Loving Gigi

By: Ruth Cardello

Chapter One

“Where’s your uniform?” a sharply dressed blonde woman in a black pants suit with a stark white shirt barked.

Gigi Bassano froze in the doorway of the kitchen. She had hoped to slip through, unnoticed, but the impatient woman before her had spotted her instantly. Gigi cursed the simple, blue cotton slacks and plain white blouse she’d worn. Just my luck. I look like staff. She would have dressed more formally, but that would have required admitting to herself she wanted to attend the wedding.

From the moment she’d received the first invitation to this ridiculous, quadruple island shindig, she’d told herself she wasn’t interested. She didn’t belong there. She wasn’t an Andrade; she was a Bassano. The bastard child of a man who had died eleven years earlier. Some children heard fairy tales of maidens meeting princes as bedtime stories; Gigi’s father had read his young daughter newspaper articles highlighting the achievements of her brothers. He’d always said he would introduce her to them one day, and they would love her as he did.

Her father had died before keeping that promise. Many of her memories of him had faded as the years passed, but the pain of his departure remained.

Gigi could have forgiven him for having two families. She loved him enough to pardon that weakness. What had been inexcusable, however, had been the ache he’d cultivated inside her for a family who had turned out to be nothing like he had described them.

Gigi had only seen her brother Gio in person one time, but that was more than enough. He had come to collect their father’s body from Venice. Gigi had overheard him speaking to her mother. He’d treated Leora as if she were nothing and had ended the conversation by threatening to take their home if her mother ever spoke of her relationship with Gio Sr.

Witnessing that exchange had shaken Gigi. Not only had her father left her, but he had lied to her as well. There was no family waiting to meet her. And the disgust Gigi had heard in her eldest half-brother’s tone when he had spoken to her mother had filled her with shame. A deep, manifesting fear had taken root in the young woman she’d been.

Her mother was nothing but a rich man’s mistress.

She was the irrelevant child, not even worth a mention.

It even rocked her pride in her Venetian heritage. Born Gigia, Gigi Anglicized her name. She didn’t care that it made her sound more masculine. From that day on, she’d called herself Gigi and sought to distance herself from what she couldn’t understand.

She told her mother she wanted to study in England and made a good argument for the merits of a private boarding school. Back then she’d been innocent to the burden her request would place on her mother. She had no idea the expense her mother already had by trying to maintain the palazzo they lived in. Her young eyes hadn’t noticed the furniture and the paintings slowly disappearing as her mother sold them off to finance Gigi’s education.

Leora Bassano had worked two jobs for as long as Gigi could remember, but it wasn’t until recently that Gigi had begun to understand why. Without complaint, her mother had sacrificed so Gigi could have more.

Part of Gigi wanted to crawl back onto her mother’s lap and beg her to forgive her. I’ve spent so many years as ashamed of her as I’ve been of myself. Am I wrong to judge her? I know my mother is a good woman. She loves me completely, unconditionally.

Why can’t I love the same way?

Part of her wanted to shake her mother for never demanding more from her father or from her daughter. Why hadn’t Leora fought for the man she loved? Why had she accepted the choices a young and angry Gigi had made?

And why did she continue to keep their palazzo on the Grand Canal? Why not sell it or at least wipe all memory of him from it?

When asked, her mother always said she’d loved Gio, and she would always love the home he’d given her. Photos of Gio’s American sons were still scattered throughout every room as if they were part of her own family. The sight of those photos sickened Gigi.

Her brothers didn’t care for either of them any more than her father had.

Trying to explain that to her mother, though, was an act of futility. A few years ago, Gigi had threatened to stop visiting the palazzo until her mother disposed of the photos, but Leora had refused. She’d merely said, “This is your home, but it is mine as well. You are free to come and go. Home is not a cage; home is a place you leave when you must . . . and return to as often as your heart draws you back.”

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