Author: Chelle Storey-Daniel
Pairing: Mark/Callie Callie/Hahn Mark/Addison
Summary: What happens when a man steps up and offers you everything you've ever wanted at the same time that a woman does? What happens when you're feeling things that you've never felt before and you question everything you thought you knew about yourself. Callie takes a journey that is rocky, wonderful, terrifying, and breathtaking as she realizes that there is one heart too many in her life and that's the one that she will have to break.
Disclaimer: I do not own Grey's or the characters. If I did, this would happen on ABC. :)
Dedicated: To the readers. Thank you! Your comments are much appreciated. :)
(I had to get rid of stuff for space! LJ cut me off again and I couldn't find a good breaking place so MAJOR edit! OMG, this chapter terrifies me!)
When you think of Italy ... you think of those cobblestone streets and outdoor cafes where you leisurely sip wine and watch the natives meander happily to and fro. You think about how the Leaning Tower of Pisa leans but doesn’t fall and about the heavenly aroma of Italian food wafting from every other building, luring you, making you stuff yourself. I personally thought of three things: pizza, sex in a foreign country, and skydiving. Erica wrote skydiving on our list in such small letters that it looked like a heart monitor flat lining, but I went ahead and bought the tickets. I’m thinking it will be fun ... if I survive actually telling her that we’re definitely going ... because she may kill me.
What I never thought of is a racket so loud that it startles me out of the bed.
But there you have it.
My first morning in Italy does not find me happily stretching in the rising sun or waking Erica up in new and exciting ways.
It finds me sitting on my naked ass on the floor, feeling as shell shocked as I probably look, as something screeches in a way that makes the hairs on the back of my neck dance upward. It could very well be Gabriel’s trumpet signaling the end of time because it’s THAT bad.
"What are you doing?" She sits up in the bed, sleepily rubbing her eyes with one hand while she feels around for me with the other. "Cal?"
She leans over and gazes down at me, smiling. "Are we playing naked Twister again?"
"There’s something outside!"
The demonic ... whatever it is ... howls again and she raises a brow. "That?"
"Please tell me you’re joking."
I scramble back into the bed when I hear it again. "I am not."
"Callie, my sweet, innocent little city girl ... that’s a *rooster*."
"WHY!? WHY IS IT DOING THAT!?"
"Look, I don’t make fun of you for not knowing ... stuff."
"Are you actually shaking right now?" She puts her arm around me and laughs. "Oh my god ... you are!"
"I don’t like birds! Bats, parrots, chickens -"
"And roosters apparently."
"And roosters." The offending rooster cries out again and my flesh crawls at the thought of it being nearby. For the love of all things holy ... it could have crashed our pool party and caused me to drown from sheer terror. Anything so fluffy and fat that walks on skinny little bird feet is *not* normal. "They have that gross double chin thing, right?"
She nods. "A little."
"I guess there is an animal worse than a bat. God, my vacation is ruined by fowl."
"Awww, come here." She pulls me down with her and I rest my head in the crook of her arm. "Go back to sleep."
"Can it get in the house?"
"Yeah, they keep lock picking kits in their double chins. You’ll wake up with him sitting on your chest just in time for him to peck you to death."
"Fuck you." I shove the cover off both of us and stand. "I’m awake now and if I’m awake then you’re awake."
"Oh, come on! Shit! I’m tired!"
"Get up, Yellow!"
She rolls over and pulls the pillow over her head. When she speaks again, her voice is muffled. "People sleep late on their vacations!"
"Erica." I reach out, gently shaking her shoulder. "Erica, look at me."
Peering out from under the pillow, she stares up at me and even though her eyes are still heavy with sleep, I could drown in them. Hers are a different kind of blue, deeper, bottomless. I start to tell her that we have plans, but the way her gaze moves over my naked body closes down all lines of communication. She may as well be rubbing me all over the way she looks at me when she says, "Jesus. You’re beautiful. Why don’t you let me -"
I shake my head. "No. It’s not gonna work. You are not getting me back in the bed. Come on ... we’re finally in Italy. Let’s go see it."
She rolls onto her back and crooks her finger and every ounce of my resolve goes flying out the window as I move closer to her, close enough for her finger to trace the scar she gave me on my stomach when she operated on me. I look down, watching her pale finger move across my flesh and this time ... the hairs on the back of my neck dance because of her. It’s entirely unexpected the way she can distract me in a millisecond. She rubs against my belly with her palm and says, "I can’t believe how straight this scar is. My hands are steady as hell, but when I picked up the scalpel and looked down at you ... I nearly had to ask someone else to do it. I couldn’t stop shaking. And then when your heart stopped ... Jesus, Callie ... mine did, too."
"Well, it’s not like I planned that." I climb back into the bed and lie down, facing her. She slides her leg over my hip and I hook her behind the knee, pulling her closer. "You saved my life."
"No, I threatened you." She pushes my hair behind my ear and smiles at me. "I shocked you that first time and nothing happened so I leaned down ... right at your ear ... and told you to come back or I’d kick your fucking ass. And you, being stubborn as fuck, made me shock you again before you did it."
"I heard you."
"I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared in my life. I was about to crack into your chest and start massaging your heart ... whatever I had to do."
"You cracked into my chest a long time ago and you’ve been massaging my heart every since." Leaning forward, I give her a kiss. "You know, I really thought I was going to die that morning. One minute I was eating waffles and the next minute I was bleeding out. It’s funny ... what you think about when you’re in so much pain that you can’t breathe. My head was full of things I wanted to say to you and I hated that I’d never get the chance. And then I felt your hands on me and I could smell you ... lilacs ... and I thought ... I thought that if I had to die then at least the person I loved was there with me at the end."
Erica gives me a kiss and I can see that her eyes are wet. "I kept trying to get you to look at me, but you wouldn’t."
