The River City Chronicles by J. Scott Coatsworth - The Final Chapters

Sacramento author J. Scott Coatsworth has written and published a number of short stories, novellas and full-length novels, but “The River City Chronicles” holds a special place in his little writer heart. In many ways, it is a love letter to Sacramento, one that we wanted to share with Outword’s readers. To do that we have uploaded the next installment of chapters of the book here, for you to read online.

Previously in the River City: Diego returned home with Gio, and got the boy settled in his new room. Then Marco proposed to him again, and he said yes. The guys went to their lawyer to see if Diego's old marriage could be annulled now that Luna was gone.

Ben tried to get Ella into a special Fahr's Disease trial at UC Davis, and then heard from Ella that Max was out of his coma. Max's mom made him apologize to Diego and Matteo for blackmailing them.

Marissa and Carmelina worked things out over dinner, and Marissa told Carmelina to see Daniele again, if she wanted to.

Carmelina had a vision of her dead husband, Arthur, who gave her his blessing. Then she had dinner with Daniele again, and agreed to give things another go. Then Matteo and Diego offered her a job in the kitchen at Ragazzi.

Carmelina went to see Marissa's adopted mother, urging her to drop the case against their daughter for breaking and entering. The next day, she agreed.

Carmelina ran into Matteo and Diego, who had been able to clear the way to get married, and planned a civil ceremony at city hall.

Will there be a wedding (or maybe two)? How will Marissa celebrate her eighteenth birthday? And how will it all end?

Find out now.

Major Characters:

•   Ben Hammond: 35 – Trans author and barista working on his first novel

•   Brad Weston: 30 – Runs the LGBT Center, former chief of staff for GOP senator, partner to Sam

•   Carmelina di Rosa: 55 – Semi-retired, redhead, lost her husband Arthur three months ago

•   Dave Ramos: 47 – Human resources consultant and Carmelina di Rosa’s tenant

•   Diego Bellei: 47 – The chef at Ragazzi restaurant, married to Matteo Bianco.

•   Marcos Ramirez: 39 – Web designer and gay playboy who works with the LGBT center

•   Marissa Sutton: 17 – Bisexual homeless teenager who turns up at Ragazzi for the cooking class

•   Matteo Bianco: 47 – Co-owner and host at Ragazzi restaurant, married to Diego Bellei.

•   Sam Fuller: 23 – Suspense novel writer, working on second novel, partner to Brad Weston

Minor Repeating Characters:

•   Andrea Smith: deceased - Carmelina’s daughter

•   Arthur di Rosa: deceased – Carmelina’s husband

•   Dana Pearce: Matteo and Diego’s immigration lawyer

•   Daniele Amoroso: 40 – Italian suitor interested in Carmelina

•   Darryl Smith: Andrea’s adoptive father

•   Ella Jackson-Cucinelli: 32 – Caucasian woman recently transferred to Sacramento from Chicago

•   Emily Stamp: P.I. hired by Carmelina

•   Giovanni "Gio" Mazzocco: Diego’s son

•   Jason Clark: One of Marissa’s friends at McClatchy High

•   Jessica Sutton: Marissa’s adoptive mother

•   Loylene Davies: friend of Carmelina’s

•   Luna Mazzocco: Diego’s Ex and Gio’s mother

•   Max Cucinelli: Matteo and Diego’s immigration lawyer

•   “Moms” Cucinelli: Mother to Max and Ella, trans woman

•   Rex Ward: Owner of the Twink tattoo shop

•   Ricky Martinez: One of the homeless kids from the LGBT center

•   Tristan Dayton: Marissa’s boyfriend

•   Valentina Bellei: Diego’s sister who lives in Italy

99 - You Only Turn Eighteen Once

“We’ll just stop in here for a minute. I have to talk to Matteo about something.” Marcos pulled his Prius into a spot just around the corner from Ragazzi on 51st Street.

Marissa shrugged.

Seeing if I can get out of the birthday dinner thing.

“I’ll be right back. Not that you’re listening or anything.”

“I heard.” She grinned and waved him off.

* * *

Marissa stared out the window at the quiet street while she waited for Tris’s response. A woman was walking down the street carrying a couple of those colorful Trader Joe’s bags stuffed with preservative-free potato chips and fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Okay. I have something special planned.

For me?

You only turn eighteen once.

Her heart skipped a little. Tris was the first person to do that to her in years. Since Marcie.

Marcos has something planned too. He won’t tell me what. Might be late.

I know. Look up.

She read that twice, and then did.

Tris tapped on her window, a big grin on his face. “Hey Birthday Girl!”

“Hey!” She pulled off her seatbelt and pushed open the door, aware how fumbly and awkward she must look as she practically threw herself into his arms.

Tris hugged her.

He smelled so good.

He held her out at arm’s length. “Happy Birthday again!”

He’d brought her a birthday cupcake at lunch, but this was even better.

He grabbed her hand. “Come on!”

“Where are we going? Marcos is coming right back.… He’ll miss me.…” She trailed off as she realized he was pulling her toward Ragazzi.

He swung the restaurant door open and whispered in her ear, “Surprise!”

