In a busy Rome train station, Marco is immediately captivated by Francesca, a beautiful woman whom he asks for assistance. With a long wait ahead of him before his next train departs, Marco asks Francesca to lunch. As they make their way back to the train station after their meal, a car nearly runs them over as the passenger shouts, "You're dead!" Shocked by the incident, Marco is unaware that the great beauty he has just met is harboring an even greater secret.
In this romantic thriller, only time will tell if Marco's affection for Francesca will be strong enough to withstand the dangers that lurk in the shadows.
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By Jerry Riccio
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Jerry Riccio
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was a hot, sticky, humid, caca, pooh-pooh Sunday morning in July of 2005 in Little Italy. My longtime friend Dominic had returned to the city for a visit. It had been a while since I'd seen him last. He comes occasionally to the old neighborhood to shop, reminding me that we still have the finest specialty shops, Italian restaurants, and cafés in the metropolitan area. Many of our neighborhood stores make fresh pasta on a daily basis, and we are famous for our delectable Italian pastries, especially cannolis, my favorite. We decided to meet in front of St. Anthony's Church on Sullivan Street. We embraced, exchanging kisses on both cheeks, a tradition among Italians that was brought to America by our ancestors as a sign of respect.
"So what's up, Marco? You seem dazed!"
"Yeah, Dom, my mamma's not doing well, and I'm trying my best to keep her spirits up."
"Jeez, Marco, why didn't you say something to me? You know we grew up together. You're like a brother to me."
"Thanks, Dom, you know how much I value our friendship. Mamma is bedridden now, and she is losing her eyesight. I feel helpless."
"Marco, believe me, I understand your frustration," Dom said as he placed his hand on my shoulder. "I hope that her situation improves. I can remember when we were younger and your mamma made the best meatballs in the whole wide world."
I nodded my head. "She sure did. Now she can't even get out of bed and keeps telling me that she doesn't have much time left and wants me to marry. Prodding me to go back to the old country to find someone."
"Well, Marco, you were the oldest child and the man of the household after your papa died at such an early age. You practically helped raise your two younger sisters, and it's time for you to do something for yourself. You should find someone special to love and to love you in return. You know we all looked up to you growing up. You encouraged everyone to succeed at whatever we did. You kept us all on the straight and narrow, always with a kind word for everyone and reminding us never to let our parents' dreams of finding a better life for their children go in vain. Besides, the woman who marries you will be the luckiest gal in the world."
"You know, Dom, maybe there is someone out there for me."
"Sure there is! You're a good-looking guy. I remember how the girls at Cardinal Spellman High School would drool over you. They all wanted to date my buddy—the tall, strong, hazel-eyed Italian stallion with that Ricky Martin hairstyle. It's enough to make any woman go crazy over you," he said in a familiar tone of voice, just as he used to back in high school. Then he continued, "Look at me. I'm losing my hair, and I love to eat so much that my wife now calls me Buddha."
I took my right hand and tapped his face, gently pulling his cheek, "Thanks, Dom, but right now my immediate concern is Mamma's well-being and trying to nurse her back to perfect health. You know, I would love to go to Italy, see the place where Mamma and Papa were born and visit my extended family. Mamma used to tell me stories about growing up in Italy and how she and my grandmother used to embroider linens for the local women in town who were getting married as part of their dowry. Hey, we better get going or we'll be late for Mass."
"Sure, let's go. Hey, Marco, it wasn't too long ago that I got married here and you were my best man. Do you remember what happened as we stood outside after the ceremony and were waiting on the receiving line to greet everyone? I got crapped on by a pigeon?
"Yeah, I remember that. I never laughed so hard in my life, but you know it was a sign of good luck. Dom, every time I come to this church, I think about the many thousands of our people who came to America and settled in the city, seeking economic opportunity and good fortune. They brought with them their customs and traditions, and now many of the older folk have passed on, and their children have gone on to better themselves and have moved away just as you and my sisters have done."
"I know, it's pretty much just you and a few others who still live here on Mulberry Street," said Dom, nodding his head in agreement.
"Yep, and you know, Dom, there's lots to be thankful for. We're blessed with family, friends, and life."
"Amen. I'll second that, and don't forget good Italian cooking, especially dunking bread in homemade tomato sauce on Sunday mornings. The aroma alone is enough to wet your pants."
"Dom, I believe you live to eat."
"You better believe it! Eating is my favorite pastime. Now if I could only find a job as a food taster. But lately I've been so constipated. I remember the times when I was constipated as a child, and I knew what that meant. I was doomed. The inescapable had arrived, and I would have sooner died than to succumb to the wrath of what my mother called the Pumpetta—that long red cord filled with water on one end and the tip of the other end inserted in my butt. How I disapproved of that unpleasant experience, but my mother was determined to alleviate my bowels. She was from the old school and didn't believe in ex-lax. I should have listened to her and eaten more fruits and vegetables. Ueee! I'm out of breath, climbing these church steps."
