Disclaimers: None. If you're still reading my stuff at this point, you pretty well know what you're getting into. If you don't have an open mind or if you find something you think needs disclaiming, you are still more than welcome to let me know. It won’t change anything, but it may make you feel better. Ugliness will earn you a smack to the back of your head.
Thanks: To Phil and Mac for reading through this for me to pick up Pink & Fluffy’s dropped letters and missed quotation marks. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for anyone better to beta read for me. Their diligence is greatly valued as Pink and Fluffy tend to leave a trail of missing pieces and their contribution to making this a better read is much appreciated. All errors belong strictly to me.
Author’s Notes: Not much to say about this one. It’s late, which is a little unusual for me, but given my inconsistency and ability to sit down and write for any length of time in the last few years, this is a major accomplishment for me. The two leading characters here are actually supporting characters in one of my other story starts. This is just a little introduction to them.
The Storyteller’s Cardinal Rule is in effect.
One Perfect Moment
There was nothing special about their first meeting... nothing memorable. She wouldn’t be able to say that it was love at first sight or even like. It wasn’t much of anything at all, truth be told. But eventually, Antonetta Scarlotta (nee Maestri) would know she had found her One – the one person in her life she needed... and wanted to keep forever. She just had no idea how important Margaret Gallagher would be to her... or how that would affect her for the rest of her life.
They met in college, though there was really nothing extraordinary about their initial interactions. At first, they were simply in the same math class, part of the same freshman study group. They barely acknowledged one another then, and didn’t really interact or speak beyond the perfunctory hello or nod when they crossed paths outside of the classroom or study hall.
The second semester brought them into a little closer contact, both opting to take an art class that required them to work in pairs to ensure each student had a model to work with as they practiced drawing various parts of anatomy. Nothing vulgar (read: nudity in any form), because Antonetta’s father would have pulled her from school for that kind of infraction. And she had worked and struggled for far too long for the opportunity to go the college before she was married off to the man who would eventually inherit her father’s mafia legacy to lose it to carelessness.
She was not unhappy about marrying Carlos Scarlotta – he was attractive enough, and he adored her. He had never once acted untoward around her, treating her like a princess since they had been introduced to one another when she was still but a child of fifteen, and keeping his mates in line and on their very best behavior when she was in their presence. She simply was not thrilled about an arranged marriage to a man ten years her senior with the entire rest of her life already mapped out for her without so much as a by-your-leave.
Still, she had been preparing for these eventualities almost from the day she’d been born, and was more or less resigned to her fate. Her one and only form of rebellion had been in demanding (asking, begging, pleading) for an opportunity to go to school before she married. To her surprise – and delight – Carlos had been her strongest supporter. She would later learn it was because he wanted her to ‘get it out of her system’ as much as it was for her happiness, but by then she couldn’t be made to care because she had gotten the college experience she hoped for and far more.
While most of her classes were, and would be, things she needed for her degree in business – something she was doing in the hope that it would allow her to do and be something beyond the housewife that was expected of her – the art class was one thing she did for herself. It was one she would eventually bless the day that she had decided to indulge herself.
She spied the familiar looking face as she entered the room, and crossed to take a seat beside the only person in the class she recognized. “You’re Margaret, right?” The young woman crammed the last of the cookie she was eating into her mouth, before brushing the crumbs from her hands and nodding vigorously.
“Yeth... um....” She swallowed hard, then swallowed again, trying not to choke on dry crumbs. “Sorry,” she said softly. “Yes, I’m Margaret, though my friends call me Mamie. You’re Antonetta, correct?”
“I am indeed. Everyone calls me Antonetta... except for Carlos. He calls me Annie.”
“And Carlos is...?”
“The man my father promised me to – the man I’m going to marry when I graduate.”
Blonde brows rose into an equally blonde hairline. “You don’t exactly seem thrilled about the idea.”
