AN: A two-part story which I've had the idea floating around for the past six months, after a very eventful trip with my best friend to Italy :) Inspired by the song 'Almost Lover' – A Fine Frenzy. Epigraph lyrics © them.
A lot of time went into this and I've neglected my other storied due to it xD Please let me know what you think!
'Your fingertips across my skin,
The palm trees swaying in the wind,
You sang me Spanish lullabies,
The sweetest sadness in your eyes.
Goodbye my almost lover,
Goodbye my hopeless dream,
I'm trying not to think about you,
Can't you just let me be?
So long my luckless romance,
My back is turned on you,
Should've known you'd bring me heartache,
Almost lovers always do.'
I had never been one for the cliché of a holiday romance. It seemed silly, and to some extent, reckless. It was like kissing in the rain; far too overrated and often shown in the movies in a unrealistic way. These young girls fall for some Hollywood looking beau and entrust them into their hearts and lives, only to be distraught and shocked when they never saw them again after their time together is up.
I guess that my views on this subject completely changed when I found myself on a flight by myself to Verona, Italy. I had previously been planning this trip with my best friend and boyfriend. But after the events of the past week, they could carry on screwing each other behind, or rather now in front of, my back. I was not going to let those bastards ruin the trip which I had been looking forward to for the past countless months.
There was only one slight damper on the entire parade; I knew roughly five words in Italian. However, I wasn't going to let something as trivial as that ruin my holiday. Most of them spoke English, right? Or at least French, of which I was almost fluent in. If all else failed, hand gestures and pointing would suffice.
The morning of my flight was of a typical British origin; a sombre, slate coloured, late September sky. As I walked across to the plane, decorated with the airline's orange stencilled design, a chilly wind whipped across the Heathrow tarmac, wrapping the passengers in a blanket of cold thoughts and a sense of relief that they would soon be destined for a much more tepid climate. Inside the small, metal craft, a vice of terror astringed itself around my airways, in the manner of a boa constrictor, at the thought of being stuck in a flimsy machine for three hours, at a height of thirty five thousand feet; a drop from which death would be certain if the engines were to fail.
Being a short person, at five foot three inches, the only possible way to make this trip better so far, was to not be able to reach the overhead lockers and shove in my hand luggage. I was jumping around like a jackrabbit, gaining many weird looks, and still failing my task whilst debating whether to or not climb on the chair's armrest and gain an extra foot, when a pair of strong, tanned and muscular arms came around me, took the case out of my grasp and easily placed it in the compartment. I turned, ready to thank whom I was expecting to be a member of the cabin crew, and came face to face with a man whom was the definition of a Greek god. Or rather, came face to chin with him, as he was of course, a fair bit taller than me.
The demon snake returned once more with a vengeance of crushing my throat, but this time, it was not one of fright, but of pure attraction to that man who was standing in far too close proximity. His face held all the features of a roman emperor; with high, defined cheekbones, a strong nose and chiselled jaw, and smooth, dark, skin. He had a high forehead, which led upwards into a mass of wavy, rich cinnamon coloured locks, occasionally shot with a golden fleck. He possessed broad, powerful shoulders and he wore a designer cut shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to his biceps, and the unbuttoned collar revealing a hint of a toned chest. What struck me most about his appearance though, was his eyes; their gaze never decreased in intensity, and looking into them felt like drowning in a vat of thick, warm honey.
I could feel a fiery blush spread across my face and I managed to stammer out a "Grazie." before tearing myself from staring at this piece of perfection and sliding into the row of seats. There was no possibility in any way that the man was not Italian. He didn't say anything in reply, but just let a very slight, coy smile play over his lips.
I could sense him hesitate behind me and then follow into the same line of chairs. He sat down next to me, and as I looked out of the window at the desolate runway, his stare burnt on the back of my neck. My heart was in my mouth as the plane began to tax its way towards the take-off strip and only one profanity word was in my head as the engines began to give a throaty roar and increase in speed before there was that queasy moment when you are neither here nor there a few seconds before complete lift-off.
Once the seatbelt sign had switched off, I pulled the laptop case out from under my seat where I had placed it earlier and started it up, planning to start the project which my photography and computer editing teacher had set me for the trip. My one weakness enabling extra work; Photoshop. It was just so complicated, and, one year into my course, I was still completely clueless. After many failed attempts of trying to make an earthen pot of sunflowers look even nicer through subtle effects, I gave up, and opened up a solitaire game instead. My mentor, old Mr Barnes, would probably get even more narked that I hadn't completed the folder of photos he had set me to manipulate, but even he could eventually learn to accept that such technology was truly beyond my capacity.
