Greetings, my darlings!
We have cloud and wind and rain.
Come on, Spring!
Here’s part two of the Ludlow Hall short story…
It’s the morning after the night before at The Dower House, and Emily finally gets her chance to talk to Rosie about the love of her life, Tonio.
Sophia and Emily, wearing soft blue jeans and their hoodies are sitting at the table in the kitchen-dining-living space with Rosie and the toddlers.
“How old were you when you knew Alexander was the one?” Emily asked Rosie in her soft, breathy voice.
Rosie, wearing black thermal leggings and an oversized T-shirt, her inky curls tied in a messy knot on her head, placed plastic bowls filled with cereal and sliced banana on the high chair tables for Mila and Eve. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Sophia’s here-we-go-again face and tried hard not to laugh.
Emily was a lovely kid, but her head was in the clouds much of the time, and Rosie reckoned her obsession with Tonio was not healthy.
“When I was your age I actually didn’t like Alexander very much, mainly because he treated me like his sister. Even Bronte would tell you that having an overprotective big brother is no fun. And things got even worse when we hit our teens. I cannot tell you the number of arguments I had with him over who I dated in high school for example.”
Emily’s blue eyes went wide. “Was he jealous?”
Rosie shook her head. “Nope. He didn’t ever see me as anyone other than part of the family, which he reckoned gave him rights to have an opinion.”
Clearly disappointed, Emily seemed to mull over that statement as she nibbled on her cheese on toast.
“I can’t stop thinking about Tonio,” she finally admitted.
Rosie buttered fingers of toast and set them on the toddler’s high chair tables.
The little girls were still dressed in their pink pj’s since Rosie reckoned there was no point in bathing until after breakfast. When Mila stroked sticky fingers over Eve’s dark curls, Sophia and Emily howled with laughter.
Rosie studied Emily’s little face before she answered.
“Have you ever considered Tonio’s feelings?”
Sophia, unusually for her, had been silent during this exchange, but now she turned to her friend. “You should ask him what sort of girl he likes.”
Emily blinked. “But what if he doesn’t like me?”
“He does like you,” Sophia said. “But not as a girlfriend because number one – you’re too young. Number two – you’re my best friend. Number three – I think auntie Rosie’s right.”
And on cue Alexander, Luca and Tonio entered the kitchen.
Hair damp from the shower, they wore jeans and T-shirts with soccer colors of their favourite team because they were attending a big match today.
They grabbed plates and headed for the mountain of bacon and eggs set on the worktop.
When they settled at the table and Rosie had poured milk for the boys and black coffee for her husband, Sophia gave Emily a very hard stare to get-on-with-it and ask Tonio the question.
Unfortunately, it was clear poor Emily’s courage had failed her.
“Emily wanted to know,” Rosie began, and sent a cheesy grin to the love of her life. “When you knew I was the one.”
Alexander blinked, sent Emily a smile that made her already pink face go nuclear.
“Yeah? Um—I’d always liked her, even when she drove me crazy. But it was when we became close and then she left me that it really hit me hard and I knew I couldn’t live without her.”
Tonio crunched a piece of crispy bacon, then said, “When I am a man I will live in Italy and marry a beautiful Italian girl.” He dug into his breakfast totally unaware that he’d just dropped a bombshell and broken a little heart.
Rosie studied her nephew.
“So, what’s wrong with British girls?”
Tonio glanced at her, then appeared to realize that every single female had her eyes, hard eyes, on him.
“Oops,” Alexander muttered.
It seemed Tonio had mastered the Ferranti smile, the one that could charm the birds off the trees. He turned it on full watt now. Then it slipped a little when there was no response.
“Absolutely nothing,” he said and added a little extra Italian accent for good measure. “But I like dark hair, long legs and girls with energy and good humor. Many British girls are like little mice and do nothing but stare at boys.”
“Well, you can’t blame them for staring,” Rosie said, very aware that a devastated and very pale Emily was gazing at her plate. “The Ferranti males are pretty to look at.”
At that, Luca raised his head from inhaling his breakfast, and stared at his aunt in disgust.
