The restaurant was neutral ground, or so Enzo and his mother had agreed when they made plans to meet for the first time in years.
It was a kind of sad-looking, typical Italian style place with dusty wine racks, chequered tablecloths, and a radio that scratched out one of the latest pop songs. The weathered old man who polished glasses behind the bar sometimes hit the thing and then it played well for a while before once again crashing into noise.
Enzo glanced at his sister, who entered right behind him and Gina. She wrinkled her nose as she took in the dusty atmosphere and her blue eyes were scanning the place in that critical way that he had seen so many time when she quality-checked an acquaintance’s drawing room. In contrast, his girlfriend had grabbed a menu and read it with a hungry gaze.
“This certainly is an… interesting place that you chose,” Lia said.
Lia didn’t look different from how she had back home, and this was despite that fact that she could do as she pleased now. She stayed at Lorenzo’s house and nobody there demanded that she do her make-up and wear heals every day. However, it was hard for her to get used to.
Enzo didn’t have the same difficulties. He had given up on being clean-shaven and he relished the chance to wear comfortable clothes all day and not just for an hour in the evening. The first time Lia saw him as he was now, with stubble and hair with no products, she said he looked like a homeless person. That still made him laugh.
“They have crepes,” Gina said. “Can’t be all bad.”
“Crepes can hardly make up for them not cleaning,” Lia said. “I really do think we should have met at Lorenzo’s instead.”
“Well that wouldn’t exactly be neutral territory, would it now?” Gina said back.
“I’m sure this is great.” Enzo smiled at the two of them in turn.
By now, he had learnt to step in as a neutral voice when Lia and Gina spoke. The two of them were capable of acting civilly towards each other, but they quickly got snappy and he feared that they would never be anything but civil acquaintances.
“I don’t think they’re here yet,” Lia said, “so maybe we should just get a table, if we can get one that’s clean.”
Enzo nodded and was about to go over and take care of it when Gina stopped him.
She gave Enzo a quick kiss before going off to talk to the guy behind the bar. He saw her hand over a few notes from her wallet and something that looked like a card with her number, then she waved for them to follow her to the back. The owner strode ahead to an outdoor area, where he wiped both tables and chairs down with a rag before giving Gina a smile and leaving. Enzo turned to her with a questioning look and she shrugged.
“Never hurts to make business contacts, especially when that contact makes crepes.”
He chuckled and took in their surroundings—a surprisingly nice change from inside the building. It was a softly lit outer courtyard surrounded by climbing ivy. It looked like a place for having parties and Gina told him that they would have it all to themselves until closing time.
Now that they were there, seated and ready for the meeting, Enzo felt his heart beating nervously against his ribs and Gina, ever attuned to his mood, found his hand under the table.
“Excited?” she asked, giving his hand a squeeze.
“More like terrified.”
He wasn’t sure why, either. He had talked to his mother on the phone, both to catch up and to set up this meeting, but it had taken a while before he felt ready to see her face-to-face. His therapist said that part of him still thought his mother didn’t want him. Whatever it was, he felt his muscles tensing and his palms growing clammy.
Lia was still. Now that she was sure the surroundings were clean, she was quiet, looking out at nothing in particular. She was like this a lot when he saw her and it made him feel guilty that he wasn’t there more. Most of his time he spent at Gina’s and he found it harder and harder to talk to Lia when they saw each other.
“Lorenzo couldn’t make it?” Gina asked Lia.
Lia’s head shot up, as though she had been stirred from a nightmare, and then she quickly shook her head.
“No, unfortunately not.”
She didn’t expound on it or explain why he wasn’t there. Enzo had just assumed that she would bring him for moral support like he had brought Gina, but she hadn’t. In fact, he didn’t know much about what had happened with them since they left their father’s house. Lia was free to be with whomever she chose now, but like with her clothes, he didn’t know that she had adjusted to that.
“Is everything all right with him?” Enzo asked.
“Oh, yes, he’s quite well,” Lia said, as though he had meant to ask about his friend’s well-being and not the state of their relationship. “He’s busy.”
