Chapter 3: A dinner with afterglow
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The Cannizzaros' nest, what Mia often called her fairytale home, lay halfway between Palermo and Mondello. Francesco had bought the even by US standards rather large estate after his transportation company established itself even outside the borders of Italy.
Moving out of the city was first of all a symbolic decision. He aimed to set a clear sign for going separate ways with the Cannizzaro clan but still couldn't bring himself to leave the eastern coast of the island which he considered to be his true home. After a series of bloody revenge acts which happened around the end of the 1980s, taking a victim from almost every noticeable family, it turned out that leaving the city also proved to be a wise decision from the security's point of view.
That was about the time when Francesco realized how vulnerable his own family actually was without the clan's protection and set out to find and hire the best and most independent security specialist he could find. He made it a point for him to be a new man, an outsider so to say, instead of some down-worn ex-bodyguard of another Southern Italian family.
Angelinos Kostas Konstantinos looked like a perfect candidate. The Greek was an Olympic gold medalist in long distance target shooting who was recruited by Interpol shortly after his victory and spent 12 years in the Service but quit when his wife was diagnosed with leukemia. She died despite his loving care childless after having suffered for a couple of months. With his career and private life shattered Konstantinos wanted to leave Europe along with all the pain of his past and was determined not ever to return. He became self-employed and went for a new start to South America and took the position offered by a Columbian businessman as his chief security specialist.
When his boss retired from business life, his son who took over control of their affairs brought along his own new staff of advisers, lawyers and of course security men with whom the Greek didn't seem to get along very well. His longtime employer referred him to one of his Sicilian business partners who wasn't actually looking for a security specialist but new about the youngest Cannizzaro son's attempts to hire a reliable outsider and handed Konstantinos' references over to Francesco. To him the Greek seemed like a perfect choice, even a little too perfect he would think suspiciously from time to time, but since he needed to find a compatible man as soon as possible he decided to give it a shot nonetheless.
13 years later he saw in Konstantinos not only an employee of absolute loyalty but also an entrusted friend who's advice and care saved his family as well as his wealth on more than one occasion. The Greek was continually around, settled in a nice little cottage located close to the bay but still on the Cannizzaro property, though he spent most of his time at the main villa anyway. He saw Mia and her brothers grow up and grew to love them as if they were his own blood. However, his professional manner and oh so serious attitude kept the Cannizzaro children from developing alike feelings towards his person. They saw in him an inevitable member of the family, along with their uncle Vincenzo Segesto, the family's lawyer, a former consiliere of the clan and a long-time childhood friend to their father.
- 10 minutes and not a single one more! - shouted the elderly woman after the girls as they quickly hurried up the wooden stairs. - Don't make the signori wait any longer young ladies! - Anita, the Cannizzaros' housekeeper added before she saw them disappear at the corner of the first floor.
Mia showed her friend to the guest room that had been prepared for her while the other family members took another drink downstairs in the spacious living room. Flashing a broad grin at her the Sicilian girl raced down the hallway to her own room, her cheeks heated with excitement caused by the unexpected surprise of having met her Alessandro already tonight!
Jenny felt taken aback by the fast turn the events had taken in the past few minutes since they arrived at the Cannizzaros' estate. A dark Mercedes, exactly of the same built like the one that drove them around in Rome, was waiting for them at the airport. The late night air was rather chilly and she could feel the wind blowing from the shores of the Mediterranean sea. The drive took about 20 minutes but sitting in the back and trying hard not to stare at Silvio's neck she started to feel a serious headache building around her temples.
He made a couple of phone calls during the drive but despite her fluent Italian Jenny couldn't really make out what he was talking about ever so silently in the front. They passed two control points, both guarded by security men, and even an electric gate before the car finally pulled up in front of a huge villa which she considered to be a new built by its size and proportions although she wasn't really able to make out a lot of details of its architecture in the dark.
When they entered the front door Mia literally flew into the arms of a sun-tanned young man reaching out for her. He looked about their age with curly dark hair, and a hint of mischief sparkling in his hazel eyes. He was dressed in a suit, as well as all the other men standing around them, but wore only a polo shirt beneath it and of course no tie. As Mia clung to him tightly even a few seconds later and would only let go in the end with obvious reluctance on her face, Jenny wasn't sure for a moment who she was actually looking at. She has of course seen pictures of both Alessandro and Mario but as her friend stood next to the young man with an ever so adoring look in her soft eyes she couldn't help but wonder...
A gray haired gentleman, probably in his early 50s walked up next to them, tapping her lightly on the shoulder. Mia turned around and hugged him tightly while she still rested one hand on the young man's arm.
