My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century
by Rachel Harris
On the precipice of her sixteenth birthday, the last thing lone wolf Cat Crawford wants is an extravagant gala thrown by her bubbly stepmother and well-meaning father. So even though Cat knows the family’s trip to Florence, Italy, is a peace offering, she embraces the magical city and all it offers. But when her curiosity leads her to an unusual gypsy tent, she exits…right into Renaissance Firenze.
Thrust into the sixteenth century armed with only a backpack full of contraband future items, Cat joins up with her ancestors, the sweet Alessandra and protective Cipriano, and soon falls for the gorgeous aspiring artist Lorenzo. But when the much-older Niccolo starts sniffing around, Cat realizes that an unwanted birthday party is nothing compared to an unwanted suitor full of creeptastic amore. Can she find her way back to modern times before her Italian adventure turns into an Italian forever?
Praise for My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century
“A fun, romantic romp…a totally fun and totally satisfying read.”
- Lisa T. Bergren, author of the River of Time Series
“Fresh and funny, Harris’s detail-rich writing makes for a truly charming debut novel.”
- Holly Schindler, author of Playing Hurt
© 2012 Rachel Harris
I concentrate on the monitor in front of me and scan through the in-flight entertainment, attempting to tune out Jenna. Like that’s even possible. When my dad’s bubbly fiancée gets this excited, I swear sometimes only dogs can hear her.
We’ve been on this plane for over six hours. I woke up less than an hour ago, cramped, cranky, and carb-deprived, and yet the woman insists on being perky. It’s as if she were born with caffeine in her veins.
“Cat, do you know what this means?!?”
I quirk an eyebrow at Dad, but judging by his all-consuming interest in the newspaper, his stance of neutrality is in full effect. To tell you the truth, it’s not his impartiality that hurts. It’s knowing that by staying out of it, what he’s really doing is taking her side.
And moving further away from mine.
I settle for a crappy rerun and decide to throw the evil step-witch-in-training a bone. I lean forward and look across the aisle, catching a glimpse of her flying fingers on her BlackBerry—thank goodness they have in-flight Wi-Fi, or she might’ve actually wanted to bond. “No, tell me, Jenna. What does it mean?”
“It means your party is practically a shoo-in for the show!”
My party. Right. As if anything about this is for me. If Jenna really cared about me, you’d think she’d have clued in to the fact that anything involving crowds, paparazzi, and scrutiny isn’t exactly my thing. She refuses to grasp that while I might be a daughter of Hollywood, it doesn’t mean I’m a product of it. If anything, this party is for her.
Jenna’s too excited by her coup to notice my lack of reaction. She leans over Dad and gushes, “The buzz on this is absolutely unreal. Your party is going to be the biggest, flashiest event I’ve ever put together!”
I turn back to the television and pick up my headphones.
Unfortunately, that does nothing to deter her. “You can even sketch caricatures of the guests as they come in the door if you want.” She flashes a brilliant smile, like she’s doing me a huge favor. “Adds a fun, kitschy element to the whole thing, don’t ya think?”
No, I don’t think. I’m an artist, not a street performer.
She kisses Dad on the cheek, then rubs her thumb over the coral lipstick stain, and I watch him turn to mush. He’s so whipped. “Order me a Diet Coke if the cart thingy comes by, ’kay?” Jenna says. “I’m off to brave the bathroom line!”
I shake my head as she haltingly maneuvers down the aisle and stumbles into a woman’s lap. Jenna turns on her hundred-watt grin, tosses her poufy blond hair, and apologizes profusely. Then she plops herself on the woman’s armrest, abandoning all thought of bathroom trips in lieu of getting better acquainted with her new bestie.
Whatever. At least her ADD works for me, I think as I slide into her vacated seat, lay my head against Dad’s shoulder, and inhale the familiar scent of his spicy aftershave and Armani cologne. He wraps an arm around me, and I snuggle closer. It’s quiet moments like this when I can imagine things are back to normal. Before he fell in love with someone completely wrong for him.
Dad kisses the top of my head. “Thank you.”
I lift my head slightly, not willing to move out of his embrace just yet, and shoot him a puzzled look. “For?”
“For letting Jenna throw you a Sweet Sixteen. You may not believe it, but she has the best of intentions.”
