Act of Necessity
Chapter 6: Happy New Year
Copyright© 2014 by Coaster2
Darlene became a permanent house guest. At first, Francesca and I found it awkward because we felt it took away our privacy and our intimate moments. Darlene and Francesca had a conversation that I was not privy to and apparently they made some unilateral decisions. We were to feel free to be ourselves around the house and not worry about Darlene. She wouldn't be offended if once in a while she might become aware we were making love. It took a little getting used to, but we eventually stopped worrying about it and treated the situation as normal.
Darlene found a job early in December as holiday sales relief at a women's clothing store in Oakridge Center. She'd done this before and enjoyed it. She was grateful for the opportunity and was hoping that the experience might lead to a permanent position. At least she'd have something on her résumé to indicate experience and possibly even a letter of recommendation.
Her whole demeanor had changed since her arrival. She was more optimistic and upbeat. We had forgotten our combative past and had become friends. She was now a regular invited guest on Sunday at the Mariani home as well. She and Melanie and Carolyn were all of a similar age and got along very well.
She had taken her first cheque and consulted a lawyer that Eduardo recommended. She was intent on filing for divorce from Robert Shelton. Apparently, the lawyer thought it would be relatively straightforward since he had an encounter with the police when he struck and injured her. I don't think she was happy about the process, but knew it was necessary. It would be one more thing she could cease to worry about.
Darlene and I had never had a Christmas quite like the one we celebrated at the Mariani home. If the Sunday dinners were boisterous, then I was at a loss for words to describe Christmas day. It was more like a festival that lasted all day. Mama Rosina was up before anyone, getting the breakfast ready and preparing some of the food for later in the day.
Darlene and I arrived just before nine o'clock and, as usual, Mikey was first to the door. He looked so cute in his nice white dress shirt, gray vest, red and green bowtie, and black slacks. Each of the three older children were dressed in their "Sunday best," as apparently was the tradition. The women all wore dresses and the men, me included, had dress shirts and pressed slacks. Pietro was handing out holly shaped bowties to each of us. The little red berries in the middle gave us all a very Christmassy look.
I know this wasn't anything like a traditional Italian Christmas, but according to Eduardo, to mangle an old saying, "When in Canada, do as the Canadians do." It was fun and festive. I had a box of gifts with me, something for everyone. Darlene had some gifts as well. I had something special for Francesca, but that was for later.
By one o'clock in the afternoon, the children were almost worn out. They couldn't make up their minds which toy to play with and pretty soon, it was no trouble at all to get them into the TV room to watch some of their new video tapes. The two babies had long since been fed and put down in the one of the bedrooms. The rest of the adults had either moved to the kitchen to help Mama with the big dinner preparation or retired to the billiard room to relax and await the next gathering.
We were lucky and it was a Christmas day of watery sun and 50° temperature. I was feeling a bit sluggish, so I invited Francesca, Giovanni and Samantha to go for a walk in the neighbourhood. They agreed provided the ladies could be back in time to prepare some of the food for the main meal. Gio and Sam were the closest in age to Francesca and me. We seemed to have a lot in common and more than once had double dated.
"Not long now until you're off to Italy," I said to Samantha as we strolled down the tree-lined street.
"Yes. I'm really looking forward to it. I've seen pictures of the family home and vineyard. It's a very beautiful place and it's near a lovely lake, too. I'll miss the family, though. Did Papa tell you that you were invited too?"
"Yes," I said. "I was absolutely floored. I didn't expect that, but I will certainly be there."
"The whole family, including yours, will be there for your wedding in May," Francesca reminded Sam.
"It seems like a long way away, but it really isn't is it? Only five months."
"Have you decided on where you will go on your honeymoon?" I asked.
"No ... but Papa has," Gio laughed. "I've got a pretty good idea, though."
"Okay, spill it," I challenged with a grin.
"A cruise. Perhaps to Barcelona, or to the Greek Islands. I saw some brochures one day, that's why I'm thinking it's what they have in mind."
"Oh, Sam, that would be so romantic," Francesca gushed. "Did you hear that, Dal? When we get married, I want to go on a cruise for our honeymoon."
She caught me completely flat-footed with her "when we get married" comment. It seemed to come from ordinary conversation with no thought that it was going to rock me. I tried to conceal my surprise, but failed. After all, I was the one who gave her a promise ring as a special Christmas gift.
"Look at his face, Francesca," Sam pointed in merriment. "He looks like he's been shot."
Sam giggled and poked Francesca in the arm. "You really got him with that one," she said, continuing to have fun at my expense.
I'm sure I was red-faced, but I tried to keep my composure and continue walking as if nothing had happened. It was a hopeless task. Francesca wrapped her arm around mine and leaned into me.
"Don't look so surprised," she said. "You know how I feel. I know how you feel. I'm convinced it's going to happen. Maybe not this year, but soon," she said with a tone of finality.
"Looks like you and I are going to be members of the same club, Dal," Gio said, shaking his head. "Hooked and landed, with no chance of escape."
I continued to hold my peace, knowing that Gio was right. As I thought about it, I wasn't upset or in denial. I had already learned to accept it.
