Warm night air swirled around the amorous couple as they walked quickly up the street. Giac had takenthe lead, guiding Kari back towards her house as he tried to remember the directions she had given him nearly an hour ago in between glasses of watered down wine. He had been wandering around Florence for nearly an hour before he spotted Kari seated in a tavernlaughing gaily at a joke she had been told. Fueled by the argument with Nico and the large quantity ofalcohol he had consumed, he marched right in and practically lifted her out of her chair. Pulling her bythe hand, he dragged her back to a table in the corner of the room where they had spent a cozy hour in each other‟s company.
Eventually they grew tired of the noise and left, seeking a more private space. “Is this the place?” he asked, motioning to the stone building that rose behind them.Kari laughed quietly. “Yes, but I didn‟t think you‟d be able to find it without my help. How much have you had to drink tonight?”
“No idea,” he said with a jaunty grin. “It doesn‟t really matter, though. Your mere presence makes me feel intoxicated.” “Nice try. I‟m still angry that you spoiled my surprise! I was supposed to find you, not the other way around.” “It‟s a little late now. Let‟s go inside.”
“It‟s not quite finished,” warned Kari as she led Giac down the staircase into her bedchamber. “Some of my things are still being brought from Pisa.”
“It looks beautiful,” he said, glancing quickly around at the rich tapestries and drapes befitting to her title of courtesan. “But, more importantly…” With an uneven bow, he swept her up into his arms and carried her across the room.
“Oh, Giac.” Kari snuggled her head on his shoulder, kissing his neck. “I‟ve missed you since the very second you left Pisa.”
He pushed the bed curtains aside with his knee and gently laid her gently down. “I know exactly how you feel.”
Giac awoke very early the next morning with a terrible headache but the pain pounding at his temples seemed to lessen at the mere sight of Kari sleeping soundly in his arms.
He tightened his grip around her shoulders and kissed her lightly on the forehead, a bit dazed as to how exactly he had ended up in bed with his once-lover. The events of last night were dim and, try as he might, he couldn‟t remember much past leaving Alessandra‟s house.
It had involved anger, lots of anger, and wandering around Florence for a while. He could see a hazyoutline of Kari sitting in a tavern and he knew that he had been elated at finding her, but after that there were no more details. All he knew was that he had been the happiest he had felt in a long time. Giving her one last kiss, he pulled his arm out from underneath her head and stuck his foot out from under the covers.
“Where are you going?” she mumbled, wrapping her leg around his under the blanket. “I have to go home. I have things to do today.”“Oh.” She reluctantly moved her leg back to her side of the bed. “When will you be back?” “Tonight.” If I can remember my way back, he added mentally.
Giac made it back just after sunrise, thankful that his three youngest siblings were late risers. He hadn‟t been counting on his Alessandra, though, and he had barely enough time to position himself at his deskas if he had been working diligently before she barged into the office with a cheery smile that showed she bore no lasting ill effects after last night‟s excessive wine consumption.
“Good morning, brother.”“Good morning, Alessandra. What brings you around so early?” Giac flipped the page in his book for good measure though he actually had no idea what it was he was reading.
Alessandra‟s smile wavered for a second, but she succeeded in keeping it in place. “I couldn‟t sleep lastnight. I, well, had a lot on my mind so I figured I‟d start my day early. I‟m not interrupting anything, am I?”“Oh, not at all!” Giac motioned for her to take a seat. “I was just reading a bit of…” he peeked at the cover for a title, “The Book of the Courtier…by Castiglione.”
Alessandra raised her eyebrows. “I had no idea you were interested in reading about court life. Find anything interesting?”
“Eh, nothing in particular. I was just curious, I guess.” Giac closed the pages, regretting that he hadn‟tthought to look at the cover taking it off the shelf. In truth, the book was Ghita‟s and it had somehow wound up among his stacks of classical texts.
“Anyways…why have you come?” Giac left the book on the desk and positioned himself in between it and Alessandra‟s seat, hoping that it wouldn‟t come up in conversation again. “I have a matter I wish to discuss with you, brother. It is a matter of great importance to me and I hope you will see things my way.”“And what is this „great matter‟?” he asked, wincing a little at her eagerness. Alessandra had a tendency to shout when she got excited and his headache still hadn‟t gone away.
“It has come to my attention recently that you have, to come right out with it, made up your mind to send the girls off to a convent just as you did Viola.”
Giac‟s eyes grew wide and he tried to quickly formulate a response. In a moment he decided that hewould never have that much wine again. How much had he let slip last night and who all did he tell it to?“There‟s no reason for defending yourself ! It‟s a decent enough path for young girls, but I fear it‟s not the right one for Renata and Ghita. They want to live their lives, not be shut away and married to God.” “But…how did you…did I…”
“No, you didn‟t tell me. Renata turned up on my doorstep late last night, weeping and going on about a fight you had with Nico and how you refused to accept his offer and how she is practically doomed to become a nun now. The poor girls are quite upset and understandably so!” “But I-“
“Let me finish!” Alessandra admonished sharply. “I showed her to a guest room and let her stay for thenight. While I was lying in bed, trying to sleep, a thought occurred to me. Why not let both girls moveinto my house? Lucio has been staying in one of the guest rooms but there are two more. Of course we will have to keep one open just in case, but I see no issue letting the girls share a room! After all, they share one here, do they not?”Giac let her chatter on excitedly as he desperately tried to recall the fight with Nico that had apparently taken place.
