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La Famiglia Che Uccide Unita, Resta Unita

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It’s Sunday night, and Sunday night means dinner, and dinner means that Rose and Loretta are spending the whole night stirring enormous black enamel pans of marinara with long wooden spoons, puffs of white steam kissing and curling their hair as Tosca plays in the living room.

It’s an ancient family recipe. Rose maintains that it goes back at least ten generations on her side, passed from hand to hand and woman to woman, until it reached her grandmother, mother, and she. Loretta learned how to cook it at the age of seven, staring with her serious eyes over the bubbling pot of red sauce. She’s a quick one – she had it locked up in her memory by the time she was nine, could cook it by herself at ten. At her current age she can make the stuff in her sleep - one glass of red, a handful of basil, three glasses of pigeon pan drippings instead of freshly-killed lamb’s blood to fulfill the family’s need for marrow without having to set one of them loose in the park for a victim.

The pasta bubbling and the bread baking, Loretta and Rose sit together at the kitchen table, splitting the rest of the wine and talking about the future. Normally this is an occasion for debate, but the younger woman is slightly more reserved – even nervous - than usual. Rose watches as Loretta twists her engagement ring – it’s all gone wrong for her before, so this, the semi-permanence of it all, is new.

“Do you think Ronny’ll get used to us?” Loretta asks.

Rose doesn’t laugh at the question, even though she finds it easy to figure out why Loretta's asking. She has ears, though - and hears Ronny yelling the libretto under the louder tones of Cosmo’s more beery cry. “He’s already harmonizing. The man’ll be fine.”

“I don’t know, ma,” Loretta says. “Pop barely fits in and he’s been here all my life. What about…”

“Don’t ask questions.” The oven timer rings, and Rose walks to the stove and pulls the pasta from the heat. “If it’s gonna work out, it’ll work out. If it doesn’t, you’ll get new flatware. It’s not easy, adapting to a new pack.” Rose switches to grating parmesan, sliding her mezzaluna along the top of the cheese, creating several thin, meltable slices. “Give him a week, he’ll get used to it.”

Loretta can’t deny Rose’s surefooted advice, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t going to fight her just a little. “Don’t drown it in cheese. I wanna be able to taste the meat this time.”

“Everyone likes cheese!” protests Rose. “Call ‘em in, it’s ready.”

Loretta shakes her head, but does just what her mother asks.

***

Standing in front of Ronny, Rose doesn’t see her son-in-law to be. She sees someone entirely different – her serious-minded, sad-eyed daughter.

Loretta at seven, crying in her grandpa’s lap because she’d never be a ‘normal’ little girl. Loretta at sixteen, with a tattoo she’d have lasered off later, baying over her first kill, then riding away on the back of her first husband’s bike; subdued Loretta, with streaks of grey in her coat, taking a lesser portion, subservient and muted.

Rose knows exactly why Loretta picked accounting. Numbers are finite. You can divide, add, subtract and multiply them but they’re predictable. She’s been steady all her life. Which is why the fact that she’s ended up with this unpredictable man, this guy who yells dramatically and gesticulates wildly, makes little sense to Rose.

He’s still quite polite, even if he senses the strain going on under Rose’s surface. “Hello, Missus Castorini. I’ve brought you some zeppole.”

“And it’s not Easter,” Rose notices. Ronny holds out the box – from his own bakery, she notices – until she takes it and puts it aside. “You said you wanted my advice – so, spit it out.”

Ronny squirms. Rose knows his own mother is a ball buster so she’s fairly surprised at his quiet reaction. “I’m hoping to gain your blessing to enter this pack as a full member, and not an outsider.”

“You’re marrying an alpha, you’re an alpha. Alphas don’t ask.” It’s always been this way, as far as Rose can remember – and she’d always been at the middle of the pack in her own house.

“Normal alphas, no. But we’re Italian – we’ve got tradition,” he replies. “And I wouldn’t mind being your friend. If I’m to live with the family and Loretta in the traditional sense.”

Something about that touches Rose. He seems vulnerable sitting there across from her, reminding her of daughter in her more innocent states, her uncertain adolescent years.

“Do you know how to make coffee?”

He immediately rises and finds a pot in the cupboard – guided by his keen sense of smell, she’s quite certain. That’s one thing the Cammareris are known for – besides being loyal to their mama.

Yeah. She’d’ve had her work cut out for her with Johnny. But Ronny?

Ronny’s got potential.

***

She spends four weeks throwing salt over her shoulder just in case, anyway. Prays a whole novena just for luck, too.

She doesn’t really need it. Loretta’s determined and blissfully resigned. Ronny is…Ronny. It’s going to happen, no matter how much Cosmo bitches about the bills.

She wonders how her mother dealt with this crap. She’d told a much tinier Rose that her own grandmother had told her, warned her, that the curse had always been in their blood, and she should marry a good Italian boy who loved the moon. That they would be drawn into a family, that the family would rule all. It had been that way since a Castorini had been bit by a grey-eyed wolf hundreds of years ago. The end result was an iron-clad pack, a monthly hunt, and creative application of animal blood in meals to keep the family from turning on each other.

Ronny and Loretta were born to this. They will adjust, just like the rest of the family.

***

Loretta gets married on a Sunday in her mother’s white lace dress - a 100 year old cameo broach from her great-grandmother at her breast and her freshly-washed hair filled with satin roses. Ronny is jumpy, sweating through his black tux; when it comes time to speak their vow he yells them so loudly that the rafters seem to shake. But the deed is done with an impassioned kiss, and before Rose knows it she’s serving up manicotti and semolina at the reception.

It ends with an argument between the bride and groom – and with Loretta kneeing the groom in his safety deposit box before storming out. Rose watches the argument with a dispassionate eye, as Cosmo complains about spending so much money on this disaster.

But she knows just what to say. “Alphas,” Rose says. “You know how they are. They’ll drive each other crazy yelling and snapping, and then they’ll go home together. But only together. Marriage between two omegas now - that you’ve gotta watch out for.” That she should know even better than anyone.

She’s always known about Cosmo’s visits to other packs; known most of all about his affair with that mistress of his. She’s always shrugged it off. Wolves mate for life, after all; she picked him and she’s stuck with him, and by loyalty he must return to her always, guided home by the moon. But on a day like this, as he sweats through his own cheap rented tux, she looks at Cosmo and thinks…

…and throws back a belt of wine.

…nah. She could’ve done worse.

“They’ll be fine,” she says. “Give them a little time. Until then - everybody dance already! We didn’t pay all this money so you could sit on your butts and stare at the door!”

She sounds a little like Cosmo, but never notices.

***

The Old Man is walking.

He should be inside, where it’s warm and quiet, but his heart and his pack crave the energy of the brisk air, and so he walks, under the bright light of the city’s lamps.

“La Luna!” The Old Man says, pointing to the enormous moon hanging over their heads. They pant; some bark. He slips his favorites a couple of handfuls of good wine from his hip flask; it keeps their coats shiny, he tells them – when they’re human and when they’re not.

On his way back to the house, he spies two black-coated forms, prancing in the opposite direction, headed toward the park. They pause before him, whining – they recognize clearly a patriarch even in this state. He bends and pats their heads, “Shoo,” he gently encourages the wolves in Italian. “To the hunt with ya!” There’s a laugh in his voice, deep down, as he leaves them to their own discoveries.

The two wolves watch him leave. And the into the deep green underbrush of Central Park they dance; one with sharp, all-knowing eyes, the other missing its front left paw.