"Listen, you knucklehead, I want you to stop by the hospital this week for a complete physical."
"Okay, but only if you promise not to stick me with any needles. You know how I hate those blood-sucking gadgets. You gonna give me a lollipop?"
"No, but I will offer you some Jell-O."
"Yikes, I'm not liking that jiggly-wiggly stuff," said Dom while making a goofy face.
We sat on a pew, and I gazed at the beautiful stained-glass windows depicting biblical characters adorning the sides of this wonderful house of worship. Saint Anthony's was the first Italian church in New York and is the oldest Italian church in the United States. Italian marble was used for the pulpit and communion rail. The stained-glass wheel window in front of the church streamed light that radiated upon the altar, prompting a sense of calmness, allowing me to be grateful for all my blessings.
After Mass, Dom approached me with a light tap on my shoulder. "Hey, Marco, that was a great homily that Father gave, and it didn't put me to sleep. It reminded me of you when he talked about the call to loving our fellow man and being selfless about helping others. That's my buddy, the doctor!"
"Thanks! You're a great friend, and Elena made a smart decision to marry her Buddha," I said with a smile on my face.
"How about we head over to Café Ferrara for some espresso?" he suggested.
"No, thanks, maybe at another time. I'm on call this weekend at the hospital, so I'm heading over there. My sister Regina is home with Mamma."
"Okay, let me know if you need anything," he said as he ruffled my hair.
"You've got it, knucklehead, and I want you to lose some weight," I said to him while rubbing his belly.
"You talkin' to me?"
"No, Buddha," I replied. We hugged and said our good-byes.
When I arrived at the hospital, one of the head nurses asked me to visit with a patient whose symptoms seemed more psychological than physical, and because of my extensive studies in psychology, she felt I would be more prepared to help her. I entered the patient's room and noticed a young twenty- one-year-old female patient, a wonderful young lady with beautiful blue eyes and an adorable beauty mark on her left cheek. She was holding a crucifix close to her heart and was sitting upright in her hospital bed, having been admitted overnight for observation. I grabbed a chair and pulled it beside her bed. I held her hand within mine and asked her to tell me what happened. She had been admitted for severe palpitations, and the more time we spent together and the longer we talked, I could tell that she was suffering from a broken heart. I knew that feeling. When she spoke, she called me by my last name.
"Dr. Rinaldi, why does it hurt so much to have your heart broken?"
Her boyfriend had left her for someone else. She admitted what she believed was not having loved her boyfriend enough. As that feeling intensified, she began doubting her self-worth.
"Will I ever love myself enough to really feel loved by someone else?"
"Lisa, your feelings are misguided. I can see the goodness in you and your desire to love, but what I want for you is for joy to radiate through your heart again. May I give you some advice?"
"Yes, Dr. Rinaldi, please do."
"I would like you to concentrate on changing your thinking by refusing any bleak or despairing thoughts from entering your mind, and stop ruminating about the loss of your lover since your past thoughts have caused you physical problems and depression. Lisa, these thoughts do not reflect reality. Are you willing to change your mind-set and form a new attitude, empowering yourself with happiness?"
"I'll give it a try, Doctor."
"I'm hoping you will, Lisa. All I ask is that you make a start. I would like to recommend that you make a list of things to be grateful for, which will help shift your thinking away from how your mind perceives things at this time. Being grateful will bring back your peace, serenity, and joy."
"Dr. Rinaldi, I did everything I could to show affection toward him. I was confused when he said it was over."
"Lisa, when we fall in love, we give of ourselves selflessly. We believe that the one we have found to love and rejoice about life with is the one meant for us. We open up the door to our hearts with fine sentiments and good feelings toward our beloved in the hope that they, too, feel the same way. Giving freely of ourselves to another is a noble endeavor, but it is a deed of daring as well. We don't know if the other person is willing to reciprocate our love for them. Love takes time to nurture, very much like planting a seed then letting it grow. Let me reassure you that there is an eternal love to come your way. As my mother would say to me in Italian, Quella destinata per te, nessuno la prendera—true love waits!" Lisa placed her arms around me and began crying.
"It's going to be okay, Lisa. Try to remain optimistic and open to all the possibilities and opportunities that are coming your way. Forget the past and live each moment with joyfulness in your heart."
"Thank you, Dr. Rinaldi."
After spending some time with Lisa, I called home. "Hey, sis, how's Mamma?"
"Not so good, Marco. Mamma has a fever, and she keeps calling out your name."
"Okay, Regina, I'm on my way."
