CHAPTER ELEVEN - THE DEVIL HAS A HEART
I lay in the bath, tears running down my face when there's a knock on the door. Maria walks in and places some clothes on the bench, then collects the blanket from the bench.
“They'll be a little big but will do for now. I'll have a hot tea ready for you when you get out.” She says warmly. I nod and croak out a thank you. Maria leaves and I get out of the bath, drying off with the soft fluffy towels and dressing in the clothes she brought me.
They are miles too big, but they are warm, and right now I'm not fussy. As I go to the bathroom door I hear yelling. Two raised male voices yelling in another language I don't understand. I hesitate at the door, not wanting to go out into an argument.
The yelling stops and I slowly open the door and peak my head out. Maria is walking up the hallway towards me and smiles when she sees me. I relax in her calm presence.
“Good. You're ready. My son and daughter in law are here.” She states. I step out of the bathroom and she wraps an arm around my shoulders and walks me to the kitchen.
As we walk into the kitchen, I see Antonio and a couple in their 50s sitting at the table. I look down to the floor as they look towards me, there gazes burning into me.
Maria ushers me into a seat and I look up to meet Antonio's kind eyes. I look to the woman who eyes me curiously, and then towards the man who is watching me with a stern expression. He doesn't say anything, just reaches into his jacket and pulls out a small handgun, completely illegal in Australia, and places it on the table. Fear runs through me as I look to the gun and back to the man.
“Who are you and what are you doing here? The truth.” His voice is harsh, exuding power and his eyes flick towards the gun when he finished the sentence. I got the message loud and clear.
Maybe it was because of the gun on the table, maybe it was because I was tired and emotional, or maybe it was because I'd never told anyone the entire story before... but I spill my guts. I tell them about the community and my role in it. I tell them about Tommy and running away. I tell them about working the show trail, about Bryan, Judy and Brandon. About running through the bush and jumping in the river.
When I finally finish talking, the four sit in stunned silence. I don't know if they believe me or not, but I am so emotionally and physically exhausted, I don't care at this point. My eyes lock on the mans, he watches me intently for a moment before he speaks.
“You're not lying are you?” he asks, though I know he already knows it’s the truth. I don't look away from his harsh gaze.
“I wish I was...” My voice is a sad whisper and I look down at the table as tears spring to my eyes.
“The community of light? What kind of fucked up name is that?” he says, although I hear a hint of amusement in his voice. I can't help but giggle.
“He must have named it when he was 5.” I joke. The man roars with laughter and I finally relax. I let out another giggle. He slows to a chuckle then sighs.
“So you were Genevieve, then Katie, and now you want to be called Nicola?” he asks, his expression serious. I shrug and nod my head.
“Okay.” He says as he collects the gun off the table and places it back under his jacket. “I'm Rafael, this is my wife Angelina, come with us, we will help you.” I look to Rafael and then over to Maria and Antonio who simply nod their heads. I get the feeling no one usually says no to Rafael. Angelina and Rafael stand and I follow suit. Angelina walks around the table and wraps an arm around my shoulder.
“Come dear, we need to get you away from here, they may still find you.” She says softly. I simply nod and let her usher me out the door.
Before getting in the car, Maria pulls me into a loving hug, then kisses both my cheeks.
“It may have been short, but you made my morning interesting.” She says. I smile at her, overwhelmed by her kindness towards me.
“Thank you Maria.” I say wholeheartedly. Antonio nods towards me and I smile and nod back. I get in the backseat of the car and Rafael drives us away. I watch out the window as the house disappears, wondering what adventure comes next.
I ended up getting sick from my time in the river. I was laid up in bed at Rafael and Angelina's for a week. Their house was a stark contrast to Antonio's and Maria's. While Antonio and Maria's house was a small farmhouse in the middle of an orchard on the outskirts of Leeton, Rafael and Angelina's was a sprawling Italian inspired mansion on a large vineyard just outside of Griffith.
Maria came over from Leeton to look after me. I learned she was a former nurse who insisted that I call her Nonna. I also learned that the mansion I was laid out in, used to belong to her and Antonio. Antonio started the vineyard when he came over from Italy in his early 20s, Maria stayed behind while he established himself and then followed on afterwards. When they retired and Rafael took over the family business, they decided to downgrade to one of the other properties they owned.