She stepped inside, and the whole room burst into the chorus. “Surprise!”

The place was packed. She looked around, trying to take it all in. A brightly colored “Happy Birthday, Marissa” banner stretched across the back wall over the kitchen. Diego and Matteo were there with Gio, all beaming at her.

On one side were Carmelina, Marcos, and the others from her class.

On the other side were the interns, including Ricky, looking much better than he had in the hospital.

The Outcasts were there too. Jason ran up to give her a hug. “Happy birthday!”

“Where the hell have you been?” Marissa asked, laughing.

“I got mono.”

“Oh shit. Don’t kiss me, then.”

He laughed. “It’s gone now, but I’m still tired.”

She hugged him again. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

That old Italian song about the funnels, or something like that, started playing, and the crowd surged forward to wish her a happy birthday. Marissa spent the next half hour greeting the partygoers and figured she must have hugged a hundred people by the time it was over.

She finally got a moment to herself, sinking into a chair in the corner and staring in amazement at the crowd that had gathered. For me. She’d never had a birthday like this.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Tris slid into the chair next to hers.

“You helped with all this?”

He nodded. “I rounded up the kids from school. The ones you like.”

She laughed. “Mostly, anyhow.”


“Jenny has about as much personality as a goldfish. But other than that, you did okay.”

“From you, that’s high praise.”

“Marissa?” Carmelina poked her red head through the crowd, pulling an older man in a brown corduroy jacket in her wake.

“Hey, Grandma.” Marissa gave her a hug.

Carmelina winced.

“Is that okay? For me to call you that?” She was still getting used to the idea herself.

“It’s wonderful. It’s just… it makes me feel a little old. Nonna is better.”

Marissa grinned. “Oh, right. Thank you, Grandnonna.”

Carmelina grunted. “Listen, I wanted you to meet someone. This is Darryl. He’s a professor over at Sac State.”

“Hi, Darryl. I’m sorry, but I haven’t started thinking about college yet.”

“You should be.” Her nonna glared at Marcos across the room. “We’ll have a talk about that soon. But that’s not why I brought Darryl here. He was your mother’s adoptive father.”

“Hello, Marissa. Nice to meet you.”

Her heart raced. This man had known her mother, her real mother, had watched her grow up. She jumped up and hugged him. “You’re my grandfather?”

He glanced at Carmelina. “I guess I am?”

“May as well be. If you wanna be a part of this crazy little family we’ve put together.” She squeezed Marissa’s hand. “I’ll let you two talk. Tristan, wanna help me with the hors d’oeuvres?” Carmelina kissed Marissa on the cheek.

Marissa and Darryl sat down together.

“You look so much like her when she was your age.” Darryl had a wistful grin on his face.

“Really?” She blushed. She’d always wanted to know more about her mother. “What was she like?”

“She was full of life; vivacious. Hard to get a word in edgewise with her, especially when she was angry or passionate about something.”

“Tell me more.” As they talked, the rest of the party faded away, and Marissa drank in the details.

* * *

She had no idea how much time had passed when everyone began to sing “Happy Birthday to You.” Marcos appeared out of the crowd, carrying a cake alight with candles.

It was in the shape of a chef’s hat.

She laughed, putting her hand over her mouth as he set it down on the table in front of her, and then she started to cry. It was too much. She didn’t deserve it.

“Hey, you okay?” Marcos whispered as the crowd went silent.

“Yeah. It’s just… I can’t… it’s too much.” She sighed. “I’m so happy. You’re all so wonderful. But I wish…”

The bell on the front door rang in the silence.

Marissa looked up to see Jessica and Phillip Sutton standing at the entrance.

Their eyes met. Her parents suddenly looked small to her. Jessica’s face had lost its haughty glare, and Phillip—her dad—his shoulders were sloped, his face drawn. He looked ten years older than the last time she’d seen him.

“Your parents?” Marcos whispered.

She nodded, grabbing the back of the chair to steady herself. “What do I do?”

He hugged her. “What your heart tells you.”

She took a deep breath and then took a step toward them. The distance between them seemed infinite, with everyone else watching in silence. Step by step, she bridged the gap.

When at last she came to stand in front of Jessica—her mother—she had decided what she would do. “You came.”

Jessica looked at Phillip then back at Marissa, her Hermes scarf clutched around her shoulder as if it were the middle of winter. “Yes. I hope it’s okay. You only turn eighteen once.”

The same thing Tris had said. She shook her head. “If this is going to work, things have to change between us.” She had to hold her ground. Her life was non-negotiable.

Her father replied, “Things already have. Your mother and I… we talked for hours last night. You’re your own woman now. An adult, and a truly beautiful human being.” He smiled, just a little. “I am so proud of you, Misty.”

It was his own little nickname for her, one he hadn’t used in years. Marissa wiped her eyes. She turned to her mother.

Her father squeezed her mother’s shoulder. “Go on.”

“I’m… I’m sorry.”

Those were two words Marissa had never heard pass through her mother’s lips. It wasn’t enough, not after everything else.

“Sorry for what?”

