It is winter in Italy. I stand in the warmth of my mother’s wool blanket, watching in silence as delicate flakes of snow fall from the grey and gloomy sky. It reminds me of death. It is so strange being here in Florence as it looks like this. This is my first winter in Italy. Yesterday it was sunny and crisp, the cool air warning that more cold was to come. Watching the darkening snow clouds slowly enshrouding Florence in a curtain of despair is making me feel a certain kind of longing. A longing for what, I don’t know. But somehow, I feel as if I’ve lived through a time like this before. Little flowers peek through the gathering snow like tiny specks of light. I smile. I feel like something is going to happen. Soon. And if it is a good thing or a bad thing we soon shall see.
I would come back to Florence as much as I possibly could, but it was difficult. After my parents split when I was ten, my mother moved away to her inherited villa here in Florence, while my father stayed in Venice, to run his famous Ricci Cafe. They decided for me that I would be staying with father. I guess it was more practical, seeing that I needed finish school. Though I wished they would have asked me what I wanted first. As soon as I graduated, I decided to come visit mother for a few months. Those few months have turned into a year and a half.
I forgot how strange and eerie this land was and now that I’m here, I realize coming back so soon may have been a mistake. Something is happening here in Florence, but I don’t know what.
“Clarisse! Darling, come inside, I don’t want you to get sick!”
I sigh and break out of my reverie when I hear my mother calling my name as she watches me from the window with concern. Before going inside, I take one more look at the white landscape with narrowed eyes. Someone is watching me.
No one is watching you, Clarisse. You’re just being paranoid.
That may be so. But why do I feel like I’ve seen all of this before?
“Clarisse, are you alright? I know you love to daydream, but should I be worried?”
I sigh, shaking my head as I shut the door and say, “No, I’m fine. But…it’s just so peculiar looking off the terrace and seeing all the snow. I guess it’s just a shock, that’s all.”
My mother doesn’t look convinced but she nods her head anyways.
“Yes, it is quite the shock. Many are saying this will be the worst winter Florence has seen in decades.” A pause. “I wanted to tell you that we have guests coming in an hour. I think you will be very pleased.”
“Oh my god, why didn’t you tell me like, I don’t know, this morning? You know I have to be at the library tonight.”
“Clarisse, don’t you remember? I wasn’t even here this morning.” I blink. She had to have been here, I heard someone say my name. My mother continues on saying, ”I’ve already handled everything. Just go upstairs and change out of that outfit. Put on something pretty. You can miss one day of work. Claudia won’t mind a bit.”
I mumble an ‘okay’ and stumble up the stairs into my room. I swear I heard my mother say my name this morning. Or was it even her? I assumed so since we are the only two living here, but when I recall the voice, it didn’t even sound like her.
As I change my clothes, I start to feel a little more normal. It’s okay, I’m fine. I will have dinner tonight and everything is normal. Although, I can’t believe my mother thinks I can just not go in to work. As if working at the library isn’t a real job.
I change into a sheer, long-sleeved but off the shoulder black dress that falls just above my knees. Dark maroon lace runs delicately through the black like veins. The dress contrasts nicely with my tan skin and dark hair. I let my hair down from its braid and let the waves fall down my back.
“Clarisse, our guests are here!” My mother yells up the stairs. “Come down please!”
Has it been an hour already?
I walk downstairs, convincing myself that I must have spent a long while picking out my dress.
I head into the foyer, interested in who my mother could have possibly invited over here. There are two handsome men, who could either be siblings or father and son. The younger one is the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. I start to feel sick as soon as our eyes meet. His lips twist into a smirk, striking golden eyes sparkling in amusement. He begins to walk towards me, sun-kissed skin glinting in the light of the chandelier. He is remarkably tall and broad shouldered, and I can’t help but notice the slight curl of his dark hair falling over his forehead. Where have we met before?
He bows gracefully saying with a deep, velvety voice that is eerily familiar, “Hello, Clarisse. My father and I are pleased to have finally met you. You are even more beautiful than your mother described.” He smiles again.
I cannot speak. I cannot do anything but stare. I feel like I have met this man before, but I know it’s impossible. I would have remembered him. He is looking at me with an amused glint in his eyes as if he knows exactly what I’m thinking. The amusement conceals a faint sorrow. I want to respond to him, but it’s like my lips have stopped working.