Sure she does. I glance forward to see her slap the armrest and let out a high-pitched squeal. The only intention Jenna has is having her event-planning business showcased on MTV. Date someone famous, get his daughter on television, and generate mad buzz for your business—not bad for nine months of work.
I glance back at Dad. Why can’t he see how fake she is? It’s like ever since she came into the picture, he’s had blinders on, only seeing this giggly blond happy person—who is nothing like me.
“Jenna had one when she turned sixteen,” he continues. “She said it was, and I quote, ‘the highlight of her adolescent experience.’”
He rolls his eyes and grins, and the pressure in my chest lessens. He hasn’t changed. We’re still us, even with her around. Then his forehead wrinkles and he shifts uncomfortably, and that guilty look creeps back into his eyes.
Crap. Here it comes.
“Peanut, I know you’re always trying to take care of me, but I’m the grown-up. And it’s my job to look out for you. I want you to have at least one normal childhood experience.”
I snort. “Normal. Right.” With a teasing grin, I lean back a little and lift my eyebrows in disbelief. “Dad, I hate to break it to you, but we live in Beverly Hills. And while having your birthday party and private life broadcast around the world for entertainment purposes may be an unfortunate reality for media-obsessed brats, I don’t think anyone would call that behavior normal.”
Dad chuckles, and I gift him with a confident smirk. “Besides, when have we ever done anything like the rest of Hollywood?”
And the defense rests, I think, sitting back with a nod. Dad can’t argue with that logic. If it weren’t for our zip code and my fancy, overpriced education, you’d never know we had money. Although he’s a well-known film director and has a handful of Golden Globes, Dad has this thing about “normalcy.” I’ve never missed a day of school in my life, and he rarely takes on projects during the summer. That’s time for family and vacations, but none of that “private jet to remote locations” stuff for the Crawfords. Nope, we go to good old Disney World and the beach, with the occasional stop at a film set in Canada to spice things up. We don’t even have a maid or a cook.
Dad squeezes me tighter. “You’re right, we’re abnormal. But I still think it’s a good idea.” My head lolls against my seat, and he smiles. “It’s a party; it’ll be fun. Plus, I’m already doing a major suck-up job bringing you to Italy. Doesn’t that earn me any negotiating cred?”
I have to admit, if everyone has a price, a trip to Florence would be mine. I’ve been obsessed with my Italian heritage—the only thing I accept from Mommy Dearest—and the Renaissance ever since I saw Bernard van Orley’s Madonna and Child with Apples and Pears painting in fourth grade. Since then, I’ve inhaled every art book and novel on the time period or on Italy that I can find.
As bribes go, the trip is a good one.
Still, there’s no way I can let Dad off the hook that easily. What he’s asking of me is huge. Maybe things would be different if I were just a normal girl from the Mississippi countryside or the Cape Cod beachfront, or if people didn’t take one look at me and assume they knew my whole life story. If I could just be me, Cat Crawford, without any expectations or preconceived notions, then maybe I’d be bonding with Jenna over napkin samples and color swatches right now. But that’s not reality. So I shrug, affecting the confident, blasé image I’ve perfected for school and the media, and move back to my own seat.
I immediately reach in front of me for my backpack. Just holding it makes me feel better—more in control of my crazy life. I peruse the contents: my makeup kit and toiletry bag; my wallet, camera, iPod, and funkadelic purple iPhone; my art supplies and color-coded binder filled with tour packages and historical information; and finally, my reading material, including the copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame I’m reading for English. I brought it to work on whenever I needed a Jenna break.
By the time this trip is over, I’ll be a freaking Victor Hugo expert.
I pull out the book and zip my bag before leaning down to slide it back under the seat. As I sit up, I spot a familiar woman’s face out of the corner of my eye and freeze. My hands slick with sweat. My heart pounds, and the roar of the jet engine beneath me intensifies.
It’s just a picture, Cat, I tell myself. But it doesn’t help.
Splashed across my seatmate’s tabloid is a beautiful, smiling face and yet another jilted lover with the headline, Caterina Angeli Does It Again.
“Another one bites the dust.”
