I could hear the murmur of voices at the door. It seemed Lus and Owen had arrived. Our post-Christmas dinner was the first of its kind. It would be something to get used to, not having everyone here for the holiday. Even Enzo had managed to get home for Christmas every year despite traveling the globe, international sensation that he was.
Tristano, an award-winning chef. Lusanne, now the owner of a mega-popular coffee shop and soon-to-be-wife of the man of her dreams. Her words, not mine.
I supposed every family needed its black sheep.
“Gian, get out here,” my mother called. “Your sister is here.”
Before I could stand up from the couch, Lusanne appeared in the doorway. When she came over to me, I stood, hugging her. Smelling that familiar scent that was synonymous with love and annoyance all wrapped in one. I missed having her to tease twenty-four seven.
“You’re looking good, as usual,” she said. I was dressed “smartly,” as Lus called it. I’d long ago stopped listening to her teasing about my “fancy clothes.”
“You’re looking . . .” I gave her a once-over. “Ok.”
She pushed me, but I didn’t budge. Spending seven days a week at the gym had its benefits. Not the least of which was finding some purpose in life.
“You’re such a jerk,” she said.
“I know you don’t mean that.”
“Actually, I do.” But to contradict herself, Lusanne winked.
“How was the drive?”
“Slow. I’m thrilled to have a white Christmas, but it makes for a real pain in the ass traveling.”
“Pain in the ass for Owen, you mean? I assume you played DJ and forced him into the a-b-c game.”
“Speaking of, when you choose a category, like, for instance, food, in your opinion, does an acorn count?”
“Sure. You can eat an acorn.”
“If you’re a squirrel.”
“People eat acorns, Lus.”
“Of course you take his side.”
“Speaking of your fiancé, any wedding plans yet?”
“I’m waiting on the cousins. We can’t have too many weddings at one time.”
“Maybe you should do them all at once.”
Lus gave me a look. “Actually, Thayle and Min are considering a double wedding. How cool would that be?”
I didn’t feel qualified on the topic to answer.
“Here we go. Nothing is wrong—”
“G, I know you. What’s wrong?”
I could keep saying “Nothing” and have my sister, who did know me well, keep badgering me. Or I could spit it out. But I hadn’t said the words out loud and wasn’t sure I wanted to.
“Either you tell me, or I’ll ask all night. In front of Mom and Dad,” she added for good measure.
She was too perceptive for her own good.
I shrugged, as if it didn’t matter. “I don’t know. My job, I guess.”
“You love your job,” she said.
And I did. Without really a clue in college, I chose marketing to help Mom and Dad, and later, Tris. I was the only one in the family who wasn’t itching to start a business, and it seemed like a good enough fit. I liked people. I was good at this and, despite my lack of entrepreneurial spirit, worked for myself.
It was portable. Flexible. And . . . empty.
“You don’t love it?” she asked, hesitant.
“Love is a strong word,” I said, looking at the doorway. From the sounds in the kitchen, we wouldn’t be alone for long.
“We’re not talking about a girlfriend here, Gian. A strong emotion is perfectly acceptable in this situation.”
“Funny,” I said. “It ticks all the right boxes, but . . . I don’t know. It’s fine.” I tried to stand up, but Lus wasn’t having it.
“No, you do not get to ditch this conversation because it’s deep. Have you talked to anyone else about this?”
Lus already knew that answer. “No.”
“Not even Tris?”
I shook my head. “No one.”
Oddly, that seemed to please her. Lus liked the fact that there was a special bond between us.
I didn’t mind it either.
“I’m glad you told me. We’ll talk more and figure something out. Maybe you need something like an Eat, Pray, Love type quest.”
I made a face, pretending not to know what she meant. It couldn’t be cool for a guy to know Eat, Pray, Love. “There’s nothing to figure out.”
“Do you dread Monday mornings?”
I cocked my head in response.
“Ok,” she amended. “You don’t have a normal workweek. If you did, would you dread Monday mornings?”
I knew why she asked. It was the only guidance our parents gave us when we considered college or careers. They adored that pizza shop, loved being there. And always said, as long as we didn’t dread Monday mornings, we could, and should, do whatever our hearts desired.
“I don’t dread working.”
It was all the answer she needed. Lus didn’t say another word. But she did look at me with the same determined expression as she had when she found out Devine was for sale. I was her project now, whether I liked it or not.
“What’s going on in here?”
I stood, and when Owen tried to shake my hand, I pulled him inside. “We don’t shake hands in this family,” I said. “Italians hug.”
“I’m not Italian,” he said, laughing.
“Ok, DeLucas hug.”
“He’s not a DeLuca either.”
“If you’re a Smith, he’s a DeLuca,” I said. “Maybe you should take Lusanne’s name.”
Owen looked at my sister the way a brother would want his sister to be looked at by her future husband. “If she wants me to, I will.”
“I do like my last name,” she said. “But that’s probably not necessary. Besides, in Kitchi Falls, the Smith name carries a lot of weight. Maybe we should keep it.”
I slipped away as Lus and Owen debated naming conventions, and headed toward the kitchen. As I stopped at the entrance, the beginning of an idea formed. Lus, pain in the ass that my sister could be, might have stumbled onto something.
“Dad,” I said. My father looked my way. “Do you remember telling us that we could get Italian citizenship through our ancestors?”
“You can. We looked into it once. Funny enough, your Rochester cousins can’t though, because of when your Uncle Paul was born. It has to do with when they came to the US and denounced their Italian citizenship. Maria,” he said to my mother, “do you remember when we looked into it years ago?”
With her hands in the oven, fishing out a lasagna, Mom didn’t seem inclined to talk about the specifics of obtaining Italian citizenship at the moment.
“Why?” she asked me. “What are you thinking?”
Lus and Owen had just come into the kitchen. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. My job was portable. I loved digging into our roots. And Italy was, well, Italy. I caught my sister’s eye. “I’m thinking . . .” I smiled at Lus, who was waiting, like everyone else, for my answer. “Of an extended trip to Italy.”
Not ready to leave Kitchi Falls?
Preorder Meet, Pray, Love, a forced proximity romance featuring Gian and his Italian travels, coming in February 2023