This is another excerpt from my Nanowrimo novel about twin sisters Isabella and Catrina.
It was as if a spotlight suddenly shone on Bella. She brightened, straightened up in her chair and I knew Santino was approaching. I put my cigarette out in the ashtray on the table and brushed damp hair away from my forehead. This was the first time I was meeting him outside the environs of his workplace, the hotel bar. I was cool. I would be cool.
“Bella,” he said, in a fine deep voice, just like a man. He seemed a man to me, though he was not any taller than Bella, rather thin, and was so close-shaven that he looked like he was too young to have started a beard. He wore his dark, not entirely clean hair in a pony tail tied at the base of his neck. He leaned over and brushed her cheeks with his lips, European style, then turned to me.
I stood up and he took my shoulders, and we exchanged air kisses on each cheek. He smelled strongly of cologne, something very citrus, very forest, and made a tiny grunting sound when he kissed. I wondered if I had tobacco breath.
He sat in the wrought iron chair next to Bella, and I saw her seek out his hand. That was bold of her I, thought. I think she did it for my benefit, to prove she was brave and their relationship was powerful. He grinned at me. He had perfect, perfectly white teeth.
I had only seen him in the muted light of the mirrored bar, when Mama and Bella and I had our pre- or after-dinner glass of wine. I saw that Santino had downy hair on his arms that caught the light. He wore a short-sleeved white shirt, like the one he wore while bartending, minus the black vest, and a pair of rather tight jeans.
Bella had burgundy-coloured fingernails; we both did, having painted them that morning. We tended, naturally, to embrace the fact that we looked alike. We harboured the idea that we could substitute each other out, at any time (this was called The Game), and no one would necessarily be the wiser. I had a sudden longing to swap with Bella right now, to be the one sitting close to a man, holding hands in a cafe in Rome, his thumb rubbing my palm, his knee nudging mine. I longed for this even though I found him rather repulsive and fearsome… all the hair, the pores, what lay between his legs, so foreign.
I wanted to be the one to stand up with him, blow a kiss to my sister still in her wrought iron chair, with her coffee on the yellow tablecloth, and steal away with Santino to his parents’ house, where he lived, and where he brought Bella after his parents returned to their jobs after the long break for lunch. I would be there instead of Bella, lying on the couch with him watching Italian television, lazily wrapped around each other. I would hear him whisper in my ear about how beautiful I was, how much he wanted me, how I made him crazy. I would feel all the flushes, all the tingles, my flesh would move by itself when he touched it. I would feel his fingers on my scalp, as he buried his face in my hair, whispering now, and his had running down my shoulder, down my arm, and around my waist.
He often whispered in Italian, and Bella had no idea what he said. “He could be saying, oh, you are such a boiled egg,” Bella said. “I’ll secretly learn Italian and see what he is really saying.”
“How could you love someone that calls you an egg?”
“He has other good qualities,” Bella told me.
We were about to turn sixteen, and I had only been kissed in the basement of Jimmy Russell’s basement, when I was eleven , and there was no love. Jimmy was fifteen and I suspect he wanted to practice his kissing skills for more worthy prey.
I didn’t know what it felt like to get down and dirty. I wanted to know. I hatched a tiny little plan.
First, I ran it by Bella, sort of.
“Wouldn’t it be funny,” I said to her that night as we dipped kleenex into nail polish remover and made the burgundy polish disappear. “If we played The Game with Santino?”
Bella burst out laughing and, unfortunately, she didn’t take me seriously.