Tris came up behind her, putting his arm around her in support.

“I’m sorry for trying to make you change.” She pulled a tissue out of her purse and wiped the corners of her eyes.

“I’m still bi, you know.”

Her mother nodded. “This isn’t easy for me. I’m not… It’s not what I was brought up to believe. But I’m trying. I love you, Marissa.”

That was enough. “Okay.”

“Okay?” A flash of hope flickered in her mother’s eyes, and the air around them seemed to sparkle for just a moment.

“Okay.” She hugged her mother, and they both started to cry in earnest. “I missed you, Mommy,” Marissa whispered.

“I missed you too.” Her mother hugged her fiercely, and she felt her father’s arms wrap around her too. When they separated, she put an arm on each of their shoulders. “I’m not coming home.”

Her father nodded. “You’re an adult now. We’ll figure it out.”

She felt the last bit of weight that had held her down lift off. She knew she could fly at that moment if she only stretched her wings.

Carmelina broke up their little reunion. “Well, come on in, then,” she said, pulling Marissa’s parents gently away toward the bar. “It’s a party. Enough with the tears.”

She turned to wink at Marissa. “I’ll get them something to drink. It looks like they need it.”

Marissa grinned. It was almost a perfect day.

* * *

The last of the partygoers slipped out, leaving just Marissa and Tris, along with Carmelina, Marcos, and her parents.

Her mother and father hugged her on their way out. “Happy birthday,” her mother said, holding her for a long time. “Can we have dinner sometime this next week? We have a lot to talk about.”

Marissa nodded. “I’d like that.”

She hugged her father. He slipped an envelope into her hand. “Get yourself a little something special.”

“Love you, Daddy.”

Then they were gone.

Carmelina came next. “One last gift.” She held up a pair of keys.

“What are those for?” She took them. One looked like a house key, while the other was black with a big white “H.”

“The first one’s a key to my place. You are welcome at any time for any reason. The second was your nonno Arthur’s car key. His Jaguar’s a bit old, but it’s yours if you want it. It’s parked around the corner on 51st.”

“Oh my God, seriously?” My own car.

“Yup. I put you on my insurance. We can transfer the title later.” She kissed Marissa’s cheeks. “I’m so proud of you.”

Marcos was next. “I’m proud of you too. And if you want to go home…” She could see how it hurt him to say it. “I’ll be happy for you.”

“I do want to go home.”

He looked pained. “Okay.”

“Is it okay if I get in a little late?”

His face lit up. “Really?”

“We’ve got a good thing going. Why ruin it?”

He laughed. “Yes, we do.”

“Thanks for all this. It was amazing.”

“Of course. See you when you get in. No later than midnight!”

“Deal.” She hugged him. She wasn’t sure what Marcos was to her, exactly… Not her father. Not her uncle. More than a friend. Who needs labels?

“You ready?” Tris asked her when they were gone.

“We should help clean up—”

“Matteo and Diego said they would take care of it.”

Matteo nodded from behind the bar. “Go have fun!”

Marissa grinned. “I know what I want for my birthday.”

“What? I already gave you a cupcake.”

For her answer, she pulled him down by his shirt and kissed him, hard.

When she was done, he grinned. “I think I’ve got that covered.”

It turned into the perfect night too.



100 - Maybe The Future

Ben checked his makeup one last time in the restaurant mirror. He’d gotten off shift half an hour before and had used the time to get himself into character. He’d never done Blackula before, but figured he’d be a natural with some pointy eyebrows, a black-and-red cape, and a set of plastic vampire teeth.

He grinned, enjoying his new look in the mirror.

The door banged open, and Luis leered at him. “Handsome sonofabitch.”

Ben grinned. “You on shift all night?”

“Yup. Until midnight. Hoping to take home a sexy cat or a sexy nurse, or maybe a sexy stewardess…”

“They’re called flight attendants now, you troglodyte.”

“Whatever. There’s an Elvira waiting for you at the bar.”


“She’s hot, man. If you ever break up—”

Ben threw a wad of paper towel at him.

Luis ducked out the door.

Ben pushed his cape behind him and swept out of the bathroom.

He reached the bar and then stopped awkwardly.

There were three Elviras there sipping margaritas, all with their backs to him.

He tapped one on the shoulder. “Ella?”

The man who turned to face him was definitely not his girlfriend.

“Sorry. But you make a really good Mistress of the Dark.”

The man grinned. “Thanks.”

The next Elivra turned out to be a Cher—there was a lot of overlap on that Venn diagram, after all—but she was very gracious about it.

The last one turned to grin at him.

He frowned. “Didn’t you hear me call your name?”

She nodded. “Sorry. I couldn’t resist. You’re adorable when you’re flushtered.”

He ignored the slur. “You look a little pale,” he said with mock concern.

“Ten pounds of white makeup to look thish good.” She stood, and he got a look at her cleavage.

Ben ignored her slurred speech. He whistled. “Okay, I know you have a beautiful… um… body, but—”

“It’s a push-up bra. You like?”

“I like.” He pulled her close for a kiss. “Happy Halloween.”

“Happy Halloween.”

