Ella wasn’t sure how many times that word had been said to her in the past, but she knew that she would forever recall this time.
‘Please, Ella, don’t go.’
She stood at the departure terminal of the busy Sydney International Airport, passport and boarding pass in hand, and looked into her mother’s pleading eyes—the same amber eyes as her own—and she almost relented. How could she possibly leave her to deal with her father alone?
But, given all that had happened, how could she stay?
‘You have a beautiful home....’
‘No!’ Ella would not be swayed. ‘I have a flat that I bought in the hope that you would move in with me. I thought that you’d finally decide to leave him, and yet you won’t.’
‘You can.’ Ella stood firm. ‘I have done everything to help you leave and yet you still refuse.’
‘He’s my husband.’
‘And I’m your daughter.’ Ella’s eyes flashed with suppressed anger. ‘He beat me, Mum!’
‘Because you upset him. Because you try to get me to leave...’ Her mother had been in Australia for more than thirty years, was married to an Australian, and yet her English was still poor. Ella knew that she could stand here and argue her point some more, but there wasn’t time for that. Instead she said the words she had planned to say and gave her mother one final chance to leave. ‘Come with me.’
Then Ella handed her mother the ticket she had secretly purchased.
‘I’ve brought your passport with me.’ Ella pulled it out of her bag and handed it to her mother to show that she was serious and that she really had thought this through. ‘You can walk away now, Mum. You can go back to Sicily and be with your sisters. You can have a life....’ She saw her mother wrestle with the decision. She missed her country so much, spoke about her sisters all the time, and if she would just have the courage to walk away then Ella would help her in any way that she could.
There was simply no point, but Ella did her best to persuade her mum. Right up to check-in, right up to the departure gate, Ella tried to convince her mother to leave, but she had decided now that the subject was closed.
‘Have a nice trip, Ella.’
‘I’m not going for a holiday, Mum,’ Ella said. She wanted her mother to realise how serious this was, that she wasn’t just going to be away for a few weeks. ‘I’m going there to look for work.’
‘But you said you will visit Sicily.’
‘I might.’ Ella honestly didn’t know. ‘I don’t know if I can, Mum. I’d hoped to go there with you. I think I’ll stay in Rome.’
‘Well, if you do get to Sicily, give my love to your aunts. Tell them...’ Gabriella faltered for a moment.
‘Don’t tell them, you mean.’ Ella looked at her mum, who would be in trouble for even coming to the airport, and couldn’t believe she was expecting Ella to tell her aunts how fantastic her life was in Australia, to keep up the pretence. ‘Are you asking me to lie?’
‘Why you do this to me?’ Gabriella demanded, as she did whenever Ella didn’t conform or questioned things. Possibly Ella was more Sicilian than she gave herself credit for, because as her mother used the very familiar line, Ella was tempted to use it herself. Why you do this to me? Why did you stand and scream as you watched your daughter being beaten? Why didn’t you have the guts to get up and leave? Of course she didn’t say that. Ella hadn’t shared her feelings with anyone, not even her mum, since that day.
‘I have to go, Mum.’ Ella looked up at the board—she really did have to, customs would take forever—but at the last moment her voice cracked. ‘Mum, please...’
Gabriella wept as she said goodbye but Ella didn’t—she hadn’t since that terrible day two months ago. Instead she hugged her mum and headed through customs and then sat dry-eyed on the plane with an empty seat beside her, nursing her guilt for leaving her mother behind, but knowing deep down there was nothing more she could do.
She was twenty-seven years old, and had spent enough of her life trying to get her mother away from her father. Even her job had been chosen with money, rather than passion, in mind.
Ella had worked as a junior assistant for a couple of CEOs, then moved through the ranks, eventually becoming a PA to a politician. She’d spent the past two years in Canberra, dreading what she might come home to in Sydney.
Unable to live like that, she had swapped a very good job for a not-so-good one, and bought a home nearer her parents. Now, after all those years of trying to help her mum, Ella knew she just had to get away.