"I was sorta humiliated because I was screaming like a baby and -"
"Uh, I saw the damage, Callie. I’m surprised you were conscious at all. You had so much blood in your abdominal cavity that it was like a volcano when I finally got in there. I was covered, the floor was covered." She makes a face, remembering it. "I stayed in recovery with you for as long as Richard let me, but he took over and put me out after an hour. I was devastated at how close it had been. I almost lost you."
I can see what the experience cost her from the expression on her face. She looks haunted, bordering on tears. I put my head against hers and say, "You know that’s the first time I can ever remember not being happy to see Jasper. When I finally woke up ... he was right there, watching me ... and all I wanted was you."
"You destroyed me when you finally did see me."
"Uh, I walked you in the hallway and told you I wanted to be your friend and you told me you were in love with me. I had wanted to hear that forever and you gave it to me, then took it away. I nearly died right there."
My mind goes back to that day. My confession of love had come pouring out the same way my blood had. She cut me open long before she ever held a scalpel and exposed every ounce of truth in me. I should have followed up my declaration of love with a kiss that could fix what I had broken instead of a kiss goodbye. Just thinking of the way it felt to mouth the words ‘I love you’ instead of screaming it out loud is enough to make me fall apart now. My chin trembles when I say, "We - no - I ... wasted so much damn time. I wish I could do it all again so that I could do it right this time. We should have -"
"Don’t, baby. Things happen for a reason. We couldn’t be HERE if we hadn’t gone THERE," Erica tells me, rubbing her hand over my arm. "We learned what it is to be *without* so it makes our time *with* each other better. And we’ll never forget how hard we had to fight for us ... that’s why we value each other so much."
I wrinkle my nose. "You think I value you?"
"I know you do."
"You’re very wise."
"Great sex makes great minds."
"Then I should be smart as hell. I really, really enjoyed flying with you, Yellow."
"I could tell." She licks her bottom lip as she lightly runs her fingernails over my breast. "I’ll have to make sure the ride home is just as ... enjoyable."
"You know what?"
I flip her onto her back and straddle her hips. "I’ve decided that I’m going to tell you a different reason that I love you every day of our vacation ... and every day after that."
"Ooooh, I like this decision."
"So, here goes." I rub against her, rocking my hips. "I love your dirty talk and here’s a little tidbit of information: I could have gotten off on the plane, without you touching me at all. Your voice, when you were telling all those naughty little things, was that hot."
"Is that right?" She runs her palms over my legs, then grips my hips tight enough to make me hiss. "Let’s test that theory. I left out a few of the other times I want you."
Just like that ... I’m flat on my back and she’s in control.
Our first full day in Italy ... all we see is each other.
I’m fucking convinced that there won’t be anything in Italy that can compare to how utterly breathtaking she is to me.
Time flies when you’re having fun. Our first week in Tuscany seems to come and go in the blink of an eye. We take a bike tour of the Chianti wine country and we’re both so miserable that we have to soak in the hot tub for three hours that night. It was well worth it, however, because Erica got tipsy on the wines we tasted (actually, *I* tasted and *she* drank) and spent the bike ride back to the plaza telling me all the ways that the creator of the bicycle should have been murdered while she attempted to keep her balance. She got her sports car for a day when we toured Florence in a 1950’s Fiat and saw so much of the countryside that I was spellbound. There’s nothing quite like wind blowing through your hair while you enjoy the feel of freedom with the person you love. Several cathedrals lured us into their depths, taking up an entire roll of film and we sat in the pew for over an hour listening to a boy’s choir rehearse so beautifully that it made me cry. Museums, restaurants, and one market after another filled our days and kept us out until late almost every night ... but without fail ... every night ... we made love. As much as I love Tuscany, she takes me to new and better destinations every single time she makes me crumble under her touch.
It’s not until our sixth day in Tuscany that things get tense. I’m trying to get my hair to do something that doesn’t involve frizz or tangles while Erica showers. Technically, she interrupted *my* shower and told me to get a move on because we’re visiting Pisa today, but that doesn’t really matter. I finally give up and plunk a baseball cap on my head when I hear her phone ringing. I hurry down the spiral staircase and answer it before it can go to voice mail. To my shock, it’s the mortgage company and they assume that I’m Erica before I can correct them. For reasons unknown to me, Erica’s almost a month late with her payment and there’s talk of penalties and late charges so I interrupt the customer service representative and give them my credit card number. For good measure, I authorize them to deduct the next payment, which is due the following day, out of my account as well. Erica comes into the kitchen as I’m hanging up and helps herself to a leftover cinnamon roll.
"Who was that?" she asks, pulling apart her roll and biting into it.
"Apparently bill collectors don’t care if you’re in another time zone."
Her eyes widen. "What?"
"Shit!" She throws one hand in the air. "I made arrangements to pay that when we get back. I’ll call and -"
"S’okay. I took care of it. And this month, too." I self consciously touch the cap on my head, trying to see my reflection in the microwave. "Do you think maybe it’s the water here that’s making my hair so unruly?" When she doesn’t answer, I look up at her, stunned when I see how red her face is. "Erica?"
"You don’t have to make my house payments."
I feel my eyes widen. "Your house? I’m sorry ... I was laboring under the illusion that we lived together. You do keep correcting me and calling it ‘our’ place instead of yours."
She looks down at the floor for a few seconds, then back at me. "I appreciate it, but I don’t need your help."
"I don’t mind. You don’t let me pay enough as it is. We should split everything." I pull off a piece of her roll and pop it into my mouth, then lick a bit of cinnamon off my finger. "Okay?"
"No, it’s not okay. You already insisted on flying us out here first class and - well, I can pay my own bills. I just had to reschedule a couple of things because of this trip, but ... it’s fine."
