A New Resident.
Still rather upset, Fratelli ignored Francine as he went inside to meet Philomena. The black-haired woman, his youngest cousin, weakly smiled and greeted him. He bent over to help carry her bags upstairs. She silently followed. They reached Dina’s old room, the one she lived in before moving to the house across the street which Fratelli had purchased for her two years ago. It was a gesture of appreciation, one she continued to enjoy. Dina indeed didn’t miss the small room and its one window that faced the city street. Philomena however, didn’t seem to mind.
“Thank you Angelo, for letting me stay here. I am still so grieved over losing my grandfather.”
“I know, I know…” Fratelli said sympathetically.
Philomena moved back the bed’s sheets to lie down.
“It’s comfortable!” she exclaimed, patting the soft mattress.
“Yes, yes…” Fratelli mumbled then turned to leave.
He wasn’t intentionally acting aloof. A lot swarmed in his mind. Preparations for this week ahead, Gianni’s first communion, Michele’s baby…
“Angelo,” Philomena said.
He gazed at her as she spoke:
“You are very welcome, my dear cousin,” he replied, smiling.
Pale rays of dawn-light, woke Cardinal Fratelli. He dressed, recited morning-prayer and went downstairs to find Philomena munching on breakfast- in her night-gown.
“Philomena!” he stammered, “You are in a house full of priests. Merciful goodness, go and dress properly!”
She rolled her dark eyes and strode past him, back up the stairs. Fratelli sighed and sat down as Father Rodrigo came in. Silently, the priest seated, sipped tea and looked out the window. It was a beautiful spring day indeed.
After breakfast, Dina summoned Fratelli, telling him, “Your Eminence, Carlo is here with the new wine for Easter.”
“Splendid,” the cardinal replied, smiling.
Exiting a side door, Fratelli met Carlo, a tall, black-eyed, black-haired man who held one bottle in his hand.
“Blush made from nothing but the purest grapes,” he said, “I bottled this myself for you to try, Your Eminence.”
“Why, thank you,” Fratelli replied.
Carlo also brought forth a case of bottles. Though the wine within was a pale pink, the tinted glass made it look red as blood. The cardinal smiled as he examined it but Dina poked his shoulder. He turned.
“Your Eminence, maybe you should go inside when Carlo gets the barrel out…you remember what happened two years ago.”
Recalling how he got in the way and Carlo accidentally set a barrel down on his unfortunate toe, Fratelli grumbled and walked back indoors. He almost bumped into Philomena who now wore a pastel green dress, inlaid with small pearls. His cousin curiously peered past him towards Carlo. Fratelli closed the door. Then, she scowled at him and strode away, feeling rather closed in.
Reaching the hallway, she turned and stated, “Angelo, I am going out this evening.”
“Going out?” he asked, “What for? With whom?”
“I can’t stay here cooped up in this dusty house,” she answered.
“I think Dina does a fine job dusting,” he replied obliviously, scratching his right cheek.
“I mean I want to be outside…and doing things,” she said, “That man, Carlo is the one taking me to dinner?”
“Carlo? Dinner? When did this happen?”
“Angelo, don’t be nosy,” she retorted beginning to walk away.
Fratelli reached out and snatched her arm, quickly but gently.
“Hey, stop it,” she laughed batting at him.
“It’s my duty to make sure you are safe and enjoying the best welfare,” he declared, “You can go out with Carlo for dinner- but I’m coming with you.”
She loudly groaned.
~ ~ ~
Fratelli hurried to finish his reading and paper-work. Immediately after reciting evening-prayer, he met Philomena in the parlor. She waited there, wearing the same dress as before but with silk gloves and a sparkling broche. Seeing him, she wiped her forehead in exasperation. Her face expressed dour protest. She wanted to cry out that she was a fully grown woman and could go wherever but knew Fratelli wouldn’t budge. His paternal sensibilities couldn’t allow it. As the cardinal’s cousin, she reluctantly had to cope. While Fratelli donned fine, white gloves and his saturno, a broad-rimmed, scarlet-colored hat, she paced back and forth. Of course, within minutes, he began feeling rather nervous!
A knock sounded, Philomena jolted making way towards the door. Dina already answered and had let Carlo in. The man stood tall, his head almost touching the ceiling, and bowed to both her and Fratelli. His dark green suit and blocky, black shoes contrasted the hallway’s surrounding, delicate décor. He then took the cardinal’s hand and kissed his ring. He tried to take Philomena’s delicate hand but one look from Fratelli stopped him. She rolled her eyes again. This was not going to be a very enjoyable night.
Together they walked to a still carriage led by one of Carlo’s light-brown draft horses. As the humans approached, he raised his majestic head and snorted. Philomena patted the horse and felt his wiry mane.
“Good boy,” she whispered, “Let’s go real fast now and make Angelo regret he ever came along…”
Indeed Fratelli sat in the back, behind them, crossing his arms against chill night. It felt colder than he expected. Once boarded and sitting comfortable, Philomena offered to drive.
“But…as the gentleman, I should drive…” Carlo insisted.
She gazed at him, her shiny eyes pleading. He relented and handed her the long, coiled whip. Grinning, she snapped it in the air. At once, the horse took off with such speed that Fratelli’s hat flew from his head. Lunging desperately, he caught it and clumsily tumbled back into his seat. He had a feeling she did that on purpose.
Carlo’s house sat on a quiet hillside. Its white, stucco walls crowned the ridge which was covered in green rows of carefully cultivated vines. Many servants and cooks greeted them, especially interested in the cardinal. They crowded into the foyer, lining up to greet him. Fratelli spoke with them shortly before escaping into the dining room. He then joined Carlo and his cousin at table. Their dinner was rather simple but hearty; thick bread, warm pasta and chicken stew. Fratelli was glad to see black olives and he admittedly hogged them.
Throughout the night, Philomena excitedly talked. She told about her travel from the north to Lucca, her eventful first night at Angelo’s house and her plans for Easter. Listening silently, Carlo nodded again and again. Fratelli yawned, sensing the hours grow long.