The Florentine Bridge - Vanessa Carnevale

ONE

The wheels of suitcases graze waxed floors while I sit with a lapful of pencil shavings, drowning in a sea of crumpled paper balls bearing the lines of failed strokes. I’m wondering whether I’ll ever be able to do this again.

For inspiration, I try to focus on all the things I should be thinking of when embarking on a trip to Italy: crowded piazzas and street artists, the taste of a ripe tomato. Art museums, fading frescoes, crumbling walls begging for restoration, and the comforting aroma of freshly brewed espresso. I think of all the ways I might be able to translate these things onto paper, but it isn’t happening. Not how I need it to.

My stomach tightens. My pencil lead breaks. And then I hear my name being called.

‘Mia Moretti, this is your final boarding call for flight seven-one-seven. Please make your way to gate twenty-six.’

All the doubts I have about heading on this journey evaporate as I slide my pencil between my teeth, haul my backpack over my shoulder and grab my sketchbook. I briefly pause in front of a departure board and gaze upwards at the letters and numbers flashing at me, reminding myself that life’s meant to be sweeter in Italy.

Breathless, I reach the boarding gate. ‘I’m not too late, am I?’ I say, thrusting my boarding card towards the attendant.

Her scarlet-coloured lips smile tightly as she runs my pass to freedom through her machine. ‘You’re just in time. Have a pleasant flight, Ms Moretti.’

Wedged between a Japanese businessman and a woman with a restless child, I read seventy pages of my Tuscan guidebook, too many pages of my Italian-English dictionary, and the first few chapters of a self-help book on how to achieve happiness through gratitude, which I tuck away in my seat pocket before drifting off to sleep.

When I wake, the little girl is sitting beside me. She reaches for my sketchbook, looks up at me and smiles. I take my pencil and hand it to her.

‘I’m sorry,’ says her mother, snatching the sketchbook from her daughter’s grasp.

‘Oh, I really don’t mind,’ I reply. I unlock the girl’s tray table and watch her draw, uninhibited by judgement, unafraid of what she might see on the page.

Making a blank piece of paper come to life used to be effortless for me. I could close one eye, open myself up and capture one small moment in time: an expression of delight, a carpet of leaves the shade of pumpkin and ruby under an almost bare scarlet oak tree, a parched landscape full of cracks thirsty for a drop of rain. I could do all of this before.

‘Your turn!’ says the girl, waving the blunt pencil at me. She has reached the last blank sheet of paper. I take the pencil and draw what turns out to be a cringeworthy sketch of a girl sitting on a suitcase, elbows on her knees, face resting on her hands. She’s bathed in dappled light that’s struggling to burst through the trees on the overgrown path she sits on.

‘She looks sad,’ says the girl, looking to me for an explanation of my drawing.

‘She’s looking for the light,’ I tell her.

She wrinkles her forehead and giggles. I can’t help smiling back. We land in Rome twelve hours later.

After having my passport stamped by a surly customs officer, I manage to catch the right train headed to Termini station and then on to Florence, after which I tug my luggage along the platform and line up outside for a cab. I should know the address off by heart by now because I’ve looked at it so many times, but I pull the worn-out piece of paper from the pocket of my jeans anyway.

‘Via Monteluna fourteen, Impruneta,’ I tell the driver. ‘Do you know where that is?’

‘Of course.’ He tosses a cigarette butt on the ground and extinguishes it with the twist of his foot.

‘First time to Italy?’ he asks in a thick Italian accent as he heaves my suitcase into the boot. He’s wearing a pair of shorts and leather sandals, and I decide that he looks like a Mario, or a Giovanni, or maybe even a Giuseppe with his olive skin and thick brown moustache.

‘Uh, yes, can you tell?’ I ask, gazing out the window in an attempt to soak in every intricate detail of the landscape. Not even the smell of stale cigarette smoke can bother me right now.

I grab my phone and send a brief text to Mum and Dad, who are no doubt out of their minds with worry. I’ve arrived. Safe and sound. Within thirty seconds my phone is inundated with a barrage of texts and questions, to which I reply, I’m fine. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll call you once I get a local SIM card, before switching off my phone.

The cab driver, who actually turns out to be a Salvatore, turns on the radio. I recognise Dean Martin singing ‘Arrivederci Roma’, but I struggle to follow the conversational Italian. We take the Firenze Impruneta exit from the A1 Autostrada and now I can see signs towards the town I will call my home for however long it takes to find myself again.

