Sempre redemption, p.11
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.11

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 11


  Clutching his duffle bag tightly, he made his way to the porch and unlocked the front door. The air was just as cold inside, his teeth chattering from the dampness. He reached for the light switch upon instinct and groaned when nothing happened.

  No electricity.

  He strolled through the downstairs in the darkness, coming upon empty room after empty room.

  No furniture.

  “Fuck. ” He dropped his bag in the middle of the living room and stood there for a moment, peering around at the barren walls, before closing his eyes.

  There was nothing there anymore.

  He could faintly remember the last time he stood in that spot. The room had been cluttered, lived in and loved, every bit of space filled except for the back corner. It had been bare; reserved for the one thing Carmine wanted most. He had been asking for months and finally . . . fucking finally . . . it was the day.

  “How are they going to get it in the house, Mom?” he’d asked. “It’s too big to fit through the door!”

  “Oh, they’ll find a way,” Maura had replied, stepping into the room as she slipped on her jacket. “Even if it’s piece by piece, they’ll get the piano in here. ” She ruffled his messy hair, beaming at him. “Now come on, sole. We have things to do, and we don’t want to be late for your recital! The new piano will be here when we get home tonight. ”

  Carmine smiled fondly at the memory of his mom’s sweet voice, but his expression fell once he reopened his eyes. His gaze drifted to the back corner of the living room. They never made it home that night.

  Tears burned his tired eyes for the second time that day, but this time, he didn’t fight it. There was no one to hold them back from, no reason to keep it in. No reason to be strong. Tomorrow he would pick himself up and move forward, walk out the door with his head held high, but not tonight. Tonight he was alone in a cold, dark house, surrounded by nothing but fuzzy painful memories.

  * * *

  Vincent DeMarco sat alone in his office, drumming his fingers against the wooden desk. The sun had set hours ago, the room enshrouded in total darkness. His eyes slowly adjusted so he could view his surroundings, but he didn’t bother trying to look at anything. He’d seen all he needed to see.

  Haven’s notebook lay open in front of him to the page Carmine had shown him days before. He had studied the drawing of Carlo intently, taking in every line of his face, every distortion in his grotesque scar. His skin crawled at how chillingly accurate her rendering of his appearance was, every crack and ripple, down to the small oblong shaped mole under his left eye.

  A mole, Vincent knew, that had only appeared in the past year.

  He had run his finger over the spot on the page when he noticed it, wondering if it was just an ink smudge, trying to convince himself it was a crazy coincidence. There was no way she could have known it was there. She couldn’t have seen it before.

  Unless . . . she had.

  His stomach was in tight knots as he considered that.

  It didn’t help that the house was deathly silent—no laughter, no chatter, no ruckus upstairs. No yelling, no fighting, no nothing at all. Dominic had stormed out after Carmine left, and soon both of his boys would be hundreds of miles away. Vincent felt like he was alone, although Haven was technically still there. She was above him on the third floor, passing the hours like a ghost as she lurked around in a trance.

  He wanted to say something to her, but he couldn’t find the words.

  Soon she would be gone, too. She would step out the front door within a matter of days and likely never look back. Vincent felt a sense of accomplishment deep in his chest, but pressing upon it was something heavier.

  It was the knowledge that his work was still not done, and he was beginning to wonder if it ever would be.

  Pulling out his cell phone, he squinted from the harsh bright light as he dialed the Chicago phone number. It rang twice before it was answered, the familiar voice on the line simply saying, “I’m listening. ”

  Vincent took a deep breath as his gaze settled on the notebook, Carlo’s menacing eyes staring back up at him.

  “We need to talk. ”

  * * *

  No one bothered Haven as she locked herself away on the third floor. The days passed quickly, one after another morphing into the next, as the winter clouds drifted away, the sun again making itself at home in the sky. She read the letter Carmine left countless times, the words stinging as much the twentieth time as they had the first. She sought out some hidden meaning, some little nugget of information that could explain how it was all a misunderstanding, bordering on delusional as she waited . . . and waited . . . for him to return.

  But he didn’t.

  She heard people moving around the house and could hear their voices on the floor below, but it wasn’t until the end of the week that someone finally came upstairs. Dia didn’t bother to knock, just walked in and sat on the edge of the bed. Haven remained in her seat near the window, staring out at the barren back yard.

  “How long?” Haven asked without even looking at her, her voice scratchy from not speaking in days. “How long ago did he tell you he was leaving?”

  “Christmas Eve,” Dia answered. “He called, asked if I’d watch out for you. ”

  Haven blinked rapidly. Christmas Eve? “Why didn’t he tell me?”

