A Billionaire for ChristmasBy: Maggie Marr
Justin’s arrogance shocked Anthony. Yes, as children all four Travati brothers had blindly followed their oldest brother’s lead, but now they were grown men. That Justin would shove some woman and her son at them, expecting them to accept Max as a true Travati heir without easily acquired proof, was nearly more than Anthony could tolerate.
“Stop here,” Anthony said.
His driver pulled to the curb.
“Two hours.” Anthony opened the door and slid from the back of the car. The air smelled of dirt. An ugliness claimed the street of his childhood.
Why did he come here? Because the choice as to whether to revisit his past each week had been taken from him. His best friend Vinnie was dead, Shelly was gone, and he’d made a promise to Vinnie. Shelly and Vinnie’s grandmother lived here. The elderly woman refused to move. The homes that had once housed working-class families, including Anthony’s own family, were nearly all in disrepair. Long ago this street had hosted stick ball games and block parties. Sprinklers watered each yard in the summer and mothers passed out red cherry-flavored popsicles that dripped down your chin on long hot July and August days.
He walked over the chipped and broken sidewalk, through the chain link gate and up the steps. Mrs. Bello’s yard was well kept. No weeds. Flowers bloomed in the beds. The white house with green trim was spotless, thanks to the handymen Anthony sent each month. His hand clasped the rail on the front steps and it wiggled the tiniest bit. Not good. Mrs. Bello was still steady on her feet, but a fall down the stairs could break her hip. He’d send a handyman tomorrow. Anthony wouldn’t have Vinnie and Shelly’s grandmother falling down the stairs.
The door opened before he rang the bell. The sweet scent of something baking and the rich earthy scent of coffee filled his nose.
“Anthony!” A smile claimed Mrs. Bello’s face. “I didn’t expect you today. Come in. I just finished baking a tea cake.”
The tiny house was warm. He listened for the sound of air-conditioning, but there was no whir. Was she cold or did she not want to spend the money? He turned. She wore a sweater in the middle of July. Money wasn’t the issue, then.
“Sit, Anthony, sit.”
He did as he was told. A few moments later she carried a tray with two china plates and cups out to him. He held himself back. His natural instinct was to jump up and take the tray from her, but she wouldn’t let him. He’d tried many times before today. She still didn’t know who paid her gardener and her maintenance man and the nice people who came four times a week to check on her and do the shopping and cleaning. His response to her questions was that those must be programs having to do with her pension. Little did she know, he was the program.
“Thank you, Mrs. Bello.” He took a sip of coffee and she settled into the chair beside him.
This room whirled with as many childhood memories as the street. Memories that bled into his teenage years. He and Shelly and her older brother, Anthony’s best friend Vincent. Memories of first grand moments and first times swirled through his mind whenever he visited Mrs. Bello. Until the memories ended. He’d graduated business school, Vinnie had died, and Shelly had left.
The wound still ached.
“How is your week, Anthony?” Her smile was soft but her eyes held worry. Of course, she watched the news and knew the troubles the Travati brothers faced. Even now, the events of the world played silently across the muted flatscreen TV.
“It’s been a long week, but everything will be okay.” He reached out and grasped her hand. The skin was faded and marked with age spots. She worried about him and his brothers, as she had worried about Vincent until his death. Mrs. Bello still worried about Shelly. He was the only Travati who came to the neighborhood on a weekly basis.
“How was your eye appointment?” All her doctors’ visits were logged into his personal calendar. He not only asked Mrs. Bello, but he also followed up with the doctors.
“My eyesight isn’t getting any better, but it isn’t getting any worse either.” She lifted her cup of coffee and took a long sip. She watched him over the rim of her coffee cup. She was stiff, as though there was something on her mind.