Sempre redemption, p.68
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.68

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 68

 

  “Maybe so, but she’s family. ”

  “True, which is why I’ll do what’s expected of me,” Corrado replied. “Doesn’t mean I’ll like it, though. I have no idea how Antonio dealt with her all those years. The man was a saint. ”

  “My father?” Celia asked. “Did we even know the same man?”

  “Every man sins, Celia. Even the saints. ”

  Dinner wore on, as did the conversation. It was well past nightfall when they separated, Tess and Dominic heading back to Indiana, while Carmine and Haven made their way down the block. All was silent between them, their fingers loosely entwined as they strolled along. Carmine seemed content, his shoulders relaxed, but something brewed in his expression. He stopped abruptly a few feet from the blue door, his hand slipping from Haven’s as she continued on.

  She turned to him at the loss of connection, seeing the furrow of his brow and the hard line of his lips. “What’s wrong?”

  “Tell me about New York. ”

  She raised her eyebrows. “Now?”

  “Yes. ”

  “But I already told you. ”

  “You told me what was wrong about it, what you were missing, but I wanna hear the good. You know, the dream. Your dream. ”

  He didn’t say it, but she saw it in his eyes: He wanted to know if leaving her had really been a mistake.

  “Well, New York was busy, just like you said the city would be,” she started. “There was always something going on. People everywhere. ”

  It all spilled out of her, every detail of her life there, as the two of them stood along the street in the darkness. She held nothing back, wanting him to know she had had a good life. It may not have been perfect, but things rarely were.

  Carmine listened intently, drinking in every word, and didn’t speak until she was done. “You love it there,” he said quietly.

  “I do. ” She smiled. “I really love it. ”

  They stared at each other again as that truth hung in the air between them. Haven watched his expression slowly shift, another question forming in his eyes. She didn’t address it, not acknowledging its existence, instead waiting for him to be the one. She waited for him to ask, for him to gather up the courage to say the words.

  Love me more, his eyes said.

  “Do you, uh . . . ?” He ran his hands down his face as he let out a deep sigh. “Would you stay?”

  “Stay?”

  He nodded. “Stay here. ”

  “I would. ”

  The corner of his mouth twitched as he restrained a smile. “Will you?”

  “Stay?”

  “With me. ” He cleared his throat nervously. “You know, stay with me?”

  She opened her mouth to respond, but the words didn’t have time to escape her lips. Something in Carmine snapped, his anxiety getting the best of him.

  “Christ, I can’t believe I just asked you that. What the fuck is wrong with me? It’s not right! I can’t ask you to choose me!”

  She grabbed his arm, stopping him as he started pacing. “You’re not asking me to choose you. There’s no choice about it. It’s always been you. Your father once told me that we always have a choice, but I think he was wrong. I think sometimes things choose us. It’s like with breathing. It’s natural. It’s a part of us. It just happens. We can hold our breath and try not to breathe anymore, and it’ll work for a few minutes, but we’ll eventually pass out and nature takes over. We can’t just not breathe, just like I can’t just not love you. ”

  “But New York,” he said. “Your life. ”

  “The best parts of life have nothing to do with a place. Love, friendship, happiness . . . I don’t need to be in New York to have those things. I have it all here. ”

  “But school? Painting? What about that?”

  “I can do those things anywhere, Carmine. But you . . . you’re in Chicago. ”

  The hopeful smile twisted his lips, held back no more. “Clean slate?”

  “As clean as our slate can get. ”

  “Which is still pretty fucking dirty. ”

  She laughed, watching him for a moment before extending her hand. A nervous blush warmed her cheeks. Clean slate. “I’m Haven. ”

  “Carmine. ” He took her hand. “You have an interesting name, Haven. ”

  “It means a safe place,” she said.

  “I know,” he replied, entwining their fingers again. “And something tells me it fits you perfectly. ”

  43

  The heads of the five families gathered around a long table in the back room of a swanky Italian restaurant just outside of New York City. Their unrestrained chatter overshadowed the music from the violinist in the main dining room, their laughter and exuberance palpable from the parking lot.

  The hostess pointed Corrado in their direction the moment he stepped inside, no words necessary. They had been expecting him. He approached the men, personally greeting each one before slipping into the only empty chair.

  “Moretti,” the Don of the Calabrese family said. “We’re glad you could join us. ”

  Corrado tipped his head. “The pleasure’s all mine. ”

  Drinks flowed as the men discussed everything from politics to music, side skirting business issues for most of the night. The conversation was fluid, almost friendly, but Corrado wasn’t fooled—he was being tested. They watched his every move and weighed his every word, gauging whether or not they wanted to do business with him. He had met them all before while on the job, but this was different.

  This was the interview of his life.

