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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10. Chapter 9.


 

I let myself into the house, the door closing with a small click behind me; it was 7 a.m and the kids would be fast asleep, so I made sure not to wake them up. I crept into the kitchen and flicked the switch on the coffee machine like I did every morning; pulling the ingredients for breakfast out of the fridge and getting ready to start the day. If you were watching me outside of the window, you never would have known that I had woken up in a stranger’s bed earlier and had no clue how I got there.

“Em,” I heard a small voice say from the kitchen door. “Where have you been all night?”

Giovanna wrapped her house coat around her tightly, her eyes scrunched, trying to see through the dim light in the kitchen. When she caught sight of my attire, still dressed in only a grotty t-shirt and shivering, she gasped.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” She grabbed me by the shoulders. “Are you okay?”
“Honestly?” I paused. “I don’t know anymore.”

---

Time seemed to fly in after the night at the bar with Olivia; between working on my presentation for the orphanage and running the place day to day, I didn’t have time to figure out what had happened. Even if I had time, I would never be able to remember the details of that night; every time I thought about it, I felt like someone had pulled a thin veil over my eyes. It was infuriating to know those memories were right there, hidden behind a thin screen of mist that I could never break through.

Had the guy with the freckles taken advantage of me? Or even worse, had I willingly followed him home? The thought that I had cheated on Will was killing me and consequently, I had avoided him ever since. I couldn’t look him in the eye without feeling sick; I even hated looking at that stupid ring on my finger and had shoved in a drawer instead.

I could feel a hopelessness growing inside me; after all, if something was this complicated was it worth fighting for? It just never seemed to stop with Will. One minute he was keeping secrets from me and the next I was doing the same to him. Our relationship had been going great for a while until we had gotten back into this web of lies. Could we go on this way forever? The forces of nature were officially against us.

There only seemed one plausible explanation behind it all: Olivia Hudson. She was the only person who could tell me what had happened that night. I hated having to grovel to her for a full description of the night and how I had ended up in a bed with that stranger. I swallowed down the rising vomit in my throat thinking about it.

Olivia answered the door, dressed in a silky nightgown with her bronzed limbs on show. Even in the morning and make-up free, she looked better than me on a good day.

“I thought you would come eventually,” She acknowledged, like we were talking about something as plain as the paint on her wall instead of my lost night.

We walked to the lounge together and sat on the two red, satin couches, her long fingers cradling a water jug and pouring me a glass. I accepted to be polite but I made a mental note never to drink any liquids again around her – last time, I had ended up going home with a man who wasn’t my fiancé.

“So, you want to know what happened that night at the bar?” She slunk back on the sofa nonchalantly and read my mind like she always did.
“The details are definitely foggy,” I replied.
“Why are you acting so worried?” She paused, her cat-like eyes swivelled on me. “Unless, you happened to do something you shouldn’t have?”
“I don’t want to play games, all I want is the truth.”
“The truth is that Will can do a lot better than you,” She leaned over the table towards me baring her teeth. “
You’re the one who went home with another guy – not me.”
“I-I didn’t do anything,” I stuttered.
“Oh, but we both know you did, Emily. And Will will know all about your exploits soon enough too. In fact, I’m going to show 
everyone the real Emily Masson.”

She pulled out an iPad and flicked through a couple of options quickly before sliding it across the table to me. On screen were countless pictures of me sprawled out, half-naked next to some guy; all of which had been manipulated to make me look like I was a drunk instead of unconscious. Olivia had made sure to place bottles of alcohol around the place. I was still surprised at how someone could be so smart but choose to use it for such evil life choices.

“You set me up!” I leapt up from the sofa, finally realising Olivia had planned this all along.
“Relax, I wasn’t the one who made you sleep with another guy,” She stood up, looming over me as we faced off. “You did that all by yourself, sweetheart. I left after our little party. I don’t know what happened after that but I hear from our friend in the photos that you were a lot of fun.”

I reached out to grab her hair but she was too quick, her hand striking me across the face first. My skin burned as I fell to a heap on the floor.

“Please, don’t tell him,” I begged wildly. “I promise that I’ll do anything to keep it quiet.”
“Anything?” She mused. “I was hoping that you would say that.”

She hoisted me up from the ground and looked at me dead in the eye:

“It really would be a shame for Will to get a hold of those photos,” She said gently, as if she were my friend rather than my enemy. “It would be even worse if they somehow got into my father’s hands. Do you really think that the council would let you run an orphanage? I don’t think they would approve of a drunk taking care of all of those kids, do you?”
“What do you want me to do?” I said flatly, knowing I was defeated.
“All you have to do is one simple thing – cut all ties with Will.”


