Next morning when Iris woke up, her first thought was – today she was to go to Alessandro’s family home, to meet Ernesto and Antonio. A smile broke through her lips as she thought of the twins and their laughter that rang in her ears. That smile however didn’t stay for long when she thought about their father and her on-going struggle to overcome her emotions for him.
She wondered if Alessandro would accompany her to his house and then go about his business. The thought of him coming to call her like yesterday evening made Iris scramble from her bed and rush into the bathroom to do her morning chores. She carefully dressed into a roll-up sleeve formal yellow tunic with skinny jeans, knowing the boys would expect her to play football with them the moment they’d see her. For the weekend, she packed clothes that were sports-worthy. As a second thought she also packed a frilled tunic in pale pink with a wide belt.
Just as she was tying her hair with a piece of ribbon, there was a knock on the door. At her behest to enter, Maria entered the room. Iris wasn’t sure if she was disappointed or relieved that it was not Alessandro. She surely felt a twinge of disappointment though when Maria informed her that Signor Bertoni had left the place early morning to go about his business in Sienna. His personal assistant; Senora Sandra Milano would be taking her to Signore’s house and would introduce her to Signora Bertoni; Alessandro’s mother.
Nervous at the thought of meeting Alessandro’s mother for the first time, Iris soothed her hands over her jeans and walked to the car. Alessandro’s personal assistant sat in the front of the car, typing on her laptop. As Iris approached the car, she kept her laptop aside and came out. A dragon of a creature, she was as tall as Iris and middle-aged. Though she looked formidable, the smile she bestowed upon Iris was nothing as such. Upon receiving such a warm smile, Iris smiled back at her as she shook hands.
“Come Signorina, from what I know, the children are dying to see you.”
Iris smiled once again as she said, “I’m sure it will be great fun to spend the weekend with them Senora Milano.”
“Call me Sandra and I will call you Iris, if I may?” Senora Milano said.
At Iris’ nod, she sat down in the car as Iris opened the door to sit in the back. And stopped.
Just by the seat, sat a lovely bouquet of yellow and red roses. Keeping hold of her nerves, Iris sat down and picked up the bouquet, mentally chiding herself. They couldn’t be from Alessandro surely. He wouldn’t consider her good enough for this, especially after she had rejected him the last time. It must be the work of nice Senora Milano. She buried her head in it and inhaled its heady perfume. These weren’t hothouse roses!
“Indian roses!” Iris exclaimed. “Thank you Seno-Sandra, they are beautiful. You are very kind to have gone through this trouble. I had no idea you can even get Indian roses here.”
“Indeed.” Came a wry retort from Sandra. She turned back and smiled to show she acknowledged the compliment. “But the appreciation of this goes to Alessandro, for he found out the one local vendor who sells it and got them for you.”
Roses bloomed in Iris’s cheeks as Sandra imparted her the information and looked at her. Trying to sound casual, Iris said, “Oh- how kind of him. Please pass on my thank you.”
“I will. I think there is a card attached to the bouquet.” Sandra said.
With hands that trembled despite her control, Iris picked up the card nestled inside the flowers. It said, “Hope you like them better than you like me. Have fun cara. A”
“All okay?” Sandra asked without looking back, for which Iris was thankful. Her eyes were tearing up and she had to take a deep breath before she replied calmly, “Yes, all okay.”
The car moved forward, but Iris closed her eyes to the world as she tried to calm herself. Oh the wretched heart! Alessandro’s words has pierced her. How could she tell him how much she liked him- loved him without letting him trample all over her? It hurt her to think that he thought he was not in her good books and lamented the fact. On the other hand- a small but sensible voice in her head spoke up- it was good for her because he would realize that she will not play his game.
“And here we are!” Sandra said all too soon as the car stopped. Astonished, Iris looked around. They hadn’t gone very far away from the villa where she stayed. In fact, it felt as if it had been mere minutes far. Confused, she looked around.
Perhaps Sandra guessed her confusion, for she chuckled and said, “Ah- you did not know?”
Bewildered, Iris looked at her and asked, “Know what?”
Sandra got out of the car, so did the chauffeur who took her bag out of the back of the car. At Sandra’s nod, he left in a few seconds, leaving them there. Sandra linked her arm in Iris and turned her around, “Let us take a walk, not very far but a short walk.”
