Author & Master Storyteller
Home is where the heart is.
Seth Truitt stood on the street in front of the only home he remembered and contemplated the old adage. The autumnal drizzle of mid-October wet his thick mop of brown hair and plastered the starched shirt of his uniform against his skin. He turned back, grabbed his leather flight jacket and small duffel bag off the back seat, and paid the Yellow Cab driver.
As the cab sped away he let the sight of Bellaluna sink in, soothe.
Bellaluna, beautiful moon in Italian, the ancestral home of the Cavelli family—a family who took him in, raised him really, a place for family, for love, and now for sanctuary, he thought.
Bellaluna, three stories of creamy limestone, built on the site of the Fort Dearborn Massacre of 1812, boasted turreted towers, multiple chimneys, and a massive, beautifully carved, front door of rich mahogany. And, still keeping guard duty after a hundred years, a resident ghost—Private Anthony Cavelli. Whom, in Seth’s opinion, had scared the pants off most of the Cavelli children over the years. He smiled at the memories and headed toward the back yard.
He approached cautiously, his Army Air Corps-issued boots crunching gravel underfoot on the long walk to the back yard. He could see the last blooms of summer in terra cotta pots on the flagstone portico. Faith’s attempt at a green thumb, he supposed. Doctor Faith Cavelli now, his sister and only living blood relative.
The faint scent of burning leaves still hung in the air in spite of the light rain. Probably Amos’s work, the caretaker of the large home for the last forty years. His piles of carefully raked leaves were usually burned only after the children had been allowed to romp in them.
Two automobiles were parked out front. A 1923 Stutz Bearcat with its gleaming yellow paint and shiny chrome, still lovingly kept. Replaced in 1927, his sister had written, with a Stutz’s Vertical Eight, to accommodate the growing Cavelli family.
And one vehicle he didn’t recognize—a sporty roadster—parked behind the Bearcat. Maybe from Gabriel Cavelli’s auto and motorbike collection. Gabe, one of his titulary uncles.
The three Cavelli brothers: Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel, named after the archangels by an overly optimistic mother. Michael, proverbial head of the family, shrewd, astute businessman; Raphael, globe-trotting archaeologist, curator of the Field Museum; Gabriel, confrontational, Harley-riding bad-ass, self-made entrepreneur.
He wasn’t related to any of them by blood, but by heart, by love.
The expansive back yard would belly up to an orchard full of sour cherry and apple trees, myriad fruit bushes and one lonely apricot tree he planted for Gwen, Amos’s wife and long-time cook for the Cavelli family. She and her husband would be…about seventy now, give or take, along with the Uncles: Liam McBride and Bruno Cavelli.
Drizzle, bleak and apathetic, slapped at his face as he rounded the house and dropped his duffle bag onto the flagstone patio. He took a moment to gaze out toward the orchard still pregnant with fruit and to the pretty pond beyond with its cattails and water lilies, and Gwen’s garden with the last of summer’s bounty.
He stood there, in the drizzle, remembering…yearning for the past, when his life wasn’t so complicated, when he could actually face another day with a glad heart. A lump formed in his throat along with a deep, therapeutic feeling of relief that took him by surprise. He wondered if he’d be permitted to stay.
“Oh, Lordy, Lordy…you done come home.” The woman’s southern drawl cut through the silence.
He turned abruptly. Gwen stood just beyond the kitchen door with a chipped blue bowl on one hip, the bowl she always used to pick her herbs. She raised her long white apron to her mouth and her dark chocolate eyes filled.
He hurried to her side and pulled her into his arms. She looked up at him as tears spilled over and rolled down her wrinkled brown cheeks. Then she swatted at him.
“Why you don’t call, boy? You scare me ta death. Who knows you home? Michael, he don’t say nothing to me ‘bout you coming home.” She sniffled and took out a large white handkerchief from her pocket.
“No one knows.” Seth put his arm around her shoulders and walked her back to the kitchen door. “Are they at home, Michael or Faith?”
