Part I – Chapter 1
Red String Of Fate
Streaks of the pale crescent moon illuminated the balcony of the Italianate mansion. On it, sat the oldest and only daughter of The Family’s underboss. The detailed iron wrought balcony almost acted as a frame capturing Nina’s allure as she leaned against it. A smile played on her lips as a million chirping crickets greeted her ears and the humid air caressed her olive skin. Everything felt serene and made her fall into a state of daydreaming.
One that she got quickly ripped out of as she felt someone’s hand on her arm. She quickly spun around and was met with the smiling figure that was her brother.
“I knew I’d find you here.”
She shook her head at him and released a gentle laugh. ‘’You have to stop sneaking up on me like that, Giorgio.’’
‘’I’m not doing it on purpose – cross my heart.’’ He grinned. ‘’Just so you know, Mom is looking for you.’’
‘’I know she is.’’
After a light chuckle, Giorgio’s cheerful nature slowly disappeared behind a sombre expression. He had come on their mother’s behalf, believing it would soften the blow if he delivered the card in his hand rather than her.
“Here” – he handed her a decorated card – “it’s your uh- or I guess I don’t have to explain.”
Melancholy writ on Nina’s face as she looked at the wedding card. It looked beautiful. The laser-cut lace pattern was moved to the side, making it possible to read the bride and groom’s name in black ink. She let her fingers softly touch the cotton fiber, wanting to burn it to a cinder.
In the past, Nina always expected she would be married off to someone from her hometown. In that scenario, she would still be close by to the few people she cared about. But after being told she was to marry the future Don of The Chicago Outfit, that idea got quickly shoved out of her head.
“What do you think? I picked it out.” She asked him about the design of the card. It was one of the few things she had a say in.
“I hate it.”
A burst of laughter came out of Nina and when she quieted down, she agreed with him.
Giorgio continued saying, “The Family can do without their help.”
“Giorgio,” she said with a sigh. “You know nothing.”
“Yes, I do,” he mumbled as his brown eyebrows knitted together.
“The Family can’t keep fighting a war on three fronts.” Nina held his arm, giving it a squeeze. “It’s you who is going to be on the front line and if marrying Luciano brings three down to two then I’ll gladly do it.”
“I can try to talk Dad out of it.”
“As if I haven’t tried that already. And what makes you think he will change his mind now?”
“Maybe he’ll listen to me.”
Bitterness crept into her being like poison. “We both know he won’t. He’s incapable of doing that kind of thing,” she said knowing how prideful her father was. Noticing how her breaths had become shorter she told her brother he could find her in the garden.
Nina often sought shelter in her most beloved place in the house whenever she got a reminder of reality. Lately, her mother had been the cause of that. She had been getting more and more urged on to perfect her future duties as an Italian wife. A duty she had managed to escape up until now.
Nina walked under the wooden arches in the garden, the white gardenias surrounding her. A silvery glow kissed the blossomed flowers and made her lightly graze its petals. She took a deep breath in and out. The velvety scent floated throughout the air having a calming effect causing her lips to tip up again.
“There you are, Nina! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” her mother shouted from the upper balcony, sounding exasperated.
“Giorgio already delivered the card.” Nina continued walking the other way, not being able to take her seriously.
Only when she heard the booming sound of her father’s voice slicing through the air, her legs had come to a halt and stood in the middle of the paved path. He had called her name. Nina’s smile faded, a questioning gaze taking its place. She faced the other way and saw her father standing at the end of the tunnel archway.
“Give the girl some space, Evelyn. You’re going to give her a headache like this,” Carlos said to his wife.
Nina headed in her father’s way wondering why he had come to her. As far as she was concerned, she hadn’t broken any of the unwritten rules. Getting in trouble was a foreign concept.
Despite that what she knew, it didn’t stop her usual calm from slipping away. The roaring sound of her heartbeat didn’t settle down and it only seemed to get louder with each footstep.
