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THE ITALIAN


 

 

Beatrice lay in bed. It was the perfect setting to fall asleep. The evening was warm, the windows open, the room dark, but she could not sleep.

She tried squeezing her eyes shut, but they had a way of opening in spite of all she did. She might as well face it. She had high aspirations that she would be charming and gay, and completely immune to anything connected with, or mindful of Angelo.

Things had not gone according to her plan.

After much thought, she decided that was because she made plans and prepared herself to meet the Angelo she had known before, and the man she saw tonight was different.

That was an understatement. He was eons away from the jovial tease she left a few years back. Yet, that did not seem to matter. The questions she wanted answers to had all been answered. Almost five years away from him had not changed either her attraction to him, or her feelings. Her heart still pounded at the sight of him, and the slight huskiness to his voice still left her weak in the knees. She would have to be careful around him ... very, very careful.

Go to sleep, she told herself. Tomorrow you can worry about being careful.

She closed her eyes and lay her forearm over them, thinking if she kept her eyes closed long enough, she would go to sleep.

An hour later, she still could not sleep, and Bea was not a person to lie abed when her eyes were open and her mind alive with thought. To her, a bed was for sleeping, and if you weren't going to sleep, what was the point in remaining there? All she was doing was thinking about Angelo, and that was the last thing she needed to do.

Whenever she could not sleep, she found painting to be the perfect antidote to lying in bed, bored to her toes. She dressed quietly, in a simple dress, without petticoats, and took great care not to make any noise as she went downstairs.

The painting she was doing of her aunt was almost finished. If the need for sleep did not overcome her, it might be possible to finish it tonight. She thought about the colors she might use, almost feeling the emotion reaching out to her from the warm earthy tones of Naples yellow, ocher, raw sienna, and the colors she was out of and would have to mix, Venetian red, burnt sienna, raw umber, ivory black. For her aunt's dress, the subtle hint of blue and green.

She could almost hear her first painting tutor, a small, fiery Italian with the medieval name Gerozzo Boccaccio.

"You must remember that it was Cennini who first wrote of seven natural colors. Four of them are mineral colors—black, red, yellow and green. Three are natural colors, and these you must encourage by artifice so you will have white (which he called bianca San Gianni), blues, ultramarine, azurite, and gallorino. These are the colors that da Vinci later called primary colors."

She continued on her way, and wondered where Gerozzo was now.

In the room Aunt Gisella designated for her studio, she set to work. The diluent she had mixed days ago, using the same formula handed down from the Renaissance processed linseed oil, raw linseed oil and a hard-resin varnish made from Congo copal.

She blended the first color and tested it on the fleshy part of her hand, near the place where the forefinger and thumb joined. She did the same with the other colors, and when she finished, gave a nod of satisfaction and began to paint.

As she worked, she would pause from time to time, to study the richest areas of the painting, which were lighter and made more pure by setting them against larger, darker areas. Using this technique, the flesh tones of her aunt's skin were luminous against the dark coils of her fine black hair.

She did not know how long she worked, and the need for sleep did not penetrate her consciousness until she began to soak her brushes. She stretched and brought her hand up to knead the knot at the back of her neck, then picked up another brush.

"I thought you went to bed hours ago. What are you doing up?"

The sound of Angelo's voice startled her and when she turned toward the sound she saw him framed in the doorway. He looked much as he had when he first arrived, although his black clothes were no longer dusty from travel, nor did his collar length hair suggest a journey taken at a fast pace.

He was not a big man—although taller than average but his body was that of a horseman, supple and light. She had already decided the way he moved had not changed, for well she remembered the fine gestures, the fluid action of his body. She recalled watching him fence with his fencing master, and the memory of the erotic thoughts his movements inspired.

At one time, he was nothing but one big smile.

And now, it seemed he rarely smiled at all.

It was hard to believe this was the man who once said, "Ah, the women… they love me too much." She wondered if the man she knew and once loved, was gone for good.

"I could not sleep, so I decided to finish Aunt Gisella's portrait."

"I saw it earlier, when I came back downstairs. Remarkable likeness—the expression, the arch of her brow… I find it difficult to believe you did not know you had such talent. What other talents have you kept secret?"

"None, I'm afraid. I suppose I've been to busy developing this one. Or perhaps I am a one talent woman."

"Are you? That's odd, for I seem to recall several."

"We all have our differences of opinion. What you look on with remorse is my reminiscence."

He smiled and she almost had a glimpse of the old Angelo, but the smile faded. "I can reminisce," he said. "Take now, for instance, and how well I remember our last evening together. You kissed me like you could not bear to be away from me for even a moment. And then you left the next day to answer the call of distant England, and broke my heart in the doing of it."

The memory of the evening was something she kept separate, as one would keep a special gift, never using it but keeping it in a secret place where it could be looked at and enjoyed again and again. It was brightness in a romantic world that was for her, empty and dark, and now he was saying she had broken his heart. How did he always know what to say?

"I daresay I did not break your heart."

"And you are some sort of expert on broken hearts, I take it?"

"It was not easy for me to go, in spite of what you think."

"Then why did you?"

"I thought I explained it to you."

"You spoke in generalities. You did not speak of what was in your heart. If you had, I would have been in England waiting for you when you arrived."

His words stunned her.

I would have been in England waiting for you when you arrived…

She felt like she was dreaming. Was he telling her that he would have done the very thing she wished for if only she had been more truthful with him? She brought her hand to her head, trying to remember what precisely, the reasons were that she used that night. "Exactly what reasons did I give you that you label generalities?"

"You don't remember what you told me, do you? Well, I remember, quite vividly. Allow me to refresh your memory. You were too young and inexperienced for a man like me. A man such as I was could never be content with one woman. You mentioned the difference in our religions, and our cultural differences. Mostly sweeping statements instead of details—a clutter of clichés, shallow appraisals, passive acceptance of preconceived notions, too much wrong information, a preponderance for believing gossip, and a few revealing truths. All of which made me sound insincere and quite superficial."

THE ITALIAN
Book 2, "The Italian Chronicles"
November 2002
MIRA Books
ISBN: 1551669463


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