“Besides, Carlo is still away and looking after them will give me a good excuse to stay in Florence. Even if he insists I return to the countryside, I will at least have company.”“Now, slow down! I haven‟t agreed to anything yet and I‟m not so sure this is a good idea. Father left the girls in my care and it is up to me where they go.”
“Come now, Giac,” Alessandra spoke confidently, as if the matter had already been decided in her favor. “I haven‟t even mentioned the best part yet! With the girls out of the house, no one will care when you come sneaking back at dawn from a night in your lover‟s arms.” Again, Giac fumbled for words. How did she know about that, too?
“Yes, yes; I know all about your amorous night out. I told you I was up early. Even if I hadn‟t seen yousneaking through the back door just as I turned onto the street, Renata gave you away when she told me you had headed for La Basilica di San Lorenzo after storming out of the house.”He sighed and frowned. She had him there, he had to admit. “Fine. Tell the girls they may leave as soon as they have packed.”“Oh, thank you!” She pecked his cheek and left the room in a hurry, leaving Giac to tend to his headache that seemed to have suddenly doubled in size.
“Well, what did he say?” Renata sat up from the position she had been napping, Alessandra had roused her at an unnatural hour this morning, and looked hopefully at her sister.
“He said yes!” Alessandra announced excitedly. “It took some convincing, but he agreed in the end!”“Oh, thank you! You have no idea how grateful I am for you! How in the world did you get him to agree?”
“Oh, I just had to know how to spin it. Even our astute brother wants for things, and, as it so happened, our proposition allows him to have it. Or, should I say, it allows him to have her.” “Ah,” Renata nodded knowingly before breaking into a smile and hugging her dear sister tightly.
It took the better part of the morning for the girls to pack up their meager belongings and load theminto a cart. Giac and Nico helped organizing the move, avoiding one another the entire time. Nico was still angry about the previous night and Giac had no idea how to broach the subject. Before long everything had been transported a few streets over and the servants had carried it all upstairs while the girls said temporary goodbyes to Nico and Giac.
As she stepped over the threshold for the first time, Ghita took Renata‟s hand. Renata smiled encouragingly. “Don‟t worry. We shall like it here.”Already walking up the stairs, Alessandra called over her shoulder, “Come, girls! I will show you to your new room!”
Walking slowly as she gave a tour, Alessandra wound her way through three stories and several roomsbefore finishing back on the second floor. “This is your room, girls. All of your things have been moved in and I‟ve had a mirror brought down from my room for you. There is only one bed, but I hope you won‟t mind sharing.”
“Not at all!” Renata hugged her again. “We are so grateful for you.” “Oh, yes, ever so grateful!” Ghita echoed as she began to explore. “It‟s my pleasure.”“Oh, look, Renata! We have our own balcony!” Ghita said with enthusiasm as she opened the door and stepped out into the fresh air.
Much to his delight, Giacomo found what Alessandra had said to be true. With the girls gone, he could spend as much of his time as he wished in the company of Kari without worrying about their safety.Nico, as a young man, could be left to care for himself whereas the girls weren‟t supposed to be left alone. After a few days, Giac gave up leaving after Nico was asleep and returning to the house before he wokeand shamelessly went about his affair in front of his pious brother, much to the young man‟s displeasure. Giac found no shame in his love for Kari and went so far as to invite her over for lavish dinners and languid evenings relaxing in one another‟s company.
Nico stayed far away. __
Dear husband, Dear Carlo, Carlo,Alessandra stared at the blank page on the table in front of her and wished that she had already written to her husband as she had meant to do three days ago. She had started the letter dozens of times, but words did not come easily when Carlo was the one they were meant for.
I am writing to inform you that, out of necessity, I have taken on my two younger sisters and they have moved into the townhouse with me. They are sharing a guest bedroom and…She stopped writing and tapped the pen against the page, marking the white sheet with dark ink blots as she thought. Why did this have to be so hard?
On an impulse, she put pen to paper and wrote whatever came into her mind.…and I wish you to never return. Stay at your villa and leave me be. I am happy here with my sisters and Lucio…
She stopped and stared in shock at what she had just written. She could be happy with Lucio? Surely shehadn‟t meant to write his name down. It was a slip of the pen. He was just renting a room from her until he could find a bigger place of his own. The situation was in no way permanent… She scribbled the sentence out.
As if writing his name had somehow summoned him, Lucio chose that moment to stride through the door and out into the sunshine.Alessandra shuffled her papers so the one with words on it was at the bottom and cursed under her breath. She had been doing so well avoiding him.
“Am I hearing correctly?” Lucio smirked as he came to stand behind Alessandra, peering over hershoulder at the pages. Unfortunately they appeared blank. “Did a curse just pass through your lovely lips?” “You are certainly mistaken, Lucio,” she answered coldly as she gathered her things to go.
“What kind of greeting is that for a friend such as me? What you should say is „Hello, Lucio. So good to see you! It‟s been ages since we were last alone!” With the last word, Lucio winked suggestively. Alessandra averted her gaze and reached for her things. “Hello, I must be going,” she said and tried to brush past him, but he blocked her path.
