Chapter 1: Coffee Scented Melancholy

Startled, the cat leapt out from behind the sofa, its claws tearing into the child's skin. The cut ran deep along her calf, leaving a trail of glistening blood in its wake. The child barely flinching shooed away the cat in a swift & unconcerned motion. She muttered, obviously irritated by the intrusion, yet too disturbed by the scene outside the window, rather than the pain searing through her leg. A man cast a shadow through the glass, and as the little girl quivered, thoughts and memories flowed into her like the river to the sea. Her brothers seemed to only remember the fighting, the tears & anguish which had sent a ripple of unhappiness through their happy lives, a perturbed darkness which had left a stain on a beautiful silk sheet of joy. Her sisters never failed to recall the fun days out, laughter and cheerfulness pumping through them ferociously, for days at a time; so that the children would at least have something to cling to when all else seemed to desert them.

Yet the child only remembered one thing, the thing which only she seemed to feel or hold close, perhaps the only thing she had the strength to acknowledge openly. Her thoughts flashed to months ago, she herself sprawled lazily across the man's lap, her eyes drowsily closing, gradually pulled shut by not only the warmth of the fire but by the warmth revealed in this rare display of affection from the unaffectionate head of the house. His arms provided a sanctuary from all her troubles, and he hugged her tightly, savouring the silence.

The growl of an engine roared, and the child was snapped awake from her dream. Outside, the small, vintage, luxury car drove off, invisible anger and contempt violently radiating from it as it disappeared into the night. A beautiful woman yelled and screamed, shouting obscenities in Italian. She then threw her head back, treating herself to the Moet 1969 in her hand, one of Papi's best reds, straight out of the bottle. Her hair was wet and mangled from the rain and her dress was drenched. Her eyes glared impatiently inside the window. Two vacant faces stared back, the cat wanting the cat food tucked inside the fridge, the child simply wanting. The child heard her brother's voice whisper hesitantly from the shadows, "Come Mercede, you shouldn't be seeing this."

"Where is my skim decaf mocha? I ordered it a good 15 minutes ago girl. Come on, some of us have family's to work for, there's no time for this!"

You're not the only one bucko… Mercede certainly did not have time for the senile grumblings of middle-aged men as they headed to work, some into town, others to the factories. Either way, Mercede could tell it was going to be a day begrudging the most deserving of rest and comfort. It was up and go from early morn for the people of Como, Lombardy, Italy. The silk and satin had to be manufactured, the museums had to be managed, the banks had to be run and most importantly, the coffee had to be made.

"Here is your skim decaf mocha, your strong espresso, with cream and no sugar and your skinny latte with extra milk." Mercede eloquently laid down the chipped cups, admiring their look of elegance despite their age. The customers, newcomers at the coffee house, were obviously unimpressed. The skinny woman with blonde hair cocked her hair to the side and raised her eyebrows.

"Try to be more efficient, we all have a place to be in this town and most of us need to get there sometime today."

"Yes ma'am."

"Oh and tell your manager, no more of this second-rate instant espresso. I come here for authenticity, and I don't expect some American manufactured version of something so beautifully Italian."

"Yes ma'am."

Mercede trudged inside, not willing to endure any more, "Ey! Tirone! It's 8:30, my shift's over, tell Roberto I'll do the late night shift tomorrow, I gotta get outta here."

The fifteen year old boy poked his head out from behind the espresso machine. The beads of sweat rolling down his forehead easily distinguished his discomfort in the situation. "Yeah whatever, you come back here and tell him in the afternoon, he's not in till 2:30 and I'm leaving at 1:30."

"Why do you stay so late all the time, I know you'd rather be round the park with Alex or helping at the forge with Giasone."

"Gives me something to keep focused on."

"Yeah a little too focused, are you sure you're cut out for this Tirone, why don't you just go work at the library?"

"Fiora won't give me a lift there. Besides, this is closer, I get discount on coffee, and we get to hang out."

"Oh, Yipee…" Mercede didn't attempt to hide the sarcasm in her voice, even though the remark was affectionate, Tirone still looked distressed. Mercede tried to explain herself, "Anyway, I promised I'd help Lele out today. Mum's been on her case 'bout helping out more and she's got a tonne of homework. I told her I'd come home early, and do a few chores for her, you know, lighten the load."

"And where has this newfound generosity suddenly emerged from?"

"My need to borrow the dress she bought back from Milan for the dance next week."

"Haha…whatever…Ciao!"

"Seeya!"

Mercede hastily hung her black cotton apron up on the rack, grabbed her bag and made her way to the door. The simple black shoes suited her work, for she felt comfort in the fact they at least had stilettos, though miniscule, and they didn't alarm the customers, as many of her other less conservative shoes did. They also proved to be light on her feet, and as she hurried out of the café, she smiled, "I feel gorgeous."