“Ready to go? I got us tickets to Scream Park.”

“Oooh, I’ve heard that’s fun.”

“Luis went last night with his girlfriend.”

“Really, it sounds great. But I have news first.”

Ben frowned. “Are you okay? Really okay? We don’t have to go if you’d rather stay in.”

“What, and waste all this?” She spread her black-lace-covered arms. “No, it’s good news. I had my appointment with Dr. Randall and her team on Thursday, and they called me this afternoon. They said I’m qualified for the trial!”

“Holy crap. That’s amazing!” He lifted her in the air and spun her around, narrowly missing Cher. “Sorry about that!”

“Nothing damaged, honey.” She turned back toward the football game.

Ella hugged Ben. “I’m not in the trial. Not yet. But it’s something.”

He nodded. “It’s amazing!”

“It’s all because of you.” She took his arm and steered him toward the door. “Now let’s go get our asses scared off.”

* * *

“It’s getting dark!”

Sam grinned. Ricky was peering out the front window at the sky like he was five years old. “You can go out Trick or Treating if you want.”

Ricky shook his head. “No. I want to give out the candy this year. I’ve been out on the streets enough.”

Sam and Brad shared a look. “You’re probably too old anyhow.” Brad carried the bowl full of Tootsie Rolls, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Twix Bars to the front door. “I saved the best for us. The Peanut M&M’s are in the kitchen.”

“I have friends who are going out tonight.”

They’re too old too.” Brad turned Ricky around and sent him marching toward his room. “This is a rare event, you know.”

“How come?”

“All Hallow’s Eve on a Saturday night? This place is gonna be non-stop busy.” Brad pulled out a paper bag from behind the couch. “I even got backup candy. Now get dressed. The first kids will be here soon.”

“Yes, Daaaad.”

Sam laughed. “You kinda deserved that.” He enjoyed seeing Brad’s fatherly side.

“Actually, I think I liked it.”

“Really.” Sam put his arms around Brad’s neck. “Are you thinking…?”

“I’m thinking it might be nice to have a Brad or Sam Jr. in our lives.” He looked into Sam’s eyes. “You said before that you wanted kids.”

Sam nodded. “I always wanted to be a father.” His heart was racing. “So you think you might want to?”

Brad bit his lip and nodded. “Maybe so.” He looked over Sam’s shoulder at Jason’s door. “We can talk about it more later.”

“I’d like that.” Sam could picture it: the four of them as a family, big brother Ricky coming home from college on the holidays. And his mother would be in grandma heaven.

“So what did Ricky choose for his costume?”

Sam shook his head. “Some kind of superhero thing, I think? We went to that costume place in Old Sac, but he didn’t want to buy a pre-made costume. He bought a wig and a jacket and a few other things.”

“Which one… holy cr…ackers.”

Sam turned to see Ricky step out of his room. He had on lace-up boots, fishnet stockings, go-go shorts, a Harlequin shirt, and a wide leather choker topped with a blond wig with pink-and-blue ponytails. Red lipstick, white makeup and a baseball bat completed the outfit. “Wow.”

“Right? Do I look like her?”

Sam had no idea who Ricky was supposed to be. “Um… yeah. Just like her.” He nudged Brad.

“Oh, yeah. You nailed it.”

“Harley’s one of my idols.” Ricky grinned.

The doorbell rang.

“You’re up, slugger,” Brad said.

As Ricky ran to the door, Sam pulled out his phone.

Harley superhero baseball bat

“Ah.” He held up the phone to show Brad.

“Harley Quinn,” Brad read softly. “Never heard of her. Whatever happened to Superman?” He chuckled. “I hope she’s a good role model.”

Sam scanned the Wikipedia page and whistled. “Not so much.”

“We’ll see if we can find him a better one tomorrow.” Brad pulled Sam over to the couch, and they tumbled down together.

“So. A kid, huh?” Sam hovered over Brad’s face.

Brad nodded. “Maybe two.”

“It’ll ruin my lovely figure.”

“I wouldn’t mind.” He kissed Sam tenderly. “You ready for tomorrow?”

“You kidding? I can’t wait to be permanently hitched to my guy.”

The doorbell rang again.

A wooden bat tapped Sam gently on the shoulder. “Your turn!”

Sam grinned. It was gonna be a busy night.



101 - The Big Day

Carmelina looked out onto the street, pulling the blinds open like a snooping neighbor. She’d been up at five, making sure all the details of her devious plan would come together properly.

Her hairdresser had arrived at seven, and she was very pleased with her updo.… She might even outshine the grooms. She grinned. An airport shuttle pulled up in front of the house. “They’re here!”

“I don’t know how you did it,” Marcos said, giving her a quick peck on the cheek.

“Don’t praise me yet. There are still a lot of things that can go wrong. Marissa, it’s your turn with the stylist.”


Carmelina loved having a full house. She grinned as she went to let in her guests. This was going to be fun.

* * *

Across town, Sam brushed the lint off the shoulders of Brad’s tux. “You almost ready, ring-bearer?” he called. It had taken them an hour to get the white makeup off Ricky’s face the night before after the last of the Trick or Treaters had come by.

