APRIL IN ROME
"All right, moment of truth, somebody’s life is about to change!"
Those prophetic words kept echoing in Rose DiStefano’s pounding head. Her Italian cousin, Fabrizio DiStefano, had been too intensely smug when he had uttered those words. And she had been so sure of herself. She should have known better than to risk her return ticket back home to Texas, especially knowing how Fabri had been begging and pleading his entire life to go to America! Anywhere in America! She shouldn’t be so surprised that he would go to such lengths to leave Rome! But all these years, his desperate pleas had always fallen on deaf ears. Her Uncle Victor and Aunt Donna were so overly protective of their only offspring that there was absolutely no possible way Fabrizio would have ever been allowed to set foot on American soil to be corrupted like his rebellious, precocious, beautiful American cousin.
Nonetheless, Rose DiStefano knew first hand how it was to be an only child and under the constant scrutiny and guard of an over-protective domineering father! Her mother, Laurel, had died when she was just a child, and at seventeen, Rose’s absentee father had finally agreed for her to make a long and overdue visit to her maternal grandparents and extended family in Rome. Her father, Don Hockley, was a very successful, world-renown entertainer who protected his only child’s privacy to such an extent that he even refused to allow her to use her legal last name, Hockley. Citing security reasons, she had retained her mother’s maiden name, DiStefano. She was kept completely out of the celebrity spotlight at all times and at all costs. Hardly anyone knew of Rose DiStefano-Hockley—just Rose DiStefano, spitfire from Jefferson, Texas.
To add to her seclusion and imprisonment as Rose had always scoffed, she had never even been allowed to attend any of her father’s concerts. Where many of her friends had heard him and his famous band perform live, she was always forbidden to attend. That ridiculous over-protectiveness again! Furthermore, those road tours, as Rose bitterly recalled, kept her father away eleven months out of the year. She often wondered if he continued performing, as in his youth, to try and forget her dear, deceased mother. It was more probable that he just preferred to avoid her and not have the responsibilities of a REAL parent. Of course, that’s what her maternal grandparents had always hotly claimed. His absence when Laurel had died had been the final straw. They had never forgiven her father since that awful fateful day when everyone’s life was turned upside down. Consequently, Rose had been kept away from them as some type of cruel punishment or at least that’s what Rose had surmised.
Rose was sequestered in a tiny remote river town in deep east Texas just a stone’s throw from the Louisiana border. Moss-covered cypress, evergreen cedar and magnolias, towering pines, flowering dogwoods, along with majestic live oaks permeated the heavily wooded landscape. Dark, misty-shrouded swamps meandered through the forests and encompassed the area’s heart of the pines--a natural lake called Caddo. Dense, thick overhead vegetation choked out the perpetual beaming sunrays. The forest's evening shadows whispered of ancient times and echoed local legends and myths of long lost love. The rural, quaint village of Jefferson was a town that time had forgotten. It was truly an unspoiled wilderness that provoked an independence and daring in those individuals fortunate enough to inhabit and embrace its mysteries. Sheltered in her father’s ancestral home of Rosedale, which once had been a vast, prosperous cotton plantation, Rose was allowed to spread her wings and taste real freedom.
Rose could practically head off for the horizon whenever she felt like it…as long as she didn’t cross the Marion county line. For the most part, she had to be discreet when instigating the many outrageous shenanigans that often involved most of the town’s teenage population. Although free-spirited, fun loving, and full of daring, she was still however an innocent in both body and spirit.
Over the years, her father had hired numerous nannies to attempt to govern his wayward daughter but none were ever very successful. And of course there was Rose’s nemesis, Spicer Lovejoy, who Rose always condescendingly referred to as "Killjoy". His dire countenance always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time! She mischievously grinned, remembering how she had that man just where she wanted him! Blackmail could work wonders when appropriately threatened, she reasoned. Poor Killjoy, that one little indiscretion in the hay barn with her governess, Ruth, had cost him plenty where Rose was concerned.
For Rose DiStefano was audacious, beguiling and very persuasive when she had to be. She honestly thought she had everybody duped. And she did for the most part, except maybe for Killjoy. Nevertheless, she thoroughly relished the vigorous, combative confrontations with that undertaker of a manservant. She came and went just as she pleased, like a tumbleweed blowing in the wind. An outdoor girl that enjoyed life to its fullest. Her motto: TO MAKE EACH DAY COUNT! Or as they say in Rome, carpe diem (seize the day!) And she did, she really did!
The next thing Rose could recall was laying down her two pairs and Fabri slamming a full house down on the table shouting, "Full house boys…I’m going to America!"
She had wanted to scream in protest or at least claim foul play! (The Dago must have cheated!) But watching Fabri so ecstatic that his life-long dream was finally coming true…well, she couldn’t help feeling excited for her cousin. Even if it did mean that she would have to face all the repercussions when she finally returned to the DiStefano Estate in Rome. If she was really honest with herself, she reluctantly admitted it was mostly her fault! Well…almost!
