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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4. Chapter 3.

The restaurant was a towering hunk of metal and glass. Diners sipped from bottles of champagne that probably cost more than I could earn in a year. I should have expected nothing less from the new and improved Will – he seemed like he breathed dollar bills wherever he went. I wished I had dressed up more but was thankful I had chosen something more than jeans (my shameful original choice for a five-star meal).

He appeared at the end of the road, shrouded in the street lights as he strode towards me. I tried to withhold a gasp as I took in how amazing he looked in his designer suit that clung to his slender legs and muscular arms. It reminded me of the shivering wreck who had been sitting on my sofa on prom night in his tux – except, Will didn’t look so shivering anymore.

Someday I would come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t 18 years old anymore, neither was I, but for now, I was happy to pretend otherwise. Truthfully, I preferred 18 year old Will in his scruffy jeans and mis-matched footwear. The ‘new’ Will was so sure of himself. There was nothing scarier than realising that you really don’t know the person you love so much at all.

“You’re here,” He smiled wider. “I didn’t know if you would show after my little episode earlier.”
“I wasn’t too friendly either – truce?” I reassured.
“Agreed.”
“Although, I’m still not forgetting about the fact you’re planning to tear down my orphanage.”
“Ah, that,” He chuckled. “I’ll explain it all, I promise. But, first join me for dinner?”

I gulped down the massive lump in my throat as he offered me his arm and I fed my own through it instinctively. I felt like I was in an old Hollywood movie as we strolled down the street in our fancy outfits with the music from the restaurant playing in the background. I glanced up expecting to see that same glazed look in Will’s eyes; his cheekbones looked more prominent than ever in the uneven street lighting, the hollow underside dark and decorated with stubble. His eyes slid towards my own instead and a small, mischievous smile crept onto his face.

It was funny how easily we slipped back into old habits and how easily Will could slip back into his old self. Sometimes, when conversation veered into personal territory he would avoid the subject and that steely persona would return. I wasn’t sure why he had that guard up but I could feel the old Will returning the more the night wore on.

Over dinner we laughed to ourselves about the pricey menu full of tiny portions and I was surprised to see that Will had as much knowledge about fine dining as I did. I had half expected him to be fluent in Italian cuisine – who knew what he was spending his triple digit pay check on in his spare time?

“Do you have any idea what this means?” He smiled. “I mean, you have lived in Italy for 5 years – surely, you can suggest something.”
“Honestly?” I bit my lip. “Not at all.”
“It all looks so…so…”
“Boring?”
“Exactly! Do you ever just think –“
“Where can you get a good burger around here?”
“Yes!” He laughed. “Some things really do never change – you still finish my sentences.”

I looked down at my menu, chuckling more than was necessary. I was thankful for the bad lighting in the restaurant or perhaps, Will would have caught my cheeks burning up over the candlelight. He looked at me across the table with a thoughtful expression on his face and leaned forward slightly.

“Why do you keep looking at me like that?” He asked, a hint of anguish in his voice.
“Like what?” I replied innocently, knowing exactly what he meant.
“You look at me like I’m the worst person in the world.”

He scrunched up a napkin in his hand, the whites of his knuckles curling around it. I couldn’t look at his downcast eyes so I concentrated on that instead; watching the veins pulse up and down the more irritated he became. I wanted to reach out and touch his hand softly to let him know it was okay but somehow, it felt inappropriate now – it would be like touching a stranger. And I wasn’t sure that he wouldn’t push me away like last time too.

“Well,” I started, finally meeting his eyes defiantly. “The Will I knew wouldn’t have torn down an orphanage.”

An awkward silence fell over us both; only the sounds of forks scratching across plates and other diners speaking in hurried Italian could be heard. I wondered if anyone else would notice that the couple in the corner had suddenly fallen silent and were staring at each other like they had just heard the worst news ever. Will opened his mouth several times, trying to choose his words carefully before launching into his pre-conceived speech. Instead, his response shocked me.

“The Emily I knew would have written me back,” He said quietly.

My heart fell to my knees with a clang; a resounding thud that I was almost sure the whole restaurant would hear. Although, glancing around nobody seemed to care. I repeated Will’s previous question over and over in my head and each time it made less sense to me.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I shook my head. “You’re the one who stopped writing me.”
“I wrote to you for 2 whole years with no response. You could have at least let me know that you were okay – I was worried.”
“I stopped getting letters from you after graduation.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”

He looked confused and I almost fell for it for a second – before, I realised that it was all part of his plan. This was his perfect way to really get the orphanage taken down once and for all; all he had to do was sweeten me up a little with his lies and then I would give in. He knew me too well. It hurt that Will was trying to trick me into trusting him again but more than anything, it hurt that he thought I was stupid enough to buy it.