  “What brings you to New York?” Sergio Geneva, head of the Geneva faction, asked. “How long are you here for?”

  “Just for the night,” Corrado said. “Brought my nephew and his girlfriend. ”

  “So personal reasons?”

  “Mostly. ”

  The Calabrese Don looked at Corrado across the table. “I’m glad you’re here. There’s something I wanted to talk to you about. This friend of mine, Sammy Graves . . . he opened up this new casino. You know which one I’m talking about?”

  “Of course. ”

  “He’s a good guy, on the straight and narrow. Got a family and kids. I tried to help him out, get his place off the ground upstate, give him a line of credit, but he declined. Wanted to do it himself, every bit of it legal. ”

  “That’s honorable,” Corrado said.

  “So I’m sure you can see how this deal he made with Chicago is a bit of a thorn in his side. He never wanted that, you know, never wanted to make deals. ”

  “Understood,” Corrado said. “You tell him he has nothing to worry about with Chicago. A friend of yours is a friend of mine. ”

  The Don raised his glass. “I’ll pass the message along. ”

  “How’s the truce in Chicago?” another of New York’s dons asked.

  He considered the question. “Delicate. ”

  “O’Bannon still pushing his luck?”

  More like Sal pushed him over the edge first. “It’s only a matter of time, I figure, before he tests us again. ”

  “You let us know when that happens,” he said. “Anything you need, you just ask. We’re all friends here. ”

  Corrado nodded, picking up his glass to take a sip as the conversation once more switched to things of no consequence. Although his expression remained stoic, his eyes hard and dark as he portrayed the cold man they knew him as, satisfaction glowed inside of him.

  He glanced down the table, his eyes connecting with Johnny Amaro, boss of the Amaro family and one of the few men Corrado had considered a true personal ally over the years. His family had run that faction since the beginning, passed down from father to son for decades. Johnny raised his glass in silent celebration.

  Nailed it.

  * * *

  Cardboard boxes packed the living room of the downstairs apartment in the brownstone on Eighth Avenue, stacked one on top of another and filled to the brim. They were sec
tioned off into two piles: some to take along, others to leave behind. Haven’s life was once more being categorized and evaluated, things disposed of as she moved on with life.

  A bittersweet sensation collected in her chest, happiness and sadness colliding as she finished packing her things to move to Chicago. It was getting to follow your dreams, only to have to turn your back on others. It was breaking one promise in order to keep another, a feeling she suspected Carmine could relate to.

  “You know, you don’t have to do this,” he said, standing in the middle of the room, his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “We can work something out. ”

  She glanced at him. “Like what?”

  “I don’t know. ” He shrugged. “We could commute. ”

  “Commute?”

  “Yeah, you stay here, I stay there. We visit when we get the chance. ”

  “Is that what you want?”

  “No. ”

  Haven laughed to herself, placing the last of her books in a box. She picked up the journal belonging to Maura and opened it, haphazardly flipping through the pages as she considered his words. She came to a page about halfway through, reading an inscription in red marker at the top of the page.

  Sometimes I lose perspective, but it helps to stop and look around. I may not have it all, but I have more than enough. And enough, it seems, is more than most have.

  Haven set the book in the box before closing it. “We have something a lot of people don’t have, you know. ”

  “What?”

  Smiling, Haven shoved the box of books to the side along with the other belongings she planned to keep. “A chance. We aren’t promised tomorrow, so we shouldn’t take today for granted. ”

  Carmine helped her pack the rest of her things before excusing himself to make a call. He slipped to the bedroom as Haven stood in the living room, surveying the boxes. A commotion rang out in the foyer of the building, and Haven swung around just as the front door to her apartment thrust open, slamming into the wall.

  Kelsey appeared, her wide eyes frantic like a mad woman. Haven was about to greet her friend when she bolted forward, yelling hysterically. “What the hell? Where have you been? What happened? What are you doing?” Kelsey spun in a circle, pointing at the boxes. “Are you moving? Really? Are you in some kind of trouble? Why haven’t you called?”

  The bedroom door yanked open then as Carmine burst in. “What’s with the fucking shrieking?”

  Kelsey blinked rapidly as her attention darted to him. “Who are you?”

  Carmine narrowed his eyes. “Me? Who the hell are you?”

  Haven let out a deep sigh as she waved between the two of them. “Carmine, this is my friend Kelsey. Kelsey, this is my, uh . . . Carmine. ”

  The two stared at each other, neither one acting as if they had heard her. Kelsey’s expression softened eventually, though, her eyes turning from panicked to suspicious. “I might’ve heard about you once or twice. ”

  “Likewise. ”

  Rolling her eyes at their standoff, Haven scanned the apartment, making sure everything was boxed. The white walls were barren, the place suddenly feeling much smaller than before.

 
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