When Mona Lisa Cicciarelli is left at the altar by Joey and his overbearing mother, Alice, Mona Lisa wonders what will be worse-the pitying stares from her friends and family or her parents' renewed obsession with the age of her ovaries and impending spinsterhood. Her father, Chick, tries to fix her up the day after she is jilted with the handsome, Italian-Catholic Dante Coletti, and it's then that Mona Lisa realizes her sanity is at risk. She needs to make a big change, and when she's offered a job opportunity in Atlanta, she consults Noni, her eccentric grandmother-and closest confidante-who gives her the push she needs.
Despite Chick's protests that she is abandoning the family, Mona Lisa escapes to the south where she moves in with overly compassionate southern belle roommate Brightleigh and sarcastic, New York transplant Amy. She enjoys the south, but her social life is a series of disasters and Mona Lisa wonders if she will ever live happily married after.
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About the Author
Robyn Sheridan's first novel, Facing Forward, was published in 2009 and was nominated for a 2010 EPIC Award and the 46th annual Georgia Author of the Year Award. She lives with her husband and three children in Atlanta.
Tanya Eby is a novelist and an audiobook narrator who has earned several AudioFile Earphones Awards and been nominated for the Audie Award. She has a BA degree in English language and literature and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.
Read an Excerpt
I guess most people would consider me a glass half-empty kind of girl. I'm sure it started the day I was born. My dad, Chick as he is known to everyone including his kids, said when he first saw me my lips were together in such a way he immediately thought of Leonardo's creation. He knew right then I had to be named Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa Annette Cicciarelli — Annette, because everyone needs a middle name and it also served as an homage to Chick's favorite Mouseketeer. Mona Lisa didn't really lend itself to a nickname, especially since my mother said Mona sounded like an old lady with leather skin from Boca Raton. Therefore, I began life saddled with the name Mona Lisa, which propelled me on my path toward pessimism and is why I wasn't surprised when I was left at the altar.
I sat in the bride's room of St. Luke's church with my head on the vanity, trying to ignore my husband-to-be's mother and the sobbing of my mother and sisters.
"You know, Mona Lisa, Joey is just sick over this, but it really is for the best," his mother said.
My father burst in and bellowed, "Where is he? I'm gonna kill that son of a bitch with my bare hands."
"Chick," my mother admonished. "We're in church."
"I don't care if we're in the friggin' Vatican. Where is that coward son of yours, Alice?"
"Chick, you're being unfair. My Joey feels so bad. You just don't know."
Why didn't I pay attention to the signs? Joey was such a mama's boy. He was thirty-five and still lived at home with his widowed mother, Alice. She was a piece of work. Small in stature, but a giant who was fiercely protective of her Joey, as she affectionately called him.
Alice was there when he proposed to me. Sign. We went to the same Italian restaurant as on our first date and it was just another night out as far as I was concerned. We had dated for five years, and we talked about marriage but never made any plans. As we ate, I felt someone staring at me. I looked over at the door and there was Alice.
Joey glanced over and said, "Ma, what are you doing here?"
"I couldn't wait," she answered with a huge smile plastered on her face.
Joey smiled apologetically and reached into his pocket. As he pulled out a black velvet box, he got down on one knee and asked, "Mona Lisa, I was wondering if you would do me the honor of being my wife?"
Before I could answer, Alice ran over to us and announced, "Of course she will!"
Joey thankfully waited to hear an answer from me.
"Yes. Yes, I'll marry you," I answered quietly before I cupped my hands on his face and kissed him. He placed a small, but elegant round diamond in an antique setting on my finger and I was so entranced I never noticed that Alice had slid into the booth across from me. Joey kissed me again and then sat next to his mom — another sign. That was the beginning of the end. Our relationship from that point on went from Mona Lisa and Joey to Mona Lisa, Joey, and Ma.
The ring was barely out of the box, but it didn't stop Alice.
"Joe senior gave me that ring thirty-eight years ago. God rest his soul. I always prayed that Joey would give it to his wife. And now that he has, I'd love for the two of you to get married on my birthday."
