Mio Fratellino Romero


romero_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Mio Fratellino Romero
Synopsis An awkward family reunion.
Date November 7, 2008

Piccoli's Delicatessen

Everything about Piccoli's is welcoming. There's a large, cheerful neon sign mounted on the roof, the interior is brightly lit and spotlessly clean, and the old-fashioned decor is more reminiscent of mother's kitchen than a successful business. Since the doors opened in 1946, Piccoli's has been best known for pastrami, hot dogs, corned beef, and salami. The wait can sometimes be a little long, but the prices are reasonable and the food is always worth it.

Working Friday evenings is a mixed bag. Yes, it means that one is busy on the single most important night for dating and the like in New York City, but 1) it means never having to try to find a reservation on a Friday night, and 2) people try to impress their dates with big tips. Romero Laudani has given up trying to figure out why people bring their dates to the Italian equivalent of a greasy spoon and then try to impress them with tips. Americans. Go figure.

It -is- Friday night, and he's been working for a few hours now. He's not a great cook, but one needn't be a great cook in order to slap together a sandwich. He's polite, efficient, and a good looking kid. That's enough to keep him employed. He's working the register now, ringing up sales between smearing buns and bread with mayonnaise and spicy mustard, between slicing capicola, pastrami and mortadella. My tip jar runneth over, he dryly comments to himself at one point, glancing at the glass bell with a little sign reading, 'Tips Appreciated, Thank You :)'. And there's a redhead in the corner from NYU who's been watching him whenever her date looks away. Promising.

The door swings inward, its window flashing ambient blue from the evening outside, the bell above tinkling a cheerful heraldry. It shuts behind a young man who doesn't step further inward before he looks around the dinner patronage and employees, pale eyes forgetting to blink despite the lingering chill rimming lids, lashes, and permeating a nose that already feels somewhat stuffy.

Clad in a canvas jacket pulled over a blue hoodie — or perhaps two, hard to tell how many layers he has his limbs jammed into — he looks the part of a college student, interchangeable even down to the handful of distinctive traits: tall, athletic, sanguine complexion gone pale with cold, aquiline features sharp around a full mouth and hair cropped close to his skull. A book under his arm. Teodoro makes a pretty good stranger. It's a skill worth cultivating.

But recognition registers the instant he sees Romero. Rocks through his mind sudden, volcanic, rumbling out the screeching notes and burning, toxic colors of countless memories that just as quickly wilt and whiten into a hiccough of ash. Baby brother looks good. Healthy. Wetly, he breathes in through his nose. Soldiers up to the counter just as the girl in the woollen skirt finishes her order. He says: "Buona sera."

This is his job, and thus Romero does not have the luxury of running away, or reaching through his own chest and pulling himself out of a young woman in Los Angeles or Helsinki. He recognizes the newcomer instantly, and stiffens. But he doesn't so much as ask his coworker to take the register so he can go out back for a smoke. That would be acknowledging too much that his brother affects him the way he does. Romero has cultivated an air of apathy for years, and the stiffening is all the flap he'll allow for now.

Without looking his brother in the eye, he pretends this is any other customer. "Buona sera, signore," he says, handing the girl's order off to the heavyset man in the apron behind him. "Can I help you this evening?" Perfectly pleasant and professional, not so much as a hint of recognition on his face now that he's shed himself of the stiffness. He thinks he's doing okay here.

A skill worth cultivating. A skill worth cultivating, indeed. Teo's simultaneously of two or three different reactions to the one that Romero gives him, or lack thereof. Disappointed, inevitably, but he was braced for that much; a little bit, absurdly, proud of his younger brother's self-discipline. "One coffee, large, per favore. And what time do you get off work today?" There's no lengthy explanation, no mention of Helena, Alexander, nor of Romero's earlier overtures toward the categorical terrorist faction. He's here.

Context and practicality are irrelevant and simultaneously self-explanatory at the same time. Teo's staring a little, he knows. It's slightly rude, but hard to help: the years between ages fifteen and nineteen had stretched Romero's frame out from a boy to a bigger one, when Teo had last seen him in China; now he is, for most purposes and intents, a man. His wallet is pulled up in his hand.

Romero's overtures toward the faction were made because what he truly wants is to find a place for himself, a family like the one he lost. The fact that his brother is involved in said group is almost a deal-breaker. "Caffe venti," he says, pretending not to have heard the question. The alternative was to inform his brother that he doesn't swing that way — which has too much potential for publicly humiliating a customer and getting himself canned.

The coffee is produced in short order, tall and black in a white paper cup waxed on the inside. Romero is so thoughtful as to slide a corrugated cardboard sleeve around the middle of the cup and warn, "Careful, it's hot," as he hands it off, still not meeting Teo's eyes. He rattles off the price. Get the transaction over with and Teo out of the store. That's Rom's plan.

