Sempre redemption, p.70
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.70

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 70


  Carmine chuckled under his breath and strolled over to her. She stiffened when she sensed him, taking a deep breath before relaxing again. “How long have you been here?”

  “A little while,” he responded, placing his hands on her hips. He pulled her body back against his and leaned down, nuzzling into her neck. “How did you know it was me?”

  “I smelled you,” she replied casually.

  His brow furrowed. “Are you saying I stink?”

  She laughed and nudged Carmine playfully as she turned around. “Of course not. You smell good, you know that. ”

  “Yeah, I do. ” He smirked. “Like motherfucking sunshine, right?”

  She rolled her eyes. “Don’t get cocky. ”

  “Hmmm, why not?” He pulled her closer, pressing himself against her. “I always liked being cocky with you. ”

  She blushed and turned back to her painting.

  “So a tree, huh?” he asked. “It’s nice. ”

  “It’s wrong,” she said, tilting her head to the side again as she studied it. “Don’t you think so?”

  “Uh, it looks like a tree to me. What’s wrong with it?”

  “I don’t know,” she said. “It’s missing something. It doesn’t feel like the same tree, does it?”

  “What tree?” he asked. “The white tree of Gondor? The fucking whomping willow? The one Eve stole the apple from?”

  “The tree in Durante,” Haven said impatiently. “You didn’t even recognize it, so obviously it’s not right. ”

  “It’s a tree, tesoro. It has wood and leaves and acorns and shit. I’d say it’s perfect. ”

  “It doesn’t have acorns,” she said. “It’s a sycamore tree. Does it really look like an oak tree? They’re nothing alike. ”

  He sighed. How was he supposed to know? “Haven, baby, you could tell me it was the Joshua tree and I’d agree because I can’t tell the difference. ”

  She let out an exaggerated huff as she looked at him. “This coming from the same person who spent nearly an hour picking out a Christmas tree that time?”

  “What can I say? I’m finicky. I don’t deny it. But not all of us have your memory. You see something and the picture of it is burned in your brain forever, but the only greenery I can identify is the kind I can smoke. ”

  “You mean this kind?” she asked, picking up her paintbrush. She dipped the tip into the container of green paint and quickly drew the outline of a marijuana leaf on the corner of the canvas.

  He laughed. “Yes, that kind, but you probably shouldn’t have done that. You fucked up your painting. ”

  She shook her head with frustration, sticking her paintbrush in a container of murky water. “It doesn’t matter, Carmine. It was already fucked up. ”

  He gaped at her. “What did you just say?”

  “I said that it was already—”

  “Christ, tesoro, you can’t say that shit!” He cut her off before she could repeat herself. “Do you know what it does to me?”

  She smiled, blushing, and her eyes darted directly to his crotch. Yeah, she knew exactly what it did to Carmine. Closing his eyes, he let out a groan.

  “I’d apologize, but I can’t honestly say I’m sorry,” she admitted.

  “Yeah, well, you shouldn’t apologize then,” he muttered. “You should always mean what you say and say what you mean. ”

  “But you never say anything mean,” she added.

  His brow furrowed. “That’s not a part of the saying. ”

  “It fits. ”

  “No, it doesn’t. It’s bullshit. Sometimes you have to say something mean. ”

  She looked at Carmine incredulously. “There’s never a time when you have to say something mean. ”

  “Yes, there is. ”

  Her eyes narrowed. “When?”

  “Plenty of times. ”

  “Name one. ”

  He didn’t balk at a challenge, not even one that came from her. “When someone says something mean to you first. ”

  “Then you just walk away,” she said. “Two wrongs don’t make a right. ”

  “Well, what if you can’t walk away? What if they won’t let you?”

  “And you think saying something mean is going to help you if that’s the case?”

  She had Carmine there. “Well, what if you got something on you, like in your teeth. Shouldn’t I tell you?”

  “Yes, but that’s not mean. That’s helpful. ”

  “What if it’s something permanent though, like your nose? What if you have a crooked, fucked-up nose?”

  Her hand immediately went to her face, her fingers running down the ridge of her nose as she eyed Carmine hesitantly. He groaned, realizing it sounded like he was telling her that. He recalled how self-conscious she had been years before and felt like an asshole. Way to go, DeMarco. Insult her next time . . .

  “Not you, tesoro,” he said. “I didn’t mean you. Your nose is fine. Fucking great, even. I’m just saying, you know, hypothetically . . . ”

  “Well, hypothetically, why would it be necessary to tell me? It wouldn’t be hurting you, so why hurt me?”

  She had Carmine again. “Well, what if your painting sucked? Like this tree—what if it was honestly the worst tree ever painted?”

