12: there was a gift
I scrolled through the pictures slowly, eyes taking in as much as I could before it would be interrupted. Licking over my lips, I leaned closer to my phone, investing myself even further into the woman.
Her reluctance to meet again only led me to look through her photos one by one, learning more than I already knew.
Not just the facts – behavior and attitude included.
In the photos from her event, her gaze was either cast downwards or looking to Melia, seemingly talking to her at the moment.
Regardless of her distancing herself from the pictures, the photographers captured everything they needed to – from the golden fabric accentuating her dark skin to the off guard small smiles that were hidden poorly.
If it weren’t for this certain day and time, I would’ve happily indulged in the hundreds of photos taken that night or I would’ve been impatiently waiting for the reply to my question about our abruptly ended conversation.
I checked my watched and calculated the time her plane would leave.
Did I check all flights and guess which one she would take back based on absolutely no knowledge of her travel routine?
Am I going to be angry if I got it wrong?
Glancing at my watch, I read the time before shutting the phone off and stuffing it inside my jacket.
A very important meeting was to take place in a moment.
One that was to build the gateway for a new generation of my people.
It was all about negotiation and bartering – information could never be scarce.
But if that hadn’t worked there was always someone on the inside. Not a novelty individual – years and years in the making.
We’re smarter than them.
...almost everyone is actually, compared to the government in America.
Three knocks rattled the door to the meeting room before Dom entered along with another man. His eyes scanned the room immediately and he fixed the collar of his shirt nervously.
“Welcome.” I gestured to the chair beside me. “Make yourself comfortable.”
The man took a hesitant step forward, then another, ultimately taking a seat, body rigid.
I looked him up and down. “How are you, Frank?”
Frank’s lips parted and a shaky breath left before the word tumbled out.
I smiled. ”Bon. And the kids? Gina?”
His eyes widened slightly as he tried to keep his composure at the mention of his family.
As if we didn’t know everything about him already. Details are very important in situations like this.
“They’re...good as well,” he murmured, a light sweat making an appearance on his red face.
I clapped my hands tighter and chuckled. ”Bon! See...famiglia è molto importante. Very important. They are backbone, yes? After business is done, they are home, yes?”
Frank nodded and followed with a firm, “yes.”
“So as discussed before, you handle business for us and we will for you. Understand?”
“A hundred percent. I do,” he agreed. “You have my word.”
I raised my brows. “I will keep that in mind.” I stood abruptly, causing the man to recoil in fear as he looked up at me.
Clearing his throat, he gradually rose from the chair.
I held a hand out and waited for his to meet mine, engulfing and squeezing the fingers.
“Have a good day Chief. You and your family. And the department.”
“Thank you.” He clammed up, palms becoming sweaty.
I grimaced and let go of him, looking to Dom and jerking my head slightly.
Dom came up to Frank and led him from the room.
There was no shame in targeting a man’s assets.
All is fair in love and war.
As soon as the door closed, I checked my watch and pulled out my phone, turning it back on. Leaning on the table, I waited for the device to come to life ever so impatiently.
There was a twinge of hope that there would be a reply to my message from last night.
After the conversation was ended suddenly, I had asked what happened.
Innately, the first thing I did was ask Marco to check the room. Once it was reported it wasn’t the type of situation I had completely immersed myself into, a sliver of worry was kicked off my shoulders.
Look at this man. Should we go look at collars? Maybe some preferably with a leash attachment seeing as that someone already has you by the neck.
I clicked the phone off and pocketed it inside my jacket, pushing off the table and waking to the door. Twisting the handle to open it, I walked out of the room and wandered the maze-like hallways until the clattering of the kitchen utensils came about.
Passing that turn into that walkway, I continued to the exit at the end of the hall.
The car was waiting for me outside – Dom was leaning against the hood, digging into a bag of nuts and popping them into his mouth one by one.
“I think that went well,” he spoke mid-chew.
I narrowed my eyes at the bag in his hands.
“What is that?” My hand was on the car door.
