F O R T Y - S E V E N
My plan was to sleep flew right out of the window when I sat down with Aurora with a bottle of seventy-thousand-dollar Glenfiddich. Two hours later, I was more in awe of her than drunk until the news of the death of Ben Gordon dropped.
It wasn’t until eight in the morning that I rolled off from the couch from where I had fallen asleep earlier and woke up with one hell of a hangover just one day before my wedding.
Way to walk into the marital life, I thought.
Groaning, I limped across the living room and towards the kitchen. Ralph was already half-way through his breakfast when he folded the newspaper, tossed it aside, and looked up.
“Don’t. It is a long story,” I muttered before he could open his mouth. When one of the maids placed the coffee cup under my nose, I simply inhaled the aroma.
“You are not even married to the boy and already drained out. Will I see more of my daughter after this wedding?” Ralph asked, his mood between sad and sour.
“I wasn’t with Dominic last night if that’s what you are implying.” I sighed. “I was with Aurora, actually.” My father looked obviously shocked. Of course, I would have shocked myself, too, if my memory wasn’t still perfectly intact. “We were just talking. And for your second question—” I rose from my chair and walked over to his side, kneeling before him, “I will make it a deal to meet you every day if you promise to stay back in Chicago.”
Ralph slowly exhaled and gave me a half-smile before cupping the side of my cheek. Instantly, I leaned more into his warmth. “This city is both a blessing and a curse to me, tesoro.”
“Do it for me, please,” I begged because I didn’t know what I would do without the rock-solid strength that Ralph was for me. Dominic was my world, but it was my father, who was the nucleus of my being, and I was determined to do everything in my power to keep him by my side.
“If that’s what you want.” He dipped down and placed a kiss on my forehead.
“Yes, I want that very much.” As I stood up and groaned involuntarily because the headache peaked with every small movement I made, Ralph chuckled. “What?”
He shook his head, still grinning. “You are a god awful drunk like your mother who couldn’t even hold two glasses of wine and by two glasses, I mean, one-tenth of a wine glass.”
“Of all the memories, you remember that?” I laughed.
“Sophia was also a terrible bathroom singer too.” He then ruefully smiled as he looked down, although wishing he could still listen to my mother’s voice, no matter how dreadful it was.
It often happened with Ralph that he couldn’t recall the memories of my mother without getting miserable. And honestly, it broke my heart every day to watch him sink into the heartrending sorrow and oceanic depths of a condemned life he was forced to endure. For this reason alone, as much as I wanted to know more of my mother, especially the qualities I inherited from her, I refrained from taking her name.
But, as they say: God works in mysterious ways.
Sophia Bianco, the one who unfortunately shares my mother’s name, was the latest thorn stuck in my throat. No matter how hard I tried to shrug off her horse-face from my memory, it keeps popping up like an unwanted pimple.
And now, it wasn’t just her name alone, but the name Carlos Sanchez felt too familiar to shove aside. Ugh! Her entire family was an infestation I wanted to get rid of.
“How good and reliable are your old connections?” I asked Ralph, sipping on the coffee.
He looked at me, dumbstruck. “What?”
“I need information on someone and not the age, height, occupation, and social security number.”
“You need to know about the skeletons they hid in their closets?” I knew he would get it.
He smiled, and then I matched his. “Literally and figuratively, yes.”
“I can arrange for it.” He pretended to think about it and nodded. “Who is it? And how concerned should I be about this…person?”
“Depends on the information,” I told him. “All I have for now is a hunch and a dreadful premonition.”
I watched his face slip into a mold of a more serious look, one I rarely saw through the visage of a loving father. But how could I forget that underneath all this, he was the grim reaper for Alessandro Romano?
“Give me the name. I will get back to you as soon as I have something.”
“Carlos Sanchez, maternal uncle to Sophia Bianco.” He was about to say something when I raised my palm. “Yes, I know that it sounds silly, and maybe it is just a bad feeling, but Carlos has his roots tracing back to Columbia.” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, hoping to God that I was wrong about this. “When I was around seven, Dante spent almost a year in Columbia, and the last thing I ever want is a ghost from the past.”
