Aria & Emilio: Glimpse 3

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May 30, 2008

She was officially done with her freshman year of college. She stretched, cracking her back, as she sat on her parent’s wide, white front porch, surrounded by her mother’s prized cockapoos, Paul, John, and Ringo. They were all sleeping lazily in the heat, which she herself was also enjoying. Summer meant old school friends, her dark brunette hair lightening and turning slightly red from the June, July, and August rays, a nice tan, and absolutely nothing to do except babysit her neighbor’s two four year old twins, Boo and Violet. After studying her ass off the last couple of weeks for finals at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, Aria was more than ready to kick it for a few months.

“Ar!” Sophia, her younger sister, shouted from inside the house. “Aunt Mimi’s on the phone!” Aria heard her sister’s heavy footsteps – everything Sophia did was loud, even though she was the tiniest girl in the world – cross over the hardwood floors and out onto the front porch, banging the door loudly behind her. Sophia’s face was cracked in a wide smile against her already tanned skin, long locks falling over her shoulders, beautiful at fourteen. Aria wondered briefly if Sophia had a boyfriend. She knew a couple seniors from high school last year that always said Aria’s sister was model material.

“What?” Aria asked, snapping back to reality. She reached for the phone. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes! More than okay!” Sophia twirled, as Aria raised her eyebrows. She stood bouncing before her sister, and Aria sighed, knowing her conversation with their erratic Aunt Mimi was not going to be a private one.

“Hey, Mimi,” She said, curling her leg under herself. She eyed Sophia, who was scratching Ringo’s head.

“How is my favorite college niece?” Aunt Mimi bellowed into the phone. There was beeping and yelling in the background, and Aria could only imagine what trouble she was getting herself into. Aunt Mimi had moved to France, and then Spain, in the last few years darting across Europe. Mom said it was because her younger sister didn’t have any kids of her own, so she filled herself up by travel and sights. Aria liked to think that Aunt Mimi was just in love with everything, and couldn’t sit still. If it had to be anyone, Aria would want to live her life like Aunt Mimi. Art, good food, ancient countries, various boyfriends – which brought along stories that she’d whisper to them when Mom wasn’t around – and just this richness that Aria had never been able to find at home.

“I’m good, really good. I’m just starting my summer.”

“So I’ve heard! What are your plans this summer? – Hey! No, no. Lo siento.” Her aunt called. “Sorry, Ar.”

“It’s fine. Nothing really, just babysitting. You? Are you coming home?”

“No, but I did acquire this lovely summer cottage in Arcos de la Frontera with Juan. I want you and your sister to come and spend some of June and July with me, if you can manage it.” Aunt Mimi burst. Aria glanced up at Sophia, who clearly heard their aunt yell, who was bouncing faster now. She knew Soph’s answer.

“Does Mom know?” Aria asked, excitement mounting.

“She said yes! So what will it be, Ar? A summer in Spain? You’ll be able to babysit still, for a few weeks..I don’t want to interfere with that. I was thinking we could maybe help get you work, if you want money. Juan knows a place where people your age work, a little cafe. And you’ll be home a few weeks before you go back to Jersey.”

“Yes!” Aria breathed.

She envisioned white, ancient buildings in her mind. Working in a chic Spanish cafe, with beautiful language bubbling around her. Her favorite aunt and sister.

“Yes.” She said again, because she liked the sound of the word.

Sophia squealed.

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Aria & Emilio: Glimpse 2

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August 2, 2011

As his feet touched the gravel below, he took a deep breath. He glanced around, noting that the city was exceptionally quiet around four am. It was the only time he had seen it this silent. Or maybe he was just good at forgetting.

He contemplated going to West 73rd street, where he knew she was deep asleep, probably twitching fitfully like usual, with the occasional snore. His stomach tightened, and he felt as though his feet would run themselves there if he didn’t stop them. He clenched his fist, and took a deep breath. There would be time to talk, there would be time for them to discuss everything – for once, this might be permanent.

But maybe that was the very reason why he couldn’t go to her.

Aria & Emilio: Glimpse 1

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September 5, 2011 

She was good at waiting. She had it down to an art form, a science. Especially for him.

She picked up a yellow highlighter by her notebook, and tried to stare down at the textbook in front of her. She had approximately one day to finish her paper on the Byzantine Empire, and she hadn’t even finished the chapter yet. This was a potential problem.

