“So, it’s been a week,” I sighed as I rested my chin on my forearms. “The compound has been overrun with Silvestre’s men and they have been helping out the remaining children as much as possible.”
My eyes stared at his immobile form, taking in the steady movement of his chest. He was pale with bags under his eyes and a tube shoved into his mouth.
“They finally tallied up the deaths… Fifteen killed, twenty injured,” I sniffled before wiping away the tears falling on my cheek. “Artemis, PJ and Orion are nursing gunshot wounds. We lost Gavin and Hanes yesterday…They had been fighting so hard but...”
My words came across in a sob as I think of the night we had shared before the meeting. How hopeful Gavin was and how brotherly Hanes was to all of us. They didn’t deserve to die. None of those children deserved to die.
The only reason many of them were alive right now because of Shanice De’Santos. She was the one to figure out they were children, issuing the call to subdue rather than kill. She was the one that saved Vanni, keeping him alive until medical attention could be given. She was the one taking charge of the compound, going room to room speaking to, and soothing the children who mourned the loss of their sisters and brothers, their friends.
“The funeral was this morning…they were buried near the compound… Mrs. De’ Santos got the men to build a small burial plot for them. She has been taking care of everyone since that day. She even had a service for them, people going up to say parting words, to get closure,” I informed sitting up in the chair, eying my black dress that had grass stains.
“I cried. I went to each grave and cried… m-my father tried to hold me but my mom, she knew that space was what I needed and stopped him. Leaving me be,” I said with a sad chuckle. “I talked to each one individually, recalling a memory I would always treasure. Gavin, Hanes, Charlie, Fernadez, Carla, Yonique, James, Mateo, Flynn, Charolette, Domonic, William, Paula, Jericho and Jenny… they might be gone but never forgotten.”
I grasped his cold hand in mine, gazing at his sickly features finding the beauty in how peaceful he looked even with a tube down his throat.
“I don’t want to add another name to that list, Vanni. S-So please wake up,” I cried listening to the steady beep of his heart monitor. “Please…”
With that, I stood to my feet, kissing his forehead. I took one last look at him before I exited the room and walked down the hall, stopping at another door. Stepping inside, I gazed at the man lying on the bed dead to the world.
The grey room almost identical to Vanni’s looked more like a cell than an infirmary. If it weren’t for the medical machinery, the hospital bed and living patient you would think it a morgue having no windows.
I stepped towards the large figure, the bandages covering his face, red coating them. He looked like he was in pain, his fingers twitching and his heart monitor fluctuating.
You’d never think he was a dangerous Mafia leader with the way he looked so vulnerable, lying here.
Cristiano Silvestre was rushed to the infirmary the night of the meeting after an explosion almost burn him to a crisp. I overheard my parents talking, they said Roberto had came back seeking revenge and tried to take him down after they killed his parents.
“I know you may not be able to hear me, Mr. Silvestre but I am doing this for my own benefit so it does not matter,” I stated looking down at him, eying the tubes in his nose. “I understand your reason for shooting Vanni. With all the chaos unfolding, we all lost our minds but that does not change the fact that you almost killed him. An inch lower and you would’ve hit his heart. I understand it was your love for daughter that drove you to it, as she is a beautiful inside and out but so is my Vanni…”
I ran my fingers along the bedsheets, tilting my head as I noticed his eyes opening. His blue-green eyes regarded me, callously without an ounce of fear. As if I didn’t have the power to kill him right here in this weakened state.
“Vanni didn’t want to do any of this but had no choice. His father, Giovanni, would rather kill him than see him be anything less than what he set out. I should take revenge for what you did but I won’t…” I continued, a solemn look on my face. “A daughter would lose her father and I would have your tainted blood on my hands and I don’t want that… So, I forgive you…”
His eyes looked shocked at my admission but I paid him no mind.
“Whether he lives or d-dies, I forgive you…but I will never forget. I will not seek revenge but if he dies you will forever be the man that killed my Vanni and nothing more. Another life would be taken by your hand and if a day come where you might need my help, it will not be available to you.”
Turning away from him, I walked towards the door. “This may mean nothing to you and you may not feel remorseful but as I had said this is for my peace of mind and not yours.”
With that, I left the room.
“Thank you for coming, everyone,” Mrs. De’ Santos said loudly as she spoke to the children sitting on the stairs and standing at the rail.
She looked up at us with bright brown eyes, outfitted in a black sweats and white tank top, her brown hair in a high ponytail.
She was leaning a table that they had dragged into the entrance hall and beside her stood her husband, Dimitri De’Santos.
