Slumping back in my seat, I bring the liquor to my lips. Every drop is poison. I remain intoxicated. The pain in my chest tightens with every attempt to take a breath. I’m so fucking shattered. I’m so fucking broken. I’m no longer on my knees. I’m lying flat on my back, praying for the vultures to feast on me and end it all. This pain is unbearable.
The night replays over and over. I’ve crossed the line into insanity. The earth has opened and sucked me into the center; I’m left there to rot. The knock-on my office door forces me to scull the rest of my drink.
“It’s time,” Tommy’s voice is bleak.
Pushing my chair back and standing to my feet, I slide on my jacket. Disheartened, I pick up the black armband and dislodge the lump in my throat. Securing it on, I loosen the tie that is threatening to choke me. Taking dreaded steps out of my office, I head to the car; the driver holds the door open as I slowly make my way. Walking is an effort, fuck even breathing is difficult. Sliding into the passenger seat, I rest my elbows on my knees and fist my hair. Fusing my eyes shut, I lose myself in the chaos of my tormenting thoughts. Just yesterday, we buried Zia Camila.
The night of the ball plays on my mind. Hysteria filled the room. Frantically the boys searched for the shooter. Tommy and Leon uncovered him at the underground car park. He ran out after taking the shot. Blocking his path, the boys were ready to contain him. In a blink of an eye, the assassin drew a handgun and pulled the trigger. Zia saved the lives of my brother and Leon, jumping in front of them fearlessly. The bullet embedded itself in her chest, centimeters away from her heart. She died moments later in one of my Capo’s arms. The assassin managed to escape, but he can’t hide forever.
Today, I bury the love of my life, the mother of my child. I’m in disbelief and don’t want to accept reality. They call it denial, the first stage of grief. I don’t know how to express what I’m feeling. I’ve never shed so many tears. I held her while she bled out into arms. I watched her breaths shallow. Laz and Petro had to peel her away from me. I was terrified to let go.
The ambulance was there in under ten minutes. We managed to get her to the hospital and into surgery. The wait was torture; fear clawed at me. It cut through me like razors. I’ve never been more petrified. Hours later, the operating room doors opened. I was casually handed her engagement ring and the bullet embedded in her chest; the news she died on the operating table was delivered.
The shock and disbelief had me mute, frozen. My Demon and Beast erupted with anger moments later. I drew my gun, ready to shoot the surgeon. They weren’t meant to stop. They weren’t meant to call a time of death. Antonio, along with two of the Capos, managed to disarm me. My anger quickly turned to heartbreak, and my men easily overpowered me.
I shattered into billions of pieces as waves of emotions swallowed me whole. It took four men to hold me down as they injected me with sedative, enough to have me limp and motionless. I spent the night looking at a ceiling, trying to register. Her intoxicating green eyes are now only a picture in my thoughts. I will never glance into them again. Fuck, it’s killing me.
My car comes to a stop, and rain pours outside, replicating my internal anguish. Stepping out of the vehicle, I walk, or more like, drag my feet towards the Greek church. I’m not ready to say goodbye. Our son needs her. I fucking need her.
Shaking my head, I mumble, “I don’t want to do this. I can’t say goodbye.”
The hysterical crying overpowers, pulling me away from my thoughts. Both her aunts scream at the sight of her casket. Looking ahead, I fight the urge to walk up there and shake her limp body till life restores. Ignoring the chaos around me, I take a seat in the far back corner. Repeatedly, I feel knives wedging into my chest. I keep my shades on as fresh tears run.
“Mama,” Nathan calls out for her. His little eyes scan the church in hopes of finding her. My mother’s hold on him tightens. She cries on the shoulder of my one-year-old son while my father keeps her balanced. Every time I hear Nathan call out for his mother, I break all over again.
“Mina,” Lia’s voice laced with pain. The tremor in her body hasn’t left since the day at the hospital. She has had to increase her antidepressants; they’re not helping. I watch the girl fall apart. She’s on the verge of passing out as Matteo holds her up.
I’ve honored the wishes of Petro. The only time he spoke was when he begged me for a closed casket. He doesn’t want that to be the last image, memory of her. I agreed, the sisters agreed. I don’t want to look at her colorless face. I preferred the images of her flaming red cheeks when she shied.
Tommy slides next to me and clasps my shoulder; not a word leaves his lips. We both focus on Stefano and Jaz. For the first time, they left their son with the nurses. They needed to say goodbye. Jaz holds onto Stefano’s arm, continually crying, choking on her saliva. Grief consumes the air, and it’s suffocating. Not one of us can comfort the other.
