By the time Enzo arrived, Gina was on the patio, leaning on the low wall and looking at the stars and the soft wisps of cloud that drifted by on a light breeze. He said hi, so carefully and softly she could have mistaken the sound for the wind.
“Hi,” she said back. “You look like you’re feeling better.”
He looked a good deal healthier than the last time she had seen him. Then he had just found out about his mother and he had been pale and shaky, just barely holding onto his noble façade. He was back to sporting a gorgeous smile and electric eyes tonight.
“Thanks to you,” he said, his smile growing even wider.
“Anytime, rich boy.”
“You persist in calling me that?”
Gina glanced at him. “You mind?”
He pondered it for a moment. “Not so much. I think it was meant as an insult, but…”
His eyes locked to hers in the half dark and for what felt both like a small forever and no time at all, they looked at each other. There was only a small gap between them, so little she could have reached out and felt the warmth of him under his T-shirt. She felt weightless and nauseous and amazing at the thought. She didn’t do it, opting instead to straighten up.
“Let’s look at the goods,” she said.
She led him into the villa, to where the van der Ast had been given a temporary spot on the wall next to the bookcase. Gina was filled, again, with the triumph of having found it, but it was stronger with him there. His eyes scanned the canvas with eyes full of relief and then they landed on her. The blue of them took her breath away.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice thick with emotion.
“Anytime. You can take it to your appraiser to…”
“I trust you.”
“That may be a mistake—I’m a criminal, remember?”
“No, I trust you,” he repeated. “But maybe you’ll tell me how you know it’s not fake. Only because I’m curious.”
He looked down at her with eager eyes.
“Sure, I can do that. Honestly, I can’t believe they don’t teach you this shit in Rich Boy 101.”
Enzo chuckled. “Unfortunately, all I learnt was doing my hair and calling appraisers.”
“Rich people these days… anyway, look closer there.” She pointed to the old, gilded frame. “The painting still has its original frame. You can tell the age from the little nicks and scratches, the gilding cracking… The fakes have newer frames.”
Enzo looked a little disappointed. “Is that all?”
“What do you mean is that all?” she said, elbowing him with a laugh. “Frames aren’t cool enough? Okay then. There’s the back of the canvas as well. A newer fake will have a back that looks white. Some forgers stain it with coffee or teabags to make it look old, but our forger couldn’t even be bothered. I had a look at the back of this. It looks old, smells old as well. But I bet that’s not cool enough for you either?”
Enzo shrugged with feigned arrogance. “No, I mean, that’s great. Teabags. Good stuff. I mean, I feel like I could have told you that, but…”
“The colours,” she said.
“What, they’re old, too?”
He dodged her elbow just in time and laughed.
“As a matter of fact, yes,” she said. “The fakes used titanium white and that shit wasn’t invented until the 1920’s. There’re a few other colours that are a giveaway as well, so I have a swatch I carry to compare the colours. If you have, say, cobalt blue in a renaissance painting, you’ve got yourself a fake.”
“Okay,” he said reluctantly, “that’s pretty impressive.”
“But in all seriousness, thank you.”
They turned towards each other.
“Like I said—anytime.” They locked eyes and she said spur of the moment: “Do you want coffee or are you going to take it right away?”
“I can stay for a bit. I’d like that.”
Gina smiled. “You can sit down and I’ll make it for us.”
She was about to turn and go out, but he stopped her.
“I forgot, though, how about your other client? Once the engagement party is over with, do I send it to you?”
“No, don’t worry about that.”
“You’ll pick it up?”
“Nope. I’m dropping her as a client.”
Enzo’s smile dimmed and he stared at her, bewildered. “You can’t. She’ll be furious.”
“Well, let her throw a tantrum then—see if I care.”
“You don’t understand. If you drop her unceremoniously, it will have repercussions. You’ll never work for any collector of note ever again. It’s… it’s professional suicide, at least as far as working with art is concerned.”
“So, I’ll rob banks or something. I like that.”
She tried to walk off again, but he caught her arm and held her back.
“I can’t let you do that, Regina.”
“You’re not letting me do it,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I’m not asking for permission. It’s my decision. Look, the other day I already told you why everyone wants it. It’s about money and even though Ms. Antonini is already loaded, she still wants it. You’re trying to protect yourself—that’s different. The painting goes to your future brother-in-law, end of story.”
“But it’s what you enjoy. The way you were talking about it just now—you like it.”
“I like you more.”
