Amadeo's eighteenth birthday came up that March, and as always Mrs. Rossi arranged two parties.
One party, for his friends, would be held on the day of, and one for family and neighborhood friends, at which, no doubt, several of his friends would attend, for the Saturday after, giving Mrs. Rossi a week to relax and refresh after having a house filled with teenagers, since the weatherman had said that the temperature would probably be down in the 30s and the kids would most likely not want to go outside much.
"Birthdays during the week are the kind of days I wish it would snow. Then I could have my birthday off from school," Amadeo complained to his friends between classes. "Sometimes I wish we lived in a place where we had snow all the time in the winter."
"Alaska?" Jim asked, grinning
"Don't go nuts now." He smiled. "I don't know what I'd do in a place where there's no sun half the year. I mean seasonal snow... white Christmas and all that sort of stuff, you know?"
"It sounds romantic but it ain't that great." Angelo said. "It's real pretty when it's first coming down, but then you get the plows, and people throwing sand, and trucks and cars driving over it. It gets dirty real quick and it stops being so pretty." Angelo said with a grimace.
"Stop throwing a wrench in my works." Amadeo said jokingly.
"Sorry, Dae. Believe it or not I actually do miss snow. Georgia is a tease. It feels like it's getting close to snowing sometimes but then it doesn't, and when it does it doesn't last long. I kind of miss sledding and skating. I have to get you guys to New York, take you skating at Rockefeller Center, see the city all decked out in lights, the square."
"The tree... it's massive. The city searches all year for one big enough and then it's shipped in. That's a major event right there. I kinda wish though, that they'd just plant a tree and let it grow over the years instead of cutting down a tree in a different state and propping it up in New York. It just seems a waste of a good tree." he said thoughtfully.
"Someday we'll go to New York with you." said Jim. "I've heard stories about there but I've never been. Do you really have gangsters that go around shooting each other down on the street, like in the movies?"
"Not as often as the movies would like you to believe." Angelo said, rolling his eyes. "I don't think anyone would want to live there if that happened all the time, do you?"
"Nah, I guess not." Jim admitted with a guilty expression. "Look, we gotta get to Garcia's class right now if not a minute ago before we get into trouble. C'mon." he said, sprinting off. The sounds of Cobrane's voice reminding him to walk, not run in the hallways, followed him.
Angelo and Amadeo trotted along behind at a brisk walk, to avoid Cobrane's attention and possible detention.
The next day, while the boys were eating lunch they discussed their art teacher's latest madcap idea for a project. Sculpture using toothpicks as a medium.
The boys and girls sat around discussing ideas and laughing at some of the suggestions.
"I wish we'd go back to working with that stone again." Dennis said, "I think I could do a better job now that I know more about it. I got a B+ but I'd like another chance to try. Plus, it was a lot of fun. I'm not too sure about this one." Angelo's stone project had gotten an A++ for it's perfectly round form and the fact that it seemed to be different things in different positions had earned him the highest grade in the class.
Amadeo had gotten points for turning his block of stone into a replica of a head from Easter Island. Another girl named Shelly, who had carved a bas relief of a very detailed butterfly, had gotten the only other highest grade in the class.
Angelo's painting of the class at work had gotten an equally high grade when she'd given them an assignment to work with paint as a medium.
Following that she'd had them work with clay. The clay sculpture assignment had Angelo's friends excited since they'd been creating things in his basement ever since the previous Halloween and they had experience and imagination. The little group 'blew' Mrs. Christoff away with their sculptures.
Angelo's three foot long cloth 'sculpture' of a hot dog and bun complete with streams of 'ketchup and mustard' had earned him a high grade and a lot of laughter from the class who had for the most part settled on making teddy bears, draw string pouches or other easy projects.
The only project that had gotten a better grade than Angelo was their classmate Melissa Marcone, who had made a doll as large as a three year old complete with yarn hair and embroidered eyes and mouth. She'd gone out and bought a dress with a pinafore and 'pantaloons', and little socks and shoes to dress the doll up in. Angelo didn't in the least begrudge her the higher grade. The doll really was clever and well done, and though he wouldn't say it out loud, very cute with it's black hair, big blue eyes and cupid bow mouth.
"So what are you making in Mrs. Christoff's class this time?" Eddie asked Angelo as they walked home.
"The Golden Gate Bridge." Angelo replied. "I'm gonna use string for the suspension cables. What are you making?"