“Yeah,” came Ricky’s voice from his bedroom. “I think I lost the rings though.”

“You what?” Sam rolled his eyes. That was the last thing they needed.

“Found ’em.” Ricky poked his head out of the doorway holding the ring box, his shirt only half-buttoned. “They were in my shoe.” He disappeared back into his room.

“Don’t even ask,” Brad whispered.

Sam grinned. “It’s all good.” He checked his phone. It was ten-oh-seven. “We have about twenty minutes before we need to go.”

“Perfect. Wouldn’t want to be late to our own wedding.”

Sam pecked him on the cheek. “I think they’d wait for us.”

“Yeah, but think of what all the gossip pages would say!” He pulled Sam in for a real kiss.

When they came up for air, Sam frowned. “Hey, we’re not supposed to see each other before the ceremony, right? Isn’t that a thing?”

Brad laughed. “We’re gay. After not being allowed to marry for, what—well, in my lifetime?—I think we’re allowed to flout convention.”

“Sounds good to me.” Sam pinned the red-rose boutonniere onto Brad’s lapel. Then he stopped, overcome by the enormity of what they were doing.


“I just can’t believe it’s here. Something I’ve waited my whole life for. Something I never thought would really happen.”

They grinned like a couple of idiots.

“Sam, can you zip me up?” Lena called from upstairs.

“Coming, Mom!” Sam kissed Brad back and went to help her get ready.

* * *

Matteo hung the last star and climbed down from the ladder to get a look at his handiwork. This was the first wedding they’d hosted at Ragazzi, but if it went well, it wouldn’t be the last. He adored weddings.

Che bello!” Diego said from the stairwell.

“English, please!” Matteo winked at his partner.

Diego stuck out his tongue. “Very beautiful.”

“Where’s Gio?”

“Taking the shower.” He came to stand by Matteo. “I wish it was us.”

Matteo nodded. “It will be. Next week.”

“I mean all this.”

Matteo nodded. It was a wonderful thing to be married in the presence of all your family and friends. “We could wait and do it right.”

Diego shook his head. “Fast is good. I don’t want to wait.”

Matteo took Diego’s hand and kissed it. “Fast is good.”

* * *

Ben rubbed his eyes. Something was blaring at him. He sat up in bed, looking around.

Ella lay in the bed next to him, fast asleep, her dark hair spread out across her naked back.

Ben’s head pounded, trying to concentrate. That noise, what was it? Ah. The alarm clock. He slammed his hand on the snooze button and then collapsed back into bed.

It had been a long night. After the haunted houses and music at the Scream Park, they’d landed at the Torch Club for a little bit of blues and a whole lot of drinking. They hadn’t gotten in until after two in the morning.

At least the wedding wasn’t until noon.

He checked the time. It was eleven-thirty a.m. “Shit! Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!” He nudged Ella. “Get up. Ella, wake up!”

She groaned. “I wanna sleep. Let me sleep.”

“Ella, it’s eleven-thirty!” He jumped out of bed and ran for the bathroom. “We overslept!”


He flicked on the hot water. “You have to get up,” he called, frantically pulling down his shorts and taking off his nightshirt. “We need to leave in ten minutes!”

“Oh crap!” She stumbled into the bathroom. “I need at least fifteen!”

“Fifteen minutes, then, tops.” He hopped in the shower. “You can have it next, and then we dress like the wind!”

* * *

“I’ll drop you two off in front of the restaurant.” Lena pulled up to the loading zone. She turned to look at both of them in the back seat. She had driven her Volt all the way from Tucson to Sacramento to act as their chauffeur. “You’re both so handsome.” Her voice caught in her throat. “I’m a lucky mother today.”

“Thanks, Mom.” He leaned forward and kissed her. “You ready?” he asked Brad.

Brad stared at his fiancé.


“I just want to remember this moment.” Brad’s heart was pounding. He looked out the window at the restaurant. “We still have time to head off to Vegas, you know. Quickie wedding; no pressure.”

Sam laughed. “And leave all our friends and family hanging? Let’s go. You’ll survive.”

“All right.” He opened the door and took Sam’s hand. “Let’s do this.”

They climbed out of the car together, and Sam waved at his mom as she drove off to find parking with Ricky.

He took a deep breath. “Here it goes.” Brad pushed open the door to Ragazzi.

A big cheer went up from their friends and family who had already arrived.

Brad stopped on the threshold, his mouth falling open.

Ragazzi had been transformed.

Hundreds of silver stars hung from the ceiling, catching the light of what had to be a thousand candles. The tables had been cleared out and replaced with rows and rows of chairs. The bar was decorated with rows of twinkling lights, and there were white flowers everywhere.

“It’s like getting married at Hogwarts,” Sam said, a look of wonder on his face.

Brad nodded. It was so much better than he had imagined it. And so much more than they had paid for.

Matteo gave him a big hug. “What do you think?”

“We didn’t ask for this.”

“You don’t like it?” Matteo frowned.

“Oh no, we love it!” Sam was staring at the candles.

“It’s just that we didn’t pay for all of this.”