Before Iris could argue or mention her bag, she said, “Leave the bag. It will be taken care of.”
Iris had no choice but to walk along. It was not more than 10 minutes or so when they came across a familiar signpost, that Iris had seen before. Still trying to wrap her head around the truth, Iris looked at it and then at Sandra.
Sandra clucked impatiently and said, “Look around Iris. See where you are.”
And Iris gasped. For not too far away, she was sure was the villa where she stayed. She remembered seeing the sign post on the gravel road that led into a private estate. She had been told not to take the path that led to it, but she had not been informed who owned the private estate. Now she knew. She looked around, her mind still trying to gather and process all the facts.
This was where Alessandro lived? He was but just a few minutes away from her, every second of the day and she had not known. A tidal wave of emotion rose in her. Iris wasn’t sure if it was hurt or anger. She could have met the twins & spent time with them every day after work, had she been informed of their home so near to her, instead of spending the weekend. However, she knew saying anything to Sandra would not be wise so she kept her mouth shut and smiled brightly.
“This is nice indeed! It means I can spend more than a weekend with the boys if they wanted to spend time with me again.”
“Indeed yes.” Sandra acknowledged this statement with a nod and a smile, and continued, “We must go back to the villa. Senora Bertoni is, if I’m not wrong, already waiting for you along with the boys.”
And so together, they went back to the traditional red brick house where Alessandro lived with his mother and sons. The house was house, consisting of the main house and a barn where Iris suspected, animals were kept. The main house accommodated three floors, as Sandra informed her like an estate agent, comprising of living room that had a huge fireplace, kitchen, laundry room, dining room, study and a guest room on the ground floor, seven double bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, playroom, nanny’s bedroom and the nursery occupying the top two floors.
There was also another house behind the main house, that accommodated Senora Bertoni, with three bedrooms and bathrooms, a dining room and a kitchen. Iris was informed confidentially, that though Senora Bertoni liked spending her time at the main house, she liked her privacy and thus preferred the house at the back.
The barn, as Iris had rightly suspected, housed livestock and was also used as a granary. The entire property in total was spread over 9000 square meters of land that also held gardens in the front and back and the forest, parking spaces as well as a Olympic sized swimming pool, a small swimming pool for children and a small pond.
A man old enough to be her grandfather greeted them as they were ushered into the house. He was introduced to Iris as Tommaso; who held the position equivalent to that of a butler in the house. He smiled very little but had warm eyes, concluded Iris while she shook hands with him. Iris took in the surroundings as they entered the living room.
A spacious room draped with pale ivory walls, heavy curtains looked as if it was a part of a home magazine, with original wooden beams & arches, terracotta tiled ceilings and floors that held cherubs and angels, with a grand fireplace in the centre of the room. The room was very tastefully furnished as well, with bright coloured carpets and cream coloured sofas. Two lounge chairs were placed next to the fireplace and some by the sides of the sofa.
On one of the chairs sat Senora Bertoni, with a piece of she must have been knitting next to her. Beside her sat the twins with huge grins on their faces, with Mrs. Whittaker close by. Iris realized that Senora Bertoni was a petite gentle woman. Alessandro got his eyes from his mother then, for they were just as sharp and of the same grey-green shade. His hair must be his legacy from his father, for Senora Bertoni was a blonde.
Her nervousness dissipated as Senora Bertoni smiled warmly at herr. They were introduced to each other by Sandra.
“So- you’re Iris the angel that the boys keep on talking about, who will play football with them. Welcome Signorina Florence.” Senora Bertoni said, her smile warming Iris.
She shook hands with her and smiled back, saying, “They’re really too sweet to say so. My countrymen love football as much as Italians do.”
Then realizing her mistake, she corrected herself, “Forgive me, I forgot that you’re—I mean, you were also once English.”
Senora Bertoni gave a gentle laugh at this and gestured Iris and Sandra to sit down. She leaned forward and said, “Ah yes! I was once. Now I think I’m as Italian as any other Italian mother would be. I’m sorry it has taken so long for us to be introduced to each other. No doubt Alessandro thought it prudent that you be given time to get adjusted to your work out here before you can meet the boys.”