Motorised scooters weave in and out of the traffic around us with stealth and precision. It’s unsettling yet rather fascinating watching the organised chaos that is at work on these Italian roads.

‘Impruneta. Right up there, signorina.’ Salvatore is pointing to show me.

I shift to the middle of the back seat and lean forward for a better view of the quintessential cypress trees smattered over the rolling hills, symbolic of the Tuscan landscape. We pass a terracotta workshop with an aging sign fixed to the wall. Mariucci Terrecotte. Impruneta, a small hilltop town on the outskirts of Florence, is famous for not much else other than the best terracotta in the country. I might have a fierce passion for art, but I can’t say I’m that interested in pottery, even if it is resistant to cracking at temperatures below zero.

Salvatore slows down as we make our way through a narrow one-way street, where the balconies of the apartments are laced with colour from the flowers that occupy their pots. Women are hanging out their washing in the June mid-morning sun and I can’t help smiling when I notice water dripping onto an unsuspecting passer-by below. The man looks up and snaps to life, yelling and gesticulating as the woman on her balcony defends herself just as fiercely. Irritated, she grabs a metal watering can and with one hand on hip she sloshes the water down on him.

As we approach the main piazza, I notice an elderly couple walking up the steep hill, taking care with each step. He’s carrying a loaf of bread in one arm, and her arm is intertwined through his other one. If he falls, she’ll follow. I let out a sigh as my shoulders lean back into the leather seat behind me. He’s wearing a checked shirt and suspenders. She’s wearing a loose-fitting floral dress and a scarf around her head, and I wonder why a couple might go to such trouble to dress this way for a trip to the local panificio for a simple loaf of bread.

Of course I know the answer. This is Italy. Land of style.

We slow down, taking a right-hand turn onto an unpaved road. Salvatore winds down the car window for me, and I struggle to hide my excitement. ‘Is this really it?’ I exclaim, shifting towards the window.

‘This is it, signorina,’ says Salvatore, glancing at me in the rear-view mirror.

The road leads up to a villa rendered a pale yellow with ivy covering the northern side of the home. Something catches my eye in one of the upstairs windows. The green plantation shutters are open, revealing a woman waving at the car from the balcony. I assume it must be Stella, my new housemate. She’s wearing a red dress with a white scarf tied around her neck, looking impeccable.

Benvenuta! Welcome to Florence, Mia!’ she calls, as the car comes to a stop.

She disappears from the window while I get out of the cab. A minute later, she bursts through the wooden front door and locks me in a tight embrace. Stepping back, she kisses me on both cheeks. I’m not sure whether to move right or left or just stay still, but I’m pretty sure my awkwardness has gone unnoticed. She thanks Salvatore for me after I pay him and helps roll my suitcase up the path towards my new home.

‘Is this all you brought with you?’ she asks.

‘That’s it,’ I reply.

Just me, a suitcase, 2018 euros and a whole lot of invisible baggage.

‘Welcome to Villa Belladonna!’ she says, gesturing for me to walk through the arched doorway.

The tension in my shoulders vanishes as I enter my new home, Stella’s warm welcome immediately putting me at ease. As my new housemate steps me through the ground floor of the villa, I’m thankful that she doesn’t seem like a complete psycho, given that we met online. I take a few moments to familiarise myself with the villa’s rustic architectural embellishments. The voluminous living area lets in an abundance of natural light and opens out to an impressive outdoor loggia. Two potted lemon trees are positioned on each side of the bi-fold door that gives way to a heavenly backdrop of a small olive grove and undulating hills. Stella points out the laundry, main bathroom and kitchen, and then continues down the hallway.

‘You coming?’ she asks, glancing back at me.

‘Oh yeah, sure. Just taking it all in,’ I reply. ‘Is this original?’ I gasp, when I notice half of the ceiling covered in what remains of an original fresco.

Stella looks at me strangely. ‘Oh, that. Seventeenth century, I imagine,’ she says, shrugging her shoulders. Stella’s delicate facial features intrigue me. Freckles are dotted over her face and she has the most striking green eyes I’ve ever seen. Her auburn-coloured hair is certainly not typical of a girl with Italian heritage. Long curly tresses fall perfectly down her shoulders. She’s wearing red lipstick and she reminds me of an actress from a 1960s movie. Only three years older than me, she exudes an air of confidence that I have yet to grasp for myself. Unlike me, Stella had little choice in coming to Florence. Her parents practically forced her to come and learn Italian here when she was younger. Much to her parents’ despair, she loved living in Italy so much that she decided to stay, and from what I can tell, she has no plans to move back to New York anytime soon.

