got only three responses to my roommate ad in the paper, so it’s not like I had much to choose from. The first person to respond was a girl dressed like a flower child. Three seconds after coming inside, she had already criticized the shape of the furniture and the orientation of the bed, saying that they dangerously contradicted the principles of feng shui. She babbled on about green dragons, white tigers, red turtles, and phoenixes for the full half hour she was here. The second guy was about forty and smelled like grass. He didn’t take his eyes off my ass the whole time as he talked about his passion for topiaries. I bet all his shrubbery is ass-shaped.

The third person was Luca. The beautiful, godforsaken morning he came into my life, it was summer, and the heat was invading my thoughts. My best friends were on vacation, as was the entire city, and I was the only person in Rome who spent her vacation languishing on a top-floor apartment and falling into depression as the sun beat in through the windows. I was broke, unemployed, and single—now that I think about it, not all that different from today. I vaguely remember thinking it was ironic that I was watching bikini-clad women on the television while sitting on the couch like boiled spinach. Some people drown their sorrows in Nutella, whipped cream, or cookies. Personally, I eat olives. I was glued to a jar of Saclà Italian ones, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, thinking about how useless my life was, when Luca made his appearance.

Mind you, he didn’t just materialize out of thin air. He did knock and explain that he was there to talk about my ad. But
appearance
really is the right word—he transformed the place. For a moment, I swore I saw a hibiscus plant on the landing, a cascade of orchids raining down from the ceiling, and a tropical bird singing an exotic tune. He was as tan as I was pale, wearing a pair of jeans with ripped knees, a white T-shirt, and untied army-green canvas sneakers. A backpack was slung over one shoulder. He smiled. I stared at him like a moron, thunderstruck. I had just put an olive in my mouth, which was open in shock, and I could formulate only one thought: Did I shave my bikini line today?

“Is everything okay? Are you all right?” he asked me after about thirty seconds, speaking slowly, like I was old and deaf. I couldn’t answer because the stupid olive decided to slip down my throat into the wrong pipe. I began to bray like a donkey. Luca threw his backpack on the ground, came up behind me, put his arms around me, and shook me like a rag doll. Basically, our first meeting will go down in history as the time when I almost choked to death on an olive and Luca made me spit it up on the carpet.

“Good thing I know the Heimlich maneuver,” he said, regarding me the same way a lawyer would look at a farmer who made him milk a cow. I rubbed my sore abs, and a string of saliva rolled down my chin between coughs. “You’d better sit down. Where can I find glasses? Can I get you some water?”

As if I wasn’t humiliated enough, he offered me a drink like I was
his
guest. He looked around a bit, made an amused comment about a moldy pear that had been sitting in the fruit bowl for weeks, and then asked me if the room was free.

“As free as can be,” I replied, my voice still hoarse.

“I can take it?”

“Absolutely!”

“Great. And the lease?”

“Lease? What lease?”

“For the rent?”

“Oh, the rent, right.”

“And don’t you want to ask me for references? I could be a psychopath or criminal, you know.”

I wanted to tell him that his golden forearms were all the references I needed; with that smile, those eyes, those hands, those knees, he didn’t need any other recommendations. But I didn’t want to look man-crazy. It was better to act like I didn’t give a shit how cool my new tenant was.

“Yes, I was going to get around to it,” I said with an air of importance that wasn’t very credible, seeing as I was coughing and my ribs still hurt. I found out that he worked in a disco pub, that his cocktails were famous throughout Rome, and that he had held many jobs before that one. He had traveled a lot, and he wrote books in his spare time. He wanted to become a novelist. A famous one, if possible. We hammered out some kind of contract, he gave me three months’ rent in advance, and we shook hands. We’ve been good friends ever since.

BOOK: When in Rome
4.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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