“I’m not,” Antonetta agreed with a shrug. “But it’s not the worst thing in the world either. I do actually like Carlos, and he’s good to me. I would just like to do more... be more. However, it is what it is, and I intend to enjoy myself while I’m here. What about you, Cookie?”
Green eyes blinked rapidly in startlement. “Cookie??”
Antonetta giggled at the gobsmacked expression on Margaret’s face. “Of course! Every time I’ve seen you, you’ve had cookies – in your mouth; in your hand; on a plate sitting in front of you, guarding it like a mama wolf protecting her pups, refusing to share with anyone,” added with a hint of mirth in her voice and a distinct twinkle in her eye.
“One time!! That happened One. Time. And you saw what those ball players did when I offered to share! I wasn’t about to let them eat all my cookies again!”
“Um hmm... hence the name ‘Cookie’.”
Green eyes narrowed before she realized she was being teased. “All right, Netta,” her address causing brown eyes to widen in pleased astonishment. “Keep it up. I promise there’ll be paybacks.”
“Um hmm... sure there will. Meanwhile, you were going to tell me a little more about yourself.” But at that moment the professor walked in and discussion was put to the wayside. Then they smiled at one another, because sitting together had caused them to be assigned as partners, and that meant that they would have plenty of time to invest in making solid strides in what each hoped would be a lasting friendship.
It was while they drew (and drew and drew) eyes that Margaret confided her desire to be a lawyer, and how she was attending school on scholarships and a work-study program. Antonetta learned much about how life was for ‘ordinary folks’, as Margaret described herself. She had two, hardworking parents – her mom as a cashier at a discount store, and her dad as a shift worker at the local mill. Two younger brothers and a baby sister rounded out her family, and despite the tales of exasperation she wove for Antonetta’s amusement, anyone could see she doted on her younger siblings, and they idolized her in return. She was the first of many cousins to go to college and they all respected and revered her tenacity and drive. Even Antonetta was impressed.
The practice of sketching lips made conversation difficult, but it made them learn to listen when the other spoke. It was then that they talked of religion and politics, and found both differences and similarities. But it was the art of listening that they learned above all, and would be something that remained with them for the rest of their days – not just with one another, but with everyone else in their lives as well. And many would benefit from that skill.
Drawing jawlines and necks brought out conversation of dreams and desires; shoulders and backs caused talk of travel and discovery; hands told stories of childhoods and even more about their families. By the time all was said and done, they knew more about one another than many married couples did after years of having lived together.
Yet when the class was over, their freshman year was as well, and they went their separate ways and didn’t see one another over the summer. Margaret was stuck at the school, trying to take a couple classes to get ahead and working as many hours as she could stand to try and have a little cushion when fall came. Antonetta was home gushing over her first year at school to her mother while both Carlos and Giovanni smiled at her indulgently from a distance.
“Are you still glad you stood up for her to go to school, son?” Giovanni asked of his future son-in-law.
“Yes sir, I am. It obviously makes her happy, and there’s no harm in it. And I expect it will add to her repertoire of conversational topics for quite some time to come.”
Giovanni laughed, clapping Carlos on the shoulder. “I suppose it will. Although….. What do you know of the young woman – um, Cookie, I think she said her name was? She has been a big part of everything she has talked about since she got home.”
“She’s Annie’s best friend at school. She’s there through scholarships and a work-study program that fills a lot of her free time. Hard working, bright – studying to be a lawyer and close to the top of her class in spite of everything. Good family, though they’re Irish... not that it can be helped,” the last added with a chuckle.
The old man smiled. “Does she know who Antonetta is?”
“If she does, she’s better at hiding it than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
“And you believe my daughter is safe with her.”
“I think Margaret is probably one of the best things to happen to Annie.”
Giovanni studied the younger man for a long moment before squeezing his shoulder. “All right, son. I’m trusting you on this. I know you won’t let anything untoward happen to Antonetta.”