Just as the green game window popped up, a low chuckle echoed over from my right side. I glanced towards the direction from which it had been produced and met the inquisitive stare of Adonis, as I shall call him. His mouth opened for a moment then closed again, his eyes flicking from my face to the screen and back again. "Giving up so soon?" He spoke only softy; but yet, I could hear every gentle husk of his words. The low volume only marginally hid the prominent accent within his voice.
I raised my eyebrows slightly. "I didn't realise you were watching so keenly."
"There's not much else to hold my interest. So, why are you giving up?"
"Well, it's impossible." The quelling fervency of his unceasing gaze made me stammer slightly.
"Nothing is impossible. You should prevail at the things that you find most difficult. It is just simple photo editing, is it not?"
"Yes... I can never understand it though."
"Cheat a little then." A twinkle sparked to life in his eyes. "Use the HDR toning as a starting point." He learnt over me slightly, reaching out to the laptop's touchpad and bringing up the Photoshop application before clicking a few menu bars and opening up a box with bars upon it. "Just play around with that for a bit. It should get you somewhere."
"Thanks." He nodded, sliding back into his own seat. "You speak very good English, if you don't mind me saying."
He laughed again, his lips drawing back to reveal a set of perfectly straight, white teeth. I wouldn't have expected anything less. "I should hope so." His brow softened slightly as he explained. "My paternal grandmother is British. She insisted that I spend my education in a British boarding school and my holidays back home at the family vineyard in Tuscany."
"It must have been quite an upbringing."
"It was." He turned towards me again, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards as he offered his hand for me to shake. "Giovanni Rossetti."
I couldn't help but smile at his name. "Very Italian."
"My middle name is Arthur if it makes it any better. Aren't you going to introduce yourself?"
I gauged his response carefully before answering. If I didn't know any better, I would swear that the cocked eyebrow, constant smirk and mischievous twinkle in his eye were a method of subtle flirting. "Kia Blake."
Something clicked as he said that. Wait. Giovanni Rossetti?! No way. I quickly switched between looking at his face and the photo of the screen, the silver signature copy mark of 'GAR' in the bottom right corner. "... You said Giovanni Rossetti? You're the Giovanni Rossetti?"
"Oh no; the Giovanni Rossetti was a national football player during the forties and fifties. However, I reckon that you're not thinking of him."
"So you are the one who...?" I pointed back to the screen, well aware that I was practically gaping at the bloke. The Giovanni Rossetti, famous in the photography element and who Barns practically hero worshiped. Every single of the incredible photos in my editor task album were taken by the man who only sat a few inches away, amusement written over his face.
"I take it that you study under Gregory Barnes?" I could only numbly nod. "Yeah; I should have known that as soon as I recognised the sunflower study... It was always a favourite of his... As well as that no other mentor in their right mind would set his pupils' work surrounding my own." He again raised an eyebrow, but this time it was a lot more sceptical. "I'm nowhere near well known in the art world."
"Your work is amazing though." I managed to breath, only then realising what an idiot I must have seemed.
"The figures in my bank account tell me otherwise." He pulled a newspaper out of the seat pocket in front of him, unfolding it in his lap. "How is old Barnsey? I would have visited him on my last trip, but I was strapped for time."
"He's okay... Going slightly senile, but he has for the past twenty years, so that's nothing new."
He gave a small snort of laugher as he quickly scanned the paper's front page. "More like the past fifty years. Does he still wear that tweed jacket? It was ancient even when I was his student."
"You were a student of his?"
He nodded, crossing one of his legs over the over as he rested his head back against the seat. "Not that long ago. Does that surprise you?"
"Not exactly... I just... Always pictured you as older. Like, as a friend of his."
"Oh, no. He was just infatuated with every compilation that I created; don't ask me why. All my classmates thought that I was sleeping with him, or something. The last part freaked me out a little."
I couldn't help but giggle. "It would be enough to freak out anyone. In a late answer to your other question, yes, he does still wear the tweed jacket."
"Knew it." He grinned. "To where are you heading?"
"I'm staying at Lake Garda, but I plan to travel into Venice for a bit."
He whistled through his teeth. "Pricey."
"Originally, I was planning this with two other people... The fees would have been cut."
"And happened there?"
"Deceit. Went to visit my boyfriend and found him in bed with my best friend."
"Oh... I'm sorry."
