A Good Sicilian Boy’s First Love #dreamer

June 12, 2015

Dinner at Fiorello's400x600

You probably can’t tell it from my name, but I’m half Sicilian, on my mother’s side. She was a Comparetto. And she was, as is the case with all good Sicilian boys, my first love (and my forever love—she was taken from me by cancer in 2007).

 The excerpt below (and the character of Vito’s mom) was inspired by my own mother and the conversations we would have on the phone.

 Sicilian mothers want two things for their boys—first and foremost, that they eat and second, that they find love….

An Exclusive Excerpt from Dinner at Fiorello’s by Rick R. Reed

Vito went into the living room, where he’d tossed his phone when he came home from his shift. He picked it up and pressed the Home button to bring it to life. He scrolled through his contacts and found the one labeled simply Mother. He tapped the word, and it brought up her picture.

She had once been a beautiful woman, and still was in many ways, defined and elevated by her Sicilian heritage. Her hair, once glossy and black, was now cut short, and it looked dryer. She kept the gray away by having it colored a deep shade of red. But you could still see the girl in her green eyes, still see the strength in her strong chin and broad Italian nose and full lips. He recalled when he had taken the picture, a few years ago, when he had begun work at Fiorello’s and she had come as his guest to dinner. She had been so proud! She had cried when he placed the lasagna with béchamel he made in front of her, not because it was sublime—it was—but because her husband, Johnny, wasn’t there to share it with her. This was a few years ago, and she had just lost him to a heart attack.

Vito shook his head and decided much more thinking like this would defeat the purpose of calling his mom, so he pressed the button that would connect him.

She answered, as she almost always did, on the first ring. And as soon as their hellos were out of the way, she said the same thing she always did. “I was just gonna call you.”

“Isn’t it funny how that works, Mom? Every time I call, you were just gonna call me. Yet my phone never rings.” He laughed to show he was teasing.

“Did you just call to give me a hard time? I haven’t even had my coffee yet.”

“Well, you have to admit, it’s usually the other way around. Isn’t it the parent who’s supposed to bug the kid about keeping in touch?”

“Oh, Vito, is my boy feeling lonely? What made you wanna call me up at the crack of dawn? I could have been sleeping.”

“Oh, come on, we both know Brenda gets you up at four every morning for her breakfast and a tinkle.” Why his mother had named her dog Brenda was a mystery Vito had never been able to unravel.

“She’s a good girl.”

Vito could imagine, and knew he was right, that his mother had the phone tucked between her shoulder and ear and was bending over in her kitchen chair to sweep the little dog up off the linoleum to cuddle her.

“Yes, she’s my baby,” she cooed, confirming what Vito was imagining. He smiled.

“So what’s up? You wanna come down for breakfast? I’ll make you bird’s nests. I baked bread yesterday, and I got some nice roasted peppers to put on top.”

Vito grinned at the mention of the egg dish, thick-sliced bread with a hole hollowed out in the middle for an egg, fried in a cast iron skillet in lots of butter or bacon grease. Not all that healthy, but God, was it comforting. Vito was tempted to throw on some clothes and head out to the western suburb of Cicero, where he had grown up and his mother still lived, just to sit in her kitchen and have her make that for him.

He could practically smell the toasted bread and hear the sizzle of the butter.

“That’s tempting, Ma. But I have to go to work today.”

“So what? You don’t go in until the afternoon, right? They hired that new cook, Elizabeth, right? To take lunches?”

Vito nodded, and when he realized his mother couldn’t see him, said, “Yeah, but I didn’t sleep too good last night, and I probably should take another run at it.”

Cora was quiet for a moment. “You thinking about them again?”

“Ma, I’m always thinking about them.”

“And you always will, son. Just like I always think about my Johnny, your dad. The world got a little darker without him in it. But you know what?”

“What?” Vito asked, even though he knew what his mother was going to say. Despite the fact he had heard this same speech over and over again, he let her say it. It showed she cared, and next to a hug, words like these made Vito feel loved.

“Everybody says it, but it’s true. Life is for the living. You gotta move on, boy. It’s been over a year now, hasn’t it?”

Vito said quietly, “One year, three months, and six days.”

“You have to think about not just the joy they brought into your life, but the joy you brought into theirs. You made them happy. You drove them crazy sometimes! But I know they always felt loved. That counts.”

“I know, I know, Ma.”

“If you need to, you go to church and light a candle for them. You think of them up in heaven, waiting for you. They’re okay. They wouldn’t want you moping around.”

