Chapter 1 - Fragile
I am told that there is beauty in simplicity, however, my life is anything but that.
There is nothing simple about what I see, the reflection of complexity stares back at me with elements I don't quite fully understand.
Ignorance is bliss.
My innocence is untouchable from this poisonous world — it can never have me.
My aura radiates purity, I remain sheltered from the corruptions of life.
And I'm fine with it.
Knowledge can be a beautiful yet deadly thing.
In my world it can either further your position or have you cease to exist.
Fingertips run over the ends of my dress, smoothing out the texture over and over again.
Perfection is a demand; nothing less when in the presence of others.
It's how our parents raise us, not just the women but the men as well. No exclusions.
The boss always says if you want to dress like filth, then he will treat you as such. There's too much money flowing through for anyone to be representing the families so lowly.
Image is upheld on a pedestal and those who refuse to follow will have to face the repercussions.
However, this doesn't mean to flash your diamonds or wave stacks of cash in front of others, there has to be a balance. The last thing anyone needs is feds knocking on our door.
"Cherry?" A soft voice calls, lightly knocking on my bedroom door. "Can I come in?"
Eyes roam over my figure once more, hoping for approval before answering back in an equally gentle tone, "of course."
The word "no" is a rare use for me, foreign to the tongue after reaching my adolescent years.
It's easier to just follow the plans and not go probing in places I don't need to be.
Upon hearing the click of the handle turning, I muster up a wide smile and turn around to meet my mother's gaze.
Her form is small like mine, both reaching the height of five foot two. Even our figures are the same, small at the waist but wide in the hips that compliment the thickness of our thighs. We aren't exactly skinny but nor are pass overweight. It's somewhere in between that can make it difficult to find clothes and present ourselves properly with the heaviness of our bust. The only disparity that can be seen with the eyes is our age difference, she's starting to show signs of her true age whereas I'm blossoming with youth.
But for my mother, beauty holds no age, she thrives as if an everlasting rose.
"You look beautiful." A genuine smile tugs at the corners of her lips as she steps into my radius, smoothing down the fabric of my dress as if finding a flaw. "Turn around for me honey."
I say nothing back but follow the order, I'm nervous she'll find more imperfections.
Instead, she steps behind me and places her chin on my left shoulder, looking into the mirror that holds our reflection. Anticipation fills her eyes as they takes in my image. "Look at you."
I do just that.
Deeply scrutinizing, inspecting my appearance.
The white A-line dress that consists of lace and chiffon touches the floor, there's a split on the front that reveals my honey-beige skin.
I look modest yet bold.
A small hint of vanity brews in the back of my mind because of how beautiful the dress makes me feel. I relish the visual aspect for just a brief second, being discreet by not lingering for too long.
"Alessio will be so pleased," she says in my ear.
My eyes drop low and a stir of butterflies begin to flutter inside my tummy, the blush that rises to the apples of my cheeks can't be hidden.
"No tengas miedo. This is a big day for both you and Alessio," speaking into my ear as if sharing a secret, "try not to think about it much mija, it'll only do more damage than good."
"Si mamá." Patting my shoulder she pulls away but freezes upon hearing my father's voice that yells out to us. "Dawn, Cherry!"
My mother's eyes grow wide upon hearing the strength of his sound and is quick to scramble out of my room.
I'm left alone with my thoughts.
Looking once more at myself, I exhale a heavy sigh before following after, composing my features, masking my emotions. Pausing before walking down the staircase, I grab a hold of the railing to refrain myself from tumbling down because of how clumsy these heels make me walk.
Vision casts itself downward but not too low, unable to meet the eyes of the few who stand in the foyer speaking amongst each other.
They are apart of my father's crew, soldiers who have pledged their loyalty long ago.
"Cherry," my father lifts his arm, silently asking me to come stand by him.
Swiftly I move, my eyes still low as he wraps me in his embrace. "Now that everyone is here, we can leave for Castillos."
Feet shuffle slightly.
"Boss," a scratchy throat is cleared from someone who comes walking into the room. "Giovanni's son just called, said he wanted take your little girl to the restaurant instead." The nervousness in the soldiers voice is clearly evident for many reasons.
No one wants to be the bearer of news when it comes to me.
I'm off limits to speak about, a command from my overbearing father who does a phenomenal job at keeping me hidden from the exploitation of his work.
