A quiet knock sounded at the door. “Enter,” Giacomo commanded in the direction of the solid wood panel and rose to greet his stepmother. He had been expecting her.
The door squeaked open and Viola pushed her way in meekly. In the time since his father‟s death, Giachad noticed quite the change in her demeanor. The menacing figure from his childhood had been replaced with a submissive aging woman. Ah, the joys of manhood. Giac shook his head to clear his thoughts. Enough of my good fortune. Time to get down to business.
“You asked to see me?” Viola angled her gaze towards the floor, not daring to meet his eyes as she used to. “Ah, yes.” Giac clasped his hands together and tried to keep a straight face. “After taking time for reflection and counsel, I have come to a decision as to your future living arrangements.”
Viola braced herself for the worst. I deserve what he decides. “I have decided it is up to you.”
Viola snapped her head up and matched her gaze with his. The ability to have a say in her future certainly seemed too good to be true. “What do you mean „it‟s up to me‟?”“I mean: my father‟s will put it quite plainly when he said it would be your decision as to where you wouldgo upon his death and I wish to honor his memory by following his instructions. As such, I offer you two choices.”
Viola‟s gaze fell again. There it was: the catch.Without waiting for an answer, Giac continued. “If you cannot find lodgings somewhere else in the city,you will join the Carmelite nuns at Santa Maria del Carmine where you will spend the rest of your daysin quiet reflection. If you do not wish to take the veil, I suggest you begin making enquiries. There may be a few people left in all of Florence willing to take you in, but I assure you I am not one of them. No matter what may happen, you will not remain under my roof any longer.”
Viola grimaced, “And how long do I have?” “How does three weeks sound?”
Viola buried her face in her hands and sniffed loudly. A second later, her shoulders began to shake and sobs echoed through the room. Giac rolled his eyes and took a seat at his desk. “If you‟re quite finished…”
As suddenly as her fit had started, it stopped and she dropped her hands to reveal dry eyes. “Very well. If you insist upon reducing me to nothing more than a common beggar, I shall take my leave. Imagine: me scrounging from friend to friend, pleading for a place to stay.”Giac could barely resist snickering, “Then I suggest you start right away. It may take you a while to dig up whatever friends you have left.”
“Humph.” Viola tromped from the room, no doubt muttering a thousand curses at Giac under her breath.
“Good luck!” he called after her.Her response was the slamming of every single door she passed through.
“Mamma?” Viola separated the red curtains and pushed her way into the room. The wooden wallsseemed uncharacteristically bare and the lack of furniture made Viola take pause, her fingers lingering on the velvet panels. “Can I come in?”
“What do you want, child?” Margherita sat rigidly in her chair, staring into the flames, and not bothering to turn and greet her daughter.
“I‟ve come to beg your help, mamma.” Viola came to her mother‟s side and folded her hands pleadingly. “I‟ve nowhere else to go.” Margherita made no answer.“I assume you‟ve already heard, but my husband is dead. His death is still rather recent and now I‟ve no husband to keep me. Giacomo despises me and wishes me gone. He is threatening to send me off to a nunnery if I am not able to come up with someone to take me in. Please mamma.”
A mocking smile spread across Margherita‟s face. She answered in a biting tone, “And you expect me to welcome you back home with open arms, no?” “Well, I was hoping…” “Sit down, Viola.”
She did as her mother said and took a seat in the only other piece of furniture in the room: a rickety old chair more fit to be kindling than to hold a person‟s weight.
“Death makes even the greatest wife a pauper, my child. How easily it-” A great coughing fit cut of herwords. Viola waited patiently for it to subside. “Death comes swiftly and without mercy. One day your life is good and you have everything you could ever want, but then you become greedy and the next day you‟re reduced to a pauper living in squalor. I cannot support you when I can barely support myself.” “But what happened?”
