Chapter Thirty-Nine

I’m still sitting alone on the bench, trying to make sense of it all, when my phone rings. It’s my sister, Kate. I pick up.

‘How’s Venice? Got rid of him yet?’ she says with characteristic bluntness.

‘Not yet,’ I say blithely, but reminded of why I’m here, I feel a clutch of worry. ‘So, anyway, how are you?’ I ask, sweeping it under my cerebral carpet.

‘Well, do you want the good news . . . or the good news?’


There’s a pause and then . . .

‘We got the all-clear!’ Jeff and Kate yell in stereo down the phone, their voices so loud I have to hold my mobile away from my ear.

‘Oh my God, that’s brilliant!’ I gasp, feeling a tidal wave of emotions wash over me – relief, joy, delight . . . I want to punch the air, high-five a stranger, hug someone, but there’s no one here, just me, on a bench, in a tiny piazza in Venice, listening to my sister and Jeff speaking nineteen to the dozen down the phone, telling me all about the results. It was stage one and he didn’t need chemo. ‘Just a holiday,’ Kate is enthusing, ‘a bloody long holiday.’

Listening to her speaking, I can’t stop smiling, and it’s not just because Jeff’s got the all-clear. It’s because of the change in my sister. Hearing her excitedly talking about taking a holiday, it’s like a new Kate. Gone is the sister who used to spend every spare moment she had in the office or the gym, who was so focused on making partner or running the marathon that she lost sight of who and what are important in life. She was left behind that day in the hospital, and somehow I don’t think she’s ever coming back.

‘We were thinking a safari, or maybe even diving on the Great Barrier Reef, or Jeff said why don’t we just go crazy and take sabbaticals from work and do both . . .’

As she’s talking, I’m distracted by a couple who’ve wandered into the piazza. Absently I watch them taking each other’s photograph by the fountain, before the guy notices me and walks over.

‘Excuse me,’ he begins, then realising I’m on the phone, falters. ‘Oh . . . sorry.’

‘It’s OK.’ I smile. The glow from my sister’s good news feels infectious. I mean, come on, here’s a couple in love, in one of the most romantic cities in the world, and they want a photo together. ‘Hang on, Kate,’ I say to my sister, who’s now wondering if they should buy round-the-world tickets and take in the Pyramids as well. ‘I just need to take a photo.’

‘No worries. Let’s speak later,’ she says cheerfully, saying her goodbyes and hanging up.

No worries? I stare, astonished, at my mobile for a moment. Something tells me this new sister of mine is going to take a bit of getting used to.

‘Thank you so much.’

I turn back to see the girl in the couple smiling at me and holding out her camera. It’s one of those big proper ones, with the lens that you focus manually, not like my little digital one that just takes snaps.

‘Would you mind taking it over here, against the sunset?’ she asks.

‘No problem.’ I smile, taking it from her and looking down the lens.

Then suddenly I pause. Rewind. Did she just say . . .?

Sunset?’ I gasp.

‘Yes, isn’t it amazing?’ Her face lights up as she gestures towards it. ‘Like the sky is on fire.’

Her voice is drowned out by the sound of my own heart pounding loud and fast in my ears as I look up. And there it is. Like a huge cinematic backdrop. A pomegranate sky streaked with pinks and reds and oranges, and the sun is a fiery orb slowly sinking down low behind the buildings.

Oh my God.

The legend. I have to meet Nate.

I turn back. The couple are still smiling at me, their bodies posed for a photograph, but now I’m all fingers and thumbs. I can’t even see to focus. ‘I’m sorry, I have to go,’ I gabble, quickly taking a picture and shoving the camera back at them. ‘I hope I didn’t cut your heads off.’ I throw them an apologetic smile, and leaving them looking at me in confusion, I turn and start racing down the alleyway.

I can’t be late. For once in my life I can’t be late. I have to be there on time. I have to—

Shit, where I am going? I stop dead, my heart racing, my mind helter-skeltering. Suddenly, in all of this, I realise I haven’t a clue in which direction I’m supposed to be heading. I haven’t a clue where the Bridge of Sighs is.

It gets worse. I haven’t even a clue where I am now. I’m lost. Without a map. And I can’t speak Italian.

Panic rises a notch and for a moment I stand stock still, like a rabbit caught in headlights. Even my Shredded Wheat rhyme isn’t going to save me now. Come on, think, Lucy, think. But I can’t think, my mind is blank, and in desperation I just set off running down twisting alleyways, past shops and restaurants, crowds of tourists and paparazzi.

