April In Rome

Chapter Nine

"Mr. Dawson, you have a call from Martin Stefano on line one."

Jack, Tommy, and several of the massive team of private investigators employed in Rose’s fruitless search were currently engaged in a meeting discussing possible leads. The case had proven hopeless, up until now at least. At the receptionist’s page, Jack snatched the phone up off its rest.

"Martin…where the hell are you? I’ve been expecting a call for weeks now!" Jack impatiently exclaimed. The call was very static and a lot of interference was making it near impossible for Jack to hear an audible response.

"Jack, what’s so hellfire urgent?" Martin answered with a chuckle.

Getting straight to the point, Jack questioned, "I need to know the name of the place in Texas where Rose lives."

"Jack, our connection is bad…I can barely hear you. We’ve just had a tropical storm here and…"

Raising his voice an octave, Jack repeated the question in a hard, exasperated tone.

"You’re asking where Rose DiStefano lives in Texas? Oh…sorry, Jack, you’re breaking up…but it’s Rosedale." And with that, the phone line went completely dead. Nevertheless, that one elusive word set Jack’s spirits soaring. He now knew that vital piece of the puzzle that could lead him to Rose. Things were finally going his way.

Barking out urgent orders, one of the PI's pulled out a laptop and at Jack’s explicit instructions, quickly called up a complete list of all the communities in Texas, both incorporated and unincorporated. The coveted list seemed to take an eternity to print, until finally, "Here you go, Mr. Dawson."

Jack hastily grabbed the list and began perusing the names, reading them out loud.

"Rosebud, Rosenberg, Rosedown, Roseland, Roselawn, Rosevine…" With stark panic infused in his voice, he heatedly railed, "Shit! It’s not here!" His heart sank to the depths of despair and his shoulders noticeably dropped. Frustration, disappointment, and fury congealed in his veins drowning out every ounce of control he possessed. Then in a helpless fit of hot temper, with the back of his hand he viciously swiped everything off the top of his desk sending them flying through the charged air. Not stopping there, he snatched up the laptop computer from the astonished private investigator and savagely hurled it across the room—smashing it into tiny bits and pieces. His breathing was ragged and his hand clenched into a hard fist. Jack slammed it against the wall and then shut his haunted eyes blacking out the vast destruction caused by his dark rage.

"Get out! Everybody just get the hell out!" he harshly ordered.

Shaking his head, Tommy escorted the team of embarrassed men out of the ransacked office and walked over to his best friend. Placing a comforting hand on a tense although sagging shoulder, Jack ducked his head and in a shaking voice moaned, "She’s gone, Tommy. We’re not going to find her, are we?"

Trying to console his friend, Tommy sincerely encouraged, "Jack, we’ll keep trying. But the point is, do you want us to continue the search?"

In a helpless, distraught cracking voice, he dejectedly replied, "I’m never letting go, Tommy. I can’t quit."

On that very same day in Beverly Hills

"Fabri! Imagine that, we’re actually strolling along Rodeo Drive! I feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman!" Rose animatedly gushed.

Fabrizio DiStefano had to laugh at her silly girlish antics. His beautiful American cousin had always been an adored prima donna in his heart. Regardless of the recent turn of events, he still admired her above all women. She must have been that special mold that God based the entire female population in the world upon, yet regrettably had fell way short. That rare example of artistic beauty that most men never had the chance to glimpse. He could only wish that someday he would be as fortunate to have one such as Rose beside him in life to exclusively love and cherish forever. The poor bastardo that had gotten her pregnant and ditched her in Rome had no clue whatsoever of the horrendous mistake that he had made. He had to feel sympathy for him in a way, because Rose was everything a man could ever want—both inside and out!

Graciously holding the door open for her, they both laughingly entered an exquisite boutique for Rose to have last minute alterations made to her evening gown for Saturday night’s ceremony. Always enjoying her company, Fabri had agreed to tag along, especially now that she was her old self again—well almost!

