Although Luca and Isabella's friendship started off on very shaky ground, both were convinced that it would only grow stronger from here on out. The next week saw Isabella in El Salvador, attending each concert faithfully and even occasionally staying after to talk to Luca. In the process, she met Dante-Luca's younger brother who seemed more outgoing than his brother and definitely more popular with persons of the female persuasion. He had a certain arrogance to him but it was more in good humor than anything else and Isabella liked him immediately.
One evening, she was out getting coffee and heading out for a walk when she ran into Dante. "Oh! Excuse me, Chica didn't know you were in such an anxious rush to bump into me." He winked at her and she just rolled her eyes, laughing.
"Actually I was headed out for a walk; the night's somewhat chilly so I thought I'd grab a cup of coffee. You?"
"Oh I'm just out getting some air; since we had an early show tonight I'm kind of restless, don't really know what to do with myself." They both laughed.
"Well it's not much of a walk but you wanna walk down to the pier with me?"
He smiled and nodded. "Yes I would, m'lady." He bowed and offered his arm to Isabella who took it with a brilliant smile. They walked on for some time in silence, enjoying the view of the city and the people rushing about-Isabella loved night life the best; it held an element of mystic magic and romance that appealed to her.
"So. Have you seen my brother today?"
"Oh no! I have I was just curious if you had."
"Oh um-no, not today as of yet but I was busy I ran into an old friend that just moved to the here from Beliz and she and I had a lot of catching up to do."
He smiled nodding his head as they came into sight of the pier. "Understandable, he's been somewhat preoccupied himself today anyways so he probably wouldn't have had much time for visiting."
"Yeah, you know business, interviews, tour-related. And of course there's always the countless female fans fawning over him so there's the pictures and the autographs." He watched her face expression and sensed a slight change in her demeanor.
"Oh. I always assumed you two did those sort of things together-like the interviews and such."
"Sometimes but a lot of times they'll talk to us separately because they like to get a feel for what we're like as individuals as well as a team."
"Hmm, well that makes sense. You always did seem to be the more popular one though I mean as far as with the ladies." Her voice was hesitant and timid, not knowing if she would offend him but Dante's answering laugh put her at ease.
"Ohhh, so you're saying I'm a womanizer than, yes?"
She shook her head laughing. "You and your brother both twist everything around, making such absurd assumptions! I never said that I was merely making an observation that the women seem to gravitate to you most of the time."
"Wait wait-I get it now. You're saying that because you're hoping it just sounds like a random observation when in actuality, you're jealous because you want my brother for yourself-" he snapped his fingers as if something had occurred to him. "Got it."
"What?! How on earth do you twist it around and come up with something so-ridiculous, I declare, Dante you amuse me more than anything else." She pulled on his arm as they started to walk again.
"Hmmm…Me thinks she doth protest too much." He wiggled his eyebrows at her, nudging her playfully.
"You have a very vivid imagination, Sir." The wind picked up ever so slightly as the two turned around making the trek back to the hotel.
"I don't know if I could quite conjure up those looks you give my brother when he's in the room or singing or just talking and laughing; that's pretty obvious."
"Oh please! I don't give him any 'looks' I don't look at him any differently than I do the next person in the room-no differently than I look at you for that matter." She was laughing at the absurdity of his accusations-but deep down she knew there was more truth to them than she herself was willing to admit.
"You flatter me, dear lady but trust me when I say there is a great deal of difference in the way you look at him and me-with me, it's more of a close friend or brotherly camaraderie. With him its like-" He paused, looking at her seriously as he spoke. "-It's like he's the sun-or the universe-put it however you chose to but I can definitely tell you feel something for him, Bella-whether you admit it fully to yourself or not. Heck, maybe you don't even know it yet but it's there and I see it." He smiled gently at her as he saw panic pass through her eyes. "Don't worry, Dear, I doubt my brother sees any of it-although I don't know why you're trying so desperately to hide it from him?"
Isabella's footsteps halted and for a long moment, she was silent as she looked away from Dante and out across the open ocean. Her thoughts were a whirl of confusion in her head and she didn't know which ones came first. "You know, I love the ocean most because it's like-a basin of tempest and uncontrolled power-and yet its calming and peaceful somehow-when I'm with the ocean it's like it absorbs all of my uncertainties and fears, adding to its own power-and nothing seems impossible or complicated and there's no reason to ever feel afraid." At that her eyes met his again and his smiled was soft and earnest.
"You-are so much like him, Bella; you don't realize it but there are so many things in you that I see in my brother and-even things in you that he's lost and I know it would do him good to have them back; I know he would do anything he could to get them back." Taking both her hands in his, he looked into her eyes and his gaze was earnest and sincere. "You are one of the best girls I know, Bella but even more importantly, I haven't seen my brother as happy and as like himself in so long, as he is when he's with you. It's been three years-a long time since he's been himself but you-you bring out the very best good in him."
