Love & Gelato

Love & Gelato

Jenna Evans Welch

To David, for being my love story


YOU’VE HAD BAD DAYS BEFORE, right? you know, the ones where your alarm doesn’t go off, your toast practically catches on fire, and you remember way too late that every article of clothing you own is soaking wet in the bottom of the washer? So then you go hurtling into school fifteen minutes late, praying no one will notice that your hair looks like the Bride of Frankenstein’s, but just as you slide into your desk your teacher booms, “Running late today, Ms. Emerson?” and everyone looks at you and notices?

I’m sure you’ve had those days. We all have. But what about really bad days? The kind that are so pumped up and awful that they chew up the things you care about just for the fun of spitting them back in your face?

The day my mom told me about Howard fell firmly in the really bad category. But at the time, he was the least of my worries.

It was two weeks into my sophomore year of high school and my mom and I were driving home from her appointment. The car was silent except for a radio commercial narrated by two Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonators, and even though it was a hot day, I had goose bumps up and down my legs. Just that morning I’d placed second at my first-ever cross country meet and I couldn’t believe how much that didn’t matter anymore.

My mom switched off the radio. “Lina, what are you feeling?” Her voice was calm, and when I looked at her I teared up all over again. She was so pale and tiny. How had I not noticed how tiny she’d gotten?

“I don’t know,” I said, trying to keep my voice even. “I feel like I’m in shock.”

She nodded, coming to a stop at a traffic light. The sun was doing its best to blind us, and I stared into it, my eyes scalding. This is the day that changes everything, I thought. From here on out there will only be before and after today.

My mom cleared her throat, and when I glanced at her, she straightened up like she had something important to tell me. “Lina, did I ever tell you about the time I was dared to swim in a fountain?”’

I whipped around. “What?”

“Remember how I told you I spent a year studying in Florence? I was out photographing with my classmates, and it was such a hot day I thought I was going to melt. I had this friend—Howard—and he dared me to jump into a fountain.”

Now, keep in mind, we’d just gotten the worst news of our lives. The worst.

“. . . I scared a group of German tourists. They were posing for a photo, and when I popped out of the water, one of them lost her balance and almost fell back into the fountain with me. They were furious, so Howard yelled that I was drowning and jumped in after me.”

I stared at her, and she turned and gave me a little smile.

“Uh . . . Mom? That’s funny and everything, but why are you telling me this now?”

“I just wanted to tell you about Howard. He was really a lot of fun.” The light changed and she hit the gas.

What? I thought. What what what?

At first I thought the fountain story was a coping mechanism, like maybe she thought a story about an old friend could distract us from the two blocks of granite hanging over our heads. Inoperable. Incurable. But then she told me another story. And another. It got to the point where she’d start talking and three words in I’d know she was going to bring up Howard. And then when she finally told me the reason for all the Howard stories, well . . . let’s just say that ignorance is bliss.

“Lina, I want you to go to Italy.”

It was mid-November and I was sitting next to her hospital bed with a stack of ancient Cosmo magazines I’d swiped from the waiting room. I’d spent the last ten minutes taking a quiz called “On a Scale of One to Sizzle: How Hot Are You?” (7/10).

“Italy?” I was kind of distracted. The person who’d taken the quiz before me had scored a 10/10 and I was trying to figure out how.

“I mean I want you to go live in Italy. After.”

That got my attention. For one thing, I didn’t believe in after. Yes, her cancer was progressing just the way her doctors said it would, but doctors didn’t know everything. Just that morning I’d bookmarked a story on the Internet about a woman who’d beaten cancer and gone on to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. And for another, Italy?

“Why would I do that?” I asked lightly. It was important to humor her. Avoiding stress is a big part of recovery.

“I want you to stay with Howard. The year I spent in Italy meant so much to me, and I want you to have that same experience.”

I shot my eyes at the nurse’s call button. Stay with Howard in Italy? Did they give her too much morphine?

“Lina, look at me,” she said, in her bossiest I Am the Mother voice.

“Howard? You mean that guy you keep talking about?”

“Yes. He’s the best man I’ve ever known. He’ll keep you safe.”

“Safe from what?” I looked into her eyes, and suddenly my breath started coming in short and fast. She was serious. Did hospital rooms stock paper bags?

She shook her head, her eyes shiny. “Things will be . . . hard. We don’t have to talk about it now, but I wanted to make sure you heard my decision from me. You’ll need someone. After. And I think he’s the best person.”

Jenna Evans Welch's Books