Upon entering the exclusive shop, Fabri was instantly held captive by a voluptuous tall beauty with her back turned to the door. At the sound of their laughter, she docilely stole a glance in their direction and immediately locked gazes with Fabri’s darkened magnetic brown eyes. However, Rose didn’t seem to notice and excused herself to be fitted for her dress.

A while later, Rose was posed upon an elevated mini stage in a form fitting off-the-shoulder green velvet dress. Tiny matching sparkling emerald beads were intricately stitched into the sweetheart bodice that formed a "V" at her navel. It was tight at the hips and a deep revealing slit up the back allowed only a bare minimum of movement. As she inspected her appearance in the wall of mirrors, she mentally added the emerald and diamond baguette necklace and earrings that would compliment the picture. Dreamily sighing, she could almost imagine Scarlett O’Hara in her garnet red party dress haughtily smirking back. With a wistful smile, she silently mused, To only have that Southern belle’s spirit and way with men—maybe then!

From across the room, Helga Maguire admiringly stared at the ethereal vision being pinned and poked by the boutique’s seamstress. Unable to help herself, she turned to her female companion and complimented, "Gabrielle…isn’t she gorgeous?"

Not even looking at Rose, Gabrielle cattily retorted, "I don’t think so. She’s too short and I don’t like red hair. Red heads have too many freckles."

Helga was taken aback by the obvious envy in her companion’s voice. Of course, she wasn’t even looking at the lovely red haired girl. Presently, Gabrielle was intently eyeing a tall, dark handsome gentleman that was obviously the beautiful woman’s escort. Jealousy, indeed, mused Helga.

Gabrielle Astor wasn’t actually a true friend, but Helga simply felt obligated to her because she was the on again, off again girlfriend of her husband’s best friend, Jack Dawson. However, Miss Astor had a tendency to overplay the so-called attachment, always wanting to be in the spotlight and on a famous celebrity’s arm to help in her own rise to stardom. Yet, Helga got the distinct impression that Jack was just a player in this dubious relationship and it was strictly one-sided. Nonetheless, as she bemusedly perused the situation quickly developing between the dark stranger and Gabrielle, the word "fickle" came to mind. Lately, Helga had sensed that Jack and her were not "an item" since Jack had returned from Rome. Gabrielle, as usual, had been overly smug and hateful, whereas Jack had been mysteriously reclusive and downhearted. Ignoring her companion’s caustic remarks, Helga began to walk over to the gorgeous redhead.

"That color is so flattering on you. The designer must have had you in mind and especially created it just for you. It’s absolutely breathtaking!" she warmly admired.

Rose timidly smiled and humbly thanked the gracious blond stranger. Her gaze then landed on Fabri talking with a young, attractive tall lady and the mutual admiration between the pair was quite obvious. Rose’s curious emerald eyes flicked between the two. The magnetism between her cousin and the woman was so strong she couldn’t help but be inundated with memories of the breathless excitement that Jack had always stirred within her. Just as quickly, a poignant regret over her loss pierced her heart, infusing within it a sadness so intense it seemed to constrict her chest. It was all she could do but stand there with a pasted smile on her face. It was as if the glow that had once lit her whole being with joy had darkened to a morose awareness of what she had lost April in Rome.

And suddenly it hit her. That all familiar nausea and dizziness which caused Rose to sway precariously before Helga immediately halted her certain tumble off the platform.

"Are you all right, miss?" Helga sincerely questioned.

"I’m so sorry. I’ve never felt quite that light headed before. I’m normally not one to faint." Rose weakly admitted.

"Do you need a doctor? Have you maybe a condition like hypoglycemia or diabetes?" Helga worriedly probed.

Lightly shaking her head, Rose meekly answered, "No, it’s not that I’m afraid. I hear it’s quite normal under the delicate circumstances of my condition." Rose slightly blushed suffusing color back into her pale face.

Helga instantly realized her apparent misassumption.