“Why are you angry with me? I meant no offense; it was merely a joke.” “Well, I didn‟t think it was very funny.”“Come on, Alessandra! Relax a bit! You don‟t have to be serious all of the time. You can have some fun, you know.” “This isn‟t what I call fun.”
“So you don‟t even want to talk about it?” Lucio grew serious as he stared into her eyes. “Talk about what? There‟s nothing to talk about.” She avoided his gaze.“You know what I mean, Alessandra. We kissed. You cannot simply pretend it didn‟t happen. You cannot tell yourself that it held no meaning. It is not something that can be undone.”
“You don‟t think I don‟t know that?!” Alessandra lost her temper and began to shout. “I have agonized over that night, trying my hardest to put it out of my mind, but I cannot. You have invaded my mind with that kiss, which, may I point out, you initiated.”Lucio saw that he had entered into dangerous territory and tried to turn the conversation to safer, more humorous, grounds. “So you admit you think of me often?” “Stop it! I curse that night! I wish it had never happened!” Lucio looked at her imploringly.
She panicked and turned to go. He looked so expectant, she could not stand it. How dare he think things could ever be the same between them! It could never be; not anymore.
She gathered her resolve and turned back to face him. “Lucio, I beg you. Do not speak of this to a singlesoul. If this ever got out, it would ruin both of us. We must go on as if nothing ever happened. It was amistake brought on by too much wine. For all we know, we may have imagined the whole thing we were so drunk!” Lucio shook his head sadly. “We both know that is not the case.”“It has to be,” she answered gravely. “Nothing more can ever happen. I am a married woman. It was youwho compared me to the goddess Diana. I am unattainable and it would be best if you remembered that.”
“Therein lays the problem. Like you, I cannot forget the kiss. It is a moment burned into my memory and there is shall remain.” “No, you have to get over it!”“Why must I when you obviously haven‟t? If it truly meant nothing to you, this conversation would not be taking place.”
“That‟s not true!” Alessandra struggled to not run into the house.“It is true! Admit it! You care for me more than you ever thought you would!” “Yes, I care for you, but only as a friend!”
“Not true! I know your feelings for me are as strong as mine are for you. I felt it that night. For just a second, I felt you let go of your sensibilities and you kissed me back.” “I – no I didn‟t! I did no such thing!”“Yes, you did! I know it for a fact and I will never give up until you confess your feelings. Alessandra, I love you.” “I-”
Before she could protest, Lucio had one arm wrapped around her back and pulled her close, pressing his body against hers. He relished in the feeling of having her in his arms. He leaned in for a kiss, but got a fist to his chin instead.
“Lucio, you forget yourself !” Alessandra pushed him off of her, seething with anger. “You are a guest in my house and nothing more.”
She tore her gaze away and turned her back on him. She stood there, collecting her thoughts and trying to calm her racing heart. The yard had grown suddenly silent. As they both waited for each other to speak, the clouds that had been lingering around all morningblotted out the sun and the rain began to fall. Behind her, she could hear the droplets as they splashed one by one onto her pages.
She turned back to pick them up. Lucio looked up hopefully, wishing that she had changed her mind. “I just need my papers.” “Oh.”
She folded them into a small square and stuck them into her pocket. She was reaching for the quill and ink when she felt Lucio take her hand. She tried to pull out of his grip, but he wouldn‟t let her fingers.
He pulled on her arm and she spun to face him.“Please,” he whispered, all of his anger gone. She had never seen him so serious. “Stay with me.” “Lucio, I don‟t think-”
“Yes, don‟t think! Just follow your heart.” He let go of her hand and drew his hand up her shoulder and caressed her face. “I‟ve longed to touch you like this since the day I went for you when your father was dying. No, Giac never asked me to go get you. The second I heard the news, my mind flew instantly toyou and I knew there had to be a reason for it. When I saw you, looking so beautiful, I knew I was in love. Why else do you think I‟ve hung around so persistently?” “Lucio, please-”
“I didn‟t need to rent a room here; I own two houses back in my hometown and I‟ve enough money to buythree houses in the very heart of Florence! All I wanted was to be close to you. When I kissed you all my dreams came true. I‟ve loved you from afar for too long. Now is my opportunity. Please, just give me a chance.” “Lucio,” Alessandra‟s demeanor softened as he kissed her hand.
He held his arms open for her, but she hesitated.“I‟ll admit that I do feel strongly for you and it would be wonderful if things were different and we couldbe together, but the fact is, it‟s not. When it comes down to it, I‟m married. This may be your chance, but I‟ve missed mine. I‟m already a wife. I cannot do it. Perhaps it would be best if you were to find a different room to rent. Elsewhere.”
Alessandra snatched up the quill and, stuffing it into her pocket, dodged inside before Lucio could speak again. She knew that if she stayed any longer, her resolve would crumble.
“Oh, dio mio!”
“So where have you been all day?” Renata made a face in the mirror as she spoke to Ghita‟s reflection. “Alessandra and I were looking for you earlier, but we couldn‟t find you anywhere.”“I went out with Nico,” she answered unenthusiastically. “He dropped by and I made him take me to the market. I had to clear my head.”
“Why? What happened?” Renata abandoned the mirror and focused on her sister instead.Ghita looked around to make sure no one else was in the room with them. She knew there wouldn‟t be, but it didn‟t hurt to take extra precautions.
