The small, rustic village of Monte Vista was located in a country separated from the Mainland by the Great Sea. Known for its fine wineries and rich food, the town, though sparsely populated, bustled with activity. The village center sat atop a large mesa, surrounded by the rolling hills of farmlands where crops and grapes were grown. Only the well-to-do villagers resided on the mesa; the farmers, laborers and townspeople who grew food and provided goods and services to supply the village lived in the homes nestled into the hillsides.
The historic Rossari farm had housed five generations of vintners and belonged to Luca and Bianca Atwood. Bianca inherited her family’s farm, as well as the legacy and responsibility that came with it. Their farmlands were rich with ancient, fertile grapevines that yielded spectacular harvests virtually every season. Winemaking—the art, the passion—was in Bianca’s blood. It was her way of life.
Luca, however, came from a family of musical prodigies. His father, whose family immigrated to Monte Vista from England, played violin and cello in the symphony orchestra. By age twenty-one, Luca had mastered most stringed instruments and was an accomplished concert cellist.
Luca and Bianca welcomed three children into their home. Their oldest, Giorgio, was thirteen when their second son, Arturo, was born. The following year, they brought their only daughter, Daniela, into their family. Giorgio would become the sixth generation heir for the family farm; it was his birthright.
The summer Giorgio graduated secondary school, Luca received a job opportunity in a city located on the Mainland called Starlight Shores. For his children’s sake and his own, he needed to convince Bianca to leave generations of her family’s traditions to seek fortune in a new, foreign land.
One night after supper, he and Bianca sat down by their fireplace with a glass of rich, red Rossari wine. The younger children were sound asleep, and Giorgio was out with friends. The only light in the room was the warm, orange glow from the hearth; firelight played in the swirling liquid in Luca’s glass as he took a sip. The wine, though still flavorful, wasn’t as robust as past vintages of the same variety. All the more reason to give up this languishing farm, Luca thought to himself.
He took another sip, made a face, then set the glass down on the table by his chair. “Bianca,” he said in a hushed tone, “I have something to discuss with you.”
Bianca, who sat knitting, never looked up from her work. “What is it, Luca?”
“My love, I have an opportunity that will take us from Monte Vista. An orchestra on the Mainland is interested in my talents. They will pay our expenses to move and our immigration fees. Bianca, the money they’ve offered me is substantial. We don’t need to stay here and labor needlessly on this farm anymore. Our future, and that of our children, will be secure.”
She set her yarn work down in her lap and peered over her glasses at her husband. “The Mainland? You’re either drunk, Luca, or you’ve gone mad.”
Luca smiled and continued swirling the dark, dry wine in his glass. “I’m not drunk, and I assure you, I’m quite coherent. The city is Starlight Shores. You’ve heard of it, haven’t you? Everyone who is in the music business on the Mainland lives in Starlight Shores.”
She continued to stare at Luca over the top of the glasses that sat low on her nose. “Who hasn’t heard of Starlight Shores?” Bianca resumed her work with the knitting project in her lap. “Your sobriety and sanity are in question, however, if you think we’re moving there.”
“Well, of course we’re moving there! Don’t you see what a fantastic opportunity this is, my love?”
Bianca huffed. “It would be a great opportunity, Luca, if I was just a little bit interested. But, I’m not, so we’re not going.”
Luca growled under his breath. “Just like that, you say no? You didn’t even consider the impact your decision has on me or the children. Arturo would benefit from being in Starlight Shores, my love! His talents exceed my own. Don’t you see that?” At age five, Arturo mastered Luca’s violin, and though he was too tiny, he showed great interest in learning the cello and bass as well.
“Giorgio is a farmer, Luca. Don’t you see that? Two can play this game of back and forth. My answer is still no.”
Luca grew frustrated with her stubbornness. “You won’t take this chance from me! I have worked hard to get where I am!”
“We are vintners! This farm, Luca… it is my legacy. I won’t leave it.”
He recognized that being obstinate with her was getting him nowhere fast, so he tried to appeal to her softer side. “But I am a musician, my love, and so is our son.” Luca walked to where she sat knitting, knelt in front of her chair and placed his hands on her lap, covering her knitting. His action paused the craft, and she scowled angrily at him for doing so. “Please, Bianca. We will thrive in the new country, I promise you.”
Bianca bit her lip. “This farm is Giorgio’s inheritance. All he wants is to grow grapes and make wine. Surely you don’t wish to sacrifice his birthright for riches and fame! This is foolishness, Luca!”
“Giorgio is of legal age. Nothing stops him from staying behind, if that’s what he truly wishes.”
Being sensible wasn’t having her desired effect on the man who sat before her. She knew Luca was a pushover when she cried, often giving in to her whims and fancy when she inserted some tearful emotion into a situation. Though she didn’t do it often, it was imperative that she convince him to stay in Monte Vista. Almost on command, tears welled in her eyes and threatened to spill down her face.
“I don’t believe you’re willing to sacrifice our oldest child for the sake of the little ones. Giorgio is too young to fend for himself. You know the wineries are competitive; he lacks the experience and tenacity to negotiate with them. He doesn’t even have a wife! Who will care for my baby?”
Luca rose and walked to where Bianca sat, placed his hands on her shoulders, and massaged them. “My love, Giorgio is not a baby. He is a grown man who is more than capable of running this household, with or without a mate at his side. Don’t you trust how we’ve raised him?”
Bianca twisted her torso and whisked his hands off her shoulders. Her attempts at emotional manipulation fizzled. It was time to stand up for herself, her heritage, and the apple of her eye. “How we’ve raised him?” she snarled. “Luca, you were always off playing that forsaken violin! You had no hand in that boy’s upbringing. Giorgio’s successes are my reward, not yours!”
Her words angered him. “If not for me and my forsaken violin, our children would be destitute! This farm never supported our family, Bianca, and it never will!”
“That is not true! The Rossaris are famous for their wines—”
“Were, Bianca. The vines are dying, and the new buds won’t be ready for years. Face it, my love. This farm is a relic, a remnant of what it once was. It might rise again, but no one buys Rossari wines anymore. Giorgio will choose to remain a vintner, but he should know what lies ahead for this winery. His will be a life of hard labor and toil. You know this to be true.”
Bianca turned from him. “He doesn’t care. This is what he wishes to do. And I will not allow him to fail when I can help him. Luca, this farm, this winery… it’s my family legacy, and I won’t let it fall into ruin. I can’t leave.”
Angry, Luca stomped away, then stopped and turned to face her. “You can, and you will! Damn it, Bianca, we are going to the Mainland, end of story. You and I are a family, and we will act like one!” Bianca sat where she was, her shoulders heaved in sorrow, and she wept. He trudged up the steps, confident he’d won the battle. But unbeknownst to Luca, he had not yet won the war.
One Month Later
Giorgio, when presented with the option to leave Monte Vista, chose to remain behind, taking his rightful place in the family business. He’d studied at the wineries around the village since he was ten years old and worked the vineyard he now owned from an even younger age. Giorgio knew the business and its intricacies inside and out; he’d worked side by side with his mother, replanting the vineyard with budding grape hybrids he hoped would produce new, unique flavors. Her son’s vision for the winery impressed Bianca, but she still lacked confidence he could manage the farmstead and winery on his own.
The Rossari homestead, and all it encompassed, would remain with Giorgio. For the rest, Starlight Shores would be a fresh start. Their living room was filled with luggage and toys for the children, all packed for their trip overseas. Bianca awakened early the morning of their departure. Luca, who noticed her stark absence in their bed, awakened shortly afterward. He expected the sounds and smells of breakfast, their last in Monte Vista. Instead, he found Bianca hovering over opened suitcases, feverishly removing items from them. Luca cocked his head as his feet landed on the bottom step, his face wearing a scowl.
“What’s going on down here?” he demanded.
“Luca, we need to talk.”
A sense of foreboding enveloped him. “What is it, Bianca?”
She stood her ground, arms crossed in an assertive stance. “I’m not going with you and the babies. Giorgio needs me here.”
“We’ve discussed this until I’m sick of it. You are coming with us to the Mainland, Bianca.”
Her gaze remained on her husband’s face. “I am not, and I’m not budging.”
Luca couldn’t permit her to stay behind, for the sake of his younger children, and his wounded pride. “What about our children? They need their Mamma.”
“I know, but I won’t leave Monte Vista. This is my home, Luca.”
“I know you’re worried about Giorgio. He is a grown man, and he’s capable—”
Bianca shook her head. “No, I’m worried about me. I will surely die in a foreign land. I can’t leave, and I won’t.”
Luca, in exasperation, clicked his tongue at her. “You will not die, Bianca. What worries you?”
“I’m too old to learn a new language. I’m too stuck in my heritage to pull up my roots here and lay them down elsewhere. You say I won’t perish in the city, and in some ways, you might be right. But my soul will wither away. I belong here in the countryside with my traditions, and our son.”
Her proclamation angered Luca. “You are always so resistant to change! Our entire life together has depended upon your willingness to comply, but not this time. I am the head of this household! This time, I will dictate our future, and we are going to the Mainland, as a family!”
“You take the children and leave. I will not leave Monte Vista; not for you, and certainly not for money! My decision is final.”
His expression softened. “Tell me you’re not serious! What can I do or say to change your mind?”
“There is nothing that will influence my decision. My mind is made up.” She remained stoic in her stance, digging in her heels.
He lifted her chin; their gaze met. Tears of heartbreak flooded Luca’s cerulean eyes and dripped down his cheek. “Please, don’t let this be over. I love you.”
“I’m sorry, Luca. I’m staying.” She bowed her head and broke eye contact. “Sometimes, love isn’t enough.”
“I see.” He stood and paced the floor. “What do I tell Arturo? Daniela is just a babe. How do I handle two young children and my work?”
“You will find a way, Luca. You’re resourceful. How do famous, wealthy families manage on the Mainland?”
Luca kicked the floor. “An au pair will never be their Mamma, Bianca.”
“Some day, you’ll be thankful I stayed here.”
