Written by Barbara Brandon
The moment she walked through the door, I sensed something was wrong.
For the past nine years, I had been a police officer in New York City. It didn’t take much to raise red flags. Just one look in her eyes and I knew she was in trouble.
“L’uomo prende la mia proprietà. . . . Voglio andare a casa.” She said as she struggled not to cry. Despite the pain in her eyes and the tear-stained face, she was still one of the most beautiful women I’d ever met.
It wasn’t often I had the opportunity to speak my grandparents’ native language, but a quick translation told me she’d been the victim of a robbery. As she lost the battle with the tears, I understood her desire to go home.
“Italiano?” I asked, questioning that she was speaking Italian.
She nodded her head, seemingly grateful to have stumbled across someone with whom she could communicate.
I motioned for her to take a seat in a booth close by. “No andare,” I said as I held up one finger, asking her not to go anywhere. I hoped my gesture was an international one and that she’d still be there when I returned.
“Mom?” I called out to the restaurant owner, who happened to be the woman who’d given birth to me. It was close to one o’clock in the morning, which was when mom closed for the night. My shift ended at midnight. It was the norm for me to stop by after work as my mother hated driving almost as much as I disliked the idea of her taking the subway or walking home.
I was brief in explaining there was a young woman who needed help. I wasn’t sure what had happened to the beautiful stranger but felt she might be more comfortable with another woman, especially one with ‘mom’ attached.
“Mi Madre, Olivia,” I explained as I returned to the dining area. Her pain-filled face softened just a bit at the introduction of my mother, who immediately took charge of the situation. While mom’s Italian was a bit rough, I was able to make out that the young woman’s belongings had been stolen.
After a bit more discussion, I understood ‘her belongings’ was a purse, which contained her money, credit cards, and passport.
While mom continued to engage with this young woman, I contacted the precinct where I worked and inquired if one of two officers was working- both happened to be Italian. The two were also prime targets for my mother’s matchmaking attempts to find me a wife.
“The young woman speaks Italian,” I explained to the desk sergeant. “No, she hasn’t spoken English, at least not to this point. Either she does not speak English, or she is too traumatized to speak in any language but her native one.”
I was assured that Officer Heather Grayson was available and would be en route. I’d worked with Heather on numerous occasions. Between my mother and Heather, the mystery woman was in good hands.
“Giorgia, mi chiamo Giorgia.” As I returned to the table, she explained that her name was Giorgia.
“She’s in the States for a few days on business,” Heather explained. I’d missed that part of the discussion as I’d given the ladies time alone. “Knowing your mother, I probably don’t have to ask, but would Giorgia be able to stay with you? I doubt she wants to be alone.”
“Of course, she’s welcome to stay with me,” my mother assured Officer Grayson before questioning Giorgia. Receiving the invitation to stay with my mom, Giorgia offered a grateful nod along with the first smile we’d seen since she walked in the door.
Heather finished up with the questions she needed for her report. Out of habit, she said we could get a copy at the precinct as Giorgia would need it to report her stolen passport. “Then again, why don’t I just email you a copy?”
~ ~ ~ ~
Five minutes after giving mom and Giorgia a ride to my mother’s home, my cell phone rang.
“Hey, mom, how’s everything going?” I asked, wondering what she’d forgotten to tell me.
“We have a problem,” she explained with a tone that sounded urgent. “Giorgia is allergic to cats.”
I had no doubt Giorgia was miserable since my mom shared her home with four cats. She had taken in a stray who thanked her with three kittens. Being the soft-hearted soul she was, mom didn’t have the heart to break up the family.
“Mi dispiace tanto di essere così tanti problemi,” she replied as soon as I was in hearing distance. I assured her it was not necessary to apologize, that she was not a problem.
In the five minutes it took me to return to mom’s place, I’d wondered what to do. I knew she would be uncomfortable at my one-bedroom apartment. The second option was to pay for a hotel room, at least one night since I had no idea how long it would take to sort out this mess. Giorgia had no identification. In all likelihood, her I.D. and passport were in a dumpster as they were of little use to anyone else. Whoever had stolen her property had been interested in credit cards or cash, assuming Giorgia had any cash on her.
