Sempre redemption, p.22
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.22

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 22


  Corrado diverted then, bypassing the hallway to head straight for them. “Carmine,” he said, his eyes scanning the three of them. “Gentlemen. ”

  “This is Remy,” Carmine muttered, pointing at him. “And this is . . . ” He hesitated. He didn’t even know the other guy’s name.

  “I know who they are,” Corrado said tersely.

  “Mr. Moretti, sir,” Remy said. “Great club you have here. ”

  Corrado nodded, but offered no response to the compliment.

  “We were just getting a drink,” Carmine slurred. “You know . . . or two. ”

  “I see that,” he said. “You guys just be careful getting home. ”

  “Yes, sir,” Remy said. “Thank you. ”

  Corrado’s eyes lingered on Carmine for a moment before he walked away, disappearing down the hallway.

  Remy shook his head, gulping the last of his drink. “Man, he’s intense as fuck. ”

  Carmine laughed bitterly. “You’re telling me. ”

  * * *

  Thump. Crash. “Shit!”

  Haven’s eyes shot open at once at the noise. Disoriented, she stared at the low ceiling above her bed, surveying the textured white paint as if it could somehow tell her what happened. Sunlight streamed in the small window across the room, sweeping across the faded wooden floor. It was warm, almost peaceful, and all was silent for a long moment.

  Had she imagined it?

  She started to close her eyes again when another bang rang out. Following it was the clicking sound of high heels against wood, accompanying a woman’s frustrated growl. Confused, Haven’s stomach twisted as she threw the covers off and climbed out of bed. She walked through the apartment at the same time the high heels started along the floor above her, following her direction as they made their way to the staircase.

  Quietly, Haven unlocked her front door and peeked out as the woman started down the stairs. She was tall and curvy, her long hair an unnatural burgundy shade. She lugged two empty cardboard boxes with her and dropped them in the small foyer right outside of Haven’s door.

  Haven didn’t want to be caught spying, but the woman saw her before she could slip back away.

  “Hey there!” she said enthusiastically. “I’m Kelsey. ”

  “Hav—uh, den. ” She cleared her throat. “Hayden. ”

  “Do you live here, Hayden?” Kelsey asked, pausing to take a breath but not long enough for Haven to actually answer. “Thank God you’re a she and not a he. I was totally convinced I was going to be living above some creepy bald dude with a potbelly who smelled like beef jerky and cheap beer. Yuck. Could you imagine? Ugh, I bet you were worried about the same thing, some pervert tromping through here all day and night. Am I right?”

  Haven smiled timidly. She hadn’t even considered it. The thought of someone moving into the vacant second floor never crossed her mind. She had assumed Corrado rented the entire building.

  “So what do you do?” Kelsey asked, raising a perfectly arched eyebrow. “Are you a student or something?”

  “Uh, yes,” she replied. “I go to the School of Visual Arts. ”

  Kelsey’s eyes widened. “No shit? Me too!”

  Haven was taken aback. “Really?”

  “Yes, really,” Kelsey said. “I’m majoring in graphic design. You?”

  “Painting. ”

  “Fine arts? Ugh, I could never do that. ” Kelsey waved her off dismissively. “So have you gone to orientation yet?”

  “No. ” Haven frowned. She had been putting it off, her nerves getting the best of her. “I should probably do that, though. ”

  “Totally,” Kelsey said. “I was about to head over there myself. We can go together! Everyone needs a walking buddy, right?”

  “Right. ” Haven glanced down at herself, still wearing her plaid oversize pajamas. She hadn’t even brushed her hair yet. “I need to change first. ”

  “Me, too,” Kelsey said, scrunching her nose in disgust. “I can’t go out looking like this. I broke a sweat and didn’t even enjoy myself doing it. ”

  Kelsey immediately turned, leaving the empty boxes where she had discarded them as she bolted back up the narrow stairs.

  * * *

  Twenty minutes later, Haven sat on the bottom step in the foyer, freshly showered and dressed in a pair of jeans and a red tank top. She tinkered with her keys as she waited, listening to the noise from above as Kelsey stomped around her apartment. Her loud footsteps echoed through the old building, the flimsy floorboards creaking and groaning. The building, although freshly remodeled, showed signs of its age.

  Haven waited, and waited, and waited some more. Another twenty minutes passed, and she was about to give up, when the sound of Kelsey’s high heels started clicking her way. Haven stood and glanced up the stairs, studying the girl as she approached. Her clothes were pristine, vibrant and crisp as if they had never been worn before. Her lips shone brightly from gloss, her eyes masked with dark makeup. She was a pretty girl, but Haven thought she looked much better without all of that covering her face.

  “Ready?” Kelsey asked.

  Haven nodded. She had been ready.

  Although she wore six-inch high heels, Kelsey walked confidently, her steps effortless, her stride long. Haven strolled along beside her, listening as the girl prattled on and on about everything. By the time they reached the school a few blocks away, Haven knew all she needed to know about Kelsey—an only child, the daughter of a congressman, she had failed out of NYU and decided to give art school a chance after her parents forced her to move out to teach her responsibility.

