Sempre redemption, p.2
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.2

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

 

  The act had left him fractured, and Haven was still trying to come to grips with the fact that it might be a long time before he was whole again. And as grateful as she was to be alive, as blessed as she felt to be standing there, picking out a Christmas tree with the boy she loved, she was also angry. Not at him—not anymore. That anger had been unfounded. She was mad at herself now, and at the universe, because no matter what she did, she couldn’t help Carmine. She was helpless to his plight. There was no way for her to end his torment. No way for her to save him.

  Once again in her life, Haven felt powerless.

  So she stood by silently, continuing to watch, terrified of looking him in the eyes one day and seeing regret. Frightened that someday, he would turn to her and she would see her worst fear playing out in his face: that she hadn’t been worth it.

  Eventually, the evergreen toppled in Haven’s direction. She jumped out of the way at the last second, the tree nearly hitting her.

  “Sorry, tesoro. ” Carmine dropped the ax and pulled his black long-sleeved shirt up, exposing his toned stomach as he wiped the sweat from his brow. “That was a lot harder than I thought it would be. ”

  He grinned proudly as he lugged the tree toward the car. She picked up his ax, surprised by how heavy it was, and followed behind. He threw the tree over the fence like it was no trouble at all and helped her to the other side.

  “What are we going to do with it?” she asked.

  “Tie it to the car and take it home,” he replied, taking the ax from her. He tossed it in the trunk and pulled out a coil of rope, holding it up to show her.

  “Are you sure?” she asked as Carmine grabbed the tree and shoved it on top of the car. The branches scraped against the shiny black paint. She couldn’t imagine they would get it home without causing some damage.

  He sighed exasperatedly. “Of course I’m sure, Haven. What is it with you and that damn question today? Don’t you trust me anymore?”

  She was taken aback by his question. She hadn’t realized she had been repeating it. “Of course I trust you! I was just . . . double checking. ”

  “Well, I guess questioning me is always better than saying okay,” he replied, positioning the tree and tying it down. It hung over all sides of the small vehicle, blocking half of the front windshield and most of the back. “I still mean everything I say. ”

  “I know,” she said. “I believe you. ”

  Carmine tugged on the evergreen, making sure it was secure. Satisfied with the job he had done, he motioned for Haven to get in the car, but she didn’t budge.

  “So, what’s theft?” she asked. “A misdemeanor or a felony?”

  Carmine stared at her for a moment before the question sunk in. Instead of answering, he pulled out his wallet and counted out some money. He hopped the fence and jogged over to the building, slipping the cash under the door for the tree they had cut down.

  “Theft?” he asked when he returned, smiling sheepishly. “What made you think we were stealing something today?”

  * * *

  Haven had been right.

  Tiny scratches sprinkled the roof of the car, a more noticeable jagged gash down the center. Carmine ran his pointer finger along it. “Fucking tree. ”

  “Is it easily fixed?” Haven asked.

  “Yeah,” he said, “I just hate seeing my baby abused. We should’ve taken my dad’s Mercedes. The scratches would match the mark you put on his side mirror. ”

  Haven smiled at the memory of her first driving lesson. “I prefer riding in yours. ”

  “Do you?” Carmine asked, looking at her with genuine curiosity. “You like the Mazda?”

  “Yeah,” she said. “It’s nice. Feels warm and familiar. Besides, I’ve never been thrown in the trunk of yours. ”

  Carmine blinked rapidly, gaping at her, before turning without a word to where the tree lay in the front yard. He grabbed it by the trunk and dragged it toward the house, leaving a trail of fresh pine needles behind him.

  * * *

  The next few hours were a flurry of activity. Vincent joined them in the family room with a tree stand and a box of decorations, and the rest of the family started showing up later in the day. They had just gotten the tree up straight and the lights strung on it when Carmine’s brother, Dominic, burst through the front door, home for winter break from Notre Dame. He threw his bags down in the foyer and rushed right for them, tackling Carmine to the hard wood floor. He playfully ruffled his hair before scooping Haven up in a hug. “Twinkle Toes!” He swung her around in a circle. “I’ve missed you, girl. ”

  “You just saw her a month ago,” Carmine grumbled, standing back up. Pain shot down his spine as he stretched, and he cringed. “And hello to you too, motherfucker. ”

  Dominic laughed, setting Haven on her feet before shoving his brother. Carmine stumbled again, falling into the tree and knocking it crooked. “I missed you, too, bro. Glad to see you. ”

  Carmine rolled his eyes, feigning annoyance at his brother’s antics, but a small involuntary smile tugged at his lips. He couldn’t deny he missed the lightheartedness that usually accompanied Dominic’s presence. Carmine always envied that—his brother’s ability to ease any situation. They could have certainly used it the past month as everyone tiptoed around, walking on eggshells and ignoring reality, in fear of accidently hitting the red button that set off a nuclear disaster.