She smiled as Dante squeezed her hands in brotherly affection. "Don't be so quick to hide away your beautiful heart; he needs it more than you know."
"What is it that happened to him, three years ago?"
"Well-I feel that the bulk of that story is his alone to tell you but I will tell you this much; there was a young English woman we met while on tour in Verona-Luca fell in love with her at first sight and she with him-but things happened-complicated situation and they couldn't be together-I have a feeling it was more her choice however than it was his. The impossibility of being separated by worlds as well as an entire culture and language that rendered them both incapable of speaking a single word to each other-it can make such things-painful."
Isabella grew quiet as she listened to Dante share a little of his brother's past and something of it made her feel closer to Luca than she ever had before.
"But let him tell you if he so chooses; I'm sure in time, he'll open up and share it with you-the rest isn't mine to share but I wanted to give you a taste of it so that you can-hopefully understand at least a little more of why my brother is the way he is. He's a bit reckless sometimes-with his emotions-and his heart to an extent but his heart is also very fragile; he's been through more than any man of twenty-six should ever have to face-but he's never let it get him down; through all the struggle. All the tears and pain-staking sleepless nights, he's always come out stronger for it; he's the strongest man I know and I look up to him a great deal. I'd do anything for him-I'd give my life for him."
"The way you talk of him-you love Luca very much don't you."
He smiled as he nodded his head, his eyes seemed to sparkle with the recollection of memories of childhood. "He is my best friend and he's made me who I am today; he was my inspiration and why I chose a career in music; he took this path before me and I simply followed."
They were now back in the hotel lobby just in time-the rain began to fall only minutes later.
"Well! Looks like it's gonna be another night in. Hey, Luca and I are having a small gathering tonight; just a few of our friends who flew down from Varese for the last six weeks-we're gonna have a bit of food, some good Italian wine of course and music; you should come!"
"I don't know, Dante I-I don't know."
"Com'on, Bella I know you want to; you know you want to. I know you're not gonna be doing anything else tonight but sitting in your room reading, maybe taking a bubble bath-getting out with some good people it will do you good!"
"How do you know? Maybe I have plans tonight."
He turned and gave her a look raising his eyebrows, snickering. "What could possibly be more important for you than finding any and every excuse to see my brother?"
She snorted and relented, allowing him to lead her down the hall to the suite he and Luca shared. She heard chattering and music coming from inside and when Dante opened the door, the smell of warm soup, cheese and sweet wine, wafted through the air; the aroma was intoxicating and she gladly allowed herself to be led inside.
"Oy! Look who's here!" Dante called above the chatter and music. All eyes turned on Isabella and she instantly felt insanely self-conscious. "Bella come in! Ok this is the gang: that's Diego and his brother Felipe; Bianca and Beatrice-we all call her Brice. Alberto, Adriano and Giuseppe-we call him Beppe. Mates, this is Isabella; she's a good friend from Dominican."
Everyone nodded, smiling at Isabella-she smiled back shyly.
After the official introductions, Dante ushered Isabella to a chair and then a few minutes later, the door opened and Luca appeared with a case of Italian wine in one hand and a bag of groceries in the other. "Food's here, Mates!" He called but then stopped short when he spotted Isabella seated at the far side of the room by the entrance to the balcony. She was staring down at her hands while Dante chatted to her from the nearby kitchen. She giggled at something he said when her eyes caught Luca's and her cheeks stained a rosy pink.
"Hey-I didn't know you were gonna be here tonight." He crossed the room to her and she stood as he bent down, kissing her on the cheek with a soft "Good to see you!" in her ear. She smiled like a school girl when she caught Dante observing them, winking at her knowingly.
"Alright! Well we're all here I don't know 'bout you guys but I'm hungry. I know Luca's hungry so how bout some music and perhaps I could elicit some help from one of you lovely ladies here, in the kitchen?" Dante clasped his hands in front of him in a playful form of supplication, eyeing the girls. They all looked at each other, none seeming to want to volunteer when Isabella stood up. "I'd love to help-I love being in the kitchen." She smiled and Dante gave her a side hug. "Oh thank you, thank you, Bella you are a trooper!" The two headed into the kitchen which opened up to the sitting area as the rest of the group settled down and Luca pulled out his guitar and started strumming a charming tune, laughing and talking with the others as he did so.
Isabella noticed the one girl- Brice, seated on a footstool very close to Luca as he played. The girl was taller than Isabella by a good few inches; Isabella stood only about 5ft. 1" where Brice looked to be about 5'8 or 5'9. "How tall is Brice?" She asked in a low voice.
Dante glanced at her then at Brice. "She's about-5'8 I think? Why?"
"Oh I was just curious because her legs-she just looks very tall.
