Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Lunch with Poppy

The ride to Mama Rosa’s was harmless enough. What Poppy said out loud didn’t worry Regina as much as what was going on in his head. As they arrived and were seated, her worry only worsened. Poppy might be old and retired from the business, but men like him always retained their power: the power to harm, to control, and to ruin lives. That was what these men did. She just couldn’t have them influencing the future of her child; that could not be allowed to happen. This baby was innocent and helpless, and it would be up to her, and her alone, to hold on to that innocence for as long as she could . . .

Regina,” Poppy repeated. “Regina.”

Regina startled. She barely remembered getting to the restaurant, much less being seated. “I’m sorry, Poppy. How rude of me. I was thinking about some plans I have for the restaurant. What do you think about live entertainment?” It was the best save she could come up with; she knew asking it would make him feel important, and because of that, the question would please Anthony as well.

“Well, my dear, that sounds like a very good idea. I knew if I bought you that place you would make it successful. You should be very proud of your wife, Anthony.” Poppy’s face glowed with pride.

“Of course I am, Poppy,” Anthony said with a plastic smile. This was his own doing; for whatever reason, he had chosen to endure an afternoon of hearing Regina’s praises sung from the rooftop, and he wasn’t going to enjoy it. Regina could see his smile’s insincerity from across the table and wondered how Poppy didn’t.

“After lunch, Anthony, I would like to go back to the office with you and look over the books. That’s still okay with you?”

Anthony’s hesitation was barely discernable. “No problem,” he responded with the same brittle smile.

Just then, the waiter came over to the table. “Good afternoon. My name is Carmine, and I will be your server today. May I take your order, or do you need some more time?” He looked about fifteen, but Regina knew that he was more than likely a college student. He was tall, thin, pimple-faced, and had a huge smile.

Anthony seemed grateful for the interruption. “No, I think we’re ready. I’m getting hungry. Sweetie, do you know what you want?”

Regina hated it when Anthony called her names like sweetie or honey. She just had to grin and bear it when Poppy was around. But she knew one thing for certain now: Something was up with Anthony. He was so edgy. He always acted like this around Poppy, but it was more noticeable today than usual. They placed their order.

“Would anyone like a cocktail or an appetizer?”

Anthony said, “I’ll have a scotch on the rocks.”

Poppy glanced at him. “Don’t you think it’s a bit early to have a drink, son?”

Anthony ignored him. “Just bring it,” he told the waiter.

Quiet, Regina put her napkin in her lap and pretended not to have noticed how much he had just given himself away. Edgy, apparently, wasn’t the right word; Anthony was downright moody. What was his problem?

“Anyone else?” Carmine asked.

“Espresso,” Poppy said.

“I’ll just have water,” Regina added. Carmine left.

Poppy returned his attention to Regina. “When was the last time you saw your folks?” he asked, casually overlooking the way his son had just dismissed him.

“Last week. They’re doing fine.” She paused. “Thank you again for keeping them safe and hidden so well.” She said that only because she knew you could catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. He acted like she saw them regularly, when she was taken to see them only twice monthly — if she was lucky.

How could she leave Anthony . . . and still keep her parents safe? She was not allowed to call them; they could call her once a week, but the calls were always monitored. She hoped that one day, she’d be able to save them completely and have them home again. It was a situation she tried to change whenever the opportunity came up, and now seemed as good of a time as any.

“Poppy, do you think all of this secrecy is still so necessary?” As soon as the words came out of her mouth, she realized this hadn’t been a good idea. Anthony shot her a look. Questioning any Cavelli could be dangerous. She knew she took a chance every time she asked about her parents, but Poppy genuinely seemed to enjoy her and her company, so, perhaps, she wasn’t as afraid of mentioning it as Anthony would like her to be.

Regina, my dear,” Poppy started, “I do believe we have been over this before. It’s for their protection and for yours that I have them hidden. Realize that if the unpleasantness of the past did not get in the way, things would be very different now. We would all be here having lunch together. But, of course, that is not possible. You know there are people out there who want to hurt the family. As a matter of fact . . .”

He paused as the waiter came back with the drinks and salads. When he had gone again, Poppy continued, “As a matter of fact, I hear you had some interesting visitors today.”

Poppy gave them a moment to absorb what he had said.

Regina was not surprised. Of course, he would know; he was Poppy. But Anthony seemed a bit taken aback. He stared at his father, a line between his brows.

“Two detectives came to see if I knew anything about the family business. I told them I didn’t, and then they left. That was the end of that. It really wasn’t a big deal.” Regina made note of Anthony’s reaction and realized that Poppy hadn’t gotten this information from his son. Interesting how father and son didn’t trust each other; each played games to impress the other.

“I’m proud of the way you handled yourself. You have been an asset to this family from the beginning. I always knew that you would be. It was nice to see how you and my son have gotten along. Who says arranged marriages don’t work?” Poppy smiled broadly and continued on that subject for what seemed like an eternity. They finished their salads, and the waiter came over with their entrees.

“Thank you, Carmine. This smells wonderful.” The rest of the meal was spent in idle chitchat, mostly dominated by Poppy. Regina and Anthony nodded and smiled often to show they were paying attention.

Both wished they were elsewhere.

© Nadine Z. 2007


Shionge said...

Thank you for this instalment Nadine..been waiting for it :)

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