Dom stopped chewing and looked at the item in his hand then held it up as if he was presenting it.
“Cashews. Do you want some?”
I prefer cashews really.
I straightened up and nodded, holding a hand out.
After being given a few, I opened the car door and settled into the backseat.
“Boss we’ve got the meeting in fifteen minutes,” Antonio announced, getting the car started.
"Andiamo.” I popped a cashew into my mouth and chewed, staring blankly down at the rest in my palm.
A small hum of approval left my mouth, inaudible to the two talking amongst themselves in the front.
Now I also knew why the cashews were preferred.
I ate the nuts one by one, reeling back to the conversation two days ago.
Right after the call was brought to a sudden end, I was alerted that we had gathered enough information on certain individuals to ensure our foundation in the city.
That night was a celebration – drinks, food, music.
I had sat sectioned off from the others, keeping watch of the whole event from overhead.
There was a rustling sound from behind me, making me turn around to watch Marco come through the curtains with a platter in his hand.
He gestured to the food. “From Eleonora. She gives kisses and says eat more.”
Eleonora was Dom’s and Antonio’s mother – adamant advice giver and caretaker.
I huffed and shook my head, taking the food from his hands. “Grazie.”
Marco nodded then left the area, leaving me and the prepared meal.
I stared down at the mixture of vegetables and meat, glancing to the crowd then back to the dish. Taking a sip of my liquor first, I had looked at the time on my watch, thinking maybe I could slip a message in-
It was entirely too late on her end.
Smacking my lips, I picked up the fork and stabbed at the caponata, bringing it to my lips.
The realization of how hungry I was settled in and I had ultimately finished the very large portion of food in a very small amount of time.
Two days later, the same playback of the conversation gave me my first meal of the day.
It was entirely too dangerous to remember I should nurture my body solely because one individual – who has just barely come into my life – said it was important to, despite a multitude of other people I’ve known for exceptionally longer have told me as well.
I dusted my hands off, taking a sip of water to clear my throat.
“Almost there Boss,” Dom said as we turned the corner. “Reed and his men are waiting.”
I nodded absentmindedly, tapping my knuckles on the cool window.
My mind was split between focusing at the task at hand and wondering if she was on her way back.
I almost reached into my jacket pocket for the phone, pausing my movements as we arrived at the parking garage.
Up we went, ascending the driveway to the top of the building.
When we reached the top of the lot, there was a only a car and three men waiting.
Dom checked and cocked his gun out of sight, tucking it in the back of his pants.
I brushed over the two rings on my right hand, gaze set forward.
Antonio stopped the car and parked, exiting along with Dom and I.
Reed’s face was blank until a smile stretched his face, arm reaching out for me to take.
"Salut mon ami,” he greeted. “Everything is well?
I gave an affirming shake of my head. “Sí.”
Reed looked back to one of his men – introduced before as Samuel – and jutted his chin silently in the direction of their truck.
While the item was being collected, Reed turned back to me, clasping his palms together.
“I’m very excited to show the final product. See at first when I was forging the barrel, it became a bit smaller than normal so it couldn’t fit the regular bullets. And I know you’re wondering, ‘well then Noe, what happens next?’”
I was not.
I gazed lazily at his giddy demeanor, sliding my hands into my pockets as I listened.
"Customized-” he paused for emphasis, ”bullets. And again I know you’re wondering, ‘well Noe, that was a very nice thing for you to do. Not traceable. Clean slate. I am very proud of you.’”
We were approached by Samuel, the briefcase he acquired was perched on his forearm.
Reed helped click it open, presenting the contents of the case.
The vibration felt against my chest made me pause my movements, goosebumps rising on my skin .
My entire surroundings blurred and my hand twitched to reach into my jacket.
At the moment I would rather be anywhere else, the situation at hand losing importance completely.
What did she reply?
Did she apologize for not answering?
She probably apologized for not answering.
“Aah...what’s that smile I see?” Reed’s pride shined brightly. “They are nice, no?”
