Chapter Thirty-Eight

Venice, Italy, 2009

Nothing has changed. The summer heat creates a shimmering haze, through which Venice appears like a Canaletto brought to life. The dome of St Mark’s Cathedral rises above the pastel-coloured buildings, with their peeling paint and time-weary elegance. Vaporetti buzz. Tourists throng. Among the crowds, children run in the square scattering pigeons; men in sharp suits and designer shades sit smoking cigarettes; a guide with his umbrella talks history to a group of German tourists.

And down a maze of alleyways, tucked away in a tiny old pensione, in a room with a pink frilly bedspread and a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, are two people. A stressed-out American in a suit mopping his brow, and an English girl trying to stay calm.

That’s me and Nate. Back in Venice, ten years later.

And this time around, everything has changed.

‘OK, so what’s the plan?’ Nate is saying briskly.

Having put down his suitcase and hung his jacket over the rickety wooden chair, he turns to me. Sweat and stress are oozing from his pores. He might as well have ‘I don’t want to be here’ written across his forehead in thick black marker pen.

‘Um, that’s the thing . . .’ I walk over to the window and open the shutters. Light floods in, sending dust particles swirling, and I pause to lean out and survey the tiny slice of Venetian life in the narrow alleyway below.

It’s also quite a good delaying tactic.

Because you see, the thing is, I’m not quite sure how to break this to Nate, but I haven’t finished formulating my plan yet. It’s nearly there. It’s just . . .

Oh, who am I kidding? There is no plan. The truth is, I haven’t a clue what on earth to do next.


I turn round to find Nate is still looking at me, only now his face has set harder, rather like when food starts to go cold and congeals on a plate.

‘Please tell me you have a plan.’

His voice is steely and impatient, but I can detect a twinge of worry.

‘Well, not exactly a plan as such.’ I stumble through my excuses while Nate’s eyes are boring into me like lasers. ‘OK, I don’t have a plan,’ I confess.

‘You don’t have a plan?’ repeats Nate calmly.

As in eerily calm. As in the kind of foreboding calm you get as you’re opening your credit-card statement, slowly unfolding it, before the inevitable ‘Oh my God, how much?’ hits you like a ten-ton truck.

It’s that kind of calm.

‘Yet,’ I add, forcing a positive tone. ‘I don’t have a plan yet.’

Nate erupts in fury. ‘What the fuck?’ he cries angrily, throwing his arms in the air. ‘You got me all the way here, to Venice, Italy, and you don’t have a plan?’

‘OK, OK, I think we both get it. I don’t have a plan!’ I snap impatiently. ‘What are you going to do? Shoot me?’

Heaving a sigh, Nate sits down on the edge of the pink frilly bedspread and presses his temples. ‘Well, that would be a plan at least,’ he mutters under his breath.

I shoot him a furious look. Death in Venice is not what I had in mind. ‘Look . . .’ Taking a deep breath, I try to focus. What was it Robyn said? Ah, yes, something about the scene of the crime. ‘Just meet me at the Bridge of Sighs at sunset,’ I say on a whim.

‘And then what?’

‘Wait and see,’ I say, with as much confidence as I can muster. ‘I’ll come up with something.’

Rolling up his sleeves, Nate dabs his forehead with a handkerchief. ‘You better do, ’cos I’m going to be on the first plane out of here tomorrow morning.’

I grab my sunglasses and throw my bag over my shoulder. ‘Don’t worry.’ I reach for the door. ‘I’ve got it all under control.’

Except, of course, I haven’t.

I stumble outside into the bright Italian sunshine, my heart hammering in my chest. My mind is racing. Fuck. Bloody fuck. What on earth am I supposed to do now? I haven’t the faintest clue. Anxiety grabs at my stomach like a pickpocket snatching at my purse. Under control indeed. What am I talking about? Everything is completely out of control. My life is spinning off its axis. I’m falling off gym machines and nearly breaking my ankle, performing magic spells and getting arrested, nearly killing myself in a car crash and doing karaoke.

And now I’m here, in Venice, with Nate.

And I’m still going to be with him in a hundred years’ time if I don’t think of something, and fast! A bolt of fear zips right through me, as I set off through the cobbled backstreets. I’m going to be tied to my ex-boyfriend for eternity. I’m going to die a shrivelled-up old maid who on her deathbed will still be trying to lose her ex.

A sudden vision of me croaking, ‘You’re chucked!’ and Nate as a wizened-up old bachelor with no teeth, bald as a coot, in novelty boxer shorts, croaking back, ‘No, you’re chucked!’ flashes through my brain.

Shuddering, I try blocking it out. I mean, at this rate he’s going to sabotage my life for ever, I think with panic. A memory of Adam’s face pops into my mind – how excited he’d looked that night in the cinema, rapidly followed by how hurt he’d looked later, in my kitchen, when Nate had stormed in. I’m going to sabotage Nate’s life too, I sigh, thinking back to my phone call with Beth, his ex-wife. Nate’s never going to be able to try again, because she’s never going to take him back.

Because I’ll still have him.

A cold chill grips my heart. We’re going to be locked together like conjoined twins.