“Our friend Carmelina helped out.”

“Ah. Where is she?”

Matteo shrugged. “She said she had a couple of last minute details to take care of.”

Sam and Brad shared a grin. “I'll bet she did.”

Matteo tilted his head. “What?”

“Nothing.” Brad squeezed his arm. “We better say hello to everyone before the ceremony.” Now that they were here, he was glad they’d decided to do this in front of everyone they loved.

“Of course. Congratulations!”

* * *

Matteo glanced at his phone nervously. They were running ten minutes late, but Carmelina wasn’t there yet.

The door opened, and he looked up, expecting to see her, Marcos, Dave, and Marissa come through the threshold. Instead it was Ben and Ella. “Ciao, amici!” He gave them both hugs.

“We made it?” Ben was sweating.

“Yes, we’re still waiting for Carmelina and the others.”

Ben laughed, sounding relieved. “I’m so glad not to be the last one here. We had a bit of a long evening last night.”

“You’re here now. Go ahead and take a seat. We’ll get started as soon as they get here.” He fidgeted his ring back and forth, looking from Brad and Sam to the door and back.

The bell rang again. This time it was his favorite redhead. “Thank God you’re here,” he said, kissing her cheeks.

Carmelina returned the favor. “Sorry. Had a few last-minute issues to take care of.” She ushered the others inside.

He nodded. “Okay, everyone, we’re ready to go. Please take your seats.” He clasped his hands nervously. Everything had to be perfect.

When everyone was seated, Brad nodded at him.

Matteo signaled the DJ to start playing the wedding march. Well, a wedding march. Instead of the traditional song, Sam and Brad had opted for “Marry You.” Not the Bruno Mars version, though, the Glee one. As the music started—a bubbly synth pop sound—Brad and Sam danced up the aisle. They were beautiful together.

Matteo laughed and shook his head. They didn’t do weddings like this in Italy, but it was infectious and life affirming.

The audience started to clap in time with the song, and the look on Sam’s and Brad’s faces was radiant, pure joy as they approached the beautiful white arbor.

Matteo was happy for them. Really, he was. They deserved this.

The guys reached the arbor, and all of a sudden the music screeched to a halt.

Matteo frowned. Something was wrong. “I’m so sorry. Let me go check—”

Carmelina stood in his way, putting a hand on his chest. “Diego, come here.”

His partner looked up from where he was seated. “Io?”

“Yes, you.”

Confused, Diego stood and joined Carmelina and Matteo.

Matteo shot a look at Brad and Sam. They looked upset. Cazzo, I’ve ruined their wedding. He tried to squeeze by Carmelina again. “Please, just let me fix this—”

The bell chimed on the front door.

Matteo turned to see who it was.

* * *

Diego turned at the sound of the little bell that announced visitors to Ragazzi, and his mouth literally dropped open.

His three sisters stood there, grinning from ear to ear.

“No, not possible—”

Valentina had something draped over her arm. “Ciao, cucciolo!” She gave him a big hug.

Diego laughed. “I’m hardly a puppy anymore,” he replied in Italian. “What are you doing here? How did you get here?” He stared at Cinzia and Claudia too.

“Your friend Carmelina arranged it. I brought the kids, our sisters, and someone else.”

Tesoro!” His mother hobbled up to him, her wizened face creased with joy.

“Mamma!” He gave her a hug, totally befuddled.

“Here. Put out your arms.” Valentina lifted the thing off her arms. It was a black Armani jacket. “One for you and one for Matteo. Kids, go take your seats.”

Diego obeyed as she pulled it over his shoulders. He looked over at Marco. “Did you know about this?”

Matteo shook his head. “Boh.”

Diego’s mother pinned a red carnation to his chest, while Carmelina pinned one to Matteo’s. She stood back to look at her handiwork. “You both look dashing.”

“What’s this about?” Matteo looked irritated.

She grinned. She waved to the DJ, and the song started up again. She grabbed Matteo and Diego’s lapels and pulled them close. “You’re getting married today too.”

“What?” She was pazza. “We can’t. This is for Sam and Brad.” Diego turned to look at the couple.

Sam was grinning at him. So was Brad.

Diego pinched himself. Nothing changed except for a twinge in his arm. This was real.

Matteo offered his arm. “Shall we?”

Diego laughed. “Perché no?” He took Matteo’s hand, and they danced up the aisle together as the music urged them on.

* * *

“I now pronounce you husband and husband,” Kate, the officiant, said to Sam and Brad.

Brad had revised his opinion of her. She was more Ellen than Niles. And she was the perfect choice for their wedding day.

Kate turned to Matteo and Diego in turn. “And I pronounce you too husband and husband. You may now kiss your husbands.”

Brad pulled Sam to him, tasting his sweet lips. He had waited for this for so long. Sam wrapped his arms around Brad and whispered in his ear. “I love you, Mr. Weston.”

“Oh no, I’m not changing my name,” Sam whispered back.



* * *

Diego held Matteo tight. They’d been through so much these last few months, much of it his fault. Matteo was still here with him though and still loved him. He sobbed quietly in Matteo’s arms, smiling at his sister and his mother through his tears.

