It was time to head over to his uncle’s and aunt’s house so Father Morelli left the loft where he had spent most of the afternoon. As he walked to his car, the more he thought about seeing Genet, the more anxious he became. He wished things could have been different between them but he knew that if he didn’t stay away from her, he would give into temptation again.
He passed the colosseum with the giant Christmas tree at the front. Last year Genet and he had driven through Rome, admiring the different Christmas decorations. They had gone to the Grand Christmas Concert at St. Paul’s Within the Walls and for dinner at his family’s restaurant afterwards. On Christmas Eve, they had attended Christmas Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. On Christmas Day, they walked around the city center, had Christmas lunch at a favorite restaurant. Since he met her, they spent part of the Christmas season together. This year would be the first time, they didn’t go somewhere or do something alone together.
When he got to his uncle’s house, everyone was already there. They greeted him warmly. Fabrizio and he were a little reserved with each other but the others didn’t seem to notice. Genet was standing by the fireplace. She looked lovely in the red dress. He excused himself and walked over to her.
“Hello, Father Morelli.”
He was taken aback by her formal greeting. “Why aren’t you calling me Roberto?”
“That’s what you were when we were friends. Now, that we aren’t, I think it’s more fitting to address you as Father Morelli, don’t you?”
“Why the heavy makeup?” he asked.
“I guess you don’t like it.”
“No, I don’t.”
She raised her chin a fraction and her expression was defiant. “What else don’t you like, Father Morelli? The fact that I’m here because of Fabrizio?”
“Is he the reason why you came?”
“He invited me.”
“You didn’t answer my question. Is he the reason why you came?”
“No. I came because I wanted to see you. That was very foolish of me, though, wasn’t it?”
“You’re still upset with me.”
“I’m not still upset with you. I’m confused. You don’t want to be friends but you have a problem with my friendship with Fabrizio.”
“Is that what it is between him and you? Friendship?”
“Yes! How many times do I have to tell you that?”
“It’s obvious that he wants more than friendship with you, Genet. I see the way he looks at you.”
“So, he still finds me attractive but it doesn’t mean that we’re going to jump back into a relationship.”
“Did he bring you or did you come on your own?”
“He brought me. Is that something else you don’t like, Father Morelli?”
“Please call me Roberto.”
“All right, then. Roberto, does it bother you that Fabrizio brought me here? Would you have preferred if I had taken the train or a taxi instead?”
“By the way, how was Carla’s farewell party?”
“It was fine.”
“Did Sister Caterina tell you that I came by the church to see you?”
“No. She didn’t. When did you come by?”
“After I received your letter.”
“Is that why you came by? To talk to me about the letter?”
“Yes. Anyway, it doesn’t matter now. It’s over between us. You made that very clear in your letter.”
“I think I’ll go and see if I can be of any help to your mother and your aunt in the kitchen. Excuse me.” She turned and walked away.
Dinner was served shortly after that. The table was beautifully and festively decorated. In the background, Christmas Carols played. For starters, they had sliced and fried in batter cod or artichokes, along with platters of cold cuts. As a first course, stracciatella was served. It was delicious. Fabrizio’s mother had made it. She beamed when she was complimented on it. For the second course, they had capon stew served with a green sauce and breaded cutlets of lamb with side dishes of artichokes, hunchbacks. Genet had never seen such a big roast chicken in her life or tasted one more delicious. Another one of Fabrizio’s mother’s specialties.
Dessert was Pampepato which Roberto’s mother had made. A cake with spices, dried citrus fruits and chocolate–what could be better? Genet was tempted to have a second slice but she decided to have a second glass of the Ethiopian Honey wine which she had taken and everyone enjoyed.
After dinner, Genet went into the kitchen to help the two Mrs. Morellis while their husbands went out onto the terrace to have a smoke. Fabrizio’s twenty year old sister, Guilia and his eighteen year old sister, Vittoria watched TV in one section of the large living-room while he was in the other section of the living-room with Roberto. They didn’t say much to each other.