Teo tends to fuck up Rommy's plans. It's been that way since they were kids. He'd half been expecting the gay dig. God knows he's received enough of them these past few weeks. Figured his sibling wouldn't, though. Couldn't. Job, practicality, too smart for that or doubtful Teo would go with it and besides— they're already drawing a few looks from Romero's co-workers, passing glances hitching short and scattering into subtle double-takes, shaken off the next moment when neither Laudani brother behaves as such.

After all, a blonde girl had told Romero so before. They look alike. Al hadn't even questioned it. "Hel wants you, fratellino." he says, after a moment, studying his brother's averted face in the quiet that follows the tinkle and crack of his own heart doing that again. Small red fragments. He hands money over, then pulls his book out from under his arm to gesture at the window. "I'll wait over there."

He does.

The word that Romero utters under his breath when Teo walks away is enough to earn him a sharp warning look from his boss. There isn't so much to be done about it, though. Rom can't really kick out a patron for being his brother, and his boss's look becomes one of 'deal with it and don't let it disturb your work again' before long, because Romero's dark glances keep being cast in Teo's general direction as the evening wears on. At last he declares, "I'm on lunch," slaps together a sandwich of thin-sliced Polish ham, shaved roast beef, capicola and braunschweiger on half a loaf of thick black Russian pumpernickel (a Romero specialty that spans half of the European continent), and tosses his apron into the back room before carrying his plate over to the table where Teo sits, yanking out a seat and dropping into it without ceremony. He speaks Italian, so as not to disturb more of the patrons than he must. "<What do you want?!>"

Granted, the heat in that question is enough to elicit a few looks; from the redhead, from the Jamaican gentleman prodding through his ravioli a table over. Teo looks up with something like sincere startlement when his brother arrives, his book in his hands. He'd been focusing so hard on focusing that he'd actually, technically, managed to focus. It brought vague relief to the lazer-eyed murder being lanced his way from the counter, and eventually he succeeded in absorbing a few stanzas of Gluck's poetry.

Which he proceeds to forget instantly. "<I—>" It's weird how quickly he falls back into the old dialect. Sicilian Italian; not even the handful of those who trace their roots back to the old country recently enough to speak the national tongue would entirely understand.

"<What? I want—>" He's never been able to answer that question in his life. Not really. Changed his major seven times throughout college, sailed the Atlantic, and returned to a bombed city he resents for its weather and monochrome austerity. The things he does know, he can't bring himself to name. "<I want you to consider Helena's offer,>" he blurts, finally. "<She's planning something big, soon. She could use you.>"

"<Then she ought to be coming to me herself,>" says Romero, "<and not sending you. She's sending you because she doesn't trust me to do the right thing when I don't want to be around you, isn't she?>" Lasers have nothing on the intensity of his stare. Romero knows that people are looking. He simply has to get this out. "<I would have left this city the moment I found out you were here, if I did not care about her cause. The fact that I'm willing to be within a hundred miles of you should tell her something. Or maybe not, since she doesn't give a damn what's between us as long as we work together when we have to.>" He hefts his sandwich, takes a large bite and chews angrily. If the cows and pigs that gave their lives for his meal were not already dead, they would likely keel over from the toxicity of his rage.

Hate is a pressure against Teo's skin, both flat and edged, constriction against his ribs and a squeaky contusion in his windpipe. He watches as his brother hurls the sentences out one after another like knives, each one of them unerring in their aim despite however clouded the eye that guides them.

"<I asked to be the one,>" he says, his voice tinged with something like desperation or misery. His eyes drop to his book. His head starts to hurt a little, a rolling pounding that seeds nausea in the ear and aches behind your face. Or inside Teo's. He still hates those plates bolted into his skull. "<I'm glad you didn't leave. And that you're well.

"<I was wondering what happened in China when—>" — knives had torn through his shirt, wielded by unseen assailants with intent to maim and perhaps eventually to kill, from the distance of a tesseract away. Teo's fingers tighten on his book; he closes it. The last poem is Vespers. In your extended absence, you permit me / use of earth, anticipating / some return of investment. I must report / failure in my assignment. "<But you can do it with others, now,>" he says, thinly. "<Using your gift.>"

Hate is the only constant in Romero Laudani's life. He has fed it, nursed it, let it grow into a driving force. Is it the only thing that drives him? No… but it is certainly the greatest thing that keeps him going, a reason to wake up in the morning when he's found nothing else in the last several years to keep him going.

