Love, Laughter, and Happily Ever Afters Collection

Love, Laughter, and Happily Ever Afters Collection by Violet Duke Read Free Book Online

Book: Love, Laughter, and Happily Ever Afters Collection by Violet Duke Read Free Book Online
Authors: Violet Duke
Tags: Fiction, General, Romance, Contemporary, Collections & Anthologies
dreaded okra. A pang of longing swept over her again. How she’d love to make just one more phone call to her mom to chat about the merits of harvesting sweet fruits versus bitter veggies.
    “Gotta warn you,” Rob said as they headed toward the house and passed by a prominent Mother-and-Child stone statuette. “Mama’s really big into the whole Madonna thing, so don’t be too shocked when we get inside.”
    Elizabeth understood the allure of religion and knew how prayerfully many Catholics regarded the Virgin Mother. She gave him a solemn nod and walked through the backdoor.
    Rob wasn’t lying. There were Madonna images everywhere… The pop singer Madonna. On refrigerator magnets. Tacked to the pantry door. A huge glossy poster of the singer, circa 1984, dressed in white lace and ruffles in the foyer.
    Rob nodded. “See. She’s almost a groupie. ‘Like a Virgin’ is still her favorite song.”
    Elizabeth stood in place and laughed.
    “What?” he said. “Some people are Elvis fanatics and my dad used to think the Beatles were the best band since—”
    “No, Rob. I-I just thought you meant your mom was really into the Holy-Mary-Mother-of-God Madonna, not the Kabbalah-practicing-ex-wife-of-Guy-Ritchie Madonna.”
    Now he laughed. “Well, she thinks highly of them both, but none of us are real clear on the Virgin Mother’s singing voice, so…”
    Their gazes met and the strangest thing happened. A look passed between them—a knowing, conspiratorial look—one tinged with laughter and camaraderie. Elizabeth’s heart leapt.
    A lanky guy, who could only be Rob’s younger brother Tony, peered around the corner at them. He’d been a sophomore when they were high school seniors and had grown about seven inches since she’d last seen him. He stepped forward. “Roberto!” he said.
    “Antonio!” Rob said back with raised eyebrows.
    “Okay, let’s cut the crap,” Tony said. “Promise to call me Tony tonight. No more taking Mama’s side like you did yesterday.”
    “Golden Rule, bro,” Rob said to him.
    “Yeah, I know.” Tony slapped his back and turned to Elizabeth. “Hey, Lizzy. Or—sorry—Mama said it was Elizabeth now. Great to have you here.”
    “You’ve got to meet my wife Maria-Louisa. She’s in the basement with the kids but they’ll be up any minute.” And he launched into a story about something one of his boys did in school last month with a jar of black ants…and how the teacher had been wary of him ever since…and how the woman must surely be counting the hours until school got out for the summer.
    Another gabby Gabinarri.
    Then, before Elizabeth knew what was happening, she got tossed into a whirling, swirling tornado of gabby Gabinarris. A pack of them—four, no five children—emerged from the basement and descended upon Tony and Rob and her, too, followed by a petite woman about Tony’s age (Maria-Louisa, no doubt) with a bright smile and, evidently, an unlimited supply of energy.
    “Time for dinner,” the family’s matriarch called from the kitchen. And, at those words, the tornado spun toward the dining room.
    Elizabeth looked long and hard at Tony’s wife and her pounding heart eased at the sight. That must be heaven, 3-D and in full color. Being the mother to a troupe of exuberant children who loved her unconditionally, and whom she could love in return. When Elizabeth was around kids, all of her self-consciousness drifted away. Children were real and open and honest. They didn’t hide their emotions or play games with hers. She bit her lip. If only immaculate conceptions were possible in this modern age.
    “Elizabeth,” Rob and Tony’s mother said. “Please sit here.” She pointed to a chair across from Rob and in between two of the Gabinarri youngsters: A dark-haired, giggling Camilla and a sandy-haired, hiccupping Sammie.
    “Hi!” Sammie said to her. Hiccup. “I’m five.” Hiccup. He covered his mouth, his eyes bugging out with

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