“Your brother died, leaving scarcely a thing behind for me.” “Beniamino is dead?! How can that be? I only saw him just recently!”“He died of sickness, Viola. There was nothing anyone could do and now I am forced to settle all of his debts as well as find a way to live off the meager inheritance he left me.”
“But surely he would have left you plenty of money? Beniamino was wealthy and…and…”“No! That brother of yours was a lousy excuse for a man. He wasted away your father‟s money on drink, clothes, and women until there was hardly anything left! He did not even care enough to get himself a wife, let alone an heir, so all of his property and business assets will not stay in the family.” “Then who was named his heir?”
“It was that son of yours, Nico. All would have been fine, had your husband not set Nico on the path forpriesthood. Nico could have assumed Beniamino‟s role as head of the trading company, but now whatever can be donated to the Church will be and everything else likely sold off. I‟ve been meaning to deliver the good news to him, but haven‟t had the time to send a messenger.”
“Oh, but he‟s here, mamma. I had him escort me through the city and now he‟s waiting in the front hall.” “Well, no sense in wasting time!” With a heavy sigh, Margherita rose and bade Viola to follow.
“Are you ready to go home, mother?” Nico asked when he saw the two ladies coming towards him. Hemoved from his position leaning against the wall and straightened his clothes, ready to be on his way. He had never really enjoyed visiting his intimidating grandmother.“Not yet. Follow us.” Viola spoke quickly to her son as she passed him, trying to keep up with her mother.
Margherita led the group down the hall and through a pair of heavy doors that opened into the study.Like the other rooms, this one was bare as well. The sparse furnishing consisted of only a desk, a chair,and an empty bookcase save for a few old jars gathering dust. “Nico, I have news for you.” She motioned for him to come up to the desk which she had taken a seat at and spread a few loose pieces of paper in front of her.
“Good or bad?” he asked nervously.Margherita grimaced, “Good for you. Did you know that you have recently been named as the sole heir toyour uncle Beniamino‟s property? No? Well, I hadn‟t known either. But, that‟s beside the point. As such, all of his belongings, business, fortune, and estate included, have been put in your name.”
Nico didn‟t know quite how to react, so he went with dumbfounded. “What? But why me? How could it be?” Margherita rose from the table and came up to him. “It turns out you are the last male in his line. Congratulations, you are now quite wealthy.”
Viola scoffed and pushed her way in between her mother and son. “It‟s time we got back home, mamma. I‟ll write you later.” She gave her a quick hug and hurried from the room, commanding Nico to follow.
He could hear their whispers before he had even turned the corner. His sisters had never been known to speak quietly when in each other‟s company and their sounds carried through the door with ease. He would have to do something about that.
“You know I can hear you from my room?” Nico pushed the door open and saw, without surprise, that Renata and Ghita were chattering in the center of the room.
Ghita, her hair covered in a linen cap, jumped at the sound of her brother‟s voice and stopped whatever it was she had been saying to Renata. “Nico! Don‟t you ever knock?”
“So sorry, but I had to talk to both of you in private. I‟ve got some news.” Nico kicked the door shut withhis heel as he came into the room and took a seat on the chilly flagstones. Ghita and Renata sat on either side of him. “It‟s about us; what‟ll happen to us three now that father‟s died.”
The girls exchanged grave looks. Ghita spoke up first, “That‟s what we were talking about when you came in.”
“It‟s no secret what‟s going to happen to mamma – she‟ll be sent to a nunnery within the week now that her own mother refuses to take her in. We haven‟t wanted to say anything, but Ghita and I are worriedthat Giacomo will send us along with her. He hates mamma and I think we are tainted by her blood in his eyes.”
“Well, I think I can do something about that.” Nico leaned in and lowered his voice to be sure that there wasn‟t a chance of being overheard in the hall. “I received some excellent news today.”
