The One That Got Away - Excerpt and Giveaway

The one that got away

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A reader kindly asked if I had an excerpt from The One That Got Away... Sharing right now (note: Formatting gets lost on FB). Enjoy  <3

@ Hotel Ponte Sisto, Rome

Waitresses are busy setting up the breakfast tables in the open sunlit yard when we finally arrive. Even though I’m happy to be here among big happy palm trees bathed in the rays of the rising sun, I’m also tired, jet-lagged, and a little hungover, and I can’t decide whether I agree with the smell of morning sausages or not. I look up at Lori, sitting right across from me on her suitcase, still wearing her pink hat and sunglasses.

“Geez.” She brings the big sunglasses down to the bridge of her nose. “Could they possibly be any louder?”

“I know! And look at my mom. We’ve been in Rome for what—two seconds?—and she’s already flirting with the bellboys. They’re like fourteen.” We both look at Mom and Camille standing at the concierge’s desk with their matching fanny packs, talking, pantomiming, and flirting with the young Italian concierge in very loud and happy voices.

“C’mon, she’s kinda cute in her own special way.”
“She’s not your mom.”
“Like mine’s any better?”

We both look at Camille as she dramatically throws her head back and laughs. Lori looks at me with one raised brow, and for once I do think she looks a lot like Elizabeth Taylor.

“See?” she says with her raspy hungover voice, which only seals the whole Elizabeth Taylor image.
I smile and make mental a note to call Mark and tell him he’s right: She does look a lot like her, drinking or not.

“Incurable. Both,” I agree as I try to read the big old grandfather clock in the hallway. “It’s what?” I look at the weird-looking clock hands and try to do the simple time zone math in my heavy head. “One a.m. in Seattle?”

Lori squints at her watch and counts on her fingers. “Yup and probably pissing down rain. Hallelujah, Rome. Did you know that when they filmed Roman Holiday with Hepburn and what’s his name…” Her voice trails off and she stares straight ahead, her mouth wide-open. “Rob?” I think she mumbles as she shoots up from her suitcase like her ass is on fire. “Rob?!”

I turn around and there he is, slowly walking down the stairs, wearing blue pyjama bottoms and a white T-shirt. My heart stops as he looks up and our eyes meet. He looks exactly how I remember him: confident and strong but still so boyishly attractive.

“ROB!!!” Lori roars as she rushes across the floor, knocking over both Mom and Camille’s suitcases on the way. When she’s within arm’s reach, she throws herself into his arms. “Rob,” she squeals into his chest. After a few more hugs, she steps back to take a good look at him. “Robert Lewinsky. Is that really you? Where did you come from?” She grabs his hand and slowly they start walking toward me. When he looks up at me again and smiles his crooked smile, it’s like I can’t breathe.

“I was in bed, but I’m right above the concierge’s office, and some very loud American ladies woke me up.” He stops right in front of me. “Hi, Helen.” His voice sounds strange and yet so familiar. “Nice hat!”

Shit! I’d forgotten all about that big feathered hat. On the aeroplane, after a couple of gin and tonics, it felt like the most natural thing to wear when arriving at the Leonardo da Vinci Airport. But now, I feel so incredibly stupid for wearing it here in a fancy hotel in Rome, the city of fashion, but mostly in front of him, in front of Rob. I already feel myself blushing. Quickly, I take the hat off.
“Hi.” I sound nervous.

“So, do I get a hug?” Suddenly he sounds a little nervous, too.
In a clumsy attempt to give him a hug, I reach over my big suitcase and wrap one arm around his neck.

“Hi, Helen,” he whispers behind my back. He squeezes me tight just for a few seconds but long enough for me to take in his smell, the familiar smell of cologne and lavender. Why do I still remember his smell? It’s weird and yet it feels so natural.