“No, sir. I’m keeping an eye on her... on them both. Perhaps, if things work out, we can add Margaret to the Family practice.”
Giovanni snorted. “One thing at a time, my boy. Now go get your fiancé and take her out for a while. Her mother and I need some time to um... talk about… things.” He started to pull out his wallet when Carlos waved him off.
“Don’t worry about it, sir. She wanted to go down to the beach at the Country Club. Maybe you and Mrs. Maestri could join us for dinner later?”
Giovanni patted the shoulder still under his hand. “That’s one reason I chose you as my successor, Carlos. You remember the important things. Go on now. Elena and I will find you kids for dinner later.” Then he turned and walked to Antonetta, brushing a kiss over her forehead before extending his hand to her mother. “You and Carlos run along and play for a while, Daughter. Your mother and I have some things to discuss.”
“Mind now. We’ll be along for dinner with you later, and you can tell us more about your college experience.” He reached out and took her hand briefly. “I’m glad you are enjoying yourself. I may have to meet this Cookie Monster person at some point, though,” laughing at her countenance that held both horror and delight.
“PAPA!” But he had already turned and walked away, holding Elena’s hand securely in his own.
“Cookie Monster?!?” Margaret squeaked when Antonetta relayed the nickname her father had bestowed. “Cookie Monster?!?” she repeated. “What on earth did you tell him??” It was moving in day for sophomores, and though they weren’t roommates, they had managed to be assigned to the same building. Currently, they were in Antonetta’s room, as Margaret had managed to get her things settled the week previously since she had already been at school working.
“Nothing!!” Antonetta swore. “I called you Cookie. He took it from there on his own!”
“Um. Hmm.” Margaret answered with more than a touch of disbelief. “Pretty sure I’ll never be able to look him in the eye if I’m ever introduced.”
“Oh, whatever! He’s not that scary, and he’ll love you.”
Margaret had learned just exactly who Giovanni Maestri was during a brief weekend at home right after her summer semester ended, so she did indeed know how truly scary the man could be. But he was Antonetta’s father, and as such she would not treat him as an enemy... for now. The rest... well, it remained to be seen.
“Um. Hmm.” she said again. “He probably just wants to steal my cookies, “ she joked, green eyes twinkling in mirth.
“Antonetta snorted. “Yes, I’m sure that’s it,” she replied dryly. “Mother asked me to tell you to pick a weekend or whatever is good for you. She really does want to meet you.”
Margaret choked slightly, but nodded as she helped Antonetta put the last of her things in place. “All right. We’ve got plenty of time. Classes don’t start until Monday. The hardest thing will be fitting it around my work schedule.”
“We’ll figure something out. Now, come on. I want to go down to the Rathskeller and check things out.”
“You’re trying to get us into trouble,” Margaret accused, though her lips were smiling and her eyes danced with mischief. But she gamely followed Antonetta down the stairs and outdoors.
“Maybe a little,” Antonetta confessed, “but mostly I just want to have a little fun. Time’s moving so fast, and it won’t be long before I’m married and settled down. I’ve got to make memories while I can.”
“And Carlos doesn’t mind?”
“As long as I don’t do anything too crazy, or dishonor the Family in any way, Carlos will simply smile and indulge me. He thinks letting me sow some wild oats now will make me a better wife later.”
“And will it?” taking Antonetta’s hand and pulling her out of the pathway of several students charging along without heeding where they were going. In fairness, it wasn’t like most of them could see over their piles of belongings either. She guided them back onto the path before releasing the warm hand she held.
Antonetta shrugged. “Probably. It’s not like I’m going to go out and have a string of torrid affairs or drink myself stupid or shoot up illicit drugs just because I can. But I think it might take care of some of the restlessness I feel sometimes,” her gaze going introspective and her voice growing thoughtful. “At least here, for a little while, I can just be me – not Giovanni’s daughter or Carlos’ wife. I can just be Antonetta and do things that are important to me. And who knows?“ she asked more brightly after a moment. “Maybe I’ll even be able to take some of this with me into my new married life. I know Carlos enjoys my art.”