She smiled, but it was that nothing type smile she had always used back home, the one that seemed to say everything was fine but which only masked pain. Enzo reminded himself to get her alone to talk soon, though he feared that it would be difficult.
The time wasn’t now, however, because they soon heard the sound of voices. Georgette was the first person to enter the courtyard, soon followed by all of her family. Bastien the mason, Amadeo, as well as a man and a small girl. They were talking amongst themselves but as soon as they saw Enzo, Lia, and Gina, they all stopped and went silent. Enzo stood up and would have stumbled over his chair if Gina hadn’t caught and steadied him. She kept a hand on the small of his back as they walked towards his mother.
Georgette visibly steadied herself. She looked much as he remembered her, though her hair was cut shorter and she wore a casual summer dress that he couldn’t imagine she would have worn at home. Most different, however, was the look in her eyes. Her smile, while careful, lit up her face and rounded her cheeks in a way he had never seen before. While they all watched, tears started pouring down her cheeks and the tears turned to deep sobs that raked her body while she looked from Enzo to Lia.
The mason put a comforting arm around her shoulders.
“I thought I’d never—” she cried, her voice breaking. “You’re so grown up and you’re so beautiful. I never thought I’d s-see you again.”
Enzo walked over to wrap her in a hug and his mother clung to him while she continued crying. When she drew back, her make-up had run down her cheeks and she let out a mixture of a laugh and another sob.
“Oh no, look at me,” she said and took the handkerchief her husband handed to her to dab her eyes.
Then she hugged Lia as well. Enzo noticed that his sister was more hesitant, but after a while she leaned into Georgette and rested her head on her shoulder. She didn’t cry. Enzo didn’t think he had ever seen her cry, but there was a clear and deep vulnerability playing in her eyes.
In the meantime, Enzo turned to his brother. He had grown to the same height as Enzo and he had the same colour eyes and high cheekbones. Unlike Enzo, however, he had inherited the shape of their mother’s eyes and it was the same genuine smile that graced his face.
“Eight years, huh?” Amadeo said, reaching out a hand.
Enzo took it, but instead of only shaking, he hugged him as well. Amadeo drew back and looked at him.
“A lot has happened, I can see,” Enzo said.
“Yeah, I really thought that was it, you know? I got married a couple of years ago and I just thought about you guys and how you’d never…” His voice broke and he had to wipe his eyes. “Shit. Sorry. We just really didn’t think we’d see you guys again.”
“We didn’t think we’d see you,” Enzo said, aware that his voice was thick. “You look like you’re doing great. And this is your…?”
He motioned towards the man and the girl and Amadeo’s face lit up.
“Yes, sorry. This is my husband.” He waved the man nearer, clear pride and love on his face. “But you’ve already met, even though it was a while ago.”
Enzo studied the man’s face, not recognising him until Gina suddenly said:
“You have got to be kidding me. You’re related to fucking Fabrizio Aiello, aren’t you?”
Then it hit him. “Rinaldo,” he said.
It was obvious why Gina had recognised him. He had the same angular face and his eyes were the same colour as Fabrizio’s and now that he looked closely, his features were familiar even though he had aged a lot since they last met. Rinaldo handed the little girl over to Amadeo before shaking their hands.
“This is Natalia,” Amadeo said. “Our little princess.”
“Hi,” Enzo said. “I guess you’re my niece.”
He held out a hand to her and to his delight, her face lit up in a toothless grin as she wrapped a hand around his finger. Like his mother and brother before him, his eyes flooded with tears. He laughed, wiping them away.
While he was occupied with his niece, Gina talked to Rinaldo. She asked how he ended up married to Enzo’s brother.
“I was kicked out of my dad’s house a year or two before Amadeo, for the same thing. It was actually a coincidence. I worked for a company that had deals with Amadeo’s company and we reconnected, bonded over the whole black sheep gay thing and here we are.” He smiled. “How do you know my brother?”
Gina lifted her chin proudly and put a hand on her hip. “I put the fucker on a plane to Switzerland.”
