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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3. Chapter 2.

The words echoed around the room as Will continued to stand, hands in pockets, with a cold expression on his face. Wall Street had hardened him clearly; he was now almost as rigid as his perfectly starched suit. He had still retained his handsome looks over the years, only now his soft skinned, boyish face was now replaced with that of a man. He was clean cut now, his stubble missing and all of his tattoos covered. I wondered if anyone in the room knew what he truly looked like without that ridiculous business uniform and my cheeks felt hot recalling our past together.

After wanting this moment for so long, I felt disappointed with how it had really turned out. There was no romantic serenade under my balcony or bouquet of flowers – only the horrible realisation that Will had been part of this all along. Will, my high school sweetheart, out to maliciously shut down the orphanage that he knew I loved so much.

“You’ll have to excuse me for a second,” Will spoke to the whole room but somehow made me feel like I wasn’t there at all.

He motioned for me to follow him and we walked side by side down the corridor like two perfect strangers. He looked straight ahead the whole time, his chocolate eyes full of steel and ambition. I continued to stare at him like he was some sort of alien as he stopped abruptly and pulled me into a small room. We tried to nestle in between a water cooler and a filing cabinet. He was taller than I remembered and he loomed over me, the fire still in his eyes.

“Are you crazy?” He scolded. “You could have gotten yourself arrested.”
“That’s all you have to say to me?” I choked.
“Well, what do you want me to say? My company is buying the land – we’re taking over the orphanage.”
“How can you be part of something like this?”
“It’s for the best.”
“Do you realise you’ll be putting a bunch of kids onto the street?”
“They’ll go to the state adoption homes – they’ll be fine.”
“Can you hear yourself speaking right now? What’s happened to you?”

I reached out to touch his cheek and he shoved my hand away roughly, looking down at the carpet with flaring nostrils.

“Don’t touch me,” He warned. I had never seen him so angry and I felt a stab of fear within me.
“What did I do?” I shook my head. “Why are you so mad at me?”
“People change, Emily. You can’t expect to waltz back in and for me to be the same guy I was years ago. I was a loser at school – nobody liked me.”
“I liked you,” I offered weakly.

He stared at me for a moment, his hand hovering by his side like he wanted to comfort me but knew it was wrong. I didn’t think it was possible to feel this hurt; my dream for so many years had finally come true. Sadly, this dream was starting to become a bit of a nightmare.

“Look,” He softened a little. “Trust me, you can’t sustain the running of the orphanage anymore. We’ve looked at the figures – it’s unrealistic.”
“How would you know?” I was suddenly livid. “You haven’t been around for years to know anything about my life.
“What are you talking about?”

He tried to grab me by the shoulder and I pushed him roughly against the wall. He let out a little “O” sound and buckled over temporarily, winded.

“I hope you know that you’re messing with the wrong person,” I poked him in the chest. “That orphanage is little, and maybe it doesn’t make a lot of money for an already greedy community, but that orphanage is MINE and you’re sure as hell not taking it from me!”

He thrust an arm in front of me to stop me moving, his eyes narrowed as he stared at me with venom. I stared at him back with equal anger, not backing down. He dropped his arm and I took it as my cue to stalk off down the corridor without turning back once.

“One month!” He yelled after me. “You can’t do anything valuable in a month.”
”Watch me!”

---

After giving a run down of the story to Giovanna, I found myself even more confused. I didn’t understand why Will seemed so mad at me – he was the one who had ignored my letters all along. The sad part was that I still found myself wanting him more than ever. In my head, he was still my carefree tutor and any thoughts of him as a stiff businessman intent on destruction were banished from my head. Even when I had looked into his eyes and discovered no trace of remorse there I still figured that deep down he was the Will I once knew – I just had to bring it out.

Unfortunately, I was too fuming to think straight by the time I got back to the orphanage, slamming doors and clanking plates together in the kitchen, as Giovanna peeked round the door.

“They’re going ahead with it, aren’t they?” She asked sadly.
“I don’t know, Gi,” I sighed, rubbing my temples. “I really don’t know.”
“Well, maybe...it’s for the best.”

The words repeated exactly how Will had justified his actions earlier and I felt a fresh flash of anger. My hand trembled as I dragged the butter knife across the bread, butchering it completely.

“Actually,” I said finally. “Things just got a significantly worse.”

I told Gi all about Will and our past together; her eyes were so wide as I told I thought they’d fall out of her head and into my sandwich. She gasped and smiled at all of the appropriate parts but after I finished the story, she sat back for a while on her stool with her eyebrows knitted together like she didn’t understand.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, sliding a plate across the table to her.
“It’s just not the ending I wanted,” She shrugged.
“Me either.”
“But, if you loved him so much why didn’t you give him another chance?”
“I still ask myself that to this day.”
“So, how did you feel when you saw him again?”
“Like nothing had changed at all even though everything has changed.”

