"Hey, Toni!" you called out cheerfully, waving hello to your friend. He grinned back at you as he made his way over, entering through your front gate.
"_______!" he piped in his Spanish accent. "How've you been?" He tipped his wide-brimmed hat, making you giggle.
"Just fine, Toni. Even better now that you're here!" You had moved in a couple years back, and had started gardening as a hobby. Growing tomatoes was hard at first, but Antonio seemed to arrive at just the right moment to lend a hand. Things were much easier now than when you started out. Not to mention the tomatoes added a nice little income in addition to your part-time job, which made it all the easier to get food on the table.
"Ah, bien, bien!" he crowed, smiling cheerfully as always. He got down on one knee. "And how is the little tomate?"
The seven-year-old boy had been clinging to you ever since Antonio arrived, and now his amber eyes glowered at him from behind dark brown bangs. "Get out of my house, you son of a–"
"Lovi!" you hissed through clenched teeth, sending him a warning look. He clamped his mouth shut, but kept glaring at Antonio.
Antonio, however, laughed and held his hands up. "It's fine," he insisted as he stood up. "I just got a little too close, didn't I, niño mio?"
"Beat it!" Lovino barked, darting forward from behind you. More in surprise than fear, Antonio scrambled backwards, tripping over your picket fence and collapsing on the ground outside the property.
"Toni!" you cried out in concern. Dashing through the gate, you stood over him and offered your hand. He graciously accepted, and you managed to pull him up. "I'm sorry! So sorry," you apologized over and over. He just smiled sheepishly and shrugged, making you feel even more awful. "Lovi isn't usually like this. Only when I have you over, it seems."
"It's okay, _______," he insisted, keeping his distance from Lovino. "It's probably just that he doesn't like me very much…"
"No, no!" you argued, helping him dust himself off. "He doesn't have a reason to dislike you. You've done nothing wrong."
"No. I don't like him at all," Lovino butt in, chubby cheeks puffed in a pout.
"Lovi!" you scolded, shooting him a glare of your own.
"Now, now!" Antonio interrupted, his smile looking more and more forced. "We're not going to harvest any tomatoes if we're fighting the whole time, huh?" He put on a pair of rubber gloves and fixed his sunhat, which had grown crooked. "The sooner we start, the sooner we can lounge about with some of _______'s fresh lemonade!"
Antonio had come over to help with gardening many times before. Lovino had been downright disrespectful of Antonio just as often. However, nothing could have prepared you for what happened that day.
Never before had Lovi dared to do anything more than ignore Antonio half the time, and insult him from afar the rest. Today, he used the most offensive terms, more vulgar than any boy his age should know. He pelted poor Antonio with the rotten tomatoes that had fallen on the ground. He tripped the man with the garden hose before promptly soaking him and the dirt around him, which of course resulted in Antonio's being covered in mud. As if that wasn't enough, hardly any work was done. Between helping Antonio, scolding Lovino, and cleaning up messes, there wasn't much time for harvesting.
The sun went down, and Antonio left. He had never dropped his smile, but it had grown to be nervous and strained by the end of his visit. Once alone with Lovino, you scrubbed his mouth with soap and sent him to clean his room.
After such a day, all you wanted was to take a long nap on the couch and pretend it never happened. But no! You still had a crapton of laundry you needed to take care of first. You stood in the laundry room and recounted the events of the day, cringing as you folded shirt after shirt. Lovino…where did you go wrong? What could you do with him? The roar of the television set didn't help your headache in the least.
Television? Reluctantly, you dragged your tired body to the living room. Sure enough, there was Lovino, slouching on the couch and watching tv. At least now you knew where he learned those words.
"Lovi," you cooed, although your fatigue had begun to show through your voice. He didn't seem to have heard you. "Lovino Vargas, didn't I tell you to clean your room?" He slouched even more and turned up the volume of the television set. That was the last straw. You grabbed the remote from his hands and turned off the tv.
"HEY!" he protested, trying to grab the remote back.
