Teresa waved back. “
Grazie, signora! Grazie,
Rosalia and Antonio. Wait! This was the reason why you came to Messina earlier and not with us? You weren't meeting with one of Madre Carmela's suppliers, were you, Antonio?”
“Guilty as charged! All those lies I can fully take credit for!” Antonio bowed.
“Enough talk! Let's cut into the cake!” Francesco shouted.
Signora DelAbate ran over with a large cake knife. “You must cut it together for good luck.”
“Ah! Good luck! Who believes in that nonsense anymore!” Francesco barked, eliciting a glare from Teresa.
“I do! This is my wedding, and we must follow tradition, including doing everything that can ensure only good luck in our marriage.” Teresa took the cake knife from Signora DelAbate and nudged Francesco with her elbow.
Francesco placed his hand over Teresa's as they cut the first cake slice.
Everyone in the restaurant was standing up and cheering the newlyweds. Rosalia was glad she had decided to make a large cake. She would offer a slice to all the patrons. Originally, she had wanted to make a large cake even though it would just be the four of them celebrating the wedding because she thought it would look nicer than a small cake. And it was, after all, Teresa's wedding. Now, Rosalia was glad that everyone in the restaurant was taking part in the celebration. Though they were strangers, it made the occasion seem more festive than just having four people at a wedding party.
Teresa broke off a piece of cake with her fork and fed it to Francesco, who paused for a moment. Rosalia held her breath. Oh no! she thought. Had she forgotten to add the rum? Or maybe she hadn't measured the sugar properly?
But then Francesco exclaimed, “
This is the best cake I've ever had!”
Relief washed over Rosalia as Francesco then fed Teresa her first bite of cake. Teresa had the same reaction as Francesco. She paused and seemed to be slowly chewing the cake as if she was savoring it for as long as she could.
“Rosalia, this has to be the best dessert you've created at the pastry shop.”
Teresa. I'm just happy you both like it.”
Rosalia and Antonio took over cutting the rest of the cake and serving it to the restaurant's patrons, many of whom came up to Rosalia afterward and told her the cake was amazing. She couldn't help feeling like she was taking some of the attention away from the bride, but Teresa didn't seem to mind. She was too busy stealing kisses from her husband.
An hour later, Rosalia and Antonio took their leave. Teresa and Francesco were going to spend the night at a room they had rented in a small hotel. Then in the morning, they would make their way to Milazzo, where they would take a ferry to the Aeolian island of Lipari for a short honeymoon.
Rosalia and Antonio were quiet, basking in their success at surprising Teresa and Francesco with the wedding cake and how good it had turned out. Rosalia suddenly noticed they were by the marina in Messina. Antonio pulled to the side of the road and parked the car.
“What are you doing?”
“Let's sit here for a little while. It's such a beautiful night, and it would be nice to relax by the marina. There's no need for us to rush back home. No one will be waiting for us.”
“All right.” Rosalia stepped out of the car, taking her shawl with her. The temperature had cooled a bit, and there was a light breeze coming off the water.
They walked hand in hand until they were close to the wall that overlooked the water. Rosalia stared at the sky as twilight unfolded. She felt comforted whenever day gave way to dark. Something about the night soothed her.
“You're cold.” Antonio wrapped his arms around her.
They stood silently wrapped in each other's embrace.
Ti amo molto,
Tears sprang to Rosalia's eyes. Though it was not the first time Antonio had professed his love to her, for some reason, hearing the words tonight moved her more. Without thinking, she whispered back, “
Ti amo, anch'io.
I love you, too.”
Antonio pulled slightly away from Rosalia. Surprise and joy were etched across his features. He was about to say something, but instead he kissed her. Softly, at first, then ravenously. Every so often, he would pull his lips away just long enough to whisper again and again, “
When they stopped kissing, Antonio led Rosalia to a bench. A few other couples were walking by the marina, while others sat on benches, locked in kisses. Antonio and Rosalia sat down on the bench, and Rosalia rested her head on Antonio's shoulder.
“I feel safe with you, Antonio.”
“And you should. You've made me so happy, Rosalia. Just hearing you feel the same way has made me the happiest person in the worldâeven happier than Francesco or Teresa.”
Rosalia laughed. “I'm glad you're happy, Antonio. You deserve it. You are such a kind, good man. And you have been wonderful to me.”
“It's because I love you.”