"Dascha." Eddie replied. He'd gotten the terrier puppy for Christmas when he'd been seven years old and hadn't been able to pronounce Dasher with two missing front teeth, so she'd been called Dasha and wouldn't answer to anything else. She was getting old and while he had more pictures of her than he could count, he wanted to make the sculpture of her before as what might be a final remembrance of her.
"If you can pull that off that's going to be really nice. Do you plan to paint it to look like her?" Angelo asked
"I hadn't thought of that!" Eddie said, delighted. "Do toothpicks warp though?" he asked. I mean, if I paint 'Little Dascha' is she gonna sag in the middle?"
"They do when my dad uses them. He can get them into a nearly perfect spiral by the time he's done with them." Jim joked.
Angelo shrugged, “Go light on the spray paint? Or paint her by hand?"
"What are you making, 'Deo?" Milo asked.
"Big Ben. I'm not as creative as you guys." he smiled.
"That's creative." Angelo argued. "Not like Martha who's making train tracks to put her toy train on. I mean, come on, train tracks?" he laughed.
"I felt kind of bad for Gary and his attempt at building Notre Dame." Dennis said.
"The Notre Dame Cathedral? Is that what that was supposed to be?"
At Dennis' nod all Aiden could say was "Holy crow!"
"Yeah, but he told me he's going to turn it into the Leaning Tower of Pisa." Dennis said.
"They don't look anything alike!" Felix said, stating the obvious.
"We're just gonna have to wait and see I guess. I really do want to see how he pulls it off." Amadeo laughed.
Angelo looked in the direction of his house and then the park. "You guys wanna go hang at the park for a little while?" he asked.
"Nah, man. I gotta get my homework done, and then I got chores. Dad'll skin me alive if I don't show up on time." Jim replied. "Later, maybe? If there's time? Call me, 'k?"
"Yeah, 'k." Angelo replied, disappointed when the others said basically the same thing and scattered to get to their houses.
"What's the matter, Ange? Are you in trouble again? I can guarantee you that if you're supposed to be home and don't show up you're not gonna like the consequences." Amadeo said in an understanding tone.
"No” he replied reluctantly, "It's not that really, I’m just tired of being the only one home and having to do everything. I mean, I don't mind helping mama and pop but it's the same thing every day. I go home, check the animals, get dinner started, set the table, gather up anything that needs to go in the wash, see if the floors need sweeping, do my homework, and without fail I end up burning or singeing the dinner unless mama gets home time to save it. It's worse in the summer cause then there's the gardening to see to. At least during the winter, I get a little break there. I feel like... jeez Dae, I feel like Cinderella."
"Ange, just keep in mind that you're helping. You're the only one left." He hesitated a moment and then asked tentatively, "Out of curiosity, where's your mom been running off to every day? I mean, it doesn't matter I'm just curious. And I know your brothers get out of their college classes and go to work or to see their girlfriends."
"Yeah, and that's another thing, they can come home and help instead of smooching with their girlfriends." Angelo said, obviously avoiding the question.
Amadeo tilted his head and looked at his boy more closely. "Ange, where's your mom disappearing to? Is she all right?"
"Don't tell anyone OK? But she's going to college. She's working toward her nursing degree."
"That's great! Why are you keeping that a secret? What made her decide to do that?"
"It's like you said, she's home alone pretty much all the time now. We take care of the animals first thing in the morning and I see to them in the afternoons when I get home, making sure they have feed and water and their pens aren't too bad. But when the morning chores are done and she studies for a bit she heads out to the university and takes classes, then comes home and studies all night."
"It's not like Cinderella then, because you're helping, not being forced to work."
"I know, I just feel like I'm the only one working, you know?"
"I have a couple of suggestions for you then, ready?"
"First, feel free to ask me to help. I don't have many chores during the week and I'm sure mom'd understand. She still has a houseful and one less won't make a difference."
"I really appreciate that Dae, plus I'd like the company. What's the second thing?"
"Do something special for your folks for dinner. Mom's got recipe books coming out of her ears, we'll go through them tonight if you can get permission to come over after dinner. If not we'll do it this weekend."
"So first, you make something you've never made before. Second, you set the table like it's a fancy restaurant complete with candles on the table, get it all set up so all you have to do is put the bowls with the food down, wrap up the silverware like they do at the Drover, tie it with a ribbon or something," he continued with a laugh.
