Notes: For mizface
"You'll be okay with Uncle Nunzio. His brother was gay." Ray topped up Kowalski's wine glass. "Just don't mention the war."
"Or Aunt Nerina," said Frannie darkly, holding out her own glass for a refill. "And the cousins are mostly okay — that's Gianna, Valeria, Filippo, Bibiana, Renata and Vincente. But stay away from Rico and Emilio."
"Why?" Kowalski glanced from Frannie to Ray.
"Because they're mooks," said Ray. "And they bet on everything and they always win." He shook his head. "Maybe we should draw you a diagram." It felt like they were planning a military campaign, not preparing for a family wedding.
"Hey, I learned all this stuff when I was you," said Kowalski. "It'll come back to me."
"The older you get, the more oak in your head." Frannie reached over and knocked on Kowalski's skull like it was a door.
That reminded Ray. "Are Isaia and Sofia gonna be there?"
Kowalski frowned. "Who?"
Ray raised his eyebrows at Frannie. "You wanna take that one, or shall I?"
"My in-laws," Frannie told Kowalski, sticking her chin out. "Ex-in-laws. And you'll be fine with them, because their son ran off with a guy eighteen days after he married me. They were pissed for about a week before Sofia forgave him and sobbed all over me, and we got annulled." She folded her arms. "Me and Romeo, that is. And then they decided it was my fault it didn't work out."
"You were married?" said Kowalski.
"Yeah," said Ray. "Don't make a big—"
"To a gay guy?"
Frannie rolled her eyes. "I didn't know he was gay! So I got a type, so sue me." She pointed at Kowalski. "And I don't mean you, so don't even start." She sighed and poked the soft drips of red wax on the bottom of the candlestick. "All gay guys are our brothers, right?"
"In some cases, literally," said Ray, and squeezed her shoulder.
Kowalski opened his mouth, then seemed to think better of saying anything more, thank Christ.
"Don't ask Aunt Adelina if she wants dessert," said Ray, to change the subject.
"Dieting?" guessed Kowalski.
"Diabetic," said Frannie. "And if you see Giannino or Demetrio drinking, tell me and I'll sort them out."
"And don't tell cousin Jolanda you're a cop."
"You're a cop." Kowalski kicked him gently under the table.
Ray shook his head. "Yeah, she's in denial about that, too. Ever since Sinatra died, she's had it in for cops. Don't ask me why."
"Compliment Lucrezia on her dress and she'll love you forever," said Frannie.
"And try to set you up with her daughters," Ray warned. "Listen, you don't have to do this."
"It's cool," said Kowalski. "I'm okay." He was so casual that he couldn't possibly understand the complexity of the situation, the hidden Vecchio family landmines.
"Are you sure you don't want us to write this down?" Frannie asked, and went to look for a pen in the clutter on the breakfast bar.
Ray lowered his voice. "I mean it, Kowalski. You don't have to. You got nothing to prove."
Kowalski sighed and looked at him over the candle. "Say I screw up and offer Adelina second helpings of tiramisu, and lose all my savings betting with Emilio and Rico, and spill soup on the bride, and tell Lucretia that her dress makes her butt look like a hot air balloon—"
Frannie was standing with a pen in one hand, her other hand covering her eyes. She moaned softly.
"Lucrezia," Ray corrected, despite the writhing snakes in his stomach. "Christ!"
"Say I do all that and start World War Three with Uncle Nunzio for an encore." Kowalski met his gaze. "You still gonna love me?"
Something in his eyes made the snakes curl up and disappear. Ray smiled. "Yeah."
Kowalski stuck a toothpick in his mouth and leaned back in his chair. "Okay, then." He kicked Ray's ankle again. "So we're good. Tell me the names of Nunzio's kids again and who their moms are."