Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chapter 87: Where You Get it From

"E 'un piacere conoscerti," Jacklyn greets Nico's mother Elena in her best Italian. Which still isn't all that great. Little Trillare, who Elena immediately takes into her arms as she gives Jacklyn a disapproving frown, is probably more fluent that she is. Maybe it's her bad accent, Jacklyn thinks, fidgeting awkwardly under the older woman's gaze, but that's would just be wishful thinking. Elena's disapproval runs deep, Jacklyn can see that easily enough.

"Such a beautiful girl my son brings into our home," Nico's father turns his attention to Jacklyn, taking her hand in his and leaning forward to kiss her fingers, "We are so pleased to meet you at last. Though now I see why my son kept you to himself for so long. He's a very lucky young man."

As nice as it is to be welcomed by at least one of Nico's parents, the glare Elena is giving her, along with Nico's obvious anger at his father, puts Jacklyn in a difficult position. She fumbles as he tries to thank the older man sincerely without sounding more pleased to make his acquaintance than would be proper.

The couple has a moment's respite when they are lead to the guest room where they'll be staying and left alone to unpack. And even that moment was not free of awkwardness, as Elena made little digs and hints to remind them that they were only being allowed to share a room and a bed because Nico threatened to stay in a hotel or not come at all if they tried to put them in separate rooms.

Nico falls onto the bed, "We haven't been here two minutes, and they're already embarrassing me," he groans as Jacklyn sits beside him., "I'm sorry about the way they treated you. Both of them."

"Well, your mother didn't call me a whore to my face, at least," Jacklyn tries to laugh it off, "And your father is charming, in his way. I can see where you get it from."

"You think I'm like him?" Nico asks, obviously insulted by her observation.

"I just meant that you have his charm," Jacklyn answers, and sees in his eyes that it's not what he wanted  to hear. She sighs, not sure how to dig herself out of this one. She'd almost rather be back in Texas right now, and she hates Texas.

"Let me take you out," Nico says, as eager to get away as she is, "We can leave Trill with my mother for awhile, and go somewhere together."

"This is what I pictured, when you said you were bringing to me to Italy," Jacklyn says as they enjoy a glass of wine at a local cafe. She's toured through Europe before, but saw only the inside of hotels and stadiums. 

Nico slides his chair next to hers, close enough to kiss her shoulder as he whispers to her how beautiful she is.

"Nico? Nico Petrangelo?" A woman calls out to him.

"Jacklyn, this is Adalina Rossi, an old friend of my father's," Nico introduces her with a heavy sigh, "Jacklyn is my fiancee," he tells the intruder pointedly. It's not entirely accurate, as Jacklyn broke that engagement off and has continued to rebuff his proposals, but she's not about to make that correction to a stranger.

They carry on a conversation in Italian, their words too fast for Jacklyn to translate, but Adalina's tone is light and flirtatious, while Nico's is cold and unrelenting as stone, until the woman finally gives up and strides away with a laugh and a toss of her hair.

"Are you going to tell me what that was about?" Jacklyn asks as they stroll along the canal.

"Adalina was my father's mistress, " Nico answers.

"That can't be all there is to it," Jacklyn says, stopping and making him turn to face her.

"No, that's not all," Nico admits, "My father likes his girls young, so he'll dump his mistresses when they reach a certain age. I was fifteen when he dumped Adalina. She decided to get back at him by taking up with one of his sons. Me."

"She seduced a fifteen year old?" Jacklyn gasps, "Nico, that's horrible!"

"Just promise me you'll never say anything about this to Andrea. He'd never forgive me."

"I won't say anything to your brother," Jacklyn promises, "But, Nico, it's not your fault. You were barely a child..."

"You don't understand," Nico sighs.

"No, I don't understand," Jacklyn says, "I can't understand if you keep everything inside and don't talk to me."

"Even at fifteen, I knew better. I saw what my father was doing to my mother, and I knew he was wrong to be going behind her back. I was going to be better than that. Andrea and I both agreed on that, swore to each other we wouldn't be like our father. And then I broke so easily. I didn't even try to resist her, even knowing who she was, how much she hurt my mother."

