A place in the sun, p.1
A Place in the Sun, p.1R.S. Grey
A Place in the Sun
Copyright © 2016 R.S. Grey
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This book is a piece of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
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Published: R.S. Grey 2016
Editing: Editing by C. Marie
Proofreading: Jennifer at JaVa Editing
Formatting: Allusion Graphics, LLC
Cover Design: R.S. Grey
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To every gelatician (master gelato maker) in Vernazza, Italy. You are the real heroes.
HOW WAS NO one else seeing this?
The two middle-aged tourists in queue to enter the Colosseum were going at it like randy teenagers. The woman had her leg coiled up around her lover’s waist and his hand had disappeared beneath her skirt fifteen minutes ago—the thing hadn’t come up for air since.
She moaned into his mouth and fingered his hair. He growled like an undersexed werewolf, and then went back in for another snog with enough tenacity to suck her lips off.
I sat ensconced from my vantage point a few yards away, picking at a croissant and pretending to pay attention to a travel podcast about the Colosseum. In the last few minutes, the spirited performance had completely stolen my focus. Surely their oxygen levels were getting pretty low.
In all my twenty-six years, I’d never once kissed someone the way they were kissing each other. It was as if they were newlyweds on a transatlantic flight and the pilot had just announced that they’d lost both engines. God, if they went at it like that in full public view at the foot of a crusty old ruin, what on Earth did they do in private?
I blushed just thinking about it.
Eventually, a security guard with a red, pudgy face and an awkward manner asked the couple to politely refrain from boning in line, or so I imagined—his words were in Italian, so I couldn’t be sure. The unflinching lovebirds disappeared inside the Colosseum and I was left with my pastry once again. It’s just me and you, carbs.
I glanced up to find a devastatingly handsome Italian man with cool trainers and slicked-back hair. He was smiling down at me, pointing to the bit of stone to my left. I tossed my croissant aside and yanked my earbuds out so quickly they nearly took my ears with them.
In front of the Colosseum, there’s not much in the way of seating. It’s all brash vendors peddling plastic crap, pale-thighed sightseers running after their bored children, and pushy groups of veteran tourists spilling out of buses with expensive cameras around their necks. I’d sought refuge from the swirling sea of humanity on a distant rock in the only bit of shade I could find.
“Oh, yeah. All yours,” I said with a big smile.
The man sat down beside me, pulled out a water bottle, and took a long swig.
“Bellissima,” he said, tipping his water bottle in my direction, and for one tiny moment, my heart leapt. I didn’t know much Italian—nearly none in fact—but every woman on Earth knows that word.
I blushed and opened my mouth to thank him before he pointed to the Colosseum. “It’s beautiful,” he repeated, this time in thickly accented English.
Of course. The crumbling heap.
“It’s all right,” I grumbled, glancing back to the Colosseum so he wouldn’t see my frown. Truthfully, it wasn’t what I had expected. The street was crowded, the sun was blazing overhead, and the street performers waltzing around in skimpy gladiator outfits for photo-ops weren’t half as sexy as I’d assumed they’d be. The latter was the issue that bothered me the most.
“You aren’t going in?” he asked, tilting his head to the queue spiraling around the base of the building.
I scrunched my nose. “It seems fairly self-explanatory from the outside.”
“You’re missing out,” he said before stuffing his water bottle back into his backpack and turning his full attention to me.
I shrugged. Maybe I was cheating myself, or maybe I was smarter than the sweaty masses filing in. Perching on my rock with my croissant and my podcast had been pretty nice up until the canoodlers had distracted me with their tonsil tennis.
“How long are you in Rome?” he asked, flashing a wide smirk in my direction.
This man was handsome, really handsome, and though I was due to leave the next day, I was hesitant to tell him that. If he wanted to sweep me off my feet and put his hand up my skirt while we stood in line at the Colosseum, I’d consider extending my stay.
“Well, actually I…”
My sentence faded out as a glamorous woman appeared behind him. The sun shaded her face so I couldn’t really make her out until she’d bent low and wrapped a possessive arm around the Italian man’s shoulders. There, with his head shading her face, I suddenly saw her dark eyes narrow into little slits right at me.
“Luciana, look, I’ve found us a new friend,” he smiled.
Luciana didn’t share his excitement.
