The smell of roasting coffee came floating toward Isabella as she descended the stairs. She paused in her movement, a yawn escaping her. The night hadn’t been generous; tossing and turning every other hour.
Then a bang alerted Isabella, making her quickly look up. She looked over her shoulder as she was certain the sound came from the second floor. It was her mother coming out of the guestroom.
‘’Those doors sure are heavy,’’ Donatella spoke when she noticed Isabella at the end of the stairs. ’’Did you sleep well, Tesoro?’’
‘’Like a feather.’’ She plastered a smile on her face. ’’Where is Papà?’’
‘’Sleeping.’’ Donatella huffed. ‘’At first he was reluctant to come here and now look at him. Can’t even force himself out of bed.’’
Isabella laughed lightly. ’’Well, the beds are really soft and comfortable.’’
‘’That they are.’’
Her eyes scanned Donatella’s face, the dark circles visible despite the light layer of make-up. She guessed her mother wasn’t able to get a wink of sleep as well but neither of them admitted it to the other.
They walked to the kitchen and the scent of baked goods hit Isabella as soon as she entered the space. Her gaze instantly went to Giovanni’s mother who pulled a tray of biscuits out of the oven. Water began forming inside her mouth seeing the treats.
Donatella walked past her daughter and lend Celia a helping hand. Their jaws moving rapidly up and down, speaking about yesterday’s incident.
Isabella zoned them out, not wanting to think about it any longer than she had. There were two other men in the room; Giovanni’s brothers. She poured herself a cup of fresh coffee and settled in the chair beside the younger brother. Green eyes planted themselves on the door, hoping to see Giovanni come through it.
‘’Giovanni isn’t here,’’ Raffaele whispered.
Isabella gaped at him. ‘’I wasn’t- I- You can’t just say things like that.’’
Am I that easy to read?
‘’I’d get used to it if I were you.’’ He threw one of his charming smiles.
‘’I don’t think I ever will, Raffaele.’’
‘’You can just call me Raffa.’’ He winked. ‘’I never liked it when people say the whole thing. It’s too long. Raffa is short. Quick to say and easy to remember. I told Dante and Giovanni to call me that but they don’t want to – say that they’re used to Raffaele. The shorter version also has another benefit. Want to know what it is?’’
Isabella nodded in response.
‘’It’s easier for girls to say it during se-‘’
‘’And stop right there!’’ Dante said when his kids entered the kitchen.
Isabella looked round the kitchen and had to hover over the chair. There were a boy and a girl, both barely reaching the countertop. The former had short black hair and the latter chocolate-brown hair. She couldn’t shake off how the boy bore a striking resemblance to Dante, disregarding the iris of the boy.
‘’Good morning!’’ the little girl chimed. ‘’I’m Caterina.’’
Isabella melted at her cuteness. Even though she just met her, the urge to give Caterina a crushing hug was immense.
‘’They’re mine,’’ Dante explained to Isabella.
‘’I didn’t see them during the wedding,’’ she voiced her thoughts.
‘’They were sick.’’
Dante gave his son a soft push. ‘’Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?’’
The black-haired boy held out his hand, a shy blush forming on his cheeks. ‘’Angelo.’’
‘’And I am Isabella.’’ She shook his hand with a warm smile.
Unlike Caterina, Angelo was timid around strangers. It would take some time to get used to the new faces.
‘’And how old are you two?’’
Caterina expressed her age by putting her hand in the air. ‘’Five!’’
‘’Seven,’’ said Angelo in between bites of his breakfast.
’’Is she the one you were talking about, Papà?’’ Caterina asked her father.
‘’Sì, they’ll be staying with us for a while.’’
Caterina gasped. ‘’Are you the one who is going to marry Uncle Giovanni?’’
Isabella choked on her coffee at the question. While Dante tried to contain his laugh, Raffaele didn’t hold back and barked one out.
They are adorable but these kids have no filter whatsoever.
‘’I would pay money for Giovanni to be here right now.’’ Raffaele’s eyes began tearing up. ‘’Then again, I already have a good idea what his answer would be. ’’
Later that day, Isabella sought peace and quiet which wasn’t a challenge considering the mansion’s size. She went to the garden – though calling it a lawn would be more appropriate – to read a book under the shadow of a large tree.
The pages didn’t get to see the light as it got closed again. The sound of someone hiccupping caught her attention. It seemed to be coming from inside the shed. The book was left on the mowed grass and the tree got deserted. Isabella peeked inside the shed, her heart splitting in two at the sight of a crying Angelo. Not being able to leave it alone, she went inside and joined him on the dusty floor.
Angelo lifted his gaze, surprised to see Isabella but no words left his mouth.
‘’What happened?’’ Isabella asked carefully in a soft tone.
‘’It’s Caterina’s birthday in two days. She’s turning six,’’ he mumbled whilst hiccupping. ‘’I can’t finish it in time.’’ Tears pearled down his red cheeks as he pointed at a half-finished dollhouse.
Isabella couldn’t believe her eyes. The detail in the self-made dollhouse was impressive. Hundreds of popsicle sticks and toothpicks had been used by Angelo. She knew right away he truly cherished his sister judging by the time it must have taken to create it.
Isabella gently stroked his back. ‘’And what if I help you?’’
‘’You will?’’ he asked in a hopeful tone to which Isabella hummed a ‘yes’.
‘’Thank you.’’ He gave a shy smile.
The sky had become a darker shade of blue and they were still working hard on Caterina’s birthday present. When the door of the shed swung open, Isabella and Angelo got startled. It was Silvio who had come to pay a visit.
‘’This is where you have been hiding all day,’’ Silvio mused to his grandson. ‘’Your mother is calling you. It’s time for you to go to bed young man.’’
Angelo put up a fight, wanting to continue on his little project.
‘’Isn’t it fine? Look how far you’ve gotten. It’s almost finished.’’ Isabella smiled at Angelo. ‘’I’m sure you will be able to wrap it up tomorrow.’’
Angelo was in deep thought, trying to figure out whether to believe her or not. Finally, he nodded.
‘’Now, hurry up! Your mother is waiting and you need to take a bath. Look how dirty your clothes have gotten.’’ Silvio sighed and his grandson complied, leaving the shed.
Silvio sat on a stool and picked up a handful of popsicle sticks. The old man would take it upon himself to finish the present. He was a doting grandfather and would do anything to make his grandchildren happy.
‘’That boy has been so excited to show this to his sister.’’ Creases near his eyes got revealed as he smiled. ‘’It’s all he seems to talk about these days.’’ He began working on the roof of the miniature house.
‘’I can imagine.’’
‘’Giovanni informed me on the…situation. I hope it hasn’t gotten you all too shaken up.’’
‘’I’m doing better now. Thank you for your concern and for letting my family stay here.’’
‘’Don’t mention it. It’s only natural my son wants to do good for someone he’s with.’’ His blue eyes met her green ones.