The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. The owner of the tabloid takes a break from her engrossed reading to sneer at me, but then a hint of recognition dawns on her face. She quickly turns to compare the picture of my mother on her cover to the downgraded, non-airbrushed, soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old version next to her.
I want to sink into my seat and look away, pretend I have no clue why she’s staring, but I can’t. So I force myself to meet her gaze head-on with a confident smile. Casually, I turn back to my book, open it to the dog-eared page, and pretend to read. I feel the woman’s eyes on me—watching, waiting for me to do something scandalous—and fight the urge to fluff my coffee-colored hair or gnaw off a nail.
Soon enough she’ll stop looking at me, expecting to see my mother. She’ll grow bored, go back to her gossipmonger ways, and forget all about me.
They always do.
Firenze. I look out my hotel room window and gaze at the rolling green Tuscan hills, the twisting Arno River, and the beautiful Ponte Vecchio. The world-famous Duomo, nestled amidst a sea of russet roof tiles, looks close enough to touch. I’m about as far away from Hollywood as I can get. I lean my head back, close my eyes, and breathe.
La vita è bella.
Lady Gaga interrupts my reverie, and I motorboat my lips. The chick may be a one-woman dynamo when it comes to style, and her songs are totally catchy, but my “Poker Face” ringtone doesn’t exactly fit the tranquil setting I have going on. I crack an eye open, sigh, then trudge over to my phone.
“Buongiorno,” I say in greeting.
Yeah, I’m all about the Italian.
“Is the room to your satisfaction, Signorina Crawford?”
I hear the smile in Dad’s voice and grin in return. Holding my hands out wide, I spin in a circle. Thanks to his newly engaged status—and the guilt over the whole throwing-me-an-unwanted-Sweet-Sixteen bit—Dad abandoned his tightwad ways and splurged for adjoining suites. Our hotel is an honest-to-goodness, real-life Renaissance palace, complete with breathtaking frescoes covering the walls of my room.
I’d say it meets with my approval.
“Meh. It’ll do.”
Dad laughs. “Well, I’m glad to hear it. I’m sure you’re settled in already.” I look around, noting the dresser containing my clothes organized in perfect rows, the dry-cleaning bags hanging neatly in the closet, and the empty suitcases tucked out of the way on the top rack. He knows me well. “Jenna’s itching to get going already, and I’m sure you are, too. How about we meet downstairs in, say, five minutes?”
My smile fades. I shoulder my backpack and grip the phone tighter. “Actually, Dad, I was hoping you’d let me explore on my own this morning. Before you say no, I’ve already looked into everything.” The key here is to prove I’ve done my homework and that I’m a completely responsible human being. “There’s a three-hour, English-speaking guided tour leaving from the Piazza Strozzi in about half an hour, and the concierge already gave me detailed directions. It’s only a ten-minute walk from here.”
My voice comes out calm and confidently level, despite my painfully scrunched-up face and death grip on the phone.
It’s impossible to put into words how important this is to me. And it’s not just because I need a break from Jenna, although I totally do. But coming to Italy and exploring my heritage, my only good connection to my mother, has been my dream since forever. I really need to ease into it on my own.
“By yourself, huh?” Dad pauses, and I hear Jenna talking in the background. He covers the phone, and I hold my breath. I walk over to the shiny gold wall sconce and trace the delicate curves, bouncing on my toes and moving my backpack to the other shoulder. Finally he gets back to me. “Jenna and I discussed it.” He’s big on presenting this united front, as if Jenna has an interest in my well-being or whatever. “And we agree you can go as long as you promise to meet us back here at two o’clock. That should give you plenty of time—”
“No problem!” I do a happy shimmy and kiss the foot of a cherub on my frescoed wall. “I’ll be waiting in the lobby no later than quarter till two, I promise.”
There’s a pause on Dad’s end, and I hear the muffled click of a door closing. “I know you need this, Caterina.”
I stop gyrating and wait for the other shoe to drop. He only uses my full name when he’s about to get mushy. Or when he wants something. But then, in exchange for an entire morning exploring Florence on my own, the man can have whatever he wants.
He clears his throat and continues in a lower voice, “When you come back, we’ll grab lunch, go do some shopping, and then have a nice dinner together. As a family.”
