Three Times You

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By Federico Moccia

Translated by Antony Shugaar

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From an internationally bestselling author comes the powerful and poignant final book in his Rome Novels trilogy, following two soulmates whose lives will be intertwined forever—perfect for fans of Reminders of Him and In Five Years. 

Step Mancini has more than any man has a right to ask for. He has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams as a television producer and can afford to surround himself with beautiful things, including his lawyer wife. And now his life is even more perfect because they have a baby on the way.
 
But there’s nothing like the magic of first love. When Babi Gervasi suddenly reappears in Step’s life, she brings back tender memories along with a shocking request for his help. Step knows that his wife can never find out, and so he begins a double life, torn between the two women he cares about most in the world.

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Love is when the other person's happiness is more important than your own.

H. Jackson Brown Jr.




Chapter 1

I am hopelessly in love with Hope. The understated graffiti gleams in all its tough disenchantment on a slat in the gate. I smile to myself, thinking that maybe Hope had given him some reason for hope, but I have no way of knowing whether or not that's true so, with my heart in my mouth, I walk into the villa.

I walk in silence until I reach that room, and looking out of that window, I take in the sight of the sea. It all belongs to me now, the terrace that gently drops down to the rocky shore, the outdoor showers with their yellow and blue tiles featuring hand-painted lemons, the marble table by the large window looking out onto the horizon. The sun is setting—exactly like that day nine years ago.

"Are you changing your mind? If you don't want the place anymore, you'll have to pay double the deposit in indemnity. Or else trigger a lawsuit I won't live to see the end of."

I glance at him, amused. This spry old gent has a young man's energy.

He frowns and coughs. "But you want this house, don't you?"

I sit down next to him and start signing the pages without so much as a glance. My lawyers checked them all.

"So you're buying the house, right?"

"Absolutely, it's exactly what I want…"

The old man collects the documents and hands them to his assistant.

"Let me tell you the truth, youngster. I'd have taken a smaller offer."

"And let me tell you the truth, sir. I'd have been willing to pay twice as much."

"I don't believe that. You're just trying to get my goat."

"That's as may be." I smile at him.

At last, the owner stands up, walks over to an antique wooden cabinet, and opens the door. Inside is a fridge, and he pulls out a bottle of champagne. He pops the cork with genuine delight and fills two flutes with ice-cold bubbly.

The owner raises his glass in my direction. "I told my lawyer we could have asked for more…"

I shrug and say nothing. Especially about the ten thousand euros that I slipped his lawyer to help grease the wheels.

I sense his eyes focusing on me in concern. I wonder what he's thinking. He shakes his head with a smile. "I hope you'll be happy here. Let's drink to that." And he raises his glass and drains it in a single gulp.

"Tell me something though. How did you manage to get your offer in the second I put it up for sale?"

"Do you know Vinicio Foods, the grocery store at the bottom of the hill?"

"Of course."

"Well, let's just say I've known the owner for years."

"So you were looking for a house around here?"

"No, I was waiting to find out when you'd be ready to sell yours."

"Just this house? No other house would do?"

"That's right. I was determined to make this villa mine."

And in a flash, I am hurtled back in time.

*  *  *

Babi and I were in love. I still remember that day. She was on a field trip, and I pulled up on my motorcycle. She walked over, lighting up all my shadows with her smile. I blindfolded her with the dark blue bandanna I'd stolen from her, and she climbed on the motorcycle behind me, holding tight. We rode up the Via Aurelia all the way to Feniglia. The silvery sea, the yellow broom plants, the dark green bushes, and then that villa overlooking the rocks. I pulled over and turned off my motorcycle. We got off, and in a flash, I found a way in. There we were, walking through Babi's dream house.

I pinch myself because it seems so incredible, as if I were back there right now, holding her hand as she stands, still blindfolded in the silence of that day, at sunset, as we listen to the regular breathing of the sea below and our words echo through those empty rooms.

"Step? Where are you? Don't leave me here alone! I'm afraid…" I took her hands, and she jerked in surprise.

"It's only me."

She recognized me and relaxed, smiling again. "The crazy thing is that, when I'm with you, I'd let you do anything."

"That sounds good!"

"Idiot!" She flailed out blindly but finally made contact with my shoulder and let loose with a good hard punch.

