I walked into the house silently, my mind filled with thoughts and reviewing what happened tonight. I had valuable information that I didn’t want to be in charge of, lives were in my hands and depending on how I decided either Val could die or Gianna would. I didn’t want to be left with this on my shoulders, I didn’t want to know that Gianna was going behind everyone’s back plotting to murder Val, with this information I was forced to either tell Val or suffer the consequences whenever he found out that I was keeping something from him.
Gustavo was behind me but I paid no attention. Tonight was exhausting emotionally and I had far too much information to process now.
As soon as we stepped inside Val was in front of me before I even had a second to breath, his hands were on my shoulders and he was speaking but I wasn’t hearing him. I was in a daze, one that I couldn’t get out of.
“She’s been like this since I found her in the parking lot of the casino,” I heard Gustavo say to Val whose expression turned from frantic to surprisingly sympathetic quickly.
Val motioned his head for Gustavo to leave and he did just that without any questions. When we were alone, Val simply took my hand and led me to his office. For once, I wasn’t afraid of being in this damned room, I hadn’t done anything wrong and maybe dying was better than being the reason someone else died.
“Sweetheart,” Val said as he closed the door behind him, “Are you alright? Do you need some water?”
I wasn’t sure why he was seeming so concerned, possibly to get information out of me but I declined, taking a seat across from his desk.
“What did he do to you? I swear to god if he--”
“Nothing,” I spoke, “He didn’t touch me or hurt me in anyway... He just talked.”
He seemed to ease slightly when I reassured him but then his body stiffened slightly, “What did he talk to you about?”
I lifted my head when he sat on the surface of the desk beside me, quietly I responded, “You.”
Val ran his fingers through his hair and took a deep breath, “I need more, Elaina. Anything.”
“What can I say? You know the man hates you, but I don’t know his plans,” I responded before lifting my legs up and holding them against my chest, my mind was fighting with me. I was struggling with telling Val the truth but any time I thought of Gianna, I thought about the innocent life that she was carrying. Being responsible for her murder was one thing, but being the reason for an innocent baby dying was far too much.
“You know, Elaina. I’m not a weak man,” Val spoke up again. I really wasn’t in the mood for one of his ego talks, we all knew how the great and powerful Valentino Acerbi was strong and fearless. “I’m always confident with my decisions, but tonight... I made a bad choice. The moment I realized that he had you and my only communication with you was taken, I lost any sanity I had left. I made a bad call and sending you there was a terrible mistake.”
A part of me wanted to say I told you so while the other part of me was surprised by Val’s seemingly genuine apology. The sudden change of heart didn’t make sense to me but I listened, it’s all my body would allow me to do.
“I am sorry... I fucked up and the moment those wires were cut is when I realized it. It was in that moment that I realized that you could die because of me,” Val seemed frantic, looking up at the ceiling and taking a deep breath, “I need you, Elaina. It’s difficult for me to admit, but I realized tonight that I truly need you.”
“Why?” I asked him quickly, unable to bite my tongue, “You need me to spy for you? So you have a punching bag and sex toy? It just doesn’t make sense, this sudden change of heart. You have never treated me like a human being and it’s a really messed up time to start.”
Val stared at me, his jaw tightening the more I spoke. I imagine his mind was racing with ways that he could punish me but I was surprised when I didn’t receive a slap on the face or tight hair grip. “I thought I lost you. That’s the only answer I can give. When something like that happens so suddenly, things become clear. It’s obvious that I haven’t been an ideal husband, I probably won’t start now, but I feel responsible for you. Regardless of how this marriage came to be, you are my wife and I take that seriously.”
So that’s what it was. An obligation. It made a hell of a lot more sense than him suddenly becoming compassionate towards me. Deep down I had felt a hint of hope when he had confessed these sudden feelings, but I also knew that Val was never capable of real, genuine feelings.
“I really need to sleep,” I stood up from the chair abruptly, “Tonight was a nightmare, so please lets just drop this. The last thing I want to do is relive it.”
