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|Publisher:||Regal House Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
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I could hardly wait for the disaster that my parents had planned for me this summer. No, you guessed it — actually, I could have waited forever, but my doom was not going to be postponed. An awesome, hoped-for, dreamed-of week in Tahoe with my new American friends and maybe even the chance for a hot boyfriend was gone, pouf, destroyed — all for my worst nightmare come true. That Tahoe trip would have been the perfect beginning to my senior year of high school in the U.S., but, instead, I'd been drafted as a summer nanny for the tween from Hell, in Italy, where I used to live. I cringed.
Everything would have been so perfect — the Tahoe cabin with my new friends, the special fun stuff to do arranged by my new friend, Morgan, and maybe even an American boyfriend — until this nanny problem exploded into my life. I could still see Morgan's shocked face last week when I'd told her I couldn't come.
"But, Alex!" she protested. "We've had everything all planned — Emerald Cove, Incline, Cave Rock — and we needed to have six girls to be able to go on the horse backpacking trip! Now, we can't go, and it'll be really hard to get anyone else this late to come for the whole week. And how about the guys from school coming to meet us for boating on the lake and barbecue after?" I had no answer. My heart sank.
Then, she added, "Besides, I thought you were done with Italy. You keep saying you're American now." Did she look at me sideways, or was it just my imagination?
I swallowed hard and pushed that conversation to the back of my mind. It had happened a week ago and I still felt awful about it. And now, I was stuck in the car with Mom and Dad, going to meet the family I'd be living with for six dreaded weeks.
Dad pulled up in front of the Cowans' house. "Ecco!" he said enthusiastically. "This is going to be fun!"
Fun? I wanted to groan. The three of us had been invited to dinner at the Cowans' to talk about logistics and to generally get to know each other, a plan which applied most specifically to moi, since I didn't really know the Cowans except to say "Hi." Carrie was the one I was really worried about. Mom used to come home from work at the college and tell me stories about the latest craziness that this Carrie had created. It sounded to me like her parents pretty much let her run wild. Great. Just great. Me in Italy, in charge of an international incident just waiting to happen.
Of course, because I'd grown up there, I knew there were lots of potential problems for a nanny and a wild child in Italy, as there were in most places. We'd all heard the usual media stories about Italian guys going after American girls, pinching their behinds and all that. But worse than that were the Mafia, the N'Drangheta, the Camorra, and all the other organized crime syndicates that existed below the surface of everyday life in Italy. Besides, if Dad's investigation into the Mafia influence in American wineries wasn't dangerous enough, I knew, just like everyone else in Italy, that the syndicates were involved in extortion, money-laundering, counterfeiting, drug-running, sex-trafficking, lots of violence — and definitely murder. And what about Carrie? What could happen to a pesky, rowdy, twelve-year-old running loose in Italy? And I was supposed to be her nanny?
"Ciao!" Mr. Cowan greeted us with a big grin, opening the door with a flourish. I bit my tongue — it sounded like "chow"— and smiled politely.
"Hi," I said. No way was I going to be forced to speak Italian unless I absolutely had to. I was living inthe U.S. now, and I was determined to be just like everyone else, no matter what some snarky people had been saying at school.
"Alessandra," Mom said, "you know Mr. and Mrs. Cowan, don't you?" I nodded obediently. They looked eager and somewhat clueless, which I had kind of expected, given that they had raised a hellion like Carrie.
"Yes. Nice to see you again," I said politely. After all, I wasn't raised in the Diplomatic Service for nothing.
"Alessandra, we're so happy you can come with us and be a companion for Carrie," Mrs. Cowan said. "And please call me Nicole."
"And I am Phil," added Mr. Cowan.
I wanted to say, "And you can call me Alex," but I knew this wasn't the time to raise that issue. Really, all I wanted was to be Alex, the American, not Alessandra, the girl who grew up in Italy for almost all of her seventeen years; the girl who thought eating dinner at ten at night was normal; the girl who could pronounce correctly the name of every dish on an Italian menu; the girl who was so polite and formal with adults she didn't know, to the hilarity of her new American friends. I was doomed almost from the first moment I opened my mouth in my new American high school. So I quickly learned to keep it shut.
"You need to meet Carrie," Nicole said. "Carrie! The Martins are here! Please come and meet them."
"Carrie?" Phil called, loudly. Silence. They both looked at us and shrugged.
I already knew I was in big trouble for the next six weeks, because in my family, if guests are coming, my presence is required at the ETA, not texting my friends, not reading in my room. This Carrie needed to be actually called, and she was definitely not cooperating.
Nicole led the way to a comfortable family room. "She'll come in a minute, I'm sure," she said. "She's probably on the phone with her friends."
"How about a glass of wine?" Phil asked my parents.
