Authors: Amy Rachiele
Copyright © 2015
Edited by Christine LePorte
Cover Art by
Eden Crane Designs
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
—One of those people who show up in your life when you least expect it, and help you more than they realize.
Doors open, close, and slam.
It just depends on what side of the door you’re standing on.
My heels click too loudly on the cement sidewalk. I’m moving fast. My fist tightens around the strap on my bag, and I pick up my already hurried pace. I shoot a quick look behind me. No one is there, but I know they are, watching me. My shoulders tighten like someone threw an ice cube down the back of my shirt. The Saturday night special in my purse should comfort me but it doesn’t; I can’t fire at shadows. I’m too nervous to even pull out my phone.
I know better than to be out on the streets at night even in a town where my dad is a Capo. I have never been afraid. I really haven’t had a reason to be. Best friends with the mob boss’s son, Antonio, my father a bad-ass enforcer for the Delisi family make it a no-brainer. Stay the fuck away from me.
Street and porch lights on symmetrical houses flit by, illuminating the cracked pavement then casting it into darkness. I’m two houses away and the pavement stretches before me like miles of empty wilderness. My breathing is labored. Echoing in my ears are abrupt huffs of air in tandem with rushing blood.
I run up the stairs and unlock the front door, throwing myself into the living room. I slam it behind me and click the lock. I turn, leaning up against it, exhausted. I kick off my shoes and slide down to the floor.
Why is this happening to me?
This is destroying me. A tear pricks the corner of my eye. It is shredding me to pieces one eerie bit at a time. I realize paranoia is consuming me as I pull my legs up tight to my chest. I wrap my arms around them and bury my head. I have to tell someone. I will look weak, but I have to. I can’t take this anymore.
“Remind me to never, ever, ever drink again,” Jake whines. His arm is slumped over my shoulder. He reeks of tequila and Chinese food. I turn my face away to steal a compulsive look at my watch. Celia should be coming over for our biweekly “date.”
“Your learning curve is messed up,” I point out. “If you were on track with your age matching college years, you would have been in high school for your first hangover, probably on some cheap ass beer in some pimpled-faced teenager’s cellar. But lucky you get to experience the hard shit at a testosterone-fueled frat party.”
“Being smart and a prodigy athlete sucks sometimes,” he slurs in my face.
“Dude, don’t talk,” I grumble, turning my head away from his breath. “You’re too close to me for that, just walk.”
I help Jake down the steps of the frat house and out into the fresh fall air. The glow of large bulbs hovering high above our heads lights up the thick lush green grass that outlines the cement walkways of Notre Dame’s campus. Newly fallen yellow, red, and gold leaves are scattered everywhere.
“The fact this hasn’t happened earlier in your academic career amazes me,” I mock. “You’ve been here for three years.”
“Why are we leaving?” Jake slurs.
“We? I came to get you! You’re trashed and you said you feel sick. Don’t talk.”
Jake’s legs wobble, making it more difficult to keep him from crumbling to the ground.
“Maybe I wanna talk,” he challenges me.
“It’s not your best fuckin’ moment, man, shut up.”
“You’ve changed,” Jake declares cryptically.
“Whatever.” He is annoying the shit out of me. I am being a good friend by dragging his ass out of there. If he loses his scholarship, he won’t ever graduate.
“Where is the crazy guy I met my first year?”
“Plans change… people change…” I trail off.
“Last year changed you.”
“I’ve had a lot of changes.”
“No,” he garbles with force. “I’m not talking about losing Megan to the freakin’ Mafia; I’m talking about after the casino last year… After all the bullshit went down with them coming here: Erin, Megan, Antonio, Vito,” Jake lists, swinging his head back and forth. “I know you can’t talk about it. But it made you a fuddy-duddy.” Jake stumbles; talking lucidly and walking at the same time is a struggle for him.
“Who says that?”
“It’s a saying,” Jake insists.
