Sempre redemption, p.12
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.12

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 12


  “Good-bye,” she said quietly.


  Haven walked blindly down the long hallway, the boxes in her arms obstructing her view. She shifted them around, trying to catch a glimpse in front of her, and ran straight into Dia.

  Haven smiled apologetically but Dia simply waved it off as she pulled out a set of keys and opened her door. Haven juggled the boxes once more, careful not to run into anything else as she walked into the small, quiet apartment. Her footsteps faltered when Dia flicked on the light, illuminating the room surrounding her. Photos covered every surface, blanketing the paint like wallpaper.

  Haven had been here before, once, on her eighteenth birthday. She forgot Dia wanted to be a photographer.

  Her eyes scanned the pictures instinctively, recognizing some of the faces, but they all felt foreign to her except one. Straight in front of her, on the wall above the couch, was an old photo of her and Carmine. His face was all over, infiltrating the sea of colorful memories, but this one was different. This one called to her, silently screaming her name above the others. Neither had even known the photo was being taken as they stared at each other that Christmas day more than a year before. Their love had been new, untainted and naïve. Blissful ignorance shone from their eyes, two souls completely unaware of the anguish on the horizon.

  Dia kicked the door shut, the slam echoing through the room and making Haven flinch. It suddenly felt as if the memory-clad walls were closing in on her. The boxes slipped from her arms, hitting the floor with a thud.

  Stepping around them, Haven walked over to the couch and grabbed the photo, wordlessly yanking it off the wall.

  “Sorry,” Dia said, setting the other boxes down. “I should’ve reminded you . . . warned you. ”

  Haven closed her eyes. Warning her they were there would have done nothing to dull the ache. It resided deep inside her, infecting her tissues and seeping into her bones, clenching her heart as it took over her chest. Her lungs felt stiff, like brand-new leather, stubbornly refusing to expand as she took a deep breath. She was suffocating from the pressure of what could have been.

  “It’s okay,” she whispered, forcing the words out. “I’m okay. ”

  Dia said something else, but Haven didn’t wait to hear. She walked away, slipping into the spare bedroom and closing the door, pressing her back against it as she clutched the photo to her chest.

  * * *

  Sleep evaded Haven that night as she lay in bed, ringing in the New Year by staring out the foggy window. Fireworks went off in the distance, noise permeating the air as people in Charlotte celebrated, but Haven did nothing.

  She hardly even moved.

  When the early morning sun started to peek through, she gave up on finding sleep and quietly crept to the living room. The photos were all gone, the cream-colored walls vacant except for the subtle orange glow enveloping the apartment from the sunrise. Dia had taken them down sometime in the night, a few stray pieces of tape remaining. Haven pulled them off, rolling them together in a ball in her palm.

  “Morning. ”

  Haven turned, watching as her friend strolled out of a bedroom behind her. Dia wore a pair of orange polka-dotted pajamas, her hair knotted at the top of her head. She rubbed her eyes and yawned as she made her way toward the tiny kitchen.

  “Good morning,” Haven said quietly, glancing back at the empty walls. “Your pictures are gone. ”

  “Yeah, I thought it would be easier if you didn’t have to see them,” Dia mumbled sleepily, opening the fridge and pulling out a jug of milk. She poured herself a glass and saturated it with a mountain of chocolate syrup. “Are you hungry? I think I have some cereal around here somewhere. ”

  Haven shook her head as Dia started toward her again. “No, thank you. ”

  “Well, if you get hungry, help yourself to anything in the kitchen,” she said. “I don’t have much right now, but I’ll grab some groceries on my way home. ”

  Haven eyed her curiously. “Way home from where?”

  “School,” she replied, sipping from her glass. “I have to register for my classes today and buy my books. ”

  “Oh. ”

  “I’d stay with you, but I technically already missed registration, so it’s my last chance,” she continued. “But if you don’t want to be alone, I can—”

  “It’s fine,” Haven said, cutting her off. She didn’t want to be a burden. “I have things to do today anyway. You know, like unpacking and . . . things. ”

  Haven forced a smile, but Dia didn’t look convinced. “We can do something together when I get home. Maybe order a pizza and watch a movie? It’ll be fun. We can have girl talk. ”

  “Yeah, sure,” Haven said. “Sounds great. ”

  Dia smiled warmly, giving her a quick hug before going about her morning ritual. Haven lingered in the living room, absentmindedly rolling the small ball of sticky tape between her fingers. Once Dia left, Haven headed back into the bedroom and shut the door, leaving her things in the boxes in the living room.

  * * *

  There was no pizza that night. No movie. No girl talk. There wasn’t even sleep.

  Days passed in a blur of insomnia and exhaustion, thrusting Haven deeper into depression. The nights were tortuous but the days weren’t much better as Haven walked around in a stupor. She felt like she was drowning, slowly slipping away as she grasped desperately to the surface, just waiting for something to pull her back up.