And next to his mother, there was someone else. She looked familiar.

“Matteo, guarda!” he whispered.

They separated, and Matteo looked where he pointed.


Matteo’s mother Elena, who had passed away years before, sat next to Diego’s mom.

She smiled at him and nodded, and then vanished in a shower of sparkles. Matteo’s eyes were wet.

Diego squeezed Matteo’s hand.

Kate raised her hands. “I present to you the newlyweds!”

Everyone cheered.

* * *

Carmelina was deep in conversation with Dave and Marcos when someone tapped her on the shoulder. It was Diego.

“Excuse me, boys.” She got up and followed Diego outside, taking a deep breath of the fresh air. It was a cool early November afternoon. “What’s up?”

“I wanted to thank you. For the wedding. For mamma and my sisters.”

She smiled. “I couldn’t stand to think you’d be getting married all alone at City Hall.”

He nodded. “It was beautiful.” He paused as if unsure what to say. “Matteo saw his mother today.”

“Oh, that’s lovely. On Skype?”

He shook his head. “She left us a few years ago. But she was here.”


He nodded. “With my mamma. She came for us.”

That sounded a little creepy, but she knew what he meant. “That’s beautiful, Diego.” She remembered her conversations with Arthur these past few weeks. Who was to say what was possible?

“Anyhow, thank you.” He hugged her and then opened the door for her to go back inside.

“I’ll be inside in a moment.” It felt good just to have a quiet moment to herself before diving back in.

He nodded, and the door closed behind him.

She looked up at the ribbon of sky. Clouds were blowing in from the west. It would probably rain later. They could certainly use the rain.

She turned to go inside and caught sight of a woman standing all by herself on the corner about thirty feet away. She was young, maybe twenty.

The woman turned toward her. She thought it was Marissa at first, but then she realized she could see Marissa through the glass inside with her boyfriend Tristan.

She turned back to see the woman smiling at her. “Take care of my daughter.”

My daughter? “Andrea!” She reached out toward the woman, but she was too slow.

In a flurry of sparkles, she was gone.



102 - Alla Fine

Sam threw an extra pair of swim trunks into his suitcase and closed it up. “You about ready?” He’d shipped off his second novel at last, and it was time to take a writing break.

They were taking their honeymoon in Tucson. They had transportation thanks to his mother, and it was a cheap trip. Plus, Brad had never been there.

“Yes, Mr. Weston-Fuller.” Brad kissed him, picking up his suitcase and hauling it out of the room to take it downstairs. “I do love the sound of that.”

“Me too.” He popped into the bathroom for his deodorant. “Hey, I was thinking.… Can we take a trip down to the Chiricahuas while we’re there?”


“They’re these beautiful mountains southeast of Tucson. We could go out camping for a few nights, sleep under the stars.”

“You remember I don’t camp, right?” Brad called from the stairs.

“You’ll learn. Just like I’ll learn to love staying in nice hotels.”

Brad’s snort carried from downstairs.

Sam grabbed his laptop case and took one last look around the room. He had everything. He was fairly sure. “Ricky, you ready?”


“Mom, you ready to go?” He found her in the kitchen, drying her hands.

“Just finished putting the dishes in the dishwasher.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know, love, but somebody had to.”

Sam looked around at his housemates. They were taking a road-trip honeymoon with his mother and their live-in foster child to his childhood hometown. It was such a non-traditional honeymoon, and he couldn’t have been happier about it.

* * *

Ben put on the hot water for tea and sat down to check his email. There was the usual bucketload of spam, an email from his boss at Zocalo, and one from Red Tern Press. His hand shook as he moved the mouse to open it.

We’re happy to inform you that we would like to publish your book…

Ben grinned from ear to hear. “Ella!” He got up and ran to his bedroom, flinging open the door.

“I just got good news!” they both said simultaneously.

He laughed. “You go first.” He threw himself down on the bed next to her, feeling like a little kid.

“No, you go. Mine can wait.”

“Okay. I just got an email. Red Tern wants to publish my book!”

“Oh my God, that’s fantashtic!” She threw her arms around him. “Oh, I am so proud of you.”

“Thanks. I mean, they’re a small press, so there’s probably not a lot of money in it—”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s a great start!”

He nodded. “It’s a foot in the door.” He took her hand. “What’s your news?”

She took a deep breath. “Dr. Randall called. She said they found a space for me in the clinical trial.”

“Oh my God… that’s amazing!” He crossed his arms. “Why did you let me go first? I feel like such an idiot. That’s much bigger news!”

She blushed. “It’s just that you looked so excited to get that offer. And yours is big too.”

“I am. But I’d throw it all away for just one extra day with you.”

She put a hand to her mouth.

“What? Did I upset you?” He was always doing that—making stupid mistakes.

She shook her head. “No. Not at all. It’s just that you said exactly what I needed to hear.”

He pulled her close. Things were finally going their way.

The tea kettle blared.

Ella laughed. “Go!”

“I’ll be right back. And then we’re gonna really celebrate.”

