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I took out my wallet but my sister's hand stopped me. I glanced up at her and she smiled, handing her credit card to the cashier.
"Now you can't say that I never do anything for you," she joked, winking. I rolled my eyes but smiled back at her.
"Thank you, but this was not what I was talking about when I said I needed your money," I said, grabbing my bag off of the counter. "I was talking about rent money." Rose shrugged and turned to leave the department store.
"I understand that and I'm going to give it to you. But I just wanted to give you something extra. Is there something wrong with that?" she asked, throwing an arm around my shoulders.
"Of course not… Just, please, pay your rent on time," I said, patting her back, "You didn't move out here with me just to start mooching." She laughed lightly and pulled me closer.
"I love you, do you know that?"
Even if my sister never paid for another thing, she'd always have a place to live and this was a fact she knew very well. She was the only family I had left and there wasn't a thing I wouldn't do for her. Her wide, bright blue eyes were always filled with hope, love and kindness and I felt it was my job to keep them that way, even when it was at a personal cost. Rose had become my responsibility and I simply couldn't take it lightly.
"Yes, I know," I said as we walked to my car. The sun was shining brightly, making the snow sparkle on the parking lot pavement and I grabbed my sister lightly, making sure she didn't slip and fall.
"Be careful of the ice," I reminded her. But she paid me no attention, looking at her phone as she walked.
"Rose, pay attention to where you're walking. What are you doing anyway?" I asked, tugging on her arm.
"Morgan… the art gallery just emailed me and said they want to interview me!" she replied excitedly. My eyebrows rose quickly in surprise.
"For real?" Rose began jumping up and down, using my shoulder for stability.
"Oh my goodness! Morgan, I might get to actually do this!" she exclaimed. I laughed and pulled her into a tight hug.
"I'm so proud of you, Pom-Pom." She gripped me tightly in return, and rested her chin on my shoulder. We stood like that for a moment before she spoke.
"Mom and Dad would be proud of me, right?" A pang of grief shot through me and I shut my eyes, the soft-spoken question hanging in the winter air. All of a sudden, I could smell the smoke of that night and I clenched my jaw tightly.
"...There's no doubt about it, Rose."
I pulled my dark brown hair back away from my face, securing it with a ponytail holder. The smell of the pizza in the oven was making my stomach ache with hunger and I checked to see what time it would be done. With another ten minutes to go, I sighed and went to sit on the couch.
"Morgan! Can I borrow your red earrings?" My sister's head whipped around the corner from the hallway, an expectant look on her face.
"I'm not sure which pair you're talking about, but sure. What do you need them for?" I asked. A wide grin spread on her face.
"I didn't tell you I have a date tonight?" I raised an eyebrow at her and shook my head.
"Oh, well, yes. I have a date with that guy I told you about last month. It's taken us a while to get together because of our schedules but he wanted to take me out to celebrate my interview," she explained. I frowned slightly.
"What guy? Also, I don't want to rain on your parade, but shouldn't you celebrate when you actually get the job?"
"Remember, I told you? His name is John and we met at the bar down the street. I swear, you don't listen to me," she huffed, "Anyway, I told him a little about you and he said he wanted to meet you. So, I told him to come pick me up so you two can meet." I squinted up at her.
"I didn't think that was a serious thing…" I admitted. Rose rolled her eyes.
"Neither did I, but he's actually a pretty serious guy. He said he likes to do romance 'right', whatever that means. I'm not going to say no, though. He's a really great guy and extremely handsome. And he told me that he'd gotten burned pretty badly in his last relationship so I don't have to worry about him going too fast," she said.
"Sounds like a smart man," I said, smirking, "The girl was probably an idiot anyway." Rose chuckled and disappeared again.
"Rose, just remember the girls and Jake are coming over tonight for a movie!" I called out after her.
"That's fine! They can meet my handsome prince charming too!" I laughed.
"Be very nice to John when he comes over. I don't know what kind of damage you guys can inflict in less than ten minutes, but don't take it as a challenge," I warned, looking at the two women sitting in front of me. Karin smiled and winked at me, taking a huge bite of pizza. But Ally just sighed.
"What is this low opinion you have of us?" Ally asked. Before I could say anything, Jake snorted.
"Babe, just behave for once," he urged. I nodded in agreement with him.
"Thank you. No hazing rituals tonight," I ordered.
The loud dong! of the doorbell rang out through the apartment and I heard Rose rushing out of her room. She came into the living room, wearing a cute black dress, red pumps and my red jewelry.
"Looking good, girl," I said as she hurried past me to the front door.
"Thanks, girl!" she called over her shoulder.
Though she was out of eyesight, I could hear her opening the front door and welcoming John inside.
"You can leave your shoes on… my sister and her friends are just in here… the living room… yes," I heard her giggle, "it's a very big apartment." I turned around to put my drink and pizza plate down on a coffee table, dusting my hands on my jeans. My sister walked quickly into the living room followed by…
"Everyone, this is John," she announced proudly, a large smile on her face.
Karin gasped and covered her mouth, instantly looking at me in disbelief. But I couldn't tear my eyes away from his and I knew I was pale.
"But his actual name is Giovanni. Giovanni Bovio," Rose clarified. Giovanni was staring at me, his beautiful gray eyes wide.
"Is everyone okay?..." my sister asked and Ally jumped in, giving me time.
"Rose, do you realize what he's wearing?" she asked and Rose shook her head.
"This is Tom Ford brand clothing! I was going to get Jake a suit this brand so I know it's extremely expensive. You should be as amazed as we are," she said and Jake nodded his head dramatically. Rose breathed out an 'oh' and hooked her arm through Giovanni's. Finally, I was able to move and speak. Holding out my hand, I gave him a shaky smile.
"I'm Morgan, nice to meet you," I said, my voice steadier than I thought it would be. Giovanni reached out and grasped my hand firmly and I couldn't stop the small rush of air that escaped my lungs. He held on tightly and a range of emotions flitted across his face in a matter of seconds.
"Morgan, it's a pleasure to meet you. Your sister has told me so much about you… it's like I already know you," he said, the deep timbre of his voice reverberating within my own chest. I quickly pulled my hand from his and smiled again.
"She's quite the talker. It's a shame I didn't know more about you before you came," I said, "I would've been a little more prepared for the encounter." Giovanni's eyes darkened and I knew emotions were hitting him in waves. The anger was starting to show itself and I felt uncomfortable where I stood. Shifting a bit, I looked to the girls for help.
"Rose, we would love to chat up this lovely looking man, but don't you guys have reservations?" Ally asked. Rose looked at her phone quickly and jumped slightly.
"Oh, yes! We don't want to be late. Come on John," she said, starting to pull him after her. He nodded, but his eyes stayed trained on me.
"It was nice to meet you three," he said, "Especially you, Morgan..." I could hear the hint of frustration in his voice and I couldn't be happier that he was leaving. He held out his hand again and I reluctantly took it. He didn't waste the opportunity to touch me, stroking my wrist with his index finger.
"Hopefully we get to meet again," he said and before I could reply, they had left the living room and were heading out of the door.