He laughed as he glanced away from Brice and back to the cutting board where he was slicing up an onion. "Yeah she is very tall; all leg, that one."
"How old is she?"
"Um I wanna say twenty-five? Hey, come to think of it I don't even know how old you are; you never told me."
Isabella laughed, eyeing him. "That's because in my culture it is very rude to ask a woman her age."
Dante's eyes grew wide as he bit back a laugh. "Oh Bella I'm so sorry, I didn't know, I-"
She threw her head back and laughed-causing Luca to raise his head and look her direction. "I'm just messing with you, Dante; I mean it is considered rude in my culture but I could care less-I'm twenty-two."
"Awww, you're just a baby!" He cooed as he hugged her with one arm and she laughed." Just then the two were interrupted when the sound of Luca's tenor voice sounded from the living room. He was strumming a soft tune that seemed vaguely familiar to Isabella and she listened closely to the words-
This call is meant to be brief
A simple hello ending with goodbye
But then you say hello now-I am melting
And now my goodbye becomes a goodnight
I don't mind if you don't mind
Please say you do not mind if this call
Goes on all night
My afternoon was ok
My evening was ok but this night
I want it to be the best night of our lives
This is my confession
To the crimes of wanting you
And Darlin' if you're wondering
Here's your answer
Yes, I like you
I don't love you
Isabella was entranced and setting down the serving spoon, she moved to the entrance of the kitchen and leaned against the wall, listening as she watched his fingers as they strummed skillfully over the guitar strings, her eyes catching his features as pure passion for the music he played was written there.
I cannot stop thinking' about you
I cannot stop wondering
If you're constantly thinking about me
Don't close your eyes Dear I'm still staring
I won't lie Dear I'm still breathing
Even though your beauty is breath-taking
Luca's eyes met hers and she inhaled sharply as their warm golden depth pierced her soul
Here is my confession
To Crimes of wanting you
And darlin' if you're wondering
Here's your answer
Just then, Isabella noticed Brice off to Luca's right-she was leaning in closer to him-more than was necessary-and once she caught his eyes, she beamed the widest-and most flirtatious-smile she could. Luca winked at her and smiled back. Isabella's insides twisted painfully and she felt the need for air.
Yes, I like you
I don't love you
I can't love you
Or at least I do not think I do…
"Um Dante-watch the platenos for me? I need to run outside real quick-"
"You alright, Dear?"
"Oh yeah! It's just getting hot in here and I'm feeling-kind of dizzy-" Her eyes faltered to Luca and Brice momentarily as she moved passed the group and outside.
Dante knew instantly what had caused her sudden retreat and placing the towel on the counter. He carefully stepped around his mates and joined her out on the balcony, careful to close one of the double doors behind him to give them some semblance of privacy. "Oy, Bella. What's wrong?"
"N-nothing, Dante. I'm fine I just needed-some air."
He moved to stand beside her. She was leaning on the railing looking towards the ocean and her forehead mirrored the deep sadness that had crept into her eyes.
"Bella you're lying; something's wrong what is it?"
He tipped her chin towards him, making her look at him…he searched her eyes. "Is it something to do with my brother-with Brice?" Then he caught it; her eyes lowered slightly when he mentioned Brice and he sighed.
"There's nothing bothering me I just-feel a little out of place I guess…" She turned further away from him, her back mostly to him as she willed the angry twisting in her chest to settle.
Her head whipped around sharply as she eyed him. "What? No! Of-of course not."
Her lips denied it but her eyes spoke volumes of confirmation. "Bella-why haven't you told him how you feel?"
She sighed heavily. "Dante-you and Luca-the tour's going to be over in less than five weeks now-what would be the point other than making a complete vulnerable idiot of myself!"
It hurt Dante to see Isabella struggling so much-but he knew that she was right as far as the tour-they would be going home and then what did she have but to live with the pain of losing Luca?"
"There's-so much in this life that doesn't make sense-and even less of it is fair. It's like-fate casts us a cruel draw and we have no choice but to play the hand we're dealt…only to lose the game with pain and scars to carry away with us."
"Bella-can you do something for me?"
She turned to look at him; he placed his hands on her shoulders.
"Do you trust me. As your friend and the brother you never had?"
She hesitated but she saw the sincerity in his eyes and she nodded slowly.
"Wait here-just for a minute." He disappeared back inside and she stood out on the balcony for maybe twenty-minutes before she heard the sound of someone behind her. She turned-but it wasn't who she expected; it was Luca's tall slender form that stood in the doorway. His light golden brown eyes searched hers and his face was written with deep concern. "…Bell…What is it?"
She sighed, relieved; it was evident whatever Dante had told him, he hadn't revealed her secret. But she didn't know what to say-she just stood frozen, her dark eyes staring right back into his.