Sempre redemption, p.30
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.30

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 30



  Remy nodded. “She’s beautiful. Just one night with her will change your life. ”

  * * *

  It was strange, abrupt yet slow moving. One second there was nothing and suddenly it was there, tiptoeing through his veins. There wasn’t an intense rush of sensation, blinding and all consuming. Carmine didn’t feel like he was sky high. No, for the first time in quite a while, he felt like he had his feet firmly planted on the ground.

  He tried to find the words to describe the feeling, but none existed. It was new, yet somehow familiar, like a combination of everything good that ever lived inside of him. It was his mother being alive. It was being in love with Haven. It was playing football, and going to college, and having a future. It was forgiveness. It was understanding. It was all that was wrong suddenly becoming right. It was sunshine, and light, and spewing goddamn rainbows. It was walking on water before turning it into wine. It was Heaven. It was bliss. It was being blind for a lifetime and suddenly being able to see. It was freedom. It was happiness. The stars had aligned and wham bam . . . motherfucking world peace.

  “What is this shit?” Carmine asked, rubbing his nose absently as he eyed the remnants of the white powder on the table. It glistened like flecks of glitter under the club lights, mesmerizing him. His senses were heightened, the notes of the music echoing from the speakers rippling across his flushed skin before sinking in.

  He wasn’t sure why, but he suddenly yearned to play the piano again.

  “I told you—Molly,” Remy replied. “Pure powder MDMA. ”

  Carmine smiled to himself, the first genuine smile to grace his lips in months, and he felt a burst of gratitude. Molly was beautiful. She was ecstasy.


  He had heard of it, of course, mainly being taken in pill form, but he had never encountered it before. Ecstasy hadn’t yet infiltrated his small North Carolina town as it had in the big cities.

  “So how do you feel?” Remy asked. “Still numb?”

  Carmine shook his head. Numb was the complete opposite of the sensation stirring within him. It settled deep in his chest, filling the gaping hole as it wiped away the pain, the ache, the heartbreak. “I feel like I could take on the world and actually fucking win. ”

  Remy laughed as he picked up his glass of rum and Coke and drank the last bit. “Yeah, well, you can’t. The world will still destroy you, my friend, so don’t do anything stupid . . . not if you wanna live to see another day. ”

  Standing, Remy reached into his pocket and pulled out a small baggy filled with the glittery white powder. He dropped it on the table in front of Carmine. “My treat. Just use it sparingly, okay? A little goes a long way. ”

  Carmine picked it up, concealing it in his palm. “Thanks. ”

  “Don’t mention it. ” Remy took a step before pausing. “Seriously, please don’t mention it, man. I’d rather people not know, you know. ”

  “I understand,” Carmine said, staring down at the packet stashed in his hand. Their bosses frowned upon drugs. The men up top may have looked the other way and arranged exchanges off the record to make a quick dollar, playing invisible middlemen in a bigger game, but they were never to get their hands dirty in the drug trade. It was too dangerous—too many people involved, too much publicity, too much risk for exposure. It was one of their biggest rules, second only to keep your fucking mouth shut and never rat on your friends.


  The tan rectangular building stood on the corner of a quiet intersection, spanning nearly half a city block. The outside was modest, with brown archways and bright green grass, a sign along the front displaying THE ROSEWOOD HALL in casual script.

  Carmine expected something flashier. He always took Tess to be the kind who would demand white horses and a gold-plated dance floor at a remote location, not a simple wedding hall in the middle of Chicago.

  He glanced down at his invitation once more as he leaned against the building, triple checking he had the right place before shoving it in the pocket of his black slacks. He watched in silence as the lot filled with cars, surprised at the amount of people arriving for the wedding. He didn’t recognize half the guests, which unnerved him. Everyone had moved on with life, met new people, and made new friends, but he was just him . . . still the same Carmine DeMarco.

  That was how it seemed, anyway. So much had changed but yet nothing felt different. He was back to being that teenage boy, all alone with no one to talk to—no one to confide in. Instead, he buried everything deep inside, concealing secrets and hiding the truth from everyone—sometimes, even from himself—as he waded through reality, refusing to accept half of it was his life.

  It was a nice day in Chicago, the temperature hovering around seventy degrees, but sweat uncomfortably gathered along his back and made his shirt stick to him. On edge, he contemplated leaving, although he knew he shouldn’t. He couldn’t. He had disappointed a lot of people in his life, made plenty of fucked-up choices at the drop of a hat, but bailing on his only brother’s wedding would certainly top the list.

  Even if that brother probably didn’t care if he showed up.

  Sighing, Carmine reached into his pocket for his flask and took a swig. The hot liquid burned his throat, the flames eating away at his chest. He took another drink when someone called his name, the sharp voice startling him. He choked on the vodka, coughing as he put the lid back on it.

  “What?” he rasped as Celia approached.