I blink. Again and again. I sway on my feet. My legs have lost the strength to support my body and I feel myself falling. I feel warm, strong arms around me and then nothing at all.
I stand with Rafael on a hill, cool autumn air rustling our hair. The view of the Apennines covered in blankets of snow is breathtaking. Little flowers peek from under the white, giving the mountains lively specks of radiant colour. Today marks the final day of winter and we thought it the perfect time to visit before we go overseas to Greece for the expedition. I can’t help but stare at Rafael, the sunlight giving his golden eyes an otherworldly glow. I watch his mouth tip upwards in a smile once he notices I’m staring. He turns his head and looks straight into my eyes, not saying a word, that content smile still across his lips. This moment is suspended in time, tiny flakes of snow beginning to fall around us from the clouds. I return his smile and lift my hand to his. He takes it and pulls me into his arms, kissing the top of my head.
“Clarisse, my love, this is a moment I will never forget as long as I live. It is bittersweet, but I know that Greece will be a lovely home for us. At least for as long as the expedition takes.”
I hold him tighter, saying, “It doesn’t matter where I am, as long as it’s by your side.”
He pulls back to look down at me, a universe of love reflected in his eyes. And sorrow? Why are they filled with sorrow? He kisses me and I lose all thought. I even lose myself. I fall down. Down into the deep dark abyss of reality.
I open my eyes with a start. The first thing I realize is that I am no longer gazing at a mountain, but looking at the foyer ceiling in my house. What the hell just happened?
I close my eyes again, gripping my head as if I can make some sense of what I just saw.
That familiar voice speaks, as familiar hands trace my own. I open my eyes. In him, I am reminded of another world, another life. A life that I once lived.
His eyes widen slightly in shock. He realizes that he never told me his name.
I open my mouth to say more, but I am startled by the shrieking of my mother once she realizes I am awake.
I try to sit up as I say, “Mother, I’m fine. I think I’m just hungry.”
“Darling, didn’t you eat anything this morning? Or for lunch? There’s plenty of food in the kitchen. Oh my god, I hope you aren’t starving yourself!”
“No mother.” I shake my head. “I told you already. I’ve just been feeling strange for the last couple of days.”
I look over at Rafael as I say this and find his eyes already on me. We stare at each other for what feels like an eternity when we hear the sound of someone coughing deeply.
“Hello, sorry to interrupt, Rafael,” His father says, “but would you please help the girl off the floor?”
Rafael stands, not taking his eyes off me. He holds out his hands, and I take them. He pulls me from the ground as if I’m only a feather.
Rafael clears his throat, transforming his face into the picture of calm. “Are you alright, Clarisse? You gave me quite the scare.”
I narrow my eyes at his feigned ignorance and say in a voice tinged with sarcasm, “Why thank you kind sir. Your concern is extremely delightful.”
My mother looks like a gaping fish, looking between us with wide eyes.
“Am I missing something here?”
Rafael smiles a saturnine, humourless smile. “Of course not, Ms. De Luciano. I think Clarisse is obviously feeling a bit unwell. We should probably reschedule the dinner, hmm?”
My mouth drops at the same time his father looks at him sharply. Is he trying to be rid of me?
His father intervenes smoothly saying, “Don’t be absurd, Rafi. We will stay as long as we are welcome, if that is alright with you, Martina?” He looks to my mom with a sparkle in his eyes, and I can see now why he is here. He and my mother are in love.
My mother laughs, “Yes you can stay, Aurelius. Is that alright with you, Clarisse? Are you sure you’re okay?”
I sigh. “Yes, mother.”
My mother claps her hands. “Perfect! I actually forgot to get chives to add in the pasta, so Aurelius and I are going to stop by the market before it gets too bad out. You and Rafael can get to know each other!”
They practically run out the door, laughing like teenagers.
“Clarisse?” Aurelius says coming back inside, “We will converse when I return, my dear.”
He smiles at me and I am stricken by how good looking these men are. They look like brothers! What water are they drinking? He looks to Rafael with a dangerous glint in his eyes, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
“Be nice, Rafael. You two seem to have much in common.”
Then he’s gone.
I turn to Rafael but he is already watching me, face devoid of any emotion I can recognize. He is really hard to read. I guess I’ll try to make it less awkward than it is.
