Read The Relatives Online

Authors: Christina Dodd

The Relatives (2 page)

BOOK: The Relatives
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*   *   *

Late that afternoon, Mario found Gwen sitting in the dark in the pantry on a low step stool, drinking a glass of sauvignon blanc. He flipped on the light. “Things aren’t going well?”

She looked up at him, at her husband who had visited this plague upon them. “Did you meet them?”

Mario had immigrated from Italy after their marriage; he had a warm, deep voice with a marked Italian accent and an Italian’s sense of hospitality. “As soon as I got home, I went to the cottage with a bouquet of flowers to welcome our guests.”

Gwen sipped the wine.

“Cousin Cecily seems a bit … overbearing.”

“I suspect we may find her so.”

“But why are you hiding in the closet drinking wine?”

“I’m trying to kill my liver early.”

Now Mario was truly confused. “Kill your liver? What are you talking about? Why would you kill your liver?”

“I believe it is Cecily’s fondest hope that those of us who partake in the evening alcoholic beverage will all die a miserable death.”

Mario left, and in a few minutes returned, holding a glass of red wine. He bumped Gwen’s butt over on the stool. “Now. Tell me what she said.”

Gwen told.

Mario groaned. “I’m sorry. When he called and said they coming to visit, I was so taken aback I didn’t know what to say.”

“It’s okay.”

“I’ve missed my family in Italy, and I thought finding Landon through that genealogy service was a good thing.”

“Really. It’s fine. I wouldn’t have known what to say, either.” Gwen didn’t understand Mario’s obsession with family. If there was one thing they had plenty of, it was visitors: family and friends who flew in, stayed a few days, entertained themselves, bought dinner once, and left before they acquired that “guests who have stayed too long” stench.

Mario hugged her shoulders. “You should have gone to California, to the condo, and stayed until they left.”

“I couldn’t abandon you like that. Now, if this happens again—”

He flipped up two fingers to ward off the evil eye. “I suppose I should have been worried that I hadn’t met him.”

“Probably,” Gwen said dryly.

“But we have so much in common! He’s my age. He’s an electrician. He looks like me.”

For the first time since Cecily and Landon had arrived, Gwen laughed. “He does
not
look like you.” She placed her glass on the shelf next to canned tomatoes. She turned Mario’s face toward hers. She ran her fingers through his dark, curly hair, looked into his warm brown eyes, and rubbed the stubble of beard on his deeply tanned skin. “Landon looks like a faded copy of you. His complexion is yellow. His hair is gray and lank and thin. You’ve got a nose that rides proudly on your face.”

Mario touched it. “It’s a big nose.”

“A noble Roman nose. The tip of Landon’s droops as if it is tired. And he’s skinny.”

“I am not skinny,” Mario admitted.

“Women all over Virtue Falls would love to run their fingers over your broad and manly chest.”

He chuckled deeply when her fingers followed her words. “You are a wicked creature.” He captured her hands and kissed her palms, first one, then the other, then dipped his head in to kiss her on the lips.

But after twenty-two years of marriage, she could tell he wasn’t really paying attention. “What are you thinking?” she asked.

He pulled back. “My cousin Landon is pussy-whipped.”

She waggled her finger at him. “That is not politically correct.”

“Sometimes my English fails me. How do you say it so it is politically correct?”

She didn’t have an answer, and even if she had, it wouldn’t have done any good. Mario ran their company with a firm hand and a low tolerance for inanity, and based on the hour Gwen had spent in Cecily’s company, that woman specialized in inanity and perhaps malice.

“Cecily is Landon’s second wife,” Mario told her. “She was his secretary, then his executive assistant. Then his first wife divorced him and left town, and these two immediately flew to Las Vegas and married. I assume it was then she cut off his balls and put a chain through his hole punch.”

Torn between horror and amusement, Gwen said, “Figuratively, I hope you mean.”

“Yes, yes, I suppose. But I have no patience for men who let their women run roughshod over them.”

She lifted her eyebrows at him.

“I am the boss here!” He thumped his chest with his fist. “As long as you let me be.”

“Good that you realize that.” Because she had a determinedly cheerful personality, she said, “Maybe it won’t be so bad. They’re only staying two days. Then we can have our lives back.”

Mario nodded solemnly. “Yes. Thank God.”

