How does a girl get through school stuck with the name Lucky Saint? How does a girl answer questions about her family when her mom was murdered and her dad was once an infamous criminal known as Gino the Ram?
Beats me. But if I have to, then I absolutely can do it. I'm a Santangelo after all. A freaking survivor of a major screwed-up childhood. A girl with a shining future.
Now here I am—a week before my fifteenth birthday—about to be packed off to L'Evier, which I'm informed is a very expensive private boarding school in Switzerland, so I'd better like it or else.
I am totally pissed. My brother, Dario, is totally pissed. The truth is we're all we've got, and separating us is simply not fair. Dario is younger than me by eighteen months, and I've always felt that I should look after him.
I'm a tomboy.
Dario likes to paint and read.
I like to kick a football and shoot baskets.
Somehow our roles got reversed.
We live in a huge mausoleum—sorry, I mean house—in Bel Air, California. A house filled with maids and housekeepers and tutors and drivers and security guards. Kind of like a fancy prison compound, only our backyard features a man-made lake, a tennis court, and an Olympic-size swimming pool. Yeah, my dad has a ton of money.
Yippee! Luxury. You think?
No way. I'm kind of a loner with very few friends, 'cause my life is not like theirs. My life is controlled by Daddy Dearest. Gino the Ram. Mister "Everything I say is right, and you'd better listen or else."
It sucks. I am a prisoner of money and power. A prisoner of a father who is so paranoid that something bad will happen to me or Dario that he keeps us more or less locked up.
So I guess being sent off to boarding school isn't such a bad thing. Maybe a modicum of freedom is lurking in my future.
However, I will miss Dario so much, and believe me, I know he feels the same way.
We're very different. I resemble Gino with my tangle of jet-black hair, olive skin, and intense dark eyes, whereas Dario inherited my mom's calm blondness.
Yes. I do remember my mom. Beautiful Maria. Sunny and warm and kind. Sweet-smelling with the smile of an angel and the softest skin in the world. She was the love of my father's life, even though he's had legions of girlfriends since her tragic death. I hate him for that, it's so wrong.
I miss my mom so much, I think about her every day. The problem is that my memories are akin to a frightening dark nightmare because I am the one who discovered her naked body floating lifelessly on a striped raft in the family swimming pool—the pool tinged pink with her blood.
I was five years old, and it's an image that never leaves me.
I remember screaming hysterically, and people running outside to see what was going on. Then Nanny Camden picked me up and hustled me inside the house. After that everything is a blur.
I do remember the funeral. Such a somber affair. Everyone crying. Dario clinging to Nanny Camden, while I clutched Gino's hand and put on a brave face.
"Don't ever forget you're a Santangelo," Gino informed me with a steely glare. "Never let 'em see you crumble. Got it?"
Yes, I got it. So I managed to stay stoic and dry-eyed, even though I was only five and quite devastated.
Ah, yes, fond memories of a screwed-up childhood.
Now the limo sits outside the Bel Air house, idling in our fancy driveway, ready to spirit me away to the airport.
Dario has on a sulky face—which does not take away from his hotness. My brother might only be thirteen, but he's almost six feet tall, and once he gets some freedom, girls will be all over him.
It pisses Gino off that Dario doesn't look like him. He always wanted a son—a mirror image of himself—instead he got me.
Ha-ha! I'm the son he never had.
Too bad, Daddy. Make the most of it.
Gino is sending me away to school because he's under the impression I'm a wild one. Just because I occasionally manage to escape from the house and hang out in Westwood—driving one of the house cars without a license—does not label me as wild. It's not as if I do anything crazy, I simply wander around the area checking out what it would be like to be a normal teenager. And yeah, I have to admit that sometimes I do get to talk to a boy or two.
Unfortunately, one memorable night I was pulled over by the cops, and that was a disaster. When Gino found out he went loco. "I'm sendin' you off to a school that'll drill some sense into you," he yelled, having conferred with my Aunt Jen. "What you need is an assful of discipline. I'm not puttin' up with your crappy behavior anymore. You're drivin' me insane."
That's my dad, so unbelievably eloquent.
Marco is standing next to the limo, speaking with the driver. Marco is kind of Gino's shadow and a total babe. He's way over six feet tall, lean and muscular, with thick black curly hair and lips to die for. He's old. Probably late twenties. It doesn't matter because I have a major crush. He's handsomer than any movie star and major cool. Problem is that he talks down to me, treats me as if I'm a little kid, which I suppose in his eyes I am.
I'm on a mission to make him notice me in a different way. I want him to see me as sexy and cool, in fact everything I'm actually not.