“How can you say that? You’re ruining three lives with your selfishness—”
“MY selfishness, Luca? You’re taking my two babies from me, and for what? Money? Fame? This is your fault. Don’t you forget that. You are breaking up our home because you’re not satisfied living a life we’ve had since the beginning. So go, take our little ones and leave here. But don’t come back begging my forgiveness when you fail.”
“I’m doing this for us, Bianca, not just me! For Arturo and Dani. For our family.” Luca fell to his knees and wept. “Why can’t you see that?”
“I am staying true to who I am, and so are you. But we were fooling ourselves, Luca, to think we could make this relationship work forever. Our dreams are too different. Love doesn’t fix everything.”
“Love is a solid foundation. If we want it to work, it can, Bianca.”
She turned from him. “You’re a romantic fool.”
Her words stung him like a thousand hornets. “Then it’s done?”
She nodded at him. “It’s done.” Bianca began her ascent to the second floor, blinking back her own tears. “I need to wake my babies for the last time, before you rip them from my arms.”
Luca winced at the harshness of her words. “What do we tell them?”
She shrugged. “Say I am coming later. They will forget me soon enough.”
Several hours later, with the bags, boxes and children loaded into Giorgio’s old pickup truck, Bianca waited outside their home, trying to stifle her emotion. She and Luca, after their last exchange, stood in awkward silence while Giorgio retrieved one last box from the house.
“Bianca,” Luca said. “I’m sorry we fought earlier. I don’t wish to leave when we’re angry with one another.”
“Angry or not, Luca, nothing changes.”
“I really can’t talk you into coming with us? Not even for Dani? My love, she needs her Mamma.”
“We’ve already discussed this, Luca. This is my home.”
“I will never sign papers, Bianca. You made a promise to me.”
“You made a promise, too, but you can’t be bothered to honor it. Fame and fortune are your new mistresses now.” She crossed her arms in front of her. “It’s your duty to make this separation complete. At least be man enough to release me.”
Luca lowered his eyes. She was exceptionally good at inflicting pain; this moment was no different. “It doesn’t need to be this way. You could choose to come, even after we’ve gone. You could keep your word to Arturo and join us.”
“How is it you still don’t understand, Luca? Must you make me say it?”
He swallowed hard. “Say what?”
“I love Monte Vista, this farm, and our children.”
“What about me, Bianca?” She turned from him to hide her tears, but his hands gripped her shoulders. He spun her to face him; the look on her face confirmed his worst fear. “You don’t love me, do you?”
Her pregnant pause hung in the air between them as Giorgio walked from the house with the last box in his hands. “This is it, Papà. Should I put it in the back with the other things?”
Luca nodded, swallowing the lump that grew in his throat, and hoping his son wouldn’t notice. “Thank you, Giorgio. You’re a good boy.”
“Papà, I’m a man!” Both men laughed; Giorgio gave his father a warm smile. “I wish we were all going, but I know you understand why I can’t.”
“Of course, son.” Luca hugged his oldest child; Giorgio was his mother’s spitting image. “We need to go, or we’ll miss our boat.” He walked to Bianca and held her for the last time. “Pretend for the young ones. Don’t let them know,” he whispered into her ear. She nodded and embraced him.
“I will miss you Luca until we see each other again.” She gave him a perfunctory kiss and pulled away, then walked to the truck where the children waited for her. “Arturo, be a good boy for Papà, okay? And Dani, be a good girl. I’ll be with you soon.” She hugged both of them for the last time and stepped away from the truck. “Take care of my babies, Luca. Be prosperous and be well.”
“I love you, Bianca,” he said with one last kiss. “We will see you soon.” She said nothing in return, but stood and waved as Giorgio drove away. Bianca stood until the cloud of dust from the truck settled, then walked back to the house and closed the door behind her.
At the dock, Giorgio parked the truck in the loading zone. A smaller ferry would shuttle the family to a neighboring village, a port town with the means to handle a ship capable of a trans-oceanic voyage. The two men worked to empty the bed while the children stayed in the car. As a dockhand retrieved the last bag and checked it onboard, Luca embraced his older son, fully aware this would likely be the last time he’d ever see him.
“Take good care of your mamma, Giorgio. I know you realize she’s not following us to the Mainland.”
The young man nodded. “I do, Papà. I know we’re pretending for their sake.” He turned toward his younger brother and sister. “You have to do what you need. Mamma will be okay.”
Luca placed his hands on Giorgio’s shoulders. “You’re the only one who can breathe new life into that winery. You have much responsibility to shoulder, my son, but you will succeed. I expect to see Rossari Wines rise from the ashes someday. I will pray for you.”
“And I for you, Papà.” The men hugged for one of the last times. “I love you.”
“I love you, son,” Luca said, turning for the truck’s cab. “Help me with the babies?”
Giorgio nodded. “Of course, Papà.” He grabbed Daniela from her seat and hugged her. “Addio, sorella.” She giggled as he kissed her cheek. “Be a good girl for Papà.” Dani, as the family called her, was just four years old, but she spoke little. She giggled as Giorgio tickled her tummy.
“Papà!” she chattered, holding her arms open and reaching for Luca. Giorgio passed his baby sister to their father and took Arturo from the truck’s cab.
“Oh Arturo, you’re getting heavy!” Giorgio said as he lifted the boy from the truck. Of his younger siblings, Giorgio loved Arturo more. “I’m going to miss you.” He placed a kiss on the boy’s cheek amid a flurry of giggles.
“Ti amo, Giorgio,” Arturo said.
Giorgio hugged him close, then placed him on the ground. “Anch’io ti amo.”
Luca picked Dani up on his hip while Giorgio took Arturo’s hand. The family strolled over to the walkway that led to the ferry. A signal whistle sounded a last call for boarding. Giorgio reached for Dani for one last hug.
“I guess this is it,” Giorgio said. “Addio, Papà. Call when you get settled.”
Father and son hugged one last time, placing a light kiss on each other’s right cheek, and then the left one. “Addio, figlio mio. We will miss you. Take good care of yourself.” Luca took his younger children by the hand and walked with them onto the ferry. With their last farewells, he turned around to wave and to take one last look as the rolling hillsides of Monte Vista faded into the distance.
The ferry shuttled the family to the neighboring port city, where they boarded a luxury ocean liner. A first-class suite—two bedrooms, a bathroom, breakfast nook, and a grand living room with a wet bar and attached balcony—would be their home for the next eighteen days. Luca unpacked the children’s clothing into the closet and dresser in their smaller room, and placed their favorite plush toys on their beds. Each child had a special handmade doll Bianca had given them when they were born. Perhaps, Luca thought, it would help make the pain of separation a little less.
With the children preoccupied in their new room, playing with toys he’d brought from home, Luca carefully unpacked his suitcases, ones with items noticeably missing from them. His mind drifted back to the morning’s argument with Bianca. She should be here with us, he lamented as he hung his dress shirts in the closet. He wondered what she was doing, or if she even missed him the way he missed her. He imagined her pretty dresses hanging alongside his suits in the closet, and how they’d wear them to a special dinner on board the ship. Luca shook his head, closing the door and heading back toward the living room.
Though it was early in the day, Luca walked to the wet bar to peruse the selection of whiskey available in his private stash. Courtesy of the cruise line, he had a small collection of liquor bottles, each with about three glasses contained within. He picked up a bottle of scotch and checked the label. Not bad, he thought to himself. Luca opened the mini refrigerator under the counter and pulled out a few ice cubes to chill the drink. The ice clinked around in the otherwise empty glass as he twirled it in his hand. He loved the sound; it was much more satisfying to him than pouring a dull glass of wine. A half-smile pulled his face as he poured a shot of scotch into his glass.
He padded to the sofa and sunk into it, setting his drink on the side table. With his arms spread open, he rested his head back onto the couch and closed his eyes, already desperately lonely. “I miss you, Bianca,” he whispered to himself before he drifted to sleep.
Two Weeks Later
After more than two weeks at sea, the ship was due to dock in the port city of Roaring Heights on the Mainland’s eastern coast. The journey had, for the most part, been quiet and uneventful for him and the children. However, he couldn’t shake his melancholy mood or Bianca’s last words. They had been apart for only two weeks, but he dearly missed her.
The children had spent their day in the ship’s playground while Luca enjoyed some much needed time to himself. He tucked his tired little ones into their beds for their last night’s sleep on board the ocean liner, closed the children’s bedroom door and walked into his bedroom. He slipped out of his clothing and dressed in pajamas and a light robe, as the air temperature outside was chilly.
There was just one bottle of spirits left in his wet bar that he’d saved for this night. As had become his ritual, he took a glass from the counter, plopped two ice cubes into it, and poured himself a shot of bourbon, stepping onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air.
Luca settled into a cushioned lounge chair on the deck and placed the glass of whiskey on the side table. Though the ship was approaching the port, they were still at least one hundred nautical miles from land. In the open ocean, the sky was void of light and littered with what seemed a billion stars. The countryside of Monte Vista was dark at night, but he’d never seen a sky quite like this one. It made his longing for Bianca even stronger. Luca finished his bourbon, stood, and went back into the suite, heading for bed.
An hour later, Daniela’s crying awakened Luca with a start. Throwing on clothing as he walked, he hurried to where his children slept.
“Daniela, Papà is here,” he said, lifting the little girl into his arms.
“Mamma…” she cried out. “I want Mamma!”
“Mamma isn’t here, Dani,” he whispered, holding her little body close to him. “I’m here, and you’re okay.“
She sniffled and continued to cry. “I’m afraid!” she wept, speaking in her four-year-old voice. “I want Mamma!”
Fearing she would wake Arturo, Luca carried her to the living room, where she continued to cry for Bianca. He paced the floor for at least an hour with her in his arms, talking to her in hushed tones while she wept, still calling for her mother. At his wit’s end, Luca wrapped her in a light throw and settled down into the rocking chair on the balcony. He hoped the cool evening air would help to calm her as he rocked with her.
