1-64) Hope Dies Last

09-03-18_5-24-57 PM

My phone buzzed in the back pocket of my jeans while I was – surprise surprise – pouring coffee into two cups. I handed one to Blaine before looking at the phone. A text message from Melissa.

text

Blaine stood up and was reading it over my shoulder now.

“Sounds like fun!”
“Yeah …”
“Oh, don’t give me that tone of voice. Your cute butt is going. And if I have to hand deliver you!”
“Ok …” I didn’t feel like going out, but trying to stay would have been too complicated.

I finished the coffee, got dressed and was hoping I could find motivation. It never came to me, but I went.

As I entered the restaurant I told the hostess that I was waiting for someone, when they asked me
“Auditore?”
“Yes?”
“Follow me please. Your party is already seated.”

Dang Mel, couldn’t wait for me at the door huh? I thought to myself and was already thinking of something smartassy to say to her, when we reached the table, a quiet one, tucked away in a corner.

“There we are.” the hostess smiled.

I looked around the room divider at Melissa sitting behind. Except there was no Melissa. It was Ezio! I just stood there, eyebrows raised, trying not to blow up.
Ezio looked up from the wine card he was studying, smiled at me and stood up to greet me. My facial expression warned him to not even dream of hugging me and his smile became apologetic.

“Please, Mrs. Auditore. I am Ryan and I will be your server tonight…” the young man was saying while pulling out the chair for me, when I snapped at him
“I am not Mrs. Auditore!”
“Apologies, Miss. Please allow me …”
I allowed it and sat down, glancing at Ezio.
We got the drink order handled and all it needed was a short “would you mind?!” by me to get rid of the annoying pile of employees trying to read every wish of Ezio’s before he even knew he wanted it. Melissa may be too sweet to do this, I wasn’t. Plus I was not in the mood.

“Thank you for coming, Viktoria.” Ezio said courteously.
“You know very well I would not be here had you not tricked me. Just tell me if Mel is in on this.”
“Don’t be mad at her. She and Blaine thought …”
“Oh, Blaine too, huh. Lovely.” My mood level hit negative 10 now. Until tonight I had successfully avoided Ezio since that night of our falling out, which was now several weeks ago.
“Don’t be angry at them. They are just trying to help.”
“Let’s cut the crap. Why am I here?”
“To talk. Calmly and in a more neutral environment.”
“DaCapo’s and neutral? You basically live here.”
“You used to love this place.”
“Operative term being ‘used to’. Oh, and just so this is clear, I’m paying for my own drink.”
“Oh Viktoria, you and your pride.”
“Me and my pride give you exactly this one glass of Coke Zero to get out what you want to say before I am out that door.”
“Viktoria, they have this excellent private reserve Chianti from …”
“Ezio!”
“One glass of wine. On me. Prego.” he gave me a sad begging puppy look that almost made me smile. Almost.
“Fine.”
He waved and within 3 seconds a waiter was at the table to take the order. Not 5 minutes later the bottle was at the table and the wine poured.
“You heard me say a glass, right?”
“I did.” he smiled charmingly.
“Yet you ordered a bottle.”
“Guilty.”
“Why?”
“Habit.”
“Liar. You do nothing like this out of habit.”
“You got me. It was wishful thinking. I was hoping my Italian charm and disarming wit would come back to me to keep you for a full bottle.”
“So, you tricked me into coming here and then you think I would be so amazed by your splendor that I just down a bottle of wine with you and then we skip together into the sunrise, holding hands?”
“Well, maybe not into the sunrise, given our delicate condition as far as sun is concerned. But I’d be on board with the rest.”

Right about now an old, wrinkly Italian man in an obviously expensive and tailored suit came to our table. Oh joy. Massimo Capo, the namesake and founder of the restaurant. And a weird old bird.

“Signore e Signora Auditore! What a pleasure to see you again. It has been a long, long time. I have been back in the homeland for a few years, but could not stay away! Oh, you are still such a wonderful pair, I always knew that God had brought you two together. You have not aged a day, Mrs. Auditore. As beautiful as ever …” blah blah blah … my mood hit even lower. Despite the compliment. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong context.

Before this my mood had just been at some sort of equilibrium, now it reached the pits of hell. I just could not bring myself to bite an old man’s head of. And Ezio did nothing to correct him either, which angered me again. The old man was soon done and waddled off.