“I know. I have no doubt of that.” Rosalia squeezed Antonio's hand. He wrapped his fingers around hers.
“Rosalia, today has been special. Watching our friends commit to each other and seeing their happiness. I don't want to waste any more time. So I'm going to take a chance.”
Antonio dropped down to his right knee. Rosalia's eyes widened. It couldn't be what she was thinking.
“Will you marry me, Rosalia? I will be devoted to you every day of our lives together. I will do whatever it takes to ensure your happiness.”
Once again, tears filled Rosalia's eyes. Hearing Antonio say how devoted he would be to her brought an overwhelming wave of emotions. The tears quickly slid down her face. Antonio's expression of hope quickly changed to concern. But she placed her hand on the side of his face and whispered through her tears, “I would be honored to marry you, Antonio. I'm crying because you love me. I can see how much you love me. And I do trust you completely with my heart now.”
“Rosalia!” Antonio's eyes filled with tears. He stood up and sat next to Rosalia, holding her close to him. “You've made me the happiest man in all of Italy!”
“Just all of Italy?” Rosalia raised her eyebrow, narrowing her gaze, but she couldn't help smiling a little.
“All of Europe. The whole world. No, the entire universe!” Antonio shouted, and then he stood up, lifting Rosalia high into the air.
Rosalia laughed, reveling in the feeling of elation. She was happy. It felt goodâeven though she knew the feeling would always be overshadowed whenever she thought about her family. But she was too caught up in the moment to think about the practicalities of marrying Antonio. They would figure it out. For now, all she knew was that she couldn't imagine losing him and his not being in her life anymore. He had become like family. And while she still ached for the family she had lost and still hoped to find someday, Antonio made her feel safe, protected, and loved.
Later that evening . . .
s Antonio pulled up to the gates of the convent, Rosalia was surprised to see all the lights were on. It was almost ten o'clock, and usually most of the nuns were in bed by nine. There were a few exceptions like the lay workers who often stayed up in their rooms to read, or sometimes Madre Carmela wanted to test a recipe. But to see all the lights on at this time was unusual. A sense of dread began to fill Rosalia. Teresa. That had to be the reason why everyone was up. Of course.
Teresa had left a note in the top drawer of Elisabetta's dresser. This way Elisabetta would see it when she got dressed in the morning. Elisabetta would not be wondering until the next day where her sister was, since she usually went to bed every night at eight o'clock sharp. The strain between the two siblings since they'd left the previous convent had become so great that Elisabetta barely paid any attention anymore to Teresa.
“They must realize Teresa is missing.” Antonio looked at Rosalia as he said this.
“I was thinking the same thing.”
“Well, I suppose we should get this over with. You are prepared for Elisabetta's and possibly Madre Carmela's being upset with us since we knew about Teresa's plans?”
“Yes, I am prepared.”
Antonio parked the car, and then he and Rosalia made their way toward the convent's entrance. But they had only walked a few feet when the front door opened. Madre Carmela stepped out, her face looking grave.
Rosalia could not help thinking of the irony that only a few minutes ago, she had been elated over her engagement to Antonio. And she couldn't wait to share the news with Madre. She knew how much Madre Carmela loved and admired Antonio, and Rosalia knew she would be happy for her. But her good news would have to wait for the time being.
“Rosalia. Antonio.” Madre slowly walked toward them. She glanced nervously over her shoulder.
“I'm sorry, Madre. I know we are returning later than we normally do. But we can explain. Everyone by now must know about Teresa.”
Madre frowned. “Teresa?”
Is Elisabetta very upset?”
“My child, what are you talking about?”
Antonio reached over and squeezed Rosalia's hand, warning her not to say more. But if Madre didn't know about Teresa yet, then why were all the lights on in the convent and why did Madre look so upset?
Then, Rosalia saw a man standing in the shadows by the front door. He stepped out, and Rosalia almost gasped when she saw it was none other than L'ispettore Franco. Her eyes then met Madre's.
Madre Carmela stepped forward. “I'm sorry, Rosalia. I wanted to warn you that L'ispettore Franco is here.”
“What's happened? It's my family, isn't it? What's happened to them?” Rosalia's chest heaved, and her eyes darted frantically from L'ispettore Franco's face to Madre's.
Antonio squeezed Rosalia's hand tighter, and Madre came over and put her arm around her shoulders.
“Please, Rosalia, let's go inside and sit down.”
