Midnight in Italy

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1.

“It’s not fair. Why am I stuck in this boring country on my birthday. I’m eighteen, I should be having a party with my friends back home. Leslie had a party. I can’t believe you dragged me all the way here against my will.”

The girl was loud enough for Leandro to prick up his ears from the other side of the hotel’s restaurant. It wasn’t that Americans were particularly louder than Italians; it was just that she had a whine that seemed to cut through everything else. Eighteen today though, he thought; that put the glances in a whole new light.

The glance was the key to understanding Leandro’s whole philosophy on love, no, on life as a whole. He got a glance from a woman; he went for it. He didn’t get one, he thought no more abour her, whoever she might be. It kept things simple and it kept him happy. It wasn’t a perfect system of course. There were plenty of reasons why a glance might stop at a glance: boring reasons like a Catholic upbringing, a husband, or a plane to catch. Charm, even so much as he had, could only do so much. Still every memorable encounter of his life had blossomed from the glance.

She’d been complaining almost non-stop since they arrived, except whenever he was near. Then she was all smiles and, more importantly, glances. She’d glanced when he came to take their order. She’d glanced when her mother had sent back an apparently unclean fork (it had been fine). When he’d come to shave the mozzarella over her pasta, she’d practically stared. She wanted him, so much was clear.

He initially hadn’t paid any attention to her though. He’d assumed she was too young — a girl being dragged around by her parents on a holiday she didn’t want to go on, with two snot-nosed brothers in tow, certainly felt too young. Still, he quite liked the idea of bedding a girl on the actual day of her eighteenth birthday. It would make a good brag.

Pity she was such a spoilt little brat he thought. Though, on the other hand, that could be a good thing. A sense of entitlement, and a resentment of parents often played to his advantage. Playing to your strengths was all well and good, but playing to her weaknesses, that was often the key to victory.

Hell, whatever, it was still pretty unlikely. They were moving as a family unit and he was unlikely to be able to separate her from the pack. Still, with nothing else of interest to do that day though, he could afford to spend some time idly plotting, just as a mental exercise.

2.

Later, in the afternoon, Leandro bumped into Sienna in the office by accident on purpose. He’d always wanted to catch a glance from her, though all he ever got was scowls. It was a real pity: such beauty wasted on a bad attitude and a steady boyfriend. Sienna worked the reception desk and thus could be a good source of information. She could also be a total bitch, so he had to be careful how he extracted it.

“God. How long are those bloody Americans going to stay?” he said with feigned annoyance.

“Just till tomorrow,” Sienna replied. “They’re pissing you off as well?”

Tomorrow didn’t give him much time, but, the day after her eighteen birthday didn’t quite have the same cache to it anyway, so he was always going to have been racing the clock. Still, the fact they were leaving tomorrow was good solid information. It changed up the schedule. If they had an early flight, for example, the parents might go to bed a bit earlier. They might also knock on doors a bit earlier in the morning. It would make her more difficult to spirit her away, if there was ever a chance of that. If he could, it might be worth trying to take a peek and see if their names were down for the airport bus in the morning. Much more importantly, it seemed like Sienna wanted to complain about them as well, if he could really get her chatting that would make reconnaissance so much easier and he might even have a potential partner in crime.

“They complain all the time about everything. It’s doing my head in. What happened with you?”

“Oh,” said Sienna, “The oldest daughter swore at me to my face and threatened to get me fired.”

Leondro leaned in; this was going to be interesting. “What did you do?”

“Nothing. I popped into the ladies around lunchtime to freshen up and I heard someone being sick in the stall. I checked to see if she was okay and I recognized her voices, so I asked if she wanted me to get her mother. She just came out, told me, and I quote, ‘don’t fucking dare’ and ‘It’s none of your goddamn business’, stuck her nose up in the air and just marched past me.”