‘Excuse me, do you know the way to the Bridge of Sighs?’ I pant breathlessly to other tourists, but they shake their heads apologetically.

I spot a bunch of men who look distinctly Italian. ‘Ponte dei Sospiri?’ I gasp desperately.

‘Ah, sì, sì.’ They nod and with a series of hand gestures point me in the right direction.

Relief floods, and thanking them profusely, I set off running through the crowded streets. It’s really busy now. The film parties are gearing up for the evening and paparazzi and film crews are buzzing everywhere. The whole town is lit up. Even the canals, I notice, reaching the water and spotting a gondola up ahead, the bright lights of a film crew on board shining on some celebrity or other.

And the bridge, I realise, looking past the gondola and seeing it arching across the canal. It’s the Bridge of Sighs.

I feel a rush of anticipation and wonder. It’s so beautiful. The white marble is like a blank canvas, reflecting the colours of the sunset and the ripples of the water beneath, and for a moment I stare at it, transfixed. The effect is almost magical.

I can’t stand here all evening, though. I’ve got to find Nate, and snapping back, I scan the crowds. I see him. A few hundred metres away upstream, he’s standing waiting by one of the smaller bridges from which you can catch the gondola. Even from this distance I can see the expression on his face and he doesn’t look best pleased. Spotting me, he glares at me furiously and throws his arms in the air as if to say, Where the hell have you been?

I rush towards him. Shit, I’m running out of time. The sun’s going to set. I’m going to be too late. Too late for what? pipes up a voice in my head. You still don’t have a plan. I ignore it. It’s not over yet. I’ve still got a few minutes, I tell myself frantically. There’s still time for a miracle.

Excusing my way through the crowds, I head towards Nate, but it’s hard. There are so many people milling around taking photographs of the Bridge of Sighs, of the sunset, of the film crew on the canal.

‘Ooh, look, it’s that actor,’ coos a voice, as I push past.

‘He’s in a gondola,’ cries another voice, as I squeeze through a gap.

I look fleetingly over to see who’re they’re talking about and snatch a glimpse of the gondola I saw earlier. It’s some pretty-boy Hollywood actor with bright lights shining upon him. A young guy in a baseball cap is interviewing him.

Oh my God.

The breath catches in the back of my throat. It can’t be . . .

As the gondola glides past, I see his face.

Adam?’ Reeling with shock, I hear my voice call out his name. I see him glance up at me.

‘Lucy?’ he gasps, bewilderment flashing across his face.

Our eyes meet for a split second, and thrown off balance, I don’t look where I’m going and suddenly I feel my foot slip. Stumbling, I throw my arms out to grab hold of something, but they clutch at thin air and I feel myself falling . . .

I can hear someone scream as I hit the water. Or is it me screaming? I can’t tell. I think I’ve hit my head. Everything has gone woozy. Now I’m swallowing water and I’m trying to swim, but my arms are flailing and I’m going under. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears, feel the panic rising in my chest. Oh God, I’m going to drown. I’m going to—

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a pair of arms grab hold of me and I feel myself being pulled out of the water and on to the gondola. Spluttering and coughing, I’m fighting for breath, but it’s as if everything has gone dreamy, as if I’m seeing the world through a blurry film of Vaseline. Around me I can see people’s mouths moving, hear muffled voices, but I can’t respond. My eyelids are growing heavy. My limbs don’t feel as if they belong to me. The world seems to be receding.

Fare la respirazione bocca a bocca!’ the gondolier is shouting over and over. ‘Fare la respirazione bocca a bocca!

‘The kiss of life,’ translates a voice. ‘Give her the kiss of life.’

Adam’s face flashes above mine, bathed in the golden glow of the sunset. I notice his wet hair, water trickling down his face, his urgent expression. I feel the gondola fall into shadow as we drift underneath the Bridge of Sighs. I’m so tired I want to go to sleep. Exhausted, I close my eyes . . .

Suddenly I feel someone’s lips on mine, their mouth pressed urgently against my own. Jolted awake, I snap open my eyes to see Adam. Relief flashes in his eyes and he breaks off from kissing me. For a moment we just stare wordlessly at each other, a million questions hanging between us.

Then I hear them, in the distance, softly chiming. I listen harder. Is that . . .? Could that be . . .?

Bells,’ I whisper, as Adam looks at me quizzically.

‘Have you heard about the legend?’ asks a thick Italian accent, and we both turn to see the gondolier grinning at us.

‘What legend?’ says Adam, still holding me tightly.

I smile the biggest smile. ‘Oh, it’s a long story,’ and wrapping my arms around him, I lean in for another kiss.

You're the One That I Don't Want