We paused, starting our lunch together in silence. She chewed carefully, a thoughtful ‘hmm’ noise emitting from her mouth.  

“So, you still love him?” She asked hesitantly.
“Hopelessly,” I admitted.
Il primo amore non si scorda mai,” She smiled.
“Yeah,” I returned her smile half-heartedly. “You’re right. True love never grows old.”

---

The next morning, I ventured into the city again – this time with Giovanna on my arm. She was sweet on a boy who worked in the market but was too scared to speak to him alone so I said I would accompany her. Giovanna was beautiful with bambi eyes and fluttering lashes but she was incredibly shy and I had almost questioned letting her come work in the orphanage at first. However, as time went on I began to realise she was resilient if nothing else and she would turn up every morning to beg for a place there. Hopefully, she could apply that same determination to her flirting skills.

The market was alight with endless stalls full of fruit and vegetables, handmade knits and tourists swarming their way around. Giovanna spotted her crush almost straight away and pointed him out to me, hiding behind my back the whole time. He was tall and well-built with exotic skin and a flat cap balanced on his head. He was too busy serving customers to notice the two girls staring at him from across the way.

“Okay,” I mused. “How are you going to approach him?”
“I don’t know!” She replied in panic. “What should I do?”
“You should go buy something and make lots of eye contact.”
“Isn’t that weird?”
“No! Men love it…I think. At least, I read that in a magazine somewhere.”

Giovanna chewed her lip uncertainly, and I joined in. We were two dating novices and although, Giovanna was shy and younger than me somehow I felt like she knew way more than me deep down.  Why was I offering her advice?

“Okay,” She nodded, bracing herself. “I’ll do it.”
“Great,” I smiled, relieved. “Now, go get him. And remember – be yourself!”

She gave me a tight hug and walked slowly towards the stall. She had no problem from the beginning; as soon as the boy saw her his eyes lit up and his world made sense. Giovanna’s cheeks grew pinker with each vegetable she surveyed. I found myself smiling watching them; there was something about watching two people crazy about each other that made me happy rather than depressed. At least, if I didn’t have that chance somebody else could.

“Giving others love advice, huh?” Will’s breath was hot on my neck even though it was already warm outside. “Interesting.”

For the second time, I came face to face with the robot that had replaced with former love. He was dressed less formal than before and his style still had remnants of 18 year old Will; a loose shirt rolled up at the sleeves, his tattoos on show. He was handling a stack of leaflets and I snatched one from his hand coyly. On each one were pictures of luxurious looking buildings, with stretching gardens and people milling around the grounds. The title was “Petition in Favour of Luxury Apartments” and a date where community goers could meet at the council office and voice their opinions.

“Interesting,” I laughed, mimicking him. “Doing some shameless self promotion?”
“Actually,” Will defended, snatching the leaflet back from my hand. “My company are the people behind this idea – not me.”
“Really?” I replied nonchalantly, half believing him from his sincere tone.
“It’s just my job, Em – I wish you’d realise it’s not me.”

I flinched as he used my nickname for the first time in years and for a minute, that sparkle he once had returned. As if my default, he flicked back to his businessman self and stuck out his hand instead.

“Anyway,” He cleared his throat. “It was nice to see you again, Emily.”

I looked at his hand blankly, remembering times when he would have ran it through my hair or held my own instead. Now, held out in such a formal gesture it didn’t feel like any of those memories had ever happened. I stuck out my own hand and we shook woodenly, a spark of electric shooting like a lightning bolt up my arm. His hand lingered on mine for a second and as we dropped it was more like holding hands than shaking hands. He sighed and pulled away quickly and I glanced at the ground, blushing wildly from everything apart from the heat of the sun.

“Yeah,” I confirmed. “See you around – I’m sure we will be working closely within the next month.”

I turned to leave and walked as slowly as I could, feeling his eyes still on me. Say something, I screamed at him mentally. Say something, you idiot! I wanted him to stop me with every fibre of my being and the further I walked, the less of a reality it became. Suddenly, his hand was around my wrist – the contact shocking me and making butterflies appear in my stomach at the same time.

“I’m sorry, Em,” He said quietly. “I really am.”
“I know,” I met his eyes finally, knowing that he was being honest.
“Are you busy tonight?”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea we --”
“Please, I have alot to explain – give me a chance.”

I stared at his eyes, finally molten in the light and gazing at me like they did so long ago. I remembered all of those months I spent lost and wishing that I had given Will another chance and now here he was offering me a new one. I knew it was wrong considering what he was doing but I also knew that I didn’t want to live with that grey cloud of regret following me anymore. I had to give him another chance – to explain himself at least. Even 5 years on, his eyes still convinced me to do things I never thought I would do.

“Okay,” I agreed. “I’ll meet you here at 7 – don’t be late.”
“You’re still bossy,” He smiled, turning to walk away. “Some things never change.”

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