My eyes close, and I sink against the wall. As a family. The idea of giving me a close-knit family, like something out of one of his movies, has become an obsession with him. Dad and Jenna aren’t even married yet, and he’s already trying to cast Jenna and me into this perfect little mother-daughter scenario. I know my less-than-enthusiastic performance has been a disappointment, but I just can’t help it. I don’t trust her as far as I can throw her, and the fact that she seems so eager to be all buddy-buddy just makes me more suspicious. I already have a mother, and one sordid maternal relationship is more than enough.
But I still hate disappointing Dad.
I count to five and exhale a slow breath. “Deal.” I hear his grateful sigh over the line and open my eyes, blinking repeatedly to stanch the flow of tears building and threatening to erupt. Why can’t things just go back to the way they used to be? “Thanks for letting me do this, Dad. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Caterina.” His voice is soft and cracks a bit at the end. He coughs. “Now be safe, okay? You are going to have your cell phone with you, right?”
I pat away the tears, careful not to mess with my makeup, and straighten my shoulders. “You know it. Fully charged, with the extra battery pack ready to go. Please, did you really think I’d go anywhere without it?”
“Excuse me, what was I thinking?” Dad laughs, and my shoulders relax, letting go of some of my disappointing daughter guilt. “Go have fun, Peanut.”
We hang up, and I kick into overdrive, straightening the rumpled comforter and running to check my appearance. While it’s unlikely that paparazzi followed my family to Italy, the unfortunate truth is you just never know. They’re like an infectious rash you can’t get rid of.
When I glimpse my reflection in the gilded mirror, I cross my eyes and gag. The little flying I’ve done in the past has never agreed with my complexion, and today’s excursion has proven to be no exception. With no time for the full palette of colors I always have on me, I grab my makeup bag from my backpack and pull out the essentials. Mascara for my skimpy lashes, eyeliner to rim my uninspired brown eyes, and concealer for the annoying zit that crept onto my chin overnight. Then I pump the wand of my coral lip gloss and coat the oversize mouth my mom is most noted for yet somehow looks completely wrong on my smaller face.
Sighing, I return my bag to my overstuffed backpack, knowing I can always do touch-ups later, then heave it onto my shoulder. The thing is heavier than the pancake makeup Jenna wears, but I really don’t have time to rummage through it now—I’ll barely get to the piazza in time as it is. After a cursory glance around the room, I grab my large, dark sunglasses and hotel key from the nightstand and book it down the curved staircase of the hotel.
On the bustling cobbled street, I sidestep a shiny candy apple–red Vespa and breathe in the scent of sunshine, espresso, and perfume. A smile breaks across my face—this is what I’ve been waiting for. It feels as though I’m walking onto one of Dad’s movie sets and that none of this is actually real. Not the group of boys kicking a soccer ball in the alley or the bubbling fountain serving as a bench for some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen. Of course, they are competing with the surrounding American tourists in their wide array of T-shirts, white socks, and unflattering khaki shorts. Typical, cliché, and regrettably realistic. I stifle a laugh and pick up the pace, making it to the piazza with only two minutes to spare.
Slightly out of breath, I take a moment to size up the group waiting for the tour to begin. Our guide is a polished woman with mahogany hair and a sunshiny lemon-yellow dress. She has white-rimmed sunglasses and scarlet pumps, an interesting choice for a walking tour. Her loud hoot of laughter immediately reminds me of Jenna. I wiggle my shoulders and continue my appraisal of the group.
A family of four stands off to the side, huddled close together and looking completely out of their element. The little girl clutching her dad’s leg is probably no older than eight or nine, and their teenage son has earbuds in and an iPod clipped to his jacket. He’s got the whole scruffy skater-boy look going on. He catches me gawking, and I quickly turn away.
Way to spaz, Cat.
From the corner of my eye, I catch the conceited grin on Skater Boy’s face and roll my eyes. This is why I don’t date. Well, this and the fact that the guys who do approach me are either wannabe actors just trying to get a meeting with Dad or asshats who expect me to act like my mother. Really, who needs birth control when you have parents like mine?
A cute elderly couple rounds out the rest of our group. The woman’s serene smile makes my heart hurt for my grandparents, reminding me of the summers I used to spend at Nana’s house in Mississippi, tucked away from the rest of the world. It was the only time I could pretend I was normal.
