DISCLAIMER: Rizzoli & Isles and its characters are the property of Tess Gerritsen, Janet Tamaro and TNT television network.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is for Bardicangel. It's the idea I'd originally had for your Queensland Flood Auction fic. Thanks to the wonderful Debbie for the beta and for agreeing to stick with me to the end.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To darandkerry[at]yahoo.com
Chapter 1: Like a Lamb to the Slaughter
A black Crown Victoria sped along a city street, the bright red light affixed to its roof flashing authoritatively and sending vehicles scurrying to get out of the path of the unmarked police car that was clearly on some kind of important mission. As the car neared a corner leading to a crowded market area, the driver reached out of the window and grabbed hold of the blinking light, pulling it inside and hitting its kill switch just as the vehicle turned on to the busy market street. It came to an abrupt stop next to a woman who stood impatiently on the curb.
"Well, it's about time," Angela Rizzoli huffed gruffly as she crawled into the passenger seat of her daughter's police car. She shifted a shopping bag from her lap to the floor and exhaled hard enough to lift a strand of hair that had fallen across her face when she'd plopped down on the seat. "I managed to nab the last four cans of white beans on the shelf," she said in a relieved tone, her joy at finding the beans momentarily overshadowing her irritation that Jane was thirty minutes late picking her up from the store. In reality, there'd only been three cans on the shelf and Angela had had to talk a fourth can from the shopping basket of an elderly woman. Once she'd explained her plight, however, the woman reluctantly handed over one of her precious cans.
"If I'd have shown up at the reunion without Grandma Baglio's minestrone soup, I'd have been excommunicated," Angela said in an overly dramatic tone.
Jane rolled her eyes and sighed. "I don't think the church would kick you out just because you didn't bring your minestrone to the reunion, Ma."
"I didn't mean excommunicated from the church, Jane; I meant from the family. Aunt Clara sent out our assignments months ago, so there'll be no excuses for anyone showing up empty handed," Angela clarified, grateful that she wouldn't be the one to incur her aunt's wrath this reunion. Her cousin, Vita, didn't leave her home for a month after their aunt had embarrassed her in front of all the other relatives at the family's last reunion. Vita couldn't help it if her cowlick was so bad she'd had to use a black marker to color her scalp. She'd been humiliated when Clara had announced to the entire family about Vita's use of the marker. Even though everyone was already fully aware of the method Vita used to hide her cowlick, Vita hadn't known that the family knew and had been completely mortified.
At just the mention of her Great Aunt Clara, Jane gripped the steering wheel hard enough to leave permanent indentations and immediately sat up straight, her back becoming as stiff as a board. The eldest of her mother's aunts was not someone to cross EVER.
"You waited until the last minute to try to find white beans?" Jane looked at her mother like she'd lost her mind for even daring to flirt with such extreme danger. Aunt Clara was nearly six feet tall, had a moustache that rivaled all the Baglio men and, at age seventy five, could easily bench press two hundred pounds, not to mention her razor-sharp tongue that could cut anyone to pieces with just a few cruel and very well-placed words.
Angela cocked her head to the side and glared at her daughter. If she'd been standing, her hands would have been placed firmly on her hips. "Do I look stupid to you?" She didn't wait for an answer. "I thought I had six cans in the pantry. I could've sworn I saw them on the top shelf at Thanksgiving, and I know I didn't use any at Christmas or New Year's. There were only two when I looked this morning."
Jane bit down on her bottom lip and nervously tugged a hand through her hair. "How many cans do you need for the soup?" she asked as casually as she was able. A rather difficult task given that she'd taken four cans of white beans from her mother's pantry the weekend after Thanksgiving when Maura had mentioned that she'd love to make Jane some white chili but couldn't find any Great Northern white beans. Jane had never heard of white chili and had taken the cans from her mother's house, fully intending to tell Angela but, in her excitement to have Maura cook for her, had forgotten. She couldn't wait to try the new dish but, truth be told, she would've tried anything Maura offered to cook if it meant a quiet evening with just the two of them and Bass, of course. Although most of the time Jane forgot the ginormous turtle was even around, except when he bumped into a cabinet or door frame.
"Six," Angela said tersely. "And there were six cans on that shelf. Why'd you think I was so upset this morning when I could only find two?" And Angela had been quite upset when she'd lined the ingredients she'd need on her counter for preparation of the soup she'd bring to Saturday's reunion and had come up four cans short. She'd immediately called Jane and guilted her daughter into picking her up from the store, something Jane hated to do when she was on duty. With her car in the shop, Angela had had to rely on Frank to drop her off, but he had some big plumbing emergency and wasn't able to wait around long enough to take her home.
"I swear, if your father cooked, I'd blame him for using those cans, but the man can't even boil water," Angela continued, barely missing a beat. She was beyond furious that there was a bean snatcher somewhere in their midst. "You know," she said, her brow scrunching up in thought as she turned her mind to solving the mystery of the missing beans. "Carla Talucchi came over a few days after Thanksgiving. She kept lurking around the pantry, too." Angela racked her brain to try to remember if she'd left the older woman alone in the kitchen at any time during her neighbor's visit. The suitcase of a purse Carla always carried could have easily concealed the cans.
"C'mon, Ma," Jane said as she switched on her signal indicator and slowly pulled away from the curb. "You probably just mistook another kind of can for white beans. What else have you made lately?" She hoped to distract her mother before Angela got around to accusing her. Jane knew it wouldn't take Angela long to expand her list of suspects.
"Mostly pasta and foods that require tomato sauce and tomato paste. None of those cans could ever be mistaken for Great Northern white beans. No, someone took those beans."
Jane fidgeted anxiously and quickly took another tack, one she was certain would get her mother's undivided attention. "What did Aunt Clara assign to Aunt Anita?"
"Garlic bread," Angela growled menacingly, her focus successfully drawn from the 16 ounce cans of beans to an image of her brow and eyelid lifted, cheek and chin implanted, and, as of Christmas 2010, newly nosed younger sister. "Can you believe it?" Angela tsked. "Nita, the spoiled brat, will probably order it from some hoity-toity restaurant, too."
Angela had serious doubts that she and her sister had come from the same parents and still harbored a firm belief that there'd been some kind of mix-up at the hospital and her real sister had gone home with someone who lived on the well-do-to west side of town where all the rich people lived in their huge mansions, sticking her with some West-End Wanda as a sister. Thank God she had her other sisters, Annette and Anna, to suffer along with her; there was no doubt that the two loud, saucy brunettes were one hundred percent Baglio.
Jane chuckled and started to relax. She could always count on her Aunt Anita to drive her mother to distraction. "I'm just glad my generation isn't expected to bring anything." She dreaded going to the reunion, period, much less having to make a dish to bring with her. Jane really didn't want to be held responsible for everyone at the reunion suffering from food poisoning afterward. She was certain that she'd be the first one the family would all be pointing the finger toward, and they'd more than likely be correct, too.
"Oh, I almost forgot," Angela suddenly blurted. "You are supposed to bring something."
The car swerved toward a curb, but Jane recovered nicely, righting the vehicle before it could jump the sidewalk and wrap around an oak tree. "What? And you're just telling me now?!?" She chanced a glance over at her mother and hoped none of the neighborhood children or pets chose that moment to dart out into the street.
"It wouldn't have mattered if I'd told you earlier, you'd have waited until the last minute anyway," Angela replied, knowing that Jane would hem-haw around and try to find some excuse not to comply with the request Aunt Clara and her other aunts had made.
"Well, you're going to have to cook it for me, Ma. I have to work a double tomorrow just so that I can go to the reunion. I won't have time."
Angela shook her head back and forth. "No, you're going to have to do this yourself."
"I can't cook on a good day," Jane said truthfully. "What makes you think I can suddenly pull off something edible when I'm rushed?" Jane couldn't believe her mother had put her in this situation and then had refused to help.
"You don't have to cook anything, Jane," Angela said with a slight smile. "You just have to bring a date. All the aunts are expecting to meet your mystery man."