She had references in her bag and could speak Italian.
It was time to get a life.
It never entered her head that she might need some time off to heal from all she had endured—instead Ella’s focus was on finding work.
Except it was just rather more intimidating than she’d first thought.
It was January, and she had left the hot Australian summer for a cold Italian winter. Rome was busier than anywhere Ella had ever been. The Gypsies seemed to make a beeline for her every time she ventured from the hotel, but she took in the sites, stood in awe in the Vatican and threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, as her mother had told her to do. But what was the point, Ella thought, for her mother would never be back.
She took a train to Ostia Antica, visited the ruins and froze as she walked along the beach, wondering when the healing would start, when the revelation that she had done the right thing by leaving would strike.
So instead of sitting around waiting, Ella set about looking for work.
‘You have a lot of experience for someone your age, but...’ It was the same wherever she went—yes, her résumé was impressive, but even though they were conversing in Italian, Claudia explained at her interview, as the others had yesterday, Ella’s Italian simply wasn’t good enough for the agency to put her forward to any of the employers on their books.
‘You understand it better than you speak it,’ Claudia said. She really had been nice, so Ella chose not to be offended. ‘Is there any other type of work you are interested in?’
Ella was about to say no, to shake her head, but with nothing to lose she was honest. ‘The film industry.’
‘We don’t handle actors.’
‘No, no...’ Ella shook her head. ‘I’m interested in directing.’ It was all she had ever wanted to do, but saving up enough money to give her mother the option to move had been her priority. Instead of trying to break into the industry as a poorly paid junior, Ella had gone for better-paid jobs. But this morning, sitting in a boutique Rome employment agency, Ella realised she could perhaps focus on herself.
‘Sorry.’ Claudia gave a helpless shrug and as Ella went to thank her, she halted her. ‘One moment. We have a client, Corretti Media—they are in Sicily—Palermo. Have you heard of them?’
‘A bit.’ Ella was obsessed with the industry. ‘They’ve done well with a few blockbusters recently.’
‘Alessandro is the CEO, and there is Santo—he’s a film producer.’
‘I have heard of him.’ Ella said, though chose not to add that it wasn’t his producing skills he was famous for—more his scandalous ways. Still, Claudia seemed quite happy to discuss them.
‘He goes through a lot of PAs!’ Claudia rolled her eyes as she pulled up the file. ‘Yes, it is Santo who is looking for someone—you would go with him when he is on location. You would need an open mind though—he is always getting into trouble and he has quite a reputation with women.’
Ella didn’t care about his reputation, just the thought of being on location. Maybe she could get some experience—at least it would be a start. ‘Perhaps he would be more forgiving of your Italian if I tell him that you are familiar with the industry.’
‘My Italian is improving,’ Ella said.
‘And you’d need to seriously smarten up.’
This time Ella was offended. She was sitting in a very expensive grey suit—one that had been suitable for Parliament, she wanted to point out—but then again, it was three years old and politicians weren’t exactly known for their stand-out fashion.
‘Santo Corretti expects immaculate.’
Ella forced a smile. ‘Then he’ll get immaculate.’
Ella sat as Claudia made the call, trying to quell the excitement that was mounting. Because for the first time she actually wanted a job, wanted it in a way she never had before, though her cheeks did burn a bit when Claudia looked her over and said that yes, she was good-looking. Was honey blonde hair really a prerequisite for this job? Ella wondered as she heard her hair being described.
As it turned out it didn’t matter.
‘Sorry...’ Claudia shook her head. ‘That was his current PA, and though she is very keen to leave, she says there is no point even putting you forward. He is very particular.’
‘Well, thank you for trying.’
Leaving the agency Ella stopped for coffee. Gazing out the window at a busy Rome morning, she told herself it was ridiculous to be so disappointed about a job she hadn’t even been interviewed for.