"Ouch! You pack a mean set of knuckles!"

"Serves you right! All I meant is that it's crazy to think I'm here. We broke a window to get in, and I didn't say a thing. Obviously, I trust you."

"Isn't that a wonderful thing? To put yourself into someone else's hands, ignore your doubts? I think it's the finest thing on earth."

"What about you? Do you trust me?"

For a moment, I said nothing, gazing at her face, half-hidden behind that bandanna. Then I watched as she drew herself erect, perhaps disappointed at my silence. Strong, independent, alone.

So I made up my mind to open my heart to her. "Yes, it's the same for me. I've given myself to you, body and soul.

"And it's a beautiful thing."

*  *  *

"So, may I ask? What are you thinking about? Come back to earth. Cheer up. After all, you just bought the house you wanted, didn't you?"

"You're right. I was just falling back in time. I was thinking about the things you say when you're swept away by emotion. It's crazy, but I feel as if I've been here before, lived this moment at some previous time. Absurd, I know."

"Oh, sure, a déjà vu! The same thing happens to me."

He locks arms with me and leads me to the window.

"Just look at how beautiful the sea is from up here."

I breathe a tentative "yes," even as a wave of sickly sweet scent washes over me from his weirdly puffy, teased-out hair. Is this what I'll look like someday? Will I have that uncertain, hesitant gait? Will my hand tremble as I gesture, like his does now, as he prepares to impart who knows what mysterious information?

"So, let me tell you. You've already purchased the villa, but you might as well know. You see these steps that lead down to the water?"

"Yes."

"Well, a long time ago, intruders came up that way. They can arrive by boat, so you'll need to be careful if you come and live here," he says, with the cunning of someone who's knowingly kept his lips zipped until it's too late.

"Who came up the steps?"

"I think a couple of young people, or maybe a whole gang. They broke a window, walked all around the house, broke whatever they felt like, and even defiled my bed. Bloodstains on my sheets. Either an animal sacrifice or the girl was a virgin!"

He snickers as he says it, choking as he laughs too hard.

"I found wet bathrobes, so they had their fun. They even stole a bottle of champagne I left in the fridge. But worst of all, they stole my jewelry, fine silver, and other precious possessions worth fifty thousand euros…Luckily, I was insured!" He glares at me, proud of this string of astonishing facts.

"Well, Signor Marinelli, you might have spared me that information. It might have been better."

"Why? Are you afraid now?"

"No, but now I know you're a liar. They didn't come up the steps, they brought their own champagne, they stole absolutely nothing, and the only thing they broke was that window right there…" I point. "By the door."

"How dare you? Who do you think you are?"

"Me? No one, just a boy in love. I entered this house, more than nine years ago, I drank some of my own champagne, and I made love with my girlfriend. But I'm no thief, and I stole nothing from you. Oh, well, I did borrow two bathrobes…"

I remember how Babi and I played at dreaming up names to match the initials embroidered on those bathrobes, an A and an S. After running through a list of weird names, we opted for Amaryllis and Siegfried and left them lying on the rocks.

"Ah…so you know the truth, do you?"

"Yes, but you and I are the only ones who know it. And you've already sold me the house."




Chapter 2

An anything but ordinary day, not long ago.

My secretary Giuliana follows me, as always, with the desk diary she uses to make notes of all our important appointments and deadlines.

"Let me remind you that you have an appointment in Prati, at the Network, to close the deal on your program, and then lunch with De Girolami."

Seeing my puzzled expression, she helpfully adds, "The writer who works for Greek television."

"Oh, right. Cancel it, please. We've got a better offer from a Polish network."

"What should I say? He's sure to ask."

"Don't say anything." I wait for her to move to the next item.

"So, we're done with lunch. What else for today?"

"Well, an appointment at Dear studios. Then at six p.m., you're supposed to go to this art opening. It must be important because you told me to make sure you didn't miss it." Giuliana hands me the invitation, and I turn it over in my hands. Balthus at Villa Medici.

"Who sent this invitation?"

"It was delivered by hand, addressed to you."

Typical art event meant for business networking. I draw a blank.

"I told you it was important? You're certain?"

"Absolutely. I asked if I should make a note, and you said, 'Yes, I can't miss it.'"

