I LOVE YOU, SALVATORE
Every love story is important, whether it ends in a happy-ever-after or tragedy, because two people shared something so special that it made them value each other’s life more than their own. I know this is true because my life with Salvatore Santini was a beautiful love story…
One that ended far too soon.
But I would rather live for only one day with him, than suffer a lifetime without him. Being with Salvatore was worth a thousand deaths. Through him, I experienced heaven on earth, something very few people find. So don’t cry for me, I was truly happy. But if you can’t stop your tears, save them for Salvatore…
The one I left behind.
I’m Rosa Aggio
There were three moments in my life that changed everything
The first was my father’s death
The second was meeting Salvatore Santini
And the last was running after my son that fateful spring day
My five-year-old son shot through the exit, yelling: “My teddy!”
I ran after Piero, pushing past people to get to him. The servants and my family were all moving in the opposite direction, heading for the bomb shelter. We’d been warned that bombs had been planted in the main house. A mafia war was in full swing on our island, sweeping up all of the families into its unrelenting violence. And right now, my son was going to be a casualty of war if I didn’t catch him in time.
I screamed at Piero to stop, but he disappeared through the back door of the main house. I ran in after him, spotting him heading for the curving staircase. Even though he was little, I could never catch him. The boy was like a baby Ferrari when he got going. But I needed to get him out; the bombs were due to go off any minute.
I took to the stairs as fast as I could go. A family guest raced down the other way, wrapped in a towel. She looked like she’d been caught in the shower. My family—the Santini, were protecting her from a rival family after she’d accidentally killed their heir. However, it looked like we also needed protection now. No one was safe.
I continued up the staircase, screaming at Piero to come back. One of my brother-in-laws overtook me, shouting: “Get out! There are bombs in the house.” Dominic was twenty-nine—seven years younger than me. He looked like a rock star with his piercings, scruffy clothing, messy brown hair, and tattooed arms. He disappeared into my son’s bedroom. I followed him in, spotting Piero picking up the big teddy bear off his bed. His father had won it for him at a local fair when he was three, and ever since Piero treated it as though it was a living, breathing creature.
My brother-in-law grabbed Piero and shouted, “Go, Rosa! Go!” I shot out the door. Dominic ran past me, his legs much longer. I was only five-foot, while Dominic was well over six-foot, all the Santini men giants amongst us mere mortals.
Dominic descended the staircase like a bat out of hell. My son clung onto his uncle, with his teddy bear squashed between them. He looked so tiny in Dominic’s muscular arms, my bambino crying for me.
I ran down the staircase after them, spotting our guest standing in the lounge, looking confused. She probably didn’t know where the bomb shelter was, since she’d only come to stay with us recently. Dominic turned the corner with Piero, yelling at her to get out. She ran after him, with me right behind her.
Then everything changed. One second the lounge was quiet, the next a loud boom enveloped the room, debris flying everywhere. As the explosion lifted me off my feet, I thought of one person…
L’amore della mia vita
The love of my life
The Early Years
In 1987 the stock market crashed, causing my family to lose our home. My father had invested heavily in it, and as a result we had to move from a three-story house in a wealthy part of Naples to a seedy apartment block with tiny rooms and noisy neighbors. It was a seven-story cream-colored building that had grayed and yellowed in areas. Clothes were hung out on the balconied windows for everyone to see, panties and all. Even worse, there were mounds of household waste rotting on the streets, the smell rancid. But we had no choice but to live there, since my family was bankrupt.
My father started working all hours of the day in an attempt to get us away from the squalor. As a result, five months later he died from a heart attack at the age of forty-two, leaving my mother alone with very little money and two young children. So, she moved us to her mother’s place on a large island off the southern coast of Italy. It was a huge culture shock going from city life to a small fishing village. To make things worse, my grandmother was a fire-breathing dragon who had probably driven my grandfather to an early grave. She absolutely terrified me. On the first day in her home, she barked at me that I needed a haircut before I started my new school. Tears streamed down my face as she cut off my long strawberry-blonde hair, something I had loved and taken great pride in. She told me to stop being a baby, that it was necessary, because there was no way I was bringing head lice into her home. After she’d finished cutting it short, I ran to my mother in tears, flinging myself at her. Little did I know that my new haircut would be the reason Salvatore and I met.
