Sempre redemption, p.38
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.38

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 38

 

  “Technically it belongs to Saint Mary’s, but yes,” he replied. “A former parishioner donated it to the church ages ago. I want to say it’s been nearly thirteen years. ”

  “Christ,” Carmine said, surprised it still ran, and smiled sheepishly when the priest gave him a peculiar look. “I’m just saying, you know . . . wow. My grandfather had one of these. He used to pick me up from school sometimes when I was a kid and drive me around. Pretty much the only memory I have of the man. ”

  “Is that right?”

  “Yes. He died when I was a kid, probably about . . . ” Carmine paused as he did the math in his head. “. . . Thirteen years ago. ”

  The priest smiled at him before climbing into the car and starting it. It hesitated, the engine roaring and car trembling as it sprung to life. Sighing, Carmine climbed into the passenger seat and rattled off his address, staring out the side window as they silently drove through town.

  Father Alberto pulled the car into the driveway when they arrived. Carmine turned to the man, about to thank him, and noticed the look of awe on his face. Before Carmine could say anything, the priest burst into a loud, boisterous laughing fit. He laughed so hard tears sprung to his eyes, and he wiped them with the back of his hand as Carmine stared at him with confusion. “What’s so funny?”

  “The door is blue. ”

  “Yeah, so?”

  The priest shook his head. “I thought Vincenzo was joking. ”

  Carmine’s expression fell at the sound of his father’s name. He could only gape at the man in shock.

  “He truly did a terrible job painting it,” Father Alberto continued, “but I commend him for doing it, nonetheless. ”

  “You know my father?”

  “Of course I do,” the priest said. “It’s no coincidence you ended up on my front steps tonight, son. ”

  Carmine shook his head. What was this, a goddamn intervention?

  “Merry Christmas. ” The priest smiled, waving good-bye. “And for the record, I’ve always suspected Corrado had a sense of humor, too. ”

  26

  Christmas on the Upper East Side turned out to be a more formal affair than Haven anticipated. No gifts were exchanged in the morning, no stories shared in the afternoon. At precisely three o’clock they all gathered in the large dining room, the four of them sitting at a table fit for a dozen. The staff served the meal, quietly and swiftly fixing each of them a plate before disappearing from the room.

  Haven stared down at her food as the others started eating, her stomach in tight knots. Those people, the servants—didn’t they have families? Why were they working there on Christmas?

  Thoughts of the worst kind infiltrated her mind. They couldn’t be, could they? A senator, a man of the law, wouldn’t keep slaves in his home.

  Would he?

  The possible answer to that terrified Haven.

  “So, Hayden . . . ”

  Haven looked up from her plate, turning to Kelsey’s mother, Anita, down the table from her. Anita wore her dark hair in a tight bun on top of her head, a long string of pearls draped around her neck. She sipped from a glass of white wine that she had already refilled twice since they sat down.

  “Yes, ma’am?”

  “Tell me about your family. ”

  Haven stared at her. “My family?”

  “Yes, your family. I’d like to know why you’re not with them on Christmas. ”

  “Mother . . . ” Kelsey hissed through clenched teeth at the same time her father muttered, “Anita, please. ”

  “Relax, I’m merely curious,” she said, waving them both off as she eyed Haven. “So, your family?”

  “Well, uh . . . I don’t really have one,” she replied. “My parents are both gone. ”

  “An orphan?” Anita gasped loudly, leaning closer to the table. “How tragic! How did they die?”

  “Car accident,” she answered right away, swallowing back the harsh truth that the only parent she really ever had took her own life to free herself from restraints . . . restraints put on her by the man who was supposed to be her father.

  “So sad,” Anita said. “What about your other family members? Brothers? Cousins? Uncles? Aunts? Do you have anybody?”

  “That’s enough, Anita,” Cain said, his voice firm. “Drop it. ”

  “Oh, get off it,” Anita said as she took a sip of her drink. “You can’t tell me you’re not curious why a young girl has no place to go on Christmas. ”

  “She has someplace to go,” Cain countered. “She’s here, isn’t she?”

  Anita scoffed. “Please, Cain. Nobody actually wants to be here. Not even our own daughter wants to be in this house. ”

  “That’s because you always give everyone the third degree,” he said. “I don’t even want to come here half the time because of your interrogations. ”

  “Oh, don’t give me that! That’s not why you don’t come home! Maybe you can lie to everyone else and have them believe the bullshit that comes out of your mouth, but not me. ”

  “Bullshit?” Cain slammed his hand down on the table. “You want to talk about bullshit, let’s talk about it. ”

  Back and forth they went, bickering, slamming each other with harsh words. Kelsey continued to eat, completely unfazed, while Haven flinched and cringed at their exchange of hostility. It went on forever until suddenly they both seemed to run out of things to say.

  Silence strangled the room. Haven took a few bites of her food, forcing it down, grateful that was over.