“You remember mamma‟s brother, Beniamino?” The girls shook their heads „yes‟. “Well, it seems that he‟s died and left everything to me. He had no children and I was his only nephew so now I am the owner of his business, his estate, and his property in the country! All totaled, it‟s quite a lot, actually.”
“Good Lord, Nico! You‟re wealthy!” Ghita fairly shouted, earning a glare from Nico and Renata.
“Keep it down and do not take the Lord‟s name in vain! Giacomo has not been told yet and I want to keep the information to myself, at least for a while. You two and mamma are the only ones who know.”Renata, ever the sensible one, gave her brother a curious look. “But what on earth do you plan on doingwith it all? You‟re destined for the church and, last time I checked, priests don‟t exactly spend their free time running a textile business…”
“You‟re right, I know I can‟t keep it all, but it is certainly useful to have wealth on my side for a change.Money means power and influence, even if just within our household. Now I can guarantee your futures, not Giacomo, and trust me when I say you shall be looked after.”
“Not in a convent,” Renata asked hopefully. “Not if I can help it.”
Nico rose and gathered his sisters in for hugs. “We should probably get to bed now; lots to do tomorrow.”
“Yes, of course.” Ghita settled in between her blankets, pulling her nightcap down tight on her head. “Thank you,” Renata whispered in her younger brother‟s ear. Nico gave her hand a reassuring squeeze and let himself out of the room.
“Goodnight, girls. Sleep well.”“Goodnight, Nico,” they echoed in unison.
Two days. Two days.Giacomo had fairly pounced on the Carmelites the second he heard that Viola had no place else to go and it had taken him only two days to secure her admission to the nunnery.
Viola was convinced he had had been planning on sending her to Santa Maria del Carmine for years. He must have been or else she would not have been accepted so quickly. It was past time for arguing, though.
Viola laced up her new wool garment and secured her head covering. She checked her appearance in herlittle mirror and let out a dry laugh. It was odd to see the reflection of herself, dressed as a nun in such a luxurious, worldly object.She would be taking all of her objects with her, though they would become property of the nunnery as soon as she took her vows.
The thought of taking vows brought forth another halfhearted laugh. Imagine me, Viola, mother of three and daughter from a great family, reduced to becoming a nun.
And to think of that idiot stepson of mine; probably gloating at his victory. But I will not be beaten.
Viola snapped out of her morose thoughts as she came to the top of the stairs and saw the rest of her family hovering around the bottom, smiling probably in anticipation of their liberation. As soon as shewas gone, there would probably be a grand party. But not to worry about it now; Viola put on a smile and forced her feet to move down the stairs one at a time.
“Farewell, son.” Viola smiled warmly at Nico who stood nearest the stairs. She moved on tothe next person in line, pointedly ignoring Giacomo and Alessandra who hung around the back.
“Goodbye mamma.” Renata stepped forward, tears in the corners of her eyes. “I‟ll write to you.”“Yes, dear. Do that.” Viola kissed her oldest daughter on the cheek, still ignoring the two behind her.
Ghita stood by the door, her face a mask as she hugged Viola. “I suppose it is time to say goodbye for good, children.”
Ghita‟s mask slipped for just a moment as reality hit her. Her mother was leaving. “I- um.” “Yes, dear?” “I‟ll miss you, mamma.”
“And I, you.” Viola kept her head held high as she stroked her youngest child‟s shoulder in a rare loving gesture and then slipped through the front door and out into the rain.A cart had come to collect her and was now waiting on the street, the horse stamping impatiently. Viola walked towards it, keeping her eyes forward and not looking back.She would not let Giacomo have the satisfaction of seeing the tears that threatened to fall from her eyes.
“Come, Giac! It is time for a toast!” Alessandra bade her brother to come into the next room where she stood, pouring two glasses of wine.
Giac took a glass and raised it, “To triumph. May we be equally as successful in all of our endeavors.”
Alessandra echoed his sentiment and they both drained their glasses, relishing the feeling of liberty that had come as soon as Viola left through the door.
