Chapter 2: Big Brother
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It was the first time for Jenny to visit Rome despite the fact that it was located within a day's drive from Badneuschwan. In fact she had never even been to Europe before entering the boarding school and started to feel at least a little bit excitement over getting the chance to discover some of her European roots after having regained her freedom.
Her 18th birthday lay weeks back giving her total agency as well as the responsibility concerning her own life and future. Uncle Dexter had sent her a rather short letter along with her birthday present - a baby blue colored stethoscope - in which he expressed his hope that she would decide to attend college in San Diego and later hopefully go on to the John Hopkins in Baltimore.
What a wimp, thought Jenny scowling, one might actually think he really wants me to become a surgeon but for sure not to stay anywhere near him! She threw his gift with a grimace of neglect into her wardrobe but decided later still to pack it along with her luggage when she found it roaming through her stuff the day before their graduation. At least he had not forgotten completely about her birthday like the year before, although as for it's color she would have for sure preferred red-wine or russet.
It was already getting dark by the time they drove passed the Colosseum and Jenny could feel her heart jumping slightly from all the marvelous impressions that did overwhelm her at the sight and the unique experience of the Eternal City. History never seemed to her as real and alive nor has she ever thought that past and present could float into each other in such a natural manner resulting in complete architectural harmony, giving her a more and more clear idea of the spirit of the modern Rome, which Mia often referred to as the second most beautiful and exciting place on earth, but only behind Palermo of course.
Somewhere in the back of her mind she made a mental note of how lucky they were not to arrive in the late afternoon when traffic was famous for being chaotic, since she was still not at all convinced of her friend's driving skills under such circumstances. She seemed obviously relieved when Mia finally turned the engine off after having pulled into the parking lot of the 24-hours car rental agency at the airport. Handing back the keys and signing the papers they decided to look for a cab and play a surprise on aunt Francesca who lived in a nicely modernized palazzo in the city center which she inherited from her husband who died of cancer many years ago.
Jenny stepped out of the car rental office right behind her friend, or at least she would have if Mia hadn't stopped, causing her to bump into her back.
- Hey! - she jumped back annoyed - Move on girl, I don't wanna spend all night standing in the door!
But Mia wouldn't move, just kept starring in front of her with her soft, hazel eyes opened wide and a shocked expression on her face, which caught Jenny totally off guard by the time she sneaked passed her.
- Hello! Earth calling mafia-girl! - she teased rather impatiently - What's up?
Mia still wouldn't look at her, but managed to sigh a single word after swallowing hard:
That was the moment Jenny turned her attention away from her friend's face and followed her gaze to the dimly lit parking lot where a dark Mercedes had pulled up in front of the office's entrance with two men sitting in it. It had barely stopped when the front door suddenly swung open and one of the passengers got out to stand right in front of them.
The man, whom Jenny had guessed to be in his mid twenties, was wearing a rather conservative dark suit with a pale blue shirt and a black tie, which gave his looks a very professional and serious touch as well as seemed to add some extra years to his age along with his cool and indifferent facial expression. No, she had to correct herself, it wasn't cool but as cold as ice, almost totally emotionless were it not for his slightly unusually large pale blue eyes which seemed to sparkle with anger or rather fury but also reflected something of the same melancholic tendency she could sense ever so often around Mia. As he looked down on the two girls, Jenny noticed that he was much taller than most Italian men she knew with thick, raven colored hair that was cut way too short for her taste and only revealed it's slightly curly style around his ears.
Has to be her brother, she thought while watching Mia's cheeks turn deep red as his eyes traveled up and down her without a single word. Jenny could literally feel the tension grow to an almost unbearable point in the low warm early summer air, but for some reason her usual straight forward self stood there still as a statue without even thinking about a way to interfere.
She could feel herself tense and hold her breath as the fury lit pale blue eyes left Mia briefly to notice her presence. For a split second she thought she might have seen the hint of an emotion in his lines but it was gone before she could have even tried to identify it.
- Welcome to Italy Jennifer Roberts! - said a soft, and almost kind sounding voice which seemed to get to her ears from an enormous distance while she stood there as if dumbfounded, drawn from her analyzing thoughts into sweat reverie. The rapid change in his tone that followed the short greeting however seemed to bring her back to a less pleasant reality.
- Mia, where is your luggage?!! - he asked capturing the scarred little deer's eyes with his own merciless gaze.
- Well, we just ... uh ... that is I just thought... I ... I ... I am sorry - she managed to stammer before sinking her head and added in a very small voice - Jenny this is my elder brother Silvio Cannizzaro. Silvio this my friend Jenny.
