sew up whatever you’ve done (tomorrow christmas day comes)
They’d all come in at the same time, and, she thinks, there is something about kitchens, even in this exuberant sprawl of an apartment, that crowds with too many people.
The air in the kitchen is warm, stuffy with spices and the fat off the roast in the oven, too close to breathe; they’d all congregated in at the same time and the air is still cacophonous, weighted with their laughter and their duelling conversations. Juan had emerged from the library with a martini already in hand, and Jofre and his girlfriend are sitting at the counter—Vanozza’s face lights up whenever she looks at the girl, Sancia, who is too pretty for Jofre by half. Jofre looks completely snowed under every time he looks at her, an expression their mother is mirroring without shame. Lucrezia grins to herself and bites it back; her mother might not have a poker face but she’s learned. She’ll talk to Sancia later, get the measure of her, in the meantime let her bear the giddy weight of Vannozza’s gratitude, she thinks, for she herself is not going to be a useful conversationalist if she’s worried she’s going to tip over at any minute.
“Cara,” her father booms, hugging her waist from behind, “how are you? Talk to us!” and she can’t help a squeak of shock. Fortunately, she thinks, it’s no one else’s command to listen—Sancia is laughing too loudly, a little nervous behind her lot of lipstick, and Juan is tipping his glass to her, already grandiloquent, oh god, Lucrezia thinks, and smiles back at her father, leaning back to kiss him on the cheek and extricate himself, thankful for the bulk of her coat she hasn’t taken off yet.
“The roast’s going to burn if you don’t look at it again—and I’ll go take this off, I’m just going to go put it in the closet—”
Unwinding her scarf from around her neck with a down-tilted smile, she backs out of the room, clutching her glass of eggnog in her hand, and wanders into the momentarily empty living room. They’d all come in at the same time, and, she thinks, there is something about kitchens, even in this exuberant sprawl of an apartment, that crowds with too many people. The living room—sofa, bookshelves, black plasma screen taking up half a wall—welcomes her with silence, and she sits down on the leather couch, holding her camel coat even tighter around her. When she puts her chin on the back of the couch, she can see icicles outside through the wall-wide window. It’s not a white Christmas, not yet. Just icy and New York grey and miserable, she thinks, biting wind and dirty press of empty sky. Miserable.
She looks up toward the library door a moment before it opens and Cesare steps out. For him, she can muster up half a smile that’s more meant than the full ones she’d thrown around in the kitchen—so that’s why Juan was in there, she thinks, because there’s alcohol in more or less every room of the house and God knows it wasn’t the books.
“Brother talks?” she asks and is rewarded with a wry twist of his mouth.
“Call it that.”
“The Djem fiasco?”
“The Djem fiasco, the Carlyle fiasco, the fucking reality show—” He exhales, hard. “You name it.”
She can think of many names (little shit is something of a family consensus at this point, only her father says it with love), but she refrains from offering them up. She’s been reading his name in the worst places—the Star, of all places, the Enquirer. Has been seeing his name on E!, which Giovanni had liked to watch; toward the end, he had turned the volume up to its highest and watched her face in the other room. She wouldn’t come in to join him, but he’d made damn sure she could hear all the same. “Think it made a difference?” she asks lightly, and Cesare laughs, shakes his head.
“It’s not what you’d call a surprise.”
She shrugs, and he looks at her again with a glint of something that’s not strictly nice. “So—your first Christmas as a married woman. How does it feel?” he asks, and she pulls a face. He knows better. Never mind this past month—he should have known better from day one.
“Go to hell, would you?”
“Hell is other people,” he replies. “Sartre said as much—no time like now to prove him right.”
“True,” she says, and he walks over, sits on the couch beside her, not on the empty side.
“Push over,” he murmurs, and she—defiant and heavy at the waist—knocks her hip against his. He grins at her and doesn’t move away; his face leans in toward the space by her neck. Proximity fits them; his mouth rests less than an inch away from her ear. “Well, not all other people.”
“Is that a compliment?”
“Why not. Welcome home.”
Welcome home, which her body takes as an invitation to slump back against him; she feels the sleeplessness and that deep-behind-the-bones weight that’s new to her body hit her all at once, and breathes into the exhaustion for a minute, dizzy in the head and heavy at the waist and knowing that she could fold in on herself like a paper crane if she just let it all go. God, she thinks, she’s exhausted: she took a taxi out of the Village at sunrise and didn’t sleep on the ride uptown, just watched the sky stripe orange and palely purple until it faded all the way back into a still-snowless grey, sun burning weak white light through onto the building tops. She leans in against him—it’s not in an embrace, per se, but her shoulder notches nicely into his sternum and he curls into her, chin tucked against her hair. “Compliment taken,” she mumbles against his chest through her barely open mouth, and it’s still not an embrace, his arms aren’t going anywhere, but she feels him relax, open like a frame around her.
For a moment it sounds like an observation—touching; she thinks with annoyance, yes, we are, duly noted—but no, it’s just Juan standing on the other end of the couch and trying to be wry. “Family bonding time,” he says, plunking down onto the couch, looping an arm over the back. “What’d I miss?”
