At this hopeful hour, the cawing of crows seemed ordinary. All of nature’s creatures sounded calm and eager for the new day. Licorice, our black, green-eyed Manx, had decided to curl up near my pillow. He purred now as I began petting him, and I smiled. There wouldn’t be much time to write this day, but if all went well, I’d be getting a new car.
I sprang out of bed and showered then went to the kitchen. My dad was there in his robe and slippers, making coffee.
“Good morning, Daddy!” I said.
“Good morning!” He smiled before taking notice of my bare feet on the linoleum floor. “It’s cold,” he said. “Put something on your feet. You want coffee?”He was taking cups and plates out of the cabinets, setting them down on the countertops.
“I’m going to look at a car with Joey today,” I said.
He opened the refrigerator and grabbed milk, butter, jelly, and a couple of grapefruits. “Zuza’s coming to eat with us today. What’s the rush?”
“We’ll be back by then,” I assured him.
He went about making toast and setting the table. My mother joined us, and we had breakfast. Moments later, I did my routine check from the dining room window. Phil and Sergio seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. They had conquered as much as they would conquer of me, and it was on to the next mark, the next will to disregard, the next spirit to break.
Farran called. She wanted to know what Gianni said to me the night before, when he walked me to my door. I filled her in.
“I think he’s trying to tell you this is something very different with you and him,” she said. “It’s like a fairy tale prince finding his princess. You’re helping him realize he’s with the wrong girl, but I think he already suspected that. I think he doesn’t want to talk bad about Liz, but from what he said, he’s not sure about her.”
“Nice of you to write this script for him,” I replied, “but he never once said, ‘I will leave Liz.’ Not that it matters. I wouldn’t want him to, but he never said that. I wouldn’t hurt Liz, friend or not, but you keep ignoring the fact that these guys have been around the block a bunch of times, and we haven’t turned a corner. He’s almost seven years older than me!”
“Listen to you!” I could hear her teeth clenching. “You know, you’re good with all the prissy, proper talk, but if you’d stop revolting against everything and everyone for one minute, you’d see a break in the clouds. The heart does not care about numbers! He’s attracted to you in spite of your age not because of it. He’s taking his cues from you, Dani. Give him a break. He has unexpectedly fallen in love with you, and you didn’t give him a shred of hope or encouragement. You could’ve had him. You could’ve had Gianni Bonafacio! Liz would have been history. I guarantee it. I don’t see him flirting and falling for others. He’s serious about you, and I believe he’d take good care of you and protect you with all of his heart. He loves you!”
“He doesn’t know me well enough to love me.”
“You’re crazy, man! You should go for it.”
“Well, I guess I could say the same about you and Tommy.”
“Tommy is a friend.”
“Couldn’t tell by the way you were kissing him.”
“Nuh-uh, you don’t get to do that. We were talking about you and Gianni.” She laughed.
I told her I had to go and went back downstairs.
My mother called from the dining room. “I have something for you,” she said as I entered. She was in a sleeveless top and shorts, holding a dust cloth. She told me to wait. Then she put the rag down and vanished. She returned with one of those Captain Zoom records that would say your name about eight times in a personalized happy birthday song. She played it for me, smiling. Seeing me laugh, she laughed, too, and her little shoulders shook. There were many different sides to this woman, and this side was the one I loved best—the child within who loved silly things. She could laugh to the point of tears at something like this.
“I was going to give it to you Tuesday,” she said, “but since we’re celebrating your birthday today, I couldn’t wait.”
Before long, she was in the kitchen making lasagna, stirring her simmering sauce, and shifting meats that were stewing in the saucepot.
Joey arrived at noon, and we took off on his bike.
The car owner lived on Shady Hill Lane, right off Manchester—a little over a mile from me, except we had gone the wrong way. By the time we arrived, the guy was sitting on his porch with the mechanic I had hired to meet us there. They were having beers.
“Oh, great,” Joey said. “They’re best buds now.”
We both laughed.
“I wish you would have told me about the mechanic,” he said. “I could have had Valentin meet us.”
“Valentin!” My heart raced. “Why? Is he a mechanic?”
“No, but he’s good with cars and bikes. I was at his house yesterday with Nico. I watched Village of the Damned with him. If I knew, I could have asked.”
The car we saw looked great—a light blue ‘83 Nissan Sentra—but I was disappointed with the mechanic’s assessment. Joey told the owner we’d get back to him. The moment we got home, he called Valentin.
“There’s a 300ZX you can look at,” he said after hanging up. “His friend’s selling it, but we have to leave after we eat. The guy’s gonna meet us at the Meadowside Inn in Milford. I got the address.”
