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"How did you two meet?" is the question everyone asks when you're in love. This is:
The Story of Us
It's my first week of grad school. I carry sketchbooks and even have a paintbrush tucked in my bra, and I've stuffed my schedule with all things "art." I walk into the auditorium, bounce down on one of the plush red seats, and when I look up, there's this tall man standing on stage under the spotlight. He's so good-looking I wonder if he thinks he's here for theater practice, or maybe I'm here for theater practice, and the last time I was in a play was in the third grade where I played a tree, and had stage fright so bad I plucked all my leaves off backstage, so by the time I was literally shoved under the spotlight for my fifteen seconds of fame, my branches were as bare as the day I was born, and my first line was supposed to be: "Summer, beautiful summer. You make my leaves so green." Instead of delivering the line, I peed my pants the second the curtain went up. I've never graced the stage again.
I glance at my schedule to make sure I'm in the right place, and yep, this is it, Fifteenth Century Renaissance Sculptures. Alex Wallace, TA. Welcome to my favorite class, I think, as I settle back, plant my flip-flops on the seat in front of me, and start sucking on the end of my pen. In my mind, I am painting him.
He has a soccer player's lean but strong body. Dark hair and dark eyes, and I really like his facial structure. It is the first time in my life I've ever noticed, really noticed a man's chin, and I have been sketching nude models since undergrad. Nevertheless, the rest of him isn't bad either. His olive skin glows, and his cheekbones look as if they've been sculpted from marble, which is ironic given the subject. I wonder what our kids will look like.
I'm from hearty Nordic stock, with fair skin, white-blond hair, and eyes some people accuse of being aqua. We are two opposite but beautiful things. I want two kids. Our first will have his dark hair and my eyes. The second, my blond hair and his eyes and cheekbones. I continue thinking of combinations while he meticulously sets up a slide show. He's dressed in a shirt and a tie. The professor doesn't even wear a tie. He is trying too hard. I imagine my fingers touching his neck, loosening his tie, unbuttoning his shirt. Maybe a kiss or twelve for luck. I wish our culture wasn't so hung up on clothes. I would love to sketch him in the nude while he works.
But it's not until he speaks, or should I say, performs his lecture, that I lift right out of my seat. He's not just a pretty face; Alex Wallace is electric. The words and phrases that pour out of him startle me.
Sculpted, chiseled, formed. Carved busts. Young virgins. Ideal images. Unbaked clay. Fired bronze. Rough stone. Flat chisels. Toothed chisels. Clawed chisels. Glazed terra-cotta. Putto Poised on a Globe.
By the time he finishes, I have to look around to see if anyone else is this turned on. Except for a girl a few rows ahead leaning forward and chewing on her hair, and a slim boy at the aisle with his fingers clasped under his chin like he's praying, everyone else seems unfazed. When the lecture is over, I remain seated and wait until the place empties out. Alex Wallace gathers up his things and is gone. He doesn't even glance at me on the way out. Interesting. I take a deep breath. I am the only person in the auditorium. A peaceful, almost holy anticipation hovers above the sea of red seats. The overhead lights click off one by one, leaving just a single halo spilling out from the ghost light standing center stage.
What, exactly, just happened here? I feel as if I've been sculpted, and chiseled, and formed, and roughed, and toothed, and clawed, and my terra-cotta glazed. And I remember nothing of the lecture. Because while the rest of the class was furiously taking notes on The Rape of the Sabine Women, I was staring at Alex Wallace, and thinking: That's the man I'm going to marry.
It is quite disturbing given my proclamation on day one: "I'm going to marry my art and let boys be my playthings!" I leave the theater in a daze and pretty much wander around the same way until I know Megan will be back at the dorm. I plop down on my bunk and harass her until she agrees to help me formulate a nine-point plan of attack to get Alex Wallace to marry me. Because that's what descendants of Vikings do; they plan their attacks. I am cocky and in the bloom of my beauty. He doesn't stand a chance.
Lena and Alex date. The CliffsNotes:
Courtship, courtship, courtship, young love, hot sex, young love, hot sex, dorm rooms, sweatpants, breakfast cereal, jealousy, fight, fight, fight, young love, hot sex, pregnancy scare, false alarm, back to using condoms religiously, fight, break up, go out with a jerk and see Alex's jealous side, back together, hot sex, jealousy, marriage proposal—sealed with Froot Loops and a kiss in the cafeteria.
* * *
We marry right after Alex finishes grad school. I decide not to finish because LOVE is my future. I don't need school to be an artist; the world will be my canvas. Neither of us is working yet, so it's the perfect time for a honeymoon. We are going to be that couple, educated and artistic; we are going to travel. We look at each other and say, "Florence!" Then, "Jinx. You owe me a Coke!"
All the major works of art and architecture Alex loves are in Florence. And I get to be the girl who takes him there. And of course, I'm still an artist too. Just an artist a little more in love with her husband than she is with her canvases. Between my parents, his odd jobs, and credit cards, we scrape enough money together for three blissful weeks. We'll spend most of the time in Florence, but take side trips to Rome, Milan, and Venice. Our flowered-vinyl suitcases are packed and waiting at the edge of the bed.
Picture this. I am dressed in my honeymoon slash airplane outfit (sweat suit with lacey red bra and panties underneath), reaching for my suitcase, when the phone rings. Maybe it wasn't that close of a call, but if you think that's pushing it, sometimes I imagine it as us sitting on the plane; Alex is just starting to reach into my sweat pants when the stewardess (that's what we called her back then; get over it) snatches up a ringing phone from the back of one of the seats, holds it out to Alex, and says, "It's for you."
However it happens, it is the university; they have a professor position to fill, and they want him to start yesterday. They definitely aren't going to wait for a honeymoon. Italy is going to have to wait.
"We'll go winter break," Alex says. I am determined to be a Perfect Wife, and I agree. But by the time winter break comes along, we have purchased the perfect little "starter home" (still live there to this day), and we are strapped. And nobody can tell me our bodily fluids don't have a warped sense of humor, because this is the exact time his sperm and my egg pick to dance the tango. Now I am pregnant. Alex is terrified of raising a family on such a meager salary. I know he is thinking of our honeymoon.
"What's the use of going to Italy if I can't drink wine or eat soft cheese?" I say. "We'll go next year."
Alex gathers my hands in his and gazes into my eyes. "Are you sure, Llama?" he says. "Are you sure?" My name is Lena, but Alex always calls me Llama. Drama Llama, if I get particularly worked up about something.
"Of course I'm sure," I say. I'm not at all. I am confused. I am terrified that if we don't go now, we'll never go. Does he want me to insist? Why doesn't he insist? I want him to insist. Will this set a precedent for the rest of our marriage? I wait, and he does not insist. It's a definite chink in his armor. I make a conscious decision to play the martyr. "Next year we'll take our child with us and properly introduce him or her to gondola rides, savory pasta, and cobblestone streets," I say.
Alex kisses me and says, "Our child will love it. And we'll still find plenty of time to be alone. After all, Italy is the country of amore."
"Let's practice," I say. "We'll get wine and cheese, overflow the bathtub, and pretend it's Venice."
But when our daughter Rachel is a year old, instead of Italy we take her to a petting zoo where she promptly develops an irrational fear of tiny goats. I never imagined motherhood would be so time-consuming and exhausting. Why in the world would I want to take an infant to Italy? I showed her my favorite Monet painting in a lovely book I purchased, and she spit up on it. If we went to Italy now, Alex would enjoy it, and I would be on baby duty.
And then, just when Rachel is getting old enough to appreciate more than the primary colors, I secretly start to plan another trip. I throw up from excitement. At least that's what I think. But no. I am pregnant again. We're already in debt, and I just got over the baby stage. This is the American Dream? It's going to kill me. God does not want me to go to Italy, I think. He is tormenting me. And of course, I love our son, Josh. But once again I am exhausted, and we are in more debt, and no matter how much I clean, our home still looks like the site of a toy factory explosion. Alex works long hours, and one kid or the other is always at the doctor, and one day Alex brings home a golden retriever puppy, and I say no because who else is going to end up walking it and picking up its poop, and taking it to the vet, but it is a cuddly ball of orange fur, and she makes Rachel belly laugh like an old man. Most days, by the time the kids are in bed and the dog is sleeping, I'm too wrecked to do anything but watch television. Some days I wonder what my life would have been like if I had never met Alex Wallace. The only paints I touch are finger paints. Even my macaroni sculptures suck. Rachel's are way better. Alex is still himself, still pursuing his love of all things marble and stone, yet I am turning into someone else, someone I don't always recognize and don't always like. I am so far from the girl I used to be, and I am jealous of her, as if she is an entirely different person. I still love Alex, but I no longer imagine painting him.
When vacation times come around, we go to Gettysburg, and New York City at Christmas time, and New Hampshire one summer, and Disneyland. We can't afford to go to Europe, but we do make it to Toronto one year and let the kids gorge on maple syrup. Gradually, we even stop speaking of Italy; neither of us wants to admit that we have become those people—the kind who do not do what they say they are going to do. Until the day Alex comes home from work, asks my mother to babysit, and takes me to the Olive Garden.
It's so rare that the two of us go out, especially on a school night. I feel a little naughty and thrilled. Even if it is a chain restaurant near the mall. I finish two family-sized bowls of salad and an entire basket of bread by myself. Alex orders the soup (the soup!) and barely takes a bite.
"What's going on, Alex?"
His drops his spoon into the bowl. It sends ripples through his Pasta Fagioli. "I've been offered an incredible work opportunity."
"Okay." I know from his tone, he doesn't think I'm going to like it.
"It's in Florence. Teaching Renaissance art at the American university."
"Are you kidding me?"
"As a heart attack."
"Oh my God. Oh my God." It feels like Christmas. Which is also my birthday. Excitement times two. It's taken us sixteen years, but we are going to do it. We are all going to Florence. "Oh my God," I say again. I wish I hadn't eaten all the breadsticks so I could make them do a happy dance. "When do we leave?"
Alex gently takes my hands. Why isn't he smiling? "Just one semester."
"A whole semester?" I whoop. A whole semester? That's a long time. That's like living there. Just when I thought my life was stale and monotonous and never going to get exciting ever again. I am a new woman. You just never know what's around the corner. I used to hate when people said that, but now I see they are right. Oh my God. I am going to live in Florence. I am going to start painting again. This is the dream. We are going to be living the dream. I am going to have sex with him tonight no matter what. "Let's go. We have to start packing." I throw my arm up like I'm going to catch a cab, hoping our waitress will see me, since I can't tell which one was ours in the sea of striped shirts.
"I have to leave next week."
"I'm a fast packer."
"Llama. Listen to me."
"Why aren't you more excited?"
"I'm going to Florence. Not all of us. Just me."
My hand falls to my side. My heart thumps. An immediate lump forms in my throat. I did not just hear him say that. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"We can't just yank the kids out of school."
"Why not? Art. Architecture. A new language and culture. They'll learn more there in one semester than they would the entire year in school."
"What about soccer? And dance? Josh has a tournament, and Rachel has a big recital coming up."
"They'll get over it." I know, the second I say it, it isn't exactly true. Josh is obsessed with soccer, and Rachel with dance. But truth be told, neither of them are very good at their respective sports, so it's not like I'm stunting the next Beckham or Baryshnikov.
"They're putting me up in a dorm. Not even a hotel. A dorm."
"We'll look for a place on craigslist or something."
"What about Stella?"
"My God, Alex. She's a dog. We board her. You don't want us to go; is that it?"
"It's just not logistically or financially in our best interest."
I cannot believe he is sitting across from me, saying this. There is no way, no way, he's going to Florence without me. "It's Florence, Alex. Florence." I give him the look, the one that says, I gave up my honeymoon for you.
"Here's what I've been thinking. You guys will come at the end of the semester. When I've made some money, and actually have time to show you guys around. We should be able to afford four or five days."
"No, no, no," I say. "We all have to go together."
"It's work, Lena."
"It's Florence, Alex," I say. We spend the entire time up until he leaves arguing about it. But the kids don't want to go, and when I try and talk to the teachers they don't see how there is enough time to arrange "homeschooling" or any viable alternative. When Alex actually goes, I am stunned, truly stunned. It feels like I've been deeply betrayed. I try and convince myself he's right—it's just work. It doesn't help.
I want to stroll the piazzas, tour the Uffizi Gallery, and drink Tuscan wine on a rooftop overlooking the undulating hills. I sit in Alex's office, staring at him on the computer screen. He's been there almost two weeks now, and he keeps saying how fast it's going, but he's a liar. Tranquilized sloths move faster. He looks so happy, and really tan, and I feel as if I have a mouthful of glass. He's talking, and I'd better start listening, because so far I haven't heard a word he's said.
"So I took the class, on the spur of the moment, just said, 'Right, everybody up,' and we caught a bus back to the center of the city, and our timing was perfect, Llama, it was like it was meant to be."
"We stood back and just gazed at it. The surface was shiny and white, but then as the sun slipped down, it was true, the marble glowed pink. It was incredible."
"Where was this?"
"What do you mean?"
"What glowed pink?"
"I got the marble part—but the marble where?"
"You weren't listening."
"Just tell me."
"The Duomo." He sounds frustrated. With me. I hate him in this moment. The only thing glowing pink around here are the towels I just put in the dryer because when I asked Rachel to throw them in the laundry, she didn't notice the red kitchen towel hiding in among them. And he's frustrated with me? Why would he go on and on about how great it is when he knows I want to be there? Doesn't he want us there? How much am I supposed to take?
"I really don't care," I say.
"I mean it. Good for you. I have to go."
"Don't hang up mad."
"Do you even miss me?"
"Of course. How can you ask that?"
"I can't stand that you're there without me."
"You're going to be here soon, Llama. Look how fast these two weeks have gone by."
"Right." So I try. Because he's right. We will be there soon enough. I might as well make the best of it. Soccer practice. Dance lessons. Homework. Taking care of the dog, cooking all the meals, doing all the shopping, all the yard work. The kids miss their dad. They blame me, and although I know it's misplaced—just transference—it's not fair. Some nights I yell at them for the same reason. Rachel turned fourteen without her father at her birthday party. I let her have a sleepover with all her friends, and I made a special cake, and bought her an iPod, and all she could talk about was the top he bought her in Italy. The next morning after dropping all of her friends at their homes, she asked if we could go shopping so she could find something new to match her new favorite shirt, and I had the gall to say no, that we had a house ravaged by teenagers that needed cleaning.
Excerpted from Three Months in Florence by MARY CARTER. Copyright © 2013 by Mary Carter. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 29, 2013
The second that Lena laid eyes on Alex, she knew that he was the man she was going to marry. She envisioned what their children would look like and how their life would be. They spoke about honeymooning in Italy and visiting the Cinque Terre, but that was 16 years ago. Now married with two children, and still awaiting that trip to Italy, Lena has spent the last six months caring for her kids on her own while her husband is in Florence on a business trip. But is Lena bitter that her husband is frolicking through the Mediterranean without her? You best believe she is! She always thought that they would go to Italy together. Instead, Alex is there without her and Lena is less than pleased about this.
Then the day comes that changed everything. Lena receives a package and inside are a dozen long stem roses. Lena’s mother has always said that men only give flowers for two reasons: it’s your birthday or they’re feeling guilty. The card attached simply read: I’M SORRY. Today was the day that Alex was to be coming home. He should be on the airplane right now. Lena tried calling Alex but got his voicemail. That’s when she decided to try Skyping him. Instead of Alex answering the video call, a young, gorgeous Italian woman does. Her name is Alexandria and, to Lena’s surprise, is Alex’s Italian mistress!
Lena refuses to let her marriage go without a fight. She packs up her two kids (and even the dog) and heads to Italy. This is not how her first trip to Italy was supposed to be. She was supposed to be walking hand in hand with Alex, taking in the sights and enjoying the culture. Instead, she’s with her kids, dragging around her dog and sweating profusely all while trying to hide her swollen, red eyes behind sunglasses. How will Alex react when he finds out they are in Italy? Will Lena be able to save her marriage? Or has Alex decided to throw away 16 years of marriage for a woman he barely knows? Come spend Three Months In Florence and find out!
I really enjoyed this book. Mary Carter did a great job grabbing my attention from the beginning. With every page, I became more and more engrossed in the story. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next and felt like I was right there with them in Italy. The characters were so well written. I found myself rooting for Lena and wanting to strangle Alex! The author did a great job captivating my attention, yet swirling in subtle humor. I thought her writing was brilliant. I truly loved this book and would absolutely recommend it to others. I give this book cinque stelle (five stars)!
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Posted January 4, 2014
Three Months in Florence was a quick, easy read. I really enjoyed the setting, and the story was interesting. Lena finds out her husband has an Italian mistress. The book transports readers to Florence, but the whole scene is soured by and for Lena because of her obsession of getting revenge. I didn't quite agree with the actions Lena takes, or rather how long it takes her to get a grip on her own reality. BUT, I really felt for her, and I enjoyed the story.
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Posted August 1, 2014
Posted December 14, 2013
Reviewed by Karen Pirnot for Readers' Favorite
Mary Carter's latest novel, Three Months in Florence, offers the reader a breathtaking glimpse into the potential for marital disaster. Lena Wallace has been married to her husband Alex for sixteen years. They have seemingly been kind and gentle years of love, children, and commitment. Then, Alex takes a teaching job in Florence, Italy and Lena uncovers a horrible secret of betrayal. Italy is where she dreamed of honeymooning and now, Alex is apparently experiencing the romance of the city without Lena. She is devastated and she decides to take matters into her own hands.
Three Months in Florence speaks of the potential disaster of a single, impulsive decision in a marital relationship. It explores the feelings of the partners with depth of understanding and raw emotional experience. Mary Carter makes Lena's ruminations so real that they jump off the page and threaten to enter the heart of the reader. The thoughts and emotions are poignant and they speak of the promise and the limitations expressed in the marriage vows. The characterizations of Lena, Alex, and their teenage daughter Rachel are right out of today's world. They think, act, and feel their parts such that readers will try to put themselves into the story and figure out how they might have acted under the same circumstances. Just when you think a decision is made, another possibility surfaces and you ponder to the end what really happened in this story. This is a marvelous interweaving of the problems of today and how they affect and change the people who experience them.
Posted August 15, 2013
I Also Recommend:
Who would like three months in Florence Italy?
The second part of our trip to Italy takes us to Three Months in Florence by Mary Carter. Thank you to Mary Carter and Kensington Books for sending me this novel.
Lena has the perfect man and the perfect family. Or does she? One night Alex her husband asks her to dinner at a local restaurant to give her some news. He tells her that he has been asked to teach in Florence Italy at the university. Lena is beside herself with excitement because she has dreamed of going to Italy for sixteen years. Could this really be happening? Then Alex tells her that he will go himself and there will not be room for the family. Lena perseveres because there is a promise of being able to visit. Then Alex tells her that he has been asked to teach another semester. Lena is livid and then tells him he is coming home. The day arrives and Alex is not there but a Skype to Italy reveals he has a mistress. The trip to Italy does happen. How will Lena respond? Will she get her husband back?
I loved the idea of a novel set in Italy. The author does a great job of setting and the scene in Italy. You will learn about the art of Florence. Conflict is strong throughout with Lena’s fight to win her husband back. I felt for the character of Lena and the pain she must be going through in these circumstances in her life. Also how Lena tried to be a good mother.
The novel asks how would you then confront your husband and heal from these wounds. What can we do for ourselves to heal? What gifts come from these circumstances?
Still a wonderful novel to read this summer!
Posted August 9, 2014
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Posted July 21, 2014
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Posted October 3, 2013
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Posted July 10, 2014
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Posted July 9, 2014
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