Chapter 4: Golden Youth
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Two weeks later Jenny was already feeling comfortable with her Italian even in the most unusual situations, which might have been due to the fact that she had plenty of chances to practice. Mia seemed determined to fulfill her brother's expectations to the utmost concerning their overwhelming social life! They spent the weekdays browsing through an endless number of bridal shops and party services, consulting wedding planners, trying on dresses, picking out bouquets, cakes, waiters as well as dishes along with all kinds of other different little accessories from napkins to comfortable dancing shoes. Occasionally there was a little resting in a beauty shop or a café but Mia seemed to be bursting from energy and excitement that brought forward her inner beauty more then anything else her friend had ever taken notice of before.
For their graduation the twins both got a matching pair of silver cars: Mario a Viper and his sister a Peugeot cabriolet he would keep her mocking about, but Mia never cared. The thought of driving around on her very own thrilled her, while her father's blessing made her happier than anything else. She kept glowing and sparkling all the time and Jenny felt herself recharging even after a long day just by dwelling in her presence.
However, her favorite time of the day was in the evenings when the Cannizzaros sat together for dinner usually with the Greek and Alessandro joining them. Jenny kept mostly silent, enjoying the warmth and love that radiated from the family circle. Fluent conversations, a cheerful mood and the twins dominated the table, making it for her very easy along with the Don's good night pecks on her forehead to drift away in the sweet illusion of actually belonging somewhere again.
Except for these dinners she almost never saw Silvio who spent most of his time in Palermo working and always declined joining the kids' late night outings. Mia tried to convince him to come along a couple of times but failed nonetheless, earning an ear wide grin from Mario. Things were just not working out the way she had hoped but remembering their little wager along with the humiliating possibility of loosing it, motivated her anew over and over again.
- No way! - Mario starred at her eyes wide and mouth dropped.
- Oh yes way! - smiled his sister victoriously. - I am as sure as ever! They are definitely hitting on each other. - she declared.
Mario looked amused. Although, he didn't know Jenny as well as Mia did, the thought of their brother falling all of a sudden for some girl from the States seemed to him more ridiculous then anything else at that moment. Sure, Silvio had been a real player once, but he had left those years long behind, withdrawing from the world into the security of his enigmatic solitude.
- You must have stayed too long in the sun sis, already starting out on imagining things, you know ... - he began teasing in return, but scowled inwardly as he realized once again that she didn't seem willing to play along as much as she would have done even a year ago. Alessandro makes her grow up way too fast, he sighed. - I mean, let's suppose for just a sec that he was interested, so what?!!! You told me you just wanted her to relax a little and have a fun summer. I for sure can better provide her with that then Mr Sorrow.
- Oh bro, come on! Why do you have to be so damn competitive all the time! This story is not about you ... not even only about Jenny anymore. What if something does develop, what if she makes him come out of his shell again? This could be his chance Doc Valentino has been preaching about and Anita praying for the past five years ... Why can't you just see that? - she burst out annoyed but turned out to be actually pleading in the end.
- Whatever! - he shrugged his shoulders taking another sip from his drink then returned his look to her hazel eyes filled with hope and excitement. Uh oh, Mia felt her stomach flip suddenly, he has something up his sleeve, she thought as she saw a mischievous grin spread out over his face. - Your match-making attempts in all honor, I'll make you a deal. You brought your friend along to relax and have fun on her vacation, so I'll take care of that as good as only I can if you promise to stop intriguing around on Silvio's behalf and not to talk to her either on this matter. In return I promise to withdraw at any time he gives an unmistakable and public proof of anything more then what one might call "brotherly love". - he offered, emphasizing his last words.
If Alessandro was around, he would have hit you for that one, despite his reserved nature, Mia said to herself somewhat annoyed but also satisfied by that thought.
- Deal. - she jumped from her chair, extending her hand towards him.
Mario grabbed it pulling her down right next to him onto the arm of his own chair.
- All right then. Just one more thing which you won't mind for sure, being "as sure as ever" ... Let's make that little experiment of yours even a bit more interesting - he started out on dragging his idea out as much as possible, delighting in the suspicious look she gave him.
- What do you have on your mind? - she asked already guessing he would go for something to discourage her.
- If I make her fall for me before big brother realizes what's going on, which means if he does at all, then your theory is crushed, since they were obviously not meant for each other - his voice as sarcastic as only Jenny could sometimes be. - In that case you lose our little wager and I win - she raised an eyebrow as he made a dramatic pause - your brand new cabriolet! - he finished finally with a broad grin on his face.
The thought was indeed threatening.