“I’m just sleepy,” she says, muffled and easy. “Not that good at conversation right now. I'll perk back up if you all just give me five minutes.”
“You didn’t take off your coat.”
“No. Are you offering to take it?”
“No,” he says, and she sits up anyway, shucking off her sleeves and tossing it at his head. It jostles his glass when it falls heavily across his lap; he puts it down on the coffee table and glares at her.
“Take it anyway,” she says, kicking him lightly in the hip with a stockinged foot. “God knows you’re not going to be useful in the kitchen; why can’t you be useful here?”
“Ah,” he says, folding it in his hands, “but if I’ve learned anything it’s that useful doesn’t apply—isn’t that right, Cesare?”
There’s inches of space between them, but she can still feel her brother’s shoulders go tight. “All I asked you was not to be a complete idiot for a day and a half.”
“Pretty sure there was more to it than that.”
“But,” she intercedes before Cesare can reply, “do you have to be an idiot for the day and a half? I mean, call it a Christmas gift, on a scale of one to idiot, how low do you think you can manage to get to today?”
“I already bought you a Christmas gift,” he says sullenly, and she leans in and raps her knuckles against his forehead.
“Just don’t be a total shit, please. Don’t spoil Dad’s Christmas-utopia mood and we’ll all get along fine.”
“Or guess who’s wielding the plum pudding torch? I’ll light your hair on fire,” she says, and Cesare barks out a laugh. Juan’s hands fly unconsciously to his head; he glares again, more acquiescent.
“You’re cunts,” he mutters, “the pair of you,” but he stands up with Lucrezia’s camel coat in his hands and slouches toward the coatroom—hands busy, and Lucrezia leans in and puts her palm over the top of his martini before he can look back. She grins wryly over her shoulder.
“The illustrious heir of the de Borja mantle,” Cesare says, and she grabs a pillow from the other arm, tosses it at him.
“That’s you and you know it.” He winces. “You’ve no sense of timing at all, you know. It’s Dad’s weekend—the life chats aren’t going to go over well at the best of times, and he’s not going to want to hear it from you.”
“No.” He leans back, chin tilting up appraisingly. “He prefers it from you, and who wouldn’t. You, who have your life so thoroughly in hand.”
“Shut up,” she bristles, and Juan is back, feet scuffing sweaty sockpaths along the glossy hardwood floor.
“Give me my drink, sis.”
“Don’t make yourself another before dinner.”
“Are you going to give me a temperance lecture?” He laughs. “Really?”
“No,” she snaps, “I just don’t want you to end up with your face in the potatoes. Get blitzed later and no one will care.”
“Fair enough,” he shrugs and holds out his hand. She lifts her palm, bearing the glass’s print ringed against her palm, and he grabs it and swigs the contents, down to the olive. He sucks it back and grins, blowing her and Cesare a pair of olive-shaped kisses. “Merry merry, kids. ‘Tis the season, ho ho ho.”
She watches him half dance into the kitchen. “Ho ho ho,” Cesare echoes dryly behind her, and all she can do is shake her head and grab her neglected glass of eggnog. He reaches out, fingers landing on her wrist. “Should you be drinking?” he asks and gives a pointed glance to her stomach.
Blood rushes to her cheeks. “Don’t.”
“I only want to know—”
“Well, I’m not going into it,” she says, “not now.”
“Fine.” He settles back against the sofa, or at least sits back: his shoulders are straight against the cushion and the balls of his hands press into his knees as if he’s coiling to spring. “So how’s Hermia going?”
She slams the glass down on the table. “How do you know about that?”
“Dream? Of course I know,” he says. “But Dad doesn’t yet. They think you’re still in Westchester, don’t they?”
“How did you—”
“It’s not on the studio’s radar, if that’s what you’re wondering.” He pauses. “I’ve been making sure of that.”
No, that’s not what I was wondering, she thinks, answer my damn question—but there is something glad in her that she doesn’t know, buried beneath the frustration but above the fear. Cesare, who has known everything since they were children, who’s only gotten better at knowing her life as they’ve grown older. She gave up asking a long time ago; as it is, she hates that her inclination is to thank him. He shouldn’t know to begin with, but there’s a look on his face like he’s expecting gratitude and she knows, begrudgingly but aware all the same, that, yes, it is a favor.
“I’m not taking part in Sforza’s productions,” she says in lieu of thanks, by way of explanation, “but I didn’t want to come back to Dad’s—not now, not right away.”
“But Hermia? You run off to go play Hermia? Of all the parts, Crezia. You could do better than that.”
“It’s fun,” she begins, and he smirks.
“Isn’t one of Dad’s old relics playing Bottom?”
“Young relics,” she can’t help protesting, and oh god, even that’s enough of a tell; she sees his gaze sharpen.
“What’s his name again? Paul? Paolo?”