“Tell me now! What has happened?” Rosalia broke free from Antonio's and Madre's embraces and walked up to L'ispettore Franco.
“Calm down, Rosalia. Please. It's not what you think. Let us go sit inside,” L'ispettore Franco pleaded with her.
Antonio was by Rosalia's side again as he took her hand and led her indoors. Her heart pounded as she followed him. All the nuns except for Sorella Domenica were seated at the dining table; even Anunziata, Mari, and Lidia were there. A bowl piled high with
sat at the center of the table. Sorella Giovanna was nibbling rapidly on one of the sesame cookies, a nervous habit of hers Rosalia had witnessed before. Sorella Giovanna kept her gaze averted from Rosalia, but everyone else looked at her the moment they saw her. Their faces held the same grim expression Madre's had outside. Rosalia couldn't help wondering where Elisabetta was. Had she perhaps discovered Teresa's absence already and remained behind in her room? Or maybe she was still sleeping in her bed, oblivious to the unexpected visit from L'ispettore Franco that had awakened the rest of the convent?
L'ispettore Franco led Rosalia and Antonio to a small sitting room that Madre used when she had visitors. He gestured for Rosalia to sit down. Madre came in and closed the door behind her. Rosalia saw a small cake plate with a few of the
on it. Once they were all seated, L'ispettore picked up one of the cookies and began eating it while speaking at the same time. Rosalia frowned. Hadn't anyone taught him better manners? A few sesame seeds from the biscotto fell onto his lap, but he continued eating, even picking up a second cookie after finishing the first. Rosalia turned her focus to his words.
“As you know, Rosalia, I have been making inquiries about your family these past several months. I have not given up, but the progress has been very slow. That is why you haven't heard from me except for the phone calls I made every few weeks to Madre Carmela to give her updates and let her know I had not abandoned my search. I want you to know that.” He wiped his mouth with the napkin placed next to the plate of biscotti and glanced at the remaining cookies as if tempted to eat another one, but he thought better of it and instead leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Finally, his eyes met Rosalia's.
L'ispettore. I appreciate your not giving up.”
“There were a few false leads in other cities. My police contacts would think they had located your family, but it always turned out to be people who had your same surname. Finally, we had a break about a month ago.”
“A month ago? Why didn't you call Madre right away?”
L'ispettore held his hands up. “I am getting to that. Please, Rosalia, I ask you to be patient just a little longer.”
Antonio placed his arm around Rosalia. She couldn't help thinking he was trying to brace her for whatever L'ispettore Franco was about to say.
“I began wondering if perhaps your family had decided to have a fresh start somewhere else, somewhere besides Sicily. I knew it would be even harder to locate your family if they had decided to move to mainland Italy, but naturally, I put out the word to whatever contacts I had in Calabria, Rome, Bari. I hoped, if your family had gone to the mainland, they would have stayed in the south since going farther north would cost them more in transporation expenses. And the south of Italy is more comparable to Sicily.”
“The mainland? They left Sicily?”
Again, L'ispettore Franco held his hand up. “Once more, no trace of them surfaced in Italy. I even put out the word to the authorities in cities farther north. Then an idea came to me.” He paused, glancing at Rosalia for a moment before looking away. He picked up what was now his third biscotto and bit into it. This time in addition to the sesame seeds that fell, a few crumbs broke off. Rosalia could feel her nerves getting more irritated by the second. Why didn't he just tell her the bad news he obviously had for her? Why was he prolonging her misery?
“Go on,” she pleaded, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice.
“I wondered if perhaps they had decided to immigrate to America.”
Blood rushed to Rosalia's ears. Surely, she must not have heard him correctly. She barely whispered, “America,” as a huge lump formed in the back of her throat.
“It seemed plausible since they were trying to make a fresh start, and your father was struggling with his business. And with all the immigrants who are still flocking to America to build a new life, perhaps your family was among them. So I checked the ships' registers for the past few months to see if your family was amongst the passengers listed.”
“And?” Rosalia was now sitting on the edge of the settee.
“Your father's name was listed. But not the rest of your family members.”
“I don't understand. Perhaps they went on different ships.”
“I thought of that as well, especially since it is common for the head of the household to immigrate first, get settled, and then bring the rest of the relatives over, but no. The rest of your family's names haven't been on any of the passenger lists since your father set sail for America, which was in December.”
