I walked into the hospital around 8 the next morning with a vase of pink lilies in my hand.
It had taken some convincing for the guys to let me do this by myself, but eventually, they agreed. As long as I checked in with them every 30 minutes. I couldn’t blame them though. Not after what they had gone through when I didn’t come back to the apartment yesterday.
I saw through the window that Nicola was awake and I knocked on her door to announce my presence.
If Colt had been with me I think all suspicion would have been wiped away once he saw the way she looked at me.
It was complete adoration and it brought tears to my eyes.
“How did you sleep?“, I asked as I sat down in the chair next to her.
“I slept well, all things considered”. Her voice was raspy and the finger-shaped bruises on her neck seemed to be the reason.
“I’m sorry I didn’t stay last night”.
“Don’t be silly”, she admonished. “I was unconscious, and you don’t owe me anything. Your note was perfect and I appreciated knowing that you had come to see me”.
There was so much I wanted to know. So many fuzzy answers that I needed her to make clear. “What happened to you?“, I blurted out.
She sighed then, a labored sound. “There’s so much to tell you Emilia”, she whispered as she grabbed my hand. “I will start at the beginning”. She started crying and I knew that this story wasn’t one with a happy ending.
“As you know, Giovanni was my brother. Growing up, our father favored me in every way. I was given the best clothes, sent to the best schools, and afforded the most praise. Gio was always resentful of that and he took it out on me. When we were kids it started as pulled hair or stolen toys. As we got older he became different and the lack of love from my father turned him cruel. On my sixteenth birthday, my father brought me into his office and explained where all of our money and fancy things had come from. Up until that point he had only told me he was a businessman. And I believed him because he was my father and because I was naïve”.
I squeezed her hand in an attempt to encourage her to keep going. She smiled at me before continuing.
“When he told me what he really did for a living. What my whole family did... I felt sick. I told him I wanted no part of it and threatened to go to the police if he didn’t stop. I was such a stupid child back then. I thought that if my father loved me he’d listen. For the first time in my life, I disappointed him and felt what it was like to physically experience his anger. He had never hit me before. I think the shock of it hurt more than the actual slap.
“I ran away that night. I had just been told that my family was a part of the mafia and I thought I was going to be able to hide from them”, she laughed then. A sad and broken sound. “I quickly realized I had nowhere to go and stowed away on a train that was heading north towards Florence. And I met a boy. A beautiful boy with dark, golden hair and hazel eyes. He found me crying in the bathroom and sat with me for the entire train ride. When he asked me if I had a place to stay, I couldn’t answer him. He offered to take me back to his place and let me stay with his family for however long I wanted”.
Tears were streaming down her face now and it broke my heart. “I stayed with him for two weeks. Two weeks of blissful happiness that resulted in you. His name was Emiliano”.
I let his name wash over me, a name that was so similar to mine. “What happened to him?“, I asked. Trying to control my wavering tone.
“My father killed him. He found me one morning before the house had woken up. When Emilio and I came downstairs we found his parents dead. They were tied to the kitchen chairs with their throats cut open. The same chairs we had sat at the evening before and shared the mundane stories of our days. I screamed and screamed when they took Emilio. They took him and tied him up in a chair next to his parents. He didn’t make a sound though. Not until he told me that he loved me before they cut his throat”, her voice broke and she put her head in her hands as sobs racked her body.
“I still see his face when I sleep. In my dreams we are sitting in a field of flowers. In my nightmares he’s tied to that chair”.
“I’m so sorry Mamma”, I said softly as I laid my head on her lap.
She composed herself as best she could before wiping a tear away from my cheek. “After he killed Emiliano, my father took me back home. He kept me hidden away in an unfinished compound of the house as punishment, and when he found out I was pregnant he was overjoyed, much to Gio’s dismay. My father told me that he wanted me to give birth to a girl. One that he could shape into a daughter that wouldn’t disappoint him.
“I knew I couldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t leave you to be brought up in my family. So I started planning. One of the maids that my father employed to look after me was sympathetic to my problem, and she took pity on me. Her name was Diana. She helped me come up with a plan to get you away from that place. The plan was for her to sneak me out of the hospital after I gave birth and the two of us would get on a plane to America to hide.
“The night that I gave birth didn’t go as planned. Neither of us was expecting my father and Gio to accompany us to the hospital. After our second night in the hospital, when I was sure that you were healthy, we made to leave without them knowing. But my father caught us. He tried to take you from my arms but Diana grabbed you before he could and ran out of the room. My father let go of me to chase after her but I couldn’t bear the thought of him catching up to her and taking you back. I grabbed the gun that was at his waist and shot him just as Gio was coming into the room”.
She looked at me then with steel in her eyes. “I wanted to stay with you, my love. I wanted nothing more than to create a better life with you in a different country. But Gio took me back. He tortured me to find out where Diana had taken you and when I didn’t break, he put me right back in that room my father had kept me in. He kept me there for 22 years, Emilia. I was there”, she said with heartbreaking sadness.
“I was there the entire time you were forced to do what I had run away from without even knowing. From time to time, Gio would taunt me with the knowledge that he had found you. I was so desperate to help you that when he came to me and told me I would get to see my daughter again if I helped him, I didn’t care what he wanted me to do. I just knew that I had to find you. He found out you were attending school in New York from one of his contacts and had me pose as your teacher.
“I need you to know that I had no clue who you were. All he told me was that I needed to keep an eye on a girl who had betrayed the family, but I never thought for a second that you could have been my daughter. After everything I had done to keep you safe, I suppose he loved the idea of me unknowingly working against your safety”.
I let out a breath as she finished speaking. It was a lot to take in.
“What happens now?“, I asked her. “What happens to you?“.
She took my hand in hers again. “I don’t know. Now that Gio is dead and you had the Moretti’s all put away I’m free for the first time since I was 16. I could stay teaching as I have found I do enjoy that, even though the circumstances of gaining that position were not ideal. I do know that I want to get to know you more. I want to stay in your life if you’ll have me”, she said cautiously.
“I want that too, Mamma”, I said as I kissed her hand.
“He would have been so proud of you”, she said so quietly I almost thought she was talking to herself.
A sad smile curved her lips. “Your father, my love. He told me once that he wanted a daughter when he got older. I think you would have made him so happy”.
The tears I had been holding back since we started speaking broke out of me all at once, and I let my mother hold me as I mourned a man I had never met.