“I’m not in the mood to play games,” I stared at the floor blankly.
“Em,” He shook his head. “You’ve got this all wrong. Let me explain everything first.”
“Don’t call me that. I’m not yours – not anymore.”

I stood up and grabbed my purse; Will thrust a tip into the waiter’s hand and chased me all the way down the street. It was the shortest ‘date’ that I had ever been on – we didn’t even make first course before I skipped out. He kept up my pace with his long legs and I cursed myself for wearing heels that were incredibly high and difficult to manoeuvre.

I pulled off my ridiculous shoes and started running as far and fast as I could. My dress trailed in the sand as I detoured onto the beach with Will coming up close behind. It reminded me of last time we had run together on a beach; back when it was more of a race than an escape for me. He was relentless as he jogged after me and eventually, I began to lose momentum. All the energy I had wasted stalking off in the beginning was showing. I stopped for one second to catch my breath and his arms were around me.

“Let me go!” I batted his chest as he held me even tighter.
“I’ll hold you like this all night if I have to,” His voice was muffled through my hair.

He stepped back and looked at me wearily and I plopped down onto the sand. He settled down gently next to me and ran a hand through his hair.

“Jeez,” He panted. “You’re a fast runner. Maybe, you should have joined the track team instead of cheerleading.”

I waited patiently for his big explanation that would somehow put everything right but I couldn’t think of anything that would make it better. Even if he was lying, how would Will know that the fact he had stopped writing me had practically ruined my life? How could Will really know my weak spots if he hadn’t been around for years to figure it out?

“Is it true?” I asked, peering up at him and hoping that he wouldn’t lie to my face again. I couldn’t bare it – not this time when everything else was falling apart so badly.
“It’s true,” He faced me finally. “I promise. I wrote to you for 2 years after graduation.”
“I’m sorry, Will. I didn’t get any of your letters.”

He shook his head and let out a sharp exhale of breath. His eyes began to fill up with those great, watery tears that I hated to see in him so much. I pulled him towards me, his large body almost crushing my own as his head rested on my shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” He looked at me through wet eyelashes, wiping his nose. “I’ve really messed up.”
“It’s not your fault the letters went missing,” I said supportively.
“I know. But I’ve really messed up in other ways. I was so angry for a really long time, Em. You have to understand that...”
“You’re doing this to the orphanage because you’re angry at me, aren’t you?”
“At first, I didn’t know the company’s plan until it was too late. But, by then I was too far into it and wanted to hurt you like you hurt me. It was petty and immature and I shouldn’t have done it.”
“I knew you wouldn’t agree with doing that to those kids.”
“Not in a million years,” He pleaded, taking my hands in his own. “You have to believe me.”
“I do believe you,” I said softly. “At least now you can stop the campaign, right?”

His silence was my answer. I nodded numbly to myself. Time was ticking and I should have known that it was too far into the process to stop the government’s plans to take over the orphanage. Not even Will, who could even blackmail a brute like Brett, could get us out of this one.

“Well,” I swallowed, forcing a smile onto my face. “We can cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“God,” He put his head in his hands. “Why is it always me that messes everything up?”
“Stop,” I warned, pulling his hands away. “You don’t mess up anything. You’re perfect.”

He was a mess of dark circles and bed hair in my direction as he met my eyes again. For the first time, he finally touched me, not because he was obligated to, but because he wanted to; he reached out and traced his thumb across my cheek carefully. His eyes looked hazel in the moonlight and retained the sparkle that I loved. I felt an anxious mist as cloudy as the night sky inside me shift finally.

“How did I survive 5 years without you?” He smiled meekly.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But I don’t want to repeat it ever again.”
“This wasn’t the way I wanted to explain it all but I’m glad you finally know.”
“Is there anything else I should know?”
“Not right now,” He interrupted me. “I don’t want to talk anymore. I just want to be here with you.”

He reached out and entwined my fingers with his own. 5 years later, I had finally gotten Will back – albeit in strange and difficult circumstances. I felt myself smiling for the first time in what felt like years, feeling like I had finally found my missing puzzle piece and most importantly, put my grey cloud the rest.

---

“So, afterwards…he walked me home and kissed me goodnight!” Giovanna recounted her fairytale encounter to me, fanning herself to keep her blushing at bay. “It was just...”
“Everything you imagined?” I raised an eyebrow over my coffee cup.
“Yes! That’s it exactly.”

She surveyed me for a moment; waving her half-eaten apple in the air and observing me through suspicious eyes. Finally, a smile crept onto her beautiful face as she took the stool opposite from me.

“What about you?” She asked. “How was your night?”
“My night?” I replied, fighting down a coy smile. “Ah, you know – same old, same old.”

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