Wine was served. I had Diet Pepsi, because who knew when I would next be able to get that treat? And so general college faculty and winery chat began. I tuned out, but kept an eye open for Carrie.
"Where have you been?" Nicole scolded, when Carrie finally appeared in the doorway. I didn't want to stare, but I caught the low-riding jeans, the skinny top, and the pout.
Carrie looked up from her cell phone — she must have still been texting someone — tossed her red hair back and said, "Hi. I was doing something important. Sorry."
From the corner of my eye, I caught Mom and Dad exchanging a glance. Good. Maybe they'd rethink this nanny thing.
"Carrie, this is Alessandra Martin. She'll be your companion while we're in Italy, since Ingrid had to go back to Sweden," Nicole said.
Carrie looked me up and down, and I could feel myself bristling. Who exactly did this kid think she was?
"Uh, hi," she said, looking back down and moving her thumbs over the keypad. She must have pushed "send" because she put the phone in her pocket and walked in, plopping herself down on an ottoman. "You mean, nanny-babysitter," she said.
"If that's what you want to call it," Phil said, with a sigh. "Your mother and I will be busy working on our books, and we thought it would be more fun for you to have someone closer to your age to do things with, instead of being cooped up with us in the apartment."
Carrie shrugged. "Whatever. I don't want to go away and not see my friends for six weeks, anyway. I told you. So, it is what it is. Six weeks of total boredom while you guys do your brainiac stuff with your books. That's been the story of my life." She leaned forward, her chin on her hands, elbows on knees.
Nice, really nice, I thought. Of course, I felt pretty much the same way. After all, what I really wanted was to be with my new friends in Tahoe, setting up a great senior year. That chance was over. I held back a sigh.
"Italy is beautiful," Mom said in a hopeful tone. I could almost see the rose-colored glasses perched on her nose. "You'll love it."
"A lot of girls would love to go to Italy for six weeks," Nicole added. The earnestness on her face almost made me wince. Sure, they would — if they weren't trying to make new friends in a whole new place, working on fitting in and being like everyone else.
"It was lucky for us that friends of the Martins know the LoPrestis, owners of a local restaurant in Positano, who were able to find us a nice apartment to rent," said Phil. "That was very helpful." Carrie didn't look convinced. I wasn't either.
"Time to put the meat on the grill," Phil said, getting up. As if they'd been pulled up like marionettes by an invisible hand, the four adults got up, holding their wine glasses, and left the room. Their voices echoed back from the kitchen, the women's laughter rising above the men's deeper voices. Something must be awfully funny, I thought, but what it could possibly be, I had no idea. I didn't think anything was funny right now.
Carrie had pulled out her cell phone again and was engaged in texting. I decided to wait it out and not be pushy. Nothing I was going to say or do was going to change her mind, that was easy to see. I sighed. I couldn't believe this was happening to me — stuck with a brat for six weeks in a place I so didn't want to be.
I stood up and walked over to the bookshelves. The Cowans had tons of history books — Italian history, French history, English history. Then there were anthropology books — stuff on Easter Island, Africa, Polynesia, and big books on weaving and textiles. Nicole must be some kind of a retro-eighties macramé person. If she was that squishy and fuzzy and a wanna-be-back-in-the-day hippie, no wonder Carrie was like she was — not that I liked to generalize and stereotype or anything.
"What are you looking at?" Carrie's voice made me jump, and I turned around.
"I just like to see what people are reading," I said, deciding that the truth was probably the best answer when faced with attitude.
"Are you some kind of really smart person?" Carrie asked. "My parents said you read tons of books and you speak Italian like a native, which you practically are."
"I'm an American, just like you," I said, maybe a little bit too defensively, but no kid was going to put me back in that place I did so not want to be. "My dad was working for the U.S. government. I had to learn to speak Italian because everybody else spoke it."
"Did your dad go after the Mafia?" Carrie asked, scooting forward on the ottoman. "Was that what he was doing for the government? Arresting Mafia?"
I almost wanted to grin at the thought of my quiet, unassuming dad, strapping on a Glock and taking on Italian organized crime face-to-face in Italy, but the truth about what he was doing was uncomfortably close to what Carrie had suggested.
"Uh-uh. He mainly bailed drunk Americans out of jail."
"Oh," Carrie said, her face falling. "I was hoping it would be kind of like those old movies, The Godfather, the Departed, the Sopranos, something."
"Well, the Mafia, and the Camorra aren't any movie; they're definitely real." Carrie's face lit up expectantly, so I had to crush her enthusiasm. "But I don't think we have to worry about it. Especially where we'll be, in Positano," I answered. "It's not like Napoli." I honestly didn't know that for sure, but it seemed like the right thing to say.
Carrie sighed. "The Mafia! The Camorra! I'd just like a little something to happen that would make these six weeks not so boring." She looked sideways at me with a half-grin. "How about you?"