"<Your choice,>" says Romero. "<I can't stop you from being here. I can't stop you from being a part of this group. I have few choices. If I want to do the right thing, I must put up with you. But I must know, fratello, what is in it for you?>" He doesn't even look up from his food as he speaks. "<Trying to impress a girl? Or is it just your penchant for mindless violence?>

"<In China? I got in a lot of fights in China. The lady I was escorting liked to see men fight for her honor. She had little.>" He snorts softly. "<It is no gift. It is a curse. But for all that I am damned, it does not mean that people like me should suffer for that which was no fault of our own.>"

That isn't a question to answer. Romero hadn't expected one, designed it to be rhetorical and unkind; the concatenation of his own rationalizations and the selection of possible options made it so, leaves his brother wondering if Romero could really think that or if he's just saying it, if the bedrock of this hate is some toxifying carcass of the love that used to be there or, perhaps worse, is there still. Suffocating. Maybe there's no difference, or what difference there is would be of no consequence.

If there could be something worse, it would be this: Teo doesn't know how to answer. He stares at the younger man for a protracted moment, then down. There's half a coffee ring peeking out from his saucer, under the empty mug. It smiles up at him, bleak with conspiracy. "<There's no mindless violence anymore,>" he answers, eventually. He sounds stiff. He couldn't make himself less so if he tried. Doesn't bother. "<We defend ourselves and those who are unable to do so. Most recently, Helena's started what she calls the miracles project.

"<Using your abilities for the greater good, discreetly but publically. She thinks you could help with distributing supplies to the homeless and deprived. I know you can do more than that.

<"This project will require moving people long distances and quickly, so HomeSec or the Company don't catch on and>" he still has that mouth on him: "<lock our asses up. If you can pull others through, now, you would be the ideal hub of movement. You'd be a blessing,>" Teo concludes, knowing it contradicts the younger man's words, albeit only inobtrusively, but he's ever unwilling to leave his brother to think that of himself. That he's damned.

Good. His words hit home. Some stifled part of Romero may be screaming at the whole for those words, but Romero has become good at not listening to that small part. Is he just saying it? No. Romero has sincerely believed all this time that his brother was just that sort of person, because once he was, or was close enough to it that it had devastating, world-shattering results for his little brother.

But the subject of their personal relationship seems, for the moment, to have been dropped. And that, as far as Romero is concerned, is the ideal.

"<I can do these things. I have to know a person well in order to reach them this way. But I am sure there are ways to work with this. I will be happy to discuss it with Helena.>"

"<And she'll be happy to discuss it with you,>" Teo replies swiftly. This is better. Talking about this is better. His hands curl slightly on his book and on his sweater sleeve, as if in reflex against a cold that the profitable combination of central heating and hot caffeine had long since staved off. Long fingers straighten again the next moment, flexing, as he might have done smoothing out soreness after hitting somebody in the face, once. This isn't that. Restless, before he reaches into his pocket to find a pen. "<I'll bring you in next week.

"<Whenever you're ready. I have a cellphone number I can give you.>" Letterforms on napkin, stark black ink sinking into the grain, the nib carefully controlled that it might leave an impression without tearing the delicate layers of tissue. He clicks the pen shut with a thumb, a crisp noise, deft motion. Pushes the paper toward his brother. "<I work at a few schools and have studies, but you can reach me almost any time,>" he says, trying on a smile.

It seems to fit, but falters in a moment. "They've grown in," he observes, suddenly lapsing into English. Reaches up to indicate the eyebrows set above Romero's darker stare with a long, hesitant hand, grasping more at humor than at flesh. Great bushy things, not unlike Teo's own. The one thing they inherited from Padre. "Finally."

Romero knows that he's about as likely to use that phone number as he is to perform brain surgery on himself (and possibly less likely), but he accepts the napkin and crumples it as he tucks it away in a pocket. "<Whatever,>" is his most eloquent response.

The comment about his eyebrows, however, causes his eyes to narrow. He is too tightly controlled to slip from Italian — he doesn't want anybody to know what they're saying, and considering how many of his coworkers speak the language, it's in his best interest to keep things quiet and quick. "<They grew in years ago,>" he says. "<And I fail to believe you did not notice them then.>" The remnants of the sandwich are stuffed into his mouth, chewed, swallowed quickly. "<I have to go back to work,>" he pronounces, and stands, stepping away toward the counter to resume his daily responsibilities.

"Addio, fratellino," comes the murmur at his back. The slender tome of Gluck is flipped over the back of Teo's hand, tucked back in underneath his arm. He swallows a lump and rises to go, chair legs scratching tile beneath him, his gaze welded to Romero's back. The sight of it stays with him long after Teo's gone; he had seen it long before he had even come in, under the bell chime, now more of a tolling. He has friends to see, wearing the kind of grin that hurts inside your teeth.

Louise Gluck

In your extended absence, you permit me
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report
failure in my assignment, principally
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come
so often here, while other regions get
twelve weeks of summer. All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.

November 7th: Killing Business
November 7th: Horrible Company
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