“To leaving Rome and returning to New York City.” Christina clinked her wine glass with her three companions. “Leaving is not sweet sorrow, just sorrow. Ristorante Alta Amore, Rome, and you remain in my heart.” Christina set her wine glass down. Her finger traced the logo etched into the base of the wine glass, a last minute design inspiration from Alexander Anastagio. She blushed and her smile fell onto her plate. It’s the only way we’ll be united, she thought.
Her friends responded, “We’re glad we all speak English! We had a good time at the United States Embassy University.” The four raised their glasses in toast. Servers cleared away the final feast of lobster, lamb, seafood, and pasta. The redecoration of Ristorante Alta Amore glittered with cupids and dragonflies adorning stucco walls in seven different dining rooms, stone pavers from nearby quarries lined the hallways, three chefs supervised the kitchen, army of servers flew to meet cusomters, and the risotorante had already earned a Four Diamond rating.
The parking lot was gravel, a sensible solution to squeezing in a few extra parking spaces; a fountain stood in the center. Roses twined around the fountain, even during January, the Mediterranean winter. Back inside at Christina’s farewell party, darkness settled around the table, candles gold pools of light. Christina almost put her left hand over the votive candle holder ready to snuff out the flame. She stopped when she heard a cloud of indistinct laughter, rumble, and clatter, and then she remembered talking to the first couple to reserve the newly re-opened reception room for their wedding reception. Christina especially remembered the Grandma, the Nonna. Coming in the front door was the wedding party, the first to reserve the new wedding reception room.
Giovanni spoke up, “I like the décor, cupids and dragonflies. Classic and original. Love the twining vines over the entrance,” he said. “It will look fantastic in summer; Christina; you’ll have to come back to see it.
“You can send me pictures, Christina said. “Glad you like the dragonflies. In New York, there is a great dragonfly sculpture, made from truck bumpers. From the utilitarian to the graceful. You’ll have to come visit New York City instead.” Thoughts of Rome roiled in her head. Xander.
Christina’s partner on her right, Gianetta said, “I’ll miss practicing English with you, Christina. Everybody at work wishes you well.”
Christina nodded, tilting her dark brunette head closer to her partner on her right. “Sure.” She scrubbed her ring finger with her thumb. “I-I should have left yesterday. You could have attended Xander’s wedding tonight.”
Giovanni piped up from the left, “Everybody will miss you, including Xander.” Under the tablecloth, Meg, the design account executive, nudged him with her foot.
“Xander’s getting married tonight,” Christina dropped her voice and whispered, “I wouldn’t expect him here, and you’re wrong, Giovanni, he won’t miss me.”
“But he’s missing a great farewell dinner,” Gianetta said.
“You didn’t go to his wedding? You could always re-arrange your departure.” Giovanni asked.
“Xander should be here; let him re-arrange the date of his own wedding,” said Gianetta, then looked at Meg.
Cupid’s arrow shot Xander through the heart and brain she thought. Meg changed the subject. “Christina, what did you do during your last week in Rome?”
Gianetta took the cue. “Did you shop? What did you buy to take to New York?”
“Nothing looked good, no hat, no dress, spelled duh-ress, no gloves,” Christina vamped with her hand on her forehead at “duh-ress” trying to shake the gloom. She said, “I’m here to work. No time to shop. I had to clean out my desk and office.” Her smile fell, missing her wine glass. The gleaming cupid over Christina’s head nodded.
“Sure, Roma, shopping, duh-resses, fashion, sure, no time to shop,” said Gianetta, looking at Meg and then at her watch. “Time to go. Meg’s dropping you off at the hotel, right?”
“Yes,” came from Meg as she stood.
Before Giovanni could put his hand on her chair to help her, Christina pushed back and stood. “I know the way, and I’ll call the hotel van. Thank you for dinner.” Christina turned away from the long wide window. In the parking lot, in the shadows, a blue Triumph Spitfire reversed, scrabbling over the gravel to find the last vacant parking spot as the valets approached, gesturing to the very entrance of the parking lot, almost in the road. The Spitfire disappeared between two larger limousines.
Giovanni shook her hand in farewell. “Good luck. We’ll see you off at the hotel. Someone will come by in the morning—"
“To take you to Fiumicino Aeroporto.”
“No need, I can turn in the rental car.”
“No, we’ll come by to pick you up.”
Meg reminded them. “No, Giovanni and Gianetta, meet us at the hotel. You’ll leave your cars there, then we’ll take the van from work.”
Giovanni frowned and asked, “You didn’t pre-ship luggage and freight?” but looked at Meg and stopped. Giovanni and Gianetta shook hands, kissed Christina, but they knew to leave.