I slip the invitation into my pocket and grab the black briefcase with my various format presentations for the Network meeting. "If you need anything, call my cell phone."




Chapter 3

Villa Medici is imposing, elegantly and geometrically spare and beautiful, with its lovely Room of Birds and its enchanting, diamond-shaped gardens. Well-tended hedges guide my footsteps until I reach the front gate, where a hostess smiles and takes my ticket. I follow the line of well-dressed people down the red carpet, the soft music coming from first-rate speakers hidden in the greenery. Soon we're inside, admiring the paintings. The first one is dated 1955: Nude Before a Mirror. Below that, the lender: Pierre Matisse Gallery. Then the artist's name: Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, French painter, Polish born. Working as Balthus. I wander over to the window and gaze out at the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. From behind, I hear someone say my name.

"Step…?"

That voice suddenly transforms everything that surrounds me, pulverizes my every iota of certainty, erases any and all thoughts. My mind is empty.

"Step?"

I must be dreaming.

"Step? Isn't that you?"

So I wasn't dreaming after all.




Chapter 4

Babi is behind me, waiting patiently, fingers knit around the handle of her Michael Kors purse, resting gently against her stomach. Her hair is shorter than in my faded memories, although her blue eyes are as intense as ever, her smile as lovely as it had always been. There we stand, in silence, staring at each other in this Medici villa. Behind me stretches out the immense panorama of all the roofs of Rome, and in front of me, Babi, bathed in the red sunlight I see reflected in her eyes and splashed across the vintage sideboard behind her. We're alone in this room, with no one to interrupt this magical, special, unique moment.

How many years have passed since the last time we saw each other? Five? Six? Yes, maybe six. She's beautiful, terribly, terribly beautiful, I'm afraid. Then Babi makes a strange face, tilts her head to one side, and smiles with that pout all her own, the pout that won my heart.

"You know that you look even better? You men, I swear, it's not fair—you get better as you get older, the opposite of what happens to us women."

She smiles. Her voice is different. She's a woman now, slender, her hair darker, her makeup restrained. She's even prettier. But I keep that to myself.

She's still looking at me. Delightedly, she drops her Michael Kors bag and throws her arms around me, leaning in and resting her head on my chest.

"I'm so happy to see you again!"

At those words, I take her in my arms.




Chapter 5

Now Babi and I are strolling through a perfectly manicured garden. The sun peeks down over the far-flung roofs. The air is still. It's May 4, and it's already hot out. We're sitting across from each other at a table. We've just placed our orders. Yes, something to drink, perhaps a bite to eat. I don't remember what, maybe a cold cappuccino for me.

She takes a sip of her Crodino and eats a potato chip and wipes her mouth. There was a chill in the air, even six years later, about her decision to move on without me.

"Step?"

She's looking at me, seeking my approval, trying to come to terms, perhaps angling for me to forgive her in a way. Yes, she's in search of clemency, but I don't know what to say to her.

So she lays her hand on mine again and smiles. "I know what you're thinking, I know why you're mad…"

I'm tempted to tell her that she doesn't know a thing. She strokes my hand and goes on staring at me, and her eyes start to glisten, as if she is on the verge of tears, and her lower lip begins to quiver. She's either become a talented actress over the years or she really is struggling with controlling her emotions. What can this be about though? Has she found out about me and Gin? So what if she has? I have nothing to hide. Then the expression on her face snaps back into shape, her eyes open wide as if to make me laugh, and then, suddenly cheerful, she exclaims: "I brought you a gift!"

She digs in her purse and pulls out a dark blue gift wrapped package with a sky-blue bow. She knows my tastes so, of course, there's a card. It's fastened to the bow with a length of twine, sealed in place with a slug of wax. I look at it and, I admit, I'm stunned and confused. I start to open it, but she slips it swiftly out of my hands.

"No! Wait…"

I glance at her, baffled. "What's wrong?"

"There's something else you have to see first or else you won't understand."

"In fact, I can promise you that I don't understand…"

"Just a second, you'll understand and then it will all be so much simpler."

Then she exclaims: "There he is!" And her face lights up. She raises her hand high and waves, shouting in delight: "I'm right here! Right here!"

Now I see a little boy running right toward us, and a woman dressed in white is standing in the distance, holding a small bicycle. Babi throws her arms wide, and he leaps into her lap, knocking her back in her chair.

