How far would you go to discover who you really are?
Meet Julia and Ania: both twenty-five and gorgeous. One is blond, the other brunette. One is feisty, the other composed. One dreaming of a passionate love, the other of a peaceful existence. They are best-friends despite their differences, and they share everything.
But there comes a time when you must do something all by yourself: discover who you really are. Outgrow your old skin and become an adult. And for Julia and Ania, that time is now. Both will be shaken by destinies unasked for: family secrets, forbidden passions, intriguing mysteries, shocking pain. In this pivotal moment in time, life will alter them forever. They will never be the same.
From their homes in Toronto, Canada, to the vineyards of Vignale Monferrato, Italy, and the charms of Cracow, Poland, no distance is too far in the quest for the meaning of love, family and self.
Read an excerpt:
It was just another one of those days. Another 9-to-5 gloomy Toronto sky. Julia sat at her computer ignoring the screen and looking out through the shabby window. The view was less than appealing: a bunch of old office buildings and a dull scrap of sky. Whoever said “life is a bowl of cherries” certainly never saw the inside of an office on a Monday morning. Julia sighed. She hated winter. She hated her job. She was twenty-five and on the verge of total disillusionment. Her life wasn’t what she thought it would be. The same routine day after day at work, the same clubs and pubs with the same friends week after week. It was becoming predictable and uninspiring. Her life was far from the passionate existence she wanted to lead.
How did she get here? How did she become so pickled in a boring publishing office? Her salary was average, her drive to work a monotony of traffic, and she had no desire of becoming a senior editor or anything-what-so-ever at Browns Communications. Maybe someone was capable of getting a kick out of medical publishing, but it wasn’t her. And she used to love going out; dancing, having drinks and laughing with her friends. She had great friends. Why the lack of enthusiasm?
Julia sighed again. She was supposed to be polishing off layout, grammar and tables filled with statistics. So damn exciting, she thought. But instead of looking at her computer screen, she stared out the window lost in thought. It began to snow. And even though she hated the cold and winter, she smiled at the snowflakes. They were so delicate and beautiful.
Julia was born in Poland but raised in Canada. She loved wine. Loved cats. She was prone to daydreaming and wearing short dresses. She was stuck in that moment in life when you’re about to outgrow your skin; when you feel unsettled and eager and unsatisfied, but don’t quite know what to do with yourself. When you want so much more from life, but don’t know what that is exactly. You just know you want more.
She wanted to live large. To love large. Life was still an empty page. But it wouldn’t remain so much longer. Julia would turn her entire life upside down. Do things she never thought she would do. Become someone she never thought she would become. She just didn’t know it yet.
Her phone rang. Julia glanced at the screen and smiled.
‘Hi Julia, how are you?’
‘Oh, you know, hate the snow and wish it was spring.’
‘Yeah, I know,’ Ania said. Perhaps she didn’t hate winter with Julia’s passion, but then again, who could? ‘So how’s Justin?’ Ania murmured the name with a lover’s infatuation followed by a few kisses blown into the air.
‘Ugh…’ Julia rolled her eyes. ‘No comment.’ ‘Let me guess: you’re having problems? Again?’
‘We’re not having problems – he has an ego problem!’
‘Ah,’ Ania responded. She knew that Julia and Justin had been playing cat and mouse for months, and every so often, the game blew up in Julia’s face. Today must have been one of those days.
Julia was Ania’s best-friend. They met ten years earlier on the first day of high school. Grade 9 art class. A meticulously-dressed Ania sat at one of the large square tables which served as desks. The first bell had already rung, meaning the second would go off within minutes and class would begin. Just before it did ring however, Julia ran into the classroom. She used the door-frame as her break; hands stretched out on either side to grasp. The sudden, jerky halt sent her blond hair flying across her face. All heads turned to stare. A perspiring, red-faced Julia flipped her hair back and searched for an empty seat. Her eyes locked on Ania’s amused, plump face, registered the empty stool, then with all the dignity a red-faced teenager could muster, Julia started walking. The second bell rang. It startled the already self-conscious Julia. She stumbled, tripped and fell, hair and bag flying. The class went off in a loud roar of laugher. It seemed impossible that Julia’s face could blush even more, but it did. Thoroughly embarrassed, she peeled herself off the floor and made it the rest of the way. The very first day of her first year in high school was off to a magnificent start. She wanted to die.
