Home > A Place in the Sun(14)

A Place in the Sun(14)
R.S. Grey

I let my cream soak in and then I stood and slipped off my sandals, walking with careful steps toward the water. The soft sand turned to pebbles once I approached the water’s edge, and though none of them were sharp enough to cut me, it hurt to put too much pressure on them at once. I eased into the surf, hissing as the cold water lapped up over my legs and thighs. With a final resolute breath, I pinched my nose and dove under the water.

My brother had taught me proper swimming technique when I was young, and I thanked him for it as I kicked farther from shore. The Ligurian sea was pure bliss: cold turquoise water beneath sunny skies. I flipped onto my back, closed my eyes, and let the waves drift me where they wished. After a few minutes, I’d flop back over and swim closer to the buoys, repeating the process until my fingers were pruned and my cheeks were warm from the sun.

When I swam back to shore, my things were right where I’d left them beneath the umbrella. I sprayed a bit of after-sun on my hair, lathered up more cream, and set off toward Monterosso for a snack. It wasn’t quite lunchtime, but my small breakfast had burned quickly in my swim. Like Vernazza, Monterosso had a few small shops wedged between restaurants and hotels. I begrudgingly walked past the gelateria and instead went into a small grocer.

“Le fragole sono succose,” said the girl behind the counter, pointing to the small basket of strawberries I’d nabbed as soon as I’d walked in. “Juicy.”

She hadn’t been kidding. I carried the strawberries back to my beach chair and ate them leaning over the sand. I’d never tasted fruit so fresh in my life. It wasn’t like the produce I could pick up in the shops around London. The strawberries were soft and tender, so full of flavor I couldn’t help but moan with pleasure every time I bit into one. Had anyone been sitting near me, they’d have assumed I had a bit of a berry fetish, and well, maybe I did. I didn’t stop until I’d eaten every last one, and then, full of sugary sweetness, I waded back into the sea, using the cold water to wash the juice off my chin and fingers.

By the time I rode the train back to Vernazza, I was sated. Even with the sun cream on, I had a nice tan going on my arms and legs. My hair was wavy and wild, and my skin was still sticky from the sea and sand and strawberries. (I’d caved and gone back for a second basket.)

I took my time strolling down the main road, popping into one of the fancier shops to pick up some olive oil to send home to my mum and Freddie. I picked up some lemon candies for Andie and wrote a note to slip into the post—something that would put my brother’s mind at ease about my stay in Italy.

Dear Freddie,

I know you think I’m silly running off like I did, but I swear I know what I’m doing. Mum had gone completely mental with the matchmaking and I needed to put some boundaries between us—rather large boundaries, it seems, like the Alps and the English Channel.

I’m sure she’s furious, and knowing her, she’s probably reading this over your shoulder—HELLO MOTHER. I’ll have you know that Italy is fantastic, and the men here are just as gorgeous as I’d hoped they would be! I know you’ll worry less if you think I’m in the company of a good man, so I’ll have you know that I’ve gone on a date with a lovely man called Gianluca and of course, I will send word as soon as he commits to spending his life with me. Please prepare my dowry. Ha. (Fred, that joke was for you. I’m sure Mum is glowering at this point…)

Anyway, give those little nieces and nephew a massive kiss for me.

All my love,

Georgie

With a smile at my white lie there at the end, I sealed up the package and slipped it in with the outgoing post back at the hotel. I took the stairs slowly, exhausted after hours of swimming. I had plans to take a long, steamy shower and then read by the window as the sun set, but just as I rounded the top of the stairs, I spotted a little yellow note pasted to my hotel room door.

It was from Katerina, asking me if I fancied going on a double-date that evening. There were hardly any details about it, just the name of the restaurant and the time they’d be there. I had half a mind to crumple up the note and pretend I hadn’t seen it, but there was a small, minuscule chance they were setting me up with Gianluca, and so for that reason, I went.

Everyone was already seated by the time I arrived at Belforte. The restaurant was a bit nicer than the place we’d eaten the night before and I was glad I’d slipped on a pair of flats instead of flip-flops. Katerina saw me approach and her face split in two with an infectious grin. She and Massimo stood, and then my date stood as well.

I felt my smile falter as his features came into view. It wasn’t Gianluca. It was a very handsome man, but my appreciation for his features felt forced after realizing I’d wanted him to be someone else.

“Georgie! This is our friend Paolo!”

The man rushed forward to kiss me on either cheek and I was engulfed in a sweet smelling cologne. I was stiff at first, a bit awkward as we went through introductions and protocol. He held out my chair for me as Katerina explained how everyone knew each other.

“Paolo helps Massimo up at the farm, although I think they actually just drink and take naps up there all day.”

I nodded and slid my gaze over, trying to get a good look at him.

He had rich black hair, quite a few shades darker than Gianluca’s, and striking pale green eyes. The combination held my attention so well I didn’t hear him ask me a question until he’d repeated it a second time.

“You’re traveling in Italy?”

His English was strained and unpracticed, but it only added to his appeal.

“Yes,” I grinned. “Only for the last week or so. I was in Rome until I came here.”

“Did you like it?”

I caught a twinkle in his eye that told me he didn’t want the standard response. “Quite crowded, isn’t it?”

He grinned, wide. “Did you see the Colosseum, then? The Pantheon?”

“Well I saw the outside of the Colosseum, but not much else. The queue went on for nearly two hours it seemed.”

He nodded in agreement. “Cinque Terre…è meglio, no?”

I looked to Katerina for help, but Massimo chimed in first. “Better here?”

I laughed and nodded. “It’s amazing. I actually went over to Monterosso today, down to the beach.”

Katerina moaned. “I wish you’d asked me to come along! It’s been months since I’ve managed to get over there.”

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