Jane wheeled the car into her mother's driveway and slammed the gearshift to Park. She turned in her seat and gave every appearance of crossing the distance between the two of them had her seatbelt not been keeping her in place. "What mystery man?"
Angela shrugged nonchalantly. "I may have mentioned one last reunion," she said casually and watched as Jane's expression grew angry. She hurried to redeem herself. "Hey, I'd had enough of listening to all the aunts talk about their grandsons-in-law and how great they were. I just wanted them to know how wonderful your man was, too."
"So that's why I kept having to fend off so many questions about when I was setting the date and if I would start a family right away. They usually just stick to asking if I have a man in my life yet," Jane said, fitting the pieces of the last reunion's puzzle together. She sighed tiredly and turned to face forward again. "There's just one small problem, Ma; I don't have a Mr. Wonderful."
"Well, you've got until Saturday to find one," Angela said as she grabbed the bag of groceries from the floor and reached for the door handle. "No telling what Aunt Clara will say if you show up empty-handed," she cautioned much in the same tone the seer had used when he'd warned Caesar about the Ides of March. With a pointed look, she pushed the door open and slipped out of the car. Jane watched her mother walk to the front door and disappear inside the house.
"Now what am I going to do?" Jane groaned and leaned forward, her head hitting hard against the unyielding steering wheel.
Chapter 2: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
"Jane, what happened to your head?" Maura asked in concern, shooting up from her chair and abandoning her search for the perfect outfit to accessorize the killer shoes she'd purchased earlier in the week. She hurried over to inspect the red, angry-looking bump in the center of Jane's forehead and grimaced slightly as she tentatively reached out and touched the injured area.
"Ow!" Jane protested and took a quick step away from her friend. She eased a hand to her forehead and gingerly rubbed around the sore spot, her thoughts immediately going to the upcoming family reunion. If she arrived alone and sporting a huge bruise on her head, her great aunts would probably think it was because Mr. Wonderful had popped her a good one during a domestic dispute and that he wasn't so wonderful after all. Leave it to her mother to manufacture a monster of a fiancé for her. She groaned pitifully thinking about the inquisition she would face, especially from her great Aunt Clara.
"Have you put any ice on it?" Maura asked, already heading toward her mini refrigerator and the gel pack she kept in its small freezer. Timing was important when attending to injuries where swelling might be involved and Jane's injury did appear to be relatively fresh.
"No, I haven't had time. It just happened about twenty minutes ago," Jane replied grumpily, not readily offering an explanation for the self-inflicted, albeit accidental injury and hoping Maura didn't ask just how she'd managed to sustain a bump to the head. Trailing Maura to the fridge, she watched her friend closely. There was no way she was applying a cold pack that had been next to something dead, or worse, actually touching it, to her head. She instinctively cupped her hand protectively over her forehead when she spied a Petri dish in the very tiny freezer unit of the refrigerator.
"Good," Maura said, her voice partially muffled by the refrigerator's door. "If we hurry, we can minimize any potential swelling," she added, almost cheerfully, as she removed the Petri dish in order to get to the gel pack. Gripping the pack with one hand, she slid the dish back into place with her other and turned to stand. "Move your hand, Jane," she instructed as she worked the pack back and forth between her palms. She suddenly stopped and frowned when Jane didn't comply with her request.
"What's that?" Jane asked, pointing toward the Petri dish that now sat alone on the itty bitty freezer shelf. She fortified her hold on her forehead.
"What?" Maura followed Jane's line of sight and glanced over her shoulder at the fridge. She shrugged nonchalantly and pushed the door closed with her foot. "Just a frozen culture."
"Culture?!?" Jane asked, her voice scaling an octave. She cupped her hand more tightly over her injury and inched further away from the culture-infected gel pack. "What kind of culture?" she continued, not really caring what kind of culture it was; cultures indicated something taken from a body and, in Maura's line of work, that body would definitely be a dead one. There was no way she was allowing anything that resided anywhere near that culture to touch her.
Maura's expression turned serious, deadly serious, and took on that look that said, 'I'm about to get very literal and very scientific'. Jane's face scrunched up into a painful looking grimace in anticipation of hearing a lecture on Frozen Cultures 101, but she renewed her resolve to keep the cold gel pack as far away from her as possible.
"It's a liver culture from the Clark autopsy. I noticed something suspicious and wanted to do a more in-depth study. I suspect he was suffering from Type 1 Gaucher's disease," Maura explained, the gel pack seemingly forgotten in her hand as her excitement at studying the culture took over. "Enzyme replacement therapy is now available, with most patients receiving the recombinant enzyme, Cerezyme. This preparation has been found to be highly effective in reversing the visceral and hematologic manifestations of Gaucher disease," she reported with a pleasant smile at how far medicine had advanced in treating the disease.
"Yeah?" Jane said with mock interest; although, with her hand still clamped over her forehead, it lost some of its effect. "So you think that's what killed him?" she added, facetiousness coloring her tone. Maura, as usual, didn't pick up on it.
"No, the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head," Maura replied matter-of-factly and with a decidedly puzzled look. She'd given Jane the victim's autopsy report the day before, hadn't the detective read it?
Jane just shook her head, careful not to let her guard down literally. "I know; I read the report."
"Then why would you " Maura began, her expression becoming even more perplexed.
"Look, can we just forget about gauchos for a minute?" Jane interrupted before the conversation could take another turn away from her. She needed Maura's full attention if they were going to come up with a solution to her family reunion problem. It probably would've helped, though, if she'd gotten the name of the disease right.
"Gaucher," Maura corrected. "A gaucho is a term that describes a resident of the South American pampas, chacos, or Patagonian grasslands, although it is often used to refer to a cowboy native to South America." She paused briefly but wasn't able to keep an expression of distaste from forming. "There are pants called gauchos, too." Pants, incidentally, that Maura wouldn't be caught dead wearing. The calf-length, flared hemmed pants had been a blight on women's fashion, a blight far worse, Maura believed, than platform flip-flops.
Jane closed her eyes, leaned her head back and groaned. She would have been better off going to Korsak for help, but since he was on her list of possible fiancé candidates, she'd thought it best to call on Maura.
"Maybe you should sit," Maura suggested, shifting effortlessly back into a doctor-like concerned mode at hearing Jane's painful-sounding groan. "Do you feel dizzy or nauseated?" She began to work the cold pack back and forth between her hands once again.
Jane felt dizzy all right but that was how she always felt after engaging in a circular conversation with Maura. She used it to her advantage. "Yeah, okay, sitting is probably a good idea. Besides, I need to talk to you about something."
Maura eased a hand to the small of Jane's back and guided her to the chair in front of her computer. "Here, have a seat." She lifted the cold pack and moved it toward Jane's forehead.
"Hey, what's going on?" Frankie, Jr., asked as he stepped through the doors of autopsy and headed directly for his sister. "You okay, Jane?" Lifting a 32-ounce plastic cup to his mouth, he fitted his lips around a straw and readied to take a sip. Jane's hand shot out and grabbed hold of the cup before Frankie could suck any of the liquid into his mouth. "Hey!"
Jane whirled the cup in a tight circle and grinned at the sound of ice hitting against the sides of the container.
"That's mine!" Frankie protested, sounding every bit like a four year old whining at a sister who'd stolen his last piece of Halloween candy. Only, today, his voice was much deeper.
"Don't worry," Jane replied. "I'm not going to drink it." She pressed it against her forehead and shot Maura a plastic smile. "See?" she pointed to the cup. "No frozen cultures."
"Well, actually, the material used to manufacture that "
"Stop!" Jane interrupted Maura before she could relate facts that would forever keep Jane from ordering a drink at a fast-food restaurant or 7-11 store. "I need you to save all that gray matter to help me find the perfect man to play Mr. Wonderful at my family reunion this weekend." She pointed a finger at Frankie. "You're in this, too."
Frankie just frowned and stared at his drink. If he ever planned to get it back, he'd need to play nice, even if it would probably be for naught. Their great aunts would tear Jane's make-believe world apart in a matter of minutes.