Ania leaned over to the agitated Julia: ‘Loved your performance – I’m Ania.’ And that was the beginning of their friendship.
‘Let’s skip the Justin conversation, okay?’ Julia was saying. ‘There’s nothing to talk about.’
‘Okay then. No Justin. So what do you want to do this weekend? You do want to go to Daniel’s birthday-party-thing, right?’ Ania asked.
‘More than ever,’ Julia actually smiled. Anything to keep her busy from Justin would be great.
‘Wow! Such enthusiasm,’ Ania teased, ‘Daniel does have a great body. Looking to replace Justin?’
‘Oh come on… You know me, Ania. You know I don’t care for Daniel. Though he does look great, I admit.’
‘Yap, he’s a cookie,’ Ania agreed.
‘Yeah,’ Julia sighed, ‘but so what? Why can’t I fall in love with anyone? None of them do it for me…not Daniel, not Justin, not even Sebastian – none of them! They all seem so…so…I don’t know…not enough. What’s wrong with me?’
‘Nothing’s wrong with you!’ Ania said. ‘Love is a complicated business. There’s lots of lonely people out there. Including me.’ Ania paused. What could one say about love? Anything she said would be such a cliché. ‘Don’t worry Julia, you’ll find your Romeo one day. And then you can croon and soliloquy each other over a balcony all you want. Just don’t drool all over him while you’re up there.’
‘Yeah,’ Julia rolled her eyes, ‘Romeo fell in love with a different girl every fortnight. If they lived who’s to say he wouldn’t dump Juliet the minute he met a new babe? A quintessential modern womanizer.’
Ania laughed and Julia’s melancholy lifted. ‘Hey, listen, maybe…you and I could meet a bit earlier? Before we go over to Daniel’s?’
‘Sure, no problem.’
‘Maybe a coffee before we head out to the party? I’ve got something to tell you.’
‘Yeah, okay. What is it? You sound a bit…hmm…something?’
‘Um…let’s talk about it face-to-face, okay?’ Julia replied.
Something about Julia’s voice raised Ania’s perfectly arched eyebrows. Mystery wasn’t a cloak Julia often wore. Scratch that – she never wore it with Ania. It had to be really serious. But what?
Arguing voices woke up Ania on a cloudy March morning. Shouting and insults – a typical day at the Kowalczyk household. She covered her head with a pillow and tried to go back to sleep. It didn’t work. Giving up the battle, Ania put the pillow back under her head, opened her gluey eyes and focused on the radio-clock. 9:04 AM. So much for sleeping in on a Saturday, she thought. Yawning, she stretched her arms above her head then got out of bed.
‘What are you looking at, fatso?!’ Ania’s brother greeted her with his usual charm as he opened the bathroom door. She was leaning on the wall, arms crossed on her chest, waiting for him to exit.
‘Just go, Damian,’ Ania tried to ignore his stabbing words, ‘I need to pee.’ She wasn’t overweight. But she used to be – this fact had engraved itself into her consciousness. No matter how slim she may have been now, when looking into a mirror she still saw those chubby cheeks instead of the perfect hour-glass figure which drew lingering looks.
Ania had emerald-green eyes with a dark rim on the outer edge. The result was an exquisite, piercing depth. Her hair was a long, chocolate-brown flow which she wore loose most of the time. Thick bangs met her eye-brows. The unconsciousness of her beauty was a potent element of her magnetism. She was gorgeous. How could she not know it?
Damian, at twenty-one, was the older of her two brothers, and also the nastier of the pair. He took after their mother. Arthur was nineteen, the baby of the family.
Ania was twenty-five. The oldest, the shortest, the girl, the fat one during teenage years, the one to be picked on. She looked nothing like her blond, blue-eyed siblings, and didn’t behave like them either. But her parents never sheltered her from their bulling hormones.
‘I’m sorry for being late,’ Ania pouted. It was only a part-time job at a sports bar, but she hated looking irresponsible.
