Carissima
by Rosanna Chiofalo

Chapter 8 - Francesca

Rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, pearls . . . I love them all. On the night of the premiere of La Sposa Pazza-my acting debut-my director gave me my first gift of jewelry: a stunning emerald choker with matching teardrop emerald earrings. They were the perfect complement to my black taffeta Gucci gown, and the emeralds brought out the green of my eyes. From that day forward, my long affair with jewels began.

Over four decades, I have amassed quite a large collection of jewelry. And wherever I travel, many of my jewels come also, forcing me to hire an extra bodyguard and take out a hefty insurance policy for my precious gems. Since I had been unsure of how long my stay in Astoria would be, I packed most of my jewelry. Though my days of going to premieres and parties are long over, I like to wear my jewels even when my plans consist of nothing more than staying indoors.

I am staring at my vast collection, trying to decide which piece fits my mood for today and matches my outfit, when there is a knock at the door.

Frustrated over being disturbed, I open the door and snap at the maid.

"Si, Angelica?" I ask in a clearly annoyed tone.

"Excuse me, Signora Donata."

"It is Signorina Donata. How many times do I need to remind you, Angelica?"

"I'm sorry, Signorina Donata, but this package arrived for you." She holds out in the palm of her hand a royal-blue velvet box that is tied with an elaborate pink satin ribbon. There is no mistaking the contents of the package. I am dumbfounded.

"There must be some mistake. This must be for Signora Tesca."

"No, no. The messenger said it was for you, Signorina Donata. There is even an envelope with your name on it." The maid takes out of her apron pocket an envelope on which my name is written boldly in script.

"Grazie, Angelica."

"Prego, Signorina Donata."

I nod my head, letting her know that is all and she can take leave of me. She quickly walks away, her footsteps making no sound in her rubber-soled maid's shoes. Who could this gift be from? My heart is racing, as I anticipate what awaits me inside the beautiful velvet box. I am torn as I pull at the fluffy bow, hating that I must undo it and ruin the perfect shape. The bow comes apart easily. I slowly open the lid of the box and gasp. A sapphire and diamond bangle bracelet greets me. It is one of the most exquisite pieces of jewelry I have ever laid my eyes on.

I waste no time in lifting the bracelet gingerly out of the box and sliding my wrist through it. Ironically, I am wearing a blue sheath today that matches the bracelet perfectly. Staring at myself in my armoire's mirrors, I cannot take my eyes off the glistening jewels. Ten minutes elapse before I realize I still have no idea who would give me such a lavish gift. Finally tearing myself away from the armoire, I pick up the envelope and immediately smell a light jasmine fragrance. How thoughtful-and romantic! This is simply too much. Smiling, I feel giddy like a schoolgirl-for it has been ages since someone has surprised me in such a fashion.

Opening the envelope carefully, I pull out a pale green sheet of stationery. The note is written in elegant cursive similar to the type that was used for my name on the face of the envelope.

"I gioielli perfetti per la donna perfetta."

"The perfect jewels for the perfect woman," I read aloud.

How lovely! But there is no signature. It must be from one of my fans-a very wealthy fan. How can I think that this bracelet is from someone who wants to romance me? I try to ignore the disappointment I feel.

"Stupida!" I whisper to myself.

I stare at myself once more in the armoire's mirrors, but this time instead of focusing on the glittering sapphires and diamonds adorning my wrist, I only see my flaws-the faint but discernible crow's feet around my eyes, the rings that circle my neck, the slight hollowing of my cheekbones.

"Sei vecchia!"

I am too old to be seduced. The gift must be from some obsessed fan who remembers me from before old age paid me a visit. But still. Someone cares enough to send me such an extravagant gift. I walk over to my vanity table and pick up the velvet box. On the inside, underneath its lid, there is just the outline of a diamond, but in the center-where the jeweler's name would have been imprinted-it is blank. Turning the box over, I inspect its underside, but there is no indication as to which jewelry store this bracelet came from.

I shrug my shoulders. Jewelry is jewelry, and I'll accept it no matter what. My spirits have been lifted considerably from receiving new jewels. Though I am happy Giuliana seems to finally want a relationship with me, my stay here has been quite difficult. She is very different from the young girl who ran with me through the sunflower fields behind our house in Sicily. I close my eyes. If only I could go back and change everything that happened between us.

Fighting back the tidal wave of pain threatening to surface, I twirl my bracelet around my arm. The sapphires glisten darkly, and the light from the overhead chandelier reflects off the diamonds' facets. It has been a long six months since I bought any jewels for myself. Usually, I treat myself every other month.

My bedroom door opens a few inches, startling me.

"Meow!"

"Mewsette! Sei cattiva! Si, si! You are a very, very bad cat. But that is all right. You just wanted to be with me, vero?" I laugh softly as Mewsette looks up at me, pleading to be petted.

Bending down, I stroke her lustrous white coat. I hold out my free arm, showing off my new prize.

"Ti piaci? E bello, vero?"

Mewsette purrs lazily in agreement. She has good taste just like my secret admirer.