Gwen opened the screen door and set the old bowl on the scarred kitchen table. “Michael, he in da library, but yo sister, she still at da clinic. Won’t be home ‘til supper time. You need some lunch, boy?”
Seth smiled. Food was always at the center of the Cavelli family. “Any fried chicken, Gwen?”
“’Course, dey is. You sit on down and I fix you right up.”
As Gwen started to bustle around the kitchen chatting away about this or that, he realized how he long it had been since he saw a familiar face or heard a familiar voice. He bathed himself in the sight and sound. It felt like a lifetime ago since he’d sat at the Cavelli family table for a good meal and conversation. The oak table, one that accommodated twelve, was the same one they gathered around every day. The huge formal dining room, with its carved, regal furniture, was only for special occasions.
Gwen’s old Frigidaire had yet to be replaced by a modern version, but new linoleum was underfoot and a Magic Chef with six burners and a double oven replaced the old black iron stove. A deep porcelain sink replaced the old one, and mint green counter tops held several new appliances, including a Sunbeam Mixmaster and Toastmaster. And because the Cavellis liked their coffee, a brand new percolator topped the trio. Gwen could be set in her ways about some things, but not when it came to her kitchen.
Seth recognized a large, butt-ugly, olive green jar stuffed full of kitchen utensils on the counter, even though the color didn’t match the décor. He had fashioned the jar for Gwen in his freshman year ceramic’s class. She’d kept it all these years.
A dozen quart size, Bell canning jars full of tomato sauce were turned upside down on a white towel on the table, almost cool enough to stock in the pantry. Fresh tomatoes from the last of her summer garden, he suspected.
And, his favorite—two sour cherry pies cooling on the window sill.
He sniffed the large pot simmering on the stove—beef stew with pearl onions and peas. Maybe he’d be invited to stay for dinner. If he was lucky.
Surprisingly, he’d had an appetite, and ate hungrily finishing the fried chicken and potato salad, and then a slice of warm cherry pie topped with a scoop of the Cavelli Dairy’s vanilla ice cream. As he walked to the library, he prayed he could keep it down.
Eight years had passed since he’d seen any of the Cavellis. He’d taken the easy way out and made excuses for holidays, family events, missed birthdays, graduations—too many to count now. At first, he’d written the requisite monthly letter to his sister, without much personal information other than his job as an army corpsman. Until last year when he stopped writing. He was tired of making excuses, tired of telling lies—just tired in general.
On the way to the library, he remembered the last conversation he had with his sister and her husband.
“There’s nothing left for me here, Michael. The crash took all the money I saved through high school and the high risk stocks I bought with the money from the sale of my small business. It was going to be my seed money when I got out of college. I have nothing left.”
“What do you mean? You have to finish college, find a job,” Faith said. She looked to her husband. “Talk to him, Michael.”
Seth raised a hand to quell the conversation. “Let me say something first.” He approached Michael’s desk. “You’ve been very generous. Both of you. But things are different now. I can’t keep taking your money for college when you lost so much in the crash, too.”
Michael Cavelli propped his elbows on the desk and regarded him over the tenting of his fingers. “We stick together in this family, Seth. You know that. Everyone pitches in and does his share. I was worried for months before the crash, so I liquefied most of the family portfolio before the stock market tanked. I should be able to recoup more when everything settles. Your tuition is the least of my concerns.”
“I should have listened to you about buying the high risk stocks. And now, I’m sorry, but I can’t add to your burden. It’s not how I’m made. I have plans—”
“Yes,” his sister interjected, “to finish the second semester of your sophomore year. You made sacrifices when I had to sell the family home to finance the rest of my medical schooling, and I want to return the favor. We’ll pay for your tuition. It’s the least we can do.”
Seth shook his head. “You need the money for your own children, for Frankie and Alise. They’ll be ready for college before you know it.”
Michael looked at his wife. “I’m getting the feeling Seth has something in mind. Why don’t you tell us what you’re thinking, Seth.”
