#22 | BANG

If Rocco thought playing golf with JJ’s father would thaw things between them, he had another thing coming. Good thing her brothers act as a buffer because since their arrival Martin had barely tried with him. He charmed his granddaughters as usual, besotted with them and showered them with many gifts he brought with him. With JJ he remained perfectly civil, maybe even a little warm, warmer than he’d been with her before on his sporadic visits to New York, but Rocco was met with the ice man himself. No love lost there at all and it is all coming out on the golf course. It wasn’t warm but it was one of those sunny winter days that allowed for a good few rounds before the dinner tonight.

‘Are you going to take the shot or will you keep trash talking dad?’ Thomas lost his cool with his old man for the umpteenth time. Rocco appreciates the time spent with the two brothers, he can see how fond they are of JJ.

‘What do you mean trash talk?’

Rocco shook his head at Thomas, pleading with him to keep his cool he is the family hothead. ‘It’s okay Tommy he’s trying to get in your head.’

JJ did not want him to go golfing with her dad, instead she wanted him to go with her brother-in-law and his, to the winery in the next village but Rocco had to try.

Martin took the shot, and it was a bogey. Thomas burst out laughing a little too hard at that.

‘Let’s see if you can do better.’ Martin says to Rocco.

‘Really dad?’ Jason too is fed up with his father’s snide remarks to Rocco who had been nothing but gracious to him, especially in situations he knows would have earned him a dressing down.

‘What did I say?’

‘You’re being rude, and you know it.’ Thomas says.

‘It’s a game, and that was a challenge.’

With all eyes on him, Rocco took his shot.

He knew it was a good shot a few other people stopped their game to watch his swing.

‘A HOLE IN ONE.’ Jason yells out for anyone who was listening. As if they didn’t see it happening. There were applause from the other players.

‘And she still won’t marry you.’ Martin says face full of spite.

‘Say what?’ Rocco heard, he just didn’t think he would be ballsy enough to repeat himself.

‘Dad you are a dick.’ Thomas says without bothering to mince his words.

‘What did he say?’ Jason asks looking between his father and brother, who looks like he would tear the man to pieces.

‘Never mind.’ Rocco puts his club in the caddy, hops in the cart and drives off to put some distance between him and the father of the woman he loves. He wasn’t wrong, he could do everything right and JJ still wouldn’t marry him. No biggie, he simply needs to hold it together before he says something that cracks the fragile peace in the group. How long will that last? Only time will tell. This is his fault, he insisted on inviting their families here, when he simply could have just been his family.

‘What did he say?’ Jason asks Thomas again.

‘Ask him. Let him tell you.’

‘Dad what did you day to Rocco?’

‘I said nothing but the truth.’

His two sons wait on him to say something, but Martin wouldn’t say anything.

‘He told Rocco JJ still wouldn’t marry him after his hole in one.’

Jason gasps slack jawed at his father. ‘Even for you that was low, and you are already scraping the bottom of the barrel. We warned you not to fuck things up for JJ.’

‘Watch your mouth.’

‘What are you going to do about it, spank me?’ Jason challenges.

All three get in the other golf cart and ride to the next hole.

‘Surprise!’ Tallulah says from the door of the dining room where JJ, Fen, Cara, and Maria are having breakfast.

‘What the hell are you guys doing here?!!’ JJ nearly spills her tea upon seeing her friends.

‘Well, you didn’t have to call but we answered.’ Rocks says with a laugh.

‘Where are your families?’

‘We left the husbands with the children and hopped on a flight to be here with you. Reinforcements.’

‘Oh. I don’t deserve your friendship.’ JJ hugs all three women instantly feeling the relief at having them here. Rocco’s family are lovely, but they would be obliged to be too polite towards her father’s curtness. Her friends won’t. ‘Sorry where are my manners.’ JJ breaks away from the group hug, ‘you’ve met Cara Rocco’s older sister, and obviously you know Fen. I don’t think you’ve met Maria.’

Introductions and hugs are exchanged and the three of them are invited to join breakfast.

‘When did you get there?’

‘Last night.’ Rocks answers ‘Nonna said she had you guys over to dinner. She cannot get over the girls.’

‘They cannot get over her either. Rocco’s mother and her spent the morning exchanging recipes and-’

‘Hey champ. Long time!’ Caroline greets her old friend who walked through the door dressed  in golf gear.

JJ saw the dark look on Rocco’s face, it was instantaneous, but she saw it.

