Sempre redemption, p.60
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.60

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 60

 

  She winced. “Don’t say that, Carmine. ”

  “Sorry, you’re right,” he said quickly, taking another drink from his flask. “I shouldn’t be saying this shit to you. I just . . . I’m sorry. I’m glad you’re here. You didn’t have to come. You don’t owe my family anything, but it’s good to see you. ”

  His words lacked the emotion he had had just minutes before. “It’s good to see you, too. I’ve missed you. ”

  “Yeah?” He glanced at Haven. “I’ve missed you, too. You look good, tesoro. ”

  Her heart started acting erratically, a fluttering in her stomach as the word tesoro escaped his lips. He tried to run his hand through his hair but cringed, a white bandage covering it. “What happened to your hand?”

  He shoved it back in his pocket as if to hide the injury. “Corrado shot me. ”

  “He shot you? Why?”

  “You’d have to ask him. ” He grew quiet again and Haven knew he was holding back. “That’s where the scar on my face came from, too. Someone shot at me. Wasn’t Corrado that time, though . . . some Irish fucker. ”

  Haven stared at him as that sank in. “That’s scary. ”

  “That’s life,” he said, shrugging as if it weren’t a big deal. “That’s my life now, anyway. Thank God it’s not yours. ”

  Silence lingered between them as he took sips from his flask, his eyes looking everywhere but at her. She could see the sadness, the yearning for something he felt he couldn’t have. It made her chest ache.

  “A guy named Gavin asked me out a few months ago,” she blurted out.

  Carmine froze with the flask to his lips, cringing at her words. Tension rolled from him in waves. “Did you go out with him?”

  “Once, but it could never work. ”

  “Why’s that?”

  “Because he could never know me,” she said quietly. “I had friends, but they didn’t know me, either. No one did. They don’t know where I came from or what I went through. They only know the cover story, the girl I pretend to be . . . the girl everyone wants me to be . . . the girl I still sometimes wish I could be. They think the world I came from only exists in movies. ”

  “That’s the point,” he said. “You can be whoever you want to be. ”

  She sighed. “Don’t you get it, Carmine? I am that girl. I always will be, and believe it or not, I like her. I like being her. I like me. ”

  “I like you, too,” he said, “but you deserve more than this life, Haven. ”

  “Well, so do you. ”

  He groaned. “I chose this shit. ”

  “Then why couldn’t I?” she asked. “Why did you choose for me?”

  “Because I’d be goddamned if I was going to let you throw everything away for someone like me. You’re better than my kind. ”

  Haven shook her head with disbelief. “Your kind? How can you say that? You, the boy who told me over and over again that I’d overcome my label . . . how can you label yourself? You wanted me to go out there and explore my options. I did that, Carmine, and I loved it, but I was lonely. Do you know what it’s like to stand in a crowded room and still feel like you’re the only one there? Do you? Because that was how it felt to me. ”

  “I couldn’t be something you settled for, Haven. ”

  “You think being with you would be settling? I’ll always be a part of your world. I’ll always have someone keeping tabs on me, making sure I don’t break my silence. My house got broken into and I couldn’t even call the police, I had to call your uncle! How do I explain that to people? It’s not normal—I’m not normal! Being out there in the world alone, spending my life pretending to be someone I’m not . . . that’s settling, Carmine. Does it even matter what I want?”

  Carmine sighed exasperatedly, taking another drink. “Of course it matters. ”

  “Then why’d you do it?”

  He stared at her, his eyes boring into hers intensely. “What do you do when the thing you want most suddenly feels like it’s just beyond your fingertips?”

  The question caught Haven off guard. “What?”

  “You wrote that in your journal,” he said. “I couldn’t hold you back. ”

  A bitter laugh of disbelief erupted from her chest. “That’s why you did it? Are you kidding me? The answer to that question isn’t to give up, Carmine. You don’t just quit. You keep trying. You keep reaching. All I ever wanted was someone to see me, to love me, to understand me. I didn’t have to hide from you; I didn’t have to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. You know me, the person no one else will ever know. I wanted to be with you, I thought we’d be together, and then you left! You walked out on me as I slept!”

  Haven shook as all of the hurt came pouring out in her words, everything she had kept bottled in for the past eighteen months erupting in a cloud of anger.

  “I wanted what was best for you,” he said. “I wanted you to have a chance. ”

  “A chance?” she asked. “You asked me for a chance once. Do you remember that? I gave it to you, and I don’t regret that for a second. I’ll never regret it. If you didn’t love me, that’s one thing, but—”

  “Of course I loved you!” His eyes filled with tears. “I didn’t want to get you killed!”

  “You’re not your father, Carmine, and I’m not your mother. ”

  “I know that,” he spat.

  “Do you? You’re so busy trying to stop history from repeating itself that you’re completely ignoring what’s right in front of you!”

  He wiped his eyes. “And what’s that?”