"I can't do that every night." Angelo protested. "It would stop being special if I did."
"Not every night, nimrod,” Amadeo said, shouldering his friend, "Pick one night randomly once a month. Choose a recipe from one of the books and make it. Make a list of what you want to make a week ahead of time. Ask your folks for money to buy them, just tell them it's for ingredients you don't have. It's the truth, right?"
"What about my brothers?"
"Remember how we practiced talking to your talk to your folks?"
"Well, your brothers are technically adults too. Try talking to them the way you spoke to your parents. They might be more reasonable than you expect."
"And if they aren't?"
"Tell on them." Deo said matter-of-factly, with a smirk which got Angelo laughing.
"You know," Deo added thoughtfully, "talking about your brothers and college made me wonder... have you made any decisions yet about what you want to major in when we head out ourselves?"
Angelo raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes slightly. "Mama and pop keep asking me the same thing. Mama thinks I have a future in the culinary arts. I told them I was thinking of going for plain old art classes, but pop kinda vetoed that idea. He said my stuff was really good but that it was really hard to get into the art world."
"Why don't you do both?" Amadeo suggested. "You really are a great cook, when you remember that you're cooking," he joked. "in a professional setting I know you'd be more aware if the food was right or not. I think in time you could even have your own restaurant."
Angelo's eyes widened slightly at the idea. "You really think so?"
"Wouldn't say if if I didn't believe it," the other boy replied sincerely, "and that doesn't mean you'd have to give up your art. Your paintings and sculptures are amazing. You could do that as a side thing, you know? So even if you don't get your artworks into a gallery showing you could still sell them on the side. I think they'd sell."
Angelo sat quietly and thought about it. Finally he looked up and asked, "What are you going to college for? And... where will you go? I mean... what are we going to do for four years if we can't see each other every day? What'll happen to us?"
Amadeo put an arm around his boy and replied, "I thought I'd go into business management, which means I can go to school just about anywhere. Which means, if you go to school in Outer Mongolia, I'm sure I can find a school there as well. We wouldn't be far apart. And even if we were," he continued seeing Angelo's dubious expression, "we can still see each other on holidays, talk on the phone, spend weekends together. It's not like we'd never see each other again."
"And," he said, "I believe that what we have can withstand distance."
Angelo looked down at his hands with a sad expression. "I don't want to be anywhere that you're not. I know we won't go to the same school, can't if I actually go to school for cooking or art. I... I know I don't have any idea of how to run a business and I'd do terrible if I tried to go the same school as you. I kinda imagined us as roommates wherever we go."
"Here's an idea," Amadeo said, a light going off in his head, "if we find schools in the same area, then we can rent an apartment together and commute to our respective schools. Then we wouldn't have to be apart except during classes."
"And," he continued with a smile, "if I major in business, I can be your business partner when you open your own place. Oh, I know it's not going to happen immediately," he said when he saw the expression on Angelo's face, "but it can happen."
Angelo's expression brightened and he looked up at his man with a look of hope on his features. "Do you really think we can do that?"
"There are business schools all over the place, Ange. If you look to see where the culinary schools are, without a doubt I can find a business school in that same area."
Angelo fairly threw himself into Deo's arms. "That's a fantastic idea! 'Dae! Do you really think we can do it?"
"I'm sure we can. I've been looking at a school in Atlanta. It's still in state, but not so close that a commute from home and back would make financial or time sense, but not so far away that we can't visit on weekends or holidays."
Angelo's excited expression changed from one, of excitement to one of deep thought, and by the look of it, they weren't great thoughts.
"What's the matter, il mio angelo?" 'Dae asked, concerned.
"What would mama and pop do without me though? Mom's not done with school yet. Pop has work during the day. There's all the animals to look after..."
Amadeo thought long and hard for several moments. "The only alternatives are to sell the livestock and let the garden go..."
Angelo looked up, stricken.
"You can take a year before you head to college, which I don't think is a good idea, and I think your folks'll agree, or they'll have to hire someone."
"I think it'll be hard on them," Angelo hedged, "It's already a lot for just me and dad to work on. How much'll he have to pay for help? And he'll need two or more guys at least. Two people just can't run this place. Not efficiently, and the extra money from the farmer's market is a big help."
"Well, if we find a place in Savannah, it's not too far. Commuting will still be a bit of a problem if we try to make it a daily event, but you'd still be available on weekends and holidays."