“Si rimane troppo?” she’d asked as we entered a hotel. Heather was right about her not wanting to be alone as she asked if I would stay.
I explained that I was going to pay for her room for the night. In the morning, I’d stop by to pick her up, and we’d visit the Italian consulate to see what steps she would need to get back home.
“No,” she was adamant that she did not want to be alone. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised given what she’d been through in a country where she did not speak the language.
I debated getting one room or two. I knew she didn’t want me to leave her at the hotel alone, but that didn’t mean she wanted to share a room with me. The hotel staff decided for me as they informed me there was one room with two beds available. My only other option was the honeymoon suite. I was single, and I never spent the night in a honeymoon suite, but I was reasonably sure it didn’t come with two beds. I offered my credit card for the single room.
The remainder of the night was spent trying to acquire the basic necessities. The gift shop was closed, so I went back to the front desk to inquire about the basics starting with a toothbrush. They directed me to a 24-hour discount store a block down the road. I guess I chose a place classier than what I would usually book for myself when traveling. There was a vending machine with toothbrushes, dental floss, and several other items in the last place I’d stayed.
Back to the room, I found Giorgia staring out the window. I explained the situation, which resulted in her joining me as we visited the open-all-night department store.
Guys have the benefit as it takes us less to get ready. Give us a shower, a toothbrush, and deodorant, and we’re good to go. Many of us will happily skip shaving as the day-old scruffy look is no big deal. I picked up a t-shirt to wear the following morning and a 3-pack of Hanes. I figured I could wear the same jeans the following morning until I got home.
It’s a different story for women; the open-all-night department store wasn’t high on the fashionista scale. Giorgia didn’t complain as she selected a pair of jeans and a couple of t-shirts. Based on the lingerie department’s size, it’s obvious women require a few more selections than Hanes versus Fruit-of-the-Loom and boxers versus briefs. I tried to imagine my mother getting robbed while in a foreign country and then going shopping for underwear with a stranger who was also one of the opposite sex. For that reason, I kept a short distance while Giorgia selected what she needed. In addition to the jeans and t-shirts, I encouraged her to select a long nightshirt.
The health and beauty department was another story. Giorgia became more nervous as she added items to her cart. It took some doing, but I assured her it was okay and to select whatever she needed. This wasn’t the cosmetics counter at some high-end store. How much could department store brand makeup cost?
Back at the hotel, I ordered room service as I usually ate something before going to bed. I wasn’t sure when Giorgia had eaten last. She commented that she might feel better after a hot shower. It gave me a chance to order food for the two of us and catch up on a few basketball scores.
When she returned from her shower, we talked about what I’d read regarding the requirements to obtain ETD or Emergency Travel Documents. These would allow her to travel back to Italy, but the flight had to be completed within a short time window. The only downside was that it would take several days for the documents to be available. Since we would visit the consulate on Friday, we would not receive the ETD until Tuesday or Wednesday.
Officer Grayson had emailed the police report. The consulate required a list of items, including completed forms, photos, and a copy of her itinerary. Since we weren’t sure how soon she’d be able to travel, I purchased a ticket on a Wednesday flight.
I inquired if anyone back home could email a copy of her lost passport. She replied that her father would have a copy at his work since she had traveled for work.
Given the time difference, I guessed that her father should be arriving at work in the next hour or so. We decided to call him from the hotel room phone versus my cell phone.
The conversation between father and daughter was filled with emotion as she told him of the traumatic experience. I couldn’t imagine how her father felt. His child was thousands of miles away, had been a victim of a crime, and there was nothing he could do but listen to her tell him of her ordeal. She also told him of my mother’s offer to stay with her only to learn she had several cats.
At one point, she turned to face me, pointing at the phone as she said her father wanted to speak with me.
Unlike his daughter, I quickly discovered her father spoke English. He offered his thanks to everyone who had taken care of his daughter, including myself, my mother, and Officer Grayson.
Giorgia promised her father that she would keep in touch. We gave him my cell number in the event he needed to contact her and that he’d recognize the number when she called. We also gave him my email address as he promised to send a copy of her passport.
