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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8. Chapter 7.

“I-I don’t know what to say,” I said uneasily. Will was quick as a flash with his reply, not giving me a chance to speak anymore let alone refuse his offer.
“Then don’t say anything,” He interrupted. “Think about it. I'll meet you tomorrow night for your answer.”
“I don’t know…”
“Please, just consider it. If you show up tomorrow I’ll know that you want us to be together and if you don’t…well, I guess I can deal with that later. Just give me the chance I need to show you I can do better, Em."

Those words were enough to shut me up for the rest of the meal. Truthfully, I wasn't even sure that if I had a response I could manage to squeeze the words out. Will’s hand dropped from mine swiftly by the time the main course was out and remained that way for the rest of the evening. We didn’t even converse afterwards; instead I stared shamefaced at my plate the whole night.

Married to Will? I had to admit it did sound nice – although, it was completely random and unexpected. I had imagined it back in high school and how we would do so many things together like travelling and getting old on our porch. It sounded selfish but I loved him so much that I didn’t want kids – I just wanted to have him all to myself for the rest of our lives. Now that I was finally faced with the option, it didn’t fill me with the same spark that I thought it would. Somehow, the fact he was already engaged and it was all a farce cheapened the gesture.

I had always imagined Will on one knee doing something completely romantic and over the top; maybe even freshly graduated and happy instead of being a working stiff in a suit. He had changed so much over the past years. Was the real Will still really in there? If I said yes now, I would be opening a can of worms. Maybe, I would end up marrying a stranger in an attempt to remember the good times of the past. If I said no, I might let the love of my life walk out again. My head was from thinking about it in detail.

“Emily?” Alexander’s voice interrupted me. The whole table was staring at me, causing my cheeks to grow even more flushed.
“Sorry?” I said, realising he had asked me a question and everyone was waiting for my response.
“I suggested that you tell the rest of us a little bit about yourself and the orphanage.”
“Oh. Well…umm,” I stared around at all of the curious faces. “I come from a small town near Ohio --”
“What a coincidence!” Olivia’s eyes were alight with suspicion. “Will comes from there too. Don't you, darling?”

“Yes,” Will almost choked on a piece of chicken. "Actually, we went to high school together."
“You did?” Olivia raised an eyebrow. “How quaint.”
“Indeed," I uttered through a gritted smile.

It was in that moment that I knew Olivia was onto us – she may have been many things but she wasn’t stupid. Her eyes were icy across the table as she surveyed us both; for a moment she almost seemed jealous that I was sitting next to her “man”. I reminded myself that their whole engagement was a sham and gave her a contemptuous look back. Alexander nodded and encouraged me to speak more even though I wanted the ground to swallow me up.

“I moved to the orphanage a few years ago and have worked to keep it running,” I said proudly. “Now we are housing more children than ever and running successfully with a team of 7 employees. We are hoping to expand.”
“How inspiring,” Alexander clapped his hands together. “What made you want to get into that line of work?”
“I don’t know really. After high school, I knew that I just wanted to set out and find something that fulfilled me. I’m lucky I found it so soon.”
“I can’t imagine your work allows much time for relationships, Miss Masson,” Olivia sipped wine from her glass, staring at me the whole time. She seemed intent on humiliating me in front of all of these people.
“You can make room in your life for anything if you want it enough,” I said a little sharply and the rest of the table grumbled in agreement.
“But don’t you want kids of your own someday?” She pushed further. “I'm sure it will be difficult to juggle your own kids as well as a group of…orphans." The last word said like they were lepers hiding in a cave.
“With all due respect, Miss Hudson I’m not here to discuss my personal life. I'm here to stop you shutting down my orphanage. And 
that 'group of orphans' are more courageous than most of the people sitting at this table."

An awkward silence ensued and Olivia looked put out that I had torn her down in front of the other important guests. She looked more fuming than ever; as if she wanted to reach across the table and drag me out of the room by my hair.

“Quite right,” Alexander agreed in a positive tone. “And we’re here to give you that opportunity. What are your plans?”
“The only thing we are concentrating on right now is giving those kids a home,” I said. “Can you imagine being a child and lacking a support system or parents? Our orphanage allows couples who aren’t able to conceive naturally to have a chance at happiness, along with the kids. State orphanages don’t allow the same thing – they are like a drop off point.”
“Well, that’s not strictly true,” A woman piped up at the end of the table. “There are many happy families from state orphanages.”
“That may be true – for a few weeks before they get bored. More kids than ever are being handed back to the state. Can you imagine losing your parents and then being told you’re not wanted afterwards by your new family? Because that’s what you’ll be encouraging with this move.”

The table seeped into more silence and the guests stared at each other, embarrassed. They had probably expected me to sit there and eat their expensive food with a smile on my face. But I was only there to show everyone what they were doing to the community. I knew that I was proving them all wrong with my points - their silence said it all. I settled into dessert with a smile on my face knowing that my slim chance at saving the orphanage had just gotten a little bigger.

---

After dinner, I sidled outside to grab my coat. Olivia was already waiting in her silk dress, lingering around the coat rack and making sure nobody else was around.

