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Chapter 33

Is it possible for me to be happy? That’s the new question I keep asking myself. It’s not something I thought I’d ever be, but my time with Mario is making me think it’s actually possible. Not just possible, but I think, for the first time since I was a child, when there were times when I was happy, maybe I am happy. Happy, now.

Mario is everything Sid isn’t. He’s thoughtful, kind, sensitive to my moods – any man that can be sensitive to my moods deserves a medal, that’s for damned sure – and generous, without expecting anything in return, except maybe a “grazie” and a kiss. And I’ve got plenty of both of those for him.

Between Mario and this idyllic place where I find myself, I keep thinking I’m dreaming and I’m going to wake up and find myself in some nightmare scene looking down the barrel of a gun or with electrodes attached to my sensitive parts or some other awful thing. But no, if it’s a dream, it just goes on and on, and I don’t even want to wake up from it.

“Buongiorno, amore mio.”

That’s how Mario greets me in the morning. With those words, and a kiss. I know it’s simple, but he calls me his love and actually wishes me a good day. And more often than not, that’s what it turns out to be. I’m starting to feel spoiled rotten, and I don’t even mind. I think that’s how Mario wants me to feel. And I do my best to spoil him, too.

He likes to see me naked around the house, his own little naked teen wood nymph, and I’m happy to give him that, happy at last to be that, too, in reality, not just in my daydreams like that Sunday in the cafe in Paris, though we have to keep the heat on so I don’t freeze. And he gets lots of my devotion, which I’m happy to give him, too, and when we’re not going out for dinner – I swear, mamma mia, I’m going to turn into a pumpkin with all this great Italian food – I make him scrumptious dinners that he’s so complimentary of, and he actually means it, and then repays me with loving that is nothing short of the sweetest dessert between the sheets.

We’ve taken drives around the lake in Mario’s turquoise Lancia – Lake Como, Lago di Como, to be proper, is a huge lake, and we can spend a whole day doing this, admiring the villas of the rich and famous, stopping for sleep-inducing lunches in picturesque little villages, making out in secluded forest glens afterwards – and boat rides across it, and walked in the hills as the trees transformed themselves from the fading green of early autumn to the bare branches of early winter. The mountains, now covered in snow, are like the Muses to me, and they inspire me to write poetry and little snippets in my journal. Too often the snippets are sad, though, reminders of my past life, so I’m careful with those so I don’t fall into a funk. Nothing like a funk to destroy the mood Mario and I have built these months.

Now here’s a good one. Even I had a hard time believing it, but Mario introduced me to his family. His sister, Aurelia, a very tall and, if you ask me, far too formal woman, his brother, Orazio, a bit on the roly-poly side with an infectious laugh and eyes that clearly find comfort, and perhaps a bit of envy, as they take me in, and his mother, whom I know as Mamma. I even was told to call her Mamma, if you can imagine. She looked at me a bit suspiciously at first, exhibiting a trait of her daughter, and then gradually brought me into her soft smile, showing me the family connection with Mario and Orazio. She hardly speaks a word of English, and my Italian is still pretty basic, so it’s through smiles and looks and embraces Mamma and I communicate.

With all the weird stuff I’ve done in my life, this is total weirdness to me, but I’m going with it and it sure beats being kept in a locked room when the family comes to visit. Not that they come that often, not as often as I’d expect for an Italian family, but they do come some Sundays, and I get to demonstrate my culinary skills, so they know I’m more than just an ornamental animal to Mario, and sometimes we go visit them, and I always bring a special dish, or a dessert, or both. Mostly both, which gives me two chances to ingratiate myself to them. Can’t be too ingratiated, though I have to be careful not to upstage Mama’s cooking, and it heads off inter-familial murmurs and plotting, two things families can be quite good at.

Mario takes his business trips every now and then, and during those three or four days when he’s gone I’m left to my own devices, which include just sitting for hours and watching the changing moods of the lake, scribbling in my journal, making simple meals for myself, and when I miss Mario and his loving, which is a lot, playing with myself and fantasizing and thinking of things I want to do with him to give him pleasure when he’s back. And sometimes Aurelia and Orazio – they seem to come in pairs – stop in just to see how I’m doing and, of course they don’t say this, but I’m sure it’s true, to see that I haven’t taken off somewhere with the silverware.

I convince Mario we should get a turkey for Thanksgiving and have the whole family over for a big American-style Thanksgiving dinner, and it doesn’t take much convincing since Mario does indeed have a weakness for things American, and not just American girls. So that’s what we do, and for two days I’m in the kitchen whipping up the most fabulous T-Day dinner I can possibly imagine.

For me, for once, I feel I have something to be thankful for. And it’s a kind of graduation for me, too. It’s been four years since that last terrible Thanksgiving at my house, four years since I despaired of staying with my mother and father, four years since Sid came in the night and spirited me away, since I took that last sniff of the dead roses my father presented to me after Romeo and Juliet and I left the keys behind on my desk and I left home, for good. And now, at last, I’ve graduated on to something new and special, earned my degree in hard knocks, feel I’m ready for whatever comes next. So I’m determined to make this the best Thanksgiving ever. And it is.