"No!" you firmly opposed, holding the remote out of his reach. "Did you clean your room, or not?"
He scoffed and puckered his lips in that pout you always found so adorable. Of course, over the course of today, it was seeming less and less cute. "You can't tell me what to do, woman!" he defiantly replied.
That did it. You were done dealing with him. You threw the remote on the couch and grabbed him by the wrist, dragging him to his bedroom as he loudly protested. Flinging him inside, you caught a quick glance at the room before you shut the door. It was even messier than it was when you told him to clean it. You couldn't even see the floor under all the toys, books, and laundry.
Laundry that I will have to wash later, you thought bitterly to yourself.
Lovino pounded at the door, demanding to be let out (and letting out himself more profanities. You made a mental note to burn that television when you had the chance).
"You are not coming out until that room is spotless!" you yelled through the wood. "Lovino Vargas, I am sick and tired of the way you've been acting. You have been nothing but rude and unhelpful, and I'm tired of having to apologize over and over for your misbehaving! So shut up and do what I say for ONCE today, or so help me, you'll be picking tomatoes by yourself from now on!"
His banging suddenly ceased. You heard a wailing cry as some toy or another was flung at the door. The impact was enough to drive you away. Perhaps you carried it a step too far. See, you had been looking for a better job lately. Unfortunately, this ate up a lot of your free time. Tending the garden was the only time you had with Lovino, and to give that up…
"Lovino?" you whispered at the door. No answer. "Fine!" you squeaked, whirling around on your heels. Maybe now you can get something done.
You looked at the large pile of clothes in the laundry room. For some reason, you no longer felt like folding them. You collapsed on the couch and curled up into a tight ball. Why is he like this?
It's true, Lovino had never exactly been a ball of hugs and smiles. But he had also never been downright disrespectful to you. If you asked him to do something, he would always reluctantly do it. When he was finished, he would timidly spy on you from around the corner until you chased him down and kissed his cheeks before sitting him at the table for his favorite Italian foods.
But now he had grown cold. Not only towards you, but towards everyone. Come to think of it, he was like this to anyone who came within a three-foot radius of you. Today was the first time he had directed his lashings at you yourself.
You looked to your side. There was a side table with a picture frame. Picking it up for a closer look, you found you had to smile. It was a picture of Lovino and his little brother, Feliciano, from a couple years back. Feliciano actually WAS a ball of hugs and smiles. You could still recall the way he would lightly take your hand and ask to be held. You never had to chase him down like you did Lovino.
Why can't he be more like Feliciano? you thought to yourself. For a moment, you wondered how Feliciano was doing.
See, Feliciano and Lovino had been separated in your divorce with a man named Roderich Edelstein. That's right: once upon a time, you were Mrs. Edelstein. Two years ago, there was a falling out between you. You still loved him dearly, but in the end, you both decided it was for the best you split up. You moved far away and never looked back. Last you heard, he was happily remarried to a woman named Elizabeta. You had met her once or twice before, and even you had to admit you liked her. She was so nice, no bitter feelings were spawned, and you sincerely wished her better luck than you had. However, you were still hurting, and have since been trying to get back to your former self.
I shouldn't be thinking about this now, you went on to think with a sad smile. I just need to rest my eyelids…just a bit… You pressed the picture to your heart and closed your eyes, and soon, you were fast asleep.
You awoke to the sound of glass breaking. Immediately, you tumbled off the couch, your maternal instincts kicking in.
"LOVINO!" you shrieked, following the source of the sound (but not without stumbling along the way). There, in the kitchen, was Lovino, eyes puffy, nose red, and cheeks tear-stained. In front of him was a broken vase, wilting daisies scattered in a puddle. The vase had been a wedding present. It was the only thing you had kept from your marriage with Roderich, leave of course for Lovino. It had sentimental value. "Oh, Lovi…" you began. You didn't quite know how to finish. You were beyond feeling. You simply knelt on the floor and tried to pick up the pieces. Perhaps it could be fixed…
"No!" Lovino shouted, startling you out of your thoughts. "Get up," he commanded, stepping on the broken glass. "I don't want to see you…like that anymore!"