Outside, the rain was thundering on the glass window pane to the point where she couldn’t see the grey city before her. She curled up in the red knitted blanket from her mother. She was thankful that she had gone home the weekend before, where her mother had armed her with fall and winter wear, even though it was only early September. She tried to explain to her mom that just because Allentown was freezing didn’t mean that New York City was going to get cold as quickly. Mom just didn’t get it, but Aria didn’t mind her fussing on days like these.

Aria glanced up at the computer screen, which had various social networking apps open (though she should be studying) and then glanced down, her phone next to her. Nothing except for a few text messages from her younger sister, Sophia, who was stuck in her Shakespeare Lit class down at CUNY Hunter. She didn’t answer.

She was waiting to hear from him, and her stomach hurt when she thought about it. It’d been a little over a month, which wasn’t uncommon for them, but after a summer of various texting, phone calls, and even seeing him in the city – in addition to rumors that he was moving there shortly – made her anxious at his sudden silence. She did not want to be forgotten, which she feared was all too easy for him to do. Why would he be thinking about her anyway? Who was to say he still felt the same? His attention would come in a furious wave, knocking her over, making her feel as though it was the day they met again, the summer they spent together – and then he was gone. Busy at school. Busy studying abroad. Busy coming to the United States, but never staying longer than grabbing a quick bite to eat with her, if she was lucky. Letters, emails, phone calls would come, and dissipate. Aria began to get used to this, tortured by this, and yet she stood by him.

She had come to understand this as a way of him handling their love – if it’s still there, she thought – and handling himself. Emilio was not good at answering to anyone, it seemed.

So as she flipped a page, she let out a sigh. And continued to wait.

Deportation

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He smiled down at her, and slipped his fingers through her hair.

“I will always love you,” His voice and smile simultaneously faltered. He looked away. She bit her lip and a tear slipped down her cheek. His heart was heavy, swollen. Words failed him. He couldn’t change her mind, and he wouldn’t dare try. It was his and his family’s problem. Not hers.

Loss: That was easy to think, but in reality, in this moment, all he could see was her. And in a few days, he would only be able to daydream about her presence. He would only hear her laugh and voice through the phone. “They” would become something of the past.

Jealousy: He didn’t want to imagine anyone else touching this hair, kissing those tears, wrapping their arms around her to make her feel better. But he did. He imagined and tortured himself. Some days he was just numb.

Fear: someday she would tell someone else “I love you.” His heart screamed beneath his ribcage. What if he did dare to try to change her mind? Stay with me, yes, that was what his heart was screaming. Stay with me.

Love: But he also didn’t want her to hear the judge announce the deportation was final. He didn’t want her to wave goodbye at the airport and drive home alone. How could he let her drive home alone? He was going to be sitting on a direct flight to Central America and she would be driving that little Honda he teased her about down 78, crying, because he would be crying, because what else was there to do now but cry? He could not put her through that. He would not.

Anger: He was causing her pain indirectly and he wouldn’t even be around to make her feel better. God damn it. His swollen heart crawled upwards to a lump in his throat. He loved her and he couldn’t keep her.

He leaned in. His lips kissed hers, long and hard. She was ending it and he had to respect it. Had to accept it. He had to accept all of this.

Truth: “I will always love you.”

He said it again and again.

The Moon Dance

Apartment Steps

I want a cigarette. She swayed clumsily and plopped herself down onto her apartment building steps. Two beat-up Hondas flashed by, blasting a mix of Meek Mill and old school Biggie as people drunkenly headed home or to their usual booty calls. The smell of marijuana swirled out of the first floor apartment window next to the steps she was sitting on. The smell of her failed rebellion. She prayed for the wind to kiss her warm and sticky skin. Sweat trickled down between her breasts, bestowed on her from all of the crowded bars and bodies she left behind. God. What an anticlimactic night.

She didn’t even smoke cigarettes. They disgusted her. She thought the last time she had one was probably senior year in high school—about ten years ago now, that late June evening she was drunk off her ass and Marco Del Vito was trying to get his hands down her pants. Her hair had been blonde then, she had just gotten three new tattoos, and she had been wearing a tight, short red dress she stole from Target. Now she was a brunette, hid all of her fading “works of art” as her mother sarcastically called them, and wore a slimming black Givenchy number that complimented her thighs.