I won’t be able to go anywhere without him. He won’t be able to do anything without me. ‘You complete me’ will stop being the most romantic line in a movie and will become the most sinister. We’ll be like those couples you read about who have been together for sixty years and have never spent a night apart and make you go, ‘Aw, what an amazing love story.’

Yet no one will know the truth.

That it’s not a love story; it’s a horror story.

Maybe it’s the same for those other couples too, I think with alarm. Maybe those couples we all read about have spent the last sixty years desperately trying to spend a night apart and dreaming of one day having the duvet to themselves. Maybe those couples kissed under a bridge in Venice and have been trying to lose each other for their entire lives.

OK, now stop, Lucy. You’re getting paranoid.

Turning a corner, I find myself plunged into a mass of tourists. Abruptly I realise I’m in St Mark’s Square. I pause to glance around me, my mind suddenly emptying of everything but the sheer beauty and majesty that is Venice. The way the sunlight is bouncing off the cobblestones, a gap in the crowds revealing glittering water, the rich scents of espresso, aftershave and cigarette smoke, the passionate scramble of Italian that always sounds to my non-Italian-speaking ears like someone playing scales on a piano.

God, I love Venice. I’d forgotten how much because it’s been so long. Like an old photograph, faded by time, my memories of the city have dulled. Over the years it’s become simply a backdrop, against which the more important story of me and Nate and how we first met was set. The moment we left, it was as if Venice stopped, ceased to exist. As if it was just there for us, until we went back to college, when it folded itself back up and was packed away.

I smile fondly at my foolish arrogance. In my teenage mind I was the first person to discover Venice, and Nate and I were the only two people to have ever fallen in love in among its canals, intertwined piazzas and maze of backstreets. No one had ever, and could ever, feel like us.

How wrong I was, I realise, walking across the square. Venice has a life of its own, a sense of history that overshadows anything that Nate and I created, a magic that draws lovers to it, I muse, watching the dozens of couples strolling by, hand in hand, no doubt feeling exactly the same way Nate and I once did. Like the only two people in the whole world. That’s the magic of Venice – it makes everyone feel special.

Turning another corner, I head into the labyrinth of alleyways. This is the first time I’ve been back in ten years, and although I’ve changed, the city hasn’t. I start wandering in no particular direction, enjoying the sensation of rediscovering the maze of canals, shadowy piazzas and sounds and smells that are Venice.

I’ve been so focused on Nate, on getting him here, on getting both of us here, that I’ve never stopped to think about actually being back here. In my head it was simply the scene of the crime, the baddy, the cause of this whole mess, but now I can’t help falling in love all over again.

Only this time it’s not with Nate; it’s with Venice itself, I muse, glancing up at yet another beautiful building. I don’t know the name of it, but a whole bunch of paparazzi are crowded outside. It’s the film festival and everywhere the banners are flying, posters are advertising films, tourists have their cameras at the ready, hoping to spot a movie star. Apparently Penélope Cruz was spotted earlier on the Rialto Bridge, and the man checking us in at the hotel swore blind Tom and Katie were staying in room twelve.

Though somehow I doubt it. All the celebrities are staying at the magnificent Gritti Palace. We passed it earlier, coming from the airport on the Vaporetto, and there was a big stretch of red carpet running all the way up from the jetty to the terrace bar right on the canal. There was tons of activity, dozens of black-and-white uniformed waiters, like an army of penguins, flitting around getting everything ready for the big film première party that’s happening tonight. Though I haven’t a clue which film it’s for.

Adam would know, pipes up a voice in my head.

I feel a familiar lurch in my stomach. I’ve been trying not to think about him, but now his face pops into my consciousness and my mind spools back to that first time I saw him on the street, with a camera and a furry microphone. To the time in the MoMA, talking animatedly about his love of films. To the night we met in the art-house cinema and how excited he was to be sharing his favourite movie with me. He’d love it here, I reflect, glancing around, feeling the buzz of the festival.

For a split second I think about calling him, telling him where I am.

But of course there’s no point, is there? I doubt he’d even pick up the phone. Even if he did, how would I explain what I’m doing here? Oh, hi, I’m here at the Venice Film Festival with Nate, trying to break an ancient legend. Wish you were here!

Yeah, right, Lucy. Great move.

I keep walking. Sadness aches and I try cajoling myself. Perhaps once this is all over we could start where we left off . . . but I know that’s not going to happen. He’ll never trust me again, and why should he? Anyway, let’s face it, it was over before it had even begun. What was it? A couple of kisses, two dates, that’s it. He’ll move on, so will I. It’s no big deal.

Only it felt like a big deal. It wasn’t just about a couple of dates; it was about more than that. It was about listening to him talking and thinking he reminded me of someone and realising it was me. It was the feeling I got when he walked into the police station that night and I discovered there was no one I’d rather see than him. It was seeing him sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor, looking excitedly through my sketchbooks and telling me to follow my dream. Small, simple, fleeting things, and yet they made a huge impression on me. At the time I didn’t realise it, but now . . .

Now it’s too late. Whatever happens with Nate, Adam and I are over. This time there are no second chances.