"What about Frost?" he tossed out, figuring he may as well get the ball rolling. The sooner they found a patsy to play Jane's date, the sooner he'd get his drink back.
Jane glanced up at her brother from underneath the bottom of the large cup. "I thought about him, but what about the um the " she struggled to come up with an appropriate, politically correct way of referring to her partner.
"Black thing?" Frankie filled in, using the term their aunts would probably choose. "Yeah, that might be a problem, that and the whole 'robbing the cradle' reference."
Jane nodded back, the ice in the cup sloshing against its sides. "I hadn't thought of that." She'd been too focused on the racial problem and had completely forgotten about the last reunion. Her cousin Mary had brought a man ten years her junior and had left in tears after Great Aunt Clara had finished with her. "Korsak is out, too, then," she said, figuring her aunt could easily spin the speech she'd given Jane's cousin to include an older man.
"Too bad Grant isn't around anymore," Maura said, joining in on the conversation. "Hey, what about that guy who asked you out last week?"
Jane gave Maura a deadpan look. "You mean the suspect in the Ferguson case?"
Maura shrugged. "Well, it turned out that he didn't do it," she pointed out. "And he had nice zygomatic bones."
"I don't even know what that is," Jane replied, not caring what kind of bones they were, either. "But it doesn't matter. The guy was a suspect for a reason, Maura." Plus, there was just something about him that had made Jane's skin crawl.
"Oh, I know," Maura said excitedly, her face lighting up at the prospect of another candidate, one that was more suited for the role. "What about Jorge? He's the right age, sexy, good looking. He'd be perfect."
Jane slowly lowered the cup from her forehead. "Seriously? You want me to bring a male nurse, who wants to be a stay home daddy for our kids while I work to support us, to my family reunion?" She shot a look at Frankie. "Aunt Clara would have a field day with that."
"No kidding," Frankie said with a snort. He eyed his drink. "You'd probably do better if you just went alone."
Jane went perfectly still and she just stared at her brother. All these years, she'd allowed her Great Aunt Clara to browbeat her, just as her mother, aunts, and cousins had. She was a police detective, for God's sake. She'd stared down hardened criminals and had been on the receiving end of pointed guns and many a scary glare. Hell, she carried a shield and a gun. What could Aunt Clara and her other two great aunts possibly do or say that was worse than anything she'd already seen or heard? "You know what, Frankie," she finally replied. "You're right." And if that didn't work, she could always go with the story that she'd had Mr. Wonderful arrested for assaulting a police officer, even though it was logical to assume that she wouldn't have been officially on duty when her imaginary fiancé had allegedly assaulted her. That, Jane thought, might actually score her some points with her great aunts.
Pushing to her feet, Jane grinned and shoved the plastic cup back into Frankie's hand. "See you Saturday at the reunion." With a parting wink to Maura, she headed toward the door, disappearing before either Maura or Frankie could even blink.
"She's going to be toast," Frankie said, taking a giant sip from his Big Gulp.
Maura kept her gaze on the closed door. "What do you mean?" she asked worriedly. Comparing Jane to a slice of bread that had been put in a toaster and subjected to intense heat from both sides didn't sound like a good thing.
Frankie looked at Maura and shook his head. "Nothing good for Jane, that's for sure."
Maura turned toward Frankie, the wheels in her head turning fast and furiously. "Are you taking someone to the reunion?" she asked, smiling sweetly.
Frankie took one look at Maura's expectant expression and choked on his drink.
Chapter 3: Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining
Cars wound around the circular drive of a Milford, Massachusetts home and extended along the curbs on both sides of the street for a full block in either direction. Jane drove slowly past a line of cars and crossed the next intersection, rolling several feet before executing a perfect U-turn. She stopped the requisite distance from a stop sign and turned off the ignition. She was late, probably even more so than her always 'fashionably late' Aunt Anita.
A quick glance in the rearview mirror alleviated her fear that the bump on her forehead had somehow returned since the last time she'd looked in the mirror and she sighed in relief at one less problem she'd need to explain away. "May as well go face the music," she muttered under her breath as she reached for the handle and pushed against the door with her shoulder. Of all the days to catch a break on the Ferguson case, it just had to be the day of the reunion.
Jane hadn't even been able to enjoy snapping the cuffs on the man Maura had first suggested as a potential fiancé for her at today's event. Discovering that Ben Martin had a twin brother who'd changed his name when he turned twenty-one, but that was another story - and that it had been the brother who'd attended the conference which had provided Ben's alibi hadn't been nearly as satisfying as it would have been had Jane not had to hand Martin over to Frost and Korsak and then rush away to fulfill her family obligation. She'd made the 38 mile trip in roughly 30 minutes. It was amazing how effective a siren could be; although, she did feel a tad bit guilty for using it for personal reasons for the second time in just a few days. It had been rather exhilarating, however, to blow past toll booths and watch cars scurry to get out of her way. Now that she'd finally arrived, she wished that she hadn't been in such a hurry.
Making her way up the sidewalk to her Great Aunt Clara's house, she paid close attention to the makes and models of the various cars. Mostly sporty vehicles and newer models lined the streets and older, more practical cars, filled the circular drive. A low chuckle escaped as she started toward the house. The younger generation had certainly prepared well for a quick getaway.
"Janie!" Her Aunt Annette called out from the other side of the driveway. Gripping the handles of a brown paper bag in her right hand, her aunt closed the back door of a Buick Park Avenue with her left hip and rushed forward, pushing up on her tip-toes to peck Jane on the cheek and pulling her niece into a one-armed hug. "How've you been, sweetie?" she asked as she stepped away.
Jane smiled at her mother's older sister. Seven years Angela's senior, Annette never seemed to age. It drove her mother crazy. Jane reached out and took the bag from her aunt. "I've been good," she said with a nod toward the house. "But I have a feeling that's about to change."
Annette looped her arm through Jane's. "Oh, honey, don't I know it. Aunt Clara's in rare form today. She's already made your Aunt Anna cry," she said with a sad shake of her head. "But there's good news, too," she added, her expression brightening at just the thought of the rather pleasant occurrence that had taken them all by surprise. "Aunt Cecilia is here."
Jane stopped in her tracks and looked down at her five foot nothing aunt. "I thought she was still in Brazil," she said, afraid to get her hopes up. Her Great Aunt Cecilia was the only one of the Baglio clan who wasn't afraid of Clara, but she hadn't been able to attend the last five reunions because of obligation and distance and, so, many had suffered without her quick wit and well-timed comebacks to combat whatever Aunt Clara had dished out.
"Nope, she's been reassigned to the states and is seriously considering retirement," Annette said with a grin. "She didn't tell anyone that she was coming; she just came waltzing through the door."
A huge grin broke out on Jane's face. "That's wonderful news," she said, relief spreading through her like a warm, soothing balm. "Maybe today won't be so bad, after all."
Annette nodded and started forward, pulling Jane along with her. "Maybe not, but you still need to be careful, Jane. Aunt Cecilia can't be everywhere at once." Her sister, Anna, had found that out the hard way when Clara had managed to corner her in the bathroom after Cecilia had gone to help out in the kitchen. Clara seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to catching the defenseless unaware and had let Anna have it for allowing her great nephew-in-law to cheat on her great niece, as if Anna had a say in what the asshole did or didn't do to her daughter.
As if from nowhere, a familiar voice rang out, "Jane, you finally made it."
Jane's feet ground to a halt and her head snapped up as her gaze locked on the doorway. Her great aunt, dressed all in black, stepped on to the porch and Jane handed the paper bag back to her Aunt Annette as she took a tentative step forward, waiting for the other woman to make the first move; neither woman twitched and Jane was reminded of all the old westerns she and her father used to watch. There was always a pivotal gunfight where everything ground to a halt and time seemed to stand still.
A smile finally broke free on the older woman's face and she opened her arms wide in invitation. Jane skipped up the steps two at a time and stepped into the welcome embrace. "Aunt Cecilia, it's so good to see you," she whispered into her great aunt's ear. As always, Cecilia's hug felt warm and safe, like all of Jane's problems had instantly vanished into thin air.
