Lovino waited for his father to laugh and tell him to stop being ridiculous, that it was impossible to fall in love with someone he had just met. He waited for his father to tell him exactly what he wanted to hear. Instead, his father began to tear up.
“Il mio bambino, he is finally growing up!” Romulus set the bowl aside and pulled his son to him. Lovino grumbled but made no other move to escape his father's embrace. “I am so happy!”
“I only said I might be,” Lovino finally said as his father let him go. “But she is so beautiful. And so nice! And--” He cut himself off, blushing.
“That is exactly how I felt when I first met your mamma. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever met. And she was so nice! I asked her to marry me on the second date, but of course she said no. So I…. Mhmm. And then we…. Oh, yes…. And…. mmhmm, then….”
Lovino fell silent. There was an odd feeling forming in his gut as he allowed his father to continue his silent reverie before coming back to reality. Once he had returned to the present Lovino began to speak. “What did you do?”
“What do you mean?” Romulus looked at his son before reaching out and brushing a stray lock of hair away from his face. Lovino waved his hand away and set his usual scowl back on his face, secretly pleased with the gentle touch.
“What did you do to make her fall in love with you, too?”
“I did not have to do a thing! She fell in love with my charm and good looks, obviously.” He flashed a large smile and laughed. “But there is nothing to worry about. Papa will teach you all about wooing a woman.”
“Can I have that gelato, now?”
An hour and a half later Lovino’s head was spinning with everything his father knew about attracting and keeping a woman: Compliment her often, take note of the things she does, surprise her with gift that are unique to her interests. Do not take no for an answer when she says she doesn’t want to smile. Take an interest in her interests and her family. Don’t be afraid to flirt, no matter how long you had been together. “But the most important part of all? Make sure you work your Vargas charm.”
Lovino was sure that for him it was going to take much more than good looks and charm, neither of which he suspected he had. As soon as he was alone again he located his cellphone and checked for any missed calls or messages. Nothing. Throwing the device back to the foot of the bed he snatched up the previously discarded plush and pressed it to his face.
“Vargas charm,” he muttered. It had made sense when his father said it, but coming from his own mouth it sounded ridiculous. Anger and resentment began to rise in the pit of his stomach again. Tossing the toy aside, he decided it was time to tell his father just what he thought of the Vargas charm.
Lovino found his father sitting at the foot of his bed, only half dressed to turn in for the night. The closet door was hanging open and there was a large box on the floor. Romulus was looking at something in his lap, his head down. Lovino hesitated in the doorway, feeling like an intruder. He was ready to retreat to his room when he saw his father wipe a tear off his face.
“What are you crying about?”
Romulus opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Instead he blinked and wiped off the tear that began to roll down his cheek. He gestured for his son to come forward and sit. In his hands was a framed photograph that Lovino hadn’t seen in years.
The photo showed a much younger Romulus with his arm around a beautiful young woman, both of them holding out a glass in a toast towards the camera. She was looking away from the camera, to the Italian man beside her with so much love it hurt. But Lovino didn’t need to see her face to know who she was.
“Mamma.” A lump formed in his throat and tears stung his eyes. He blinked rapidly and looked away. “Why….”
“The way you talked about ___ earlier…. It reminded me of your mother. How I used to talk about her.” Romulus fell unusually silent, still gazing at his late wife’s picture. “I wasn’t much older than you when we married.”
“You just got lucky,” Lovino said, not sure if he even believed himself.
“Are you afraid to fall in love, Romano?”
“No! I just do not believe it is possible to fall in love that quick.”
Lovino was still staring at the picture, not really listening to his father. It had been seven years since he had seen the photograph. It had remained on the mantel piece in Italy for two years after her death, then it just disappeared.
“I was asking you if you wanted it.” Romulus held the frame out to his son with a shaking hand. Lovino took it and nodded.
“Di niente, Romano.”
“Di niente,” Romulus had said. “No problem.” Handing over a picture of a woman he had loved for longer than any of his sons had been alive had been “no problem”.
Lovino grew angry again. He was angry at his father for acting like his mother, the first woman any of the boys had loved, meant nothing to him. He was angry at his brothers for always getting the best of everything. And he was angry at himself for believing that he could really love and be loved. Looking at his mother's smiling face he felt his anger die down just enough for a feeling of emptiness to kick in. Swallowing back the lump that formed in his throat he set the picture face down on his nightstand and readied himself for bed.
