“If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song”
“Slow down, sweetheart!” A mother called as she chased a little girl through a flower field.
Laughter filled the air, a sweet innocent, musical laugh. Little legs propelled the young girl forward, long red locks flowing behind her. Until finally, she came to a stop and plopped down tiredly in the flower field.
The mother sat down next to the little girl, and her gaze washed over the child, memorizing the soft glow in her honey-brown eyes and the reddish flush to her cherub cheeks.
The field full of wildflowers was on the way to their house.
Year one, she’d stopped because the then one-year-old baby girl was fussy and needed a break; that’s when she discovered that flowers calmed her down.
Year two, they’d stopped again, as she wanted to snap some pictures of the toddler in the flowers.
This was year three, and it was becoming a tradition, it seemed.
“Whats -a matter, mama?”
“I’m just a little sad, baby,” she confessed.
“Don’t you worry about it; it’ll pass.” She tapped the girl’s little button nose. “Why don’t you pick some flowers for your birthday?”
“Yay!” Full of smiles, she leaped up to do so, immediately taking off into a run.
“Stay where I can see you, London!”
“Beautiful,” a girl murmured; one more flick of her wrist, and the pen did its magic.
“Loni, it’s almost time for work!”
Her mother’s voice pulled her from the zone she tended to get in when drawing or painting. The rose garden that filled the east side of the estate was Loni’s favorite place to sit and paint. When it got close to her birthday, one bush of pink roses would bloom every year. She’d just finished drawing them and would paint them later.
Her dad told her it was her grandpa and grandma’s way of saying happy birthday. They’d both passed away before she was born. Loni’s full name was Leondra, after her grandpa Leonardo. He meant a lot to her family; he’s what brought her parents together.
Clutching her sketchbook, Loni stood up, then sat right back down as a dizzy rush came over her. She’d been getting a lot of head rushes lately. Her mom had always said she should take more breaks when she was working, maybe she was right.
Once the feeling passed, the brunette stood again and headed towards the driveway, where her mom, Kit, and her sister, Lissa, were waiting. They both had their wavy coppery hair pulled up in loose buns, making them look like twins from a distance.
“Hurry up. I need a milkshake!” Lissa hollered as Loni got closer. The thirteen-year-old menace of a little sister was wearing Loni’s brand-new sweater.
“Lissa! I just bought that,” Loni complained. “It’s huge on you anyway.”
Lissa was petite like their mom, whereas Loni was tall like their dad, so Lissa only stood up to Loni’s shoulder. The sweater she’d stolen hung down to her knobby little knees.
“I thought it was a sweater dress,” Lissa said flippantly. “Looks better that way, see?”
Lissa started striking poses in the driveway, her blue eyes sparkling with amusement at Loni’s annoyed expression.
“Lissa, enough. I told you to ask before wearing your sister’s clothes,” Kit scolded as she unlocked the car. “Loni, we don’t have three hours for her to change. I’ll get you a new sweater if she ruins it.”
“Fine,” Loni relented as she climbed in. “Why the hurry anyway?”
“I have five hundred cupcakes to make for your birthday party this Friday.” Kit was only slightly exaggerating. Maybe twenty or thirty people would be at her party, but she always made way too much.
They pulled out of the long driveway of their estate. They had a massive house on a large plot of land, and a smaller guest house sat behind it, where her aunt, uncle, and cousins lived when they weren’t traveling. They’d be back for Loni’s birthday soon.
It was a five-minute drive to Leo’s E Famiglia, her family’s restaurant. Everyone in town just called it Leo’s. Loni had taken up a part-time job there when school ended last week, helping her dad, Luca, in the kitchen. She loved cooking; it was a lot of fun, mostly because got to she spend so much time with her dad.
Kit parked, and Lissa raced inside and Kit and Loni were right behind her.
It was a beautiful restaurant, big and spacious with hardwood floors; the walls were decorated with photos of food and wine, some Loni even painted herself.
As usual, Lissa went right over to the jukebox, and Kit headed back into the kitchen.
Loni looked over and smiled at a few of her school friends sitting at a table. Leo’s was a popular spot for the high school kids during the summer.
“You working today, or can you join us?” Andrea, her best friend, asked as she tucked her chocolate hair behind her ear.
“Working,” Loni answered. “You’re all coming to my birthday party Friday, right?”
“Are you inviting, Manny?” Andrea motioned to the busboy her dad had hired that summer. Manny was new in town, and no one knew much about him besides that he was quiet. Not to mention super cute with his olive hued tanned skin, dark hair, and emerald green eyes.
He was cleaning a table and looked up when Loni looked over.
He gave her a sweet smile that instantly made her heart speed up and caused little flutters in her belly. She smiled back and offered a little wave.
Why are you waving at him? She asked herself. Ugh. She was so bad at this flirting stuff.
“He so likes you. Just ask him,” Andrea insisted.
“Maybe,” Loni said nervously; the very idea was causing her heart to nearly thunder in her chest.
Not nearly... it was. Why was her heart beating this fast? Was this normal? Are boys supposed to make you think you’re going to die?
“There’s the cutest sous chef in the world,” Luca declared loudly as he walked out of the kitchen.
Her friends all giggled at that; most of them had a crush on her dad, well, all of them. Loni took a few deep breaths to calm her heart and then hustled over to her dad.
“Dad, that was so embarrassing,” she complained.
“Good, I like keeping you nice and mortified.”
“It’s a revenge thing.”
“Revenge for what? I don’t do anything wrong.” Loni folded her arms over her chest and pursed her lips.
