the way you look tonight - Page 60

Her father, she thought with a smile, was likely getting their separate bedrooms ready right now. Well, she’d mastered the art of sneaking out of her bedroom as a girl. Tonight, she decided with a flutter of anticipation, she was going to sneak into the bedroom on the other side of her parents’ house to seduce her fiancé.

The butcher was her first stop, and she was barely in the door when Antonio exclaimed with delight. Mary had been afraid that people would be wary of her—after all, she’d left without a backward glance thirteen years ago, and it had taken her mother’s illness for her to finally return. But with each stop she made during the next hours, she felt as if the years she’d been gone were slipping away one by one.

From the butcher to the vegetable stand to the florist and then the cheese shop, none of the proprietors would let her pay for what she needed. A half-dozen invitations came for coffee and dinner, and she was thrilled to get to hold her friends’ new babies and admire their beautiful older children, as well. By the time she turned to head back to the house, her heart was as full as the bags of food and flowers she carried.

Jack was playing scopa, a game similar to gin rummy, with her father in the living room when she returned, and her heart hitched in her chest at what a beautiful picture they made, the two men she loved most in the world.

Jack quickly put his cards down to take the bags from her and bring them into the kitchen. Once she’d taken off her coat, he took her hands in his and pulled her close.

“You look happy.”

“I am. And tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to everyone in town. I told them all about my gorgeous, brilliant American fiancé. They can’t wait to meet you.”

His mouth was warm over hers, and when he let her hands go to slip his around her waist, she slid her fingers into his soft, dark hair and pulled him even closer. She’d never kissed a boy in her parents’ kitchen before, and when she heard her father’s footsteps—made purposely louder, she was sure, because he could guess what she and her fiancé were up to—she drew back with a laugh.

“I hope your jet lag isn’t too bad,” she said to Jack in a low voice, “because I don’t know how much sleep you’re going to get tonight.”

His eyes darkened with so much desire—and the love she felt from him in every moment—that she lost her breath as he whispered, “Your room or mine?”

Ah, so she’d been right about her father setting up separate bedrooms for the unmarried couple. “Yours.”

Her father came into the room, and for the next hour Mary cooked and translated the conversation back and forth from Italian to English. Her mother had made this sickbed meal for her several times when she was a child. This was the very first time Mary had ever made it for her mother.

A short while later, when she’d set heaping plates in front of Jack and her father, Mary made up a tray with a full bowl of soup and a warm cup of tea. Her mother stirred as she walked in, as if she’d simply been lying in bed waiting for Mary to come back.

Helping Lucia sit up comfortably with a few thick pillows behind her, at her mother’s protests that she wasn’t hungry, Mary said, “You need to eat a few bites to build your strength up.”

Her mother took a small sip of the soup. “It tastes just like mine. Maybe,” Lucia said as she took another sip from her spoon, “it’s even better.”

It was amazing how such a small compliment could mean so much. “I learned from the best.”

Her mother put down her spoon. “Cara, I have much to apologize for.”

Mary was nearly bursting with the things she wanted to say to her mother and that she wanted to know—but not only had she learned unconditional love from Jack, she’d learned patience, as well.

“I do, too,” Mary said in a soft voice, “but tonight all you should be doing is eating and resting. In the morning, when you’re stronger—”

“I’m strong enough now to tell you how much I’ve missed you. How much your father has missed you. I’m strong enough now to tell you how much we both love you and that if I could rewind the clock back to that day when you were nineteen, I would do it better this time. I would do it right.”

Her mother began to cough, and Mary handed her the mug of tea. “Mama, I can’t tell you how much it means to hear you say these things, but I promise you, I know how much you love me, because I love you just as much. I don’t want you to wear yourself out. We have time to talk about all of this later, once you’re well.”

“We’ve wasted enough time,” Lucia insisted, and Mary had to smile at the stubborn expression so similar to her own. “I will talk, and you will listen.”

“Okay, Mama.”

“Before I met your father, I had dreams like yours—to travel and to have people applauding for me as I sang and danced on the stage.”

Of all the things Mary had thought her mother would tell her tonight, learning that they’d shared similar dreams had not been anywhere on the list of possibilities. Lucia had always hummed as she worked in the kitchen and the garden, and Mary had found her parents waltzing together in the moonlit garden more than once as a child, but she’d never realized that performing had been her mother’s dream. Yet again, they were more alike than she’d ever realized.

“What happened? Why didn’t you follow your dreams?”

Her mother lifted her hand to Mary’s cheek. “I found a new dream. Your father was so handsome, so much more exciting than any stage had ever been, that he swept me off my feet. And then you came, exactly nine months to the day after we were married. My greatest achievement. My biggest joy. I saw those same dreams in you, watched them grow bigger with every year. Your beauty was so stunning that the other mothers would make jealous comments sometimes. Did you know, strangers passing through town would often stop on the street to take your picture?”