The iron gate was huge. Its metal form was heavy and tall; perfect for shutting the nuns inside away from the world outside.
Viola‟s heart weighed heavily as she pushed it open and stepped inside. As it shut with a loud clang behind her, she knew that she would very likely never see the busy streets of the city again.
She marched straight up to the great doors of the building and, without knocking, let herself in.Two young nuns were standing in the vestibule, waiting. When they saw her enter they both smiled. The one on the right spoke. “You must be Viola. Welcome; we‟ve been expecting you.”
Yes.”“If you‟ll just follow us; we will show you the way to your room.”
Both girls set off at a quick pace and Viola trotted along behind, not minding that everything was passing in a blur. She had no interest in seeing the sights.
The trek to her bedroom was long and the two novices abandoned her long before reaching herdoor, giving her rudimentary directions and wishing her Godspeed. Her chamber was located in the veryend of the south wing, up two flights of stairs and away from the professed nuns. Since she hadn‟t takenher vows, or even hinted whether or not she intended to do so, she was kept out of the way of the trained girls.
Stepping inside she sat that her things had already been delivered and familiar furniture provided hersome comfort. What had furnished three rooms at home had now been crowded into one, looking oddly out of place in a nunnery.
But turning to her left, she was confronted with a large stained glass window with the image of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. Viola stared up at its brilliant colors. Reds, blues, greens, yellows all blended together to form a magnificent picture. I am inadequate.
Viola crumbled under the perfect gaze of the holy Virgin. I cannot compare to her. I am a horrible mother.Tears sprang to her eyes as thoughts of her children came unbidden and the realization that she hadabandoned them to the charge of her unworthy stepson hit her hard. I have not fought hard enough. I’ve given up too soon! I cannot let Giacomo beat me! I must…
A knock at her door prompted Viola to quickly dry her eyes and push thoughts of revenge to the back of her mind. Temporarily, of course.
“I see you found your room easily enough. I‟ve come to see how you‟re settling in.” It was the girl who had greeted her when she arrived.
“I‟m settling in just fine,” Viola answered curtly and turned to feign interest in her tapestry. “Thank youfor making your way all the way up here, but I have things to do.” Viola waited impatiently for the girl to leave, but she didn‟t.
She just stood there as if waiting for something. Finally, she spoke up. “Viola, do you no recognize me?”
Viola turned around the take a better look at the woman. “No…Should I?” “Milady, it is I: Sara! Do you really not remember?”
“Sara?” Viola looked even closer at her and, with the help of a name to go off of, was able to identify the girl as the maidservant she had brought with her from her mother‟s house so many years ago. She hadserved Viola faithfully for years, acting as chamber maid as well as nurse maid to her three children, but when money became scarce, and Alessandra had reached a proper age to fill the void, Sara had been dismissed.
Affection filled Viola‟s heart and she gathered Sara into a great hug, entirely grateful to have at least onefriend among the nuns. She had never known where Sara went after her discharge, but she supposed the nunnery offered a steady shelter and refuge from the uncertainty of the outside world.
“So you have taken your vows?”“No, not yet. I‟m still a novice.”
“You must tell me everything that has befallen you since we parted!” Viola eagerly pulled a stool and a chair to the center of the room and sat, pointing for Sara to join her.
“After I left your house, I went back to my family. I stayed there for about a year, helping my motheraround the house but I soon grew tired of living on a farm. I came back to the city seeking work and I found a good position working for the wife of a goldsmith. Unfortunately, not even a year into my contract, she died and I was let go.” “What did you do?”
“That‟s when I joined the convent. I looked for work, but could not find another agreeable position. Itwas either the convent or the streets as I had absolutely no desire to work as a farm laborer once more soI joined the Carmelite Sisters and have been here since. It is not exciting, but it is good, honest work and I enjoy my peace and quiet. What about you? What has brought you here?”