"Oh, you mean you’re pregnant?" she sweetly inquired.

Rose nodded her head and affirmed, "I just found out a few weeks ago."

"How wonderful for you! I can’t wait to have children. My entire life that’s what I’ve always dreamed of…a husband with lots of babies!" she innocently revealed.

Suddenly looking sheepish, she stared into the twinkling sapphire eyes of the blond woman and felt nothing but warmth. Immediately opening up, she honestly confessed, "Well, one out of two will have to suffice for me!"

From the front of the store, Gabrielle belligerently remarked, "I’m leaving Helga…Give my regards to Jack when you see him again."

Just hearing that name sent chills tingling up and down Rose’s spine. Once more, Rose paled and appeared like she might be sick again. Tears began to well up in her glittering jade eyes before she furiously shook them back.

"Are you sure you’re all right?" Helga worried.

"I’ll be fine, really."

"Well, you don’t look fine. Come on. Let’s have a cup of tea. You look like you could use a little nourishment and female companionship. By the way, where’s your handsome escort?"

Rose couldn’t help but slyly grin at Fabrizio’s hasty secret departure. Of course, she knew exactly where the scoundrel was headed…Skirt chasing!

"My dear Italian cousin seems to be enamored by your friend. They just left together…how’s that for gallantry?" she amusedly quipped.

Both harmoniously laughing they later departed and sat down for refreshments at a charming tearoom nearby. Rose felt very relaxed and at ease with Helga. Although Rose never mentioned any specifics of her life, they talked of common likes and dislikes and indulged in outright female camaraderie. They discussed everything from childhood pranks to favorite foods.

As Helga intently studied the beautiful red-haired woman, her inner instincts picked up that Rose was mourning a disastrous loss in her young life. She briefly mentioned a recent spring vacation in Rome yet immediately changed the subject becoming somewhat withdrawn. Nonetheless, she was so refreshing and genuine with a remarkably outgoing and friendly disposition that set the entire room aglow. Not at all like the haughty Miss Astor!

Glancing down as Rose’s ringless finger, Helga hesitantly asked, "Does he know?"

Tears quickly blurred her line of vision and Rose looked away trying to hide the intense grief that the unexpected question had evoked.

"No, and I’m afraid he never will." Looking back at her new friend, she ruefully smiled and instantly changed the topic of conversation by gaily offering, "Do you and your husband enjoy music, Helga? If so, I have four tickets to spare for Saturday night’s Grammy awards. They’ll be honoring the Eagles’ Don Hockley. Are you familiar with his music?"

"My God, he’s my husband’s absolute favorite! Tommy’s an obsessed fanatic! I’ve been trying to get tickets for weeks now! It’s his birthday and…thank you so much, Rose! How can I ever thank you enough?" Helga excitedly gushed.

"None needed. I should be thanking you for saving me from a certain embarrassing fall." Smiling inwardly, Rose softly murmured, "Here, Helga, surprise your Romeo. Besides, it’ll be an excellent opportunity for me to meet your husband and for us to see each other again before I leave California."

The next evening, Rose and Fabrizio were riding horses together in the surf on Santa Monica beach. Having never seen the Pacific Ocean before, Rose was finally fulfilling a longtime dream. Looking out over the horizon gazing at the miraculous sunset, she suddenly halted and wistfully exclaimed, "Isn’t it absolutely breathtaking, Fabri? I’ve always wanted to come here but Daddy never allowed me to tag along on his trips. In Rome, Jack once mentioned he lived in a house that looked out over the Pacific. Funny, but I can feel him right now. Maybe it’s because we talked of doing this same thing," Rose ruefully reminisced out loud divulging a painful memory of her past.

Fabri solemnly watched her saddened expression and with a weak, albeit fake smile, merely nodded.

At last, Rose noticed his withdrawn, contrite visage and curiously asked, "What’s wrong cousin? You don’t seem to be having too much fun. You still hate horses?"