"So," Aunt Cecilia said as she took a step back. "Let me look at you." She cast an eye over her favorite great niece and made a tsking sound. "You need to put some meat on those bones," she teased as she gripped the sides of her own black tunic and lifted her arms, holding the material out to the sides. "I've gained weight," she winked. "You just can't tell under all this heavy garb."
Jane laughed out loud. Cecilia had always chosen to wear the traditional habit, probably, Jane believed, so that everyone would know she was a nun. Otherwise, they'd never believe the joke-cracking, wise-talking, tell-it-like-it-was woman was a member of a religious order.
"You look great," Jane said, her face beaming. She'd really missed her great aunt and the talks they used to have when she was growing up. Aunt Cecilia seemed to be the only person who truly understood her.
"Don't kid a kidder, Jane. I'm old and wrinkled," Cecilia replied with a chuckle. "But enough about me; tell me about this Mr. Wonderful," she said seriously. She'd overheard her sisters talking about the new man in Jane's life and their suspicions about his existence since they'd never actually met him, but she wanted to wait and hear about him from the horse's mouth.
"I think that's my cue to bring this to Angela," Annette said as she gestured to the bag of fresh Parmesan that she carried. "She's probably wondering what's keeping me. See you both inside." Sweeping past the two women, she slipped through the door and disappeared into the house. She didn't want to stick around and listen to poor Jane talk about a man that didn't exist. Annette had given Angela hell about setting her daughter up to be tortured by their aunts and, most likely, their own mother, too.
Jane blew out a nervous breath and suddenly became very fidgety. Cecilia put two and two together and came up with one Jane without Mr. Wonderful. "Ah, I see your mother is still making matters worse by trying to help."
"You don't know the half of it," Jane whined pitifully, a recent and very vivid memory the reason for her moan to sound even more miserable. "You remember Joe Grant?"
"The kid who used to tease you mercilessly?" Aunt Cecilia asked with a slight lift of an eyebrow. Surely he wasn't the one Angela had manufactured as Jane's true love. She could still remember how upset Jane would get when she talked about all the things the young boy used to say to her. "What was it he used to call you that made you so mad?"
"Roly-poly Rizzoli," Jane replied with a groan. "I hated him."
"So, you don't hate him anymore?" Aunt Cecilia asked, knowing full-well that Jane had never actually hated Joe Grant so much as had a tiny crush on the spirited youth. She refrained from pointing out that small tidbit to her great niece. It didn't make much sense to add fuel to a smoldering fire.
"No," Jane answered truthfully, although it had taken Joe's leaving for her to have actually figured that out. "But Ma didn't know that when she set us up for a private dinner at the house."
"So, I take it that it didn't go well?"
"Surprisingly, it wasn't so bad for several minutes, but then he had to go and say something about Ma just wanting me to be happy," Jane said, just the thought of his words and nonchalant tone making her blood boil again. "I pointed out that I didn't need a man to be happy and things just kind of blew up from there."
Aunt Cecilia nodded in understanding; she'd never believed Jane needed a man to complete her. "You do realize that your grandmother is over the moon with the idea of you getting married and has already been talking about great-grandchildren." She'd tried to warn her sister that Angela had been known to exaggerate she didn't want to say lie as that would be accusing her niece of committing a venial sin but Margaret wouldn't hear of it. No, Jane's grandmother truly believed that her granddaughter had found 'the one'.
"I'm more worried about Great Aunt Clara than Mema," Jane said, figuring her grandmother would be disappointed but she'd eventually accept it and go back to loving Jane as she always had. "Great Aunts Rose and Josie, too," she added, knowing from experience that, of the five sisters, Rose and Josie almost always sided with Clara. Memory after memory of her great aunts cross-examining different victims played through her head like one of those old black and white, reel-to-reel family movies and her bravado from the day before began to slip and readied to turn tail and duck behind her crumbling wall of false security. "Maybe I should've worn my gun."
Cecilia chuckled and slung a black robed arm around Jane's shoulder. "Don't let her get to you, Jane. She's just a mean-spirited old woman." She'd been a mean-spirited girl, too, and Cecilia had finally quit trying to figure out what had triggered her sister's perpetual foul mood and had just chalked it up to the fact that some people were just born that way.
"Mean-spirited?" Jane said as she and her great aunt walked, side by side, toward the sure to be chaos. She thought mean-spirited was a bit mild but guessed it might very well be nun-speak for absolute bitch.
"Yeah, mean-spirited," Cecilia said with a wink. She stepped inside and spotted her unsuspecting niece, Roseanne Anna's daughter whose husband had just left her for a much younger woman who had more tattoos than the roster of all of Boston's professional sports teams combined - about to round the corner where Clara, Rose, and Josie were holding court. "Jane, why don't you go and see if your mother needs any help in the kitchen? I'll meet you there in a minute."
"Okay, sure," Jane replied with a nod. It would buy her a little time, too. The great aunts, a.k.a. the older generation, rarely stepped in the kitchen, except for Cecilia who always lent a hand. It was a Baglio tradition of sorts to allow the elders of the family to be relieved of any cooking duties so that they could better enjoy the reunion. Jane thought it was all just a ruse to give them more time to plan their attacks.
"Finally," Angela's voice pulled Jane from her thoughts and she looked over to see her mother stirring the biggest pot she'd ever seen. "Get over here and cut up some more of this zucchini." Angela gestured with a nod of her head toward the counter beside her. "If I stop stirring, the soup will stick to the bottom of the pot."
"Where'd you find that pot?" Jane asked as she zigzagged around various aunts and cousins on her way to her mother. She playfully bumped her hip against her Aunt Annette's and chuckled when she spied her Aunt Anita sitting at the kitchen table and wearing a disgusted face as she arranged loafs of bread on a cookie sheet. Her aunt's new nose wrinkled up in distaste just exactly like her old one had.
"It's huge, isn't it?" Angela replied, shifting an equally large spoon to her other hand. "It's Aunt Clara's," she said as she pushed to her toes to peer into the pot. "I think another cup of zucchini is all we'll need."
Jane scooped up a knife in one hand and a zucchini in another. "Is Frankie here?" She chopped off both ends of the vegetable, cut it lengthwise down the middle, and then began to slice it into small pieces. "I didn't see his car."
Angela smiled. "That's because his date drove."
Jane's eyes grew as round as one of the remaining uncut zucchinis. "Date? Frankie brought a date?"
"Yes, a date," Angela confirmed as she reached over and tossed the cut zucchini into the pot. She glanced across the room at the kitchen table and let out an exasperated sigh. "Jane, go over and show your aunt how to slice open the bread and how much butter and garlic to put on it, too." Her sister was totally useless. When Anita had ordered the bread from her hoity-toity restaurant, she hadn't known that she had to specifically request buttered garlic bread.
"But Frankie brought a "
"Date," Angela finished, her expression suddenly turning curious. "Speaking of dates, who did you bring?"
Jane swiped a kitchen towel from the counter and quickly wiped her hands. She pointed across the room at her aunt. "I'm just going to go help Aunt Anita." Tossing the towel toward her mother, she scurried away before Angela could draw a breath.
Angela caught the towel and just shook her head sadly. Returning her attention to the giant pot, she stirred the boiling liquid. At least Frankie had come through for the Rizzoli clan; and a doctor, no less.
Even Aunt Clara would have to be impressed.
Chapter 4: Take the Bull by the Horns
Jane tightened her hold on the edge of a paper plate, thankful that it was the heavy duty variety and not that cheap stuff her mother usually bought, and placed the lip of her cup in her mouth, biting down on the hard plastic edge as she reached for the handle of a sliding glass door. She shifted her dinnerware in her free hand and hooked her forefinger through the door handle, carefully pulling back just enough for her to slip through the patio door and on to the wooden deck outside. She repeated her actions to close the door behind her before she turned to look out at the crowded back yard. It looked like little Italy.