Val pursed his lips together before giving a slight nod, “Get some rest. I have some work do do and I’ll be upstairs in a few hours.”
I never said a word, instead I left the office and headed directly up the stairs until I reached the bedroom. There were no words that could possible explain how tonight’s events affected me, the one person in this horror house that I had as a friend. It devastated me to know that she was going against my husband. In a way I felt betrayed because whether I like it or not, Val’s life was mine. I could easily be collateral damage in this war.
Had Gianna even thought about that possibility? Then there was Stefano, the woman he loves and the mother of his baby was betraying him in the worst possible way. Even though Val is a terrible person, he’s still Stefano’s brother and I knew that family came before all in their eyes.
She was risking her life and the baby’s. When Val found out, she would be dead as soon as he got his hands on her.
A knock came at the door and I mumbled without a thought, “Come in.”
When the door opened, Gianna walked in and the air got stuck in my chest. The last time I had seen her she was telling me that this was in the best interest of everyone. She hadn’t been able to speak much due to Gustavo’s untimely arrival that caused Coilin and his people to leave abruptly.
“Elaina, you’re home.” Her voice was an act until the second the door closed and then she instantly got down to business, “Look, I know that tonight took you off guard...”
“How could you? Gianna, what about Stefano?” I whispered loudly, “How could you do this to him? He loves you.”
“And I love him,” She argued, walking towards the bed where I was sitting, “That hasn’t changed. He and his brother are two different stories.”
“They are brothers. You cannot separate blood so easily, I’m telling you it isn’t happening.”
“Stefano would choose our family over Val any day,” Gianna told me, confidence in her tone.
“You seem so sure about that, but I think you’re wrong.” I hated to tell her this, but it was the truth. I heard about the Omerta, something about loyalty or whatever. Then there was the unspoken Omerta, the one that you have with your family as soon as you’re born. You stay loyal no matter what obstacles occur, just because it wasn’t written on paper doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a real thing.
“Elaina, listen to me. You more than anyone else know how horrible Val is, he’s going to destroy the Italian Mafia, this job isn’t for him,” She stared at me and for the first time since I’ve known Gianna, she seemed scary in a way. “I told you because I care about you, why else would I stand right in front of you and spill every secret that I have? My only request to Coilin was that you and Stefano not be hurt.”
I looked away from her, unable to keep my thoughts straight. I hated myself. I hated that I wanted to protect Val and I hated that I believed every word that Gianna fed me. I believed her when she told me she wanted to keep me safe from Val and the idea was thrilling, but it also seemed impossible. But so did the idea of ever being happy with Val.
“If I wanted you dead, I would have kept you in the dark.” She spoke softly, “You are my best friend, Elaina. What happens from here on out is your decision. Everything. If you want to live a life without Val planning your every move, you every breath, then let me do this for you. Help me do this. The Irish have a plan, once it goes through you’ll be free.”
Gianna’s argument was good, she knew what she was saying and how tempting it sounded but she had to know me better by now. I couldn’t make such a huge decision on a whim, she knew that I lived life with my heart on my sleeve and that made conspiring a murder less than simple.
“You are a good person. But all good people have a little bit of darkness inside of them, it’s how you choose to use it that defines you.”
I hadn’t realized that tears stained my pale face, but when I looked at Gianna again I could feel them roll down my cheeks, “What do you need me to do?”
“I need you to trust me. Everything we plan is extremely thought out and I promise you that you will be on the winning side,” Gianna assured me and I could see in her eyes that she believe every word that she said, “Val is a dead man, regardless. But with your help, your tie to him, it will make things happen more quickly and smoothly.”
I felt dizzy. I hadn’t agreed to anything but at the same time I felt like I did. By not telling Val I was setting him up to be murdered and I would be responsible.
“I’m... I’m going to be sick,” The stress had gotten to me and I barely made it to the personal bathroom before the vomit began to come.
Words swirled all around my mind. Murderer. Accomplice. Killer. Death. All of those words would be linked to me but that wasn’t the words that haunted me, the words that made this thought unbearable were two simple words that at the time meant nothing but now mean more than I ever knew.