Before we left Seattle, I ran across a bill for our rings and saw that she had paid it in full. It wasn’t chump change and she absolutely refused to let me half it with her. She hates credit cards and she let the bill for my bracelet dangle less than a month before she paid that off as well, not that I was snooping when I watched her do an online bill pay. Debt is something that Erica Hahn cannot stand. She makes incredible money, but her recent medical scare came complete with deductibles and co-pays so I’m sure her bank account is suffering when you factor in our impromptu vacation. And she invests almost everything. I finish off my roll and say, "We’re in this thing together so I’m going to pay my part from now on. End of discussion. By the way ... don’t make any plans for tomorrow because I have a surprise for you and -"
"I realize that your parents have more money than God-"
"Okay, whoa! My parent’s money has nothing to do with me!"
"You make sixty thousand a year as a resident, Callie. You paid almost twenty thousand dollars for our plane tickets out here and back."
"Ask any other resident if they could afford that."
"Most other residents have to pay off their medical school bill, Erica. I don’t."
"All I’m saying is that -"
"Stop saying anything before you piss me off!" I snap. "I have my own money that I earned and I can spend it on any fucking thing that I want. Including *your* house payment so just ... shut up about it."
"I just think -"
"I’m not kidding! Stop talking!"
"We have to go. Our tour is going to start soon."
For what it’s worth, being slightly pissed off in a Smart Car makes it even less comfortable. When you can’t control your temper and then cage yourself in a tiny mobile hell, everything feels worse. My knees hit the dash twice as she navigates the narrow streets and she develops an insane case of road rage that has her clenching the steering wheel until she’s white knuckled and shouting at other drivers. Once again ... I’m lost in my own head and unsure of what to do with myself. When she finally parks in the designated area and we see the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the distance it drives home the fact that we’re on vacation and we’re supposed to be celebrating our life together. I’m also thinking of the fact that my sex life is only just *now* on the upswing again so the last thing I want to do is sleep alone, but that’s really not the only reason I swallow my pride and say, "I really don’t want to spend the day fighting with you. I don’t want to spend ANY day fighting with you."
"You don’t need to be," she replies, taking my hand. "It’s me. Again. When you grow up without money you tend to look at it a little differently than someone who did. You don’t care about it, Callie. You’re the kind of person who is perfectly fine to live on Yang’s sofa or in the basement of a hospital, but you still won’t bat an eyelash when it comes to dropping cash on something you really want. I’m the kind of person who wants a nice big house with a ton of wasted space, but I think about every dime I spend in the process. I never want to know what it’s like to be poor again."
I turn a little in the seat, watching her. She worries her bottom lip between her teeth as she looks out at the crowd of tourists. "I was ‘perfectly fine’ on Yang’s couch, but I’ve never been perfectly happy until right now. You gave me a home, Yellow, the first one I’ve had since I left Miami. So let me drop cash on it ... because it’s something I really want. And if you’re having financial -"
"My finances are perfectly fine. The stock market sucks lately and I didn’t transfer some funds like I should have. I don’t need -"
"I get it. You don’t need me."
"Hey, I need you. You are the ONLY thing I need."
"Don’t ever assume that I’m sponging off my parents again." There are some things in your past so humiliating that you can’t bring yourself to admit it, but sometimes that’s all you can do. "Do you remember that incredibly annoying song by Mariah Carey when she first came out?"
"All of her songs are annoying."
God, there is nothing in the world quite so mortifying as this. "‘High On Love’."
She nods emphatically. "Ohhhh yeah. That was like ... the most overplayed song while I was at college. It was the summer anthem. I wanted to perform heart surgery on her while she was awake."
"I wrote it. And summer anthems have very, very nice royalty checks."
"Oh my GOD!"
"Do not freak out!"
"Why would you ... do you know how appalling it is to hear people running around singing ‘catch me catch me in your glove because baby baby I’m high on love’?!"
"That’s a bad song."
"It pays really well."
She lifts my hand and kisses it. "You know what? Feel free to pay off my mortgage as your punishment for writing that shit. I lost actual brain cells."
"I got better over time."
"There are others?"
"I’ll never tell."
I lean over and kiss her, making a mental note to avoid mentioning how lucrative penning a few songs actually is.
It’s way more than the sixty thousand dollars a year she knows I earn.
Actually, I spent more than that on tomorrow alone.
But I have something important to say to her ... and I want to make it memorable.
I’m cooking us breakfast the next morning while she goes over the loose itinerary that we planned. We haven’t really stuck to it at all and the lack of structure is getting to her. Even though we’re seeing everything, she still picks up every brochure while we’re out and pores over it like we’re missing out. And more often than not, she jots down the more interesting locales on her ever present notepad and puts stars beside it to indicate its priority. She’s telling me something about a Medieval Torture Museum when I clear my throat. "Uh, baby?" I say softly, putting a plate of French toast in front of her. "I made plans for us already. Remember?"
She puts her notepad aside and smiles at me. "That’s right. What kind of plans?"
"Intriguing. Can I have a hint?"
"You’ll like it." I sit down, trying to look as innocent as I possibly can but since she knows just how filthy I got this morning ... I’m sure she sees through it.
"Callie," she drawls my name, making it sound like a warning. "There are several things that we talked about doing that I have absolutely no intention of doing. Keep that in mind."
I think of the skydiving tickets in my purse and take a bite of my breakfast to buy some time. My options are to tell her now and then spend the morning convincing (begging) her to go or get her to the dive school and then spring it on her and hope that she doesn’t make a scene. Considering that being in front of people has never stopped her from speaking her mind before, I decide to save myself any embarrassment and drop the bomb now. "Let me see your list."
She hands me the notepad and I look at the scrawling, scribbled line that is supposed to say ‘Skydiving’, but it really looks like someone tried to underline something. I put it down in front of her and tap my finger on it. "Remember this?"