- Define "fall for me" - she replied dryly, realizing that trying to convince him might turn out to be much more expensive and much less fun than she had thought in the beginning.
- Oh come on, sis. Don't make a face like I was about to pull your teeth! - he said patting her back. - Hell, it's only a Peugeot, and besides if you are truly as sure as you said you were about those two love-birds, then there is nothing for you to worry about, is there?
- All right. - she sighed. - Let's say I bite, being as sure as ever, I suppose you have an equally good offer in case I turn out to be right, which will happen without doubt - she lifted her chin stubbornly.
- That's my sister! - Mario smiled contently. - I'm so proud of you! - he kept teasing messing up her hair.
- Geeez. Stop it! I hate that! - she jumped up standing in front off him with both hands on her hips, looking very much in the mood for a quarrel.
- Take it easy sis, never heard you complaining before ... - he kept teasing - But anyway, if you're so curious about it then I'd say let's make equal chances, equal prizes. If you win I'm willing to give up the Viper.
- You mean, you're giving ME your dearly loved Viper? - she felt herself again comfortable in their little game.
- Sure - he smiled.
- Along with your off road oldie! - she winked at him taking her turn teasing this time.
- Wow! Wait a sec. That bike is a piece of art and history! There's no way I'd put that on a wager - he felt himself tense all of a sudden.
- Then I guess we don't have anything further to discuss - she kept smiling intriguingly sweetly at him, feeling totally in control of the situation.
Damn it, he thought, whenever she pulls that innocent act she gets me cold in the end.
- All right, all right. You win. At least for now! My Viper and Rosaline against your little Peugeot matchbox! I must be insane!
- Oh Rosaline, how cute! I might rename her though as soon as I get her. - she teased him - Maybe ... What do you think of .... Alessandro?
That was it. She definitely had pushed his limits. Despite the fact that he had caught her within 10 minutes with a mug of icy water around the garages, there little wager still seemed to be a fun idea, just as much as that late afternoon chase had been, which caused Anita to call upon most of the saints she new by name when she saw one of the Don's favorite Chinese vases go to pieces as the twins swirled around in the living room.
Almost two weeks had passed meanwhile and besides the evening dinners Mia couldn't manage despite all her efforts to get Silvio and Jenny even together into the same room, not to mention to have them spend some time on their own, while her better half kept continually flirting with her, which she just seemed to shrug off or not even really to notice most of the time. Still, Mia had the suspicion that Jenny's reactions were very much dependent on her mood and feared that if she opened up only a little bit more then she might even fall for Mario if he catches her at the right moment. What her friend's taste concerning men were like she wasn't exactly sure about, but knew that there was hardly any girl who could resist her twin brother's cocky smile and adorably arrogant attitude for a long time along with the amount of attention he was giving her.
However, as for The Cup of Sicily, Silvio couldn't find any excuses. The charity tennis tournament at the end of June was most certainly a family affair for the Cannizzaros, since it was his mother who initiated the whole event along with a few other matrons from the leading clans of the island, shortly after she got married to Francesco. In the beginning it wasn't exactly meant as a touristic event but has grown quite a bit over the past 25 years with some more and also less rising stars of the ATP and WTA tours participating. They were mostly Italian players, but Mrs Cannizzaro also invited some Frenchmen who kept returning to the non-profit event even after she passed away.
All the profit from the ticket and fan article sales of the 3-day tournament flowed into the Sabine Cannizzaro Foundation Against Violence, along with the generous donations of businessmen, companies, clans, and private people opening up their wallets around the time of the event. The money was used to support the widows and orphans whose family members were killed or injured accidentally in the bloody vendettas and fights of the mafia. Silvio always thought this to be the non plus ultra of hypocrisy, but would still attend the last day of the tournament each year since he could remember, watching the finals along with his whole family.
After excusing herself to get a soda Mia found a perfect place to observe the developments of the day, although it wasn't exactly the doubles final taking place down at the court that interested her. Alessandro was seated along with his parents further downwards so that he could watch his sister's game as well as her playful facial expression even without binoculars. He seemed to be absorbed in the game! He used to play quite a bit when he was younger though he actually never took it as seriously as Frederica had. She was in a good form, she didn't play single challengers anymore like she had done for a couple of years in order to qualify for major tournaments. In fact she hasn't played at all this year, except for a double game she performed with her husband at another charity gala in Rome in early May. Her elegant game demented any rumors of injury but there was still no official statement about her staying pretty much off the court lately.