Amadeo and Rinaldo shared a look, then Amadeo looked meaningfully at Enzo.
“I feel like we’re missing a few details here,” Amadeo said.
“He sort of blackmailed me and Lia. It’s a long story,” Enzo said with an awkward laugh. “I know he’s your brother, but he’s not exactly a friend of ours…”
Rinaldo shook his head. “Hey, no worries. I haven’t seen him in years. He sort of outed me as gay to my dad, so…” He shrugged. “We’re not on speaking terms.”
Next to Enzo, Gina shook her head. “So he’s always been a fucking asshole.”
“He’s an ambitious asshole, at least. I don’t even think he had anything against me as a person, but I was the oldest and he wanted to inherit the estate, so…”
Gina muttered something that sounded like fucking rich people.
They didn’t dive right into the conversation they knew they had to have. Instead, the company engrossed themselves in food and wine and deftly danced around the difficult things, at least for a while. It was one good hour, in which nothing was wrong. It felt as if they had met up for a regular family dinner where all that needed to be done was catching up.
But once dinner was gone and dessert was on its way, they couldn’t put it off any longer. They started skirting the topics that hurt, getting nearer with every sentence, and as the sky darkened over them, so did Enzo’s mood.
Georgette reached over the table and squeezed his hand that rested on the table.
“Are you all right, dear? I know you both must be so tired after… after everything that happened with your father.”
Her words quietened the conversations in progress around the table. Gina, who had been talking to Bastien, now stopped and took Enzo’s other hand in hers. Taking a deep breath, he looked up at his mother.
“About that… We need to…”
Georgette nodded and looked at him and Lia in turn.
“What do you want to know?”
“I guess… all of it. Father told me most and I don’t believe he lied, but I want your side of the story.”
She nodded, but even so it took a few moments of her steeling herself before she could speak. Her voice had a fake calm to it.
“Do you know that I had planned to leave your father for a while?”
“He said as much.”
“It was both because of the state of things in our family, but also because I felt terrible for what I was doing with Bastien. Your father and I had barely had anything resembling a romantic connection since the beginning of our marriage, but it still wasn’t right to cheat.
“The three of you were the only reason I didn’t leave right away. I knew that if I went straight to Vincente and demanded a divorce, he would separate us and make sure that I never saw you again, so Bastien and I began to make plans. We looked for a place to live and a job for me once I was out. At the same time, I planned to talk to all three of you and convince you to go with me. I don’t know if you remember.”
Lia straightened her back.
“That’s what that was about. I always wondered why you suddenly wanted to talk when you had never tried before.”
Enzo looked at her—she had never told him this, but then he hadn’t told her about the conversation he had with Georgette either. Their mother nodded.
“I tried, yes, even though I admit that I didn’t try hard enough.” She looked at both of them, yet again with tears in her eyes. “I’m so sorry for that, my dears. I was scared. It was at that time I realised that I didn’t know you at all. I didn’t know your friends or know what you wanted for yourselves in the future. Vincente said to hand my children over to a nanny and I did it without question. When I tried talking to you, I realised that we were like strangers and now I know I didn’t try hard enough to broach the topic with you. Both because it was hard, but also because I was scared that you would have told your father of my plans.”
Enzo folded his hands in front of him to mask a slight tremble in them.
“If you had told me of your plans,” he said, “I can’t say I wouldn’t have told father.”
Georgette put her arms around herself.
“He makes you believe that up is down and left is right,” Bastien said, rubbing her back. “I’ve seen the effects of that every day since Gigi left.”
Enzo’s mother shot a look full of devotion at her husband and he returned it. There was undeniable warmth between them.
“I think the moment I really realised how he had twisted everything was when he discovered Amadeo,” Georgette said, turning to look at her middle child. “He spoke with such conviction when he said that it was wrong to be gay. I’m ashamed to say I almost agreed with him and I even scolded Amadeo for it. It wasn’t until your father then said that he should be kicked out that I realised what I was doing—that I was punishing my child for being in love, like I was. If anyone deserved to be punished for being in love, it should be the adult who was knowingly cheating on her husband, not a young boy who wasn’t hurting anyone.