"We agreed to do this, Erica."
"No," she repeats, shaking her head. "No one *agrees* to jump out of a perfectly good plane."
"Then how do you know what I’m talking about?"
She rapidly cuts a piece of toast and drags it through her syrup. She shoves it in her mouth, talking around it. "I can read what it says. I’m a doctor."
"That’s not a word. That’s a scratch."
"There are two things that fall out of the sky: fools and bird shit."
Her tone is not quite as deadly as it CAN get so I clear my throat and say, "Well, here’s the thing, I already bought the tickets. And I picked the best reviewed place, but it’s pretty far away so I rented a helicopter to take us and a limo to drive us around and there’s a spa and -"
Her fork clatters to the plate and I close my eyes. Even though I’m ready for it, I still jump when she yells, "YOU WHAT!?! CALLIE, THAT COST A FORTUNE!"
"I know," I say, holding up my hands. "It was very expensive, but you insisted on paying for the cottage and I wanted to do something special so -"
"WHY WOULD YOU PAY SOMEONE TO THROW YOUR ASS OUT OF A PLANE!? OR MINE!? FUCK!"
"It’s safe. We’re tandem jumping and the -"
"We? Do you have a mouse in your pocket!?"
"That’s cute, honey." I take a deep breath and watch her mask of resolve fall into place. This really isn’t going the way I had hoped. "I worked my ass off getting all of this stuff in order. You’d be proud of how structured it is. And you will love jumping. I promise."
"I am not doing this and neither are you!"
"I’ve done it before! A million times!" I put my hand on hers, feeling bolstered when she doesn’t pull away. "I told you that I want to show you the world and -"
"I don’t care to see the world racing toward me at a thousand miles an hour while I pray that the parachute opens and try to keep an eye on you at the same time." She pushes her chair back and grabs her plate, scraping the contents into the sink. I listen to the disposal and when she shuts it off, she adds, "I’ll pay you back for my ticket. And for yours-"
"Don’t bother. I’ll jump twice." I get to my feet and put my hands on my hips. "Do you want to come and watch?"
"DO I WANT TO WATCH THE LOVE OF MY LIFE POSSIBLY DIE AGAIN!? GEE, LET ME THINK ABOUT IT! NO, I DON’T THINK SO!"
"Please stop yelling at me, Erica."
"THEN STOP GIVING ME REASONS TO!"
I push my chair under the table and pick up my plate as well. She moves out the way and I put the breakfast I was pretty proud of through the disposal. "It took me two weeks to get everything worked out for today. I got us reservations for dinner at a place that’s usually booked months in advance and I wanted you to see some of the sights at night because I’ve heard it’s beautiful. The pilot’s giving us this big tour on the way back so - please?"
"Fine," she snaps. "I’ll go to dinner with you. I’ll even happily fly around in the helicopter, but if you so much as act like you want to jump ... out of anything ... I’m not going to speak to you for the rest of this little trip. Got it?"
The pilot who flies us to the city where the flight school is has more charm than a man possibly should. He’s even more charming than Mark Sloan, but I think that came with his age. Easily sixty years old, Vincenzo Capozzi possesses the ability to weave flirtation into the story of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, making it sound dirty and phallic as we fly near it. I take his innuendo in stride, but I catch Erica looking less than impressed with his over the top phrasing a couple of times. She hasn’t spoken to me since our failed breakfast and I personally can’t wait until lunch because I’m starving and I’m a stress eater anyway. To take my mind off her aggravation, I listen intently to Vincenzo’s running commentary on the small village beneath us. The helicopter is tiny and I’m crammed against Erica in the small back seat. If it’s even possible, we’re more cramped than we are in the Smart Car and that’s saying something. The biggest difference between Italy and America that I’ve found is that possessions are smaller (cars and homes), but the land feels so much bigger than anything back home. The view is enough to take my breath away. I haven’t seen so much greenery, so much color, in my entire life. Every color in the a box of crayons is right here and I’m so impressed with it all that I’ve taken the camera from Erica on more than one occasion to try and capture it.
"Out to the right," Vincenzo continues, undaunted by Erica’s sullenness, "is one of the castles I told you about earlier. You can see that parts of it are in ruin, but every time the workmen get in there and start to rebuild ... something happens to stop it."
I lean over Erica’s lap so I can see out the window. Vinny, as he told us to call him, is absolutely right about the castle in question. Only three of the four impressive walls are standing, but I can’t concentrate on the view. Erica’s eyes are on me again and once again ... they’re doing something to me that I can’t stand. She doesn’t look angry so much as annoyed and I hate that what I had hoped would be a romantic and fun day is apparently falling flat all the way around. I move away from her and lean back, turning my attention to my own window, but it’s no use. I don’t see much of anything after that. You know, it’s funny ... I guess maybe I assumed that since Erica took to rock climbing and camping with me that she’d just be gung ho for anything. I mean, after all, she did also brave sunrise yoga and you don’t do that unless you’re hard core, but still. I shouldn’t have taken it for granted that she’d be as adventurous and I am. I’d probably get pissed if she just assumed that I’d want to spend an entire day at a cooking class ... I’m not that brave.
The flight takes just over an hour and by the time we land, I feel like I’ve been shaken and poured over the rocks. My legs are little bit wobbly as Vincenzo helps me from the helicopter and I feel like I’m still vibrating as I take a few steps. I accept my bag and thank him for the trip and he parrots the time that he will meet us that night. I check my watch and resign myself to the fact that it’s going to be a very, very long day. Especially if Erica’s mood doesn’t improve. Because it’s still early, the heat hasn’t gotten unbearable and I check my phone, pulling up the email that has directions to the limo. One great thing about Italy ... they have great directions. I lead the way and we’re at the car within minutes. The driver is holding up a sign that says Torres-Hahn and for some reason, that makes me feel very, very good. I catch the smile on Erica’s face when she sees it as well and about fifteen pounds of pressure leaves my shoulders.
