Silently, Tony reached for Sofia's hand, which she offered. Closing the nursery door, he led her to her bedroom which was furthest from where Marcia slept. He closed the door.
Sofia didn't say a word, She just disengaged her hand, sliding the straps of her nightdress off her shoulders. one by one, almost in slow-motion. The garment slipped gently to the floor. A nice seductive touch, but one that wouldn't 'make the cut' as Tony spoiled it by lunging at her naked body as if it too might slip away.
Then a mere mechanical process with female sound effects.
The signals were there. Something would happen tonight. However, Sofia's confidence was coming back. She said no more. She just took her time with baby Giovanna, changed her wet nappy and was putting her back into the cot. Meanwhile, Tony hadn't moved or offered to help. He'd just kept his eyes on Sofia.
Then there was a call from Marcia's bedroom.
"Everything OK Sofe?"
Sofia put her finger to her lips and mouthed shhhh! and called back "Yep, she's fine. Just putting her back down."
"Thanks." came the drowsy return call.
"Now what?" asked Tony
Silently, Sofia gestured 'Your call."
"Seen enough yet?" Sofia challenged Tony.
"Not nearly enough!" Tony's gaze lifted and he looked her straight in the eyes. Having always kept herself very composed around Tony, suddenly Sofia was taken by surprise. Her challenge disintegrated. This was it. Or might be.
All she did was say nervously "I guess I look like a younger version of my sister and you must have been attracted to her once, though you don't seem to like each other now. Maybe I'm your type too."
"Unlike Marcia, I actually quite like you.”
"You're a ballsy cow, but I like you too"
Sofia was starting to enjoy herself. She became aware that Tony was becoming much more friendly to her, which she matched, always with some reserve. What wasn't reserved though was that she continued to float around the house in her nighties when she was staying over. Tony didn't mention again that she should cover herself up. He liked it this way and he occasionally looked in on her giving Giovanna her nightly milk bottle.
One such night, looking up, she noticed Tony staring at her cleavage. She didn't ignore it.
"What are you looking at Tony?"
"You know full well"
“What makes you think I want to screw you?” Tony bristled.
"I didn't say you wanted to screw me. I was making a general point about men. You are one aren't you?"
Sofia had skilfully thrown in a subtle challenge. She'd risked Tony's anger. He could have gone crazy at that stage, but all he did was turn and leave.
'He's thinking about it' she said to herself.
She looked down at baby Giovanna and noticed that from where Tony had been standing, her nightdress would have shown off rather a lot. His rapid exit had said a lot too.
Possibly because she was his wife’s sister and helped out, or curiosity, Tony’s disinterest in Sofia mollified gradually. He was his version of friendly, which, for a person whose fundamental instinct was mistrust, was unusual. Sofia's long game was paying off.
Once, after Giovanna was born, when Sofia was giving the baby a bottle, Tony looked in.
Seeing them, he asked.
“Why ain’t you got a man to spend time with? Ain’t many girls would want to clean up shitty nappies. It ain’t natural!”
“I’ve had it with men,” she replied nonchalantly, “all you guys want to do is screw.”
On visits to see her sister, and helping with Giovanna, Sofia found a way to cope with Tony's grunts and general demeanour. She was always civil and occasionally offered him cakes she’d made, but in an offhand manner, so she didn’t show her hand. Although on occasions she did show quite a bit more.
"Can't you keep yourself covered up, woman?" he growled one day.
"Sorry, I didn't realise it was bothering you" Sofia replied.
"It ain't." That was all he said. Whether he noticed Sofia's quizzical look which said 'Oh really?' was unclear. However, it wasn't mentioned again... until...
Sofia became a regular overnight and weekend visitor to Tony's house in Chigwell, Her strategy was to spend a fair bit of her spare time round with Marcia at first, then when baby Giovanna arrived, she became an attentive auntie and friend.
On weekends she would offer to babysit for Marcia while she went shopping. That suited Marcia and suited Tony too because he tended to be around at home at the weekends himself. It enabled Sofia to be there in a positive, helpful way. But she wasn’t in a hurry to ensnare Tony, she was playing a long game.
Over a period of time Tony got used to seeing more of Sofia around his house. If it kept Marcia in check, it was no skin off his nose. Although he had been quite satisfied that cutting Marcia down to size would keep her under control, he was nonetheless relieved to have someone for her and an auntie for his kids. Sofia increasingly stayed over at weekends; he was OK with that.
However, the way that Sofia behaved to him was completely nonchalant, totally relaxed. What was it with her? How about showing bit of fear and respect?'
Sofia didn’t find out that Tony had beaten up Marcia and never did. She did become closer to Marcia though through both pregnancies and had rationalised that impending motherhood must heighten Marcia’s sense of family.
