"Yes Ma we'll be there, yes, we'll bring Francine... Sure-"
Bob walked into the room to see Frankie pacing while chatting on the phone with his mother.
"Yeah, I'm sure she'll get along with Robby just fine, alright? Merry Christmas," Frankie sighed as he hung up the phone, "She invited everyone."
"What do you mean everyone?" Bob raised an eyebrow.
"My mother has invited practically the whole family for Christmas," Frankie reiterated
"It can't be that bad," Bob replied.
"Oh yeah?" Frankie scoffed, "not only are my brothers going to be there, but so are most of my aunts, uncles and my cousins, even my Great Aunt Demitria is coming-" Frankie began to list of and he realized he was quickly running out of fingers, “Oh and Tommy and Nick as well.”
"So it's a lot of people," Bob shrugged, "come on Frankie that's what the holidays are about."
"Oh, and she invited your parents and Samantha," Frankie tacked on.
"Wait, what?" It was now Bob's turn to look panicked.
"She considers them part of the family as well," Frankie explained.
"But...." Bob let his words fade, it's not that he didn't want to see his parents, it was far from that. It's having a huge get together like this was not exactly how he had envisioned them meeting the Castelluccio clan. "They said yes?"
“That’s what it sounds like,” Frankie replied.
“Well are we going in or not?” Bob asked as they stood outside Frankie’s parents house, “frankly I’d rather go in because it’s freezing,” he gestured to the freshly fallen snow on the th ground.
Frankie sighed, “Okay, let’s go.”
Bob put his hand on Frankie’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze, “It’s going to be just fine,” he smiled, “a little hectic, but it will be fine.”
“Daddy it’s cold,” Francine complained as she crossed her arms and pouted.
“Perhaps we should take her in before she gets frostbite,” Bob laughed.
Together the three of them walked to the door and Frankie rang the bell, behind the the door they could already hear a ton of noise. It didn’t take long for the door to open.
“Frankie!” A young man a little taller than Frankie exclaimed and immediately hugged him before he could even take a step inside.
“Hey Alex,” Frankie managed to get out once his brother let go of him.
“Ma, Frankie is here!” Alex called out, although how anyone could hear him over the din Bob had no idea. Still, Mrs. Castelluccio came to greet her son with open arms.
“Frankie!” Mrs. Castelluccio went and kissed Frankie on both cheeks before doing the same to Bob as he entered, “Oh Bob it’s so good to see you,” she smiled, “let me take your coats.”
They shrugged their coats off and handed them to Mrs. Castelluccio when Francine stepped forward, “Hello Francine!”
“Hi Nonna,” Francine smiled.
“Mrs. C I just got the water boiling for the pasta,” Tommy entered wearing one of Mrs. Castelluccio’s apron and wiping his hands on a dish towel.
Upon seeing him a smile spread across Francine’s face, “Uncle Tommy!” she let go of Frankie’s hand and dashed towards Tommy who caught her and picked her up.
“And there’s my Passerotta,” Tommy smiled, “why don’t you come and help me?”
“Okay!” Francine chirped as she followed Tommy into the kitchen.
It soon became too crowded for Francine to be in the kitchen while everyone was at work, so her Nonna made a decision.
"Francine, there is somebody I would like you to meet."
Francine left the kitchen reluctantly--she really loved being in that hustle and bustle--and followed her Nonna down the hall to a closed door.
Mary knocked on the door and received a wordless noise in response.
"Robert," she called, "Come and meet your niece."
After a long moment the door opened to reveal a boy only a few years older than Francine herself.
"Niece?" The boy furrowed his brow.
"This is Frankie's daughter," Mary explained, "so yes she's your niece."
"So you're my uncle?" Francine asked.
The two kids seemed to be eyeing each other up, so Mary retreated back to down the hall to leave them to it.
"Don't call me Uncle," Robby directed suddenly.
"Okay," Francine nodded her head.
"Just call me Robby,” Robby continued firmly, Francine nodded her understanding.
“Good,” Robby nodded firmly.
He retreated into his room, but Francine trailed after him.
“Why are you following me?” Robby turned to look back at her.
Francine shrugged, she really didn’t know what else she should be doing and there wasn’t really anything else for her to do.
Robby sighed, “Come on,” he then led her inside.
“Where is Francine?” Frankie asked looking around for any sign of his daughter.
“She’s off with Robby,” his mother informed him.
Frankie was glad that there was at least a couple people there that were close to Francine’s age, he only hoped that his brother wouldn’t be too obnoxious.
"I'm gonna go check on them," Frankie decided getting to his feet.
"Frankie, I'm sure they're fine," said Bob reassuringly.
Frankie gently brushed Bob's hair from his forehead with a smile, "Humor me."
Bob sighed but sat back as he watched Frankie walk upstairs. As he turned around he was met face to face with his older sister, "Sam!"
Frankie barely heard Bob's exclamation as he turned to corner and went straight for Robby's room.
The door was mostly closed and he could hear the soft murmur of his youngest brother's voice. He peeked through the small gap between the door and frame, his heart nearly melting at the sight.
Robby and Francine were sitting cross-legged on the floor with a book open between them. Robby was reading, his finger following along the line as he went. Every so often, Francine would ask about a word she didn't know and Robby would define it for her.
Reluctant to break the peace, Frankie knocked on the door frame and pushed the door more open.
"Daddy!" Francine exclaimed, shooting to her feet and running over to wrap his legs in a hug.
"Hi Francine," Frankie smiled, "are you two having fun?"
Francine nodded her head happily.
"Hey bro," Robby greeted, leaning back on his hands to look up at Frankie.
"Robby," Frankie replied, "I'm glad you and Francine are getting along."
"She's alright," mumbled Robby, attempting to seem indifferent, but Frankie could see that his brother was pleased.
"Can I stay up hear some more?" Francine asked her father.
Frankie looked to his brother, "Well?"
"I guess," said Robby.
"Then that's a yes," Frankie told his daughter, "but only a little while longer. Aunt Sam just arrived so we'll probably be eating soon."
"Auntie Sam?" Francine jumped up excitedly.
Frankie laughed, "Sorry Robby, I think you've been beaten out as the subject of Francine's attentions."
"Whatever," Robby shrugged although he did look a little disappointed.
"Come on," Frankie said, beckoning both of them, "It's time to join the party."
Francine happily followed but Robby moved at a slower pace behind them.
Francine reached the living room first and she practically crashed headlong into Sam. She had met Bob's sister a couple months previously on Halloween when Sam had come to take her trick or treating. The two had hit it off right away and Sam was probably one of Francine's favorite people.
"Auntie Sam!" Francine exclaimed.
Sam let out a rush of air as Francine collided with her and laughed, "Hey there, petal. How are things?"
"Good," replied Francine.
"Glad to hear it," Sam grinned, "so when is your daddy going to let me take you to the city?"
Francine turned wide eyes on Frankie and
Bob who had made his way over when they had entered the room, seeming to beg with her gaze.
"We'll discuss it," Frankie told her, while at the same time Bob said, "I don't see why not."
"Thanks Papa!" exclaimed Francine, moving to embrace him.
Frankie raised an eyebrow at Bob over Francine's head and Bob grinned sheepishly.
"Come on everyone let's get to the table, dinner will be ready shortly!" Mary directed.
Everyone began shuffling towards the dining room and large table that was set up for maximum capacity.
Francine insisted on sitting next to Robby, which surprised Frankie slightly and, if his expression was anything to go by, Robby wasn't expecting either.
Frankie let out a small laugh as he sat beside Bob, this was the best part about the holidays, the time he got to spend with those most important to him. Now Francine got to be a part of it as well.