He took a deep breath and blew it out. “I’m going to join the army. I’ll be twenty in a few months. There’s talk of developing a new branch of the army, one that uses aero planes to support soldiers on the ground, like they did in the war. If I have a chance, I think I’d like to apply for it. I always wanted to learn to fly. If I don’t qualify, I’ll work on learning a trade for when I get out.”
Seth figured when Michael frowned, he was thinking of his own military service on the battlefield where he fought in the last days of the war, the worst days. And Faith—she had burst out crying.
But, they let him go—these people to whom family meant everything. And he hadn’t come back—until now.
Before Seth entered the library, he took a moment to observe his brother-in-law at his desk. At fifty, the man was still impressive—large, muscular, dressed in a dark gray suit and silver tie. A few lines creased at the corners of his eyes as he frowned at the ledgers on his desk. His hair was streaked with silver now, but still as thick as it had been eight years ago. His face appeared tan, as if he’d worked outside lately, instead of from his desk. He knocked softly on the library door to get his brother-in-law’s attention.
Michael looked up from the ledgers. Then he leaned back in his seat and tapped the top of his fountain pen on the blotter, a habitual habit, Seth remembered.
“You look pretty skinny. Did you con anything to eat out of Gwen?”
“Yeah, fried chicken and potato salad.”
Michael nodded. “Need some money for a haircut before your sister sees you? You look like you’ve been riding the rails.”
Seth ran a hand through his overlong hair. “Naw, girls like the long hair. Makes me look dangerous.”
Michael’s grin split his face. “Dammit, Seth.” He rounded his desk and gathered him up in a fierce hug. “What the hell? Why didn’t you tell us you were coming home? Faith will kick your ass for this, and I’ll help her.” He laughed as he drew Seth toward his desk. “Sit, sit.” He gestured to two upholstered chairs.
“What have you been up to? We haven’t heard from you in a while.”
Just like that, Seth thought. No admonishment, no ultimatums, no tongue-lashings or call to account. “Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I’d like to stay a while, if it’s all right with you. Just until I get on my feet.”
“Do you really think you have to ask? Your sister will be ecstatic to have you back…once she decides not to kill you.”
And the last few brutal years began to blur. He was home.
Seth’s old room, Michael’s when he’d been young, looked the same. Different wallpaper, different carpet, but the same feeling—clean, warm, and safe. Not that he and his sister had been on the street before she married Michael. They got by with her stipend as an intern and his money from hawking papers. Seth had been fourteen when Michael became his brother-in-law—though, thinking back, the man had been more of a surrogate father.
He neatly folded the few articles of clothing he brought with him into the chest of drawers and walked to the window to pull back the Irish lace curtain. The rain had stopped, but the sun had yet to make an appearance.
He noticed the tire swing in the back yard he’d helped Gabe hang from the big oak. the diving board next to the pond for summer dunks and swimming, the broad expanse of lawn for games of croquet, picnics, parties. Target practice with bows and arrows. Family baseball games where everyone argued and no one was sure who won.
Stomach aches from gorging on sour cherries before they were ripe enough to pick. And the apple tree that he and Meg used to climb.
God. Meg. He rubbed the heel of his hand over his chest.
It had always been Meg.
He took off his uniform, showered, and then, exhausted, slipped into bed.
Well, fan my brow. He’s back.
Margaret Cavelli stomped to the back door of her little house on Cherry Street. It was a miracle she got out of Bellaluna before she ran smack dab into him. The moron hadn’t had the decency to call or write her in eight years and there he was. Just sashayed back all ginned up in his fancy uniform and thought it was A-Okay. Well, he had another think coming.
She slammed down the book on poisons she’d taken from her old room. Luckily, she’d been looking out her bedroom window when the taxi pulled up, and he got out. She made sure he didn’t see her and then snuck down the old servants’ staircase to get to her roadster while Gwen gave him the feed in the kitchen.
A free meal—and probably his old room back if she knew her father. The prodigal son returns. But since she wasn’t the forgiving type, he wouldn’t get any sympathy from her.
Not in this lifetime.
She picked up the book and walked back to her murder board.