“I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but it’s definitely going to be all right. I promise.”
Lisa skipped out on the subway, choosing instead to wander through the city streets. After brimming with such hope and happiness the previous evening, the world now appeared in shades of grey, with sudden clouds forming at the horizon and spits of rain coming down on her shoulders.
She felt like a cartoon character, her head slumped downward, her hair hanging heavy with rainwater. Her shoes scuffed on the sidewalk, and men and women elbowed her, declaring: “You better watch where you’re going.”
But she couldn’t. Her eyes were glazed with tears.
Somewhere south of the Prince’s apartment, Lisa’s phone began to blare from her pocket once more—the familiar jingle that generally alerted her to good news. The paper needed her. But now, the noise only served as a reminder of the messy, backstabbing life she’d built for herself.
She eyed the caller ID, sighing audibly. She leaned against a brick wall on the corner, near Wall Street, plastering a false smile upon her face. “Rocco,” she said. “Great to hear from you. How’ve you been?”
“Don’t give me that,” Rocco said, scoffing. “I’ve been calling you all morning. Did you drop off the face of the planet for a little while and only now decide to join us?”
Lisa felt her smile falter. She eyed a homeless man on the corner, scuffling forward with bags attached to him, his expression grim. “I’m sorry, Rocco. I was tied up with work,” she said, flailing. “It won’t happen again.”
“You’re damn right it won’t happen again,” her editor said. “We don’t tolerate that kind of behavior in this business. Our readers want what they want, when they want it. And that means you can just disappear on me whenever you get the urge. The Prince and Princess were at the restaurant yesterday evening, as you reported, correct?”
“Yes,” Lisa breathed. “They were there. They bought out the entire restaurant.”
“Wonderful. And I’m assuming you captured some shots for us?”
Lisa didn’t respond. She felt her heart skipping in her chest, the oxygen depleting in her head. The rain had picked up and a huge puddle began to form in the road. Cars splashed by without care, sending sprays of dirty brown liquid in Lisa’s direction.
“Garcia? You got the shots? Did they fight? Did you get any gossip, any juice, whatsoever?” Rocco ranted at her, his voice blistering her ears. “Hello? Am I speaking to a brick wall?”
But Lisa couldn’t speak. She remembered the beautiful way the Prince had knelt down to her, kissing her cheek, her neck, her shoulder blades. He’d told her that something within her seemed to cry out to him, to tell him that everything was going to be all right. “Do you believe in soulmates?” he’d whispered, his wide eyes animalistic, making her crave him.
“I didn’t get any information,” Lisa finally spoke, interrupting Rocco’s rant. “I didn’t get a single photo, and I didn’t overhear anything of interest.” The lies poured from her mouth.
“So, you’re saying you failed,” Rocco said, his words heavy with disbelief. “You’ve failed us all.”
“I suppose so,” she whispered. As she spoke, a weight was lifted from her shoulders. The realization that she didn’t have to ruin the man she’d come to know over the previous twelve hours thrilled her. She wasn’t the garbage person he’d thought her to be. Not any longer.
“You have to be kidding me,” Rocco said. “You’re telling me you infiltrated the restaurant, served the Prince and Princess, and then came out with nothing? Are you stupid or something?”
“Not stupid. Just not a good fit for this job,” Lisa said, lifting her chin to feel the rain on her cheeks. “I guess that means I won’t be working for you any longer, doesn’t it?”
Rocco took a moment, breathing heavily, before he spoke again. “Look, Garcia. I don’t want to be rash. You’ve done good work for us in the past… Let me think about your situation and get back to you. But in the meantime, know you won’t receive a dollar of payment. You’ve wasted both my time, and your own. Is that clear?”
“Crystal,” Lisa said, stabbing her finger on the “End call” button and standing in silence, her ears and eyes focused on the city around her. She had half a mind to toss her phone in the gutter, to watch it fall down the drain. Disconnecting herself from her tabloid reality, and cleansing herself once more. Perhaps that’s what it would take.
Lisa began a slow walk back to her apartment building, feeling reaffirmed in herself and her artistic integrity. She stopped at a coffee shop, delivering a large smile to the barista, and then sipping her cappuccino slowly by the window, brimming with the realization that she needed to chart a course for a better life. The steam swept up over her cheeks, lifting her spirits.
As she sipped, she thought of Francesco. She could almost sense him pacing around his apartment, riddled with anger. She lifted her camera from her bag and glanced through the photographs she’d taken of the Prince and Princess, pausing to gaze at the Prince, at the darkness in his eyes, at the way his smile grew adorably crooked when he spoke.
She considered deleting all of them, thinking that she owed it to this man to leave him alone. She knew about his past, just as he knew about hers. And she didn’t want to taint his memories of her further, nor make his relationship with the press even worse.
But something made her keep them. Almost like she wanted to cling onto these memories of him, knowing she couldn’t get him back.
With the rain pattering against the windowpane of the café, she reasoned that she could call the Prince and tell him she would delete the photos, if he asked her to. “I know you think I’m working against you,” she’d say. “But I’m on your side. I think I could even love you, if given the chance. Please don’t force me out. This is worth our effort. I just know it.”