‘This is your room, Mia,’ she says, pushing open a door, revealing my spacious new bedroom and all of its Tuscan charm: cinnamon-coloured walls, terracotta tiles and a wooden beam ceiling. ‘I hope you like it.’

‘It’s gorgeous,’ I say, glancing around the room. A small desk with a tiny lamp and a rickety wooden chair sit in the corner of the room. I’m particularly drawn to the three paintings on the wall, all oil, mounted in gold wooden frames. One shows a beautiful young woman in a field of sunflowers; the second features two lovers on a vintage bike riding down a steep hill, hair blowing in the wind; the third is of the same couple sitting on a rustic swing entwined in each other’s arms.

‘I’ll leave you to unpack and freshen up and then I’ll show you upstairs. I’m going to start preparing lunch soon,’ she says.

The door clicks shut behind her. I want to leap onto my four-poster double bed and shriek with exhilaration, but I tone it down in case Stella can hear me. Not that I think she’d care.

‘I hope you’re hungry, ’cause I’m making pasta all’arrabbiata!’ she calls out from down the hallway.

‘Perfect,’ I murmur, as I push open the shutters. My bedroom window overlooks the front garden, where the most sumptuous view of the town centre of Impruneta lies before me, inviting me to explore its intricacies. It fascinates me how in Italy, the expansive countryside will always belong to its very own town centre, no matter how small. I admire the vintage swing in the garden. Two thick ropes are flung over the branch of an oak tree, attached to a weatherworn plank of wood, the mint-green paint peeling. It’s the same swing from the oil painting.

I retreat from the window and flick open the lock on my suitcase, letting the contents spill out over the bed, but I decide to delay my unpacking. Instead, I return to my open window, where I allow the invigorating breeze to penetrate my soul for what feels like hours. I feel like I’ve arrived somewhere I should be.

Actually, I know I have.

TWO

Peeling myself away from the bedroom window, I dig through my suitcase to find my toiletries so I can take a quick shower. I can hear Stella in the kitchen, singing as she prepares lunch. After spending more than twenty hours in the air, the hot shower feels good. I throw on whatever clothes I find at the top of my suitcase and gently dry my hair, taking care not to damage my new extensions, which are perfectly matched to my post-cancer, painstakingly slow-to-grow new locks. I wonder whether I’d blend in as a Florentine girl if I had the accent and style down pat. I decide that my chestnut-brown hair and chocolate-brown eyes look Italian enough, but my pale skin needs some work. Too many months locked between the confines of four walls have rendered my skin a pasty shade of beige. Too many months that I should have spent getting on with my life, learning to live again.

A brick arched doorway leads to the rustic kitchen, where I join Stella. She’s stirring a pot of pasta sauce that smells delicious.

‘Let me show you upstairs,’ she says, leaving the pasta sauce bubbling away. A curve of steps leads us to an airy living area dry painted in semolina yellow, with a charming brick fireplace and wine red-coloured sofas. Stella points out her bedroom and the spare bedroom, and then nudges open a wooden double door, revealing a room that clearly used to be an art studio. Rows of glass jars, paintbrushes still in them, sit on a windowsill. Beams of golden sunlight burst through the slits in the shutters, and I stagger my way through the thick cobwebs to rub a patch of dust away from the window, big enough so I can see through it.

‘Who did this house belong to?’ I ask, making out the town centre through the cypress trees partially blocking my view.

‘My great uncle. He still owns it. He used to live here with my Zia Amelia. She passed away three years ago. He was left heartbroken and moved out the day after her funeral. It’s been empty since then. I moved in about a month before we spoke about you coming. That’s why I was advertising for a housemate,’ she explains.

I notice the wooden trestles and sheets spotted with paint that must have once been white but are now a creamy yellow. ‘Was she an artist?’

‘No, he is, or was—he stopped painting when she got sick.’

The studio is stuffy and hot, yet at the familiarity of Stella’s words, the hairs on my arms prick up, sending an icy chill through my body. It’s then that I make the connection between the lovers depicted in the paintings in my bedroom and the original lovers of this home.

‘You mentioned you turned down a spot at art school?’ says Stella.

‘Uh, yeah, well, deferred really,’ I say, desperately hoping she doesn’t recognise the uneven tone of my voice.