Art was the one class they shared that year, though they both had the same English and math classes as well. It allowed them to be study partners, but Margaret’s work schedule ensured their class periods were almost never in sync. The only reason their art class matched was because it was a singular class – only being offered once because of the guest artist who had been engaged to instruct it. Margaret was confident Antonetta had something to do with the opportunity – if not directly bringing in the artist who had been hired... who was one of her favorite contemporary artists – then definitely the fact that they were in the class. They were absolutely the only underclassmen in the course, and Margaret would have sworn – only under penalty of death – that the instructor was careful to show the tiniest bit of deference to Antonetta. There was nothing blatant; in fact, she never would have noticed if she hadn’t been looking for it. But it was there, nonetheless. Antonetta did nothing to acknowledge it, and Margaret wondered more than once if she was even aware of it happening. Still, Margaret wasn’t going to complain. Art was the one class she allowed herself strictly for the pleasure and enjoyment she derived from it.
Aside from art, nothing really stood out during the year as far as school went. They saw one another during study sessions, and occasionally they had time to hang out together, but much of their time was spent passing one another in the halls or catching up on Skype. Only two things really stood out for either of them – a visit to Antonetta’s home over a long weekend and another to Margaret’s on another. To say it was enlightening was putting it mildly. It was something that could only be described as eye-opening... and something neither young woman was ever likely to forget.
Margaret had never seen such opulence – she’d known it existed, of course, but Antonetta had never been one to flaunt her wealth or station in life. Visiting her family, however, brought it home to Margaret in a very real and personal way.
The house was massive... larger than anything Margaret had ever seen. Antonetta’s room was almost the size of Margaret’s entire home. It was more than a little daunting, until she realized that Antonetta’s parents were warm and gracious and seemed genuinely happy to have her visit. Carlos welcomed her like she was part of the family, and it made her happy to see how much he cared for her best friend. They spent the entire weekend laughing and doing things that Margaret had always wanted to do, but never seemed to have the time and money to do so.
On Sunday morning, Elena managed to catch Margaret alone before breakfast. She was sitting outside on the terrace with a cup of coffee, though her eyes were closed against the sun shining over the patio. Elena smiled at the peaceful picture she made. She motioned to the maid that approached and signaled for a cup of coffee to be brought to her before she approached Margaret, clearing her throat delicately to keep from startling the young woman too badly. Margaret’s green eyes flew open, and she began to move before a light hand on her arm kept her still.
“May I join you?”
“Of course,” Margaret replied with alacrity. “Please.”
Elena smiled and took a seat beside her, leaning back as a servant approached with a loaded tray. She allowed them to serve both Margaret and herself, then picked up her fork and motioned to the food in front of them. “Eat, please,” raising a hand to stop Margaret from retorting. “I’ve seen what you eat; it’s not enough to keep a bird alive. And from what my daughter tells me, you are an extremely busy young woman. I’m not going to let you go hungry in my house.”
Margaret swallowed hard and picked up her fork. She recognized the ‘Mom’ look in Elena’s eyes and knew better than to even try to argue. “Yes ma’am,” she replied softly. “Thank you.”
“Tell me something, Mamie,” Elena started when the first pangs of hunger were sated. “Have you enjoyed your time here with us?”
“Oh, yes ma’am... very much. Mama was a little concerned, but you’ve all been wonderful, and you have a lovely home. I’m glad....”
“Why was you’re mother concerned?” Elena interrupted.
