The party was held in the lavish grand ballroom of the Hilton Hotel on top of Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The guests in attendance numbered close to two hundred. In the center of the room, surrounded by well-wishers, stood the guest of honor; a pretty, middle aged woman with dark brown, shoulder length hair and a slim figure.
Miriam Delantra sparkled in the spotlight; her brown eyes twinkling with happiness as she laughed and conversed with her guests. She was absorbed in a lively discussion with a small group that included a local news anchor and did not notice the tall, dark-haired man slip through the crowd and walk up behind her. He tapped her on the shoulder and, startled, Miriam spun around, before offering the man a bright, wide smile.
"Brad Angeli!" She exclaimed excitedly. "I'm so glad you could make it!" She hugged him tightly. "Have you seen the boys yet? I'm sure they'll be so excited to see you." She took his arm, excused herself from her guests, and led him across the large room toward three dark haired young men who stood in a corner apart from the crowd.
"Brad, you remember my boys, don't you? Mauro, Mark, Tony, this is Bradley Angeli. He used to come over a lot when you were younger. I'm sure you remember," Miriam turned away to greet another guest and Bradley took the opportunity to study the young men.
They had grown up a lot since the last time he saw them more than ten years ago. They were so mature and handsome…and sad. Bradley tried not to think about what had happened over the years to change them from the young, free-spirited boys he had once known to the quiet bitter young men who now stood in front of him. Instead, he cleared his throat uncomfortably, wondering what to say to these men who were now complete strangers to him. Before he had a chance to say anything, Miriam was back at his side and the moment was over.
"Now, Bradley," she gushed, grabbing his arm, "There are so many people I want you to meet. You can talk to the boys later." As she led him back across the room, Bradley glanced over his shoulder at her sons and felt a sharp pain in his heart. There was something quite troubling about the sadness that loomed around the Delantra brothers. It was disturbing, he thought, the way their smiles never seemed to reach their eyes.
Bradley guessed the reason for their sadness and pain. She was standing right next to him, looking much the same way she had ten years ago on the day they said their final goodbyes. It was the hardest thing he had ever had to do, and it was also the wisest. By leaving, he had escaped a lifetime of unhappiness and pain. It was shame her sons were not able to do the same.
The three brothers watched as Miriam led Bradley through the crowd. They looked at each other and shared a wry smile that held a secret, inside meaning.
"To mom," Tony said, raising his champagne glass in a toast.
The brothers remained serious long enough to clink glasses, then burst out into a strange laughter that held no real joy, only bitterness and regret.
Three young women watched the scene between the brothers from opposite corners of the ballroom. Occasionally, they would cast quick glances at one another when they thought no one was watching, but, for the most part, their attention remained on the Delantra brothers. It was because of the brothers that they were thrown together, and because of the brothers that they were torn apart. At one time, the three women had been the best of friends, sharing their deepest secrets and dreams. Now they were complete strangers, their friendship having been destroyed by the events of the last several years.
As they thought about how they had reached this exact moment in time, one of the Delantra brothers made his way to a small, raised platform in the center of the room, adjusted the microphone, and began to speak.
"Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?" He paused for a few moments, waiting for the crowd to quiet down, before he continued his speech.
"While we are here tonight to celebrate the fifty-ninth birthday of a very special woman, my mother, I have another very special announcement to make." He held out his hand and a voluptuous blonde woman emerged from the crowd and took her place beside him. He smiled at her and raised his glass toward the crowd.
"Please join me in a toast to this beautiful woman who, to my surprise and delight, has agreed to marry me tonight."
A startled hush fell over the room, and then, slowly, the guests began to clap and cheer, filling the space with a rhythmic applause that echoed against the walls.
The three women were stunned by the announcement; unable to move as the crowd surged past to congratulate the happy couple. They stood in shock, trying to make some type of sense of the chaos happening around them. After a few moments, one of the women seemed to come out of her trance. She put a hand to her mouth to keep from screaming and ran from the room, stumbling through the hordes of people in a panicked daze.
The two remaining women made eye contact for the first time that night and, with an unspoken bond, quickly followed.