WARNING: This poem is hardcore hurt/comfort. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes extensive crying, bloody clothes, reference to an offstage murder, traumatic grief, loss of opportunity to retire, carrying, (nonsexual same-sex) showering together, discussion of responsibilities, loss of appetite, loneliness, nausea, acute stress reaction, minor medical details, worry about complicated grief, and other angst. People with recent bereavement or a history of complicated grief may wish to think twice about reading this one. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you want to read. It marks a change in Cuoio's household, so skipping it would leave somewhat of a gap.
"The Price You Pay for Love"
[Saturday, August 2, 2014]
The first sign of trouble
that Cuoio saw came when
Pomarola stumbled under
the pergola and flung herself
on Chiara, sobbing her heart out.
He thought she might have gotten
bad news from family or friends,
but then he saw that her peach gown
was blotched with darker red stains.
Cuoio waited just long enough for
the sobs to slow down, then
asked, "Are you bleeding?"
Pomarola looked down
at the wreck of her dress.
"It's not mine," she said,
and burst into tears again.
All right, if she wasn't bleeding,
that made it a little less urgent.
He didn't ask if she was hurt,
because obviously she was.
He'd find out why soon enough.
In the next lull, Pomarola said,
"Dantel is dead. We went to
a concert. Somebody just -- just
walked into our balcony and shot him.
Dantel wasn't doing anything. He
was just a harmless old man!"
"I am so sorry to hear that," Cuoio said,
his heart twisting with grief. "Dantel
was a good man. He will be missed."
Cuoio hadn't known him well, but
they had danced several times during
the coffee dances when Cuoio wore a skirt.
Dantel had been a perfect gentleman, and
Cuoio could see why Pomarola loved him.
"I'm listening," Chiara said. "You can
tell me anything if you want to talk.
Did you hear or see something
out of the ordinary earlier?"
"No," said Pomarola. "It was all
so sudden. A man just walked in,
babbled something about killing
his father, and shot Dantel. But
Dantel hasn't done any street work
in years. It's been so long ago."
"Long enough for a boy to grow
into a man," Cuoio murmured.
Now someone would have to find
the killer and deal with him, then
clean up the mess that he'd made.
"It's not fair," Pomarola wailed. "Dantel
was going to retire at the end of the year!
We were going to move to the French Riviera."
Cuoio remembered the two of them laughing
over coffee and pastries as they debated
where to buy properties, because they
wanted a balance of quiet and amenities.
They had started looking for a townhouse
in Nice and a country villa somewhere inland,
with the idea of letting other Family borrow
the townhouse when they weren't using it.
Cuoio had even toyed with the idea of
taking his little team there, since Chiara
and Pomarola were such good friends.
It hurt to think that someone had cheated
Dantel out of his hard-earned retirement.
"This isn't supposed to happen,"
Pomarola wept. "He hasn't gotten in
any fights since before I even knew him."
They worked in a dangerous Business,
but it had its rules, or else they were
no better than common thugs.
A young man might get crippled or
even killed in a bad fight -- Cuoio had
75 lost his own bodyguard Galterio in
just that way -- but an old man like
Dantel was long past such brawling.
As far as Cuoio knew, Dantel had
withdrawn to the quieter levels of
boss work, negotiating niceties
such as fine wines and artwork
or helping comares find contracts.
Whoever killed him -- murdered him --
had broken the rules that separated
the Business from barbarism.
Cuoio flexed his hands, tempted
to hunt down the culprit and pin him
while some strongman twisted
his head off of his body.
That wasn't his job, though.
Pomarola had come to Chiara
for comfort, and through her,
Cuoio for the same thing.
Well, he knew enough about
grief to handle that just fine, and
even in the Family there weren't
that many other people with
his level of experience in loss.
"Come inside," he said gently.
"Let's get you cleaned up."
Pomarola tried to stand up, but
flopped back into Chiara's lap.
"I've got you," Chiara said,
scooping Pomarola into her arms.
"We'll take good care of you."
Cuoio hurried ahead to open
the sliding glass doors that led
into the living room, then crossed
the hall to open the bathroom door.
His little cottage only had a shower,
not a bathtub, but it was big enough
to hold two people and it had a seat with
a handheld shower under the fixed head.
Chiara carried Pomarola into the bathroom,
and Cuoio closed the door behind them.
The rush of running water didn't begin
to cover the sound of her crying.
Cuoio puttered around the house,
trying to make it more comfortable
for someone in severe pain.
