Simon stared mutely at Cassandra's father then gave Sophie a quick glance before turning back. “Pardon?” he said.
Despite his weakened state, Mr. Bellarosa forced himself into a sitting position then let loose a string of obscenities in Italian directed solely at Simon. Although Simon's grasp of the language was relatively good he had never heard most of those words. However, he got the gist.
“Excuse me... Sir,” Simon quietly said. “You don't know anything about me, so I'll thank you not to call me a dog... or wolf...yes, you said I'm a wolf devouring … I believe, a helpless lamb. I can only imagine you are talking about Cassandra, and if that's the case, you don't know your daughter very well.”
Mr. Bellarosa started to stand but then went into a couching fit.
“Oh, snap,” Richard urgently whispered to Sophie. “Baby, you better step in and stop this before the shit hits the fan...cuz it's about to get real nasty.”
Sophie stared from one to the other, not understanding what was happening—she didn't understand Italian, after all-- but she realized her father was right. Mr. Bellarosa was red in the face now, nearly coughing up a lung, and might at any moment stop breathing all together. She shook her head and stood up.
“Never mind that crap, Simon! That hardly matters right now.” she said, kneeling beside the lounge chair, forcing the sick man to lie back with the oxygen mask placed over his face. “Are you okay, Mr. Bellarosa? Should I get Cassandra?”
He shook his head. “I'm fine....for a man living on borrowed time,” he muttered.
“Please tell me what happened to you? Why are you so sick? How did you lose so much weight?”
“Why you wanna know? Wanna patent it and make millions?” he wheezed.
“No, I'll let you do that and get rich,” she said.
“It's all that extra weight that's kept me alive this long,” he said.
“Why...how? What do you have? Is there anything I can do for you?” she desperately said.
Mr. Bellarosa laughed mirthlessly. “Have you become an oncologist while you were away from us, Sophia?” he said, his voice muffled from the mask.
“A what?” she said.
“An oncologist, a doctor who treats cancer, Sophie,” Simon interjected. “Mr. Bellarosa seems to have an aggressive form of cancer and is in the final stages of it, if I'm not mistaken.”
“Oh, God,” she said, grabbing the old man's hand. “Oh, Mr. Bellarosa, I'm so sorry!”
“Don't fuss, Sophia. You're as bad as Cassandra,” Mr. Bellarosa said, eying Simon suspiciously. “Are you a doctor, boy?”
“I'm currently in medical school, Sir,” Simon replied. “I hope to become one soon.”
“Figures,” Mr. Bellarosa muttered. “Just what the world need right now...another idiot who thinks he knows everything.”
“Got you pegged, doesn't he?” Sophie said, grinning slightly at Simon.
“Is it just your own doctors you have total disdain for, Sir, specifically oncologists or doctors in general?” Simon asked, containing his irritation with difficulty.
“Don't like anybody telling me what to do,” the old man wheezed behind the oxygen mask.
“Not many of us do,” Simon agreed.
“Specially some snot-nose brat still wet behind the ears who says I have six months to live...that was two years ago.”
“You've been sick for two years?” Sophie said. “Why didn't Cassie tell me?”
“She didn't know. I didn't tell anybody until... until Frances came home...blown to bits. Stupid doctors couldn't save his arm, nearly cost him his leg, too,” Mr. Bellarosa bitterly said, shaking his head. “Had to tell them....didn't want to, but I couldn't hide it anymore.”
“I now see why Cassandra told us you would never allow her to become a doctor,” Simon said.
“Bah! Women should not be doctors,” Mr. Bellarosa said, ripping the oxygen mask off his face, glaring at Simon. “Don't you go putting the idea in her head!”
“I didn't have to,” Simon replied. “It was already there.”
“Medicine is not right for my Cassandra.”
“Mr. Bellarosa, there are tons of great female doctors,” Sophie said.
“No daughter of mine needs to do such work,” he said, stubbornly. “She ought to get married and have babies if she wants something to do, or she can help Frances with the club. He needs her help and she knows it. We owe him that much, after all he's been through.”
“But Cassie is so smart, though, too smart to be wasting her life doing paperwork and accounting stuff. She would make an awesome doctor, because she really wants to help people, sick people just like you,” Sophie said. “Makes so much sense now! She doesn't want anybody to be as sick as you have been. She's obviously been a great nurse for you so far, so you have to know she can be a great doctor.”
“I absolutely forbid it!” he said and promptly went into another coughing fit.
“Mr. Bellarosa, you have to stop shouting or you'll end up...”
“Dead? Already got one foot in the grave. May as well set the other one in, and pile in the dirt,” he mumbled, leaning back, staring at the ceiling as his breathing slowly got back to normal.
“But don't you want Cassie to be happy?” Sophie asked.
“Sophie, there's no use,” Simon said calmly. “Mr. Bellarosa does not want his only daughter to be a doctor and that's okay. Cassandra will be fine doing the books for her brother or making babies.... because doing her father's bidding is what every daughter ought to do.”
“Are you fricken kidding?” she hissed through clenched teeth. “Can you picture Cassie barefoot and pregnant with nothing but cooking and cleaning and diapers to do for the rest of her life?”
