Dinner was quiet. Val had tried to speak but I was already too down to feel good about anything, or enjoy myself for that matter. It wasn’t until we sat into an SUV that I realized that we weren’t heading home tonight, we were staying in the city. Val and I shared the backseat while a driver maneuvered through the busy streets of New York City, my head was leaned against the window and the lights of the city kept the SUV dimly lit.
It truly was beautiful, something I had always wanted to experience and the last person I thought would make that dream come true was Val. I wasn’t angry with him for the conversation we had at dinner, I was angry at myself for loving the people who set me up and knew more about me than I knew about myself. I relied on them more than I should have and it was now that I realized I could only trust myself.
Val’s hand stayed on my inner thigh during the entire drive and once we reached the hotel, he graciously opened my door and held onto my hand as we ran through the pouring rain, heading into warm, dry sanctuary.
The only thing I could hear as I waited for Val to retrieve the room keys was, “Reservation under Acerbi.”
Once he turned to me, he held up the key and motioned towards the elevator silently. We walked together and in silence. It was strange that we hadn’t spoken, but comfortable. For once I knew that he wasn’t angry with me because his face is far more easy to read than he lets on.
The elevator doors closed and Val leaned against the wall, watching me as I stared at the numbers light up. In the matter of seconds we were already passing the twentieth floor, continuing upwards.
“We’re on the top floor,” It was as though Val answered my thoughts.
I nodded my head and looked over at him, “Why so high?”
He pushed himself off of the wall and walked over to where I stood. With his dark eyes looking into mine, he tucked a strand of my wet hair behind my ear, “Have you ever seen New York City at night?”
I shook my head no, I have never seen New York City, period.
“The view of the city it one thing, but at night it’s indescribable. Only the highest floor could give justice to a city like this,” He explained to me.
I stared at him, wondering what the hell just came out of his mouth. He seemed sweet in the oddest way because I had no idea Val even had this side to him. There were more layers to him that I hadn’t seen, with those layers came a deeper personality than what meets the eye. He didn’t seem like a psychotic mafia boss, in this moment he seemed human.
I heard a ding and when I looked the elevator doors opened, Val wasted no time in exiting the elevator with his arm around my waist and I could do nothing more than follow him since I wasn’t aware of where our room was. It ended up being located in the far end of the corridor. Using a swipe card, Val unlocked the door and we both walked inside.
We didn’t need to turn on lights to see anything, what I wanted to see was right in front of me through the large glass window. The view that Val had praised so highly and now I understood it, the entire city was seen below us and we were on top if it all. I found myself walking to the window, my mouth slightly gaped in awe.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Val’s voice sounded from behind me.
“Amazing,” I responded.
Val stood next to me, looking out the window with his hands in his pockets, “When I was younger my mother tried so hard for us to be normal. Even through it all, she wanted some sense of a normal life for Stefano and I. One year she asked father that we take a family trip. Of course he declined, but my mother wouldn’t have it... In the middle of the night she took off with Stefano and I to New York City, as we requested and we stayed in this very room. My mother had said that you need to see the city from above to appreciate all of its character.”
It was rare that Val opened up about moments in his past to me, usually he refused or anything he told me was scarring enough. This story ended up sounding like a beautiful memory that hid deep inside of the dark man who stood next to me, a memory that actually made him smile.
“How did your father react when you returned home?” I couldn’t help but ask him, I would have far too much anxiety to go through with something such as that.
“We didn’t make it home,” Val answered, his eyes staying on the view of the city, “When we returned to the hotel the first night, my father was sitting in that arm chair beside the bed and his men took mother out of the room while he brought Stefano and I to the airport. To this day I have no idea where they took my mother, but she was gone for two weeks before she returned home. I always assumed she was taken for punishment and I’ve been guilt ridden ever since.”
“Why do you feel guilty? You can’t help your father’s actions.”
“Because I was the one insisting on the trip, Elaina. My mother wasn’t going to disobey my father when he declined the family trip, but I complained and begged her to take us. So she did, and she suffered the consequences.”
No story of Val’s had a happy ended, I was silly to expect it to end any differently. I hated that he could easily make me sympathize for him, maybe it was because unlike him I actually had a heart but for me, it was unfortunate.
“Can I ask you a question?”
I made my way over to the bed and sat at the end as Val turned to face me, making it hard to see his face without the lights of the city shining on it, “It depends on the question, Elaina.”
I shouldn’t ask him but I wanted to know. This entire time I’ve been in the dark and for once I just want to understand what’s going on around me.
“Why do you hate Gianna?”
His body stiffened and I could tell that he didn’t like the question. Instead of answering right away, he walked towards the bed and stood in front of me, “I understand this was a plan to get to know each other better, but there are some things that you don’t need to know.”
His words concerned me and seemed beyond shady. I knew better than to push Val, but at the same time I needed to know if Gianna truly is as bad as I’ve been feeling lately or if she really is just trying to protect me.
“Val... I just want to understand you better,” I told him, “It’s hard for me to understand why you despise her when I don’t know why you despise her.”
