Excerpt 1 – Dolce – Stai Bene?


Chapter One Dolce.jpg

Matteo watched her weave through the flow of business travelers, her cheeks hallow and skin flushed.

Emily’s dark wavy hair and deep brown eyes, her studied pauses and lengthy gaze remained a mystery to Matteo. She couldn’t be more different then the young women that would come to his café and exchange in giddy conversations over espressos and biscotti. In her quiet intelligence, Emily’s saturnine temperament further intrigued Matteo as she blossomed into adulthood.

He was nervous. It was an odd feeling for a man who mastered sprezzatura long before he reached the age of fifty. When Emily called and said that she was in Rome, he must have tried a dozen suits before deciding on casual attire. Now in his soft jersey shirt, his favorite cashmere blazer, and a new boiled wool overcoat, Matteo felt as anxious as schoolboy.

On most visits to Capri, Emily would hide away in the guest room, listening to music and writing in her stack of journals. The silence between them would go on for days. Everything word he spoke was met with a glance away or an awkward smile. His wife, Alina, dismissed Emily’s behavior as simply being a teenager.

On her last trip to Italy, late at night after Matteo had a terrible argument with Alina, Emily slipped through the door and quietly took a bottle of vinho do Porto. Matteo, busy cleaning the kitchen, glanced over his shoulder as Emily reached poured two glasses of wine. She opened the refrigerator and found ingredients to her liking, then went to the Panini grill. Matteo returned to washing dishes, stopping only when Emily parted the sandwich and gave him a slice. Before he could sit down and eat with her, Emily slipped back out as quickly as she came in.

Matteo looked down at the plate, and noticed rather than the traditional baguette, Emily had used Alina’s challah bread. Curious, he took a bite of the Panini. The challah gave the sandwich less crunch and soaked up the flavor of avocado aioli. He ate the entire sandwich then sipped on the wine. To his liking, the vinho do Porto Emily poured had just the right amount of acidity to balance one’s palate. Had Emily not left for law school the next day, he would have hired her for Café Dolce.

Alas, lost was the sparkle in her brown eyes, the glow of youth, the curve of a smile as Emily departed customs. She walked through the gate looking frightfully frail, despondent, and very much alone.

Benvenuta a Roma,” Matteo said, reaching for Emily’s carry-on. He kissed her cheeks. “How was your flight?”

“It was all right.” Emily looked down and drew a long breath, not caring to hide the stillness in her voice. “Where’s Alina?”

“She’s waiting for you in the car.” Matteo shifted her carry-on to his other hand. “We were surprised when you called this morning.”

Emily glanced at him, briefly holding his eyes as if wanting to tell him something.

“Emily,” Matteo paused. “Stai bene?”

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