“No, but she can pretend to be happy knowing she is helping her injured brother,” Simon said. “I'm sure she will be grateful for a permanent home in Catalpa Valley with her brother.”
“And what happens to her when Frankie falls in love, gets married and has kids?” she said.
Simon almost smiled. Leave it to Sophie to say just the right thing without even knowing it. “Well, I'm sure her brother will make a comfortable home for her in his house, she could have her own room, possibly a basement apartment or one over the garage. Auntie Cassandra will make a wonderful built-in babysitter for his kids... his wife ought to appreciate it. Cassandra will be always loved and cared for. I'm sure she'll love it,” he said. “Mr. Bellarosa won't have to worry about his little girl. She'll be perfectly fine and more importantly, she'll never have to be a dirty, stinking, know-it-all doctor curing cranky, old coots who would rather be dead than allow a girl to administer to them.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Sophie said. “It's what she's wanted since she was a little kid. If she never gets to be a doctor she'll be miserable for the rest of her life!”
“You don't know that, and even if you're right, it's not your call what happens to Cassandra. This is her father's dying wish,” Simon said, standing up. “Now, I think we ought to be saying good night. Mr. Bellarosa clearly needs rest and he has neglected his guests long enough. It was a pleasure meeting you, Sir.”
Simon grabbed a bewildered Sophie by the arm and started to usher her out of the room. At the doorway he turned back. “I nearly forgot. Our parents are having a Christmas Eve party and Sophie and I wanted to invite you and your son and daughter. I realize now it may be impossible for you to come, but we'd still want your kids to be there if at all possible...even for just a little while. I believe our parents will be making their engagement official then and we'd love to have all their friends there to support and congratulate them. If we don't see you again before then, Merry Christmas, Sir, and a blessed New year to you.”
“Merry Christmas,” Mr. Bellarosa said, wearily.
“What he hell are you talking about?” Sophie said.
“Shut it,” Simon said, dragging her out into the foyer just as Cassandra came out of the kitchen and headed straight to them.
“How is my father? You've been in there so long with him?” she asked.
Sophie burst out in tears and threw her arms around her little friend. “Why didn't you tell me about your dad? Why???”
“There was nothing you could do,” Cassandra said. “You had your own troubles....certainly didn't need mine.”
“That's what friends are for, Cassie,” Sophie said, brushing away the wetness off her cheeks with the back of her hand. “You trouble me and I trouble you.”
“I'll try to remember that,” she said, staring defiantly at Simon . “Stop looking at me like that!”
“Like what?” Simon asked innocently.
“Like...just stop! I didn't lie to you.”
“I didn't say you did,” Simon retorted. “Will you be going to your brother's club tonight?”
“What? Uh...no, I think I better stay home...with my father,” she said.
“Will we see you tomorrow?” Sophie asked. “We still have not done any shopping.”
Cassandra hesitated a moment. “I'll let you know.”
Sophie opened her mouth, but Simon squeezed her arm.
“We better get going, Sophie, if you're to sing for Cassandra's brother,” Simon said.
“You...you're going there now?” Cassandra said.
“I'll just drop off Sophie then go home. I have no reason to stay there,” Simon said, staring intently at her.
Cassandra seemed on the brink of saying something, but her father called out for her just then. “I gotta go. See you...later,” she said and she rushed away.
Simon opened the front door and let Sophie go out before him.
“Do you think she'll show up at Danfords?” Sophie asked, buckling the seat belt as Simon started the engine.
“Not sure. Her father probably would rather she stay home tonight,” he said.
“I can't understand you, Simon. You were the one telling her she had to go to medical school, that you would help her, even marry her if that's what it took!” she said. “Thought you were on her side.”
“I am,” he replied.
“Then why...why didn't you stick up for her?”
“It may not be clear to you yet, but I did stick up for her...in my own way,” he said.
Sophie huffed. “Never want you on my side then.”
“Pity, cuz I would be a rather formidable ally,” he said.
Ronnie was laughing his head off as he went about mixing a mai tai, a tequila sunrise, and a sex-on-the-beach.
“What's so funny, Kid?” Frankie asked, right beside him mixing a few drink himself.
“You get all kinds in this place.”
“Why you say that?”
“See that woman over there, in the red dress?” Ronnie said, motioning to the left.
“Oh, yeah...little Miss Cougar I like to call her. She proposition you already?” he said, smirking. “Thought she'd wait at least til midnight.”
“Pretty sure that's what it was,” Ronnie said. “She gave me some story about working for Abercrombie and Fitch and that she'd love to make me one of their models. Can you believe that?”
”Actually, she does work for them. Got her card around here somewhere. Gave it to me when she thought I would make a great war vet model or something stupid like that,” Frankie said, rummaging through a small box which held dozens of business cards. “Here she is, Jenna Culpeper. She might not be bluffing about the job offer, Ron, but if she is, at least you'll get a tumble outta her. Sure that's how she auditions her models.”
“I don't think I want a job that way...kinda like girls my own age,” Ronnie said, grinning.