Fabri and his friends, Sven and Olaf had been properly "seeing her off", a bon voyage farewell at the crowed Rome airport. To pass the time, they had all sat down at the lounge to toast her departure. And the poker game had started off quite innocently at first, just to pass the time. However, after several lucky hands and several tankards of cheap beer, Rose was feeling quite cocky and on a whim had laid down the ticket.
Damn her impulsiveness! Was that only forty-five minutes ago? They had had to rush Fabri to the terminal, knocking over unsuspecting passengers, running full throttle. Nonetheless, he had still almost missed the final boarding call ringing out on the airport’s intercom. That five minutes had seemed to take an eternity. She half-heartedly wished he had missed the ill-fated flight! It would have made it a lot easier for Rose.
Now, as she hesitantly perused the grand sprawling estate of her grandparents and extended family sitting on the rocky ancient cliffs up ahead; an impending doom washed over her. She had to somehow break the news to her grandparents, but worst of all, Fabrizio’s parents! Guilty as a convicted felon in shackles stumbling to her fateful execution, she reluctantly strolled up the cobble-stoned walkway. In her mind, she felt like a poor, unfortunate slave boarding a ship in chains on her way to purgatory! Dreadfully, she allowed that although her grandparents would be thrilled that she had to stay a little while longer as their coddled and honorary houseguest, Uncle Vic and Aunt Donna would be livid! And that was putting it mildly.
"Well, at least I’m dressed for the part!" Rose silently remarked as she gazed down at her tight, black leather mini skirt with matching boots and jacket.
"I feel like black! Oh well, thankfully my father will bail me out! I’ll just ask him for the money to return to Rosedale because I’m too damn prideful to accept anybody else’s money! No problem! So, put on the charm, Rose; remember courage in the face of insurmountable adversity! And if you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, then just baffle them with bull shit!"
After convincing herself that all would be fine shortly, Rose apprehensively took a deep steadying breath, thrust her shoulders back, marched up the steep, cold marble steps leading to the huge, massive oak door, grabbed the ornate silver handles and raised her eyes heavenward. At that precise moment, Rose loudly sucked in her breath.
"Son-of-a…a shooting star!" she exclaimed. Suddenly an intense sinking feeling settled in the pit of Rose’s stomach. Her limbs slightly trembled and her self-imposed confidence faded. Consequently, that incredible fire that some people respected and loved about Rose DiStefano faltered and nearly burned out!
"You did what!"
Those were the only words that Rose could understand for quite some time after her blunt halting confession. A continual tirade of Italian was being hurled at her and by the angry, murderous look on her uncle’s face, it was probably best that she didn’t comprehend all the savage barking coming out of Uncle Vic’s mouth. Needless to say, she understood the gist of the screaming rage her uncle was intent on lambasting her with. All the while, she was inwardly cringing. The deafening sounds reverberated off the tall vaulted ceilings of the spacious foyer and were wreaking havoc on her delicate eardrums!
Nevertheless, Rose stood ramrod straight, contrite and remorseful with her coppery head slightly bowed and her small, beautiful, expressive hands clasped behind her back. The tone and volume of his verbal assault became harsher and louder with each passing moment. She wanted to lash back but wisely held a civil tongue. Inwardly, she remarked, These quick-tempered Italians can be so damn loud and annoying--squawking like a…well a damn cavalry charge! She grinned at that and her uncle grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her fiercely.
Victor DiStefano was seething with pure rage and he expected he might explode at any given moment! His pugnacious niece did not behave as a proper, well brought up girl should. Not at all like his late sister, Laurel, a gentle, loving angel that had lived her life like a revered saint! Rose, on the other hand, was a hellion with blazing copper hair and enormous snapping jade eyes that could pierce a person’s very soul. Right now, as he squeezed her upper arms, she was glaring at him like a hellcat ready to scratch his eyes out! Rose did not behave subserviently to the male gender like a good Catholic girl should. Fiery tongued, rebellious, and headstrong, the girl was a mere woman-child, a spoiled brat even! It was time for her to learn and accept her place, once and for all. And if her irresponsible absentee father refused to instruct and discipline the girl, then he, Victor DiStefano would certainly be obliged! The little she-devil needed to be tamed even if it required the local priest performing a blasted exorcism! Vic good-naturedly suspected even that sacred religious ritual would not rid the girl of the demons that lurked within.
Yes, she was definitely a pistol…of course, his brother-in-law had tried to warn them all but that had certainly been an understatement! He suddenly wasn’t so sure he could handle the vixen…and damn it all to hell…was that alcohol he smelled on her breath? "Holy mother of Jesus!"
LATER THAT SAME NIGHT
Rose paced the terra cotta tiled floors and nervously mopped the perspiration from her brow and upper lip. The anticipated phone call from America had been received and Uncle Vic was currently in deep, private conversation with both Fabrizio and Don Hockley. It must have been quite an unexpected surprise, Rose reflected, for Don to find her cousin disembarking from the flight instead of her. She had just been invited into the darkly paneled study and from what she could detect, Uncle Vic and her father were communicating surprisingly in a calm and civil manner. She couldn’t quite fathom what had previously been discussed and had no idea exactly why her uncle was conducting himself collectively. It was truly a wonder considering their prior strained relationship! At last, he turned and summoned Rose.