‘You’re welcome to use the studio any time.’

‘I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks,’ I say, wishing I could tell her the truth.

We return to the kitchen, and I admit to Stella that I’m not hungry, but she insists I eat. ‘Mangiare!’ she commands in a thick Italian accent, winking at me. ‘You can’t not eat in Italy!’

‘Okay, okay!’ I laugh.

Outside, Stella has set the table with a yellow checked tablecloth and a bottle of red wine. I admire the round bottle, contemplating whether there’s a purpose behind the straw basket it’s wrapped in. She has set four places, so I assume we must be expecting company. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the fuss Stella has gone to in preparing lunch. There’s fresh mozzarella cheese and tomatoes sprinkled with basil, drizzled with olive oil. Alongside that is a plate of rockmelon and fresh prosciutto, and two bottles of mineral water—one sparkling and one still. In between them is an empty basket waiting to be filled with fresh bread. I pick up one of the green bottles: Ferrarelle. Italy’s No.1 Sparkling Water. My Italian is decent enough for me to understand the fascinating health benefits that are described on the label. I raise my eyebrows, amused at how this naturally sparkling water has the potential to slow down the aging process. If I’m lucky enough to age gracefully without cancer ravaging my body again, I’ll be happy.

‘I need to go out to buy some bread and pick up Paolo,’ says Stella, before darting inside to grab her keys.

‘Paolo?’

Mio ragazzo. My boyfriend,’ she says. ‘His cousin Luca will be here soon, too. He’ll let himself in. He’s practically part of the furniture.’

‘Okay.’ I nod, trying to mask my lack of enthusiasm. I’ve spent so long keeping to myself that I’m not sure I’m ready for mingling.

‘Don’t worry, he speaks English,’ she adds, sensing my hesitation.

While I wait for our guests to arrive, I get cosy on the wooden swing in the front yard. I grab the sturdy rope and propel my legs forward, allowing the sense of freedom to course through my veins as I gain momentum with every leg extension. I arch my back, watching the clouds as I drift into a familiar meditation.

I mentally make a list of some of the places I want to visit before my trip is over: Rome, Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano, Venice. The swinging eventually stops, and I’m promptly interrupted by the sound of a voice. My gaze shifts from the blue sky towards the direction of the voice and I blink several times in an effort to regain complete vision.

I’m sure he’s been watching me. He’s wearing a pair of denim jeans and a light-blue polo with the collar popped, not perfectly straight but with one side slightly higher than the other. His messy dark-brown hair could do with a trim. He’s wearing a pair of loafers without socks and I can’t tell what colour his eyes are because he’s wearing a pair of dark sunglasses. He’s probably in his early twenties. My eyes trace the form of his clean-shaven face and my heart skips a beat when I reach the definition of his jawline. This guy is beautiful. My eyes travel down to his perfectly formed biceps, and I have to look away. I glance down at my old pair of jeans and ballet flats and wish I’d taken the time to at least iron my shirt and make a half-decent effort. I look so … Australian.

I stand up and try to smooth out the creases in my shirt. I may have just showered, but my hair is in a messy ponytail and my face is bare of makeup. He lifts up his sunglasses, and now he’s squinting to get a better look at the girl who has come to stay here—the girl from Australia, with no fashion sense whatsoever.

Buongiorno, signorina!’ he calls.

I manage a small wave in response, and by the time I reach him, I seem to have lost my voice. I don’t know whether to speak in English or to try out my limited Italian. ‘Hi there! Ciao!’ I blurt.

Oh my God, he’s so incredibly handsome.

Ciao, sono Luca, Luca Bonnici.’

‘Nice to meet you, I’m Mia.’

He steps towards me, towering over me slightly, and I can smell his aftershave. It’s subtle, but I recognise it from my brief stint at Myer’s cosmetic counter; I know I’ll never forget the scent of Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme again. He extends his hand and leans down until our cheeks touch. He kisses me once on each cheek. And in some completely inexplicable way, it feels familiar.

‘Welcome to Florence, bella Mia,’ he says, smiling as he winks at me. If any other guy back home were to wink at me like this, I’d turn the other way. I find myself wondering if he might have a girlfriend, even though we’ve only known each other for around forty-five seconds.

‘So, where are you from, Mia?’ he asks, with the slightest hint of an American accent.

‘Melbourne,’ I say, willing my cheeks to stop blushing. ‘Australia,’ I add, feeling the need to explain.

