Sempre redemption, p.62
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.62

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 62


  “Maybe,” Dominic replied.

  “Well, you’re wasting your breath, because I don’t need it. ”

  “We disagree,” Dia said. “You always drank, but it’s worse now. ”

  “Leave it the fuck alone, Dia. ”

  She started to argue but Tess cut her off. “Let’s just drop it. So, yeah, he drinks. Whatever. At least he’s not messing around with Molly anymore. ”

  A tense silence instantly strangled them. Carmine slowly raised his eyes to glare at Tess, anger surging through him. She saw his hostile expression and blanched, starting to stammer about not meaning it how it sounded, but he stopped her. “Just . . . shut the fuck up, Tess. Talk about something else, whatever you all were talking about before I interrupted. ”

  “We were reminiscing,” Dominic said, casting Carmine a worried look as he quickly changed the subject. “Sharing some of our favorite memories of Dad. ”

  “Well, then, continue,” he responded, opening his bottle of water to take a drink. It was cold and went down smooth, none of the burn or warmth he craved.

  The atmosphere grew a bit lighter as they shared stories and traded playful jabs. Haven seemed at ease as she smiled and laughed, but she didn’t contribute much to the conversation. He yearned to hear her voice and listen to her stories, to know what she had done off on her own. He wanted to know everything, a twinge of jealousy brewing deep within him when he thought about how much he must have missed. She had an entire life he knew nothing about.

  He didn’t like that shit one bit.

  Celia joined them when the other guests started leaving, sharing a few more stories of her own. Every now and then Haven would peek at Carmine and her cheeks would turn pink, hints of the timid girl he remembered shining through. The sight of it gave Carmine hope, something he hadn’t felt since walking out that door in Durante.

  Maybe they had a chance. Maybe she could forgive him someday.

  “Tess, babe, we need to get going,” Dominic said eventually, the two of them standing. Dominic glanced around at everyone, his eyes locking with Carmine’s momentarily. “It’s been nice hanging out again. We need to get together more often, not just when, you know . . . something happens. ”

  Everyone murmured in agreement.

  They said their good-byes, making Haven promise to stay in touch, before heading out. Dia departed right afterward, scurrying away to leave Haven and Carmine alone. They sat quietly, gazing at each other, the air between them growing thick with unspoken questions.

  “Do you, uh . . . ” he started, unsure of what to say. “Fuck, I don’t know. Do you wanna get coffee or something? Is that what people do?”

  She laughed. “I don’t know about other people, but it sounds nice to me. ”

  Carmine’s nerves flared again, queasiness stirring in the pit of his stomach. He was afraid he would say something wrong and ruin any chance he had at fixing things.

  He held his hand out to her but she simply gazed at it, the apprehensive look on her face making him second-guess himself. He dropped his hand, shoving it in his pocket when she didn’t take it. “You don’t have to. I just thought, well . . . Christ, why is this so fucking awkward?”

  “I don’t know,” she said as she stood. “I mean, it’s just us, right? And it’s not that I don’t want to hold your hand, but you’re injured and I don’t want to hurt you. ”

  “Oh. ” He pulled his hand back out to look at it. “You aren’t gonna hurt me. ”

  She bit her bottom lip nervously as she offered her hand to Carmine this time. He took it with a smile, lacing their fingers together and squeezing gently. Pain shot through his wrist and he winced, his hand clearly not fine despite what he had said.

  “How bad is it?” Haven asked. “Honestly. ”

  “I don’t know,” he muttered, letting go of her and unwrapping the white bandage. “The medic said it wasn’t serious, but I didn’t go to the hospital. ”

  Haven surveyed his hand. The back of it was red and she pressed her fingers to the skin, sighing when he grimaced. “It’s infected. ”

  “How do you know?”

  “Seriously?” She raised her eyebrows at Carmine like it was a stupid question. “We got hurt a lot in Blackburn and weren’t allowed to see doctors, so we learned to watch for the signs. I’ve seen people die from wounds less severe than this. ”

  “Oh,” he said, looking at his hand. “Can’t I just soak it in peroxide? Get some Neosporin?”

  “So stubborn,” she muttered, lacing their fingers together once more. “It’s better to get antibiotics, so go to the doctor. Please?”

  He sighed, resigned and partly annoyed that she knew how to get to him. All it took was a fucking please. “I’ll make an appointment tomorrow, but right now I have a, uh . . . whatever this is. A date, I guess. ”

  A small smile curved Haven’s lips at those words.

  They headed around the side of the house to avoid seeing anyone as they left, because Carmine wasn’t in the mood for their pity disguised as sympathy. He was on edge as they walked down the street, keeping his head down but acutely aware of everything going on around them. It didn’t matter what Corrado had said—he couldn’t stop his paranoia. Salvatore was still out there, somewhere, and until he was sure that was dealt with, there was no way he would be able to relax.