~ ~ ~ ~
I came from the bathroom where I’d brushed my teeth to find her sound asleep. I watched her, grateful that she was able to get some rest. During my nine years with the police force, I’d dealt with hundreds of victims just like Giorgia. In the majority of them, I’d recognized their situation yet had remained detached from personal involvement. With Giorgia, that was not the case. I was drawn to her to protect her from the big cruel world.
That protective nature was tested a few hours later when I was awoken by her having a nightmare. As I tried to calm her, she wrapped her arms around my neck, clinging to me. A short time later, I realized she’d fallen asleep, her head on my shoulder. With my fingertip, I gently stroked her cheek, brushing aside the hair which covered her face. I must have fallen asleep as I was in the same spot several hours later. Giorgia was curled up in a chair, which she’d moved to where she could sit and look out the window.
“Buongiorno,” I greeted her ‘good morning.’ She apologized for having awoken me during the night and thanked me for being so kind.
We ordered breakfast from the room service menu and talked about our lives. I learned she was an only child. Her father had been a single parent for the past fourteen years. Our lives mirrored one another as I’d lost my father when I was just nine years old. The bond I’d had with my mother reminded her of how close she was with her father.
The hotel had what they called a business center where we printed the documents and the flight information. Giorgia had preferred to wait until morning when I could take several photos. We’d stopped at a convenience store where I printed them from my phone.
Our meeting with the consulate was short. We were told the emergency documents would be ready on Tuesday. When we left, we decided to go by my apartment as I needed something for work. I dropped Giorgia off at mom’s restaurant while I went to work.
I was partnered with Officer Grayson, whose first question was regarding Giorgia. Throughout the shift, the conversations came back to Giorgia.
“This is why I went to the police academy,” I tried to explain. “It wasn’t to deal with idiots arguing over parking spaces. My goal was to help people.”
“So that’s what this is all about?” Heather asked as she glanced at me when we were stopped for a red light.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what it is.”
“So it has nothing to do with the fact that she’s absolutely gorgeous?” Heather teased me, then followed with a curious grin.
“It has nothing to do with how she looks,” I countered as I felt defensive. “You know, when I was a kid, I hated that my parents made me learn Italian. I thought that since my grandparents lived here, they should just speak English.”
“So exactly where did she sleep last night?” Heather continued her torment. It was obvious she was enjoying this. I could have been upset by her insinuations, except that I’d teased her the same way on numerous occasions. “Since she couldn’t stay with your mom due to the cats.”
“I had no way of knowing she was allergic to cats?”
“Of course not.” She laughed.
“I paid for a hotel room.”
“You make this too easy for me, you know that, right?”
“Will you let me finish?” I asked as Heather could not stop laughing. “We had one room with two beds. We went to a department store to pick up some stuff that she needed. She took a shower while I watched ESPN. I also pulled up the information on what we would need for the consulate office. After that, we went to sleep.”
“Oh my gosh,” Heather said as we came to another stop. She glanced over at me as she spoke. “You’re falling for her.”
“What? No way. Can’t a guy help someone without it being something bigger?”
“Sure he can, and I’m sure it’s happened many times,” Heather smirked as the light changed.
“Besides, she’ll be back in Italy in four days.”
“You do realize that in defending yourself, you’ve yet to deny that I’m right about this?’
I glared at Heather, not saying a word. Heather still had plenty to say on the subject.
“The thing is, I’ve known you for what seven, eight years? In that time, I know you’ve helped a lot of people. Face it, you’re a good guy, and you’re good at your job. But this one, this is more than helping her. You mark my words. When she gets on that plane next week, she’s going to take your heart home with her.”
I was grateful when our shift ended for a couple of reasons. I knew Heather was just giving me grief over Giorgia. I’d done the same to her on more than one occasion. The second reason was I knew I wouldn’t work with her again until Giorgia was back in Italy.
I would never have admitted it to Heather, but I enjoyed spending time with Giorgia. When I was seven years old, my grandparents returned to Italy after my great grandfather passed away. I was devastated when they decided to stay in Italy to care for my great-grandmother. I’d refused to speak to them as I’d felt abandoned by them. But, over time, I grew to understand that they hadn’t wanted to leave my great-grandmother alone. The times they called, I didn’t want to hang up. Had it not been an international phone call, our conversations would have lasted for hours.