I blinked and relaxed my facial muscles giving a firm nod.
Reaching out for one of the pistols, another buzz came from my jacket, making me clear my throat to refocus my attention.
I held the pistol up towards me, studying the details from the barrel to the trigger and grip.
Dismantling the handgun, I checked the magazine, partly truly studying its contents and partly planning out the rest of my day somehow revolving around her.
I picked up one of the bullets imbedded in the insulation of the case and and packed it into the magazine, assembling the gun fully.
Turning to Antonio, I gave him a pointed look that led him to our truck, bringing out a similar briefcase.
Setting the gun back into the contents of the case, I looked back to Reed who had an expecting gaze on his face.
“Any compliments to boost a poor man’s ego?”
Samuel and Antonio exchanged briefcases – each scanning the interior.
Reed sighed and nodded. “Fair enough mon frère.” He gave a salute. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
We returned to our vehicles and exited the lot. I waited for a conversation to start between Dom and Antonio before pulling out my phone.
The screen illuminated with messages from Xenia and I unlocked the phone with a controlled grip, adjusting my seating to get as comfortable as I could only to read her texts.
xenia: hi i’m sorry for replying weird last night
xenia: and to answer your question, yes i’m okay. mel gets me all jittery with her analyzing and i wanted to have a peaceful rest that night
I stared at the screen for a few minutes, reading over her situation until I understood.
Licking my lips, I hovered my thumbs over the keyboard readying myself for another conversation.
no need to apologize.
did you arrive safely
Either she sent the text before the plane ride or she waited for the trip back to reply.
Didn’t matter to me as long as the conversations were still going.
My foot tapped against the floor, stare stuck on my phone screen.
Self-reflecting, I narrowed my eyes and clicked the phone off, sliding it back into my pocket.
I crossed my arms and leaned back in the seat, widening my legs for more comfort.
A brooding look was stuck on my face as I waited for the car ride to end and let me be lonely for the rest of the day.
Maybe I needed therapy.
Two successful deals in one day – one in particular that has shaped the future gracefully – and what truly makes or breaks it is would be acknowledgement from one person who’s been in my life for...well not long enough.
When I reached my building, I hopped out the car, departing from Dom and Antonio.
Waking past the main elevators, I tapped in the code to another that was slightly down the hall. After entering I chose the floor and waited to ascend.
Unbuttoning my jacket, I took it off and hung it on my forearm, readying to exit the elevator.
The moment I stepped off and into my place, an elating buzz came from my jacket.
I swiftly pulled the device out and tossed the piece of clothing onto the couch.
Focused on the screen once again, I unlocked the phone as I walked into the kitchen to wash my hands. Patting them dry on a small towel, I read over the message.
xenia: yep! came in around 11:40
I chuckled - I was correct.
Tapping her contact, I pressed the audio call button and put the phone on speaker, turning around to open the cabinet that held my drinks.
After the second ring, Xenia’s voice came through.
“Hello?” There was shuffling of items in the background.
"Buongiorno bella,” I greeted back, forgetting about the shot in my hand. A smile creeped onto my face. “You are well?”
More shuffling in the distance. “Um...I’m a bit tired, but it’s that jet lag talking. Other than that, I’m alright.” She paused, a small grunt emitting from her side before she spoke again. “A-and you?”
I downed the shot, smacking my lips after in distaste.
“I’m fine. Also I have question for you.” I poured another shot to ease the nerves that were gathering upon me thinking of said question.
Another pause came and everything was silent – no more shuffling...I even think her breathing stopped for a moment.
I furrowed my brows and set down my glass, looking back at the phone to see if the call had failed.
“Uh okay,” Xenia responded.
The liquor hit the back of my throat and I swallowed it down, running a hand through my hair.
What if she says no again?
Then she says no.
But that ′if ′ is all the determination needed.
“I would like to take you out for dinner. A celebration for your show.”
The breath being held in my throat was released and I turned around to lean back against the counter top, crossing my arms.
