Chapter 1.

Plenty to think about.

The clustered city of Lucca bathed in spring sunlight, warmer than usual. People lazily milled about the streets and heat rose off the pavement. Beneath shade cast by the towering cathedral, a man, looking in his mid-thirties, sat. His draping, red finery fell over the stone steps. Tilting his broad-brimmed hat against invading sun he returned to brushing dust off of a long and broad, violet strip of cloth.

Seeing a dark smudge, he began chipping at it with his fingernail. When the fingernail broke, he groaned, biting it off and spit it into the tall grass beside him. Then tirelessly, he resumed his work.

Another man, wearing black, priestly robes approached. He gazed forth and said:

“Your Eminence, you are cleaning that stole again? How did it get dirty this time?”

“Rodrigo, I don’t ask anymore,” the cardinal replied, “I just clean things when they get dirty.”

Rodrigo pulled a white envelope out from his pocket, handing it over.

“This is addressed to the Most Reverend, Cardinal Fratelli…from a Francine Fratelli.”

Snatching the letter, Fratelli remarked perhaps a bit too curtly, “I can read it myself.”

Rodrigo lingered for a little while, his black eyes peering curiously. Fratelli anxiously moved aside and wedged his curly, brown hair beneath his hat then stared back, his own amber-colored eyes intent… waiting. Hesitantly, Rodrigo got the hint and left. Alone, Fratelli gently set his violet stole, a garment of sacred priesthood, over one knee and tore open the envelope. He smelled old paper while reading quietly aloud:

 

Dear Angelo,

It is with utmost sorrow that I inform you of my father Burt’s death. I am very grateful to have been visiting with him when he passed. I was with him, holding his hand at the last moment. The next day, we held a funeral at the local, parish church and buried him next to your mother and father… and his wife just as he desired to be buried… May God give peace to his soul.

I am sure you will hold a Mass for him as soon as possible. Angelo, you have always been a faithful priest even if you could never be a husband- like I so badly wanted.”

Fratelli sighed, reading those words and nervously scratched his chin. Wiping some sweat from his forehead, he removed his hat and stood. He continued reading:

 

“Now I also wish to tell you Philomena is returning home with me. However my house is ill-prepared to take her. I must ask you a favor…to let her stay with you. This should not be a problem at all. We shall be returning in time for Easter Sunday. Please pray for our safe arrival!

Yours Truly,

Your Aunt, Francine Liona Fratelli.

Fratelli thought for a moment, scratched his chin again and delicately folded the purple stole in one hand. Feeling very warmed by blazing sunlight, he moved inside the cool, dark cathedral. Soundlessly and careful, he trod down the central aisle and neared the small, side altar of St. Joseph to the right. Gazing in white stone, the kindly saint held a lily frond in one hand and blessed with the other. The cardinal knelt there several minutes, whispering a prayer. Silently, he walked towards a row of flickering candles and lit one more.

May his soul rest in peace O Lord, and may your perpetual light shine upon him,” Fratelli sighed.

Actually, he felt glad that Burt, being elderly, in pain and blind, now found himself in a better place. At the end, heaven was the best thing… Within the candle-lit, sacred shadows, he delicately crossed himself and stepped back outside into the heat. Trees rustled as the breeze increased sending down a flutter of leaves. Fratelli swatted one away from his face and snorted, wrinkling his nose rabbit-like. No, he mused to himself, it was Francine he worried about.

Arriving inside his small villa, adjacent to the cathedral, Fratelli hung his hat, which had grown dusty by now. Dina, the kitchen-maid, who wore a pastel-blue dress, spotted him. Immediately, she grabbed her feather-duster and brushed the dirt-encrusted hat- and Fratelli’s face. The cardinal sneezed.

“Stop that!” he said, swatting at ticklish feathers.

“You are getting dust everywhere, Your Eminence!” she retorted.

Fratelli moaned, kicked off his shoes and strolled past her. Sitting in his office which had one westward window that sheltered from the sun at this time, Fratelli pondered Francine’s letter some more. He didn’t feel too anxious or excited because the festivities of the next morning, Palm Sunday, occupied his mind. It was a holy day in the Catholic Church, when Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and subsequent passion were recalled: a bittersweet day indeed.

After resting, Cardinal Fratelli dashed upstairs. He fetched his scarlet red vestments for tomorrow’s Mass. He examined them, tracing one finger over the thin, gold lining in the shape of a cross. Once assured they were perfect, he hung them back up. Then reaching far into his closet, he retrieved a pointed bishop’s miter from a stand. Usually, these things were never kept in his bedroom but before major Feast Days, he would move them in. Unless he could inspect them and make sure all was perfect, Fratelli would get too jittery and miss sleep. Everything about the Holy Mass and the Holy priesthood just excited him too much!

Flooded with joyful thoughts, Fratelli walked downstairs almost running into Dina as she made way upstairs at the same time. She swerved, spilling the glass of cold water in her hand right onto him! Fratelli gasped and wiped his dripping, wet cassock while she scolded:

“Your Eminence, watch where you’re going!”

“My apologies…I am so sorry,” he stuttered, “Here, let me clean it up.”

“No, don’t bother,” she sighed.

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