"He would like to speak with you."
Letting out her breath, which she had unconsciously been holding, Rose apprehensively clutched the receiver and animatedly gushed, "Hello, Daddy! I presume you’ve been informed of Fabrizio and my silly but harmless little card game?"
Instantly, Don Hockley was convinced that Rose was totally unrepentant of her grievous act and suffered absolutely no remorse whatsoever. Her foolhardy misbehavior had this time sealed her fate. Yes, it was past time to hold her accountable for her sins and finally let her know how she ranked in the scheme of things. He needed to lower his rebellious hell-raising little girl’s pedestal a few notches. And the fireworks began to explode…
Rose couldn’t believe what she was actually hearing. First of all, Fabri, the little gutter rat, and her father were beginning a nationwide tour in a few days, something she had been begging her entire life to do! They would be visiting Santa Monica, New York City, Philadelphia and every major US city throughout April—places she had always dreamed of going! Secondly, Fabri had been hired to join the band’s road crew and to top that off, he even had his parents’ blessings! Rose’s little green monster came to the fore and she inwardly raged, that gutter rat could fall in the pile of horseshit and still come out smelling like a rose!
"It’s so unfair. I never had a choice!" Rose hotly accused.
But the more that Don talked, the madder she became. Preparing Rose for the inevitable, he explained that he had granted Ruth a leave of absence for the entire month of April to visit her family in Wisconsin. And last but certainly not least, he was rejecting her cajoling request for airfare! He blandly suggested that she might get a job while in Rome, yet jokingly added, just as long as it wasn’t in the red light district. Of course, Don knew he was treading on rough waters and lightly added, "After all, Rose, you deserve this trip. I’ve been remiss at forbidding visits all these past years. Besides, the staff deserves a respite from your tribulations. A storm is always brewing when you’re about; you can be downright dangerous at times."
Of course, if Don actually thought he had squelched some of her aggressiveness, he was sadly mistaken.
Rose could no longer contain her boiling anger. This wasn’t amusing her in the least bit. She hotly screeched her objections to all their plans, which didn’t include her. She was fuming and regrettably made the fatal error of losing her volatile temper. Although Don tried to warn her to settle down and lower her tone of voice, his feeble attempts were sorely met in vain.
He couldn’t figure the little minx out…she had embarrassed him enough especially where his Italian in-laws were concerned. He icily demanded Rose to conduct herself with some sophistication for once and temper her belligerent misbehavior. She was ordered to do exactly as she was told by all the DiStefano family and hardly commanded her, "You will never behave like this again, Rose, do you understand?"
Striking back she blatantly retorted, "Oh, stop it, Daddy, you’ll give yourself a nosebleed! I’m not a groupie in one of your sleazy hotel rooms that you can command! I’m your daughter; you’re supposed to help me!"
Too late. Rose instantly knew she had gone too far—way too far! Unfortunately, she couldn’t take those hateful hurtful words back. She brought her shaking hand to her mouth, closing her eyes and braced herself for the worst.
God himself could not have stopped what happened next!
Don Hockley felt like he had been punched in the face, then slammed to the ground. Luckily for Rose, she was not in striking distance. He could not have been held responsible for the abuse that he might have inflicted upon her if she had been there at that moment. In a short, hard, clipped voice he bellowed, "MY DAUGHTER? MY DAUGHTER? MY DAUGHTER? YES, YOU ARE…SO YOU WILL HONOR ME, AS A DAUGHTER IS REQUIRED TO HONOR HER FATHER! BECAUSE I WILL NOT BE MADE OUT OF A FOOL, ROSE! IS THIS IN ANYWAY UNCLEAR?"
Don instantly tried to lower his voice; his blood pressure had gone ballistic along with his normally cool Celtic temper. His daughter’s insolent, antagonistic, and disrespectful behavior had finally pushed him to the limits of his patience.
No answer came from Rose.
"Rose, I hope you’re proud of yourself! If I EVER hear of any more..." he simply couldn’t finish his sentence; he was so enraged that words eluded him.
"Listen, Lovejoy can and will be made available for service to the DiStefano’s in Rome if I deem it necessary. Is this in any way unclear, Rose?" Don said threateningly.
She didn’t have the energy to remain hostile any longer. She was mature enough to realize that she had indeed lost this hand. To continue raging this battle of unfairness and favoritism could only prove detrimental to her time spent in Rome. She would only make it worse on herself.
Besides, she had adventure born and bred in her spirit…Rome would never be the same again after she left! Therefore, slowly her ire began to evaporate and for her father’s benefit, she wearily answered, "I understand."
"Good!" he emphatically concluded. "Now, excuse me, I think I need a cigar and some brandy."
He hesitated momentarily and coolly added, "Oh, and Sweetpea, enjoy your April in Rome!"