Four Years Old
I am getting all dressed up like a princess.
Papa and Mamma are expecting company for dinner tonight, so Nonna has dressed me in my prettiest dress. It is purple, and it has yellow butterflies on the front. Purple is my favorite color.
I twirl and twirl until I'm dizzy.
"Hold still, so I can finish your hair, Gabriella," Nonna scolds.
She helps me get my shoes on as she explains that the Scutari family just moved two estates down from us. Mr. Scutari is in the same business as Papa. He and his three boys-Emilio, Atelo, and Christoff-as well as their grandparents are coming to meet us all tonight, and Papa wants me and my brothers to be on our very best behavior. She holds my hand and leads me downstairs.
"There is my bambina." Papa reaches out for me, and he picks me up and spins me around as I laugh with glee. He turns, and I see a group of people huddled in the foyer.
"Say hello to our new friends, Gabriella. This is Papa's friend Mr. Scutari and his boys and their grandparents."
"Hi." I wave shyly and lay my head on Papa's shoulder.
They all say hello in return, and Papa shows us into the dining room where Mamma and Nonna are placing food in the center of the table. My tummy growls loudly, and everyone laughs.
"My baby girl is always hungry." Papa smiles down at me as he places me in my seat between Nicco and one of his friend's sons.
I sneak a peek up at the stranger. He has long, dark hair that falls into his face. His eyes are dark green, and when he smiles down at me, he has a dimple in his cheek, just like Nicco.
"Hey, I'm Christoff."
"Where is your mamma, Crisscross?" I ask.
"No, Chris-toff," he repeats.
I wrinkle my nose. That's what I said.
I mimic him, "Criss-cross."
He laughs, and so does Nicco.
"Gabriella, he said Christoff, not Crisscross. Crisscross would be a silly name."
"I didn't say Crisscross. I said, Criss-Cross," I state in aggravation.
"You just said it again."
"I did not."
Nicco is always mean to me, and he always tries to embarrass me.
"It's okay," Christoff whispers to me. "You can call me Crisscross if you want to."
"I don't want to call you that. People will laugh at me. I want to call you Crisscross."
Nicco laughs out loud again, and I don't understand what is so funny.
"It can be a thing just between you and me, okay?" he says. "I'll call you"-he scratches his head-"Gabby. You call me"-he stops, and his forehead crinkles like he is thinking-"Cross. What do you think?"
I look up into his green eyes, and I smile.
"Nicknames just for us?"
I smile big at him. He is so nice. I think we will be the bestest friends ever.
Cross's papa tells us that his mamma was in an accident, and she is with Jesus and the angels now. His mamma's parents came to live with them afterward to help. I look up at Cross, and when his papa talks about the angels, his lips quiver. He is sad. I would be sad, too, if my mamma went to live with the angels and did not come visit me. I will have to love him extra hard for her, so he is not sad anymore.
After dinner, the adults have yucky coffee while we all enjoy dessert that Cross's grandmother, Una, made. Then, they excuse themselves. Nicco looks to Cross and asks if he wants to ride bikes, and I ask if I can come, too.
"No, you can't even ride your bike without training wheels." He rolls his eyes.
I start to get upset because I want to go with them. I don't want to stay while the older boys play video games and the grown-ups talk in the study.
Why can't I go?
"Tell you what, Miss Gabby." Cross bends down and looks me in the eye. "Next time I come over, I will help you learn how to ride without training wheels. Then, you can always go with us. Deal?"
"Okay," I say through my tears.
He wraps one of my curls in his finger and tugs. "Don't cry. We will have lots of time to spend together now that we live just down the street. I promise."
"Cross your heart?"
"Cross my heart." He slashes his fingers over his heart and winks at me as he follows Nicco out the back door.
I think he might be my prince, just like Cinderella. Prince Cross.