"No need." I just shrugged as I pulled my currently book out from the laptop case. "He was an ass. She was a bitch. It just took a lot for me to see that."
Giovanni only nodded in a slightly nervous motion before swiftly manoeuvring the topic slightly. "So you're going to travel into Venice for a few days?"
"Yes... I have a study that I want to do there."
He again smirked to himself a little. "Maybe I'll see you then."
"You're going as well?"
"I live there. I have a flat on the north side."
I stared a little in disbelief. He only met my gaze with a nonchalant look. "And you said that I was living the pricey life."
"Oh, it's not too expensive if you know where to go. It's worth it though."
"I'll bet." I muttered just as the seatbelt sign above us lit up, slight hysteria seeping into my voice. "... What does that mean?!"
He regarded me a little over the top of his paper. "That we're coming into turbulence. I take it that you don't -" The violent shaking of the aircraft cut off the end of his sentence. I grabbed onto the elbow rest, sinking my nails into it and realising only too late that it was in fact his forearm, not the seat. He merely chuckled once more, taking my hand, gently squeezing it and then placing it properly on the rest. "It's only mild sea pockets of different pressure. We're just going over the channel." He nodded towards the window. "It should quiet down in a couple of minutes. You can stop freaking out then."
The rest on the journey carried on in a similar fashion; easy flowing conversation surrounding childhood and current life. I barely even noticed when we hit more turbulence as we crossed the Alps, nor when the plane began its decent. Only the screeching of the breaking tyres upon the landing strip brought me out of my trance-like state. He had simply captivated me with a few softly spoken words, along with a light sense of humour and that ever present, slowly seductive smirk. It was not something that I wished to be brought upon myself; I was still completely torn up inside from my previous tussle with romance, even though I may have not shown or thought it in any other way. I did not want to be led into such a place of exposure, but there I found myself; completely at his will.
He stayed with me all the way through passport control and then insisted on wheeling my suitcase from the baggage claim to the taxi row out front, haggling a fair deal with the driver in a complex, flurried spiel of foreign words. Only then did he step back, granting me one last enchanting smile along with a murmur of "I'll see you when I find you, then." before turning and disappearing across the concrete car park.
I was left there, alone, only then being overcome by what a mistake I had made in coming to a place where I, quite obviously, was not invited nor welcome. There was nothing I could do about that though, so I heaved my suitcase into the car boot, and spent the next couple of hours in a nervous and tense state in the back of a taxi upon my way to my booked hotel.
The next day, I walked round the idyll of the lake, capturing the still, naturalist life of my study, thankful that there was no need for human interaction. It was only the next day on which such a thing arose; also the day that I was planning upon making my way into Venice. It took a taxi, train and finally a water taxi just to reach the outskirts of the entrance. But even the extortionate fees of these were not enough to damper the thrill of seeing the famous city loom up upon its stilts in the distance. Venice; the City of Water, and the place that I'd wanted to visit ever since I was a young child.
The daunting feeling marginally wore off when I found myself surrounded by masses of tourists in a similar position as myself. Just a sheep following the crowd. I bought a water bus ticket, and easily made my way around the main tourist hotspots, revelling in such a seemingly impossible feat of architecture. I couldn't help but keep my eyes peeled for Giovanni though. I hated myself for that; the simple yearning just to once more see his easy grin and immerse myself in his laid-back attitude.
I was attempting to capture a particular chapel like building, and failing in that task, when he appeared. As the pair of arms came around me for the second time in three days, a sharp shot of horror formed in the base of my throat. I was just about to elbow and kick back at what seemed was entirely a stranger when the somewhat familiar, silky voice spoke lowly in my ear. "You're getting the angle and lighting wrong." His hands covered mine upon the camera, barely changing the tilt, but suddenly the image upon the screen was transferred into a breath-taking divinity just as he, himself, pressed the capture button.
As soon as the lens had clicked back to its original pre-taken state, I twisted round and flung my arms around his neck, along with an elated squal of "Giovanni!" It was pure delight of seeing a friendly face, of course.
Quickly recovering from the initial surprise of my affections, he tightly hugged me back, chuckling "Now, that is the type of greeting that I like." I nervously pulled back, apologizing. "Nonsense. I said that I would find you though, didn't I?"
"You did." I sheepishly admitted, sudden shyness setting it. "How did you though? There's hundreds, if not thousands of people here."
"Oh, wasn't that hard. I just had to hang around one of the main tourist haunts for a while and you were bound to turn up." A lop sided grin spread across his handsome features. "You're here to do a project, are you not?"