Leondro recalled, “She had been drinking wine over lunch. Her parents wouldn’t let her at first, but she kept going on about how it was her birthday and how it was legal over here then in the end they agreed because it was ‘part of Italian culture'”

Sienna continued, “But that wasn’t all. About an hour later that little brat was in the lobby complaining for about half an hour about why it was absolutely essential that she had her own room. Kept going on about how casino siteleri all the rest of her friends had their own rooms when they went on holiday and how disgusting her younger brothers were and of course her bloody birthday. So, the parents gave in but then the mother threw a major fit because we couldn’t get a room next to the ones we already had. We’re not Hogwarts, we can’t make a new room magically appear just cos you demand it.”

Leandro always suspected he was beloved by God. Being born with natural good looks and charm were circumstantial evidence, but this, surely was proof. It was almost like someone was smoothing his path for him. It would be almost criminal not to proceed.

But Sieanna wasn’t finished, “Then, and get this, I was showing them the room, and the parents had stepped out for a second, she pulled me aside and told me that if I mentioned anything about her being sick earlier, she’d go straight to the manager and get me fired. Kept going on about how she it was a confidentially issue now she was eighteen. Like, bitch, do I look like I care, next time I’ll leave you to drown in the toilet bowl.”

Leondro hesitated, but only a second. The recommendation was always to keep you dick outside the crazy ones. He wasn’t so sure. He kind of liked crazy. In bed they tended to be, well, crazy.

“So they were on, what, the third floor? Where was the extra room?” he asked as casually as he could.

“Leandro!” she said as if she was warning a child who had been looking a bit too long at the forbidden cookie jar.

“I’m just wanted to avoid them,” he said unconvincingly. Damn, nothing got past her.

“Of course, you do,” she said. She paused, then smiled vindictively “Room 47, since you ask. I’m off in a couple of hours. Don’t create any drama before then. I’m sick of having to deal with your fallout, but after that, be my guest. Feel free to ‘avoid’ that little cunt as hard as you like. And I’ll expect a favour in return sometime next week.”

“Sienna, you’re an angel,” he grinned. So had Satan been, he thought to himself. It was only later in the afternoon that he realized how the implication of Sienna giving him the girls room number as a type of revenge reflected badly on himself. There were a couple of seconds when he was actually offended.

3.

In the end, the preparation needed was fairly minimal. The family went out mid-afternoon to look around the local village. Leonardo didn’t have a shift tonight, which could be either an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how things played out. He had to make up an excuse about staying because he wanted to avoid his landlord, but the place had always been fairly relaxed, with people hanging around outside of hours, so no one paid him any mind. The actual planning stage only took him ten minutes and, since he didn’t much fancy running into the village, was built around only items that could be easily pilfered from the hotel. Once his shift officially ended, he grabbed a book from the guest library and grabbed a seat outside in the afternoon sun to wait for their return. Life was good, he reflected.

The family returned from their outing about half past nine just as it was starting to get dark. Leandro was lucky enough to be in earshot. As he had hoped, they were indeed planning an early night, with the girl announcing that she would watch some television before bed, if the Italian stations had anything good on which they probably wouldn’t, of course.

This was helpful for Leandro. The last detail of his plan, the one that he couldn’t decide on until he saw how things lay, was exactly when to launch the operation. Go in too early and he risked a parent knocking on the door at the worst possible moment. Go in too late and she’d be asleep. A freshly woken woman in a hotel bathrobe, one groggy and with bed hair, was much harder to hit on than one that was full dressed. They were naturally in defence mode. The right moment could be quite hard to judge.

In the end he went in earlier than he would have liked because of the technicality. It was a stupid technicality, but one that he was certain his friends would bring up if he tried to tell the resulting story over a few drinks. Ideally the deed would have to start before midnight otherwise it wouldn’t still be her eighteenth birthday. Sure, if the courtship lasted a bit longer than that, he could still spin it as the evening of her eighteenth birthday. He could even bullshit a bit about how her being born in a different timezone gave him six hours’ leeway. But these were the sort of details that dragged a good anecdote down; the things your guy friends give you shit about for ages in order to just take the wind out of your sales mid brag. So, it would be best if were done cleanly and unambiguously, which would still be a rush even if he took the absolutely earliest opportunity that could reasonably been deemed ‘safe’.

He knocked on her door at a quarter past ten.

4.