She hadn’t meant to say that, but the words settled into the silence around them and filled up the room, filled up her heart. It was true. If the choice was between working for collectors and harm coming to him, she would choose his wellbeing in a heartbeat.
“Gina…” he said, his voice breaking.
Instead of words, he lifted his hand and brushed a few strands of hair behind her ear. The hand lingered on her skin, warm and soft.
“It’s okay,” she said, “I’ve got this.”
“You should still be hating me.”
“Aren’t you the one who told me I should be over it by now?”
“Well, yes but I didn’t…” He closed his eyes for a second, then opened them again. “I was tired when I said that. I didn’t actually think you’d listen.”
“I didn’t. Things just happened and now I like you. Frankly, Antonini can go fuck herself.”
Enzo caressed her cheek.
“I… I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything.”
So he didn’t. Instead, he moved in close. Gina’s heart beat wildly and in the moment before he kissed her she was on that rollercoaster again, in free fall, weightless.
Her world shrank and became isolated to just the places where their bodies touched: His hand on her waist, his other hand on her neck, his chest pressed up against hers. His kiss was both familiar and new at the same time. It was undoubtably him, the sweet and gentle rich boy she met years ago, but the bulk of his muscles felt different under her hands and she was surrounded by that spicy cologne that nearly drove her mad.
She came up for air briefly, resting her forehead against his. Enzo’s breathing was strained as he clung to her.
“Gina,” he said, voice thick with emotion, “I didn’t mean to…”
She shushed him. “Just kiss me.”
He did. Deeper this time. His tongue came out to play with hers and his arms wrapped around her tightly. Gina tried to remember how she could have ever hated him, how she could have ever felt anything but a desire to have him as close as physically possible. Already she imagined his weight on top of her as they made love, his hands tangling in her hair, his moans of pleasure in her ear.
Gina let her hands travel lower, to the hem of his T-shirt and the warm skin underneath the fabric. She smiled against his lips at the thought of seeing him, all of him, and she tugged at the fabric, and then… she was suddenly cold.
“No,” he said.
The cold feeling that had been with her for days rushed in to fill the vacuum he had just left behind when he drew away. She was weightless again, but not in a good way. It wasn’t exciting, she realised. It was terrifying, to watch him withdraw yet again while she plummeted to the bottom of a pit. He turned his face away in shame and resisted her attempts to touch him.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” he said.
Gina shook her head, trying to connect to the ground again.
“What?” she asked stupidly.
“I didn’t mean for this—I have to leave.”
He spun to go, but she held him back.
“What do you mean? Why are you doing this again?”
“Please,” he said. “Please, this can’t happen. I can’t take it. I can’t hurt you like that again.”
“Well then stop doing it. Don’t go.” Gods, but she sounded whiny.
“I… I have responsibilities. I’m supposed to be better than this.”
“Better than kissing a lowly criminal, is that it?” she asked.
As her connection with the earth returned, so did the anger, her old companion. It tore at her insides and drowned out the shame she felt at being so in his power that a simple no could tear her apart.
When he replied, he sounded like he was going to cry. “No, of course that’s not what I mean. You’re not a lowly anything. You’re beautiful and perfect and I adore you, but I can’t do this.”
“For fucks sake, it was just a kiss,” she said. “I didn’t ask you to marry me. If you don’t think I’m good enough for you, just fucking say it.”
“Look at me and tell me I’m not good enough for you. Go on, you piece of—”
“Gina, I’m in love with you.”
She stopped and looked at him, but his eyes were still turned away.
“I never stopped thinking about you for the past eight years,” he continued in the deafening silence that followed. “You’re all I think about since we met again, so please don’t put words into my mouth. I’m not as monstrous as you think.”
The anger abandoned her. Left her feeling guilty and heartbroken and all the other things she didn’t want to feel.
“Then why do you keep doing this?” she asked.
“I have to keep my family together… what’s left of it at least.”
“I don’t understand. We were just making out, so what? That doesn’t have anything to do with your family. It’s not like us making out would ruin your family.”
“It did the last time.”
For the first time since pulling away, he looked at her. His eyes were dark with all the things he was holding back. Gina shook her head slowly.
“No, it didn’t.”
“My mother left because of what I did, Gina. It’s not your fault and don’t think for a second that I blame you, but what I did with you made her leave.”
She was still shaking her head and a laugh bubbled out of her lips. Nothing about it was funny, but the combination of the pain of his rejection and the strange statement made it impossible to not laugh at the absurdity of it all.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “What, your mum left your dad because her teenaged son snuck out to see a girl?”