Whether she was comforted by the chair or the ship’s gentle sway, Luca didn’t know, but Daniela settled with each passing moment. Her soft weeping faded to whimpers, and eventually, the sounds of a sleeping child. Luca glanced at his wristwatch. It was 4:17AM.
His left leg was numb, and his back ached from sitting for hours in the hard wooden chair. His body shifted to relieve pressure from his left side, but doing so awakened Dani. He felt her fingers grip the neck of his robe and heard her congested sniffles. Luca turned his head to face her. The child’s jet black hair and brown eyes reminded him of her mother. “Are you okay, sweetheart?” he whispered. The little girl simply nodded.
Her eyes were heavy with sleep, so he stood on his right leg, waiting for the left one’s blood flow to return, clenching his teeth and preparing himself for the agony of pins and needles. Luca sang to her as he held her, more to take his mind from the burning misery in his left leg than anything else. As the pain subsided, he took his first steps toward the bedroom. A heavy sigh of relief hissed from his mouth.
He walked to Dani’s crib and kissed her forehead softly. “Sleep now, child,” he whispered. She opened her eyes long enough to smile at her father as he laid her down. She cuddled the doll that waited, with its blank, sewn-on expression, for her return. He pulled the covers over her, kissed her cheek, and tucked her in. Luca checked on Arturo and kissed the boy’s cheek before turning to go. He trudged back to his room and flopped onto the bed, exhausted.
The phone at his bedside rang a few short hours later. He fumbled to pick it up. The message, recorded in Italian, spoke in a cheerful tone:
Dear guest. We are scheduled for docking at noon local time. Please have luggage outside your suite for pickup no later than 10:00 AM. Please refer to your travel brochure for information on luggage claim, immigration procedures, and connecting transportation.
Luca slammed the handset onto its cradle and sighed. There was much to do, and very little time to do it. His wristwatch read 6:02 AM.
The children were still sleeping. Luca figured it was a good time to take a shower and get the remainder of his packing done while he had peace and quiet. Once Daniela was awake, she would require most of his time and attention.
The bathroom in the main suite was appointed with chrome fixtures and stark white tiles. He stripped down in the bedroom and walked, naked, into the open shower. The bath area opened up to a private balcony with a tub. Had Bianca been with them, he’d have made use of that amenity more than once. Being alone, he never saw fit to use a private tub meant for two.
Once he was finished showering, he wrapped up in a thick, white towel and padded back into the bedroom. He had already laid out his clothing for the day, and an outfit for each of the children. Everything else, he threw into his larger suitcase. Those items would need to be laundered eventually, after they’d settled into their new home. He took his time getting dressed, savoring the last few moments of tranquility before Hurricane Daniela awakened. He loved that little girl, but wished he had a fraction of her energy.
Rather than take the children to breakfast at one of the on-board restaurants, he chose to order their meal for delivery to their room. It would save Luca some time to have breakfast with the children in their stateroom one last morning. He chose items from the menu he knew they would eat, and called for room service before he woke the little ones.
Arturo was already awake when he opened the bedroom door. “Good morning, Papà!” he said to Luca. “Are we going home today?” It was a question the boy asked every day for the last week. “I miss Mamma.”
“We are Arturo, but Mamma is coming later. We’re not going back to Monte Vista. We’ll have a new home very soon.”
“I can’t wait to see Mamma again, Papà. And Giorgio, too!”
Luca’s heart broke into slivers. He knew the children didn’t understand why they’d left the only home they’d ever known, or why their mother and brother weren’t there. He really hated lying to the boy, and he despised the position Bianca had placed him in to do so. With a lump in his throat, he fibbed to his younger son. “Mamma will be coming soon, Arturo. I miss her, too.” He needed to change the subject before he lost his composure in front of the boy. “We’re docking today, son. Do you need help with a bath?”
“Then please get washed up. Breakfast will come soon, and I need to help your sister.”
“May I watch the box after my bath?” Arturo referred to the television that sat in the suite’s living room. Though he didn’t understand the language, he was mesmerized by the ‘moving picture box’. It was a luxury they didn’t have at the farmhouse back in Monte Vista.
Luca nodded and smiled. “Yes, you may. Hurry up, so you can watch longer. I have much to do today before we go ashore.” Arturo giggled and went into the bathroom by himself to bathe.
It was Daniela’s turn to wake up. Luca took a deep breath and exhaled slowly before placing his hand on her back. “Dani, sweetheart, it’s time to get up.” She opened her chocolate brown eyes and smiled at her father. Even though she had been awake part of the night, energy still radiated from her eager grin.
“Papà!” she squealed.
He lifted her from the crib and hugged her close. “Are you ready for a bath, little one?” He placed a kiss on her cheek as she giggled.
“I’m hungry, Papà,” she said.
“We’ll have breakfast after your bath. We don’t have time to play this morning, sweetheart.”
“Because, Dani, we’re going home today, and I need to get ready.”
“Mamma?” she said.
“No, little one. Mamma will come soon, though.” Another lie. Luca bit his lip and blinked back tears. His answer seemed to satisfy her, but he wished for Bianca to keep her word to the children instead.
After bathing Dani, Luca gathered the children’s pajamas and threw them into his suitcase. He dressed her in a summer outfit and put her hair in pigtails, saving her shoes to put on just before they left the suite. Daniela joined Arturo in the living room, watching television while Luca finished packing clothes. He put their favorite toys into a small knapsack he would have during the flight from Roaring Heights to Starlight Shores. He figured the children would be easily entertained playing together on the airplane.
Breakfast arrived shortly after Luca finished Dani’s bath. The family sat at the dining table on the balcony; Daniela in a high chair, and Arturo beside Luca. It was the family custom to pray before each meal, so he took Arturo’s hand in his while Daniela folded hers in front of her. Luca smiled at his children, so proud of them. Bianca has taught them well, he thought as he whispered a quick prayer of thanksgiving for their meal.
After breakfast, Luca completed packing the suitcases and had them outside their stateroom in time for a bellhop to retrieve them. The only bag he kept with them was the knapsack with snacks and toys for the children, and their immigration papers. The family’s paperwork was already completed, expedited by the orchestra’s director. It was a bit unconventional, but considering the circumstances, Luca welcomed the simplicity. Keeping up with two young children had sufficient challenges without adding hours of waiting and paperwork.
An hour before dock time, Luca made one last pass through the suite, looking for items that could have been left behind. Finding nothing, he gathered his knapsack and picked Daniela up onto his hip. “Come, Arturo,” he said. “It’s almost time.”
“Five more minutes? Please?” The boy had been watching an animated show on the television.
“No, now.” Arturo knew better than to push his luck. Reluctantly, he turned the television off and grabbed the stuffed toy he had by his side. “Good boy,” Luca said. “We’ll be ashore soon. Let’s go.” With Dani on his hip, and Arturo’s hand in his, the family left the stateroom together and ventured to the upper deck. The city was nearby as the ship approached land. A small, six-piece orchestral ensemble played on deck, adding to the cheerful, festive mood.
Right at noon, the ship docked in the port city of Roaring Heights. Luca had never seen a city as grand, and he looked around in amazement. A limousine waited for the family’s arrival at the dock. Luca approached an older gentleman holding a card with the word “Atwood” printed on it.
“Are you Mr. Atwood?” asked the chauffeur.
Luca nodded. “Sì. Um, we need airport.” He fumbled for the words he needed to communicate, hoping he hadn’t said something odd or off putting.
“I’m Samuel. A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Atwood.” He walked to his vehicle, ushering Luca and the children toward it. “Make yourself comfortable, if you will. I’ll be right with you.” Samuel ensured Luca and the children were safely inside, then closed the door. For what seemed like an hour, the family sat in comfort while their baggage found its way to them. Luca felt the rear of the car open; all of their luggage was placed into the back of the car, and Samuel finally joined them, taking his place in the driver’s seat, and pulling away from the docks.
The children babbled to one another during the drive; Samuel spoke with Luca about the voyage across the ocean. Luca understood very little; instead of reciprocating the conversation, he only nodded and smiled, hoping the driver didn’t think he was being impolite.
The drive to the airport only took twenty minutes. The chauffeur parked at the terminal and unpacked the family’s luggage onto the airport’s sidewalk. Luca reached for the baby, but couldn’t undo her seatbelt.
“Arturo, help your sister, please,” he said, pointing at the tether that held her in place. “I can’t reach her seatbelt.”
Arturo unhooked the belt, following his father’s instructions. “All done!” he said.
“Dani, come,” Luca said, holding his arms for her. “Arturo, stay close. Hold onto Dani while I get our flight done, please?” He set Daniela down next to her brother. Arturo nodded and took his sister’s hand, whispering to her in their native language. The children didn’t understand any English at all, and they didn’t know where they were. Frightened, they held onto each other and stood close to their father.
Luca stood at the ticketing counter, holding three tickets in his hand. The agent glanced at the paperwork. “Starlight Shores?”
The agent, a young man named Peter, circled the gate letter on their boarding passes. “Follow here,” he said, pointing at the tickets, and then to the signage. Luca understood, and nodded.
“De gate?” he said in broken English.
Peter smiled at him. “Sì.” He took every suitcase and checked them on board their flight. “Be safe,” he said. Luca smiled back and nodded once again.
The chauffeur was still standing there, watching the children while Luca had been busy with the ticket agent. Arturo and Daniela huddled together, still close to their father. Samuel reached into his breast pocket and retrieved two lollipops. “May I?” he asked Luca.
“Uh, yes… sì. Grazie,” he told the chauffeur and bowed. Arturo looked at his father; Luca patted his shoulder. “It’s okay, Arturo. Say thank you.”
“Grazie,” the young boy said. Daniela reached for the candy and simply giggled.
“My girl,” Luca said, piecing together as much English as he knew. “She not speak much.” The chauffeur winked at her, then extended his hand to Luca.
“It’s okay. Have a safe trip, and good luck.” The men shook hands.
“Grazie!” Luca gathered his children, one on each side, and together, they walked to their gate.