Gabby Reinhart was sitting cross-legged on the güvenilir casino bed watching an old episode of Friends. In fairness, Italian television hadn’t been quite as bad as she’d assumed, the hotel seemed to have a pretty full cable package on offer, but nor was she in the mood to settle on anything more substantial to watch. She’d tried some of the local channels for amusement for about fifteen minutes, but, apart from some of the female presenters being very noticeably better endowed that their US counterparts, it hadn’t seemed that different from the rubbish she was used to, just in spoken in an incomprehensible language.

This holiday had been a drag. Italy was objectively a lovely country even she had to admit; she just wasn’t in the mood for it. Her parents had kept telling her how wonderful it was, telling her why Italian pizza was so much more authentic than Dominoes’, or how historically important this or that dank, depressing cathedral was, or which Ninja Turtle had painted this or that famous religious painting. She was, no doubt, just about as fed up of seeing Jesus on the cross as he was of being crucified. At least he had been allowed permitted to die after three days. There seemed no end to her suffering.

She knew that she had been rough on a parents. It wasn’t really their fault. They didn’t know that she had promised herself to Jason Roe on her eighteen birthday. If they had, they still wouldn’t have appreciated that if you didn’t keep your promise to guys like Jason, there were lots of other girls who were only too willing to keep it for you. It was a good promise, a fair promise. Her parents wouldn’t understand how hard she had had to work to get Jason to buy into this promise, especially when there were dozens of girls who were willing to make far bigger promises, that offered more and ask for far less in return.

It was all very well for her parents to try to explain why this was the only time that both of them could get leave for work and how they needed to have this European holiday before Simon started middle school. This holiday had wrecked her whole life, her whole future. Of course, if she told her mom (there was no way she could tell her mom), her mom would just say, “If he’s not prepared to wait, he’s not the one.” That was the kind of limp-noodled thinking that had landed her with Gabby’s father. No, Jason wasn’t the one because of any ordained soulmate baloney, Jason was the one because she’d damn well made sure he was. Or rather, she’d been this close to damn well making sure.

She could have slept with him before they left for Europe, of course, but that wouldn’t have been special; she wouldn’t have been special. It’s would just have been another two underage teenagers slipping out of whoever’s crummy party to lose their squishy innocence. Virginity was a precious commodity – a weapon that, being deployable only once, needed to be used at the right moment. The eighteenth birthday was a holy day in a girls life. Arranging matters such that it was known on the grapevine that Jason had agreed not to sleep with anyone else beforehand, and then, to very visibly be new couple at her own incredibly party, would have marked her territory very nicely. It would have stopped those feral bitches from sniffing around, at least for a while.

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men often get truly fucked over.

Jason hadn’t taken to the delay well. He’d accused her of stringing her along and had even said that the holiday was ‘mighty convenient’ even when it should have been clear to any idiot that it was the exact opposite of convenient. She’d asked him to come to the airport with him and he’d refused. He’d answered some of her messages, and he hadn’t exactly broken up with her, but she’d never been able to get more than four words of tepid response on any given day. Then her best friend, Leslie Potts, had messaged her a couple of days ago to say, while nothing was absolutely confirmed, Sadie Crickshaw was loudly and proudly claiming Jason as her latest notch after the Jason had scored the winning touchdown at the weekend. According to the numbers crunched by the local rumour mill Sadie had at least five guys since her own eighteenth birthday eight months ago and, depending on who you believed, one or more abortions. Everybody knew Sadie was a lying bitch, but then everybody also knew she was total slut, so who even knew, right? The best that could be said about the situation was that things might not be quite not as bad as they initially seemed.

Then there was the problem with the food. She’d always been very contentious about what she ate. You were only eighteen once and you had to make sure your body was the absolute best it could be. But her mother especially was always trying to foist extra food on her, put ‘some meat on her bones’ as if she needed anymore. Luckily both parents worked long hours, and she often ate without them. In Italy, they were there constantly. This lunchtime, they’d kept on and on at her to try this or that canlı casino special, authentic dish. She’d tried to refuse it, but her mother kept going on about how ‘concerned’ they all were about her. So finally she’d eaten it all with a smile and then gone straight to bathroom to get rid of it again. What else could she do? It’s not like she had a problem, not like she made a regular thing of it. It was embarrassing enough having to come back and face all her friends jilted, there was no way she was coming back as a jilted elephant. She’d kind of panicked when that receptionist had walked in on her. Luckily, she’d been able to scare her into not saying anything to her parents.