As for Fabrizio Fagaldo it was different. His carrier was just getting re-started. Born and raised in Sicily, the only son of a Spanish businessman left for his home country at the age of 15 to join the trainings group of the famous coach Jason Meadows in Madrid. He was indeed a great promise throughout his junior years but after a serious knee injury, followed by a couple of surgeries he decided to quite the court and went to study sports management at the University of Madrid. He earned his degree 4 years later and re-joined the Meadows team this time as a management assistant, organizing sponsors as well as training sessions, press conferences, communiques, hotel reservations and everything else around the players, feeling useful and needed again.
Five years ago the Organization Committee of The Cup of Sicily suddenly lost a member due to a tragic incident and it was actually Silvio who came up with the idea of offering the position to his long-time friend Fabrizio, who had been already the head of the Meadows team management by that time and agreed on the spot at the Cannizzaros' request. It was at that event that he had met the eldest daughter of Don Martenza again, whom he remembered as a little girl, back from his youth in Sicily, which she obviously wasn't anymore. The two of them seemed to hit it off right from the beginning. He even tried a new rehabilitation program which was still experimental on Frederica's encouragement and was eventually re-entering the ATP race only two years later. Despite his age and the lack of a few years' professional training he advanced steadily into the top 50. The turning point came the year they got married when he reached the finals in Doha, beating a twenty year old Swiss rising star.
Now, another year later, he was already a well known sports celebrity in Spain and Italy. The Fagaldos started playing doubles shortly after their engagement, and although they seemed to be as great a team on as off the court, they decided to concentrate each on their individual carriers and said that they would eventually reconsider the doubles when they've grown too old for the singles competition. As a couple they were known and noticed on the tennis scene but in Sicily they were more prominent and celebrated then anywhere else, which might have also been due to the fact that they both promised publicly to return every year to the charity tournament, earning some more respect for the already mighty Martenza clan.
Watching Alessandro absorbed in the game, Mia looked him over once again. In two months she would become a Martenza too, which was not quite as thrilling a thought as some people on the island had supposed it to be, but the possibility of spending her entire life with the man she loved, and what was ever so important: someone who adored and connected with her in a way not even her twin brother was able to, would compensate for everything else. He looks as if he was having a great time, she thought a little envy rising in her heart, I only hope he didn't forget to tell Fabrizio though ...
Casting her worries aside she decided to get her own part done in the little plot they had planned. Usually it was Mario and her playing their pranks on and sometimes even against the whole world, this being the first time she collaborated with someone else against him! It felt challenging and also not quite right at the same time, but after all it was him who issued the wager. Besides Mario only required HER not to intrigue or talk to Jenny, however he didn't say she could not ask for someone else's assistance, or in other words make Alessandro and Fabrizio intrigue on Silvio's behalf, she thought a mischievous little smile touching the corner of her mouth as she took her observing position, bouncing down into an empty seat next to her Maltese elementary school friend Kyara Cara, about four rows above the heads of Jenny and Silvio sitting next to each other, but of course with an empty seat between them.
- Hey you! - greeted Kyara cheerfully. - Doesn't he look gorgeous?!! - she marveled pointing at Fabrizio who was just getting ready for the next service. - Who would guess that he will be hitting the three-o mark next year? - she kept watching his movements intensely while chewing on her bottom lip.
Mia smiled handing her the soda:
- Here. Cool off a bit before getting all hot and bothered over him! - she said giving her friend a knowing look - Besides, before you decide to go for seduction better remember the whole Martenza clan eying the court.
- Sure, sure. I'm just feasting my eyes, summer diets can be so nerve wracking - she stood up stretching in a very much cat-like manner then took her seat again, leaning closer to Mia who was pretty sure Kyara wasn't talking about a salad diet anyway. - Now tell me, is it true that the hottest brother of the island is hitting on that little US chick?
- You're trying to impress the wrong twin with that anti-American and anti-globalization nonsense. Her name is Jenny Roberts and she is my friend from Inter-High. - Mia corrected her rolling her eyes.
- Ooohh, have I gotten myself into some serious trouble now? - Kyara asked her teasing in return.
- Somehow I doubt you would mind that much ... - her friend shifted uncomfortably as she saw Mario bump down in the empty seat between her friend and Silvio, resting an arm carelessly against the back of Jenny's chair.
While talking to Kyara Mia had already noticed her glancing now and then into her elder brother's direction who pretended to watch the happenings on the court from behind dark sunglasses. However, none of them actually said a single word, but Mia couldn't help the impression of feeling a certain tension in the air around them. As soon as Mario showed up on the scene everything changed all of a sudden. Jenny started talking to him as if he was an old friend, giggling like any common teenager and looking like someone who really enjoyed herself, while Silvio crossed his arms in front of his chest, with an unreadable expression on his face. Mia could have sworn she saw him even frown once as he turned his head slightly to look at his younger brother.
