“I need a coffee,” I whinge in Rome. It is our first full day here. We’ve spent two days in Verona, and two days in Florence, and we are fast-approaching very tired indeed. We got up too late to catch the hotel breakfast (a speciality of ours; we always exchange a wry glance when the receptionist tells us the breakfast time – if she says ‘seven until nine thirty,’ we look at each other, like, ‘shame’).
We walk to the Trevi fountains, which are heaving, and now we can’t get out, can’t seem to find a quiet side street in which to eat yet another pizza.
“Here’s fine,” Dave says, touching my hand lightly as we arrive at a small piazza. It’s slightly grimy, and overlooks a kind of car park where vespas keep revving their engines, but we sit gratefully under the awning anyway.
It starts to rain after a few minutes and I order a latte to have before my lunch, which always surprises the Italian waiters. “Prima, prima,” I say, and the shrug, like, “fine, but that’s incorrect.”
The coffees arrive, and that’s when it happens. I unthinkingly push my latte away, glass burning my fingertips, the caffeine headache gone.
It’s an email. From my editor. The subject is: Jacket For EVERYTHING BUT THE TRUTH.
“Oh my God,” I say, one eye on my email.
Dave, used to my histrionics, merely says, “good coffee?” with a raise of his eyebrow.
I push the phone towards him. “The cover for my book is on that email,” I say, looking it at it like it is a tarantula just descended onto the table top.
“Oh. Oh,” Dave says. He lowers his spoon and picks up my phone. “Can I open it?” he says. He knows my passcode, has one of his fingerprints programmed in, and yet he knows, in this instance, in the moment I am about to meet my book, to ask. I nod.
He swipes, and I see his eyes moving across the screen, reading the email. The rain gets heavier, tapping out a rhythm on the awning above us, and I shiver even though it isn’t cold. Dave’s eyes meet mine. They look so blue in the stormy weather. “I’ve clicked the thumbnail,” he says.
He sets the phone down on the table between us, like it is a baby monitor we have been told to watch constantly, and we wait.
Photo not loaded, Gmail says.
“Oh God, it’s my data. It’s been rubbish here,” I say.
“Don’t I know it,” Dave says wryly.
He taps it again, but it doesn’t show. My book is a blue question mark on a white background. “Very minimalist,” Dave says. “Intriguing.”
I consider asking the moody waiter for the wifi password, but I’m not that person, let’s face it, and so I click again, waiting it out.
“I’m not moving until I’ve seen it,” I say. My coffee sits, untouched, on the table. Dave sighs, but gives me a small smile: he is used to this sort of behaviour from me.
We move my phone. Refresh the app. Close and re-open the email. Eventually, something works.
Photo loading, it says. And then that disappears and there it is. The first strip.
“Oh!” I say, as it loads.
“That’s your name! It’s your name!” Dave says.
We watch it load, on the insanely slow Italian data, strip by tiny strip, cheering and commenting as each part loads, our coffees growing cold, while the waiters look on like we are mad.
When the last line has loaded, when the little Penguin logo is complete, I sit back, exhausted, like I have been exercising vigorously. I screenshot it and save it, so I do not have to go through the torture of watching it load again.
“Well?” Dave says, looking at me, his blond eyebrows raised.
“I think it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” I say, stroking the screen with my fingertip. “Hello Everything But The Truth, it’s nice to meet you.” And then I cry, and we drink our cold coffees, and, for the rest of the day, around Rome, I look at it only about forty-thousand times.
To be continued…