Mrs P’s Lullaby
A Christmas Tale
Songs I Like Series
Text copyright © 2017 Mia Soto
All Rights Reserved
Chapter 9: 9 Ladies Dancing
Paolo’s nervous energy radiated as he paced impatient for Maria to arrive. He was sure that after their night together she would reconsider his offer. There was no other solution in his mind’s eye. She had to accept him He could not fathom her leaving his life and he was certain he would act in violence before he saw her with another.
“Be calm. Speak from the heart.” Natalie encouraged as she stood to the side watching him pace.
“Yes, honesty. It goes far with the ladybirds.” Rafa gave a droll laugh.
“It does. What do you mean by that?”
“It means ladies like to say one thing and do another,” Rafa shrugged.
“And men don’t?”
“No.” He shook his head.
“No?” She snapped.
“No,” he said again. “We’re not that complicated.”
“Well that we can agree on.” She huffed.
“Enough! This bickering it plays on one’s nerves.” Paolo started to pace again talking to the group at large. “Much has changed. Perhaps my proposal will be seen in a new light today.”
“A touch of poetry,” Rafa offered. “They love that. Yes?” He gave Natalie another sarcastic smile.
“Is this true, Natalie?” Paolo asked.
She glared but nodded. “It couldn’t hurt. If you’re sincere.” She shot a look back at Rafa.
Nervous sweat broke. “I’m not a poetic man. That is my brother.”
“Like this, cousin.” Rafa took Natalie’s hand and placed a soft, seductive kiss on her palm. In spite of her clear aggravation with Rafa, Paolo could see her soften. Rafa tugged her into him and cupped her face with a light caress to her cheek.
“Love,” He said in his deep timbered voice. He leaned in letting his weight encroach on her, tilting his head so that his face was a breath away from hers. “…bittersweet…irrepressible,” His hand weaved into her hair tucking a strand behind her ear. “loosens my limbs,” He brought his mouth to her ear and with a warm whisper finished. “and I tremble.”
A long, unsure moment passed before Natalie pushed away on unsteady legs and cleared her throat. “Umm, yes, like that,” she agreed.
Paolo caught a glimpse of a figure in the distance. “She has arrived.”
“We’ll stand aside. Speak from your heart.” Natalie squeezed his hands and he drew strength from her conviction that in doing just that he would have his Maria.
Maria crossed the small bridge over the brook with a smile and rushed into his arms as he lifted her high. That enchanting giggle bubbled out from her lips. In another moment, his hands clasped her head, his lips covering hers feeling the sweet reply filled with angst and lust. Lips slashed and meshed, tongues dancing, bodies molded perfectly together.
“Please. It befuddles me.” She pushed away. “I stole away. There isn’t much time.” She glanced over to Natalie and Paolo who were doing a poor job pretending not to watch their every move. “Who is that woman with you and Rafa?”
He opened his mouth to speak but once again the story was so fantastical so beyond belief he was unsure how to begin. He sighed and pointed to their rock. “Here sit. Let me try to explain.”
“An angel.” She said in wonder after he told the story. “Do you truly think?”
“I can’t say for certain about anything. But she is of another place. One very different than ours. That I can say. And there is something heavenly at work in that ring on her finger.”
“An angel.” She whispered looking at Natalie with fresh eyes. “A very beautiful one.”
“None so beautiful as you. Ah, my sweet Maria, the course of true love never did run smooth. So says Puck.”
She smiled at him with a little laugh. “I believe that was Lysander.”
“Perhaps.” He swept his finger alone her face marveling at the smooth icy marble feel of it in the cold air. “Maria, Christmas is less than two days from now. And I, and I.”
She took his hand and kissed it. “And you will be married then. Let’s not speak of it.”
“Not speaking of it will not end the truth that soon we will be separated. We have so little time. I want love you forever if you will let me, please.”
Her arms wrapped around his waist and she rested her head on his chest. “Yes I want nothing more than that. You are my heart’s desire.”
“Last night we were changed,” he whispered into her hair emboldened by her answer.
She nodded still wrapped around him. “Yes.”
“Then you will have me. I will buy you whatever you want a castle, a carriage, a stable of horses and you will be loved. I will only go to her for an heir. My nights will be with you always.” His words began hopeful but her face fell as he spoke and he knew at once his arrow had missed its mark.
“No, I cannot. I will not.” She pushed away. “How could you speak of such a thing again after our night together? How can you be so calloused and hateful?”
“Call us what you will, we are made such by love – Shakespeare,” he said in anger and frustration that she still would not be sensible about the matter.
“I believe you mean John Donne.” She answered with a confident sneer. “I wonder, signore, did they teach you anything at your fine schools? Of certain you learned nothing of the heart or compassion.”
