For the second time in recent days, Rome woke up feeling like he'd been beaten over the head. His mouth was dry, and his muscles were sore. At least this time, he could move a lot more quickly. He had a feeling that second shot wasn't quite as potent as the first.
He opened his eyes to a twilight lit room, but it wasn't the one he'd been in just before he was knocked out. He recognized it, though. It was his room in their apartment in Milan. The last time he was here, he couldn't have been more than twelve years old. He sat up and looked around. Baseball posters, a few actors he'd liked years ago, and a photograph of his family in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa decorated the room. They looked so happy in that photo. He wanted to knock it off of the wall and shatter it into a million pieces.
But that would draw an audience. He was fairly certain there were guards outside of his door. He didn't want to be drugged again. He was having trouble remembering why they'd drugged him in the first place.
Then, it hit him fully in the stomach like a Mack truck not even bothering to tap the brakes. Ella was dead. That's what Antonio had said last night--if that was, in fact, last night and not two weeks ago. He hadn't caught all of it, but his friend had been shouting that he wanted Rome to know before he saw it on social media.
He sat with his knees pulled up to his chest, trying to breathe. It was so hard to believe it could be true. His mother's face had said it all, though. He vaguely remembered her words--something about seeing it online, about not knowing for sure. Why would Ella do something like that? He glanced down at the ring still on his finger, amazed that his parents hadn't insisted on taking it. Leaving it there was one small token of kindness, and it reminded him so much of that day he and Ella had pledged themselves to each other. In a way, it seemed like ages ago.
Tears were streaming down his face. He wanted to see her again so badly. Why hadn't he just let her go? If he had told her that he didn't love her, that she should forget about him, he'd still be miserable, but at least she'd be alive.
Now, unless the world had made a terrible mistake, she was gone forever.
A rustling outside the door told him that someone was approaching. He swiped away his tears, not wanting to show any weakness, especially if it happened to be his dad, but he wasn't surprised when the door opened and his mother stepped in. Two burly men in suits stood outside of the door. They gave him a glare before they shut the door behind his mother.
"You're awake. Thank goodness," Lacy said, bringing in a tray with a covered dish on it. "I thought you might be hungry."
"I'm not." He didn't even want to look at her. It wasn't a surprise that his father would act this way--selfish, thoughtless, and horrible. But his mom? He'd always thought she'd take his side, no matter what.
"Come on, Rome. You have to eat," she insisted, setting the tray on the bed.
He ignored it, not even wanting to look at her.
With a sigh, she sat down on the edge of the bed and tried to take his hand. He pulled it away. "It's steak--your favorite. Your father told me to just bring you some soup and crackers, but I know how much you enjoy steak, and I wanted to do something to cheer you up."
His eyes bore into her for a moment. "Yes, Mother, thank you. My wife has killed herself because you and Father dragged me away from her, but it's nothing a quality porterhouse can't fix."
"Please, son. Don't be that way. This isn't my fault. I didn't mean for this to happen. I tried to talk your father out of it. He wouldn't listen to me."
"Then you should've spoken louder, Mother!"
She leaned back at his harsh words, but he was done pretending to have feelings for people who clearly didn't give a sh*t about him.
"I'm sorry, Rome."
He shook his head, not able to believe that. "Do you have your phone?"
A leery expression overtook her face. "I'm not supposed to give it to you."
"I. Need. To. See. It's not as if I can call her."
Lacy swallowed hard but then reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone, unlocking it for him. "Don't be long. He'll check."
Rome opened the Internet app, and with shaking fingers, typed in her name, hating that he had to put Ella Sinders. It popped up immediately. "Twenty-four year old daughter of marketing mogul kills herself after parents refuse to let her date actor." Yes, because that's exactly what had happened.
There were no close up pictures of her, and much of what was written was speculation without detail. It seemed no one in the Sinders family was willing to talk to reporters, not yet anyway.
What did strike him as odd was that they had interviewed Bart of all people. Why? He had no idea, but there was a quote from his friend. "It's hard to believe she'd kill herself. Ella would never do something like that. She was so beautiful in that casket. It was like she was only sleeping."
"I need my phone, Rome," his mother insisted.
Unwilling to read more, Rome handed back, though his eyes were captivated by Ella's beautiful face pictured in a photograph taken a few months ago, according to the caption.
"They don't know that she killed herself," his mother said, putting her phone away. "Perhaps she was murdered."
His forehead crinkled. "Is that supposed to make me feel better somehow?"
"I'm just saying… maybe it's not our fault."
Rage boiled inside of him. "Of course it's your fault!" he shouted. "Whether she killed herself, was murdered, or sucked into a portal, it's your fault, Mother. If I'd been with her, none of this would've ever happened!"
"Hey! Quit that shouting!" one of the guards yelled through the door.
"Go f*ck yourself!" Rome shouted back.
With a huff, Lacy stood. "I'm going to go. Clearly, you're not in any state to talk right now. I don't want to be a bother. But please… eat your food."
Lacy hurried toward the door and tapped on it. "Let me out, please," she said with her breath catching in her throat. A moment later, the door opened. She hesitated for a moment, looking back over her shoulder longingly, before she left the room with tears falling down her cheeks.
Rome was glad to see her go. At least he knew for sure now that Ella was gone. While it wasn't a comfort at all, the lingering questions had faded away. All that's left was anger and an overwhelming sense of despair.
He stood and wandered aimlessly around the room for a few moments. He had a large window that looked out on a busy street. Milan was busy all times of day and night, but as the sun was descending, there were dozens of cars going by every minute. All of those people out there in the world, happily going on about their lives, not even realizing his wife was dead….
Rome sank down on the bed, his head in his hands. He didn't want to let his emotions overcome him, but how could he help it when the woman he loved with all of his heart was gone forever? She'd been so beautiful, so kind to everyone. Breathing in deeply, he tried to remember what she smelled like. What he'd give to hold her one more time, to run his hands along her creamy skin, to kiss her lips. That would never happen again.
Large tears spilled from his eyes and rolled down his cheeks as Rome began to vibrate with grief. He fell backward onto the bed, and he jostled the tray. He would've thrown it across the room if he'd had the strength or will to do anything. Instead, he just moved it aside. The lid slid off of it, and something underneath caught his attention.
It was a knife. A lengthy steel blade with a sharp tip and lots of teeth meant for ripping and slicing through flesh.
Rome picked it up, holding it up so that the blade caught the gleam from the streetlights that had just come on and filtered through his window. As he held the handle in his hand, it became obvious to him what he needed to do. His parents had tried their best to keep him from Ella, but they couldn't keep him away from her--not forever. Not for one more moment.
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