She paused, and Vito could imagine the wheels turning in her head.

“I wanted to do the same thing when your father passed, just shut myself up in the house, crawl under a blanket. For good. But the girls, your aunts, wouldn’t leave me be. They made me come out to bingo on Sundays at the Sons of Italy. They made me go shopping at North Riverside. They even got me to get on a plane to Vegas! Ha! Remember that?” She didn’t wait for her son to answer. “They made me live. You gotta do the same. It’s time.”

At her words, a sudden, unbidden image popped into Vito’s head: Henry, piling dishes up to load into the dishwasher. Strands of his blond hair were glued to his ruddy forehead with sweat. He had stripped off the short-sleeve shirt he had worn in and had on only a ribbed tank that clung to him. He had caught Vito looking and given him a smile. It was a simple moment, but that connection stayed with Vito. It touched his heart. The moment was frozen because it was like they were the only two people in the busy kitchen, for just that fraction of a second.

“You’re right, Ma. You’re always right.”

She scoffed. “Yeah, that’s me. So, speaking of which, you’re off on Sunday. I’m making sewer pipes, sausage, and gravy, and you’re coming over. You can bring somebody.”

“Like Connie and Gabby?” Vito asked, referring to his big dogs.

“Well, I was thinking maybe a nice boy. That would make me really happy.” She was quiet for a moment. “Besides, those two monsters are gonna eat my Brenda for a snack one of these days, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts.”

“Ma, they’re afraid of Brenda.”

They both laughed. Somehow the little five-pound dog always managed to ride herd on her much bigger “cousins.”

“But I’m serious, Vito. You got anyone you can bring? Seeing anybody? A handsome man like you shouldn’t be by himself.”

And again, Vito thought of Henry. Oh, he’d been “seeing” him, all right. Almost every night for the past two weeks. And then again, in his dreams sometimes. Once he even woke from one of those dreams with come in his shorts, an experience he hadn’t had since he was a boy. He had a feeling he dreamed of Henry because he pushed him away so consciously at the restaurant and even out of his waking thoughts. But his mind refused to let him go.

“No, Ma. I’m not ready to date anyone again.”

“I didn’t even necessarily mean date. But you got friends, don’t you?”

Vito thought sadly, or maybe gratefully, that the answer was no, beyond friends of the four-legged variety. The friends he used to have, in that other life that now seemed to belong to someone else, had all turned away. Not because they hated him or didn’t want to be around him, he knew that much for sure, but because they didn’t want to face his pain, didn’t know what to do with the longing and loss in his eyes, the hurt he wore like an apron. What could they do? What would they say? His life only brought theirs down. So one by one, they stopped seeing him.

He didn’t blame them.

“It’ll just be me and the girls. Is that enough?”

“Oh, let’s not have a pity party here. Remember when you told me you were a fanook?”

“Ma, we don’t use that word. We say gay.”

“Whatever. The point is, do you remember?”

“Yeah. I was twenty. I wrote you a letter.”

“And I cried. And I went to church and lit a candle for you, praying that this gay thing would be ripped out of you.”

“Nice.”

“You know it took some adjusting. You weren’t who I thought you were. But so much happened over the next few years. There was—”

And Cora went quiet, her voice stilled for several moments, and Vito knew she was trying to catch her breath, to hold back tears. He knew because his own were springing to the corners of his eyes and running down his face.

In a choked voice, she went on, “I learned that I was wrong. That if Jesus granted my wish and did rip this thing out of you, you wouldn’t be you anymore. And I wouldn’t have had—well, you know.”

“I know. I know.” Vito held a hand to his eyes to stem the flow. “I’ll be there on Sunday, and I’ll bring a nice antipasti. I got some of that good sharp provolone like you like.”

“Okay, son. I gotta go. Brenda’s tap dancing at the back door.”

“Bye.”

“And Vito?”

“Yeah?”

“I love you.”

Vito’s heart gave a little leap. He never, ever doubted his mother loved him, but she seldom said so. It wasn’t her way. She showed it more through hugs and pinches, sometimes too hard, on the cheek, but most of all through her food. Before he had a chance to return the sentiment, though, she had hung up.

BLURB

Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.

Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.

BUY

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One Response to “A Good Sicilian Boy’s First Love #dreamer”

  1. Susan says:

    Although my grandmother was not Sicilian (Abruzzese) she too subscribed to the eating was good for you regardless of weight school of life.

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