- Welcome home my angle! - her father said in a soft voice filled with strong emotions.
- Oh Papa! I'm so glad to be finally here! I missed you all so much... - she confessed kissing his bearded cheek.
- What have we here! A Badneuschwan graduate! - shouted cheerfully another male voice from behind him - Congratulations sweetheart! - chuckled uncle Vincenzo proudly as he looked at her shining face.
- Well it's actually two Badneuschwan graduates. - explained Mia stepping back to stand next to her friend after giving a polite smile to another gentleman in sunglasses who stayed a little further away, standing at the entrance of the living room with a drink in his hand. - May I introduce Ms Jennifer Isabella Roberts, my very best friend from Inter-High. This is my father Francesco Cannizzaro, Vincenzo Segesto, or just uncle Vincenzo - she went on while Jenny started out on an almost endless series of handshakes and "nice to meet you"s.
- Vince will be just fine. - he said smiling down on Jenny - Whenever this little sweetheart calls me uncle Vincenzo, I immediately turn around looking for her grandfather! She scares the hell out of me every time and for sure enjoys every second of it! - he explained while still shaking her hand and giving his cousin's daughter a knowing wink.
Mario came next, giving the ultimate assurance of the young man Mia had greeted with such enthusiasm being actually him. His smile was definitely teasing and sort of flirtatious but a slight insecurity seemed to sneak around his obvious intentions as he saw his sister raise an eyebrow in a rather victorious way.
- Explain! - he whispered to her while their father introduced Jenny to Konstantinos.
- Just wait and see for yourself! - she said and kept smiling to herself mysteriously.
The Greek, a confident and reserved looking man, probably in his early 40s, had most certainly the firmest handshake and would be the least pleasant company for the evening, Jenny concluded while greeting the housekeeper as well who just descended the stairs.
Suddenly she heard someone clearing his throat in the doorway of the living room and then the sound was completely overtaken by Mia's heartily laughter. She turned around to see her still giggling as she stood next to a short young man. He had a shy boyish grin on his face and seemed not able to take his gray eyes off her. They both just stood their smiling and giggling on, holding hands and starring at each other without a single word. That must be him, Jenny thought feeling a little envy rise in her heart, that kind and caring look in his eyes spoke of so much admiration and passion that it even started to convince her of the sincerity of the love these two claimed to feel for each other, but Jenny would keep doubting until this very moment. She gave a small sigh as her thoughts traveled back to the memories she still cherished of her parents looking at each other and was pleased to see that their fairytale like love story was probably not such a rare exception as she had always thought.
Finally Don Francesco walked up to them, patting his son-in-law-to-be on the shoulder in order to distract him from his fiancée:
- Let's give the ladies some time to powder their noses before dinner, shall we? - he asked with an understanding smile.
Alessandro tried to stammer a few incoherent words and blushed deep red as he realized everyone looking at them but still wouldn't release Mia's hand. She smiled sweetly first at her father then again at her fiancé and squeezing his hand softly she let go and grabbed Jenny's arm instead, pulling her towards the stairs while the men headed out for the living room, following Don Francesco's lead.
Mia asked Anita if their luggage had already arrived while passing her and didn't really seem to be satisfied with her shaking her head in denial. They heard her shout something after them but Jenny only understood something being said about 10 minutes as they ascended the stairs in a hurry.
The room at which Mia had dropped her off was very pretty, obviously decorated according to female taste. Huge windows framed by light violet curtains and a king size bed with matching covers dominated the room. A full size mirror stood right next to the wardrobe and pictures of different bouquets decorated the walls, which were painted in another shade of violet with a playful flower pattern on them. Jenny walked curiously to the door that lead to the bathroom which was designed to match the room by color as well as style. It wasn't large but had an oval shaped bath tub that was sunk into the floor, which she found rather unusual and sort of funny. As she kept roaming through a cupboard in search for some pain-killers while she tried to sort out all the new impressions and people she would have to face soon again, suddenly she realized that she hadn't seen Silvio anywhere around since they got out of the car. Not that she had missed his company that much but for some reason his absence still disturbed her.
The cupboard was equipped well, with all the little female necessities and she soon found what she was looking for. Walking back to the room she took two pills and stood in front of the mirror. When they left in the morning she had felt actually comfortable wearing jeans and a polo shirt along with her favorite flats but as she untied her somewhat tossed ponytail to retie it neatly after brushing her hair a couple of times with the comb she found in the bathroom, she still felt very much under dressed. But then again, there was nothing she could do about it. For a split second the thought to borrow a more appropriate outfit from Mia had crossed her mind, but she rejected the idea almost right away. After all, this was her friend's homecoming and standing next to her like that would make Mia only look even better! She had had such a hard time back at school, she deserves some fun and shining for sure, Jenny thought and headed for the door as soon as she recognized her friend knocking on it impatiently.