"Well, yes, I -"
He didn't even wait for me to finish as he grabbed my hand and pulled me after him, murmuring to simple explanation of "Then come with me."
I followed him through the streets in pure enrapture. He was like my pied piper; leading me to my doom, and with every musical rise and fall of his voice, I became even more captivated by him. Of course, back then, I had no idea of the oppression looming behind me, gaining ground with every fraction of illusioned time. At that moment, I was just a stupid, young and naive girl. Don't get me wrong, Giovanni himself was never the threat, but it was rather the consequences that were unwillingly tied to him. He led me through those back alleys, turning upon impulse and gratifying away from the tourism and into the truly deep and darker side of the city, teaching me more about the art of photography in a few hours than I had in the past entire year. Each capture of time was precious to him; it was a moment that would never be seen again, except in this one exert of digital colour, which could never sum up the heavy heat in the air, the salty smell of the marshland water and every spark of electricity which jumped between his skin and mine whenever they came into fleeting contact.
The real storm formed in the late afternoon. Heavy, black clouds swirled overhead and in the air hung a scent of mystery and crackling pressure. The first few droplets fell from the sky, smattering into the dusty, cobbled streets and murky water canals, soon turning into a deluged downpour. I couldn't help but shriek, all my intentions turning to finding shelter so that my three thousand pound camera wouldn't be destroyed by the sheer natural beauty of wild weather. Giovanni simply laughed, so used to the sudden extremes of Mediterranean rain, and ran after me, catching hold of my hand as I fled for dryness.
I found partial harbourage under a narrow plaster bow, covering an ancient, arched door. Giovanni appeared only a second or so after me, his hands thudding into the knurled wood either side of my face, his chest heaving from the heavy exertion of sprinting so far. Again, his lips drew back to reveal those perfect teeth as he slowly leant in and encaptured my mouth with his own, stepping even closer and pushing me back against the gateway. His palms slid down the splintered planks to my waist, whereas he slid them around to my back and easily lifted me up in-between his chest and the wall, my legs wrapping around his waist. His mouth was soft and gentle but eager as it parted, his warm and shallow breaths blending with my own as he cautiously traced my teeth with his tongue. My arms curled around his neck as I ran my fingers through the soaked curls of his hair, a spray of water drenching them.
He gradually drew back, still gasping for breath, and just looked at me, his eyes heavy with something completely incomprehensible. "I... I only live a couple of rows from here."
That was all the encouragement I needed to slide back down to the ground and just breathlessly nod. He grabbed my hand once more, this time leading me back through the maze of houses that we had passed minutes before, both of us trying to hold back uncontrollable giggles. I stumbled after him up a set of concrete stairs and only a few seconds later, tumbled over the threshold into his cool flat. He kicked the door shut behind him and I was only aware of him dropping his keys to the floor, and a vague impression of a sitting room and kitchen through to the left, before he bore down again, his lean body suddenly so much more powerful and yearning as he pushed me through a door arch and back onto a bed. As I fell back upon it, the springs gave a protesting squeak, and then another as his knees landed either side of my hips, his head dipping into the side of my neck.
Quickly darting up, he took his own camera off from around his neck, and then mine, placing them both on the bedside cabinet. I would have happily just chucked it onto the floor, uncaring of it smashing apart by that point. He thankfully returned quickly, running his hands lightly up my spine and back down again, attaching his lips once more to the sensitive part just under my ear. My own fingers darted down his front, attempting to unbutton his damp and semi-transparent shirt as fast as possible. Giving a low growl, he tore it back and popped the buttons off, immediately flinging it upon the floor. He did not let me oogle him, but instead make quick work of my own top and bra; they were soon lying beside his.
With each kiss, touch and light bite, I became even more sure of one thing; I wanted this man. He knew exactly how to tease me, but still give enough to make me screw my eyes up and gasp; so different to the selfish boy that I had become accustomed to. He was truly a God in such an art, I mused as he tugged my denim shorts down my legs, leaving me completely at his mercy. This time, when he returned to kissing my lips, he was caring; loving, almost. I arched my back up into him, pushing his jeans and boxer down his thighs in one fluid motion with my feet. Kicking them fully off, he grinned down at me, his eyes full of what I could only describe as lust.
Not for long. The smile slowly faded as his amber eyes scanned my face. "You've..." Sitting back upon his haunches in all his naked glory, he ran an agitated hand through his drying hair. "You've never done this before." He said it as a mere statement rather than a question.
