31 December. He took a drawn-out drag from his cigarette and looked up at me as he blew out, sitting sombrely at the foot of the staircase. I was standing right next to him, but the moment felt incredibly surreal. My palms were practically leaking at the sight of him and my lips quivered a little as well. His eyes glanced up and down over the length of me, and my heart then proceeded to freeze. He opened his mouth for a brief second as if to say something, but retracted. He let out a breathy chuckle, shook his head and looked up at the stars, breathing in his cigarette once more. I bolted down the stairs, mortified by the fact that he may still have recognised me after all this time. He grabbed my ankle and my body jolted violently in response.
“Good to see you again, Pips,” he said with a cheeky smirk and a wink whilst letting go of my heel.
I couldn't quite muster up any sensible form of sentence or phrase, but a faint smile danced across my lips and then I ran towards the car. My heart raced at the sound of my own name. I hadn't been called Pips since I was sixteen and only he had ever called me Pips. My body tingled with goosebumps.
It's been ten years, and your feelings haven't changed a smidge, Philippa.
Renzo was waiting patiently in the car when I hopped in. I wasn't really fazed about Renzo. I sat down, buckled up and my hand found its way to my mouth. I was panting, quite fiercely at that but, he was bitter and blunt as ever. He made the sweet summery song in my head turn sour and stripped from all emotion. The atmosphere was cold and silent, nothing new, still painful. Not even a sodding greeting. The days of the usual “Hi Pip! Shall we get going?” have been distant for about three months now.
“You alright, Ren?” I asked timidly breaking the silence, in reality just fed up with his constant psychological toying.
Oh Renzo dear, please say you're okay?! Screw this petulant act. I'm sick of this. I'm sick of you. Like clockwork, a grunt and a nod, almost religiously so ritualistic, and he jammed the key into the ignition. It's new years Renzo! For goodness sake! We drove in absolute silence, my gaze never left the moon and knots in my stomach did not once subside or unfasten themselves. My heart lurched when we finally arrived at my flat. I climbed out of the car and walked around the bonnet to the driver's side. I honestly don't know why I was hoping for anything to be different. The same bloody routine as always.
“I love you, my darling. Sleep tight,” I said as I peeked into his open window.
I leaned in for a peck, even one on his cheek would've sufficed, but never. He turned his head away brashly, grumbled ‘night’ and began to zoom off into the distance as if to say, my dear there are matters of far much more importance than you. I stood quietly for a moment at the gate before entering my code. Contemplatively reflecting, staring sort of solemnly into the void of the night; the hollow and frustrating feeling pent up in my chest now subsiding and the empty space welling up with an ocean of tears and inexplicable tension. When was it that he stopped waiting for me to be in safely? When was it that I stopped meeting his expectations and he stopped getting out of the car to walk me in? When was the very last time I had to physically rip myself out of his loving embrace so that he wouldn't be late for work the next morning and why on earth can I not remember what it feels like to be loved by you? There was once love, Renzo. The tears were streaming now. When did that moment happen? When did it all change? I swallowed quite hard to prevent any further silly self-pity tears from rolling down my cold cheeks and poked in my digits. When I finally got in, my bed welcomed me with an overwhelming embrace and I’d be lying if I said I didn't wallow in my melancholy, for I sobbed myself to sleep for the seventh night in a row.
I flashed awake to the sound of my phone ringing. I was still in my cocktail dress and boy was it riding up in all the wrong places. 12.35 pm and what a blooming wonderful way to start off the new year. I let out a deep groan and pulled myself off my bed, like peeling a sticker off a package, frowning at the rather spectacularly shaped mascara smear smudged across my white pillow case.
“Hello?” I croaked, shuddering slightly at the guttural, groggy noise that just crawled out of my larynx.
“Hello love!” an all too cheery voice pierced through my right ear drum.
“Hi Mum,” I groaned. “How is it going?”
I sat up straight, held my phone to my ear with a solid shoulder and vigorously massaged my temples, preparing for the verbal onslaught, but there was none, there was only love.
“Just calling in to wish you a cracking new year, babe. And making sure that you're awake of course!” she said jovially, with a sweet chuckle.
I could hear the smile through her voice and it warmed my frozen heart.
“Thank you, Mum. Happy new year, send love to Daddy and Daniel please, if you get a chance.”
“Do you think we could pop around for a tea? Or would you rather we come tomorrow? Dan misses his big sister, you know.”
“Eh,” I stammered a little as I caught a glimpse of my newly developed raccoon-like mask in my dresser mirror. “tea sounds... great. Uhm, just give me a moment to rustle something up.”
“Of course, how's two?” she practically squeaked with excitement.
“Perfect. See you then, Ma. Love you,” I said with a chuckle.
And with that happy little phone call, my mood brightened quite miraculously and I ripped off my dress and my socks and threw myself into the shower. I had felt broken just moments before, and no I didn't drink too much Mum, but it was right there and then that I decided it was over. No more stupid tears. No more sulking. It’s a new year. And, hell no am I going to say “a new me,” but it's time to get moving. I felt a surge of gratitude and finally some positive energy. This is the year I grow up, hell knows, I am turning 26 this year! This is it. The moment I pick my lowly self-esteem up off the ground and start re-establishing some confidence and, while I'm at it, start doing things for me.
And that means: Arrivederci, Renzo.
I don't quite understand why it's taken me this long to realise how acidic our relationship had become or why I'd been holding on to the simple sod for so long. Well, actually I do. The beginning of it all was the best relationship I'd ever been in. Oh, the cliché beauty of a love affair, with all its bells and whistles. My perfect and dapper Italian-stallion Patrick Dempsey Mum said, the perfect catch, what a sly old serpent. Slithering himself right under my skin and wrapping his slimy scaly claws all around my heart; squeezing it till it only beat for him. Singing my praises, showering me with kisses, my smart man, my chartered accountant. I'll marry you, Philippa.
You're just the girl for me.
How fickle you are, you call yourself a man? I got a job, Renzo, so what now? Was it then that you realised the inferior female I am actually possesses a brain? You point blank refused to acknowledge my existence the second I got a job in the marketing division of Greyson’s, the advertising firm I'd been dying to get into from the moment I quit my freelancing job. The supportive facade he donned was the best part of it all: you'll get it, mi amore, I'm rooting for you. If you'd shown your chauvinism when we started out I would've at spat at your feet, Lorenzo Giordano. The front I've put up is coming down today, the curtains are closing in less than a minute and boy, oh boy am I burning those endless pages of notebooks I wasted hours on adorning them in cursive with Philippa Willa Giordano. What a pity, if only there were an express post office in hell. After I showered, I immediately picked up my cell and dialled Renzo’s number. I sighed, soon this memorised set of single digits will integrate itself into the grey conglomerate mass of things I wasted my life away at, trying not to forget, like Geography and Algebra.
“Renzo, yep?” he answered curtly.
“Hey, it's me.”