It was dark when the Atwood family arrived in Starlight Shores. The limousine pulled up to the door of an expansive estate that the family would call home. Luca woke Arturo while the driver removed their luggage from the back of the car.
“Arturo, we are home,” he said. “Stay close, son.”
Arturo rubbed his sleepy eyes and yawned. At first glance, he recognized nothing. “Where are we, Papà?”
“This is home now,” Luca said. He reached in and picked up Daniela, holding her close and trying not to wake her. “Come with me.” The family approached the main entrance to what looked like a palace. It was a far cry from the humble farmhouse where the family had lived since he and Bianca were married twenty years earlier.
With Daniela asleep on his shoulder, and Arturo at his side, Luca pressed the doorbell on the large front door. It was constructed from a dark wood; Luca surmised it could have been mahogany, or maybe a wood native to the Mainland. The door knocker, hinges, and bolts—all original with the construction of the older building—were handcrafted of copper, but weathered, coated in a bluish-green patina that betrayed the mansion’s age. The rest of the building looked similarly grandiose and ornate. As he pondered his new surroundings, the door swung open; a full-charge butler stood to greet him.
“Buonasera, signor Atwood,” the butler spoke in Italian. “My name is Henry. Do you speak English?”
Luca nodded. “A little. Nice to meet you, Henry.” The two men shook hands. “This is my son, Arturo, and my daughter, Daniela. She’s been asleep since our plane left Roaring Heights. I’m trying not to wake her.” Luca spoke in his native tongue, since Henry was fluent.
Henry stooped over, bent to Arturo’s height. “Ciao.” He extended a hand as a friendly gesture. The young boy looked up at Luca, confused.
“It’s okay, Arturo.” He grasped his son’s hand to demonstrate the Mainland custom of handshaking. “See, my son?”
“Ah, sì!” Arturo nodded and took Henry’s extended hand. “Ciao!”
Henry looked at Luca with admiration. “Your son is very well-mannered. You should be proud of him.”
Luca smiled with great joy. “I am. They are both my pride and joy, and the reason we are here. My son is a musical prodigy, aren’t you, Arturo?” He beamed at his son and ruffled his hair. “He’s already mastered my violin, and wants to play cello and bass as well.” He pulled Henry aside and whispered. “Arturo is a bit small for the larger instruments, but he tries.”
Henry marveled at Luca’s admission. Arturo didn’t seem to be much older than six. “Maybe you’ll follow in your Papà’s footsteps someday!” The young boy smiled at Henry.
“I hope so, signore!” Arturo replied.
Henry excused himself for a moment to use the phone. A female voice answered on the other end. “They’re here,” he said in English, and hung up the phone. In moments, the au pair—a svelte, young, red-headed woman named Maggie—collected the children and brought them to the nursery wing of the mansion.
Henry escorted Luca to the main bedroom. “This is the master suite. I see your luggage is already here, so you can relax and get comfortable as you please. Your personal assistant, Liza, will be here in the morning.”
Luca stood in the middle of his bedroom and looked around at the details. Fine linens on the bed. Luxury window coverings. Silk wallpaper and dark, rich cherry wood panels on the walls. From there, he padded into the bathroom to find brass fittings and porcelain bathroom fixtures in stark white. The backsplash behind the sinks was a bluish-gray ceramic, which contrasted the tiles throughout the rest of the washroom.
“Is everything to your liking, Sir?” Henry said, gliding his hand along the marble countertop. He’d cleaned and polished every surface in the bathroom himself; it was spotless.
“Yes,” Luca said. “There’s no need for formality, Henry. Please, call me Luca.”
Henry nodded. “Yes, of course. If you’d like, you may meet me in the grand hall. We may as well get acquainted over a scotch whiskey.”
“I’d like that. I’ll be down shortly, Henry.”
After unpacking most of his clothing, Luca found his way back down into the mansion’s grand living room to a wet bar, stocked with expensive whiskies and liqueurs. As they had discussed, Henry met him in the grand hall, then offered to pour a drink for each of them. Luca took the glass from Henry’s hand and thanked him; the two men sat by a vacant fireplace, sipping on scotch and talking like old friends. He never expected to find someone who he understood, or could understand his language, so soon after his arrival in Starlight Shores. It pleased him to feel so welcomed in their new home.
Shortly afterward, Luca retired to the main bedroom for the evening. A telephone sat on the nightstand by his bed. He looked longingly at it, wanting nothing more than to speak with Bianca. It would be his first opportunity to do so since he and the children had left Monte Vista nearly three weeks before. With the receiver in his hand, he looked at the dial; the tone droned in a monotonic thrum. He was about to dial the operator when he realized the time difference; it would be much too early for a phone call back home in Monte Vista. Luca took a deep breath and sighed, placed the handset back on its cradle, and dressed for bed, alone and forlorn.
“Bianca, my love, I miss you,” he murmured as he drifted to sleep.
In the years since the family arrived in Starlight Shores, Luca involved himself with his work. It helped to keep his mind focused on his music and off the heartbreak that remained in Monte Vista with their older son, Giorgio. Bianca’s request for divorce—though it was more a demand than a request—came within their first year apart. He begrudgingly signed the papers and released her from their marriage. This left Luca a single man, free to date other women. It was a decadent pleasure he enjoyed with little guilt.
Luca hired the most beautiful, desirable women, both for child care and as his assistants. More often than not, the young ladies gave themselves for his gratification in exchange for money and lavish gifts. When he grew tired of one, he would move onto the next eager groupie willing to surrender her soul, and her body, to a shameless playboy.
Arturo, known as Arthur to his classmates at the private school the children attended, continued to study and excel in the stringed instruments Luca mastered. Though he loved violin, for his father’s sake, Arthur also played cello and bass. In his senior year, he played with the orchestra at the academy as the first chair violin. It was an accomplishment with which he hoped to finally win his father’s affections.
Daniela, musically competent in her own right, expressed her abilities in other fine arts. She was a skilled painter at ten years old, working with watercolors, oils, and acrylics. Dani’s true talent, however, was in pencil sketching. She showed an early interest in fashion design, drawing innovative clothing styles that were advanced beyond her years. Both she and her brother were fluent in Italian and English and spoke with a heavy Italian inflection.
Luca’s hard work with the symphony orchestra in Starlight Shores made him a wealthy man. It was money he intended to share with his offspring when he believed they were mature enough to manage it. Both Arthur and Daniela had fully funded trusts, ample savings accounts, and credit cards for emergency situations. Setting his children up for success was his whole reason for leaving Monte Vista in the first place. In this regard, Luca had already accomplished his life’s ambition.
Luca hunched over a well-used suitcase, preparing for a special performance in a place thousands of miles from home. The symphony orchestra would honor its senior members with a cruise, an exclusive performance, and an award ceremony; Luca would be among those recognized. He was deep in thought, arranging clothing when a sharp knock at the bedroom door startled him.
“Sì?” he said. “Come in.”
Arthur stood in the doorway with an incredulous expression. “What’s all of this, Papà?”
Though the family had been in Starlight Shores for twelve years, they only spoke Italian in their home. Luca growled under his breath. “You knew about this trip three months ago, Arturo. I don’t want your attitude now.”
Arthur grimaced, his hand covered his face, dragging down over his handsome, eighteen-year-old features. “You know this is my graduation from the Academy, Papà. You won’t be there?” It wasn’t the first time Luca had missed an important day for Arthur, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Luca scowled at him. “You think I planned this trip during your graduation?”
“I give up!” Arthur returned Luca’s dire glower. “You haven’t been there for me once, Papà!” He shook his head, throwing his hands in the air. “You know what? I don’t care anymore!”
“Don’t take that tone with me, young man! I taught you better than that!”
“You taught me nothing! All I learned, I got from Henry!” Arthur walked from the bedroom and slammed the door behind him, leaving a bewildered Luca standing there in his wake.
Having overheard the heated exchange between father and son, Henry approached Arthur with concern. “You know, son, you should be more patient with your father. He does his best.”
Arthur flopped into a chair near his bedroom door. “Henry, maybe his best isn’t good enough anymore. Hell, you’ve raised me; I bet you’ll be at commencement. You deserve to be there. He doesn’t.”
Henry stood with his arms crossed. “Arturo, the only reason you go to that academy is the man in that bedroom. He’s afforded you this life of luxury and excess. Never take that for granted, son.”
“I know you’re right, Henry.” Arthur hung his head and buried his face in his hands. “But is it too much to ask for him to at least show his face? I will be the only one there without a parent. I feel like an orphan.”
Henry walked to the young man, placing his hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “You’re never alone, not while I’m here.” Henry patted his back and rubbed it with a gentle touch. “I’d be honored to attend your graduation.”
A smile replaced Arthur’s frustrated grimace. “Thank you. It means the world to me…” Tears formed in his eyes. “Thank you.” He took the keys to the classic speedster Luca had given him for his sixteenth birthday. “I’m going to Nicki’s house, if he asks where I’ve gone.”
“Very well, Arturo.” Henry nodded. “Curfew is still ten. Don’t be late.”
Arthur drove to his long-time girlfriend’s house. Nicole Patterson, eighteen and thin with short, naturally wavy blonde hair, brown eyes, and a slender build, was Arthur’s first love. The pair had been dating since the eighth grade spring formal dance. On her left hand, she wore a diamond promise ring Arthur had given her for her sixteenth birthday; it was a promise he intended to keep as soon as he could.
He approached the Patterson house and rapped on the front door. Inside, he heard Nicole announce that she would answer it. Arthur’s dour mood lifted when he saw his beloved’s face. “Surprise!” he said, grabbing her to him and laying a kiss on her cheek. “I needed to escape for a while. Wanna go to the beach, Nicki?”
Nicole turned around, looking for her mother. “Just a sec, Art.” She returned a quick peck on his cheek and bounded toward the kitchen. “Ma?” she called out. Arthur heard the friendly, familiar voice of Joyce Patterson, Nicole’s mother.