“I don’t need your understanding,” He responded to me curtly before motioning towards the bed, “Go to sleep. We’re leaving early in the morning.”
I let out a soft sigh, unsure if I should press the topic. I decided against it as I stood from the bed and walked to the small bag Val had packed for the night. As I leaned down and pulled out my pyjamas, I could hear light footsteps indicating that Val was walking towards me.
“It’s her father...” He spoke quietly and I didn’t respond, waiting for him to continue, “There are two large Italian families, the Acerbi’s and the Russo’s. Gianna is a Russo. Our families had always been at war because the Russo’s are the second in line family to take over the Italian mafia if an Acerbi decides to give away their rights, which will never happen, might I add.”
I turned to look at Val, confused by what he was saying to me but I tried to stay on the same page, “I thought the mafia was a family affair?”
“It is... But if every Acerbi vanishes, the right has to be given to the next family with higher authority...” He told me and my mind began to go crazy. “You see, Elaina. Whether we’re all dead or not, the mafia will always be around. It isn’t going anywhere.”
“Listen, you may like this girl but she’s pure evil like her father. For years before us, dating as far back to my great great grandfather, they have been trying to destroy us.” Val’s eyes grew dim, looking away from me and taking a deep breath, “Eight years ago the Russo’s crashed a family event we were having and just began shooting... It was very crowded so we didn’t realize until they left that there was so many casualties, including my sister, Alessia.”
Sister? My eyes grew wide, having no idea that Val and Stefano had a sister. I could feel my heart aching for him because I could see the pain that is caused him, which explained why he didn’t like talking about her, “Val, I... I’m so sorry.”
“Fucking Stefano... It was a part of our plan to get him close to her so we could kill her in return, but he actually fell for the bitch.”
“How could he forgive her after what he family did?” I asked, still stunned by what I had just learned. I finally understood the hatred Val had along with his slight resentment towards Stefano.
“I’ve been trying to figure that one out myself,” Val groaned, shaking his head in disgust. The flash of betrayal in his eyes terrified me, “And now we’re going to have a child with their blood in our family? I’m telling you, Elaina. It isn’t happening.”
My brows furrowed quickly as I became aware of the threat that had just left Val’s lips, “What do you mean? It’s Stefano’s child, too... How do you--”
“But it’s hers.” He clarified, “And I can assure you that no child of a Russo is staying in my home.”
I couldn’t get a word out as I began to panic, having no idea what was going to happen but mortified of all the possibilities. Val didn’t seem to mind my panic and remained perfectly calm, “She’s a dead woman, Elaina. You don’t need to know how, but--”
“She’s the rat!” I blurted out, unable to stop myself.
Val truly had no idea how much danger he was in, his confidence blinded him and he assumed that getting rid of her was easy but she had an entire mafia backing her up as well. He needed to know that this was far more severe than he even knew.
“Her? Gianna is the...” He paused before his eyes flickered towards me, “How long have you known?”
“Val, I didn’t know...”
“How long?!” His voice raised which caused me to jump where I stood, “I swear to fuck, Elaina. How long have you known?”
“Since the night you sent me to the casino,” I admitted, shielding my body from his angry eyes.
He never spoke a word but his face said it all as he pulled out his cellphone from his pocket and began making a call, “Gustavo, where is Stefano?”
I wasn’t sure what else was being said because after he asked where Stefano was the entire conversation proceeded in Italian. I messed up, I knew I messed up. Keeping this secret for weeks was a mistake but I was afraid, that was no excuse, however. Val was furious and I didn’t blame him one bit. Keeping this from him put his life and the life of his family at risk.
Once he ended the call with Gustavo, he gripped the phone tightly in his hand. I made the mistake of trying to explain to him which could only go one way - bad.
“She said she wouldn’t hurt Stefano. She loves him, Val.”
“You are naïve. This woman is a lying bitch who would say anything to get what she wants, including the fact that she actually loves my brother.” He pointed his index finger at me, clenching his jaw, “If anything happens to my brother because you failed to tell me this information, you will have a bullet between your eyes before you can blink.”
My mouth gaped open, a lump forming in my throat. I wasn’t sure if it was guilt or fear, but I felt the pain coursing through my body, the panic, “Val, I’m so sorry... I was scared.”
“You have a lot more to be afraid of now.” He made another call, this time in English, “Get the jet ready, we’re departing as soon as possible.”
I covered my face with my hands, scolding myself in my mind for not coming to the realization sooner. Val had made it seem like Stefano was in trouble, but Gianna had assured me that she wouldn’t hurt him. I believed her, she loves Stefano.
“She won’t hurt him.”
“Then explain to me why they left for dinner last night and haven’t been seen since? Stefano isn’t answering his phone and of course Gianna isn’t either,” Val took a large step towards me, “She has him. She used his trust for her and god only knows where he is.”
I fell silent. It was too late. My inability to make a decision fast enough caused Stefano to be in danger, Val’s little brother who he loved more than anything in the world. If anything happened to Stefano, it would be my fault and I wasn’t sure if I could live with myself.