“Your father, however, wouldn’t let him stay and that’s when I realised I had to choose. The choice was between leaving the two of you or letting Amadeo fend for himself. It’s the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make but…” Georgette swallowed something and blinked back tears. “I reasoned that Amadeo needed me more and that there was a chance I could convince Vincente to let me see you. Of course, that didn’t work out.”
“You didn’t even try to call,” Lia said. Everyone turned to her, but her face was downcast. “You couldn’t have called?”
Georgette closed her eyes for a moment. “The restraining orders…”
“What about them?” Lia snapped. “You know that they don’t actually magically keep you from making a phone call? It’s possible to violate a restraining order.”
“I did, Rosalia. Several times, but…”
“And yet, we haven’t heard a word from you.”
“I never made it far past your father. He’s a lawyer and he’s worked with the best in the country. I couldn’t afford to keep violating the restraining orders and going to court. That’s why we made those forged paintings and sold them—to get money to fight your father.”
“Oh, you mean you stole the painting that Vinny needed to keep me from going to prison?” she seethed. “The damned painting that we had such trouble getting?”
Everyone went deadly quiet and Enzo felt his face go pale.
“Y-you mean me,” he said impulsively. “I’m the one who—”
“Stop lying, Vinny, it doesn’t matter anymore. None of it does. I may as well have gone to prison, rather than living like this.”
Lia stood and marched out, her high heels clicking angrily on the courtyard tiles. Several stood up to follow, but Enzo was faster than all of them. He leapt from the table and ran after her.
He found his sister outside the restaurant in the street, hugging herself and pacing back and forth. As he neared, she swiped away tears and turned to him.
“Vinny, I’m fine, just…”
Enzo didn’t let her finish. He walked over and drew her into a hug. She was stiff at first but soon she nuzzled up close and after a little while, he felt her shaking. Crying. It was the first time he had seen her like this. He smoothed her hair and whispered soothingly.
“Why did she have to go?” she blubbered, sobbing into his shirt. “Why did everything have to change? Why can’t we go home?”
“You don’t really want that,” he said.
“Yes, I do. I want to have a home again. I want to have a purpose.”
“The only thing you’ve ever been allowed to do was sit at home and look for a husband. Surely, you don’t want to go back to that.”
“But I was someone back home. Yes, I was treated like a pretty idiot who can’t take responsibility for anything, but at least I had something to do. I would rather marry a hideous moron than this, this… nothing. I’m nothing now.”
“You are whatever you want to be, Lia.”
“But I don’t know what I want to be!” she said, pushing away from him. “I’m not like you. Father didn’t force me to become a lawyer or play the piano or anything and I don’t even have Lorenzo anymore to give me some sort of safety.”
Enzo was taken aback. “What do you mean?”
“He broke up with me after you found us at the Napoletanis’ house.”
He shook his head. “You mean, you…”
“No, I mean, he broke it off after you found us. I lied. When we were found out, I intended to keep going as we were behind your back but Lorenzo didn’t want that. He said he already felt terrible for being a party to my cheating and he couldn’t lie to you either, so he ended it.”
“B-but… but it’s different now. You live with him. You…”
“He’s seeing someone.”
“Costanza, Fabrizio’s cousin. You remember, he met her at the Napoletanis’ party? Not that it matters.” Lia dropped her shoulders and looked away. “It was always him giving and me taking, as he said.”
“He said that?” Enzo felt a sudden flash of anger at his friend. “He can’t say that. How could he? You two love each other.”
Lia sighed. “Please don’t be mad at him,” she said. “He’s not wrong. I spent all of our time together venting about our problems and there was never much room for him to do anything but listen, so… I used to be mad at him but I can’t be anymore. He’s been kind enough to let me stay at his house until I figure out… something for myself. Hopefully I will soon.”
