It had been a long, arduous half hour for Tiffany Wheeler, and she feared it would get worse before it got better. Her boyfriend, Russell, stood a few feet away, his head cocked to the side, eyes wild. He brushed a lock of his black hair out of his eye, unbuttoned his suit jacket, and stared at her the way he always did right before his blood reached its boiling point and was about to bubble over. “What do you mean you don’t want to live in LA anymore?” he asked. “Why not?” “I’ve already told you why,” she said. “I’m tired of the fast-paced life. I want to move back home.” “You said you were coming here to do a few simple renovations to this house before you listed it,” he said. “I get here and the place is a flipping disaster. You’ve torn down walls, gutted the kitchen. What gives?” Tiffany remained quiet, considering the best way to proceed. It didn’t matter what she said. Russell was used to getting his way, something he wouldn’t get tonight. He was in denial. She was avoiding what had still been left unsaid.
Confrontation of any kind had always been difficult between them in the two years they’d been together. Russell was used to the high life, climbing the corporate ladder, and taking any steps necessary to rise to the top. In their relationship, it had always been his way or no way. And Tiffany now realized since they’d been together, she hadn’t just lost her identity; she’d lost her voice. I think we should break up were the words she needed to say. Such simple words. And yet, she struggled to bring herself to say them. “I’ve decided to keep the house,” she said. “And I think we should … it’s just … I’ve done a lot of thinking since I’ve been here, and you’re a good guy. But I don’t think we’re right for each other.
I waited until tonight to tell you how I was feeling because I hoped the doubts I’d been having about our relationship would go away. They haven’t, and I need to be honest … with you and with myself.” Russell clenched his jaw and stepped back. “What you’re saying is, I’m a good guy, but not a great one. I’m good for you, just not good enough for you.” In a moment of childish defiance, he scooped the flowers he’d just given her off the counter and tossed them at her face. “You want to tell me what’s really going on here?” he barked. “You stepping out on me? Huh? You screwing somebody else?” “Of course not!” she said. “Calm down. You’re being irrational.
” “You want irrational? I’ll give you irrational. I planned on surprising you tonight.” He reached a hand inside his pants pocket, pulled out a ring, and shoved it in front of her face. “I was going to surprise you with this.” An engagement ring? The subject of marriage had never even been discussed before. “You were going to propose?” she asked. He jerked his arm back and hurled the ring across the room, and she watched it disappear into a pile of drywall scraps. “I was going to propose,” he said. “Not anymore. I thought we felt the same way about each other.
Turns out, I’m the idiot. I love you, and you are interested in someone else.” “What are you talking about? I told you the truth. There is no one else.” “The least you could do is not lie to my face.” He pushed her to the side and stormed into the living room, crouching over the area where he’d tossed the ring. She bent down beside him, reaching a hand into the pile to assist. He grabbed her wrist and snapped it back. “Don’t,” he said. “I don’t want your help.
” She ignored the comment and reached in again. He flashed her an infuriated look and thrust a hand into her chest, hurtling her backward. Her head smacked against the wall behind her. Outraged by his physical assault, her first instinct was to shove him back, but when they locked eyes, all she saw in his was pain—a man whose life had just crumbled to dust without any forewarning. “I love you, Tiffany,” he said. “I have no idea what I did to lose you, to deserve what you’re putting me through right …” He stared at the wall, allowing his words to trail off before balling his hands into fists. Not knowing what would come next, Tiffany said, “No, Russell. Whatever you’re thinking of doing … don’t.” She darted to the side. He drilled his fist into the wall inches from where her head had just been and then slumped to the ground beside her.
“I’m gutted,” he whispered. “You’ve torn me in half tonight.” Tiffany exhaled a long breath of air and placed a hand on his shoulder. She let it rest there for a moment, and then she crawled over to the pile of drywall. She ran her fingers through the scraps, searching for the ring. She found it and turned, holding the ring out in front of her. “Here,” she said. “Take it. Take it and go. Okay?” She dropped the ring into his hand, and he nodded.