Talking with Giorgia reminded me of those conversations. I enjoyed hearing about Italy, its culture, and how vastly different the lifestyle was from my everyday life.
I’d also learned first hand that she was an excellent cook. We’d spent just one night at the hotel. The days that followed, she’d spent at my apartment. We’d had a long debate over who would sleep on the sofa as I believed Giorgia was a guest. She felt different as she did not want to impose.
My mother stopped by on Tuesday. It was difficult for her to say goodbye as she knew Giorgia was going home the next morning. I understood as I already missed her and she hadn’t yet left.
In exchange for my generosity, Giorgia painted a beautiful portrait. During the day she spent with my mother, they’d talked about many things, including how Giorgia loved to paint. Mom had visited a craft store where she purchased canvas, a set of brushes, and paints.
Giorgia painted two portraits-one for my mother and a second for me. Each time I’d approached, she covered the canvas, telling me it would be a surprise. The morning of her flight, she gave me the painting.
“La vista dalla mia finestra,” she told me about the painting.
“This is what you see from your home?” I translated her expression. The portrait she’d painted was of a beautiful landscape.
“Yes,” I agreed with her comment. The scene she’d painted was indeed peaceful and beautiful. I could see why she wanted to go home.
When we arrived at the airport, she tried to refuse the $100 Visa card I’d purchased for her just in case she needed anything. At some point, she would have to purchase food as her flight was over nine hours with a short layover followed by a second shorter flight.
I’d debated taking the day off work but had decided I’d be better at work than sitting at home. The shift was a long one, as I was not in the mood.
After dropping my mother off at home, I’d finally walked in my door after one o’clock in the morning. I turned on my laptop to check on Giorgia’s flight. An hour later, she completed the first leg. Her layover was less than an hour due to delays in departing New York. I dozed off only to wake to my cell phone ringing. I glanced at the time to discover it was just after 3am.
I barely got the word ‘hello’ out before she was speaking to me.
“La mia casa è un posto così bello.”
While I missed her, it was great to hear her talk about how beautiful it was to be home. Her voice was so different than the frightened young woman I’d met less than a week earlier.
“Mio padre vorrebbe parlarti,” she said before I heard her father’s voice.
“I can never thank you enough,” he said, speaking in English. “I am forever grateful to you and your mother, for my beautiful daughter is safely home.”
“You’re welcome, sir,” I replied as a smile came across my face. I’d been stressed during Giorgia’s flights as she had already been through a lot. I’d prayed she arrived home safely without incident.
I spoke briefly with Giorgia again as it was apparent we were both exhausted. It’d been a week since I’d slept in my bed. That week would be one day longer as I fell asleep on my sofa.
Several weeks later, I picked up my mail and discovered a strange envelope. Inside was a note from Giorgia’s father along with a cashier’s check for a substantial amount of money. The check more than covered the expenses for the time Giorgia was with me. It was closer to several months’ salary at my job. While I never calculated the total expenses of the five days she’d spent with me, I’d guess it was around a thousand dollars-the airline ticket was probably the most expensive.
With Giorgia safely home, I buried myself in work, picking up a ton of overtime as a way to avoid sitting home alone.
During the next few months, I’d spoken with my grandparents on numerous occasions. I leaned on them more than ever after my mother’s sudden death just three weeks after Giorgia’s flight home. I struggled to fill the sudden void in my life. Several months later, I decided to go to Italy to visit my grandparents as I had no idea how many more chances I would have to visit them.
For the first time in years, I actually used vacation time. I took two weeks off work to fly to Italy, where I came face-to-face with my grandparents, whom I had not seen in over twenty-five years.
One evening my grandmother found me staring at a paper I held in my hand. She’d inquired as to what had caught my attention.
I had told my grandparents about Giorgia and explained how I’d received a letter from her father.
Later that day, I was approached by my grandfather. He explained how when I had arrived in Italy, he had seen the sadness in my eyes. He believed it was due to the loss of my mother. While he did not doubt that was part of it, the envelope, or perhaps the fact that I’d kept it and brought it along on my journey, was also a source to my sadness.
“Milan is not far from here,” he explained as he took my hand in his. “You cannot leave Italy without going to Milan. You must go and visit Giorgia.”