---

A knock resounded sharply on the door and I knew from the urgency that it belonged to Will. It was time to stop avoiding him and face upto the fact that our relationship was about to change forever. I was right about Olivia – she had been dangerous from the start.

“Finally,” He grinned. “I thought you’d gotten lost under all of that paperwork. I brought food.”

He busied inside, his arms stacked full of paper bags with only his eyebrows visible above it. He made his way to the kitchen and set them down before turning to me. He looked perfect in his button down shirt and old jeans, just like the old Will. It was only then that he would have noticed the coldness behind my eyes.

“What’s wrong?” He reached out and wrapped his arms around my waist. “Is my cooking really that bad?”
“No, it’s not that,” I bit my lip. “It’s just – I don’t know to say this…”
“Say what?”
“I can’t do it here. Walk with me?”

I reached out my hand and felt his own fingers through mine as he followed me outside bemused. We walked in silence for what felt like hours, all the way down to the beach. I wasn’t sure if Will thought he was in for a good surprise but I knew that in a few moments he would never look at me the same way.

I pulled off my sneakers and let my toes sink into the sand as we walked side by side. He didn’t say anything but I saw his eyes flicker back and forth between us every now and then, waiting for me to say something. The air was humid and I was glad I had worn something light because I was already sweating from nerves. His brown eyes focused on me, with a pang of pain in them already. How was I supposed to hurt him even further?

“If you’re having second thoughts about the engagement, it’s okay,” He sighed. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do – I’ve always said that. Your happiness means more to me than anything else.”
“Do you really mean that?”
“Of course, I do.”
“You’re going to wish you hadn’t said that,” My hands started flailing in front of me as I tried to fight back the all too familiar tears.
“Emily, you’re really worrying me,” His thumb stroked my cheek softly. “Please, just tell me what’s wrong.”

I could barely meet his eyes and instead focused on the waves crawling towards our feet.

“I don’t think I can do this,” I whispered.
“Just tell me whatever it is, I promise that I will understand,” He pleaded.
“No – I mean…this. Us.”
“Oh.”

He stood for a second, his hands on his hips and his eyes trained on the sand replaying the words in his head. The silence seemed to grow into the night longer than was necessary.

“You don’t want to be with me?” He said, his Adam’s apple pulsating as he tried to swallow down the lump that had situated itself there.

The sun was just setting, creeping behind pale clouds and casting an orange glow over us both. He shuffled his feet for a minute, kicking up some loose sand as his eyebrows rose in realisation. The fact that I couldn’t fathom a response only seemed to make it worse. Slowly, I shook my head.

“Wow,” He said simply, letting out a hollow laugh. “And I thought I knew what a broken heart felt like before.”

I felt tears slide down my face, sickened by the fact all I could do was cry and I couldn’t even offer him an explanation. Instead, I slid the ring that had once brought me so much happiness from my pocket and placed it in his open palm. He looked at it for a moment in his hand, turning it over like it was a new discovery.

“I’m sorry,” I managed to croak out.

Will looked at me for a moment before pacing towards me. He seized me closer, placing a passionate kiss upon my lips. I thought that my body would burst from the heartache, not to mention the fact he was holding me so tightly. I never wanted to let go. From the look in his eyes, I knew that he understood deep down. He didn’t hate me – he knew that it had to be this way again. Just like the day on my porch, I had to leave Will for reasons bigger than both of us.

“Don’t apologise,” He murmured against my lips. “I don’t know why you’re doing this but I trust you. You wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t for a good reason. One day I’ll figure it out – until then, this ring will stay with me forever until you can wear it. Everything about me 
belongs to you, including that ring. I can’t force you to be with me but I hope one day that you’ll come back to me – even if I have to go through 10 unhappy years with Olivia first.”
 

I sobbed, trying to choke out another apology.


“Shhh,” He wiped away my tears and tried to smile. “Don’t cry. This isn’t a goodbye, it’s a see you later, okay? Me and you…we’re meant to be, remember?”

His voice broke and I watched the ever growing moisture on his face, trying to hold in the tears and turning red in the process. We held each other for a few minutes watching the sunset go down - our last few perfect moments together. Finally, he placed a last tentative kiss on my forehead and disappeared into the night. I watched him go before dissolving into a pile on the sand and realising that I had lost the one thing I needed most in my life and I wasn’t sure if I would ever get it back.

 

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