She was still pretty drunk. She scowled. The irrational need for nicotine poked at her. Maybe if she worked up the energy she would go knock on her hipster neighbor’s door for one.

“Isabella?”

Her body jerked, startled. Her heart clanged uncomfortably, heat pulsing through her body as she stared at the man in front of her. He threw his hands up in the air immediately as if surrendering.

“Whoa, it’s just me.” He said quickly. She blinked, soaking in the crisp suit, the coffee-with-cream colored skin, the hazel eyes and that familiar look of concern dashed across his face.

“Isabella?” He repeated hesitantly. She clapped her hand on her forehead and looked down between her legs at the pavement, trying to breathe. He could not possibly be standing in front of her. He’s in the Dominican. Or he’s with her. He isn’t here. He can’t possibly be standing here and seeing me like this.

“Isabella, are you okay? What’re you doing? It’s 3 a.m.” Leo bent down to be at eye level with her. She looked at his shoulder, irrationally afraid to look him in the face. “Are you drunk?”

“What are you doing here?” She croaked. God, her voice sounded horrible. This was not happening. She blinked before asking, “How do you know where I live?”

“I looked you up.”

“And you couldn’t just call?” Isabella was dumbfounded. For the first time, she looked him in the eye. Leo.

“I’ve been trying. I literally had no way to. I can’t find any of your information online, I knew you moved to Boston. I looked you up, found your address. I sent you a letter but you didn’t answer. I don’t know where you work, and I only know Sarah’s last name and I couldn’t find her either. Apparently nobody has Facebook anymore. I had to do it the old school way…Isabella, you’re drunk. Let’s go in.” He rushed through this quickly, shakily.

She digested this. “So you came at 3 in the morning?”

Leo rubbed his face and moved to sit down next to her. She inhaled his cologne and had a violent urge to hug him. She hugged herself instead. He said, “I came during the day yesterday and today. I was drinking at the hotel before and I couldn’t sleep, and I had to see you. So I walked over, thought if anything, you’d be home in the middle of the night. I couldn’t wait anymore.”

“What is it, Leo?” His name felt strange on her tongue. It had been so long since she had used it out loud.

“Marianna’s dead.”

Isabella’s heart stilled. Her muscles squeezed painfully, and Isabella wanted desperately to breathe but her lungs wouldn’t move. The whys, hows, are you okays, what can I dos floated through her mind quickly, as did the same question that had risen in her mind the moment she saw him. Yes, but why are you here? Why are you coming to me, out of everyone in your life, and telling me this now?

Marianna was dead. Isabella quickly thought about the last time she saw Marianna. It had to be that day outside Café Amici—that sunny, sunny afternoon in Morristown where everything erupted in her face. Marianna yelling that Isabella was a puta and Leo was a tramposo, Leo running after her, and Isabella, like now, sitting frozen in her chair, her salmon and greens left untouched. Anxiety and morning sickness had made her throw up right there, in front of everyone. She hadn’t had a reason to ever see her again. Except when she occasionally stalked her Facebook for a few months after that, but then Isabella stopped using social media all together. It was easier to hide her pain that way.

The pair sat in silence for a while. Isabella steadied her breathing by listening to his. She felt lightheaded, almost sober, but still hazy. It was as if this news shocked the alcohol out of her. The cool September wind poked at her cheeks and she sucked them in, trying to find the right thing to say.

“I’m sorry.” She felt the words fell a little flat, and she flushed, fearing she offended him. Leo nodded a few times. She whispered, “When did you find out?”

“Last week. My brother called and told me. His wife is friends with her cousin.” Leo was talking to his hands. She was glad he was not looking at her.

“Did you go to the funeral?”

“Yeah. I went. It was Tuesday.” Leo looked down the street and then at her. She inhaled sharply.

“And what about her baby?” Isabella pictured Marianna’s mini me—except she wouldn’t be a baby anymore. She would be – what? Ten? Jesus.

“She was there. Marianna’s husband was there too.”

“She got married.” Isabella searched Leo’s face for pain at this news, but he looked away again. Marianna was married.

“Yeah. She had two more children. A girl and a boy. I said my condolences to them as well. Jez didn’t even recognize me.” The last sentence was said quietly, almost as an afterthought.

“Did you keep in contact with her?” Isabella was too scared to ask what happened. Was Marianna sick? Was she heartbroken after all this time? Driven to this? Was this their doing? No, certainly not. What a selfish thought. She hated herself for thinking it, but guilt rushed the question through her mind before she could stop it.