She pretended she didn't see the waving hand of her Aunt Anita motioning her over to a table filled with Anita's various children by different husbands, of course - and her children's children which was exactly how she introduced her three grandchildren who, by the way, had been instructed to call her Anita the moment they were first able to form words. Jane had already spent thirty minutes in the company of her mother's younger sister and had no intention of hearing any more about the benefits of plastic surgery and the list of procedures Jane should seriously consider.
"Jane! Over here!" Angela shouted from the other corner of the yard. All heads swiveled toward the deck, and Jane just smiled at the different faces staring back at her. She'd have to make time to at least speak to all her cousins but, for now, she just wanted to spend a little down time with her family. And to meet Frankie's date. She'd been stuck in the kitchen ever since she'd first arrived and hadn't seen hide nor hair of her brother and his mystery date.
"Jeez, this family is like one of those Chia pets. Just add water and watch it grow," Jane said as she finally made it to the Rizzoli table. Setting her plate on top of a vinyl green, white, and red Italian flag tablecloth, she slid into the chair next to her mother. It had taken her a good ten minutes to make the trek from the porch to her family's table, even though she'd plotted a course that would only take her by three other tables.
"There's nothing wrong with having a lot of family," Angela shot back, her expression appalled that Jane would even say such a thing. Family meant everything to Angela, but even she had to admit that these reunions were trying at best, especially with the infamous Baglio pride in full force as everyone tried to outdo each other. The corners of her lips twitched upward, turning her frown into a half-smile. "I'm happy to see everyone, but I'm just glad we only have to see all of them together only once a year," she finished with a full-fledged grin. A family member here and there was a good thing, but all at once and with Aunt Clara always looming in the background was definitely no bowl of cherries.
"Amen, Ange," Frank Senior said with a slight chuckle. These extended family get-togethers would probably be much smaller if they had to spend more time with one another other than at their yearly reunions. Absence really did make the heart grow fonder and, with this family, the longer the absence, the better.
"So, where's Frankie and his mystery date?" Jane asked curiously as she chased an Italian sausage across her plate. She hated plastic dinnerware.
"Hey! Where's your minestrone?" Angela said suddenly, her eyes narrowing into slits and her lips pursing together in a half pout. Frankie's whereabouts took a backseat to a much more important issue. "I made gallons of that soup so that everyone could have some."
"I didn't have enough hands, Ma. I'll get some when I'm done with this," Jane promised, although it was said half-heartedly. Her lack of hands really had been a problem but not so much as Jane's realization that she'd more than likely be eating minestrone for weeks. The amount of soup in that pot her mother had used could feed all of Boston.
Angela looked down at Jane's full plate and jabbed a finger toward its contents. "You won't want anything after you eat all that," she grumbled unhappily. "How's it going to look if my own daughter won't eat my soup?"
"Everyone loves your soup, Ma," Jane replied, smiling triumphantly as she finally snared the elusive piece of sausage with her plastic fork. "And besides, there's always room for soup."
"That's Jello," Angela said testily. She readied to give it to Jane with both barrels, but Frank intervened before their 'discussion' could get out of hand.
"It's a shame really," he started calmly, gesturing toward Jane with the tines of his plastic fork. "Jane probably won't have room for any of cousin Irene's Italian cream cake, either." He shot Angela a quick wink before continuing. "Or cousin Donna's biscotti, or cousin Bernadette's tiramisu, or cousin Mia's cannoli, or "
"Okay, okay," Jane said as she let go of the fork that was still sticking out of her sausage. The sweets at the Rizzoli family reunion were legendary and they were the one draw that could bring even the black sheep of the family out of the woodwork. She placed her knife on the edge of her plate and pushed to her feet. There was no way she was missing out on the best part of the reunion. "I'll go get some minestrone," she said as she readied to retrace her earlier steps. The return trip shouldn't take nearly as long since she'd already spoken to all of the relatives on that side of the yard.
"Be sure to bring back Frankie," Angela yelled at Jane's back. "And make sure you both have a bowl of minestrone!" Jane didn't bother turning around, but her much quieter mimicking rendition of her mother's rather strong request drew chuckles from nearby tables. It didn't escape her notice that each of her cousins had their own parent's specialty food on their plates, too.
Crossing the yard in record time, Jane spotted her grandfather and great uncles gathered around a circular table that had a giant umbrella affixed to its center, protecting the table and its occupants from the sun. She was sorely tempted to go and join them, as this was the one day of the year where the older men were left alone to fend for themselves but, more importantly, were free of their nagging wives. Jane had never seen them look so happy and envied them their day. She knew, however, that they'd more than earned it with everything they'd had to put up with on the other 364 days of the year. With one last fleeting and envious glance, she headed toward the patio door.
Once inside, Jane started for the kitchen but pulled up short when she spied her brother, pressed against a wall, his head canted to the side as he leaned toward the opening that led into the den. She smiled and sneaked up beside him.
"Who's on the chopping block now?" she spoke directly into his ear. Frankie jumped a full six inches from the floor and rounded on her the moment his feet found the ground again.
"Don't scare me like that!" he protested in a loud whisper. He nervously glanced back at the opening.
"So?" Jane asked with a devilish grin. She watched his face turn scarlet, just like the time he'd admitted that he'd let Sammy Parigi take the fall for tying a trip wire string actually at the bottom of the school stairs. It had been Sammy who'd been the intended target instead of Sister Bernadette, but Frankie had let the chubby, acne-faced youth be accused and later suspended from school for two days just the same. All because he was afraid that the real culprit, a bully named Jerry Marzone, would give him the two black eyes and fat lip that the Mafia-wanna-be had promised to deliver if Frankie ratted him out.
"Oh my God, you left your date with them?" Jane's jaw went slack and she stared at her brother in disbelief. How could Frankie throw another innocent to the wolves?
"What?" Frankie asked, sounding just as shocked as Jane. "No! She had to go to the bathroom and I'm waiting for her to get back."
Sounded plausible, Jane thought, and something she might do as well, but a trip to the bathroom in this house wasn't exactly an everyday, safe activity. "You need to distract them," she said more as a directive than a suggestion.
"Oh no," Frankie replied, his head shaking back and forth like a dog playing with his favorite chew toy. "She'll make it." His tone sounded much more confident than his demeanor. He was practically shaking like a leaf.
"Frankie, you can't leave her hanging like that," Jane started but, before she could continue, the clear tones of Aunt Clara's voice rung out and both Rizzolis leaned forward and pressed their ears against the wall.
"So, Frankie Junior tells me you're a doctor," Aunt Clara said, sounding as unimpressed as she had been when her family doctor had told her she was going to have twins. Catholic or not, she had insisted that her tubes be tied a very controversial procedure at the time the minute her unplanned daughters had left her womb. "What kind of doctor?"
"Wow, a doctor?" Jane whispered into her brother's ear, clearly impressed that Frankie had managed to bring a highly respectable date. "Nice, Frankie."
"I'm chief medical examiner for the Boston Police Department," the mystery date answered loudly, the pride evident in her voice.
Jane's eyes grew huge and she gripped Frankie's arm hard. "You brought Maura?" There wasn't time for an explanation as the inquisition on the other side of the wall continued.
"Medical examiner?" Aunt Rose asked and Jane could just imagine the somewhat disgusted frown her great aunt was wearing. She'd certainly seen it a time or two directed at both her and her mother. "You mean you're a doctor for dead people?" With just her tone, Rose could make the most admirable profession sound like the lowliest job in the world.
Jane and Frankie both let out a painful-sounding groan.
"How long have you and Frankie Junior been dating?" Aunt Clara's voice boomed again, her question right on the heels of Aunt Rose's rhetorical barb.
"Very recently," Maura returned after a moment's pause, and Jane smiled at her friend's ability to sound fairly confident with her reply, although it was the truth, or at least Jane hoped it was. Surely Maura and Frankie hadn't been seeing each other behind her back.
"I see," Aunt Clara said and so did Jane. She saw that her great aunt was readying to move in with the big guns. "Who is your family?" Clara fired point blank, her aim as true as ever.
Jane and Frankie shared an 'uh oh' look and shuffled in perfect tandem toward the entrance to the den. They stopped just before the toes of their shoes breached the opening.