Right before he began to drift off he set the frame back upright and looked at his mother's picture one last time.
Lovino woke up after eight the next morning to what sounded like someone trying to break down his door. His head was pounding and his eyes were sensitive to the early morning light that was pouring in. For a brief moment he wondered if he had broken into his father’s wine stash in his sleep before realizing it was just the remains of a migraine brought on by a pitiful night's sleep.
“Alright, dammit!” Shoving the blankets off he began a quick search for his pants, grateful the knocking had stopped. After pulling them on he unlocked the bedroom door and jerked it open. His father stood on the other side, still in his pajamas with his chocolate brown locks uncombed and his face sporting what was close to a full beard.
“You need to go see ___! The second moving van just arrived and this would be a great time to--”
“I am not interested in what you have to say!” Lovino snapped, attempting to slam the door in his father’s face. Romulus caught it before it could close.
“What do you mean you are not interested? I am only trying to help--”
“Oh, it all comes so easily to you, does it?” His anger was returning nearly ten-fold. He bit back bitter tears and continued. “You can have any girl you want which it is ‘Di niente’ to give away the only picture you have of her!”
“Only picture I….” Realization spread across Romulus’s face like the dawn. Slowly at first, then all at once. “Is that what you are so angry about? I just thought you would like to have her picture! I had no problem giving it to you because I know you will keep it where you can see it! I did not mean that I no longer wanted it.”
"Then--! But I--! I….” He couldn’t make a single comprehensive thought. It all made too much sense. His father had always said that things of beauty had no right being shut away from the world any longer than it needed to be. That went double for pictures and photographs of friends and family.
“Do you see it now, Romano?”
“I guess I do.” He turned from the door, crossing his arms over his chest stubbornly. “But I am still not going over there!”
“Why not? This is the perfect time to--”
“Do you not understand? I do not have the same charm as you or my stupid brothers!”
“Well certainly not with that attitude!”
“It is the only attitude I have!”
“Romano, come on! All you need to do it flirt a little! You are a Vargas! It comes natural to all of us!”
“Why are you trying so hard with me? Is it because you want me to get married and leave you alone with your other sons?”
“Oh, Romano, you know I love you all the same! Even if you are a dick every now and then!” Lovino turned his head towards his father and glared. Romulus laughed nervously and shrugged. “Well you are.”
“So that is what it is. You want me to leave.”
“You know that all of you are welcome to live with me for as long as you like! And when you get married and have your own families, you can keep on living with me for as long as you all want!”
Lovino finally turned all the way around, facing his father again. “Then why do you keep trying so hard with me? Why not them?”
“Because they are not in love.”
Lovino tugged on the collar of the old, yet fashionable, tee-shirt nervously as he stood outside the front door of ___’s home. His father told him the moving van had left fifteen minutes before he’d arrived so he was too late to help with the furniture, but he was sure there was something he could help with. He was just raising a shaky hand to ring the bell when the door opened.
“Lovino! Hi! I was just about to come and see you!”
“Y-you were?” He felt a blush rising to his cheeks as a small smile crept onto his lips.
“Yeah, I was going to give you guys back your dish.” She held out the glass dish his father had brought her the fudge in. “I was always taught not to return an empty dish but I haven’t been able to hit the store yet so I was also going to invite you all over for some pizza later.”
When he realized that she hadn’t meant she would be coming over for him specifically he felt his heart fall a little. “Oh, I see.”
“You don’t like pizza?” ___ before gasping. “Was that racist? Oh my-- I just know that there was a really good delivery place down the street that makes really good pizzas that aren’t too expensive!” She reached out with the hand that wasn’t still holding the glass dish and touched his arm lightly. “I’m sorry!”
Lovino felt an electric spark where her fingers touched his skin and the smile returned just a little bit.
“It is just that I am not a fan of delivery. And why not come over to our place for dinner instead? We can show you a real home cooked Italian cuisine.”
“That sounds nice,” ___ answered with a small blush. “Uhm… do you want to come in? It’s kind of a bigger mess than before but I should have an old friend coming over soon to help.” She waved the dish about as she spoke, looking over Lovino’s shoulder towards the street.