At the mention of Alessandro, Iris felt her cheeks going pink but she held on to her composure as she said, “I’m sure Signore knows the best for his sons. “
“Yes, I’m sure he does. May I call you Iris?” Clara Bertoni murmured, satisfied at what she saw.
“Of course, Senora Bertoni. ”
“You may call me Clara, Iris.” At Iris’s nod, she continued, “And now, I will let the twins come forward.“
At her nod, the twins got up from their places and moved forward towards Iris eagerly. “They have been awake since early morning with the hopes of seeing you today. They tell me they have many plans.”
Iris took a step forward herself and kneeled down on the floor to come at an eye-to-eye level with the boys. Antonio, with his usual vigour hugged her tightly while Ernesto waited for his turn.
Iris hugged both of them back and ruffled Antonio’s hair, “ So you have many plans, eh?”
Antonio nodded enthusiastically and turned towards his brother, “Don’t we Ernesto?”
Ernesto nodded and volunteered, “We know you can play with us the whole day today, Papa said so.” Then hesitatingly, “Will you?”
Iris gave him a wide smile along with her verbal acceptance to their offer, “Of course!! I’ve missed playing with two energetic young boys. I’ve absorbed a lot of energy from the Sun these past few days. I’m sure I will beat you both at Football.”
“Hah! We will beat you!” Ernesto said with gusto.
Iris frowned a mock-frown. “Then I will just have to try harder tomorrow if you beat me today.”
“You will stay here for two whole days and spend them with us? You will not want to be with Nonna or Papa?” Ernesto questioned, as if doubting that anyone would want to spend so much time with them.
Iris felt her heart squeezing. She knew Ernesto had his problems, but she would make sure this little guy knew she was on his side. She squeezed his hand gently, looked into his eyes and said, “I’m here only because I wanted to be with you and Antonio.”
Giving Senora Bertoni an apologetic look, Iris added with a twinkle to her eye, “Of course when you sleep, I will spend time with your Nonna, and find out just how naughty you two are!”
“Yes! Nonna can tell you all!” Antonio shouted laughing. Ernesto nodded with a broad smile and started giving ideas of what they could do in the evening.
Senora Bertoni listened to them and looked at the happy faces of her grandsons, approving the way Iris handled them. She seemed to genuinely like them, and even Ernesto seemed to be less hesitant with her. She also seemed compassionate. Yes, she will do very well indeed.
She cleared her throat pointedly and addressed her grandsons, “Now my dears, it is time you went into your room and changed for all the fun, while Iris is shown to her room.”
Mrs. Whittaker was the one who came forward, saying, “I shall guide you to your room Signorina. It is on the same floor as the boys.”
“Oh good.” Iris said and after taking her leave of Senora Bertoni and the boys, went along with her.
While on the first floor, she was given a whirlwind tour of the floor, that had three guest bedrooms, the nursery with a small room for the nanny and play room for the boys. The second floor consisted of a master bedroom, a dressing room of sorts, children’s bedroom and next to it, Mrs. Whittaker’s room. Next to Mrs. Whittaker room was another bedroom that Iris was to occupy.
Iris loved the room on sight. It was truly a beautiful room; very feminine. The window curtain were a creamy lace and the table and chair under it just as elegant. She supposed, she could sit there and write a few letters while she looked out into the garden and the green hills beyond from the window. The bed was a queen size, with the bedcover of powder blue with white daises printed on it, fluffy pillows and blue satin quilt on top of it. The dressing table looked to be equally royal, rosewood perhaps.
“How do you like your room madam?” Asked Mrs. Whittaker.
Iris couldn’t help but gush, “Oh it’s absolutely delightful Mrs. Whittaker! I wonder who designed it so?”
Mrs Whittaker gave a small smile, “It was meant to be the room for Senora Bertoni once, but she never occupied it. She never liked coming to this house; preferred to live in Milan and Florence, she did.”
“Ah.” Iris couldn’t formulate a reply for this, while her mind tried to sought out answers on why she was being boarded her. Then she shrugged her thoughts. Obviously, this was the only room apart from Mrs. Whittaker that was close to the kids. This was the only reason why she’d been given this room to stay in. Freshening herself up quickly, she went downstairs again, where Antonio, Ernesto and Senora Bertoni waited for her.