When the two met in the middle, Nina regarded the expression he wore. If it was an indication for anything, she seemed to have good news waiting for her.
“You’ll get to meet him on Friday.” Carlos lifted his arm toward the paved path, suggesting they would go for a stroll.
Nina was a few steps behind her father as she tried to make sense of his words. Slowly but surely, it dawned upon her who he was referring to. Never before had something like this happened.
He continued saying, “If you’ll be your usual self, everything will go smoothly. You already know but don’t say anything unnecessary.”
His words made her heart sank to the bottom of the cold ocean. Often enough, he would lightly throw around these kinds of remarks.
Nina made fists out of her hands. “Like my opinion on this arrangement?”
Carlos threw his head back in laughter. “Exactly. I don’t think those men in Chicago would know what to do with a woman with a brain.”
Neither do you.
“Is there really no one else who can marry him?” her voice cracking under pressure. This was her last chance to try and change her father’s mind. Her last chance to change her sealed fate.
Carlos came to a stop and looked over his shoulder before fully turning around. The hard set of his jaw told Nina she was in a losing battle. “Are you still going on about that?” his voice was stern, leaving no place for any further disagreement.
“Of course, I am! How can you expect me t-” Nina was cut off by the sudden force on her cheek.
Nina was taken aback by her father’s action. In comparison to her little brother, she could still count the number of times he had hit her on her fingers. Carlos was usually more lenient toward his daughter than his son, but on this particular day, he wasn’t. He was finally so close to getting what he wanted.
‘’I will hear no more. You will do as you are supposed to. You’re no exception to the rules in our world.’’
Nina held her hand against the red cheek as she watched her father step closer to give a hug. She rested her stinging cheek against his shoulder. It didn’t come as a surprise, he often embraced her right after hitting her. Nina never knew whether he did it because he regretted hitting her in the first place or if this was his way of consoling her.
“You’re strong, Nina. I know you can do this for The Family.”
“Don’t.” The amount of pressure Carlos put on his teeth caused one to believed they would crack and pulverize. “No matter how many times we have this conversation, it always ends the same way.”
“Is there anything else you wanted to tell me?”
Her obedient tone led him to relax his body. Carlos let go of her, took a step back and stroked his daughter’s dark-brown hair. “Tell your mother so she’ll know to buy ingredients for dinner. It’s not just Luciano who’ll be coming. Their consigliere is also coming. Everything has to be top-notch.”
Nina only nodded, left the garden and set foot in the house. Only when she was engulfed by the shadows in the hallway, she let a few stray tears fall. Nina wiped them off with the fabric of her long sleeves. She quickly looked up when she saw a shadow nearing her.
“You look a little down. Is it because of the card?” Giorgio said.
Nina shook her head dismissively and asked where their mother was.
“In the kitchen. She said she had something in the oven.”
Nina made her way down the hall toward the kitchen and found her mother humming happily to a song playing on the radio. She never seemed to take notice of everything happening around her – unless it was something scandalous.
“Papà wants you to go to the French Market,” she said, making her mother place the folded dishtowel on the counter beside her. “Luciano and someone else are coming over on Friday.”
Her mother gasped. Nina couldn’t make out if she was happy or shocked hearing the news. On one hand, her mother had little to no time to prepare everything and on the other, this meant her daughter would finally get an engagement ring. The agreement between the Sciacca and the Gallucci family would be official at last. Nina was well aware of how her mother cared about the opinions of other people in their circles. To finally have her only daughter be engaged was an affair of huge significance. An unmarried daughter would be no good.
“You don’t have to worry about anything, Nina. I’ll make sure everything is perfect!”
Nina didn’t say anything in return and instead climbed the stairs. She leaned against her bedroom door and slid to the floor. A strange sense of calm washing over her as she stared at the floor.
Deep down, Nina believed her father was right. This was the world they lived in and she was no exception. This was their normal. She would have to do her part just like those who came before her.