I keep walking, hands stuck deep into the pockets of my shorts. Everywhere around me are the sounds of laughter and excitement, but they only serve to throw into stark contrast my own mood.

After a few moments I slip into a shadowy backstreet. It’s quiet here, no fancy galleries, gelata stalls or souvenir shops to tempt the tourists, just the odd cat sitting on a doorstep, and a washing line strung high above. It reminds me of Artsy and his washing line of art. I think about his upcoming exhibition. It’s definitely going to go ahead now. I spoke to Magda at JFK, just as we were boarding, and sure enough the painting had been verified and it was a Titian.

‘Which of course I knew all along!’ she’d declared. ‘I said to Daniel, “I knew Aunt Irena would not leave me penniless, I knew!”’

Which isn’t the exact truth, but who cares? She was so happy, and I’m happy for her. The painting’s going to be put up for auction and with the proceeds Magda will no doubt be able to pay off her debts and save the gallery. Moreover, she’ll most likely be able to keep herself in genuine designer goods for the rest of her life. Everything, it seems, has worked out for her.

Reaching a small piazza, I pause. In the middle there’s a fountain with an elaborately carved fish spouting water, and a wooden bench in a patch of sunlight. It looks tempting. I’m tired and my sandals are starting to rub in the heat. Despite being the beginning of September, it still feels like summer. Gratefully, I sit down. Gosh, this is much better. Slipping off my sandals, I wiggle my toes and close my eyes for a moment, relishing the peace and quiet. Just the sound of the trickling fountain.


And a voice.

Snapping open my eyes, I look up to see a man peering over me. He’s blocking the sunlight and his face is in shadow, so I can’t distinguish his features, but I can make out the outline of his hat. A white fedora.

Deep within a memory stirs and I feel a tingle run down my spine. There’s something about him. He’s familiar. I know him, but how?

He motions to me, as if to say, Do you mind if I sit down? and I gesture back as if to say, No, of course not. As he eases himself down beside me, his face turns to the light.

And suddenly I place him.

‘It’s you!’ I say, more to myself than to him.

He looks at me quizzically.

‘You’re the man who sold me the pendant, who told me about the Bridge of Sighs.’ I scan his craggy face for a sign of recognition. ‘Do you remember?’ I look at him with eager anticipation, awaiting his reply. This could be it. This could be the answer I’ve been looking for. Hope swells inside and I hold my breath tight inside my chest.

‘I tell a lot of people that story,’ he confesses, his eyes crinkling into a rueful smile.

‘You do?’ I feel a curious stab of disappointment and look down at my lap so he can’t see it on my face. All these years I’d imagined Nate and I had been special, yet now, abruptly, I realise we were just one of hundreds of couples to whom he told the story. Foolishness prickles. There was me thinking that somehow he could hold the secret, that he could somehow give me the answer.

‘So did the legend work its magic?’ I glance up to see him looking at me with an amused curiosity. ‘Are you still together?’

‘Sort of.’ I shrug miserably.

He frowns at my expression. ‘I’m sorry . . . my English.’ He throws out his upturned palms. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘It’s a long story.’ I smile apologetically.

He looks at me for a moment, his eyes searching my face, as if for clues. ‘You are both in love with someone else? Is this it?’

‘Yes, it is.’ I nod, thinking about Nate. Earlier at the airport I’d heard him on the phone to Beth, still trying to convince her to give things another shot, and my heart had gone out to him. He was clearly in love with her, and it was even more clear that it was only now he’d begun to realise it. Never has the old adage ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ seemed more true. But then, isn’t that true for a lot of people? I muse sadly, thinking about Adam.

‘And what about you?’

I snap back. ‘Me? No,’ I protest, shaking my head determinedly. ‘No, not in love . . .’ The words catch in my throat as my mind thumbs through the snapshots of mine and Adam’s brief relationship. It wasn’t love. Of course not. How could I be in love with someone I barely knew? And yet . . .

And yet you can spend a lifetime with someone and still be a stranger to them, but on the flipside you can meet someone briefly who can see inside your soul. Can you measure love by time? By anything? Or is it something inexplicable that has no rhyme or reason, no scientific explanation. Something that just happens. Like magic.

As the thought hits, I suddenly realise that I’m not convincing anyone, least of all me.

‘Yes, I am,’ I say, turning to look at the old man. My voice is quiet but unfaltering. ‘I am in love with someone.’

‘Well, then, do not worry.’ He smiles reassuringly. ‘The legend is indeed powerful, but do you know what is more powerful?’ He looks at me, his dark eyes seeming even darker, and I feel goose bumps prickling my arms, just like all those years ago.

Love,’ he says simply. ‘The power of love.’

I look at him, a million questions racing through my head. ‘But—’

‘Goodbye, Lucy.’ Before I can finish, he stands up, tipping his hat. ‘Say hello to Nathaniel for me.’

‘Yes, I will.’ I nod absently, watching as he turns and walks away. Then a thought strikes. ‘How did you remember our names?’

But he’s already gone, disappeared down an alleyway, leaving me with a jumble of thoughts and unanswered questions.

You're the One That I Don't Want