"Hmph, is that so?" The tightness of his words are hard like his stiffening frame, so much so that mom has to place a hand on his shoulder to remind him that now is not the time.
Crucial things are taking place today that can't be reversed.
"And where exactly —", screeching tires has me peeking up to look ahead out the window where I see two black Cadillacs that roar their engines loudly when descending down our driveway. "— is he at," dad irritatingly finishes.
The stillness takes over, no one says a word as we hear the sound of car doors slamming and footsteps nearing.
A rough pound on the door has one of the maids rushing to answer. When she does let him in, my eyes move back down.
I can't look, the intimidation he brings is unsettling at times.
The sound of shoes hitting against the marble floor zeros in on us.
"Mr. and Mrs. Valentino." Alessio's acknowledges only my parents as if I'm not standing here as well. His voice is deep, alluring like soft velvet, even when not speaking directly to me my tummy still feels as if it's doing somersaults. "I've come for your daughter." The reasoning of his presence leaves no room for further discussion which causes my father's grip on me to harden on my shoulder.
It isn't painful, but it is protective.
Unable to concentrate because of that smooth voice, I lean into my father's side, looking for support because of how I'm flustering.
"Unexpectedly dropping in then asking for my daughter to leave with you seems a little out of character, doesn't it?" The boss sounds deathly calm and I'm afraid to witness my father unleash hell because of that.
"We're all full of surprises, aren't we Mr. Valentino?" I still won't look at him, but the taunt is impossible to miss. The subtle shade worries me, how will my father react?. "It would be appropriate, don't you think? Considering the occasion of what's happening today."
Masculine dominance radiates in the air around us.
A moment of silence passes as the grip on my shoulder loosens.
"Lo permetterò," my gently father says. He's been working on his accent lately which impresses many because of how smooth the words come out. However I know that cool charisma he's responding with has a deeper meaning to it.
You're never on your own time, you're on the bosses time and to disregard that will only bring trouble.
But how will my father handle this? I don't know what he'll do or what he can do to someone like Alessio, but I know something will be done.
Disrespect is disrespect and my father is no fool, today is a day of celebration, meaning that we will just have to wait and see what will be done as a result for this action.
"Grazie," Alessio responds in his native tongue. His hand purposefully reaches out into the line of my vision, waiting for me to take it.
Obliging, I accept.
His hands feel rough, heavy in small scars that litter his skin, it isn't visible to the eye but with the touch.
Mines in his feels strange, I've never had my hand held by someone who wasn't immediate family.
"We'll be on our way." With my head still hanging slightly low, I notice a other few pairs of shoes moving behind him.
He's brought some of his own with him.
"Till then." My father leaves the room, I can hear the sound of his footsteps walking away from us.
With that, Alessio places his hand on the small of my back, turning us around to walk out of the front door that's being held open by James, the chief manservant of the house.
The sun high in the sky beams down with heat and blinding light. I squint, leaning into the man who guides me to the car that is a few steps away from the porch of my home.
Not a word is said when he opens the door for me to step in first.
Sliding into the backseat, I put as much distance as I can between me and my betrothed who follows in right after.
It's just him and I along with the driver who pays no attention to us.
And though discreetly trying to move away as much as possible, I find him getting closer to the point where he's almost pressing into my side.
Our knees touch, the contact making me feel giddy.
I pray to keep my composure intact.
"Trying to sneak away like a little fawn?" Alessio says quietly. He's a man of few words, especially towards me, but when he does speak, he's all I can focus on. "Non lo lascerò accadere." His hand goes underneath my chin, lifting and turning my head to look at him.
Our eyes lock; a rarity.
The emotionless look on his face brings a blush upon mines. I feel flustered not being able to control my feelings the way he can.
He seems impenetrable whereas I am translucent.
"Don't keep your head down." Sounding as if a command, I do just that. My head stays up but my head faces forward. I don't think I'll be able to keep myself sane if I keep looking his way. "When we get there, we'll walk in together, but we will sit apart until the announcement is ready to be made."
His words end when I nod in response.
Fingers begin to itch, wanting to fidget because of how anxious I am. The silence does nothing to help calm the agitation, it only adds on as the minutes pass by.
Today's the day, the announcement of our engagement, the arrange marriage that has been set in motion since my infancy.
Now that I'm eighteen and he's twenty-seven, the families can no longer wait anymore.