“Yeah, if you’re ninety years old… Anyway, maybe I’ve matured.”
“That’s only part of it,” he comments.
“Well, you’re the double F.”
“What the hell is that?” I catch a direct whiff of his breath.
“Fucking funny,” I tell him, wrinkling my nose and turning my face away.
Jake laughs but stops, stiffening next to me.
“Oh shit… I feel sick.”
I steer Jake off the path and toward the bushes.
“Hold it for two seconds.” Jake doubles over, clutching his stomach while letting go of me. He wobbles over to the evergreens and pukes violently. My own stomach lurches watching him.
Jake flicks a thumbs-up at me after fertilizing the bushes with tequila and Kung Pao chicken. I lead him to the parking lot and we hobble over to my sedan, and I fold Jake’s tall body in.
“Watch your head,” I warn before closing the door on him. I hop in and drive the short half-mile to our dorm, which is the most deserted I have ever seen outside of summer break.
I roll into a parking space in front of O’Neill Hall and get out. I pull Jake out of the passenger seat.
“Come on, big guy,” I say, hauling him to his unsteady feet. I sling his arm over my shoulder again and make it to the elevators. The steel doors slide open when I press the up arrow. Inside, I jab the number three. “You have a game this weekend,” I remind him, sounding like a nag.
“Shit!” Jake spews. “It smells like something fuckin’ died in here.”
,” I inform him while plastering him against the elevator wall to keep him from tipping over. “It’s congesting into a stench in this small space.”
“Oh, man, I’m foul,” Jake proclaims, swaying.
Gears grind and clink together.
I have never heard that noise before in all the millions of times I have ridden in this elevator. It rocks violently; the lights flash in rapid succession three times and go out. I brace myself with my hand on the wall in the pitch-blackness.
“What the…?” I curse.
A silent second of
what the fuck
“Troy!” Jake shrieks in panic. “I’m blind!”
“You’re not blind,” I shoot back. “The lights went out.” I step toward where the panel should be and hit something with my foot.
“Are you on the floor?”
“I think so,” Jake mumbles.
“Dumb-ass,” I mutter, while beating buttons and feeling around for an emergency switch. “Shouldn’t back-up lights come on?” I wonder aloud.
Snorting and hissing emanate from the floor; Jake is snoring.
I didn’t expect a response but he’s sleeping. Really? What a fucking night this is turning out to be! I glance down at my watch like I would be able to see it in the dark confined space. Celia is going to be waiting for me. I hate being late.
No matter what I press or push nothing happens. The elevator is totally dead. I scrub my hands over my face in frustration.
I go to reach for my phone but from outside the doors of the elevator is a scratching noise. I lean closer to listen. Someone is out there.
I rap on the metal. “Hello!” I yell. “We’re trapped in here!” I pause, listening.
Rattling and the doors shift, letting in a beam of light.
Thank God! Someone is going to get us out of here.
I put my fingers in the opening and push, helping the doors to open. Gradually, they separate and slide back. I am ready to thank whoever is out there but the hallway is empty. I survey the length, and the area is deserted. Stepping out, I lean down to pick up Jake’s arms. I drag him out into the hall, afraid the doors will close and seal him in.
He is totally out; the movement doesn’t wake him. I stare down at him snoozing on the carpet of the dorm, deciding on how to get him to his room.
As I lean over to hook my arms in his to lift, something sweeps against my back. Rough cloth scratches my cheek and then everything before me goes dark. My arms automatically flail, punching at the air. I can’t see. Through the blood pounding in my ears, a muffled laugh echoes around me. My blood runs cold as strong hands grab my arms and wrench them behind my back, straining at the muscles of my shoulder with a bitter sting.
“What the fuck?” I yell. “Get off me!” I struggle, but my assailant shoves me, forcing me down the hallway. I wobble and trip but stay upright, keeping up with the pushing. I am shoved into a room; the door slams with a sickening crack. My hands are free. I rip the bag off my head ready to pummel on whoever grabbed me, except I see who it is, and I am stunned.