“There is no shame in being my mistress,” he reasoned.
She winced, “oh no, signore, no shame at all – for the man.”
“You would be loved, in ways no woman has ever been.” He tried to caress her face but she turned away.
“NO! NO!” She sobbed. “How could you ask such a thing after, after. You are breaking my heart and I cannot bear it.” With that she turned and ran.
He thought to go after her but Rafa put a restraining hand on his arm. “No cousin. Now is not the time.”
“I spoke my heart and she denied me.” His eyes locked with Natalie’s which were filled with some unnamed emotion. He sat down again confused, angry, resigned. “There is no path forward.”
Natalie sat beside him and put her hand over his. “You asked her to be your mistress? That was your solution?”
“Yes. Any woman of her station would be humbled by such an offer.”
Natalie looked away and then back. She looked like Mara when that woman would take him to her knee as a child to teach him a lesson from her wisdom. “I think, without knowing her of course, that Maria is not any woman.”
He could feel the lines of his face soften as he thought about Maria and all his feelings for her. “No she is not.” He looked down at the white snow. “I’m betrothed. What can I do?” His head ached.
“And these arrangements are never broken?” She asked.
He thought a moment then shrugged. “Upon occasion. A scandal might arise to entertain the gentry at our parties. It rarely comes of any good.”
“Rarely. Which means occasionally it comes to a great deal of good.” She said. “Maybe on this one occasion it will.”
He watched Natalie turn at the ring on her finger. It was fixed and unmoving. Her arm wrapped around him and she rested her chin on his shoulder.
He rested his head on hers. “I am calm when you are here. You make me believe this will all resolve itself for the better. Somehow.” He finished quietly.
It was a somber group that returned to Paolo’s home that evening. Natalie reflected on the fact that she would spend the night in nineteenth century Italy, knowingly this time, alone and unsure how to end this ordeal. It was days before Christmas and her children were somewhere else in time and she was not sure how to get back to them. Were they scared? Did they even know? Had time stopped while she was stuck here? And Serge. Serge!
She raced to Paolo’s mother’s room. The letters could be seen from the doorway. Dread and hope fluttered around in her belly. No matter what he wrote, she was happy to hear from him.
I’m sorry. You’re right. I am equally to blame for our wrongs. I worked too hard. I expected too much of you and the children but gave little other than money in return. I wanted acceptance more than you did and I was angry at you for not being better at that silly game. You’re right. As always. And I’m so sorry.
It’s so quiet here without you. Like the pulse of us is missing. The kids think you’ve gone to Florence to meet with a builder. Still they know something is wrong. And I don’t know how to assure them everything will be fine. I’m not sure of that myself.
We have running water. Can you believe it? Johan and I worked all day at it. And that claw tub you love so much gets to be a steaming soup pot when filled. It’s waiting for you to come home.
I thought about you all day. You know I’m not a man of my feelings. It was not my family’s way. Love was a luxury to them. You taught me it is not a luxury. It is a necessity. One I cannot live without, in particular, your love.
Come home Natalie. Come home.
Serge, she thought with tears brimming. Wow. Sometimes he could remind her of all the reasons why. A soft knock at the door startled her. Rafa watched her from the opening with a smile.
“What is that you’re about?”
“Nothing. Everything.” She cleared her throat of the emotion choking her.
“No, not really. Well, a little.” She laughed wiping a tear.
He sat next to her on the floor offering his handkerchief. She laughed looking at the elegant embroidery, no detail of this dream was left unturned. She thought to no one in particular that she was having her Dickensian moment.
“Are you an angel in truth?”
Her face lit up with her teary smile. “No, I’m not.”
He smiled back. “Tis good. To be in such feverish longing for an angel would not bode well for my eternity.”
She laughed and his hand came up to caress her face. The humor in his eyes fled for something else. “Truly you are beautiful.” His thumb and forefinger clasped her chin. “I know why he thinks you’re an angel.” His mouth hovered dangerously close to hers. It was a dream. She could tilt her head, enjoy the fantasy right this moment. There was an inviting bed a few inches away from them and no harm would be done because it was only a dream.
But she turned her head away. “Rafa, I’m married.”
“And?” He looked confused.
She laughed, “I can’t.”
“Can’t or won’t?” He nuzzled her neck.
“Both.” She sat back out of his reach and he sighed.
“You love him then?” His comical look said he did not give that sentiment much importance. She hugged her knees and leaned back on them, nodding with a slow gamine smile. “With all your heart?” He confirmed. Her smile grew with her nod, a light dancing in her eyes.
“Women,” He shook his head disgusted. “such sentimentalists.”