Tirone would simply have to get used to the hustle and bustle of the café, there was no other way he would learn. His laziness and lack of discipline didn't help on this road to activeness, as he called it, but rather slowed him down, to the point where his emotions became fragile and his lack of physical attributes became apparent. It's not like he's that much younger than me, Mercede thought freely, Fifteen minutes isn't that much at all. Being twins, he and Mercede had been inseparable throughout their childhood. Teenage years proved to be extravagantly different, both youths launching out into opposite ideals and interests. But the bond they had established held strong, providing each with a helpful hand and a shoulder to lean on in times of difficulty, not to mention someone who actually listened. The Viadana family, with the exception of Papi and Nonna, was special in that regard. Each member held each other in high esteem, for one reason or another. They had grown, through trial after tribulation after hardship, and found a special place within one another's hearts. Most did not remember such a place until deep in the depths of regret and in need for forgiveness, but it was there all the same.

Papi and Nonna had made it clear from the outset that the grand Otero heritage would not be shrouded by the shameful name of Viadana. Though they no longer turned their nose up in disgust at the mention of the name, they remained Aldo Otero and Paolina Otero forever-more until death will do them part. Nonna had often begged Mama to change Mercede's and her siblings own family name, as had Giasone, Fiora and Lele, thoroughly ashamed of the association with the formidable father figure, who lurked precariously at the backs of their minds. But Papi stood strong, claiming that as Mama had made the commitment, she should stand by it with valour, as many had done before and honour her commitment no matter how badly the repercussions hounded the family's memories. Papi and Nonna, on the other hand, had made no such commitment, and were free from the filth of Viadana legacy. The logic in this baffled Mercede and her siblings, yet Marietta assumed her role as the single mama without hesitance or worry as to which name should befall the children's birth certificate.

Mercede pondered her elder 3 siblings contempt for their father, and appreciation of Papi and Nonna, the home-makers of the family. Marietta, the mother, would often board at the local college, due to the continuous string of lectures and classes scheduled for her to teach, this being the obvious hurdle for the family to overcome. Though her absence was felt, Nonna and Papi never failed to weave their magic web of a cosy contentedness throughout the home. Glorious meals of traditional Italian filled the home with beautiful aromas, while Papi was always to be seen mending what needed to be mended, or more often than not, reading classics blissfully by the fire.

Giasone, the Mercede's eldest brother of 21, made no attempt to disclose his joy in such a homely atmosphere. Giasone found pleasure in the simplest things, a quality which not only served to keep him content, but attracted a variety of younger women, or "hormonal twits" as Nonna would say. Fiora on the other hand seemed to crave excitement and adventure. Though an entire year older than Giasone, Fiora hardly came across as more mature, her wild nature and passion for everything she did gave the impression of a much younger and more vivacious woman, qualities not usually found in hardworking Italian 22 year olds. Lele, the 18 year old of the house was just as wild and ferocious, with a point of view no-one could change and a tongue sharper than knives to match. It was this tongue of hers which had gotten her into so much trouble over the years, and this year was no exception. Senior year was the toughest year for most yet it was ten times harder for Lele. Her teachers held contempt for her like no other student could ever feel, their resentment of having been challenged every class by this tenacious young girl was not hidden well. And so the work piled on, the classes got harder, the pressure increased and Lele found herself trapped amongst her books, her social life flattened.

Mercede had never been the munificent one, but Lele's former years of vacations and parties had left the family with a bounty of memorabilia, which was wanted by every member, despite the cost. Today as Mercede casually strode home, her imagination toyed with the black dress, neatly hanging in Lele's closet. Her imaginary hands fingered the butterfly hem, her eyes widening at the thought. Her imagination carried her home, as she slipped herself into the dress and twirled elegantly across the dance floor, handsome partner in hand (no-one in particular of-course) and rhythm flowing through her veins.

The day-dreaming teen-ager wandered into her Italianate abode, smiling at the beautiful simplicity that was her home. The house was far from in-ornate, decorated with Italian architectural delights. The outer porch was topped with balustraded balconies, mastering the saying that "first impressions are always true" giving a supreme first impression of the home. The roof was low pitched, and the doors tall and narrow, crowned with Roman arches, another decorative feature. Mercede pushed open the heavy door and kicked off her shoes into the corner. The curtains were still drawn, and the only light came from a incense candle left burning in the kitchen. She faced the stairs and sighed, knowing the day held much work for her. She smiled at the pile of text books in the hall way and the clothes overflowing from the laundry. Home sweet home…

A scream echoed from the upstairs floor, and Mercede started. She ran upstairs, discarding her belongings, breathing heavily. Not again…

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A/N That says review :D I would love to hear your feedback on this as I need to know how to develop it further! Do you like the whole local Italian family thing? Thanks heaps – luv hammer-girl :D (Review and receive shout-outs! Lol bribery is SO yesterday :P o well)