Following morning prayer and a private Mass, Fratelli snuck outside to his garden. He checked the tomatoes which were growing well and red with ripeness. Seeing several weeds had cropped up, the cardinal looked over his shoulder, to make sure Dina wasn’t there, then began pulling them.
He washed his hands in the garden’s central fountain as Michele approached. She carried a small, brightly-wrapped box in her hands and when she carefully lifted the lid, a kitten’s finely-pointed head peered out.
“Oh look Angelo, what Ernesto brought me,” she cried happily, “a Siamese kitten!”
“That is so nice!” Fratelli said, patting the kitten’s head.
It reached toward his hand with one, brown paw and mewed. However, the kitten prepared to leap out of the box and Michele closed the lid tight. More plaintive mews could be heard from inside.
“I’ll take her back to the house,” Michele explained.
“First, may I ask you a question,” Fratelli said, “How is Ernesto?”
“He is wonderful, strong, handsome, kind… a lot like you actually.”
Fratelli glanced away and then added, “Except for the part about being strong right?”
She laughed and sat upon the fountain. He felt glad seeing her happy. Sitting on the edge a good distance away from her, he asked, “How many times have you seen him?”
“Several times… He owns two beautiful horses... and a nice piece of land. Although I wonder how he paid for this kitten. Don’t they come from China?”
“Not the same place?”
“See, you’ve become so educated,” she remarked, “It’s almost as if you are a different person since I knew you…and yet the same.”
Fratelli interrupted, “Ernesto seems to me like a good, godly man. You should keep a hold on him.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve already lost one,” Michele said looking at Fratelli who awkwardly glanced away at his reflection in the water, “I won’t lose this other one if I can help it.”
After she left, Fratelli felt more at ease. Things seemed to be going quite well. He just dipped his hand in the water, refreshed by its coolness when a sharp voice called out, “There you are!”
He saw Francine.
“We need to talk,” she began “What business did you have yesterday tossing me out the door and behaving all smug?”
Fratelli stood and answered,
“I had a meeting with the duke’s secretary Francine. I needed to go.”
“Well you could have been more polite.”
“Maybe so…or maybe you should not barge into my house?”
Francine huffed loudly crossing her arms. Instead of addressing her wrongness, she changed the subject:
“I saw Michele here. Angelo, do you know how long I wished you would have married that girl?”
Growing impatient, Fratelli snapped back, “First, I am not “Angelo” to you, second, I am not ever possibly getting married so deal with it!”
He didn’t intend to be so mean, but the words came easily. His face flushed angrily and he took a deep breath. Francine cooled her temper a little moving beneath the shade of the fountain, but she eventually retorted,
“I just think you are silly and senseless!”
“And I think you should be excommunicated” Fratelli shouted, throwing his hands up then adding suddenly, “But I’ve thought of something better…”
He quickly pushed her over and she grabbed onto his arm right before both of them tumbled into the water-fountain. They emerged soaking wet, shouting at each other. They froze at Father Arnold’s approach. Finally, Francine stormed off, dripping water with her every step, leaving Fratelli to explain the commotion. At this, the priest shook his head but said nothing. Fratelli felt a lump forming in his throat as he retreated back indoors to dry himself off.
“Good Lord, come to my aid,” he grumbled in sheer frustration, fastening dry, new garments around himself. Dina had taken his old clothes without asking why they were so wet- and he preferred it that way.
Coming downstairs, he crept into the parlor to be alone for some time. After settling down, he realized that perhaps he hadn’t handled the situation with Francine in the proper manner. However, he needed to let her know he was finished taking disrespect. Fratelli’s life belonged to him. Yet, he slowly realized life belonged to God at best but more often he acted as if it were his own.
Having enough of his troubled thoughts, he went outside for a stroll. There still waited an un-weeded patch in the garden that he should deal with before daylight ended. At the last minute, taking account of how easily his last set of clothes got dirty, he decided against it. As sunlight sank, Fratelli recited evening-prayer by himself.
Hearing sounds in the parlor, people moving about and voices conversing, he went inside and found Father Rodrigo had returned!
He hugged Fratelli who had to bend down so the short, stocky priest could reach his ring and kiss it.
“Rodrigo, how was your vacation?” Fratelli said.
“Nice, nice, just wonderful!”
They ate a quick diner while listening as Rodrigo told of his adventures in Sicily to the south. He recounted meeting with his family, brothers and sisters. As Fratelli sat silently and sipped tea, pleasant thoughts occurred that some families did get along well. Arnold soon granted farewell and prepared to leave. Fratelli would honestly miss him. Together with Rodrigo, he watched him go then felt a nudge.
“Was he kind, hardworking and good to you?” the priest asked.
“Of course,” Fratelli said.
More Family Matters.