“So, Rafael,” I attempt to make small talk, “It seems our parents are in quite the love frenzy. We’ll be waiting here for awhile.”
Yet still, he doesn’t say one word. He only stares. What the hell is his problem?
All of a sudden I am filled with anger. Why did my mother have to invite people over here tonight? Now I’m left alone with this annoying mysterious stranger. I shake my head. You know what? I’m going to the library. There is no point in staying alone here with Rafael while my mother has fun with a handsome man.
I walk away to grab my coat so I can head to the stables to get my horse. I don’t care if mother is mad. She should be the one apologizing. Just when I get my coat on, Rafael appears, looking a little panicked.
“Where are you going, Clarisse?”
Why does he even care?
“I’m going to work. I’m not gonna miss a day just to sit here and watch you stare at me for who knows how long until our parents return. Goodbye.”
I grab the handle to the front door but he beats me to it, covering my hand with his. Okay, now I’m starting to get scared.
“You can’t leave,” He says, “The snow is even worse now than it was before. It’s too dangerous to be outside.”
I roll my eyes. “I can’t put my life on hold just because of the weather. Now get out of my way.”
He stays just where he is, showing me that he isn’t going anywhere.
“Rafael, what are you doing? Shouldn’t you be glad I want to leave? You act like you can’t stand to be around me, but we don’t even know each other!”
Without smiling, he leans closer to my face. “We know each other very well, Clarisse. But I think you already know that.”
So there it is. The elephant in the room. I look up at him now, aware of just how close our faces are.
“I don’t know how it’s possible,” I whisper, “But I remember, Rafael. When we went to the mountains before we left for Greece. I remember your voice and how happy we were being together. Why am I seeing those things? And why were you so sad?”
Rafael inhales sharply and I am shocked to see tears forming in his beautiful eyes. I can’t help myself, so I stand on my tip toes, curling my arms around his neck. He stands frozen for a moment before hugging me back so tightly it’s as if he thinks I’m going to fly away. He buries his face into my neck. Why does it feel like we have stood like this before?
“I’ve missed you so much, Clary. God, I never thought I’d see you again.”
I pull back. “What do you mean again? I’m only twenty. I’m pretty sure I would have remembered if I had met you.”
“You’re only twenty?” He looks shocked. “What time period is this?”
I’m about to answer when he says, “You know what, I don’t even want to know.” He pulls away from me and runs his hand through his hair. “This is very difficult to explain. I don’t even know how to say this.”
“Then show me.” I grab his hand again. “Make me understand, I want to know why I feel this way. Show me, Rafael.”
He looks at me a moment before he grabs my shoulders. He bends so he can look directly into my eyes when he says, “Listen to me, Clary. Everything you are going to see will be of us. In another time, long, long ago. But it was all real, I can promise you that. None of this is a dream.”
Before I can say another word, I am plunged into a deep sea of nothingness.
I open my eyes. Sunlight. I can feel the sun, warming my face with its rays, coaxing me to awaken. I sit up, smiling into the distance, the scent of lime and papaya in the air. The sea looks radiant this morning, the serene sound of the crashing waves pulling me back into the land of sleep. But before I arrive, a familiar hand caresses my face. Lips that I know so well scatter across my cheeks, my eyes, before finding their way to my ear.
“Time to wake up, my love. I want to start the trek up the mountain so we can reach the top first.”
I open my eyes. Eyes so incredibly golden that they must have been created from a ray of the sun itself, gaze into mine, gentle and sweet.
I sit up, stretching my arms into the sky as I say sarcastically, “But Rafael, don’t you want to wait for Stefan? I think you’d love to talk to him as we trek.”
I say it jokingly, but Rafael’s eyes darken. Instead of shining like the gentle sunlight I’ve always known, his eyes now remind me more of a blazing, all consuming fire.
“What is it with you two? What happened to make you hate him so much?”
Rafael clenches his jaw. “That is a conversation for another time, Clary. But I think you should stay away from him.”
My mouth drops and before I can ask him why, Stefan comes around the corner to where we speak and smiles at me, completely disregarding Rafael.
“Oh there you are, Clary,” He says. “Come on, we leave in twenty minutes. We’ll leave even sooner if you can get dressed before then.”