"I have a date for New Year's Eve, Dal," Darlene announced two days after Christmas.
"You do? Great. Who's the lucky guy?"
"He's the brother of one of the girls who work at the shop. He drives her to and from work. I met him a few weeks ago and we've been talking off and on. He's a nice guy, single, about my age. We're going to double date with his sister and her boyfriend."
"Hey, that's great. It's good to see you getting out. Where are you going?"
"Don't laugh, but it's a dinner dance at the Norwegian Hall."
"Well, that makes perfect sense for a Larson," I smiled.
"I thought so too. His name is Harald Christensen. He's a school teacher at a private school on South Granville."
"Sounds like a good, solid citizen. Good luck, Darlene. I hope you have a good time."
"Thanks, Dal. I owe a lot of my good luck to you. Did I tell you that my divorce is going through uncontested?"
"No ... that must be a relief."
"It is. Another episode in my forgettable past to put behind me."
"Sounds like the future looks a lot brighter for you." I was happy for Darlene and happier still that we had reconciled our differences. I'm sure my renewed sense of family had a lot to do with that.
Since Giovanni and Samantha would be leaving for Italy in a few days, we decided to double date at New Year's. We were going to the Italian Cultural Center for their annual party and I was looking forward to it. Gio said it would be a real mix of old and young and I wouldn't feel out of place. We chose to take a cab, and made reservations to guarantee we would have one when wanted later that night.
I was prepared for the party, thanks to Gio. It was loud with voices and music, everyone seemingly circulating and greeting everyone else. Francesca was my guide and she tried to introduce me to as many people as she could, but I soon lost track of names and who the people were in her family's world. I did see Carl Villano and his wife, Nicola, and we stopped and chatted as best we could over the din in the crowded hall.
I felt rather than heard Francesca tense up as we moved around the hall. I looked at her and saw a frown with perhaps a worried expression.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"It's nothing. Just someone I want to avoid," she said, trying to lead me away from where we were.
"Who is it? Why would you want to avoid them?"
"It's someone I know. A guy who wanted to date me. I don't want anything to do with him."
"Is this the guy that gave you the hard time ... got physical with you?" I asked, looking around but seeing no one in particular.
She nodded. "Yes. I want to avoid him, please," she said again, pulling me toward the other side of the room. I followed her gladly, not wanting her to be upset and understanding why she would want to escape him. But it wasn't to be.
"Francesca!" I heard over the noise. I turned as saw a stocky young man working his way toward us. His tie was askew and he showed signs of not being very steady on his feet.
"There you are, Francesca. I've been looking for you. It's time for you to dance with me. Come!" he demanded, grabbing her arm.
"No! Aldo, let me go," she said as he attempted to drag her away.
"Stop that!" I demanded. "She doesn't want to go with you. She's had one bad experience with you, so take the hint and leave," I said.
"Who are you, asshole? Francesca is my girl, not yours. She's coming with me."
"No she's not," I said, standing my ground. I had a good look at him and could see immediately I was overmatched. He was about five-ten, but easily two hundred pounds and looked very muscular.
I didn't want this to deteriorate any further, but I wasn't going to stand by and just let him take her away. On top of that, Francesca had no intention of going with him. To make her point, she kicked him in the shins ... hard.
"Ow! Cut that out. You're coming with me and that's final!" he said with a slurred but belligerent tone.
"No, she's not," I repeated.
We were developing an audience and just about the time I thought things might get physical, Gio and a couple of other men got between me and this Aldo guy and separated us and Francesca. He must have got the message, but wasn't giving up just yet.
"This isn't over, asshole," he sneered at me before walking unsteadily away.
"I'm sorry, Francesca, did he hurt you?"
"No, not really. He's drunk ... as usual. He's got it in his head we are destined to be together. I don't want anything to do with him, but he's not getting the message."
"Do you want to go?" I asked, worried that her evening had been spoiled.
"No ... I'll be alright. You and Gio are here to protect me," she smiled, giving me a nice kiss.
I felt good about that. I might not have felt so good if Aldo whoever decided to get physical with me. He was built like a fire hydrant and I suspect was used to getting into scraps. I wasn't and didn't intend to begin either.
Aldo stayed away for the balance of the evening and Francesca returned to her happy and carefree self quite quickly. I kept an eye out for the belligerent bully, but he kept his distance. Anytime I saw him he had a beer in his hand. When midnight came, we all indulged in the countdown and I kissed my girlfriend soundly to celebrate the arrival of 1984. We stayed for only a few minutes more before our taxi was scheduled to arrive. The four of us got our coats and moved to the entrance to await our ride.
The van pulled up outside the building, twenty yards or so from the entrance and the four of us moved toward it. As we began walking, I felt Francesca being yanked from my grasp. I turned as saw the cause. Once more, Aldo had grabbed her arm and was pulling her away from me.
"Help, Dal, Gio," she screamed.
I moved to rescue her and never saw the person that grabbed me from behind and held me. I looked to Gio and he was being restrained as well. I kicked back with my heel, trying to hit the guy's shin and only managed a glancing blow. In the meantime, Aldo had pushed Francesca to the ground and had stalked toward me. I had no chance to duck the blow from his ham-sized fist.