If she likes our names combined ... that’s sort of a good sign.
Maybe today won’t be a complete waste.
Unfortunately, the driver didn’t get the memo that we would not be going to the flight school. I’m about to make small talk with my girlfriend ... you know ... the one who isn’t actively speaking to me ... when we stop and the door opens. The only silver lining in the entire debacle is the presence of a market just across the street from the school. I know that it’s conceding defeat, but if she doesn’t want to skydive then I can’t really force her and even though I built an entire speech in my head around leaping out of an airplane and all the lovely analogies and metaphors that go with it ... I really don’t want to risk her ire to jump myself. So, I suck it up, hold out my hand, and lead her away from the school. She laces our fingers together and even though a couple of parachutists drop not too far from us, she doesn’t mention it and neither do I.
What I’m beginning to learn is that the only thing that feels better than winning the battles ... is not wasting too much time firing your gun. It’s okay to raise the white flag.
I’ll tell you something else I’ve learned ... the smell of authentic Italian food will give you something to talk about when there’s nothing else at all.
We pick a cute little bistro that has outdoor seating and a view of the canals and we’re laughing comfortably before our bread arrives. I eat pizza, she eats pasta, and we split a bottle of wine that is easily the best I’ve ever had. If she’s only pretending to be over our fight she’s doing a good job of it. She pulls her chair closer to mine as we eat dessert and kisses me so often that I completely forget that I’m not fifteen thousand feet in the air waiting to leap. She makes me feel like I’m even higher. For nearly two hours, she alternates between kissing me and trying to sing ‘High on Love’ to me. She pretends to interview me, picking my brain about the song and whether or not it was written for anyone in particular and I weave a tale worthy of J.K. Rowling as I make up one lie after another about a supposed romance with a major league baseball player. She pretends to fall for it and asks me for an autograph. On my napkin I wrote ‘I love you’ in Spanish, then add ‘Yellow’ in every language I know, which isn’t much. And only one is fluent. She looks at it, presses it to her heart, then puts it in her purse.
Sentimental, thy name is Erica Hahn.
When we finish up, a man in a gondola calls to us and I have to chuckle. Sailing in a gondola is somewhere at the top of Erica’s list and there are four stars beside it. I nod at her and tug her toward the water and she happily follows. Within minutes, we’re reclining on overstuffed pillows while we’re serenaded badly by our eager oarsman. Here’s something that they don’t tell you about Italy. The canals are putrid. I have never smelled anything quite so disgusting. My nose alternates between itching and running in protest. I don’t comment on the foul smell, but I do breath through my mouth and I hear Erica doing the same.
On the plus side, there’s something quaint and serene about the vantage point we have. We watch a woman hanging her clothes from her second story window, winding the line like they do in the movies. We see children kicking cans and scruffy dogs barking at a lot of nothing and most of all, we see the city in a way that people saw it before there were cars to complicate things. The architecture is archaic and beautiful and some is so whimsical that it almost looks like a joke. Before long, I’m not thinking about the smell at all and I can appreciate everything from the poorest, crumbling buildings to the ritziest, appointed bricks.
Erica leans her head against my shoulder and says, "If you want me to jump out of a plane with you ... I’ll do it."
"She says after the window of opportunity has passed," I reply. "Too late. The classes ended an hour ago. They’re taking the last of the jumpers up."
"Can we do it tomorrow?"
"I’m sure they’re booked."
"I’m sorry. I should have done it. I mean, how many people can say that they skydived in Italy?"
"Neither one of us." I put my arm around her and rub her bare arm. As disappointed as I am, it doesn’t last. It can’t last with her. "But how many people can say that they’ve had mind blowing sex in a sunflower field in Italy?"
"Neither one of us."
"Yet." I laugh when she does. "Can I please proceed with my plans for the rest of the day? With no arguments?"
"Is there a sunflower field in your plans?"
"Maybe." I take her hand, worrying her ring the same way she worried mine on the plane. The rubies are sparkling in the sun. She keeps it so clean that it makes mine look dull in comparison. I do just that, studying my yellow diamonds, my hand next to hers. We’re quite a pair when you get down to it. Some would say that we’re as different as night and day and that’s probably fair, but we also strike a balance that is perfect. She likes to cook, I like to eat. She likes structure, I like to see what happens. She invests her money wisely, I spend it capriciously. I value family, she has none. Yes, we are polar opposites in a lot of ways, but in all the ways that count ... we’re identical. Unless you count our tempers which are exactly the same and far too overused.
"What are you thinking?" she asks and I catch a concerned break in her voice.
She’s obviously having the same nervous breakdown I had on the flight, but before I can allay her fears, the gondola bumps against the rough steps where we began our journey and the ride is over. Our gondolier climbs out and helps us both do the same and I offer him more money, but he refuses. I get my bearings, scrolling through my phone and locating the directions again. This time, they lead us to a hotel that is so ritzy, so swanky, that it makes the Archfield look like a Motel 6. We’re both dressed in classic ‘tourist’ gear, but that doesn’t prevent the staff at the spa from welcoming us with open arms. Before I can do little more than verify our reservation for Bella Grotto Spa, Erica and I are whisked to a changing room where we’re given silky robes. After a luxurious soak in a mud bath a hot stone massage, we shower and put our robes back on. Manicures, pedicures, and a haircut comes next.
I watch Erica in the mirror, making sure that the stylist doesn’t scalp her and then we’re styled to perfection and artistically made up. When I go back into my changing room, I smile because the dress I picked for myself is hanging on the wall and the shoes are not exactly worth what I paid, but they’re still just the right shade of yellow to go with my dress. And what a dress it is. I took Addison’s advice and went designer and when I zip myself into it and gaze at my reflection ... I decide it’s worth it. Granted, it was three times what Erica’s mortgage is in one month, but it’s also flawless. Strapless, and straight across the top, the back is slightly gathered, cinching it tightly over my hips and thighs. It grazes the floor in the front and there’s a slight train trailing behind me.
