The Prince nodded, his eyes filled with understanding—although how in the world he could even understand it, even glimpse her world, was beyond Lisa. But she appreciated the way he kept his hand over hers on the table, the way he refilled her glass, the way he listened.
“And in high school, when you could begin working? Did things start to get better?”
Lisa nodded, tears beginning to brim in her eyes. “I was a waitress.”
“Just as you are today,” the Prince said, smiling. “Only at a top-tier Manhattan restaurant. See how far you’ve come.” His words were kind, but they came as a painful reminder of how much she’d lied.
She swallowed. “Yes. A waitress. And I made many friends through the restaurant. I loved them, you know. We got into so much trouble together, as 16-and 17-year-olds. But after that, I wanted to focus on getting to the city, while they wanted to focus on something else entirely.”
“What was that?”
“They wanted to focus on getting married, and on having children. And they’ve all succeeded,” she said, shrugging. “Not that I ever wanted that.”
“What did you want, Lisa?”
Francesco leaned closer, and again, Lisa could feel his breath upon her face. She licked her lips, trying to focus once more.
“Um. I want to make enough money to go back to school. I’ve been focused on it for so long, but I don’t always know if it will happen.” She laughed to herself, trying to shrug it off, to make it seem like it didn’t matter. But the Prince sensed the seriousness of her tone.
“What do you want to do?” he asked. “At school.”
“Photography,” Lisa said, before she thought twice about it. She cursed herself inwardly, knowing that she should have prepared a lie. But she hadn’t thought she’d divulge a single secret to this man. She’d meant to dip into him, to get to the nitty-gritty of his personality and past. But here she was, pouring it all out for him.
“Oh? Do you have anything I could look at?” he asked her.
Lisa nodded half-heartedly, reaching for her phone. She’d published several images of her personal street photography on her website, which she’d set up the previous year, when she’d had a bit of cash on hand. She swept through them before stumbling upon a particular photograph from the summer before last, taken in Central Park.
The photo was of a three-year-old boy, leaning heavily against a bench, a sucker in his mouth. The sunlight glinted on his hat, which was crooked on his blond curls. He looked awkward, lost. And yet: his mother’s hands were wrapped around his shoulders from above, locking him into place.
“This is it,” she whispered, gesturing. “My favorite shot.”
Francesco took a moment to really look at it: to admire the colors, the positioning, the perspective. “You have real talent, Lisa,” he told her with sincerity. “I can’t say I’ve seen anything quite like this before. And trust me. Many, many people across the world have taken my picture.” He winked at her.
Lisa’s face turned bright pink. She smiled, accepting his compliment.
“Seriously. I think you have to go to school for this. If you don’t ever share your amazing eye with the world? That would be a travesty.”
“I don’t quite know what to say,” she whispered.
“Just keep doing it,” he told her, as another jazz tune filled their ears. “Don’t make excuses to yourself. The world is filled with people who give up and give in. Including myself, if I don’t call this wedding off.”
“You should call it off,” Lisa breathed, not thinking. “You have to.”
“Then we both know what we have to do, now, don’t we?” Francesco laughed, hailing the server. “Now, how about some cocktails? I’m feeling far too excited for wine. And they have some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had.” His gaze landed on a nearby waiter. “Server? Two Fitzgeralds please. And a plate of olives, bread and cheese. We’ve hardly had anything to eat, and I have a sense that this is going to be a long, interesting night.”
Lisa fell into easy conversation with the Prince, realizing that she was flirting and giggling like a schoolgirl. As two hours dripped to three, Francesco leaned toward her and whispered into her ear, his breath hot.
“Why don’t we get out of here?” he asked.
And Lisa found herself following him, almost as if her entire life had been leading to this dramatic precipice—as she flung off everything she knew, and followed this dream man.
Lisa found herself tucked in the backseat of Francesco’s limousine, pushing away thoughts that the driver had probably recognized her leaving the jazz club on Francesco’s arm. Her brain hummed with drink, and her body seemed to operate with a singular need to be held, to be touched, to be seen—and only by Francesco.
“Back home, sir?” Sergio’s voice boomed to the backseat.
And Francesco said yes, before turning his eyes back to Lisa, and tipping his face toward her, brushing her lips with his. Their kiss was tentative, yet filled with passion. Lisa wrapped her arms around his neck, inhaling his scent. They were connected, without memory of a time when they hadn’t known each other. They fizzled with stories and secrets. And they had no need for anyone else.
The limousine stopped in downtown Manhattan. Francesco told Sergio he didn’t need him for the rest of the night, and he opened the door, allowing Lisa to exit onto the sidewalk, her eyes bright in the effervescent city lights.
She accepted Francesco’s arm once more, and they entered the lavish foyer, the doorman dressed in an immaculate suit, tilting his round hat toward them. “Sir. Ma’am. Good evening.” He pressed the elevator button, assessing Lisa, the outsider. But, like a good doorman, he made no mention that she wasn’t the woman the Prince had left with, earlier in the night. He was no paparazzo. He was invisible.