tagNovels and NovellasThe Twelve Vitali Ch. 26

The Twelve Vitali Ch. 26

byxelliebabex©

Authors note: Hello everyone. Thank you to everyone who takes the time to vote and comment, as always I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the people who read this series. Thank you once again to Paul who continues to be my second set of eyes. ~ellie.

Chapter 26

Cat sat nervously in a comfortable armchair in Theresa's private sitting room. It was as if everyone had slowly separated, with the older men leaving first, followed by the younger men a little while later. Theresa had invited her to see what she called 'her haven', and she had agreed eagerly, always wanting to know more about the men she loved and their parents. As they left, she noticed the older women walking toward the kitchen, leaving the younger women in the living room. She felt like something more was going on that just the announcement of the next Vitali table, and tried to think if Matteo or Ricco had told her anything over the last week that she hadn't paid much attention to at the time.

"I had worried," Theresa began, and paused for a moment as if choosing her words carefully. "I had worried that you may not have the backbone to become the mother of our family table. You have proven to me recently, however, that you are a clever young woman that can hold to her decisions stubbornly in the face of opposition, but also that you can and will compromise when needed."

"I think David is the only person who has ever called me stubborn," Cat said, unsure if Theresa's assessment of her was correct.

"I didn't mean it as an insult, dear," Theresa smiled. "You will need every last bit of that stubbornness to survive the next few weeks, if not months, trust me, and also your compassionate heart that allows you to be so patient and forgiving with others. It will, perhaps, be easier for you than it was for me, but not by much, so it is time for us to plan strategically. I'm afraid we won't have long before they come for you, so I'm afraid you will have to listen while I lecture, and keep your questions to a minimum," Theresa took a deep breath.

"Okay," Cat said tentatively, frowning as she realised whatever was happening here was as important as what was happening to the men she loved.

"We live in what is perceived as a patriarchal society. Marcus would have taught you the family history in that manner, where the men ensure the social, emotional and financial well-being of the family by looking after its assets and assisting those who require help with the vast resources at their disposal. The women are seen as the stereotypical women behind the men, supporting them in their business and community endeavours while raising large broods of children and running vast households. Correct?"

"In a nutshell, yes," Cat agreed.

"For generations that myth was perpetuated. Even the daughters of the tables have little idea what awaits them if they marry a man destined for the chair. It's a small and rather secret little society of women who hold the title of the Mother of a table. It's true, we support our husbands, and we have large families, but there is so much more that the mother must do to the good of both the men of the table and the family. To do that you must be the leader of many tables," Theresa wished she had rehearsed this, or that her mother in-law was still alive to help her with this conversation.

"I don't think I understand," Cat shook her head slightly.

"The men. They are all good men, strong men, alpha men, and as such have strong opinions and their own ways of approaching different matters," Theresa tried to explain the way it had been explained to her. "Imagine the family as a company, and each of the twelve men sitting at the table is an executive. The Chair is the face of that executive, he is the one the world sees as rich and powerful and ultimately influential. Yet each of the others has their role and their responsibilities that go along with that. Without each man and role, the Chair would have nothing to show to the world. They are all equal, but only two are given the roles of leaders... The Chair and Oracle. They lead because they are the hub around which the others circulate information, money and power. They gather all of that information, power and money into one place so as to best serve the family."

"Okay, but how does that impact on the women of the family?" Cat continued to frown, trying to work out what Theresa was trying to say.

"That is how the business side works, and I have no doubt each of the men in there will accept their role and perform it to the best of their ability to keep our family strong, but they are the executives, the CEO's and the businessmen as individuals working together. There is one thing that makes them a family, one thing that can soothe ruffled feathers and heal wounds borne of harsh words and resentments from having so many alpha men working so closely. There is one thing that turns them from businessmen into a family bound by love and commitment to a common cause, to a common vision. There is one thing that has more power than any one person at that table, or even the table as a whole," she paused and looked at Cat.

"The thirteenth?" Cat asked, knowing it was the thirteenth table that had insisted that she go to the Battaglia before being deemed worthy to marry Matteo.

"No," Theresa smiled gently and patted her hand. "The thirteenth table is made up of the Chairs of each of the other tables and a single powerful oracle."

"Oh," Cat frowned again.

"The mother is the most powerful person in each of the families. You told me about your impression of Peri and the absolute respect and love she commanded from each of the men of the Donati table. Maria once commanded that love and respect from each of the Vitali men, and, while they all respect me, the love has not always been there, as I came to the role late and had large struggles to wrest that power from those who would misuse it. That is what we must talk about," she checked her watch. "And quickly."

"I'm still not sure I understand, but I am listening," Cat said seriously, unsure if she understood what Theresa was saying, but realising this was important to her future as Matteo's wife.

"Soon the men will come for you and take you into the room where the men have gathered to talk about the future direction of the family. You will be presented as the mother of the table, and the one who will not only bind them together, but the family together behind them. You will become the little mother, and, as Roberto, Stefano and I retire, it will be Matteo, Ricco and you who will lead this family into the new era. You will hold the power and the future of this family in your hands, and it is they that will support you by ensuring the right people and resources are at your disposal," Theresa said. "Do you understand now? Since Roberto and Stefano first met you, they knew it would be you."