“Actually I was going to see if you wanted some help unpacking.”
“Really?” ___’s entire face lit up as she smiled at him. “It would be great if I at least got my kitchen all set up. Then I can have you over for dinner sometime!”
Forty-five minutes and two boxes later the pots and pans were in place and the silverware was accounted for. ___, who was pleased with their progress so far, allowed herself to fall back from her seated position on the floor to a spread-eagle one and gazed up at the ceiling. “So, you’re from Italy?”
Lovino had seated himself in one of the chairs at the crowded table when he was sorting out the cutlery and couldn’t be bothered to move. “Si. We moved here two years after my mother died.”
“What happened?” ___ twisted her head about until she was looking at him. Instead of answering he picked up one of the spoons and began to rub at a spot on the back. “Sorry. That’s none of my business. Uhm, which part of Italy are you from?”
“We moved around a lot. We own homes in Rome, Naples, Venice.” He gave a half-hearted shrug, feeling suddenly shy talking about himself. When he opened his mouth to change the subject something unexpected came out. “You have beautiful eyes.”
“Oh?” ___ blushed and turned her head away from him, looking towards her kitchen stove. “I bet you say that to all the girls.”
“Not recently.” He waited a beat before continuing. “You have beautiful hair, too.”
“It’s a matted mess,” she laughed, turning her head back towards him. “I haven’t been able to wash it. I’ll need to do that tonight.”
Lovino licked his lips as he tried to think of more to say but nothing was coming to him. Back in Italy it was easy for him to flirt. He knew what the women there would like to hear and what they expected to hear. He never had a problem picking up a beautiful woman there if he really wanted one. But here it appeared that the women in America had standards that he just couldn’t reach. He was sure he would mess this up. “I really like your smell, too.”
“Lovino Vargas,” ___ exclaimed as she sat up, “Are you flirting with me?”
Dinner was a matter that was always taken seriously at the Vargas house, perhaps even more than lunch and definitely more than breakfast where everyone was rushing to get themselves ready for the day, but it appeared that tonight was going to be a little different.
Romeo and Romulus were sitting adjacent at one end of the short table, Romulus at the head and Romeo to his left, and Feliciano took his seat across from his younger brother. This left the foot of the table for Lovino. Settling into his seat he looked at the spread before him.
There was a bowl of cooked angel hair, and a pot of still steaming sauce that he was sure was heated from a jar he had made earlier that year. There was also a bowl of fresh garlic bread and a tossed Caesar Salad. Comfort foods for Lovino. Quick to make and easy to clean up. He looked at his father questioningly, but Romulus was in the middle of a joke with Romeo and wasn’t about to be interrupted. Lovino waited until his father had said the punchline before speaking.
“Spaghetti. Who made it.
“I did,” his father said with a broad smile as he passed the bowl of pasta to Feliciano. “I didn’t have much time to fix anything else after making that candy.”
“I hope she liked it,” Romeo sighed, reaching for the bread bowl.
“She is so pretty,” Feliciano said as if in agreement.
“What did you think of her, Romano?” Romulus propped his head up on his hand with his elbow on the table as he smiled across at his oldest son. “You seemed to like her.”
“She’s alright.” He picked up his fork and poked the small serving of spaghetti he'd set on his plate, realizing that his appetite was almost completely gone.
“I wonder if I could have a chance with her,” Romeo mused. “Do you think I might be too young for her?”
“Just a little,” Romulus answered with a chuckle. “Besides, I think Feliciano is her age. Or close to it.”
“Well age does not matter! Right? That is what you tell all the pretty ladies.” Lovino, of course, was thinking of himself and ___, not that a possible two years was really that much of a difference.
“Do you really think I have a chance with her, fratello?” Romeo’s green eyes sparkled as he smiled, a smudge of sauce on the side of his mouth.
“As if,” Lovino growled, pushing his dinner around his plate instead of eating it.
“Well if she does not like the younger boys then maybe she will like me!” Feliciano actually did knock over his water glass this time and the ice cold beverage inside seemed to make a bee-line for Lovino before anyone could stop it. As the first drops his his knee and soaked through his pants he stood up, shoving his plate away. Romulus finally looked up.