I’ll spare the superfluous details and cut to the chase: Italian man had a girlfriend. The good ones always do. After a few minutes of terribly awkward conversation in which I tried to pretend Luciana wasn’t wishing me a swift, sudden death, my phone rang on my lap and I seized the excuse to flee. I scooted off the rock, gave my spot to Luciana, and promised to come back after I’d finished my call. It was a lie—there was a better chance of me sac
I curled around the side of the colosseum, using the massive structure to shade me as I answered the call.
My brother sounded exasperated.
“Hello ol’ chum. What do you want?”
“When will you be at Mum’s? We’re waiting for you before we sit down for dinner.”
Oh, oops. Had I forgotten to phone and cancel?
“Don’t bother waiting for me, Fred. Eat up.”
“You aren’t coming? Mom’s expecting you.” He sounded a bit sad about it, which made me feel good. He used to find me so annoying when we were younger, but he was finally coming around. As he should. I was (objectively) the only person in our family with any personality.
“No, I’m not coming. You go on ahead.”
A group of young, rowdy American tourists ran past me then, shouting and pretending to be gladiators fighting one another. I tried to muffle the sound of their shouts through the phone, but it was no use. Freddie heard them.
“Georgie, where are you?”
“Oh, well actually…”
I glanced around me, trying to conjure up the name of a street back home in London. I’d lived there my whole life but my brain wasn’t cooperating.
“Well, as a matter of fact, I’ve gone to Italy.”
A massive moment of silence hung between us before he flipped out.
“Italy?! Since when?”
“Just yesterday. I meant to tell you.”
“Georgie, have you gone insane?”
I smiled. “No, brother. All is well.”
“Then why on Earth are you in Italy?”
“To find love, of course.”
I found myself in Italy the way I find myself in most places: by chance. The week before, I’d been sitting in a restaurant in London, partaking in another miserable blind date set up by my mother. The man sitting across from me was chewing with his mouth open. His massive chompers were spewing steak at a rate that concerned me—and the diners sitting within a five-yard radius.
In a moment of panic (I was particularly worried I’d become a new statistic taught to medical students: the first case of mad cow disease transmitted by sirloin to the eye), I realized I couldn’t allow my mum to control my love life any longer. She was concerned for me, laboring under the outdated perception that if I were to remain single past twenty-six, I’d be branded a hopeless spinster, destined to spend my days scouring the streets for love.
Unbeknownst to him, Chompers served as a perfect example of why I needed to take my love life into my own hands. He was nearing forty in both years of life and strands of hair. His job was something like “insurance for insurance” and though he tried to explain it to me while chewing, after thirty minutes, I still didn’t quite understand any of it.
It really wasn’t fair to poor Chompers. He hadn’t chosen to be the latest in the long string of terrible blind dates my mother had forced upon me, but in that role, he suddenly had to bear the cumulative weight of disappointment of all those who’d come before him. There was Mitch—the gouty muppet who had the personality of a dull housefly, Thom—my brother’s naff friend who smelled perpetually of tuna fish, and Celso—a Spaniard who, despite looking fairly tidy, wouldn’t let go of my hand through the entire dinner. I made it through the appetizers all right, but when I’d tried to cut my chicken one-handed, I only succeeded in flinging it off my plate and onto his lap.
The real problem lay in the fact that my brother—the golden child of our family—had found love and married years ago. He and his wife, Andie, had three chubby-cheeked children, and thus my mother was able to focus the full power of her matrimonial death beam onto me.
“You’re in your prime, Georgie!”
As if this was the seventeenth century.
“You’re getting older every day!”
She’d said this to me at my twentieth birthday party, just before gifting me an actual antique hourglass, making sure to emphasize the symbolism by flipping it upside down in my hands.
“You really ought to loosen your standards. That man who comes round your house every now and then is so handsome and in quite good shape.”
She’d been referring to the postman.
A few years ago, fearing that my status as single was a permanent problem, my mum had started enlisting the help of her friends and their “eligible” sons. I’d been a good sport about it, going on dates with men from nearly every county in England, but in the years since then, the novelty had lost its luster. Though I was no closer to marrying, I had developed a very clear list of requirements in a future husband. For instance, he must chew with his mouth closed. He must wash a few times a week and be taller than he is round. I used to think a sense of a humor would have been nice. I wasn’t asking for a Russell Brand or a Ricky Gervais, just a man who wasn’t a complete bump on a log. But those days were coming to a close—if my mother had her way, I would settle down with a well-meaning bump on a very average log.