“I’m here, Nicki. Are you leaving?”
“Mmhmm. Is it okay?”
Joyce peeked her head around the corner. “Hi Arthur,” she said, greeting the young man. “Yes, but be home before dark. You have exams in the morning.”
“Yes, Ma‘am,” Nicole answered. She walked to where Arthur stood waiting and took his hand. “To the beach?”
Arthur nodded, flourished, and kissed her hand. “To the beach.”
He knew the day would come when he’d make good on the promise he made to Nicole. No better time than the present, he thought, sporting a smug grin. Arthur reached for her hand and held it while he drove them to their favorite secluded spot.
They exited his speedster and rejoined hands as their bare feet hit the cool sand. The scent of the salty air always invigorated Arthur, this time renewing his sense of purpose and determination. Tucked into a dry, barren cove, Arthur and Nicole stashed away an old, ratty blanket to sit on while they were at the beach. He pulled it from its hiding place and shook out the excess sand and brambles from their last visit in the fall. Nicole took it from his hands and laid it out on the soft sands just on the outskirts of the water line; the two of them sat together in the late afternoon sun. Though it was springtime, the temperature outside was still chilly.
Nicole shivered with a strong gust of wind; Arthur dutifully removed his jacket and placed it over her shoulders. The chill in the air left a slight blush on her cheeks that accentuated her natural beauty. Arthur stared at her in awe; she giggled when she caught his lovestruck gaze.
“What are you up to, Art? I know that look.”
He shifted his eyes from her and stared out over the water. “So, we have a week left of school, and we’re done for good.”
She reached for his hand and entwined her fingers with his. “Yeah?”
Arthur nodded. “Yeah. It’s got me thinking about the future, Nicki. Our future.” He lifted her hand to his lips, placing a delicate kiss on her fingers. “I was thinking, you know…” he whispered, “there’s probably no better time to get started on it.” He sat up and got on his knees, sinking back on his heels. With her hand in his, he stared into her soft, brown eyes. “Nicole, will you marry me?”
A wide, exuberant smile spread across her face. “Oh my gosh, yes! Of course, I’ll marry you!”
“I don’t have a ring for you yet, but I thought maybe we could pick one out together? I’d hate to get you something you don’t like. You’re going to wear it forever.” Arthur caressed her cheek, pulling her toward him for a kiss.
Her thumb spun the band she wore on her finger. “This ring is more than enough!” Nicole whispered. “I have loved you since the beginning, Arthur, and I always will.”
“Nicki, I’ve never loved anyone like I do you.” They shared another kiss, then sat side by side on the blanket, watching the sun slowly dip into the horizon. The sky was painted in brilliant hues of orange, purple and red in the afterglow of the sun’s setting when they finally picked up the blanket and placed it back into their hiding spot within the cove.
He walked her to the front door when he brought her home, just a little later than her stated curfew. Mitch Patterson, Nicole’s father, was waiting for her as she opened the screen door.
“You’re late, Nicole,” he growled. “You’d better have a good reason.”
“It’s my fault,” Arthur said, interjecting. “We lost track of time at the beach. The sunset was breathtaking tonight, sir.”
Mitch’s countenance softened a bit. “It’s okay, this time.” He caught his daughter by the arm as she tried to sneak past him. “Is your studying done, young lady?”
“Y-Yes sir,” she stuttered. “I’m going upstairs now.” She didn’t even turn to wave to Arthur as he stood there. He watched her scurry up the steps until she turned the corner at the top, and disappeared into the hallway.
Mitch had Arthur alone in the foyer of the Patterson home. He was usually friendly, but as Mitch approached him, Arthur felt uneasy. Something was wrong. Mitch took one step toward Arthur and blocked him in, one hand on the wall beside his head.
“I don’t know what you’re all about, Atwood, but I don’t like you.” Mitch spat his words into Arthur’s face. “I’d prefer if you didn’t come around anymore.”
“I-I don’t understand, sir. You’ve never taken issue with us before and—”
“Don’t act as though you don’t know what I’m talking about, wise ass. I’ve seen your old man around town with about five different women this month alone. You’re not doing that to MY daughter!”
Arthur broke eye contact with Mitch. “With all due respect, sir, I’m not my father. I love Nico—”
“If you’re a smart man, you’ll go now before I make you leave. You’re not to see her again. Do I make myself clear?”
Arthur tried stepping backward to escape, only to be thwarted by the wall behind him. “Of course. My apologies, Mr. Patterson.” Mitch stepped back, allowing Arthur the escape he needed. As he hurried from the house, he turned back to look into Nicole’s bedroom window. She stood looking through the pane of glass—her face pressed against it—watching Arthur run away from the house.
Arthur arrived back at the mansion much earlier than Henry expected him. He hung the keys for the speedster and went, without a word, up the steps. He pounded on Luca’s bedroom door, waiting for his father to answer his call. Arthur was angry that his father’s indiscretions had the potential to affect his engagement with Nicole. Luca answered the door; Arthur pushed his way inside, standing by his father’s bed.
“What’s the meaning of this, Arturo?” an equally angry Luca sputtered.
“You know Dani and I don’t care what you do inside this bedroom, Papà. But when your reputation as a womanizer starts to reflect badly on us, well, I have something to say about it!”
“Who do you think you are, speaking to me like this?”
“Who do you think YOU are, Papà, chasing women all around the city and—”
Luca’s Italian temper flared with Arthur’s indignation. He took no issue with stopping his son’s line of questioning with a simple, but strong, slap across the young man’s face. “You will never take that tone with me again, Arturo, or you’ll get worse!”
Arthur fell back onto Luca’s bed, stunned at such a crude physical gesture. The handprint stung, radiating certain warmth. “I’m sorry, Papà.” He huffed a frustrated sigh and buried his face in his hands. “I’m so sorry.”
Luca took pity on the young man. Even as a young teenager, Arthur had never given Luca problems. Something had to be wrong, and he was going to find out. “What’s this about, Arturo?” He took the seat on the bed next to his son.
Arthur took a breath and held it, shook his head, and exhaled slowly. “It’s Nicki, Papà. Her father said he saw you in town with many women. He fears I’ll do the same with Nicole. But I’d never do that to her. I love her, and I’m going to marry her after graduation.”
Luca gritted his teeth. “I don’t want you marrying that girl, Arturo. Her father has a bad reputation as a hot head. He is a dangerous man, son. You don’t need to get mixed up in that family.”
Arthur shook his head. Does this man have any self-awareness at all? He thought. “You’re one to talk about reputations, Papà.”
Luca pointed his finger at the boy. “I’m telling you, Arturo. Do not marry her. I forbid it.”
“This isn’t your decision! It is my life, Papà, not yours.” Arthur stood and walked toward the door. “I’m sorry. I’m not budging on this.”
“Mio Dio, you’re stubborn, Arturo, just like your Mamma.” Luca scowled. “You don’t want to test me. You have much to lose.”
“I don’t care. I’m marrying Nicole, and that’s final.” Arthur stepped through the door and closed it behind him.
Luca growled under his breath. “We’ll see about that.”
Arthur stood in front of the fireplace, dressed in his graduation cap and gown, in the mansion the Atwoods called home. Henry pointed the camera at him.
“Smile, son,” Henry said and snapped a photograph. He walked to where Arthur stood and embraced him. “Your Papà wanted to be here. I hope you realize that.”
Arthur shook his head. “No, Henry, he didn’t. Papà cares only about himself and his flavor of the week.” He hated his father for the way Luca’s licentiousness affected his own life. He huffed, puffing a lock of hair from his face. “He couldn’t care less about me or Dani.”
Henry grunted his dissatisfaction. “You know that isn’t true. He loves both of you. It’s a shame neither of you see it.”
“He’d have made the effort to be here, Henry, if he gave a fu—.”
Henry pointed his finger at the indignant youth and snapped at him. “I don’t care how you speak when you’re with your friends, young man, but you will not disrespect me in this house!”
Arthur lowered his eyes from Henry. “I’m sorry. I meant no disrespect to you.”
“You’re forgiven, Arturo. Please be mindful of your language, especially around Dani. She’s younger than you, and she looks up to you.”
Arthur smiled, but bit his tongue. If Henry could hear how Daniela spoke with her friends, he’d discover she wasn’t nearly as sweet and innocent as he believed her to be. “Yes, of course.”
As if summoned by the mere act of thought, Dani appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. “What time is your graduation, Arturo?”
“Two-thirty,” Arthur said. “We need to leave soon, or I’ll be late.”
“Are you ready, Dani?” Henry set the camera he’d been holding on the fireplace mantle.
“Mmhmm,” she said, nodding her head. She looked at Arthur and giggled. “Shotgun!”
“I’m driving, so I don’t think so!” Arthur shot back.
Henry smiled and chuckled at his young charge. “Why don’t I drive, and you can both sit in the back seat?”
Neither Arthur nor Dani spoke another word.
“Arthur Atwood,” the dean of students called. The teen stood side-stage, waiting for this moment. He took his walk with a spirited stride to where the dean stood grasping the paper scroll. “Congratulations, young man.” Arthur said nothing, reaching for the diploma and nodding in acknowledgment. He turned to where he knew Henry and Daniela sat and waved at them, sporting an accomplished grin. As he walked off stage, he flipped the tassel on his cap from the right side to the left.
After the last student took their walk across the platform, the dean of students gave his closing remarks. A flurry of caps rose in the space above the graduating class, only to fall with gravity’s pull. Arthur picked up a random cap from the floor and reattached the tassel to it before placing it back on his head, and walking to meet his family.
Dani greeted her brother with a hug. “Congratulations!” she said. Next year would be her turn to walk the stage and gather her diploma.
“Thank you, Dani,” he said in reply, then turned to Henry. “Thank you again for coming. You’ve been there for me when Papà hasn’t.” The men hugged briefly, and Henry pulled away, wiping a tear from his eyes.
“You’re the son I never had, Arturo, and I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished.” Henry leaned closer to Arthur and whispered, “Does your father know of your engagement?”
