”You can quit. ”
I grimaced at my best friends tone, clearly picturing her incredulous expression in my minds eye. Sue was right as always. I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something great with my life and here I was thinking of throwing it all away.
At the very least, working for a prestigious magazine was more stable than freelance photography and vlogging. But if Id known accepting the position at Stravagante would lead me right back here, where it all began, I wouldve run in the opposite direction.
”Look, ” she continued. ”You can give this up because of something that happened so long ago. Thats completely unreasonable and you know it. ” Leave it to Sue to spell out the facts without sugarcoating it. ”Think of this as a new beginning. ”
I took a deep breath.
e right. ”
”Of course I am. Who knows? You may even meet someone ne— ”
”Don even think about it, ” I interrupted, knowing exactly where she was going with that train of thought. The last time I listened to her in that regard things didn turn out well. ”Im over Italian men. ”
She chuckled. ”I don think they can resist you though. Youll be a delectable sight for their hungry eyes. ”
I groaned. ”Please stop. ”
She snickered wickedly. ”Suit yourself. Ill wait for your call tonight, cara. I want to hear all about your first day. ”
I went back to murdering the hem of my shirt when the call ended. This was very different from the environment Id known in New York. I had no expectations of my new team—didn expect them to welcome me with open arms. To them I was an outsider, there to impose my American ways on them. Not that it mattered, but Italy was the last place on earth I wanted to be. Who needed a constant reminder of how much they loved and got hurt?
Of all the places to be transferred to, why did it have to be Milan? The playground of the wealthy which in my books translated to him—Dante. The man who still walked into my dreams every night uninvited, leaving me with a false sense of happiness and security that vanished as soon as I opened my eyes to the reality of his absence. Being here meant even my waking moments would be spent thinking about him and I hated myself for it—hated that I was still so weak when it came to him.
Groaning, I buried my face in my hands, dreading the endless possibilities Milan held in store for me, beginning with meeting my new boss and teammates and hoping they didn hate me too much.
”Do you want my candy? ” I blinked and looked up into the bright blue eyes of the tiny human offering me her candy like it was her lifeline. Her dark blond hair was styled in princess crown braids and intertwined with pink ribbons to match her cute pink rompers. She looked vaguely familiar but that was impossible. She couldn be any older than four, yet I couldn shake the feeling that Id seen her before. ”Ill give it to you. Papa always gives me candy when Im scared. ”
”Thank you. Your father sounds like a very wise man. ” I smiled and took the candy, holding tightly onto it like a lifeline. Italy was determined to remind me of him in every possible way. Dante had made it his mission to satisfy my sweet tooth, and had candy and pieces of chocolate stuffed in his pocket or somewhere in his car all the time.
I swallowed hard and shut my eyes to blot out the happy memories assailing me uninvited. I tried hard not to think of the past, and when the memories managed to catch me off-guard, they were usually the bad ones. The happy memories seldom surfaced but when they did, like today, they left a bitter taste in my mouth and the void in my heart grew wider. They were a reminder of all the things I couldn have anymore—all the things Id lost. No one deserved to live with such painful reminders—even if they were once happy memories.
A slight tug at my sleeve brought me back to the present, where my little friend was waiting with expectant eyes. It wasn ring your child to work day because during my thirty-minute wait in the lobby, no other child had wandered by.
”Whats your name? ”
She rocked on her heels a couple of times, all the while knotting and unknotting her fingers. ”Papa says I shouldn talk to strangers. ”
I chuckled. ”Thats very good advice and I think you should listen to your papa, but if I remember correctly you came up to me first. ”
She pursed her lips before finally nodding in agreement. ”But you have to keep it a secret. ”
”Cross my heart, ” I said solemnly while crossing my heart.
She smiled, showing me her perfectly straight milk-white teeth. ”Liliana, but I like you so you may call me Lily. ”
How very polite. ”Its a pleasure to meet you. Im Amora. ”
Her eyes twinkled. ”Your hair is pretty. It looks like my favorite ginger candy. ”
My laughter came out as a snort. Was that even a compliment? It started as one but I couldn tell anymore. But as far as compliments from four or five-year-olds went, having your hair compared to candy wasn so bad, although my shade was a bit darker than ginger. Plus, I had a very soft spot for people who liked my hair. Even if the chief of them was a very handsome man who broke my heart.
”Thank you, ” I said, combing my fingers through the thick strands. It was styled in a side part with the loose, soft waves falling to my waist. People still asked if it was dyed, but Id gotten used to it. After years of trying to fade into the background because I hated my hair, Id grown a backbone. Now, I took the liberty of displaying it in all its glory every chance I got. It was part of my identity and I embraced it every day.
”Want to know a secret? ” I asked, just to keep the conversation going. Talking to her was calming in a way I couldn explain. She nodded enthusiastically. ”Theres a very special place in my heart for people who like my hair. ”
That won me a huge grin. ”Im special? ”
My nod was immediately rewarded with another toothy grin, which faded as soon as her name echoed across the hall. An older-looking woman came bumbling over to us. I stood just as she reached us and Lily hid behind me.
”Signorina Liliana, if you keep running off like that your father will have both our heads. ”
”Sorry, ” she muttered and came out of her hiding place with her head bowed.
She ushered Lily to her side and hurriedly apologized. ”I hope she didn cause you any trouble. ”
”Oh not at all. Shes such a sweet little girl. ”
”That she is. I haven seen you around before. ”
I smiled. ”Im new here. ”
A smile brightened her weathered face. ”Ah! Welcome to Italy. Id love to stay and chat but I need to get this little one to her father. ”
”Of course. ” I turned to Lily, a little sad to see her leave.
”Will we meet again? ” She asked with a small pout.
I stooped and brought my face close enough to hers that our noses were almost touching. ”Of course. You know my name so you can look for me at any time. ” She wrapped her hands around my neck for a quick hug before leaving with the woman.
At least the child was in my corner. That had to be a good sign, right? Maybe the adults would like me too.
”Miss Kyle, its a pleasure to have you here with us. I am the creative director of Stravagante. You will be working very closely with me as well as the writing and editorial department, ” Signore Bartolini said as he led me into
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