She leaned a little forward expecting them to shake hands but the young man gave her a short nod and a dry "nice to meet you" before she could have extended her hand towards him. He stepped closer to his sister and lifted her chin gently, forcing her to look directly into his cold eyes. However, his voice was much less scarring this time revealing a hint of understanding.
- Mia, I have asked you a question. - he reminded her not allowing her gaze to wander down to her pink toe nails again.
- Yes, well... uh... we are having our stuff flown in and delivered home, it is supposed to get there by the time we arrive. - she admitted unwillingly.
Silvio gave a disapproving sigh and shook his head:
- Mia... All right. Get in the car. - he said in a commanding voice and then added - Please, Jennifer. - a little more polity.
He held the door open as the two girls climbed in and then got back into the front.
- Let's find a late-open shopping area - he told the chauffeur after they pulled out of the parking lot and then looked at his sister through the mirror: - Got your purse?
Mia nodded and then burst out as if the little incident at the car rental hadn't happened at all:
- What's going on here anyway? I thought we would stay at aunt Francesca's place and wasn't another brother of mine supposed to pick us up? How did you find us at all, I even left my cell-phone at the school to prevent you guys from tracking me down! -she frowned.
Jenny clearly noticed an impressed little smile curving the edge of Silvio's thin mouth.
- Thought yourself pretty smart little sister, didn't you? - he actually laughed silently - Wasn't a bad idea but maybe you should try to avoid paying with your credit card next time you try to rent a car and don't want "us guys" to know.
Mia crossed her arms and frowned again as the car stopped in front of the airport shopping center. Silvio got out first and offered his hand to her, helping her out while asking for her purse, which she handed him reluctantly.
- Mia, I'm certainly not the only one checking on your card, father does it every week too. Here, take mine and we'll call it a welcome home treat, all right?
She answered by nodding slightly and than again gave him an annoyed look as he followed her to the entrance.
- I'm old enough to buy my clothes on my own! - she glared at him.
- With obvious results - he reminded her pointing from the pink spaghetti top and the mid-thigh long, or from his point of view short jean skirt to the slutty looking pair of Manolos. She must have driven bare feet, he thought, she can't have worn those high heels all the way down here from Switzerland! - Get something that reflects what a good girl you actually are, a dinner compatible outfit I mean. Are you sure you can handle that on your own? - he asked more teasing than annoyed.
Mia's reply came from the other side of the glass door: she turned around and childishly stuck out her tongue at him leaving an amused expression on his face. She can be such a cute kid, he thought, but of course if father had sent Martenza she would be all over him like a purring kitten. Women! Who'll ever understand them!
Walking to the car he opened the door in the back and gestured for Jenny to get out. The cool early night wind blowing from Ostia hit her in the face but luckily couldn't mess with her straight brown hair which was tied into a simple braid at her nape. They walked a couple of steps away from the car when she was caught completely off guard by the explanation floating out of Silvio:
- The events of the last few days have taken some unexpected turns which force me to change your plans. Father had planned a special surprise dinner for tonight to celebrate the kids' graduation but I can't let her show up looking like a .... Well, I mean looking the way she just did. It is very unlikely for her to wear something like that in public.
He kept eying Jenny and she felt constantly disturbed by that look which made her feel as if she was on trial. If this annoying big brother tries to make me responsible for his little sister growing up he better starts preparing for the argument of his life, she thought stubbornly, making a tight fist and lifting her head determined not only to meet but also to stand his gaze. It turned out to be a miserable attempt and the obvious frustration that showed on her face at her defeat caused him to burst out laughing. Jenny jumped at the loud sound, serious anger beginning to stir within her but found herself again relaxing as she looked at his face. The annoying emotionless indifference seemed to have ceased completely! Silvio looked down at her with a broad smile on his face, an almost playful expression she thought, but it only lasted a few seconds.
- Don't worry, I am not accusing you of anything. We all know how much your friendship means to Mia, you are a welcome guest to our family. - he spoke in a friendly voice but it sounded still very impersonal almost business-like.
- Uh ... thank you I guess. So ... what are the plans for tonight? - Jenny asked starring down at the edge of the pavement.
- After she gets a proper outfit we'll fly down to Palermo, the jet is already waiting. Father has arranged a small gathering for tonight. Nothing extraordinary, just a family dinner, so you won't have to put up with too many new faces on the first day of your stay. I'm sure my sister will drag you along to every single society and major sports event of Southern Italy during the summer anyway. - he added with the hint of a smile returning to his face.
- Uh ... mind if I ask you a question? Has she been always so, well, impulsive and flamboyant at home?
She was getting very curious by now about Mia's change of mood and attitude and took the chance immediately to talk some more to her brother.
At Inter-High the Sicilian girl would talk for hours about her beloved fiancé and her larger than life twin brother Mario, with whom she seemed to connect at a very special level, at least that was the only logical conclusion Jenny could draw from her continually adoring him.