  “Was it necessary to bring that along?” she asked, motioning toward the flask.

  He rolled his eyes as he slipped the flask away. “Is your husband here?”

  “No, I haven’t heard from him today. ” She frowned. “I don’t know if he’s going to make it. ”

  Carmine’s stomach sunk. “Is he still with her?”


  “Don’t treat me like an idiot, Celia. You know who. ”

  She eyed Carmine warily. “What makes you think he’s with her?”

  “I don’t think. I know. ”

  “I’m not sure,” she replied. “I know as much as you do, kiddo. He left, and I don’t know why or where or when he’ll be back. I do know, though, if he shows up and sees you drinking, he’s not going to be very happy. ”

  Vincent yelled from the front door of the hall, saying the ceremony was about to start, and Carmine pushed away from the building. They headed inside quietly, going straight through to the courtyard in the back. A long aisle was set up, surrounded by dozens of white chairs in rows. Celia dragged Carmine to the front, forcing him into the seat beside her.

  The ceremony went by quickly. Carmine barely heard any of it as he fidgeted and tugged at his tie, looking around for any sign of his uncle. The moment it was over, they went inside for the reception, and Carmine headed straight for the open bar. He took a seat, barking for the bartender to get him some vodka, and he downed two shots back-to-back as soon as they were set in front of him.

  The bartender poured him another, shot after shot flowing until Carmine’s vision was a bit hazy. The celebration went on behind him, music playing as people danced and cheered, celebrating Tess and Dominic’s union, while all Carmine enjoyed was the familiar numbness creeping through his limbs.

  Another shot was poured—number five, maybe six—when the stool beside Carmine shifted. Tensing, he glanced over as Dominic sat down, loosening his bowtie. He didn’t look at Carmine or even acknowledge him as he told the bartender to pour him a shot, too.

  Dominic downed it in one swallow and grimaced, motioning for his shot glass to be filled again. “I don’t know how the hell you drink this straight from the bottle, Carm. ”

  Carmine threw his back when the bartender approached. The man filled them both up, giving a small nod as he set the bottle between them on the bar.

  About fucking time he gets the hint.

  “Your body gets used to it after a while,” Carmine said. “I barely f
eel the burn anymore. It goes down like water. ”

  “Huh,” Dominic said, throwing his vodka back. He grimaced once more, a rumble escaping his chest as he slammed the shot glass down on the bar. Carmine chuckled and filled them both back up, but Dominic just stared at his glass. He picked it up after a moment, swirling the liquid around as if deep in thought.

  “Go ahead and say it,” Carmine muttered.

  “There’s no point,” Dominic said. “Your misery takes the fun out of it. ”

  “I’m fine,” he insisted, grabbing the liquor. He went to pour himself a shot but stopped, instead just tipping the bottle back. There was no point in pretending—they both knew he would drink the entire thing, anyway.

  “You know, none of us hear from Haven anymore,” Dominic said, picking up a coaster from the bar and putting it on its corner, attempting to spin it.

  “Did something happen?” Carmine asked. “She’s okay, isn’t she?”

  “I’m sure if something was wrong, we’d know. Corrado keeps up with her. ”

  “What about Dia?” he asked. “Doesn’t she see her, too?”

  He laughed humorlessly. “No. She went home for spring break and when she got back, Haven was gone. You’d know that if you still talked to her, by the way. ”

  Carmine was stunned. “Dia doesn’t call me, either. ”

  “That’s because she’s afraid you’ll flip out. She thinks she failed because Haven left, but I told her what happened was supposed to happen. You pushed the little birdie from the nest, and she did exactly what she was always meant to do. ”

  “What’s that?” Carmine asked.

  “She flew. ”

  A smile tugged Carmine’s lips at those words. She flew. “I’ll drink to that. ”

  “You’ll drink to anything. ”

  He raised the bottle. “I’ll drink to that, too. ”

  Dominic stood up and walked away, rejoining his table at the front of the room with Tess and Dia. Carmine stared at the bottle of liquor in his hand, realizing his brother had just done the one thing he had been too stubborn to do—concede.

  Carmine hesitated before getting up and strolling over to their table. He paused beside it, his eyes silently scanning them, before slipping into an empty seat.

  Dia tentatively smiled from her seat beside him. He gave her a small smile, the warmth and acceptance in her expression comforting.

  The three of them talked about weddings and families and the future, but Carmine didn’t say much. There really wasn’t anything he could say. His future was set in stone and it wasn’t anything to gush about, or anything he could even share. It was nice, though, being around them again. There was no anger or resentment, no guilt or blame for the things that happened, or the ones that didn’t. There was nothing but love and friendship at the table, and even some long-overdue sympathy.

  Vincent came over for a few minutes, laughing and joking around. Carmine felt a strange sensation brewing inside as he watched them. They were his family—his real family—the ones who had been through it all with him.

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