Kat is the last to walk in. Her eyes lock forward, staring at the altar. The sight of that casket has her knees buckling. She drops to the floor and fails miserably to muffle her cries. Her body won’t allow her to stand. It’s Nick that pulls her to her feet and helps her take a seat. Tommy lets out a heavy breath and rubs his eyes at the sight of her. Not one person remains unbroken.
Everyone is falling apart—everything is dismal—everything has lost its color.
The priest starts his chanting, and I do not understand a word. Do I care? No! Nothing will change the fact I’ve lost her. Nothing will bring her back. She’s not in New York—she lies in a casket and soon will be underground. This isn’t how it’s meant to be. Sliding my hand in my pocket, I pull out her engagement ring, squeezing it in my hold. My future is shattered.
The memories of my proposal play like a movie. How nervous she was. How happy she was. That smile lit up the room. The constant heartbreak has me crippled, paralyzed. I bring my fist, holding her ring to my lips, and I mumble into it, “you left me. You’ve broken me.” I feel Tommy’s hand on my back. He exhales heavily.
This is new for him; he has no idea what to say or do; nothing brings comfort. Nothing fills the hole in my chest, yet my brother tries, although it’s out of his comfort zone—he still tries. I focus on my breathing. The day is far from over; I have to keep it together. I want to be here, and I don’t want to be here.
Tapping me on my shoulder, my brother motions me to stand. Complying, I slide her ring back into my pocket and walk towards the casket, lifting it onto our shoulders. Petro and I lead, Nick, Laz are in the middle and my two brothers behind them. The church bell rings in mourning as we walk her out and to the hearse. My hold tightens, and I lean my head on the side of her casket bile raises, and I swallow it back. I’m drowning in grief. I can’t tread water.
Sliding her into the hearse, my eyes meet Petro’s. Guilt engulfs him; he falters and shakes his head. Other than a couple of requests, he hasn’t spoken another word since. He stands, staring at the box his cousin lays in. Bianca hauls him by the arm to the car.
I’ve chosen to ride alone today, just with an unknown driver. My son remains in my mother’s care. Her son is incapable of looking after his own. As Nathan calls out for his mother, his green and teary eyes weaken me and drop me to my knees. Within a moment, we lost her.
Taking a seat in my car, the engine roars to life, and the driver slowly follows behind the hearse. The feeling is starting to return to my body. I need to feel numb. Pulling out my flask, I drown myself once more. It’s the only way I’m getting through this. A part of me died along with her. Emptiness is all I feel. I’m trying; God knows I’m trying to pick up the pieces for my son’s sake.
We pull into her last resting place. Taking a large gulp, I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. I’ve begged for this to be a nightmare. I’ve begged that I will wake up and that she will be lying next to me. Every morning I’m disappointed and crushed. I take a sharp intake of air, attempting to prepare myself as the door opens.
The boys stand next to the hearse waiting for me to take my place. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to watch her lowered into the ground. I wipe the tears that fall in her name and straighten up. Picking up my end of the casket one last time. I rest it on my shoulder. It’s taken everything in me not to fall apart. Our walk is short, and my eyes fall on her parents’ tombstones and Petro’s father. The family wanted her close with the rest of the members they have lost. Placing her on the burial mechanism, the casket straddles the open grave. I turn on my heels and take a seat. The priest will say a few more words before she’s lowered. Joanna, Laz’s mother, hands us all a red rose each. With shaky hands and heart-wrenching breaths, she gives Nathan one with its thorns removed.
My tears reach my lips as the priest goes on and on. One side of me wants this to end quickly. The other doesn’t want it too. People like me don’t get happiness; people like me don’t fall in love or shouldn’t. Yet I fell in love with her; she had me craving everything men like me aren’t meant to have. Our time together, I will never forget. Photos are all that is left, along with my memories.
My son will grow up without a mother, but I take an oath in her memory. He will know her. He will know how brave and beautiful she was. He will know how much she loved him. Finally, I will confess all my mistakes and that his mother was all he had for ten months of his life.
The moment has arrived where I’m forced to watch the casket lower. Kat, Jaz, and an unknown girl stand to the side, playing music. They each bring a microphone to their lips. Agony and sorrow radiate off each woman. They barely stand.
Jaz begins the song with a shaky intake of air.
Sorry I never told, all I wanted to say, and now it’s too late to hold you, ’cause now you’ve flown away. So far away.
Kat frantically wipes her tears and attempts to sing.
Never had I imagined. Living without your smile.
She breaks down, and the unknown girl is forced to go on for her. Jaz wraps an arm around Kat, supporting her.
Feeling, knowing you hear me, keeps me alive, alive.
All three of them take a breath and force their postures straight. They manage to go on sorrowfully.
And I know you’re shining down on me from heaven. Like so many friends, we’ve lost along the way. And I know, eventually, we’ll be together. Together, one sweet day... loving you always, and I’ll wait patiently to see you in heaven, one sweet day.