“Grandfather, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you and grandmother,” I explained my reasoning for my coming to Italy.
“It is true. We have not seen you since you were a small child,” he agreed with what I’d said. “But there is also a reason why you brought this with you?”
I started to protest before my grandfather cut me off.
“We have had a wonderful visit. But now it is time for you to go and visit Giorgia,”
I finally agreed with my grandfather. While it was difficult leaving them, I would have regrets if I’d visited Italy and not attempted to see Giorgia.
The drive was not far, less than two hours. I was surprised to learn the address on the envelope was a large business center.
A young woman was sitting at a desk when I entered. I explained why I was there and if it would be possible to speak to Giorgia’s father. This young woman was suspicious of my reasons for being there, especially as I had no idea what sort of business he conducted in these offices. She informed me that I needed to call and schedule a meeting.
I left the building and had walked a short distance when another young woman caught up to me.
“Luciano?” she called out. Hearing my name brought me to a halt.
“Your name…Luciano Donato?”
“Yes,” I said as I was also nodding my head.
“You come here looking for Giorgia? My name is Livia. Giorgia is my cousin.” The young woman caught my attention. “You are the American who helped her to come home safely?”
“Yes,” I replied as I showed her the envelope. “I have this address from a letter her father sent to me.”
“Please, come with me,” she said as she reached out to me. “My uncle Martelli, Giorgia’s father, is at work in the office.”
We re-entered the building as I followed Giorgia’s cousin into an elevator. I was not prepared for what I would see when the doors opened.
The elevator doors opened to the beautiful young woman who’d changed my life in only one week.
The first time we’d met, she’d been a frightened, lost young woman. The woman standing outside the elevator was full of life and had the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. Upon seeing me, she wrapped her arms around my neck, an action of interest to the older gentleman who was with her.
“Who is this young man?” he asked Giorgia’s cousin.
“He is Luciano from the United States.”
While I did not see his expression, I would soon be on the receiving end of it.
“Father, please meet Luciano,” Giorgia said. It was the first English I’d heard her speak.
“Luciano, finally we meet,” he said as he gave me a hug.
Giorgia’s father took us to dinner. Giorgia explained how she had been determined to learn to speak English.
I enjoyed meeting Giorgia’s father. It was nice to put a face with the voice on the phone.
We talked for several hours as I told them about my mother’s death and my visit with my grandparents. Both Giorgia and Martelli offered their condolences. They also expressed an interest in meeting my grandparents. He told me a story about his own grandparents.
“When I was a boy, my grandfather taught me the value of a handshake and of a man’s word,” he explained. “That is why it means so much to see you, man to man. To have the opportunity to shake your hand and thank you again for taking care of my daughter.”
“You’re welcome, sir,” I said before I glanced at his daughter. It wasn’t until she was right before my eyes that I realized how much I missed her.
“I insist that you be our guest while you are in Milan,” he added. “For that, I will not take ‘no’ for an answer.”
“Thank you,” I said as we left the restaurant. “I haven’t decided how long I will be staying. I’d love to see this part of Italy.”
“I have a meeting in the morning,” he continued before his tone changed as he glanced at Giorgia. “However, I’m sure my daughter would be happy to show you our beautiful city. I will join you for lunch.”
“Of course, father,” Giorgia said as she glanced in my direction with the most beautiful smile.
The following three days were spent touring Milan’s beautiful city, including the magnificent property Giorgia called home.
On my fourth day in Milan, Martelli asked if I’d like to join him on a tour of the property.
“Giorgia didn’t tell me she lived in a castle.”
“To us, it is just home,” he said as he shared the history of his home. “It’s not a castle such as you’d see with royalty, but this land has been in my family for over four hundred years. Construction of our home, the castle, was completed in the mid-1600s.”
“There is so much to see, the land, the castle,” I began a thought. “I could stay for years, and I don’t think I’d see everything.”
“Perhaps that can be arranged,” he said, as he motioned me to have a seat. “Please join me.”
We’d come upon an area near the gardens, which held beautiful iron and stone-crafted benches.
“Luciano, I am not a complicated man,” he said, a statement that left me curious where he was headed with this thought.