Arthur shook his head. “We’re eloping tonight. Papà doesn’t need to know until after it’s done.” Henry huffed at the young man, but nodded anyway.
“You’re making a wise decision, even though I don’t agree with it. Be shrewd with your father, Arturo. He loves you, but he has little tolerance for things he finds distasteful.”
“I understand, but it’s imperative I get Nicole away from her father, Henry. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure she is safe. I can protect her best when she’s with me.” Henry simply nodded, wearing a sad smile.
“Art!” Nicole stood fifteen yards from where Henry and Arthur stood when she spotted him. She ran toward the two men, barely slowing down as she approached. “You need to get out of here.”
“Whoa, sweetheart, slow down!” Arthur took her hand, which he felt trembling in his. “What’s wrong?”
“I told my dad about our engagement, and he’s not happy! You need to leave, Arthur, before he hurts you.”
Arthur stood tall, unshaken. “I’m not afraid of your father, Nicole.”
She pulled his hand, urging him to leave. “You should be.” Tears rolled down her cheeks. “I might not make our rendezvous tonight. I’m grounded.”
Mitch Patterson’s furious voice bellowed in the corridors of City Hall. “He can’t ground you. You’re an adult now. Don’t worry, sweetie, we’ll figure it out.” Arthur kissed her hand and held onto it as he walked away from her. “I love you, Nicole.”
“Go, Arthur! Hurry!” She pushed him away from her as her father’s footsteps grew closer. “I love you!”
Arthur turned to leave with Henry encouraging him. Just as he spun around to check the situation, he saw Mitch screaming at Nicole, red-faced and enraged. His fiancée cowered into a ball, shrinking away from this monstrous man hollering at her. Arthur turned and walked—fast and determined—back toward Nicole and her father.
He knew their relationship was strained, that Mitch had tightened the proverbial reins with Nicole, though he didn’t know why. On that day, Arthur feared for her safety, and he would never allow that man to harm her when he was around!
“Nicole!” Arthur yelled. Both turned their heads to see him standing in the hallway, surrounded by their classmates. He made quicker strides toward them; when he reached Nicole, he blocked her with his body. “With all due respect, Mister Patterson, you will NOT take my fiancée from me.” Nicole clung to Arthur, shaking in fear.
“This ain’t your business, Atwood. Go home to your philandering father.” He tried to push Arthur out of his way, but the boy stood his ground.
Arthur turned around, pulled Nicole to her feet and hugged her. “Go to Henry, Nicki. He and Dani will take you to my car,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m right behind you.” Daniela walked to Nicole, took her hand and led her to where Henry stood a safe distance away from the brewing storm.
“You ain’t taking her anywhere, boy.” Mitch stood taller, unaware of the sheer number of young men gathering around the two of them. “In fact, if I have my way, you’ll never see her again…” The group of Arthur’s peers grew, closing in around him.
“That’s where you’re wrong, sir. I’m taking Nicole with me, and I’m going to marry her tonight.” Arthur’s voice was confident and strong.
“You, and whose army, boy?”
“This army, sir.” The thirteen other young graduates stood with Arthur, ready to protect him and his fiancée. “My friends won’t let you keep her from me.”
Mitch Patterson knew he couldn’t take fourteen young men, some of whom were bigger and most were stronger than he was. He said nothing, instead turning back to where his wife waited for him, weeping in solitude. “You have guts, boy, but this isn’t over. Not by a long shot,” he spat at Arthur before joining his family.
Dani was running to meet Arthur as the crowd dissipated. “Arturo! Nicole is with Henry in the car. We’re waiting for you.”
He hugged his sister and turned to go, first checking his six, ensuring her father kept his distance. A heated discussion was underway between the Pattersons. Arthur thought it best to leave while he had the chance, though he would stand up to Nicole’s father alone if he needed to.
Nicole burst into tears when Arthur got closer. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead. She trembled in his arms as he held her. “It’s okay, Nicki. We’re together now. We can leave right from my house in a few hours. Whatever you need, I’ll get for you.”
“I have nothing except what I’m wearing. My dad said I’m not welcome back home if I go with you.”
Arthur held her tighter. Nicole had been close with her mother and younger brother, even if the relationship with her father had become strained over the past months. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
“I don’t understand why he’s so angry. This is my life, and I can choose whatever I want!” She took a deep breath and sighed. “I choose you.”
“Ah, my sweet Nicole! This is music to my ears. How I love you.” He kissed her and wiped the tears from her eyes. “It’s going to be okay.”
“I love you, and I trust you,” she said.
“Then let’s get out of here,” Arthur said, sliding behind the wheel of his speedster, and driving them away from City Hall.
Arthur and Nicole drove an hour to a neighboring town, one where he had made arrangements prior to that evening. A small, all-night chapel had their reservations for seven that evening, along with the honeymoon suite at the attached motel. It was cheap and seedy, but none of that mattered to Arthur and his young bride. His top priority was making Nicole Patterson his legal wife. Everything else would come in good time.
Arthur pulled his speedster into the chapel’s parking lot. He got out and stretched. Nicole had dozed off in the passenger seat, but awakened when she heard the driver side door slam shut. She rolled down the window as he walked to her door.
“Is this it?” she said.
Arthur nodded his head. “Sì. Did you rest well, my darling?”
“Mmhmm.” Nicole rubbed her sleepy eyes. “I don’t have a dress.”
“It’s okay, Nicki. I’ll make sure you have what you need.”
“You’re too good to me, Arthur.”
He opened her door and held his hand to her. “I’m just the right amount of good, baby,” he said, chuckling.
Together, they walked into the motel’s small, cluttered lobby. Neither of them had ever stayed in an establishment that was less than extravagant. By every metric, this place was the worst of the worst. Arthur’s wrinkled nose showed his obvious distaste. His focus, however, was the chapel that stood adjacent. In less than one hour, they would stand before a justice of the peace in a civil ceremony and exchange vows. The price of the wedding included the suite where they’d spend their first night as husband and wife.
A small clothing boutique was located next to the motel on the side opposite the chapel. Inside, they rented her wedding dress and purchased a few other accessories Nicole wanted. Since time was of the essence, she chose a short, lacy white dress with a halo of flowers that would sit atop her head. Arthur bought her a small nosegay of lilies and other tiny wildflowers that she would carry on her walk down the aisle.
They strolled hand in hand to the chapel, with Arthur carrying her dress over his left shoulder. Instead of being nervous, the young couple was excited to begin their married life together. Neither one of them planned on attending college. Arthur already had a job lined up beside Luca as a fifth chair violinist with the orchestra, sitting in for them as needed. Nicole still worked part time at the grocery store in town. For the time being, Arthur’s salary with the orchestra, plus his trust fund, would be sufficient to get a newlywed couple on their feet.
“I need to go get ready,” Nicole said, taking her dress from Arthur and pointing at a door that said ‘Bride’s Room.’ “I’ll be out in five minutes.” She kissed his cheek and squeezed his hand in her firm grip before distance broke their grasp.
The small room was more a locker room than a conventional bride’s room, as it had small, locked compartments for clothing and other valuables the bride-to-be wished not to carry on her person during the ceremony. Nicole unwrapped the dress, which ended up being a size too large, and slipped into it without undoing the zipper in back. She straightened the skirt out and smoothed the fabric under her sweaty palms, stepping back to fix her hair. “Not bad, Nicki,” she whispered under her breath. In ten minutes, it wouldn’t matter, anyway.
When she was satisfied with her appearance, she took the key from the locker and slipped the band around her wrist. “This feels more like gym class than a wedding chapel,” she said with a chuckle. Arthur waited for her just outside the bride’s room. His sweet smile made her heart flutter.
“You look so beautiful, Nicki,” he whispered. “Are you ready?”
Arthur always dressed stylishly in slacks and Oxford shirts. His brown hair, which looked like he’d just awakened, stuck out in every direction as it did every day. In addition, he had a casual sport coat hooked over his finger. He swung the jacket around and slipped it onto his slender, but muscular, frame. Admiring his reflection in the mirror that hung in the breezeway of the chapel, he smoothed an unruly lock of hair only to have it spring back into place. He chuckled and rolled his blue eyes.
“That suit looks good on you, Art,” Nicole said. “I’m ready.”
Arthur took her hand and they walked, side by side, into the wedding chapel. It was nothing fancy; rows of chairs set up, a small podium at the front of the room, and artificial flowers lining the table at which the bride and groom would stand. Nicole squeezed Arthur’s hand, feeling the slightest flutter in her stomach, though she wasn’t sure if she was excited or nervous. He placed a delicate kiss on her cheek.
“Atwood?” A voice called from the front of the makeshift chapel. “Mister Arthur Atwood and bride?”
“That’s us,” Arthur said as he stepped forward.
“Would the bride stay back until the music plays, please? And sir, if you would, step this way.” The wedding director invited Arthur to stand at the table to await his young bride.
The organist played the first chords of ‘Here Comes The Bride.’ Nicole stepped into Arthur’s view, carrying the nosegay he bought for her. He beamed, smiling from ear to ear as he watched her walk to him.
The officiant stepped in front of them after Nicole joined him. He took her hand again and squeezed it twice, their signal that everything would be okay. She returned the gesture, then turned to look at her handsome groom.
The officiant turned to them and spoke. “We are gathered here today to witness the union of Arthur and Nicole. Today is the beginning of a remarkable journey for this couple. Drawing on their mutual admiration, respect, and trust, they are ready to embark on the next chapter in their lives. We celebrate the love and light evident in their relationship, and wish them well on this joyous occasion.”
Arthur smiled at his bride as the officiant continued to speak. “I will now invite the couple to share their vows with one another. Arthur and Nicole, the promises you make today are sacred; they are the groundwork from which your marriage will grow and blossom over time. Arthur, would you like to begin first?”