I tried to hide a smile and shook my head. Twelve years old and she already seemed to be up for pretty much anything. Unfortunately, it was going to be my job to handle Carrie, so I thought I'd better try to set up some boundaries — as if I thought they might actually work.
"Well, when you're in a foreign country, you have to really watch it," I said carefully. This was a lecture I had heard so many times that I could say it in my sleep and probably did. "You have to remember that you may be one of the only American teenagers" — I gave her a big break here, because twelve is technically not a teenager — "some of the Italians may ever see. So, it's kind of important to not offend anyone."
Carrie frowned. "You sound just like my parents." She got off the ottoman and marched into the kitchen. I sounded like her parents? And that wasn't good, seeing how much respect she gave them! At least we'd sort of had a conversation. Maybe this kid wouldn't live up to her advance publicity but I was going to earn my pay, that was for sure.
After dinner and small talk, we said our good-byes and got into the car.
"Alessandra," Dad said. "We need to talk about the Mafia and the Camorra."
"What?" I asked. "What's wrong — what do you mean? Is it too dangerous for me to go to Italy after all?" My heart lifted. Was I home free?
"No, Alessandra," Mom said. "We heard you talking with Carrie about the Camorra and the Mafia and how they weren't really problems."
Nice. My parents were eavesdroppers.
Dad continued. "Lately, I've been finding out that there are, unfortunately, even more wineries and distributors in Italy under Mafia and Camorra control than we had thought. It's becoming clear that it's not going to be too difficult for those thugs to get into the wine business in the U.S. with threats and intimidation, as they're doing in Italy."
"Well?" I said. "What does that have to do with me?" Hopefully a lot — as in, now I wouldn't have to go.
Mom said, "It means that you need to remember the Camorra and Mafia are everywhere in Italy. And there are many ties between Italy and the U.S. in the wine world. So you have to be very careful."
"Then why are you letting me go?" I asked, crossing my fingers. Could I get out of this trip, after all?
Dad chuckled. "You'll be fine. We're sure of that. Positano is out of the mainstream of organized crime. Besides, it is what it is in Italy, and you know how everyone just puts up with the Mafia and the Camorra. It's part of life there. But we only want you to be aware that it can't be taken lightly, no matter what you said to Carrie."
Mom, turning to look at me in the back seat, added, "It's fine to tell people who ask you that your father works for a winery in California, but don't say anything about organized crime, not even to the Cowans and especially not to Carrie."
"Duh!" I said. "You don't think I'm that stupid, do you?" Silence from the front seat. Mom and Dad exchanged glances.
"Well, this does sound a little scary though," I went on. "I just don't get it. Why don't I just stay home and go to Tahoe with my new friends, like I'd planned?"
Mom sighed. "Dave, help me out here please."
"Alessandra, it's only cautionary," Dad said. "We've spent too many years in Italy and in the Diplomatic Service not to be careful about things like this, so just relax and have a good time. The Camorra and Mafia probably don't know that I even exist, much less that I'm working with Ralf's winery and looking into all these winery takeovers. They're not going to make any connection between you and them — and they wouldn't bother with a teenager, for heaven's sake. They operate in a whole different world."
I leaned back against my seat, already dreading the coming six weeks. Organized crime or not, I was in for trouble any way I looked at it — with Carrie and with Morgan, and her group at Sonoma High. When I came back from Italy, could I still fit into the group as "Alex,"— the name I'd asked all my new friends to call me — instead of Alessandra?
With a sigh, I remembered how at first, at school, it had been fine, and even kind of special, to be "the girl from Italy." Lots of people at school thought being from Italy was glamorous and very cool and asked me lots of questions about what it was like to live there, and how cute the guys were, and, at first, everything seemed to be working. I made the tennis team — thanks to my Italian tennis pro, Guido — but didn't try to jump right into Morgan's popular group, even though some of the tennis team girls I knew were in it. I sort of hung around after practice and before lunch, pretending to be doing something else. After a while, Morgan or one of her friends would say, "Why don't you sit with us?"
I was so, so careful to wear the right clothes, to say the right things, and to be friendly and upbeat and have a sense of humor. But I started noticing jealousy amping up among some of the girls because of the attention that I was getting from guys. Then, to my complete shock, the Mean Girl comments started. One afternoon while we were all sitting at the cafeteria table, one of the girls I hardly knew spoke up ...
"Oh, look! Here's Alessandra, and now all the guys are going to be coming around — all for her hot Italian-ness!" I'd had to back off the Italy thing, and fast. I so did not want to be tagged as "the Italian" anymore and risk losing my new friends, especially Morgan. Nothing was worth that. It was all about fitting in and being just like everyone else, and that was absolutely fine with me. If only I could really make it happen.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Secrets in Translation"
Copyright © 2018 Margo Sorenson.
Excerpted by permission of Regal House Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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