He pushed himself off the floor and walked toward the front of the house, stopping to glance back at her one last time before he left. “I feel like I have no idea who you are,” he said. “The Tiffany I know shops at Gucci, stays in five-star hotels, and loves the energy and hustle of the city. This … what you’ve got going here … it isn’t you, and it will never work. Enjoy your crap life in your crap house.” He walked out, allowing the door to slam behind him. She went to the window, pushed the curtain to the side, and watched him tear into the night. The breakup had been much more bitter and raw than she’d expected. But she was certain she made the right choice, even though she was sickened by what had just transpired between them. She slid the curtain closed, grabbed a bottle of red wine out of a cardboard box, and guzzled half of it down.
The recent weeks of pent-up frustration came flooding back in a wave of tears. She set the bottle down and walked into the living room, staring at the hole Russell had left in the wall. She reached down and picked up the construction worker’s sledgehammer, running its forged-steel head along her hand. She lugged the hammer behind her and swung at the wall, again and again and again, breaking the drywall, piece by infuriating piece. As her blows ripped the wall apart, her anger began to subside. She dropped the hammer and fell to her knees, allowing weeks of repressed tears to flow. When her eyes opened again, she blinked into the hole she’d created, aghast to find she wasn’t the only one taking up residence in the house. There, in the wall’s hidden crevices, Tiffany made a gruesome discovery. Preserved in layers of dust-filled plastic were what appeared to be remains—human remains. 2 I removed an egg-and-cheese souffle from the oven and turned around, giving Luka, my Samoyed, a quick pat on the head.
I sat my creation down on a hot pad in the center of the table next to a bowl of potatoes and slices of hickory-smoked bacon and leaned back, glancing at the time. It was two minutes before seven, and I was nervous. A car pulled up outside. I turned and glanced in the mirror, assessing my appearance. Violet, choppy pixie cut still holding up? Check. Makeup free of smudges? Double check. Just when I decided I held up well for a woman about to enter her mid-forties, I noticed a blemish in my packaging. I leaned closer to the mirror and blinked at the small, dime-sized stain in the center of my shirt. It was the price I paid when I made the unwise decision not to wear an apron while cooking. I flung the shirt off, flipped my wardrobe closet open, and scanned the shelf for a replacement right in time to hear the knock at my door.
I slid shirt 2.0 over my head, smoothed it out, and said, “Come on in.” The door opened, and Giovanni Luciana stepped inside my Airstream. We made eye contact, and I tried to ignore the fact that my heart had just skipped a few beats. Tonight, Giovanni was dressed in a black, button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and gray slacks. He slicked his short, black hair back with his hand and flashed me a smile that reminded me of a young Cary Grant. I smiled back. “Nice to see you again, Georgiana,” he said. “You too.” He glanced around, taking in my humble abode.
“Nice place.” “It’s a bit small for more than one person,” I said. “I need something bigger. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.” “I like it. It suits you.” I first met Giovanni in college when I shared an apartment with his sister. Over the years, we lost contact, but a few months ago, I’d taken a chance on a phone number he’d given me many years before. Turned out, his family still lived in the home he grew up in. They passed my information along, and Giovanni invited me to meet him in New York City at his restaurant, Osteria de Mascalzoni.
Getting together again renewed a spark we’d never lost, and I looked forward to exploring what it meant for our future. Excited to have a new visitor in our pad, Luka hopped off the couch, approached Giovanni, and raised his paw. Giovanni looked at me for guidance. “He likes you,” I said. “He wants to shake.” Giovanni bent down and held out his hand. “He’s beautiful,” Giovanni said. “What’s his name?” “Luka.” “Hello, Luka.” The pair became acquainted, and then I whistled at Luka and nodded toward his dog bed.