“I overheard something today that I was not supposed to.” “What was it?!”“I was out on the balcony this morning, you were still asleep, and I saw Alessandra come out to write a letter. I didn‟t think anything of it until Lucio came out to see her.”
“So? He‟s always hanging around her.”“It was different this time, Renata. They argued and it grew pretty loud. I was able to hear everything they said.” “What did they say?”Ghita leaned in and spoke in a whisper, “He‟s in love with her, but she won‟t accept him. Apparently, the same night of the fight between Nico and Giac, they had been together and they kissed!”
“Oh, dio mio!”“Yes, that‟s what I said! I don‟t know what to do! Should I tell Alessandra that I heard?”
As she gathered her thoughts, Renata walked over to the wardrobe and opened the doors. She sifted through the fabric slowly, searching for her nightgown and thinking. “I believe it would be best if we kept this to ourselves; for the time being, at least.” “But why must we? I feel terrible having listened in on their conversation!”“Don‟t lose sleep over it, Ghita. It‟s not like anything actually happened. So they kissed once? It doesn‟t mean anything. You said so yourself: Alessandra refused his advances.”
“Trust me when I say it would only cause conflict if this were to get out. I‟m only glad it was you who overheard, not somebody else.” “Alright,” Ghita conceded. “I won‟t say a word to anybody.”
Renata smiled and climbed into bed, Ghita following closely behind her. As she donned her nightcap and lay down next to her sister, she felt the weight of the secret already pressing at her conscious. It seemed lately that growing up involved an alarming amount of secrets. Secrets, as she had come to believe, that were best used for leverage.
Alessandra had been successfully avoiding Lucio for nearly a week now and she was about to congratulate herself on making it another day without running into him in the hall or being the last one in a room with him They hadn‟t exchanged more than a few words since the day in the yard. The only thing she worried about was that he hadn‟t so much as left the house since then and she was worried that he hadn‟t taken her seriously when she suggested he rent a room elsewhere. Inside, she worried that he wasn‟t planning on leaving as she had asked. But a deeper part seemed glad of the fact.
“Rina, am I crazy for letting him stay?” Alessandra asked as her maid came in to help her dress for bed.“No, Madonna,” she answered automatically. This conversation had happened almost every night for a week and she had come to anticipate the questions. “I mean, he has to go, right? After what he said, I don‟t see how I can let him stay under my roof.”
“Yes, Madonna. You are right; he must leave.” Rina had heard every detail of what had passed between her mistress and the notorious houseguest and had been subject to a round of anxious questioning as Alessandra continually doubted her decision. In truth, she was becoming sick of the whole routine. “I just don‟t know,” Alesssandra moaned piteously as she paced.
Rina took a deep breath and braced herself. “Madonna, if I may speak plainly…” “Yes, of course.”“Speaking from an objective point of view, I must say that, were I in your position, I would not hold back.” Alessandra snapped out of her melancholy, “What do you mean „my position‟?”
“I mean, you have love within your grasp, yet you chase it away. He loves you, madonna. It is not easy to find true love and if I were this close to it, I wouldn‟t hesitate for a second.” “But, I…”
“”But” nothing! I know you return his feelings, though you cannot seem to admit it! One advantage tobeing a maid is the opportunity to see things others cannot. You light up when he comes around. Whenhe‟s near you, you‟re more energetic and outgoing and I‟ve seen the way you look at him when you thinkno one else is watching you. Plus, he makes you laugh. Carlo has never been able to do that. I do not see what is holding you back.”Alessandra looked down dejectedly at her fingers. She held up her left hand where her husband‟s ring sat.“This is what is holding me back, Rina: my wedding ring. I cannot pretend that it doesn‟t mean anything. I am married; I cannot forget that.”
Rina held out her hand, “Give it to me.” “My ring?!”“Yes, hand it over.” Rina reached out and slid the gold band off her finger and pocketed the small piece of jewelry. “There. If your ring was your issue, it‟s gone now. Problem solved.”
“It wasn‟t just the ring. It was what it symbolized; fidelity, honor, faithfulness, and all that are expected from a wife.” “You think your ring symbolized faithfulness?” Rina scoffed. “Did you know that your husband has notdevoted a single thought to marital fidelity since you two married? He may wear a ring as you do, but it has not stopped him from taking several maids into his bed. You two share no love; there is nothing keeping you together except for your families. Do not let what you have been told about the supposed duties of a wife keep you from enjoying the greatest love of your life.”
Alessandra hesitated and played with her finger. It felt strange to have her wedding ring off. “I‟m scared, Rina. I don‟t know what to do.” “Just listen to your heart. What is it saying?” “To go to him.”
“That‟s what I thought. Come, I will help you change and brush though your hair first,” Rina said as she reached to take Alessandra‟s hand.“Not yet.” Alessandra pulled Rina close. “First I‟m going to need six yards of white linen and about two dozen hairpins.”
Kari was stoking the fire when she heard Giac come through the front door. She poked the flames higherand higher as she listened to his footsteps as they echoed through the halls. Tonight they had agreed to meet at her house.
He smiled when he saw her. “Why did you ask me to come here tonight? Haven‟t you liked staying at my place?” “Oh, yes. Your place is lovely, but I had to come back here. I have a little project I‟ve been working on. Sort of a surprise, really.” “Oh? I love surprises. What have you been up to?”