‘I guess that means we haven’t met before,’ he says, his eyebrows furrowed together, as if he’s trying to figure out the connection.

I shake my head.

‘How long are you staying in Italy?’

‘I’m not really sure; I guess it depends on how I find it.’

‘So what are your plans?’ he asks, just as we’re interrupted by Stella and Paolo. I quickly try to ground myself as they make their affectionate greetings. I can’t know for sure, but judging from his salt-and-pepper hair, Paolo seems to be several years older than Stella, possibly even in his mid-thirties, although I can see immediately that they make a sweet couple.

‘Luca, you’ve already met Mia by the looks of it,’ she says, nodding to the dark, handsome guy. ‘Paolo, this is Mia.’

Paolo extends his hand. ‘Piacere, Mia.’

‘Nice to meet you, too,’ I say, extending my hand.

‘She arrived this morning,’ announces Stella. ‘She booked a one-way ticket. We know what that means.’ She nudges Paolo.

Paolo grins. ‘Mia, you are in one of the most charming cities in Italy. It will capture your heart in a week. Just ask Stella.’ He affectionately pinches his girlfriend’s cheek.

‘He’s right. Tuscany will forever hold a piece of your heart, Mia. Just wait and see,’ she says.

I glance over at Dark, Handsome Guy, who’s leaning against the wall of the villa, legs casually crossed, glasses in his hand, watching us … err … me … intently. I’m convinced that if a photographer for Vogue Italia was to turn up in this moment he’d have the perfect shot for the next Gucci spread.

‘Let’s eat! I’ll be back in a second,’ says Stella, turning to walk through the front door.

‘Let me help you,’ I say, trying hard to bring myself back to reality.

Please don’t leave me out here with him.

‘It’s fine. Paolo will help me. Luca, vino,’ she orders. I decide that I like Stella already. She’s assertive and I can’t help feeling relaxed around her, even if she is abandoning me completely with Luca.

Just breathe, I tell myself as I take a seat opposite him. He places his shades in the centre of the table and now I’m losing myself in his dark-brown eyes adorned with eyelashes that would make any girl envious.

Rosso o bianco?’ he asks.

Red or white? Why is it that everything sounds better in Italian?

‘Uh, rosso, per favore,’ I mutter. What is happening to me? I’m nervous about speaking in Italian, but it’s the mere presence of this guy that has turned me into complete mush. He pours me a glass of red wine and our eyes meet as he hands it to me. His eyes are sharp and intense yet kind. I’m in awe of how relaxed and comfortable he is in his own skin.

‘So how was your flight?’ he asks, leaning slightly forward.

‘It was great. About twenty-one hours.’

Could I be any more boring?

‘You were going to tell me about your plans,’ he says.

I’m quiet as my mind scrambles to find the right words. Finally, I reply, ‘I guess I needed a change of scenery.’

‘Well, the scenery’s good here.’ His mouth twists into a smile as he waits for my reaction.

Is it ever.

I take my third gulp of wine and feel my shoulders relax.

Salute!’ he says, raising his glass. ‘Here’s to good food, good wine, good scenery and the best Tuscan adventure of your life.’

‘Cheers.’ I smile, lifting my drink. Our eyes meet over the rims of our glasses, his gaze lingering on me long after I settle my wine back on the table. ‘So what do you do?’ I ask, relieved that I haven’t lost my voice for good.

‘I’m a mechanic,’ he says. ‘I have an Officina Moto with Paolo. We sell and service scooters and bikes.’ He gives me a smirk. ‘Australiani! Always thinking about work. Most of you live to work, not work to live,’ he says, his hands frantically trying to keep up with his mouth.

‘What do you mean?’ My interest is piqued.

‘In Italy we live la dolce vita. The sweet life. We don’t just go to work and come home, go to work and come home to then complain about work and how busy our lives are. Prendiamo la vita come viene,’ he says.

Prendiamo, what, sorry?’

‘It means take life as it comes. Just like what you plan on doing here.’

‘Gotcha,’ I whisper, staring over the green hills. ‘Making room for the unexpected is good,’ I add, nodding as I let out an unintentional sigh. There I go, drifting into that space between reality and my thoughts, a habit I’ve never been able to shake.

Esatto! For example, what are you doing tomorrow night? Let me take you out.’

I snap out of my bubble and see that he’s …

Oh, God, he’s actually serious.

‘Are you always this forward?’ I ask, shifting in my seat.

‘Do you have other plans?’

‘Um, no … but …’

Allora, prendi la vita come viene,’ he teases.