Margaret shrugged and looked down at her plate, blushing just slightly under Elena’s regard. “Net... Antonetta and I... we come from vastly different worlds. She just doesn’t want me to become... discontented, I guess... with the things I have – with wanting more than.... Even if I’m very lucky, it’ll be years before I can come anywhere close to earning a salary that will allow even some of the luxuries you’re able to take for granted. I think she just doesn’t want me to be unhappy because of what I don’t have instead of thankful for what I do.” Her eyes met Elena’s brown ones. “Does that make sense?”
“Actually, it does. Your mother sounds like a very practical woman. Tell me... why are you friends with my daughter? Is it because of who she is and what she can do for you?”
Bright green eyes darkened to a deep emerald as fury flew through her veins. “How dare you?! How dare you think so little of your daughter to think this is all she has to offer in the way of friendship or anything else?!? Have you met her – really sat down and had conversation with her?? She’s amazing and talented and kind and....” By this point, Margaret was on her feet and Elena had one hand covering her mouth while the other reached out to put a stop to the tirade. Margaret whirled around at the touch and trailed off when she realized that Elena was laughing at her. “What’s so funny??” she demanded, still glaring but not jerking away from the gentle touch.
“Thank you, my dear,” patting the arm she held and motioning Margaret back to her seat at the table. “You have restored my faith in humanity as well as my daughter. She’s very lucky to have a friend like you.”
“I’m lucky to have a friend like her. She’s helped keep me sane this last year... what with my schedule being so crazy and all. She always finds time for us to hang out and have a little down time together.” Margaret looked around deliberately before leaning forward conspiratorially. “I’m pretty sure she’s the one who got us into the only class we have together this year.”
Elena repeated Margaret’s action and leaned forward as well. “I’m pretty sure she had her father arrange for the teacher. He’s an old friend of the family, you know.”
Elena snorted at the gobsmacked expression on Margaret’s face. “Yep.” Then, “I would like to meet your family.”
Green eyes widened, but Margaret nodded gamely. “I’ll let Mama know.”
“You do that,” Elena instructed. Then the others began to arrive and they were firming up plans for the rest of the day. Antonetta took one look at Margaret’s bowled over countenance and sidled up beside her.
“You okay, Cookie?”
“Think so,” she replied slowly.
“Mostly,” then shook her head. “Now c’mon... before your dad absconds with all the cookies that I know your mom had Cook make last night for the picnic today.”
“Cookie!! It’s seven o’clock in the morning! We’re not leaving for at least another hour or two. And I know you’re not hungry; you just had breakfast!”
“Yep, I know – but we need all the head start we can get. C’mon,” she urged again, grabbing Antonetta by the arm and pulling her back towards the kitchen with a squeal. “I bet Carlos will help us.”
The squealing was followed by laughter and more squealing before the thunder of footsteps could be heard throughout the house as they raced up the stairs. Giovanni exchanged amused glances with Elena.
“You know,” he said as he took a seat beside his wife, “I love our daughter and I’m glad she and Cookie Monster are friends. But my goodness they’re exhausting together,” sighing as he took his first good sip of coffee. “Ahhh... did you find out what you needed to know, Mama? Are you satisfied?”
“I am. I’ve also asked for the chance to meet her family.”
Giovanni blinked twice but he didn’t argue. “If that’s what you want.”
“I think it’s important.”
“As you say.”
“Mama, you need to calm down,” Margaret instructed quietly as her mother rushed around the house in preparation for the arrival of Antonetta and her parents.
“Mamie! How can I be calm?”
“You’ve already met Antonetta. It’s just her folks; they’re normal people... just like us.”
“Except for the money they have and the circles they run in.”
“Mama!!” Margaret glared for a hot second before she took a calming breath. “They’re coming because they want to meet you and the family – not to judge how clean the house is or how much stuff we have. Besides, Elena already knows you’re a very practical woman. She said as much”
Vivian rolled her eyes. “Somehow, that’s not much comfort, but it is what it is. I’ve done the best that I can. It’s a shame your daddy had to work tonight, but it can’t be helped. We need the money.”
“I’m sorry, Mama. If I’d known....”