I tune out of the appropriate yet heartbreaking song. I turn my attention to the members of the family. Each one bends down, taking a hand full of soil and throwing it onto the casket along with the rose in their hands. My mother helps my son as he glances at his mother’s photo on the tombstone and calls out to her. Taking a harsh breath, I let it out shakily. He doesn’t understand that he has lost her. He keeps searching. I feel like I’m having a heart attack, struggling to get air in my lungs, my chest tightens.
I wait till everyone is finished and stand. Picking up a handful of soil, I stretch my hand over the open grave and let it slip through my fingers. “I love you, sweetheart,” I mumble and stare at her picture. “My Red Rose,” I whisper and throw the flower onto the grave.
Every fiber in me wants to jump into the hole and pull her out. I’m beyond insane. I’m standing over her grave yet refuse to believe she’s gone. Tommy’s hand clasps my shoulder as he, too throws a hand full of soil and a rose on her casket.
“You will be missed by all.” He whispers, “I’m sorry,” shaking his head. My brother wipes his eyes and takes a deep breath looking up at the sky as raindrops fall.
“Tell the driver to wait” are the first words I speak in days. Turning on my heels, I take a seat back in the chair, watching the cemetery workers cover her grave.
Tommy returns and pulls a seat next to me, sighing heavily. He refuses to leave my side; they’re scared of what I might do. I don’t blame him. I’ve never felt so unstable. One moment rage consumes me, and then in a blink of an eye, heartbreak engulfs me.
“Find them, Tommy!”
“I’m looking, brother. I will deliver them to you!” He emphasizes. I face him. His head is lowered as he fiddles with his fingers. His forehead furrows in an agonizing frown.
“Sooner rather than later,” I demand and return my focus to her grave. The rain starts to come down heavy. I need a release. I need someone to pay. The more I look at her picture, the more my anger fuels. She is meant to be here with our son and me, not dead.
Letting out a heavy breath, he rubs his face. “We just needed to get through today. I will increase the search take some time Raf, Nathan needs you. I will look after the business. I need to feel useful.”
He never fails to put family first, regardless of how immature he is, especially in his personal life. I can always count on him to step up when family calls for it. He doesn’t disappoint.
Standing from my seat, I button my suit jacket, “I’ll see you at the house.”
“Raf,” he halts my steps. I wait for him to go on without turning around, “I’m sorry, brother.”
Nodding, I make my way back to the car, pulling out my flask along the way. I need liquor.
* * * * *
I’m the last to arrive at the mansion; I made a stop at her house and spent an hour there. She wanted to sell both her properties. The need to feel her close had me pulling them off the market. I want our son to have everything that once was linked to her.
Ignoring everyone, I walk straight to my office first, placing her ring into a drawer next to the bullet that took her life. I fail miserably to settle myself. Although I’m dreading the deafening silence, I need to join the family. I can’t hide in here forever. Throwing my suit jacket to the side, I head for the living room.
“Why didn’t you do more?” Lia’s screeching voice has me snapping my eyes up. She screams at Petro and Laz. “Why weren’t the two of you operating? Tell me?” Tears cascade down her face. She can’t control the grief suffocating her. Pulling the rim of her top down, she gasps for air, “I know if you were in there, you wouldn’t have stopped. You wouldn’t have given up. You would have saved her!”
Pushing Petro harshly on the chest, she breaks down, “Why didn’t you save her?”
Laz stands between her and Petro. She’s harshly and groundlessly is blaming him. “We are not gods, Lia.” Laz snaps. “It’s unfair of you to blame him,” Laz says defeatedly, “We were not in the right state of mind to operate. We couldn’t. It’s different when a patient is a family member. It clouds you.”
“We have lost her. My sister is gone. We can never bring her back.” Lia screams. Matteo stands behind his wife, squeezing her into his embrace. His features painfully morph with worry. She begins to hyperventilate, her throat pulls in, and her eyes widen with fear as air doesn’t make its way to her lungs.
He whispers into her ear. “Slow breaths, Lia.” Closing her eyes, she allows Matteo’s words to settle her slightly.
“It hurts, Matteo. More than before, it hurts so much!” Her chest rapidly rises and falls. Once again, she lands herself in a state of hysteria. The lack of oxygen has her eyes rolling, and she passes out in Matteo’s arms.
Petro brings himself out of his tormenting thoughts. Quickly wiping his eyes, he heads to the medical room.
“She was getting better and off the antidepressants, having Mina back and slowly restoring their relationship,” he sighs, waiting for Petro. He holds his wife in his arms, “She was getting better.”