“Where are you going, Romano?”
“To my room,” Lovino snapped. “Nobody had better bother me either!”
Alone in his room Lovino pulled out his cellphone and hit redial. After several rings a pre-recorded message played. “Hola! You have reached the cellphone for Antonio Fernández Carriedo! I am so sorry that I missed your call, but if you leave me a message I will get back to you soon!”
“Call me back, you bastard.” Pressing end he tossed the device onto the nearby dresser and tossed himself onto his bed. A million thought raced through his mind, all of them leading back to ___. Her smile, her eyes, even her scent. And especially her laugh. Rolling onto his back he instinctively grabbed the oversized tomato plush that he had carried with him since his fifteenth birthday.
Lovino didn’t bother to call out when he heard the knock on the door. Instead he turned until he facing the wall, the large plush clutched tightly to his chest. He screwed his eyes shut when the door opened and only looking when he felt the bed depress near his feet.
Romulus was holding a bowl and spoon in one hand and reaching for his son with the other. “Ciao, Romano.”
“What the hell do you want,” Lovino growled before turning his attention back to the blank space before him.
“You hardly ate any dinner. You must be hungry! I brought you some gelato.”
“Give it to one of my stupid brothers! They get everything around here, right? The best spots next to you, The first servings of food. I am surprised they have not taken my room yet!”
“Is that what is really bothering you, Romano?” Romulus looked away from his son and into the bowl.
“I have told you not to call me that! I want to be called Lovino!” At last he sat up, fire in his hazel eyes as the toy lay forgotten in his lap.
“There is more than that bothering you, si?” Romulus’s face dropped into a pout as he poked the cold treat with the spoon. “Are you going to eat this? My hand is going numb from the cold.”
Lovino eyed the bowl before shaking his head. “Not hungry.”
“What?!” Romulus’s jaw dropped before he placed his free hand on Lovino’s forehead and hummed. “You are a little warm. And your cheeks are getting red! Are you getting sick?”
“No! I just think….” He scowled half-heartedly at the floor, secretly pleased at his father concern. Before he could change his mind, he said what he had been thinking. “I think you might be right. About me. Being in love. With ___.”
You are so in love.
The words kept repeating through Lovino’s head. He had told her father to stop being ridiculous, that there was no way he could be in love with someone he had literally just met. But there was a smaller, quieter voice in the back of his mind was telling him it wasn’t so crazy as he thought, that his father had met his mother the same way and they had lived happily together for nearly twenty years.
It was making him feel crazy hearing those four words his father had dared speak running through his mind again and again. He needed to talk to someone who would tell him he was right: there was no way he was in love with ___.
He paced from his bedroom door to his window where he snatched his phone off his desk and dialed the number he knew by heart. Pacing back to his bedroom door he listened to the rings, his heart pounding harder with each ring that passed.
One. Two. Three. Fo-- “Hola, Romano!”
“It is about time you answer, you damned bastard,” Lovino growled, pacing back to his window. “I need to talk to you.”
“Alright, Romano. I can make some time for you.”
“I have a new neighbor,” he said, deciding to just get straight to the point. “She is so beautiful and nice and…. Papa says I am in love with her.”
There was silence on the other end and it dragged on for so long that Lovino found himself actually worrying that the call had dropped. At last, Antonio spoke. “Are you?”
“How the hell can I be in love with someone that I just met?!” His voice was loud and shrill as he yelled. “You bastard, you sound like my father.”
“Oh, Romano! You are so in love with her!”
“Stop saying that, you asshole!”
“I cannot wait to see your sweet little love struck face! Fusososo!”
“I already told you I am not in love! I just met her today and--” A knock on the door interrupted him. Ripping the phone away from his ear he turned and snapped. “What?”
“It is dinner time, big brother!” Feliciano called through the door.
“I will be there in a minute, dammit!” He waited until he heard the retreating footsteps before bringing the phone back to his ear. “I have to go.”
“Alright, Romano. Do you want me to wait up so you can call me again?”
“Not if you are going to keep on thinking I am in love with ___.”
“Okay, Romano. I understand. Buenas noches!”“Buenas noches, you stupid jerk bastard.”