Ralph stood up and plucked the phone off the table. “One hour,” he said. “If there is an ounce of a chance that he has met Dante in his lifetime, I am going to bury him.”
I believe Ralph would exactly do that.
It took him more than an hour actually, but I wouldn’t complain. I had spent a good hour soaking in the bathtub and then received a call from a wedding organizer Mia has hired, ranting about the details of the wedding. I tried to make her understand that all I care about (and the beast I was marrying) was to walk down the aisle and get married, regardless of the decoration, music, and guest list. Still, the woman has a mind of her own.
Later in the afternoon, when I was about to call Ralph, he appeared himself. The bedroom door flew open with such force, I jumped up.
“You almost scared--”
“Turn on the TV,” Ralph said, visibly fuming.
“Why? What happened?”
Since I was too stunned to move and he was too angry to repeat, Ralph crossed the room in giant strides and grabbed the remote.
“Watch.” That was all he said before the mechanical voice of the reporter started to fill my ears and almost shut down my brain with every word she stated.
This can’t be happening. I chanted, again and again, hoping this was some alternate universe I was dreaming of.
The lone tear stung my eyes before it rolled down my cheeks, and for the first time, it felt like the world was falling in on me and that I couldn’t bear of the weight of it alone.
“South Park Cemetery,” I told the driver as Christian hustled into the car with me.
I was two hours late for Ben’s funeral, hung-over, and my phone buzzed for the hundredth time since I woke up with one hell of a headache. The moment it stopped buzzing, Christian’s phone lit up.
“Don’t pick up,” I warned him.
“It’s boss…” he hesitated, glancing the screen and my face. I know it already, dumbass.
Snarling, I snatched the phone, switched it off, and tossed the device in his lap. “If he asks, tell him the battery ran out.”
Just when I was about to pop the migraine pills, another phone rang out. It was the driver’s. Oh, for fuck’s sake! Surprisingly, he had more balls than Christian’s, or simply he didn’t want me to fling his phone out of the window and snapped the call, turning the phone off.
“How in the name of hell a forty-five-year-old have a heart attack?” I muttered, scrolling through the news that flooded my phone. They were pretty useless in the face of the adversity we were going to face in the coming months.
We have to find a new Ben Gordon for ourselves, preferably someone with a longer life span and a brain as sharp as his. But before that…
“What’s the situation in Ben’s office?” I asked.
“Boss has already sent someone with James first thing in the morning to take care of the wire transactions Ben had made and any other details that he might have in his systems. They are clearing up as we speak.”
I nodded tiredly, closing my eyes and throwing my head back in exhaustion and patiently waited for this day to end. It surely wasn’t one of the worst I have seen in my life, but the last thing I wanted was to be in a cemetery one day before my wedding.
“We are here, sir,” the driver stated, causing me to let out a deep breath and opened my eyes. It burned in want of sleep.
When I stepped out of the car, a bunch of hounding reporters was already gathered around at the entrance. And before they could figure out who I was, Christian cleared the path for me, and I joined the crowd of mourners shrouded in black.
“You are late,” Viktor hissed, earning a nudge and a glare from his wife to his right. In response, he frowned and looked ahead.
Oh, marriage is blissful heaven. I would figure that out in…what like…twenty-something hours.
“...may the Lord now welcome him to the table of children in heaven with faith and hope and eternal life. Let us assist him in our prayers. Let us also pray to the Lord for ourselves. May we are reunited one day with him together, with Jesus and all His glory,” the priest went on and on while the people bowed their heads and listened.
Lifting my chin, I looked over where Ben’s widow was standing, all puffy-eyed and with a ten-year-old clutching by her side. Across from her was his personal secretary, Darlene Scott, who was more upset than mournful because Ben Gordon wouldn’t be financing her quarterly shopping trips to London and Paris.
“Never ever cheat on your wife, son. No pretty face or ass is worth destroying a marriage because a woman of worth never goes after taken men," I heard my father pep-talk Viktor a couple of days before his marriage.
Not that he needed one. Every time their gazes locked, Mia looked at him with absolute adoration, and Viktor stared at her enraptured.
...we commit his body to the earth where we are dust, and unto dust we shall return.
“Did you check the hospital reports?” I whispered, leaning closer.