“My tale is much sadder than yours, I‟m afraid. I came to the nunnery because I had no other choice. Yousee, my husband died and, because my stepson feels no love towards me, he gave me an ultimatum. I was to find a relative to take me in or else come here. He made it perfectly clear that I would no longer be welcome in my husband‟s house.”“Giacomo did this to you?” Sara looked at Viola disbelievingly. It was hard to imagine the little boy she had cared for acting so viciously towards his aging stepmother, a widow nonetheless.
“Aye, it was him. You remember how he loved to spite me when he was younger. Always running around like a wild man, talking to that nasty sister of his in French. He did it just to tease me, like I said many times. I always knew that he would grow up to do me harm. I suppose I should feel vindicated that my predictions were correct, but how can I when they have had such disastrous results?”“Surely you must be mistaken! I‟m sure Giacomo had good reason for sending you here! Perhaps therewasn‟t enough money to keep you at home what with his father‟s income gone. Or perhaps he felt youwould be happier here without housework to do. Now you can relax and enjoy a life dedicated to God.”
“Bah! That cruel boy has never once done anything for my benefit. He has it out for me! Why, I wouldn‟t even be surprised if he sent me here just to get me out of the way while he rids himself of my darlingthree children as well! Now that I‟m not at home, there‟s no way for me to protect them and I‟m positive he means to do them harm.” “Giacomo would never do anybody harm, let alone his own siblings! He has too big a heart!”
“You do not know him as I do, then. You have been away for too long to see the man he has grown in to. You must help me, Sara. I am not allowed back in the house but I need somebody to watch over mychildren now that I cannot! You must keep Giacomo from destroying everything I have devoted my life to creating!”“Viola, it would please me more than anything to be in your service once more, but alas I cannot leave thecloister. I am a novice nun. I have planned on taking my vows for nearly two years now and I am set to do so soon! I cannot leave. I am sorry.”
“But you must! You will have the lives of three innocent children on your conscience if you do not!Giacomo has always been jealous of his half-brother. Nico is destined for greatness in the church and Giacomo cannot stand to see him more successful than he! Please, you must.” Sara recoiled, “Viola, listen to yourself ! Has Nico even begun his religious studies yet?!” “No, but I know it is coming!”
“I will see what I can do,” Sara sighed and stood. “I do not have many options, but I do my best.”
“Thank you!” Viola leaned in close and took her hand, gripping them tightly. Sara withdrew her hands immediately. The gesture unsettled her.
“Of course I am happy to help but I can make no promises.” Sara hurried from the room, leaving her former mistress alone.
My little helper, Imagine my surprise when, of all people, who should turn up at the convent but your mother! Itshocked me greatly to now find her in the service of God, even if, as I am to understand, she is not planning ontaking vows, though not displeased. Upon meeting her for the first time in several years, my mind instantly filled with happy memoriesfrom your house. I look back fondly on the time I spent caring for you and you brothers and sisters and I consider youa great friend. Your diligent help was much welcome when the work load became too great to bear. Unfortunately, I must beg your assistance once again.
I would be lying if I said I do not worry about Viola. She seems greatly unsettled and fearful thatyour dear brother has been plotting to bring ruin to her and her children. I found it very hard to believe when shetold me that Giacomo wishes Renata, Nico, and Ghita harm, but I do not see any reason for her to be untruthful. Please put my fears to rest by denying these accusations! She begged me for help, asking me to go toyour house and care for the three little ones and make sure they are safe. Alas, I cannot leave the convent as I am setto take my vows soon. It will be difficult to send this letter and even more difficult to receive a reply. Perhaps if youwrote to Viola instead? She is perfectly able to receive outside correspondence. Exceedingly grateful for your cooperation, Sara
“I cannot believe it is finally finished!” Alessandra said solemnly as she looked up at the substantial tomb that had been erected to hold the remains of her father and mother. “To be honest, neither can I. It all seems so final now. Father and mother really are gone.”
