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Serial: Down the River – Chapter Eight

I’m finally revisiting the characters from The River City Chronicles nine years after their original timeline. I’ll be running the series weekly here on my blog, and then will release it in book form at the end of the run. Hope you enjoy catching up with all your faves and all their new secrets!

Today, Gio comes face-to-face with a piece of his past…

< Read Chapter Seven | Read Chapter Nine >

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Down the River Header

Chapter Eight
Smoke and Moonlight

Gio slung the garbage bag over his shoulder and headed out the back door of the restaurant, passing Justin, who was vigorously rinsing dishes to be loaded into the industrial washer. “Busy night?”

Gio rolled his eyes. “Not bad. It’s my third trash run.” Babbo had taught him to take part in all the restaurant tasks. Not only because they were a small family-owned business, but also because it holds you humble. Matteo’s words. Gio grinned.

It was late out, but still light enough to see without the back porch light. He gave the back lot a quick scan before stepping outside—you could never be too careful. Sometimes unhoused folk hung out back there, going through the garbage for scraps of food. They were usually harmless, but they also occasionally left needles and broken glass, or worse, by the dumpster. His heart went out to them. Without Diego, he might have ended up just like them.

The moon was just rising in the East, over the butcher shop across the street. It was almost full, its silver light lining everything with an argent glow.

Luna. It had been a long time since he’d thought about his mother. How she used to take him outside on full-moon nights. They would order Chinese take-out and sit on the steps in front of their palazzo to watch her rise, as his mother recited some of her favorite poetry and shared a glass of limonata with him.

Her face was slowly fading from his mind as the years passed. Sometimes, now, when he thought of her, he saw the face of the moon instead.

He still missed her—that would never change. He had a good life here. He loved his papà and babbo, and Sacramento had become, improbably, a second home. But his heart would always be in Italy.

He lifted the dumpster lid, his nose wrinkling at the smell of old soda and decaying food scraps, and dumped the bag in. The metal lid fell with a satisfying crash.


Gio spun around to find someone staring at him.

Not just anyone. Her.

“Hey, Riss.” He’d managed to avoid her inside the restaurant, though he’d never admit it. It was stupid, really. They’d been over for years, after all, even if he’d never understood why. One day, she’d packed up her things and fled, leaving him with the lease and a cat named Oscar.

So it was reflex, mostly, avoiding the prickly awkwardness between them. “What are you doing back here?” Then he saw the little stick between her fingers.

“I was… I wanted to think.” She held up the cigarette as if it were an explanation.

He huffed. “Those things will kill you, you know.”

Her lips pursed in what might have been annoyance or amusement. “I’m aware.”

He laughed. He’d always liked her dry sense of humor. “When we were… the last time I saw you, you were still vaping.”

“I guess I graduated to these.” She stared at the cigarette. “I don’t even know why I started doing it. Studying for my Masters… it was hard. Some of my friends got me into them. They made it a little easier.”

She was still beautiful to him, his mother’s moon casting her face in an ethereal glow that made her look more like an Italian statue of Venus than his ex who’d stomped on his heart and then walked away. “You were avoiding me in there, weren’t you?” Her eyes narrowed as she took his measure, one eyebrow raising.

“Of course not… I was busy in the kitchen and….” He laughed, his face flushing. “Yeah. I totally was.”

They laughed together at his attempted denial, and for a moment, everything felt normal between them. A car passed on 48th Street, its headlights brightening the parking light for just a minute, dispelling the magical moonlight.

“Truth be told, I’ve been avoiding Ragazzi, and you, for years.” She lit the cigarette and brought it to her lips for a long drag. “It’s a shame too. Diego’s bread is to die for.”

Gio grinned. “It’s one of my cibo preferito, too.”

She shivered a little, whether it was from the cool night air or his Italian accent, he couldn’t tell. She’d always had a soft spot for his native tongue. That thought brought back other sorts of memories, and he blushed again.

She exhaled, smoke floating up into the sky between them. “I’d better go…”

“Why did you leave?” It slipped out before he knew he’d said it. The question. The one that had been burning him up inside for years. “I mean, we were good together, certo?

“Oh Gio.” She took another drag on the cigarette, her face displaying a disturbing flurry of emotions. Surprise, sadness, guilt?

And maybe pity. “I’m sorry. It was stupid of me to ask. After all this time.” He turned to go, wishing he’d waited to take out the trash.

“No… listen, it wasn’t your fault. It was me. All me.” She stubbed out the cigarette under her black sneaker, and leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek. “Good night, Gio.” Then she fled.

He stared after her, as mystified as ever. He had loved her, once. Still did, if he was honest with himself. There was something she still wouldn’t tell him, even after all this time. What did you do?

The parking lot darkened.

Gio looked up. A dark cloud passed over the moon, hiding her face from his view.

He shook himself like a wet dog to cast off the spell Marissa had cast upon him. It was time to let her go. There were dishes to be washed, guests to be attended to, and his family, all waiting inside that door for him.

He had a full life. A good life.

So why do I still miss her so?

It wasn’t clear, even in his own head, whether he meant Marissa or Luna.


Marissa reached the safety of her little red Mini, collapsing into the seat and slamming the door behind her as if it could keep out the memories. She closed her eyes, sinking into the familiar black leather seat, and her breathing slowed, the sweat on her face cooling.

Why did I need a smoke just then? Better if she’d just gone home. Instead, she’d run into poor Gio again, and ripped off his fragile scab.

She’d always thought of herself as a good person, but what she’d done to him… it was unconscionable.

She shoved her hand into her pocket, pulling out the napkin with Ainsley’s number. She stared at it for a long moment, then rolled down her window and threw it out into the breeze.

I don’t deserve to be with someone. I’m toxic. She’d hurt Gio badly—the one person in her life at the time who had seen the real her, all of her hopes and dreams. She’d thought once that she might become a chef, just like Diego…

She had a good job. A steady paycheck. A tiny, tidy ADU in someone’s backyard that she’d never given up after college.

Life is good. Isn’t it? With a heavy sigh, she started the car, determined to put the bad end to a good night behind her.

The cigarettes mocked her from above the sun visor, one of them hanging out as if inviting her to smoke it. With a growl, she ripped the whole pack out from its snug hiding place and threw them outside after the napkin. I can at least do one good thing tonight.

She peeled out of the parking spot, heading for her safe space, four walls to block out the world.

Unnoticed on the floor behind her seat, the napkin that the wind had blown back into the car sparkled green for just a moment, before fading into darkness.

< Read Chapter Seven | Read Chapter Nine >

Like what you read? if you haven’t tried it yet, check out book one, The River City Chronicles, here.

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