Locanda del Mare, Cefalù, Sicily
“Say it. I was right.”
After tearing through the place like none of us had ever seen an Italian villa before—because none of us had ever seen an Italian villa before—Diana and I pushed the patio doors open and stepped outside.
“The Mediterranean Sea,” Diana murmured as we looked off into the distance below us. She took a big, deep breath, as if soaking in the Italian air might actually bring us love and fortune, making all our wishes come true.
I really hated to burst her bubble. “Actually, it’s the Tyrrhenian Sea.”
My best friend looked at me as if I’d said she should eat a green bean.
Diana hated vegetables.
“I’m serious,” I said. “Mainland Italy is that way, the Mediterranean to our west and south. But that, my friend, is the Tyrrhenian Sea.”
“How do you know literally everything? It’s freaky.”
“If I knew everything—” I stopped myself. This trip was about letting go, not talking about my cluster of a life and bringing the group vibe down on day one. So instead of saying, If I knew everything, I’d know how to move on . . . how to forget, I said, “If I knew everything, I’d know where to find wine right now.”
“Oh. My. God.” A voice behind us echoed my thoughts exactly.
Teresa stepped outside with us. She was more Diana’s friend than mine, but we’d gone on two girls’ trips together, so I knew her a bit. “This view is insane.”
As the three of us took it all in, I peeked at my old friend.
“Thank you,” I said sincerely to Diana. Since I didn’t actually have any siblings or parents now, Diana was the closest thing I had to actual family.
“You’re welcome,” she said, understanding. “So do we unpack, explore, or drink wine?”
All three of us exchanged glances and said, “Wine,” at the same time.
“I saw a little store about two blocks away.” Teresa, a teacher, went right to work. Her efficiency always impressed me. “Yep,” she said, looking down at her phone, “it’s still open. Lorrie?” She turned to our fourth companion just joining us. “Feel like a quick walk to get some wine?”
“Hell yeah, let’s do it.”
“We can come with you,” I said, but no one was listening.
“If there’s anyone who needs to soak this up immediately,” Teresa said, “it’s you.”
With a quick smile for us both, she and Lorrie disappeared as I marveled at how easily everyone got along. Women could be tough. Friends of friends, even tougher. But this really was a great group of ladies. Another reason I’d agreed to the whole thing.
“You really found a great group of girls,” I said. “It was nice of them to volunteer for a wine run.”
“They know you need this. I’ve said it before, but I’m really glad you came, Maze.”
Diana and I fell into a companionable silence. Which, of course, put my thoughts directly back to the reason everyone was bending over backwards to accommodate me. It had already been six months, but my father might as well have had a heart attack and died last week. The constriction in my chest at the thought of him being gone was so poignant that I might have sworn I was having one too. Except I knew better by now. It wasn’t a heart attack.
Just a broken heart.
He’d been my whole world. And now, Dad was gone. The bar that had been his legacy, gone. Our family home, gone.
“I still can’t believe he was that far in debt and never told me,” I said for the millionth time.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about it,” Diana said as we sat down on the patio chairs. Locanda del Mare was part bed and breakfast and part resort, with each individual villa boasting its own small patio. The main building was just down the hill from us. “What would you have advised him? If he told you that the Village Barn was so far in the red?”
That was easy. “Sell it. Get himself out of debt,” I said, the answer obvious. I may not have ended up using my degree, but after four years in business school, it didn’t take much to know the Village Barn, as Dad wanted to run it, was a relic of the past. When he settled in Scottsdale years ago, things were very different. “Who runs a business that doesn’t make any money?”
“Your dad,” Diana said. “And that’s exactly why he didn’t tell you. To him, having that place was more important than making money.”
“You kinda need to do both to run a business.”
“I guess. But you know what he would say—”
“We only pass through once.” I could actually hear his voice saying the words in my head. No one was immune to my father’s life-isms, and that was his favorite of them all.
“In a practical sense,” I started, but Diana didn’t let me finish.
“Sorry, Miss Financial Goddess, your right brain is on hold for this trip. No numbers talks or anything resembling analysis. I dragged you to Italy for a reason, and it wasn’t to be practical about anything.”
“That’s a myth,” I said, still enamored with the view. I really was glad Diana proposed this trip. “There’s really no such thing as right brain, left brain.”
“Hmm.” Diana frowned. “I don’t believe it.”
“It’s true. It’s called the illusory truth effect. When you believe false information because you’ve been exposed to it so often.”
“I’d look it up, but I promised myself not to use the phone as much when I’m here. So instead I’ll take in the view while we wait for our wine and choose to believe you for now. Mostly because you’re always right.”
“So lots of wine and no phone. That’s your plan?”
“Yep. What’s yours?”
I didn’t really have a plan for Italy. Except to numb the pain that didn’t seem to be going away any time soon. But I wouldn’t dwell on that and drag the group down. “To figure out next steps.”
Diana didn’t have to ask what that meant. She knew I wasn’t crazy about my job, or my boss. Or my single status. And now that I had no family, or boyfriend, in Scottsdale, there wasn’t really a reason to stay, besides friends. Problem was, there also wasn’t really anywhere else for me to go.
Diana held up an imaginary glass. “To no phone, an amazing view and figuring out Mazzie’s life plan.”
I held up my own pretend glass too. “Cheers,” I said, thankful again for a friend like Diana.
“Salute,” she corrected me. “We are in Italy, after all.”
“You are such a shit. A whole month and this is only the second video call. Show me everything.”
Lusanne sat behind the counter of her bakery, now closed, with her phone propped up in front of her.
“You’ve been taking lessons on Italian Catholic guilt from Mom, Lus,” I said. “You see every picture I take.”