“Christ, you look just like your mom when you do that,” Luca said with a shake of his head.
Even though Loni had light brown hair and was tall like her dad, her facial features were very similar to her mom’s, they had the same amber doe-like eyes, pouty lips, and cheeks that blushed far too easily. Lissa, on the other hand, had her mom’s red hair, small stature, but her dad’s bright blue eyes, and little smirk. Her mom always loved to say how the girls were a perfect mix of them both.
“And it’s revenge for these.” Luca ran his hand through his shaggy hair, which was beginning to show streaks of gray.
“Hey, daddio, I need a milkshake!” Lissa yelled out. “Strawberry, puleasssse!”
Luca cringed when his gaze found his younger daughter. “Lissa, how many times do I have to- Get off the damn table!”
Loni turned around to see Lissa on top of one of the big rounds dancing in the center as one of her favorite boy bands played in the background.
“But this is my jam!” Lissa did a little spin and then jumped down.
“She’s the one who gives you grey hairs,” Loni told Luca with a roll of her eyes.
Manny walked by then with a bus tub, and for a second, their gazes locked. Her lips lifted in a nervous smile, and just as he was about to return it, he walked right into the bar.
“Oof,” Manny grunted.
“Manny, are you okay!?” Loni asked worriedly as she heard her dad stifle a laugh.
“I’m fine,” he looked embarrassed as he quickly ducked back into the kitchen after that.
“No..” Luca watched Manny disappear and then ruffled Loni’s hair. “It’s you.”
“That milkshake isn’t going to make itself!” Lissa sang out.
“Actually, it’s both of you,” Luca muttered as he ducked behind the bar.
Lunch was pretty slow, so Luca let Loni do most of the cooking herself while he helped Kit with the cupcakes in the back of the kitchen.
“You got a little something right here,” she heard her dad say as her mom squealed.
“Luca! Stop! I’ll be washing frosting out of my hair all night!” Kit mock scolded him.
“I can help with that,” Luca said in a low tone, and Loni groaned out loud.
“Your kid is still in here!” She reminded them but they ignored her as her mom giggled at something her dad whispered to her.
“Gross! I’ll go wait for you out front, mom,” Loni said wisely.
They’d probably start making out soon. They were seriously disgusting, but secretly she did love how much her parents adored each other. She dreamed of a love just like that someday.
She headed out front and saw most everyone was gone. Her sister was sitting at a table playing games on her iPad, and one other table remained.
Manny was filling a bus tub with dishes at the bar and looked up when Loni stepped out.
“Hey, uh.. lunch seemed to go good,” he offered. “You’re a good cook like your dad.”
“Yeah? Thanks,” she smiled as she stepped a little closer. That fluttery feeling was back, but at least her heart wasn’t beating out of her chest this time.
“Are you going to be a chef like him someday?”
“Maybe,” Loni said, “but I also love painting.”
“Yeah, I did those,” she gestured to a few of the wall hangings her dad so proudly displayed of her art.
“Whoa! Those are great. You are super talented!” Manny exclaimed.
“They’re okay.” A bashful blush spread over her cheeks. “I prefer painting flowers. I love flowers, especially roses.”
“I’d love to see more of what you painted.”
“Really? Maybe, I could bring my sketchbook in some time.”
“Yeah! You should.”
“So, um. I don’t know if you heard it’s my birthday on Friday,” Loni started, and then her heart begun to race.. her palms were also all sweaty, so she ran them against the side of her jeans.
“I did, Luca said the staff is off that day since it’s here.”
“Would you... I mean, if you want to come, you can.” Loni was pretty sure her face was beet red at this point.
“Sure, I’d love to,” he smiled shyly.
“Great!” She smiled back at him, hoping he didn’t hear how loud her heart was racing “Everyone is coming by around five, I think.”
“Okay, I’ll see you then,” he ran a hand through his dark locks.
Luca coughed from behind them, and Manny nearly jumped a foot.
“Uh, I better back these dishes to the kitchen,” Manny’s eyes shifted from her to Luca, and then he ran off.
“Dad!” Loni complained as she whirled around to face him.
“I don’t recall saying you could date,” Luca raised an eyebrow as Kit stepped out behind him.
“Mom!” Loni looked at Kit for help. “I’m going to be sixteen!”
“Luca. She’s old enough to date,” Kit said, looking amused as she squeezed his shoulder.
“We don’t know a thing about that kid!” Luca complained.
“Just the other day, you told me what a huge help he is here,” Kit pointed out. “I think your exact words were, that Manny is a good kid.”
“That doesn’t mean he gets to date my daughter!”
“Luca...” Kit said warningly.
“It’s not even a date. I invited him to my party. Everyone will be there watching us, I’m sure.” Loni said irritably.
“Between dad, uncle Andre, and your grandpa, that’s a pretty safe bet,” Kit agreed. “Luca, do I need sing, Let it Go?”
“Fine, since we’ll all be there, but no date -dates yet. Not until we sit down and go over the rules,” Luca said sternly.
“Yeah, like no kissing!” Lissa had joined them and started making kissy faces. “Oh, Manny! You’re so cute!”
“Lissa, knock it off!” a mortified Loni exclaimed.
Thankfully Manny was still in the kitchen. Luca and Kit both started cracking up, only infuriating Loni further.
“I’ll be in the car,” Loni huffed as she stormed off.
The door fell shut behind her as Loni walked out the parking lot, she was excited to text Andrea and tell her. Asking Manny to her party was way easier than she’d thought it would be.
So why was her heart still beating like a drum?