“Well, maybe PapÃ is not settled yet in America, especially if he has decided to set up his tailor shop there. He might be waiting until he has more money to send for my mother and siblings. That must be it.”
Though Rosalia could not imagine her father's being so far away, on another continent, she felt a glimmer of hope since at least L'ispettore Franco had been able to locate one of her family members.
“There's more, Rosalia. I continued to look at the ships' registers every week, while still trying to locate the rest of your family in Sicily. Your father left from the port in Marsala. So naturally, I thought that was where he and your family had gone after leaving Terme Vigliatore.”
Though Rosalia had had a gut feeling her family had gone far, she had never imagined they would travel all the way to the western coast of Sicily. The farthest she could conceive of their going was the capital city of Palermo. Had her father's search for work taken him that far? And now to hear that he had gone as far as America. She was shocked. She imagined PapÃ , Mamma, Luca, and little Cecilia traveling through the island like gypsies with nowhere concrete to go. Then she envisioned her father on the huge ship that had taken him to America, swaying about in the throes of the Atlantic Ocean, having no idea if he was making a mistake leaving his family behind in Sicily and traveling so far from them. Did he ever wonder if he had made a mistake in leaving Terme Vigliatore without finding Rosalia first to make sure she really wanted to be with Marco? Or at least make sure that Marco was treating her well? Her heart filled with pain. She didn't know how much more suffering she could take. Poor Mamma, Luca, and Cecilia. To think of what had become of her family saddened her immensely. Tears spilled down her face. Madre reached into the deep pockets of her habit. Rosalia expected her to produce one of her marzipan fruits that always made Rosalia feel better, but instead she pulled out a white linen handkerchief and handed it to Rosalia.
“I was able to find out that your family was working in a vineyard in Marsala. The vineyard owners paid them by providing for their room and board.”
Rosalia gasped. Her hand flew to her mouth as excitement washed over her. “You found them! You found them!”
Antonio dug his fingers painfully into Rosalia's shoulders, but she ignored the sensation.
“I did, but then they simply vanished.” L'ispettore Franco stood up, turning his back toward them as he paced back and forth in front of the sitting room's window.
Rosalia's joy from a moment ago was quickly replaced with a deep despair. It couldn't be. It just couldn't be. And then anger washed over her. She walked over to L'ispettore Franco, standing in his line of vision until he had no choice but to look her in the eyes.
“What do you mean they vanished?” Her voice came out shrill.
“The vineyard owners told us that your father had returned from America the last week in March, and then, a week later, he and your family had left Marsala. He had gone temporarily to America to work in the coal mines. He had anticipated being there for nine months to a year. His plan was to make some money so he could open a tailor shop again in Sicily. He never had any plans to make America his permanent home. He had been living in Virginia, where he worked as a coal miner. He got into an argument with the mine's supervisor and lost his job. Although he hadn't been in America for long, he had hated living there and couldn't imagine himself living there any longer, so he decided to just return to Marsala. But the vineyard owners were struggling financially, and they could no longer afford to keep your family on as laborers, let alone provide for their board. So your family left a week after your father returned. The vineyard owners have no idea where they went since your family didn't know either. All they knew was that they were heading east to find whatever work they could. You don't know how sorry I am, Rosalia. I wish I had better news for you. But I will keep searching for them.”
Rosalia couldn't believe it. For a second time, they had narrowly missed her family. First, when she had returned home to Terme Vigliatore, and now again. It was just a week ago that her family had left Marsala. A week! Why couldn't L'ispettore Franco have found out where they were sooner? Why was God playing with her life once again? What had she done to deserve the cruel twists of fate her life had taken these past eight months?
East. L'ispettore Franco said the vineyard owners only knew that her father was planning on heading east. Maybe they were traveling closer to home? After all, didn't PapÃ always used to say that the county of Messina was the best in all of Sicily? He'd also said his ancestors had been born here, and he would die here.
He was coming back home. He didn't have to return to Terme Vigliatore. He could just live in one of the many other towns in Messina. There was hope left still.
“PapÃ is coming back to Messina. This is where his heart has always been. He always said it was the best place to live on the island, and he planned on dying here. I can feel it. He is coming back. Perhaps he has forgiven me and wants to find me.”
Madre Carmela hung her head low, slowly shaking her head. Antonio's eyes filled with tears.
“You don't believe it, but I know.” Rosalia's voice was shaky, belying her confidence.