Sempre redemption, p.34
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.34

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 34

 

  Depression took over, suicidal thoughts bombarding his mind. Reckless and unstable, he couldn’t think straight or function normally.

  He grew desperate for the sensation, seeking her out more often to delay the unavoidable come down. It got to the point where he was constantly high, everything falling to the wayside in his quest to feel.

  His downward spiral was abrupt, a twelve-story fall straight to the ground.

  * * *

  The Novak Gala, held twice a year in an upscale gallery just north of Chelsea, always drew the most elite art patrons. Hundreds gathered to celebrate local artists, from the professionals to the blossoming post-graduate students at the surrounding schools. Pieces were auctioned off for charity, supporting art programs in the underfunded public schools, and the media always took notice of the up-and-coming talent. It was a highly anticipated event in the community, but possibly even more so for the students at SVU.

  For at every event, some lucky undergraduate students were given the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to show their work. Students were given a topic and had to submit a single piece of art to be judged by the administration. The competition was stiff—out of the three thousand submissions, only the top twenty were chosen. The odds of being picked were less than one percent, but it didn’t stop the students from giving it everything they had.

  November faded fast, weeks passing, and with it came the deadline for submission to the judging panel. The theme for the winter gala was “coldness” and Haven stayed busy, creating scene after scene of dramatic landscapes—ice, blizzards, and freezing rain—before finally settling upon a painting of a field with falling snow. Simple, but beautiful, the white mingling with the fading green. She spent Thanksgiving holed up in her small apartment, surrounded by warmth from the oversize metal radiator, perfecting her painting, as she ate dinner straight out of the carton from the local Chinese delivery place. She hardly noticed it was a holiday, too engrossed in her work, too determined not to dwell on those things.

  * * *

  When the school reopened the Monday after Thanksgiving, Haven turned her project in to her Painting I professor, Miss Michaels. She studied it for a moment before nodding. “I’ll be sure to submit it this afternoon. ”

  “Thank you,” Haven said, smiling proudly as she took one last look at her painting. She could see no flaws, everything precise, numerous art techniques she had learned portrayed. She couldn’t imagine what more they would want.

  “You’re welcome, dear. ”

  Haven hurried home after class that morning, bundled up in a thick tan coat, to find Kelsey rushing out of the brownstone. Haven’s brow furrowed. She purposely had no morning classes so she wouldn’t have to be up at that hour.

  “I’m heading to the studios,” Kelsey said, answering Haven’s question before she could ask it. “I totally forgot submissions were due. I haven’t even started mine!”

  Haven stared at her with shock, blinking a few times. “Uh, good luck. ”

  Kelsey gave a halfhearted wave before taking off, running down the street.

  * * *

  Two weeks later, as class was dismissing, Miss Michaels handed out envelopes to each of the students. The room filled with the rumbling of murmurs and the sound of crumpling paper as her classmates discarded their letters in the trashcan on their way out the door.

  Rejections, from what Haven could tell. It made her nerves flare.

  Haven opened her envelope carefully, smoothing out the crease in the paper as she read the letter the whole way through.

  We appreciate your effort . . .

  The competition was stiff . . .

  So much talent . . .

  We regret to inform you . . .

  Better luck next time . . .

  Haven slowly absorbed the typed words, disappointment setting in when her eyes scanned the last sentence.

  Your submission ranked number 348.

  Nowhere near the top twenty.

  “You okay, dear?”

  Haven glanced at her professor as she refolded the letter, sliding it carefully back into the envelope. “I don’t understand what was wrong with my painting. ”

  “Nothing, technically speaking,” Miss Michaels said. “It just wasn’t what they were looking for. ”

  “Why?”

  “You see, you took the assignment literally, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it made it lack the one thing they truly wanted. ”

  “What’s that?”

  “Soul,” she replied. “You could look at your painting and think coldness, but you couldn’t feel it. And that’s what’s important. Your paintings should make people feel something, even if they have no idea why. ”

  24

  Time is a peculiar thing. A moment can feel like an eternity, while sometimes months can pass and seem like no time at all. It’s unreliable, and fickle, but it’s the most constant thing there is. Time. No matter what you do, you can’t stop it. The clock will continue to tick away, minutes passing into hours, hours into days, until suddenly you are standing there and it’s already a year later.

  Christmas had arrived, twelve months passing since the day Carmine walked out the door in Durante. It had been a year marked with violence, with uncertainty, where doubt constantly lingered over his head like a stubborn storm cloud.

  And the time showed on his face—his expression harder, his skin thicker, and his eyes bleaker, unfriendly and guarded. But in Carmine’s mind, he had difficulty reconciling that he had been away from his former life for so long. To him, it seemed like just yesterday he had seen Haven, just a moment ago he had heard her voice or listened to her laugh, that he had kissed her lips or made love to her. The time that passed had been a mere hazy blip for him, the blink of an eye, a single steady heartbeat, but the weariness in his bones carried the truth.