But when I glance back at our small group, I realize that isn’t true. Not one of these people has given me a second look. It’s like I can actually feel the weight leaving my shoulders.
“Attenzione!” Our guide beams at us and points to the golden-brown stone palace behind her. “This is the Palazzo Strozzi,” she tells us in highly accented English, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Besides a few key phrases I’ve picked up in my reading, none of which will be helpful in any type of real-life situation, my Italian is limited to prego, pasta, and pizza. “It was begun in the year 1489 for Filippo Strozzi the Elder, a rival of the famous Medici family, who wanted to create the most magnificent palace in Florence. It was inspired by the Palazzo Medici, but unlike that palace, this one is a completely freestanding structure.”
I shield my eyes as I peer up at the enormous building. The rough stone façade adds weight to the massive structure, commanding even more of a visual presence in the piazza. What blows my mind the most is that this was actually a house for one family. And not even a royal one. While Beverly Hills certainly has its share of over-the-top homes, the Italians in the Renaissance knew how to do it right.
Our guide—Paola, I read from her name tag—gives us a few minutes to explore the area before we leave for the rest of the tour, and I slide my digital camera out of my bag. I don’t have time to sit and sketch all these buildings now, but I can cram my memory stick with inspiration for later. Following the other members of our group through the building’s rounded entrance, I snatch a half-dozen shots just of the stone work before turning to capture the pockets of people milling about inside.
Although it’s crowded and the palace is surrounded by street traffic, the courtyard feels peaceful. Quiet. In contrast to the warm October air and the sun beating against the pavement outside, the interior courtyard is cool. I lean against one of the tall stone columns and close my eyes.
Behind my veiled lids, I imagine this house is mine and I’m the Italian daughter of a wealthy Renaissance merchant. I picture myself gliding down the stone steps and across the secluded space in a long, flowing golden gown, my hair twisted in braids around my head. My days are spent sewing or reading, living among the artisans of the time. At the age of sixteen, I’m already considered an adult in the eyes of many.
I’m certainly not forced to host a stupid party I don’t want.
A hand touches my shoulder, and I open my eyes to the woman from our group, the one who reminds me of Nana. She doesn’t seem to speak English, but she motions to the street, and I nod. I lean my cheek against the cool, smooth stone one last time, then follow her out into the busy piazza.
Our group congregates around Paola and the flag she holds before taking off at a dizzying pace. Over the next two and a half hours, I pack more facts into my brain than I did studying for the PSATs and load up my camera as the rest of the tour melds into a series of Italian sights, sounds, and smells.
After a brief stop and sugar rush at a gelato shop, Paola leads us to the Accademia di Belle Arti. Home to Michelangelo’s David sculpture and the reason I took this tour. For years, I’ve dreamed of coming here, seeing up close the artwork and masterpieces I’ve considered friends, and I have to pinch myself to prove it’s real. If my art teacher Mr. Scott could see this, he’d flip.
I pass the crowd of art students on the ground sketching, wishing I could join them, and stand in front of David. The statue towers over me. I study the detail in his face and neck, his knees and feet. I stare forever at his hands. It’s as if his fingers could flinch at any second. He was carved over five hundred years ago, yet the detail work remains unrivaled.
It’s strange. I always knew people were people, regardless of time, but seeing the craftsmanship before me, in person, it’s like an exciting wake-up call. Throughout history, while day-to-day life has changed, humanity hasn’t. Renaissance people had the same talents, abilities, creativity, passion, drive, hopes, and fears we have today.
Or at least close enough.
Paola walks up and gives me the evil eye. As if waking from a dream, I blink and look around to realize our group’s disbanded and the mob around the statue has grown. She points to the exit, and I take one last glance at David, knowing I’ll be back.
I follow Paola out into the warm Tuscan air and watch with an almost giddy feeling as she waves good-bye and disappears through the crowded Piazza di San Marco.
I am alone in Florence.
A quick check to my watch confirms I have an hour before I need to be back at the hotel, and I plan to enjoy it.