Meg said, “Finally alone. Let’s have coffee and brandy in the bar. I know it’s your favorite.” She picked up her fringed wrap and clutch. “Follow me.” Meg led the way along the flagstone hallway. She waited for Christina and put her arm around Christina’s waist. “You know you can stay with me tonight. You don’t have to go back to the hotel.” “Alone” was left unsaid. Meg guided Christina along thee bar deeper into the back shadows. They found a waiter had already placed demitasse and brandy for them.
“No, I’ll be fine,” Christina denied. “You ordered in advance. How thoughtful”
Meg smiled. They clinked brandy snifters, sipped brandy, then sipped the coffee. Unavoidable silence.
Christina whispered, “Excuse me, ladies room.”
Meg said, “I’ll save your seat,” Meg tried not to look at Christina’s eyes for tears.
Leaving the bar, Christina inched down one stone paved hallway. A wedding party had reserved the reception room at the other end of Ristorante Alta Amore. Christina slid into the powder room filled with the bride, the bride’s mother, someone’s grandmother, and two flower girls. “Hello. What a beautiful night to get married. Moonlight, roses. ” Christina faced the women of the wedding party. Might as well get used to weddings. After smiling and saying “Bellisima,” Christina wove her way past the bride dressed in a white tulle net gown and short veil. Christina crowded past the six bridesmaids dressed in powder blue, same style gown as the bride. She washed her hands. Christina resisted asking if they liked the re-designed restaurant. She listened closely but no comment came from the group. The attendant handed her a finger towel. The bride’s grandmother paid the tip. “Grazie,” said Christina.
“Prego,” the bridge’s grandmother nodded. Then Grandma grabbed Christina, hugged her and kissed her, and said, “Viene.”
Christina said no and gently hugged Grandma for the invitation. “Amica. Bar.” After closing the powder room door behind her, Christina excused her way past more wedding guests lining the hallway and squeezed back into the bar past men in tuxedos. Meg and I had better leave, she thought. As she reached Meg, Meg frowned, twisted in her seat to look behind her then turned to face Christina.
Christina frowned, her voice rising. “What is it?” What happened?”
Meg started, “Christina, I’m leaving.”
At the moment Christina got a good look close up at the frown on Meg’s face, hands grabbed her own shoulders from behind. She thought of the incoming wedding party; surely not them but maybe; she put her own hands over her heart.
“Christina, I found you,” Xander said.
Christina jerked and twisted to look over her right shoulder. The blue Triumph Spitfire, of course. “Xander! What are you doing here?” Christina spun from Xander and Meg and back to Xander. Christina’s voice sped up an octave. “What happened?”
Xander wore a tuxedo; cravat, and boutonniere in place. Face stricken.
Sighing, Meg grabbed her fringed wrap and clutch purse. She pulled out euros and slapped them on the bar. “Bartender, I’m paying,” she pointed to the lira, “and leaving,” Meg bowed. “Alexander Anastagio and Christina D, good-bye.” Meg marched away from the bar, resolute, and soldiered her way through the crowd.
“Wait, Meg! Don’t leave me!” Christina shook her head no, watching Meg’s back recede past the wedding party crowd. Then she looked at Xander and frowned even more. “What happened? You’re still in your tuxedo. I’m glad you could come, but the farewell dinner’s over. You’re married already?”
“Didn’t? The wedding must have started. I’m, I’m astonished to hear that. Why?”
Suddenly more guests from the wedding party surged into the bar. Leaning close to her, Xander said, “Drink.” He dragged Christina’s hand, the rest of her followed. “Per favor, due.” Xander tilted his head toward the hallway where tables for two were lined up.
“Wedding party might have reserved these tables.” Christina babbled.
Not listening to her, Xander pulled Christina’s chair out for her to sit down.
“Did you pass the Gianetta and Giovanni on their way out? Did they see you?” Christina’s mind bubbled with questions. Suddenly Grandma re-appeared, standing at their table. She rapped her knuckles on the table. Diamonds flashed. Trying to ignore Grandma (big mistake) Christina asked, “Do you want to start? I guess you do deserve a drink. What a shock.” She grabbed Grandma’s hand to quiet her. “Momento, Nonna. Xander, where are the bride and her family?” Christina looked around and back and Xander.