*   *   *

Landon planted his feet on the front porch. “We shouldn’t walk into their house.”

“Cousin Mario and Cousin Gwen both said to come over any time. This isn’t any time, it’s
dinnertime.”
Cecily walked into the ground-floor entry of Mario and Gwen’s home. “And I’m hungry.”

Landon didn’t move. “Here it’s only five o’clock.”

“My stomach says it’s seven o’clock. Are you coming or not?”

“Let me ring the doorbell so they know—”

Cecily got back there in time to grab Landon’s wrist. “Absolutely not. I want to know what they’re up to.”

“They’re not
up
to anything. They live here!”

“Then it won’t matter if I come in.” Cecily squeezed his wrist and winked. “Come on. Maybe we’ll catch them doing the wild thing.”

“I don’t want to catch them doing the wild thing.” But Landon followed her in.

Before he could loudly slam the door to let Cousin Mario and Cousin Gwen know they had company, Cecily rubbed up against him and fanned his check with her lashes. “What do you say to
us
doing the wild thing later?”

“With the fireplace going.”

“That’s my boy. So passionate. Like a lion.”

Landon soundlessly shut the door behind them.

Cecily glanced into the large living room. The ceiling towered two stories above the floor, drawing the eye up to the massive chandelier, which glowed in soft shades of blue. It wasn’t a normal chandelier, either. The hangy part was heavy stainless steel, and around that in a wide circle, forty blown-glass sperm-looking shapes raced in a clockwise circle. As if that wasn’t appalling enough, two matching scones hung on either side of the floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. The second-level gallery ran the length of the living room, with a stainless steel railing and some blobs of glass inserted here and there. And most awful of all, the furniture was uncomfortable. “Cousin Gwen could really use some advice with her decorating.”

“You know when we were in here the first time, she said the views were so spectacular, they didn’t need any embellishment.”

Cecily looked at him.

“I guess she was wrong,” he said.

Cecily considered the curved flight of hardwood stairs that led to the second level and sighed. “My poor joints. Thank heavens I took a rest after she dragged us out to that hideous cottage or I’d never be able to make it. And me falling through the crack on that deck was clearly a sign of their criminal negligence.” She gripped the handrail, then paused—and listened—between each step.

“Do you want some help, honey?” Landon cupped her butt.

“You’re a naughty boy!” She reached the gallery, started toward the kitchen, and heard a muffled noise that sounded like voices from the back of the house.. “Landon, why don’t you go down the hall and check out the guest bedroom Cousin Gwen didn’t want to put us in? I can’t believe it’s all that awful.”

Landon glanced around, shrugged, and headed down the hall.

Cecily watched him affectionately. He was a good man. He really was. She hadn’t married him merely because he was easily manipulated. He was also good in bed, and his family had an established business. Mind you, his mother despised Cecily and made them live above the garage, but when she really got to hating Cecily, she would buy them plane tickets and send them on vacation for a week or two. And she would never let him starve.

That kind of integrity meant a lot to Cecily.

Again she heard those muffled voices, and she glanced at Landon.

He paused as if he’d heard them, too.

“Go on, darling!” she trilled, but quietly.

He went on.

When he took a turn into one of the doors, she headed through the library, past the half bath, and into the kitchen.

No one was here. Perplexed, she looked out the window at the patio. No one was out there, either. Then she heard muffled voices coming from the closed door across from the bathroom. She tiptoed back and leaned her head against the wood.

Bingo!
Mario’s deep voice and Gwen’s sickeningly cheerful one. Cecily could almost make out the words … She was sure she heard her name …

“What are you doing?”

Landon’s furious whisper made Cecily jump hard enough to clink her teeth together. She backed away and whispered back: “Don’t do that! Don’t you know I could rupture a disk in my poor back?”

“What are you doing?”

“They’re in here.” She pointed. “In the … the pantry, I guess.”

“But why are you listening to them?”

“I’m
not
listening to them. I can’t quite hear them!” She would have to order an electronic listening device. She had one at home, straight from Amazon.com, and she’d heard some
interesting
conversations between her in-laws.

Then she realized that Cousin Mario and Cousin Gwen had stopped talking. They must have heard Landon and his big fat mouth.

Grabbing him by the shoulder, she steered him back toward the stairway. When they got to the gallery overlooking the living room, she called, “Cousin Mario! Cousin Gwen! Where are you?”