“You may want to use your Italian charm to update him about our status, dear. For Melissa’s sake alone.” I grumbled.
“Viktoria, before you get angry at me again, he is 92 years old now and has dementia. I have updated him several times. He has met Melissa several times. He tells her the same he just told us. And the last time he has been to Italy was when he was a young man. Sorry, dear, but I just did not see the point.”
“Oh.”
“Are you beginning to remember now that I am not all bad?”
“No, not yet. But getting warmer.”
“Try the wine.”
“Fine.” I picked up the glass.
“A toast!” Ezio said.
“Sure. To Hope that dies last. Salute!”
“Salute.”
Ezio leaned back into the chair, looking at me.
“What?”
“May I not even look at you now?”
“Want a picture? Easy to do and I would get you out of my hair for good.”
“Since you are so dead set on getting rid of me quickly, may I please apologize from the bottom of my heart for each and everything I said to you that night?”
“You may.”
“Would you accept my apology.”
“Ezio, why is this so important to you?”
“Because you’re my friend. And come to find I do not have many. I know a lot of people, but few I trust. Even fewer of those that I am not related to. Basically just you. And maybe Blaine.”
I didn’t say a word. He did seem sincere and truth be told, I was tired of holding this grudge. Honestly, unless we gave up everything and moved far away, which we could not afford, there was no getting away from Ezio. Like it or not, he was also the father of my oldest daughter, whom I was close with, as was he, he was our next door neighbor, and the husband of my best friend so our paths would inevitably cross again and again. Plus he was dead set on ironing out our differences. And if Ezio was one thing, it was persistent. I also knew that Blaine was well over me being mad at Ezio, as was Melissa. Further, after the initial anger and pain subsided, I knew full well that he did not believe any of what he had thrown at me that night. We had been in love once, and we had been a good team. He had given up a lot to be with me then. He did not like admitting he was wrong any more than the next guy, but was businessman through and through and had he felt I had not been worth it back then, he would have cut me loose and gone back to his parents who would have accepted him back into their fold without ado. He would not have gone to great lengths to trick me into getting pregnant then if he thought I was nothing but a worthless floozy. As for the wealth and success we built together I also knew that he knew that, as he had tried and tried to give me half of it all when we got divorced, and it was me who walked away from it all for the principle of it. He eventually just forced some money on me, which I had still not kept but instead split between Adrianna and Marco. And I knew all along, all I would have to do would be to go to him and ask and he would write me a check for any amount I asked for. That was probably still true today. So, carrying on a grudge knowing that what he said was nothing but BS to throw me off track was foolish. And exhausting. So fine.

“All righty, Ezio, let’s make another toast. To friendship.”
“I toast to that!” he sounded hopeful.
We drank.
“So, does this mean you forgive me?”
“Yeah, why not.”
He smiled big now as he got up, holding out his hand to me, pulling me up and into a hug.
“Grazie il mia amica, mille grazie!”
“Hey Ezio …”
“Hm?”
“You know what else this means?”
“Enlighten me.”
“You’re paying. For everything.” I winked at him. He smiled pleased.
“With great pleasure!”
The rest of the evening was pleasant. We laughed, reminisced, talked about work and future plans.

*

09-03-18_11-44-36 AM

I unlocked the door and Blaine was in the hallway.
“Are you still standing here from before I left?” I joked looking at him.
He grinned “Oh boy! She starts out with a joke, which means I get to live another day.”
“We’ll see about that. You are the weirdest husband ever, tricking me into a blind date with my ex-husband.”
“I know right? I kinda got tired of you getting after me about being more tidy, so I was hoping he would take you back. If anyone can afford two wives, it’s Auditore!”
“I see. Well, I am only here to get my things. Going to live the good life up in the hilltop mansion. See ya…”
He grabbed me and held me tight, kissing me.
“I am glad you two kids are playing nice together again. Melissa is probably going to do cartwheels down the hill here in a second to celebrate.” he smirked.
“If she does any celebrating tonight, I am pretty sure it will not involve either of us.” I winked at him.
“Sounds like a brilliant idea to me! Wanna do some celebrating of our own?”
“What about Liam?”
“Babygirl, it’s almost midnight. Liam is a toddler, not a bat. He has been in bed for hours.”
“Then why are we standing around here talking? Or shall I go up the hill and see if there are any takers up there?”
“I dare you to try. You would not even make it two steps.”
“Ah yeah?”
“Yeah.”

*

After that night things went back to normal again. The four of us would meet up and hang out at least weekly.

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09-03-18_5-37-48 PM09-03-18_5-36-07 PM09-03-18_5-36-42 PM09-03-18_5-37-07 PM

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