Home > A Place in the Sun(4)

A Place in the Sun(4)
R.S. Grey

I cranked my motor up another notch, slicing across the sea on my way back home. The waves were choppy, sloshing water up over the sides of my small fishing boat. I could feel the winds changing; I’d felt them all morning, playing with the currents and riling the sea. I’d almost skipped the trip out on the water, but I’d compromised instead, staying close to the shore in case things went south.

As Vernazza’s tiny harbor came into view on the horizon, I let out a breath I’d been holding all morning, grateful to the sea for delivering me back home in one piece. The painted village stretched closer and I maneuvered my boat around the granite breakers. Of all five Cinque Terre villages, Vernazza boasted the largest true harbor. Even still, it could only fit a couple dozen fishing boats at once, nothing more.

My cousin was waiting for me on the breaker, smiling at the lot I’d brought back for him.

“Buongiorno, cugino?”

I threw him the line. “Molto buono.”

It was Saturday and the village was already bustling, alive with chatter. Life in Vernazza was centered around the restaurants in the heart of the village. Five of them dotted the perimeter of the square, carving out space of their own with wide-brimmed umbrellas. Tourists gathered underneath them, enjoying their lunches with enough wine and bread to last them well into the evening. Massimo and I worked together to unload the fish into a small cart. He’d roll it up to his restaurant—not one of the lucky five located on the square—and I’d head back up to my house and shower off the stench of fish and foam.

“Watch it!” I said, scolding the group of children running around the harbor, daring one another to jump into the water. It was safe to swim there; the water was calm thanks to the large partial seawall the village had built a decade earlier to shield itself from the power of the ocean.

The boys weren’t tourists. I’d watched them grow up for the last few years.

“And stay out of my boat, or tomorrow I’ll use you as shark bait!” I shouted over my shoulder before they’d run too far. I knew from their giggles it had been years since they’d taken my threats seriously. It didn’t matter; I had the boat’s key, so they couldn’t get into too much trouble.

“They call you the village grump, y’know,” Massimo said, nudging my shoulder.

I smiled, despite myself. “Good.”

The title fit.

“Have any plans tonight? Appuntamento romantico?”

I let go of the cart, no longer in the mood to help him push it up the square. “Enjoy your fish, Massimo.”

He groaned. “Aw, c’mon. S’only a joke! One of these days the answer will be yes, and I want to be the first to know!”

I’d have flipped him off if there weren’t so many children milling around. Instead, I walked away.

“Hey! Help me with this cart!”

I turned around to tell him off, but a sight over his right shoulder caught my attention instead. A woman had just stepped into the square from one of the side streets. She looked like most tourists did upon their arrival to Vernazza—a little frazzled and tired from lugging their suitcases on the train for so many hours—but there was something off about her. She paused and squeezed her eyes closed, leaning against the building behind her. For a moment I thought she just needed to catch her breath, but then I watched in slow motion as she tottered on her feet and, as if all her bones had been zapped from her body, collapsed to the ground.

“Shit!”

I ran for her, sidestepping chairs and tables and tourists.

“Move!”

A woman huffed as I collided with her shoulder. I threw an apology over my shoulder but kept running. No one else had seen the woman faint. There was too much going on in the square.

By the time I reached her, she was laid out on the ground, her brown hair covering her face. Her backpack had protected her head from the stone, but she hadn’t regained consciousness yet. Massimo was right behind me by the time I reached her.

“What happened? What do we do?” Massimo asked, wiping his hand down his face.

I stepped forward and put my cheek right over her nose. When I felt her breath hit my skin, I exhaled.

“Well, she’s breathing.”

“And her pulse?” he asked.

I brushed some strands of brown hair off her neck and pressed my fingers to the soft skin below her chin. It was steady.

“What the hell happened to her?”

I swallowed down my panic and shook my head. I had no clue.

A small crowd had gathered around her by then.

“É morta?!”

“I don’t think she’s breathing!”

It wouldn’t be long before the entire square had gathered to ogle her.

“She’s probably just dehydrated. Let’s take her in there,” I said, pointing to the building behind us. It was a lucky break, her passing out right in front of the building our family had owned for as long as anyone could remember. My grandmother had operated it as a bed and breakfast. Now it was abandoned, but it was out of the sun and the view of tourists, and we could call the doctor once we were inside.

Massimo unlocked the door, using one of the keys on his jingling chain.

We carried her in together, careful to keep her head steady as we pushed boxes and cobwebs out of the way. There was a bed in the bottom bedroom, one the manager had used when the bed and breakfast was still open. I shook out the bedding, checking for bugs, and watched as dust flew into the air. It wasn’t clean, but it was better than putting her down on the wood floor.

Massimo and I maneuvered her onto the bed and stepped away, giving her space. She looked like hell. Her hair was matted around her face, sweaty and stuck to her cheeks. Her skin was sickly pale.

“I’m going to go grab her stuff before someone nabs it,” Massimo said, darting out of the room and back out onto the street.

I knew I needed to move, to go find a doctor and help figure out what was wrong with her, but my feet were rooted in place. It’d been five years since I’d seen a woman lying on a sick bed, but the memories came flooding back all at once.

“Luca, come help with this bag!”

Massimo’s voice snapped me out of my memories. I spun away from the bed and ran out to help him gather her things. The amount of luggage she’d carried with her could have filled four wardrobes. Massimo lugged the suitcase inside and I grabbed her backpack, which weighed more than she did.

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