‘Wow all three of you. What a surprise.’ Rocco is happy that more people are here as a reinforcement for JJ, she’ll need it because her father is this close to fucking things up.

‘It’s so good to see you. Where are the husbands and children?’

‘We dumped them to celebrate Christmas without us.’

‘This is so kind of you guys to be here. Thank you. We’ll need it.’

‘I thought you were playing golf with my dad.’

‘We were.’ Rocco does not elaborate but that look on his face says it all.

‘What happened?’ Fen the tigress.

‘Nothing. Nothing.’

JJ looks at Rocco, she knows it’s not nothing.

‘Rocc- oh! What are you guys doing here?’ Jason and Thomas just walked in to the dining room to see the three friends and its hellos all round again.

Rocco exchanges a look with the others urging them not to say anything. It is the first time since they got here that JJ has really settled and looks lighter, and he doesn’t want anyone to stress her any more than she was. Her father was right though, he is never going to be good enough for her.

‘Are you going to tell me what happened on the golf course?’ JJ asked for the third time that evening. They are getting ready for the dinner tonight, hosting their families and friends.

‘No, don’t worry about it. Please don’t. Let’s just have a good time tonight.’

JJ doesn’t push back instead she adjusts his tie and smooths his lapel.

‘Mummy you look pretty.’

‘Thank you. You look lovely too Ma Belle.’

‘You look delightful Rom.’ Rocco says to his oldest daughter who is happily swinging to the dining room oblivious to any of the troubles clouding them. Children are good like that, they give one much needed perspective. So what if her father doesn’t think him good enough for her, they are in love with each other, a knowledge he is certain of and comfortable in. This year had tested them emotionally with the loss of the baby and the busy schedules but they stuck at it and loved hard on each other. He’ll take that any day. With that knowledge Rocco reaches for JJ’s hand and plants a kiss at the back of it. She leans into him.

‘Wow.’ JJ cannot believe how beautiful the salon looks; winter wonderland has nothing on this. The guests mill about with drinks in their hands, conversation and laughter whilst the children enjoy the space set up to delight them. She and Rocks had talked about the concept but her friend executed her vision and then some.

‘This is beautiful darling.’ Rocco says, offering her a glass of champagne from a passing tray. ‘Cheers.’

‘Thank you for today and every day. I love you.’

They clink glass and join their guests. Rocco’s parents are in what looks like a perfectly civil conversation with her father and older sister. Fen, JJ suspects, is only sticking by him to make sure he behaves and so far, things look civil.

‘Have I thanked you guys for this holiday?’ Penelope approaches Rocco and JJ champagne glass in hand, her gold mini dress shimmering with every move, that beautiful brown skin shimmering alongside it from the reflection.

‘Don’t mention it Pen.’ Rocco says, he is glad to see everyone having a good time, even Martin.

‘No for real I have been trying to surprise Tommy with a trip here for years, ever since it opened. I didn’t know you were such good friends with Zea Rose-Jones.’

‘Well, this was all Rocco’s idea.’

‘Stop it,’ Rocco laughs a little, ‘she executed everything I literally dropped it and ran.’

‘Well, its gorgeous, heaven if there was one. So, thank you, the both of you. It good to have all the family here tonight.’

Not all, but neither Rocco not JJ make that inference, they have all the family that love them here tonight.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served.’ A smartly dressed butler announces to the room and guests file into the inner dining room, this one elegantly set with a grand table in the middle. Each place has its own footman complete with silver service. The guests are shown to their places at the table and the children get a kick out of seeing their names on the cards on the big table. JJ sits opposite Rocco, Bella beside her father and Roma beside her mother.

‘Something happened on the golf course.’ Caroline whispers to Tallulah and Rocks. They are sitting on the other end of the table, vantage point together, keeping an eye out for trouble. Rocco’s parents and JJ’s siblings are also on the lookout for trouble but so far everyone looks to be on their best behaviour, even her father.

‘Tommy told me, he is so mad, we need to keep an eye on him.’ Rocks says, ‘he is spitting rage.’

‘He looks it too.’

All three women turn to look at Tommy who is sitting beside his daughter, trying to make conversation through gritted teeth and false cheeriness. That clench of his jaw says it all.

‘Should I talk to him? Caroline asks.

‘Let’s see how he is after the main course. If he is about to say anything, you toss the wine in his face.’ Tallulah says.

‘Knowing Tommy he’ll just swallow the wine and say what he wants to say, the man is stubborn as they come.’ Rocks says trying to make eye contact with Tommy who is studiously, purposely ignoring her.

