“I met Adrian in town today,” I answer instead. “He was kind enough to stop and talk to me, then invite me to dinner.”
I am pointedly reminding Luca that he ignored me earlier. And he gets my point.
And then he smiles about my point.
“Yes, Adrian is good like that. He loves people, women in particular. I would have been surprised and disappointed in him had he not tried to date you. It would have been ever so out of his character.”
And somehow, I feel like I’ve been pushed back into my place, as though Luca is telling me that I’m just one of many. That Adrian simply loves women. Which may or may not be the case and it doesn’t really matter to me.
“He is good company,” I answer simply. “Very friendly.”
“Oh, he is that,” Luca agrees.
He turns the car up onto a drive and passes beneath large gates. The name Chessarae is scrawled in the iron above us and the mansion itself looms on the horizon, rising out of the dark and clouds like something out of a movie. I can’t help but stare because it is magnificent.
“Welcome to my home,” Luca says as he pulls the car up front. He quickly gets out and walks around to open my door. He has impeccable manners. I add that to his list.
Adrian has pulled past us and disappeared around the side of the house. I can only assume that he is putting the car away. Luca leads the way to the front door, where he holds the door open for me and gestures for me to pass.
As I do, as I cross the threshold into his home, I wonder just what exactly I am getting myself into.
Chessarae is magnificent and enormous.
It takes several minutes to wind our way through the front doors and the sparkling, perfectly decorated house before we find ourselves standing in front of Melina Minaldi’s bedroom doors.
Luca is slightly in front of me, Adrian is to my right and we’re all three staring at each other as we listen to the wailing coming from within. It’s horrific and filled with angst; and it causes chills to run up my spine.
I don’t hesitate. I push at the doors, but they won’t open. Luca quickly pulls out a key.
“You keep them locked?” I am surprised by this.
He nods. “We have to.”
He inserts it, turns it and opens the door for me, holding it as I pass.
“Wait,” he tells me. “Let’s see where she is.”
He’s hesitant and that surprises me. Luca is so strong and confident, yet he is leery of his mother? I once again wonder what I’ve gotten myself into as we tread quietly through her rooms, following the sounds of her screams.
We find her perched like a bird on a window sill, staring out over the estate. Her white filmy dressing gown hangs over the ledge and I can see from here that there is a beautiful view of the sea and the moon from where she is sitting. But she isn’t enjoying it. Her face, which is normally lovely I am sure, is twisted at the moment into something unrecognizable as human. I can’t help but suck in my breath at the eeriness of this situation.
Luca hears it and turns to me.
“Are you alright?” he asks. “Would you like to leave?”
And his face is softer in this moment than I have seen it yet. He sounds concerned and even a little bit protective, but then it is gone just as soon as it was there. He politely waits for my answer.
“I’m fine,” I tell him. “This is what I do. Nothing surprises me anymore.”
I approach Melina quietly and calmly. And instead of trying to talk to her, I sit on the opposite side of the window ledge and watch her.
She screams for a few minutes more and then she stops, staring at me.
In her agitation, her eyes are as black as night and I can see where Luca inherited his. Hers are as fathomless as his.
“Who are you?” she asks me. I can hear in her voice that she is lucid, and I can see it in her eyes, as well. She knows exactly what she is doing. So the question remaining is: why is she doing it?
“My name is Evangeline Talbot,” I tell her. “I’m American and I’m here on your beautiful island for the summer. Who are you?”
She looks surprised by my question. I’m sure that she certainly isn’t used to it. Everyone knows the Minaldis on this island. She probably hasn’t had to introduce herself in years and years. But she looks at me squarely in the eye and extends her hand, her chin raised regally in the air.
“I’m Melina Minaldi,” she says gracefully. And I can see that she is proud of that fact. She is proud of who she is. But most importantly, she knows her name. This is an important gauge of her sanity.
“It’s very nice to meet you,” I tell her. “You have absolutely lovely skin, Mrs. Minaldi. Whatever do you use on it?”
As I speak, I slide my fingers along her wrist, along her pulsepoint. I pretend to feel the softness of her skin, but truly I am checking her pulse. It is steady and slow, not erratic and fluttery as I would expect from someone in a psychotic melt-down.
“I use a cream that my mother used,” she tells me. “It’s made from crushed pearls.”
“Well, you can tell,” I answer her. “Your skin is glowing. You don’t look a day over thirty-five.”
“Ha!” she crows. “I’m sixty-four and I’ve earned every line on my face.”
So she knows her age. I’m secretly probing her, trying to gauge how much of reality she is still living in. Someone with advanced dementia doesn’t remember details like their age.
“Well,” I answer. “Your pearl moisturizer must be doing its job. You barely have even one line.”
She sticks her chin higher in the air and I see the light reflected from her eyes. They are slightly glassy, a tell-tale sign of the sedatives that she has taken today. I’m surprised she’s not sound asleep by now.
“My mother always insisted that I get eight hours of sleep per night,” I tell her. “She said if I don’t, I will age well before my time. She says it is the fastest way to get wrinkles.”
Melina looks dismayed and she drops her legs from her curled up position, allowing them to swing from the ledge as she looks at me. She trusts me now that we are sharing beauty secrets. Her body language tells me so.