T H I R T Y - E I G H T
“You are the trembling of time, that passes
between vertical light and darkened sky,”
― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets
Lilliana was an obsession I should have gotten rid of a long time ago. Instead, I let the roots get so deeply embedded into my skull that it was impossible to close my eyes and not see her face.
After a certain point in time, I stopped drowning in alcohol as I feared that I would think more about her in my drunken misery than I already did every minute of the day.
It was around late evening that I decided to get out for a poker game when Dad barged into my room without knocking.
And that hinted something.
In my entire existence, I could count on my fingers the number of times my father came into my room. Zero. Because Alessandro Romano summoned people, and never paid a visit, even to his sons.
“Dad, do you need anything?”
His face was tense. “No. I got a call five minutes ago. Lilliana has been shot outside of AMC River East 21.”
I wished my father had never come into my room.
By the time Viktor drove me to the hospital, Marco and Ralph were already there. Ralph looked particularly torn, mirroring the same kind of fear that burned my eyes too.
Lilliana was shot thrice, out of which one was missed while the other two bullets hit her torso and neck. And the fact that she passed out within seconds meant that there was internal bleeding.
As Marco approached me, I send him a scathing look. “I told you to—"
“You made this mess,” he hissed.
Marco was lucky that I was too absorbed and strained over the survival of that only person who was my elemental being at this moment. And this was why I didn’t bother to fling him off the nearest window.
"I made this mess?” I seethed, barely restraining my temper.
“The boy who shot her was a fucking rat of Juan.”
“How the fuck is that possible? Juan has already been handed over to the French,” I reminded this idiot.
The captives were exchanged shortly after my return from Mexico, but Marco already knew that.
“I don’t think Juan’s men know about that. The boy, Andrew, who shot Lilliana, knew her for a long time. She told me about him, except she could not establish contact.”
"You used her to get to this asshole?” I snarled. For fuck’s sake, Marco should have been protecting her. And how on earth Ralph was fine with the idea?
“Both of you,” Mia warned us in her newfound stern voice that has rubbed off from my brother. She stepped between us, separating us just enough. “What is wrong with you both? That girl, who means something to both of you, is fighting for her life in there, and you guys picked up this exact moment to bicker?”
I backed out without an argument, for it seemed useless to explain this feeling to anyone when I was encountering it for the first time.
The weight I carried in my chest was far massive than anyone else could have taken, and I dare say this, not even Ralph.
It was easy for him to love Lilliana, the daughter he discovered after twenty-three years. All he had to do was open his arms to her, and his entire world would be perfected.
Things were not the same for me, nor was it simple.
Lilliana came into my life like a fierce storm, devastating everything in her wake. And I loved her thunder and clouds. So much so, that even today, I had to love her from the darkness.
She owned my heart, and yet I have no claim on her whatsoever.
The surgery went on for seven fucking hours, each moment hellishly excruciating than the next as I hoped against hope for her life. I could live a lifetime, knowing she tried to stab me than living a life without her.
Love, in all its endeavor, was fundamentally absurd.
“Miss Lilliana is doing better,” the doctor pronounced finally. “Although the danger to her life is almost eliminated, there are still some precautions to be taken. I would highly advise that she is granted proper and uninterrupted rest.”
“I want to see my daughter, Ralph demanded.
“Well, I can only allow one family member for now,” he said in an uncertain voice as his eyes encompassed around.
There were way too many people for a hospital tragedy. It was very Italian of us to support each other in times of need. Lilliana was Ralph’s daughter, and Ralph was a part of our family for years. Ergo, the crowd.
I waited patiently for Ralph to have his time with his daughter, and when the door finally opened, I walked passed him and shut it close while razor-sharp and cautionary gazes followed my steps.
I didn’t fucking care if anyone wanted me to see Lilliana or not, and I would not bloody well take permission either.
The room was otherwise quiet, except for the eerie hissing of the oxygen cylinder and beeping of functional machines. I almost froze at the sight of Lilliana’s pale face. But when her lidded eyes blinked hard at me, unbelievingly, I was by her side in a flash.
She parted her lips to convey something as I gently lifted the oxygen mask a little.
“Dom...you are here,” she whispered laboredly. It broke my heart that she expected the least of my visit when she was battling death.
“Where else would I be?” I told her with a wisp smile and adjusted back the mask. “Sleep now. I will still be here when you wake up,” I promised.
I came in and out of consciousness several times, although it was hard to tell the hours apart. But every time my eyes opened, it was either Ralph or Dominic and sometimes Marco, who’d rush to my aid.
I could only guess the time of the day by their weary faces and drooping eyelids, but being men and pig-headed, it was beyond their masculinity to admit that they were tired or even sleepy.
Around the third day of my admittance, I was finally relieved of the inebriation of drugs. Although the strength to make free use of my limbs or body was far-fetched, I could at least converse smoothly.
That was when I understood the leashed fury of Ralph’s.
“Cazzo! I should have never agreed to this madness,” he regretted, waving around his palm as a frustrated gesture.
I didn’t know why it made me smile, but every time my father fussed over something, he would use fewer words and more gestures like an endearing Italian habit of passionate emotion over words.
And Ralph was as Italian as it gets, and his years in the States did nothing to his accent like the way he trilled over the Rs or stressed on the vowels.
“You worry too much,” I soothed. “I will be careful from now on.”
He shook his head in vehement protest, but we were interrupted by a sharp knock. The door opened to Marco, clad in jeans and leather jacket and a large coffee in hand, and on his heels, was the man I ached to see.