"No!" Cat said. "I'm not that woman! How could I be? I never had a family of my own, not really! I don't know how to..." she raised her hands as anxiety and fear threatened to overwhelm her.

"Yes, you are!" Theresa said adamantly. "All of the men I love, my husband, my lover, my sons, all believe you are that woman. I may not have been convinced, at first, but I have seen glimpses of the strong woman you are beneath that sweet exterior. The men will follow you and adore you until the end of your days. You have already charmed most of them, and more than just one of them is more than a little in love with you. Your hardest trials will come with convincing the women of that table that you can manage this family as well as I have, or perhaps even better than me. You have friends to call on and use, each of the other mothers has gone through the same issues and will help you."

"Why would I need them when I have you, right here?" Cat asked even more anxiously, thinking that Theresa was leaving her.

"My journey was different because I am a second wife," Theresa admitted. "It has taken some time for me to wrest the power back from the women who think they know better than me. It can be more difficult dealing with so many strong women, queen bee's in their own rights, than smoothing the feathers of the men who sit on the table. I am lucky that most are good women who will do what needs to be done, but I face more opposition than I should. More opposition than you will receive once each retires. You must make your own path and not be overly influenced by me and my way, because I have not led the women as well as Maria did when she was mother, I made concessions where I should not have after such a tragedy where the Mother's seat at the table had been vacant for so long before my arrival."

"Who?" Cat asked. She had come up against bullies her whole life, and she could, if she was prepared, allow harsh words to roll off her like water off a duck. She could also fight back if needed. She'd had to fight from time to time throughout her life to protect David, and then to survive being with Ned and still manage to keep her jobs and provide for David.

"I am sure you will have no trouble working that out on your own. I do not want my biases to influence you, and I want to make it clear once again that I did not always trust Roberto and Stefano's decision. You have proven my early assumptions wrong. I have no doubt you will be the best mother this table has ever seen, but you must be strong and prove your worth, even though you shouldn't have to. Remember, you hold the power in this family now, and no one can take that from you unless you let them. No matter what is said by any of the women of this family from this point on, never forget that over the last few weeks I have come to love you as a daughter and dispelled any doubts I had about your strength and love for my family," she smiled softly and hugged Cat to her. "I have no doubt one or two will try and undermine our relationship by telling you about my early concerns. I have not told them of our closeness now, and they do not open their eyes enough to see it."

"Them, who?" Cat asked.

"Each of the wives of the men on the table will become your inner circle, women to trust and rely on. The aunts, as you know them, will stay until their husbands retire, and then will be replaced by the wives of those who succeed them. You will already have Maryanne, Kari and Mia in your circle, each of whom has skills and talents that can help you, and you will have me for a short time to pass on all my knowledge of the family."

"Only a short time?" Cat said in a panic. "Even when Roberto and Stefano step down, you will be close, won't you?"

"Of course, we are family now, but I won't interfere with your circle or your decision making. You must lead. You must have as much faith in yourself as Matteo, Ricco and their fathers have in you," Theresa said. "You can do this, Cat, I believe you can do anything you set your mind to," she impulsively hugged Cat again. "Just promise you won't let any of the women try to intimidate you. You hold this family in your hands. You, and only you have that power. Do you understand?"

Cat was saved from answering as Ricco knocked on the door and opened it slowly as Theresa took a deep breath and stood.

"They're waiting for you, Mama," he said solemnly, and bent to kiss her cheek as she went to walk past him out of the door. "We will follow in a few minutes." He said softly. Theresa nodded and gave a small smile before leaving Cat alone with Ricco.

"Did you know? Did Matt Know?" she asked, trying not to accuse but feeling overwhelmed.

"To tell you the truth, I never gave any thought to Theresa's role in the family. She was just there doing everything, as she always did. I feel guilty for taking all of that for granted now," he admitted. "The mother was just the mother, and it never occurred to me that no one else ever held that title amongst the Aunts or the amount of work she did to make sure this family held together as a strong force to be reckoned with on a national stage and against the other families."

"How am I supposed to live up to that?" Cat said. "I've never had a family at all!"

"You did everything for the wedding, with Theresa's help, but you did it. I think you have more talent for event management than you think, and you won't have to do it alone," Ricco said, closing the space between them. "We didn't know, but even if we did, we would still love you and believe in you. We love you, not just as the incredibly sexy woman you are, but for the strong, amazing, big-hearted and loving woman who will be the most amazing mother our family has ever known. No matter what you do, Matteo and I will back your decisions one hundred percent. If anyone thinks any different just because you weren't born to the tables and laws, then they will be sadly mistaken. You are our world, and we would not be where we are without you. Remember that, always." He bent her head to kiss her, stopping any further argument she might have about her suitability for such a role.

