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30

It was almost eleven at night, and Theo hadnt shown up at the hotel, hadnt texted or called.

At first I didnt care. The Maggie and Bernard Show was entirely entrancing.

A woman of Maggies size should never ingest more than two alcoholic beverages. She certainly shouldnt try to match a huge three-hundred-pound Filipino drink-for-drink. But thats exactly what she did. Within forty minutes of being at the lobby bar-a luxurious, rather sedate place with plush couches, oil paintings and a musician playing a grand piano in the corner-Maggie was on a roll.

Hey, do you think you should maybe have a water? Bernard said when she ordered another Moretti beer, right when he did.

Im in Italy! she bellowed, as if that explained it all.

The waiters, who were exceptionally friendly and had to handle only a few other patrons in the bar, happily brought her a cold one and put more snacks in front of us with a look that said, This will soak it up for her.

When Bernard got up to compliment and tip the piano player, I told her, Mags, slow it down, sister.

But Im happy! She seemed shocked to find this sentiment true. She raised her glass, the foaming beer almost dripping over the side.

Bernard returned and sat down.

Maggie looked between the two of us with a huge smile. I really am happy, because Im with my best friend and She seemed to catch herself and realize that it was probably a tad too early to categorize anything with Bernard. She let the sentence trail off, returning her beer to the table in front of us, then cocked her head and stared at me. I do love you soooo much, Iz.

I love you, too. I laughed and gestured at the waiter for another wine for myself. When Maggie got liquored, which wasnt often, the emotional outpouring started. And really, who doesnt like being told how much theyre adored?

Maggie turned to Bernard and described how we met in law school. I walked into the student lounge, and she was sitting there with this guy. Id seen her around-shes hard to miss-but we were in different sections and wed never talked. After the guy left, Izzy and I ended up at the vending machine at the same time. I introduced myself and told her that she and the guy made a cute couple.

It was Blake, I said, picking up the story. And I was standing there trying to figure out how to break up with him. It just wasnt right between us. Never had been.

So she told me about this, Maggie said, and I helped her figure out how to lose Blake, although it took a few tries before their breakup would stick.

Yeah, Mags helped me, and in the process of losing Blake, I got Maggie. It was what we always said when we told this story.

And ever since weve been best friends. Maggie slugged back more beer. She told me she loved me again-about twenty-three times-and then we continued on with some of our favorite stories. Like the time Maggie and I went skinny-dipping in Lake Michigan and got out to discover that our purses and clothes had been stolen. And the time we were in a department store, Christmas shopping, and Maggie dared me to sit on Santas lap.

She did it! Maggie said. She was like this She put her beer down and climbed onto Bernards lap. He seemed more than happy to play Santa in the reenactment.

Watching tiny little Maggie perched atop this large Asian man, watching them giggle happily, that I realized I would like to climb in someones lap myself. A very specific someone. I glanced at the clock on my cell phone.

Theo landed a while ago, I said. I wonder where he is.

Could be dealing with customs, Bernard said, dodging his head under Maggies arm to look at me.

But he flew private. It shouldnt take that long, should it?

Dont forget this is Italy.

I called Theo. No answer. I texted. Also nothing.

I was just starting to get worried when I felt him.

I mean just that-before I had moved an inch, before I had turned around, I could feel him.

Yowza, Maggie said, looking over my shoulder.

I turned, and there he was, standing at the entrance of the bar, taller than I remember, his hair longer, and his face even more beautiful. He wore jeans and his army jacket. When he saw me, he dropped his bag on the ground. And he grinned.

I got up and walked to him. You made it.

I made it.

Wow.

Yeah. He nodded across the room at Maggie and Bernard. Your friends?

Yep.

Can I kiss you in front of your friends?

Yep.

Thats exactly what he did. The bartenders started clapping. Maggie hooted and shouted. And yet it all receded when he wrapped his arms around me, as if everything had been pulled away into a swirl, and we were the only things left standing.

When he finally let me go, it all rushed back in-the tinkling piano music, the lobbys marbled floors, the laughter of Maggie and Bernard.

We picked up Theos bag and walked back to join them. I introduced everyone. But then suddenly a voice in my head began hollering. I tuned in and heard that voice say, Its time to leave, Iz. Its time to leave NOW.

I froze my body. I listened harder. Get out, you idiot, the voice screamed.

The thing is, Id heard this voice before. And it had always been right. The fact that I didnt hear that voice last autumn, when Sam disappeared and my world fell apart, had bothered me. Had I lost my intuition?

But no, here it was-intuition that was screaming ban-sheelike, Get out!

Whats wrong? Theo said, a chuckle in his voice.

I peered around him. Two men walked into the hotel and approached the front desk. They were both wearing black pants and black jackets, their dark hair making them look almost indistinguishable. For a second, I thought they might be the waiters from the coffee bar, the ones who had a crush on the rossa, but no, not the same guys.

One of the front desk clerks was shaking her head at them, gesturing as if to say, Leave, leave.

Carlo, the concierge Id spoken to earlier, was still there, and after listening to the men talk, he glanced up at me, and his expression seemed to be saying the same thing as my hollering intuitive voice. Go! Leave!

The men must have caught his look. They jerked their heads over their shoulders and looked right at me. Then one of them raised his arm and pointed through the lobby, right to me.


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