I can’t help laughing.

‘Be careful of this one,’ warns Stella as she places the freshly sliced bread on the table and nudges my shoulder. I reach for my wine again and find I’ve almost finished my glass.

‘More wine?’ Luca asks, smiling. I’m certain my complete inelegance is amusing him.

‘Oh, no thanks,’ I reply too late. My glass is now full again.

Thankfully, the topic of conversation switches to food and soon the three of them are all too keen to educate me on today’s menu in a fiery and passionate conversation about the origins of each dish on our table. The tomatoes come from Stella’s kitchen garden and the olive oil from Paolo’s uncle’s most recent olive harvest in October.

‘Why is it so green?’ I ask.

Paolo explains that olives harvested early produce a greener and slightly bitter extra-virgin oil. Then Luca tells me about the fresh mozzarella di bufala. Although I’m as familiar with this cheese as any of them, I’m still captivated when he tells me it’s made from the milk of water buffalos, which have lived in the hills of Campania, near Naples, for hundreds of years. Their milk is heated so that the curds separate from the whey, before being added to hot water until the cheese is ready to stretch and form into mozzarella balls, which are later immersed in whey liquid to keep them fresh.

I find it ironic that I’m in gastronomic heaven with a decreased appetite. Stella piles an enormous heap of pasta onto my plate, and I know there’s no way I’ll be able to finish it. She tells me about the simple pleasure of a scarpetta. ‘This is where you take a piece of bread and relish the remaining pasta sauce on your plate. It’s better for the dishwasher,’ she jokes. When she sees that my plate is still half full I realise that despite my phenomenal effort, I’ve just subjected myself to a scurry of questions from Luca and Paolo about whether or not the meal was good.

Note to self: insist on smaller portions next time.

I’m grateful when Stella interjects with a one-word question: ‘Caffè?’ to which the boys reply with a resounding yes. Of course.

I help Stella clear the table, but she doesn’t let me wash the dishes. Instead, she tells me I can make the coffee. She goes to the cellar to hunt for some liquore to have with our espresso because the boys take their coffee corretto, which, she explains, is essentially an espresso with a splash of alcohol like sambuca or grappa. I hunt around for a coffee machine, but the only things I can see on the bench are pots and pans and handcrafted wooden spoons hanging from the tiled splashback. And then I see the same kind of aluminium moka pot that I remember from my Nonna Lina’s kitchen. I unscrew the upper part and fill the base with water. I find the ground coffee beans in an elaborately hand-painted majolica canister and breathe in their delicious aroma. As I pat down a few spoonfuls of coffee into the strainer I feel a presence. I don’t need to turn around to see who it is because I already recognise his unforgettable scent.

‘Here, let me show you, Australiana,’ he says, taking the moka pot from me, his hands briefly brushing mine, the contact sending waves of butterflies through my stomach. ‘If you pat it down too firmly like this, the water won’t come out properly and the coffee will be burned.’

‘Ah, I remember now,’ I say, nodding. ‘My nonna used to remind me about that.’

‘You’re from an Italian background?’

‘Yes, my dad’s side, actually. He was born in Italy, but his family moved to Australia when he was very young. That’s how I was able to get an Italian passport.’

Allora parli italiano?

Do I speak Italian? Oh gosh.

‘A little bit. Poco, poco,’ I say, in an attempt to exercise my cursory knowledge of Italian.

‘So, did you come here to study?’

‘Not exactly … it’s kind of complicated. I decided to take some time off after high school. I was … going to study at university, but … I turned down my spot.’

‘What were you going to study?’

So many questions. I don’t know if I’m ready for this.

‘Art.’

He raises his eyebrows. ‘You’re an artist?’ He sounds intrigued.

‘Well, kind of, I suppose. I love to paint.’

Loved to paint. Not so sure anymore.

‘Well, you’re in the best place in Italy for that,’ he says, turning away to check the coffee. ‘I know where to take you tomorrow night.’ I study his profile, completely fascinated. He’s so sure of himself.

‘I never said I was free.’

‘Oh, so you’re busy?’ He lifts the lid of the moka pot.

‘No, but—’

‘Then si, just say si.’ He turns to me as he breaks out into a smile, his eyebrows raised. ‘E prendi la vita come viene.

I laugh. ‘Si. Yes. Okay.’


We hope you enjoyed this sample of The Florentine Bridge by Vanessa Carnevale! 

Available now in print and e-book.

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