‘Don’t worry about it, sugar,’ said Tony, the manager. He was thirty-seven, tall, broadshouldered and certainly not immune to Ania’s sultry looks. However he valued her for another reason entirely. Ania was a great waitresses: she worked hard and she didn’t succumb to machismo flattery spending half her time flirting with customers. ‘Besides, it’s rather slow and you didn’t miss much so far.’
‘Oh, I’m sure it’ll pick up,’ Ania tried to put on a smile, ‘the guy on the radio said it’ll stop snowing soon.’
‘God, I hope so. I’m so sick of shoveling!’ Tony shrugged. ‘What are you gonna do, eh?’
‘Yap, that’s Canadian winter for you.’
Ania’s short conversation with Tony relieved her of guilt for being late. However, it didn’t put her in a better mood. Just before leaving home there was more family bickering. She needed to move out. Again. Why did her parents hate her so much? Why did they always side with Damian and Arthur who were just trouble-makers all around?
It had been such a stupid fight. Damian had come into the kitchen and smugly taken the sandwich she had made for herself while she was busy putting things back into the fridge. They started fighting and yelling. Then came the verdict – the voice of their angered father from the adjacent living room: ‘Jesus Christ! Can’t you keep it down? I’m watching the game here! Ania, just make another sandwich! Jesus!’
Ania gave her head a slight shake, then tucked her chocolate hair behind her ears. She looked around her section; a group of guys sat down at a large table. She marched off towards them.
Ania got to the establishment no real Canadian can do without first. Tim Hortons: the backbone of working society. Every morning there were hundreds of car line-ups all throughout the city to get coffee in their drive-through windows. You’d think they were handing out free money.
Choosing a seat by the window, Ania made herself comfortable. She knew Julia would be there any second so she decided to wait before getting coffee. No waitresses in this enterprise. It felt good to just sit and stretch out her tired legs – they served her well while she had served others for the past six hours.
A few minutes later she saw Julia rush through the door. Julia’s hair flew back and forth as she turned her head left and right searching for Ania. With the click-clack noise of her heeled boots she pirouetted, her blue eyes searching. Clad in the new shamelessly short skirt she told Ania about on the phone, dramatically dark eye-make up that off-set her long, blond hair, Julia was quite a sight among the quiet coffee-drinkers. That was the funny thing about Julia: she may complain about winter and freeze her butt off, but she wouldn’t bow down and give up the miniskirt.
Her prey spotted, Julia hurried over to Ania, heels clicking, handbag swinging. ‘Oh, there you are!’ she heaved with relief kissing Ania on the cheek. ‘I’m sorry I’m late, the pace was just disastrous and it’s not even rush hour! I got stuck behind a snow-plough on Islington…’
‘What kind of coffee would madam like? Large? Medium?’ Ania asked while standing up and reaching for her wallet.
‘Wait, I’ll go with you.’
‘No, no, the tips were good today,’ Ania grinned, ‘I think I can spare a buck or two for a coffee for my best friend, you know?’
‘Ah, of course, a buck or two…well then, as long as you’re feeling generous, I’ll have a medium with double-milk.’ As Ania left to get the coffees, Julia took off her jacket, scarf and gloves, then an extra sweater and finally settled herself in the uncomfortable plastic seat attached to the table. Her removed clothing formed a pyramid on the seat next to her.
Minutes later Ania was back. She looked at the mammoth pile of clothes and laughed: ‘Wow, we do travel lightly, don’t we?’
‘Well, not all of us were born polar bears, plus, as you well know, the heater in my car starts warming up like twenty minutes into the drive.’
‘I know, I know…don’t remind me of that tin-can you keep trying to convince me is something that resembles a car. Cars, my dear, usually have working heaters, on top of which, oh wonder of wonders, they also have working hand-brakes, horns, and don’t sound like tuned-up tractors!’
‘You missed the cracked windshield and a broken fuel-gauge,’ Julia gave Ania a wink and a beaming smile. Ania succumbed to Julia’s allure – you had to give it to her – the girl had charm. She exhaled loudly and sat back in her chair. Then she reached for her coffee and took a sip. Julia did the same.