“No. She stopped talking to me for a while after everything…you know, happened. I talked to her after you and I lost…” Leo trailed off. Isabella’s stomach contracted, and he continued. “But she didn’t want to have anything to do with me, as you can imagine. Marianna was there for me as ‘a friend’ after the memorial you and I held, I guess. She heard about the death from someone. Didn’t say goodbye when I moved Santo Domingo, but maybe we contacted each other once or twice more. I heard she got married. Carlos, I think—he was on my baseball team back in high school. But I didn’t know about the kids. It’s one of those things, you lose touch.”

Isabella thought bitterly to herself that Leo and Marianna were not the only ones who lost touch. Isabella pictured herself screaming at him in their apartment—begging him to talk about it, fix it; pictured Leo’s retreating back as he grabbed his keys and slammed the door. She thought about how much she had loved him, had wanted him to wave his hand and like a kaleidoscope, switch everything back to the way it was. Instead he had bought a one-way plane ticket and signed over the lease.

“How did she die?” Isabella’s words fell like leaves quietly on the ground, fearful of their own sound. The street around them was so quiet, so deserted, that she felt like two stoop kids in an alternative universe with the world in their hands. It was almost as if they were twenty-one again, before everything, before he even met Marianna, sitting outside after Dark Horse’s last call, talking shit. Seven years. It sounded like a long time and at the same time it didn’t. She felt old at twenty-eight. Marianna died at twenty-nine. Isabella shivered.

Leo didn’t answer right away. Isabella looked up and wanted to touch his wrist, his suit sleeve, or his slender face. Did he need comfort? Was he sad? He must be. She would be upset at any of her ex-boyfriend’s dying. If it had been Leo…If it had been Leo.

“Car accident.”

“Jesus.”

Leo inhaled deeply. His voice was barely above a whisper, and his eyes pierced her. She wanted to look away. His eyes always seemed to undress her, expose her. “I can’t believe it, Belle.”

“I’m sorry.” She moved closer to him, mussing her dress slightly. He closed his eyes and she kissed his clean-shaven cheek. He smelled like home. How had she forgotten what he smelled like? She wished she was more presentable for this, quicker to respond, prepared. “I’m so sorry.” She meant it. Sorry for Leo, sorry for Marianna, sorry for Jezebelle, sorry for herself, sorry for all of the babies.

Leo suddenly wrapped his arm around her, encircling her waist and almost pulling her onto his lap. Isabella’s heart pounded painfully and her hands shook at his embrace. He buried his face in her hair and said, “I don’t know why. I had to see you. I just thought…”

Isabella didn’t say anything. Leo never needed prodding. He always said exactly what he wanted to say, nothing more, and nothing less. It was one of things she loved and hated about him—he always gave the bare essentials of what you needed so you were never lost, but never gave what you really wanted to be truly satisfied.

“I thought about the last time I saw you, saw Marianna. It was so fucked up. It broke me.” Leo’s voice was ragged as he pressed his lips against her hair. “You don’t know how sorry I am.”

She focused on breathing instead of answering him. Her knee-jerk response of it’s okay could not release itself from her lips. It wasn’t okay. You should be sorry. I was broken too.

“I want you to be happy. Are you happy?” He gripped her arm tightly.

“I’m doing okay, yeah.”

“Are you married? Boyfriend? Kids?” Leo’s voice fell on the last question. She shook her head. No, no, no. They sat in silence again. Minutes passed. The wind kissed her skin again, replacing the sweat with goose bumps.

“Do you think about her?” Isabella whispered. She thought of the newborn baby’s big blue eyes, just like Isabella’s…and her tan skin, so unlike Isabella’s creamy complexion and just like her fathers, that signature coffee-with-cream tone. Isabella thought of the pink and white flowers she hated at the funeral, and returning all of the boxes from her baby shower that Leo’s own mother organized. Isabella wondered, morbidly, what color flowers decorated Marianna’s funeral. His body tensed.

“Honestly?” Leo paused. “I realized how much I still think of her when I realize I haven’t thought of her in awhile. It’s like I’ll be at work and something will trigger it, and then I’ll realize it’s been a week or more since I thought of her. And then I think about her obsessively for days after. Then I go on with my life and it happens again. She was my daughter too, Belle. She was my daughter too.”