“I think you should be brave and face up to Makso and ask him to help your father. Tell him that your father is in agony because he cannot repay the loan that paid for your education. Tell him that you are determined to complete your studies, that you are a first-class student, and as soon as you are earning you will pay Makso back.”
Mihovil nodded, listening intently.
“If only he will let your father off now and never tell him what you have done,” Ildie went on. “Makso is a man of business. Surely he will be happier to have a loan out to a young man who is going places and will have an excellent career, rather than your father, who by his own admission cannot repay the money.
“This way, your father will save face and you will get your education. Makso will get his money and everyone will be happy. I am sure by being honest and open that is the best way. I know you can sort it.”
“Yes. If you want to be a lawyer you will have to face up to difficult and powerful people. You are brave, Mihovil. You stood up to that horrible boy who stole my bike last winter. It was you who went to his house and demanded he give it up.”
“But that was easy, Goran saw him take it. I was on solid ground.”
“No, nothing like that is easy, but you have courage and kindness and intelligence and . . .” In the silence, she put her hand up to where he was holding the glass against the birthmark, and gently moved it away so his face was revealed. “You are very good looking when you don’t hide your face. I love you.”
The world suddenly became an extraordinary place. A bird sang high in the trees and Mihovil wondered if he had imagined what she had said.
But no, he hadn’t. For now she was leaning up to him, and he found himself leaning down, and she placed her hand on his cheek, and she seemed not to care a jot.
She raised her lips to his and she was kissing him, and all of a sudden he seemed to have entered another universe.
She was flying with him, they were whirling together in that all-encompassing, wonderful, beautiful, life-affirming kiss.
In a moment it was done. He opened his eyes and she opened hers and they were back on planet earth. But it was a different earth from the one he had known because now he was loved by a gorgeous, clever, desirable girl.
“I love you, too, Ildie. You are right, I will face up to Makso. I will help my father like he has helped me.”
It felt good saying it now, Mihovil thought, with his arm around Ildie’s shoulders. Anything was possible.
What he would feel like standing in front of Makso’s tall, imposing figure with his eagle eyes boring into him, Mihovil wasn’t so sure. All he knew now was that at this moment he was invincible.
As he held her, all Mihovil’s troubles seemed to melt away. He had been so engrossed in Ildie, he’d barely heard the noise of a car pull up. But now, he could see through the crack at the side of the big gates that it was a police car.
What’s more, one of the policemen had got out and was silently taking photographs of the Villa Lavanda, his camera pointing upstairs, towards the bedrooms.
Mihovil squeezed Ildie tighter. He didn’t want her to see. He didn’t want the moment between them spoiled.
Then the policeman got in the car and it slowly and silently rolled away.
Mihovil was left, his head buried in Ildie’s hair, trying with all his might to pretend the rest of the world with all its troubles didn’t exist. What could all this mean?
Were the police going to come back to take away his poor father?