Downstairs, Giacomo stood under the porch light’s glow sipping a tumbler of red wine. Moths circled his head like planes backed up at LaGuardia. My mother sat at the kitchen table, eyes closed, holding a package of frozen corn to her head. Next to her were the fragrant gardenias in a glass vase. My father paced between his wife and father as if unsure whether either could be trusted on their own recognizance.
The moment we hit the hallway, he stopped and came toward us. Thinking to head him off, I moved in front of Malcolm.
He didn’t even look at me. “We’re very sorry Mr. Malcolm—”
Malcolm held up his hand. “We’ll sort it out in the morning. Is your wife all right?”
“I’m fine,” she said from the kitchen. “If you knew how many times Adrian’s clocked me in the head with his elbow during practice, you wouldn’t be worried.”
Not exactly. I’d be more worried. If only because my mother used the term clocked.
My father winced. He stared at my mother, but she didn’t open her eyes. He glanced over his shoulder to where Giacomo still stood just outside the screen door, his back to us, the half-empty tumbler dangling from his fingertips.
Dad’s voice hushed. “It’s just that Giacomo needed our help. We were ready to come home anyway, and we hadn’t seen Vi in so long…”
Malcolm sucked in a deep breath, but before he could say anything to stop this sudden torrent of information, I pinched his butt. We might not find out why I was named Viola tonight, but Dad looked desperate to spill, and I wanted to hear what he had to say. Even if it was nearly three in the morning.
Malcolm’s free hand grazed his scalp again, and a memory flashed in my brain of Aunt Trudy threatening to snatch me or Penny bald if we didn’t do what she wanted. This triggered a brief pang of homesickness at odds with my desire to stay at Winterlight. If I were a sailboat, I’d be rudderless in high seas. Then, Malcolm gave my hip a squeeze to let me know he understood. That anchored me.
He pivoted and walked toward the living room at the back of the house, and, most likely, his stash of single malt Scotch. I grabbed my father’s wrist and dragged him after us. We passed the wide office doorway, a room that originally was for dining. The gun safe hung open, again. What compelled Giacomo to lie to me and pick the lock—twice—to keep a weapon close?
Dad started to lower himself into Malcolm’s leather recliner but I shook my head and pointed to the matching couch. He sat slowly, as if second guessing his decision to follow me, and I plopped next to him. Meanwhile, Malcolm poured about an inch of amber liquid into his favorite cut crystal glass. After a moment, he added another half inch and got down a second glass to pour an equal amount in it. He handed one to me, and I passed it to my dad. My head needed to remain clear.
“Let’s start with Giacomo,” Malcolm said after sitting on the edge of his recliner. It tipped forward with a squeak. “Why did he need your help?”
My father studied his hands where they rested on his thighs. “He wasn’t completely clear on that. He only said he needed to get out of Florida right away.”
“Wait,” I said. “How did he even know how to find you if you were given up for adoption as a baby?”
He reached over and took my hand. His was cool and smooth against my callouses “That’s a good question, Vi, and I still have a lot of my own.” He sighed. “When he first called, I didn’t believe him. I wanted to, but I never trust anything that sounds too good to be true. He knew details about the orphanage and the exact date I was left that no one else could know.” He lifted his eyes to mine. “I admit I was thrilled by the prospect of being reunited with my father.”
“So you just believed him?” I wasn’t sure the details Giacomo knew couldn’t be had for the right price. “He could be anyone. He knows how to pick locks.” Could my parents really be this gullible?
He chuckled. “You have your mother’s skepticism. Gemma insisted on a paternity test. It was positive.”
“You do look like him,” I said.
Malcolm took a fortifying swallow of Scotch, and I longed for a shot of whipped cream. But getting it would require leaving, and I didn’t want to miss a word.
“So,” Malcolm said, “you dropped what by all accounts was a very successful dancing career and rushed to Giacomo’s rescue. Even though you don’t really know what kind of trouble he’s in? And you brought him here?”
Uh oh. Maybe we should have left this till the morning.
Dad sipped his drink and looked across the room to Malcolm. The two men assessed each other over the fumes of their liquor. I would have pegged my father for a wine drinker, but the strong peaty flavor didn’t appear to faze him.
“We’re broke,” he said with a shrug. “The career hasn’t been all that successful for a while. It was time for a change. In case Viola didn’t mention it, most of the luggage we arrived with was empty.”
“I hadn’t gotten that far,” I said.
“We needed a place to regroup,” he continued. “Frankly, we had nowhere else to go. Giacomo was adamant about not returning to New York, so here we are.”
“You could have called first,” I said.
“We could have—”
I fixed him with a glare to deflect my guilt at not calling Malcolm when they arrived. Having this trait in common wasn’t exactly something to celebrate.
“We should have, you’re right. It was your mother’s idea. She thought it best to not give you warning.”
He put the crystal glass to his lips, tipped back an unhealthy swig, coughed, and wiped his mouth.
“I find it best not to argue with her,” he said.
I exhaled forcefully and gave Malcolm a helpless look.
Dad brought my attention back to him. “What would you have said if we had called?”
I answered that without hesitation. “No.”
“Exactly. She was right.”
“Can you parse the particulars later?” Malcolm asked. “I’m more concerned with whatever kind of trouble Giacomo’s in.”
On cue, Giacomo appeared in the living room doorway.
“Someone’s after me,” he said with no trace of accent. “And he wants me dead.”
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