"I'm adopted," Maura answered right away. "I was an only child. My father was a professor and my mother came from a wealthy family." The change in her voice cadence was dramatic and Frankie and Jane's expression deepened to more of an 'oh shit' look. They could literally hear the gnawing in Maura's stomach as the rest of the story fought its way free. "I did, however, recently meet my real father," Maura continued. "You've probably heard of him. He's Patrick "
Jane sprang out from behind her walled cover as if she'd been fired from the cannon her Aunt Clara had been strategically stuffing with ammo.
"Aunt Clara! Aunt Rose! Aunt Josie!" Jane exclaimed loudly. She pasted on one of her Aunt Anita's patented plastic smiles, minus the Botox, and stormed into the room. "I hear you've been looking for me."
Chapter 5: Just What the Doctor Ordered
"Wonder what has Vita all flustered?" Angela asked as she nibbled on a piece of garlic bread. She'd been biding her time watching the other tables until Jane returned with a bowl of minestrone and, hopefully, Frankie and Maura as well. Her cousin Vita had practically jumped from the patio deck to the ground below, stumbling momentarily when her feet had first hit the grass, before she righted herself and made a beeline for Annette's table.
"You mean more than usual?" Frank replied around a mouthful of rigatoni. He followed his wife's line of sight and watched Vita gesture animatedly back at the house and then toward their table. "Uh oh," he said, chewing with more purpose. He reached for his napkin and dabbed the corners of his mouth. "I think we got trouble."
Angela locked eyes with her sister, and even from halfway across the yard, she could tell that Frank had hit the nail right on the head. "I bet it's Aunt Clara," she said as she tossed the rest of her garlic bread on her plate and pushed to her feet.
"Of course, it's Aunt Clara," Frank said, standing to join his wife. Together, they plotted a course to intercept Annette and Vita, while trying to not let on that something was amiss. "It's always Aunt Clara," he whispered as he tugged Angela behind him, the two smiling sweetly at their various cousins along the way.
"It's Aunt Clara," Annette confirmed quietly when the Rizzolis finally made it to her table. She smiled and waved at Cousin Mario who seemed to be paying more attention to their little threesome than his own table. "Vita said all hell is about to break loose." She'd immediately dispatched the distraught Vita to the store to pick up more ice, just in case there was an injury or, more than likely, a need for some serious drinking.
Frank looked over at the patio's sliding glass door and squinted, but the glare from the sun kept him from seeing inside. "So, who'd she get?"
"Jane," Annette answered as she scanned the backyard for any sign of Aunt Cecilia. She caught a glimpse of her aunt's habit near the tent that had been set up behind the garage for the men's poker games later in the afternoon. Aunt Cecilia was the only woman allowed to play and was usually the big winner. The men always complained that she had an unfair advantage.
Frank sighed loudly and shot a look of disappointment at his wife. If she hadn't made up that line of bull about Jane's love life, their daughter wouldn't be going toe-to-toe with the meanest woman on the planet. Angela, in true Angela form, reacted immediately and reflexively went on the defensive, using an innocent expression and proclaiming her ignorance of whatever it was that she was being accused of doing.
"What?" Angela glanced from her husband to her sister. "What did I do?"
"Okay, we don't have time for this now," Annette interrupted as she grabbed her sister by the sleeve and started for the house. "We've got to get in there before Aunt Clara takes a few inches off of Jane. I didn't always used to be this short, you know."
Frank increased his stride to catch up with the two sisters, a chuckle escaping despite the very real chance that Clara had cornered his daughter and was at this very moment grilling Jane on the imaginary fiancé Angela had conjured up.
"I can't believe she let herself get caught in Aunt Clara's web," he said as the three of them stepped up onto the patio deck.
"She didn't," Annette replied, reaching for the handle of the sliding glass door and tugging it open. "Vita said Jane came out of nowhere and greeted all three aunts as if she'd been looking specifically for them and that she seemed genuinely happy to see them."
Angela and Frank exchanged a worried look before they hurriedly followed Annette into the house.
15 minutes earlier, a.k.a.: Walking into the Lion's Den
"Well, well, Jane... so you've decided to grace us with your presence," Aunt Clara said as she resettled in her chair. She smiled a devilish grin the only kind of grin she was capable of giving and folded her hands across her large, round stomach. She needed to regain control. Jane's surprise appearance and nonchalant attitude had caught Clara unaware. No one was ever happy to see her and she'd be damned if she let her niece's sudden growth of a backbone change that now. She enjoyed the effect she had on people; it was her only pleasure in life.
"Jane!" Maura exclaimed in surprise. She glanced over her shoulder at the smug look on Clara's face and then back at the blank expression of her friend. She couldn't tell whether Jane was angry, upset, or happy to see her. "When did you get here?"
Jane shifted her focus fully on Maura; she knew it was a bad idea, she knew where she was and who was sitting just feet away, but she just couldn't help herself. Maura was here with Frankie and neither one had bothered to give her a heads up. An ugly shade of green reared its head and the rest of the world fell away. "A while ago, but I certainly didn't expect to find you here."
"Why not?" Aunt Rose jumped in. "She's seeing Frankie Junior, isn't she?" she said, pausing dramatically. "Or is that just another of a long line of Rizzoli stories? Kind of like that fiancé of yours."
"They're not stories," Margaret returned, suddenly coming alive. She was always the quiet one of the bunch but not when it came to defending her grandchildren of lying. "Tell them Jane."
"I was going to tell you," Maura said, as if Rose and Margaret had never spoken. "I went to look for you yesterday, but you'd already left."
Jane seemed just as intent to concentrate solely on the mini-drama playing inside the larger one. Tilting her head to the side, she folded her arms over her chest, settling in for what was sure to be a lengthy debate. "Why didn't you call?"
"It was late?" Maura replied, her answer coming off more of a question than her intended statement of explanation. She placed one hand over the other, shifted them twice, and finally clasped them together. She was fidgeting; she never fidgeted.
"How late?" Jane called her bluff. She really hoped Maura wasn't invited to play in the afternoon poker games; otherwise, her friend would be lucky not to lose her shirt. "And why didn't you or Frankie fill me in when we had our little discussion in the morgue?"
Aunt Clara leaned forward, her interest clearly piqued. Jane was doing an admirable job of digging her own grave, without any help from Clara or any of her sisters. This was almost as much fun as being the person who routinely handled the shovel. She'd give Jane a little more rope and see if her niece hung herself before she pushed her, face first, into the freshly dug grave.
"Well," Maura said, pausing in thought. She looked at Jane, her eyes unblinking and her expression matter-of-fact, as if she were about to explain some complicated or bizarre cause of death in one of Jane's cases. "It hadn't yet been decided when we were discussing your " she stopped abruptly, her brilliant mind catching up with her mouth as she suddenly realized the consequences of mentioning Jane's fake fiancé in front of the infamous aunts. She cast a quick glance at Aunt Clara, the older woman reminding her of a coiled cobra just waiting for the right moment to strike, and hurried to come up with a suitable end to her thought. "Um your situation."
"My situation?" Jane said with a mirthless laugh. "I think that's a bit of an understatement, don't you?" Having to come up with a list of acceptable men to play the part of her fiancé at a family reunion was the mother of all nightmares, not just a situation. The memory of the horrible event triggered a more recent one. "Oh, by the way, you know the man you suggested?" she asked casually, as if it were merely something being said in passing.
Maura scrunched up her face in thought and then smiled brightly, the metamorphosis as stunning and dramatic as a caterpillar changing into a colorful butterfly. "Yes, I do remember him. Is he here, too?"
Jane had trouble remembering her own name. When Maura smiled like that, everything seemed to come to a complete and utter standstill and all Jane could do was revel in the phenomenon. "No, he's in lockup," she finally answered after a long moment. She'd barely managed to pull herself free of what she called 'the Maura effect'. "His alibi fell apart in the form of a twin."
Clara frowned at the direction the conversation was taking and opened her mouth to shoot a barb that would steer it back on course, but Maura beat her to the punch.