  Pain was something Haven knew well. She had always had a high tolerance for it, keeping her head held high as she faced unimaginable torture, but this feeling brewing inside of her now was different. The heart-clenching, suffocating dread was enough to knock her off her feet. She had been frightened before, certainly, but this was the first time she truly felt lost. Until then, her life had been an endless cycle of do-this-and-do-that; there was always a task, always a purpose, always a point. But not anymore. Her future was empty. A blank canvas. There was nowhere for her to escape from. There was nobody looking for her.

  She was free, she realized, and freedom terrified her.

  * * *

  Luna Rossa sat back off the highway, partially shielded by rows of trees. The brick building, massive in size while subtle in style, blended into the surroundings of the quiet south Chicago neighborhood. The rustic tan sign above the door displayed the name in deep red cursive letters, the only indicator of its true nature the word lounge below it in gold. No flashing lights or neon signs attempted to lure passing visitors inside.

  While it appeared welcoming, almost quaint at first glance, Luna Rossa catered to a certain crowd. The dark sedans spread throughout the parking lot hinted it was the type of place you didn’t visit unless someone invited you to.

  Carmine always found it strange that his uncle owned a social club, but standing in front of it for the first time, it made sense to him. The place was low-key, a lot like Corrado.

  Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Carmine opened the door and stepped inside the building. The bouncer eyed him peculiarly, taking in the sight of his faded jeans and Nike’s, but he didn’t move or say a word as Carmine strolled through the crowd. It was a Thursday, and men in suits lingered around with a few younger women clinging to their sides. Goomahs, he realized. Mob mistresses. Luna Rossa was La Cosa Nostra’s hideaway, their home away from home. It wasn’t a place where a man took his wife—it was a place he went when he had something to hide.

  And it was easy to hide there. The dark wood with red trim, the lighting dim, concealed secrets and masked sins. Cigar smoke infused the air as Frank Sinatra crooned from tall speakers positioned along the side, blending with the sound of friendly chatter and laughter in the club.

  Carmine felt completely out of place as he made his way to a large corner booth in the back. The noise coming from it was louder than the others, the table covered in an array of bottles of alcohol. Sal sat in the middle of the group, a young brunette woman sn
uggled up to his right. Beside her was another girl, a blonde no older than twenty, while half a dozen men surrounded them on both sides.

  Carmine cleared his throat nervously as he approached. “Salvatore. ”

  Sal looked at the sound of his name, his face lighting up. “Principe!”

  “It’s nice to see you. ”

  “You, too, dear boy. ” Sal grinned widely as his hand swept across the table. “Join us. Have a drink. ”

  Instead of squeezing in with the mass of bodies, Carmine grabbed a free chair and pulled it to the other side of their table. “You know I’m not old enough to—”

  He didn’t even finish before Sal’s mocking laughter cut him off. “Nonsense!” He motioned for the waitress. “Get my godson whatever he wants. Put it on my tab. ”

  The waitress paused beside him, smiling politely. “What can I get you?”

  “Uh, vodka,” he said. “Straight up. ”

  “Bring him the whole bottle,” Sal chimed in. “Something from the top shelf, sweetheart. Nothing but the best for young DeMarco. ”

  Carmine forced a smile, but he got no satisfaction from Sal’s words. The waitress returned after a moment with a bottle of Grey Goose and a thick glass, setting it in front of Carmine before walking away. He wordlessly poured himself a shot, feeling Sal’s eyes on him as he swallowed it to ease his frayed nerves.

  The burn was familiar. Warm. Numbing. He savored the sensation.

  Sal’s focus shifted back to the others, the conversation at the table flowing freely between the men. It made little sense to Carmine so he sat back quietly, sipping on the liquor as he tried to disappear into the background. His mind wandered, his eyes drifting toward the two girls. They giggled, hanging on to Sal’s every word as if the bullshit he sprayed was made of pure gold. Carmine wondered what they saw in him, why they stuck around. Money? Presents? Did they get off on his power? Was it just for kicks? It sure as fuck couldn’t have been attraction.

  “So, Principe, are you settling in?” Sal asked, capturing Carmine’s attention again. He tore his eyes from the girls and looked to his godfather, who stared at him with his eyebrows raised.

  “Yeah. ” He poured another drink. “I’m moving into my parents’ old house. ”

  “And you have all of your things?”

  “They arrived today. ”

  “And the girl?” Sal asked. “Has she arrived?”

  Carmine tensed, his glass to his lips. He set it down after a moment without taking a drink, afraid the liquor wouldn’t make it past the lump in his throat. “Uh, no. She’s not. ”

  Sal’s expression fell as concern clouded his face. Pulling his arm from around the brunette, he leaned closer to the table, his high-pitched voice uncharacteristically low. “What do you mean she’s not?”

  “She’s not coming,” Carmine clarified.


  “No. She’s, uh . . . not with me now. ”

  Tension swept over the table. Sal remained strangely still, just staring at Carmine. Anger brewed in his dark eyes. The others sensed the shift in atmosphere and grew quiet, watching the two of them cautiously.

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