Vivian wrapped her arms around Margaret’s thin shoulders and brushed a kiss over the top of her head. “No worries, my daughter. Water under the bridge. We accepted the consequences that came with our decision.”
“My mistake, you mean.”
“Hush. I wouldn’t have had it happen if I’d been asked beforehand, but I wouldn’t change it now if I could. Madeline has been nothing but a blessing since she was born.”
At that moment, there was a knock on the door, and both Robert and Ronald rushed to open it, knowing Antonetta was on the other side. Margaret and Vivian exchanged smirks – both of Margaret’s little brothers had crushed on Antonetta so badly when they met her and were on their best behavior in an effort to impress her. Vivian chuckled softly.
“Well, if nothing else, Antonetta has managed to bring your brothers under control. It’s nice to have them acting like civilized gentlemen for a change.” Margaret laughed out loud.
“I doubt the behavior will last beyond their initial crush, but at least you have hope for the future.”
Vivian laughed again and made her way to the door. There was no way to go but forward at this point.
The meeting was a little awkward, but the children, especially Madeline, broke the ice soon enough and it wasn’t long before they were talking and laughing like old friends despite the obvious differences between them. When it was time to leave, Elena clasped Vivian’s hand warmly between her own and pressed a light kiss to her cheek.
“Thank you for having us, my dear. It brightens my heart to know Antonetta has found friendship with such genuine people. My mother’s heart will rest easier.”
“We were delighted to have you, Elena, and you as well, Giovanni. Antonetta has been a good influence,” she smirked, “on my boys at least. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know what those two,” nodding towards Antonetta and Margaret who were whispering with their heads close together, “get up to together when they’re at school. Though, in fairness, Mamie doesn’t have time for much mischief – not with her class load and work-study program.”
“And Antonetta knows to keep her nose clean, else her father will bring her home.”
“There is always that,” Vivian replied with a self-conscious smile. “Be safe going home,” she offered as she withdrew her hand from Elena’s grasp.
Elena squeezed lightly before releasing the hand she held. “And tell your husband we are sorry to have missed him. Your family is simply charming.“ She turned and Giovanni offered a brisk nod of his head before taking Elena’s hand and heading for their car. Antonetta only took another moment to say her goodbyes, and just like that, the evening was over.
Vivian and Margaret exchanged glances and sighed at the same time, only to break into chuckles at their mutual reaction.
“Was it as bad as you thought?”
“No – they seem to be lovely people. I do wish your father had been here, though.”
“I’m sure he does too. Maybe we can do it again sometime. I think Madeline likes Antonetta more than she likes any of us, and we already know the boys are crazy about her.”
“She’s an enchanting young woman, and her parents are... not what I expected them to be.”
“Good. I’m going to go clean up the kitchen and go to bed. I’ve got work tomorrow.”
Junior year only saw two major changes in their lives. The first was that Antonetta insisted on getting her own apartment near the university. Not that she minded dorm living per se, but she could see how wearing it was on Margaret every time there were parties for hours on end. Margaret’s scholarships depended on her making good grades, and she spent a majority of her time maintaining her studies. Not that she didn’t go a little wild occasionally – but she had much less time to expend going crazy that a lot of her fellow students.
With her own apartment, she could have Margaret as a roommate, and Margaret could have some actual peace and quiet to study in. As a bonus, Margaret’s school costs would go down... since her scholarships only provided for tuition and books. Her work-study had been to pay for her room and board, as well as whatever incidentals came up.
The other major change was the award of a new scholarship – one she hadn’t known existed nor applied for. She was positive Antonetta was behind it, but there was no way to prove such and every chance of offending the giver – Giovanni; Elena; Antonetta; even Carlos – if she pursued that line of inquiry. It was more than enough to cover what her work-study job provided for, and she left the program to make way for another student who could benefit from it. But she didn’t give up working... not completely. Instead, she found a part-time job at one of the nearby law firms, and sent that money home to her folks to try and help alleviate some of the financial burdens she knew they were carrying.