“What the hell are you doing here!?”
The sensation of being stared at haunts my insides. I should not be going out tonight. I run a flat-iron through my hair, gazing at myself in the mirror over my dresser. It’s a small comfort to know I’ll be with a bunch of people. If I keep repeating to myself that there is safety in numbers, it helps a little, but somehow, it doesn’t make any difference. A room full of friendly faces doesn’t change this. This thing is tearing away at me a little at a time.
My newly applied makeup is going to be ruined because of the tears welling up in my eyes. I snatch a tissue out of the box on my dresser to dab them and knock over some of the many stuffed animals I have around my bedroom. Dad started bringing them back from his trips years ago. I love every single one of them. Now that Mom is gone, they’re an even greater comfort.
I pick up the fallen ones and notice the clock reads ten. It’s time to leave to go meet everyone. A faint creak in the floorboards makes my head snap in the direction of my door; I freeze, straining to hear more. Nothing. I walk to my window and peek through the closed blinds. I leave them shut all the time now. It is suffocating but I have to. Opening them makes me feel exposed. I gasp, letting the air out of my mouth in tiny puffs passing across my pink-stained lips.
I tap down the stairs to the kitchen in my new spiked heels and black form-fitting dress that I love. I push my long hair to my back and grab my purse off our round table, slinging it over my shoulder.
My throat is dry; my nerves have sucked up all of the moisture in my mouth. I pick up a cup and push the water dispenser on the refrigerator. A nightlight automatically comes on. The light shines on my cup, the floor, and the back door beside me. As the cup fills, my eyes dance around and fall on the lock. It is pointing up on the doorknob. My brows furrow in confusion. We never use this door. Why is it unlocked?
I place my pocketbook and cup on the counter and check it. I open the door. Yes, it is unlocked. My heart rate increases. I play with the lock, opening and closing the door to make sure it isn’t broken. It’s fine. Possible scenarios mix with rational explanations of why the door would be unsecured. Panic fights with my logic; it overcomes me. I must get out of the house.
I snatch my bag off the counter, dipping my fingers in, placing my hand on my gun. Tense, I walk toward the front door. My hand slowly pulls my gun from my purse as I leave the kitchen. The house is toying with me, taking away my only small sense of safety. A few dim lights are on for security, which right now does me no good.
My steps quicken, compelling my body to get out—
. I flip the locks with my free hand and dash out the door, slamming it behind me as though the bang against the doorframe will leave all the bad karma behind.
I clip down the steps to my car and jump in, pressing the lock button as fast as I can. I let out a breath and turn in my seat to check the back. Nothing. I close my eyes and attempt to gather my wits before starting the car and pulling away, my hands shaking on the wheel.
The bouncer at Club Angeles waves me through and touches his hand to my back. I flinch as his fingers graze my flesh. My nerves are bare threads tethered onto nothing, the slightest touch setting me off. I need to calm down. Taking in two sharp breaths, I offer up a pained smile; my friends are coming toward me.
“Hey, San!” Antonio kisses my cheek. Megan, his fiancée, hugs me and her flaming red hair brushes my face.
I really like her. We never hung out much until I hooked her up with Antonio. I’m glad I did. It was a win-win for me. I didn’t have to watch Antonio, Mafia enforcer and future mob boss, sulking about a girl he loved, but couldn’t have. I have never seen him so happy. His good looks only got better. And I made a good friend.
Actually, I made a best friend who’s a girl. I’ve never had one. All of my friends for my whole life have been guys—Antonio, Ronnie, Louis, and Vito. We are all friends. All of us with the exception of Megan have been extremely close since we were toddlers. Our mothers would hang out at the playground while all of our fathers
. Not necessarily in the conventional sense, but worked all the same.
“Are you okay?” Megan inquires, putting her hand on my arm. “You look like you’re about to cry.”
“I do?” I didn’t think I looked that bad.