“I’m not pretty!”
Rosie turned to him.
“You’re the prettiest one of them all.”
Luca turned to his uncle Alexander.
“Can you not control your wife?” he asked.
“I’m never getting married,” Luca told the room at large.
His twin, her face an expressionless mask, simply said, “Trust me, no one with a single working brain cell would want you.”
Luca, dark eyes flashing, leaned over the table and hissed,
“I hope your next poop is a pineapple.”
Alexander, fighting a losing battle to keep a straight face, got to his feet.
“If we want to get to the kick-off in time we’d better get moving.”
In the scrimmage of hand washing, the hunt for Luca’s missing boot, tugging on coats and hats and goodbye’s Sophia simply sat at the table wearing a face that might turn milk sour.
“Well then,” Rosie said as she correctly read the expressions on two little faces. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen Luca have the final word.”
Emily sniffed, and even though her big blue eyes looked suspiciously bright, she lifted her chin.
“I’m not Italian and I don’t have long legs or dark hair. I don’t have a chance with Tonio. Do I?”
Rosie sat at the table and desperately wanted to be kind.
“I don’t know. No one knows. Do you want my advice?” Emily nodded. “There’s a big wide world out there and a huge amount to learn, so if I were you I’d get prepared as best you can to explore the world.”
Sophia put her arm around her best friend’s shoulders and pulled her in for a hug.
“We’re starting dance classes soon, and I want to learn to horse ride.”
“Ponies are too big and scary,” Emily said, her little face the perfect picture of misery.
“It’s not just riding,” Rosie told her in a cheery voice. “You’ll learn how to look after a pony, to groom it and keep it’s stall clean and what to feed it and how much exercise it needs. Plus, ponies need company just like humans.”
“Do they get lonely too?” Emily asked.
Rosie nodded. “They do or they become stressed.”
Sophia made an ‘Aww’ face.
But before she could speak, the sound of her papa’s car rolling over the gravel on the driveway had her bounce out of her chair and heading for the door.
After catching her daughter in a huge hug, Bronte studied Sophia’s serious little face, those anxious and wary emerald eyes that held hers, and felt terribly guilty.
It was the first time in over eight years of marriage that her and Nico had had a major issue in their marriage, and she hoped it would be a long time before they had another one. Trouble was, at times they were both as stubborn as each other. If there was one thing they’d learned after talking into the wee hours, was that compromise was the name of the marriage game. Usually they were pretty good at compromising. However, on this particular issue, Bronte Ferranti had dug in her heels. Nico had got himself into one hot mess and it was up to him to get himself out of it.
Right now, she watched him as he caught Sophia in his arms and blew a huge raspberry on her cheek. The man only got better looking as he got older. Even dressed down in blue jeans, black boots and a casual black cashmere sweater, he looked good enough to eat. He didn’t have an ounce of spare flesh. His hair was still black as jet with the odd grey hair at the temple. Just looking at him right now with the strong manly jaw, the high cheekbones, and those eyes that turned her knees to jelly every single time, she knew she was a very lucky woman. Plus, he adored her. They might have had a blip in their relationship, but they’d worked through it. She hoped.
“Did you miss us?” he asked his daughter.
Sophia laughed and clung to him like a limpet.
“Of course I did.” Then her big emerald eyes studied his face. “Are you and mama getting a divorce?” she whispered.
“No!” Nico and Bronte said together.
“Okay,” she said, clearly accepting the tone and look of utter horror on their combined faces. Then her brows met as she caught her papa’s face between her little hands and squeezed. “Don’t let a mean girl be mean to my mama.”
Nico blinked, caught Bronte’s big eyes.
She shook her head because she had no idea where Sophia had got that idea from.
“I won’t,” he said.
Sophia squeezed his cheeks even harder and made him look her in the eye.
“Even grown ups need help with mean girls. Know what I mean?”
He placed her on her feet and held her hand as they strolled through the kitchen door of The Dower House.
As for Bronte, she was just happy to be home.
