When the gun fired, there was a long period of silence. it took me a moment to realize that I wasn’t dead, hell, I wasn’t even shot. I opened my eyes slowly just as Stefano fell down to his knees, blood dripping from his mouth. Behind him stood Elaina with the gun aimed and the expression on her face was pure horror, knowing she had just fired the gun, resulting in Stefano’s injury.
I stared blankly at her, then my eyes moved to my brother who was lying on the ground shaking.
“I... I...” Elaina stuttered, still trying to process what she had done, I for one was surprised and taken aback by her actions. Elaina has never been a violent person, she wouldn’t hold a gun unless I forced it into her hand. The only reason she knew how to shoot a gun was because I had brought her to a shooting range.
Quickly, I stood from the hard floor and hurried over to Elaina, carefully taking the gun from her hands and steadying her, “Shhh, amore. It’s okay.”
“He was... He was going to kill you,” She explained, stating the obvious and it occured to me that Elaina, a woman who hated me, saved my life willingly. Without a question, she had been there to protect me against my own brother.
I look at Stefano and nodded, “He was teamed up with Gianna this entire time. He was planning a takeover to become capo.”
“Oh my god...” Elaina seemed stunned, I couldn’t even blame her. I was still reeling from everything that had just happen.
Ideally, I would prefer to leave in this moment, but the shot Elaina took wasn’t fatal and my brother was still lying there, gasping for the smallest breath. I knew it was my responsibility to end him, and I would. This had to be the most difficult of things I had ever encountered, but I had to remind myself that Stefano had brought this on himself.
Taking the gun in my hand and aiming it at my brother’s head, he managed to beg with the few words he could get out, “Val... Please. Don’t... I’m your... brother.”
“Fucking right you are, which is why this is so hard, but Stef, this is on you. Not me, not Elaina, but you. You went behind our family’s back, trying to kill father and I, and this is the consequences of your actions. No one in their right mind would trust you after all of this shit,” I explained the him.
He coughed slightly, trying to laugh in an intimidating nature but he fell short, “You’re actually... going to kill... your brother? Pathetic.”
“Maybe so, but at least I’m still alive,” I didn’t give him a chance to reply again, I pulled the triggered and watched the bullet lodge in my brother’s head, taking the life out of him. It was better this way, not just having the trust issues after what Stefano had did, but now I could be held responsible for Stefano’s death, not Elaina. She would easily beat herself up over this for the rest of her life, now she had no reason to because I had killed Stefano.
When I looked back to Elaina she was staring at Gianna’s lifeless body. As much as I hated the woman I knew that Elaina had considered her a friend at one point which made this hard for her to see.
“I had no other choice, Elaina,” I explained the her, not waning her to think that Gustavo and I willingly killed an unborn child, “I know you didn’t see it, but she was evil beyond words. It was her or us and...”
“Us?” She asked me.
“Stavo... He uh...” I found it hard thinking about what had happened just moments before and how Gustavo flew over the balcony. I had to retrieve his body so he could have a proper burial but the pain would be worse than losing Stefano.
Elaina took it upon herself to look over the ledge, gasping in horror at the sight before her. It must have been bad and that was what I was worried about. I walked over to the railing and looked over to see Gustavo on his back, eyes closed and still.
“Where the fuck is my men?” I became angry due to the fact of seeing my best friend in that situation, we needed to get him out of here and I couldn’t do it myself. As I headed down the stairs, I took my phone out of my pocket and called Rafe, “I need everyone here now. Gustavo had a fall and... we just need people to carry him out.”
“Is he okay?” Rafe asked.
“Obviously fucking not, Rafael. Get everyone in here now.”
Elaina was knelt near Gustavo, two fingers pressed just below Gustavo’s jaw, “There’s a pulse... It’s faint, but it’s there.”
As I walked over to where she knelt, my brows furrowed in confusion. There’s no way he could have survived that fall, it was too high and dangerous, “Are you sure?”
“Yes... He needs to see a doctor, he probably has various breaks and a concussion. If there’s any internal bleeding it could be fatal,” Elaina then explained to me which was a quick reminder of her aspirations to become a nurse. I remember reading that in her file before I met her, she had applied to get a bachelor degree and start building her career in nursing.
“We can’t go to the doctor,” I told her, it was too dangerous and we would leave in cuffs. The cops have always had suspicions about the mafia, but they never had solid proof of wrong doing, if we showed up to the hospital like this an investigation would be open.