My ass looks amazing.
I take another look at my hair, which has been magically tamed in a way that I’ve never witnessed in my life, and breathe deep.
This is it.
I’m about to take a huge leap ... even without the plane.
Picking up the yellow clutch that goes with my dress, I quickly stow my wallet and lipstick inside, and look at myself one more time.
Erica is opening her door at the same time I’m opening mine and I freeze. Red ... red is definitely her color. I see cleavage, I see her neck, I see her smile and nothing else in the world matters. Her eyes are impossibly blue and I can’t decide if it’s the makeup or the dress, but I want to bottle whatever it is. She has never, ever looked prettier. My mouth falls open and I say, "Wow," which really isn’t the most clever thing, but I have to say something to keep from crying.
She’s gazing at me the same way. "You look just like you did in my dream. You are ... beautiful doesn’t even do it justice."
"You’re amazing." I reach out, running my fingertips over her exposed clavicle. "Jesus, Erica ... I -"
I turn and grit my teeth when one of the women from the front counter beams at me. "Yes?"
"Right. Thank you." I watch Erica retrieve her purse, unable to keep my gaze from wondering all over her body. She’s curved in every place that counts and the dress that I chose for her showcases every last one of them. It’s almost vulgar, but it’s not because of the design. It’s because I know what’s underneath it and I can’t stop picturing it. Our heels click against the tile and I see several heads turn to follow our progression as I lead her to the front desk. I ask for both of our oversized purses to be stowed in the safe and quickly fill out the paperwork, putting the slip of paper in my clutch.
We clasp hands in the elevator and we can see our reflections in the polished surface of the doors. Her eyes are on mine as we head for the restaurant. She’s giving me the same, serene look she gave me on the balcony in Miami when she helped me off the railing and we kissed for the first time. It’s a look of wonder, awe, and I know that her mouth is just as dry as mine when she turns toward me and strokes my face. I couldn’t speak if I had to and she opens her mouth to say something, but nothing comes at all. When her mouth finds mine ... it’s soft and tender, but full of longing. I feel what she can’t say loud and clear ... with every pore in my body. Some things you have to show ... you can’t tell and by the time that we arrive on the roof I’ve been told just how much she loves me and I’ve said it back at the top of my lungs.
To say that we’re treated like royalty is putting it mildly. La Bella Luna, the premiere dining experience (according to Google), is even prettier than I had hoped. We’re literally on the roof, there’s no canopy against the stars and the moon seems to hang suspended right in front of us. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that it was being projected like the Bat Signal into the sky because it’s so full and clear. We take our seats and watch as Japanese screens are put up around up, blocking our corner from the rest of the patrons. The wait staff leaves just enough room to move in and out of and leaves us with two thick menus. By the time we finally order, my stomach is rumbling from the smell of the food that’s already being served.
"Callie, this is -"
Flickering lights catch both of our attention and I lean forward in my seat in anticipation, holding my breath. Erica has a soft spot for opera and even though I can’t say the same, we listen to the applause from a nearby outdoor theater and gaze down at the production like we’re sitting in otherworldly box seats. Yeah, sue me. I was trying to recreate the classic opera scene from ‘Pretty Woman’ which I happen to know has been watched more than once by a certain taciturn cardiothoracic surgeon. Even though I’m pretty new at romance and have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, I would be willing to bet a million dollars that she is enjoying herself. Even though our dinner passes in silence except for the beautiful singing below us, we exchange a million smiles and hold hands over the big finale. I have no clue what I just watched, but it’s apparently good because Erica stands up to applaud and I’m sure that the other diners on the rooftop do the same even though I can’t see them. When the theater darkens, she looks at me and there are tears in her eyes. "Thank you."
"You’re welcome." I accept the kiss that she gives me and like I always am ... I’m so fucking grateful to get it. I make myself sick sometimes. I never, ever expected to feel this way. I never expected to be that person who obsessed over every minute detail of a twelve hour span of time, but that’s exactly what I did. I drove myself absolutely insane trying to make sure we had the best seats (I even paid double), and that I could time the skydive just right so that’s we’d have plenty of pampering and not have to rush at the salon. "So, because you missed it. I’m going to tell you exactly what you experience the first time you jump out of a plane."
She puts her wine glass down and gives me her full attention. "I’m all ears."
"Even though you spend a while learning the logistics of it, your heart still starts to pound when you walk toward the plane. There’s a little part of your brain that tells you to run and you look over your shoulder and wonder if you’ve already crossed the point of no return." I cover her hand with mine. "You keep walking forward though and even though you’re terrified, you climb into the plane and hold your breath as the propeller starts to turn.
"The ride down the runway feels like it takes a million years and you close your eyes when it finally picks up speed. That’s when you savor the feel of the runway because it could be the last time you feel land. You enjoy the bumps, you don’t mind how rough it is, and your heart starts to skip as you feel the wind slice and give in, letting you rise up with it.
"You open your eyes and look out the window and you say a little prayer hoping that everything will be safe and you’ll hit your mark when you land. If you land. And then you think that ... if you’re doomed to spending the rest of eternity flying around ... it won’t be so bad because the view is pretty spectacular by now and you’re kinda mesmerized.
"You listen to the pedestrian, mundane conversation around you and you wonder why no one else’s head is in the cloud with yours. Because you’re about to do something that you’ve never done before. You’re about to leap headfirst into the abyss and you’re trust someone else to pull your parachute and carry you through the landing." Reaching forward, I run my fingers through the ends of her hair, my eyes on hers. "When the doors open ... it’s so loud that you can’t really hear conversation at all anymore. Part of you wants to crawl to the doorway and look down because it’s a once in a lifetime view ... to look at the world the way God does. Another part of you wants to go sit in the pilot’s lap or wrap yourself around the black box and kick anyone who tries to move you."