“Rough ride, huh?” he says as he lets go again.
“You can say that again. After four hours, they ran out of gin. Can you believe it? I mean, hello, we’re crossing an entire ocean here! Next time bring some more gin and juice!” Lori exclaims.
Rob wraps his arm around Lori, looks down at her, and smiles. “I see you haven’t changed one bit, Lori. And you,” he lifts up my chin just like he always used to, “beautiful as always,” he whispers.
I don’t know what to say, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to speak, so instead, I just look down and nod. I definitely blush.

“I know. It’s not fair. One G&T and I get turkey eyes whereas this one...” she points at me and shakes her head demonstratively.

Rob looks down at Lori and raises an eyebrow. “One?”
“Okay, three, but still, it’s not fair.”

Rob looks at me with a conspiratorial look and smiles.
“A-a-at least five or six,” I stutter. Of course, I would pick up the good old genetic stutter at a time like this.

He looks at me with a knowing smile. Like Lori, he knows that familiar stutter better than anyone. Sometimes, he would stutter just to make me feel better. “I-I-I juju-just ca-ca-called to say I-I-I lo-lo-love you,” he would sometimes sing Stevie Wonder-style when I picked up the phone, and it would make me laugh every single time. “It’s only a little tiny stutter,” he would remind me. “At least you’re not blind.” (Rob is, or was a huge Wonder fan).

He’s about to say something when Mom turns around with a handful of water bottles, papers, brochures, and key cards in her arms. “Voilà or whatever they say here. Key cards for la senoritas.” She looks up and smiles. When she sees Rob, she drops everything on the floor and stares at him, mouth wide-open. “Robert? Oh, my Lord. Is that really you? Come here. Come here!”
Rob takes a step forward and offers his hand. “Hi, Miranda. Looking lovely as ever.”

Mom waves dismissively at him. “Oh, stop it, Robert.” She ignores his hand and gets up on her toes and places a big kiss right on his mouth. “You cannot believe how happy I am to see you here, but,” she turns around and looks at me with a frowned forehead, “girls, why didn’t you tell me Robert was coming?”

“I-I-I didn’t know, I mean, I-I-I wasn’t sure if-if-if...” I stop my bad attempt at lying and give her a halfhearted shrug instead.

Lori doesn’t say anything, but out of the corner of my eye, I’m pretty sure I see her and Robert exchanging looks. Why didn’t I just tell her? Why didn’t I tell Mark? Suddenly, I feel horrible, homesick, hungover, and stupid. I get down on my knees and pick up all the bottles, key cards, papers, and brochures. Why didn’t I just tell them? I look up at Mom as she grabs Rob by the waist and drags him over to Camille.

“Look, Mel, it’s Robert!” she yells in her ear.
I get up, drop all the stuff on the coffee table, and slump down on one of the huge lounge chairs next to Lori.
“He still looks smoking, huh?”

We both look at Rob, standing with his back to us. Mom and Camille are all over him, no longer paying attention to the two underage bellboys with sleek hair and pencil-thin moustaches.
“He does,” I agree as I look at the little black curls at the back of his neck. I feel an urge to reach out and run my fingers through them. I know, it’s weird and wrong. I feel weird and wrong.
“Why didn’t you tell your mom he would be here?” There’s no accusation in her voice. It’s just a question.

“It just seemed weird, I guess. He used to call her ‘Mom,’ you know.” He did. After dating for a year, Mom took him in as the son she never had, showering him with more love and attention than she had ever given us girls, which made me wonder if boys would have been a better fit for a mother who had a hard time being around three younger and prettier versions of herself, constantly reminding her of the youth we had stolen away from her. Even Dad, Mr Emotionally Challenged, loved him and used to call him “The son-in-law” (Rob always knew he wanted to go to law school). It was all picture-perfect.

“You okay?” Lori looks at me with a million unanswered questions. “I mean, with Rob being here and everything?”
“Yes,” I lie. Suddenly, I don’t know what I’m doing here, in Rome, in this hotel with my mom and old boyfriend.


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