At times it feels awkward thinking about it. I've known him all my life, growing up with him when his father came to visit mines for business, but only as an acquaintance not as friends. I suppose I shouldn't think too much about it. Considering that my parents had an arranged marriage, it shouldn't be that big of a deal. It's just how things work around here. My mother, of Mexican descent, was given to my father, of Irish descent, as part of a business transaction to unite their family businesses and split the South Boston Docks for partial control over the imports and exports goods.
Now years later, it's my turn. As part as a deal with the Romano's, an Italian family who migrated to New York thirty years ago, I'm expected to go through the same.
The announcement of our engagement and Alessio's ascension will happen in less than an hour.
Yet despite my anxiety, he seems to be doing just fine. I guess it's not phasing him the way it is with me.
He's a lot different since I last saw him, that was years ago. His frame is broader and has grown at least a few inches in height. The black hair that was once short is now carries length and is neatly comb back. The maturity and sharpness of his facial features resembles a heavenly beauty that I can't be explain with just words.
As the car pulls up to a restaurant with words displaying the name "Castillos" across the top, we come to slow stop and park at curb by the main entrance. Alessio opens up his door and steps out first, turning to me he outstretches his hand and helps me out of the car and into the elegant building where the event is being held.
There's no need to wait for the hostess to tend to us, we pass her without a moment of pause. Already knowing where to go, Alessio who is still holding my hand, takes us to the back room where the venue holds not only mine but his family and crew as well.
Majority from both sides is here today in celebration, those who aren't are working around the clock to complete an important task at hand. The room is full when walking in, loud chatter and laughter echoes off the wall. It's then he lets my hand go, not sparing me a second glance.
Walking towards his family, he leaves me to walk to my own. However before I can greet any of my relatives, someone pulls my arm and turns me around so quickly that I'm left trying to regain my balance.
This familiarity of this hug has me smiling and embracing her just as tightly. "Cherry," she mumbles. "I need to talk to you, come with me to the restroom." When I pull back to look into the eyes of my dear friend, I find them to be slightly puffy with tears threatening to overflow and spill out.
"Why are you cry-", I'm cut off when she tugs me out of the venue and down a narrow hall where the bathrooms are at. Immediately when stepping inside, she bends down to see if anyone is in the stalls then turns to lock main the door, keeping anyone from coming inside all together.
It's then she lets her tears pour free and releases a little hiccup. "What's wrong?" Extreme concern for her well being becomes a priority in this very moment.
"I-I... I think he's-", she stops. Her shoulders begin to tremble when I grab ahold of her and press her to me. I can feel the wetness from her eyes sink into the fabric of my dress.
"I-I think he's c-cheating, Cherry. I c-can see it, the s-signs are all there!" Fingers dig into my back as she cries hard, releasing all the build up pain I can tell she's been withholding.
"What signs? What did you see him do?" Reece shakes her head, unable to answer me because her sobs are too strong, they overtake with such force that her entire gram shakes violently. This is one of the worst fears any partner can have in a marriage like ours. Like me, she is also in an arranged marriage, however she married last fall whereas I'm marrying this spring.
The revelation of this news is damaging in the worst way possible. Her father, who happens to be a business partner of my father, will be extremely upset considering his daughters marriage was part of a deal that requires the utmost of loyalty.
To cheat in a relationship ruins the entirety of trust. If there's no loyalty between family how can one expect loyalty when it comes to business, secrets, or anything else that is seen as crucial. The disrespect of it all is a vile act, disgusting to not only the crew but to the bosses as well.
After a few minutes, her tall lean frame moves away, fingers wiping underneath her hazel-green eyes to stop the tears from smearing her makeup. A frown forms upon my face, feeling a sense of sadness for what she has to endure. I always thought Harry Giordano to be a man who values and understands our Code of Honor, but it seems as if I'm wrong.
Exhaling a low sigh, her bottom lip quivers as she explains, "It started a week ago-", but abruptly stops when a knock hits repeatedly on the bathroom door.
"Cherry, Are you in there?" The familiarity of my mother's voice asks on the other side of it.
"Yes, I was-",
"Cherry you need to get back into the dining room, Alessio is waiting on you so he can proceed with the announcement, we've been looking for you." Her words hold an anxious tone that worries me. Quickly Reece and I scramble to unlock the door where my mother gently grabs my wrist and pulls me down the hall in a rush.
All I can think about is the consequences I might face with the tardiness of my presence.