Mia's mother was a very elegant lady from the French Riviera, even a countess by title which she had to give up when marrying Francesco Cannizzaro. Judging from the picture on Mia's nightstand she must have been a rather petite and fragile woman, equally sophisticated and charming, with a very special radiance. Silvio's large pale blue eyes were obviously part of her heritage. Mrs Cannizzaro died unexpectedly the day she gave birth to the twins of disseminated intra vascular coagulation. To Mia she was like a guarding angel who protected and watched her from above, to her father she became the ultimate model as to what his only daughter should dress, behave and live like, that being one of the reasons why he had sent her to the elite boarding school of Badneuschwan.
Jenny learned that he quit most illegal businesses of the Cannizzaro family when he got engaged and tried to stay away from the other clans of Palermo as much as he could afford without drawing too much attention to himself. However, he never broke up contact completely with his relatives who's affairs definitely added to the mafia center image of his beloved home city as well as to the fact that the name Cannizzaro became an equal expression to the Sicilian mafia. Francesco started his own business carrier with a small transportation company that has grown eventually into a legal Europe wide empire over the years, while his children still kept attending their little cousins' and classmates' birthday parties at the huge mafia estates. He was walking on thin ice all his life and never actually succeeded in convincing either the police or his relatives of his complete loyalty but at least managed to prove enough stamina to finally earn the clan's respect and was allowed to go his own way.
That was about all Jenny knew of the Cannizzaros when she accepted Mia's invitation. Her friend practically left her in the dark what her other brother was concerned, unwillingly drawing Jenny's interest towards his mysterious person.
- My sister is treated like a shining little starlet back home and does her very best to prove people right about that whenever she gets the chance. If she wasn't to marry Martenza in September she would probably head out to Paris or even Hollywood! - he sighed looking nevertheless proud of her.
- They must be truly in love - Jenny thought out loud drawing an annoyed look to herself. - I mean considering their age for marriage and all...
- They are both way too young - sighed Silvio this time more heavily, with slight wrinkles appearing on his concerned forehead. - and way too naive ... They've grown up practically together but a Martenza is still a Martenza.
- Which means?!!! - demanded a high pitched voice from behind his back.
He turned around to find his sister standing there, wearing a strawberry colored light summer dress that was high cut and went about 4 inches beneath her knee with matching ballerinas replacing the high heels she held onto for dear life, tightly grabbing the paper bags she carried with both hands. A white cashmere pullover hang lazily around her shoulders and Silvio couldn't help but notice the delicate looking white gold charm bracelets on both of her wrists she for sure wasn't wearing when she entered the mall! That will teach me never to lend her a Black Master Card again, he frowned inwardly.
- Which means that as the conservative young man your beloved Martenza is, he will definitely more appreciate his fiancée showing up in such a nice and decent outfit than the rags you were just about to hand me over along with my card. Thank you. - he said with a victorious yet charming smile curving his lips.
Mia started chewing on her bottom lip as she tossed the bag at him. She loved her brothers dearly but sometimes they were just too much to bare, especially when they fell into that annoying overprotective mood. As if he knew what Alessandro liked ...
- I hate you bro! - she hissed getting back into the car.
However, her low spirits lasted only until they passed the airport control gate for the private and chartered flights. Her eyes widened in disbelief as the black Mercedes pulled up next to the family's jet, obviously ready to take off.
- I thought we would drive down to Palermo! - she wondered out loud, blinking at her brother as he helped her out of the seat.
- Father expects us to arrive tonight, so we'll take the jet - came Silvio's simple reply.
- So you're not going to come with us then? - asked Mia still starring at him confused.
- Unfortunately, I'm afraid not being able to do you ladies such a favor - he answered coldly after offering his hand to Jenny, who just shook her head and climbed out on her own.
So much about acting on instincts, he thought.
- But I still don't understand.... - stammered Mia - A jet flies .... and I mean.. you do not ever fly!
- Take it easy little sister! There has to be a first time for everything ... for me and flying that might be even today, of course only in case you two manage to board the plane before midnight - he said teasing her again while gesturing towards the stairs where two well built bodyguards were waiting for them in sunglasses along with the flight attendant.
- I wonder how they want to ensure our security when they can't even see as far as their own nose in those shades at night! - Mia frowned while climbing up the stairs.
- No normal sunglasses, though they look misleadingly original, don't they? - replied Silvio -They see with them like cats in the dark! One of the Greeks newest inventions... If you behave and act like a nice little kitty he might even give you such a fun toy! - he kept teasing as he walked up behind the two girls.