  “Fate,” she said. “You came into my life because you were meant to be in my life. It wasn’t an accident! So don’t push me away, because I fucking love you, Carmine DeMarco, and you’re just hurting yourself doing it!”

  Frantic, Haven wrapped her arms around her chest, trying to hold herself together. Carmine stared at her in a daze, but the moment a sob escaped from her throat he snapped back to reality. He wrapped his arms around her tightly. “Oh, tesoro,” he whispered into her hair. “I fucking love you, too. ”

  They clung to each other again until Carmine’s phone shattered yet another moment. He groaned as he reached for it and glanced at the screen.

  “Sir?” His voice was even as he answered, his eyes refusing to leave Haven’s face. “Yes, sir. Thirty minutes. I got it. ”

  He hung up, giving Haven a curious look.

  “You have to go?” she guessed.

  He nodded. “You, too. We’re expected at the gathering. ”

  “Was that Corrado?” she asked, surprised when he nodded. “It sounded serious, like, you know . . . work. ”

  He smiled sadly. “Corrado is work to me. He’s my boss first and family second. I can’t tell him to fuck off anymore. I’d hate for him to shoot me again. ”

  Haven glanced at his hand instinctively. “I still can’t believe he did that. ”

  “Yeah, well, I can. He’s threatened to kill me more times than I can count, so it was only a matter of time. ” Haven looked at him with horror and he chuckled nervously. “I deserved it. I’ve fucked up a lot. ”

  “How? I mean, if you can . . . ”

  “Maybe later. ” He glanced at his watch. “We’d be here all night if I tried to explain, and we’re down to twenty-eight minutes now. ”

  He glanced around briefly, his eyes darting between his parents’ graves as he pressed his hand against Haven’s back to lead her away. “I guess I was wrong. ”

  “About?”

  “Probably most of it, really, but I was referring to you not saying fuck,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t believe you cursed at me. ”

  * * *

  Neither spoke during the drive. So much time had passed that Haven knew it would be impossible for them to just pick up where they had left off, unrealistic to expect to have back exactly what they had once shared. It was still there, though, buried beneath the surface. It would take time to unearth it and nurse it back to hea
lth.

  If he was willing to try, that was.

  They made their way into the Morettis’ house when they arrived. Carmine was on edge, his hands shoved into his pockets and body tense. He kept his head down, retreating further into himself with each step. He walked inside without knocking, stopping in the foyer. She stepped in behind him and saw Corrado standing by the bottom of the stairs.

  He glanced at his watch. “Thirty-nine minutes. ”

  Late.

  An animated voice carried through the hallway as they headed toward the living room. Haven smiled at the familiarity, recognizing Dominic. Carmine paused in the doorway and she stopped behind him, glancing past him nervously. The large room was packed with people and she spotted Dia right away, sitting on the couch. Tess was beside her but mostly blocked from view by Dominic, who stood directly in front of her. Celia sat in a chair near the door beside an older woman.

  There were at least two dozen others, people Haven didn’t recognize, but each of them listened intently as Dominic spoke. He told a story about a fishing trip they went on when they were children, about how Carmine had dumped out all of the worms they had caught the night before.

  Gazing at Carmine, Haven saw no flicker of emotion in his face, no recognition as Dominic recounted the story. He stood tensely right inside the doorway, his hands still shoved in his pockets with his head down. Haven realized then, looking at him, that he knew exactly how she had felt on her own. He knew what it felt like to stand in a crowded room, surrounded by people, yet feel utterly alone.

  Haven slid her arms under his from behind, shoving her hands in his pockets with his. She laced their fingers together as she laid her head against his back. Carmine didn’t move or speak, but his body relaxed from the contact.

  Stories were shared, one after another, until the room grew quiet, a somber feeling taking over as no one seemed to know what else to say. Haven pulled away from Carmine and felt him tense again as she cleared her throat. “I think I have something to share. ”

  “Twinkle Toes!” Dominic bounded across the room the second he noticed her and pulled her into a hug. “I’m glad you’re here!”

  “Put her down, Dominic,” Tess said sternly.

  Dominic put Haven back on her feet, smiling sheepishly. Dia and Tess both said hello to her before Celia chimed in. “Go on, Haven. I’d love to hear what you have to say about Vincent. ”

  Not everyone seemed as confident as Celia about hearing Haven speak. Corrado watched her apprehensively and she noticed a few others were, too, all of them likely aware of what Dr. DeMarco had done to her.

  “About a year and a half ago, when I was living in Charlotte, I wasn’t doing so well. I guess you could say I was, uh . . . homesick. ” She glanced at Dia, who smiled knowingly. “I wanted nothing more than to run back to what was familiar to me, and Dr. De—err, Vincent knew that. I hit bottom one night and did something stupid out of desperation, and he came to talk to me. He said he knew I was scared but that I needed to give life a chance. He told me to show those who had doubted me that they were wrong, that I was strong enough to make it, and after I did, if I was still homesick, he’d help me find my way home. He promised when I was ready he’d help me, even if it was the last thing he did. ”

 
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