“On their way to their own reception, some place else.” Xander ran a finger under his collar. “We all left the church. Separate cars.” He stretched his collar away from his neck. “The wedding reception was paid for and waiting. Everyone decided the guests at least deserved dinner.” The wine steward had filled two glasses. Xander fumbled for the first wine glass, drained it. He looked at the glass. “Dragonfly, restaurant logo on the base, nice design touch.” He caught himself before he choked then picked up Christina’s glass, drained it, then motioned for more wine. The wine steward re-filled both glasses, set the bottle on the table, and vanished. A server put a bread basket on the table and vanished. Xander drained two glasses. Xander filled and drained both glasses in three gulps. Xander lowered his head, loosened his cravat, threw it on the table. He removed the boutonniere, started to shred it, threw it into the ashtray, then handed it to a tiny flower girl chasing her friends by their table. The flower girl turned her head, the dragonfly on her headband flashing silver in the light. She looked at Xander, flashed a smile, took the boutonniere, then darted back into the wedding reception room. Grandmother rapped her knuckles again on the table; diamonds sparkled.
“Bene,” Christina said. “No more wine.” Christina took his wine glass away and put it in front of Grandma.
“Nonna,” Xander said, not asking why she was standing at his table. He still looked ashen. Grandma headed around a corner, into the larger wedding reception space, and re-emerged with three men she ordered to Christina’s chair.
The wedding party’s first toast surged. Xander tried again to speak.
“What did you say?” Christina stared at him, his face pale as moonlight on gravel. In a second, one man in a tuxedo breathed “Si” to Grandmother then physically pulled Christina’s chair back, “Per favore,” sweeping one hand toward the bridal party’s room.
“No.” Christina made a slashing sign across her throat, the international sign for “knock it off.” She frowned and pantomimed her ring finger, then nodded at Xander. “No, we can’t. It’s your wedding reception; we’re fine here in the hallway.”
“Viene, viene,” Grandma ordered. “Viene, viene,” echoed the triumvirate under her command.
Xander looked at Christina as if recognizing her for the first time, and shrugged, mouthed, “Follow me.”
“You speak perfect English,” Christina said. They were re-seated at a round table close to the head table. Slow music.
Xander said, “Dance.” They moved to the dance floor.
Maybe on the dance floor she could get Xander to talk. Certainly Grandma wouldn’t cut in on them. Maybe. “What about your change in plans?” Christina didn’t want to say “wedding” when “wedding” surrounded them.
“No talk. Dance, then please, I need a drink.” Xander looked a little less stricken. Christina put her hand on his cheek, and he leaned his cheek into her palm. Before she could say anything, the music ended.
As they returned to the table, another man about 250 pounds was waiting behind Xander’s chair, pointing a finger at Xander, shouting. “Andiamo. Outside.”
Xander said, “Per favor.” Grandma’s three men appeared formidable, behind Xander.
“Outside,” Two Hundred Fifty roared.
Two Hundred Fifty grabbed Xander, Christina grabbed Xander’s elbow, and Grandma motioned to her three men to follow them. Grandma followed behind Christina. Grandma was hostess; Xander and Christina were their invited guests, as of only five minutes ago recently invited, but still guests. They marched out into the hallway, followed the flagstone passage to the front door. The doorman opened the door for them, and then they marched outside into the gravel parking lot.
Two Hundred Fifty bellowed and gestured in loud vowels. He spit consonants all over the gravel. Xander stared at him. Christina willed herself not to think of the United States Embassy University Language School. Xander stood his ground, listening but not responding. He pushed Christina behind him to shield her. Grandma stood next to Xander with her arm around him. Grandma’s three men crossed their hands in front of them. Two Hundred Fifty shouted, “Next time you approach my sister Bella, I’ll kill you. And here’s your filthy engagement ring back.” Sapphire and diamond glittered into the air and fell in the gravel. Grandma’s youngest man stooped down, grabbed it, got out a handkerchief, stuffed both into Xander’s numb left hand. He nodded.
Christina wished she’d left with Meg.
Two Hundred Fifty roared farewell to Grandma and Christina. “Senora. Senorina.”
Sudden fists coiled, punches were getting posed and locked into position. Just as suddenly, they vanished. Grandma’s men pushed Two Hundred Fifty away from Xander and back toward the taxi. They forced him to walk backwards to the fountain, then back to the taxi and wherever he’d come from. The three men blocked the view of the departing taxi, which slipped into forward drive, spraying gravel, and then departed with Two Hundred Fifty.
Xander face showed gravel white but his cheeks were flushed. “Grazie.”
Xander straightened his tuxedo over his shoulders, grabbed his lapel and dusted it off, and took Christina’s hand. “Come. Back inside. I need a drink.”
Christina feeling shaky on her high heels on her last night in Rome, asked, “Xander, what in the world happened? Why aren’t you at your wedding?”
The short story represents my goal to write a story whose focus narrows down to and then ends on one word. Authors comment
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Jennifer Riley.
Published on e-Stories.org on 01/14/2015.