  “So, yeah . . . my dad says I only get three strikes before he cuts me off, and failing out of NYU was number two. ”

  “What was the first strike?”

  She shrugged. “Being born?”

  Haven’s expression fell as she blinked a few times, those words striking her hard. She certainly could relate. “You really feel that way?”

  “Sometimes,” Kelsey replied. “I’ve always had a strained relationship with my parents. My dad’s never here in New York and my mom, well . . . if I’m not on the bottom of a wine bottle, she’s not interested. ”

  “That’s, uh . . . ”

  “Pathetic?” Kelsey laughed. “I know it is. And first strike was actually probably when I almost failed graduating from high school. I was boy crazy and skipped too much. That’s over with, though. I’m committed now. I don’t have time for a boyfriend. ”

  The two of them stepped inside the building on 23rd Avenue, following the signs to the busy registrar’s office to have their student IDs made. Haven stared at hers when it was finished, ignoring the wrong name and instead focusing on the fact that her picture was prominently displayed on a badge granting her admission.

  For the first time in her life, she was a student at a school.

  The afternoon was chaotic as she went from building to building, meeting the administration and other students. Overwhelmed, Haven’s palms sweated and heart raced as they showed her the studios and enrolled her in classes, explaining the requirements as they took her around to the various galleries. Mandatory volunteer hours, optional summer sessions, semi-annual galas, and monthly counseling sessions . . . her anxiety skyrocketed, but it seemed to melt away the moment she stepped into the school’s library.

  Tall stacks of books surrounded her, towering above her, welcoming her in to their familiar embrace. It reminded her of life in Durante, a time and place she had tried not to dwell on during the weeks as she settled into New York. Her life was starting anew—new people, new places, new things, new chances—but the old seemed to still have a strong grasp on her heart, squeezing and constricting, forcing her to hold back, longing and yearning for the love she had left behind, instead of looking ahead.

  She lost Kelsey somewhere in the bustle of the day and ran into her again hours later as the sun was setting, the long day coming to an end. Kelsey stood in the lobby of th
e fine arts building next to a guy with spiky blond hair, her hand pressed against his chest, her face lit up with intense fascination.

  They separated after a moment, the guy jogging past Haven and out the door. Kelsey stood there, silently fidgeting as she bit down on her bottom lip, but she let out a squeal when she spotted Haven. “My God, did you see him? Wasn’t he gorgeous?”

  “Uh, sure,” Haven said, glancing out the massive glass windows at the boy standing on the sidewalk with a group of friends. “Who is he?”

  “His name’s Peter something-or-other. He’s a senior! He asked me for my number, so of course I gave it to him. God! Do you think he’ll call? I hope he calls. ”

  Haven looked at her incredulously. “I thought you didn’t have time for a boyfriend. ”

  “I don’t,” she said, waving her off with a laugh. “I can date, though. No harm in that. Besides, a girl has to have some kind of fun, right?”

  Rhetorical question, but Haven shrugged in response anyway.

  “What about you?” Kelsey asked as the two of them headed out on their way back home. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

  The innocent question, asked offhandedly, was like a sucker punch to Haven’s chest. It was the first time someone had asked her that. “Not anymore. I did, but . . . not anymore. ”

  Kelsey’s elated expression dimmed. “Ah, bad breakup?”

  “You could say that. ”

  Kelsey shook her head. “You’re better off without him, whoever he is. ”

  “Carmine,” Haven mumbled. Something about saying his name aloud, acknowledging he existed . . . that they had once existed together . . . loosened the tight knot in her gut just a bit.

  “Breakups suck,” Kelsey said. “I’ve never really been a one man kind of woman because of that. My dad always says ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket, honey,’ so I figure, why put all my hope in one man? I like to play the field a little, see what’s out there. ”

  * * *

  Haven would come to learn during the next few weeks, as she got to know Kelsey more, exactly how much of an understatement that was.

  Every few days there was a new love interest, boy after boy coming in and out of the apartment above hers. Peter, Franco, Josh, Jason . . . Haven stopped keeping track eventually. She would hear them tromping along upstairs behind Kelsey, the sound of their heavy footsteps echoing through the connected apartments, and she would smile politely if she ran into them in the foyer, but she didn’t bother to say hello.

  The faces all blurred together over time, a mash-up of a man Haven had no interest in getting to know.

  School started during those few weeks. Classes and studio sessions swallowed up Haven’s time—painting, drawing, and art history taking up most of her days. After school was over, instead of heading home, she would go to the library and lose hours inside those thick walls, drowning in books and studying text. It monopolized her attention, but she flourished under the stress.

  For yet again in her life, she had a strict schedule. Yet again, she had a list of things to do, and if it wasn’t done she knew there would be consequences. Failing wasn’t an option because, in Haven’s world, failing was as good as giving up on life.

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