Dinner turned out to be a very pleasant experience with plenty of tasty dishes, mostly of the traditional kind, and she couldn't help but smile as she heard Mia cooing right next to her at the smell of home-made tomato sauce steaming from the pasta on her plate. The conversation was also at all times alive around the huge oak table, with uncle Vince and Mario fighting for the lead as usually, but this evening Mia seemed to top them both. She kept bubbling like a waterfall and Jenny had really no idea how she still managed to finish each single course nonetheless as the first one.
Jenny and Alessandro were seated as the two guests on either side of Don Francesco who occupied the head of the table, while Mia sat opposite her twin brother and next to her uncle. Silvio who had already rejoined the company by the time the girls got downstairs and the Greek ate in silence, occupying the other end of the table, though the foot was left empty as always since Mrs Cannizzaro had passed away.
The conversation was pleasant even if Jenny had to concentrate in order to catch all the jokes uncle Vince kept throwing around. Eventually she was asked some questions which she tried to answer as politely as she could, God bless Clarissa May Windsworth, she thought for the first time in her life. However, Mia must have given her family some instructions concerning which topics better to avoid around her, since she wasn't asked a single question on her family or ice-skating.
She learned that Mario's graduation ceremony lay already a week back. He attended a local high school in Palermo and was headed to business college in Rome, but of course only after having been Alessandro's best man at his sister's wedding in September.
Don Francesco turned out to be equally witty and wise, blessed with a good sense of humor as well. He reminded Jenny somewhat of her grandfather but then again Mr Cannizzaro seemed to be much more understanding when it came to the needs and desires of his children than he had been!
She felt almost sick when she finally rose from her chair after that all-Italian dinner so late in the evening! Since it was already passed mid-night uncle Vince hugged Mia one more time and said good bye, but only after she made him promise to bring her little nieces along as soon as they recovered from their summer flue.
Alessandro headed out the door along with him, his fiancée still on his arm. It was obvious that he would have stayed in her lovely company all night if it wasn't for her family present, but Mia just petted his face briefly and gave him a small peck on the cheek after whispering something in his ear that made him turn sheer red while a mischievous little smile appeared on her face. Mario chuckled silently in the background but even if she noticed him she wouldn't let it show.
After the two cars drove away into the dark night, Mia stepped again inside to say good night to everyone else and leaned forward to receive her good night kiss on her forehead from her father as she had done every night she had spent at home since she could remember.
- Sweet dreams my angel - he said softly as he saw her suppress a yawn.
Jenny said also good night and was about to follow her friend out of the dining room when Don Cannizzaro stepped to her, surprising her with the very same gesture. Jenny first looked at him stunned but then realized from his expression that she must be making a rather unpleasant grimace so she tried her best to regain her composure.
- You are as close a friend to my little angel as only a sister could be, so you better prepare to be treated like my own daughter as long as you stay - he explained calmly. - Good night Jennifer! - he added and then turned back to the table to sip some more from the red wine he hadn't finished off yet completely.
Jenny stretched out on her bed thinking back at that moment. It seemed so unreal and kitschy but she couldn't resist the temptation to savor it again and again as her mind tried to engrave every single detail of it in her memory. His voice sounded so sincere and kind. At least for the night she would allow herself to drown in the illusion of belonging to a family again, even if it was only a temporary gift of time.
Her eyelids felt heavy, it truly had been an exciting as well as exhausting day. She was almost half way asleep when she jumped at the sound of a soft knock on her door. She forced herself off the comfortable bed and walked up to find Mia standing there in pyjamas and looking as tired as she herself had felt just a moment ago.
- Sorry for bugging youuuuhh - she said as a lazy yawn escaped her lips. - Still, I wanted to talk to you today though ... - she admitted while dropping down on the bed next to her friend.
- As for today you are already a little late - Jenny pointed out with a tired smile, glancing at the clock on the night table. 1.10. am.
- I'll be quick. - she promised rubbing the sleep out of her eyes - Well it's just that I wanted to thank you for being such a good friend and all you did for me back at school. Here - she handed Jenny a small dark blue satin box.
Mia watched with excitement as her friend opened it curiously and giggled silently as she saw her eyes go wide taking out a delicate white gold charm bracelet from it. Jenny smiled to herself and thanked her, Mia was annoyingly girlie most of the time, but then again she could be indeed a sweetheart, giving credit to her uncle's nickname for her. She saw five tiny pendants hanging around the bracelet as her friend attached it to her wrist.