"Are you saying that I suggested you ask a murderer to be your fiancé for the day?" Maura was appalled, so appalled that she had no idea that she'd just mentioned a bogus fiancé out loud in front of God and Aunt Clara. Apparently, neither did Jane.
"Yes, you did. I told you there was something hinky about him," she reported with a hint of cockiness. Her sixth sense was what made her such a good detective. Her complete absorption in the conversation, however, was making her an even better grave digger.
"I'm so sorry, Jane," Maura said sincerely. "I would have never suggested "
"I knew it!" Aunt Rose shouted triumphantly, her resulting and completely obnoxious cackle coming on the heels of both her exclamation and her nieces' and nephew-in-law's shoes. Annette, Angela, and Frank rounded the corner just as Aunt Clara readied to join in, while Frankie Junior finally found the courage to peek around the wall.
"So, you not only made up a Mr. Wonderful, but you planned to bring a criminal into this house to take part in your charade. And you a detective, no less," Clara said in an overly exaggerated tone of disappointment. She even went so far as to make a tsking sound. "Face it, Jane; there isn't anyone out there who's perfect and certainly no one who'd want you." She sighed just as dramatically as she'd tsked. "It's so sad that you felt you had to make up a mystery man to hide your inability to find someone. You simply aren't relationship material, Jane."
Before Angela or Frank could move, Maura stepped forward and squared her shoulders, ready to defend her friend. If she could sit across from Hoyt and stare that monster in the face, she could certainly hold her own against a mean-spirited, old woman. "Jane is most definitely relationship material," she said passionately. "She's kind and honest," Maura looked over her shoulder and smiled at her friend, "Smart and funny, true to a fault, and absolutely gorgeous."
Clara pushed to her feet and slipped a hand to her hip, clearly intending to use her height to intimidate the smaller woman. Clutching a glass of rum and Coke, she gestured toward Jane, careful not to spill a single drop. "If she's all that, then why aren't men falling all over her and why did she " Clara paused long enough to shoot a sharp look at Angela and to point her gnarled finger accusingly. "Feel the need to conjure up some imaginary fiancé if Jane's such an amazing catch? It's so pathetic that they had to resort to playing games to hide the fact that Jane's not in a relationship. In fact, I doubt that she ever has been."
"Okay, so maybe I've never " Jane began quietly, each of her aunt's words cutting her like a razor sharp knife across her skin, but she halted mid-sentence when Maura slipped a hand into her own. She instantly felt grounded again.
"Jane and I are in a relationship," Maura said, drawing a raised brow from Jane and a slack jaw from Angela. "We're lovers." And to prove her point, Maura turned toward her friend and gently cupped Jane's face in the palm of her hand. Smiling sweetly, she pressed their lips together.
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," Clara said, crossing herself as she watched her great niece kiss another woman. She'd never seen this coming and, for once, was completely shocked at the 'abomination' that was playing out in front of her. Baglio women married and had children or, if not, they became nuns or simply lived their lives as spinsters. They certainly didn't kiss other women on the mouth unless they were kin and Maura Isles was no blood relative.
Her eyes grew wide as Jane deepened the kiss and, try as she may, she simply couldn't look away. There just had to be a perfectly good reason for the lip-lock. Maybe Jane's friend was in need of resuscitation and Jane, being a well-trained police officer, was merely doing her civic duty. Yes, that had to be the reason.
"Looks like Jane's found Mr. Wonderful, after all," Cecilia said, breaking the dead silence with a chuckle. She'd hurried across the yard when she'd spied Annette, Angela, and Frank rush into the house and had arrived just in time to hear Maura defend her niece. Looking across the room, she gave Clara a firm nod and winked at her sister, confirming Clara's growing concern that CPR was not the reason for the lip lock between Jane and Frankie Junior's date.
A stunned Jane had only taken a few seconds to respond to Maura, closing her eyes and deepening the kiss to the sound of loud gasps and, just now, breaking glass. Prying open an eye, she spotted her Aunt Clara sprawled on the floor, unconscious, a double old-fashioned glass scattered in pieces all around her aunt's body.
What a time for 'Miss I Can Never Tell a Lie' Maura to suddenly decide to cast truth to the wind.
Chapter 6: Let the Chips Fall Where They May
"I wish I could have seen the look on Aunt Clara's face," Jane said with a light chuckle as she used the back of her hand to swipe away tears of laughter that had trickled down her cheeks. She felt a little guilty for laughing but, since Aunt Clara had survived her fainting spell relatively intact, she didn't feel all that remorseful.
"I had my back to her," Maura returned with a smile; although, it wouldn't have mattered if she'd been directly facing Aunt Clara. She'd been too busy enjoying the warmth of Jane's lips against her own to notice anything else. She did, however, see the look on Angela's face when Jane had ended their kiss. "Your mother looked a bit like a fish out of water afterward," Maura pointed out, having actually studied the phenomenon firsthand.
When she was six, her pet goldfish had somehow flipped out of its bowl and Maura had watched, fascinated, at the scene that was taking place: how the fish took in a gulp of air or two before it panicked and began to flounce around, its mouth opening faster and faster and wider and wider again and again. Maura had come to its aid when she'd realized the dire consequences of leaving it out of the water, just as she had when she'd finally noticed that Jane's great aunt had fainted and hit her head on the floor.
"Too bad that fall didn't knock some sense into Aunt Clara," Jane said around a spoonful of her mother's soup, not wanting to think about what Angela would have to say once the shock had worn off. After all the theatrics had died down and Aunt Clara had been sent to bed with the same disposition she'd been born with, Jane and Maura had been instructed to get a bowl of soup and anything else they might like and go sit outside at the Rizzoli table. Jane's mother and father, as well as Frankie Junior, were, at the moment, noticeably absent, although they had promised to join Jane and Maura later for dessert.
"Sorry, Jane, I guess I made things worse," Maura said apologetically as she aimlessly stirred her spoon around in her uneaten soup. She still couldn't wrap her analytical mind around the reason why she'd felt kissing Jane was the next, most logical step, other than it was something she'd always thought about doing, dreamed about doing, actually. Had her subconscious pushed her too far? Had she allowed her curiosity and personal desires to take over her good sense?
And the whole aftermath was odd, really, when she thought about it: how Angela's generation had pretended as if the kiss had never happened, while Jane's generation, when they'd heard about it, had given both her and Jane high fives and congratulations on finally getting the best of Aunt Clara. Not a single one of them had asked if the relationship was real or imagined or even seemed to really care. Cousin Vita had given Jane a kiss on the cheek and a bottle of unopened wine the really good stuff, too.
So, here they were, just the two of them, surrounded by a plate with a fork standing straight up, stuck in the center of a piece of Italian sausage, another plate half-filled with rigatoni, a third one with a piece of half-eaten garlic bread sitting atop a mound of uneaten food and an enormous pink elephant sitting at the head of the table. Neither was quite sure how to broach the subject of how 'the kiss' had made them feel all warm and gooey inside.
"Hello, you two," Aunt Cecilia greeted as she plopped down in a chair beside Jane. "You really created quite a stir today." She reached over and snagged a panelle from her niece's plate. "I am so glad I didn't miss this year's reunion. I haven't had this much fun in decades."
Maura looked at the nun as if she'd lost her mind. Surely a woman of the cloth didn't condone their actions, or rather her actions. Jane did kiss her back, though, and that confused Maura even more than her highly unusual, totally out of character, and completely spontaneous response to Aunt Clara's verbal attack on Jane. For some reason, as totally illogical as it seemed now, latching on to lips she'd admired from afar and, as of late - and quite often - from a very close proximity, had seemed like the perfect thing to do.
It had certainly felt perfect.
"I'm just glad everything turned out all right," Jane said in relief. "Good thing Aunt Clara's head is so hard." She scooped up another spoonful of Angela's soup and smiled. Her mother could definitely whip up a mean pot of minestrone.
"Oh, don't worry about Clara," Cecilia said with a shake of her head. "Once, when we were kids, she accidently got hit in the head with a baseball bat and the bat broke. It had been cracked, but still " she laughed and took a bite of panelle. "So, how long have you two been together?" she asked between chews of the fried Italian treat.