"Nico, you were fifteen, being seduced by a woman nearly twice your age. I don't see how you can blame yourself."

"Because I knew better than that, Jacklyn," Nico insists, "And I let it happen again, didn't I? I hurt you the way my father hurt my mother. I'm no better than he is, and I never will be."

"You are better than your father," Jacklyn says, "If you weren't, I'd have dumped your ass by now, you know that."

The family dinner that evening is awkward for everyone except Lauro, oblivious to the discomfort he causes with his flirtatious attentions to Jacklyn, and Trillare, too young and innocent to understand the tension at the table.

After dinner, the family gathers in the parlor, where Elena sits on the floor to play with her granddaughter. Jacklyn takes refuge at the piano, anything to separate herself from the rest of them.

"You're playing my song," Lauro says, getting up to join Jacklyn at the piano. There is no escape, she thinks, resigning herself to her fate.

"Is it?" she asks, trying to smile sweetly, "It's something I picked up from Nico. He sings it in the shower." She turns away with a blush, suddenly conscious of revealing these kinds of intimate details, even though Elena seems too preoccupied with Trill to hear anything she says.

"He sings in the shower because he's not good enough to sing on a stage, like his father," Lauro proclaims, "That's why he plays that guitar, he has no voice for singing."

"My guitar is my voice," Nico snarls, standing up to his father, "I never wanted to be a singer. That was your dream."

"You gave up too easily," Lauro insists, "You could have been a great singer, if you practiced more."

"You don't listen!" Nico accuses, "You never listen. I never wanted to sing. I chose to play guitar."

Jacklyn can listen to this in silence no longer. "Nico has a beautiful voice, Lauro," she says, standing by  her man, "But no one, and I mean no one, can rock a guitar he way he does. I grew up surrounded by guitarists and played with more than my share of them, and your son is hands down the best out there. You should be proud."

"Thanks for that," Nico says when they get into bed later.

"I didn't say anything that wasn't the truth," Jacklyn says.

"But you know, you could have told me how things were with your family," she continues, "You never talk about them. You never talk about anything."

"What's the point of talking about it?" Nico asks, "I moved away from it to put it behind me."

"Even when it's behind you, it's still part of you," Jacklyn says, "Believe me, I know. And I want to know, Nico, I want you to talk to me."

Nico rolls over so he's laying above her. "I don't know what more I can say, after what you've seen. I was the only one of his son's that pursued music, and he wanted to make me into a copy of him, to be a singer. But I just wanted to play guitar. That argument you saw down there, we played that out over and over again, all the time I lived with them. I failed to live up to his expectations, a fact he never forgets to remind me of."

"And you measure success by how far from him you can get."

"I guess so, Jacklyn. I don't want to be my father. But I am his son, and I can't be anything else. Like you just said, I can put it behind me, but it's always a part of who I am."

"Don't you find it difficult, Jacklyn, to be a mother while you're working?" Elena asks, watching as Nico and Jacklyn play with Trillare. "For me, being a wife and a mother was my job."

"Mama, we're raising Trill just fine," Nico chides his mother.

"Bill, so nice to hear your voice," Jacklyn answers her buzzing phone. Normally, Jacklyn would be peeved with Bill for calling while she's on vacation, but right now it's just a relief to have an excuse to get away. "What's up?"

"Finally, I get you alone for a minute," Elena says, gesturing for her son to sit beside her. "What are you doing, running around with this girl? Look at her, the way she dresses. She has those awful tattoos, Nico. What kind of woman has a child out of wedlock?"

"Mama, just stop right there," Nico says, "It's not what you think."

"No? You think it's fine to raise your daughter in sin like this? You should take Trill away from that slut and find a nice girl---"

"That's enough," Nico says sharply, "I can't listen to you talk about Jacklyn that way. And you shouldn't think it either. You remember what you said when I told you I was moving to L.A.? Well, what I did was even worse than what you predicted. I became a gigolo, selling my body to pay my rent. Jacklyn didn't know that when she took up with me, and didn't find out about until she was already pregnant with Trill. When she found out, she forgave me and trusted me when I told her I was done with that. She agreed to marry me. And you know what I did? I betrayed her, I had an affair. Mama, I was with another woman the day my daughter was born. When Jacklyn found out, she kicked me out. I was lost, you understand? She could have taken Trill away from me forever, if she wanted. But she still loves me, even after I broke her heart, so she's giving me this chance. I know you don't like the way she dresses, but, she's my world, understand? She's the mother of my child and I'm trying to make her my wife. She's better than what you think of her, and she's far better than what I deserve. So, lay off her."

