No parent should ever have to bury a child, let alone all of them.
Isabella Rossi gathered her shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders. She headed toward the front door of the enormous home which was too big for only her and Maria, who had been her trusted and faithful housekeeper for decades. Isabella had held the ashes of all three of her children, their once vibrant lives reduced to the contents in the ceramic urns. Now, only she remained. And her grandchildren. But most of them were scattered like chaff in the wind, and her heart pained at how far from the fields of Tuscany her descendants had drifted. Oceans now separated them; her first and last born grandchildren, Rafaele and Alessa, the only ones left on Italian soil. And even they were separated from her—and each other—by entire cities.
Since his father died three months ago, Rafaele had done his utmost to come home most weekends. To help his nonna. How long would that last, though? He had his own life, his own career, in Firenze. He’d long ago chosen that world above these lands.
Dawn peeked its golden head over the horizon as Isabella slipped out the front door of the place she’d called home for sixty long and glorious years. Villa Rossi. She’d cherished every moment here since the day her beloved Benedetto had made her his bride. Even the bad times she had buried deep in her heart.
Her fingers, wrinkled and bent from old age and arthritis, clutched the shawl tighter, shutting out the crisp spring morn; the cold not nearly as bitter as her own heart. This wasn’t how life was intended to be. They were meant to have all lived and died under the Tuscan sky, here on this beautiful estate that had been in their family for generations. She blew out a breath that carried with it the cumbersome burden she bore. Which of her grandchildren should inherit this place once she passed on? Would any of them even care to be bound by a property they barely visited anymore, in a country far from what they now called home?
She glanced back at the two-story building, her very being swelling and then quickly sagging at the collection of happy and sad memories. Through the generations, so much loving and living had happened under that roof. The ebb and flow of life.
Now it seemed that life merely ebbed, dragging the very soul of Villa Rossi with it.
With her husband’s help, she’d raised three children within those stone walls: Massimo, their firstborn, named after Benedetto’s father; Francesca, after the child’s paternal grandmother; and lastly, Albertino, her baby, who had taken her own dear papà’s name. Benedetto and she had rigidly kept to every Italian custom. Sadly, the same could not be said for her own children, God rest their departed souls. Isabella crossed herself and the shawl slipped from her clasp with the action. She quickly tugged it up over her shoulder again, her heart pressing against her ribs at the painful memory of her children breaking from tradition—at least Massimo and Francesca had—and naming their children whatever they’d wanted with no respect for their customs. None of her grandchildren bore her nor Benedetto’s names as they should have.
And poor, sweet, Albertino…he never had a chance to name his child. Never even knew he’d fathered one. Perhaps he would’ve called his daughter Isabella…if his life hadn’t been snatched from him so quickly.
If only they hadn’t argued.
If only he hadn’t sped away on his motorcycle, angry.
If only he hadn’t met that English woman.
Isabella shook her head and stepped off the narrow dirt road into the vineyard. So many ifs. So many regrets. When her son had ached to marry Maggie Golding, she’d told him to leave and never come back. She had never meant for his departure to be final. Irreversible.
Maggie had returned to England after Albertino’s death, and the child born out of wedlock was given the name Rachel instead. Not even an Italian name but a Jewish one. Like her surname. What had she expected, though, from that foreigner who’d led her Albertino astray. She blamed Maggie for his death.
She blamed herself.
The child should’ve been a Rossi, but her illegitimate granddaughter knew nothing of her heritage.
Perhaps it was for the best. One less grandchild to turn their back on their grandmammà.
Ambling between the vines that lined the slope behind the homestead, Isabella reached her hand out to snatch a poppy growing tall between the grass. Big. Bright. Red. Then another. The first of the spring blooms. Soon the hills would blush with their rubescent hue. Here and there she clutched the slender shoots of wild legumes, plucking them to add a touch of mauve to her monotone bouquet.
By the time she reached the other side of the vineyard just before the olive groves, she held a rather large bunch of wildflowers in her hand. Still, she had to split it five ways. Five memorials. Five loved ones lost—her husband, her children, and Massimo’s beloved wife, Alessandra. He’d never overcome her death. Now he was finally reunited with her.
Before the cancer took her Benedetto, he made Isabella promise to have his remains cremated and placed in this special spot between his vines and olive trees. She’d argued against the notion at first—the church did not favor cremation. The Lord Jesus himself was buried in a tomb, and weren’t they all to follow his example? But she’d eventually relented. Keeping her word, she had Massimo and Albertino demarcate this area after her husband’s death.
She trailed her fingers over the low wrought-iron palisade then pushed open the gate and headed toward the tombstone erected in Benedetto’s memory and the cremation urn bearing his ashes on the grass in front of it.
Barely a year later, she’d had a second stone erected. To her beloved Albertino—her baby. Losing her youngest son was even harder to bear than losing the love of her life.
Thirty-four years had passed since that fateful day.
And time had not healed the still raw wounds.
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