He grabbed a few pieces of trash
and stuffed them in the bin, then
folded up the grapevine afghan and
draped it over the back of the couch.
Then his smartphone rang.
"Can this wait?" Cuoio said
without even checking the caller.
"I have a friend in distress, so if
this isn't urgent, I'm too busy for it."
"I'm calling about that," said a soft voice,
and Cuoio recognized Nestore Dinapoli,
the compound's housefather. "I heard
that Pomarola has taken refuge with you."
"Yes, she came to Chiara," said Cuoio.
"I'm sorry, they're in the bathroom and
I don't want to bother Pomarola now."
"Will you be taking responsibility
for her?" Nestore asked him.
"What do you mean by that?"
Cuoio said. "I'm willing to help her,
but I'm not sure of your customs."
"Pomarola should not be alone at
this time, so she needs support --
preferably another household
to watch over her," Nestore said.
"I can do that," Cuoio said.
"What will she expect?"
"She is too upset to expect
anything. You remember how
that is, my boy," said Nestore.
"She will not be able to think well
for a while, so she needs someone
to make choices and take care of
necessities for at least a week or so."
"Am I allowed to add someone
to my household like this?"
Cuoio asked carefully.
He had gotten into
a spot of trouble, and
personnel restrictions had
been part of the penalty for that.
"Yes, because Pomarola came
to you and Chiara for support,"
Nestore said. "You may consider
your restrictions lifted now."
Cuoio heaved a sigh of relief.
"All right, then what will the Family
expect?" he said. "I'll do my best, but
I don't want to make another mistake --
especially not in this, it's too important."
"First, Pomarola will need clean clothes
and toiletries," Nestore said. "She may not
want to go home any time soon, or send
anyone else to fetch things that might
bring up painful memories, so you
should run over to the resource room
and find a few things for her there."
Cuoio grabbed a pad of paper
and a pen to start making a list.
"Clothes and toiletries," he echoed.
"I'll send you her sizes and other details,"
Nestore said. "Offer food, but don't
expect her to eat much. A choice
of light or filling foods would help.
Stay away from marinara sauce,
strawberries, or anything like that."
Nothing red, Cuoio realized.
Nothing that would look like blood.
"Yes, sir," Cuoio said. "I keep
refrigerated and dry pasta along with
some fresh fruits and vegetables. It's
no trouble to cook for her, or order out
if she wants something special."
"Then it sounds like you have things
well in hand," Nestore said. "Trust
your instincts, my boy, you'll do fine."
As soon as the call ended, Cuoio
jotted a note to the ladies telling them
where he was going and that he would
come back soon, just in case they
emerged before he returned.
Then he jogged across
the compound as quick as he
could without breaking a sweat.
Armed with Pomarola's sizes and
Chiara's lessons in dressing well,
Cuoio searched the resource room.
Remembering how he felt after
losing people, he chose a mix of
black and gray brightened with pink,
mostly comfortable clothes and
a few dressier pieces as well.
The tops were all soft cotton,
plus a cashmere cardigan
and a denim jacket.
He grabbed pants and
a skirt in soft black jersey,
along with denim shorts.
The plain pink dress
was the same jersey, too.
There was a boxed set
of bras, panties, and
socks with two each of
gray, white, and beige.
He chose three pairs
of shoes: pink pumps,
brown leather sandals,
and black sneakers.
The three handbags
were a small pink one,
a medium brown one,
and a large gray one.
That would let Pomarola
dress for most occasions
and a range of moods.
None of it would wrinkle
if it got cried on or dropped
on the floor and forgotten.
Cuoio didn't want to get
bogged down with accessories
today, but when he saw a scarf
mottled in soft shades of pink, gray,
black, and white, he took that too.
He chose a set of guest toiletries
that even included slippers.
That reminded him of how
he had felt cold for months,
no matter how warm it really was,
so he doubled back for a bathrobe.
Cuoio found one in gray plush
lined with white cotton fleece
and bunny faces on the pockets
with little pink noses and ears.
It was something that might make
Pomarola smile in a few weeks.
Last Cuoio took a rolling suitcase
and packed everything inside it.
He trundled everything back home and
knocked gently on the bathroom door.
"Clean clothes and toiletries are here,"
he said. "I will go start supper."
As he went into the kitchen,
he heard the bathroom door
open and close as Chiara
took charge of the suitcase.
Cuoio had refrigerated fettuccini,
so he brought out heavy cream,
butter, Parmesan and Romano
to make the alfredo sauce.