“I‟ve begun furnishing a nursery.” As she spoke, Kari leaned back and smoothed out the folds of her dress, revealing a slight bump.
Giac stepped back in shock and sputtered “Are you serious?! Do you really mean…” “Yes, Giacomo, you are going to be a father!”Giac shouted with joy and pulled her into a hug. “How could I not have noticed?! And why did you not tell me sooner?”
“I suspected it a while ago, but I wanted to wait to say anything until I was completely sure.” “How much more time until he is born?”Kari chuckled. “Quite some time, actually. Somewhere around five or six months, the physician said.”
Giac stretched out in front of the fireplace and patted the rug for Kari to join. “So it is a good surprise?” she asked as she scooted closer to him. He placed his hand on her stomach. “The best.”
“I‟m so glad- oh!”Kari‟s eyes grew wide with excitement.She rolled over and pointed to her stomach. “Feel it Giac! The baby is kicking.”
“He‟s so strong for such a little thing!” Giac gently rested his hand on Kari, feeling the baby move.She looked up at him and smiled contentedly. “Just like his father. With Giac at her side and his baby moving about inside her, Kari felt in a state of bliss. It was all she had ever wanted.
“Go on,” Rina whispered down the hall loudly enough for Alessandra to be able to hear. After spendinghalf an hour grooming her, Rina had practically pushed her mistress down the corridors in the direction of Lucio‟s bedroom. Now she lingered around the corner, waiting for Alessandra to walk the last few steps to his door.Alessandra took a deep breath and held her hand out. Her fist hovered over the door, her knuckles barely touching the wood. Once she knocked, there would be no going back.
Lucio had been reading a rather dense novel about some chivalrous knight and his holy crusade when he heard the knock. It was so soft he thought he imagined it at first, but then whoever was on the other side of the door knocked again.
He set down the book to answer the door, thinking it had to be one of the servants asking him to douse his candles. There was even a slim chance it was Giac, though he rather doubted it since he seemed to spend all of his free time with Kari.
What he was not expecting was to find Alessandra.She was a vision in white; his Diana. His heart flopped in anticipation, but he managed to keep his demeanor cool. “Can I help you?” She was dressed up as a Roman goddess and it was all he could do to keep from smiling.
“Oh. You don‟t get it? I came to, well, I came…because…” Alessandra stuttered and fidgeted with her fingers. Maybe this had been a mistake after all.
“Just…never mind.” She turned to leave.“Alessandra. Wait.” He followed her out into the hall and grabbed her hand. “Of course I get it; I‟m just afraid that this is nothing but a dream.”
“Yes, well, it‟s not. But maybe it would be better if it were. Maybe I should just go.”
“I have fought long and hard, Lucio. I have told myself over and over that I do not love you and that itwould all go away if I ignored you, but it was anguish. All I needed were a few words of encouragement and the wall I had constructed to keep you out had crumbled. I don‟t want to fight against my heart anymore. I have come to realize that I do love you.” “That‟s exactly what I wished to hear.”
He shook his head and pulled her inside. Thankfully she did not resist. “You should not go. I‟ve told you before and I‟ll say it again: I love you, Alessandra. Just one thing, though.” “What?” “Why did you come? What made you change your mind?”
This time when he kissed her, she didn‟t run away.
“Is what we‟ve done truly terrible, Lucio?” Alessandra shuddered as the cool night air swirled around her skin. He drew her close in an effort to warm her. “How can the love we share ever be wrong? It is perfectly natural that we should be together.”
“Still, I cannot help but feel that we have just opened Pandora‟s Box, so to speak. Who knows what harm will become of this? What have we just released into the world?” “I imagine that no human will ever know the full repercussions of this night, but that does not matter. Do you remember what was hiding in the bottom of Pandora‟s Box, still alive despite all the evil surrounding it?” “Hope.”
“Yes, hope. When one has hope, there is no end to what can be accomplished. Trust me when I say hope is what I have for us and I will find a way.”Alessandra didn‟t know how to answer, so she just lay in Lucio‟s arms and let her lips curve into a slight smile. Perhaps it wasn‟t too bad to hope. __
“Can I help you?”“Is Signor di Brandi in? I‟m here to see him.”“I‟m sorry, but he is occupied at the moment.” “But I had an appointment with him!”
The maid sighed and stepped out of the doorway, motioning for him to enter. “I will see if he available,but I cannot guarantee your appointment. At the moment, he is making preparations for his imminent departure.”
She left the room and Giac moved to stand by the window. He hadn‟t known Signor di Brandi was getting ready to leave. Would he be asked to come back another day? He sure hoped not.
A few minutes passed and, just as he began to think he had been forgotten, Giac saw the door open and an elderly man bustled through, followed by a haggard-looking maid. She was protesting that he should stop and acknowledge his visitor, but he merely nodded at Giac as he passed and exited through the other door.
He was left alone once more, wondering if he should come back later.
Before he had the chance to move, the door swung open and Signor di Brandi came through again.“Hello,” he nodded briefly at Giac and kept walking, this time mumbling to himself. “I must be sure that the shipment for Milan has been thoroughly catalogued…”Giac looked between the man and the maid who was still trailing him. She raised her hands and gave him a look that said, “I‟m sorry; I don‟t know what‟s got into him.”