Joey smiled and said, "Great idea, Ma."
The increasing chaos at the church brought me back to reality; I had had enough. "I want to go home," I said to no one in particular. And then it hit me; home was the apartment I shared with Joey. We signed a lease and moved our furniture in last week. And though I technically still lived with my parents, all of my belongings were in the new apartment.
"Come home with Chick and me," my mom suggested.
"I don't have anything there, but I don't want to live in the apartment with Joey's things there."
Alice pulled a key from her purse and handed it to me. "He already moved them out. He didn't want to hurt you any more than he has."
My temples throbbed. "He knew he wasn't going to go through with the wedding and didn't have the common decency to tell me. That asshole let me come here and get dressed up and think that this was going to be the happiest day of my life. And all the while he knew he wasn't going to marry me." I moved closer to Alice and her eyes widened, so I got even closer. "And you! Look at you; you're not even dressed! You knew and did the dirty work for him. What is wrong with you people?" I shouted.
My middle sister, Rosie, grabbed my shoulder. "Mo, let's get out of here. Charlie and I will take you to our house. You can change and calm down."
I looked at my sister in disbelief. "Calm down? It's not like I missed a nail appointment or something. I've been stood up. Left at the altar. Jilted." I didn't want to relax. I wanted to get drunk, find Joey and beat the shit out of him.
In the end, I decided to go to the apartment and my sisters and I looked like a wedding party that showed up on the wrong day. My sister, Nina, handed me the key, but the door was unlocked, and as we entered, we heard the rustling of papers and boxes coming from the bedroom.
"Great," I whispered to my older sister, Sophia. "I'm being robbed on top of everything else."
Joey appeared in the doorway and my sisters lined up next to me, forming a human barricade. Joey looked like a frightened child about to be attacked by the classroom bully.
"Nice of you to show up, chickenshit," Marilyn taunted.
"Aren't you the big man? Sending your mommy to be your messenger," Rosie added.
"Mona Lisa, I'm so sorry. I wanted to tell you myself, but I couldn't." Then he started to cry. Not quiet tears. He sobbed and wailed like a baby.
"Geez, Joe. Get it together," I said.
He was pitiful. I almost felt sorry for him until I saw what he had in his hand–a picture of Alice. Could this day get any worse?
"You came for a picture of your mother? Are you for real? Get out of here, Joe, and if I find anything that belongs to you or your mother, you can be sure that I'll take care of it," I replied sarcastically.
"You heard her," Sophia said as she gestured toward the door. "And don't come back here again."
He wiped his eyes with his sleeve and he walked toward the door. He looked back at me but said nothing.
My baby sister, Nina, walked to the door and slammed it shut. "Asshole."
I couldn't help but laugh. Nina never had a bad thing to say about anyone. If nothing else, I could always count on my sisters. After we changed, and assembled on the new sectional sofa Joe and I bought, tears welled in my eyes. I let them roll down my cheeks.
"Oh, Mona Lisa, don't cry. You'll get through this," Marilyn assured me as she wrapped her arms around me. I rested my head on her shoulder.
"Is there something wrong with me?" I asked quietly.
My sisters surrounded me for a group hug. "Are you kidding me?" Rosie asked. "You're a Cicciarelli."
We all laughed.
"That's encouraging," I replied.
The Cicciarelli's were quite a bunch and our leader, Chick, was eccentric, to say the least. His real name was Carmine, but as a kid, he would go crazy when people mispronounced his last name. He was constantly saying 'It's pronounced Chick A Relli' so his friends started calling him Chick. The nickname stuck. Carmine faded into the sunset and Chick's penchant for unique names grew. While my name was the most unusual, my sisters were also named according to Chick's whims. Sophia was named after the Italian Bombshell and Marilyn was named after the infamous Ms. Monroe. Rosie's full name was Rosemary after the singer and star of White Christmas, Rosemary Clooney. The baby, Nina, was born on Columbus Day — I guess Pinta and Santa Maria would have been too obvious.