She smiles now.
I continue. "If you’re lucky, you get to jump first because you’re pretty sure you’re a screamer and if you are ... it stands to reason that there may be others. And if you hear it, you may lose what little is left of your nerve. So, you’d rather be the first fool to scream than the last fool who can’t because you’ve screamed with everyone else and you’re done. When your partner stands in the doorway ... you’re actually dangling out of it and it feels like the air is going to crush you before you can jump and right when you think you can’t breathe ... they push off and away from the plane and you plummet so fast that you feel like you’re going to hit the earth any second. You’re weightless. You’re soaring. You’re falling, but you’re not stumbling. And as fast as you descend, you climb. You hear the parachute and it yanks you upward, feeling like a dull hook around your middle.
"And then you float. Your brain has released about a million chemicals and you feel strong enough to reach out and break a cloud with your bare hands, but there’s a delicacy that you give in to as you drift in the breeze. It feels like an eternity before you see your target and you know that you’re gonna land soon. Amazing things happen. You realize that you can hear people on the ground, you can hear dogs barking, and horns blowing and the reality hits you that as much as you dreaded leaving land ... you feel even worse about walking on the ground and not the air. You brace for impact and you close your eyes, then you open them because you actually hope to survive, and then it’s over. Your wings are clipped and you wonder if there has ever been another time that you felt so alive."
"Okay, I get it. I’m sorry I missed it." She picks up her glass and takes a sip. "I’ll never say no again."
I couldn’t have timed it better if I had to. I would swear that the waiter was standing on the other side of the screen, waiting patiently with his silver platter. He stands next to our table, holding said tray in both hands. Erica looks from him back to me. We’ve already had dessert and I clear my throat. "What you ruined today, Yellow, was something pretty important. Because jumping out of an airplane is the only thing I have that can show you what I felt like when I fell in love with you. Your first time jumping from a plane was going to be like my first time with you, but I’ll have to hope that you understand it enough to understand this."
I motion at the waiter and he takes the lid off the tray, exposing a medium sized blue box. I take it off the tray and wait for him to leave us. Erica’s impossibly expressive eyes are stuck to me in a way they’ve never been and I realize that I’m shaking when I say, "I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to spend the best days with you and the worst days with you. I want to wake up with you until I can’t wake up again because that’s the only way I won’t have any regrets." A tear rolls down her face, causing me to give up one of my own. "I just want to be with you until I can’t *be*."
"Hush." I open the box and show her the diamond and ruby watch inside. It matches her ring. It matches *us*. "The only thing that’s forever ... is time. It’s guaranteed. There are sixty minutes in every hour and twenty four hours in every day and that’s never going to change. I can’t tell you how many times you’ll watch the hands move around the face of this watch, but I can tell you that I want to be there for every second of it. You already got the rings, Erica, and we’re already wearing them. And I know it won’t mean anything to anyone but us, but I want you to marry me. Maybe it is just a worthless piece of paper, but it’s a worthless piece of paper with our names and we’ll know we did it."
I reach out and unfasten the simple silver watch that she wears on her wrist. I was with her when she picked it out at Macy’s. I set it on the table and take the new watch from the box, meeting her eyes. "I know it’s unconventional to give someone a watch, but -"
"Yes it’s unconventional or yes -"
She holds her arm up, grinning through her tears. "Yes, I’ll marry you."
I can suddenly empathize with anyone who has done this before me. I don’t know whether to cry, pee my pants, hug her, or leap into my chair like Tom Cruise on Oprah to scream that she said yes. The fact that I’m thinking about Tom Cruise at all only proves how fucking sincere I am when I say that I feel faint, like I’m going to fall out any second. I somehow manage to secure the watch on her wrist and take a moment to enjoy the way it looks against her skin and the way she gazes down at it with so much love that it’s like an extension of me ... and then I burst into tears.
"Oh, Callie. It’s okay, baby."
She pulls me into her arms and hangs onto me, rubbing my back. I can feel that she has joined me in my mental breakdown because her breath is hitching just as much as mine. I fleetingly think that it’s a damn shame that she’s messing up her perfect eyeliner, but then I realize that I will probably come out of this thing looking like Amy Winehouse after a four day bender and give in. It’s Erica’s lips on my neck that calm me down. I don’t know what I was more scared of ... her saying no or me not being able to spit the words out. Either way, I don’t think I’ve ever terrorized myself quite so thoroughly and when she pulls my head up, forcing me to look at her, I have to smile through my tears. "You said yes."
"Did you doubt it!?" she asks, scandalized.
"Well, shit, you’ve said no to everything else today."
I rub my nose against hers, then we kiss. It starts out as a sweet, thankful peck, but it quickly escalates. Most of our kisses do that so it really shouldn’t take me by surprise, but it always does. I’ve kissed many people in my life and every one of those kisses feels meaningless in comparison. There’s a difference as vast as the ocean between kissing someone out of lust and kissing someone because your soul pushes you forward and rubs against someone else’s. Our breath mingles, caressing our skin, our lips rub and tantalize, and our hands move up, grasping. She cradles my face the same way I cradle hers and I know that we’re both holding on to keep from soaring away. We pull apart because we’re on a roof and my hand is dangerously close to diving into the neck of her dress.
She picks up her napkin, rubbing it against my cheek. When she’s wiped it clear, she kisses my forehead. "This is undoubtedly the best day of my life. It was perfect. Thank you for this, Cal. For being you."
"I’m just a reflection of you."
