Marionette nods, her wrinkles crinkling around smiling blue eyes.
“Oui,” she nods. “My husband worked for Dante’s grandfather. That is how long my Darius has been with the Giliberti’s. Me and him, we’re like family.” She reaches a tiny arm around Dante’s shoulders and squeezes him. “I knew his grandmere before she died.” With this last statement, Marionette makes the sign of the cross on her chest. “May she rest in peace, God bless her kind soul.”
“Also, you should know that Marionette knows fluent English,” Dante tells me. “She may pretend not to from time to time, but don’t let her fool you.”
Marionette slaps at his arm and she looks so funny because she’s so small and Dante is so big.
“You are not too big for me to beat, Mr. Giliberti,” she tells him. “But tell me, who is this pretty girl that you are showing off for?”
“Where are my manners? I’m sorry, Mami. This is Reece Ellis. She will be working for Giliberti Olives for the summer. Reece, this is Marionette Papou. She runs this entire estate with a steel fist. Don’t cross her. She’s as mean as they get.”
She slaps at him again and I have to laugh. She’s ancient and tiny and adorable. And it’s clear that she loves Dante. And he loves her too. Does Mami mean mom in French? I’m so clueless. But I decide that it is safe to assume. He must be very close with her. I make a mental note.
They show me the rest of the main floor and it is apparent that they are both very proud of Giliberti House. As well they should be. It’s beautiful. And perfect. Just like its owner. Well, owner-to-be. I’m assuming that it will all be Dante’s someday. After the tour, Marionette leaves to get us fresh lemonade. And I stand still, soaking in the atmosphere here. It is truly peaceful and refreshing.
It’s beautiful and silent.
Dante is standing directly inside huge double glass doors leading out to one of the numerous porches. The sun shines onto him, illuminating him with golden, brilliant light. As he turns to smile at me, with his broad shoulders and slip hips, he truly seems otherworldly. He’s just that beautiful. And suddenly, I feel speechless and tongue-tied again. This all seems so unreal again.
You don’t belong here, a tiny voice whispers in my head.
Shut the hell up, I silently whisper to my stupid inner voice. What do you know anyway?
“What do you think?” Dante asks, walking to my side. I can’t help but stare at him as a million thoughts speed through my head.
“It’s lovely. Absolutely lovely. I never want to leave here. And I can’t believe you do! If I were you, I’d stay here all of the time.”
He grins ruefully. “I’d like to, to be honest. Should I tell you a secret?”
He steps closer to me and talks even quieter, low and husky in my ear.
“I feel my mom here,” he says. “I feel her all around me. She decorated many of the rooms and my dad hasn’t changed them. It’s one of the reasons that I love being here so much, because I know that she is here, too.”
I look at him and my insides melt. How could anyone’s insides stay intact after hearing someone say such a sweet thing? It’s impossible. I’ve heard other girls complain that their boyfriends are Mama’s Boys and how annoying it can be. But this boy, this beautiful boy, never had a chance to be a mama’s boy. It breaks my heart.
And this time, I do reach up and brush the hair out of his eyes. He leans into my hand and his face is cool under my fingers. I can feel the slight stubble on his cheekbone and the flutter of his eyelashes as he closes his eyes.
I want to kiss him.
I want him to kiss me.
But his impossibly blue eyes pop open.
“Hey, would you like to stay here instead of the Old Palace?” he asks, excitement apparent on his face. He’s animated now, energetic. Hopeful. “We’d have to drive out here every day anyway.”
He looks at me and there’s no way I could ever say no.
“Of course,” I tell him. “I’d love to stay here. Who wouldn’t?”
Dante grins happily and reaches for a nearby cordless phone handset. He calls his father and asks for permission and while he is talking, I wander around the large room looking at the various wall-hangings and paintings. Two minutes later, Dante is by my elbow.
“My father approves,” he tells me. “We’ll stay here for the summer. It will be perfectly respectable, I promise,” he says. “Darius and Marionette sleep here in the house, so we won’t be alone.”
That was the furthest worry from my mind.
In fact, as he leads me upstairs to show me the bedrooms, I’m silently hoping that mine is close to his. And then I feel scandalous for thinking such a thing, but it’s the truth. I want to know that he is sleeping somewhere close to me. I just like the thought, the idea, that his bed is close to mine.
It seems so intimate.
He leads me down a wide hallway with portraits of Giliberti ancestors hanging on each side. They all seem to frown at me, like they know that I am thinking impure thoughts about their descendent.
And I am.
As we continue down the hall, I feel like there are a hundred pairs of eyes staring a hole between my shoulder blades. I glance behind me and there are a hundred pairs of painted eyes.
And they all seem to be looking at me.
Because they are.
“I should probably mention, there isn’t much cell reception out here,” Dante says apologetically. “Do you still want to stay?”
Again, there’s no way that I can tell him no. Not when the idea of staying here makes him so happy. And honestly, not having cell reception isn’t that much of a deal breaker anyway. Becca and I are fighting, so I won’t need to text anyone two times a minute.
“Of course I do,” I assure him. “There’s a house phone. And there’s a wireless connection for internet, right?” He nods. “So, I’ll be fine. As long as I can email my parents so they don’t worry.”
“I think you’re going to love it here,” he tells me knowingly.