Arthur cleared his throat, cocked his head and looked at Nicole with all the love he had in his heart. He took her hand, rubbing her fingers with his own as he spoke. “Nicole, my darling, my life is forever entangled with yours from this day on. My dreams are your dreams, and I’ll build it all around you. I love you.” When he finished speaking, he lifted her hand to his lips and placed a delicate kiss on her fingers.
“Nicole, it’s your turn.” The officiant smiled at her and nodded. Nicole sniffled, overcome with emotion. She took a deep breath and exhaled.
“Arthur, my sweetheart, you are my every dream come true, and I can’t wait for the reality we get to build together. I love you.”
“Please, Arthur and Nicole, join hands as you state your intentions.” She looked at Arthur before she spoke. “Arthur, before these witnesses, do you take Nicole as your beloved wife, to have and to hold, through laughter and in sadness, through challenges and successes, so long as you both shall live?”
He smiled, reaching his hand to stroke her cheek. “I do.”
“And Nicole, before these witnesses, do you take Arthur as your beloved husband, to have and to hold, through laughter and in sadness, through challenges and successes, so long as you both shall live?”
Nicole grinned and nodded, affirming the gesture with a simple, “I do.”
“Wedding rings are a traditional symbol of the strength of the bond between two soulmates. This bond is never broken, and continues in a perpetual circle, glowing with the warmth and eternal light of two souls in a perfect union. By wearing these rings, you will be always reminded of the connection you share and the vows you have made today. Arthur, please repeat after me. I, Arthur, present you, Nicole, with this ring as a symbol of our everlasting love. Let it never lose its luster, just as my love for you will never fade.”
Arthur slipped a simple golden band onto Nicole’s finger, repeating the words he’d been told. In similar fashion, Nicole did the same for Arthur, repeating the vow and placing a gold and diamond band onto his finger. The young couple gazed into each other’s eyes, drinking in the moment. Although the words hadn’t been said, the realization hit them at the same time; they were married.
“Arthur and Nicole, by the power vested in me by the county of Fairhaven, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Arthur, you may kiss your beautiful bride.” The officiant clapped her hands together once and laughed with joy. “I present Mister and Missus Arthur Atwood!”
Arthur, though he wished to kiss her like he’d never kissed her before, kept it short and sweet. Immediately following the ceremony, they signed the legal papers, witnessed by two bystanders and the officiant. Then, they posed by a somewhat dusty arch of artificial flowers for their wedding photo. With the snap of the camera’s shutter, the ceremony was finished; their union was complete and legal.
“I have one more thing to do,” she whispered before they left the chapel. Nicole walked to the bride’s room door and pushed it open. She still wore the locker’s key around her wrist. A moment later, she had her street clothes and purse in her hands. Arthur waited for her outside the chapel.
“Do you have what you need, Nicki?” he said.
“Mmhmm. That’s all I have. There’s nothing else.”
“Not for long, darling. I will buy you whatever you need. But for now, we don’t need anything but us. Come, sweetheart. We’ve been waiting for tonight for a long time.”
Nicole bit her lip. “You have no idea.”
Hand in hand, they walked to their room. Arthur turned the key in the door, picked Nicole up and, amid her laughter, carried her across the threshold into their honeymoon suite. Arthur placed the “Do Not Disturb” sign outside their door on the knob, and locked it behind him.
Ten Years Later
Nicole opened the door to their tiny apartment only to find Arthur sound asleep on the sofa in the living room. The room, sparsely decorated and furnished, was cluttered with dirty dishes, glasses and empty soda cans, and smelled faintly of smoke. Angry, she slammed the door behind her. The clatter awakened Arthur from his restless sleep.
“What is all of this?!” She yelled at him. “It’s bad enough that I work all day while you do nothing! But when I come home to this mess…?”
This was an argument they’d had numerous times over their ten year marriage. Arthur’s father kicked the couple out of the mansion and cut off his trust fund, savings, and credit cards when he discovered the couple’s marriage. Since then, they’d been scraping by on whatever Nicole made working at the diner on the Los Sueños Strip, and Arthur’s sparse gigs around town. His work was sporadic and unreliable, as his position at the orchestra ended when Luca disowned him.
“We had a gig last night,” he grunted. “Then, the guys came back with me and we had a little fun. Where were you?!”
Nicole huffed a lock of hair from her face. “I had to stay at my mother’s house so I could sleep! Arthur, it’s time you got a real job and stopped messing around with a career that’s going nowhere!”
“I just need a little more time, darling. We’re picking up more gigs around town,” he said, though he knew what he said wasn’t entirely true. “Once we get our big break, our money troubles are over.”
“Enough! I’ve heard that for the past year, and we’re still barely making ends meet. How about you get off your ass and help me? And I mean really help me!” She picked up an empty can and threw it at him. “Start by cleaning up your own damn messes!”
Arthur clicked his tongue at her. “I do plenty!”
Nicole stared at him, pointing a finger into his chest. “Get a job by tomorrow, Art, or I’m leaving!” She flopped onto the sofa next to him, weeping. “I can’t carry the both of us anymore. I just can’t—”
Seeing her cry broke his heart, especially knowing that it was his shortcomings that made her weep. He scooted next to her and put his arms around her. “You’re right. You shouldn’t be the only one sacrificing. I’ll get a job, Nicole, I promise you. This will be the end of my hopes and dreams, but I’ll do anything for you. I love you.”
“I’m not saying to give up your dreams. But I can’t bring home enough to cover everything. My boss just cut my hours by half.” She looked at him, her eyes bleary and red from hours of tears. “Why don’t you just talk to your father and see if you can—”
Arthur shook his head. “Papà has disowned me. You know I can’t go back to him. I still talk to Dani, but if he finds out, she’ll lose what she has, too. I can’t ask her to do that for me. I don’t deserve it.” He took her hand and patted it. “I’m a desperate man. Whatever it takes for you to stay, Nicki, I’ll do it. You’re all I have left.”
Nicole sniffled, shaking her head. “This is your last chance, Arthur. Make something work, or I’m gone.”
Nicole went into their bathroom to shower. While she was there, Arthur called a friend and former classmate, one who worked driving as a cabbie. Certainly, he could drive a cab on his days and evenings off. He dialed the familiar number of his buddy, Ezra Gantt.
“Hello?” came a sleepy greeting.
“Ezra!” Arthur spoke in a sing-song tone. Coupled with the heavy Italian inflection, he came across as especially friendly. “Hey, buddy, are you still working for that cab company?”
A long, drawn-out groan accompanied a belch right into Arthur’s ear. “Um, uh… yeah, I am. Why? Gonna go slumming and pick up a shift or two driving a cab, are ya?”
Arthur chuckled, glad that the conversation was over the phone and not in person. “Actually, yes. Are they still hiring?”
Another burp, and a sniffle. “Huh. No kidding. I was just messin’ with ya.”
“Well,” Arthur said, “I’m not kidding. I need something steady that brings in some cash. Nicki is threatening to leave me if I don’t carry my weight. I can’t lose her, Ezra. That woman is all I have left in this world.”
Ezra had little compassion for his old schoolmate. He had the city in his grasp—the world was his oyster—and Arthur Atwood threw it all away for a dime-a-dozen girl. At least, that’s how Ezra saw it. “Um, come down to the garage later today. They’re in desperate need of night drivers. You get a shift differential, and the drunks usually tip better than the businessmen during the day.”
Arthur nodded. “Yes! Oh, thanks bud. I’ll make this up to you somehow. Thank you so much!” He hung up the phone and walked to the bathroom door. “Nicki?”
A wet, freshly shampooed mop of blonde hair peeked out from behind the shower door. “What?!”
“I wanted to let you know, baby, I’m going to see about a job. If they hire me on the spot, I’ll be working the night shift tonight.”
“Going to see about a job at the taxi company. Didn’t you hear me?”
Nicole shook her head. “I can’t hear you. I have water in my ear.”
“Mio Dio, woman,” Arthur said. “I’ll call you later.”
“Wait!” she shouted after him. “Where are you going?”
He simply chuckled as he left the apartment and locked the door behind him.
Arthur got into the speedster he still had from his teenage years, the aging car he swore he’d replace when his ship came in. Though he’d promised Nicole he’d change, he wasn’t happy about it, muttering all the way to the garage where the cab company was located. He pulled the car around to the back of the building; the stark absence of cabs in the general vicinity confused him. If they were so desperate for drivers, why didn’t they have an abundance of empty cars waiting to be driven? This was the question on his mind as he stepped from the car toward the office door.
A bell jingled on the door, alerting the manager on site that he was there. The man peered over the desk and huffed; the name on his grease-soiled uniform said “Jack.”
“Can I, uh, help you?”
Arthur stood tall and confident. “Yes. My buddy, Ezra Gantt, sent me here. He said you needed drivers for night shifts. Is that correct?”
“Ezra, eh?” Jack looked at his nails, soiled with engine debris and gunk, and started gnawing on his thumb. “Yeah, we need drivers. You got a car?”
“Yes sir, I do, though she’s not in great shape.”
“When can you start?”
Arthur looked at the chubby, middle-aged man that sat chewing on the most disgusting fingernails he’d ever seen, and wondered if this guy was for real. “I can start any time, sir, but I’m curious. Why did you ask if I have a car?”
Jack peered around the desk, pointing to Arthur’s tan speedster. “Is that your jalopy outside?”
Jalopy? Arthur thought. “Yes, that’s my sports car. I assure you, it’s no jalopy. She might not be in her prime, but she’s likely better than most of the cabs in your fleet!” He cringed as soon as the words left his mouth. To his surprise, Jack just chuckled.
“I can appreciate a guy with a little boldness. You’ll fit right in here.” He picked up a dirty, scribbled schedule and pointed at an open block. “I have no one to cover these two shifts tonight and tomorrow night. Unfortunately, the cab that used to run that schedule was totaled last week in a wreck by the airport. I’ll pay you mileage on top of your base pay if you’ll run your own car for a few days. What do you say?”
Arthur breathed a huge sigh of relief for two reasons. First, his slip of the tongue didn’t have major consequences for the job he needed. Second, he would have a steady income if he could work enough hours to cover Nicole’s cut. He nodded, grinning. “I’d love to.”