“Pardon me, sir,” he called out but there came no answer.
On his third time walking through the room, Giac jumped away from the window and stood in front of him. “Excuse me, but I believe we had an appointment today!”
The older man stopped his hurried pace and chuckled to himself. “Such a persistent young lad. No, I have not forgotten that you requested an audience with me but I am a busy man. In case you haven‟t heard, I am in the middle of making preparations for a long journey up to Lombardia, so let‟s try to keep this discussion short.” “I understand that you are life is quite hectic at the moment, Signor di Brandi, but I‟m afraid that the matter I came to discuss today is not a short one.”
He smiled benignly, “Ah, then I shall have to make it short. And please, call me Iacopo.” “Si, Iacopo, piacere.” * * Pleased to meet you.
“Maria, please go check on the progress in the kitchens.” Iacopo waved his hand and Maria, the maid, bowed her head and left.
“My dear boy, I have guessed why you have come here today and I have already prepared my answer.” “You have?” “Alas, I have. And it is „no‟.”“But you haven‟t even heard my offer yet! And what about the talks you had been having with my father?”
Iacopo shook his head slowly back and forth. “Yes, but they never amounted to anything more than talks.When your father first approached me about a marriage between his son and my daughter, I admit I was intrigued by the idea and I watched your progress carefully. Oh, how Niccolo used to go on about your accomplishments! But when he died, it seemed as if my poor daughter had been forgotten and all negotiations ceased. I simply assumed you had decided to look elsewhere for a bride and that is why my answer must be „no‟.”
“Signor, I assure you that I was kept entirely in the dark throughout the whole process! It wasn‟t until I began sorting through my father‟s belongings that I discovered that he had even begun makingpreparations for my marriage and, as soon as I realized my oversight, I came immediately to tell you that I do wish to marry your daughter!” “I‟m sorry, but I must stand firm on the subject. My little Beatrice means the world to me and I am not convinced that she would be entirely happy as your wife. She has known nothing but love and affectionfrom me and I admit that I have spoiled her endlessly. I do not see how you would be able to continue to treat her in the manner she has grown accustomed to.”
“I implore you to rethink your decision! My family has done very well for itself ! Business prospers and we are doing well! I will have no trouble providing for your daughter.” Iacopo tilted his head back and sized the boy up. “And what business are you in, exactly.” “Well, it‟s hard to explain, sir. A little bit of this and that, really.”
“Ah, but you must try to see things from my point of view. You‟ve some money, but no steady income.Your younger brother is already sixteen and, from what I‟ve gathered, destined for the church, yet he has not left for college. Your oldest sister is happily married but lives with a strange man in her house and your two other sisters have no marriage prospects whatsoever. All of this does not make a good impression on me.”“If you‟ll just give me a chance, I can prove to you that my family is a good one. The Moretti name is not as blackened as you think.”
Iacopo considered him for a moment. “Out of respect for my friendship with your father, I will allow once chance prove to me that you would make a worthy husband for my Beatrice. I will return from my journey in two months and, upon my arrival, I shall review your work. If I am pleased, I will consent to the marriage, but if I am disappointed, I shall sever our ties and we will go our separate ways. Is that fair?” “Oh, yes, sir! Thank you!” They shook hands and turned to leave.
As he was walking out the door, Giac heard Iacopo warm in a stern tone, “And I forbid you to mention a word of this to Beatrice. I do not wish to get her hopes up.” “Yes, sir,” Giac agreed submissively and shut the door before any more caveats could be delivered.
He paused a moment to reflect. “Well, I suppose it could have gone worse,” he thought.While looking around, he happened to glance up and see Beatrice sitting at her window. Her long blonde hair brushed against the glass panes and he wished very much for her to turn her head so he could see ever her profile.
He had never met the girl before, but he had heard nothing but praise for her from his friends around town and the letters and notes his father left behind echoed their commendations. “Yes,” he thought as he watched her fidget with her dress, “she will make a fine wife.”
As it happened, that afternoon Renata and Ghita had gone out with Nico and so Alessandra and Lucio had the entire house to themselves in which to run about amorously.As they chased one another from room to room, occasionally one of the pair would be caught and have toforfeit a kiss. At the moment, Lucio had made a rather ill-advised decision to hide between the bookshelf and the wall and was paying for his hasty decision. Not that he minded.
“Anyone home?” Giacomo looked around the seemingly deserted house and wondered if all of hissiblings had ended up going out together. But even if they had, Lucio would be at the house at the very least.
Alessandra instinctively jumped backwards and nearly tipped over the candles resting in the corner. “Oh!”
Giac heard the commotion and came in.“And this is my newest addition.” Alessandra pulled a random book off the shelf and flipped through the pages. Lucio nodded his head enthusiastically. “Yes, yes. I‟ve been hearing quite a bit about this novel. I‟ve been meaning to read it, myself.”
“Which book?” Giac rounded the corner and peered at the bookshelf with interest.“Uh, it‟s not important.” Alessandra shoved the book back into its spot and moved her body so it made a barrier between her nosy brother and the shelf. “What are you doing here anyway? How did your meeting go?” “Yeah, you look like you had a bad day,” Lucio spoke up in an effort to help steer the conversation in a different direction.