"I may be working then." Angelo said pensively, "if I'm lucky I'll get an internship somewhere, once I've learned enough, or even a real job at a real restaurant somewhere. I don't think I'd make enough to give to my folks to help pay for the extra help."
"Angelo," 'Deo said quietly, putting a gentle hand on his boy's cheek, "we can help figure all of that out once we apply and have been accepted into our schools. We'll have to get a move on though. I know with your grades you'll have a choice of schools and you... we... can find the one's best for us."
When Angelo's father arrived from work that day, his son had dinner ready, and un-singed, a fresh hot pot full of coffee, and a big smile on his face.
"Ok, ragazino," what do you want?" Joshua had asked with a wry smile on his face.
"Papa," Angelo said hesitantly, "You know I want to go to college in September, right?"
"Yep," Joshua replied proudly, puffing out his chest. "I'm so proud of you guys."
"Papa,what'll happen to the farm once I'm gone? What if I can't find a place close by? I won't be able to help anymore."
Joshua clapped his youngest son on the shoulder, "Don't you worry about it." he replied with a smile. "We've already decided to get rid of the hogs..."
"Not because you're going to school." his father assured him. "They cost more to feed than what we get for them at market, plus their pen stinks the place up. Admit it," he smiled," none of us like going in there to clean the place up, or to wash down the pigs when the time came."
Angelo smiled guiltily, he'd found excuses to get in and out as fast as possible whenever he'd had to wash them.
"The chickens pretty much take care of themselves. Mama and I would only need to feed them and gather the eggs a couple of times a day. And I'm rebuilding the coop a little so that the top will be closed off. This way they can range outside and we won't have to worry about chicken hawks or other predators flying in and carrying them off."
"That's a lot of work, pop." Angelo said uncertainly.
"Well, I still have you here with me, and I'm sure I can get your brothers back long enough to help out."
"With what?" Julia asked with a smile as she came through the kitchen door, bringing a draft of cool air in with her.
"We're just talking about remodeling the chicken coop." Joshua replied, getting up from his chair to help his wife get her coat off.
Angelo put her satchel to the side and pulled out a chair for her.
"Ok, mio angelo, what do you want?" his mother asked with a smile."
"Why does everyone keep asking me that?" Angelo huffed.
"He's just worried about what we'll do with the farm once he leaves for college." Joshua explained as he sat down at the table once again.
"Ah," Julia said with an understanding look, "don't worry about a thing, Angelo. We'll be fine. Papa and I have already thought about that. You don't need to worry."
"But pop said you're going to be selling the hogs..."
"All for the better, in my opinion," his mother replied, "some things are more important than whether we have livestock or not."
"But I don't want you to give up everything just because of me." Angelo began worriedly.
"Angelo," his mother interrupted gently, "it's not because of you. Papa and I know we can't take care of everything by ourselves, and we're looking into hiring a few more people."
"But the cost..."
"Is negligible," Joshua said with a smile. "All the money it was taking us to feed and clothe all of you can now go into paying for some extra help."
Angelo looked upset for a moment before his father added, "Angelo, mama and I wouldn't have given up any of you for any amount of money, understand? Having you boys was the biggest blessing in our lives. You still are."
"I'll be graduating soon, Angelo," Julia reassured her son, "and I already have a job lined up. Between the money we'll get for the hogs, what papa makes and what I'll be making, we're going to be fine."
Seeing their son's distracted expression, Joshua asked what was wrong.
"I was just wondering how you're managing to put the three of us through college. I don't have to go, you know. I can stay here..."
"And waste all this talent?" Joshua asked, taking a bite of the dinner that his son had prepared. "You're an amazing cook, Angelo," he continued, "and while we'll miss you, you will be coming back on holidays to visit, right?"
Angelo nodded although he still looked doubtful.
"Sweetheart," Julia said softly, "we'll be alright, I promise you that. We've been saving since the day you boys were born to make sure you go to college. Paul only has one year left and he's helping defray the cost by working part time and buying his own books and supplies. If you're that worried, you can do the same. But you are going to college. Understand?"
Angelo breathed a little easier and smiled at his parents. "Understood." he replied, finally feeling able to breathe without feeling guilty. "Mama, papa, thank you." he said quietly, lifting his glass of milk to toast them.
The elder Di Marco's saluted back and proceeded to have their dinner, chatting between mouthfuls about their day and their plans for the future.