“I know why you left. I get it. Our life is hard, it’s brutal. It’s certain death. But does she know why? Did you tell her? Stephanie is so broken without you. I still have Neil and Alex still. She doesn’t have anyone. Just a memory of you every time a gunshot wound gets called in. Every time a woman gives birth and struggles between consciousness and death she sees you encouraging her instead of her family. That has to be the worst torture of all. She loves you.” the tall guy in front of me clenched his jaw, I could see it, even past his thick black beard.
“It’s not me. You have the wrong guy, lady.” he slowly shook his head but wouldn’t make eye contact with me. His aggravation was obvious as I kept pushing the issue.
I woke with a jerk on the couch, a light sheen of sweat covered my skin. A peaceful nap had just turned into another confrontation with Cody in a dream.
The sun was still high and the breeze passing through the windows did little to cool the hut off. I threw up my hair into a bun, on the top of my head, the sweat keeping it from being neat and tidy.
I wandered around the hut for Neil when Hommoney showed up. She knocked on the door and peeked her head in.
“Lo? It’s me. I’m just seeing if you wanted to surf today?” She was gorgeous. Five-foot nothing, maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. Her long dreads reached her hips and tattoos climbed up her left arm. Her skin was a deep, rich caramel tone from all the time she spent in the sun, surfing, competing. She was a true pro but we had grown to be friends for vast other reasons than her skill at teaching me to surf.
I chewed on my lip and did another scan of our little home away from home and counter-offered.
“Why don’t we go get something to eat and you can tell me everything you know about Cody.” she arched an eyebrow at me and when I showed off my cash to pay for us both she happily linked her arm in mine.
As we walked down the street, the wind caught my thin skirt and made it wrap around my ankles. The hat I chose was a lifesaver since my nose and cheeks had stayed for the most part permanently burned since we landed days ago.
“Shrimp Shak?” she nodded and tugged my arm in the little half-standing building. The blue color had been weathered away by storms, wind, and sand over the years but the character inside stayed true. Lights strung in a zigzag pattern across the ceiling. Mix matched tables and chairs to accommodate your group accordingly.
We chose a table for two in the corner so we could talk without the commotion of the bar drowning us out. Even though it was hardly noon, people were already drunk. This was a vacation destination after all.
I glanced at my phone to see if Neil had messaged me back but the text remained unread. He must have gone out before sunrise but where? I didn’t like this. I knew he said we were relatively safe here from retaliation but the True Irish, the ones who started the crime family he is a part of, kept tabs on him. Especially whenever he traveled outside the states.
“He just showed up one day asking about surf competitions, looking to make some extra cash. So I showed him the ropes for entry and the judges loved him. He can really crush it out there. But as for personal life, he keeps to himself. Never seen him with another woman or even flirt with anyone. He keeps to himself. He talks to me but that’s only for info on the next tournament.” she laughed to herself and dug into her garlic shrimp plate as I picked at mine.
Hommoney didn’t seem to think much of the likeness between him and Howie when I showed her photos. It’s true, Cody had tattoos but they looked new. Even with his sun-worn skin underneath.
“What does he do for work?” she chewed her mouth full of food and thought for a moment. It probably was even too personal to discuss with her.
“He said he was working with Manuel, he runs the construction project downtown. It’s gotta be what he does. He doesn’t have a car and from what I heard, Manuel pays shit.” she rolled her eyes, she must know him personally.
“Point me to him. Manuel.” she gave me a stern look before she tossed her paper napkin on her plate.
“What is your obsession with him? It’s not your brother girl. Ya actin' crazy.” she shook her head and took my phone from me.
“That’s his number. Call him and see if he will listen to your banter.” she stood and nodded to the guy serving food in thanks before leaving me there alone.
My thumb hovered over the phone number before I could hit call, someone put their hand on the back of my chair. It spooked me and caused me to jump in my skin.
“Lo, why are you here alone?” I looked up and saw Neil hovering over me. His button-up shirt was half done and his khaki shorts hugged his legs perfectly. Flipflops looked like they were made for his feet. He took the seat Hommoney had just occupied and sat back.
“I was here with Hommoney. She just left actually.” he nodded, seeming distracted in his own thoughts.
“Where were you this morning? I didn’t see a note.” he took a deep breath and let it out before he confessed something.
“True Irish know what happened. They’re stirring trouble back home for my grandfather. Shamus can handle himself but they’re looking for me. They don’t like that I’m in bed, literally, with the Italians.” I laughed ironically, we saw this coming. We knew this would happen. They just waited for the dust to settle before kicking up their own it seemed.
“So what do we do?” he ran his tongue over his teeth as he laced his hands together. It was the same thing he did before he proposed something in a business meeting he knew the client wouldn’t be able to resist. But it usually came with a catch.
“We’re staying for an additional week.” Relief washed over me. I held back my tears. “You, however, have got to lay low. You cannot leave my sight.” I knew it. It was only a matter of time before he put me on lockdown.
“Neil. this is not that type of relationship. You can’t cuff me just cuz you’re fucking me now.” he furrowed his brows, he leaned forward and I knew I was in trouble. I had struck a nerve. I didn’t do it often but it was hard to miss.
“This is not about who I’m fucking, Loreinna Rossi. This is about who I love and the assholes who will do anything to hurt me. That means hurting you first. I saved you once I do not intend to have a reason to do it again.” He pushed his chair roughly back as he stood and held out his hand for me.
We walked back to the hut the long way, taking the beach as a detour. The salty air had been therapeutic and I didn’t think I was ready to go back home to the melting snow and ice.
“I’m sorry Neil. I have been in a bad place again. A different place. It’s not like it was with Johnathan. Where I knew who the enemy was and the solution was obvious. This obscene amount of pain losing him is incredibly draining. I’m looking for a plug. I can’t lie. I’m scared it’s going to be something terrible too.” he stopped his steps and faced me. The ocean to my left now.
“I won’t lie to you. I know that I can’t stop you from hunting this dude down to see if he’s the ghost you think he is. I just want to make sure you’re making safe and smart moves. That even, contradicts itself.