My Big Fat Fake Wedding

My Big Fat Fake Wedding

Lauren Landish



Prologue





Violet—Five Months Ago





This can’t be happening. He can’t be leaving me.

Not now.

Not ever.

My heels click across the hospital floor as I race down the hallway. I’m in such a panic, the words blaring over the PA system hardly register from the blood rushing through my ears in a dull roar.

“Code blue, room four! Code blue, room four!”

I nearly trip over my own feet as I break into a shuffling run, boomeranging for the nearest patient room. I swear my heart is going to explode when I spot the correct door and burst inside to see . . .

“Nana!” I exclaim as I see my grandmother, Angela Russo. She looks up from where she’s hovering like a hen over my grandfather. The scowl on her face highlights the parentheses of wrinkles around her lips, making her worry immediately apparent.

My grandfather, Stefano, looks up at me, his unusually pale face widening into a huge smile. But even with the happiness blooming, I can tell he’s worn out, aged decades in the short time since I last saw him.

“My beautiful little flower, Violet!” he sings, his Italian accent coming through as he holds his arms out to me. “I knew you would come. Come here so I can give you a kiss!”

“Oh, Papa, I was so scared!” I say, rushing into his arms and collapsing into a ball of relief. “I dropped everything and came as soon as I heard.”

Papa looks over at Nana with a triumphant wink of his eye as he rubs my shoulders. “See, Angie? This one loves me the most. Do you see any of our other granddaughters here?”

“That’s because you’ve scared them all away with your crazy stories,” Nana growls, but there’s an undercurrent of affection for the man who is both a thorn in her side and her everything.

Papa laughs and squeezes me with a fierce strength that belies his shrinking frame, raining kisses down upon my forehead. I feel comforted, enveloped in his familiar scent, leather and spicy meats . . . masculine and comforting. For a moment, I forget the direness of the situation as he rocks me back and forth in his arms like I’m a child or the one in need of comfort, though he’s the one in the hospital bed.

But the moment is fleeting as reality slams back into me, and I rise to my feet to ask Nana in a rush of words, “What happened? Is he going to be okay? How long has he been like this?”

“The old fool was working out back in the summer heat after I told him he should take it easy and come inside,” Nana says with a frosty scowl at Papa, but her voice softens as she speaks, revealing how frightened she really is. “I found him lying face down in the dirt.”

“Papa!” I say in admonishment. “You know you’re not supposed to be taking on a heavy workload, doctor’s orders. Why didn’t you listen to Nana?”

Grandpa waves away my worry with a bony hand. “I don’t see what the fuss’s all about. A man has to work, and I’ll do what I need to until the day they put me six feet under. I just tripped and had a little fall, that’s all.” He says it like he believes that to be the truth.

Nana gives me a sour look that says, ‘That’s definitely not what happened.’ “He passed out—” she begins.

“I fell and was getting up before you came squawking like a worried hen, making things worse,” Papa interrupts. “So, I decided to lie back and let you do what you were going to do. You shoulda done the same for me.”

“Nonsense!” Nana snaps. “If I hadn’t found you, who knows what would’ve happened?”

“Nothing.” Papa dismisses Nana with a nonchalant shrug. “I’d be fine, maybe about to pass out from eating some of your overcooked pasta—”

“Why, you old bast—”

“Bah! Hush, woman, you worry too much. I’m more likely to drop dead from all of your hen clucking than I will from a little heat.”

Their bickering is comforting in a twisted way, the camaraderie of being together for decades and knowing which buttons to push to get a rise out of each other but also which ones are entirely off limits.

He pulls a long cigar out from the side of his bed and offers it to her. “Here. Calm yourself and have a stogie.” The shit-eating grin on his face says he knows he’s poking the bear, and I realize he’s giving her something to focus on besides worrying about him. He’s a slick old fox, I’ll give him that.

Nana snatches the cigar out of his hand, brandishing it as if it’s a weapon. “Have you gone pazzo? They don’t even allow smoking in the hospital. And really? A smoke when you’re supposed to be recovering?”

“Sure, why not? I’d rather have a smoke than act like a pagliaccio!”

Nana throws her hands up in frustration, the cigar flying from her hands in a perfect arc that ends in the trashcan. If she wasn’t so riled up, I’d give her a round of applause, but as it is, I’m staying out of their battle. For now, at least. “Oh, fanculo tutto! You’re impossible!”

“I know.” Grandpa tosses me a mischievous wink meant to lighten the mood. “That’s why you married me. You like the challenge.”

The two continue to bicker as I look on fondly, feeling a sense of relief. Whatever happened to land Papa in the ER hasn’t robbed him of his feistiness, so it couldn’t have been too bad, could it?

It’s a particularly hot summer, and it’s not uncommon for the elderly to overheat when they underestimate the weather. Maybe he’s right and this is all a lot of fuss for nothing. He just needs a slap on the hand to follow the doctor’s and Nana’s orders a bit better, and everything will be fine.

Even as I tell myself that, I know it’s wishful thinking and childish hopes. A girlish desire to deny the mortality of a man who has always seemed larger than life to me. Deep inside, I know he’s no more immortal than the rest of us, but even so, I need to know this isn’t going to happen again. I love him too much to lose him. Especially not now, and if I had my say, not ever.

After being reassured several times by Papa that he’s fine, I excuse myself from the room to let him and Nana bicker themselves out.

In the hall, I run into a man wearing a long white coat and carrying a binder with Papa’s name on the spine. His name tag says Dr. Lee, and he has an aura of calm control that seems to relax me immediately.

“Are you Violet?” he asks before I can say anything, giving me a warm smile.

I nod. “I am. How’d you know?”

He grins. “Your grandfather wasn’t concerned in the least about his health and has been talking about you since the moment he came in, telling anyone who’ll listen about his granddaughter. If you didn’t know, he’s quite fond of you.”

I smile. “That definitely sounds like him. Can you tell me what happened? I’m not sure I trust his version of events.”

Dr. Lee’s expression turns solemn and the energy around him shifts, making me instantly nervous. “It appears that, due to the heat and overworking himself, your grandfather’s blood pressure dropped and he lost consciousness.”

“That’s what Nana said. So, if we can keep him from overdoing it, he’s going to be okay.” I say it definitively, like I’m adding tying him to his recliner in the air-conditioned living room to my to-do list.

Dr. Lee tilts his head, his lips pressed together. “Well, as I explained to Angela and Stefano, we’re waiting for tests to come back for a more complete picture, but I don’t need the tests to tell me that his heart isn’t in good shape. It hasn’t been in quite some time.”

Oh, no.

“But he’s stable now . . .” I say, like I’m refuting his medical knowledge with only the power of my hope.

“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Violet, but . . .”

The growing look of sorrow and despair in Dr. Lee’s eyes says everything, and I’m forced to grab ahold of a wall rail to keep from falling.

No.

It can’t be.

It just can’t.

My worst nightmare come to life.

“How long does he have?” I ask through the lump in my throat. The words sound surreal, like someone else is saying them.

“At his age, it’s hard to say,” Dr. Lee muses, shrugging his shoulders. “Anything I say is at best an educated guess. Six months? A year, maybe? But he’s a stubborn mule who refuses to follow orders, which complicates things. To be honest, he could go at almost any time if we can’t get his heart to function properly and him to be compliant.”

His words, an awful confirmation of what I feared most, hit me like a sucker punch to the gut, the air leaving my lungs in one forceful gust.

Six months to a year? Or less?

How can Papa, the only father figure I’ve ever known, the man who practically raised me from a pigtailed toddler to adulthood, the man who could take on anything the world threw at him and live to tell about it . . . have such little time to live?

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