  Carmine let go of her when they reached his house and unlocked the front door. She stepped inside, her eyes darting around curiously. It didn’t escape Carmine’s notice that she cringed at the utter mess.

  “Uh, kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom and laundry room or whatever,” he said, pointing out the areas on the first floor. “The room down the hall across from the living room used to be my father’s office when I was a kid but right now it’s just full of boxes. I never bothered to unpack everything. ”

  “You’ve been here over a year and you still haven’t unpacked?”

  “No. ”

  “Have you cleaned at all in that time?”

  He blinked a few times, gazing at her, but didn’t bother answering that question. “Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back. ”

  Carmine left her alone in the hallway as he headed upstairs and kicked off his shoes, tossing them into the closet before stripping out of his clothes. He put on a pair of jeans and a green long-sleeved t-shirt, slipping his Nike’s on before going into the bathroom. He wet his hair and attempted to run his fingers through it, the act making his hand viciously throb. He rooted through the cabinets and found a bottle of peroxide, the wound scorching as he poured it on his hand.

  He headed back downstairs and found Haven in the living room, staring at the covered piano. She glanced back at him questioningly. “Carmine, who’s Molly?”

  He froze, caught off guard.

  “It’s okay if she was, uh, you know . . . it’s not a big deal. ” She grimaced, her reaction at odds with her words. “I just wondered if you and her . . . ”

  “Molly’s not a person,” he said, shaking his head. “Molly’s a drug. I wanted to feel better and got hooked on it. It probably would’ve killed me . . . well, fuck, it almost did kill me, but I’d definitely be dead by now if Corrado hadn’t intervened. ”

  “He got you off of it?”

  “You can say that. ”

  She stared at Carmine as she took in his words. ”Did it work?”

  His brow furrowed. ”I told you I stopped. ”

  “I mean Molly,” she clarified. ”Did it make you feel better?”

  He sighed as he considered the question. “It did for a while, but it wasn’t real. No matter how high I got, I never found what I was looking for. And it ended up taking from me more than it gave. ”

  He pulled her into a hug and she gazed up at him, her eyes sparkling. The air around them grew thick with emotion as she wrapped her arms around his waist. His heart raced, blood rushing furiously through his veins as his body tingled from her embrace. He moved forward a
bit, hesitantly, gauging her reaction, and her eyes seemed to instinctively dart to his mouth. He took that as a sign and hoped like hell it wasn’t a mistake when he leaned down, aiming for her mouth.

  At the last second, panic overtook Haven’s face. She pulled back, turning her head so his lips brushed against her flushed cheek. He silently cursed himself as he let go of her. Too soon.

  “I, uh . . . ” She picked at her fingernails, moving away from him. “I’m sorry. ”

  “Don’t be. ” He glanced at his watch with a sigh. It was already a little after seven in the evening. “How about that coffee?”

  She nodded, reaching into her pocket and pulling out her keys. She tossed them at Carmine with no warning, and he barely got a grasp on them before they hit the floor. He eyed them peculiarly, spotting the familiar key. “No fucking way. ”

  “It’s parked out front,” she said. “Thought maybe you’d like to drive. ”

  * * *

  Carmine cruised through the streets of east Chicago, lounged back in the driver’s seat of the black Mazda. The dark interior smelled just as fresh as it had the last time he had driven it, the plush leather seat somehow still formed to his shape. North Carolina radio stations were programmed for the buttons of the stereo, the dial turned to his favorite—97. 1 FM. A black tree-shaped air freshener hung from the rearview mirror, and he suspected it was the same one he had put there back in Durante.

  “Did you even drive this thing?” he asked, looking at the mileage . . . a few hundred miles more than he remembered it being.

  “Sure,” she said. “I drove it here last night. ”

  Carmine shook his head, turning his focus back to the street. He pulled into the parking lot of the first coffee shop they saw, politely opening Haven’s door for her. She smiled sweetly and took his hand as they headed inside. Customers packed the small building, standing in groups and huddling around the tables.

  “What do you like?” Haven asked as they got in line.

  Carmine laughed dryly. “I can’t say I like anything. I don’t drink coffee. ”

  “Then why’d you ask me out for it?”

  “I figured I had a better chance of you saying yes to something as simple as a drink than a whole meal,” he said, gazing at the menu board. “Christ, who pays five dollars for a drink that doesn’t have alcohol in it? For that price it better come with a complimentary blow job or something. ”

  “Carmine,” she gasped, his rant drawing the attention of people around them. He muttered an apology to her and noticed a man a few feet away glaring at them. He narrowed his eyes at him as he mouthed “Problem?” and the man looked away quickly. Carmine smirked, looking back at the menu as Haven spoke again. “Do you see anything you think you might like?”

  “I don’t know what any of this is,” he said. “The Italian I can read, but that doesn’t tell me a damn thing about how it tastes. What do you drink?”

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