F O R T Y - S I X
In every romantic movie or book, not that I read or seen too many, they would tell you about the happily ever after, not bothering to tread over the details of the wedding – like how horrible it was for the bride-to-be to change fifty gowns before she could choose the perfect one.
Or how dreadful it was to twirl in an enormous dress, then have the stylish poke you in places you didn’t know you were ticklish or putting on a pair of heels crafted for torturing a woman.
I probably have a fair idea now how the term ′bridezilla’ came to surface. Off the top of my head, I had so many homicidal thoughts that I could put Dexter to shame.
Finally, I returned home after a tedious day of shopping with Anna and Noah. Anna, who was going to be my bridesmaid in two days, was more excited about the wedding than I was. She was also one of the two closest friends I managed in my twenty-three-year-old existence, and for that reason alone, I let her torture me to hunt for the perfect wedding gown in Chicago.
The house was hushed when I returned. The guards were still stationed outside, a couple of newly appointed servants worked quietly in the kitchen and left promptly after serving the dinner and doing the dishes.
Somehow, sleep was a distant thought. So I decided to dunk a couple of drinks before actually hitting the bed and strolled downstairs to the living room to rummage through Marco’s exquisite collection of alcohol.
The man was obsessed with expensive liquor. He would not even touch the drink if it wasn’t the finest earthy whiskey or the best-brewed beer.
Walking up to the dimly lit in-house bar, I heard small clinks of glass bottles and immediately knew that Marco was back home. It was when I rounded the glossy marble-top curve I realized that I was wrong.
“Lilliana.” She stood up, equally unprepared.
The air around us was packed with awkward silence for some time. “I thought…you were…Marco,” I fumbled with words. “Is he back home?”
“No. I believe Marco is at Dominic’s bachelor party.”
“That!” It suddenly occurred to me as to why Dominic wasn’t picking up the phone earlier. “So, you didn’t go?”
“I had to take care of some things for Viktor,” she answered, as cryptic and business-like as ever.
I nodded, muttering, “Of course.”
Setting aside the glass in her hand, she leaned against the bar. “So…how was your wedding dress shopping?”
I groaned involuntarily. “Let’s say that I am willing to walk down the aisle in jeans and top, given a choice. And flip-flops too.”
A small smirk teased around the corner of her lips. “You are still lucky. Mia had to go through three-day dress trials with every possible bridal designer of Italy because Sammy wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“I would have killed myself.”
I suddenly realized that it was the first time in months that I was actually conversing with Aurora in a civilized manner. We smiled at each other, obviously at a loss of words, and let the uncomfortable silence linger for a bit.
While I pretended to pick and choose a drink, she rummaged the cupboard for...god knew what.
“You know what,” I said, turning around to face her. “You don’t have to be nice to me just because Marco told you so.”
She regarded me for a moment and then stood up. “Lilliana, I don’t exactly do as I am told. And least of all, I don’t listen to Marco.”
I steeled my spine and leveled my gaze because she needed to come to terms that I wasn’t the enemy anymore. Maybe, deep down, she did accept it, but her devil-may-care ego was too big and impenetrable.
Aurora crossed her arms and stood. “Lilliana, if you are looking for an apology, I don’t have one for you.”
I shrugged and smirked back. “I wasn’t looking for an apology. I was looking for someone to get a drink with, and preferably someone who wouldn’t stab me when I am drunk.”
Chuckling, she muttered a curse under her breath and shook her head. “Not exactly my style.”
I pointed at the glass sitting on top of the marbled counter. “We need two glasses then. I will grab a bottle.” I turned around only to swivel at her voice.
“You want to get drunk and to go for those?” Aurora pointed at the shelf behind my back.
“Aren’t these Marco’s collection of finest scotch?”
Instead of answering, she grinned like an obese cat after a heavy meal and couched down to flick a switch. I gaped as a section of the marble-top slid back, revealing another collection of amber bottles.
“Jesus H. Christ!” I gawked, leaning into the counter. “He has a secret stash for booze?”
Aurora grabbed a bottle, checked the label, and shut back the lid with the very switch that flicked it open. “Marco has a secret stash for everything, as far as I know, him,” she revealed.
I wanted to say that she knew my brother just fine, more than she would ever admit, but had to bite back my words. Aurora and I were only coming to terms after so many trials and jeopardizing that it wasn’t a good move. Besides, I was oddly beginning to enjoy her passive-friendly company.
After three rounds of drinks and silly small talks, I moved on to a serious topic because I thought—what was the point of drinking expensive liquor when it couldn’t make you do stupid things? So I went fishing. “What’s your real reason for hating me?”
She looked up from her drink, one eyebrow raised. “Wasn’t the chaos enough that you brought to our doorstep?”
I snorted. “For ages, you have been working for the Romanos. You live for the chaos because peace and order bore a woman like you.”
She smiled, amused, and maybe even impressed. Who knew? “Is this the alcohol speaking or you are suddenly a shrink without a degree?”
Shrugging, I reached for the bottle, and replied while I filled the glass, passed the point one could quantify as a peg. “I have seen you maim, shoot, and kill, Aurora. Some people do it for their survival; you do it because you are bloody good at it.” I set the bottle aside and planted my sore feet on the table. “So, I repeat, why all that hate and snide? You had bigger fishes to fry and better targets to go after than the little old me. Why waste your breath and time on me, unless it’s personal?”