"Listen, Jackie, baby," Bill says, weariness heavy in his voice, "I really didn't want to be the one to tell you this, but your mother says she doesn't have your number. That you won't talk to her..."

"What, Bill? Just say it."

"Jack...your father..." In the long pause that follows, Jacklyn hears what Bill hesitates to say.

"How?" she asks.

"He ran his car into a tree," Bill says, "No one else was hurt, thankfully."

"Okay. Thanks, Bill," she says softly before turning her phone off.

"Did something happen?" Nico asks, joining her out on the balcony, "What did Bill say?"

"My father is dead. The stupid, drunken bastard ran himself into a tree."

She'd always said she'd dance on his grave, but that was when he was still alive.

"I'm so sorry," Nico murmurs, holding her, not sure how she's taking the news.

"I always thought there' be time," she says with a soft sob, "That someday I'd be able to tell him what a bastard he was, how much damage he'd done to us. But I never got up the balls to do it, I just ran away and never confronted him. And now I'll never get to."

Nico finds his father sitting alone on the balcony overlooking the garden, and sits on the chair beside him.

"Before we go, I just wanted to clear some things up with you," Nico says

Lauro listens in silence as his son tells him in unrelenting detail all the ways he failed as a husband and a father.

"Get out of my house," is all the response he gives when Nico is done.

"I'm leaving," Nico says sadly, not expecting much more than what he got, knowing his father would make no tearful apologies or be in anyway moved or changed by what he had to say. The important thing is he said it.


I'm sorry it's been so long between chapters, I just wanted to wait for Monte Vista to do this one.
So, there will be probably two more regular chapters to go to wrap this up. And then I'll be doing an Epilogue that will probably be two or three chapters long, to visit everyone again around five years later.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chapter 86: Over the Threshold

Eleanor was never the kind of girl who fantasized about her wedding day, and had even declared several times in her life that she would never get married at all. If pressed for reasons, she would point out the inherent sexism of the whole institution, and of the ceremony itself, which puts a woman on a pedestal for one day as she passed like chattel from a father to a husband. And while that's all true, Eleanor's secret is that she's terrified of that pedestal, that one day where everything is supposed to be about her, all eyes on her. And now that day is come, and though she and Justin have arranged the smallest and most private of ceremonies, Eleanor quakes a little as she looks at herself in the mirror, wishing she could just disappear into the background.

"It's a beautiful dress," Regan comments from the couch where she and Gavin sit, available to help her get dressed. With no complicated veils and just a simple gown, the only help Eleanor needed was to have Regan zip it up for her. "You look gorgeous."

"I'm surprised you went with the traditional white," Gavin comments, "But it suits you."

"It was Justin's idea," Eleanor admits with a smile, "I would have preferred a suit, but he wanted a bride in white."

Gavin laughs, "He's always surprising, I'll give him that." 

Because of Justin's fake identity and lack of a birth certificate, they had to have their wedding in a state like Nevada, which wold grant them a marriage license with just their IDs. And it just happened that one of Gavin's new Hollywood friends had a mansion just outside os Las Vegas that he was willing to let them use for the occasion.

"Where's this preacher?" Justin growls, pacing like a caged tiger across the rug in the living room on the first floor of the borrowed mansion.

"Saraswati isn't really a preacher," Zach comments from his chair, "She is a licensed minister, though, and I'm sure she'll be here soon."

Neither bride nor groom have any religious affiliation, but Zach's offer to ask a friend of his who was a minister of the Vedanta church to conduct a non-denominational ceremony for them in the privacy of the borrowed house was too convenient not to accept.

"Why is it taking her so long to get dressed?" Justin continues his pacing, "I should go help her."