“Pedro,” she says, so softly that she can hardly hear herself. The name does not bear significance by itself (a flash of warmth deep in the belly, behind the weight, uncoupled, she knows, by a blush); still, there is a weakness that comes in speaking it out loud, exposure like a bare strip of flesh.
“You ran off with a Latin lover and now you’re bearing his illegitimate child.” Cesare’s voice is cool, sardonic. “What soap opera bullshit. You aren’t even Titania; I can’t believe you settled for the donkey.”
“It’s not like that.”
“I think it is. You’ve always understood dramatic tenor, Crezia—I thought you were a classicist, but I never expected you’d roll around in such trite muck.”
“Don’t come to the show,” she spits, and he laughs, sharp and not particularly amused.
“Oh, I’ll be there with flowers in my arms. But not for your costar. I hope the director’s hired an understudy,” he says with is something untouchably cold in his eyes, and she sinks her teeth into her lip until she can almost taste blood.
“So where do you keep the—oh.”
Sancia trips into the room, voice echoing to rafter heights; Lucrezia sits up sharp and straight. Juan is following Sancia, who is wearing her red coat perched lightly on her shoulders, not on and not off, and his hand is navigating her waist. “Coatroom,” he says, “thisaway.” Looking over at the couch, he repeats, mouth wide and exaggerated around the syllables, all but winking at them. Silently, Lucrezia watches them pass through.
When the door closes behind them, she exhales the breath she’s been holding, and she can’t help it coming out as a giggle, lifting with helpless laughter at the end. There’s nothing to do but, and the iron grip around her lungs lifts; when she sucks in a truer breath, she only laughs more.
“Well.” The coldness has lifted from Cesare’s voice. “Poor Jofre.”
“Christ,” she echoes, “poor Jofre. Look,” she says, composing her breath, “still, please—”
“I’m not going to say anything to Dad. Not before you do.”
“I will. But not this weekend.”
“Of course not. And Sforza?”
“Giovanni is Giovanni.”
“They’re not going to comment on your absent husband tonight?”
“My husband has a family of his own. And they can keep him. Next week I’m filing divorce papers.”
“Well.” Cesare nods his head to her. “Merry Christmas.”
Her mouth twists. “Ass,” she calls him, voice milked of venom, and he lifts his shoulders, face arranged innocently.
“No, really. A life without Giovanni Sforza is a present worthy of Santa on his best day.”
“He’s not entirely awful,” she murmurs. “Just—mostly.”
“You deserve better.”
“I know. Don’t tell me: I’m de Borja, right?”
“That too.” His laugh is barely audible. “I was mostly thinking you were Lucrezia. And you should still be doing better.”
Better, the way he says it, she knows, isn’t meant to be a tiny black box in a renovated church in the Village; better, she knows, is not Pedro Calderon, who tends to forget his lines whenever she comes in to watch his scenes (she can tell how he hasn’t earned Equity yet); better is not the boxes of scallion pancakes and lo mein and vinegary Pinot Grigio that the company polishes off together night after night, and she knows better than anything that better isn’t supposed to be the little loft bed in the refurbished rectory, nor the way that Pedro looks at her (warmth broad and not deep, she thinks, but perhaps it’s only that there’s nothing hiding beneath the warmth) in that bed. Still, it’s a step forward—and more than a good one.
And—oh, come on, she thinks, the painted maypole tirade is funny every time, a thousand times a better time than singing herself to death every night with a retractable dagger jammed between her breasts. At least this one isn’t a musical, she thinks; if that’s not better then better doesn’t exist. Better than this—that will come. She can wait. Or she can not, even; as limbos go, this is a happy one.
Cesare puts his hand on her wrist. From the kitchen, their father’s voice filters in, drowning out the radio and Dean Martin with his own basso profundo. The apartment is warm and Vannozza’s lit spiced-cranberry candles in the other room; breathing them in, she lets her fingers entangle with his. No limbo lasts, and this apartment, and the company in it, the family, has always been a fixed space. It has waited for her. They have waited.
Jofre steps into the living room tentatively. “Have you guys seen Sancia? Or Juan?”
“Sancia’s in the bathroom,” Lucrezia says just as Cesare says “Juan’s in the library.” Lucrezia bites her lip, sucking back a giggle, and tries to look serious. “Don’t worry. I think she’s finding her way around just fine.”
“Okay,” he says with a hopeful little smile, “well—good,” and turns back.
She flops back against the couch, her hand pressing sympathy and secondhand embarrassment back against her eyelids “Was that tactful?” she whispers to Cesare.
“Of course it was. Would you rather have him end up in the coatroom?”
“No. Poor Jofre.”
“Poor Jofre,” he says, and when she lets her hand drop back into her lap, he leans his forehead in against hers. In the other room, their father finishes his rendition of “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm”, whistling the last few notes with a precision that does Dean Martin proud. She turns her face in more comfortably toward Cesare’s, and outside, she sees out of the corner of her eye, it is starting to snow. She closes her eyes. Her husband and her lover feel thousands of miles away, but her brother’s nose skims against her own and both the frantic rattle of her heart and the still heft of her body take a step back from her consciousness. This, inevitably, is home.