“We’ll meet here,” Dante says. I try to keep my face from falling. How will we be alone here? But Dante can read my expression and he laughs. “You have to trust me,” he tells me. “I’ll see you after work, okay? Meet me on the terrace at 6:00?”
I nod. “Okay. I’ll be there.”
He grins. “Think about me this afternoon.”
Always, I think.
“Maybe,” I say.
He grins again and disappears through the door after grabbing a bottle of water from the cooler. I can smell his scent lingering in the air even after he’s gone and I sniff at it. Mia shakes her head.
“You guys are sickening, just so you know,” she tells me.
“And you’re not? You and your lovesick moaning and groaning over Vincent?”
“It’s not love,” she informs me. “It’s lust, pure and simple. Get it straight, Kansas.”
I shake my head and try to think other thoughts to distract myself. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very long afternoon. 6:00 p.m. seems like a month away. I send a few texts to my mom, Becca and Grandma. Then I smile at a few more tourists. And all of that only took twenty minutes.
Sweet baby monkeys. Scratch that. 6:00 p.m. seems like two months away.
But time passes as it always does, even though I’m impatient and jittery and anxious.
At 5:00 p.m., Mia and I close up the shop and jump into the cart and she drops me off at the house. “Call me after your date,” she says with a ornery grin.
“Call me after yours,” I answer. She waves and heads to her car and I head into the house to shower.
What should a person wear on a mystery date? I rifle through my closet. I’ve gone shopping only a couple more times since I’ve been here. And I didn’t use my mom’s credit card, either. I used my paycheck from the gift shop. Since my every need is taken care of here, I don’t have anything else that I need to buy other than clothes. It’s a girl’s dream.
I decide on a pair of shorts and a white peasant blouse. I think that if it were going to be a formal date, Dante would have told me. Or sent me a formal gown like he did last time.
“Let me do your hair, ma chérie,” a quiet voice says from behind me. I turn to find little Marionette crossing my bedroom. I hadn’t even heard her come in.
I once again marvel at her size. She’s so tiny, like a little sprite with a gray bun. She makes me feel like an Amazon woman.
“You have a special date with Master Giliberti tonight, yes?”
Marionette smiles at me with her creased grin as she picks up a brush and tugs me onto the bed. She sits next to me and brushes out my hair. And I close my eyes. It’s been a really long time since anyone but me has brushed my hair. It’s nice.
“I don’t know where we’re going,” I tell her. “It’s a secret. Or a surprise, I guess.”
Marionette’s gnarled little hands run through my hair, feeling for tangles.
“Oh, don’t fret, little one,” she tells me. “Master Dante is very thoughtful. He’s always been. He takes after both of his parents in that way.”
“You knew his mother.” The realization dawns on me and I turn to face her.
Marionette is nodding. “Ah, yes, I did. A gentler woman than Daniella will never be found on this earth.”
So, they did name their boat after her.
“What was she like?” I ask. “I only wonder because it makes me sad that Dante didn’t get to know her. I can’t imagine what that must be like. And I’m very glad that he’s had you, Marionette.”
She practically preens in front of me at my praise.
“Daniella was a very gentle spirit. She was a free spirit, so beautiful and kind. And she couldn’t wait for Dante to be born. She looked forward to it every day of her pregnancy. What happened was a tragedy. It’s been a pleasure for me, watching him grow up,” she says thoughtfully as she stares past me. “He was such a good little boy. He was sunny and cheerful from the moment he was born, just like his beautiful mama. He’s turned into a good man. I’m proud of him. And I don’t want to see him get hurt, either. He’s had too much pain in his life already.”
Marionette’s tone has turned stern and I look at her in surprise. Was that directed at me?
“Um, I’m not going to hurt him, if that’s what you’re thinking,” I tell her. “Marionette, he’s way out of my league. Way, way out there. If anyone does any hurting, it will be him, I’m sure.”
Marionette laughs and I don’t see what’s funny.
“Ah, little one,” she says as she pulls the sides of my hair back and twists them into a clasp. “In that way, you’re very like his mother. Very modest. You have a natural glow about you. It’s charming. And you don’t realize how beautiful you are. And that is charming, as well. A girl like Elena, well, she knows what her strengths are and uses them to her every advantage. I’m very happy that Dante has chosen you. Very happy, indeed. Elena was wrong for him. And I think that you’re the right one. But I still don’t want you to hurt him. Even inadvertently.” She pokes at my shoulder for emphasis.
Inadvertently. She does know fluent English. Dante was right.
I tell her so and she laughs again.
“Don’t tell anyone,” she instructs me. “It comes in handy to pretend I don’t understand. Or that I can’t hear. I can hear everything, trust me.”
Her eyes are eagle sharp and I have no doubt that her ears are, as well. I nod.
“Now then, sweet. You are ready. Don’t keep my boy waiting. He’s taking you somewhere special.”
And she was gone. My word. She moves quickly for an older person.
I have only a few minutes to spare, so I shoot some quick emails to my mom, my dad and my grandma. My grandpa doesn’t have an email account, but grandma reads him messages from hers.
And then it’s 5:55.
I think paint could have dried faster than it took for this day to pass.