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Chapter 1 – THE PROMISE
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Leonardo scribbled on the white board as his students fell still; the exams were near, each student hungrier to learn the last of their work. Underlying the last major heading, Leonardo turned to his classroom only to meet eager eyes looking back at him.

“Si, is there anything the matter?” Leonardo asked his class, hiding the smile on his face, as he knew that his students had a lot of work to cover before exams. He leaned onto his whiteboard and crossed his hands over his chest.

He patiently waited for any of his students to ask him any question on their minds but like always when they were nervous, neither lifted their hands to ask. Pushing himself off the board, Leonardo walked over to his desk and sat down.

“Well it looks as though you all have it figured out, I expect nothing but one hundred percent from each and every one of you” The classroom erupted into a roar and he smiled, just what Leonardo was hoping for.

Years ago, Leonardo had made a decision that he would become a teacher, contrary to what his father had wanted from him all those years ago. Now as he looked at his high school students argue over what questions would be included into the exam paper, he smiled, happy that he could make a difference in the lives of underprivileged children.

Standing up from his chair, Leonardo looked around his class as they still quarreled.

“Per favore class, sit down” He asked them and just with a snap of his fingers, they all took to their seats.
“Good, now let’s start from the beginning. Any questions?,” Leonardo asked his students, his accent sounding far from the heavily thick Italian accent that he had grown up with.

A little hand raised in the corner of the classroom, her small figure buried by the massive overall structure of the boy in the seat in front of her.

“Yes Nattie” Leonardo teased Natasha, who covered her face, giggling as he did that.

“Mr. Romano, my name is Natasha” She reminded him in which Leonardo smiled back at her, seeing his students that have come from difficult backgrounds smile, was all the reward he needed.

Clapping his hands together, Leonardo walked towards Natasha’s table and stopped in front of her. Leonardo’s tall frame stood tall, as he looked down at an already nervous Natasha. He smiled at her and she too smiled back.

“I will stop calling you Nattie, only if you stopped calling me Mr. Romano. I mean, it makes me feel like an old man” Leonardo joked. Seeing Natasha nod her head in agreement and smiling was enough for him.

“Si, Signor Leonardo” Natasha answered him in his home language, this surprising Leonardo that his students were making an effort to communicate in his home language of Spanish.

“Ask me any question?”

“Signor, would there be algebra in the upcoming paper?” Natasha asked, her question bringing a smile on Leonardo’s face. He slowly turned on his heel and walked back to his desk.

“Everything we have worked on so far is all that I can tell you. Unfortunately, this time there is no spoilers” He regrettably informed him students whom moaned and groaned.

“Now, is there any more questions?” he asked, Jared, another one of his students raised his hands. “Yes Jared, what is it that you would like to ask of me?”

“Yes signor, when are you showing us Mrs. Romano?” Jared asked him. The rest of the students burst out laughing and so did Leonardo, for the past few years, every class he was tasked with had made it their goal to want to set him up with women in their family.

“Thank you Jared for asking that question, even though it has nothing to do with Math or the upcoming exams. Well, I too am looking for Mrs. Romano. I am sure you have an aunt somewhere?” Leonardo teased which had all his students cheering, the cheers were brought to a stop by the sound of the school bell ringing, signaling that it was time to go home.

Without warning, each one of them began packing their bags in a hurry, eager to get home after a long day of school.

“Class please remember to study, the test is in three days” Leonardo called out to them as they all ran out, he stopped in the middle of his classroom, leaned down to pick up all the discarded pages and smiled. As soon as he got up, Leonardo froze and smiled.

“Good afternoon Leonardo, if I am permitted to call you that?” Rhea, the science teacher next door asked him.

“It is okay, I actually prefer to be called Leonardo rather than Mr. Romano” Leonardo encouraged Rhea, who smiled. She walked towards him, her heels clicking onto the hard tiled floors of the classroom until she stopped in front of him.

“I can see you love your job” Rhea complimented him, Leonardo returned with a smile. He walked past Rhea and placed the papers that he had picked from the floor onto his desk.

“I do not consider this a job; it is more of a passion. Yes! I am passionate about my students” Leonardo explained, hoping that he would discourage Rhea from coming closer to him. She smiled as Leonardo rambled about how much he loved teaching his children.

“Enough about your students, would you like to join me for dinner this evening?” Rhea asked Leonardo, who kindly smiled at her as though had known that she would ask that of him.

