She looked up, her blue eyes unfocused and teary. “Oh, you are home?”
‘Where else would I be?’ I wanted to ask, but instead I touched her shoulder and said, “What’s the matter? Are you alright?”
She stared down at the broken piece of glass in her hand again, then dropped it to the floor. I helped her to her feet. She wasn’t steady on her legs and I could smell alcohol on her breath. It was still early for her to start drinking, and she wasn’t really much of a drinker at all.
“I was at the doctor’s.”
I froze. “Are you sick? What’s wrong?”
“Lung cancer,” she said with a small shrug. “Stage three.”
“But you never smoked! How is that even possible?”
“It can happen,” she said. “I’ll have to start chemotherapy soon.”
I wrapped my arms around her, feeling helpless and small under the weight of that news. “Does Father know?”
“I couldn’t reach him. He didn’t answer his phone.”
Of course not. Why should he answer a call from his wife? He was probably with one of his mistresses. “We need to tell Aria and Gianna. They need to know.”
Mother gripped my arm. “No,” she said firmly. “It’ll ruin their Christmas. I don’t want them to know yet. There’s no reason to worry them. I haven’t spoken to Gianna in a long time anyway, and Aria has enough on her plate as the wife of a Capo.”
“But Mom, they’d want to know.”
“Promise me you won’t tell them,” she demanded.
I nodded slowly. What else could I do?
Two hours later I heard Father come home and another thirty minutes later, Mother’s light steps came upstairs and then the door to the master bedroom closed. She’d been alone. Was Father still downstairs? I left my room and went to his office on the first floor. After a moment of hesitation, I knocked. I needed to talk to him.
Our Christmas party would be in two weeks and now that Mother was sick, Gianna should be invited. She and Mother should get the chance to spend some time together and reconcile.
“Come in,” Father said.
I opened the door and poked my head in, half expecting to see him devastated and crying, but he was bent over some papers, working. I walked in, confused. “Has Mother talked to you?” Maybe she hadn’t told him about her cancer.
He looked up. “Yes, she did. She’ll be starting treatment with the best doctor in Chicago next week.”
“Oh, okay.” I paused, hoping for something else from Father but he watched me without a hint of emotion on his face. “I was thinking that Mother needs the support of her family now more than ever. Of her whole family.”
Father raised his eyebrows. “And?”
“I think we should invite Gianna to our Christmas party. She and Mother haven’t seen each other in a long time. I’m sure Mother would be very happy to see Gianna again.”
Father’s face darkened. “I won’t have that whore in my house. Maybe Matteo has forgiven her and even married her despite her transgressions but I’m not that kind.”
No, kind definitely wasn’t a word I’d use for my father. “But Mother needs every bit of support she can get.”
“No, and that’s my last word,” he growled. “And your mother doesn’t want people to know about her sickness. They’d only start to wonder if we invited Gianna. We’ll act as if nothing is wrong. You won’t even tell your sisters or anyone else, do you understand?”
I nodded. But how could I keep that kind of secret from everyone?
The house was decorated beautifully for our Christmas party. Everything was perfect. The scent of roast beef and truffled mashed potatoes carried through the rooms, but I couldn’t enjoy it. Mother had spent yesterday and the majority of this morning throwing up because of her treatment. With several layers of make-up, you couldn’t tell how pale she was but I knew. Only Father and I knew. Even Fabi didn’t have a clue.
Aria and Luca arrived only minutes before the other guests. They stayed in a hotel anyway, so it wasn’t too hard to keep Mother’s state from them. Aria smiled brightly when she saw me and hugged me. “God, Lily. You look so beautiful.”
I smiled tightly. I’d been so excited when I’d found the silver dress a few weeks ago because it made me feel grown-up and accentuated my curves in just the right way, but today my excitement over something like a piece of clothing felt ridiculous.
Aria pulled away and searched my face. “Is everything okay?”
I nodded quickly and turned my attention to Luca who’d waited patiently behind my sister for his turn. He gave me a quick hug. It still felt strange to have him greet me that way. “Father is still in his office and Mother is in the kitchen,” I explained. At least I hoped Mother wasn’t in the bathroom, throwing up again.