Challenge: Written a few weeks ago for the "First Lines Festival" over at ds_flashfiction. The first line comes from bluebrocade.
Notes: Thanks to my beta nos4a2no9. St. Jude is the patron saint of desperate cases, lost causes, and the Chicago PD. I kid you not.
Fraser stood in Ray’s kitchen, absently stirring a pot of homemade marinara sauce while contemplating the evening’s highly anticipated postprandial activities. He had been pleased when Francesca invited him to the festivities, and honored when Mrs. Vecchio requested his assistance in the kitchen.
Ray, on the other hand, seemed rather perplexed. "It means Ma thinks you're family," he'd said loudly. The addendum, "and maybe a girl," had been almost too quiet for Fraser to catch. Indeed, he was the only male over the age of six-months in the swirling chaos of the Vecchio kitchen during preparations for an extended family gathering.
Mrs. Vecchio sat down at the kitchen table. At this apparently prearranged signal, Francesca, four women, two girls and three infants exited the kitchen in a synchronized movement reminiscent of the Musical Ride. Fraser stirred the sauce one more time, careful to reach all the way to the bottom of the pot, and turned to leave.
"Benton. Come, sit with me."
Fraser sank into a chair with the sensation of having walked blind into an ambush.
"So," Mrs. Vecchio said, "You know what tonight is about?"
"I understand that tonight is the Feast of Saint Jude the Apostle on the liturgical calendar, and that he is considered the patron saint of the Chicago Police Department." Fraser cleared his throat. "As Francesca explained it, since Ray's graduation from the Academy, each year you've held a family celebration in his honor on this day. The evening mass…"
"Prayer," Mrs. Vecchio interrupted.
"Tonight is about praying to Saint Jude to keep my son safe for another year." Mrs. Vecchio leaned forward. Her usual amiable expression faded away, affording Fraser a glimpse of the steel that made her undisputed matriarch of the Vecchio family. "Since you came here, my Raimundo keeps getting hurt." Her unwavering stare made the statement an accusation.
"Ma'am, I…" Fraser folded his hands on the table. The truth of her words was undeniable. "Ray is a brave and dedicated officer. He has saved my life on a number of occasions. And I have done my best to protect him in the field. But … as peace officers, we risk ourselves to keep others safe."
Mrs. Vecchio closed her eyes and let out a slow breath. She reached for the cross around her neck and brought it to her lips with a whispered, "Casi disperati."
Fraser had often seen Ray's family give and receive comfort through physical contact. He wasn't naturally demonstrative. His father and grandparents hadn't raised him that way. But Fraser had a clear childhood memory of sobbing, tears searing trails down his chilled skin, while Mother gently combed her fingers through his hair, over and over. The reasons were long gone, but the memory of her touch remained.
Fraser hesitantly reached across the table. Ray's mother opened her eyes and captured his hand in one of hers, palm to palm, while the other patted him gently. "You're a good boy," she said quietly. "We'll just have to pray a little harder this year, make sure Saint Jude watches over you both."
With a final squeeze of his hand, Mrs. Vecchio stood up, straightened her back and smiled. "Now, you go call those lazy girls back in here. We've got work to do! If Raimundo doesn't get some of Nunzia's salame al Barolo, he'll spend the whole night sulking."