I wiped the tears from my eyes and said, "Seriously, though, you three are happily married and Nina has Nick. I've only had one other boyfriend in thirty-two years. What's the matter with me?"
"I'm having an affair," Rosie blurted out.
The room went silent and all eyes turned to Ro. There went my spotlight.
"Don't worry; I'm not sleeping with him."
We all gave her the "sure, you're not" look.
"Really," she replied. "I'm not happy and I think I want a divorce."
We all gasped.
Again she answered the unasked, "I know, Chick forbids divorce, but he isn't in charge of my life."
Chick's motto was, "Divorce is not an option. Murder is, but not divorce." We had been hearing that since we were old enough to date. "Make wise choices girls. You will be together 'til death."
Maybe I was lucky to be left at the altar after all.
My sisters assaulted Ro with questions and I slipped away and climbed into bed. I thought for sure I'd never sleep, but was awakened the next morning by the ringing of the phone. I never even said hello, but I'm not sure my mother cared.
"Mona Lisa," she acknowledged, "since you won't be going on your honeymoon, we'll expect you for family dinner at noon."
The last thing I wanted to do was have Sunday dinner with my family and the thought of it brought me to the brink of a nervous breakdown. Lying in bed was all I wanted to do, but my mother called out the troops, and I was pretty much dragged out of bed by my sister Marilyn and her husband, Mike.
"Let's go, Mary Sunshine," Marilyn sing-songed as she threw the covers back.
Mike had the decency to turn away from me.
"Jeez, you people have no hearts. Don't you realize what a shitty day I had yesterday? I should at least be given time off for extenuating circumstances!" I protested.
"Sorry, Mona Lisa," Marilyn said. "I'm under strict orders from Ma and Chick to bring you to dinner even if we have to carry you."
"I'm not going!"
Marilyn crawled into bed with me and I started to cry.
"I'll be in the living room," Mike said before leaving us alone.
"Sweetie, I know you're hurting, but you shouldn't be by yourself. Being with family is what you need. We love you and we want to help you get through this."
"Are Rosie and Charlie coming? I don't think I can handle any more drama today."
"Don't worry," Marilyn assured me. "I talked to Ro after we left last night and she's not going to do anything rash. She's all talk."
"I really don't want to go," I whined.
"I know, but if you don't get your ass out of that bed, Mike is gonna come back in here and throw you over his shoulder, so you decide."
Since I didn't have a choice, I dressed and drove the ten minutes to my parents' house. They lived in an old ranch house with a huge kitchen and dining room on an acre of land. Our neighbors were like family, and if they caught you doing something wrong, they had no qualms about reprimanding you. We looked out for each other and now that some of them were in their last years, my mom and Chick made sure to be there for them.
I took a deep breath before I turned the knob to enter my parents' kitchen. I thought I could sneak in quietly and avoid a big fuss, but that wasn't to be. The door flew open, and two of my nephews almost knocked me down as they ran outside to play. The men were sitting while the women worked around them, but they all looked at me in unison and let out a collective sigh.
I was hugged and kissed, and finally, I stepped back, and said, "I'm fine. Let's not talk about it."
My grandmother pulled me aside and said, "I never liked him anyway. He's a shmendrick! I don't think Alice ever cut the umbilical cord. You deserve better, Mona Lisa."
I smiled though I didn't know what a shmendrick was, but I assumed it was an appropriate choice, so I said, "Thanks, Noni. How are you?"
"Eh, a little constipated, but other than that, I'm old."
Italians were notoriously free with discussions about their bowels. It was one of those things you got accustomed to.
"You're not old, Noni. Mrs. Shemansky was telling me that she thinks Marshall Bernbaum is sweet on you," I teased.
"That Mabel Shemansky is nothing but a yenta. At least, she's letting you color her hair now. Miss Clairol she is not."
I laughed at my grandmother's sudden use of Yiddish phrases as that gave her away more than Mabel Shemansky.
"She does look better," I agreed. "Blue is not a natural hair color."
I walked over to my mom who was cutting pepperoni for the antipasto.
