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The Rome Affair
By Laura Caldwell
MIRACopyright © 2006 Laura Caldwell
All right reserved.
Iunderstand now that innocence is relative. I know that the night before I left for Rome, I felt jaded. After all we'd been through, I thought I'd aged somehow and lost my sparkle. I only wish I'd grasped then that the fall from innocence was a very long one.
"Why do you want to go to Italy with Kit?" Nick sat on the bed and watched through the bathroom doorway as I went about my nighttime ministrations -- cleanser, toner, moisturizer, eye cream. Why I used all this crap, I wasn't sure.
"I have a pitch at that architectural firm, and you can't go because of work," I answered. I leaned toward the mirror and dabbed cream around my left eye.
"You've hardly seen Kit in years," Nick said.
"You don't have to see a friend to be a friend."
Although Kit had been a bridesmaid in our wedding four years ago, she'd moved to California shortly after to try her hand at acting. We didn't talk every week, or even every month, but we never lost the bond best girlfriends have. After a few years of escalating credit-card debt and many failed auditions, Kit was back in Chicago, and I was more grateful than ever to have her near. At thirty-five, most of my friends were moms -- what I thought I'd be, too -- and they were no longer available for nights at wine bars, let alone trips to Rome.
"Why are you so worked up aboutthis?" I asked Nick.
"I'm not, Rachel. I'm just curious."
But my husband, Dr. Nick Blakely, was worked up. I could tell from the way he ran his fingers through his curly, close-clipped hair and rubbed at the spot between his eyes. He was also acting overly casual. His tie was loosened after a long day seeing patients, and he leaned back with one hand on the creamy ivory sheets of our bed, but there was a stiffness to the way he held himself.
"You have to be careful in Italy," he continued.
"Especially with the guys."
"Is that right?" This came out sounding a bit like a taunt, and I let it hang in the air.
How strange that after all the therapy, after all the crying and the repiecing of our relationship, it was Nick who worried about me, as if retribution lay in wait around a corner somewhere.
"Nick, I've traveled to Rome before. I lived in Italy."
"You were twelve when you lived there with your family, and it was for six months. And since then you've always traveled with me. Now it's just you and Kit. I mean, I'm glad you're going with someone, but you still have to be careful," Nick said. "There are all sorts of guys who love to prey on American women."
"I am quite sure I can handle the Italian men," I said.
I took a second's pleasure in the stricken look that flitted across his face, but even now, I hated to see him hurt.
"Nick," I said, moving to the bed and sitting on his lap. "You don't have to worry about me."
On Saturday, Nick dropped Kit and me at O'Hare airport. The arrival gates were mobbed with cars and cabs, all with doors and trunks ajar. The May air was balmy, with sudden gusts of wind that sent stray papers floating into the air. "Golden Girl," Nick murmured, hugging me fiercely.
That nickname of mine had started with Kit. "Golden Child," she used to call me when we were growing up. It was mostly based on my last name -- Goldin -- but it was also because I was an only child of relatively affluent parents, and I had, quite simply, enjoyed a very nice time of it. I knew that was true, even when I was young.
When I met Nick at an art-gallery party in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood, he immediately began calling me Golden Girl. Again there was my name, and Nick said he saw a gold light in my pale green eyes, too.
When we got married, despite changing my name to Blakely, I felt so lucky and so special I thought I would be the Golden Wife. I thought I'd have the Golden Life.
So far, it hadn't turned out exactly like that.
I hugged Nick back, thinking that it was usually he who went away on business trips, leaving me at home, saying little prayers that the paper he had to present would go smoothly, that he was sleeping okay and not drinking too much or eating too poorly. But I was ready for some girls' time with Kit. Now it was his turn.
Nick finally let me go but held one of my hands in his. He looked at Kit. "Have a nice time," he said formally.
Nearly everyone talked to Kit that way since she'd returned from L.A. No one knew what to do with her, I suppose. She hadn't quite found a career, she didn't have a boyfriend or husband. She'd been a struggling actress in L.A., a hard-luck existence most of us in Chicago had little in common with. And yet Kit also had a sparkly kind of mystery about her. Even now, she wore rose-colored mirrored sunglasses and a taupe chiffon scarf around her neck, her rusty red hair tousled artfully. If she took off the glasses, you could see that her blue eyes were almost purple, depending on what she was wearing, and those eyes had a sly, knowing way about them. She looked like an intriguing woman, a Hollywood starlet on the lam. As one of her closest friends, though, I knew she was hurting from her failures out West.
"Thanks, Nick." She smiled at him.
I breathed a sigh of gratitude for that grin. Those who knew about our marital problems were furious at Nick. They either refused to talk to him, or they made snide remarks when they did. I knew he was getting sick of being the whipping boy, and I didn't like it, either. Although I could taunt him and stalk away all I wanted, I didn't want anyone else treating him badly.
"Meet you at the ticket counter?" I said to Kit. She readjusted the scarf around her neck. "Sure thing."
I turned to him when she'd left. "What are you going to do while I'm gone?"
"Work. Miss you like crazy."
I smiled. "Get some sleep, huh?"
Nick and I spent our evenings together again, but after I'd gone to bed, he would work late into the night on a new paper, hoping it would bring him a partnership. He'd gone into plastic surgery not for the glamour surgeries and the money they brought, but for the real treatments that could help people. But now that he was at the best plastic surgery office in the city, he had to perform those glam surgeries, and he had to publish to get promoted to partner.
"I doubt I'll get much sleep," Nick said. "I've got to take a couple of board members to dinner, too."
"When do they decide?"
He rolled his eyes. "A month or so."
Despite his feigned nonchalance, Nick was anxious about making it on The Chicago General Auxiliary Board -- what everyone in the city called The board. It was a group of handpicked young and influential people who threw parties, ostensibly to raise funds for Chicago General Hospital, where Nick was on staff, but really to identify themselves as the creme de la creme of Chicago society. Nick wanted to get on the board not only to improve his chances of becoming partner, but also because he'd always been a member of the in-crowd growing up in Philadelphia. His father was a longstanding politician, and although the Blakelys had never been wealthy, they were exceptionally well connected and admired. They were invited to every soiree and function in town. When Nick took off for med school, and eventually his residency in Chicago, he said he was leaving Philly so that he wouldn't ride his family's coattails. But the limelight was a place where Nick was accustomed to being. He missed it. And although I could be just as happy in our basement painting my black-and-white photos as I could be at a grand charity ball, I supported Nick. I'd known our social life would be a busy one.
Nick kissed me on the forehead. "Good luck with your sales pitch, hon."
I closed my eyes, leaned into him and inhaled the warm scent he always carried, as if he'd just come in from the sun. "Thanks. And really, Nick, make sure you sleep enough."
"You know I only sleep with you."
We both froze for a second. It was the kind of remark that was supposed to be light, but was now only a reference to what used to be true.
"Seriously," Nick said, rushing in to fill the silence, to fix it. "I meant I'll be up all night because I won't know what to do without you."
I took a step back and looked away. To my right, a dad struggled to extract a stroller from the trunk of his car. That was the kind of problem I thought Nick and I would be having at this point -- how to fit the stroller in the car, where to put the crib, what color to paint the nursery.
Excerpted from The Rome Affair by Laura Caldwell Copyright © 2006 by Laura Caldwell. Excerpted by permission.
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