After my date with Chompers, I’d left him on the curbside after dodging—you guessed it—an open-mouthed kiss. I took the long way home, puzzling over my problem. I wanted to find love as much as my mother wanted it for me. At twenty-six, I obviously wasn’t a spinster, but I was becoming a bit lonely. I hadn’t ever experienced a gut-clenching, obsessive, swoony kind of romance.
Obviously, it was time for a change.
But the need for change wasn’t new. After each of these bad dates, I’d head home, working out how I’d break the news to my mother: no more dates. No more matchmaking. A week or two would pass, she’d bat her eyelashes, and I’d cave. I always caved, but not this time.
I knew if I was really going to make a change, I had to get out of London. My mother, bless her, would never leave me alone as long as I stayed within her reach.
So I’d done what any rational girl would have.
I spun a globe in our estate’s library and promised myself I’d travel to whichever country my finger landed on. The globe’s colors had blended together in a mess of blue and green and then I’d dropped my finger, abruptly stopping its rotation.
Er, right. Minor hiccup.
I spun again and voila!
Even though I’d never heard of Vernazza and needed a magnifying glass to see it on the map, I didn’t spin the globe for a third time—I didn’t want to get on destiny’s bad side. Instead, I wrote down the name and rolled it over my tongue to get a feel for the pronunciation.
After a bit of research, I learned that Vernazza is one of five seaside villages that make up Cinque Terre. All five of the centuries-old villages are tucked into the rugged Ligurian coastline, and are only easily accessible by train—lovely, considering motion sickness was my fiercest enemy.
In an effort to break up the trip and spare my poor stomach, I’d flown into Rome first and planned a day of exploring the ancient city. After escaping the Colosseum, I walked along the cobblestone streets, turning the paper map in my hand and trying to maneuver around the crowds. I saw all the important sights that day. I stood in the center of the Pantheon under the massive oculus, boiling. It was noon and the sun was right overhead, blinding everyone in the room.
“Not incredibly practical to cut a hole in the roof if you ask me,” I deadpanned to the ten-year-old beside me.
She sighed heavily and rolled her eyes, walking away with Architecture of the Italian Renaissance shoved underneath her arm. Very cultured, these kids today.
After that, I toured the Vatican and got in trouble for talking in the Sistine Chapel. They shuffled a thousand of us into the room at once, told us to zip it, and threatened to start chopping fingers if we tried to take photos. Still, an elderly Italian woman prodded my arm with her cane and pointed at her iPhone like she wanted me to help her take an illegal photo.
A baritone voice boomed overhead. “SILENCIO! SIIIILLLEEENNNCE.”
I’d jumped a mile in the air, assuming it was the voice of God himself.
My final stop of the day was the Trevi Fountain. I chucked a euro over the crowds, but my aim was crap, and it ended up striking a woman in the forehead as she stood for a photo-op in front of the fountain. I shrugged—my wish had been to make the crowds disappear, and as the woman hurried off angrily, I counted it as a win.
Confident that I’d consumed the best bits of Rome and also anxious to flee the area in case the woman with the coin-shaped bruise on her forehead came back looking for vengeance, I turned back for my hotel. The sun was setting and my feet were aching.
In the morning, I would head to Vernazza and see what fate had in store for me.
In true Georgie Archibald form, I slept right through my alarm the following morning. It BEEPED BEEPED BEEPED over and over again and my brain—still exhausted from traveling—had assumed it was some annoying Italian songbird outside my window. Eventually, my subconscious brain realized that birds don’t even sound remotely like alarm clocks, and I shot out of bed.
I looked at the time. “Arse! Bugger! SHITE!”
If I missed my first train of the day, I’d have a hell of a time making my connections. I tossed anything and everything into my suitcase, nearly taking half the hotel room with me. The train station was only a few minutes away, so I didn’t bother with a cab. I shot across streets without looking both ways, nearly collided with a few cars, and made it past security with ten minutes to spare before the train departed.
It was an 11:20 AM departure for Pisa, packed with families on holiday. I took a deep breath, telling myself, I made it. I stowed my luggage then wandered down the aisle, glancing at the numbers posted above each seat. I was assigned to 11A and when my eyes landed on my backward-facing seat, I groaned. It wouldn’t do; I had to face the direction the train was moving or I’d get sick.
I glanced around for an opening, but my late arrival had ensured that every last seat on the train was full except for mine.
A Place in the Sun by R.S. Grey / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes