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Into the Desert
By Gia Bellardino
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2014 Gia Bellardino
All rights reserved.
I was going to meet a man! The fact that it was raining cats and dogs with a few small children thrown in, be damned. Oh the joys of living in the Pacific Northwest. I dressed in a pair of four-inch Jimmy Choos that had cost me my left kidney, and a light spring dress in green paisley print. Sweater? Jacket? Who needs those? I walked proudly out my door and right into a wind gust that threw my dress up over my head.
The wind whipped through whatever style I had put in my russet-colored layers, but on the bright side, my cheeks were now glowing pink. My car was of little relief and shook with each passing gust of wind. I grabbed an old magazine out of my backseat, ripped out the perfume sample and rubbed it on each wrist and down my neck. Now I was ready.
Sunday dinners at Sam's had become a tradition, and I arrived with a bottle of Merlot in hand and a buttload of anxiety.
I pulled up into the drive and parked in front of one of the two garages. Sam's house was a stunning Craftsman-style construction with the bottom half covered in river rock and the top half painted a cedar brown with forest-green trim. The house, solidly built into the side of a hill, overlooked Pine Lake. With towering pines trees overhead, it wasn't hard to figure out how the lake had gotten its name.
"Ellie!" Sam cried, her sky-blue eyes twinkling. I arrived through the back door that led directly into the expansive kitchen with its whitewashed cabinets and fawn-colored granite counters. Gleaming stainless-steel appliances filled the space, and the floor was covered with Italian tile the color of burnt sand. A huge built-in island held enough space for five bar-style chairs with plenty of room to hold food for a party or for Sam's prep work. It was a kitchen Martha Stewart would gladly spend more time in jail for.
"Samantha Colucci Christensen, you have done it again!" I exclaimed with delight, and gave her a squeeze. "The food smells amazing, and I'm starved."
"Like that's news," Jake said, walking around the corner with a glass of wine in his hand. The smile on his exquisite jawline that could chisel marble only made his green eyes sparkle more. Jake Christensen and I were dancers with BlackRidge Dance Company, a contemporary ballet company in Issaquah.
I had joined the company fresh out of Cornish, a school for the arts in the heart of Seattle. It was hard to believe it had already been two years. I had almost given up on being a full-time dancer, with time growing short. At twenty-four (almost twenty-five), dancing with BlackRidge had given me my dream job. It also meant my mother and father couldn't pressure me to move back east with them. I was born and raised in West Seattle, but my parents decided after I had finished college to move closer to family in New Jersey.
The company boasted only four native Washingtonians, Jake and I making up two of the four. The remaining eight were dancers Nate Marlow, our artistic director, attracted from DC, Philly, and New York who had relocated for a chance to work with him.
I had begun dancing at six, on the recommendation of a child psychologist. I had stopped talking, and if you knew my mother, it wouldn't be too hard to figure out why.
After six months of silence, my mother, rosary beads in hand, took me to see a psychologist. She never knew that the only person I talked to was my brother. The doctor, a kind, elderly woman who always wore bright silk scarves around her neck, thought this was brought on because of my intense fear of social interactions. She thought dancing, an activity that would not require words, would help build my self-esteem and confidence. She was right, and I had taken to movement like a fish to water.
"Hey," Jake whispered to me, locks of his dark curls falling into his face, "there's somebody here I want you to meet." He walked me out of the kitchen with its attached family room and into their adjoining den. I was following Jake so closely that when he stepped aside, I ran smack into a stout Asian man. He giggled and smiled, revealing a gap between his two front teeth large enough to fit a marshmallow.
"Hi, I'm Don Shiakowski." He held out a sweaty palm. To make matters worse, he smelled like rotten onions.
"Uh, er ... hi, I'm Gabrielle," I said, glowering at Jake.
"Jake tells me you two are dancers," he said, somehow making it sound dirty. I had to hold myself back from checking my lipstick in his bald head.
"Uh, yeah, that's us." I laughed nervously.
He grabbed my hand and began examining it. "You know, you can tell a lot about a woman by her hands." Right, I thought to myself, like when I have them around your neck, you're probably going to realize you slightly annoy me.
"Oh, okay," I said, pulling my hand away. "Down, boy."
"You know, I always thought dancers were flat chested, but call me pleasantly surprised by your—."
"Okay!" Jake jumped into help. "Let's get you something to drink, Ellie." Jake grabbed my elbow and ushered me into the kitchen. Don followed like a lost puppy, and I could swear I heard him pass gas.
Sam was busy cutting and chopping, her long ginger-blonde curls bouncing around her shoulders as she moved. Jake had introduced me to Samantha at one of the dance company's functions right after I joined the company. He introduced us mostly because he couldn't believe that two women in his life would have an Italian-Swedish heritage, although we couldn't have looked more different. Different or not, we were instantly best friends.
"You better make that a double of whatever you're pouring, Jake," I said, eyeing him with as much disdain as I could muster. Don Juan had joined Sam at the kitchen island and was busy putting on an apron.
Jake and I were huddled on the other side of the kitchen in front of the built-in wet bar.
Jake poured me two fingers of whiskey in a glass and handed it to me.
"Okay, I'm sorry, El," Jake apologized, batting his dark lashes for extra effect. "Sam thought it would be good if you—you know, actually went out on a date." I eyed Jake and gulped down a sip of Jack. He was wearing a pair of tan slacks and a black V- neck T-shirt that he filled out nicely.
"And this is what you two think of me?" I whispered to Jake, peering over at Sam and Don Juan chopping happily together at the kitchen island.
"Well, we weren't sure what your type is, actually."
"Type?" I whispered back pointing my finger at him. "Let's start with finding someone within my own species! You are so going to owe me—and I mean, big time".
"Oh boy," Jake responded, dragging his face through his hand.
"You have a little remorse right here," I said and pretended to wipe a crumb off the corner of my mouth.
"Funny," he retorted back. "Don't quit your day job."
I wandered over to the island and hopped up into one of the chairs. "So, Don," I began, "where do you work?"
"Uh, I am a sous chef at Maximilien's." His little bulbous nose moved around on his face when he talked.
"That's a nice place," I commented, watching the two of them work magic on some vegetables. I had never been to Maximilien's but knew that it was a fine French restaurant smack in the heart of Pike Place Market. I had also heard that the views of Puget Sound, Elliot Bay, and the Olympic Mountains were breathtaking.
"So, Don, tell me about being a sous chef." I listened with the all the might I could muster. Really I did. I found myself choreographing in my head instead.
Setting the onion smell aside, I pushed on through dinner, trying to find a topic of conversation that Don didn't start or end with "A hooker I once dated ..."
I said a little prayer of thanks when he announced he needed to go check on his mother's cat. I reluctantly walked him to the front door.
"Well, Ellie," he started, and I knew this was going to go no place good. "You're a beautiful woman, and I think we have some real chemistry."
"Really?" I asked, scrunching my face in disbelief.
"Oh, Ellie," he started, "you really are a little vixen, aren't you?" He leaned into me to give me a kiss goodnight, but I blocked his advance with an elbow to the chin.
"Oh, Don! I'm so sorry!" I feigned. The blow had sent him stumbling back a couple of steps, and he was rubbing his chin. "Sorry, just reflexes."
"A woman with a little spirit; I like it!" he said, giggling. Oh good God.
"Don, it was"—I paused, searching for the right word—"an experience to meet you." I ushered him out the door.
"Oh, Ellie," he said, giggling again, "I think if you—" I cut him off by giving the door a good push, slamming it in his face, and walked back into the kitchen.
"Really?" Sam and Jake were standing at the kitchen island. I adjusted my dress in exasperation and blew out a sigh.
"I admit it, now. It was not one of my better ideas," Sam confessed sheepishly and crinkled her nose. She was casually leaning on the granite island, still wearing her "Chefs Do It on Four Burners" apron. "I highly regret my decision to set you up."
"Hey don't talk to me about regrets – I once ate sushi in Tijuana."
Jake inhaled through his teeth. "Ooh yeah I remember that. That was definitely not a fun night and don't get me started on rehearsal the next day." We both shivered at the memory and drained our wine glasses with a gulp.
"So, why on earth would you think that is the type of person I would be attracted to?" I asked throwing my thumb in the direction of the front door.
"Oh, El, I just want you to be happy, and you never go out and have fun," she admitted.
"Well, that's true, but how about you let me pick who I want to go out with?"
She shook her head in agreement dropped her shoulders and blew out a sigh.
Jake was eyeing the two of us closely with a smirk on his face. "You handled that much better than I thought you would," he commented.
"Well, chalk it up to old age," I teased. "God knows I have no experience in the relationship department."
"Someday, Ellie, you'll meet someone and they'll sweep you off your feet," Sam said, giving me a hug and a chocolate chip cookie as a peace offering.
With a sly grin I grabbed a tin off the counter and shoved it towards her. "Load it up with those cookies if you'd like me to forgive you before the next millennium." She did and I hit the road before ten.
The rhythm of my windshield wipers provided background for a local country station playing on the radio. The road was dark, and it was late and colder than it should be for mid-April. I was regretting my fashion choices and the last four hours of my life.
The bang, whoosh, flap, flap, flap of my left front tire snapped me out of my thoughts. "Holy Mary, Mother of God!" flew out of my mouth as I hung on to the steering wheel with a death grip. I braked slowly, pulled to the side of the road, and held my breath until my truck came to a halt.
I slowly exhaled out a groan as I hit my head over and over on my steering wheel.
The rain pelted my legs and began to soak the thin layer of my cotton-blend dress, and my shoulder-length hair was now matted to my face. With the jack in hand, I was kneeling by the side of the road, staring at my blown tire, when headlights from an oncoming car hit me straight in the face.
"Great," I said, sharing my grief with my blown tire. "Isn't this how all the horror flicks start? Young girl, in the pouring rain, alone (in heels no less), on the side of a dark and dreary road—" and then a door opened and slammed shut on a large truck that had pulled over. A statuesque figure silhouetted by the headlights walked toward me. I squinted to see that the newly arrived stranger was fit, wearing a pair of jeans, T-shirt, and running shoes. I could see the outline of a strong muscular upper body and short-cropped hair.
"Looks like you could use some help," the new arrival yelled through the rain and wind that had picked up.
"Y-yes, that would be g-g-great," I stuttered, the cold now starting to penetrate the layers of my skin. I was taken aback by the realization that my soon-to-be-rescuer was a woman.
I could see a look quickly flash across her eyes as she bent down beside me. Thinking she must just feel sorry for me in my current state of despair, I ignored the stare and flung out my hand. "Thanks, my name is G-G-Gabrielle." I shivered, thinking she looked familiar.
"Nice to meet you, Gabrielle," she said, but she didn't take my offer of a handshake, and instead focused immediately on the state of my flat tire. I could see she was tan, but the kind of tan that came from heredity and hard labor in the sun, not from one of the tanning beds that was so common here in the Northwest.
"Why don't you get out of the rain?" she said, giving me a once-over, head to toe. Her azurite-blue eyes were mesmerizing, and a dazzling set of white teeth burst through a crook of a smile.
Realizing my dress must be soaked enough to see through, I threw an arm over my chest. Right, I thought to myself, and today you decided to not wear a bra either.
"Don't worry, it's not see-through yet," she said, interrupting my internal dialogue as if reading my thoughts. "You can sit in my truck and stay warm. I'll have this fixed in a few minutes," she said, throwing her head in the direction of her truck.
"Are y-you s-sure?" I stammered, standing up with my arms wrapped around myself.
At this her smile exploded. "Yes, I'm sure."
Her truck was warm and comfortable but not overly luxurious. The gray leather interior was soft, and I suddenly felt guilty for dripping all over it. I pulled down the visor and found a mirror on the back side. I gasped at what was looking back and immediately decided to start buying waterproof mascara. She was right; it took only a few minutes until she had my new tire on, and the flat and the jack put in the back of the truck. She motioned for me, and I jumped out of her truck back into the storm and ran to my truck.
"Okay, you should be all good," she shouted.
"Thank you. How can I repay you?" I shouted back. "I don't even know your name."
"No need to repay me, and my name is Mickaela. Mickaela Colucci." The rain had soaked her T-shirt, revealing every dip and swell of her upper body.
"Colucci? As in Samantha Colucci's sister?!"
"Yes, the one and the same," she said as she turned to go. "So I guess I'll be seeing you often then, huh?" she added with another crook of a smile, and she was in her truck before I even had a chance to put two thoughts together. I jumped into the cab of my truck as she pulled away toward Pine Lake.
How does she know that I'll be seeing her often? Does she know that her sister and I are best friends? With thoughts about the strange interaction running through my head, I headed back to my house a few miles away.
I arrived home to my redbrick cottage wet, cold, and irritated. The house I rent was a mother-in-law cottage in the back of Mrs. Mackenzie's large, stately colonial-style manor a few blocks from Olde Town Issaquah and Front Street. I'm not sure what the purpose of the cottage used to be, but given that the house was hand built by masons around the turn of the century, I had always imagined that it was the caretaker's quarters.
Whatever the original purpose, the cottage now sat stoically silent with all the years of inhabitants and their burdens, even mine. The driveway that ran next to the house also led to my front door. I unlocked my door and tumbled into my house, wet and frozen to the bone. I cranked up the heat and ripped off my clothes, tossing them onto the floor. My cottage was one large room and came fully furnished. Gorgeous old oak floors spread throughout that creaked and complained with every footstep. Faded flower wallpaper covered every inch of the walls, casting a warm pink hue. There was a built-in sitting area in the bay window that looked out at Mrs. Mackenzie's rose garden and long driveway. I had covered the seating area with a dozen plush pillows in every color of pink and green I could find. It was one of my favorite places in the whole world. A mahogany sleigh bed that had definitely seen more action than it currently was experiencing sat in the middle of the cottage. The bed took up so much of the space, you had to walk around it to get to the galley kitchen, that held a gold-colored stove and refrigerator. The kitchen counter and backsplash was a spattering of pink and gray subway tiles, and the cabinets were painted the same pink as the flowers on the wallpaper.
I walked through my closet and into the bathroom, which was tiled in the same pink-and-gray motif.
I jumped into a steamy hot shower to rid myself of the cold that had permeated every fiber of my body. Mickaela Colucci had rescued me, and now I couldn't get her out of my head and didn't know why. I wondered if I was just irritated about not being able to change my own flat, but there was something about Mickaela I found intriguing. She was ... different and I liked that, I decided. It's okay to like someone who's different from you, right? That's all it is. You've met someone who is different and you're curious, that's all, I thought to myself. I dried my hair, threw on sweats and a T-shirt, and plopped into bed, wrapping myself up as tight as a burrito. Mickaela Colucci. With that thought and a deep sigh, I dropped off to sleep.
Excerpted from Into the Desert by Gia Bellardino. Copyright © 2014 Gia Bellardino. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 Week One, 1,
Chapter 2 Ms Sophie's, 25,
Chapter 3 Rainy Days and Mondays, 39,
Chapter 4 The Dinner Party, 56,
Chapter 5 Mount Si, 76,
Chapter 6 The Show Must Go On, 90,
Chapter 7 Aftermath, 111,
Chapter 8 If at First You Don't Succeed, 130,
Chapter 9 The Island, 148,
Chapter 10 Home Is Where the Heart Is, 176,
Chapter 11 Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, 207,
Chapter 12 Call of Duty, 226,
Chapter 13 In the Name of Friendship, 242,
Chapter 14 Into the Desert, 271,
Chapter 15 Cerulean Waters, 289,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great airplane read - moves along quickly. We can't help who we fall in love with and I appreciated that the author took an every day girl and put her in an usual romantic situation. Worth a read but keep an open mind!
I loved this book!!! It's clear this is a first time author but enjoyed the story nonetheless. I enjoyed the surprises and the characters of Ellie and Micki. Several topics made me stop and think and I needed a tissue a couple times throughout as well. Can't wait for the second part!