"No, I could never be that pretty." She tucks my hair behind my ear, tracing my lobe. "I love you. And I don’t have to jump out of an airplane to experience what you described because that’s what you do to me every single time you touch me."
"Well, if we get out of here ... I think I can make you fly."
She nods at me and I retrieve my credit card from the leather holder. I dig through my wallet in search of cash for the tip, but she beats me to it and leaves more than enough. I scowl at her and she says, "Engaged rule number one," and holds up a finger, "we’ll make money decisions together from now so I really think this is the last time we’ll eat at a place like this."
"What would you prefer?"
"I’ve heard the ‘Y’ has really good food."
I choke on my wine and nod, getting to my feet. The staff, who exceeded anything I’ve experienced in America, fall over themselves to speak to us as we leave the restaurant. Because we’re not alone in the elevator, we’re reduced to having eye sex again in the shiny doors. I feel thoroughly dirty when they slide open and we retrieve our purses from the safe. It’s late and I fight hard not to yawn as we walk down the street hand in hand. It would be so easy to pull her into one of the numerous alleys and get a good look at the underwear I picked out for her, but I really don’t know the Italian laws well enough to try it.
"Mi scusi! Mi Scusi! Excuse me! Ladies! Please!"
Fearing the worst ... that Italy has a Savoy, I stop walking and turn around with lead in my belly. A young man is standing there, looking like the perfect stereotype of a starving artist. His black toboggan is splattered with paint and the sweater he wears is threadbare in spots. He points to a well lit area, just under a glowing street lamp, and holds up a canvas. I hear Erica gasp at the same time that I do. There are no words for it. This man, this sidewalk artist, has painted the two of us locked in a kiss, our hands on each other’s faces. I put my hand over my heart to keep from reaching out and touching it. "Oh ... my god."
He smiles. "You like?"
"It’s beautiful," Erica says, drawn forward to see the detail, to see us captured in oil. "I’ve never ... you painted her so perfectly."
"Is my gift. Please." His accent is thick, hard to understand. He holds the canvas out, indicating with his head that she should take it. "Is you."
"You have to let us pay you," I tell him, opening my clutch. I’d happily go broke to own what he’s offering.
"No no no!" He shakes his head emphatically. "I give you. No money for me. Take. I look all day for something to paint and I see love. Is good. My gift."
"Thank you. It’s stunning, really."
"I paint while you eat," he says, pointing back toward the bistro we had lunch at. "I fear you are lost to me and I no give for you the gift, but I see you now. So please, is gift."
Erica accepts the painting because he thrusts it at her. She handles it the way you’d handle the Mona Lisa. "Really, this is so generous, but we’d be happy to pay you and -"
"Yes," I agree. "It’s too much, really."
"No too much," he says. He takes a business card out of his pocket and holds it out to me. "You send me email, yes? Photograph with ... a ... a frame. Please?"
"Absolutely." I look down at the name on the card. "Giuseppe, I’m Callie and this is Erica."
He nods, taking off his toboggan and then he throws up his hand, bows in front of us, and scurries off the way we just came. Erica looks down at his breathtaking rendering of us, then glances left and right. "Maybe it’s the American in me that’s paranoid, but let’s go."
We power walk to the limo and clamber inside. She spreads the painting over the seat and we both stare at it, then at each other. I’m sure we have a million comments to make about our treasure, but it has to wait. We’re on each other instantly and we both struggle for dominance ... I finally win and shove her skirt over her head. Her red panties are EXACTLY like her blue ones. I logged many unproductive hours looking at panties online while I was suffering through my sunburn. And I finally found them. You bet your sweet ass I ordered three of every color except the blue. I think I ordered ten of those. I lean down and kiss her stomach, then let my tongue move under the waist band. She hisses and tugs my hair and as slowly as I dare, I pull the lacy thong down with my teeth. When I stuff them in my purse and return to her ... I waste no time indulging in her nectar.
The ride to the helicopter doesn’t take nearly long enough, but she has gotten off and is a hair’s breadth from getting me off when we stop. I hear the driver open his door and the gravel crunch under his feet and close my eyes, trying to will myself to come. Her tongue slides against me and I hold my breath, anticipating being caught in the act ... because I’m not stopping. It doesn’t happen. Before the driver can pull the handle, Erica springs forward and locks the door, yelling, "Just a minute!"
She returns to me and gently slides two fingers into my wet passage. My eyes roll back, my toes curl in my heels, and when her tongue circles my clit ... I cry out my release and she kisses me fast, but it’s not enough to silence it. I’m sure there’s no doubt what we’re doing. It takes me a while to get myself under control and when I finally climb out of the backseat ...I stumble all over the place. She hangs onto me, thanking the driver and offering him a tip, but he declines.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I didn’t insist on changing back into our comfortable clothes. We bundle our skirts around us and attempt to get comfortable in the helicopter, but it’s going to be torture and we both know it. It’s hot, humid, and confining. Erica has carefully spread the painting over her lap and I can see her looking at it in the moonlight. I put my head against her shoulder and say, "How many people can say they have an oil painting of the day they got engaged?"
"We can." She puts her cheek against the top of my head. "I am going to blindly trust you from now on. I’m not going to argue with you over where we’re going."
"Can I get that in writing?"
She laughs, nudging me with her shoulder. "You did it."
I sit up and look at her. The moon is hanging outside her window, bathing her in its milky glow. "What’d I do?"
"You showed me the world."
Silhouetted against the halo of light, she looks like an angel. She looks exactly like the blond haired angel that Jasper used to put on top of our Christmas tree. Even the angel wore a red robe the way she’s wearing her red dress.
I may have showed her the world. I may have given her something that she never ever dreamed of in her trailer growing up.
But she’s given me a glimpse of Heaven.
And turned me into a believer.
Ain't it pretty!? Tell Ange!</a>
EEEEEE!!!! I'm nervous!!! What did you think!!?