“You did a lovely job, though,” Alessandra said as she took a few steps towards the structure. “Was it hard to design?”
“No. I actually found the design process quite enjoyable. It was the construction that took ages to complete.” “Well, thank you for doing it. Father would be pleased.” “Do you wish to go in? I designed the interior as well.”
“No!” A shudder passed through Alessandra at the thought of entering the tomb. “How about we go back to my place instead? We can open a new bottle of wine; Carlo still hasn‟t come into town.” “All right.”
Both crossed themselves as they turned to leave the Moretti burial ground. As she walked away, Alessandra sent up a silent prayer.
"So Carlo really isn‟t back yet? I thought he would have arrived already. Wasn‟t he just staying for the harvest?”“That‟s what he said when I left, but he sent a letter saying he has other business to take care of before he comes into the city.”
“Oh,” Giacomo said as he opened the door to the Giordano townhouse. “Did he say what he was staying behind to do? He‟s been gone for quite a while…” Alessandra scoffed, “You forget, brother. I am merely a woman. I am unworthy to be included in my husband‟s business matters.” “Oh, cut it out. I was just curious!”
“Cut what out?” Lucio asked as he took the stairs two at a time.
“Nothing,” Alessandra answered.“Oh come on! I miss everything!” Lucio made it to the bottom of the staircase and flashed her a brilliant smile.
Alessandra smiled back equally as charmingly. “Don‟t worry your pretty little head. Giacomo has come over to enjoy a leisurely afternoon of wine and companionship. Don‟t spoil it by bringing up solemn subjects.”
“Me spoil the atmosphere with grave issues?! You’re the one dressed like a nun!”
Alessandra rolled her eyes at his jovial manner and turned her attention to the general group. WithLucio, everything seemed a joke. “If you‟ll excuse me, gentlemen, I‟ll go change out of my habit. You know where the wine is kept. Go ahead and start without me.”The boys headed into the next room while Alessandra gathered her maid and began to unpin her veil.
“She‟s got quite the collection, no?” Lucio asked from his spot on the bench.Giacomo perused the titles and scrolls that filled the shelves while sipping on a glass of red wine. One of Carlo‟s best. “They‟re all her husband‟s. You know that.” “Yeah, but he never reads them. You know that. She‟s the only one who ever uses them so they‟re practically hers anyways. I should know; I‟m the one she always sends to fetch another title when she‟s finished with one.” Giacomo turned his attention on his friend. “Why are you here anyways?”
“He‟s my guest,” Alesssandra defended Lucio‟s presence in her home from the doorway as she came back down from her room. Her veil had been discarded and her hair braided though she was still draped in black fabric.
“Thank you,” Lucio said and took a drink from his glass. “You brother just doesn‟t understand our relationship.”
“Humph.” Giacomo grunted as he settled onto another bench. “You‟re right I don‟t! I thought you were my friend; so, why are you staying here?”“Because I invited him to!” Alessandra poured a glass of wine for herself as she spoke. “He escorted me here in time for father‟s death and, in return, I asked him to stay until he finds rooms of his own.” Alessandra set the wine jug down with a thud, effectively ending the discussion.
“So…” Lucio searched for another topic to bring up. “What did you two do today?”
Alessandra pounced on the new topic. “We went to see father and mother‟s tomb. It was completed only this morning. It was quite exquisite; Giac did a great job with the design.”“So, Giac. What are you going to do now that you‟ve finished designing the tomb? That project, along with getting Viola out of the house, has been your sole focus for months!”
“I dunno,” Giac said as he swirled his drink around. “Find another project, I guess.” “How about finding a wife?” Alessandra asked brazenly as she gave him a stern look. “You know fatherwanted you married soon and you‟ve not been making any progress on the negotiations he started before he died.” Giac‟s face reddened and he opened his mouth to respond but Lucio cut him off. “Oh, please! Giacomo‟s too young to have a wife! Let him run free for a bit longer!”