I even get to call Aunt Carol and Michelle, something Sid would let me do, too, but this time I have Mario sitting and smiling as he listens in to my cheery conversation with my aunt and cousin, and not Sid scowling and making sure I didn’t give away any of his secrets. Of course my aunt wants to know how I am, which is wonderful – and I’m sure now I sound so wonderful she actually believes it – and where I am. Which is always a bit tricky, but I tell her my Arkansas couple has taken me on holiday to Europe, and we’re having a great time eating turkey and stuffing and some sort of fruit pie even though no one has a clue here what Thanksgiving is. She laughs at that, since she knows what I’m talking about, being an American in another culture that doesn’t have this so American holiday, but she celebrates it anyway, she and Michelle and some close friends of hers, even after all these years.

And when my birthday finally rolls around in mid-December, and I turn 17, finally made it even though I had doubts along the way that I would, it’s like a national holiday for Mario. He makes me feel like a true princess, a real old-time European princess, and I try to tell him it’s just a birthday, but that’s not enough to dissuade him. And instead of the money Sid would throw on the bed and tell me to go buy something for myself, Mario takes me shopping, takes me into Milan, which is like the fashion capital of the world, or at least one of them, and tells me to get anything, anything at all, that I want. Is this man crazy, or what?

“I am crazy,” he says. “I’m crazy about you, la mia piccola Rosa. And for you, nothing can be too good.”

Am I hallucinating? What’s in those truffles, anyway?

Everything is all glittery in Milan now, and all around the lake, too, as Christmas approaches. Christmas, Natale, is a big deal in Italy, as you might imagine, and we take some time from my birthday shopping to pick up gifts for Mamma, and Aurelia, and Orazio. I even have Mario pick something out for himself, and for once I get to pay for it with my own money, my own damn money, almost all of which I still have from my freedom fund. And of course Mario has to get me something for Christmas, too. He makes it clear it won’t be the only thing, but the rest will be secret until Christmas.

Can you see now why I might be happy? Why I think I am happy? How I think I might be dreaming all this, but I’m not? I still keep wondering when the other shoe is going to fall, when I’ll find out Mario has a dark side, or some other damned thing is going to spoil all this for me. But for now, for once in my life, I’m happy to be happy and to just take it as it comes. I think, for once, I really did make the right call and my ship has, at last, pulled into port.

Somewhere in there Sid has called me a few times. It would just provoke more calls not to, so I take them. It’s more of the “Come back, Rosie” jive, and more of me telling him I’m not ready yet and we just began our break. I finally convince him to text me first so we can set a time for calls since I don’t want Mario to have to listen to this rubbish when Sid calls.

It’s odd, I know, but I haven’t called Chantal. I don’t know why, but maybe it just seemed our good-bye on the train platform would have to last for awhile. There’s another reason, too. I don’t want to tell her how wonderful everything is with Mario and then have it all go to crap later. I don’t know how I’d explain that, so it’s just easier to wait awhile. She’ll understand, anyway, I’m sure.

Of course, even in Paradise things can’t be perfect. The one thing that isn’t perfect, that’s casting a shadow on the season, is that Mario has to take one of his business trips right before Christmas. He assures me he’ll be back in time for Christmas, but I’m not happy about this. I even ask to go with him, though it’s back to Bangkok, which after all I went through with Sid is not exactly my favorite destination, but he tells me the flights are full and, besides, I need to prepare for Christmas, when we’ll go to his Mamma’s house on Christmas Eve, and then have a big dinner at our house on Christmas day. While he’s gone, he tells me, I need to trim and wrap and put my culinary skills to work and not forget to take a bit of the Christmas cheer with it.

“I’m sorry, la mia più cara, but when I planned this trip I did not know you would be here. Never would I have planned it had I known you would be part of my life now. It was a chance that came up some time ago to make a big sale and I made the plans, and now it’s too late to cancel them. But I’ll be back by Christmas Eve, and we’ll have the most special Christmas ever. I promise you, mia cara dolce Rosie.”

“Can’t you just go after the holidays, Mario? Like in January? If it’s that big a sale it will still be there, won’t it? Please? It sounds stupid, I know, but it means a lot to me.”

“My sweet, it means a lot to me to be with you, too. And I will be, on Christmas, and on Nuovo Anno, New Year’s. But do you know how hard it is to get reservations this time of year? And how much it will cost to cancel these reservations? It is a competitive world, too, and if I miss the appointment I may lose the sale. Please, tesoro, try to understand.”