"Lovi, stop," you choked, lifting him off the glass and sitting him on the table. "I don't want you to hurt yourself–"
"I don't want…you to hurt yourself."
You stared at him. "What…" you cleared the tears from your throat. "…What are you talking about?"
His eyes started getting watery again. "Roderich was mean to Mama. And he broke her…her heart." He paused to wipe his tears before they fell from his eyes. "And Mama hurt and hurt, and he didn't care. And I hate him! I hate him so much! And I hate what he did to Mama! And I hate that–" he paused to remember the soap incident from earlier "–that girl for marrying him and hurting you even more! And I hate that jerk Antonio, and how he keeps bugging you…" He started to cry, and you had to try really hard not to smile. Did he really think you had feelings for Antonio? It was true that he did take an interest in you, and had even asked you out once or twice. He was harmless, though, and you had made it clear you weren't interested. Lovino continued his rant: "And every time…I tried to make him go away…" he gasped between sobs, "…so he won't hurt you…but you just got…so angry!" He broke down in tears, and had to bury his face in his knees so you wouldn't see. "And now…" the muffled words made it through his legs, "…now you hate me, too."
You felt a sharp pang in your heart. So all this time, he was just trying to protect you from heartbreak? And since you were always so blind to his valiant motives, you snapped at him until he was moved to snap at you!
"Oh, Lovi!" you moaned, wrapping him in a tight hug. "Lovi, Lovi, Lovi!" He turned his head away from you. "Why didn't you tell me in the first place? I had no idea!" You wiped away his tears. "I don't hate you. I love you. And I think it was very sweet of you to go through all that trouble just for me."
"And…and you're not gonna leave me for that jerk Antonio?" He seemed so genuinely afraid, you had to let out a chuckle, provoking a "Don't laugh at me!" from the boy.
"No, I definitely won't leave you for him. And I'll let you in on a little secret:" You lowered your lips to his ear. "I only like Antonio as a friend. There is no danger of him hurting me at all."
He took a moment to process this before lightly pushing your face away. "Why didn't you tell me, woman?!"
Now you had to laugh. You nuzzled his cheek. "Why didn't you tell me you were jealous in the first place?"
"I'm not jealous!" he argued, pushing you away again. And so went the argument until you sent him away so you could clean up the glass mess he made.
That night, you two made a pact. He was to tell you when your relationships made him uneasy instead of acting angrily on his own. In return, you were to be careful with your affection, especially around members of the male species.
"Except me," Lovino had said stubbornly.
"Yes, of course!" you laughed as you initiated a tickle war on the couch. "Except you!"
Also, he was grounded from television. But that was a small price to pay when you had full reconciliation with each other.
It was late that night when a visitor arrived at your bedroom door.
"Lovi?" you murmured, half-awake. He ambled over to your bedside. "What's wrong?"
"Can't sleep," was his husky reply.
"Bad dreams?" you inquired, scooting over to make room for him in your bed. He crawled under your covers.
"Just…can't sleep. That's all." He turned to face away from you. Then he muttered under his breath, "Th'r're shadows'n m'room."
You rolled your eyes. "You never cleaned your room like I asked, did you?"
You wrapped your arms around his chubby form and squeezed him tight. "Well, we aren't picking tomatoes until that room is spotless!" you piped cheerfully, his groan making you grin. "Don't worry! With Toni helping, it'll be done even quicker!" Another groan. You curled up closer to him, and he even turned around to snuggle up to you. This was more affection than you'd expect from Lovino.
"Hey, Lovi," you whispered, breaking the silence.
"What?" You smiled inwardly. He was trying to sound grumpy, but you could hear the curiosity in his voice.
"I Lovi you," you cooed, kissing his forehead.
He chose to ignore your bad pun. "I love you too, Mama." He tilted his head up and kissed your chin.
Finally at peace, you two exchanged goodnights and fell asleep side by side.