Dominic’s frequented visit might have eased the wrinkles of our situation, but the stiffness was still there, and especially prominent in the company of other people.
We were nemesis turned lovers turned known-strangers, and nothing was more complicated than that.
"Grazie,” Ralph muttered as Marco handed him the coffee.
“Madonna Santa, ti serve una doccia.” He frowned. My goodness, you need a shower.
“I am not going to leave her alone,” my father declared fiercely in his native tongue.
Marco slanted a look at Dominic before getting into the rational conversation. “We are here until you come back.”
“He is right,” I added with an affectionate squeeze on his hand. “This is your fourth coffee in six hours, and you haven’t eaten a bite.”
“Listen to her, old man. Besides, you aren’t getting any younger,” Marco jested while Ralph gave him a brutal look.
A few minutes of convincing later, he agreed to freshen up and return. The moment he was out of sight, Marco made a ridiculous excuse for a smoke and left.
All this while, I avoided eye contact with Dominic, but I could feel the heat of his piercing blue eyes sizzling my skin from afar. He walked over, lazily locking the door and came to my side to occupy the chair Ralph had vacated moments ago.
It was then, and only then did I venture to look directly at him.
“Are we going to pretend that we absolutely don’t know each other in front of Ralph?” he asked with humor.
“No.” I laughed softly. “You know, I wasn’t expecting you around so often.”
The smile on his face didn’t fade but only turned sorrowful. “You always expect the worst of me, Lilliana.”
While I was nothing short of elated that Dominic was here, by my side, there was a sharp thorn poking my conscience. Was it pity or genuine affection? If it was the latter, I wanted the testimony in words.
“I want to ask you something,” I dared, and he nodded. “Would you have met me soon if I wasn’t shot?”
I sucked in a deep, sharp exclamation of breath as he averted his eyes. The conflict was etched all over his face, and a part of me was grateful when he didn’t sugar-coat the truth for me.
“I don’t know,” he said, breaking the silence and dragging his blue eyes to mine.
“I thought so.”
The air between us immediately turned stale. “What do you expect, Lilliana? I was angry and hurt. For the first time in my life, I was beginning to care for someone, and I found out that the person was faking it all along. The day you told me that you staged my accident, you proved me wrong against the whole world,” he accused.
“I didn’t fake everything, Dominic,” I almost croaked. “But tell me this: if I had told you who I was, what would you have done?”
He gave me a narrowed glare, barely concealing that brute impulsive temper of his. “Lilliana, don’t,” he warned gravelly. “Do not give me impossible and hypothetical situations, and ask me to choose wisely just for the sake of proving yourself right.”
Dear Lord! Did he think it was about my ego? So I pressed with considerable force and reminded, “I have the right to know.”
“Then I have the right to know if you would have chosen me over everything. What if you weren’t Ralph’s daughter or Dante’s victim?” he challenged.
“I did choose you,” I reminded him, unkindly this time. Long before I knew the right from the wrong, I chose Dominic.
“Just because you have let me live doesn’t mean anything. You crushed me, and then left me.” A thin smile appeared, which was hauntingly beautiful for a mafia man. “You might as well have stabbed me for good, Lilliana.”
It was then the force of his words hit me like a ship against an iceberg. I had wrecked him just as savagely, just as unknowingly, as he did me.
We were each other’s ruin and redemption—the two facets of yin and yang.
“You are right,” I agreed simply because sometimes, the mere reparation is to admit the mistake. Because sometimes, words are more powerful than actions. “But I don’t have anything to say to you other than I am sorry. I am utterly sorry, Dominic, and if I knew how to make up for it, I would. But I am afraid I don’t.”
Dominic didn’t respond for a long moment and sat silently rubbing his thumb over my knuckles. “Actually, you can make it up to me,” he said, looking at me. “Ralph is in two minds over sending you to Romano Mansion until we find the bastards who shot you. I want you to convince him to send you there.”
He shook his head. “I am not done yet. Not just my house, I want you in my room. I don’t care how good a nurse or servant or caretaker anyone hires for you, and how efficient they are, I will look after you until you recover.”
As soon as I absorbed the words, the knowledge settled over me like a sacred anointment. He wanted to take care of me. “Dom,” the words escaped in an exhale. “You don’t have to do this...”
“I want to do this,” he said unwaveringly. “And before you speculate anything, you will be safe.” A lazy smile appeared. ”Even from me.”
I wanted to tell him that, of all the monsters around me and inside me, he was the one I was least afraid of. But a frantic knock on the door distracted us.
When Dominic opened the lock, one of their men rushed in with an apologetic expression, informing, “A boy and a girl have been waiting for you over an hour. Thye just won’t leave.” By his description, I knew they actually wouldn’t.
“It’s alright, I know them. It has to be Noah and Anna. Please send them in.”
Dominic quirked a questioning brow as strode to my side. “Noah?”
“I also said Anna. And only heard one name? What are you, partially deaf?” I quipped, stifling a giggle.
Within seconds, two of my only friends rushed into the room, as Anna squealed and gasped at my condition. But when their eyes fell on Dominic, it seemed like they saw a ghost.
I watched as Dominic’s eyes swept over Noah, sizing him up before he deliberately leaned into me and pressed a kiss over my lips, almost territorially, whispering, “I am waiting outside.”
Yes, I hear you guys. You want to see more of Dominic and Lilliana, and here it begins. While Dominic is ever impulsive and passionate, she is pragmatic and rational. This is why it takes time for them to glue back in after all they have been through.
Let me know your thoughts and inputs for the story in the comments.
Lots of love and hugs to you lovelies.