Free Falling

By: Rachel Fallin



Goodbyes are always hard, always dreaded. The worst goodbyes are the unexpected ones. The most painful goodbyes are the ones we never get to say and can never explain. It’s unimaginable how someone who used to be a huge part of your life can be gone in a split second.

In the blink of an eye everything can change.

It’s hard to forget someone who gave you so much to remember.

That’s what Gemma did for Toby. She’d filled his life with so much joy and excitement. Their love was rare—one that most people don’t get the chance to experience in their lifetime. His love for her was so powerful and intense—the kind of love that seems untouchable yet easily stripped from your heart.

That warm, summer day on the boat, Toby’s love for Gemma had never been so strong. It’d been five years since Toby came to live with the Como family as an exchange student. He fell in love with Italy, the history and culture, the people, and with the Como’s daughter. Because of that young, burning love, Toby went back to D.C. long enough to graduate high school and pack his belongings to permanently move back to Italy. There he earned a college degree and began work. His parents generously offered the family villa until he could purchase something of his own.

And for the last five years, Toby and Gemma lived and loved.

Toby anchored the boat some hours ago. Since, they’d relaxed and soaked up the sun. Though squinting, his eyes focused intently on Gemma—his dark haired, brown eyed beauty. She had the straps of her yellow bikini pushed off her shoulders to avoid a dreaded tan line. A hat covered her face. She was a sight to behold and she was all his. Her parents adored him, but didn’t approve of them living together. They often pressed for them to get married.




A terrifying big deal.

It scared him and made no sense to her. She’d always said marriage wasn’t necessary to be in love and live happily ever.

It was a lifelong commitment and not one to be taken lightly.

Toby loved Gemma and wanted a life with her, but first had to overcome the fear. So, he took it one step at a time. Five months ago, they purchased a small cottage on the beach. Truth be told, it was a rundown shack, as Gemma dubbed it. It was a fixer upper, but it was theirs. Three months ago, he’d bought a ring—something simple and personal, like her. For the last two months, he’d been waiting for the right time to take that leap.

Today was that day.

Toby’s stomach had been anxious and nauseous all day. Thankfully, there was enough liquid courage in the cooler to help calm his nerves. He reached for another one, popping the top and taking a swig.

“Babe, how many of those have you had today?” Gemma griped. “You know how I feel about you drinking.” She’d removed the hat from her face, sitting up. She eased the straps of her bikini top back up.

“I know when I’ve reached my limit.” He smiled, moving closer to her. His fingers moved her long hair to the side to make way for a trail of kisses. She smelled of suntan lotion. The scent of her was ecstasy coursing through his veins.

Toby held out his drink, his lips never leaving her shoulders. “Want one?”

“You already know my answer. It clouds a person’s judgement.” Gemma moaned, as his kisses moved to the crease of her neck.

Toby’s lips moved down her back making her squirm when he neared her ticklish spot. “Think it’s clouding my judgement, huh?”

“You’re ridiculous.” Gemma elbowed him in the stomach. “But I love you anyway.”

Toby stopped kissing her.

It was now or never.

He loved her, she loved him.

It was time to become one—to become that piece of paper.

A sharp pain gutted his insides at the thought of her answer being anything other than yes.

What if she said no?

Toby sucked in a deep bout of air, held it for a few seconds before exhaling. Except, he couldn’t exhale, the air was trapped in his lungs, suffocating him as he struggled to breathe. He felt like his organs were crushing under the pressure.

A no from Gemma would physically kill him.

To be safe, he tilted his bottle back for a longer gulp of the liquid courage.

“Why’d you stop?” Her freckled nose crinkled.

A smile brushed across his lips when she crinkled her nose. Gemma liked to be touched and she hated when he started something and not finish it. It kind of made him want to start and stop repeatedly, just to see the freckles on her nose crinkle again and again.

The trapped air in his chest dissipated, his breathing regulated. Gosh, she was adorable. His heart swelled. Not from the inability to breath, but from knowing he could touch her for the rest of his life.