“Oh!” Something hit the ground. “Crap! Hold on for just a moment.”
I chuckled to myself and waited, chewing at my bottom lip anxiously.
It sounded like glass was being swept up, along with the small grumbles of irritation from Xenia as she did.
“What broke?” I pointed out, wandering the kitchen aimlessly.
“Hm? I uh...I had a vase for the flowers you gave me. I’m so upset. I found it at this store down the street from the hotel. The design and shape were so pretty and I knew exactly where I wanted to put it.” She swept some more. “That’s the first place I’m going when we go back.”
“How did it look?” I inquired.
“There were swirls of gold mixed into the glass and the lip of the vase looked like a blooming flower.” A reminiscent sigh followed. “Anyways...no need for a sob story.”
“You have good taste.”
I grabbed my phone and without ending the call, slid over to my messages and notified Marco who should still be visiting family in New York.
“Well apart from the lack of 20/20 vision, I would say my eyes are top tier with spotting the beauties of the world,” Xenia chirped. There was more sound of the glass most likely getting thrown into the trash.
“...and,” she continued, “I would really have to look into my schedule. The weeks following a showcase are always super busy.” She cleared her throat. “I’m-I’m talking about the dinner...by the way.”
“I can wait. This weekend is better, no?” The eagerness bubbling in my chest made my voice a bit higher.
“Can I take a rain check?”
I scratched the side of my head. ”Scusami. I do not understand.”
“Sorry,” she rushed out, “to put it simply, weekends are even worse than the week. I also think we have some interviews set up? I really need to finish unpacking and find my planner.”
My face blanked, my shoulders dropping in disheartenment.
I didn’t realize how quiet I was until Xenia was calling my name.
“Oh I was just checking if you were there. You were really quiet,” she murmured. “Just so you know we’re in the store after hours...if you wanted to drop by or anything.”
The last portion of her sentence was nearly incoherent.
I was nodding before the words left my mouth, mood lightening considerably.
“I will keep that in mind, amore.”
“...okay. I-I’m gonna get back to unpacking. See you later?” There was unzipping on her end.
"Sí, addio Xenia,” I said softly, staring at the phone as if I could see her face through it.
“Have a good day, Emilio.”
The call ended and I exhaled like I just entered paradise, my gaze stuck on the phone.
Did you want to buy the ring now or later. Look at you.
The slight contemplation in my mind made me grab the rest of the bottle and head to my bedroom.
“Keep that look on your face and I think people might actually have the balls to approach you, Boss.”
I blinked myself from my daze and directed my gaze at Dom sitting across from me. Raising a brow, I leaned back in my chair and took a hold of my glass, distorting his head behind it.
"Lo spero.” I smiled tightly, lowering the cup. “I am a very lonely man.”
Dom gave me a look. “I take my statement back.”
Laughter erupted at the table behind me making me glance back momentarily before bringing my attention back to our table.
The nighttime atmosphere was lit up by small lights adorning the pillars of the outside portion of the restaurant. The air was cool, but they were small heaters hovering that were giving comfort.
“This is very crowded area,”
I grumbled, taking a sip of the red wine. Smacking my tongue lightly, I studied the taste and hummed in approval.
Dom stared. “Is that code for clear everyone out with a gun or that you’re just in a mood?”
"Sí.” I glanced at the waiter approaching the table with the dishes in their hands.
A slight frown anchored my lips, as they set down the food, my appetite failing to come back at the moment.
"Va tutto bene?” Enzo, the server asked immediately, eyes scanning the plate for a problem.
I jerked my head up, meeting their gaze.
"Sí. Grazie.” I nodded, dismissing them.
Dom was already two bites into his meal before I picked up my fork.
“So...how’s it going?” Dom commented, taking a swig of his beer.
My stare dropped onto my pasta, while I stabbed at it in lieu of an answer.
“Mhm mhm. Very telling. Would you like to share that again perhaps verbally this time?”
