Lane was in Rome looking for a man. And not just any man. Her
Peering into the mystical waters of the Trevi Fountain, she
blinked dry tired eyes. She had half-heartedly thrown one coin already.
According to the local myth, she would now one day return to the eternal city.
A second coin now
warmed her palm. The second coin was the important coin. The second
coin was the wish coin. Searching for her father on her own had produced
no results and the Australian embassy had not come back with anything helpful,
so a wish seemed to be her only remaining hope.
‘I wish to find
Antonio Graziano,’ Gracie said aloud, hoping with all of her might that somehow
this enchanted old fountain would be able to help. She turned, tossed the
coin over her left shoulder, and listened for the soft fateful splash.
But the statue of
Neptune looked down on her, benign as he ever was, and unless he had come to
life a quarter century before and had a fling with her then nineteen-year-old
mother, her last ditch desperate wish had not produced instant results.
Gracie managed a flickering smile at the thought, even though it meant there was
nowhere else to turn. She was down to her last several Euro in the bank,
she was paid up in her hostel for only one more night, and her wallet held
little more than the return train ticket from Termini Station to the Leonardo da
Vinci Airport. She had very little choice other than to make a phone call
to the airline in order to use her open-ended ticket to book a flight home the
She slumped down
onto the low concrete wall with her back to the fountain. She was so
exhausted her limbs ached, her heart ached, even her hair ached.
But it was not
enough to make her cry. The ability had abandoned her. And right
when she needed it most. Since that dreaded phone call from her
stepfather, she had not cried once. She hadn’t had the chance. She
had had to be brave for those around her. For her distraught step-father,
for her much younger half-sister and half-brother. For her best friends.
But in Rome she was
alone. She didn’t have to be brave for anyone but herself, and still she
could not enjoy the release that came with a good cry. She covered her
face with her hands and willed it to happen.
Success eluded her.
Then she felt a tiny hand clasp her denim-clad knee.
Suspecting one of the many beggars prowling the area for spare change and open
handbags, Gracie jumped out of her skin. When her backside landed back
upon the concrete wall, she found herself face to face not with a beggar but
with a little girl in designer clothes.
Gracie rubbed a hand over her aching face and sat up straight.
It was like looking at a picture of herself at that age; creamy fair skin,
glossy dark curls, serious dark blue eyes, except Gracie had telltale Australian
freckles across her nose and cheeks. Freckles she had proudly cultivated
as a child as they were the one feature that linked her to her lanky blonde
suntanned school friends.
‘Hello, sweetie,’ she said once she located her voice.
After a brief moment in which the little girl assimilated the
English word, she said, ‘Hello,’ also in English but with a thick Italian
accent. ‘My name is Mila.’
‘Pleased to meet you Mila. I’m Gracie.’
Mila was not smiling, nor frowning, just watching Gracie with her
head tipped to one side. ‘Are you OK?’
Gracie cracked an unexpected grin. But there was nothing to
be gained from confiding in the little girl. ‘Sure, I’m OK.
Thank-you for asking.’
Gracie looked around for the child’s guardian. There were
people everywhere, tourists throwing coins, local men selling bottle openers
emblazoned with the Pope’s face, pairs of nuns sifting through the bottle
openers, shysters “giving away” one Euro roses.
‘Where’s your mother?’ Gracie asked, taking the little girl
by the hand.
‘In heaven,’ the
girl said, her face earnest and calm.
Gracie’s gaze snapped back to her cohort. It seemed they
had more in common than their looks. ‘Well then your father?
Your...Papa? Is he here?’
‘Can you point him out to me?’ Gracie asked.
The little girl did
not need to. At that moment, Gracie caught sight of a tall male figure
moving frantically through the crowd, leaping to see over heads, and not caring
if he was shoving at people as he went.
Gracie’s stomach gave an unexpected little flip. She could
tell he was a stunner even with the look of controlled terror on his face.
He was immaculately dressed in a black suit and long coat that swished out
behind him like a cape as he dodged through the crowd. He had dark hair
slightly longer than was fashionable back home, but it looked just right on the
tall dark and handsome types who could be found on many a street corner in Rome.
His eyes flashed so bright she could not make out their colour.
With a brisk shake of her head, Gracie refused to be drawn into
the unintentional allurement of the little girl’s father. It was the
Italian thing, that was all.
captivation with all things Italian had been cemented after she first saw The
Godfather trilogy. She had watched the films enough times over the
years to develop an effusive crush on the charismatic Al Pacino and to be able
to repeat entire scenes of dialogue when the opportunity arose. The fact
that it riled her mother to distraction only made the Italian thing more
Gracie waved one arm madly as she held on tight to her young friend with the
called out, imitating Gracie’s waving hand.
The sweet, high
voice of his daughter was enough to have the man stop, his feet shoulder width
apart, his ears straining to pick up on the familiar sound.
‘Call out again,’ Gracie said, grabbing Mila about the waist and
hitching her up onto her hip.
The man turned, as
though he had extra sensory radar attuned to that particular voice. He
spotted his daughter, his expression went from terror to relief, and he rushed
over towards them, in one smooth movement sweeping Mila from Gracie’s hip and
into his arms, twirling her about, chattering away a million miles a minute in
lilting Italian as he went. It was obvious to Gracie’s ears that he was
chastising her, but it must have been in the most adorable manner, as the little
girl would not stop giggling.
Up close and
personal, the guy was definite crush material with a good several inches
advantage over Mr Pacino, and bone structure that would give Michelangelo’s
David a run for his money.
Once he put Mila down, she started babbling away in Italian and
pointing in Gracie’s direction. The man bent over, listening intently,
before flicking his dark gaze in Gracie’s direction.
Melted dark chocolate,
she thought as she had her first proper view of the colour of those flashing