A couple of guys zip by me on bikes as I turn down a side street, wandering and exploring, following the crowd and my internal navigation system. I end up at an outdoor market and slow my natural stride to match the lazy pace of the other patrons. Stalls are bursting at the seams with leather jackets, purses, and belts, and I make a mental shopping list of all the goodies I plan to come back and buy. At an outdoor delicatessen, a young boy working behind the counter offers me a sample of biscotti, and it literally melts in my mouth.
The street sign for the Via Sant’Antonino is ahead, and even though it’s only been fifteen minutes, I decide to head back to the hotel. It’s probably best not to push Dad to the limit on the very first day. Plus, if I come back early, maybe he’ll give me a get-out-of-jail-free card on that family dinner later.
Fat chance, but hey, it’s worth a shot.
I round the corner, and a dark army-green tent catches my eye, its front flaps fluttering in the breeze. It seems odd—a tent in the middle of the street—but I continue past until two older women walk by and I hear the word gypsy over the clanging of church bells.
My ears perk up, and I stop. Maybe it’s Victor Hugo’s influence—Esmeralda, the badass gypsy in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is my favorite character in the novel so far—or the whole When in Rome—er, Florence—mentality, but I decide to be wild for once.
In forty-five minutes, I’ll be having lunch and finalizing plans for a lavish, extravagant, overpriced, stupid, unwanted birthday gala where I’ll be forced under a microscope for all the world to criticize. I want—no, need—to do something just for me.
Something private and very, very un-Cat-like.
I pull back the flap and enter the gypsy’s tent.
Inside, it’s dim, with only a few lit candles illuminating the space. The flap closes behind me, but for the effect, it may as well be a steel door—the outside noise is completely muffled. I take a step, and gravel crunches under my sandals, sounding all the louder in this spooky setup.
I’ve officially walked into the Twilight Zone.
I stretch my hand out and feel a ledge. Opening my eyes wide, I struggle to read the framed sign perched atop some sort of intricate shelving system. It says to place any bags or belongings on the top shelf, and to take off my shoes and slide them into the tray provided.
I really don’t get how Steve Madden gladiators will interfere with a psychic reading, but whatever. I’m being wild.
Tiptoeing farther inside, following the trail of dotted candlelight, I continue to be amazed at how large the space seems. It’s a freaking tent, and not even a big one at that, yet I feel as though I could walk forever. One side is completely lined with shelves, and from the flickering flames of the candles, I can see rows of teacups, labeled vials, unlit candles, crystal balls, and stacks of cards.
As I drift toward the back of the tent, the smell of patchouli incense tickles my nose, and I see a small card table with a black silk sheath draped over it. Resting in the middle is a large sapphire-colored candle, its flame a spotlight on the woman sitting behind it.
Her entire face is covered by purple veils; only her eyes are visible.
“What answers do you seek?”
I jump. Not because I didn’t see her mouth move or the fact that she spoke English. But her voice is not at all what I expected. It’s youthful, cautious, and…Russian?
I lean closer to get a better look, but all I can see is the layers of veils covering her head and mouth. And those eyes. Even from this slight distance, they are hypnotic. A combination of ancient wisdom and sparkling humor, as if she’s peering into my mind and laughing at what’s inside. My scalp tingles, and a shiver of unease dances down my spine, but I refuse to leave. I’ve already come this far.
The woman, or I guess I should say girl, lifts an eyebrow, and it disappears behind a veil. I realize she is waiting for an answer, but for the life of me, I can’t remember the question. I blink a few times and rack my brain, my eyes never straying from hers.
“You fancy a reading, tatcho?”
Her blunt question and flat, tired voice shake me out of my trance and remind me this isn’t real. If it wasn’t for the occasional funny beep of tiny foreign cars, this could totally be happening in some back room in West Hollywood. Not that I believe any of this hocus-pocus stuff, anyway. The only destiny I believe in is the one I can control. So I shrug and say, “Yeah, whatever you usually do, I guess.”
The gypsy flicks her wrist, causing dozens of bracelets to clank in unison, and motions to the chair opposite her. She continues to stare at me from behind the table, her head slightly tilted, her hazel eyes narrowed. Finally she nods and walks over to one of the shelves, her layers of bright, multicolored chiffon skirts swishing around her feet. She picks up a teacup.
I wonder if I should mention that I don’t really dig tea.
“What is your name?”
Part of me is tempted to tell her if she were a real psychic she’d know it already, but somehow I doubt that’ll go over too well. “Cat.”