Birds chirped lightly, tree limbs rustled, casting shimmering shadows through the stained-glass window. Past the warming light, Fratelli strolled, his red robes whispering behind each step. A glass vase holding roses was in his hand. He approached the high-altar, set the vase down, bowed in reverence then turned around seeking a convenient place to pray. He chose that space beneath the window, soaked with morning light and knelt down, producing a glittering rosary from his pocket.
Glancing up towards the illuminated, colorful, glass, he spoke, “Merciful God, you are beauty and you are grace. Bring me your peace. I have confessed my sins before your holy priest…as humiliating as that is for me…and now I kneel here asking for your tranquil light to pierce though all my troubles…and you know, O God that I have so many.”
He bowed his head and said some other, inaudible words then after a while stood. Bowing towards the altar again, he smiled and began walking away.
Ernesto suddenly appeared.
“Your Eminence,” he said, “Rodrigo said I would find you here. I hope I am not disturbing you… just wanted to thank you for buying the kitten. Michele thought it was the most-perfect gift…”
Fratelli raised his assuring hand and replied, “I am not disturbed at all… and I’m glad you came. Actually, I desire to speak with you.”
“Yes,” Fratelli laughed.
Ernesto rested beside him in a pew and eventually the cardinal sat down also. He asked, “How is Michele?”
“She is very well, Your Eminence.”
“Do you fancy her?”
“Do you fancy her?”
“Um…Your Eminence, I do fancy her. Should you be asking me something like this?”
“Or course!” Fratelli answered, “She is an old friend of mine who I care for very much. Did you know I grew up in the house next to hers? Where did you grow up?”
Ernesto glanced downwards for a moment then hesitantly spoke, “Your Eminence, I was adopted. My parents were unwed. I hope this doesn’t bear on your impression of me…”
Fratelli pondered then quickly answered should his pondering be perceived the wrong way, “No, you seem to be a very virtuous man Ernesto. The saints of God did not always hail from high places… Do you know your parents’ names?”
“Yes I do. My birth-mother’s name was Maria and my father’s was Francesco.”
The cardinal arched his eyebrows, he felt his heart pound but calmly replied, “My parents have the same names…”
He thought about when he first met Ernesto and how the first noticeable thing was how much the constable looked like him. Michele once remarked about it too. Before he came to hasty conclusions, he asked:
“Ernesto, did you grow up here in Lucca?”
“Yes I did. Outside the city.”
“I know this may be a painful question, but why did your parents give you away?”
“Because they were unwed when I was born,” Ernesto said, “They did this to avoid shame... They intended to take me back into their home once they were wed and produced another son- but the family who’d adopted me was so nice, they couldn’t bear separating me from them and causing more hurt.”
“I think it might be possible,” Fratelli began his voice trembling with astonishment, “That I am your brother.”
~ ~ ~
The next morning, Fratelli anxiously rose. He felt tired and his eyes drooped sleepily after having conversed with Ernesto long hours into the night. In the parlor, he sipped tea hoping to wake up more. What he learned last night was exciting but made him worried. Should he tell someone? Of course! But when?
Throughout morning prayers and breakfast, he kept unusually silent. Arriving for afternoon Mass, he found the duke’s son at the cathedral and heard his confession. They talked for some time and Fratelli agreed to lift the excommunication. He was so gladdened by this movement to repentance that he almost forgot he had an estranged brother…almost.
Returning indoors from a stroll in the garden, Fratelli summoned Father Rodrigo and told him, “I would like Francine to come here.”
The priest darted off to fetch his aunt. After their fight, he dreaded confronting her but needed to tell her about his parents having a son before him. He didn’t know how she would react and sat nervously the rest of the afternoon.
Suddenly the sound of Francine’s footsteps coming through the door, walking across the tile floor jolted him. She huffed quietly and sat down. Her green eyes conveyed irritation hidden by politeness. She waited for him to speak.
“Francine, I have some news that may surprise you as it very much surprised me...”
The cardinal hesitated, unsure of how to exactly form his words when Francine begged, “What is it?”
“The man who is courting Michele, Ernesto, he told me about his childhood yesterday, some things that I found rather startling. His parents gave him away for adoption- and they have the same name as my own parents… My mother had another son before she married my father- did you know this?”
“Angelo…Your Eminence- you can’t be serious…is this some revenge-plot of yours because of our fight? If so I don’t like it.”
“No, Francine, I have been forgiven,” Fratelli said, though his next words came difficultly, “and I forgive you and ask your forgiveness. I am surely being serious.”
Francine seemed startled but regained composure and said, “I don’t believe my sister-in-law could hide something like that from me. Francesco yes but Maria- never! If Francesco were here right now I’d…”
His red-haired aunt looked straight at him. She expressed concern and profound surprise yet she blinked lightly as if disregarding these feelings.
“Well, I don’t know what to say,” she replied, “May I go speak with Ernesto?”
“I think that would be immanent.”
She stood about to leave then turned back.
“Why don’t you come with me?”
The cardinal crossed his arms and replied softly, “Go have a private conversation. I’m sure there will be things said that I don’t wish to hear…”