This will never work until Mario keeps buzzing around her, she admitted to herself. We need to find a way to distract him, at least for tonight. And then it happened. As the idea started to form in her mind her face lit up and the well-known mischievous half-smile advanced into a wicked grin as she turned to Kyara:
- You're coming to The Bay tonight, aren't you?
The girl was first taken a little aback by the turn their conversation had taken but looking at Mia made her feel very much at ease again, even causing her to turn her attention away from Fabrizio's masculine features, which kept glistening with sweat in the Mediterranean late afternoon sun.
- You bet! This yummy Greek god is said to be around after all! - she replied enthusiastically
- Spanish. - Mia corrected her but got down to business pretty soon. - And you will not even glance his way a single time tonight. - she stated matter of factly.
- How come?? - raised the Maltese blond an eyebrow in anticipation.
- 'Cause, you'll be seducing the hottest brother of the island - Mia declared, while watching her friend's reaction carefully - with my personal permission. - she added.
- As if Mario ever asked you for permission when flirting around ... - Kyara teased with a hint of suspicion as to why his usually overprotective sister started to be so generous all of a sudden.
- Oh, for sure he does! - Mia went along with her game - He even lets me pick the girls he goes for since we were fourteen. - she said watching Kyara's eyes go wide.
- You're kidding me!
- Think whatever you want. - replied Mia shrugging her shoulder with an offended expression on her face. - It's up to you if you take this most certainly unique chance. See you! - she winked, jumping up from her seat and leaving the Maltese girl before she could even open her mouth to speak to dwell upon her own thoughts.
Alessandro wouldn't like the idea, she hesitated but only a for second, then reached for her cell-phone and dialed despite her better judgement and began to spin her web around the delicately trembling soft voice on the other end of the line. Great, she thought smiling, rather pleased with herself, a slut and a saint, both booked and hooked, that should pretty much take care of Super Mario's time and attention for tonight.
After making her phone call she flipped her cell-phone shut, put it back into her purse contently and headed back to her family. She sat down right next to her father and put her new sunglasses on, giving Konstantinos a little smile. Despite the fact that he wasn't her favorite they got along fairly well. The Greek was suffering from permanent visual impairment due to an explosion he witnessed from a very short distance back in Columbia many years ago, which made his eyes extremely sensitive to light up until today. He wore shades all the time and was also trying to get the newest inventions available on the market via his old friends from the Service. That was how Mia had gotten her unique trendy sunglasses no one was wearing yet in Sicily except for her family.
- Having a good time, my little angel? - her father asked turning to her with a kind smile on his face. The days around the tournament always seemed to make him forget about business and focus on what he called "the true values of life" with one melancholic and sorrowful eye glancing back at the past, and looking somewhat dreamily with the other one into their hopefully less tragic future.
- Sure Papa. - she smiled up, snuggling close to him. - After all, we are young, the summer is hot and I can smell something incredibly sweet in the air! - she sighed glancing at the side to Mario.
- Want me to get you an ice-scone little sister? - he teased, regretting his offer and cursing his big mouth as soon as he saw a victorious grin spread over her face.
- That would be so nice of you! Such a sweetheart, isn't he Papa?- She replied before he could have thought of a good way to back out. - I'd like strawberry and for Jenny it's going to be chocolate, right? - she smiled at her friend who started to blush slightly and muttered something about "thank you" to Mario as he left gritting his teeth at Mia.
- Where do you think are you going?!! - she stood up abruptly in order to prevent Silvio from leaving along with her twin brother.
- As for those who seem to be less interested in the happenings around the court: the game is over if you hadn't noticed yet! - He said sounding much more annoyed then he actually intended to be. Oh, now that is quite an interesting reaction, Mia thought, one might almost consider it to be a jealous outburst, at least by his emotionally indifferent standards, she noted stifling a giggle.
- Oh Papa, I'm so sorry we can't go down with you, but Jenny and I still have some things to take care of before dinner. Girlie stuff, you know. Please give my greetings to Fabrizio and Freddie too! Oh, and would you remind them at the party in The Bay tonight as well, please? - she looked up at him innocently while patting his arm.
- Of course my angel - nodded the Don and caught up quickly to his son who was already headed out of the row, followed by the Greek.
Mario returned with the ice-scones to find their places empty with the whole family gone. Damn it, he thought while digging somewhat frustrated into the strawberry, she did it again! But I'll for sure make her pay tonight, or rather her oh so adored Alessandro, he thought grinning wickedly.