- See I got the same one - she explained pointing at her own piece of jewelery. - I mean this is sort of a turning point in our lives, the graduation, leaving Inter-High and all. Besides who knows what happens after this summer, I'll get married, you might move to San Diego, everything will change around us. So I figured it would be a good idea to have something to help us remember our time together not that I would ever forget about your friendship, but somehow I thought tattoos were not exactly your thing ... - she finished off with a challenging look sparkling in her eyes.
Little, probably not so innocent Mia is having a great time shocking me I guess, Jenny noticed when she finally remembered to close her mouth.
- You know me way too well! - she grinned back at her.
- You have no idea! - teased the Sicilian girl in return with an even more wicked grin, but was careful enough to change the topic and distract her quickly as she sensed some suspicion rising within Jenny's mind. - Anyway. See the pendants around here? - she pointed at each one while explaining the symbols' meaning.
The first one was a little silver swan which stood for Badneuschwan. Then came a tiny silver scissor, which didn't need any further explanation, followed by a pine-tree decorated with miniature sparkling emerald stones, symbolizing the woods around Inter-High they spent so much time exploring with. The fourth one was a little car with a bigger blackish stone forming it's main body referring to their road trip to Rome. Finally a heart shaped pale pink medallion closed the circle to which Mia didn't add any further information.
Jenny was not that big a jewelery fan but the care and originality of Mia's choice for the gift impressed her nonetheless enough to decide to wear the bracelet, at least for the summer as long as she would stay with her family.
They hugged each other and then Mia said good night and gave another yawn while she walked out the door.
- My room is right down the hall in case you need anything. - she heard her say before
the door closed behind her.
Having been left alone Jenny hopped back onto her bed and started to study her friend's gift carefully but soon felt her eyes closing again as if she had no control over them. She yawned herself and started to prepare for bed when she realized that since their luggage hadn't arrived yet she didn't have anything to sleep in!
- Miauuhhhh - she sighed as she rolled off the bed unwillingly and headed after her to ask for pyjamas.
The hallway was almost completely dark had it not been for the dim light coming from downstairs. As she walked passed a window she looked out into the cloudy summer sky which covered the moon along with all the stars she could only long to see but had no chance to spot this night. She heard the faint sound of barking coming from outside for a moment but soon it was gone again.
She walked down the straight hallway and got a little confused when she actually saw to doors at the end, one on either side. I'll make her draw a map of the villa as soon as she wakes up in the morning, she swore to herself frowning inwardly, then just gave a small sigh and knocked softly on one of the doors. After repeating her action two more times on each side with no sign of a reply, she opened the first door to a crack and peeked in.
There were four long candles burning, one in each corner with some pictures all around the walls that seemed to reflect the candlelights. It looked very pretty and wore an enigmatic charm at the same time. Still the room looked incredibly dark with black furniture all around except for the shadow of an easel that stood right next to the window. Jenny narrowed her eyes as she tried to make out the shape of someone lying in the middle of the bed.
- Mia? - she whispered uncertainly but since there was still no reply she slipped inside and sneaked up to the edge of the bed. - Mia?!! - she called for her again, though her voice sounded still very much like a whisper and she could feel her heart pounding in anticipation. She suddenly shrieked in surprise as she felt and iron grip close around her wrist then went completely still as the chandelier lit up above her, flooding the room with dim light.
Jenny gasped at the sight of Silvio stretched out before her, lying idly on his back. He still was wearing the dark pants matching his suit but that happened to be the only indication of the conservative outfit he had on during the day. He lay there lazily in a white wifebeater with his right arm under his nape holding something that looked like a remote control in his hand and a calm, unreadable expression on his face. He kept his eyes closed, which didn't seem to be as helpful as Jenny first hoped in her miserable situation. Was it not for his tight grip on her wrist that started to turn her palm pale she would have believed him for sure being asleep, which he obviously wasn't.
- I was ... well, uh ... sorry for ... the intrusion - she managed to stammer when his eyes suddenly snapped open, starring at her as emotionless as ever.
Jenny shivered under his gaze which literally bore into her forehead after she had turned her face away from him. She simply stood there shifting from one foot to the other while examining the wooden floor much more carefully then she ever intended. She didn't dare to look at him and cursed herself inwardly for being such a wimp!
- I was looking for Mia, just wanted to borrow something to sleep in from her and I guess I got to the wrong room. Sorry, it's been a mistake. - she finished off with her explanation, than added in an almost pleading voice while risking a quick peek upwards to meet a rather hurt looking pair of pale blue eyes - Could you just let go, please?