My mother had changed into a pretty dress by now. Everyone arrived before two. Zuza brought a batch of Italian cookies wrapped in cellophane, sealed with a red ribbon and bow. Angie gave me a sweetly wrapped gift of purple legwarmers. She blushed and smiled when I gave her an extra tight squeeze. My grandmother fretted that Angie’s hands were cold and said she looked thinner.
“Buon compleanno!” Uncle Dom shouted. He turned to my father. “Ay, goomba!” He held a brown paper bag, which he handed to him—fresh Italian bread he had picked up at the deli. Most Sunday mornings, they went to the Italian deli together to shop for homemade pasta and sliced Italian meats, or they went to the bakery and brought back cannoli with other Italian pastries. Uncle Dom was my father’s paesano. They went fishing, especially during Lent, along the Quinnipiac or Farmington River, or to Crescent Lake in Southington. They also hunted in Enders State Forest with a group of guys they played cards with.
I asked Angie if she’d gotten any sleep, and she shrugged.
“This one doesn’t sleep and eat enough, and my husband doesn’t stop smoking,” Zuza complained. “He had bronchitis again.”
As children, my brothers and I used to say Zuza was beautiful—the pronounced Italian accent, her dark eyes, and the dark hair she wore in a loose wave of curls caressing her shoulders. She was not as tiny as my mother was, but she was small. She was not as stylish or as glamorous, but she was praiseworthy in every regard. These days, she was a rounder version of her younger self with a short, stylish haircut but still lovely. I was beginning to see a resemblance between her and Angie, though Angie looked more like her dad.
I asked Uncle Dom how he was feeling.
“Better than ever,” he assured me with a broad smile. “Thank you for asking.”
My father tried to give him money for the bread, but Uncle Dom cursed him in Italian. My father cursed back. My grandmother said they had fought all the time, even as kids.
When it was time to settle at the table, my father poured the wine and toasted me. Once he said, “Salute,” we all banged glasses, no matter what we were drinking, no matter how awkward our positions were. Everyone wished me a happy birthday again. There was chatter throughout the meal. I encouraged my father to tell us about him and Uncle Dom fighting back in Italy.
“Oh, yeah, he was a big troublemaker,” my father said. “My mother didn’t want him talking to Zuza. He would do magic tricks, and some of the old people in the town believed magic comes from the devil, you know. My mother, she didn’t trust him. As time went on, she was seeing, more and more, he was good. Then, one day, he asked Papa if he could marry Zuza, and both Mama and Papa agreed. They got to love him like a son.”
I’m certain my eyes were as wide as my smile. “What was it like to live in Pozzilli?” I asked.
“It’s beautiful there,” Uncle Dom mused. “On the hills, you see vineyards, olive trees, lakes, the river in the valley, Triverno Stream. You go through the woods, and it’s like a fairy tale. And the mountains after it snowed? You wouldn’t believe it.”
“Mama and Zuza would bake bread all the time,” my father said, “and the whole house filled with the aroma. I tell ya, it was heaven.”
Uncle Dom shifted the focus to me. “How’s the writing?”
This topic appeared to capture Zuza’s interest as well, and both of them seemed pleased to hear I was still hard at work on the novel. Then Zuza asked if I wanted to be a petite model for her dresses. She designed and created formal wear for the dress shop she owned.
My first thought was that it would likely be Saturdays, and my Saturdays were devoted to writing. It would be a disruption not only to my routine but also to the pursuit of my passion.
“Ay, you’re not going to be rich,” she said, “but you’re not going to do it for free, either. I’ll pay you by the hour.”
I knew Angie had modeled for her mother in the past, and it wasn’t a big deal. Still, I hesitated.
“Listen, you can try,” Zuza told me. “If you don’t like to do it, then you tell me.”
I agreed, because it was Zuza.
“Good,” she said. “Stop by after school tomorrow if you can, and I’ll take your measurements.”
Robbie interrupted that conversation when he called to wish me a happy birthday and to say hello to the rest of the family.
My dad protested about Joey and me leaving to go see the car, but Uncle Dom and Aunt Zuza assured us that we could all have dessert later. Angie said she was going home to check on her dog anyway and would be back in time for dessert.
Deadly Veils Book One: Shattering Truths was originally published as Deadly Veils: Book One: Provenance of Bondage copyright © October 2015 by Kyrian Lyndon. The revised edition, Deadly Veils: Book One: Shattering Truths was published in December 2016. Cover design by KH Koehler Design.