“Good, cuz I kinda like you....for the business I mean,” Frankie quickly added. “Here I thought a cute girl would bring in the guys who buy the drinks, when all I needed was a young, good looking stud who would bring in the girls who THEN would draw in the guys who buy the drinks. Cassandra's right. I'm no good at marketing.”
“I'm sure it's just...you know, the holidays and all that... making everybody extra happy,” Ronnie said, taking the drinks to the end of the bar to the three hot-to-trot ladies.
Frankie watched them for a minute, shaking his head as they flirted shamelessly with his new bartender. “Kid, you can't possibly be that naive,” he muttered to himself.
Just then he looked up and saw Sophie pushing her way to the bar. “Hey, Gorgeous, you finally decided to take me up on my offer?” he said grinning.
“If it's the offer to sing for you here, then yes,” she said looking around. “Is Ronnie here with you?”
“Yup, best darn bartender I ever had,” Frankie said, pointing his thumb over his shoulder.
“Really? He's that good at making drinks?”
“Nope, horrible. So far he's put whiskey in a mai tai, gin in a sex-on-the-beach, vodka in a daiquiri, vermouth in a mojito, and he nearly put real iced tea in a Long Island Iced tea,” Frankie said, grinning like a fool.
“But...you just said...”
“Sign of a good bartender is making the drinks the right way,” he said. “Sign of a great one is making them all wrong and having the patrons not care that you messed up. He's not got one complaint yet, so.... I ain't complaining either. He'll learn and in the meantime he's bringing in tons of women. Hot ones! Business has nearly doubled in the last two days. What's not to love about that?”
Sophie frowned as she watched Ronnie talking to several girls at once. “Couldn't have been the singing we did?”
“Oh, I'm sure that has something to do with it. Several people have asked Ron if he's gonna sing again. Might have to let him, but that might not sell the drinks,” Frankie said, shrewdly.
“Aren't there any guys here tonight?” Sophie asked.
“Sure, but they can't get through the mass of girls crowding in to get to Ron. I'm telling ya, I love that kid!”
“Apparently, you're not the only one,” Simon said, showing up at that moment also frowning as he stared at his popular brother.
“Hey, how ya doing?” Frankie said, looking behind him. “My sister with you?”
“No, she stayed home. Your father's not doing well,” Simon said, absently.
“What! Are they taking him to the hospital?” Frankie shouted, ready to bolt. “Have he stopped breathing? Should I go?”
“No, Frankie, nothing like that!” Sophie said quickly, giving Simon a stern look. “Simon just meant...your dad was a bit upset when we were talking to him about Cassie.”
“You? What did you say?” he asked, glaring at Simon. “Did you tell him you have the hots for my sister?”
“Of course not!” Simon said, indignant. “He assumed the worst on his own.”
“That's Pop's style. What did you say to him?”
“We were just talking about Cassie wanting to go to medical school and he blew a gasket,” Sophie said.
“Dammit! What the hell you go and do that for?” Frankie said just as a large group of people came to the bar shouting drink orders at him. “Don't go anywhere. We gotta talk!”
“Had to tell him, didn't you?” Sophie said, moving away from the bar. “Now he's gonna be all up in our faces about Cassie, too, and now she'll never get to do what she wants.”
“Sophie, let it go. It'll all work itself out,” Simon said, looking down at his cell phone.
“How can you say that? Don't you know Frankie's the same as their father? Even if Mr. Bellarosa dies...”
“When he dies and by the looks of it, it'll be soon,” Simon corrected.
“Whatever... Frankie won't let her go either.”
“We'll see,” Simon said. “Are you all right here by yourself? I was hoping to get outta here...”
“Oh, no you don't!” she said, grabbing his arm. “You're not leaving until I say so!”
“Cuz...cuz you gotta explain to Frankie how you almost killed his dad.”
Simon rolled his eyes. “Could you be more of a drama queen?”
“I didn't give him cancer, Sophie.”
“No, but you could feel something!” she shouted, trying to be heard over the loud music.
“What am I supposed to feel?” he said carelessly.
“Jeezuz, Simon! Do you even have a heart in there? Cassie's about to lose her father, she already lost her mom and all she has left is her brother and a bunch of overbearing aunts, cousins and uncles who want to run her life,” Sophie said poking him in the chest as she spoke. “Don't you care about that?”
Simon grabbed her hand in mid-poke, nearly crushing it in his anger. “Of course I care. My heart breaks for her. I care that Cassandra will lose her father and that I can do nothing to prevent it. I care that she will be devastated when it finally happens, not unlike you were when your father died I imagine, and again, I can do nothing to help her. But it is a bit hard for me to feel sorry for a man who instantly hated me for no other reason than because I like his daughter and because I want to see her happy in pursuit of a profession she desperately wants,” he said. “So, you'll excuse me if I save my pity, my sympathy and my tears for Cassandra for when she needs them, and believe me I will be there for her when she needs me most, make no mistake about that, and I will not shed even one tear for her father. So yes, Sophie, I do care... more than you'll ever know. Never mistake my supreme control of my emotions for a lack there of.”
With that said, he turned on his heel and left Sophie in the middle of the crowd struggling to understand him.
©2016 Glory Lennon All Rights Reserved