While that cooked, he set
a pot of water to boil for pasta.
Then he mixed olive oil and
balsamic vinegar in a bowl, and
shaved in some Parmesan.
He chopped up a couple handfuls
of fermented olives. He shredded
a bunch of basil. He ground
black pepper over the top.
Then he tossed it all together
and left it to marinate for a while.
Cuoio looked around the kitchen
for further inspiration. He didn't have
much fresh fruit on the counter now.
However, he found a carton each of
cantaloupe and honeydew melon
tucked inside the refrigerator.
He ran a quick search on
the tablet computer and found
a recipe for melon salad that
mainly added mint and basil.
He wrinkled his nose at
the sugar syrup, though.
Summer melons were
sweet enough already.
It only took a few minutes
to mix those ingredients.
Cuoio put sugar into a pitcher,
added a layer of mint leaves,
and muddled them together.
He sliced a lime into the mix
and crushed everything again.
Then he filled the pitcher with
ice water and stirred it until
all of the sugar had dissolved.
The sounds inside the bathroom
changed, which meant the ladies
would probably come out soon.
By then, the alfredo sauce
was almost done. He dropped
the pasta into the boiling water
and gave that a quick stir.
It cooked fast, and soon Cuoio
strained the fettuccini and poured
the alfredo sauce over the top.
The kitchen was fragrant with
steam, the comforting smells of
home cooking and fresh fruit.
Behind him, he heard the door
open. Pomarola was sniffling.
Cuoio transferred a carton of
mixed salad leaves into a bowl,
scraped the marinated toppings
over them, then tossed the salad.
He put everything on the dining table,
then set out plates and silverware.
Pomarola crept into the room wearing
the gray t-shirt and the black slacks,
a good choice since they were
soft enough to sleep in.
Slippers shuffled against
the wooden floor, and
her glorious red curls
were tucked into a braid
that trailed down her back.
She smelled of the green tea scent
from the guest toiletries instead
of her usual floral perfume.
"Oh. You cooked." Her voice
was hoarse from crying.
"Yes, I did. Come and sit down,"
Cuoio invited. "I won't pressure you
to finish a meal if you don't feel hungry.
Just try to eat a few bites if you can."
Chiara set a good example by
burying her plate in pasta and
salad greens, then scooping
melon chunks into a bowl. She
poured a glass of acqua e menta.
Cuoio followed suit, careful
not to stare at Pomarola.
She took a few noodles,
a pinch of salad greens, and
one chunk of each melon.
The food was good, but
Cuoio hardly tasted his
as he cleaned his plate.
Pomarola nibbled hers,
making an honest effort
but not finishing even
that tiny amount.
Chiara went back
for seconds, having
a high-burn metabolism.
No one felt much like
talking over supper tonight.
Afterwards, Cuoio set the dishes
in the sink to deal with later, while
Chiara put away the leftovers.
"I'm sorry that I couldn't ..."
"It's okay," Cuoio said.
"I know what it's like when
grief steals your appetite."
"A few missed meals won't
hurt you," Chiara added.
Pomarola sat at the table
looking small and miserable
while the other two tidied up
the dining room and kitchen.
Sometimes chores helped
to provide a distraction from
the pain, and other times,
just standing up seemed
like too much work.
"Come to the living room.
We can sit on the couch,"
Cuoio said, holding out a hand.
Pomarola made it to her feet,
then leaned against Cuoio and
let him take most of her weight.
Chiara turned on the viewscreen,
setting it to a Tuscan nature scene.
Cuoio settled Pomarola on the couch.
As soon as he let go, she shivered,
but he was ready for that. Cuoio
tugged the grapevine afghan
off the back of the couch and
wrapped it around Pomarola.
Chiara sat down on the other side
and draped an arm over her.
Pomarola snuggled into her,
then looked up at Cuoio.
"Why are you ... why ...?"
"Because I can," he said.
"When I lost everyone dear
to me, there was no one left
to help me through it. If I give
you the kind of things that I wish
I could have had then, it helps me
to find meaning in those losses."
"I feel so lost," Pomarola said.
"Everything is fog and shadows."
"I understand," Cuoio said.
"You think you're lost, but you're
not lost on your own. You're not alone."
"I don't want to be alone," she said,
tears trickling down her cheeks.
"I don't think I could bear it."
"I will stand by you, I will help you
through when you’ve done all that
you can do," Cuoio promised. "If you
can’t cope, then I will dry your eyes.
I will fight your fight, I will hold
you tight, and I won't let go."