“You can stay with us if…”
She snorted loudly. “Please, Vinny, Regina and I can barely go ten minutes without snapping at each other. I’m sure she’s lovely and I’m glad that you love her as much as you do, but we couldn’t live under the same roof without murdering each other. And I have quite enough death on my conscience, thank you very much.”
“But… but I don’t under… Lorenzo still loves you.”
Lia nodded. “He said as much, but he also said that he needs to move on. He thinks that’s what I need as well and I suppose I agree. If only I knew where to go from here.”
“Maybe… they can help.” Enzo motioned towards the restaurant and their family. “They’ve gone through this before. I know you resent mother and she didn’t handle it perfectly, but I think she wants to work on mending things.”
“We don’t know her.”
“Not yet, but we will.” He put an arm around her shoulder and gave her a squeeze. “And if all else fails, I’m here. I promise.”
“I know, Vinny.” She took a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at her eyes. “You always have been, even when I only created more problems for you to solve.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Yes, it is.” Lia sighed. “I killed Conti and then I sat back and let you take the blame. I never lifted a finger to help you and I started seeing Lorenzo at the worst possible time… Why did I never do anything to help you?”
Enzo rubbed his neck and looked away. “There was no need for you to…”
“Why not? Why should you always do everything for me?”
He went silent and after a while, Lia put a hand on his arm and smiled.
“Vinny, you’ve been a wonderful brother to me and I love you dearly, but I think it’s time I do something for myself. I don’t know what yet and frankly it’s terrifying, but I need to do it. Maybe I really do need to ask mother and Amadeo. They’ll know how I can find a… a job.”
Enzo had to stifle a laugh at the look on her face—a mixture of horror and a rather snobbish disdain at the thought of getting an ordinary job. She noticed and shot him a glare, though it wasn’t without humour.
Then she smiled and took his arm. “Let’s go talk to our family and perhaps we should try these crepes Regina keeps raving about.”
Gina was stuffed and groggy and comfy, sitting on one of the restaurant chairs. Enzo and his family were talking in small clusters around her. Amadeo, Rinaldo, and Rosalia were huddled at the other end of the long table. Meanwhile, Enzo was on the ground on a blanket, cooing at Natalia while his mum and Bastien looked on. The little girl had taken to her uncle instantly and this led Gina to a surprising conclusion: Her boyfriend was somehow even more attractive while he was with a small child.
She leaned back, adjusting herself and following Enzo’s movements, while a serene calm settled over her. The fear that he would leave diminished a little every day and even more so now that she saw him with family that wasn’t destructive. Gina liked all of them. Bastien enjoyed a good meal as much as she did herself. Amadeo had a dry sense of humour and his husband was as different from his brother as possible, thankfully. And there was Georgette, who had turned out to be more sensible than Gina had given her credit for.
As though Georgette had sensed her thinking of her, she suddenly stood from her place on the ground and took a chair next to her. She smiled and then her eyes drifted to Enzo, who babbled nonsense at Natalia while she laughed uncontrollably. The girl was completely entranced by him.
“I still can’t believe that he can both look so much like Vincente and be so different from him. He’ll make a good father someday,” Georgette said, her voice soft. Then, her face shifted into a harder expression and she looked at Gina. “You do want children someday, don’t you?”
Gina snorted. “First time meeting your kids in years and you’re already thinking of grandkids.”
“I’m a mother—I can’t help it.”
“I guess that’s fair. But yeah, I want kids, and if I have anything to say about it, I’ll have them with him.”
Georgette smiled. “Good. I had to make sure.”
Gina returned the smile. “So you’re okay with him being with a gang leader?”
“I’m okay with him being happy and I can tell that you make him happy. That’s all I need to know. Besides, I’m not entirely innocent myself—may I remind you of our art thefts?”
“Mm, they weren’t bad.” Gina sat up in her chair. “I’ve been wondering how you managed to stay unnoticed that night. Your family were there, all your old friends and acquaintances as well.”
“You saw us—we were dressed as waitstaff. It was Amadeo’s idea. His first boyfriend was one of the waitstaff and none of us ever noticed their interactions. Nobody in those circles notice those who work for them. They’re so predictable. We knew that they would start fighting over the painting and that we could make enough to keep fighting Vincente if we took advantage.”