“I need to ask you something.”

Gemma sat Indian-style in front of him. “I’m listening.”

Toby reached behind him to grab a small box from his backpack. When he turned back around, Gemma was staring at the box, her eyes wide and sparkly like diamonds. All color had drained from her sun-kissed cheeks. “Gem, from the day I first met you, I knew you were the one.”

Gemma smirked, crossing her arms over her chest. “Babe, we were teenagers when we first met. You couldn’t have known I was the one back then.”

“Yes I did. Now, shut up and let me finish.” He swallowed; his throat dry and prickly. Expressing feelings wasn’t his best characteristic. “I know you think marriage is just a piece of paper, but I want to be your piece of paper.” He smiled wider when she laughed at his cheesy line. “Let’s vow to spend our weekends eating pastries and gelato on the floor even when we know there’s a table behind us. Let’s vow to make out in front of people, just like when we were teenagers falling in love. Let’s vow to drink wine out of the bottle in the bathtub.”

Toby winched when she punched his arm. “Okay, scratch the wine.” They both laughed. “Let’s vow to always pretend we like the other’s cooking. Let’s vow to slow dance in our bedroom each night before we go to bed.” He rubbed his hands over her thighs while their foreheads rested against the other. “Marry me, Gem, so I can love you forever.”


“Just think about it.” Toby whispered as he opened the small box to reveal a simple silver band with diamonds.

“It’s beautiful.”

Toby tilted her chin upwards so their eyes could meet. “Say yes, Gem.”

“On one condition.”

A laugh belted out of his mouth. “Of course, you always have conditions.” He planted a soft kiss on the tip of her nose, his fingers still drawing circles on her thighs. “Let’s have it.”

“We vow to never make the bed.”

Toby pushed himself away from her. “Really, Gem? That’s your condition?”

“Take it or leave it, sexy.”

“I’ll take it. I hate making the bed.” He pulled her back in, cupping her face in his hands. “Plus, we never really leave the bed anyway, so what’s the point in making it?”

“Exactly.” Gemma’s hands gripped his waist. His bare skin ignited with heat from her touch. “I’ll be your piece of paper.”

They kissed each other like it was the last kiss they’d ever share.

Little did they know, it would be.

Chapter One

One year later…

“Alright class, that completes our first term together. Don’t forget about your internship during break. I look forward to hearing about your experiences when we return.”

The class dismissed immediately, but Sienna stayed behind. She sat at the table tapping her pencil loudly on her notebook. “Miss St. James, do you need help with something?”

Sienna blinked three times before making eye contact with Professor Moretti. He was short and pudgy with curly gray hair and he always wore a bow tie. Today the bow tie was black and yellow like a bumblebee. It was so bold that she could almost hear bees buzzing around him. Maybe she’d buy him a new bow tie—something festive yet subtle.

“Professor Moretti, I’ve yet to land an internship. Every place I’ve contacted already has interns lined up. What do I do? I can’t fail this class. We graduate in May.” She dumped her chin in the palm of her hand.

“Have you thought outside the box?”

Sienna scrunched her nose. “What do you mean?”

“You’re earning an art degree. Think outside the box—a children’s art center or a museum. Or consider contacting a local artist. You could become their assistant for the duration of the internship.”

Sienna sat straight up. “A museum! I love museums.” When she was a child, her Nonna would take her to the free museum downtown every Monday through the summer, where she’d imagine the stories behind each of the masterpieces hanging on the walls before her. “Any recommendations?”

The professor rubbed his salt-n-pepper colored beard. “There is the Galleria Dieci across town.”

“Dieci. Ten…ten being the number of great artists that the Italian culture acknowledges?”

“Si. It’s an old museum, full of education. Tourists love it. I haven’t been in a while, but I’m curious to go back. The new curator isn’t much older than yourself, so you might get the internship easier since he can empathize.”

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