They hug lovingly. Babi's eyes seek out mine through the boy's tousled hair, and she nods, as if trying to tell me something. Suddenly, the boy pulls away from Babi.

"I'm a champion, Mamma! Right? Aren't I a champion?"

"Yes, sweetheart. Can I introduce you to my friend? His name is Stefano, but everyone calls him Step."

The little boy turns and sees me. Then he hesitates, unsure about what to do next. But he quickly smiles. "Can I call you Step too?"

"Sure." I smile at him.

"Then I'll call you Step! I like that name. It reminds me of Stitch!" And he runs away. He's a good-looking boy. His lips are full, his teeth are straight and white, and his eyes are dark. He has a striped T-shirt, white, dark blue, and light blue. "He's a beautiful boy."

"Yes, thanks. He is."

Babi watches as the boy reaches his nanny, takes his bicycle, climbs onto it, tries to pedal and, finally, succeeds. He rides a certain distance without falling.

"Bravo!" Babi claps her hands.

She's filled with delight at his achievement. Then she turns and hands me my gift.

"Here. Now you can open it."

So I unwrap it. I find a T-shirt, XL, which is my size, with a white collar. I take another look. I can't believe my eyes. It's striped—white, dark blue, and light blue—identical to the one her little boy is wearing. I look up and meet her gaze, level and serious now.

"Yes. That's right. And maybe that's why I've never really missed you." Suddenly, I'm having trouble breathing, and my head is spinning. I stand there, my jaw hanging open, stunned, excited, surprised, angry, confused, and, yes, at a loss.

Then Babi touches my hand again. "Aren't you going to say anything? Don't you think your son is handsome and wonderful?"




Chapter 6

A lightning bolt has split my life in two. I have a son. And to think that it's exactly what I've always longed for. To have an unshakable bond with a woman, not a promise of love or a wedding vow but a living, breathing child. The union of two people in the form of creation, that almost divine instant that manifests itself in the encounter between two human beings, in a dizzying mixture that spins, choosing details, nuances, and pigments, that daubs at a tiny painting destined to bloom in the future. She and I. Me and you, Babi. And this child. I try to string together a few coherent words.

"What did you name him?"

"Massimo. Like a warrior on a prancing steed, even if he's only managed to ride a bicycle so far. Still, that's a victory of sorts." She laughs lightly and tosses her hair in the wind.

And I think back to that party, six years ago, that my friend Guido took me to. That splendid villa, the cheerful crowd, the glass of rum—Pampero, the finest. Then another glass, and yet another. The sound of that laughter in my memory matches up with another peal of laughter from a nearby room at that long-ago party. No doubt even then: Babi's laughter.

The rest is history.

Babi…Babi…Champagne for both of us, on top of the rum. And then we danced, and then she grabbed my hand and pulled me out the door of that villa, across the lawn, down the drive, out the gate, into her car, and out into the night. And we made love as if this were a new beginning, as if nothing could ever change from that day on. Like a message from destiny, a fork in the road.

It started to rain, and she dragged me out of the car, her blouse unbuttoned, because she wanted to make love in the pouring rain. She let the water embrace her, along with my kisses on her rain-drenched nipples. Under her skirt, she was naked, sensuous, daring, and lustful. I let myself go. Babi straddled me, wrapped her arms around me, and I lost all control. She whispered, "Come on, come on, come on." And she pulled away only at the end, when I was already coming. She collapsed on top of me, and as she planted a light kiss on my lips, only then did I sense my guilt. Gin.

And then, back in the car, the first words Babi spoke cut like a knife. "In a few months, I'm getting married." That's what Babi told me, still warm with the heat of the two of us, of my kisses, of our sex, of our sighs.

"In a few months, I'm getting married." Like a song on an endless loop.

"In a few months, I'm getting married."

And it was all over in a flash. There was a knot in my stomach. I could barely breathe.

"In a few months, I'm getting married."

It all ended that night. I felt dirty, stupid, and guilty, so I decided to tell Gin the truth. I begged her to forgive me because I wanted to delete Babi from my life, and also that Step, the one drunk on rum and her. But can love be forgiven?

"Are you trying to figure out when it was?" Babi's voice brings me back to the present.