She pauses mid-sit and lifts her head. “Cat?”
Her disbelieving tone irks me. I straighten my shoulders, put on my usual mask of aloofness, and say, “Caterina. You need a last name, too?”
Although I can’t be sure, I think I hear her snort from behind the veil, which just annoys me even more. It’s impossible to get a handle on this girl. The gypsy shakes her head and begins preparing the tea, and I pretend to relax back in my seat. A nervous energy buzzes through my veins. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had.
Holding the pearl teacup by its delicate handle, the gypsy pours hot water from a kettle on a nearby hot plate, and then stirs in a heaping spoonful of tea leaves from a tin. Neither of us speaks while the tea steeps. She just sits across from me, her eyes boring into mine. I try to glance around the tent but continue to be drawn back to her gaze, like she exudes some type of magnetic force field. Eventually my eyes grow accustomed to the dark, and I’m able to see hers more clearly. They are strangely beautiful, like a luminous marble, amber colored with specks of russet, jade, and charcoal.
It’s spooky. But I’m completely transfixed.
The spell is broken when she reaches for the cup. She blows on it, holds it out, and says, “You are right handed, so you must take this cup with your left. As you drink, relax and clear your mind. Try not to think. If something does continue to come to mind, however, hold onto it. Meditate on it. Make sure to leave a small amount of tea at the bottom of your cup and try not to consume too many of the leaves. When you’re done, hand it back to me.”
There seem to be an awful lot of rules just to drink some tea and make up a fake fortune, but I’ll go with it. I take a sip. The tea is hot, and the floating leaves are icky and tickle my mouth, but I drink. I try to keep my mind clear like she said, but for some annoying reason, Jenna keeps popping in. Visions of her laughing and constantly trying to give me a hug assault me, then are replaced with equally disturbing ones of my mother. Fuzzy snapshot images from when she was actually around and then clearer, sharper ones from the big screen. Despite my every attempt to do or think otherwise, my mother continues to appear.
In my effort to stop the movie playing in my head and push away all the chaotic emotions those two women bring, I nearly drink the entire cup of tea. Luckily, I catch myself and hand it back. Definitely want to avoid incurring any gypsy wrath. I wipe my mouth and pretend not to be eager to hear her response.
Okay, so maybe I’m the tiniest bit superstitious.
She swirls my cup three times, then dumps the last bit of the tea into the saucer. She keeps the cup overturned for a few seconds before flipping it back over and peering inside.
I tap my fingers on the table and ask, “See anything good?”
The gypsy nods. “Arvah. I see a tent.”
“A tent? You mean, like the one we’re in?”
She nods again. “A tsera—a tent—is a symbol for adventure. You may find yourself doing something completely different soon. Perhaps travel is in your future.”
Hmm. A tent like the one we’re in and traveling in my future. Pretty convenient, considering I’m a tourist. Aloud I say, “Adventure, huh? Like emancipating myself and relocating permanently to Florence?”
She lifts an eyebrow, and I wave her off. “Kidding, obviously.”
I get up from the table and realize the tent has gotten smaller. No, that’s silly; my eyes must have adjusted to the dim lighting. Either that, or this chick has some seriously freaky tea.
I walk back to my bag at the front of the tent and hear her fall in step behind me. As I stretch to reach into the front pouch to get my wallet, I twist around. “How much for the, uh, session?”
The gypsy’s eyes grow wide, and her brows disappear behind the veil again. I look down, expecting to find a tarantula or some other crazy creepy-crawly to justify her being so freaked, and see the small tattoo on my right hip exposed. I drop my arms and yank down my shirt.
She bolts toward me, staring intently at the cute top now covering my body art. “May I?” she asks hesitantly.
I bite my lip and think. I never show anyone my tattoo. Considering my age, getting one wasn’t exactly legal, especially since I didn’t have Dad’s permission. But more than that, it’s personal.
But the girl seems so fascinated, and it’s not like I have to share its meaning or anything. If she’s a real psychic, she’ll know. Very slowly, I lift the hem of my shirt to uncover my upper right hip. Her fingers flex as if she intends to brush them over my stomach, and I flinch. Gingerly, she draws them back.
“The painted pear.”