Regina still felt the chill when she went back inside and for some reason, her parents standing in the living room waiting for her made the cold worse. It seeped into her bones, made her feel stiff and otherworldly, though she smiled at them.
“What’s your next move then, my little genius?” asked her dad, eyes glinting with pride.
Gina rolled her shoulders. “Find the stone mason, get the painting, receive a massive pay check.”
“As you do,” he said. “But I expect nothing less. You’re doing really well, sweetie. I’m very proud of—”
“You’re dragging it out,” Vittoria said, elbowing him. “Go on.”
New waves of cold made their way into Gina’s heart. She kept smiling despite herself. “What is it?”
“It’s time for me to retire,” her dad said. “I think this most recent job of yours has proven that you’re ready to take over on your own.”
“Seriously?” she said.
“Seriously,” her dad repeated. He came over to put his hands on her shoulders. “Like I said, it was a smart move to listen to Mr. Cavalcante. It shows a lot of maturity.”
Gina kept the smile up, even though frost was making its way through her veins, to the tips of her fingers. In that moment, she didn’t feel mature. She didn’t feel capable. She didn’t feel like the leader of a gang at all.
What’s wrong with me?
“I can stay in Monte Vista as long as you need,” her dad said, no doubt tuned into her moods as he always was. “This doesn’t mean I have to move right away.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Gina said. “It’s all you ever talk about.”
“Your dad’s right,” Vittoria said. “Maybe it would be good for him to stay for a bit. It’s a lot to take in once you start being in charge.”
If anyone knew the burden of suddenly being thrust into being in charge, it was Gina’s mother. She knew that. But despite the sense of it all, she shook her head stubbornly and met her dad’s gaze straight on.
“Daddy, I’ll be fine. I’m practically already in charge, at least of everything art related, and that’s maybe seventy percent of the business. Besides, I want the house to myself. I have some pretty sweet plans for moving my bedroom upstairs already.”
She wrapped her arms around her dad and after some hesitation, he hugged her back.
“I’m proud of you, sweetheart,” he said.
The skin crinkled at his eyes when he smiled. It didn’t often hit her that he was getting older, that he was silently fading into the background as she took over, but now she felt it.
“You have good reason to be,” Gina said with the most confident smile she could muster. “Thanks for this, dad, I’d better head to bed.”
Gina didn’t expect to get off so easily, though she had thought that her dad would be the one to come and talk to her. Instead, after brushing her teeth, she was stopped on the landing by her mother. Vittoria had, in the intervening minutes, managed to steal Carlo’s shirt and she now wore nothing but that and striped socks. Gina noticed with amusement that they had smiley-faces on them.
“Nice socks,” Gina said with a wry smile.
“You better fucking believe it.” Vittoria laughed and added: “They’re a gift from Marta.”
That made more sense, then. Marta and Vittoria had always gotten along better than she did with any of her biological kids. It wasn’t that Gina and Vittoria had nothing in common—in fact, Carlo was fond of telling his daughter just how much she was like her mother—but more that they couldn’t find much to say to each other. They had two things that would always keep them on the same side: a predilection for wrong-doing and their love for the family they shared. Especially Carlo.
“Your dad’s worried shitless, you know,” Vittoria said. “It really doesn’t matter to either of us if he stays with you for a bit.”
Gina sighed. “I don’t need that.”
“Yeah, right, and I’m a fucking nun.”
“Go tell dad that I’ll be fine, especially once I get his ratty old furniture out of the house.”
“Your dad didn’t put me up to this.” Vittoria said. “I’m worried, too. It’s just that I’m shit at being a proper parent, so…”
“You’re not,” Gina said.
“Oh, but I am. Don’t mind admitting it. The only good decision I ever made as a parent was marrying your dad and leaving the three of you to grow up with him. You’re good kids and it’s all on him, even if you’re spoiled rotten… and stubborn as hell.”