“I’m not stupid, you know,” She wagged a finger in my face. “I know what’s going on with you and Will. It wasn't hard to find out that you both come from the same town and graduated from the same high school. But it wasn't until I bought that telescope and saw the look on Will's face that I knew you were involved with each other somehow."
“That explains why you were snooping around my house,” I batted her hand away. “You're despicable - marrying someone for inheritance money. You're not the only one who knows a secret."
“Who told you that?” Her eyes widened.
“Who do you think?”
“Well, he had no right doing that,” She hissed low. “And if you tell anyone you’ll be in major trouble. There’s only a few weeks until the wedding and you're 
not going to get in our way.”
“A few weeks?” I asked, aghast. “You really think I’m going to sit back and let you marry him?”
“Listen, I don’t know what kind of history you both have but it's irrelevant now. Will and I are getting married and you better stay out of my way. Or else."
“Or else what? I always love a good challenge, Olivia,” I whipped my coat off the hanger. “You’ll learn that about me.”

Will had appeared from the dining room, noticing the low argumentative tones between Olivia and I.

"Am I interrupting something, ladies?" He asked politely.
"No, sweetheart," Olivia shot him a dazzling smile. "Miss Masson was just getting ready to leave."
"Well, I'll escort you outside and make sure you get home safe."
"Naturally," Olivia looked annoyed as Will helped me slip on my coat.

“Promise me that you’ll think carefully about it,” He pleaded in my ear, walking me towards the door.
“I promise,” I replied, too exhausted to refuse. “But Olivia is on the warpath – you have to watch out for her.”
“Olivia? She couldn’t’ hurt a fly if she tried. She’s harmless.”
“I’m not so sure,” I noticed her watching us from across the hallway before disappearing back into the dining room.

I looked up at him and felt his familiar sullen eyes on me, dark circles decorating the tender skin underneath. Suddenly, his mouth was on mine his hands supporting my neck firmly and his lips against my own softly. Every time he kissed me my previous thought process would be set in a different direction and Will knew it.

“Goodnight, Em,” He whispered, his forehead still resting on my own. He disappeared silently, a tread of unsaid words in his wake.

I knew that with that one look he had been silently begging me to show up tomorrow night. There was only one problem – I wasn’t sure that I wanted to marry Will. I just wanted the old one back.

---

“It’s your mother on the phone,” Giovanna passed it to me, covering the speaker. “She’s in a good mood.”

We both knew what that meant; I would be on the phone for hours with incessant chatter from my Mom’s side. Ever since she had remarried she was a ball of energy; selling her law firm and going into early retirement with her husband, Max. They were now travelling the world scouting for locations to open a homely, guesthouse together. Her voice crackled down the end of the line and I knew she was calling from a roadside somewhere.

“Mom!” I greeted her. “Where are you? I’ve been calling you for days.”
“California, honey!” I could imagine the sparkle in her eyes as she stared fondly at her surroundings. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I sighed, my head pounding from my thoughts going overtime.
“It doesn’t sound like nothing.”
“It’s a long story.”
“Emily, mothers always have time for long stories.”

I told her a summed up version of Will coming back into my life and she almost yelled with excitement – until she heard about his exploits. Eventually, I let out a deep breath and she slipped into the conversation. I half expected her to resent him for his actions but her response surprised me.

“So, what’s the problem?” She asked seriously.
“Have you listened to anything I’ve just said?” I replied, irritated.
“Yes, I was listening completely."
“So, what should I do?"
“Your father told you all of those years ago that when you love someone you let them go – that’s true love. And Will did it for you, honey. So what? He made a few mistakes, he got wrapped up in his career. I’ve been there. But, he let you go - selflessly - so that you could find your own happiness. That's worth more than anything in the world."
"It's not that simple, Mom. Marriage isn't going to solve our problems."
"You're right, but he didn't propose to you to try and fix your relationship. He did it because he wants to be with you and loves you more than anything else in the world. Why can't you believe that?"

There was silence down the end of the phone and I knew she was giving me a chance to take her words in. As per usual, Mom was right; I couldn't trust  deep down that Will truly wanted to be with me. That part of me was stopping things from going any further.

"So, are you going to keep being a coward and hiding behind that desk of yours or are you going to go after that guy you love?" Mom said sternly, slipping back into lawyer mode. "Because I sure as hell didn't bring up a coward for a daughter."

---

It was dark outside but I could make out Will’s silhouette, perfectly hidden beneath the trees. We had agreed to meet halfway down the road from the orphanage at a small apple orchard. He was picking at a branch like a lost little boy more than a grown businessman. His open shirt and dark jeans complimented his skin tone perfectly and his hair looked as though he had run his hand through it too many times.

“I’m going to ask you one last time,” I said simply. “Do you really mean what you said?”
“You’re here!” He seemed surprised taking a few tentative steps towards me. “Yes, I meant it all. More than anything."
"I'm giving you one last chance…but if you let me down, you will never hear from me again. Are we clear?"
“Y-yes,” He seemed shocked. “I didn't even think you would show up...”
“It was probably against my better judgement but my Mom said something that stuck with me.”
“What was that?”
“Love someone once and let them go but the second time you should hold on even tighter.”

I pulled him into my arms, almost grappling him with my weight. He held still for a few seconds before doing the same back. Finally, he pulled away and grinned at me, his hand delving deep into his pocket.

“Let’s do this properly,” He smiled, sliding a small velvet box out and kneeling down. He stared up at me and I felt myself smile too, even in the sickeningly, warm night air. Now 
this was the moment I had waited for my whole life.

Before, I knew what was happening joyful tears were sliding down my face.

“Emily Masson, without you I don’t know how to live. So, will you teach me again? Will you marry me?”
“Yes,” I replied without hesitation. “Yes, I will.”

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