So I do.
The shop door opens at 9:00 a.m. like Mia said and it wasn’t long before our first group of tourists comes through. My job is to hand out the samples and smile while Mia takes care of the cash register.
Everyone is very nice and friendly and hungry. I hand out more samples than I ever thought possible. And I conceal my mopiness with a blank smile and so no one is the wiser.
And then, when I don’t expect it, the pair of hands that reach for a sample are Dante’s.
And I freeze.
And then Mia catches my eye from across the room and gives me a look, so I smile at him. The same polite smile that I have given everyone else all morning.
Polite, sterile, matter-of-fact.
And it is so hard to stay blasé and casual because he looks so very good.
Sweet baby monkeys.
He is slightly sweaty, but just enough so that he looks manly and rugged. I want to wrap myself around him and kiss him hard, but then I remember that his lips have just been on Elena’s and so I manage to restrain myself.
“Hi,” he says quietly, his voice husky as he reaches for a cracker spread with olive oil and cheese.
“Hello,” I say politely.
“You look nice in your shirt,” he tells me solemnly as he pops the cracker in his mouth, his eyes glued to mine. Why do his have to be so freaking blue?
“Thank you,” I say, as casually as I can. Am I supposed to act like nothing happened? Is that what being strong means?
Then swallow again.
Okay. My plan is to act normal and see what happens. Because I’m strong. I’m not needy and I don’t need for him to explain. I’ll keep an eye out and see how he acts, and see what happens with Elena. And see what happens with me.
I’m freaking strong.
I repeat this over and over in my head.
“Why were you kissing Elena?” I blurt out quickly and Dante looks at me, startled.
I guess I’m not so strong.
He is hesitant and stands still. He isn’t looking me in the eye so my heart drops. I don’t know what I expected. A miracle? He was kissing a perfect, beautiful girl. Of course he liked it.
“You don’t understand,” he tells me quietly. “Everything is comp—“
“Yeah, I know,” I snap. “Complicated. I’m tired of hearing about how complicated your life is. Life is not that complicated. Either you like someone or you don’t. Either you are true to them and your heart or you aren’t. Pretty simple, actually.”
I glare at him and he is staring at me, unsure of what to say, probably surprised by my outburst or amused that I actually said the words True to them and your heart. What a goofy thing to say, but I don’t focus on it because it’s the truth.
I take my tray and stalk away into the back room of the shop.
He’s either going to be true to me or we’re not going to happen. I love him, but I deserve to be loved back. When you love someone and they love you, you deserve to be the most important thing to them, as important as breathing.
Dante doesn’t follow me, but that’s okay. I need a second to compose myself alone.
I stand still in the quiet back room, allowing my ragged breathing to slow and even out.
I feel a little shattered, but I feel good about one thing, too.
I’m strong after all.
Strength is overrated.
I decide this as I soak in the bathtub of my massive bathroom.
It’s the bathroom of a dignitary or a millionaire or a princess. And I am none of these things. I know this because a dignitary or millionaire or princess probably wouldn’t be depressed and crying over Dante Giliberti.
But I am.
I’ve been mopey since yesterday. Since I stalked away from the most beautiful boy in the world and cried about him in the back room of his father’s gift shop. I had dinner alone in my room and I haven’t spoken with Dante since, even though he texted me and asked if we could talk.
I told him no.
Then he said please.
And then I considered it.
But then I didn’t have to answer because he was called away to meet his father at the Old Palace. So I was granted a reprieve. But it won’t last forever.
Why is being strong so freaking hard?
I rest my head against the stone tiles behind me and add more water to the huge, deep tub. And then more bubbles. Because a sad girl deserves bubbles, dang it. And my bubbles keep popping. And isn’t that a great analogy for life right now? My bubbles keep getting popped.
I look at the clock on the counter.
I have fifteen minutes to get to work. But I’m exhausted and sluggish. I barely slept last night and my eyes feel heavy and dark. They are heavy and dark, I realize as I stare at the bags under them in the mirror as I step out of the tub. Oh, well. I’m not Elena Kontou. I am not perfect at every given moment.
I yank my clothes on and then yank my hair into a limp ponytail.
My ponytail might as well match my spirits.
Limp as hell.
I walk woodenly through the house and say good morning to Marionette, who looks at me with concern and then I meet Mia outside the doors just as she’s coming up the stairs.
“You look like hell,” she observes.
“Thanks,” I answer.
“You didn’t talk to him?”
I shake my head.
“You’re going to have to,” she tells me.
“I know. But I don’t have to right now.”
We get into the golf cart and ride the rest of the way to the shop in silence and I am grateful that she lets me mope, at least for the time being.
The tourists come in, smiling and happy. So I pretend to be smiling. I can’t quite muster happy, though. But that’s okay. They don’t know me well enough to tell the difference.
I hand out cheese.
I pour wine samples.
I give out crackers smeared with gourmet olive oil.
And every time I see the name Giliberti on the freaking olive oil bottles, I want to cry again. The most beautiful boy in the world was in my grasp for a scant second and I wasn’t strong enough to hold onto him. What is wrong with me?
The shop phone rings and Mia answers it as I speak with some tourists. I don’t even know what they are saying to me because I’m not paying attention. All I know is that they are happy to be here and they are happy to be eating free samples. But honestly, I don’t care about any of it. My thoughts are only on my own misery. I hope that I am hiding it well enough. But at the moment, I don’t care if I’m not.