Taking a bite of my food, I chewed, pointing to my sudden predicament.
“Ignore the question.” He smirked. “You’re still eating, one more thing off my daily checklist.”
I swallowed my bite and readied another bite, taking a liking to it mid-chew.
"Come hai detto che si chiama?” I gestured to my plate, already looking for Enzo to ask.
Dom looked to my plate. “Trenette al pesto.” His tongue poked around his cheek as he judged me silently. “Mama makes better pesto than this. This is what your tastebuds have become accustomed to?”
I waved Enzo over. “Do not make this competition. Mi piace quel che mi piace.” Laughing, I apologized. ”Mi dispiace. Do not tell her I said that.”
"Sí?” Enzo arrived, waiting beside the table.
"Altri due anelli come questo.” I pointed to my meal. “Keep them warm until we leave.”
Enzo nodded. “Anything else?”
They nodded and left, disappearing into the restaurant.
She would like this.
It tastes good.
I took a sip of the wine to wash down my tongue, taking another bite.
Give me enough time and I could convince myself it didn’t anymore.
Looking at my watch, I checked the time then dug into my jacket for my other phone.
“It is Wednesday,” I murmured to myself but Dom took it upon himself to answer.
“Yes sir,” was his reply.
“I have business to take care of later.” I put the phone back into my jacket. “Alone.”
Dom folded his lips in an attempt to hide his smile. “Alrighty then. Is that it for the day or are you coming back after-”
“No. That’s it.”
I received an ‘ok’ gesture in return.
After we finished our meals and the extra food was brought out, I departed in a different car that was dropped off and packed the food in along with some bottled drinks and the item Marco brought back.
The time was 11:30 pm when I parked across the street from her store.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and craned my neck to see the interior of the shop through my passenger side window.
I caught a glimpse of Xenia walking back and forth between the registers, her gaze cast downward.
My eyes widened slightly, the yearning kicking in full gear with her in sight.
Rustling around the car, I found my chapstick, ridding my lips of the dryness before I made my way out of the car. With the bags in my hand, I crossed the street, jogging up to the door.
I made no move to open the door, making me look like I was blankly staring at Xenia doing what she was at the registers from behind the glass.
I didn’t know how long I was standing there until Xenia fixed her glasses and glanced up, her eyes flitting around the room and she smoothed her hands over her sweater.
Coming around the counter, she hurried to the door and unlocked it, a small smile on her face.
I mirrored her expression, entering through the space she provided.
The whiff of the familiar perfume made me tighten my grip on the bags, nearly ripping into them.
“-doing?” Xenia said to me.
“Hm?” I shook my head. “I have dinner. For you.”
“Ooh!” Her gaze drifted to the bags in my hands. “Thank you!” she looked up at me momentarily before averting her stare.
“You are welcome.” I set the food on her side of the counter, unpacking the box in front of her as well as laying out the multitude of drink options.
Xenia looked over the bottles, eyes wide as she searched the liquids.
“...oh. Did you want me to pick or is it all-”
“It’s all for you.”
Yes the drinks, the food, and...
Xenia’s brows furrowed and she gave a pout.
I was all too ready to take myself out if anything was wrong.
“How much was it? I’ll go grab my wallet real quick.” She clasped her hands together and waited, not touching any of the food until I gave her an answer.
“No money. Just eat.” I pushed some of the bottles towards her and pointed to her food.
“Are you sure?” she smoothed the hair behind her ear repeatedly, shifting her footing.
Xenia peeked up at me then back to her food. She reached out and opened the top of the container, looking over the dish.
“Ooh this smells so good. I love pasta.” She uncovered the fork and mixed the food. “I hope you were already eating at this restaurant and didn’t go out of your way to get this.”
“What if I did?” I propped my hip on the counter and crossed my arms.
Xenia had spun herself a forkful before she answered me. “I don’t really see a reason to, I guess.” She shrugged the more-than-friendly gesture aside.
Covering her mouth, she brought the food to her mouth and munched, a delighted sound emitting from her.