Once they’d greeted little Eve and Bronte had thanked Rosie for stepping into the breech and looking after her kids, everyone settled down at the table for a chat.
Bronte’s eye caught a sad looking Emily.
“You okay, Emily?”
“I’m good. Did you have a nice time?”
Nico shot his wife a wink that made Bronte blush.
“We did,” she said.
Emily sent them a sad little smile.
“Did you play the Pirate and the Maiden game?”
When Nico inhaled his coffee and a grinning Rosie threw him paper napkins, Bronte could only blink.
“It’s based on a poem,” Sophia said, correctly guessing that her mama had no idea what Emily was talking about.
Nico blew his nose, cleared his throat, and wiped his streaming eyes.
“Dio mio, where on earth did you hear about that?” Nico asked Emily.
“It was something we heard at school,” she said.
Rosie clapped her hands and then shot an index finger at each little girl.
“I know, why don’t we have a pampering day?”
“What’s that?” Sophia wanted to know.
“We can make facial masks out of cool stuff that’s edible. They’ll hydrate and moisturise and refresh the skin.”
Emily perked right up, her big blue eyes sparkled. “Will they cure my freckles?”
Rosie made a sad face. “Nope. But they’ll make you even more gorgeous.”
“What stuff do we need?” Sophia asked, her little face pink and happy.
“Well, we’ll start with oatmeal, honey, banana and yoghurt.”
“That sounds really cool,” Bronte said and fluttered her eyelashes at a worried looking Nico.
He shook his head.
“Not for me. I’m off to the match.”
When he moved to hightail it out the door, Bronte had to laugh.
“Coward!” she yelled at his departing back.
Twenty minutes later, Emily, Sophia, Rosie and Bronte sat at the table all watching a kitchen timer tick down the seconds.
Sophia took a lick of mashed banana, yoghurt and honey from the edge of her mouth.
“This tastes really good.”
Emily giggled. “You’re not supposed to eat it.”
“Smells nice, too,” Bronte said. Then she eyed the girls. “Did Luca do his math homework?”
“Dunno,” Sophia said. “Probably not since he’s heart lazy.”
“Have you been arguing with him again?” Bronte asked.
“He told me he hoped I pooped a pineapple.”
Bronte bit down hard on her bottom lip.
“Tonio only likes Italian girls. He broke my heart,” Emily whispered.
Bronte held out her arms. “Come here, sweetheart. A cuddle makes a broken heart all better.”
Meanwhile, Rosie used a muslin cloth soaked in warm water to gently remove the home made facial from Sophia’s face.
“Ooh, your skin looks all fresh and lovely,” she cooed at her niece.
“Why do we have eyebrows?” Sophia wanted to know as she poked her skin.
“To protect our eyes, I guess,” Emily said as she slipped from Bronte’s lap and lifted her face for Rosie to clean her skin too.
“There we go,” Rosie said when she was all finished. “Two gorgeous girls.”
Later, in Sophia’s bedroom, the girls shared a Fat Boy beanbag, their eyelids drooping.
“I’m gonna wish upon a star,” Emily said in her soft breathy voice.
Sophia, her eyes heavy, turned to look at her bestie.
“Stars,” she said. “Are made of gas.”
“That’s science,” Emily said. “I’m talking about making a secret wish while looking at the biggest star in the sky.”
“I bet you can’t guess my wish.”
Sophia rolled her eyes. “Bet I can. You’ll wish that Tonio falls in love with you when you’re both all grown-up.”
But Emily shook her head.
“Uh-uh. I’m gonna wish my mummy and daddy have a miracle and have a baby.”
Sophia threw her arm around her bestie and pulled her close.
“I think that’s a lovely wish.”
“Then I won’t be lonely,” Emily said.
Sophia rubbed her soft cheek against Emily’s.
“You’re never gonna be lonely because you’ll always have me for ever and ever.”
Emily turned big blue eyes on her friend.
“For every and ever.”
“I love you, Sophia.”
“Love you, too, Emily.”
Aw, that’s what friends are for…
Until next time, be kind, peeps, be kind.