"Justin," Jeanette chuckles as she gets up from her chair, "Calm down. Eleanor will be down soon, and your minister will show up on time. Everything will be fine." She kisses her brother gently, almost nervously, on the cheek. Getting close to him again after their long separation has been difficult. He was never one to trust easily, and the way they had left things had just closed him off even more. But he never stopped loving her, Jeanette has learned that much from his bride, and she's used that love to slowly chip away at his armor.

Zach's minister friend finally arrives.

Moments later, Eleanor comes downstairs, dressed and ready.

Justin pounces on her as soon as he sees her. "Are you ready?" he asks, "I want to do this."

"I'm ready, tiger," she answers.

The small party gathers outside on the patio for the ceremony. They kept their vows simple and direct, neither one of the comfortable with expressing their true feelings even to their closest friends.

As the ceremony ends with the traditional kiss, Justin whispers a simple, "I'm yours, princess. All yours," in her ear.

The celebration afterwards is subdued, a small meal prepared by Justin himself, and as the sun sets, the couple disappear into their suite, leaving their guests to fend for themselves.

Jeanette and Zach find themselves thrown together as Gavin and Regan move off to share a private moment. 

"Justin tells me you're some kind of scientist?" Jeanette asks.

"A physicist," Zach clarifies, "I work at JPL."

"That must be interesting," Jeanette says, because she can't think of anything else.

Zach laughs, "When I was a kid, I had everything planned. I was going to be the science officer on a starship, exploring strange new worlds, new life and new civilizations. Seriously, I thought it would be all possible by the time I grew up. But it turns out, the best I can do is work on getting unmanned missions to Mars. I guess it's interesting, but it's a serious downgrade from what I wanted in life. I'm stuck on this planet, forever."

Jeanette can't help but laugh. "I've never written science fiction," she says, "But I think you just gave me an idea for a story."

"Nah, I'm a side character at best," Zach says, "Are you going back to Seattle soon?"

"That was the plan," Jeanette answers, "But Justin and I...repairing that relationship will take time, and work, and being in another state won't help. I can write anywhere, and I don't have anyone in Seattle to go back for, so I'm thinking of relocating."

"My last tenant was a writer, too," Zach tells her, "She and her boyfriend just moved out to Arizona together. So the guest cottage behind the main house is empty again. If you think you might be interested. I don't really need to rent the space out, I don't even have a mortgage to pay off. But I hate to see all the space go to waste. It's so much more house than I need. Eleanor used to live in that cottage. That's how she and Justin met." Jeanette smiles at him indulgently, and Zach blushes as he realizes he's rambling.

"I'd like to see it," Jeanette says, her shoulder brushing against his hand as she shifts her weight, "A guest cottage in the backyard sounds perfect for me."

"Have you decided yet?" Gavin asks, pulling Regan close to him.

"You want to talk about that now?" she sighs.

"It's just such a great opportunity, for both of us. To work together."

"It's a vampire movie," Regan groans, "I don't want to do a vampire movie..."

"You've done toilet paper commercials. How is a vampire movie worse than that?"

Regan laughs. "It will be proof to everyone that I've sold out and gone Hollywood."

"If you turn it down, I'll have to turn it down too. I don't want to be away from you," Gavin insists. With the Sandman movie wrapped and in post-production, Gavin and Regan have been offered roles as romantic leads in an upcoming vampire movie. "How many chances are we going to get to be co-stars?"

"Probably a lot," Regan says, "Have you seen the tabloids? We're a hot item, and the Hollywood machine won't waste that."

"Well, that's a good thing, Regan. I'm not sure I could do a romantic part with anyone else. You know I can't act, not really, and I'm not going to be a convincing romantic lead without you."

"So, I should do this for the sake of cinematic quality?" Regan laughs.

"Do it for us," Gavin says, "Hollywood wants to use us...let's use them, to pay us to be together."

"Well, when you put it that way..."

Gavin squeezes her hips and leans down to kiss her neck, "Be my vampire queen," he whispers in her ear, making her giggle.

It's not their bedroom, but Justin carries his bride over the threshold, anyway. He'd never imagined himself in this position, in such an intimate, binding relationship. Adapting to it hasn't been easy, but the rewards have more than justified the effort. He's valued his privacy, and still does, but now that privacy encompasses more than himself; she's part of his world now, part of himself.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chapter 85: Happy Birthday

"I can't believe you did this," Portia cries, throwing her arms around him, "It's beautiful."