“What do you know about marriage? A wife could be a good thing for Giacomo.”“Pshaw. A wife is the last thing on his mind now. Besides, I‟ll bet he‟s not even over Kari yet. Am I right, man?”Giac glared at the scheming pair. “You‟re both wrong. I‟ll find a wife when I‟m good and ready and, as for Kari, she‟s none of your concern.”
Alessandra looked at her brother with a sarcastically arrogant expression. “She is my concern when she‟s come to town.”
Both boys‟ jaws fell open. Giac closed his first, “She‟s back?! How do you know? How long have you known? When were you going to tell me?”“Calm down! I just heard yesterday! I cannot be sure, but I heard gossip from a couple of the neighborgirls saying that she‟s rented a few rooms a few of blocks away from the Basilica di San Lorenzo and is quite set on finding you once more.” Giac stared at her speechlessly. “I know what you‟re thinking, Giac, and it‟s not a good idea. Don‟t go seeking her out; let her find you. From what I‟ve heard, she has a grand plan and I don‟t want it upset.”
Giac listened to her words, but was torn. He sat in silence as Lucio changed the subject once more andwas barely aware of the conversation going on between him and Alessandra. What to do? Honor my sister’s advice or seek out my love?
Finally, after the sun had long set, Giac had had enough of the wrestling match going on between hishead and his heart and rose to leave. In the end, his head had won and he had settled on going straighthome. Besides, he told himself as he gave Alessandra a hug goodbye, I don’t even know for sure that she is here and if she is she will seek me out.
Nero perked his ears up when he heard the squeak of the front door opening. “Is he home, boy?” Nico asked in a silly voice and got up to greet his brother.
“Giacomo?” he called out as he came into the foyer and saw Giac going straight for the stairs. “I wish to speak with you.”
“Yes?” Giac focused on Nico‟s slightly swaying form and tried to make the world stand still. Perhaps he had had a few too many glasses at Alessandra‟s.
“Come in here,” Nico said and turned around and went back into the room he had been waiting in. Nerowas still in his spot, not having felt like moving his old bones, and Nico could hear Giac shuffling behind him.
“What is it? Is it serious?” Giac‟s words were a bit slurred as he spoke.“Um, perhaps we should wait until you‟re more clear-headed. Perhaps until tomorrow…” Nico offered. “No, no. Tell me now.”
“Ok,” Nico took a deep breath to steady his nerves. “Now that you‟ve finished father‟s tomb, I figured your focus would shift to a new project.” “Yes…” “A project like deciding on what to do with my sisters and me. Where to put us, you know.”
“Yes, I know. Now, get on with it!”“Well, I had a couple ideas to offer you.” Nico shrunk back at the glare forming on Giac‟s face and spoke quickly. “In exchange for sending me and only me into a religious life, I am prepared to sign over to youmy uncle Beniamino‟s entire textile business. It‟s a recent inheritance and I have no use for it, so I figured you might like it…in exchange for keeping Renata and Ghita out of a convent.”
“So.” Giac folded his arms and looked down his nose at his presumptuous brother. “You think that justbecause now you‟re rich you can tell me how I should provide for my sisters? Sisters whom are under my care, not yours, I might add.”“Just listen for a minute! I‟ll give you his business, his house, and his land in the country! Please! It‟s all I have to offer!”
“You cannot bribe me! I shall decide their futures and yours as well. What I say goes!” “It is not a bribe! It is a business deal!” “And what exactly do you know of business? You‟re meant to be a man of the cloth.”“My point exactly! I haven‟t a head for business, but you do! Which is why I am willing to make you head of the business.”
“For a price! You assume, Nico, that I can be bought and I cannot! Do not ever bring this up again!”
He turned his back to the boy and Nico cursed the fact that Giac had come home drunk. His plan wouldhave worked had he been sober. “I will not let the matter drop, Giacomo! I will keep my sisters from the convent, mark my words!”