“Don‟t even get me started!” Giac huffed and flopped down onto a bench. “To make a long story short he pretty much turned me down, but I really have to tell you the whole story.” “Mm-hm,” Alessandra encouraged him to keep talking as Lucio boldly reached down to pinch her.
She did her best to stifle a giggle as she pulled Lucio‟s hand away from her and brought him around to her side. “Yes, go on.”“So then, when the maid finally let me in, Signor di Brandi kept rushing through the room, back and forth, back and forth, and not stopping to talk to me!”
“What did you do?” Alessandra asked as she took a seat next to her brother and shooed Lucio off to the kitchen to retrieve some refreshments. “Well, the third time he came through, I stood right in front of him and insisted he keep our appointment!” “Well, did he listen to you?”
“Yeah, he spoke with me, but he kept the meeting quite brief and brought up some rather unpleasantpoints. He said that he is willing to give me a chance to better my situation, but he doubts that I will beable to. The whole reason he is refusing to honor our pre-contract is because of some „things‟ he‟s heard about our family.” “Like what?” “Well, like you and Lucio, for example.”
“What about me?” Lucio asked as he came into the room with a tray of wine and three glasses.
He handed the tray off to Alessandra who took it across the room and began to pour.
“Apparently there have been rumors about your unique living situation.”
Lucio crossed his arms defensively. “What does that mean? What is being said about us!?”“Just that, oh, no wine for me Alessandra, people have been speculating as to the particular nature of your relationship. Of course I know that you are merely renting a room from my generous sister, but others aren‟t too keen to believe in your innocence.”
As he listened, Lucio‟s attention was caught by the attractive form of Alessandra bending over to pick up a glass she had knocked over. He smiled impulsively.
Giac‟s sentence trailed off and he followed Lucio‟s gaze. What he saw disturbed him greatly.
He leapt up out of his seat and struck Lucio on the chest, propelling him backwards. “You! How could you! Are the rumors true, then? ” “Calm down! I don‟t know what you‟re talking about!” Lucio put his hands up in defense and glancedanxiously between Alessandra and Giac. Caught between his lover and his best friend; should he tell the truth?
“Don‟t tell me to calm down! I saw the way you were looking at my sister! I‟m calling you out, you dog!”
“Stop it, both of you! I will not allow this!”
Brother and sister squared off. “Stay out of this, Alessandra! It‟s bad enough that he took advantage of you; you don‟t need to defend him too!”“If would be quiet for half a second, I could tell you that this was not his idea! If you should call anybody out, it should be me!”
“Alessandra, please,” Lucio put his hand on her shoulder to calm her down. “No need to make rashdecisions.” She stopped shouting and he took a deep breath. Judging by the look on Giac‟s face this was going to take a lot of explaining. “Giacomo, I know we‟ve been friends for a long time, but…” Alessandra cut him off, “Please, let me.” Lucio bowed his head and stepped back, allowing her to clarify the situation.
“I know this comes as a shock, Giac, believe me, I never expected this to happen, either, but it did.”“I just don‟t understand! My best friend and my sister?! Of all the people I could trust you with he was at the top of the list. But now I know I have been played a fool the entire time.”
“You are not a fool! Lucio was every bit the gentleman towards me. It was only once we had consumed an inordinate amount of alcohol that we sort of lost control. It was only a kiss, but the idea had beenplanted and I could not get him out of my head. We kept our distances until I had been convinced I loved him and then it was not possible to stay away.”
Lucio held his arms out and Alessandra wrapped herself in them.Giac‟s eye twitched seeing them like that. “I am at a loss for words! I do not know what to do!”
“There‟s nothing for you to do,” Alessandra said softly as she turned back to face Giac. “This is a matter between Lucio and me.”“But now that I know, I cannot simply sit idly by as if I approve of this whole situation! I mean, you and he are…are…”
“Go ahead and say it, Giac. Lucio and I are lovers.”Giac shuddered. “Yes, that. As I was saying, practically the whole town suspects! It‟s only a matter of time before the news reaches your husband‟s ears and comes marching into town thirsting for blood! He will not listen to you if you try to keep him from avenging his honor.”
“That is still not a matter for you to involve yourself in.”“It becomes a matter worth my concern once your actions have affected my future. You‟ve both behaved impulsively and it‟s partially to blame for my not being able to find myself a respectable wife. I cannot allow this affair to continue.”Alessandra paused a moment while she tried to think up a way to resolve the dilemma. Finally, it came to her. “What if I could practically guarantee your marriage to Beatrice?”
“And how could you do that?” Giac scoffed. “You said Signor di Brandi is willing to give you a second chance?”“Yes. He‟s going to be on a trip for two months and he‟s going to „check up‟ on me when he returns.” “Perfect!” “What? What are you planning?”
“Just trust me. Give it two months and if you‟re not engaged to Beatrice, Lucio will move out.” “I will?” Lucio asked, shocked at being dragged into the arrangement.“Yes, you will. But if you are engaged to her, you have to promise not to do anything and let Lucio and I continue on as we like. Do we have a deal?” “Deal!” Giac reached out and shook her hand eagerly.
“Come on, boys. My plan starts now!” With a determined look on her face, Alessandra marched from the room with Lucio and Giac following closely at her heels.