“Val, he needs medical help or he’s going to die.”
I ran my fingers through my hair, groaning, “Fuck! If I go there, they’re going to question me!”
Elaina seemed at loss for words, I knew she was only looking at this like me refusing to get Gustavo medical help, but it was more. All of my men’s lives, my life included, would blow up in our face. She looked at Gustavo with her lips pursed, “The authorities aren’t familiar with me, though. I can go with him.”
“And what story will you use? You were holding a gun and accidentally fired it at him? No. It’s stupid and reckless,” I told her, knowing that my only hope was Dr. Franklin who wasn’t even a surgeon.
I stepped away from Elaina to make the call to Dr. Franklin, maybe he knew people who could help or he would just have to try this on his own. I paid the man plenty to assist my men and I, therefore I expect him to do just that.
We endured a late night, Val was gone for the most of it - making sure everything was okay with Gustavo and his father, so I was back at the house alone with whatever men had survived the night.
I had yet to receive my lecture regarding disobeying Val and showing up at the warehouse, I knew that it would come eventually but I still hoped that it would’t be as bad as I expected. I felt like I had seen a more humane side of Val, giving the way he was so concerned about his father and Gustavo. Any normal person would be concerned, but Val was far from normal so his reaction surprised me at best.
I thought about the occurrences of today as I sat in my empty room alone. It was a fight that had been building up and now it was over. I didn’t care if I happened to be on the winning side of things, it was the lives lost that threw me for a loop. Mostly Stefano.
No one had expected him to be a part of destroying his own family, when I entered the warehouse and seen him with a gun aimed at Val, I could barely comprehend my own thoughts long enough to shoot him first.
After Diego had been shot, I sat in the back of the SUV silently on the floor, praying not to be found. It seemed like a significant amount of time had passed before I took the chance to get out, and when I did I took Diego’s gun for protection. I’ve always hated guns but considering the battle that had been going down, I’d have to swallow my pride and do what was necessary.
I was grateful that Val had taken me to the shooting range or I’d have no idea what I was doing.
During the wee hours of the night while I slept not-so-soundly, the bedroom door opened and I squinted my eyes to see the silhouette of Val in the door way. He looked exhausted and a mess, to be honest. His hair was a disaster and the top of his shirt unbuttoned with the sleeves rolled up.
“Are they okay?” I asked softly, slowly sitting up in the bed.
Val’s arms were folded but he managed a nod, “My father just has some bruising and a broken rib... And of course the missing finger cannot be saved, but it could have been worse.”
I nodded in agreement with him, “And Gustavo?”
“Spinal injury along with internal bleeding. Dr. Franklin had a friend who was familiar with surgery, he operated for six hours to repair the damage but it’s unknown if he’ll be able to walk again,” His tone was dim and lacking hope, “But he’s alive, so I supposed complaining is unnecessary.”
“It’s awful but at the same time wonderful,” I commented, “Gustavo is a strong man, his determination will get him to the point of walking again. I’m sure of it.”
Val managed a soft chuckle, “It’s amazing how you can still be optimistic through this. After everything you endured and what I’ve done to you, you were still there to save my life. But why, Elaina? That could have been your way out of this marriage, out of this life and you chose to let it slip away.”
He was right. If I had let Stefano kill Val in that moment, I could be on my way home to my family now. Other than the fact that my family were far from who I had expected them to be, it was all I had known up until recently. But I didn’t want that, I didn’t want to face the people who manipulated me for years on end, instead I chose to let Val live which ultimately sealed my fate as the wife to the Mafia.
“Honestly? I don’t know,” I told him, giving my shoulders a slight shrug and inhaling deeply, “You had been betrayed in the worst possible way and aside from the messed up relationship that we have, letting you die wouldn’t make everything right in the world. You are a monster by all means, the most horrible person I have ever met in my life, but saving you felt right. In the moment there was no other option.”
“And what about now? Would you take it back?”
My eyes met his and I quietly responded, “No.”
The bed dipped slightly as Val sat next to me, reaching for my hand and holding it against his, “If someone would have asked me if I were safe with my life in your hands, I would have said no. I would have never expected you to protect me, let alone pull a trigger for me. I don’t know what it is with you, Elaina, but you always seem to exceed anything and everything I expect. When I think you’re too good to hold your own, you prove me wrong.”