“Sammy did. She said that it’s authentic, but there are a million ways to fake a heart attack.”
“Great,” I muttered, looking elsewhere. It took another fifteen minutes or so for the burial service to end as the crowd murmured among themselves.
“I would need a word with Mrs. Gordon after this,” my ever-insensitive-impassive-dick of a brother spoke out, causing Mia to glare daggers at him. Then he had the nerve to ask this: “What?”
“The woman just buried her husband, Viktor,” she sneered. “And now you want to tell her that you think that her husband’s death wasn’t a real heart attack?”
“Wouldn’t she be glad to know what exactly caused his death?” he countered, and I wanted the ground to open up and swallow him. “After my death, wouldn’t you want to know the truth?”
Mia gave a mocking smile. “Not if I kill you myself.” Shaking her head, she went over to join Ben’s widow and the priest.
“When did you hear about the news?” I asked Viktor. We were together at the club for the most part of the evening before Marco went to his club, and Viktor wanted to spend time with Mia, given he hardly had any for the past month.
“Aurora dialled in the middle of the night. I called you too, but it went straight to voice mail. Why did you stay back at the club?”
“I didn’t want to,” I grimaced, pinching my throbbing forehead. “I was too drunk and passed out in one of the rooms.”
Viktor chuckled at my expense. “Having second thoughts?”
“Hell no. I am marrying Lilliana tomorrow,” I said with conviction. Still, seconds later, it felt a little odd because it should have been an unspoken truth.
Then, why did I need to say it if it was as apparent as the day and night?
“Good because once the wedding is over and your head is in the right place, I need your help with a bunch of people who are somewhat eligible to replace Ben.”
In the next half an hour, formal condolences were exchanged, and promise of all sorts of cooperation was given on behalf of our family. Later, we left through the back and away from prying media as our cars were already parked and waiting for us.
It wasn’t until we reached home that I realized the tornado had already hit my life in a way that I never saw it coming.
“You need to see the news.” That was all Sammy said before turning on the TV.
“...Dominic Romano, who was earlier involved in a torrid affair with Ms. Bianco, suddenly announced his engagement to Lilliana Alessi, a family friend to the Romanos. In fact, their wedding is scheduled for tomorrow and has been heavily gossiped for the entire week.
Prior to the big day, the bachelor party was held at one of the clubs owned by his family, where Dominic insisted on meeting his ex-girlfriend Sophia Bianco, according to the statement given by her.”
“What the fuck?” I sneered, stepping towards the screen.
“According to Miss Sophia Bianco, she was completely unaware of the scandalous video that has surfaced from last night or that the intimate moments between her and her ex-boyfriend, Dominic Romano, was being recorded.
She further added that she wasn’t the least bit surprised when he invited her into his private suite, wanting to spend some ‘memorable moments’ before his wedding. She also claimed that her ex-boyfriend’s marriage to Lilliana Alessi was nothing but a contractual business arrangement and that Dominic was forced to accept.
In her exclusive statement to one of our reporters, she told us that everything on the video was consensual between them. However, she is highly distraught and traumatized by the leakage."
“What the hell happened last night?” Viktor yelled.
“Please tell me this is all a big fuck-up, and that bitch wasn’t present at the club yesterday.” This was from Sammy.
I didn’t answer any of them and called the only person who mattered to me at the moment, except it was going straight to voicemail.
“Dominic, say something!” Viktor hollered.
“I need to call Lilliana. NOW!” I snapped back.
“There’s no need.” It was my father’s voice. When I turned around, he was coming down the stairs. “I just got off the phone with Ralph. The wedding has been called off.”
They say that life has a way of teaching bitter lessons, and that day I learned that happiness was all but illusion and house of cards, except I wasn’t motherfucking buying this shit.
So…your thoughts on the chapter?
When I said, ‘enjoy the sweet moments while it lasts’, I meant THIS. I meant that Dominic and Lilliana will go to hell and back and redefine their relationship beyond lust, power, and passion.
Nothing would ever come easy for a Romano.
Now, all that said and done, let’s talk about the updates: I am trying my best to write them as quickly as possible, but honestly, this ongoing 48-day total lockdown is mentally distressing.
Until the next update, love and hugs. XO.