After a quiet pause, Ania stole a glance at Julia who was gently blowing into the steam rising from her coffee. She hesitated, but then asked anyway: ‘So….do you still…miss him?’
Julia blinked and unconsciously straightened in her seat. She knew exactly whom Ania was referring to. It had been a while since they talked about her feelings for Sebastian. It must have been all that car talk that brought it on – he taught her everything she knew about fixing cars. Now that he was no longer her boyfriend, there was nobody to help with the steady tide of issues with her archaic Civic. She loved the car, however. No American thirteen-year-old car could have had nearly 400,000 kilometers on it without a change of engine somewhere in the meantime.
Julia let out a long breath, at the end of which, she tilted her head and looked far off through the window. ‘You know, there are times when I don’t understand why I don’t want to be with him… I mean, we have such a long history together. So much shit. And yet, so many good memories as well…’ She smiled to herself at the particular memory that just tickled her mind – candles everywhere, an empty bottle of Martini Bianco on the floor, she naked on the bed except for a blindfold, and he, her god of sensual pleasures. Mmm…yes, they shared some fantastic days and nights. Together, they discovered pleasures hidden within their bodies that up until they met each other lay dormant, unrevealed, unchanneled.
Sebastian wasn’t the first guy Julia slept with, but he was certainly the only one with whom her sexuality flourished. Prior to Sebastian, she didn’t find much pleasure in sex itself. But with Sebastian everything was different – the chemistry between them was undeniable, lingering and potent. They both loved to just touch and feel each other’s skin; the collar bones, the neck, the stomach, the thighs. They loved the glow of skin in the candlelight, the taste of it with Martini, the goose bumps induced by fingertips, the heat of hands, the tease of tongue, the quench of lips…
Julia realized that her mind had wondered off for a voluptuously long moment. She gave Ania a quick, closed-lip smile, and continued: ‘So yeah, there were some great times – you know very well what I mean – I had butterflies in my stomach…but all that wasn’t enough, and I haven’t changed my mind about that. I need something more.’ She took a big gulp of her coffee, and since Ania wasn’t jumping in, she said one last thing to finally answer the question. ‘And unfortunately, yes, I still miss him… Lately more than before by the virtue of comparison, you know? Justin is just so…so…God, I don’t know…so–’
‘–not Sebastian?’ Ania offered.
Julia frowned. ‘Yeah, I guess you’re right.’
‘So I gather things aren’t going well with Mr. Right?’
‘Well, when I see Justin at work it’s a great distraction through the day, we have a laugh here and there, send a few illicit emails, and then poof! Once work is done and he dons on his apparel-ofchoice he turns into a skater-looking, video game-playing, my-room-is-a-mess Don Juan, you know what I mean? All his charm and masculinity disappear the second he gets home. It’s like dating a child. Plus he’s not even a great kisser.’ Julia grimaced in jest. ‘So then I sort of lose interest, and he turns around to flaunt a string of other women in my face…’
The question begged to be asked, and Ania couldn’t resist: ‘Well then why do you keep chasing after him all over again?’
‘I don’t chase after him!’ Julia pretended to be offended.
Ania raised her eyebrows. ‘Rea–lly?’
Julia sighed and slouched her shoulders. ‘Well…okay…maybe I do. Just a little.’ She gave Ania a timid look and dropped her gaze again. ‘It’s just that there’s nobody else. I’m lonely I guess…confused… And he’s so damn hot when he wants to be!’
‘Anyway, all that is gonna be history. I have some news,’ Julia suddenly looked quite serious, and a bit scared. Ania now recalled Julia’s words from almost a week ago and curiosity climaxed. She sat still in anticipation of the big news.
‘I’m leaving.’ Julia announced and awaited a reaction. None came except for a confused stare, so she added: ‘You know, Canada?’
‘What do you mean leaving?’
Julia sighed, licked her lips, put both her hands on the table and leaned in closer. ‘I’ve decided to move to Italy – to a vineyard.’
‘What?! When? A vineyard?!’ Ania wrinkled her eyebrows. ‘WHAT?!’
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