Sempre redemption, p.37
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.37

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 37


  She followed Kelsey, her eyes guardedly surveying the vast house as they made their way upstairs. Kelsey showed her to the guest room, where Haven’s bag already sat beside the bed. “My bedroom’s right down the hall,” she said. “The door on the end. ”

  Kelsey left her there, and Haven took a seat on the large canopy bed. The guest room, the size of her entire apartment across the city, was adorned in various shades of burgundy and gold, the carpet beneath her feet vibrant white—so bright, in fact, she was almost afraid to move.

  Haven unzipped her bag, reaching inside for the familiar leather-bound journal. Kicking off her shoes, she lay back on the bed and stared up at the see-through gold cloth draped above her, a frown tugging the corner of her lips. No matter how hard she fought it, attempting to keep a smile on her face, the sadness won out.

  Christmas Eve. Tomorrow was Christmas day. And the next day, well . . . she didn’t like to think about what December 26 marked.

  Opening the book, she pulled out the piece of paper she had tucked inside and unfolded it, staring at the sloppy writing, haphazardly scribbled in the middle of the night last Christmas. She had read it so many times she could recite it word for word.

  She got to the end, her fingers tracing the three simple words: I love you.

  “I love you, too,” she whispered.

  A year later, she still did.

  * * *

  Carmine’s brow furrowed as Corrado drove past the street that led to home. He cleared his throat. “Uh, I think you missed the turn. ”

  Corrado’s eyes remained on the road in front of him. He offered no reply as he reached for the radio, pressing the button to turn the music up. Frank Sinatra loudly vibrated the speakers, the song making Carmine’s skin prickle. His heart banged against his ribcage, echoing in his ears.

  Frank Sinatra tended to trigger something in Corrado.

  Panicking inside, his paranoia spiked as Corrado drove onto some vacant roads, deep into a neighborhood Carmine hadn’t been to in more than a decade. He had definitely fucked up and he knew there would be consequences, but he never thought it would be this. He never considered the fact that his uncle might get fed up. He never thought he might actually end him.

  Carmine, until that moment, still believed he was invincible.

  After driving for a few more minutes, Corrado slowed and pulled the car along the curb. Reaching over, he grasped the passenger side handle and flung open the door. “Get out. ”

  Carmine’s eyes darted around for some sign of life. Corrado wouldn’t kill him if there were witnesses. “What?”

  “I said get out!”

  Carmine obeyed at the sound of his uncle’s raised voice. He jumped out of the car and slammed the door, his frantic mind working fast. He thought about running, debating if he could evade him in the nearby alleys in the night, but he didn’t have to act. Tires squealed and a cloud of smoke filtered into the air as Corrado hastily sped away, leaving him standing there alone.

  Carmine stared at the red taillights as they faded into the night, partially relieved but even more baffled. “What the fuck?”

  “Now, now,” a voice said behind him, so close the hair on the back of Carmine’s neck stood on end. “That’s no way to talk here. ”

  Turning around, Carmine instinctively reached in his waistband for his weapon but unsurprisingly came up empty. He had nothing, to be precise—no ID, no wallet, not even a penny in his pocket.

  He stood frozen at that realization, his panic dissipating as he took in the cloaked form a few feet away. The first thing he noticed was the Roman collar, the bright white sliver of fabric shining brightly in the darkness.

  Confused, Carmine glanced past the man and surveyed the massive brown building, taking in the ornamental front door and massive steps leading to it. Corrado had dropped him off in front of an old church.

  “Sorry, sir,” he muttered. “Or, I mean . . . your holiness?”

  The priest smiled. “You may call me Father Alberto. What seems to be your trouble tonight?”

  “Nothing. No trouble. I just . . . ” Carmine wasn’t sure what to say. I just really kinda sorta fucked up my life and thought my uncle was about to kill me for it? “. . . I need a phone. You wouldn’t know where I could borrow one, would you? I mean, I know you wouldn’t have one, but maybe you know someone who does?”

  Father Alberto raised his eyebrows. “Why wouldn’t I have one?”

  “I don’t know. I guess because you’re one of those old school religious guys. ”

  The priest let out a hearty laugh. “I’m Catholic, son, not Amish. I have no aversion to technology. Come, you can use my phone. ”

  Motioning for him to follow, Father Alberto headed inside. Carmine hesitated before stepping into the church, his eyes darting around cautiously. The place was dim with a golden glow that was strangely warm and inviting. Carmine’s nerves instantly eased a bit. At least, he thought, his uncle wouldn’t kill him there.

  He followed the priest to a small office in the back with a wooden desk taking up most of the space. An old white telephone sat on the corner, the twisty cord tangled. Picking it up, Carmine dialed Celia’s number as the priest took a seat behind the desk. Carmine leaned against it, waiting as the phone rang.