His fathers had practically hand-picked her from the moment he had first brought her home to meet Roberto when she had shown her inner strength, love for her brother and her extraordinary resilience. Roberto had just told them all what he had seen in Cat and believed her capable of, and Ricco had to admit that, while painful to hear, she had been strong enough to leave him when it became obvious he couldn't reciprocate her feelings in the way she wanted. She could have stuck around, tried to use him for his money and status, but instead had packed up her life and forged a new path after ensuring her brother was provided for. She left Matteo for similar reasons. Because she wanted to love and be loved in return.

Roberto teased Matteo about finally waking up to himself and convincing her to give him a second chance, something Ricco hadn't been able to do. Then he spoke about what she had endured for that love and everything the family had thrown at her, most of it unpleasant in the early days. Even after all of that, she still forgave and opened her heart up to the love she felt for his sons and, eventually, the entire family.

He could see that not everyone at the table had been convinced of her suitability, and he worried about her, but he knew she had her supporters who would assist in ensuring this process wasn't too arduous.

"It's time," Ricco said. "Ready or not, I'm afraid." He held her close and kissed her head. "Just remember, everyone in that room already loves you, and you have nothing to prove to anyone, not even yourself."

*****

Cat had sat through over an hour of discussion by the members of the tables new and old. The decisions had been made some time ago by the older members, but they had given the younger members time to speak freely, disagree with decisions and put forward alternative scenarios. She heard her suitability being compared with Maryanne and the women of the other tables, in general, and she had been surprised and dismayed in equal measure by what had been said. She had felt both Matteo and Ricco bristle beside her as they sat and said nothing. They were, after all, her greatest champions because they loved her, and this was a forum for free speech and discussion, not indignation and argument.

Remembering what Theresa had told her in the short amount of time they had together, she took a deep breath and, knowing she was probably breaking any number of protocols, prepared herself to speak. She held power here, and the future of this table in her hands, Theresa had said that more than once, as if drumming it into her. It was time to deal with her critics the only way she knew how, by proving them wrong. She had to do this, not for herself, but for Roberto, who had always believed in her, and for the men she loved who would need to gain the trust and good will of these men who would work alongside them.

"May I speak?" Cat asked tentatively, looking at Roberto and Stefano.

"This is a free discussion," Roberto said as the men fell silent.

"It would seem that many of you know less about me than I know of you, and I have heard you judge me by assumptions, so I would like to dispel some of those assumptions, if I may?" Again, she turned toward Roberto and Stefano as if asking permission, and they nodded at her.

"Frankie and Brady, you have known my brother and me for several years now. You will probably be able to confirm that I have never been on the dole, been out of work, or dated people based on their bank account or what I could get from them," she spoke clearly and without accusation about being called a possible gold-digger.

"I've never known Cat to have less than two jobs at once, even when she went to work for Vanessa," Brady nodded.

"Even with her work schedule, she still made it to everyone one of David's games and gave charitably of her time and talent to the football club every year. Most of you have seen the painting she did, free of charge, for a charity auction that now hangs in my games room," Frankie added. "She knew every member of that team well, and she cared for her brother better than most people care for their siblings."

"We had our moments," Cat admitted, smiling softly. "My stress levels went down significantly once he started playing for you and the club. I'm not sure I could ever adequately thank you for that, or your friendship to David, Brady. I know how much you both do for that community to help kids like David, and I am unbelievably grateful."

"You've given back just as much, even before you knew who I was and what my name meant in this town," Frankie complimented her back. "You did for the club and community, just as I did."

"Cosimo," she moved on before she became emotional. "You know me as words on paper. It's true, I am an orphan of a drug-dependent mother who probably had no idea who my father was. I don't have a history and heritage to be proud of, which makes learning all about this family so enjoyable. I may have a limited education due to circumstance, but that doesn't mean I can't learn and look at the things you take for granted with new eyes, and perhaps show you some things you have missed, despite being the Watchman."

"Such as?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest and narrowing his eyes.

"Despite being able to drive anything from a Sherman tank to a motorised unicycle, Chase prefers his beat up old FJ Holden that he inherited from his grandfather, because his grandfather taught him to drive at the age of ten in it. He has also never won a road race in his life because he always lets his cousins win and won't compete with his brothers," she laughed softly and looked at Chase. "He claims he can beat everyone, but I imagine no one in this room has lost to him."

"Geez, woman, leave a man some mystery!" Chase chuckled.

"Thomas has the uncanny ability to hide in plain sight," she grinned and lowered her voice. "I imagine Matt isn't going to be very happy with a few of the photos from outside the church yesterday, but I won't tell him which ones," she whispered conspiratorially as he let a sly smile curl his lip in acknowledgement. Matteo narrowed his eyes at his cousin, looking less than impressed.

"You've got to admit, she got him right," Roberto chuckled as he saw the exchange between the men and Cosimo still looking unimpressed.

"I have three sons," Cosimo said, enjoying Cat's little speech, despite seeming unimpressed. He had to admit that seeing his sons through her eyes was a small revelation.

"I probably know Henry the best, not because I have spent any great amount of time with him, but because of his social presence online. He's hilarious and generous and so very clever, David and I have been following him for years online, and, while I feel like I know him, he probably thinks I am a weird fangirl, from the conversations we've had. What I didn't know, though, was that he's a robotics geek, and he and Sebastian have been working on a super drone together, which can..."

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