Stefan smiles at me again, but notices the look on Rafael’s face. Stefan’s eyes narrow and he winks as he walks back the path he came. Rafael is as stiff as a slab of marble. I can’t help but think this isn’t the last I will see between Rafael and Stefan.
A half an hour later, we walk up the mountain path, taking photographs as we go. I walk ahead with Rafael, while Stefan stays behind with Celia, Greta, and James. As I walk, I notice the pathway gets much steeper and more dangerous the closer we get. I shake away the feeling crawling into my bones like something bad is about to happen.
“Walk in front of me, Clary,” Rafael says, “Everyone else, be careful. This pathway is dangerous, so go slowly.”
Celia goes first, then Stefan, and then me. I hesitate with the first step, looking down into the ravine even though I know I’m not supposed to. I look back towards Rafael, who encourages me with his eyes to keep going.
“Don’t look down into the ravine, Clarisse.”
I keep going, following the back of Stefan’s head, telling myself the same mantra over and over again. I will not fall, I will not fall.
Everything seems to be going quite well. Celia makes it to safer ground, holding her hands out to help us over. Stefan turns his head around to look me directly in the eyes and smiles. Why does he keep doing that? All of a sudden, Stefan loses his footing. His arms flail, trying to grab onto the nearest thing to keep himself upright. Completely ignoring Celia’s outstretched hand, he turns to me instead. Stefan grabs me, using me as an anchor to keep himself from falling. But not without consequence.
Celia and Rafael scream in unison, ”Stefan! What the hell are you doing?”
But it’s too late. I can feel Rafael’s hands struggling to keep me on my feet, but the weight of Stefan’s body on mine causes me to fall over into the ravine.
The sound of Rafael’s roar of anguish and fury fades away. I can only hear the rushing of the water now. I stop screaming, realizing my fate. I am going to die. I close my eyes tight, bracing for the impact. My body crashes into the water like an asteroid hitting the Earth. Nothing but devastation follows.
Everything hurts. I can’t breathe. My body floats up to the surface of the water. I try to swim but everything feels wrong. Like I no longer have control over my limbs. I don’t want to give up. I don’t want to die. But I have no other choice.
I think of Rafael. Of the bright future we once planned together. I think of his golden eyes and how I’ll never see them again, at least not for a little while. I think of his warm hands and how holding them made me feel like we could change the world together. I think of my love…And I finally let myself go.
I open my eyes with a startled gasp. I look into Rafael’s beautiful eyes, eyes that are filled with a world ending wrath. My hands fly over my mouth, catching the sounds of my sobs. Rafael pulls me into his arms, holding me so tight, I can barely breathe. But I can understand why. Whoever this Stefan man was—he purposefully chose to take my life away. And for what reason, I don’t know. But Rafael knows. And I’m going to find out why.
The sound of the front door opening makes both of us jump. But we don’t move apart. When Aurelius and my mother walk inside and see us the way we are, I wish I could take a photograph.
Aurelius smiles and nods towards Rafael. Does he know too? Before my mother can scream at me, Aurelius interjects smoothly.
“Martina, I think Rafael and I better be going. We should get home before the storm gets even worse.”
Aurelius looks directly at Rafael, inclining his head in some sort of secret gesture.
Rafael sighs and looking down into my eyes, he says, “You will see me again soon. I promise you, Clarisse.” He kisses me softly on the lips, making my mother gasp in shock. “I will explain everything to you then. I give you my word.”
And before I know it, he’s out the door and gone. Aurelius stands there, smiling at me. I can’t help but smile back, feeling a familiarity in him.
Aurelius bows saying, “Clarisse, I’m so very glad to see you again.” He winks. Oh my god, mother is going to kill me. “Something tells me this will not be the last you see of us.”
Aurelius then turns to my mother, and they argue in soft tones. My mother is completely lost. But Aurelius’ charm is enough to shut her up. At least for now. I run upstairs to my room before she can turn her anger in my direction.
I close my bedroom door and collapse onto my bed. I look up at the ceiling, thinking about how much my life has changed only in the last hour. There is so much that I don’t know. So much more I need to learn from Rafael. So many memories that appear in my mind, memories of another life. But I know one thing. I will learn the truth. I will find out who I am. And most of all, I will find whoever took my life away.