In response, my muscles saw no reason to be so rigid, relaxing in the same instance.
Were you depending on a reaction...for what.
“It is good, yes?”
Xenia nodded, still chewing. With her hand staying over her mouth she spoke.
“Mhm...a-are you going to eat too?”
-or are you just going to stand there and watch me eat, was what I knew she wanted to continue saying.
And suddenly I had an appetite.
“I was checking if you liked it.” I brought out the second box, licking my lips. “I brought food for you, not for me.”
She ate another mouthful. “You really didn’t have to.”
I laughed, earning a confused look. “Sorry. I did want to. You have been gone a while.”
Xenia suddenly cleared her throat excessively, a coughing fit taking over her body. She reached out for a random bottle of pomegranate juice and struggled to open the cap.
I slid my hand under hers and twisted the cap slightly, cracking the seal open for her.
She took several gulps before apologizing and thanking me hoarsely.
The door leading to the back room busted open and Melia came out, directing her gaze to us immediately.
She opened her mouth to speak then paused, closing it, and walked back into the room.
Xenia looked away from the door, blinking blankly. She dropped her head and sighed.
“I brought you something else,” I blurted, picking up the second bag I entered with.
“Emilio...” she said in disbelief.
“Yes?” I gave the bag to her. “Look first.”
As soon as she felt the weight, her face went bright with excitement, then judgment towards me, following along with a mix of the two.
“No...” she uttered, setting it down and getting on her toes to peer into the bag. “Emilio,” she repeated.
My ears pricked up at my name leaving her mouth.
It was said so softly and gentle, as if she handled it with care.
Warmth rushed my cheeks and I felt a dopey smile creep onto my face.
“Swear you didn’t.” Xenia put her hand in her bag and felt around like she didn’t see the vase in the bag.
“I did. I swear I did. Is it the right one?”
“Y-yes. How did you even? When did you go to New York. Wait...how did you know the shop and the exact design. I didn’t describe it that well?” She bounced on her toes with thrill, keeping the questions flowing. “Okay I’m literally about to scream. I didn’t think I would see this again until our next trip there and I don’t even know when that will be.”
“It is gift for show.” I rubbed the back of my neck. “Uh...I could not watch but your pictures were very-”
The buzz in the left side of my jacket, interrupted my sentence.
Xenia took another look at her vase, while I rummaged in my jacket to grab my phone.
Muttering to myself with irritation, I stepped away for a moment, answering the call.
“Hey boss,” Antonio chirped, “whatcha doin’?”
“Ooh...truly sorry to be the one to interrupt. Well technically I’m not the one who’s interrupting-”
“Antonio.” I rubbed the space between my brows.
“You are needed back here,” he finished up.
My grip tightened on my phone.
What a perfect day it would’ve been having her be the last thing I see for the night, but of course, I can never have the nice things in life.
“Alright.” I clicked the phone off and dropped my shoulders, turning back to Xenia who was already staring, eyes glimmering.
As if I didn’t have all the persuasion I needed to stay already.
“I have to go. Work things,” was the excuse I could muster.
“Your work day hasn’t ended yet? I’m sorry.” She put her hand over her chest. She pointed to my food. “It’s gonna be a really good midnight snack.”
I wasn’t planning on taking it but the to go box ended up in my hand – with a drink as well – as soon as she alluded to me eating it.
“I will see you later.” I took a step towards the door, but stopped when Xenia came around the counter to walk with me.
“Have a good night. Drive safe...remember to eat.” She opened the door for me. “All that good stuff.”
I chuckled to myself, hearing Eleonora through Xenia’s words.
“I will.” I faced Xenia once more before leaving so I had even more substance to think about later.
Her hands were intertwined in front of her, a half smile on her face as she stopped at the threshold of the store.
She waved until I continued to my car across the street.
Climbing in, I started the engine and rode off, meeting Xenia’s gaze through the windows as I departed.
questions, comments, or concerns?
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, CTWrite a Review