Gina nodded. “I might have to try dressing as wait staff myself.”
“Oh, it’s effective, I promise you. And don’t forget that I know exactly which collectors have the most valuable pieces. I’ll be happy to share the details.”
There was a calculating look on Georgette’s face and Gina snorted. So that’s where Enzo got his inclination for criminality. His mother was a sly bitch—Gina couldn’t help but like the woman.
“Fucking rich people,” she said. “You’re just as scummy as we are.”
“I can’t help but think you’re paying me a compliment.”
“A couple of months ago I would have sworn you were all irredeemable monsters, but yeah, that was a compliment. You’re okay, Georgette. I’m sorry for the way I talked to you when we first met. I think I called you a…”
“A cold, heartless bitch,” Georgette quoted. “It wasn’t entirely undeserved. I can’t fault my daughter for being angry with me. She’s right that I could have done more for them.”
Georgette lowered her head and let out a breath.
“You should probably be saying that to her,” Gina said.
The two of them shared a look and the older woman nodded. She reached out a hand and when she took it, Georgette—much to Gina’s surprise—drew her in for a half hug. When she let go, she looked at her warmly. “I hope you don’t think I’m too overdramatic if I say I never would have gotten them back if it weren’t for you. So… thank you.”
“I would have done anything for him and if I helped you in the process, that’s cool.”
Georgette nodded and left to go sit with Rosalia and Amadeo. Gina saw her put a hand on her daughter’s shoulder and shortly after they left to speak in private.
“Are you almost ready to head home?” Enzo’s voice said to her left.
Gina turned and smiled. “I’m getting a little tired, though I’m okay with staying a little longer if you’d like.”
Enzo crouched next to her chair and took her hand to place soft kisses on the back of it.
“I’m getting tired, so I say we go.”
“You should get your sister, then.”
He shook his head and turned to look at his brother. “She’s not coming with us. Amadeo and Rinaldo asked her to stay with them.”
“Yeah. They both have experience with adjusting to a normal life and they’re going to help her along—get her a therapist and a job, all those kinds of things.”
“They’re good people.”
Enzo beamed. “It’s nice to see you getting along with my family.”
“This part of it is a bit easier to get along with than your dad. It’s like he wasn’t even trying.”
“And look what he’s missing out on. Look what I have now.”
He pulled her head down to his and kissed her. Gina drew back her head to look at him, at the beautiful smile and his blue eyes and the sheer hope that reflected back at her.
“Look what we have,” she said.
Author’s notes: Hi guyssssss and welcome back to the sappy part of the story where I also oopsied and sank the Lia/Lorenzo ship. AHAHAH. Sorry, not sorry. It actually came about because one of my lovely readers, Sempreviva, said in a comment that Lia seemed to like Lorenzo only for what he did for her. I ran with that interpretation because it makes sense to me, but also because I mean, yeah, I could write a lovely sappy ending where all the couples finally get to be together and it all turns out lovely, but that wouldn’t be fun, would it now? Or maybe it would… OH WELL. As for what comes of Lia… I have plans, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.
Another thing I want to do is welcome Natalia. If you’re on Tumblr, you may have already met her, since I’ve been posting a few pics here and there. She’s going to feature in generation 3 and I already love her quite a lot. 🙂 And to clarify something: She’s actually biologically related to Amadeo. I couldn’t find any place to mention it in the story to allow it to still flow, but basically Amadeo and Rinaldo know a lesbian couple who are close friends and the four of them had Natalia (mini Lia, I’ve started calling her) together. She basically has two dads and two mums and this idea was based on an actual real life person I know, a teacher from my old university. I just think it’s the most wonderful idea, so that’s what’s going on here. 😀
Anywayyy, I think that’s it from me for now. Just two more chapters to go in this gen (I’M VERY EMOTIONAL YOU GUYS). Thank you to everyone who made it this far through what became a rather long chapter and I’ll see you all in the next post.