Our guardian emerges from the house. Dario and I have christened her Miss Bossy. She's been around for three years, and has given us about as much affection as a plank of wood. She's so annoying that I can't even be bothered to hate her.
"Get in the car, Lucky," Miss Bossy says, fussing with her hair. "Dario," she orders tartly, "say good-bye to your sister, and make it quick."
Miss Bossy has been assigned to accompany me to Europe in spite of my protestations that I am quite capable of making the trip on my own. However, Gino insisted. "You go, she goes," he'd barked at me. "When she delivers you safely to the school, she leaves. That's it, no discussion."
Gino. King of the "no discussion."
Miss Bossy opens the car door and climbs inside.
Dario mouths "Jerko!" behind her back and starts kicking pebbles from the driveway toward the limo. They ping off the front of the car.
"Quit it," Marco says sharply.
Dario continues scowling. Like I said, he's not happy I'm leaving.
I run over, hug my brother, and whisper in his ear, "Stay cool, don't let 'em get you down. I'll be back before you know it."
Dario tries to keep it together, but I can see the frustration and sadness in his blue eyes; he's actually holding back tears. I feel terrible.
"C'mon, Lucky," Marco says, sounding impatient, like he really can't be bothered with this. "You don't wanna miss your plane."
Ah yes, Mister Handsome, that's exactly what I want to do.
I give Dario one final hug and blurt out, "Love ya," which of course embarrasses the crap out of him.
Dario mumbles something back, and suddenly I find myself sitting in the limo and we are off.
Gino is nowhere to be seen. He's away on a business trip.
What else is new?
The plane ride to Europe is endlessly long and boring. Fortunately, to Miss Bossy's annoyance, I am not seated next to her. I am seated beside a voluptuous bimbo in her forties who seems to be freaked out by flying. The woman has overbleached blonde hair and is wearing an astonishing amount of caked-on eye makeup. Her skirt is so short that it barely covers her leopard thong. I get several unwelcome flashes before she downs two Mimosas, covers herself with a blanket, and falls into a drug-induced sleep. Earlier I noted she slurped down a couple of sleeping pills with her booze. Nice. To my delight, I score a window seat, which means I don't have to bother with her. Instead I gaze out the window, thinking about Marco. Even though he escorted me to the airport, does he even realize I exist? He never speaks to me except to bark orders. He barely looks at me. Does he have a girlfriend? What does he do when he's not busy trailing Gino? What exactly is his deal?
Marco's attitude toward me sucks.
I sneak a Cosmopolitan magazine off sleeping bimbo's lap, and read about how to give a man the orgasm of his life.
Hmm ... sex ... not a subject I know a ton about. To my chagrin, I've never even been kissed—and that's because I've never spent time in the company of boys, thanks to Gino and his protective ways. Like I said—since my mom's murder, me and Dario have been kept virtual prisoners.
Oh yes—you can double-bet that I plan on making up for my life of seclusion. Indeed I do. An adventure lies ahead, and I'm totally ready to run with it.
Halfway across the ocean, sleeping bimbo awakes and immediately turns into Chatty Cathy. She starts giving me an extremely tedious rundown of her extremely boring life.
I attempt to appear interested, but it doesn't work and, halfway through her discourse on why all men are dirty dogs, I drift off into a welcome snooze.
She doesn't speak to me again.
* * *
Upon landing, Miss Bossy discovers there is another girl from Los Angeles aboard who is also on her way to L'Evier. She is a tall girl, taller than me, and I'm five-seven. She has long red hair worn in a ponytail, and a pale complexion. I hate her outfit, all neat and buttoned up, while I have on jeans and a Rolling Stones T-shirt—much to Miss Bossy's annoyance. She'd tried to get me to change before we left L.A., but I was having none of it. It wasn't as if she could force me. No way.
The girl and I stare at each other while waiting for our luggage and the arrival of the L'Evier car that's supposed to meet us.
"I'm Lucky," I finally say.
She frowns. "I'm not," she says with a bitter twist. "My parents are forcing me to do this."
"Uh ... I mean my name is Lucky," I explain.
She gives me a disgusted look. "That's your name?" she says, as if she's never heard anything quite so ridiculous.
She should only know who I'm named after—the notorious gangster Lucky Luciano, whom I guess Gino must've hung with way back in his criminal days.
"Yup," I say. "That's my name. What's yours?"
She hesitates for a moment before revealing that her name is Elizabeth Kate Farrell, only most people call her Liz.
Not a bad name, although no way as cool as Lucky.
The truth is that I love my name—it's a one-off, nobody else has it. Besides, if my mom agreed to name me Lucky, then it's all good. It's the "Saint" I'm having a problem with.
"Why are your parents forcing you?" I ask, curious as ever.