The jet turned out to be much larger from the inside than Jenny had guessed before. There was a very comfortable looking main area with nice wooden design and a table surrounded by four seats, two on each side. Mia gave a mischievous little smile which the other two couldn't have seen walking up behind her, and throwing her purse carelessly on one of the seats at the window bumped down into the one next to it, leaving only the two other seats empty on the other side of the table. All right, my dear brother, let the games begin, she mused to herself. Jenny sat down at the window allowing her gaze to wander over the well lit hangers around the terminal. She jumped in surprise as she felt Silvio's arm brush lightly against hers when he fastened his seatbelt.
He looked around rather inconveniently then pushed a button above his head and informed the captain that they were ready. He started shifting uncomfortably in his seat as soon as the engines were started and Jenny could clearly hear his breathing changing from heavy to unsteady and then back and fro.
Mia hid her smile behind the latest edition of the Italian Cosmo while her eyes kept scanning those two in front of her. What an intriguing twin brother I have, she wondered inwardly. I bet he must have pulled quite a stunt to get Silvio into this awkward situation ... His face is for sure worth some pics! Why on earth did I idiot pack my camera along with my other stuff. Mario must think himself to be a genius, well I bet I can top that! - she smiled to herself and while the machine was still moving slowly on the ground unfastened her belt, grabbed her purse making sure to put a magazine on either of her seats and started to walk towards the restroom.
Silvio grabbed her wrist as soon as she got within his reach:
- What the hell you think you are doing! Sit back right now and fasten that damn belt! - his voice angry but with a definite hint of desperation in it.
- Hey that hurts! Let me go you baby! - glared Mia back at him, pulling her arm out of his easing grip. - A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do - she teased smiling down at him gently - And looking at your troubled face for another 20 Minutes is much more than I am able to handle after having been on the road with Ms car phobia all day! - she added then shrugged her shoulders at Jenny's stunned look and disappeared behind a curtain.
The silence that fell between them started to disturb her more and more with every second, so she forced herself to turn away from the window from which she was starring out into the darkness. Silvio looked indeed troubled with sweat glistening on his wrinkled forehead and his hands returning ever so nervously to check his own seatbelt buckle again and again. His breathing was steadily heavy by now. He'll faint of hyperventilation before we even start to take off, she thought, but then felt the plane shake a little as it left the ground, slowly gaining more and more altitude. Jenny felt immediately sorry for him as she saw him bite down hard on his right fist, pale blue eyes filled with sheer fright. He looked so much like a little boy now, completely vulnerable and left on his own, it truly made her heart ache. How can Mia leave him alone in such a situation, she wondered angrily, and then hesitated only for a second before putting her hand on his left one which held on to the arm of his seat with what seemed like an iron grip.
Her unexpected touch brought Silvio back to his senses while sending down shivers on his spine at the very same time. Her fingertips brushed gently over his skin and he couldn't help but turn to face her. He realized how softly she was actually smiling at him as curious pale blue eyes met a pair of green ones, soothing him without a single word and yet sharing so much of the understanding and compassion she felt at that moment. In the back of his mind he remember briefly how much it hurt when she wouldn't take his hand while getting out of the car, refusing thereby an offer he hadn't made to any stranger for a very long time now, but then he let go of such thoughts and allowed his senses to enjoy the unusual experience her touch was giving him.
They both could feel the tension grow although he refused to let himself being disturbed by whatever was happening around. Her face however started to show some signs of uncertainty but Silvio was determined now to distract her from the insecurity he just sensed. Flashing her a kind and grateful smile he simply lifted her hand to his face and brushed his lips gently over her knuckles while holding her gaze intensely. Although Jenny didn't pull away she definitely tensed in surprise at the touch of his lips and he could feel her whole frame tremble as his smile turned into a somewhat knowing, sexy grin. Her cheeks heated right that moment and she could feel herself blush like a kid as she felt his gaze still on her face after she broke the eye contact. He guided her hand gently back into her lap, then let out a small satisfied sigh and leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes.
She is way too young, way too innocent and has sort of the same wild streak hidden behind those thick lashes as his sister, he thought. This is going to be indeed a hot summer not to mention the wedding preparations and the twins playing all their little games around. For a split second he even weighed the possibility of trying to scare her off and get her out of his presence, it would have been so easy, but then again Mia would probably never forgive him and he wasn't even sure if he really wanted her to leave.
After all, this was the first touch from another human being he experienced in the last 5 years from outside of the entrusted circle of his family and remembering her warm smile almost convinced him that there was a real possibility that she might actually care. Oh well, in a couple of days she'll learn the truth and that warm expression in her green eyes will turn into disgust and pure fright as it always happens, he concluded finally, but still refused to open his eyes until he felt the jet stop rolling on the Palermo Airport's ground.