Part Thirty Eight
by sarAdora ~~~~~~~~~~
She floated on calm seas, the overhead clouds white and fluffy like cotton balls, the sky an azure blue. All sensation had ceased; no sounds, no smells, no pain. This is peace, she thought, her body riding gentle waves.
"Francesca! Come back to me! Vivo! Live!"
She saw it before it reached her, a giant wave rolling toward her, the water churning gray and murky and violent with energy. It overwhelmed her, consuming her, throwing her into a vortex... her arms flailing wildly as it took her spinning down and around and down and down... Gasping for breath, her arms stretched out, reaching... her hands looking for any purchase, fighting for a foothold, a lifeline, breath.
Warmth immediately enveloped her, her body was suddenly lifted from the whirling water and she was pulled into a sheltered cove, leaving the turbulent sea behind.
"Bambina, mia amore," his voice finally penetrated... "Vivo!" he begged. "Non muoia Do not die," he murmured over and over again. "Li ho bisogno I need you. Come back to me."
It was the most natural thing in the world to snuggle into his chest while his arms held her tightly to his body. Leaning against him, she was safe from harm, cherished and beloved.
Her eyes finally opened, recognition... memories surfacing... alive... pain filled... anguished... An involuntary cry sprang from her lips, her body mostly numbed by drugs but her knowing heart wracked with unbelievable pain and grief.
Grief... it overwhelmed her with its weight, its heavy and sharp stabs stealing her breath as she tried to reconcile what had happened with where she was and...
"Gianni..." she managed to murmur, the recent events flooding her mind as her eyes overflowed.
"Francesca," he answered, his tears falling on her face and neck. "Francesca." He could say little else, her name on his lips the mantra of his salvation.
Nurses came running, the machines monitoring her vital signs zigging and zagging and beeping. When they would return her to her bed, Giancarlo objected, unwilling to remove his arms from around her. In the firm voice of authority, he told them he would hold his wife and that they should adjust the IVs and other medical paraphernalia that were attached to her body. They knew better than to argue and rushed to do his bidding and to let those waiting word of the Godfather's wife that she was awake.
He didn't know how long he had been locked in the dark room, time impossible to gauge without light. They had taken his watch, his belt and his shoes. There had been no meals and no water. The floor was hard and after several hours contemplating how he would die, his body had succumbed to exhaustion and he had curled into a ball and dozed.
His dreams were fitful, his father's death vivid in his mind although he hadn't witnessed it. His mother had eked out a living and they lived with the shame that they had to take charity to survive. The Godfather... it was his father that did this to us. He smiled when he thought of the suffering the man was going through. I killed his wife and child, he thought with satisfaction. Giancarlo Ruggiero Batali will never forget who did this to him. Ruggiero, he spat on the floor. The name meant warrior in English. Not so arrogant any more. I will die but you will grieve a lifetime.
Hours later, those who loved Francesca spent a few minutes with her, each relieved that their prayers had been answered, each more alive now that they knew she would live.
Angelina accompanied by Paolo and Leonardo went to the church. They would kneel, say their "Aves," light candles to the "Lady" and give thanks for Francesca.
Little Petey Petrale crossed himself, mumbled his thanks under his breath, his bond with God too personal to share with anyone else and definitely not in the church.
Giancarlo would light candles some other day; being with Francesca consumed him. He was afraid to leave her side, needing to watch her chest rise and fall as she breathed. He had buried their child... he needed to watch his beloved breathe and live...
While she slept, he repeated the prayers his mother had taught him, his thanks heartfelt and he repeated the promises he had sworn to God if Francesca lived. He would start to fulfill them when they were home again.
Mama Batali had placed her palm on Francesca's cheek, gave silent thanks for her continued recovery and then turned toward her son, her only child. "Go home, mio bambino. Get some rest. I will stay with her."
"No," he said simply. "I cannot leave her."
"You will be no use to her if you pass out from exhaustion," she said softly, not wanting to stress him further.
"I have been sleeping here," he replied, indicating the chair he was occupying. "Another night or two matters little."
"And when she is fully awake and sees you?" his mother arched her brow. "What will she see, bambino? The strong Godfather of la Familia? Her devoted husband on whom she needs to lean... or a broken man who has dark circles under his eyes? A man who has not shaved since who knows when? A man so distraught she will be dismayed to know that you are ruining your health so you can watch her."
"I will send Antonio to you. He will bring fresh clothes and he will make you presentable so that your wife will see the pillar of strength you are to her."
He smiled for the first time in days; his mother always knew what to say and what to do. His manservant would tend to him in his calm manner, asking only to serve the man he owed his life to, a story neither man had ever shared with anyone.
When Francesca was fully awake, the man she knew sat beside her bed, holding her hand between both of his, his strong countenance assuring her that all would be well.
"Gianni," she said softly, her eyes filling when she saw him. "Il bambino...?"
"Mia amore," he whispered, gently lifting her to his lap and cradling her close. "Non bambino, la bambina. Not a baby boy, a baby girl."
"A girl?" she sobbed against his chest. "I didn't get a chance to see her. I should have held her. I should have... Did you see her? She was bella, si beautiful, yes?"
"Si, she was beautiful, mia amore," her husband replied, his heart heavy and his voice choking as he told her the details of their baby's beauty, her sweet face, the dark head of hair, her tiny fingers and toes.
"You buried her? You laid her to rest?" she asked, choking on her words.
"Si, I buried her," he whispered. "You and I..." he paused and swallowed as he sought composure. "You and I... we will visit her when you are home again."
"Did you mark the place?" she asked when she could speak again.
"A headstone is being made. It says La Bambina Batali, the date of her birth and death the same," he said in a hushed voice, grief rising to shroud him and again threatening his overwrought composure.
"She was ours; she should have a name," Francesca said as she raised her eyes to his face. There was more strength in her voice as she formed her thoughts. "Change the headstone. She was our daughter; she should have a name."
"What would you name her, mia amore?"
"Rosa," Francesca answered without hesitation. "Bella Rosa della bambina nostra Our beautiful baby Rose."
"Bella Rosa," he repeated, nodding his agreement. "I will see to it, bambina."
"And the date..." Francesca continued. "Not born and died... just one date. Her name, Bella Rosa Batali, beloved daughter of Giancarlo and Francesca Batali, and the date."
"It will be done," he promised, aware for the first time that the woman in his arms was suddenly more mature and wiser than her years. And then he was saddened that it had taken this terrible event to make him realize that fact.
"The man who did this..." she began and shivered involuntarily. "He was... I knew him. I..."
"Hush, bambina," Giancarlo's breath warm on her neck as he soothed her sudden agitation. "He is no more."
"He is dead?" she asked with no remorse.
"He is dead," the Godfather replied, knowing that the assassin awaited his fate in the "room" and when the man's fears had been elevated to a frenzy, he, Il Padre del Dio, would show the man that his fears would be realized long before he took his last breath.