After receiving permission to leave the hospital, I sat in a subway car and headed home, thinking about Mamma's condition and how hopeless I was feeling, frustrated by my attempts to nurse her back to health. My Catholic faith taught me that pain and suffering is redemptive. Not something I would prescribe. As a doctor it is my job to heal people. When I arrived, I immediately entered Mamma's bedroom and sat beside her on her bed, stroking her face and holding her hands in mine. I said softly, "Mamma, it's me, Marco."
"Ah, my beautiful son. I dreamt of your father, and I think he wants me to be with him," she said. I believed her to be hallucinating. Her pulse became irregular and she began to perspire.
"Oh, Mamma, you're always dreaming things. You're going to be fine!"
"Figlio mio, my son. You're now thirty-five years old, and you need to move on. Your sisters are all married with children, and I don't want you to be alone. Promise me you'll go to Italy and find your bride so she can cook meatballs for you like I used to." My eyes started to well.
"Don't cry, my son!" She then turned her head to the right side of the bed and let out a sigh.
"Mamma, Mamma! Regina, she's stopped breathing!" I shouted, my voice cracking with fear.
"I'm calling the ambulance!" Regina cried out from the doorway.
"Oh, Mamma, don't go!"
I was trained as a physician to remain calm and collected through any emergency. However, this was my mamma, and I administered CPR to her, worried and fearful that I would lose her; but it was hopeless. She had passed. I took a moment to caress her face and softly kiss her forehead as I began to weep. I reflected on how blessed we were to have had such a beloved mother. I spent the remainder of the day and night that Mamma passed away grieving and reminiscing about the life we all had shared in this wonderful apartment. Mamma was a pious woman, a gentle soul who would think nothing of reaching out to give a hand to anyone who asked for help. When friends would come over, she made sure that they were all well fed. She had an infectious smile, which was very reassuring, leading us to believe that there was no challenge in life that we couldn't handle and would encourage my sisters and me to live our lives to the fullest. However, I would constantly tease her to stop nagging me about getting married. I kept hearing Mamma's final words that I should marry. I know her intentions were noble. However, I wasn't going to get married for the wrong reasons. Mamma's biggest fear for me was that I would be alone, but I knew deep down inside that I would be happy and cared for by someone special.
Chapter TwoThe funeral Mass would be held at St. Anthony's Church in Little Italy, where I was baptized and my sisters got married—so many wonderful memories. Father Rudolph, who was pastor of our church, asked me to pay a tribute to Mamma; and while holding back tears and with a lump in my throat, I struggled through my words.
"Thank you, everyone, for being here today. I will try to get through this eulogy with reverence for a woman, who, up until her last days, lived her life with joy in her heart and compassion for those in need. Always with a kind word for everyone and a peacemaker to all who knew her. Oh, Mamma, you were our rock. After Papa died, you picked yourself up and took on greater responsibilities to make us grow up to be who we are today, your loving children. A mother's love is embodied in all the little things that she does for her children, like the time when I was nine years old, and I went away for the weekend on my first scouting trip, and you had remembered to pack my knapsack with my favorite GI Joe soldier doll that I always kept close to my pillow. In looking back now, I realize how challenging it was for you to keep on going that extra mile to support us with only one income, but you never grumbled. You had to make some difficult choices at times, and I could imagine how frightening it was for you to make them without papa. You nurtured us back to health when we were sick, holding us close to you while you sang us Italian lullabies. Mamma, the song has stopped, the dance is over. Bless you, Mamma, on your journey forward. Your husband is awaiting his bride. Arrivederci!"
I stood outside the church before going to the cemetery, thanking family and friends for coming to pay their last respects to Mamma. My heart was racing as my ex- girlfriend came over to see me. She took hold of my hand and kissed me on both cheeks.
"I'm so sorry, Marco. She was a special lady, and I know how much you loved her."
I bowed my head and looked away from her. My eyes welled as I said to her, "Mamma liked you. She was always happy to see you and didn't know what more to do for you when you came over. She treated you like a daughter and would always ask about you when you weren't around."
Susie hugged me and began to cry. I didn't return her embrace. She took her hand and moved my head so that I was looking into her green eyes, eyes that I had loved.
"Maybe I was a fool to have let you go. I still think about our time together and what might have been. You treated me like a lady, always respectful and generous."
"It is what it is, Susie. You're married now and you belong to another."
She let go of me and said, "I know, but you will always have a special place in my heart."
I took one last glance at her as she walked away, and I bowed my head, shaking it, knowing that she was no longer mine. Father Rudy then approached me to say a few words.
"Marco, you're a fine young man, and your mamma was very proud to have had a son like you, who selflessly gives of himself so that others may benefit. Your sisters idolize you, and I pray that God will grant you many blessings."
Excerpted from Love Elusive by Jerry Riccio Copyright © 2011 by Jerry Riccio. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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