  The answering machine picked up on the fifth ring, and her cell phone went straight to voicemail. He tried them both twice before giving up.

  “No answer?” the priest asked.

  “No. ”

  “Well, take a seat then. ” Father Alberto motioned toward a chair in front of his desk. “We’ll chat while you wait. You can try your calls again later. ”

  Carmine debated for a moment before plopping down in the chair. It wasn’t as if he really had another option. With no money and no friends, it was either wait or start walking, and he was too damn exhausted for the second choice.

  “Thanks,” Carmine said. “For the phone and the seat. ”

  “You’re welcome. It is what we old school religious guys do, after all. ”

  His voice was lighthearted and Carmine chuckled. “Sorry about that. I didn’t know. I’ve never been into the whole church thing. ”

  “Why not?”

  Carmine shrugged. “Not really my scene. ”

  Father Alberto stared at him peculiarly. “Do you believe in God?”

  A question Carmine dreaded, especially coming from a priest. He briefly considered lying to placate the man but thought better of it, considering he was sitting in the middle of a church. He had evaded death twice that week. Something told him he wouldn’t be so lucky the third time if lightning struck. “Honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe? But I’ve seen some bad shi—uh, stuff, in my life that makes me doubt anyone gives a fu—uh, damn, about us. ” Carmine’s eyes widened when he realized, despite his best effort, he still cursed. “Shit. Sorry, Father. It’s been a bad night. ”

  Carmine was half expecting to be kicked out, but Father Alberto merely smiled. “You aren’t the first to utter those words within these walls, and I’m certain you won’t be the last. I’m more concerned by your negativity than your profanity. ”

  “Well, you have a better chance of getting me to stop cursing than you do of changing the way I see things. It’s hard to believe there’s someone watching over us when so many good people get fucked over every day. ”

  “Ah, that’s an argument I hear often,” Father Alberto said. “How can a God exist when it seems so many have been forsaken? But you fail to realize, son, without the bad we can’t truly appreciate the good. Suffering teaches us to be better people. What we do in bad times measures how good of a person we really are. ”

  Carmine let out a bitter laugh, slouching in the chair as he thought about how he had adapted. “I must not be a very good man, then. ”

  “Oh, I don’t believe that. ”

  “That’s because you don’t know me. You don’t know the things I’ve done. ”

n tell me,” the priest challenged. “Change my mind. ”

  Carmine scoffed. “I can’t. ”

  “Why not?” he asked. “Are you ashamed?”

  “No. ” Carmine hesitated. “Well, yes, but that’s not the point. ”

  “That is the point,” the priest said. “This is a safe place. Anything you say within these walls stays within these walls. The only thing keeping you from confessing your sins is your own reluctance to admit them. ”

  “Because I’m screwed up. Who would want to admit that?”

  “Someone without morals,” he said, “which brings me back to you being a good man. The truly bad don’t have a conscience, son. ”

  Carmine pondered those words. The old man had somehow twisted things to his liking.

  “If you don’t want to discuss your past, why don’t we talk about the future?” the priest suggested. “Maybe we can figure out why God brought you here tonight. ”

  “God didn’t bring me here,” Carmine said.


  “No, the devil dropped me off. ”

  Surprisingly, the priest smiled at that. “Is there a reason he did that?”

  “Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m starting to think he might actually have a sense of humor. ”

  Time passed as the two of them sat in the cramped office, going round in conversation about religion and life. Neither wavered, Carmine refusing to budge from his line of thinking, but he found himself feeling better the more the priest spoke. Something about the man’s voice, the compassion in his words, put Carmine at ease. He started making small concessions, offering tidbits of truth as he skimmed the surface of his reality and shared the tiny shavings that came off the top.

  The sun had already started to rise when Carmine tried his calls again, each one just as unsuccessful as before. He hung up the phone with a frown, realizing nobody would be coming to his aide.

  “No answer again?” the priest asked.

  “No,” he replied. “I should get going. I have a long walk ahead of me. ”

  “Walk?” The priest shook his head. “Nonsense. I’ll give you a ride. ”

  Carmine blinked a few times, surprised. “You have a car?”

  “Of course,” the priest said. “A telephone, a car . . . I even have a microwave, if you ever need to borrow one. What’s mine is yours. ”

  Carmine stared at the priest with disbelief. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

  “You didn’t ask. ”

  Carmine stood, stretching his tired body as he ran his hands down his face. “We wasted a whole night here when you could’ve driven me home hours ago. ”

  “Ah, I wouldn’t say we wasted the night,” Father Alberto said. “I rather enjoyed speaking with you. It was quite illuminating. ”

  Carmine followed the priest out of the church and around the corner, where an old model Cadillac Deville was parked along the curb. He smiled when he saw it, eyeing the light blue paint and tan interior.

  “This is yours?” Carmine asked.

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