  “You know why,” Dia said. “He wouldn’t have been able to leave if he did. Walking out the front door was probably the hardest thing he’s ever done. ”

  “And all of you knew it was going to happen?” she asked, finally turning to her. The quirky Dia looked uncharacteristically subdued in jeans and an oversize sweater. Her hair was nearly completely blonde, her natural shade, the ends tinged a faded light pink. “Everyone knew Carmine was leaving and no one told me?”

  Dia sighed. “He only told me. He didn’t want anyone to know because he didn’t want it to ruin Christmas, but I let it slip to my sister and she told Dominic. I don’t think anyone told the others. They just put the pieces together. His aunt Celia was the last to know. ”

  “Besides me,” Haven said bitterly, turning back away. “What am I supposed to do now?”

  “You go on,” Dia said. “You can come to Charlotte with me if you want, or we can find you a place around here. Whatever makes you happy. ”

  “He makes me happy,” she whispered.

  “I know,” Dia said, “but it’ll get easier. In time it won’t hurt as bad, and eventually, the day will come when you’ll be ready to move on. ”

  Haven shook her head, brushing away a few wayward tears. “It may not hurt as much, but I’ll never move on. ”

  She stood up and glanced around at the room, taking in all of Carmine’s possessions. It all appeared to be exactly where it had been weeks, even months earlier when he’d still been there. “Did he take anything?”

  “Clothes,” she said. “Money. He left you an envelope of cash, you know, to get you through. He said you could have anything else you wanted, too. Whatever’s left is going to be shipped to him in Chicago after . . . ”

  Dia trailed off as Haven walked over to the desk and started sorting through things, separating her belongings from Carmine’s. “After I leave,” she said, completing her friend’s thought.

  “You don’t have to do that now,” Dia said. “Take as much time as you need. They said you’re welcome to stay here as a guest as long as you’d like. ”

  “Guest. ” The word sounded so foreign on Haven’s tongue. Once upon a time she had been a slave within these very same walls, trapped like a prisoner behind bulletproof windows and locked doors. After that, she had almost felt at home, like she had finally found somewhere she belonged, somewhere she was wanted. But now she was a guest, a visitor passing through on her way to God knows where.

  It’s strange how those things work. One minute you’re the servant, the next you’re Cinderella, and then . . . then the story is over and you’re for
ced to close the book.

  “How am I going to make it?” she asked. “I don’t know what I’m doing. ”

  “None of us really know what we’re doing,” Dia replied. “We just go out there and do it and have faith it’ll turn out okay. ”

  Haven thought over those words as she continued to separate their belongings, unsure of what to say. Dia got up when she realized Haven had no intention of stopping, leaving the room and returning with some empty boxes. She silently worked alongside Haven, helping her pack up her things.

  It wasn’t until then, as they filled box after box with belongings, that Haven realized exactly how much she had acquired while living there. A little more than a year before, she had walked through the front door for the first time barefoot and empty-handed, with nothing she could call her own except for her name. Haven. It was the only thing her mother had given her, the one thing, she thought, no one could ever take away. But now she was preparing to walk out the door for the last time, half a dozen boxes already packed full of material things.

  Just thinking about it made her uneasy. She suddenly wanted to leave it all behind.

  It took nearly two days for her to sort through everything—two days of wavering, two days of packing and unpacking and repacking again. She took some necessary clothes but left most of it hanging in the closet, hoping Dr. DeMarco would donate it to charity so someone who needed it would have something to wear. She packed some books and notebooks and all of the drawings she had done during the past year. She took the basket from their Valentine’s Day picnic, but she left all of Carmine’s things untouched.

  Dominic and Tess appeared long enough to say good-bye before leaving for school again. Neither one mentioned Carmine, both of them feigning happiness about the future that lay ahead of her, but she wasn’t naïve—she could tell they were concerned.

  As the time slipped away, Haven’s sadness gave way to anger, before guilt set in once again. It was because of her that Carmine had given himself to the organization; because of her he had had to go to Chicago. She obsessed about the unknowns, wondering how she could have missed the signs.

  Looking back, it seemed so obvious he’d been saying good-bye.

  Dia appeared around dawn on New Year’s Eve, while Haven was already awake and waiting. She sat in the library with her knees pulled up to her chest, her arms wrapped around herself as she stared out the window. She wondered if it was what Carmine had been doing that last night, contemplating leaving just as she was.

  Had he been frightened? She wasn’t sure. He made leaving seem so easy.

  “Are you ready?” Dia asked, having already placed Haven’s things in Carmine’s car the day before.

  Haven nodded, unable to say the words. The truth was she felt like she would never be ready, but she got up and slipped on her coat anyway. Dia handed her Carmine’s car key before heading for the stairs, and Haven hesitated in the library. “I’ll meet you downstairs. I need a minute. ”

  Stepping into the doorway of the bedroom, Haven’s eyes scanned the room slowly, her chest aching. A tear slipped down her cheek.

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