“I’m seriously fine.” Gina crossed her arms and tapped her foot impatiently. “I’m happy for dad.”
“Stubborn as hell,” her mum repeated sagely.
“Well, that’s one thing we have in common, then,” Gina said irritably.
Vittoria nodded. “That, and a tendency to act like idiots. When you need help, get it. You’ve got to deal with that shit instead of always putting it off because it’s hard.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“I know,” Gina’s mum said with a snort. She pushed her hair behind her ear. “But I hope you’re smarter than me. If I’d been better at that shit, it wouldn’t even be a question of living here or in Monte Vista. I’d have been there with you.”
Regina went silent at that comment. Truthfully, she didn’t know much about her mother’s history, only the little bits her parents had shared here and there. She knew that Vittoria hurt her dad, she knew it nearly tore them apart, and she knew it meant they couldn’t live together in Monte Vista, for fear of violent retribution from the rest of the gang.
“You’re a lot like your dad, but… you should try and be more like him,” Vittoria said after a long silence. “And less like me.”
“Yes, yes, can I go to sleep now?”
Regina and Vittoria’s eyes met and they nodded at each other. Both knew this conversation hadn’t gone well. Despite their shared traits and interests—or perhaps because of them—they weren’t on the same wave-length.
Inside the bedroom, Gina pulled out her hair tie and let her hair tumble over her shoulders. She really did have every intention of going to sleep, push it out of her mind, but she couldn’t. If it kept going on like this, she would go insane.
She sat up in her bed, picked up her phone and rooted through her contacts. While the dial-tone resounded through her body, she nearly lost her resolve and hung up, but then he answered.
Her silence was long and awkward, then she found her voice.
Enzo’s mind was in turmoil on the entire walk home. The discovery that the mason who worked at their place was involved in the thefts made sense. If he still knew his mother, if they were still together, that would explain some of the things he had been wondering about—how the thieves knew about the feud, how they had managed to find their way through the Napoletani house’s many confusing corridors.
To his relief, no one was around when he got home, so instead of heading to bed, he went straight to his father’s study. It was where he kept the old family portrait, the only hint that there had lived people other than the three of them in the house.
It had once occupied the prominent space above the dining room mantle, but after Enzo’s mother and brother left, it had quietly been moved and a new one commissioned, showing only the remaining residents. The decision to put it in the study was, Enzo thought, evidence that his father hadn’t taken the loss as well as his stoic behaviour might suggest. In this position, above a dresser, his father would always be able to look at the portrait from his desk, like looking into a window to a time when things were right.
Enzo hated the picture more now that he was older. He didn’t enjoy the reminder of his mother’s smile or his brother’s confident gaze. Neither did he like the look on his own face. On the day they stood for the portrait, he made a valiant effort to look proud and proper, like his father. In retrospect, the misery was clear from the void in his gaze, in the too-stiff way he held his shoulders. It had been mere weeks after he broke it off with Regina and only a few weeks after that, his family fell apart when Georgette Desjardins-Cavalcante took her youngest son and left with the stone mason.
Fortunately, it was a long time after that they sat for another portrait. He couldn’t imagine what his face would have looked like if it had been captured a few weeks after his mother’s departure.
The sound of the door opening shook him out of his thoughts, and he drew in a horrified breath at his state of dress… until he saw his sister’s blue eyes peek at him through the crack between the jamb and the door. He let out the breath he had been holding.
“What on Earth are you wearing?” Lia asked, opening the door and stepping inside.
“Clothes,” Enzo replied sardonically.
The corners of her mouth turned down as it formed a pretty pout. “So you still won’t speak to me?”
“No, by all means, let’s talk,” he said through gritted teeth. “Perhaps you want to enlighten me as to some of Lorenzo’s favourite positions?”
“Sure, maybe we can swap sexual experiences while we’re at it. Enjoying your nights with the criminal?”
He spun and glared.