“He‟s drunk!” Renata whispered in shock to Ghita. The shouting had called the girls from their room and they had taken a seat at the top of the stairs where they had been able to hear the entire conversation. “Do you think he‟ll come around?” Ghita asked sadly. “I pray that he will.”
“Where are you going?!” Nico shouted after Giacomo as he wrenched the door open and flung it back, rattling the glass panes. “The Basilica di San Lorenzo!” Giac slammed the door shut behind him. The girls exchanged confused looks that said „Why is he going there?‟
After the reverberation of the slamming door had stopped, Nico stood there in the silence with his head hung down. He could hear fidgeting on the stairs. “I‟m so sorry girls.”
Renata and Ghita rose from their seats and came down to face him.“Don‟t apologize,” Renata reassured him. “It‟ll work, I‟m sure of it. We‟ll just have to try again.”
If I had to pick a God to be, I would choose…” Lucio took another sip of wine as he thought. “…Jupiter. I would be Jupiter. All hail Lucio: King of the Gods!” Alessandra began to giggle wildly as she imagined Lucio dressed in ancient robes with the sky and thunder at his command. “You would not be Jupiter! You are more suited to be Bacchus, God of wine!”
At this, Lucio raised his glass in a toast. “To Bacchus and Venus!”
Alessandra smacked him playfully in the shoulder. “I already told you, I‟m not Venus! I would like to be Minerva, Goddess of wisdom. It suits me more, I think.”
“You know,” Lucio said as he rolled onto his back. “You don‟t seem to fit Minerva or Venus. If I had to pick, I‟d say you‟re most like Diana.”
“Goddess of the hunt? Why?” Alessandra sat up and peered into Lucio‟s eyes. “I‟ve never been on a hunt.”
“I said Diana not because of your hunting skills.” Lucio laughed wryly. “Diana was a virgin Goddess, inaccessible to men and, like her, you are unattainable.”
Alessandra laughed and poked his shoulder. “That‟s ridiculous. You know I am married to Carlo. I am perfectly attainable to him.”
“You‟re so hard to understand sometimes.” Alessandra lay down next to Lucio and snuggled close. “Especially when we‟ve been through two jugs of wine.”
“I like the wine. It gives me courage.” Lucio spoke softly as he brought his hand to rest on Alessandra‟s hip.
“The wine makes my head fuzzy,” she admitted as she put her hand to his chest, fingering his tunic between her fingers. “Sometimes it gets hard to tell what‟s real and what‟s not.”
“I‟m real.” In a bold move, Lucio pulled her as close as she would come and craned his face over hers. Bending his neck down, he kissed her lips, relishing her sweet taste.
At first Alessandra kissed him back in a daze. It all seemed a dream.
But then her head cleared and the gravity of the situation struck her. With a cry of protest, she pushed Lucio away and jumped up.
“I‟m sorry, Alessandra!” Lucio offered a half-hearted apology as she raced from the room, but he wasn‟t really sorry at all.
In fact, he couldn‟t stop grinning and it wasn‟t just the effect of the wine.
“Oh, what have I done?!” Alessandra ran up to her room and shut herself in. In a panic, and suddenly much more sober, she cried out to God. “Lord, please forgive me!”
“Mother of God, what has happened?!” Rina, who had heard the racket Alesssandra had causedscampering up the stairs, flung the door open and panicked. “Are you hurt? Was it Lucio? Did he do something terrible?! What happened?”
“Get out!” Alessandra turned around and yelled violently at her maid. “Go away! I do not need your help!” Above all else, Alessandra desperately wanted to keep what she had done a secret.
With tears in her eyes, Rina left not knowing what she had done to displease her mistress. Alessandrashut the door and bolted it tightly. With tears streaming down her face, she sank into a corner and pulled her knees up to her chest.