"There can't be any doubt about it. The last time we were together. When we met at that party."

She glances at me mischievously. She seems to have turned back into the girl of six years ago. It almost hurts to wrench my eyes away from her, but I have to do it.

"I had a lot to drink."

"Yes, that's true. Your kisses were all the more passionate. You were out of control." Then she falls silent.

"It was that night."

She sighs. "So the next day, I had sex with him. It was a sacrifice, I could still taste you on my skin, but I had to make it look credible. Afterwards, I wept. I felt empty, sad, and meaningless."

"So why do you think he's my son?"

But no sooner do I finish that question than I see him coming toward us on his bike. He's pumping wildly, standing on the pedals, and he swerves as he brakes, fishtailing, but the bike goes over and he manages to land on both feet. He looks up, slightly embarrassed.

"Mamma, that other boy did it." He turns his head, gesturing vaguely behind him. Then "Step, will you teach me?" And with that, he gets back on the bike and rides off, happily.

Babi watches him go. "How can you even ask if he's yours? He's like you in every way, every single thing he does. There's only one thing that's a little different."

As if startled out of a trance, I turn around to look at her, more curious than I've ever been. "What's that?"

"He's better looking!" And she bursts into laughter, delighted to have tricked me, tossing her head back and extending her legs. She's beautiful, just gorgeous, a woman in full, more sensuous but also a mother. Does that make her more desirable?

I think about what she said. "I had to make it look credible…" Those words stir up a sludge of guilt.

Suddenly, Babi stops laughing and lays a hand on my arm. "You were there, every time I held him in my arms. And that's why I didn't really miss you. I had you the whole time."

I'm lost. I was born to be with Babi. It goes beyond mere reason; she's everything I could never understand. And as I watch her leave now, I tell her in my mind, that walk that is all you, and even though it's been six years, I've never forgotten a single detail of that gait. Your back, your hips, your tanned legs, those high-heeled navy-blue shoes that swing with every stride you take. And you don't turn around, but that little boy turns instead, raising his hand and waving goodbye, hurting me more deeply than anything I've felt yet.




Chapter 7

I

Genre:

  • "This poignant story will break the toughest of hearts. Nicholas Sparks enthusiasts have another author to enjoy.”
     —Booklist
  • "Readers who enjoy roller-coaster emotions and books by Cecelia Ahern will enjoy this read."—Booklist on Two Chances With You
  • “A deep, passionate romance that transcends time and age. Readers will appreciate this highly intense coming-of-age story that shows how much some are willing to risk for love. One Step to You has been aptly compared to the novels of Nicholas Sparks and John Green and will appeal to readers of those highly emotional tales.”
     —Booklist on One Step to You, starred review
  • "Capture[s] the turbulent passion of teen love.”
     —Publishers Weekly on One Step to You
  • "With his novels, the writer Federico Moccia has revolutionized young people."—Glamour on One Step to You
  • "Federico Moccia is a household name for millions of readers."—Revista Universitarios (Spain) on One Step to You
  • "Federico Moccia knows how to get straight to the heart of all young readers. His words always hit the right spot."—TTL (Italian newspaper) on One Step to You
  • "Federico Moccia is the romance king of the Mediterranean bestseller."—Woman (Spain) on One Step to You
  • "The Roman writer has managed to connect with an audience who have become dedicated fans and who are eager to read his novels, great romances with vital teachings."—El Pais (Spain) on One Step to You
  • "His novels of young love are sold by millions around the world."—El Mundo (Spain) on One Step to You
  • "Federico Moccia has touched the romantic heart of a whole generation."—Il Giornale (Italian newspaper) on One Step to You
  • "Italian writer Federico Moccia brings the reader an updated version of the classic tale of star-crossed lovers, separated by differences in social class and learned attitudes. This tension also drives the novel's narrative, ensuring growing suspense. A tautly paced novel with intense action and unpredictable twists and turns."—5 o'Clock Books (Romanian TV show) on One Step to You
  • "Federico Moccia is an author who writes about love, and he wins the hearts of a broad and diverse audience - the teenagers of today and the teenagers of yesteryear."—la Repubblica (Rome newspaper) on One Step to You

On Sale
Jun 20, 2023
Page Count
384 pages
ISBN-13
9781538732816