Our love story didn’t begin when we first met
We were only ten
Instead, we became steadfast friends
The daughter of a seamstress
The son of a Don
Two children who didn’t understand the consequences
Of becoming friends
On my first day at my new school, I kept my head down, embarrassed over my boyish haircut. After finding out where my class was, I headed to the back of the room, hoping no one would notice me. Luckily, it was fairly empty, so I took a seat by the window in the far corner. Outside, children bustled about, dressed in beige, white, blue, and red uniforms. As more students entered the class, I removed a book from my backpack and pretended to read it, wanting to hide behind it. I abided by the rules of the ostrich - if I couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see me.
Some noisy boys entered the classroom, the thump, thump, thump of their shoes heading my way. One of them yelled, “Hey, someone’s in your seat, Salvatore!”
My heart sank. Realizing I’d been noticed, I peered over the top of my book. A group of boys stopped next to my desk, the middle one capturing my attention. Despite being a head taller than the others, his height wasn’t what I first noticed about him.
It was his eyes.
They were stunning. They were a pale blue, with a darker azure circling them as well as radiating out from his pupils. I’d never seen such beautiful eyes before, so much so that I couldn’t look away.
He smiled, his expression telling me he knew I liked his eyes. He probably got a lot of compliments because of them, my staring no doubt a regular occurrence for him. But his eyes weren’t the only striking thing about him. He was very good-looking, much more so than the other boys, who were ordinary and scruffy in comparison. His clothes were pristine while his brown hair was slicked back, not a strand out of place. He reminded me of the picture-perfect children who modeled clothes in the magazines my mother used to buy when we were rich.
He cocked his chin up in a friendly hello. “Ciao. I’m Salvatore Santini. What’s your name?”
I didn’t answer, too tongue-tied to get a word out. The other boys started sniggering, making me even more nervous. Unlike the boy with the beautiful eyes, they weren’t so friendly-looking. It made me worry they were going to hurt me, especially the blond on my right, who was rubbing his fist as though he was getting ready for a fight. But they wouldn’t start a fight with a girl … would they?
“Aren’t you going to tell me your name?” Salvatore asked.
I cleared my throat, finally answering him, “Rosa Aggio.”
The blond boy started laughing. “He has a girl’s name.”
My face dropped, the realization he thought I was a boy making me want to cry. It was probably because of the horrible haircut my nonna had given me. It also didn’t help that I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, since my mother couldn’t buy a uniform in time. Wishing I could disappear, I lowered my head, now too upset to be scared.
“She’s a girl, you idiot!” Salvatore snapped.
The blond boy yelped, making me look back up. He was rubbing his arm, his expression annoyed. “How was I supposed to know? She looks like a boy.”
“She does not. You’re just stupid as well as blind.”
Salvatore took a threatening step towards him. “You are, so tell her you’re sorry or I’ll punch your stupid mouth.”
Looking scared, the blond boy blurted out, “I’m sorry,” then took off to the front of the class.
Shaking his head, Salvatore turned back to me. “Ignore him; he’s an imbecille who doesn’t know a pretty girl when he sees one.”
I smiled at him, stunned that he’d called me pretty. No boy had ever called me that before. In my old school, they were more interested in calling me mean names and pulling my hair.
Salvatore sat down in the chair next to me. “Get lost,” he said, flicking a hand at the remaining boys.
They all scurried off to different seats, Salvatore’s tone surprising me. He hadn’t talked to them as though they were friends. It was more like he was their boss and they were his henchmen, not kids of ten. I smiled wider, feeling special that he’d chosen to sit next to me.
He smiled back. “You can be my friend today.”
“What about tomorrow?” I asked, hoping I’d made a friend for keeps. I didn’t care if he was a boy; I just wanted to have someone to talk to.
He shrugged. “If you’re not boring you can be my friend then too.”
The teacher entered the class, cutting our conversation short. I didn’t know it back then, but meeting Salvatore would change my life forever.
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