Reluctant to forsake his newfound friend, Luka sulked for a moment before giving in and curling up for a nap. “I decided to make breakfast for dinner,” I said. “I hope you don’t mind.” Giovanni leaned over the souffle and breathed in. “Not at all. Smells great.” He sat down, and I reached over him, grabbing plates, glasses, and cutlery out of the cupboard. “I’m not sure how eggs and bacon will pair with the wine you brought,” I said, “but let’s give it a try.” He shot me a wink. “Wine pairs with everything, doesn’t it?” Whether it did or it didn’t, tonight we’d find a way to make it work.
I slid beside him, handed him a plate, and my phone buzzed. I ignored the call and set my phone to the side. I’d taken the weekend off. Whoever was calling … they could wait. Giovanni poured two glasses of wine and handed me one. He swirled his around in a wave-like motion, eyeballed it, sniffed it for several Mississippis, and then raised the glass toward me. My own personal knowledge of wine lacked in every department. Still, I mimicked what he’d just done and hoped my actions looked half as convincing as his did. “Cheers,” I said. “Cheers to memories, both old and new.
” We clanked glasses, and I gave it a try. “This wine is amazing,” I said. “What is it?” “Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Ripe al Convento.” The name sounded regal and sophisticated, even though all I processed when he’d said it was Brunello di blah blah blah. “I’m sorry … it’s a what?” I asked. “Sangiovese. A fine wine from a vineyard in Tuscany.” “When you called me last night, you said you had some business in San Luis Obispo this weekend.” He nodded. “I do.
” He didn’t seem keen on elaborating further, so I changed the subject. “How’s Daniela?” “My sister is good.” “And the, ahh … family business?” “Wonderful. What about your family? How are they?” My phone buzzed again. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I meant to put it on silent before you arrived.” Irritated with myself, I reached for my phone, intending to press the mute button. When I picked it up, I noticed the buzzing I’d heard hadn’t been from a call. I’d received a couple of text messages from Tiffany Wheeler, a lawyer, and a woman I’d known since childhood. The first message said: Hey.
The second said: Are you busy? Can you call me? Giovanni raised a brow. “Everything okay?” “I just received a couple of messages from an old friend of mine. We haven’t spoken in a couple of years.” “Is she all right?” I wondered the same thing. “I’ll send her a message and tell her I’ll get back to her in the morning.” I grabbed my glasses off the kitchen counter, slid them on, and replied to her text: Hey, good to hear from you. I’ll call you tomorrow and we can catch up. Okay? Her response was immediate: I know it’s late and we haven’t connected for a while, but I need to talk to you right away. It can’t wait until tomorrow. Please.
Is there any way you can call me tonight? Giovanni read the look of concern on my face and said, “How’s your friend?” “I let her know I’d be in touch tomorrow, and she’s pushing to talk to me tonight. It isn’t like her. I think something’s wrong.” “Why don’t you call her and find out?” I hesitated, but he was right. If I didn’t call, I’d spend the night wondering if she was okay. I excused myself from the table, stepped outside, and made the call. “Hey, Tiffany,” I said. “How’s everything going?” “What are you doing right now?” she asked. Her tone was uptight and desperate, and it sounded like she’d been crying. “I just sat down to dinner,” I said.
“Are you okay?” “No. I’m not. I need to see you. Can you come over?” The last I’d heard, Tiffany was living in LA in a swanky high-rise apartment on Century Drive. “You want me to come to LA tonight?” I asked. “I’m not in LA. I bought a place in Cambria. I’ll explain everything when you get here.” Every fiber of my being wanted to say, “I’m in the middle of a date right now. Can’t it wait until morning?” But she needed me—now.
“Text me your address,” I said. “I’ll wrap things up here and be right over.” “I’m sorry, Gigi. I don’t mean to ruin your plans for tonight. You won’t believe what’s happened, and I didn’t know who else to call. Right now, my life is just … I can’t …” “Take a deep breath for me, okay?” I said. “Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it. I’ll be right there.”