“I was hesitant to allow Giorgia to go to the United States. However, it was only two meetings and an overnight stay. So, I agreed to allow her to handle it as I knew she was more than capable. When she came home, I noticed she had changed, which I believed this change was due to the traumatic experience which led her to cross paths with you and your mother; God rest her soul.”
“However, these past few days, my thoughts on this have changed. While the ordeal was traumatic, it was not that experience that brought a sense of sadness to my dear Giorgia’s eyes. Although she was with you for just five days, it was during that time that I believe my daughter fell in love with you.”
Marchelli’s statement shocked me. But, the expression on his face wasn’t that of a troubled man.
“That was a difficult day,” I openly shared my feelings as Marchelli had been honest with me. “The day I took Giorgia to the airport. She was the most incredible woman I’d ever met. I was never one to believe in love at first sight, but that day we met. When she walked into mom’s restaurant…I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Love at first sight?” he said as he was nodding his head. “Allow me to share a story. Years ago, I attended a celebration for the New Year. That night, I met the most beautiful woman. Indeed I fell in love with her the first time I saw her. There were no doubts in my mind. I married her twelve days later.”
“Twelve days? You were that sure she was the one?”
“I was sure. I remember seeing my reflection in a mirror the following day. There was this look in my eyes, the very same one I see in your eyes when you look at my daughter.”
I smiled at the thought of Giorgia, knowing Marchelli recognized that look.
“I have thought of this day since my daughter was just a little girl,” he said with a sense of conviction. “I am a believer that things happen for a reason. There was a reason her path crossed with yours in New York City. The two of you are a part of each other. I see the love in her eyes and in yours.”
“Sir, I have never met anyone like your daughter.”
“Luciano, let me explain why I wanted to have this talk with you,” he continued, turning to look me in the eye. “I can see that you and Giorgia love one another and that you have protected her and kept her safe. If it is your wish to marry my daughter, please, you have my blessing.”
“Thank you,” I replied. I was so overwhelmed, I wasn’t sure what else to say.
“I will leave you alone to collect your thoughts.”
It was only a few minutes after he left that I noticed something on the bench where he’d sat. It was a small box which contained a note and an incredible diamond ring.
This has been in my family for many generations. The last to wear it was when I asked my daughters’ mother to become my wife.
Later that day, I called my grandfather. I needed advice, and there was no one wiser than my dear sweet grandfather.
“Am I crazy?” I asked, wondering if things were moving too fast.
“Do you love her?” he asked.
“Yes, I do. I can’t imagine my life without her.”
“Then the answer is yes. You are crazy if you leave Italy without asking Giorgia to be your wife.”
It had been almost two weeks since I’d boarded a flight to Italy. My mother’s loss had left a massive hole in my life as I’d never felt more alone. Seeing my grandparents had given me hope for the future.
As I strolled Giorgia’s family property alone, I came upon a familiar place. It was a place I had visited many times despite having never been there. It was the scene in the painting Giorgia had given me the morning of her flight back to Italy.
Giorgia’s father was correct. Indeed everything happens for a reason. Since she’d left the States, I’d cherished the painting as I admired Giorgia’s talent. Seeing it in person was an incredible experience. The location became a significant part of our lives as it was there that I asked Giorgia to be my wife.
Our wedding was not large. Marchelli walked his daughter down the aisle where I waited with my grandfather as he had been the best man in my life since I was a child.
Our wedding was attended by just a couple from the states, including my former partner, Officer Grayson. Giorgia insisted we invite her, and the two had a warm reunion.
“I knew it,” she teased. “Didn’t I say you were falling for this beautiful woman?”
“Indeed you did,” I said, giving her credit for what she’d said. “But I also recall that I never denied it.”
In six months, my life had changed in so many ways. The obvious being the woman who I love more with every day. While I miss my mother and wish she could have been at my wedding, I am grateful she got to know Giorgia in the five days she was in the States.
I’m blessed to have Marchelli as the father figure I have not had since I was a child. As for my grandparents, before I visited Italy, I had not seen them in over two decades. That too has changed as they moved to Milan, which means I now see them every day.
I attribute all this to a young woman who walked into my life. Indeed, everything happens for a reason.
~ ~ ~ ~
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