She heard the click of the latch as they came out of their secret room, and the scurry of Gwen’s feet into the kitchen.

Cousin Mario came around the corner and through the library, his arms spread expansively. “Come in. Come in! We are preparing your dinner. I hope you like poached salmon. But if you don’t, we also have a lovely lean steak we can place on the grill.”

He looked guilty. Cecily was sure he looked guilty, and she smiled for all she was worth and went right into his arms. She pressed her breasts onto his chest—Gwen was as flat as two peas on an ironing board, so Cecily didn’t have to imagine the way his eyes widened in delight—and she said, “I love salmon. Why, in Minneapolis, we get fresh Atlantic salmon and I chomp it right down.” She licked her lower lip.

Cousin Mario leaped away like her embrace scalded him. “This is Pacific salmon. Superior flavor and very healthy.”

“That sounds absolutely …
yummy.”
Cecily started along the gallery toward the kitchen, where she could hear Gwen rattling the pans; she knew perfectly well he was watching her bottom in the tight black skirt.

“Stop!” he called.

With a taunting smile, she turned to face him. “Why, Cousin Mario, what is it?”

“We don’t wear shoes in our house. Gwen reclaimed the hardwood floor from the original home, and heels such as yours can damage the finish.” He frowned and looked toward the pantry.

She saw what he saw—tiny divots in the floor where she had already walked back and forth.

Her voice came out louder and more culpable than she intended “I can’t walk around without the proper footwear. As a child, I suffered rheumatoid fever.”

For a moment Gwen popped her head out of the kitchen. “
Rheumatic
fever?” She sounded incredulous.

“Yes! That! It damaged my heart, and I almost died! My poor father … I remember him holding me in his arms and crying. My circulation is
terrifying.”

Like a clown jack-in-the-box, Gwen disappeared again.

Cecily continued, “Sometimes my toenails turn blue. If I went barefoot, I would fer-eeze!”

Cousin Mario acted as if he hadn’t quite heard her. Or he heard her and didn’t care. “We have heated floors and slippers for our guests. What size do you wear?”

“I wouldn’t dream of wearing someone else’s slippers.” Cecily shuddered in simulated horror. “Why, that would be as germ-laden as wearing rented bowling shoes. With my
poor circulation
”—maybe if she said it again, he would understand—“that would be incredibly dangerous.”

Cousin Mario smiled in a rather steely fashion. “The slippers are new, of course, and we have different sizes. Please take off your heels before you do any more damage.”

She looked down the half story into the living room. “This is such a beautiful house!”

“Thank you.” Cousin Mario looked at her feet. “When I was a young man in Italy, I worked in leather and shoes. I would say you wear a size nine.”

“A size eight. I have small feet for my height!”

Landon, that loser, said, “I thought you wore a size nine, too.”

She shot him a glare. “You know how it is. Sizes vary. There’s no quality control anymore.” She smiled at Mario. “Eight and a half.”

He opened the coat closet, rummaged around, pulled out a box, and brought out a pair of white scuffs.

She frowned. “Those look like something an old lady would wear.”

“We also have soft-soled flip-flops, but those would bare your toes.” Mario’s eyes were big, soft, and brown. “I would hate for your toenails to turn blue.”

Was he teasing her? She would make him pay. “I’ll take the flip-flops.” She sighed when she saw them; they had a bow. But at least this way Mario could admire her pedicure. Leaning against the handrail, she said, “My back. I can’t bend over. Cousin Mario, would you do it for me?”

“Of course.” He knelt at her feet. He rather brusquely removed her heels and slid her feet into the flip-flops.

She spread her legs.

He got to see that she wore a thong; she knew it by the way he flushed and scrambled to his feet. Taking her stiletto heels down to the first floor, he placed them in a basket by the door.

She made her way into the kitchen, trying not to shuffle in those appalling slippers, and halted in dismay.

My God. Cousin Gwen not only couldn’t dress with a lick of fashion, she was also a card-carrying member of the Absurdly Gaudy Decorative Tile Association. Her backsplash was matte gray subway tiles interspersed with mosaics of bright blue shiny ocean scenes. Why not fling in tiny pictures of the Little Mermaid, Prince Eric, and Ursula while she was at it?

BOOK: The Relatives
9.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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