Alessandro bit back words of frustration as he realised what he’d just said. He didn’t mean to blurt it out so simply. He had thought of proposing in the evening, after he’d slowly germinated the seeds of this idea in her head. The pallor of her face reminded him of his boast of never getting married again unless he was sure of the pedigree of the woman. How was he going to explain to her that pedigree be damned, he wanted her more than enough to want to make her his wife?
There was nothing that could express the shock that Iris felt, upon hearing his simple declaration. Alessandro planned to get married- no doubt he had already in mind someone from his elite background, who would be ready to be his wife. But would she be a mother to Ernesto and Antonio? Her heart screamed in agony, shouting “I’d be a mother to them, if only you’d let me!” How was that possible, cried out her brain, mocking her heart. Had she not known that Alessandro was galaxies afar from her?
What was even the point of such thoughts, said she to herself. Still in shock at his words, she forgot to excuse herself, as she walked away from him, and into the house. She walked speedily, going straight to the playroom where Ernesto and Antonio were eating their dinner after their baths. They welcomed her profusely, which acted as a soothing balm to her aching heart. Forgetting everything else, she joined in the chatter, talking about this and that with both of them, until they reached their bedroom and demanded a bedtime story.
Normally not reluctant, Iris hesitated. Bedtime story time was a private time, something she had been sub-consciously doing for the children. Somewhere she had forgotten her boundaries and started treating them as a mother would- reading them a bedtime story, giving them the last cuddle and then kissing them good night. Switching the light off and turning back once to look at their faces as they slept. She shouldn’t have done all that! And yet, it had all felt so right.
Aghast at the crowding consciousness of her motherly treatment of them, Iris hesitated.
“Perhaps your Papa should do it today. I’m sure you don’t want him to feel left out, do you?”
“He wouldn’t. Not if you do it when he’s with you. How about that, eh?” Alessandro came to stand beside her, deliberately moving forward and holding her hand while saying this. The last question was directed towards children, who shouted in agreement.
“I don’t think—“ Iris began, but was shocked into muteness when Alessandro put a finger on her lips and said, “Don’t think, just do what you feel, tesoro mio. Come with me.”
Holding her hand, Alessandro entered the children’s’ bedroom. While he tucked in Antonio, Iris tucked Ernesto in his bed and then sat down beside him.
“Iris?” Whispered Ernesto
Iris bent down and said, “what is it sweetheart?”
Ernesto looked up at his father who was tousling Antonio’s head and then looked at Iris and said, “Would you lie down beside me and do what Papa is doing to Antonio? I will go to sleep quickly if you do it—like a Mamma does.’
Iris hugged him tight before she thought to make it clear, “I would love to cuddle you- as a mother, but you do know that your father—“
“-is already planning to make her your Mamma.” Alessandro spoke from the other side of Antonio’s bed, his voice firm. At a yelp from both the boys, he smiled at them and looked at Iris, “You don’t mind if I tell them, do you darling?”
At her initial shocked and then outraged look, he winked at the children, “She thought she was going to tell you but I beat her to it!”
And the kids burst into a fit of giggles. The next moment Iris could feel Ernesto snuggling into her and saying, “My mamma!” and Antonio slipping off his bed to join Ernesto with a wide grin on his face.
Strongly curbing the red mist of anger unfurling in her mind, Iris gave them both a kiss and hug and said, “Now off to sleep my dears. You’ve had quite enough excitement for the day. We’d make plans on what we do tomorrow in the morning.”
Ernesto and Antonio both smiled and said, “Si Mamma.” While getting under the covers. In a minutes the eyes were closed and they were sleeping. Iris looked at them both with quiet despair in her eyes and then turned to Alessandro. He was watching her, his eyes searching for reactions. Anger erupted within her and she moved close to him and hissed, “Outside where we can talk in private, if you please.”
“You mean where you can vent your anger out on me? By all means, let’s go into your bedroom—or mine?” Alessandro said, not an inch of him showing anything else other than superior male authority.
Iris gritted her teeth and said, “Let’s make it the back garden Signore before I murder you with my bare hands for that outrageous lie you’ve fed to the children.”
Her posture rigid she walked fast and ahead of him and got out of the villa. As soon as they were out of the earshot of the house, she said, “What the hell were you thinking about damnit! How could you say—how dare you!”