"Together?" Jane replied, her voice unnaturally high, not at all like her usual smooth, gravelly tones. She choked on her soup. "Together-together?" she forced around a cough, needing clarification that her great aunt the nun had just intimated that she was in a sexual relationship with another woman and that, if she were, her aunt the same nun was okay with it.
Cecilia gently patted her niece on the back and smiled. "Yes, together-together. I've been wondering when you'd finally figure it all out." All these years she'd kept tabs on Jane, hearing this and that about how her niece hadn't had time for dating and how she was married to her job. In Cecilia's mind, there was only one job that you were truly married to and, even though she was happily employed in it, she'd never seen it as part of Jane's path. No, Jane was meant for solving crime and living happily in a loving relationship, a relationship Cecilia had always known would revolve around another woman. "How'd your mother take it when you told her?"
"Told her?" Jane asked, her breathing improving but her vocabulary taking a noticeable downhill turn as it seemed she was only capable of parroting the last word or words of Cecilia's queries. She looked across the table to Maura for help, but Maura was distracted and too busy recalling all the times she and Jane had blown off dates to simply spend time with one another. Cecilia's questions had unlocked the clueless side of Maura's brain and had poured ice cold water on that part of her brain she seldom explored.
"Oh, come on," Cecilia said, her tone dripping with the equal parts of surprise and sarcasm. "You're kidding, right?" She'd overestimated Jane's detective skills and had assumed that her niece had finally made the rainbow connection. If Jane had thought the kiss was all an act, her niece was sadly mistaken. It hadn't been Jane sitting front row center in the couple of school plays Cecilia managed to attend, but it should have been. Jane was a horrible actress and could never have pulled off an Oscar winning moment like that kiss. Cecilia opened her mouth to point out the obvious but was distracted by a shout from across the yard.
"Cecilia, if you want in on this hand you better snap to it!" Clara's husband, Joe, yelled. He held a deck of cards high in the air and waved at his sister-in-law, motioning her over to an empty chair at his table. His afternoon had gotten considerably better now that his wife was out of commission for, what was very likely, the rest of the day.
"Hold your horses, Joe, I'm on my way!" she shouted back, pushing to her feet and popping the last of the panelle into her mouth. She chewed with renewed purpose and brushed her hands together to knock off any stray crumbs. "Look, I'm only going to say this once," she said in a serious tone, the same one she'd used when Jane had graduated high school and she'd told her niece to always follow her dreams and not to let anyone discourage her or get in the way of what she truly wanted. "You two need to wake up and smell the coffee," she said sternly and without a hint of her trademark humor; she gave Jane and Maura a no-nonsense look before she turned to take off across the yard, dodging tables and chairs that stood in her way. She looked like a barrel racing horse weaving around obstacles, her black veil stretched out behind her resembling a wind sock on a blustery day.
"Why does she want us to smell coffee?" Maura asked after a moment's pause. Cecilia's completely random and totally off-the-wall suggestion had caught her attention and held it. "Other than stimulating our olfactory receptors, I really don't see the point."
"She didn't mean to literally smell coffee," Jane explained, grateful to engage in another of those inane conversations she sometimes had with Maura. It would allow her time to absorb what her aunt had said. Piloting back to the land of denial would be much more difficult now that Aunt Cecilia had taken a turn at the helm and had expertly steered her into uncharted waters.
"Then why would she say that?" Maura asked, confusion etched on her face. She looked so cute when she was so perplexed and Jane had to struggle to stay on topic.
"It's just one of those clichés. You know, like the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree," Jane replied. She watched Maura's face turn even cuter and wished she had come up with something Maura might have heard before and actually understood.
"Of course it doesn't," Maura supplied helpfully, a small smile gracing her face. She might not get the reference, but she most definitely understood the science behind it. "Not unless there's a strong wind blowing and, even then, it's doubtful that an acorn would travel too great of a distance."
Jane closed her eyes and groaned pitifully. This day was not at all turning out how she'd expected it to when she'd awakened that morning. She'd gone from almost jubilant at nailing Ben Martin in her murder case, to filled with dread at having to attend the reunion, to happy at seeing her great Aunt Cecilia again, to anger which she now recognized as jealousy at hearing Maura's voice and realizing her brother and best friend had plotted behind her back, to chivalrous at jumping to the aid of her friend, to sheer wonderment at having Maura's lips pressed so gently against hers and, finally, to a sense of pure euphoria as the kiss turned passionate. Cecilia had been right about her. All these years, she'd been living in the dark with the shades pulled down low.
"Are you okay, Jane?" Maura asked, all thoughts of clichés and their supposed meaning replaced with a deep concern for Jane's well-being. She reached across the table and took Jane's hand into her own. "Is it something you ate?"
Jane opened her eyes and focused on their joined hands. She felt as if she'd been riding a rollercoaster of ups and downs all afternoon and had finally rounded that last turn where the car would slow to a leisurely pace and take its sweet time to cover the short distance to the end of the ride, the perfect culmination to an exhilarating experience. Was this that moment for her and Maura? She lifted her eyes and met Maura's worried gaze.
"Why did you kiss me?" she asked softly, finally voicing the question that had been on both their minds and banishing the elephant from the table. Maura could have done a number of things none of them as effective as kissing her, of course. "And what made you come here today after all the horror stories you've heard about the Baglio reunions?"
"I couldn't let you go alone," Maura replied. Her fidgeting was back but, this time, it was more along the lines of playing handsie with Jane. "And the kiss just kind of happened," she said with a half-shrug, her cheeks turning rosy under Jane's close attention. "I didn't mean to embarrass you."
"You didn't embarrass me." Jane smiled reassuringly and squeezed Maura's hand.
"No," Jane said as she eased her other hand on top of Maura's. "You didn't embarrass me one bit." Made her warm and tingly, caused her to momentarily forget her own name, and confused the hell out of her, but embarrassment never once entered into play.
"So, what does this mean?" Maura whispered. "For us?" she added hopefully.
"It means " Jane began but was interrupted by the sound of someone clearing her throat. She immediately recognized the source; her mother had the worst timing.
"Am I the last to know?" Angela asked as she slid into the chair vacated by the elephant. "A mother should be first, you know," she said in a hurt tone. "I gave birth to you, took care of you when you were sick, raised and nurtured you your entire life and this is the thanks I get?"
"Ma," Jane managed to get out before Angela could utter her 'well, that's a fine how-do-you-do' line under her breath. "We didn't even know." Jane glanced at Maura and saw an almost imperceptible nod; they were on the same page.
Angela sat up straight and glared at her daughter. "This isn't time for jokes, Jane. I'm being serious here."
"So am I," Jane returned, angling in her chair to face her mother but keeping a tight hold on Maura's hand. "We had no idea."
"You expect me to believe that after that that kiss?" Angela would've rolled her eyes if this hadn't been so important and she hadn't been so hurt. The kiss her daughter had shared with Maura Isles had been sweet and loving, passionate even. They both seemed so comfortable in each other's arms.
"I know it's hard to believe, Ma, but it's true. Maura and I had no idea," Jane said honestly, although now that their feelings had been brought to light a big, honking bright light she couldn't believe they'd been so blind.
Angela studied her daughter carefully. There was no sign of any nervous ticks, no darting of dark eyes, and no hesitation in speech. Jane was being completely honest with her. Her lips crinkled up into a smile. "So, I am the first to know."
Jane chuckled lightly and shared a smile with Maura. "Yes, Ma, you are."
Angela's grin grew and she extended a hand to Maura. "Well, in that case, welcome to the family, Maura," she said, shaking the younger woman's hand. Jane had finally found someone Angela actually liked.
"Hey Annette! Anna! Anita!" she suddenly shouted at her sisters, causing Maura to jump and Jane to shake her head at what she knew would follow.
"Get over here! I want you to meet Jane's girlfriend!" Angela paused dramatically. "She's a doctor!"
Bills changed hands as the entire backyard erupted in laughter.
It was just another typical Baglio reunion.
The End until the next reunion
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