“Regina and I don’t sleep together. I don’t know why you think that just because you’re a slut, everyone else must be as well.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, he wished he could take them back. Lia, not one to show any emotion, couldn’t keep the hurt out of her eyes.
“Oh god, Lia, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“If you must know, I saw Lorenzo today. I told him we can’t see each other anymore. At all.”
He looked at his sister with pity.
She snorted. “Why? I thought you’d be happy to know. I won’t be a problem anymore.”
“You’re not a problem, Lia, you’re my sister. I’m sorry about what I called you. You’re nothing like that.”
His sister shook her head. “But I am.”
“No. I know you adore Lorenzo, always have.”
Enzo looked at her in surprise. “But you were thick as thieves when you were little.”
“Yes, we were kids, Vinny. When we got older, I thought he was boring,” Lia said with a little smile. “Especially when we made it to our teens. He’s not as dashing as some of the boyfriends I had then. Montanari, Antonini, Conti… Lorenzo never tried to charm me or buy me presents. He never even complimented me except on rare occasions.”
“But he doted on you.”
“Yes, I realise that now. Once all of this mess with Fabrizio happened, I came to appreciate him more because he’s the only one who actually cares about me. He’s the only one who listens.”
The meaning of that wasn’t lost on Enzo. Lorenzo was the only one who listened—meaning that her good-for-nothing older brother didn’t. He took his little sister into his arms and muttered another apology, the thousandth this year alone, it felt like.
“Please, let’s not argue anymore, Vinny,” Lia said, and she rested her head on his chest. “It’s so quiet when we don’t talk to each other.”
Enzo hugged his sister tighter. What she said made him think of her engagement, then her eventual wedding. She was right—when they weren’t talking, the house was very quiet. It was big, empty, and lonely. He could only imagine what it would be like once she married Fabrizio and left.
“Maybe you shouldn’t do it,” he said spontaneously.
She stepped back. “Do what?”
“Marry Fabrizio. Maybe… maybe just let him do whatever he wants. I can take any punishment and you’d have Lorenzo.”
“We’ve talked about this. No.”
“No,” she said. “I’m not losing you, too. Besides, even if we were to get rid of Fabrizio, I wouldn’t be marrying Lorenzo. You know he’s not for me.”
Enzo turned away, back to the family portrait.
“What do you think mother would have done if she were here?”
He glanced over at Lia, whose eyes narrowed to tiny, angry slits.
“I don’t think about her at all.”
“She should have been here for your engagement and your wedding. The two of you should have been planning this party. Maybe, if she had been here, none of this would have happened.”
Lia crossed her arms.
“I’d much rather have you plan this party with me. I want nothing to do with that woman.”
Enzo opened his mouth, about to tell her what Gina had found out. It would be a relief to share it with someone who felt the same kind of pain. They were both abandoned, they were both told their mother wanted nothing to do with them.
But, he thought, Lia didn’t have to know. He was selfish to even consider it. His actions had put his sister through so much pain already—he couldn’t bear to bring her more.
“I’d better go sleep,” he said.
His sister smiled, all traces that not all was well wiped from her face.
“Good idea. Father wouldn’t like it if he saw you in that.”
He made it to his bedroom without being seen, changed for bed, and collapsed on top of the covers. The misery still churned, like an angry storm behind his sternum, and sleep was elusive. He thought he would suffer another sleepless night—they had numbered in the hundreds since Conti died—until his phone rang. Gina’s name lit up the screen. Enzo bolted upright and picked up.
A long, rather awkward silence followed and then she said: “Hi, Enzo.”
“Is something the matter? Is it the painting? What—”
“No, don’t worry,” she said. “I’m only… you forgot your jacket and I thought I’d tell you and… check up on you. The thing with your mother seemed to hit you hard and I want to make sure you’re okay.”
The storm in his chest stilled, and he closed his eyes with the phone pressed to his cheek. A curious warmth spread through his body.
“Why?” he asked.
“You’re my client.”