“What’s wrong?” she probes, extremely concerned.
“Are you all right, San? Megan’s right, you do look like you are going to cry.” Antonio is in my face.
“It’s nothing.” I brush them off. “We can talk about it later.”
“Are you sure?” Megan keeps pushing, not convinced. The two of them stand in front of me with consoling expressions. I hate that. I don’t want pity or sympathy.
“Yeah. Let’s have some fun,” I encourage, not letting my anger show through.
It wasn’t until we were older that we came to understand that we were set apart. Not for being Italian, but for belonging to families in the Mafia underworld. I was set apart from the guys because they would always be out doing errands for Antonio’s father, or doing guy stuff I wasn’t allowed to do. I probably could have been more involved if it wasn’t for Antonio and my dad. They are both overprotective and want to keep me out of the business. I’m not sheltered to the point of cluelessness, and I have handled myself in some tough situations, but what’s happening now leaves me at a loss for how to fix it on my own.
“Come on.” Megan takes my hand, breaking me out of my thoughts, and the three of us make our way to the dance floor.
I am glad that Megan has adjusted so well to this life. I was worried that it wouldn’t work out. It did, though, and for that I am thankful.
The colored lights above us jostle and whirl, reminding me of how things are and that the way things are run here in Palmetto is what I know. There are rules, and if you break them, there is a penalty. It may be a violent one or a slap on the wrist, or worse, you could be made an example of. The latter is definitely not something you would want, so you follow the rules. But this fear of being watched doesn’t follow any rules.
Ronnie joins us on the dance floor. For just a minute, I forget. I forget the shadows, the ghosts, the unexplainable discrepancies in my life. I twirl and spin. A couple of guys I don’t know try to dance with me but Antonio sends them one deadly glance and they turn the other way. He leaves Megan and me dancing while he goes to talk to Gus Vinnacco.
Antonio has made his mark on Palmetto. Everyone knows who he is. They know what he is capable of and what he is bred to do as the mob boss’s son
Everyone fears him
Antonio has proved himself to the “family” over and over again. It is well known that we’ve been close friends since we were little, so
why would someone bother me?
It all feels like a sick joke.
Antonio is posturing, he’s angry. I watch while I’m dancing with Megan. I can’t hear what Antonio is saying but I can tell he is yelling at Gus.
Megan leans in. “Antonio is really pissed.”
“I can tell.”
“Gus has been not showing up where he’s supposed to be. Antonio has had it with him,” she shares.
I let the music wash over me, not wanting to get involved with Antonio’s mob business right now. Megan does some fancy moves trying to make me laugh while we let Antonio do what he has to do. It only lasts a few minutes before my mind comes back full circle. And I’m back right where I started before I got here.
This whole bullshit thing is a weakness. I don’t like being a target or feeling vulnerable. I’ve seen silhouettes of a man. I blink and he’s gone as quickly as he appeared. Since my mother died last year, I’ve been a mental wreck. This just adds dread to the overwhelming grief. It ramps up the loneliness I feel. It sits on my heart like a boulder, each feeling of fright adding to the weight, while unraveling me at the same time.
The pressure of a hand on my shoulder makes me jump in my skin. I turn and it’s Gus. He had a major crush on me when we were kids. I smile but it’s artificial. The pulsing lights fill Gus’s eyes, making them flicker ominously. I clear my own vision to shake off the eeriness. Megan’s face appears in front of me and some of the iciness slips away but the incessant pounding of my heart tightens my chest. This was a mistake. I can’t do this.
“I should go,” I yell into her ear over the music.
“Do you want us to come with you?”
“No!” I insist. “I’m going straight home.”
“Let me get Antonio and we can walk you out.” Megan turns and I bolt. I don’t want to inconvenience anyone. I head for the exit and out into the night air, pulling it in deeply to my lungs—trying to get rid of the suffocating feeling that plagues me daily.
What the hell is wrong with me?