  Until Anita spoke again. “So Kelsey, sweetheart, how bad did you fail school this time?”

  “I didn’t fail,” Kelsey said. “I made mostly As and Bs with one D. ”

  “What was the D in?”

  “Painting. ”

  “How in the world?” Anita shook her head in disapproval. “Even a monkey could pass that class. Any idiot can slap paint on a canvas. ”

  The words were like a crack to Haven’s chest. She let out an involuntary gasp, stung by the insult. Cain’s eyes darted from her over to his wife. “Dammit, Anita. ”

  “Oh, you’re a painter?” she asked. “I’m sure your work is lovely, dear. Just lovely. My daughter, on the other hand . . . ”

  The bickering started all over again.

  Haven breathed a deep sigh of relief when dinner ended. Kelsey excused herself to use the restroom while Anita grabbed the bottle of wine and darted from the room, leaving Haven alone with Kelsey’s father.

  The staff came in to clear the table. Haven watched them curiously, forgetting Cain was there until he spoke. “They’ve been employed by my family for a long time. ”

  Haven glanced at him curiously. “What?”

  “The staff. They’ve worked for me for years, since Kelsey was a baby. Christmas is completely voluntary, but since they get paid double on holidays they usually all choose to work part of their shift. ”

  “Oh. ” Suspicion washed through Haven. “How did you . . . ?”

  “How did I know you wondered?” he asked, nailing her question right away. “I didn’t grow up wealthy. My mother moonlighted as a dancer. My father was a conman. Needless to say, I know that look on your face well. ”

  “What look is that?”

  “The look of not understanding how life can deal someone such a crummy hand. ” Cain stood, tipping his head. “It was nice meeting you. You’re welcome here any time. ”

  He walked out, leaving Haven alone in the giant dining room. Kelsey returned after a moment, pausing in the doorway. “So?”

  “So,” Haven said, standing up, “maybe you weren’t totally exaggerating. ”

  Kelsey laughed. “Told you. Terrible. ”

  Terrible? Maybe not, but they certainly reminded Haven of people she had tried to avoid since she was a kid.

  * * *

  Saint Mary’s Catholic Church was a ghost town on a Saturday night, the rows of pews leading up to the pulpit vacant. The Bibles were all closed
, tucked into their wooden nests, awaiting tomorrow’s service when the words printed on their pages would once again become front and center in dozens of lives.

  Lives that, when the moon shone in the night sky, casually and callously disregarded the commandments they swore to abide by in the Sunday morning sunlight.

  Vincent slipped into the church under the cloak of darkness, shrouded in an oversize black hooded sweatshirt covered in thick snowflakes. He removed his hood once safely inside, exposing his dark unkempt hair. He hadn’t had a cut in weeks, nor had he taken the time to shave—his scruffy hair coated his jaw while baggy jeans hung loosely from his waist. He appeared to be quite the opposite of the clean-cut doctor he once was.

  He strolled up the aisle toward the front of the church, stopping near the massive organ to the left of the pulpit. It didn’t take long, only a moment or two, before Vincent heard footsteps behind him in the church. They were subtle, undetectable to ears that weren’t trained to listen to the dangers carried on the wind.

  He hadn’t seen Father Alberto in quite some time—not since he had spilled his soul, letting loose all of his deepest, darkest demons—but he needed the man now. He needed his guidance. He needed to know that sometimes it was okay to do something immoral in order to spare others from suffering. Two wrongs don’t make a right, he knew that, but he couldn’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, one inconceivable wrong could be forgiven if it set it all straight again.

  Vincent bowed his head as he closed his tired eyes, sullenly making the sign of the cross. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. ”

  “What else is new?”

  Vincent’s eyes snapped open at the sound of the voice, low yet striking, entirely detached and frighteningly familiar. Guarded, Vincent’s heart pounded as hard as a bass drum when he turned around, coming face-to-face with the last person he expected to encounter: Corrado.

  “I almost didn’t recognize you,” Corrado said, standing beside the front pew a few feet away. “You haven’t been stealing your son’s clothes, have you? It’s really not a good look. ”

  Vincent eyed his brother-in-law suspiciously. Corrado seemed relaxed, his hands in the pants pockets of his black fitted suit as he stared at him, awaiting a response.

  “How did you know I’d be here?” Vincent asked.

  Corrado shook his head. “Lucky guess. You’re quite predictable, to be honest. Just as predictable as your son. ”

  “What are you doing here?”

  “I could ask you the same thing, Vincent,” Corrado replied. “Church sanctuary ended centuries ago. They can’t offer you protection anymore. Well, maybe protection from God, but not from man. Nothing can protect you from man’s wrath. Not the police and certainly not a priest. ”

  “I didn’t come for asylum,” Vincent said. “I came to get advice. ”

  “Ah, maybe I can help you, then. Please, continue. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been . . . ” Corrado raised his eyebrows expectantly as he trailed off.

 
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