"You want the truth or the story I'm supposed to tell?" she says, tugging on her red ponytail.
"Uh, let's go with the truth," I mumble, delighted that someone else might have something to hide.
Liz gives me a long, penetrating look, obviously trying to decide if she can trust me or not.
I stare right back at her, challenging her with my eyes, willing her to go for it.
"Got pregnant. Had an abortion. Now here I am. Banished."
Liz says this all in a very matter-of-fact way. I am totally stunned. Pregnant. An abortion. How old is she anyway?
"Wow," I manage. "That's heavy."
"You think?" she says with a sarcastic grimace.
And then Miss Bossy brings over an elderly emaciated man with pointed features, watery eyes, and a thin mustache. Apparently he is a teacher from L'Evier sent to drive us to the school, located a good hour and a half away from the airport.
The man speaks English with a thick foreign accent. "Come you with me, young ladies," he says, mouth twitching, which causes his whiskery mustache to do a funny little dance. "I am Mr. Lindstrom."
We follow him, trailed by a fat porter who wheels our luggage while breathing heavily, as if near to a major collapse.
By this time I am tired, confused, and filled with questions I wish to ask Liz. If she was pregnant that meant she'd had sex. And if she'd had sex that meant she knew all about it.
As a virgin with absolutely no experience I need to know everything.
L'Evier is situated in the middle of nowhere. I am totally shocked. It seems so remote. I can't help getting the feeling that I'm swapping one prison for another. After an endless drive with Mr. Lindstrom at the wheel and Miss Bossy sitting beside him, Liz and I get out of the school car. We glance around the tree-filled courtyard that leads to a tall building covered in ivy. The building looms several stories high, and is not a welcoming sight. Nor is the school principal, who emerges to greet us—well, that's if you can call it a greeting. She is older than the ancient Mr. Lindstrom. She has gray hair worn in a tight bun, exceptionally thin lips, a long nose, and hardly any chin. She wears pebblelike spectacles, a drab brown dress that looks vaguely Amish, and a disapproving expression.
Nice, considering she doesn't even know us yet.
Why do I feel that I'm in the middle of a Charles Dickens novel, transported back in time? Oh sure, I'm an avid reader—that's what you do when you're not allowed out of the house.
Thanks, Daddy Gino.
Did I mention that Gino hates being called "Daddy"? It's Gino all the way, while he calls me "kiddo."
I guess that, on reflection, I have a love-hate relationship with my father. I want to love him, but the problem is I always end up hating him for the things he does. Such as the endless women he obviously sleeps with. Eewh! Disgusting!
Not that he brings any of them home, but with a house full of staff we always manage to hear about them one way or the other.
As far as I'm concerned, he should've given up women the day my mother was murdered. After all, her murder was his fault—it had to be one of his enemies out to get revenge.
Gino does have enemies; Uncle Costa told me that when I'd hotly complained about being confined to what seemed like house arrest. Uncle Costa is not really my uncle. He is Gino's lifelong lawyer and best friend, and Dario and I regard him and his wife, Aunt Jen, as family.
"Your father's a businessman," Costa had informed me. "All businessmen have enemies."
Businessman, huh? I'd researched my father's activities and they encompassed all kinds of business, including—way back—loansharking, running numbers, owning a speakeasy, and, finally, building hotels and casinos in Las Vegas right at the start of the Vegas boom, turning a patch of barren desert into the shimmering capital of the gambling world.
Yeah. Daddy Dearest has done it all. He's been around and then some.
* * *
A taxi is outside, ready to take Miss Bossy back to the airport. She can barely throw her uptight ass into it quick enough. "Good-bye, dear," she says, patronizing as ever. "See that you behave yourself."
Then she's gone.
Do I care?
No freaking way!
"Welcome to L'Evier," the woman in the long brown dress says in a most unwelcoming tone. "I am your headmistress. You may refer to me as Miss Miriam." She pauses while her beady eyes behind her pebble spectacles look us over. Her gaze lingers on my T-shirt and her lip curls. Clearly she's not a Rolling Stones fan.
"At L'Evier we keep an extremely strict policy of hard work and complete obedience. You girls are here to learn to become pillars of society, gracious and respectful. A list of rules will be posted in your room, along with your daily uniform. Weekends you may wear your own clothes, however"—another steely look at my T-shirt—"I do expect a certain amount of decorum. No short shorts, torn jeans, or tops worn with no brassiere. L'Evier girls have an image to maintain, so kindly always be sure to uphold our rules or you'll risk immediate expulsion. Remember our motto: 'Girls of Quality—Women of Status.'" A long pause to allow us to absorb her words ... then, "That will be all for now. Mr. Lindstrom will show you to your quarters."