"Now you'll be able to play while you are here," Rainier says with a smile, "I've made a copy of my key for you, so you can come in any time you like."

"To play piano?" she asks with a teasing smile.

"If you like.  But I was thinking more about coming home from work and finding you here waiting for me."

"And what am I wearing in this fantasy scenario?" Portia laughs.

"Mmmm, I'll let you surprise me," he answers.

Portia giggles and takes him by the hands, "Your gift is downstairs. Get your luggage, we need to meet my father."

"Bill bought you a Ferrari?" Rainier says when they approach the car parked in his pot.

"No," Portia says, "That's yours. Happy Birthday. From me and Dad."

"Portia, I can't accept--" he protests, but she covers his mouth with her hand.

"You can," she says, "I know you want to. And I'm not letting your silly pride get in the way."

"All right," he says, getting into the car beside her, "It's a beautiful gift." He'll speak with Bill about this later, but for now he decides to enjoy the ride.

They drive across town to Beverly Hills, to her house, where they meet up with Bill. Then they pack all their luggage into the waiting limo which takes them to LAX.

Rather than throwing Portia a huge birthday party, she Bill decided on a a more private family celebration  at their vacation house in Hawaii. Portia, of course, would not dream of celebrating her 18th birthday without Rainier, so it's the three of them together for the weekend.

"Bill, about the car..." Rainier says, getting Bill alone on the porch while Portia showers.

"You aren't going to try to refuse the gift," Bill says.

"It's too much," Rainier protests.

"That's what I said to Portia when she told me her plans. Not that it's too much for me, you understand. Drop in the bucket. But I knew you'd want to turn it down. But, she turned her puppy eyes at me and it was 'Daddy, please,' for weeks. And I'm not going to be subjected to her tears when you give it back. So, you're keeping the car."

"We have that in common," Rainier laughs.

"We have that and a lot more," Bill observes, "And we've had our disagreements, too. But you've been there for Portia when she's needed you, and you set me straight when I failed her. You've made yourself a part of this family. And I'm glad to have you. My daughter could not have chosen a better man."

Rainier intended to have Portia with or without Bill's consent, but having it is certainly better than not. He finds himself unexpectedly moved by Bill's blessing; his own father was gone long before he died, and never did give Rainier the approval a son needs from his father. Getting it from Bill comes a bit a late, but it means a lot more than Rainier would have anticipated.

"What are you two up to?" Portia asks, joining them on the porch, giving Rainier a chaste kiss in greeting.

"I'm taking my drink and heading out to the hot tub," Bill answers, "I suppose you two can entertain yourselves for awhile."

With Bill out of the way, Rainier pulls Portia into a tight embrace.

"This feels like a honeymoon, doesn't it?" she asks, "After all the waiting, all the build up to this day..."

"Except we won't be taking your father along on our honeymoon," Rainier laughs.

"C'mon," she says, taking him by the hand to lead him up to their room, "I have a surprise  for you."

"Another birthday gift," Rainier says when the surprise turns out to be the lingerie she's wearing under her clothes. "Do you mind if I unwrap it?"

The long wait is at last over, and she is finally, legally his love. And though they had made love before, in some distant past, before he knew her true age, this time feels like the first, or even better, if there is such a thing. Because they had waited so long, and had grown so close in the waiting, learning each other, falling in love.

"Happy birthday," she sighs, wrapping her legs around him.

"And to you, my love," he answers.

"Maybe we should come back here on our honeymoon," Portia says.

"You're making plans for our honeymoon when we aren't even engaged," Rainier laughs, and Portia pinches him, gently, just enough to deliver the slightest twinge of pain.

"I expect you'll be proposing soon enough."

"I was going to wait for you to graduate," Rainier says, "Are we joking around now or is this a serious conversation?"

Portia rests her head on his shoulder, "It doesn't matter," she sighs, "I know you're the one. And I know you know it, too. You said so yourself. We can wait until I graduate to make it official, as long as you know you are mine, and I am yours."

"Je sais," he whispers, "I've known that for awhile now."