* * *

Carmelina shook out the tablecloth, the one decorated with lemons that she’d brought back from the Amalfi Coast on her last trip there with Arthur. This was to be their first family brunch. Marcos, Dave and Marissa were due over at ten. She hoped to make it a regular thing.

Her phone rang.


“Hi Nonna. This is Marissa.”

Carmelina smiled. “I figured. The ‘Nonna’ was a bit of a giveaway.”

“Sorry I didn’t call sooner—”

“You’re not cancelling on me, are you?” She had been so looking forward to this.

“Oh, no, not at all. I just wanted to see if Tris could come along with me.”

Carmelina breathed a sigh of relief. “Of course he can. When will you all be here?”

“About twenty minutes.”

“Perfect. See you then.”

“Everything okay?” Daniele came up behind her, slipping his arm around her waist and kissing her neck.

She nodded. “I just need to do one thing. Can you finish things here?”

He nodded. “Go. I’ll take care of it.”

She retreated to her bedroom. On her dresser, the little pair of shoes she had bought for Andrea, for her hopes for Andrea, waited for her.

She picked them up and sat down on her bed, holding them to her chest. “I love you, baby girl.” She felt a surge of warmth spread from the shoes into her chest. I love you too, Mamma.

She looked at the shoes in wonder. They sparkled green in her hands for just a second and then faded to their usual pink and white.

It was time to put them away. She put them in her closet on the top shelf next to her hand-made blankets. She kissed her fingers, touched them to the shoe. Then she closed the door behind her.

* * *

Dave led Marcos toward Carmelina’s front door. Marcos squeezed his hand with a smile. Dave pulled him back.

“What’s up?”

Dave frowned, scratching his chin. “Do you think that’ll be us some day?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like Sam and Brad. Like Diego and Matteo.”


Dave nodded.

“I hope so. Are you asking?”

Dave laughed and shook his head. “Not yet. I just wanted to know how you felt.”

Marcos grinned. “Yeah. I hope so one day.”


“Are you guys being all squishy again?” Marissa and Tris had arrived carrying a cooler. “Someone get the door?” she asked.

Marcos chuckled and rang the doorbell. “One of these days you’ll be doing all that squishy stuff, and I hope someone gives you shit for it then.”

“Hey, guys! Come on in!” Carmelina waved them inside. “Hopefully this will be less of a disaster than the last time I had you here for a meal.”

“It can hardly be worse.” Dave looked around. He’d been in Carmelina’s place hundreds of times before, but there was something different this time.

“Gather around the table,” she said. “Daniele has made us a fantastic Italian family breakfast.”

Dave grinned. That was it. Now they were a family.

* * *

Matteo woke. Diego was fast asleep in bed next to him, but there was light coming through under the door. Gio? Maybe the boy was having a hard time sleeping.

Matteo got up and padded out of the bedroom. The door to Gio’s room was closed. Matteo frowned. Had he left the light on when they went to bed? No. There was someone sitting at their dining room table.

He picked up the rolling pin off the counter silently and approached the person from behind. “Who are you?”

She turned around, and he let the rolling pin drop to the floor with a clatter. “Mamma.”

Ciao, Tesoro,” she said, getting up to hug him. She was just as he remembered her, in her light blue robe and slippers, her black hair streaked with gray and held back with bobby pins. “Sit.”

He stared at her.

“Sit, sit!” She gestured to the chair across from her.

He sank down in his chair, and she passed him a cup of hot tea. It was French vanilla, the kind she always used to make for him when he was sick. He took a sip. It was just as he remembered. “How…?”

She smiled. “We all watch out for you,” she said in Italian. “I know you’ve had a hard year, but I am very proud of you. Your father is too.”


She nodded. “He sends his love.” She took a sip her tea and smiled. “Diego loves you, you know.”

It still hurt him that Diego had lied to him. “Sometimes I don’t know if—”

“He loves you. He will make you happy, I think.”

“You think?”

She winked. “Even angels don’t know everything.”

He laughed. “I miss you, Mamma.”

“I am always here with you, Tesoro.” She finished her tea, then got up and kissed him on the forehead and gave him a hug. He could smell her Chanel No. 5, the perfume she only wore on special occasions. “Live every day like you might die tomorrow. Ti voglio bene.”

* * *

Matteo woke up. Sunlight was streaming in through the window, creating patterns through the blinds across the bedcover. It had all seemed so real. “Diego, are you awake?”

Diego’s eyes flickered open. “Un po’.”

“I just had the most amazing dream.”

“Coffee first. Then dream.” He rolled over, away from Matteo, grunting.

Matteo grinned and kissed his cheek. “Coffee coming right up.” He slipped out of the bedroom and made his way to the kitchen. Gio’s door was still closed. Matteo approached the table with some trepidation. It had been just a dream, right?

There were two mugs sitting there.

He picked one up—littered with bits of dried tea. He inhaled, savoring the lingering smell of vanilla.

He closed his eyes. “Love you, Mamma,” he whispered.

Then he smiled, washed them out, and put them away.



That’s the end – I hope you enjoyed the story. You can order the whole thing in book form now:

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