Smiling wryly at her misconception, Fabri hung his dark head and guiltily answered, "No, Rosa. It’s just that I haven’t had the courage to tell you this before…but it’s all my fault. I’m sorry for what I did."

Crooking a questioning brow, Rose curiously probed, "What are you talking about, Fabri? Your fault? What in heaven’s name do you mean?"

With a pained grimace, he haltingly admitted, "This hurt you suffer over this Jack. If I hadn’t come to America in your place…"

Not letting him finish, Rose interjected.

"Listen, Fabri, don’t be ridiculous. As I remember, it was I who instigated that card game and it was I who bet my ticket. I don’t blame you for anything." Casting him a coy smile she added, "Oh, I admit I was a bit miffed at first with Daddy and hatefully jealous that you got to go on tour with him." Shrugging her shoulders, she finished with a deep sigh, "But Fabrizio…what a magical April of dreams!"

"But you don’t understand, Rosa…I sort of cheated at poker," he sheepishly finished.

Rose’s eyes widened in disbelief and mirth. Bending over the saddle horn, she loudly guffawed like she hadn’t done in months. Holding her aching sides, she jokingly chided, "You what? I knew it, you Dago! I guessed it then…a full house my ass!" Still giggling with glee, she good humoredly queried, "So tell me, Fabri, have you enjoyed America as much as I did Italy?"

Completely disarming him with her unusual bright acceptance of his dishonorable offense, Fabri’s face lit up.

"I love it, Rosa. The cities, the people…"

Shooting him a suspicious albeit knowing glance, she impishly asked, "And have you met a certain overly tall special lady lately, say in the last day or so? Hmm?"

Beaming irresistibly, he only half conceded with a roguishly teasing grin.

"Maybe. I did meet an overly tall French lady in New York that held me in complete awe."

Crinkling her brow with confusion, Rose interjected quite puzzled, "In New York? Well, I thought…Never mind. Tell me about her and don’t leave a thing out!"

Shrugging his shoulders, "She couldn’t come with me. I find out her heart is made of stone," while leading her on with absolute merriment dancing in his gleaming eyes.

"I’m so sorry, Fabri. You deserve much better," she sympathetically consoled.

Not able to retain his laughter any longer, Fabri chuckled, "The French woman had too many admirers…always carrying a torch for someone."

Crooking a dubious eyebrow at her seemingly crazed cousin, Rose admonished, "I don’t see the humor in that, Fabri!"

Hysterical laughter rang out over the waves and was thrust upon the ocean breezes. Slapping his thigh at his own silly joke, Fabri teasingly revealed, "Her name was LIBERTY, Rosa!"

Joining in on the joke, even though she had been on the receiving end, Rose lightly conceded.

"You’re shameless, Fabrizio—utterly shameless!"

As soon as the words naturally popped out of her mouth, they stung with the recollection of another place and time with another person she had held so dear to her heart. Jack had chided her more than once in Rome using those same exact words. To avert the creeping bleakness that was enveloping her current cheerful spirits, Rose curiously teased, "How about this other tall woman we met yesterday on Rodeo Drive. I definitely sensed sparks flying. Am I wrong?"

"Perhaps. You think she was attracted, no?" Fabri boyishly grinned and charmingly blushed.

"What I think is that she’s the one made of stone. However, I get the distinct impression that the Italian Stallion here has already chiseled the lady’s resistance down where she’ll carry a torch only for you!" But to jab a little further, "She’s almost as tall as Liberty. Is she cold as stone, too, Fabri?"

Secretly grinning, he shook his dark head at her audacious question but then with complete gratitude he concluded, "Thanks, Rosa. I’ve needed to get this burden off my chest since April. And you give me so much confidence in myself."

Staring lovingly into his boyish features, she lightly warned, "Just don’t tell Uncle Vic it was me who encouraged your rutting ways, Casanova. He already thinks me too brash and free-spirited as it is! I can just imagine his reaction when he finds out I’m going to be an unwed mother!"