“I’m not sure if this is a compliment or an insult,” My lips twitched upwards to form a small smile.
“A compliment, I assure you,” Val answered quickly, “I am far from good at making speeches of admiration, so please just take it as it is. I owe my life to you, aside from the damage I have caused and pain I inflicted on you, I apologize. Of course an apology could do nothing, it can’t fix my mistakes but I can vow to never lay a hand on you again. And I do.”
It just seemed like empty promises.
I would be an idiot to believe that a tiger could change his stripes, but I wanted so badly to believe him. I wanted nothing more than to feel safe, to raise my child in an environment where I didn’t have to worry about them seeing their father beat me.
“I know it may seem like an absurd promise, but I will prove it to you.” Val insisted, “It shouldn’t have had to come to you saving my life for me to be a good husband to you, but after today I’ve learned that loyalty is not family, it isn’t an obligation but instead it’s a choice. Your loyalty is clear and I should have believed that but I didn’t, and there’s no excuse.”
I couldn’t promise Val forgiveness. I couldn’t tell him that what he did was okay and that I would act like nothing ever happened. I would be lying if I said that I believed him, because I didn’t. The most I could do was try and hope that he meant it, but I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath.
“I want to believe you. It’s just hard to think that you mean any of this,” I looked down at our hands while I spoke, hoping my words wouldn’t set him off, “I think the most we can do at this time is take it one day at a time, see how it goes from there.”
Regardless of what happened Val is my husband and I’m stuck with this lifestyle, my only hope is that we could moved forward and he could become a non abusive man. Not only for me, but for the child we shared together. I don’t love Val. I realized that from the moment this marriage started, but when I pulled the trigger on Stefano it was clear to me that I cared deeply for him. Though it may not be love yet, the future is unpredictable.
Val stood from the bed and extended his hand towards me, “Come back to our room. This bed is practically a rock...”
I accepted his hand and walked with him to the room we shared together, the room I had been temporarily banned from. As I sat on the bed I became grateful to get away from the other room, realizing just how painful that bed was to the back.
“I have something for you,” I heard Val’s voice mumble as he opened the nightstand and took out a little box with a bow on top.
I had no idea what it could be but there was no amount of jewelry in the world that could buy my forgiveness, it had to be earned. Though I wasn’t sure what Val was pulling, I was curious about what was in the box so as he passed it to me I thanked him and began to untie the bow that held it together.
“You know I’m not materialistic...” I told him, “You can’t expect gifts to make all of this better.”
“I’m quite aware,” He answered, “Just open it.”
Once the bow came undone, I took the top off of the box and furrowed my eyebrows in confusion at the sight before me, “A key?”
“To what? A car?” I asked, trying not to sound ungrateful but this was just as bad as buying me off with jewelry, “Val...”
“Elaina, before you assume things perhaps you should read the card.” Val insisted.
I looked at the small card that was attached, reading the print:
You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.
“I...” I was stunned by what I read, not only because I didn’t quite understand it, but because of the L word. “I’m not sure what this means.”
When I looked at Val, he was smiling what seemed to be a genuine smile, he took the key from the box and held it up, “I understand that this life is beyond difficult for you, Elaina. Having you trapped here doesn’t help the matter so consider this the gift of freedom... A key to the house. You can come and go as you please, however I would appreciate knowing where you are so I know if you’re safe.”
My first thought was that this was a trap, but deep down I knew that it wasn’t. This was a gift far more special than anything else. As I have struggled for so long, not having the ability to move without men or cameras following, not being able to see the sunshine unless it was from the backyard. This was a key to everything, not just freedom but for living.
I couldn’t believe it had come to this and I couldn’t believe that Val was allowing me to be unchained, I could finally be my own person again.
Val held my hand and placed the key in my palm before closing my fingers around it, “This is my first promise to you. You will never be trapped again, not in your own home.”
I had no words that could possibly express how significant this gesture was, just when I thought that Val could never make it up to me he took the first step, and it was a big one.
I could only manage two words. But the two words meant more than anything else I have ever said to Val, “Thank you.”
My heart was pounding with joy and a real, genuine smile appeared on my lips. This was the first step of the rest of my life, and for the first time in so long I felt like it wouldn’t be a miserable life and there was hope for it, for me, after all.
(Epilogue to follow)