“I am afraid I have to decline your offer, but unfortunately I have to attend a family gathering. I will be spending the weekend with family” Leonardo regrettably informed her and Rhea seemed disappointed but she plastered a smile on her face.

“Oh, I see. Well maybe next time” She told him, walking out of his class without waiting for his reply. Leonardo sighed, once more; he had dodged a bullet in the form of Rhea, trying her best to romance her way into his heart.

Leonardo smiled as he thought about it; he only lived for his job and his student and anything out of that sphere was something that he would not pay attention to.

Leonardo gripped onto his steering wheel, the anxious feeling traveled through his body as he drove past the ‘welcome to Dallas Texas’ sign. As much as he loved his family, taking the four-hour drive to visit his family over the weekends was something Leonardo regretted.

Driving towards his parents Dallas, Leonardo was reminded of just how much influence his family had in both Italy and Texas. His family owned almost every store, restaurant and bar and he did not want any part of it.

Leonardo grew up not lacking anything whilst growing up but one day he wanted a more purposeful life, a life where he would work hard and earn every penny. Living off generations of family wealth brought him no comfort.

Stopping his car in front of the black Victorian cast iron gates with the initial ‘R’ on it, a sign that he had finally arrived back home and he could not turn back now.

Just like clockwork, the gates swung open and Leonardo drove through the large iron cast gate. Leonardo drove his car down the long gravel driveway to his parents’ home, he stopped his car right in front of his parent’s Tuscan styled mansion and his heart sank to his stomach. Exiting the car, he knew that this dinner would be nothing more than a disaster like all the other family dinners that his father had hosted.

Leonardo walked towards the entrance and just before, he could knock onto the door, it swung open. Leonardo clenched his fist, everything in this house worked like clockwork and planned to the ‘T’.

“Good afternoon Mr. Romano—”

“Mr. Tony you do not need to formalize my name like that, Leonardo would be just fine” he interrupted the butler who then smiled at him.

“As you wish, Leonardo, now please come in” Leonardo walked into the mansion and just like always, the richness of his parent’s home was in full display. From the crystal chandelier, Italian marbled tiles and wooden oak staircase.

“Your mother said that I should tell you to make your way to the dining room, dinner will be served shortly” Tony informed Leonardo in which he nodded his head in agreement. Nothing had changed, his mother was still the traditional Italian woman wanting to bring everyone together and keeping family traditions.

Nodding his head at Tony, Leonardo walked towards the dining room and with every step he took, he mentally asked for the courage to deal with his family members.

“Mio figlio!” Leonardo’s mother called out to him, walking around the dinner table towards him and hugging him. Her short hands not completely wrapping around Leonardo’s waist as she stood on her tiptoes and landing kisses on his cheeks.

“Good afternoon mother” Leonardo greeted his mother, he too wrapping his hands around her and shutting his eyes, not remembering the last time that he embraced his mother lie he had just done.

His mother let go of him and looked up into Leonardo’s eyes and the glitter in her eyes was more than enough for him to know him that his mother missed him just as much as he missed him.

“I missed you” His mother told him, her voice breaking in the process.

“I missed you too Madre but I am here now” he reassured his mother who escorted him to his seat. Leonardo sat down onto the dining room chair which felt much more different from the one back at him own home.

The richness of his parent’s home was what a commoner would consider grand but to Leonardo, it was more like shackles around his limbs.

“Where is father?” he asked. His mother stopped dishing up the food and paused, plastered a smile on her face.

“Your father is very busy with a business deal” his mother answered him and soon she served Leonardo his meal.

“He called me yesterday asking me to come here” Leonardo told his mother.

“So you only came here because your father asked you and not because you wanted to be here?” His mother asked him, disappointment filled her voice. Leonardo dropped his utensils on the side of the table as he realized that he had upset his mother.

“Mother that is not what I meant?” he tried explaining but his mother would not turn her face to look at him, being an only child meant that his mother’s happiness was dependent on him.

“Great, my son is here!” Leonardo shut his eyes and gripped onto his fork, his father’s voice was one that he was not too pleased to hear but for the sake of his mother, he opened his eyes and smiled.

“Buon pomeriggio papá” he greeted his father and continued eating his food. From the corner of his eye, Leonardo saw his father pull out a chair and within seconds, his food was served.

The three of them ate their meal in silent, to an extent that any person would think that they were a normal family. The picture perfect family look was getting on Leonardo’s nerves and he place he placed his utensils on the table once again.

“Father you called me earlier to discuss something and I would like that discussion to take place now” Leonardo informed his father, his voice firm as he looked his father in the eyes.

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