I sat up, crossing my arms over my chest suddenly somewhat ashamed by my, newly discovered on his behalf, virginity. "So?"
"So?" His voice rose a few octaves out of near hysteria. "I'm not going to take that from you."
"I want you to."
He ignored me. "The boyfriend, the one you said cheated on you; he did so because you wouldn't sleep with him?"
I just shrugged, not wanting to think about it in too much depth. "That's what I presume."
"And you wouldn't give it to him, but you want to give it to me?! Me; a complete stranger that you only met two days ago?!"
"I'm so fed up of the whole 'save-for-someone-special' crap! That's what got me here the first bloody place." I could feel my anger flare up. "I want it over with, and I want that with you. Gio-"
He cut me off with a low rumble. "Don't tempt me. Don't tempt me, or I really will take you right here, right now."
"Good. That's what I want, for the last time!"
His brow softened slightly and he began to lean forward once more before stopping himself and madly shaking his head back and forth. "No." He rolled off me, landing softly on the tiled floor, upon the balls of his feet. Picking up his discarded pair of diesels, he pulled them back on and stalked towards a glass door, sliding it open and stepping out onto a balcony, where the thunderous rain had seemingly ceased.
I just said upon his bed for a while, letting my racing heart recover and breathing even out, whilst mulling over what had just happened in the past half an hour. I had come so close you letting of the one thing that I'd valued as one of my most worthy claims, and yet I, and my body, still wanted Giovanni to take that. After recovering from my near encounter, I slowly stood up, taking the crumpled sheet from his bed, wrapping it around me and tracing his footsteps to outside.
He was standing, still heavily exhaling, by the railing, grasping it with his hands, their knuckles turning white under the pressure. He turned to look at me as I stood beside him, taking the lit cigarette out of his mouth and stubbing it out upon metal fencing, sighing. "I'm sorry."
"No, I am." I shook my head, screwing up my eyes. "I shouldn't have shouted at you. You were just trying to look out for me."
He reached out with an arm, pulling me against his hot chest, gently kissing the top of my head. "Get to know me; stay with me this week. Learn the type of person that I am, and if you still wish me to, at the end, I'll give you what you want."
So I did, stay with him, that is. He drove me back to the hotel in his car, of course it was a fiat, bombing down the motorway at unthinkable speeds. I don't know what it was about him that made me so trusting. Only a few days prior, if you had told me that I would be staying with a man that I knew barely anything about, I'd have been horrified and appalled. But there I was, falling asleep in his arms each night, often wearing one of his shirts, whilst he sang lullabies to me in a mixture of English, Italian, Spanish and a variety of others. During the day he would take me around the city; showing me the more local side of it. He tried to teach me his native language and after many fails ending is a fit of laughter, he conceded that it was never going to happen. I fell for him, so hard and fast that even I didn't know that was happening. Yes, I grew to know him; to be able to predict what he was going to say and what every one of his complex expressions meant. It was a dream; almost a fantasy and I was on edge of every moment just waiting to wake up.
On my final night, he cooked me his family's secret pasta recipe and we ate in silence, the same unspoken thoughts hanging overhead. He left the empty plates on the floor, where we had been sitting upon cushions, and led me through to his bedroom where he had lit candles on every available surface. There, in that flickering glow, he made love to me in the gentle, loving way that I had always imagined. Amongst the fiery heat, bated gasps and soft moans, we exchanged those three fatal words that were of course the beginning of the end.
The next morning hung heavy and oppressive. He masked all emotion from his face, but did not once let go of my hand. The same unspoken thoughts from the night before stayed unspoken, but he stayed with me at the airport right up until the gate was about to close. Then, he cupped my face in his large hands and tenderly kissed me for the last time, his eyes being the only portrayal of pain. "Remember to write."
I laughed to cover up the threatening tears. To write was his only method of contact; he refused to join the modern world by getting Internet access or even a phone line. "How could I forget?"
He sadly smiled, giving me a bone-crushing hug. "And I'll visit as soon as I get the money to."
I nodded, not trusting my words to speak for me as I stepped back out of the embrace that I never wanted to leave. "Goodbye, Giovanni."
"Addio, la mia piccolo tesoro." His hoarse and thin voice echoed in my ears as I walked away from him and through to the security area.
My tears only fell as I looked out of the plane window, the runway tarmac getting smaller with each passing moment, and I came realise that that was probably the last time that I would ever see the man whom I'd come to love so in the Venetian Rain.