"You came to me for comfort,
my friend, and I will give you that,"
Chiara said. "When your sorrow
is too heavy, I will share it with you.
When you can't walk, I will carry you.
No matter how horrible this gets,
you don't have to do it alone."
Pomarola started crying
again, and they paused
to make space for her grief.
Cuoio realized that there wasn't
a box of tissues within reach,
so he slipped away to fetch one,
along with the little garbage bin
that he kept beside his desk.
Pomarola promptly pulled
the tissue box into her lap.
She cried and cried, while
they held her and listened.
"I don't know what to do,"
Pomarola said. "I can't think.
Everything is just ... muffled."
"If you wish, I will take care of
things until you can think clearly
again," Cuoio said. "I remember
what it's like trying to function
through that kind of haze."
"Would you really ...?"
Pomarola looked at him
with faint hope in her eyes.
"Yes," Cuoio said. "You may
have a place in my household for
as long as you need it. You know
I already have a comare of my own,
so I don't expect anything of you.
When you feel better, then you can
choose whatever role you want."
"Please," said Pomarola. "I don't
know if I can ... can do anything, now."
"Done," Cuoio said, shaking her limp hand.
Chiara raised her eyebrows at him,
asking a silent question about the ban
on adding new people to his team.
Cuoio gave her a slight nod,
confirming that he had permission.
"Welcome to the household,"
Chiara said. "We will take care
of everything for you now."
That made Pomarola cry again.
She crawled into Chiara's lap,
so Cuoio left the couch to them
and went to his desk instead.
He had plenty of work to do
in order to add a new person
to his little household.
Cuoio sent a note to
Nestore confirming that
Pomarola had accepted
his offer, so people would
know who to approach
Since Cuoio was taking
responsibility for Pomarola, he
would have at least two weeks off
from other duties to take care
of those arrangements.
He sent a note to Megliore
so she would know to account
for another person in sending
supplies for his household.
One nice thing about living in
the compound was that Cuoio didn't
have to do all his own shopping.
He could just tell the staff what
he needed and how many people
shared the cottage with him.
They kept the place stocked with
basic supplies as well as fresh foods
like the cartons of melon and fettuccini
he used to whip up supper tonight.
Cuoio heard the ladies get up
and move around a few times, and
he glanced over to make sure that
they didn't need him, but otherwise
he didn't want to intrude on them.
Then Chiara came over and said,
"She's crying herself sick. Call Salvo
and ask him to come check on her."
Cuoio glanced at the window,
then at his vidwatch. It was dark,
but not so late that he'd have
to wake up the team medic.
"I'm on it," he promised.
Chiara nodded, then went
back to the bathroom
to help Pomarola.
Cuoio called Salvo and
explained the situation.
Salvo was more than willing
to come help, and soon arrived
with his big first aid kit in tow.
Chiara brought Pomarola
back to the couch so Salvo
could take a look at her.
She barely moved as
his hands patted over her.
"Acute stress reaction,"
Salvo concluded. "That's
common after a big shock
like this. It's nothing to worry
about unless it lasts for
more than a month."
"You think I'm sick, or --
or crazy," Pomarola said.
"No, I just said you're not,"
Salvo replied. "Grief is
not a disorder, a disease,
or a sign of weakness."
"Then what?" she whispered.
"It is an emotional, physical,
and spiritual necessity. It is
the price you pay for love,"
Salvo said. "The only cure
for grief is to grieve."
Cuoio wished that he
could have met Salvo
sooner. Those words
would have helped a lot
after he lost his family.
"It's okay to be hurt when
you're wounded," Cuoio said.
"If you got hit by a truck, you
wouldn't expect to get up and
just walk away, would you?"
"No," Pomarola admitted.
"So being flattened by grief
is a natural reaction to loss,"
Cuoio said. "We're all here
to support you while you heal."
"Thank you," she said. "It helps
a little, but I still feel ... awful."
"I can't fix the grief, but I can treat
some of the symptoms," Salvo said.
"Do you want me to give you something
for the nausea? As tired as you are,
it'll probably knock you out for
a few hours, and right now
that's not a bad thing."
"Please," said Pomarola.
"Anything is better than this."
Salvo reached into his bag
for supplies, then pushed up
her sleeve and swabbed the skin.
"Grief does weird things to perception,"
he warned. "This will probably hurt
a lot less or a lot more than usual,
and I can't predict which. I just
wanted you to know about it."
The first touch of the needle
made Pomarola start crying again.