He sighed. “Among other things.”
“Enzo, that—no. People don’t leave their spouses because their teenagers sneak out to see a girl. Literally all couples would be divorced if that was a thing.”
“You’re forgetting the breaking and entering.”
Gina groaned. “Yeah, we broke into the library and the gym. Do you realise how fucking tame that is? We didn’t break the locks, we didn’t destroy anything, we didn’t even graffiti a wall. Even if my dad wasn’t a gang leader, we would have gotten off with a slap on the wrist. That’s just the kind of thing teenagers do.”
“Maybe in your world, but…”
“No, in any world where people aren’t totally fucking out of their minds!” she snapped. “I don’t know where you got this ridiculous idea that picking locks and seeing a girl could possibly make your mum leave. Please tell me you don’t actually believe it.”
His silence was telling and drawn out.
“Oh honey, you really believe it,” she said.
Gina reached out a hand and was relieved that he didn’t pull away when she stroked his arm softly.
“Hey, I don’t know where you got that idea, but I don’t believe it was your fault. Even if that is why she left—that’s her being a bitch, not anything to do with you.”
“But what else am I supposed to conclude when she left without me?” he said, his voice cracking. “Without my sister, who was always closer to me than anyone else? Doesn’t that seem like it’s my fault?”
“Tell me what happened.” He looked up and she brushed the skin of his cheek with her fingertips. “Eight years ago, when you dumped me, what happened? I want to understand.”
Enzo curled his hand around hers and closed his eyes against her palm. He nodded. He was about to open his mouth and start talking right then and there, but she stopped him.
“Not like this, Enzo. Let’s sit down, have coffee, and take it easy.”
He threw a glance at the door, as if he considered running away. However, his fingers were still wrapped around hers. Gina decided to throw in extra incentive:
“If you tell me about it, I’ll tell you about Doriano.”
Enzo looked at her and she wondered if he could see in her eyes that she didn’t want to talk about it. If her dad and Lotta were right that she was transparent, he probably could.
“Okay,” he said, with the ghost of a miserable smile tugging at his mouth.
Gina wanted to kiss him again. Part of her hoped that it would make him feel better, but right now it wouldn’t. Instead, she hugged him and said:
“Sit down and I’ll make coffee.”
Gina was relieved to find Enzo still there in the sofa when she came back with two steaming mugs in her hands. He had that look of vulnerability about him again, and he seemed careful and withdrawn.
“I hope you like it black,” she said, handing over a mug.
“Black is fine.”
They sat at each their end of the sofa, cups in hand, staring stiffly away. She was gazing into the fire and he looked at the steam that billowed from his coffee. When he started talking, it felt disconnected, so far from the easy, friendly conversations they had been having over the phone.
“Come closer,” she begged, cutting him off in the middle of a sentence. “This feels wrong.”
Enzo didn’t hesitate for long. Despite his previous eagerness to get away, he now moved closer and put an arm around her. It felt natural, the way his body pressed up against hers, a natural extension of the phone conversations.
They leaned into each other and the rumble of Enzo’s voice resounded through her body as he told her about how his family was torn apart.
Author’s Note: Hi guuuuyyyssss 🙂 And welcome back on chapter day! I’ve been pretty excited about this and the following chapters, for obvious reasons. This is the end of part 2, so I hope you guys are ready for part 3, a flashback section, to begin in two weeks. Stuff is going to happen and I think it’s pretty great! This chapter was both awesome to write and really, really difficult. I wanted it to be just right and that meant that I’ve both retaken all the pictures once and I’ve also rewritten the entire chapter once – poor boyfriend has had to beta-read it twice even though he approved of the first version and thought it was good. He agreed this one was an improvement, among other things because the art stuff got a little more technical. I ended up doing a little more research and I highly recommend this timeline of pigments if you’re curious about what colours were invented when. I also highly enjoyed this video showing a more technological way of determining if a painting is fake. Gina probably wouldn’t use those tools, but it was still a useful resource (it’s where I first learnt the fact about titanium white! Full disclosure: I’m not actually sure that you’d be able to identify titanium white by sight). I sincerely doubt anyone’s as interested in my research as I am, but now you can at least check it out 😀
That’s all from me for now. I have some poses that I might post soon (not the posedump, sadly, but a little pack of conversation poses). The next chapter of the gen 1 rewrite has been written as well, but I need boyfriend’s opinions on that one first. It might still need work – I’m not sure. Keep an eye out for those things, though, and I’ll see you in the next post.