“I’m not an expert on your line of business, Gina, but I’m fairly certain it’s not in your job description to check up on the mental well-being of your clients.”
“How do you know? Maybe I’m going to call Ms. Antonini next.”
He could hear a smile in her voice.
“I imagine she’d enjoy that.”
“She would flip her goddamned shit.”
“You really have a way with words.”
Gina went silent again; it stretched out longer this time, and when she spoke, she sounded tired and resigned. “I can’t sleep.”
“Want to talk?”
“Talk?” He felt warm again.
“Yeah. You know… talk. We used to do that a lot.”
He nodded before realising she couldn’t see him. “We did. But… about what?”
“Any old thing, I guess. I mean, don’t read into this or anything, but I’d like… company. Over the phone.”
“I’d like that, too.”
Silence, more silence. But it wasn’t awkward any longer. It was calm and comfortable, in tune with his breathing.
“You still ride horses and play the piano and… knit or whatever?” she asked.
Enzo rolled over on his back and laughed. “I never knitted. I still do the other things occasionally, though.”
“You also used to fence and paint, right?”
“Yes and I still do both.”
“But you also have a fulltime, demanding job.” At his confirmation, she groaned. “Fucking hell. How do you survive that?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “It’s not all I do, either.”
“Figure ice skating?”
“What? No!” He laughed again.
“Do you bake macaroons? Drive race cars? Sing karaoke? Memorise your friends’ dumbass long names?”
“You know I have to rehearse for an hour each day to not forget my own, right?”
He didn’t sleep all night, but it wasn’t because of anguish or guilt. He talked until his throat was sore and didn’t hang up until the sun coloured the sky golden and Gina’s laughter had warmed him to the core.
EDIT: I swapped two pictures out for new ones. As Jowita correctly noticed, Gina’s haircut was the same as Enzo’s mother’s is in the portrait. It was laziness and I would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for that meddling Jowita and her keen eye! 😛 (No but seriously – thanks to Jowita for giving me the kick I needed to change them out. The new ones are much less lazy).
Author’s note: Hi guys, and welcome back to yet another chapter! Before I say a few things, I want to apologise both for my long absence and for the length of both this and the previous chapters. I know it’s a massive turn-off to you guys, and I’m super sorry. I’m going to look into splitting up chapters more to make them easier to digest. Sorry!
Another thing is I’d like you guys to tell me if I should have added a content warning here. I know what Enzo says to his sister is basically slut shaming, and I’m wondering if it’s a little harsh without previous warning. I hope it’s clear that I don’t go in for slut shaming myself – can’t say I really care how many people anyone sleeps with, so long as it’s between consenting adults. A fair few of my character are promiscuous (Hi, Gina!), even if I don’t have them actually doing the do. It’s also not meant as Enzo’s actual opinion on his sister, which I hope is obvious. Anyway – if I should add a warning for it, pleeeease, tell me and I’ll add it right away so as to not stir trouble. Thank you!
Now, finally, I’m going to make you care even less about reading! I can’t keep up a once-a-week-schedule. If the past two weeks of being back has taught me anything it’s that because I go to school every day, I have a lot less time on my hands. At times it feels like this story is literally the only thing I do besides school. It’s not, obviously, but it’s always on my mind that I need to get the chapters written, shot, edited, and so on for the next Saturday. It’s not that I don’t love the story or love writing it, but I spend a lot more time on the chapters these days because I have boyfriend beta-reading as well. Now, my plan is to post every other week. This gives me time to write more, and it gives me time to work on other stories, too. On the non-story weeks I might have poses and such for you guys as well. Of course, if I feel like it and I have a chapter ready, I’ll post it anyway. It’ll be a little less stable than usual, but I hope that’s acceptable. If not, I don’t mind it if you stop reading. I’m pretty sure a lot of people stopped reading after the long break, and it didn’t help that I then posted a long, substandard chapter. I’m sorry again and I thank those who still bother to hang around for taking the trouble to read 🙂
I’ll see you for the next post!