"There you go, all done," Salvo said
a moment later. He smoothed
a bandaid over the puncture,
olive gauze a shade darker
than Pomarola's skin.
"I'm sorry, I just can't seem
to stop crying," Pomarola said.
"Get some rest," Salvo said gently.
"It will stop when it stops. I'll come
check on you again tomorrow."
"Ladies, you can take the bedroom
for tonight," Cuoio said. "I'll sleep
on the couch out here instead."
"Agreed," Chiara said, then
turned to Pomarola. "Here,
put your arms around my neck.
I'll carry you to the bathroom."
Cuoio watched them go,
then heaved a sigh.
"It was kind of you
to bring clean clothes
for Pomarola," said Salvo.
"You picked the perfect things,
all soft and comfortable."
"I had to do something,"
Cuoio said. "Her dress was
covered in blood." Chiara
had bagged it and hung it in
the hall closet. "I don't even
know if Pomarola will want it."
"Call someone to pick it up,"
Salvo suggested. "The Family
has storage for things like that,
until Pomarola decides on it."
"Good idea," Cuoio said.
He sent a message to Nestore
with an update on Pomarola and
and a request about the dress.
"You're doing fine," Salvo said.
"Comfort and taking care of details
will help more than anything else.
Don't fret over the loss of appetite
unless it lasts longer than a week
or two -- if it does, tell me, and
we'll work out a solution."
"Will she be all right, Salvo?"
Cuoio said, clenching his hands.
"Not for a while, but eventually,
yes," the medic said. "She's not
in danger, just heartbroken."
"I don't want the same thing
to happen to her that happened
to me earlier," Cuoio said.
"It won't," Salvo assured him.
"She took a bad hit, so we'll
watch her carefully. Il Dottore
will check on her tomorrow, then
again after two weeks and at
the end of the month. If there's
a serious problem, he'll fix it."
"Thank you," Cuoio said.
"I know it's new, but ... I worry."
Salvo patted his shoulder.
"You're the perfect boss for
this situation," he said. "Don't
worry about outside security,
by the way -- after I leave,
the Family will have someone
guarding the perimeter of
your house for tonight."
It was an extra precaution,
because the compound was
quite safe, but it still made
Cuoio feel a little better.
A soft knock at the door
startled both of them.
Cuoio checked, and found
the runner assigned to pick up
the dress Pomarola had worn.
He handed it off with relief,
glad to see it out of his home.
"I'll leave you to your ladies,"
Salvo said. "If anything gets
worse, though, don't hesitate
to wake me. Otherwise, I'll
see you all in the morning."
"Thank you," Cuoio said,
and let Salvo out, closing
the door carefully behind him.
When he went to check on
the ladies, he found Pomarola
already tucked into bed, and
Chiara in her nightgown
packing up his pajamas.
"Here you go," Chiara said.
"You can't sleep in those things."
Well, Cuoio had slept in
a button-up shirt and trousers
before, but he didn't want to do
that again if he didn't have to.
He borrowed the bathroom
and then changed into pajamas.
"I'm feeling a strong need to sleep
across the bedroom door tonight,"
Cuoio said. "Would you prefer that
I do so inside or outside the room?"
"Outside," Chiara said. "We'll probably
be up and down half the night, so
there's no point waking you too."
He would wake up anyway,
but there was no need
to belabor that point.
"Outside it is," he said.
Cuoio loved the couch that
had come with his cottage.
It had four parts, two of which
typically stood on edge to form
the back, the other two lying
flat to make the seat.
Two flat pieces laid
end-to-end made a bed
that covered both doors
into Cuoio's bedroom
and the bathroom.
The ladies could get
into the bathroom from
the bedroom, but nobody
could go in or out of
the bedroom without
waking Cuoio to move
the bed from the doors.
Cuoio could not heal
the grief, but he could
protect Pomarola while
she was so vulnerable.
Chiara had kept the afghan
wrapped around Pomarola,
so Cuoio rummaged around in
the hall closet to find a blanket.
The house was warm enough,
he just wanted something soft
and comforting to snuggle under.
He picked a flannel blanket printed
with cypress trees in a field, soft shades
of green and brown under blue sky.
He turned off the viewscreen and
all the lights except the nightlight
in the hall for safety's sake.
Cuoio lay down on the bed,
stretching himself over the doors.
From the bedroom, he could hear
the sound of Chiara singing a folk song.
Wrapped in the blanket, Cuoio
let himself drift into a doze.
* * *
This poem is long, so the character, location, and content notes appear elsewhere.