‘Can you blame him? If your father said that to Sebastian-’

‘I’d have to punch him.’ Rocks says.

‘We’ll keep an eye out and after the main course we’ll take his temperature.

They didn’t make it to the end of the main course.

Halfway through the main course things take a turn. JJ noticed Jason and her father involved in a heated conversation at the other end of the table but Rocks is immediately on it.

‘Gentlemen what seems to be the problem?’

‘Tell her dad.’ Jason says, daring his father.

‘I know what happened and I am simply here for my friend. Do not upset her. Let’s just have a-’

‘What’s going on?’ JJ asks from her end of the table.

‘Nothing.’ Caroline says hoping to diffuse the tenson already building.

‘I’d like to make a toast.’ Rocco’s father gets on his feet taking that as his cue to step in. All evening he’d notice the tension between JJ and her father, her friends diffusing tensions all night.

‘I’m sorry sis this is bullshit.’

‘Thomas!’ Fen hisses looking daggers at her brother. They’d talked to their father about running their sisters’ Christmas and now this. Fuck JJ will never forgive them. ‘Stop it.’

Just then Rocks rings a bell, ‘children come on let’s go see the grotto.’

‘Where on earth did you get a bell?’ Caroline gets to her feel marshalling out the children with the help of the footmen.

‘You were saying Jason?’ JJ is done, barely two days in, and she is done trying to cope. This might be the night she kicks everyone out.

‘He’s asked Barnaby to come here.’

‘WHAT?’ The entire room must have said that because as one they turned to look at Martin.

‘Why are you reading my messages?’ Martin rounds on his son.

‘Because we warned you, if you make trouble for JJ, we will make trouble for you.’ Jason answers.

‘Why did you invite Barnaby? Is he the guest that you talked about?’

‘Never mind he’s not coming.’

‘Why did you invite him?’ JJ presses her father.

‘JJ, its fine.’ Rocco says, trying to diffuse bomb coming straight for them.

‘No, it’s not fine.’ JJ snaps her eyes brimming with fire.

‘Does he know about Barnaby?’ Martin asks his daughter. ‘What he was to you?’

‘I do know about Barnaby,’ Rocco answers before JJ is made to suffer any more humiliation at the hands of her father. Alexa had sent him an envelope on JJ, a recon like they would for anyone before hiring them to join his team. JJ hadn’t told him about Barnaby but Alexa told him the details. He shredded the files and thought nothing more it. ‘And I know they were engaged.’

JJ’s eyes widen with shock. ‘You do?’

‘Yes, I do. And I would imagine that’s why your father thinks I’m never going to be good enough for you to want to marry me.’

‘You said that?’ JJ asks her father. ‘Is that what happened on the golf course?’

‘Yes. He as much said, you’ll never marry Rocco because he is not good enough for you.’

‘Is that really what you believe?’

‘Why won’t you marry him then?’ Martin challenges, what the hell now they have everyone’s attention. ‘You have been with him for nearly ten years, and you have two beautiful children-’

‘Yes, and we lost one this year when I had a miscarriage.’

Sharp intakes of breath filters through the room.

‘JJ…’ Rocco is deflated in his seat watching his girl detonate. He did not think they would go here tonight or ever.

‘She doesn’t have to get married if she doesn’t want to dad. Marriage isn’t for everyone and at least he loves her, which is more, much more, than can be said for you and mum.’ Fen has never wanted to throw something at her father so much.

‘You want to know why I’m not married to Rocco? Because I’m too scared, I will be like you and the woman who calls herself my mother. That I would screw things up like the both of you did.’ JJ wayward tear falling down her face. ‘I don’t think I deserve him, the best man I’ve ever known, better than you, who loves me even after all these years. I haven’t said anything to him because I am convinced that one day I will wake up and it would have all been a dream because I really am my mother’s daughter. He’s asked me twice. Did you know that? And I said no both times because I am just too scared, not because he’s not good enough for me, but because I don’t think I’m good enough for him. And I wonder whose fault that is.’ JJ pushes her chair back from the table. ‘I hope you’re happy. I thought us inviting you here would be a chance to start over, forget the bullshit that happened and make some good inroads between us but you don’t want that. You don’t even love me enough to pretend to want that. You hold me responsible for your wife leaving as does Cleo and you know what, I don’t care anymore. I really don’t and I’d like you to leave.’ With that she walks out of the dining room.