I came to understand that not only did they have the vineyard and orchard, they also owned the majority of commercial property in Griffith and Leeton. I had heard from Bryan when we came through Griffith a couple of years ago that this was a mafia town. I'm now wondering if I'm living with the mafia family. Even if I am, they have been nothing but nice to me.
After dropping me and Angelina off at the vineyard, Rafael had caught up to the show trail and spoken to Bryan, Judy and Brandon. He assured them that I was safe and returned with all my belongings and messages of love from the trio. Angelina, seeing the little I owned, went out shopping and returned with bags of clothes and accessories to fill the wardrobe in my allocated room. She was beyond excited about the shopping, and after learning her and Rafael had 5 sons, I can understand why. She also couldn't wait for me to get better so we could go and get my hair and nails done. I honestly think she was starved for female time.
I wasn't alone in the house with Rafael and Angelina. All 5 of their sons still live in the massive home. The two oldest sons, Antonio junior, who went by Tony, and Luca (24 and 22 respectively) were over in Italy on business and would return in a few weeks. Alessandro, Mario and Angelo were at the house. I was briefly introduced but then they were ushered away until I recovered.
At the end of the week, I finally made it out of the bedroom and wandered down the stairs to the kitchen where I could hear Nonna and Angelina talking. As I walked in they both stopped talking and looked towards me, both offering warm smiles.
“You're up! How are you feeling?” Angelina asks. I smile and sit down at the kitchen bench.
“Heaps better, thank you.” I say. Nonna walks around the bench towards me.
“Come, let me check your temperature.” She orders. She places her hands on my cheeks and kisses my forehead making me giggle. It's not exactly an accurate thermometer but she's been checking my fever this way all week. “Very good, back to normal.”
I giggle again and shake my head as she walks back around the bench. I've gotten to know her well the past week, her warmth and kindness makes me wonder about my own grandparents, are they still alive? And who are they?
Angelina places a cup of tea in front of me then joins me on the bench stools.
“Rafael doesn't want you going out just yet, he thinks they may still be looking for you, so I've got a friend coming over later to do our hair, nails and makeup.” I smile at Angelina.
“That's really not necessary, you have all done more than enough already.” I say, completely overwhelmed by their generosity. She places her hand on mine.
“I have 5 sons and no daughter in laws... humour me?” Angelina replies, her eyes twinkling in the sunlight streaming through the floor to ceiling windors.
I smile and nod my head in agreement, unable to say no. I drink my tea and chat with Nonna and Angelina before going upstairs to shower and change.
“So how do you like your hair?” Angelina pops the cork of a bottle of red wine and pours two generous glasses.
“I love it! I've never done anything with my hair before, I don't think I've ever even had it cut.” I say. My long brown hair that reached my hips had been cut to shoulder length. The hairdresser dyed it darker with a hint of red when the sunlight hits it.
“Well at first glance you won't be as obvious now, they'll actually have to look closer to see if it's you.” Angelina states. I nod as I take my glass and follow Angelina over to the couches in the lounge room. I take a seat at one end and curl my legs up under me. We'd spent the day getting our hair and nails done, then Angelina showed me how to do my makeup. I'd never worn it before, and Judy never really offered to show me so I didn't think to learn about it. But the transformation when I put it on made me look completely different. Older and more mature.
“What can I do to help around here? I feel bad taking advantage of your generosity.” I say as guilt claws at me. Angelina waves me off.
“I'm just happy for the female company.” She replies honestly. I smile at Angelina.
“Still, I'd like to help.” I say. She sighs softly then purses her lips in thought.
“Well, you can help me cook.” Angelina offers and I nod.
“Sure. I don't really know how to cook but I can try.” I sat.
“I'd be more than happy to teach you, so would Nonna, us Italians live for cooking.” Angelina says with a proud smile. I giggle at her enthusiasm.
We spend the afternoon talking and drinking wine. At some point Rafael comes in and insists on taking my photo, I have no idea why but I went with it, standing against the white wall and not smiling as instructed.
I help Angelina prepare dinner, learning how to make pasta from scratch as well as the sauce. It was actually a lot of fun as we chatted and drank our wine while chopping vegetables.
Angelina is a lot more polished than Judy, she reminds me of my mothers in the community, but with a warmth to her they never had. I can tell we are going to be good friends.