Chapter Twelve

Bella Valvano



              ou’ve got to bed shitting me….”  Marc was aghast.

“Actually, I thought it was kind of cute,” said Lauren.

“Well, how did she get your number?”

“She never said—I never asked.”

Marc had to brace himself for the next question.  “What did she want?  What did she say?”

“Marc:” Lauren was placating, soothing.  “I’m a big girl.  I can handle a simple phone call.”

The Luthier groaned.  “If only that’s all it was!”

“You’re over-reacting.  Now settle down and I’ll tell you about it.”

“Fine,” he grumped.  He put his arm over the back of the couch.  Facing her made this a little easier (and more pleasant).  “What’d she say?”

“Well,” began Lauren, “do you want the whole story or just parts?”

Marc winced.  “Whole thing,” he said, though he knew better.

“OK,” she replied.  “But you have to listen to the whole thing.”  He agreed and she began her story.

“She called this morning about eight.”  Marc nodded.  Classic Bella.  No surprise there at all.  “She introduced herself right away but it didn’t register:  Valvano’s not a name I associate with you.”  She checked to make sure he was listening politely.  “As soon as she said her name was ‘Bella’ I knew…since you warned me.”

Marc let another wince be his answer.

“OK.  Then she launches into this whole ‘I know who you are’ thing and starts quoting lines from articles I can’t even remember having written.  Then she tells me that she’s our sister and it all starts to fall into place.”

Marc closed his eyes.  He didn’t know what was coming next—only that it wouldn’t be good.

“She said that there’s a dinner at your parents’ house tomorrow.  She said I should come.  She said your mom is worried about you.  About us.”

“Aw, Christ!” lamented Marc.

“What’s that supposed to mean?  Should I go?  Should we go?  Is your mom some kind of fire-breathing dragon or something?”

The Luthier rolled his eyes toward the ceiling in exasperation.  Where to begin?!  “Alright,” he said, sorting out his thoughts.  “Alright.  Here’s what you need to know.  My mom…she’s cool.  You’ll love her and I think she’s really gonna love you.  Dad?  Dad’s easy.  You’re gorgeous and smart.  He’ll love you the minute he sees you.”

“So what’s the problem?”

The problem!  Ah, yes, the problem.  The problem, of course, was his sister.  “Lauren,” he said, tentatively, “my sister is a sociopath.”

“She didn’t sound like one over the phone,” she countered.

Marc nodded sadly but firmly.  “Seriously.  I love my sister and all but she is deranged.”

And you have some evidence to back this claim?” she said dubiously.  “You’re going to have to do better than just an accusation.”

“Fine,” said the Luthier, fully prepared for this contest.  “You know how my mom calls me “Marcelo?’  It’s because she and my dad want to honor some old world traditions.  They know it’s a little weird to be so formal here in America but it’s important for them to remember their heritage.”

She nodded.  “I actually like that.”

“Bella was their first kid.  She took this whole Italian thing ridiculously seriously.  My brother and I were practically slaves to her Italian heritage thing.  She calls me ‘Marcelo.’  Not like mom and dad do.  Just because it suits her crazy idea of who we are as a family.”

“So far, that’s not even close to being crazy, Marc.”

“Oh, I’m just getting warmed up!  Bella wouldn’t marry just any boy.  It had to be a good Italian boy.  Any idea how hard it is to find ethnic Italians in Nashville?  Mom and dad were ballistic.  Don’t get me wrong:  We all love Danny.  But she could have had her pick of any guy in high school.  Danny was the one.  Not because he was ‘the one.’  Only because his name was Valvano.”

Lauren scowled.  “I think you’re making that part up.  She had to love him or she never would have married him.”

“Um, right,” he stated flatly.  “So she started with the babies right away.  Angelo was first.”

“Fair enough,” she acknowledged.

“Followed by Gianni.  Followed by Pietro.”

Lauren raised one eyebrow.

“Around mom’s house they’re ‘Angel,’ Johnny,’ and ‘Petie.’  But at Bella’s?  Angelo, Gianni and Pietro.  Valvano, for God’s sake.”

“Being fond of Italian names doesn’t make her deranged.”

“You’re absolutely right.  It’s the deranged part that makes her deranged.”

“For example?”

“For example, nobody in my family follows Italian custom.  Because we’re not Italian!  But Bella does.  Big meals every single day.  ‘Mangia, mangia!’ Church with black dresses and black lace handkerchiefs on her head.  Poor Danny!  He assumed because my family’s not big into religion that he’d gotten a pass on church.”  He shook his head.

“So what, Marc?  She likes to eat.  She likes church.  She likes Italian names.  It’s not exactly a crime….”

“Her house.  Outside it looks like some sort of a shrine.  Plastic Mary’s and other holy crap all over the lawn.  Inside it looks like a bad Italian restaurant.  A really bad one.  She’s got tapestries, for God’s sake.  Who the hell hangs tapestries?”

“Still doesn’t make her crazy,” said Lauren, though she felt she was losing ground.

“Italian lessons for the boys.  Only soccer.  No football.  In fact, ‘football’ is the only word she uses for soccer.  She’s gonna want to discuss World Cup matches at dinner tomorrow—and we don’t know anything about them.  Much less care….”

“Fresh Italian bread at every meal.  Pasta course—every meal.  Antipasto, olives, meat cheese plates.  You know, Danny was always a big guy in high school but now he’s gigantic.  And so is she!  She used to tip the scales at just over a hundred pounds.  Now she looks like a bowling ball walking around on two sausages.  With tiny little feet.  Black shoes!”

Lauren’s skepticism continued to erode but she made one last valiant effort.  “We should go.  I’d like to meet her.  Actually I’d like to meet your whole family.”

Again Marc shook his head.  “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.  She’s going to cut you off from the herd and trap you.  She uses her giant body to block your escape.  Then she’ll start the interrogation.  And she won’t stop until she’s gotten every question answered.  Except that she has more questions than any human being has answers for.”

Lauren grasped his hand in both of hers.  “Then you’ll just have to protect me from Big Bad Bella!”

“You think it’s funny,” he warned.  “Just wait till you meet her.  You’ll regret this.”

“I think we should go,” she said breezily.  “In spite of your deranged sister.”

“Your funeral,” he shrugged.  Then he changed the subject.  “So how do you know Duncan Calloway?”

“Ugh,” she replied, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Marc.

“He’s creepy,” she said.  “Here’s a guy who has the whole world on a string.  He could have his pick of any girl on the planet.  And for some reason he picks me.”  She shuddered again.  “Ugh,” she repeated.  “Why me?”

She looked at Marc.  “Why would you ask me about him?”

“He’s an old friend,” said Marc.  “He dropped by the shop yesterday for a bit.”

“You’re friends with Duncan Calloway?” she asked.  There was a sense of re-evaluation of their relationship hanging in the question.

“I met him before he was famous,” Marc smiled.  “Back when he was a nobody.”

“Well,” she huffed, “as far as I’m concerned, he still is a nobody.”

The Luthier grinned.  “What’d he do that freaks you out so bad?”

“Not so much anything that he did.  Just the way that he is.”  She put her hand on Marc’s knee.  “I much prefer ‘real’ over all that ‘I’m famous’ bullcrap.”

He conceded.  “Yeah, he’s got some of that.”

Smug and satisfied, he was willing to change the subject again.  “So what should we do today?”

Lauren pulled her legs underneath herself on the couch.  She casually replied, “Have sex.  Really, really good sex.”