Although not a laughing matter, Fabri had to chuckle at her good humor. Rose could make the most caustic situations seem so light and easy sometimes. Impaling him with wild dancing eyes, she took him completely off guard with a daring challenge, "Race you back to the stables, Dago!"

At the same moment in a beach house on the Santa Monica shoreline

Through the open French doors the gentle ocean breezes wafted through the stale room carrying sounds of rich laughter. Sounds Jack Dawson didn’t care to hear anymore. His head was throbbing unmercifully and the pills he had reluctantly taken were not relieving the relentless pounding, which kept perfect time with the crashing waves upon the rocks outside.

Downstairs, Tommy and Helga Maguire were leisurely grilling steaks trying to bring some cheer to the lonely man—to breath some life back into his stubborn protesting soul. Jack knew that the two had the kindest of intentions in mind. And he appreciated their constant companionship. But mostly, he didn’t want it—he craved another’s presence. Someone now lost to him. Someone he could no longer have or find.

The emptiness of his life had bled over into all other aspects of his being. He adamantly rejected all projects that had been anxiously offered by his agent for his consideration. It just wasn’t in him to work right now. When he took a movie role, he put his whole being into the character. But now, he had nothing to give or offer.

And suddenly out of nowhere, he heard her laughter whispering in the wind. Taunting him, beckoning him, and his heart lurched into his throat. Racing to the second story balcony, he strained his searching gaze to try and detect where it was coming from. This couldn’t be a cruel figment of his imagination. He knew that laugh! And then, he saw her. Laughing and racing with the wind on horseback…but with another dark featured man.

Not bothering with the stairs, Jack leaped over the railing, knocking the breath from his chest. He slowly rolled over and shook his addled throbbing head. Looking up…she was gone. Dragging himself upright, he began running blindly down the beach, pleading, "Rose, Rose come back…come back!"

The harsh ocean winds were against him. Everything in life was against him. Chasing after a memory…after the other piece of his heart that was just beyond his reach.

Tommy jerkily looked up at the pitiful voice to witness his best friend dropping to his knees wailing after an apparent apparition. His heart empathetically bled for Jack. Something had to give and soon. The poor soul was going mad…pursuing an elusive dream that was gone. Jack needed help but where could they turn for assistance?

"Tommy, go to Jack. He needs you," Helga sympathetically murmured.

"He needs somebody, but it’s not you or me," Tommy gravely reflected.

Later that same evening, Tommy broke the ensuing solemn silence as the three sat down for dinner.

"Jack, tomorrow night we have extra tickets to the Grammys." Holding up his hand, "Now I know awards aren’t you thing but humor me for once. It’s my birthday and Don Hockley, my idol, will be honored. And I want you there with us."

"Tommy, I just can’t."

"Jack, this time I’m asking you for a favor." Tommy waited with abated breath.

Exhaling a deep sigh, he conceded, "All right, I’ll go."

With a very uneasy hesitant demeanor, Tommy haltingly continued, "You’ll need an official escort…uh, Gabrielle Astor has the other ticket."

"Shit, Tommy, how can you suggest such a thing. Just forget it! I wouldn’t be caught dead with her—not again! She’s cost me plenty!" Jack scoffed with derision.

At that precise instant, Helga entered the dining room from the kitchen and upon hearing Gabrielle’s name mentioned, slyly divulged, "Speaking of Gabrielle… yesterday, at the boutique she was quite enamored with my new friend’s male cousin. He’ll be there…"

Jack scathingly interjected, "Oh? Well count me in then. Maybe I can mess that up for her just like she did for me in Rome. Turnabout’s fair play in love and war. She certainly deserves it!"

Tommy raised an amused brow. What was that evil little gleam in Jack’s eyes? Perhaps a sign of real life for a change…a bit of revenge perchance? This should prove quite an interesting night, he inwardly mused.

Chapter Ten