“Calm yourself down Iris. You’re getting hysterical.” Alessandro stood by the trunk of the tree, hatefully calm himself.
“I will be hysterical if I want to, damn you! To say such things..” Iris swallowed a sob, her heart broken. How could Alessandro have said something as important as making her his wife in jest? A horror crept up in her heart as she wondered if he’d seen her feelings for him and used them to mock her. Tears were not far away as she considered her actions and the fact that she might have betrayed herself.
Taking deep breaths, she spoke, her voice softer and full of sadness, “How could you Alessandro? Do you not know that saying things like that would be catastrophic? What if the children expect—“
Alessandro left the side of the tree to come and stand beside her. “Iris, look at me.”
When she didn’t, he turned her to face him and lifted her chin up with his long, tapered fingers. His eyes were stormy green, his expression serious, “Do you think I would joke about a thing like that? “
“I don’t know you, do I?” Iris said, her voice broken.
Alessandro looked in to her eyes, “Don’t you Iris? You know I love my children, and I know you like them just as much as they do you. I did tell you I wanted to get married this morning, did I not?”
Iris moved away from him, glaring at him, “And so what? Should I have thought you were propositioning me? “
She turned her back on him and abruptly he said, “Don’t do that! I hate it.”
Bewildered she turned back to him, “Do what? “
“Turn away when I’m talking to you.” Said he.
“Well, that’s too bad because I am turning away from you Alessandro. I work for you and I will wait for a man to come and propose to me because he loves me, not because he wants a substitute mother for his children.”
“You are turning me down?” Asked an incredulous Alessandro.
Iris, with tears that wouldn’t be held back anymore said firmly, “Yes, I am turning you down Alessandro. We don’t have anything that will ever make a marriage work.”
“Yes we do.” Saying this Alessandro pulled her close. Iris wriggled in his arms, but his hands were like steel vice. Holding her face in his hands, he wiped her tears, his eyes tormented. “How can you say there is nothing between us? Can you not be honest for once and admit that no matter how hard we try, we can’t douse this attraction we feel. I can’t fight it any more, I don’t want to. We can want each other without having to restrict ourselves and make a life together.”
“Sex.” Iris struggled in his arms, “That is never enough and you know it. Marriages have to be based on stronger foundations. What when you tire of me, or I of you?”
He let her go then, to her astonishment. When she stood still, without trying to move away, he said, “There’s more to us than just attraction, don’t you think?”
Iris opened her mouth and closed it. What was he trying to say? Her heart beat rapidly like a tattoo in her chest. Was he saying he loved her? She waited.
Alessandro tousled his hair and looked at her, his eyes grey and solemn. “Love is something I don’t think I can do. But I do care for you. We could have a good life together. I like you. I can give you financial security, all the material things you may want from life. We could be friends outside the bedroom –“ his voice turned husky with desire, making the hairs on her arms stand up as he came closer again, “- and in the bedroom we could share our passion.”
Iris looked away then, unable to hide her own want for him. He took her chin in his hand and said, “Tell me you don’t feel the same.”
Unable to speak Iris shook her head. Gathering her closer to him, Alessandro leaned into her, kissing her jawline & whispering,” Tell me you don’t like me.”
His lips moved to her cheek,” Tell me we can’t be friends.”
He moved closer to her lips, “Tell me.. tell me you don’t want me.”
Pecking at her lips, sipping slowly from them, while Iris opened her lips for more of his touch, he murmured, “Tell me, tesoro mio, tell me.”
Iris could only moan his name before his lips took hers completely. They kissed passionately, moving together, until Iris stood with her back to the bark of the tree. They kissed and kissed as if they had hungered for these kisses for a life time. Eyes closed, all Iris could think of was Alessandro, his scent surrounding her; his warmth, his lips, his legs entwining with hers.
Again he whispered, “Amante, mi amore. I want you so much. It has been a torment staying away from you. End my torment cara mia! Marry me.”
Defeated by her own heart and her feelings for him, Iris couldn’t deny her feelings any more. She would make do with what affection she could get from him and she would be with his sons she now adored. The hope that he may fall in love with her one day after marriage made her only whisper while she put her hand on his heart, “I’m yours Alessandro. Take me.”