Silvio had noticed the charm bracelet and was curious to take a closer look but as he heard her pleading he dropped her wrist immediately as if it was on fire and turned away, sitting up on the other side of the bed, his back turned towards his uninvited late-night guest. Jenny interpreted this as a sign of dismissal so she started to leave walking slowly backwards.
- Well, I'll just go and try my luck elsewhere ... uh ... good night and sorry once more for ...
- She's out. - he cut her off just before she reached the door.
- What do you mean by out? - asked Jenny her voice sounding much more brave than she actually felt around him.
Silvio gave a heavy sigh, then stood up and walked to his wardrobe while explaining:
- They pull this little act every summer since she left for the boarding school. Alessandro comes for dinner, then leaves and returns to pick her up. She usually climbs down from the balcony of her room but is always back for breakfast. The Sicilian version of Romeo and Julia! - he stated matter of factly with a hint of sarcasm in his voice while roaming through his clothes.
- Wait a minute, with all the security around and those check points and the gate? How would that be possible at all? - she questioned rather incredulously.
- With father's silent blessing of course. He trusts Martenza since he is a Martenza and wouldn't pull anything to get his family in trouble. - he said after shrugging his shoulder.
- This is ridiculous! Mia going out at night! - Jenny started to pace the room, suddenly forgetting all about acting shy around him. - I mean Mia going out at all! I talked to her. It hasn't been even ten minutes! She already had her pyjamas on and looked like someone who might fall asleep every second, yawning around continually!
Silvio stepped out of his wardrobe as he noticed the change in her tone and by the time she herself realized her unusual behavior there were already clear signs of amusement noticeable on their both faces.
- I told you already: she is ripe for Hollywood! - Silvio chuckled softy causing her to smile also in return and making her uneasiness cease completely.
- Guess your sister is a much more complex little creature than she actually made me believe at school. - she noted rolling her eyes but he just shook his head.
- It's not only about her you know - he said leaning back against the wardrobe door - The worm is rather in the twin-cocktail! They are both quite bearable on their own, but whenever they get together... They start immediately to play to top each other with all sorts of tricks and little games.
- And that bothers you. - concluded Jenny but was wrong again.
- Not really, once you get used to it and learn to handle them the right way, there will be neither a problem nor any boredom for you! - he explained handing her a white cotton T-shirt and a long sleeved flannel shirt. - Here, hope it will make do for tonight. - Silvio added simply, then went to sit down at the easel feeling all of a sudden not very much tired anymore but rather active and alive!
- I didn't know you were painting. - Jenny walked up behind him but still kept what she considered to be a safe distance even if only unconsciously.
- Art therapy. - came his simple reply which caused her to giggle.
- Oh sure! - she winked at him - Now seriously, how long have you been painting? - she asked curiously.
Silvio sighed and frowned but since his back was turned to her she wouldn't notice either.
- For about five years now. But that is none of your business! - he answered rather ruffled.
The sudden change in his voice caused Jenny to jump as well as frightened her somewhat when his cold eyes glanced back at her over his shoulder.
- You need something else?!! - he asked sounding annoyed and impatient.
Anger started to stir within Jenny at the unnerved look he gave her. At least he shows some kind of emotion, she sighed, but why does he have to act so damn moody all the time?!! Just like a less or more polite ice-block! Depending on his inner thermometer he melts a little and then freezes again whenever he gets in the mood.
- No, I've got all I need. Thank you. - she told him equally coldly and stormed out of his room slamming the door behind her.
- Wow! - he actually said out loud, stunned at the sudden turn the events had taken. She most certainly had a wild streak within her, he thought, but then again seemed rather shy and proved still pretty straight forward as soon as she got more comfortable with the situation she was in. And she calls Mia a complex creature!
However, there was something else about her that just made him feel enjoy their time together and even a couple of days later he still couldn't quite put his finger on it. She usually acted very shy around him, looked almost frightened whenever he got near her, especially when other people were around, which almost convinced him that she must have already learned the truth about his past from Mia or someone else. But then again he caught her looking at him from time to time with a slight little smile curving her lips but she would always turn away as if trying to hide whenever their eyes met. He also observed that she seemed to be more comfortable around him when he wore shades.
She is a bit unusual, he thought. He knew from his sister that Jenny had a troubled past as well and had lost her parents about a year after his own life had gotten out of control, but he couldn't bring himself to start out on that topic despite his curiosity. He for sure was not attracted to her but couldn't deny completely her affecting him either.