Scrunching up her nose as she always did when she was annoyed, my sister brushed me off. “A shared photo album isn’t a personal tour. Come on,” she prompted again.
“This is exactly why I haven’t done the video call.” Pushing aside the beads hanging from my door frame, I reluctantly turned the phone around, knowing I was in for at least a twenty-minute tour. Lusanne was a stickler for detail, and since this trip had been her idea, she’d been a real pain in the ass when it came to me documenting everything. Which was why I had hit share on photo album with her, mistakenly thinking that would be enough to appease her.
“Oooo,” she exclaimed after seeing my view. It was pretty spectacular. “I can see the ocean from there. It looks just like your pictures.”
“Imagine that,” I drawled, thankfully not able to see my sister’s eyes rolling at my tone.
“Knock it off.” Her voice came through the phone as I walked. “Show me around. I want to meet Lucia.”
The owner of Locanda del Mare was only four years older than me. My sister, the baby of our family, was equally impressed with a thirty-two-year-old running such a sprawling estate. Coupled with the fact that Lucia was a beautiful woman, in addition to being incredibly capable, Lusanne had followed her on social media and been remotely enamored with her even before I came.
“She’s off property,” I said, grateful for it. Lusanne was still trying to play matchmaker despite the fact that Lucia had a boyfriend, I wasn’t even remotely interested in a girlfriend, and we lived on two separate continents.
“Ugh,” Lusanne exclaimed. “How about the kitchen?”
As I walked down the path to the main house, having anticipated Lusanne’s request, I said, “I’m on my way down there, but no one’s working.” It was late afternoon and Locanda del Mare only served breakfast on property unless it was a retreat week. If there were no writing or yoga retreats being hosted, the main building would be empty this time of day except for patrons mulling around the building soaking up the sea view.
“Talk to me,” she said as I swung the phone from side to side, giving my sister the lay of the land.
“About five minutes that way is the only store within walking distance. In the opposite direction, a cafe about ten minutes away. Otherwise”—I held the phone high—“you need to drive into town.”
“I still can’t believe you drive a Vespa. It’s so . . . Italian. I really wish I was there,” she said.
I turned the phone back around. “You can come anytime. Lucia said anyone from the family is welcome.”
It was our family connection in Palermo that hooked me up with Lucia in the first place. Exchanging a summer-long stay for some odd jobs around the estate . . . it was a win-win for us both.
“I wish,” she said. “There’s just no way with the bakery.”
My sister opened her new place just a few months ago, so getting away would be tough for her. “And Owen?” I pointed out. Her boyfriend also ran a few businesses of his own, and their relationship was too new for her to leave him. Lus and Owen were like two peas in a pod.
Better them than me.
I had as much interest in being tied down to one person as I did in the yoga retreat Lucia had hosted last week.
“And Owen,” Lus admitted.
“Ok, the kitchen,” I said, about to walk inside.
Being raised by parents who owned a pizza shop, it wasn’t as odd a request as some might think, that Lus would want to see the industrial kitchen. A pang in my chest forced my feet to stop moving as I walked by the outdoor pizza oven. A vision of my dad pulling out a peel from a similar oven made me smile.
“Holy pizza oven,” Lus said as I turned the phone back around so she could see it.
“Forno per pizze,” I said, grabbing the peel from its hook and turning the phone back to me. “And this is a pala,” I translated.
“Pala,” she repeated. “Say something else in Italian. You must have picked it up a little by now.”
I could think of a hundred sarcastic responses. Most of which, if I were back in the states, I would have responded with. But after a month here, I’d had a taste of what it was like not to be surrounded by my family. Not that it was the same anymore with our parents retired and spending as much time in Florida as they did Pennsylvania. Or since Lusanne moved to New York this past winter. But I still had my brother Tris and his wife in our hometown. And Mom and Dad, most of the time. Despite the fact that I was the so-called “wild child” of the family, the one who never took anything seriously, I was also my mother’s son. The “lover,” as Lus called me. And unlike my brothers, I wasn’t ashamed to admit it.
Or admit I missed them. Missed her.
“Mi manchi sorellina.”
“What does it mean?”
Instead of answering, I deflected. “Wanna see the kitchen?”
“Yes,” Lusanne said. “And the pool where you spend your afternoons working”—she used air quotes for that last word—“and scoping out your next prey.”
“They’re not prey, Lus. I’ve only met two women here and both hit on me first, for the record.”
“It’s only been a month. Plus, I know for a fact there’s at least one more, judging from your pics on the beach.”
Shit. Forgot about that shared album.
“And you wonder why I didn’t video call you earlier. Lus,” I added as a text came through. “I have to go. Just got a message from Liz about IH.”
“Oh my god. Do you think you got it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Seems early for a decision but I need to check it out.”
Lus wasn’t happy to cut the call short. But she also knew how important a client Integrated Health could be for me. Landing the biggest health benefits company in the US would be a game changer. I did well for myself, but marketing for my siblings and other small businesses didn’t put me on the top of the food chain in terms of family success stories.
All four of us were business owners. Lus with the bakery, Tristano with his top-notch restaurant, and Enzo with a global business worth more than five Integrated Health companies combined.
None of us could compete with him.
But at least, with IH as a client, I could inch my way up a little higher than a two-employee marketing firm. Just me and my personal assistant, Liz, and that was it.
“Fine, but if it takes you another month to call, no chocolate peanut butter cupcakes when I see you next. And I know how scarce peanut butter is in Italy.”
Another text from Liz. My heart began to pound. Something was definitely up.
“Promise to call soon. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
As we hung up, I immediately opened my text messages, silently praying Liz had sent good news.