So she accepted the scholarship gratefully and gave thanks, and made cookies every weekend, much to Antonetta’s delight. Carlos became a more frequent visitor, though he never stayed overnight. Margaret found that she really liked the man, even if he did strike her as a little too... something... for Antonetta. He obviously cared deeply for the woman who was destined to be his bride, and Antonetta appeared to like him well enough in return, but they didn’t seem to fit quite perfectly, though Margaret supposed that could be put down to their age differences and life experiences. Still, he never took her cookies without asking first, and that by itself gave him a mark of approval... at least for his manners and thoughtfulness.
The only class they had in common that year was a semester of watercolor, something they both found to their delight that they enjoyed. But the fact that they finally shared living space made their lack of classes together a little more tolerable, since they still had time to just be friends without any other demands on their time. The cut in Margaret’s work schedule made that doubly delightful, and they found that they had a lot more in common than they had previously realized.
One Sunday evening, shortly after Carlos had left, Antonetta turned to Margaret and regarded her seriously for a moment. When Margaret cocked an eyebrow at her in question, Antonetta chuckled and shook her head,
“What?” Margaret demanded almost petulantly.
“Carlos asked me if you were dating anyone. I think he wants to set you up with one of his friends... to keep you in the family, so to speak.”
Margaret snorted. “When exactly have I had time to date?? Until this year, I’ve barely had time to take a deep breath between everything I’ve had going on, and I wasn’t going to give up the little time we had together to go out with some guy. Besides, it’s not like my last dating experience was all that great,” referring to the truth of Madeline’s birth that was never spoken about or acknowledged. “Besides,” she added impishly to lighten the atmosphere, “I thought I was family already.”
Antonetta smirked. “You know you are. And I did try to tell him you didn’t have time for much of anything besides studying... and making cookies,” dusking when Margaret mock-swung at her head. “At least not until you get done with law school.”
“Law school; the bar exam; years of doing scut work until I can become a partner – junior or otherwise.”
“So marriage is not on your immediate ‘to do’ list?”
Margaret snorted. “Not for a few years at least.”
“Good to know. It’ll take us that long to find someone worthy of you.”
“Doubt it would be that hard,” Margaret argued with a blush. “But in any case, it’s nothing we need to worry about any time in the near future. I’ve got enough going on for the next few years, and for the immediate future, I am perfectly content. More than, if I’m completely honest. You and your family have made things so much easier for me... what with this apartment and the scholarship and all.”
“You think we had anything to do with it? Why?”
“Well, the apartment is pretty self-explanatory. I think you did it more for me than for you, because we both know you were kind of fond of dorm life. I mean, it was one of the ways you could cut loose a little without it seeming too out of the ordinary because everyone in the dorm was participating. Well, everyone but me, I suppose. As for the scholarship... really?? Who else but you and your family knew what was going on with me? I know what it takes to get a scholarship – they don’t just arbitrarily hand them out, and I didn’t even know about this one to apply. Not that I’m ungrateful, because I’m not – far from it. I’ll be in your debt for....”
“NO!” Antonetta broke in. “There is no debt between us. What I did, I did for my own selfish reasons. The fact that we can both benefit is just an added bones.” She smiled playfully. “I will tell Carlos to hold off a little while on his man-hunt for you. I don’t think most would have his patience.”
Margaret had her own ideas about why – and how – Carlos was so patient, but she didn’t voice them out loud. Every evidence he had given pointed to him being a decent guy - much like Giovanni, despite his occupation. As long as he treated Antonetta with courtesy and respect, Margaret would keep her ideas and opinions to herself. No sense stirring the pot.