Sofia was happy to be Marcia’s friend, particularly because it put her closer to the aura of Tony’s power. She never got so close though that she would stop trying to get even closer to Tony. Observing Tony’s ambivalence towards Marcia, and sensing that having babies might put a sexual strain on their relationship, Sofia rationalised that she would be doing them both a service.
On finding out the nature of Tony’s business, rather than being appalled by it as most young women might, Sofia was enthralled.
Further discovering that Tony was boss, the head-honcho, and that her sister was his wife, only served to fascinate her. Sofia started to see Tony in a different light. His disinterest in her, despite being his sister-in-law, and dismissive behaviour heightened this fascination. She developed a crush on Tony, or maybe his power, which was a strong aphrodisiac. Her distance from Marcia had kept Sofia in check though.
Until now, when Marcia wanted a friend.
Sofia had never warmed to Tony. She'd never warmed to Marcia either, from the jealousy a younger girl might feel for her older sibling. Marcia seemed to have 'married well', to Tony, a successful businessman who enabled her sister to live in style, denied little by way of material things.
The girls' family background had been somewhat of a struggle and Marcia's apparent good fortune had catapulted her out of this. Sofia wasn't so lucky yet... and she wanted everything that Marcia had.
Only recently had she become aware of what Tony's 'business' was. Was that something she would want?
Marcia had balls. In her marriage to Tony she had somehow managed to face him down and gave as good as she got. Her strong features matched a strong character and a strong determination to do things her way.
Unfortunately, doing things her way had finally prompted Tony to put her in her place for once and for all. His beating and the unveiled threat to her life had, for once, scared her into submission. The having kids thing she regarded as sensible and a bit of insurance for her survival. But then she needed a friend.
Sofia would do.
Marcia never had many girlfriends. Some women are like that. Likewise, her relationship with her only sibling, her sister Sofia, had never been particularly close. Until now when she had been isolated by Tony into performing the role of mother and little else.
Sofia was 4 years younger than Marcia, but they looked very similar. They were both very striking. Whilst Terry's Livia was undoubtedly extremely pretty, Marcia and Sofia had the facial architecture that set them out as women to be reckoned with. Terry was seduced by a pretty face, but Tony favoured strong looks, as befits the bossman.
By now, Tony pretty much had contempt for Marcia. Any love had evaporated years ago, but he still maintained rights over her. With Tony disinterested, Marcia attempted to enjoy herself, having now ‘done her duty’ by him. She slept around, very carefully, so that Tony or any of his people wouldn’t find out. But of course he did. After all, he had a phone locating app.
But now he had a family too. Two lovely little kids needing a mum, so Marcia was allowed to continue living, under almost custodial conditions, while her lovers never resurfaced, each having suddenly disappeared.
“Do as you’re told and you can live like a princess and I won’t bother you again unless you really step out of line”.
Marcia agreed, secretly telling herself to be careful not to be seen stepping out of line. But by then she was pregnant, producing a girl, Giovanna, and eighteen months later, after strong pressure and veiled threat, she delivered Tony a son, Alfredo.
As far as Tony was concerned then she had done what he wanted, he had an heir and spare. He lost interest in Marcia after that, but still kept her on a tight rein.
Realising that Marcia had been doing the same thing as Livia, but out in the open, Tony evened things by beating up Marcia too. Tony wasn’t going to be made a monkey of by her, so he searched and found all her contraceptive pills, flushed them away and had his way with her over and over during the week that she was ‘indisposed’.
Marcia screamed that he hemmed her in. Tony made it clear that unless she kept her mouth shut, his network was wide and deep, and she might find her style really cramped, ‘like in a car crusher!’
Livia, whose instinct normally kept her out of trouble, had misjudged things badly. After Tony’s visit, she had nobody she could to talk to, certainly not Terry. So she dealt with it all by talking to Luka while he was sleeping. He wouldn’t understand what she was talking about… not yet, she figured.
Luka was a smart boy who eventually would work out what his mum had been mumbling about. But not right now.
The strange thing was that despite the beating Tony gave Livia, she was even more attracted to him. The same couldn’t be said for Marcia though.
As he’d beaten her, Tony had explained to Livia he was within an inch of strangling her, but out of respect for Terry, who for some crazy reason still adored her, and despite what she’d done, he stopped short. Tony told her she was going to be under his beady eye for the foreseeable future and if she was smart, she would give Terry the second child he wanted. She agreed, somewhat nervously, and the price of her survival was to tell nobody about what had gone on, even her best friends.
Because if it got out, she was dead.
The way Tony had explained things made it clear to Terry that Livia had taken a beating. He had no idea what would greet him when he got home. He needn’t have worried, because Livia had locked herself away and wouldn’t speak to him.
Grudgingly Terry accepted the need for Livia to be punished and was grateful that Tony hadn’t done any worse, like killing her, and he’d avoided her face. Terry loved Livia’s face and he didn’t want a constant visual reminder of what had transpired.
Days later, he drew a line in the sand with Livia. Sort of.