Mrs P’s Lullaby
A Christmas Tale
Songs I Like Series
Text copyright © 2017 Mia Soto
All Rights Reserved
Chapter 7: 7 Swans a Swimming
Natalie peered up at the young man as he dragged her through his home, the Medici home if she was correct. She and Serge had been invited to their annual Christmas party the year before. She recognized things that at the time she had admired for their antiqued beauty. It was sobering to see them shiny and new.
“Where are we going?”
“To my carriage,” he said over his shoulder.
“Paolo!” A voice boomed through the house. They stopped like mice with a light directed at them. He cursed.
“Who is that?”
“Padre,” he said. “This way.” He changed direction dragging her down a flight of stairs to a brightly lit room. It looked like something out of a Town and Country garden home. “Mother is away. This room should be empty. Remain here.”
She was left in nineteenth century Italy alone for the first time to ponder the thought that going crazy had a certain charm to it. As if somehow her subconscious which always wished to be born of another time was playing out in the most realistic pantomime of all time.
It was not farfetched to think there were variations of losing one’s mind. That those variations would be quite real for the one watching the sands of reality slip through their fingers. That those poor souls blustering to be understood were no different than she standing in nineteenth century Italy trying to facilitate a love match as far as she could tell her objective to be. All the while pretty sure she was really just dead or insane.
As she reflected on these deep thoughts, the door opened and a strapping man of tall, brutal handsomeness walked in. His surprise matched hers. “Well, hello.” He gave a provocative leer. His deep brown eyes drank her up. “And who are you?”
She wanted to laugh. This was getting absurd. If she ever made it back to her real life she was going to spend a little more time reading science fiction and a little less reading Regency romance. “Uhh. I, I’m ahh…”
“Rafa!” Paolo’s voice brought her instant relief.
The men embraced with a fondness that spoke of a relationship of longevity, familiarity. When they separated Rafa returned his attention to her. “Now tell me, cousin, where in heaven did you find this beautiful creature?”
Paolo looked between them and gave a helpless shrug. “I’m unsure how to begin to explain this.”
Rafa looked intrigue. “Here here. A bit of drama?”
“It is more than drama. I hesitate for fear you’ll think me mad. I may already be mad.”
Natalie gave a mental nod. At least she was not alone in the thoughts that she might be losing her mind. Rafa stood too close to her, caressing the hanging sleeve of her dress. He crowded her in a forward way. Natalie cleared her throat and inched along the mantle away from him.
“Rafa! Enough. Come. I’ll try to explain on the way.”
“On the way to where?”
“Maria. I have to find her.”
“Ahh, Maria. And how is that bittersweet love song?”
Natalie burst out laughing and both men looked at her surprised. She waved them away with a nod of encouragement for Paolo to continue. They climbed into the carriage and it jerked to a start. Natalie was motion sick before they reached the lane that would take them to town. Another strike for living in Regency times.
“I’m hungry.” Rafa complained. “I was hoping to eat and then sleep.”
“When did you arrive?”
“Not long ago. The roads are bumpy from the weather. It took longer than anticipated.” Natalie agreed as she fought not to relieve her stomach of its contents. Rafa sighed. “Well then at least entertain me with these details. I’m rapt with interest.”
Paolo sighed trying to sum up the strange goings on of the morning. As she listened and observed she could see Rafa looking between them and sizing up their story with a healthy dollop of skepticism.
“She was in your bed?” Rafa pointed at Natalie looking downright envious.
“She was.” Paolo said.
A devilish laugh sounded from Rafa. “Do you know what I think?” Natalie could see whatever he intended to say was not going to flatter either she or Paolo but Paolo shook his head in full innocence. “I think you took her to your bed. And why not?”
Rafa shrugged. “All I’m saying…is if this affair with Maria is a lost cause…let’s consider these other possibilities.”
“Anyway, I think Maria found you. And now you are trying to make amends. All this fuss for a woman. When look what you’ve found.” He wiggled his brows at Natalie.
Natalie bristled. What strike was that for Regency life? Strike whatever. Naked unapologetic sexism was grounds for a telling off. Instead she glared at him and his drowsy indifferent smile was given back in return.
“I’m telling you a magic is afoot. Try to take the ring from her finger.”
Rafa took her fingers in a caressing way raising an appreciative eyebrow. He tugged and it did not move but it did not shock him like Paolo. He gave Paolo a sarcastic smirk.
“I tell the truth.” Paolo reached for the ring and was flung back into the seats as if by the force of an explosion. She felt the surge pulse from the cool metal as he touched it.
Rafa jumped with a cry to help his cousin. “What did you do to him?”
“Nothing. Nothing! This is what happens.”
The dust settled and Paolo had the glow of an ashen ghost. With a shaky hand, he wiped his brow. Natalie held his hand and said, “no more of that. I can’t have you dying. I need you.”
Rafa looked between them a sudden serious in his rich brown eyes. “Start again from the beginning. And tell me this story of yours.”
The carriage had an uneasy silence after Rafa exhausted his questions. Now three people were aware of the extraordinary circumstances. Three people grappled with an impossible idea. Three people were in awe of a miracle.
She looked out the window of the carriage recognizing the familiar path, like a friend from a long time ago that knew she needed to see it. Not much had changed. Even the trees seemed similar. Then it came into view.
“Stop,” she cried. She slapped at the window turning to Paolo with pleading eyes. “Stop.”
He nodded and slipped open a small window and called up to the driver. The carriage slowed to a halt just before they passed the house. “What is it Natalie?”
She fumbled with the door. “How do I open this? Open this, please!”
The door opened from outside as the footman bowed. She scrambled out like a cat in water and up the lane to her home. Her smile was elated. Dear God this house seemed to live in a state of disrepair.
The door was near unhinged, so she crawled through the awkward opening to be greeted by the chilled damp humid that always seemed to cling to the stone walls. She breathed that air like it was elixir, like she had not complained about how it was going to make them all sick from the first day they walked into the home.
She scrambled up the stairs to her bedroom which was empty with two broken windows helping to rot the wooden window seat. She moved on to the kid’s rooms. Jonah’s room with his punk bank posters no longer hanging on the walls in their strange anachronistic décor. Ilsa, Ilsa’s room. She sobbed bending over forgetting herself.
Lou! She went to the loose plank they had found in Lou’s room and made into a secret hiding place for her treasures. She opened it to find trinkets hidden inside and laughed. Another child had enjoyed the secrecy of the hidden cover.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” Paolo said from the doorway.
“Yes. Yes it is.” She jumped, wiping her tears. “It’s my home,” she said feeling forlorn and empty. “Two hundred years from now.”
Paolo replied in a stunned voice. “It is my home.”
“I bought this, for Maria.”
“You, you bought it for Maria?” She laughed a humorless laugh. “Of course you did. That’s why the jewelry box was in my attic.”
“It was abandoned after my grandmother died. My grandfather had bought it for her. A Petit Trianon so to speak. My grandfather refused anyone to live where his beloved had lived. Until he sold it to me asking if I had a good reason to want it. To which I replied I had the most noble reason, love. He is unaware I did not mean my intended.”
His words brought her involuntary tears as her hands came to cover her face. She hated to cry refusing them even at the saddest times of her life. They were unstoppable just then flowing like hot rain from her eyes. She felt his arms come around her and needing something, someone she wrapped herself around him.
“Be strong Natalie. Be strong.”
She pushed away nodding, wiping at her tears. It was all she could do for now, be strong.