Petro walks out with a syringe. Just like two years ago, he needs to sedate her. The day we left Asimina was the day her depression was born. She couldn’t cope. Even though she understood the danger and agreed to be away from her sister, it sent her in a downward spiral.
Her depression worsened before it started to get better. The fact that Asimina gave birth and they weren’t there for her added to her pain. Petro increased the dosage of her antidepressants. Only in the last few weeks had she started to heal and become less dependent on medication. Matteo heads for one of the spare bedrooms. Mariano and Mia follow to give him a hand.
Nat sits in the far corner with tears flowing, she’s defeated, and her state of anguish won’t allow her to help Lia in any way. Clearing her throat, she asks, “Where’s Kat?”
“Tessa took her home.” Nick pauses, lowering his head. He shakes it vigorously, “She’s struggling.” He pinches the bridge of his nose, “she’s just as shattered. Having only brothers, you girls are the sisters she was missing.”
Nat meekly nods in understanding, “Nathan?” She questions again.
“I managed to get him to sleep. He’s in his room,” My mother wipes tears away, her breaths disheartened. “I want someone to keep an eye on Kat,” she demands.
Standing from her seat, Nat advises, “I’m just going to make sure Nathan is okay.” Bringing her shaky hand to her mouth, she cries, “He is a part of her. She would have wanted me to look after him. Please let me do that. I don’t want to let her down.” She repeatedly blinks, trying to clear her vision.
I nod without hesitation. I want him to be close to his mother’s family. I need them to help me keep her memory alive. I never want to forget that woman, and I want our son to know everything about her.
Antonio stands to his feet and walks alongside his wife upstairs to Nathan’s room. Despite his efforts, he hasn’t been able to comfort her.
"Come ti senti?” My father asks my mother.
Her eyes snap up at him, “how do I feel?” She repeats, angered, “like I lost a child all over again, Luciano.” She lets out muffled wails. “Our grandson lost his mother. How do you think I feel?” She shakes her head at his stupid question.
My father and uncle both lost their sister. It was a dark moment. Lucian and Valentino Morelli are still struggling. My mother’s anger gets the better of her, “our events are meant to be safe. This shit doesn’t happen at one of our events!” Seething, she squeezes her hold on my father’s hand. “Find them, Luciano. I want them dead. Do you hear me?”
My father cups the back of her head and places his lips on her forehead; his efforts settle her slightly. “Camila and Mina are gone,” she cries.
I close my eyes and fight the emotions that are slicing through me. Asimina and my mother grew close; she considered her a daughter. I head for the bar once more. Liquor, I need alcohol. I don’t want to feel the tightening in my chest. I can’t handle the overwhelming pain. Filling my glass, I bring it to my lips. The burning sensation runs down my throat and gives me another focus.
“Petro,” Bianca's soft voice is barely audible. “Please, baby, don’t blame yourself. Lia isn’t in the right state of mind. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.” She kneels in front of him, cupping his face.
Petro shakes his head. His features distort painfully, “I can’t stand feeling this way, the guilt.”
His eyes well up, and he swallows down hard. Standing abruptly to his feet, he runs his hands through his hair, “Maybe there was more that could’ve been done. Maybe if we had done things differently. Maybe if…” he hesitates to try and find answers.
“Stop that,” my mother cries, “Mina wouldn’t have wanted you to blame yourself. You did more than enough.”
He glances at my mother, “I need some air,” he mumbles and turns around, walking straight out the door.
Bianca stands to follow; our father stops her, “Give him space.” She reluctantly nods and takes a seat next to our mother.
* * * * *
The next few hours were silent; everyone was lost in thought. They all kept their focus on my son as he walked. All their hearts broke for the boy who’s lost his mother yet doesn’t understand it. Needing the distraction, my mother and Nat cooked dinner, more so for Nathan. No one else has an appetite. I sit on the sofa with a drink in my hand, swiping through the thousand photos of Asimina on my phone.
Standing from my seat, I go to refill my drink and glance out the window. Petro sits in Asimina’s Mustang, lost in thought. He went out there and started cleaning, washing her car inside and out, detailing it.
“Raffaele,” my mother calls out to me. Sculling my drink, I turn to face her, “Nathan has had dinner. He’s bathed and ready to sleep for the night.”
Tossing the glass on the bar, I walk up to her and take my son out of her arms. He needs me. Asimina once was in the world of pain but managed to push through it and focus on Nathan. I need to do the same. Through him, she lives on.
I head for my bedroom with my son in my arms. The bedsheets haven’t been changed; Asimina's scent remains on the fabric. It gives us comfort. Lying on the bed with him, he digs his face into his mother’s pillow and instantly settles. Cupping his little head, I kiss him. “It’s just you and me now. I will need to be enough.”