  Carmine’s future, Haven’s past, Vincent’s charges, Corrado’s health . . . the words Carmine longed to say were always there, on the tip of his tongue, but they never made it through the meaningless chatter. They were always talking, but no one ever fucking said anything.

  It wouldn’t stay that way, though, and Carmine knew it. As long as the rest of the family was around, their bubble invaded, the issues wouldn’t be ignored. They were about to be thrust front and center, whether they liked it or not.

  Half filled with relief, the other half of Carmine was terrified. Rocking the boat opened up the risk of it capsizing, and if that happened, he couldn’t guarantee that someone wouldn’t drown the second they hit the water.

  He just hoped it wouldn’t be him and Haven.

  * * *

  Celia and Corrado weren’t long behind Dominic. Carmine had placed the last ornament on the tree when there was a light tap on the front door. Before anyone could react, it opened and Celia’s voice rang through the house. “Knock, knock!”

  They, too, dropped their bags right inside the foyer. Celia swiftly made her way into the family room, hugging the boys and Haven before focusing on her brother. Her voice was loud and cheerful, love pouring from her words as she greeted each one of them. Corrado, on the other hand, only made it as far as the doorway, where he watched them interact in stone cold silence.

  Carmine eyed him warily. He hadn’t seen Corrado since the warehouse, when he watched him collapse in a pool of blood. He had never felt particularly close to his uncle, fearing him more than genuinely caring for him, but something else existed now. Something bigger. Something stronger. There was a deeper respect, almost an admiration.

  For the first time in his life, Carmine felt like he could relate to the man.

  Corrado, however, showed no sign of it being mutual. His continued muteness, even after being greeted by Vincent, relayed a deeper message than any words could say. He remained motionless and aloof, as if he had nothing to say to any of them. His skin was paler than usual, his body frail to the point he was almost skeletal, but there was still darkness in his features that seemed to have grown harsher during the weeks.

  If anything, he was more terrifying.

  Corrado’s eyes found Carmine’s after a moment, so dark they were nearly black, with not a single flicker of emotion registering. It sent an uncomfortable chill down Carmine’s spine, the affection he had started to feel quickly replaced once more with apprehension. Carmine wondered if Corrado could sense it too, because he turned away. He limped slightl
y as he grabbed their bags again and disappeared upstairs without having uttered a single word.

  Carmine had no idea what to say, and Vincent and Haven appeared just as speechless, but as expected, Dominic let nothing slip by. “Damn, we can’t even get a hello?”

  Celia smiled sadly. “Don’t take it personally. He’s still getting his bearings. Give him some time and he’ll come around. ”

  From the look on Vincent’s face, Carmine suspected his father didn’t believe that.

  3

  The sun had started to set when they settled into the family room that evening to watch a movie. Long shadows stretched across the floor, accented by the colored lights twinkling from the tree. Dominic ordered Chinese food before calling his girlfriend, Tess, to come over. She, too, was in town from Notre Dame and arrived within a matter of minutes, squeezing beside Dominic in a chair with a bowl of popcorn in her lap. Haven and Carmine lounged on the couch, sitting so close their arms touched. Celia had excused herself to join her husband, while Vincent claimed to have some work to do upstairs.

  “What’s Dr. DeMarco doing?” Haven asked quietly, leaning closer to Carmine. “He’s never around anymore. ”

  “Yeah, I think he’s up to something. ”

  “Like what?”

  “I wish I knew,” he said. “But desperate times call for desperate measures, so whatever it is has gotta be drastic. ”

  “You think there’s trouble?” she asked, a tinge of panic in her voice.

  He laughed dryly. “When isn’t there?”

  A string of loud knocks vibrated the front door. They all glanced around at one another, nobody making a move to answer it. Carmine stood, shaking his head. “Don’t everyone get up at the same time. ”

  “I would’ve gotten it,” Haven said, “but I don’t have any money. ”

  “I know,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll pay. ”

  “Thanks, DeMarco,” Tess said, tossing a piece of popcorn across the room at him. “At least you’re good for something. ”

  He flashed his middle finger at her.

  Tess scrunched up her nose. “You can shove that finger up your ass. ”

  “Fuck you. ”

  Carmine headed for the foyer and pulled out his wallet to sort through his cash. The person at the door banged impatiently, loud and forceful. “Christ, I’m coming. Who do you think you are, pounding like the fucking—?”

  He froze abruptly when he opened the door, his gaze falling on a shiny gold badge held up at eye level. “Police,” the officer said stoically.

  Carmine’s response was immediate. “I have nothing to say. ”

  “You don’t even know what I want,” the officer said with a sharp laugh, amused by Carmine’s reaction. “I’m Detective Jack Baranski. Is there a girl named Haven here?”

  “Why?” Carmine asked.

  “I’d like to talk to her about a boy named Nicholas Barlow. ”

  Carmine’s muscles immediately seized up, his heart pounding aggressively as a brutal vision of his former friend forced its way to the front of his mind.

 
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