In just an hour, while Arthur completed his new hire paperwork, Jack had a makeshift fare tracker installed in Arthur’s old car, along with an oil change and a minor tune up. He turned the key in the speedster; it purred like a kitten. He walked from the garage and tossed the keys back to Arthur.
“This sure is a beauty, Arthur. You maintain it very well. The tune up was so minor, I didn’t need to replace but one spark plug. You’re good for tonight’s shift and beyond.”
Arthur reached to shake Jack’s hand. “Thank you for the opportunity, Jack. I won’t let you down.”
“I should be thanking you. I was going to have to run that old piece of junk tonight if you hadn’t come along. This will be my first night off since the accident.” He pointed toward a broken down, worn old sedan that had seen much better days. “My wife thanks you, too. We haven’t slept in the same house in a month. I spend most of my time here, making sure everything runs like clockwork.”
“I will give this job my best,” Arthur said. “I’ll be on the clock ten minutes before my shift starts.”
Jack smiled. “Have a good shift. Call the number on the console if you have problems.”
Arthur nodded, pleased with himself. He had a couple of hours before the official start of his shift, so he headed back to the little apartment he shared with Nicole. When he opened the door, the apartment was clean. All the trash had been collected and taken to the chute. The dishwasher was hot and clean, and Nicole was nowhere to be found.
“Nicki!” he yelled into the bedroom, but there was no answer. He went into the bathroom to use the toilet. It was on the sink that he found the note Nicole had left for him.
Art, I took a job dancing at the club by the trailer park. I couldn’t trust that you’d keep your word, so I’m doing what I need to do to keep us afloat. I meant what I said, Arthur. You have one more chance to pull your weight, or I’m gone. Don’t disappoint me.
“Mio Dio, Nicole,” he grumbled under his breath. “Thanks for your confidence.” He stepped into the shower to clean up, then dressed in the nicest business casual clothing he owned. After a shave and his best attempt to fix the cowlick on top of his head, he grabbed the keys for the speedster and headed to the club by the trailer park.
Arthur knew the club was a seedy, risque establishment. He was shocked to learn Nicole was working as a dancer in this awful place. He parked the car and checked his watch; forty-five minutes before he needed to clock in with his driving job.
He approached the front door, only to be greeted by a bouncer. “That’ll be fifteen,” the tall, very muscular man grunted. He opened his wallet to find just enough to pay the cover.
“Fifteen? I’m only going to be here a few minutes. My wife is dancing—”
“Listen, pal. Pay it, or you’re not going in. I don’t care how long you stay.” The bouncer crossed his arms and stood, blocking the doorway.
Arthur took his last fifteen dollars and stuffed it into the bouncer’s hand. So much for supper tonight, he thought. The bar reeked of smoke from cigarettes and pot, and though it was only six-fifteen at night, the place was packed with patrons.
Nicole was dancing atop a raised stage in the center of the bar, with seats surrounding it. Dressed in a pair of metallic shorts and a string bikini top, she paid careful attention to the man seated at the bar, stuffing dollar bills into her shorts. Arthur gritted his teeth and pushed his way through the crowd to where the mystery man sat. He formed a cup around his mouth and shouted her name into the din.
“Arthur! What are you doing here?” she said. Nicole jumped down from the stage, only for Arthur to grab her arm and drag her outside. “Let go of me!” she screamed.
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing, Nicki, but you shouldn’t be here! This is not a place for married women to work!” He paced the gravel parking lot, listening to the small stones crunch under his loafers. “You need to go home where you belong!”
“Excuse me! Where I belong? I suppose you want me to make you a sandwich so you can watch football all night, too, right?” Her posture displayed her annoyance with him.
“Nicki, honey, I’m begging you to go home. You’re in over your head here. What if someone takes advantage of you?”
“It’s more than I’m getting at home,” she snarled. “Just go party with your buddies tonight. I see that’s what you’re dressed for. If you do, don’t bother coming home.”
A lump formed in his throat. She could be cruel when she was angry, though he didn’t understand why she was. “Sweetheart, I don’t know where all of this bitterness is coming from.” He placed his hands on her shoulders, mostly to keep her from running away. “I’m starting work in a few minutes, until six tomorrow morning. Let’s talk about this when I get home. If you truly don’t want me to come home, though, I won’t.”
“Working? Where?” Nicole rolled her eyes in disbelief.
“Ezra got me a job at—”
“Yeah? Your buddy Ezra is a mooching slug. Look, I gotta get back to work.” She turned on her heel to go, but Arthur caught her arm.
“Nicki, don’t leave me like this when you’re angry. I really don’t want you working here, darling.”
“Tough. Goodbye, Arthur.” She yanked her arm out of his grasp and walked away, hurrying toward the bouncer. Arthur watched her whisper to him, then point in his direction. The bouncer peered around the wall at him, turned his attention back to Nicole, and nodded.
Well, that didn’t go how I wanted, Arthur thought as he turned to walk back to his car. It was an awful start to his first shift of a job he knew he’d hate. Eleven hours of driving the city looking for fares was not his idea of a party. He sighed, got into his car and started it, heading for the airport.
One Month Later
Since their argument at the nightclub, Arthur and Nicole’s relationship was on shaky ground. He kept his promise to work as much as he could, but he hated the job. To Arthur, it was a means to keep his floundering marriage afloat, but he sacrificed his childhood dreams of breaking into the music business.
One morning, the dispatcher at the cab company called and woke him. He’d finished a ten-hour shift just an hour before; he thought seriously about not taking the call. Remembering his promise to Nicole, he grunted and answered the phone.
“Arthur, this is Candi. Hey, we have a call for a cab to pick up at the high-rise apartments on the strip. Jack is tied up at the airport and can’t make it back. I know you just got off work, but we’re in a bind.”
He sighed and ran his hand down his face. “Yeah, I’ll be there. Send me the address and the time.”
“The time is ten minutes from now, Art. That’s why we’re so stuck. I know you live close. Jack’s offering time-and-a-half for this one run.”
“Ten minutes? Ugh. Okay, I’ll be there in a few to pick up the cab and the address.”
Candi squealed on the other end. “Thank you! I’ll let Jack know.”
Arthur walked into the bathroom and splashed cold water onto his face, then looked into the mirror. “You have a full set of baggage under your eyes, pal,” he muttered to himself, then pulled on the clothing he’d stripped from his body just an hour before. Nicole was asleep on the sofa in the living room, so he tiptoed out of the apartment, and pulled the door shut behind him.
He drove three minutes to the garage and picked up the keys for the cab. Candi greeted him with the paperwork.
“Thanks again, Art.”
“Yeah, but remind Jack I’m taking tonight off. I have that gig with the guys at the private club.” Arthur grabbed the keys. “Don’t forget.”
“I won’t. Be safe.” Arthur grunted and left the office.
He drove to a fairly new high-rise on the Los Sueños strip and parked the cab. A call box sat outside the front door; he checked the apartment number and called up.
“I’ll be right down,” the disembodied voice said.
Five minutes later, a young woman with flaming red hair exited the building, toting a suitcase in one hand, and a backpack slung over her shoulder. Arthur noticed her right away; to him, she looked like the proverbial girl next door, exuding kindness and charm. He put her suitcase into the cab’s trunk and held the door for her.
It was the chance meeting that would change his life.
Arthur kept a journal since a fifth-grade project required it. Writing kept his worries in check, and helped him to remember the moments he didn’t wish to forget. The surprise fare earlier in the day struck him as an occasion to remember. He sat down at his desk, the only place in their apartment that he considered to be his, and opened his journal. With his pen at the ready, and a glass of scotch, he sat down to write the entry he’d waited all day to document:
Today started out like any other. I worked the night shift, came home, and collapsed into bed. Candi called me an hour later, and truthfully, if it hadn’t been for Nicole and my promise to her, I would have blown it off.
That would have been the biggest mistake of my life.
The last-minute fare was a feisty red-headed woman from a small town I’ve never heard of before. Her name was Destiny, though I can’t recall her last name off the top of my head. She had a non-local accent I didn’t recognize, but it only added to her allure and warmth. Our conversation flowed so easily, it was almost as though we’ve known each other forever.
One thing Destiny mentioned was about giving up her dreams, the ones that brought her to the city. That resonated with me, because Lord knows I hate driving this cab. I don’t want to live my life with regret that I didn’t pursue what I so desperately want, while I have the chance to do it. We had a gig at the Los Sueños Private Club tonight; they were seeking someone to fill their proprietor position. It’s not great, but it’s steady. This could be my foot in the door at long last. I’m applying the first thing tomorrow morning.
I know Nicki won’t be happy with me if I quit this job, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take. Maybe there’s more to life than just existing and doing menial work in a dead-end job. It’s time I started living my dream.
If I never cross paths with Destiny again, she will have touched my life in more ways than I can count, and I’ll always be grateful that I met her. I’ll say a prayer for her tonight that she will find her heart’s desire, whatever that may be.
Until tomorrow… ciao!
Satisfied with his entry, he tucked his journal under his arm, and walked back to the bed he shared with Nicole. When he slid between the covers, she awakened.
“How was your day?” she said, sleep heavy in her voice.
“It was fantastic.”
Arthur closed his eyes, but all he could see was the beautiful girl with the red hair and unusual accent. A serene smile pulled across his face.
“I came face to face with Destiny.”
She rolled over and planted a kiss on his cheek. “That’s nice,” Nicole said, as she drifted back to sleep.
“Yeah,” Arthur said as he laid back with a smile, and rested his hands behind his head. “It was.”
To Be Continued…
Up Next: Chapter One, Generation Two
Poses By Bee
Three Generation Portrait Poses
“How Was Your Day, Dear?” dress by Anubis360
AA Ford by Stanislav
The Sims 3 Store
Cruise Ship (Crates) by KrisElizabethSims
A special “thank you” to Southern Living for Arthur and Nicole’s wedding vows.