GIA AND THE BLACK WIDOW
By Kristi Belcamino
Somewhere off the coast of Africa
Silver moonlight sparkled on the waves below.
I leaned over the rail as the luxury cruise ship cut silently through the smooth Mediterranean Sea headed toward yet another port.
Italy was out there somewhere across the vast dark waters, invisibly tugging at my soul, triggering memories of another summer night gazing on this same moon from the balcony of an Italian villa.
It was on that night—with despair engulfing me and grief clawing at my insides—that I realized my inescapable destiny: to always be alone.
The man I loved had just been murdered at a wedding reception, proof positive that everyone I cared for ended up dead.
Now, I stood on the Riviera Deck in the spaghetti-strapped, ankle-length, white beaded dress I’d worn to the formal dinner earlier and welcomed the chill that ran across my back, neck and arms. I let the wind whip my hair around my face so it would hide the traitorous tears streaming down cheeks.
Even though I was alone on the deck—everyone else long since in bed—I was embarrassed to be seen weeping, to be caught feeling sorry for myself.
I had more than most people could wish for in a lifetime. Except someone to love.
At least I’d made a new friend on this trip.
Natasha was one of the first women I’d ever met who seemed to meet me on equal ground. She wasn’t cattily eyeballing me and making snide comments like many of the women I’d met on this cruise—well, hell, in my life.
Instead, when we first met, she snaked her arm through mine and said, “I think you’re my type of woman, Giada Valentina Santella.”
For the past week, we’d been buddies. We’d had tapas in Cartagena, smoked weed together at an Ibiza villa, soaked in ancient Arab baths, and hung out with the Barbary apes and dolphins in Gibraltar.
Having a female friend was something brand new to me. On most days, we started out meeting at the pool. I had to admit I looked forward to seeing Natasha walk up in her black one-piece swimsuit, tossing her long red hair and flashing her brilliant smile. When she walked up, every man in the vicinity stopped and stared.
Her husband, Henry, was much older and his doctor had advised him not to take the shore excursions, so Natasha and I were on our own.
It had been a good time.
Until tonight. Henry and Natasha had argued at dinner and then dismissed me. It’d hurt my feelings, but let’s face it, I was the third wheel on their romantic cruise.
I’d been lucky to tag along for as long as I had. Normally Henry went to bed early and we’d either hit the dance club—until they kicked us out; drink in the Star Bar—until they kicked us out, or grab our own bottles and sit on the Sun Deck by the pool with blankets pulled over us and talking and drinking and smoking until dawn.
For the most part, Natasha had treated her husband like a doting granddaughter would—kissing him on the cheek and treating him in a solicitous manner. But now something was off. As soon as dessert was served, Natasha had whispered something to Henry at dinner and his face had grown dark. He’d hissed something back and Natasha’s eyes had grown wide. Then, they both stood and left.
For a split second, I’d wondered if it’d been something I did. But then thought, fuck that shit and ordered a few more drinks.
Finally, when the staff had cleaned up and I was the only one left, a kindly man in a white waiter suit approached and kicked me out of the dining room. I’d grown comfy slumped in my blue velvet, upholstered chair, tipping them back.
I headed for the Star Bar on the Baja Deck and, feeling fancy, ordered a cognac.
My attempts to have a friend had left me lonelier than ever. Maybe my only friend was the bottle. Now, that’s a healthy attitude. I ignored the group of men at the other end of the bar, talking and staring at me.
After a long while, it was just me and Sal, the bartender. It wasn’t his real name, but since he looked a little like my attorney back in California, I just started calling him that. He didn’t seem to object since I was paying for each drink with an Andrew Jackson and telling him to keep the change. I think he would’ve kept serving me until Christmas, but some uptight fuck in a suit eventually came over and whispered to him at the same time all the lights came on.
“Why don’t you go to bed now?” The dude in the suit said. I squinted my eyes at him and scowled.
The last thing I wanted to do was go back to my lonely suite and sleep.
I’d sleep when I was dead.
The truth was, lying alone in the dark always brought back memories of Bobby, and I wouldn’t be able to keep them at bay while I was three sheets to the wind. When sober, I could distract myself from the flood of painful memories. But shitfaced? Forget about it.
When it became clear the suit wouldn’t leave without me, I slipped off my stool. “I’ll go as soon as you do.”
I knew I was being rude, but I stared him down until he left, giving me one last nasty look as he stepped through a door into the back. Sal, the sweetheart and adorable enabler, slipped me a half-full bottle of bourbon and winked at me. I shoved the bottle in my bag and headed for the Sun Deck.
I plopped on a cushy lounge chair and pulled a blanket up to my neck, lying back and taking in the stars. They were mesmerizing at sea. My eyelids grew heavy.
When I woke, the stars were gone, and the sky seemed a tiny bit lighter. A huge full moon hung low on the horizon. I still wanted to avoid the specter of my empty bed and suite, so I took the short flight of stairs to the Riviera Deck. I stood at the rail searching the dark sea in front of me. For what I didn’t know.
For a second, I wondered how it would feel to just let myself tip over the rail, freefall into the swirling blue water below. But then I pulled back. I was a survivor. I was just having a bad night. It was normal. Bobby had been murdered not so far from here in the small Italian city of Positano. No wonder I was feeling shitty. It was difficult to be on the Mediterranean when not that long ago, I’d looked out on this same sea with the man I loved.
Checking out wasn’t an option. Because if I had nothing else going for me, I had this: I wasn’t a quitter.
I took a slug from my bourbon bottle, brushed my hair back behind my ears and squared my shoulders. The silvery moon was so fucking brilliant hanging low in the black velvet sky that I couldn’t help but feel a sliver of hope. Any world that had something that goddamn beautiful was worth living in.
That’s when I heard the scream—a long, piercing cry that split the pre-dawn silence like a sharp dagger.