Senior year started much more somberly than any of the previous years, mostly due to the fact that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Already, Elena was hip deep into wedding preparations for the event that would occur two weeks after graduation, and Margaret had not only been accepted into the law school of her choice, but she would also begin a full-time summer internship following the wedding. In one way, it was the fulfillment of so many dreams, and in another, all they could see was their time together coming to and end.
With this in mind, they plunged more fully into their final year of student life. They attended pep rallies and football games; parties and study sessions; almost always, with the exception of their actual classes of which they only shared art, they could be found doing things together.
Their conversations became more revealing as well – meaning of life stuff. They laughed and cried together, and were slowly realizing what they were to one another.
Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent with one another, but New Year’s Eve found them both back at school – Margaret, because she had to be back at work on January second, and Antonetta because she was simply tired of the parties and socializing that came with being who she was. Neither Giovanni nor Carlos was enamored of the idea, but both recognized it as her last little bit of rebellious freedom before settling down.
Margaret had already made herself comfortable in front of the fireplace, curled up on the sofa in a pair of old sweats when Antonetta literally fell across the threshold into their apartment. Margaret jumped up in surprise, immediately followed by confusion. “Netta?”
Dark brown eyes twinkled as she grinned and pushed dark hair out of her eyes. “Hey, Cookie!” dropping her luggage at her feet and turning around to close the door.
“Hey!” rushing over to help move the bags so Antonetta could enter the room properly. “Not that I’m not thrilled to see you, but what are you doing here? I thought you still had parties and obligations for another week.”
“I told Papa I was tired of it all, and came back to school. Besides,” pulling Margaret’s hand into her own, “I didn’t want you to be alone for New Year’s.”
Margaret trembled a little, both the touch and the tone in Antonetta voice. She risked a long look into brown eyes, and her own green ones widened in surprised response. “What about Carlos?” she whispered.
“He was understanding,” lifting her other hand to cup Margaret’s face. “I missed you.”
Margaret covered the cold hand, feeling it begin to warm against her skin. “I missed you, too,” closing her eyes when the hand beneath her began to gently stroke the smooth skin of her cheekbone. She sucked in a shaky breath. “Netta? What are we doing?”
Antonetta stepped forward, bringing their bodies into just barely touching along their lengths. She felt Margaret’s rapid heartbeat; her shallow breathing; saw green eyes widen and darken in both wonder and arousal. She took a moment to study the young woman who had come into her life years before and slowly, without conscious effort, turned her life and everything she had known about it, completely upside down – her best friend. Antonetta licked her lips and watched Margaret’s eyes track the motion, then immediately echo it. She leaned forward. “Something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Something we should have done a long time ago,” the words a bare whisper that tickled across Margaret’s lips before she surged forward and caught Antonetta’s mouth with startling intensity.
That was all the encouragement Antonetta needed. She slid her hands into the dirty blonde hair of her best friend, and Margaret dropped the remaining bag she held to wrap and arm around a slim waist and pull their bodies tightly together. The kiss went on for long moments, until they were dizzy for lack of air. When they separated, Antonetta reached for the sweatshirt Margaret wore. Margaret caught her hands and held the tightly as they gazed into one another’s eyes. “Netta? Are you sure?”
Antonetta pulled the hands holding her to her lips and brushed a kiss over both sets of knuckles. “As sure as I can be about anything at this moment.”
Margaret kept her eyes on Antonetta for another minute before bringing their hands to her lips and returning the kiss to Antonetta’s knuckles. Then she moved them to the hem of her shirt. Now it was Antonetta’s turn to hesitate, but before doubt could settle over either of them, she grabbed the bottom of the shirt and and pushed it over Margaret’s head. That was all the encouragement either of them needed, and in moments, they were naked and falling over the end of the couch in a tangle of limbs and laughter. Then everything became about touch and taste and sensation, and the love they could feel burgeoning between them.
Neither of them allowed themselves to think past the moment they were in. Tomorrow and next week and next year would have to take care of themselves. For right now, for this one perfect moment, everything was right in the world.