  He had managed to survive a year without her . . . the first, he thought, of a lifetime to come.

  Although he was a man now, seeing things a person ought not see, doing things men should never do, deep inside of him the boy still loitered. He dodged his family, sidestepping accountability in lieu of living in a delusional world of his own—a world where he somehow convinced himself he could beat time, that he wasn’t living his life dictated by the steady ticking of a clock, this one moving backward and not forward, counting down how many hours he had left on earth.

  Because living the life he did, it was only a matter of time before death came knocking at the door, prepared to take him away.

  And it only sped up with each chime of his cell phone.

  Sycamore Circle.

  * * *

  Carmine glanced at the message as he strolled barefoot through the downstairs of his messy house, sipping straight from a half-empty bottle of vodka. Sighing, he set his drink on the counter in the kitchen before calling Remy, tapping his foot impatiently as it rang and rang. No answer.

  He tried calling twice more as he threw on a coat and some shoes, wanting to know if he needed a ride to the site, but each time he only reached voicemail.

  The sky was completely black, void of stars that night, with a light dusting of white on the frozen ground. It had been a peculiarly gentle winter so far, only a few days of ice and snow—one of the few blessings Carmine counted in his life at the moment—but he could feel a storm brewing. The tips of his fingers tingled and his nose grew numb the moment he stepped out into the frigid night air. Shuddering, he slipped on a pair of black gloves and put the hood up on his coat before climbing behind the wheel of his car, blasting the heat as he drove to Remy’s.

  There was no sign of him at the house, no lights on inside and no cars in the driveway. Another call went unanswered so Carmine headed to the meet-up spot, assuming he would see him there. Two other cars hid in the shadows of the abandoned lot, just down from the spot where the trucks were parked, but neither were Remy’s old Impala.

  One final call to his phone w
ent unanswered.

  The men staked out the location for a bit, watching and waiting, but there was no movement, just as last time. The trucks stood alone, ripe for the picking.

  Or so it seemed.

  They moved in, cracking locks and shoving through the gate, the group of guys approaching the trucks. It was methodical and routine, quiet and easy, until suddenly it wasn’t anymore.

  Carmine shoved the back of a truck open, expecting to find it packed full of weapons, but instead he saw nothing. Nothing at all. His heart dropped into his stomach, his vision blurring from dizziness. Something was wrong. Something was terribly fucking wrong.

  A single loud gunshot cut through the night, confirming his worst fears. He turned quickly, blood rushing furiously through his body, and watched as one of the guys from the crew dropped to the ground. A horrifying scream ruptured from the guy’s chest, so loud and poignant it vibrated through the air around them.

  “Man down!” somebody shouted. “Fuck! Man down!”

  Before Carmine could even think to react, the shadows shifted and people appeared out of nowhere. Ten, or twenty, or maybe even thirty men descended upon them, gunshots ricocheting through the lot.

  Men scattered as others dropped, bullets flying left and right around Carmine. He grabbed his gun and shot back, but he couldn’t see to aim in the darkness. A bullet zipped by his head, searing pain ripping through his face as it grazed his cheek. He cursed and sprinted away, firing shots behind him into the lot. Skidding on a patch of icy snow, he lost his balance and fell, but managed to get to his feet again before another bullet struck near him.

  He jumped in his car and sped away from the scene, his hands shaking and stomach churning. They hadn’t caught them off guard that time. They had been ready, laying in wait in the shadows, on the offense instead of defense.

  As he drove through town, weaving frantically through traffic, all he could think was that they had walked straight into a trap. Someone had tipped them off.

  The wound on Carmine’s face burned like fire, a trickle of blood running down his cheek. He pushed his hood off his head as he ran his trembling hand through his chaotic hair. Terror coursed through his body, overtaking the dullness he had managed to shroud himself with. He had gotten so used to feeling nothing unless it was manufactured, the craved effects of the intoxicants he repeatedly forced down his throat and up his nose, that the inherent emotion that hit him seemed to be triple fold. It was raw and real, his heart racing violently.

  Had it been Sal? Did he want him dead?

  Disoriented, he sped through the streets, going straight to the club to look for Corrado. He bypassed the security guard at the front door and headed straight for the back, making his way down the narrow hallway. It struck him as he reached the office door that the music was loud, hip-hop thumping from the speakers, the first sign that his uncle was gone. He pushed that aside, though, and feverishly pounded on the door anyway.

  “Hey,” a guard said, having followed him from the front. “You looking for Moretti?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “He ran out for a bit,” he said. “He shouldn’t be much longer. You can have a drink and wait. ”

  Frustrated, Carmine stepped back into the club, grabbing a towel from the bar to hold against the wound on his face. Glancing around, he tensed when he spotted Remy sitting at a table along the side, surrounded by girls. Confusion and rage simmered deep inside Carmine’s gut.

 
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