Beauty and the Geek 2: When In Rome

5 years after their complicated high school relationship, Emily and Will are miles apart leading completely different lives. A chance meeting in Italy could bring them back together...but there's a couple of skeletons in Will's closet to sort out first. Will this starcrossed pair finally be together?

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12. Chapter 11.

“So, we meet again,” I smiled idly and motioned to the seat across the desk. Even though we had shared a bed (and god knows what else) I didn’t want Mr. Freckles to get any funny ideas, so I tried to put some space between us.
“Si,” He said with an amused expression on his face. “I’m sorry to show up so...out of the blue? Is that the phrase you use in America?”
“Yes,” I chucked faintly, noticing his somewhat broken English. “Honestly, I’m grateful that you came. I have some questions to ask you, if you don’t mind.”


He introduced himself as Paolo and I noticed that this once nameless stranger was definitely handsome, in a traditional way. His thick, Italian accent tinged his struggling English and his hair was perfectly quaffed like so many Italian guys I had seen at the market. Out of a crowd of young Italian men, Paolo wouldn’t have stood out; he was just another charming specimen like a million others I had met before. But here in this office he suddenly seemed so much more important.

“Si,” He nodded and delved deep into his pocket. “But first I think I have something of yours…”

He slid my missing purse across the table, complete with I.D and all of the money that I thought I had lost that night. The fact that he hadn’t stolen a single penny from me and had come all the way from the other side of Rome to return it to me confirmed the fact that I could trust this man. Something about his flippant Italian way put me at ease too.

“I thought I had lost it!” I exclaimed, turning it over in my hand. “Thank you for returning it to me!”
“It’s my pleasure,” Paolo waved a hand in my direction. “You left in such a hurry I didn’t get a chance to get it back to you sooner.”
“Ah – that,” I turned an unholy shade of red. “I guess that was rude of me…considering what happened between us. The whole night is still a little fuzzy to be honest.”

He looked at me for a moment and then let out a loud laugh, mumbling Italian phrases to himself. If he hadn’t been so generous as to return my purse, I would have kicked him out for being a mad man. But for the first time in a while I felt the twitch of a smile on my lips. His laughter was infectious but I still had no idea what was so funny about the situation. I had tried many times to find light about it but had failed – it seemed that Paolo didn’t feel the same.

“Oh, Bella,” He managed to stutter out. “You think…you and I? Together?”
“I don’t know,” I blushed, feeling myself trail off. “I woke up wearing your clothes so I just assumed…”
“No, no, no!” He said warmly. “I helped your friend take you outside the bar but she took off in a taxi and left you. I couldn’t leave you on the streets of 
Roma all alone – I am a gentleman, my family do not condone such things. But nothing happened between us, I loaned you my shirt because you were sick on your own clothes. On the contrary, Bella – you spoke about your guy the whole night.”

He twirled my purse around and opened it to reveal a picture of Will before gesturing it at wildly.

“Your guy!” He smiled widely. “This is the one – you showed me the photo and told me how great he is. You told me all about how you just got engaged, you were so happy! Is he well?”
“Truthfully,” I felt my eyes water. “I don’t think so. I broke his heart.”

Before I could stop myself, I started crying at the desk with my head a matted heap in my hands. Paolo patted my back and tried to soothe me in his sweet Italian voice but I still felt awful anyway. I had let Will go all thanks to Olivia, even though nothing had happened that night at all. It didn’t matter now that Olivia had photographs anyway, she could still hold that over me. I should have been relieved that I didn’t cheat on Will but I just felt worse than ever.

“Don’t cry,” Paolo said quietly. “
Il primo amore non si scorda mai.’
“Why do all Italians say that?” I laughed, wiping away some tears.
“It’s true, Bella. Why don’t you try talking to your guy?”
“It’s not that simple. Remember the girl who left me? She took photos of us together and she’s going to use them to ruin me. She wants my guy for herself.”
Mio dio!” He seemed horrified.

After much swearing in Italian, Paolo stopped rigid for a moment and didn’t say anything. I could see the cogs in his mind turning over as he stared into the dark corner of the room. He reached into his own pocket and produced a battered wallet before flipping it open to reveal an old photograph. It was a photo of Paolo himself with his arms wrapped around a tanned man; nothing unusual apart from the slightly intimate nature of the embrace between the two. The chemistry between them practically sizzled from the page and I realised in that moment there was no way that Paolo would ever be interested in me, let alone 
any female.

“You’re...” I trailed off, unable to bring myself to say the word ‘gay’. Paolo smiled and simply nodded, like he had been in that awkward situation many times before.
My guy,” He said fondly, staring at the photograph.

It was silent for a moment before I could work up the courage to ask where his other half had gone. I was scared and the pain etched into Paolo’s face wasn’t making it any better. But deep down I had to know anyway and summoned the courage to speak.

“Where is he?” I asked quietly.
“Somewhere better than this place,” He looked at me sadly from downcast eyes.
“Forever?”
“Nothing is forever, Bella - even the passing of a loved one” He smiled. “We will meet again someday. It took us so long to be together – longer than it should take two people destined to be together. Our families defied us, but love is love no matter the gender. I should have realised it sooner and I still regret it everyday. So, I encourage you to hold onto the one you love – they can disappear from this life at any moment. And all that is left is regrets about the time that you should have spent together.”

How do you console someone who is grieving for their soul mate? The answer is that you can’t. Even if Paolo was a perfect stranger, he understood me better than anyone currently. I couldn’t even fathom the thought of Will dying, I shuddered even thinking about that word; the fact that he was across Rome and we weren’t together was bad enough. I guess I was lucky that in some aspects I still had hope Will would come home, Paolo didn’t have it at all. His love was gone forever and he would never get him back – even if he hoped and wished everyday day of his life. Now all he had left was a hole shaped like the man in the photo; he would always try to fill it but in the end there was only piece that could fit perfectly.

“I’m sorry,” I shook my head. “I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like.”
“It was a long time ago,” He pushed the wallet into his pocket. “But love never dies – like I said - even if the person does. So, are you going to get him back?”
“I want to…but I don’t know how.”
“You must tell him the truth.”
“I know I barely know you. But I don’t have anyone else. Will you help me?”
“Of course,” He nodded. “But first, may I ask that you do something else?”
“Anything – you have been so generous to me already.”
“You get revenge on that blonde and you let me help you do it too.”
“Honestly, Paolo,” I felt a sly smile return to my face. “I couldn’t think of anything that I would rather do.”

---

After a long night of scheming, Paolo lingered at the doorway; today he had been a stranger and now I could count on him as a friend. I knew deep down that he would be around for a long time and that we could help each other in our individual quests for love. He bid farewell the classic Italian way, with a kiss on both cheeks before getting into his little, red car. As he drove past, he stopped and rolled down the window and I called into the open space:

“So, operation ‘ruin Olivia Hudson’ commences tomorrow?” I smiled wickedly.
“Honestly, I can’t think of anything that I would rather do,” He imitated my accent and made me chuckle. “I’ll call you when everything is arranged.”

He waved before taking off down the highway, his motor zooming into the distance. The perfect plan was in place and with the help of a new friend, I was about to take down Olivia Hudson for good. I could only hope that Will would still think of me the same after what I was about to do next….

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