What she really needed right now was to have a private video call with Leslie to find out what was going on. The fog of war had been killing her. Leslie had been doing what she could to run interference during her absence, and they really needed a long catch-up to discuss her next move. Namely, was it worth coming back to Virginia, or should she just jump off the Eiffel Tower which was conveniently on their itinerary the day after tomorrow? This wasn’t exactly a call you could have in front of those two little shit stains who called themselves her brothers. Hence the pressing need for her own room. And her fucking parents hadn’t even wanted to let have that, even on the birthday they’d ruined. Was it any wonder she was always taking the nuclear option these days?

Leslie would be home from her part-time job around midnight. In the meantime, the unthinking oblivion of Friends reruns was what she needed. Just as Ross was about to drink the breast-milk for the millionth time, there was a knock on the door, “Room service!”

5.

Just as Leondro was about to knock for the third time, the door opened. By the look of it, the girl hadn’t been asleep or in bed. She stepped back as he wheeled the trolley in. Typically for an American, she was thousands of miles from home in a brand new country and watching dumb sit-coms.

He pulled off the cloche off, to reveal the dessert. “Taa-daa,” he cried, “Happy Birthday to the signorina.”

The girl was confused, “I don’t think I ordered any room service.”

“So, it’s not your birthday?” Leondro said in all earnestness. If they started to say no, it was always better to give them questions they had to say yes to.

“Well, no, yes, it’s my birthday,” said the girl. “I just…I mean, who ordered this?”

“Sorry, ma’am. They tell me to take this dish to room 47, I take the dish to room 47. I don’t know the details.” He’d considered putting a card with a name on it, to help the story go down a bit easier. He even had a name from earlier he could use, Leslie. But with modern communication what it was, there was no way to be sure she wouldn’t immediately text the rube to thank them, and then all would be lost. As it was she was left staring at the cake for clues.

“If I can ask, how old are you? I will put the candles on for you.” He knew, of course, but it was helpful to know officially. Plus, it helped to steer questions away from the origin of the cake.

“Oh, there’s no need,” she said. “I’m hardly going to blow them out on my own.”

If he ignored that response, Leondro figured, he could get one, at most, two more shots at the age, “I hope you are younger than twenty-four because that’s all I’ve got.”

She stood back for a second. Then, for just a beautiful split second, she did it. She gave him the glance. “I’m eighteen,” she said. It was like a symphony that started almost imperceptibly quietly. You had to listen closely, but the orchestra was indeed starting to play,

“Such a beautiful age,” Leondro replied, “Also, well within the number of candles I have. You don’t happen to share a birthday with a six-year old child, perhaps? No, well I’ll just put the rest of them here.” A compliment aimed vaguely, but deniably in her direction, then a dumb, but inoffensive joke. Another rule of women: if she found you attractive, you didn’t have to be funny, she’d laugh anyway. He was getting a bemused half smile, which was not terrible and not great.

“This doesn’t really look like the type of birthday cake you put candles on,” she said. She didn’t seem to be too impressed with the cake, but she was engaging him in conversation. That was a good sign.

“Oh, you mean the big traditional birthday cake with the cream and the candles. No, no, this is not a children’s birthday cake, this is a proper dessert for a sophisticated Italian lady: Tirimisu, made with rum and coffee. Not actually a cake technically, but I won’t tell if you don’t.” A key part of tonight’s strategy was focusing on the transition into womanhood that the day entailed and he’d chosen the tiramisu just for this very reason. Well, that and also because he couldn’t be bothered to go into town and get a proper birthday cake. He wasn’t entirely convinced that Tirimisu would be exactly exotic even in the cultural backwaters of the US, but the line seemed to have landed okay.

“Ok, ok, we’ll leave the candles.” Actually blowing out birthday candles would be a step backwards into childhood. He should avoid infantilization, now the candles had played their role. He cut a slice of the dessert, plated it and handed it to her. “Please enjoy.”

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