Okay, so I’m a big girl, and after all Mario has his business and has to do his own thing, so I suck it up and tell him to have a good trip as he sets off late on the twentieth for the airport. I’ve told Mario about our showdown in the strip bar, but he assures me he won’t be having any meetings in strip bars or with guys packing guns, so not to worry. So I don’t.

What I do is prepare for the most stupendous Christmas ever. I spend the days of Mario’s absence hanging mistletoe all over the house, wrapping the most beautiful gifts, preparing one special dish, dessert, appetizer after another. For days I do this. And on Christmas Eve I even put glitter on my nipples, preparing myself as a special gift for Mario.

I’m counting the hours until Mario’s arrival, and it’s already past what I figure was wheels-up in Bangkok when the phone rings. It’s Mario.

“Cara Rosie, I am so sorry to tell you this, but they overbooked my flight and I got bumped. I have tried every other flight to get back on, and everything is booked. I am so sorry.”

I guess I’ve gotten used to Mario doing what he says he’s going to do. The one time he doesn’t, I really don’t know what to say to him, so I say nothing, choking back tears.

“Rosie? Are you there?”

Finally I find my voice and I do my best not to let my disappointment show, but it’s futile.

“I’m here, Mario. I don’t know what to say. I was so ready to see you tonight. Isn’t there some flight you can get?”

“My sweetheart, I tried, and there are none. Not one seat. I would do anything to be there for you, but it is not possible. And I have some worse news for you, too, I’m afraid, vita mia.”

“Worse news, Mario? What could be worse? Are you all right?”

“Oh, yes, yes, I’m fine. That’s not the worse news. The worse news is the soonest flight I can get is on the twenty-seventh. I am going to have to break my promise, mia cara. I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?”

“I think it’s the first promise you made me to me you won’t keep, Mario. I guess that’s a pretty good record.”

Compared to what I’m used to, that’s a damned good record. But I’m still disappointed more than I can say to Mario, and still choking back tears.

“Sweetheart, go to Mamma’s tonight for dinner. Orazio will collect you and bring you back. But why don’t you stay over at Mamma’s, and spend Christmas with the family, and they can take you back tomorrow night? I will tell them we are postponing our Christmas dinner until I’m back. Will the food you made keep?”

“I’ll make sure it does, Mario. Are you sure about this? I don’t know what I’ll say to everyone tonight. Do you know . . . no, I shouldn’t tell you, since it will ruin the surprise.”

“What surprise, bambina mia?”

“No, no, you’ll just have to wait to see when you’re back. But I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”

Now what man would be disappointed if his girlfriend put glitter on her nipples and dusted herself with powder that glows in a black light and then shows him what a special little Christmas elf she is? None that I know, anyway. But I do want this to be a surprise for Mario, so I’m not letting it out now.


“Sì, cuore mio?”

“I wish I could come to Bangkok and spend Christmas with you there. Maybe I can fly out there, Mario, if I leave right now.”

“No, sweetheart. You stay there. We’ll have our Christmas later, that’s all. You have a good time with the family. I’ll tell them we will exchange gifts when I return. Accetti?”

“I’m sorry, baby, but it sounds pretty dismal. It just won’t be the same without you. And you’ll be all by yourself, too. What are you going to do for Christmas, baby?”

“I don’t know, Rosie. My business is done and I don’t want to stay in Bangkok for three days, so I think I’ll go somewhere and just enjoy myself, as best I can. Do you mind?”

“No, of course not. You should enjoy yourself. At least that. Where will you go? Chiang-Mai was pretty neat when I was there in July.”

“I don’t know. Probably I will go to the beach. I will try to get a flight to Phuket. If they are full, there is a train.”

“Get one of those Thai full-body massages, Mario. With the happy ending. They’re something else, I’ll tell you.”

“Oh, I do know those, of course. But no, Rosie. I don’t need the massage or the happy ending. You give me such happy endings, I would only be thinking of you. As I will, anyway.”

“Mario, you’re such a sweet man. I really mean it. You are.”

“And you are a sweet girl. I do have some good news, though. I made the sale, and it’s very big. Are you happy about that?”

“Yes, of course. At least that. Kind of another Christmas present. Congratulations, my sweetheart. I’m proud of you.”

“Thank you, cara mia. I’ll take you on a holiday to celebrate when I’m back. And I’ll call you tomorrow. At Mamma’s house, and wish you Buon Natale. Okay?”

And he does, and again he tells me how much he misses me and how sorry he is not to be with me, and I tell him the same. I manage to squeeze in a call to Aunt Carol, too, though I have to keep it short since I use Sid’s phone to call her and I don’t want to have to hear about that later from him.

The family scene is better than I thought it would be, and everyone wants me to feel part of the family, but we all know I’m there because of Mario, and it’s not the same without him. I’m feeling kind of empty, not my stomach, of course, but the rest of me, when Orazio drops me back at the house Christmas night, and it’s all I can do to get out of my clothes and into bed, not even a thought of glitter or glowing powder or Christmas elves. Just sleep.

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