Genet joined them. She sat on the loveseat with Fabrizio. Roberto was sitting in the armchair by the fireplace. Her gaze drifted over to him. Their eyes met. Then, she looked away and at Fabrizio who was watching her. “Thanks for inviting me to dinner,” she said to him with a bright smile. “It’s one of the best dinners I’ve ever been to.”
“You’re welcome. It beats spending Christmas alone.”
“Yes, it does.”
“After having such a heavy dinner, I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to sit here. Why don’t you and I go for a walk in the garden?”
“Sure,” Genet replied before she looked at Roberto.
Roberto rose to his feet. He said to Fabrizio, “I’ll go and spend some time with your mother and mine. Excuse me.” His eyes shifted to Genet before he left the room.
Genet watched him go.
Fabrizio stood up. “Let’s go for that walk.”
Genet got to her feet and followed him out to the garden. They spent a while there. Then, they returned to the house. It was after ten. Genet told Fabrizio that she was ready to go home.
They bumped into Roberto in the hallway. He had just left the kitchen where the two Mrs. Morellis were chatting over two mugs of Cioccolata Calda. Fabrizio went over to him. “Roberto, do you mind taking Genet home? I’m not ready to leave yet and I don’t think anyone else is either.”
“Thanks.” Fabrizio turned to Genet. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Even if she did, what good would that do? “No.”
Fabrizio hugged and kissed her on the cheek. “Ciao, bella.”
The two cousins shook hands as they said goodbye to each other.
After saying their goodbyes to the others, Father Morelli and Genet left. They didn’t say anything to each other as they walked to his car or as they headed for her apartment building. When they arrived, he accompanied her right to her door. She opened it and then, turned to face him. “I would invite you in but there’s no point in me doing that, is there?”
“Genet, I hate how things are between us.”
“So, do I but there’s nothing either of us can do about it. Thanks for bringing me home. Perhaps you should go now. We shouldn’t be alone together, remember?”
“No, we shouldn’t be,” he agreed quietly. Time to go, he told himself but he didn’t move a muscle.
“Because if we are, you might be tempted and we don’t want that, do we?”
“No.” Now was the time for him to say goodbye and leave but, still he lingered.
“Oh, for goodness sake, come inside.” She reached out and pulled him inside. After locking the door, she turned to face him. She removed her pumps and put her clutch purse on the nearby table. “Take off your shoes if you’re going to stay a while.”
He removed his shoes and placed them on the mat besides hers. When he straightened up, he asked tautly, “Did anything happen between Fabrizio and you when you went for your walk in the garden?”
“Anything like what?” she demanded.
“Did he hold your hand or kiss you?”
“No! Why would he?”
“I saw the way he acted around you, Genet. He couldn’t take his eyes off you.”
“Maybe he liked the way I looked.”
“When he asked you to go for a walk with him in the garden, you didn’t turn him down.”
“And that bothered you?”
“Yes, it did.”
Roberto dragged his fingers through his hair, his eyes haunted as he looked at her. “It’s no use,” he muttered thickly. “I can’t fight them any more.”
“Fight them?” She stared at him, confused. “What are you talking about?”
“My feelings for you.”
“In your letter you mentioned that you have feelings for me. That you’ve always had them. What kind of feelings are you talking about, Roberto?”
“Can’t you tell?”
Her heart was pounding now. “I want you to tell me.”
“I’m in love with you, Genet. I have been for a very long time.”
Her eyes widened and her heart leapt in her chest. Tears sprang to her eyes. “Oh, Roberto,” she cried huskily. “I’m in love with you too.”
Muttering under his breath, Roberto pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp and his mouth found hers. Moaning against his lips, she put her arms around his waist and feverishly kissed him back. The kisses were wild and out of control because of their love and desire for each other and after being apart for so long.
Sources: Hostel Trust Ever; Walks Inside Rome