"Need any help?" "No thanks, honey. You doing alright?" she asked quietly.
I just shrugged my shoulders.
"I'm here if you need anything," she said before kissing me on the cheek.
I helped my sisters get the kids settled at the kitchen table, before joining the adults in the dining room. We all took our places and waited for Chick to say Grace.
After the usual, "Bless us O Lord ..." he added, "We have a little something else to be grateful for. Mona Lisa, I arranged for Evelyn Colletti's grandson to take you on a date!"
I gasped as my grandmother let out an "Oy Gevalt!"
"Ma, enough with the Yiddish already!" my mother snapped. "And Chick, I think it's a little soon for you to be finding dates for Mona Lisa."
"What too soon? She's not getting any younger," he protested.
"She was j-i-l-t-e-d yesterday," my mother countered.
I stood, "Hello? I'm in the room and I know how to spell. I do not want to date anyone right now."
I turned to leave the table when my mother grabbed my arm and pulled me down.
"If wanting my daughters to be happy and married before I die is a crime, then I'm guilty," Chick said throwing his hands in the air.
I lightly banged my head on the table, when my mother chided me, "Mona Lisa, don't be so dramatic. Believe you me, you're not the first girl to be left at the altar and you won't be the last."
"What do I have to do to get a little sympathy here? Lose a limb?" I whined.
"You're meshuggeneh, Chick!" Noni added.
"Between the Yiddish and the drama, I have a terrible case of agita. I don't even feel like eating," my mother complained. "Pass the garlic bread, Mike and can we please have some normal conversation?"
My brother-in-law winked at me and smiled before announcing, "I heard that a certain person we know is having an affair!"
My sisters and I stopped breathing. I looked at Marilyn as if to say, "Did you tell Mike about Ro?"
"I heard that old man Battaglia was seen in Hoboken with a young blonde who is not Mrs. Battaglia."
We all let out our breath.
"I hardly think that is appropriate dinner conversation, Michael," Chick admonished. "Besides, that's old news."
I sat back as the conversation turned to kids and work and off of me. I was supposed to be on the beach in Cancun right now with a margarita in my hand, and yet here I was — enduring another Sunday meal with the family.
I managed to make it through dinner by daydreaming and trying not to partake in the conversation, which never proved difficult with this group. When the meal was over, the women rose to clear the table while the men sat waiting for coffee and dessert. I grabbed a few dishes when the doorbell rang.
"He's here!" Chick announced. "Punctual, too."
I nearly dropped the plates.
"Who's here, Chick?" I asked.
"I told you, Evelyn Colletti's grandson, Dante."
"Dante Colletti?" Charlie asked. "Did he just get off the boat?"
"Chick, you're crazy if you think that I am going on a date with him!" I announced as I ran into the kitchen.
The doorbell rang again as Chick called to me, "Of course, you're not going on a date today. I invited him over to get a look at you!"
I sat on the floor in the corner and put my hands over my ears and hummed loudly.
My sisters and mother just stared until my mother finally said, "Mona Lisa, stop that!"
"Your husband is crazy, do you know that? It hasn't even been twenty-four hours since I was at the church waiting to get married and he's having strange men come over to get a look at me. What am I — a show dog?"
"He means well, honey."
"Ma, it's way too soon," my sister, Marilyn, countered. "She needs some time."
"Thank you for being the voice of reason," I said before I let out a sigh.
It was quiet for a moment when Chick called out, "Mona Lisa you have a visitor."
"I don't believe this," I shouted. "I am not going out there. Soph, go get my purse from the living room and I'll leave through the back."
She bumped into Chick, who caught my eye and said, "Mona Lisa, please come to the dining room — now!"
It was times like these when I realized how much of an adult I was not. I stood and followed my father into the dining room where I found Dante Colletti listening to Noni explain to him that she was feeling bloated because my mother insisted on serving escarole salad when she knew darn well that it gave my grandmother gas.
Excerpted from "Mona Lisa"
Copyright © 2017 Robyn Sheridan.
Excerpted by permission of Waldorf Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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