He was a man we were told horror stories of as kids when we misbehaved. The coldblooded killer from one of the most powerful Sicilian Mafia families. Elia had loved to scare us with stories of how he would use his knives and hack his victims to pieces while they screamed and bled to death. To this day, the way she recalled those stories gave me chills and then the images she’d display, it was not suitable for a ten year old to view.
I didn’t doubt those stories were true though. There was a darkness in his gaze, a shadow casted on him but watching him over the weeks, how he interacts with his wife and the children. I could tell he meant us no harm.
“With all, that has been happening this week, we have discussed what the best move is going forward to care for you and prevent another situation like this from occurring. So, my husband and I have decided that we would like to take over the compound and reform it into an orphanage or school of some sorts,” Mrs. De’ Santos continued, wringing her fingers and eying us with a shy smile. “We would love to take you all under our wings and give you a better life… but we won’t force you to stay with us. You have the opportunity to choose. If you wish to be reunited with your families or put into a foster family away from here, we would be more than happy to do that…Your happiness is all we seek. So, take some time to think it over.”
The children erupted in hushed whispers for the next five minutes and from the words going around, I already knew the outcome.
“Okay so, if you want to stay with us all you have to do is raise your hand,” Mr. De’ Santos stated wearing a similar outfit to his wife, his dark hair and eyes making him look brooding and dangerous. “If not, that’s fine so no shame in keeping your hands down.”
Mrs. De’ Santos looked at him, taking his hand in hers and he glanced at her bringing her hand to his lips. Even a blind man could see the affection between the two and by the way, the children were staring at them, I could tell they wanted to stay.
Mrs. De’ Santos had showed them more love than they had ever received from their parents or the gang members and they had grown fond of her over the last few days. She and her husband.
“Those who wish to stay with us please rise your hand,” she stated and her eyes seemed to water as every child raised their hand.
“We would love for you to be our mommy and daddy!” a little blonde girl, rough seven to ten years shouted causing all the children to cheer and agree.
A dazzling smile took over Mrs. De’ Santos lips and her husband kissed her temple as she started to cry. The children were confused as to why their new ‘mommy’ was crying but I knew.
She was roughly 40 years and childless. Her love for children showed that it was not for the lack of not wanting a child so maybe it was her or her husband’s inability to conceive. That was why it brought her to tears that even though she was unable to have her own child, these children had openly accepted her as their mother.
“Good,” she stated as she finally dried her tears. “Now, first thing we need to do moving forwards is to create a system so we can identify each and every one of you here. So, two by two please come here down here and we’ll get you registered. Boys go to my husband and girl to me.”
They went behind the table as she said that taking a seat in front of a laptop each and two by two, the children walked towards them, registering.
I left them to it, making my way to the kitchen where I found my mother dancing her way around the kitchen.
She was in a blue dress with a black apron tied around her. Beside her stood my father peeling away at the Irish potatoes in the sink. He had gotten quite then chewing out from my mother for leaving her out of the loop and I was there to hear every word, pretending to be asleep.
Through the heated quarrel, I had picked up on a few things. Giovanni had brainwashed me into hating my father for something he, the devil, had almost done to my mother. My parents had been searching for me for years, never once giving up. My father, Daniel, was deeply in love with my other and as such would do anything to keep her safe. Additionally, even though he never really had but one moment with me, he loved me.
The way he spoke about his want to protect my mother, to bring home the product of their love and be a happy family… it made me disregard the old thoughts I had about him and give him a chance to paint his own portrait.
My mind was muddied by people’s ideas of him and not what I had observed. So now, I sat around the island watching as he splashed my mother with water from the sink, evoking a giggle from her lips, I drew the view that my father was playful and loved to make my mother smile any chance he got. As I had seen him done so many times.
“So,” my mother started as they settled down at the island minutes later, the two having concluded their splashing war and cleaned up.
My father left the pot of soup to cook to sit beside my mother, caressing her bare shoulders. Both wore black tops and sweats, my mother in a tank top while my father wore a T-shirt.
“Your mother and I was thinking that since everything is drawing to a close here…” my dad continued running a hand through his brown hair.
“That you would come back to the states with us and live,” my mother finished biting her lip. “I know your friend is still in a coma so we would wait a month or so before we actually left…”
I stared at them, not in shock but saddened by the news that they would want me to leave everyone here behind and leave with them within a month.
I had expected this but not so soon.
“Can I think it over?” I asked and I noticed a flicker of sadness in their eyes but they nod their heads covering it up with a weak smile.
“Sure, sweetheart. Take as much time as you need.”