Pinching the bridge of her nose, Aurora stared up at the ceiling. When I almost gave up, she let out a loud exhale and adjusted back up.
“It was personal,” she admitted softly, levelling her eyes with mine. “I thought you knew about Sammy, where she was taken, or whatever was going to happen next.”
Jesus, I wasn’t a monster. I was about to protest when she stopped me. “I was so mad, so fucking furious…at everyone…at myself that I was not ready to accept who you were. Do you know the last person she spoke with before she was taken was me?”
I shook my head slowly while she let out a hollow chuckle. “That’s the irony, you see.”
“I am sorry for what had happened to her. There are a million things I would have done differently if only things were different for me.”
She nodded like she understood me. I doubt that. “If it makes you feel any better, Dante didn’t have an easy death. Ralph was a bit old-schooled, but he was thorough with him. He was forced to pay the price until the last drop of blood in his body. Worst of all, he saw his death coming in the slowest of movements.”
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the worst that could happen to Dante, but I realized that his suffering didn’t dull the pain for me. The kind of damage he did was irreversible. “I have nothing to gain from Dante’s death.”
“At least you have better things to look forward to—like the wedding,” she said, and as I looked up, Aurora winked. Sometimes, this woman was full of surprises.
“Do you know what I think?” I grinned back. “You are less of a bitch when you want to be, Aurora. Aurora…” I slurred her name and sat back, folding up my legs. “What is your last name, by the way? You never told me.”
“I never told anyone.” She frowned and reached for the TV remote on the table. “And remind me not to get you drunk again.”
She kept flipping random channels until it stopped, and the screen flashed a face that made me wanted to smash the bloody TV screen. “Urgh.” I scrambled over, grabbed the remote and hit the mute button. “Thank you for killing my buzz,” I snickered and grabbed the bottle and drank straight out of it.
It was Sophia Bianco on the screen, yapping away something on the microphone, pretending like she has a brain that wasn’t the size of a peanut.
Aurora laughed, snatching the bottle away for herself. “Why didn’t you take a swipe at her at the party if you hate her so badly?”
“Hate?” I shook my head. “No, that’s a big emotion, and I wouldn’t waste it on her. She’s like filth and is everywhere, and I simply want to get rid of garbage like her. What kind of a desperate woman goes after a taken man?” Seriously.
“Then you should have gotten rid of her in that empty corridor, on the way to the ladies’ room. Instead, you two bickered like two high-school girls, arguing over the football stud you both wanted for prom.”
I glared at her, and then it hit me. This was on the day of the engagement party and... “How did you--? You weren’t even at the party,” I accused. Did she fucking time-travel?
Aurora snorted, rolling her eyes. “Do you have any idea how annoying it was to watch you both squabble and eat the pizza at the same time? For a second, I wanted to go down and bang both of your heads against the wall. What was stopping you from punching her, that giant rock on your finger?” she taunted.
Grumbling, I went back to douse the burning liquid. My throat felt raw, and I knew I would wake up with a bitching hangover. But that tomorrow’s problem anyway.
“I didn’t want to cause a scene there,” I told her grimly. “Besides, a man was standing in the nearest bend, waiting to speak to her.”
“That was Carlos Sanchez,” she replied like she was a know-it-all. “Sophia Bianco’s maternal uncle. But that’s beside the point.”
“Sanchez…” I mumbled. “Her mother is Mexican?”
The image of the man floated in, but it was all a little blurry. It looked like I have seen him before, but where? Or maybe I was just obsessing over this bitch.
Aurora grabbed the remote back, lazily flipping the channels. At the same time, I walked to the kitchen to grab another bucket of ice. Halfway back, Aurora sat up on the couch like she saw a ghost on TV. “What the fuck?”
I dragged my gaze from her to the giant screen as she flicked the mute off.
“...the doctors of Silver Oak Hospital have just confirmed the sudden demise of the economist and banker, Ben Gordon, who was brought to the hospital two hours ago. It was alleged that he had suffered from a massive cardiac arrest after he returned home this morning from New York. As a director of Padlock Financial Group and an influential figure in shaping the policies of the United States, Ben was known for his exceptional financial understanding...
Everyone associated with the Romano Family or with organized crime knew who Ben Gordon was. To the world, he was a successful banker. In reality, he was the money man for Viktor. Gordon was responsible for every dime made out of illegal transactions to be put into the legitimate financial system. And someone who owned one of the most prominent finance groups of the States, it wasn’t that difficult.
“Listen, I got to go.” Aurora rose quickly, grabbing her jacket and pulled her hair into a ponytail. “When Marco returns, tell him to meet me at the Inglewood apartment.”
I nodded. “Okay, I will. Do I call Dominic?”
Grabbing the keys, she almost made it to the door. “No. If Viktor thinks it’s important, he will inform his brother. Otherwise, no need to ruin his mood with business and regular shit. I got this.”
And just like that, she disappeared and shut the door on her way out.
“…the board called an emergency meeting in the light of the sudden demise of the 45-year-old banker, who was…” the reporter went on and on about Padlock Financial Group until I zoned out on the couch itself.
Thank you for reading the story. I look forward to your comments and suggestions.