  “It probably is. ”

  “But what if it was for a grade, and I had to tell you so you wouldn’t fail?”

  “It is for a grade. ”

  He looked at her with disbelief before glancing back at the canvas. “You painted a marijuana leaf on schoolwork?”

  She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. ”

  Her nonchalance stunned him. “There’s something wrong with you. ”

  She laughed. She fucking laughed. If she were ever going to prove Carmine right, it was then. There was seriously something wrong with her.

  “I can start over,” she said. “Maybe I’ll paint something else. ”

  “You shouldn’t do that,” he said. “I like this one. ”

  “Why?” she asked, eyeing the painting peculiarly again. “It’s just a tree. ”

  “But it’s our tree,” he said. Hadn’t they just been through that? “We climbed that motherfucker together twice. Fell out of it once. That makes it special. ”

  The smile that curved her lips warmed Carmine from the inside. He loved that smile. It meant she was happy—that he had made her happy. There was no better feeling than that. After spending so many years doing nothing but disappointing everyone who came into contact with him, it was nice to do some good for once.

  “Okay, then. Maybe I’ll paint over it. ”

  “Yeah, make some happy clouds to go with your happy little magical tree,” he joked.

  They stood there for a moment, engulfed in a serious silence as she mused over her painting, before Carmine grabbed her and pulled her to him again. She spun around with a laugh, wrapping her arms around him in a hug, but froze after a second when her hands slid down his back, reaching his waistband.

  “Oh God, please tell me that’s not . . . ” She trailed off, pulling out of the hug. “Is that what I think it is?”

  “Depends on what you think it is. ”

  She gripped his waistband, her eyes narrowing. “You brought a gun in here, Carmine? You can’t do that!”

  “Why not?”

  She gaped at him. “Because there’s a sign on the door that says so! You can’t bring concealed weapons in this place!”

  “Tesoro, relax. I carry it everywhere—you know that. ”

  “Yes, but here?” she asked. “It’s unlawful!”

  Now it was his turn to laugh. “We live in Chicago. Me just breathing in the direction of a gun is illegal. Would you rather I get rid of it completely?”

  “Yes. ”

  Her answer was quick and firm, catching him off guard. She looked at Carmine with certainty and he shook his head. “So you’d prefer me defenseless?”

  She blanched. “Of course not. ”
  “Then what’s the big deal?”

  “I don’t want you to get caught. ”

  “I won’t. ”

  “You can’t know that. ”

  “But I do,” he said. “I know what I’m doing. ”

  “All right, but—”

  “No buts. ”

  She huffed at the interruption and completely ignored him. “But why do you bring it places like here? I get that you need it for work, but why when you’re with me?”

  He shrugged. “You never know when something might happen. ”

  “So? You never know when it might rain, but I don’t see you carrying an umbrella everywhere just in case. ”

  He chuckled at the absurdity of the comparison, even though she was completely serious. “The weatherman usually warns me when that’s gonna happen. ”

  “And you don’t get warnings? Corrado doesn’t tell you when something’s going to happen? What happened to intuition?”

  “Well, yeah, but I can’t always plan. Sometimes I only have time to react. ”

  She thought he was paranoid. Christ, he probably was paranoid, but rightfully so. He knew how ruthless the streets could be and if she were thinking clearly, she would see it too. He understood, though. His life still scared her. Hell, it scared Carmine just as much, but the best way to deal was to always be prepared.

  And regardless of what she insisted, sometimes you had to be mean to make it. It was how the game was played. If you aren’t the predator, you end up the prey.

  “Besides,” he added, “last I checked, a little rain couldn’t kill you. ”

  “But lightning can if it’s a storm. ”

  “And you think an umbrella would help you in that case?” he asked, throwing one of her earlier arguments back at her.

  He waited for her to respond, figuring she would have something to say, but all he got was silence—completely tense, unnerving, motherfucking silence.

  “Do you trust me?” he asked after a moment, knowing they were at an impasse and getting nowhere fast.

  “Yes. ”

  “Then trust me about this, okay? We can argue about trees and phrases and any other thing you feel passionate about, but just give me this. ”

  She sighed, frustrated, but he knew that sound meant she was giving in. “Fine, but I get to pick where we go tonight. ”

  He frowned. “Yeah, about that . . . ”

  It was a Friday, which had become their day. Their schedules conflicted a lot, with her in school and Carmine out doing whatever he was told to do, but Friday nights were the exception. It was when the two of them got to be together and do the things normal couples did, like seeing movies and going to fairs. It was the one night a week when they put everything aside, when they didn’t have to think about the chaos in their lives, and they could finally just be.

  Corrado seemed to understand, so he usually left Carmine alone that day. Usually being the key word. Sometimes he threw a wrench in their plans.

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