Taking a short detour to grab a pen and some paper, the three were soon seated around the table in the dining hall. “What am I to do with paper? Who am I writing to, exactly?” Lucio shrugged and looked to Alessandra for an answer. “I haven‟t a clue.”
“Well, I‟ve come to believe that the best way to woo a woman is not through her father. It may be all fineand dandy to go to him when one is asking for her hand officially, but the best way to get a woman fall in love with you is to go to her directly.” Giac shook his head. “I still don‟t see how this will help me marry her. I don‟t have any interest in becoming her lover. I only want a suitable wife to get my household well established before my child is born. Kari said we have only five or so months to go.”
“That‟s fine. I don‟t really care how you will balance your time between your wife and your mistress once you‟re married, but right now you need to entice Beatrice with everything you‟ve got! Make her fall inlove with you and her father‟s protestations won‟t stand a chance! Women in love will stop at nothing to get to the man she loves.” Alessandra glanced poignantly in Lucio‟s direction and Giac pretended not to notice.“That‟s a good plan, but there‟s one major problem: her father expressly forbade me from mentioning my marriage offer to her!”
“No problem! We‟ll keep it anonymous for the time being! Girls love a bit of mystery when it comes toromance. She won‟t have to know until the very end who you are and, even then, we don‟t have to come right out and say it. We won‟t be able to help it if she so happens to guess the identity of her admirer.” “I suppose it couldn‟t hurt…” “Exactly! Now, write this: Donna Beatrice…Bella donna, your beauty, grace, and piety…” Giac put pen to paper and began to scribble down what Alessandra, and occasionally Lucio, dictated.
“Scusa, Madonna. You have a visitor. Signora Alessandra Giordano is here requesting an audience with you.”“Send her in, Maria,” Beatrice answered calmly though her curiosity was piqued. Her ladies began talking excitedly amongst themselves at the mention of a visitor.She hushed them and stuck her needle into the embroidery pattern she had been working on. She would come back to it later.
“Madonna Beatrice! It‟s so lovely to see you this morning! ” “Likewise, Signora! What brings you by?”
Alessandra pulled Giac‟s letter out of her pocket. “Quite the odd experience, actually. I was on my way into town and just making my way past your house when a man in livery, who had been wanderingaround, lost, asked me where I could find you so he could deliver a note for his master. He had a hard time with my directions, so I offered to take the letter for him as I knew where you lived.”
Beatrice‟s hand hovered near the envelope, worried about taking it. “Who is it from? Whose colors was the man wearing?”“I confess I do not know. I did not recognize the colors; I am still becoming reacquainted with the colorsof the families of Florence after returning from my home in the country. You should read it, though; he seemed to be from a respectable family.”
Beatrice shyly took the envelope and opened it. Her eyes grew larger as she got farther and farther down the page. In the background, her ladies gossip and speculated about the contents of the letter. Repeatedly they asked for Beatrice to read it aloud, but she only hushed them.
When she reached the end, Beatrice declined to repeat its contents and instead crossed the room with an impassive look on her face.
She sat down at her writing desk, pulled out a piece of paper, and uncorked her ink jar.
A triumphant smiled spread across Alessandra‟s face as she took a seat with the other girls. “Oh, please, Madonna, you must tell us something about the man who delivered the note!” one of the ladies begged.“I‟m sorry but I couldn‟t say even if I wanted to!” Alessandra felt a little bad about lying, but it was all for a greater good she told herself. “I couldn‟t even say what the letter is about!”
“Oh, Beatrice, you must read us the letter!” one of the other girls begged. Beatrice ignored her ladies and went on scribbling.
When she was finished, she locked the letter from Giac in a drawer and sealed the one she had written. “Ladies, please leave us.” The three girls got up and left the room, dismayed at being sent away.
Beatrice motioned for Alessandra to come over to her. “It was from a secret admirer.” Beatrice blushed and giggled. “I‟ve written a response; would you be able to deliver it for me?”“Of course! The messenger said he would wait at the bookshop around the corner for a reply.” Alessandra pocketed the reply, hoping that it was good.
“Oh, thank you! I‟m glad I can trust you. In case you haven‟t noticed, my ladies tent to get a bit annoying at times. I can never trust them with a secret.” Alessandra chuckled and pecked Beatrice on the cheek. “Of course you can trust me, dear.”
Beatrice stood in the window as Alessandra left. She watched from her high vantage point, trying to spotthe courier, but to no avail. Alessandra turned the corner and disappeared out of sight, still carrying the envelope with her.
As she watched her letter traveling down the street in the pocket of her new confidant, Beatrice couldn‟thelp but smile. Somewhere out there a man had noticed her and had actually reached out to contact her. She was excited. Already her mind was skipping forward, imaging their betrothal; their marriage; their children. All she had to do was actually meet the man first. __
Carlo grumbled as he trudged up the stairs. It was late; the carriage ride had been bumpy; he was starving.It had taken much longer than he had expected to get back into town, but he had traveled as fast as he could reasonably could after receiving his wife‟s troubling letter.
He had a few words to say to her about taking on sisters without asking his permission first. He had let the first boarder slide, but his house was not an inn. But before he confronted her, he had to…
A movement distracted Carlo. He lost his train of thought as he peeked around the corner and saw the edge of a nightgown as it disappeared through a doorway.