It felt like a scene straight from my nightmare, but this was my existence. Adrian Gianetti – my father – the man I’d killed – was alive. No matter how much I wanted to deny it. I’d seen him lying in that nursing home, a shell of the monster that had murdered my wife and destroyed every hope of a happy life. No longer a threat, but still drawing breath – that made him a threat to me.
Would it be right to kill a defenseless man? I doubt I’d feel remorse. I hadn’t the first time – and I wasn’t the same desperate kid. I’d ended the life of dozens since then, but my conscious bothered me with each one. So, why not my father? Then or now? Had I truly become the cold hearted son-of-a-bitch he’d wanted?
I’d thought so. Until I stared into Jessie’s eyes. She gazed at me as if no one else could turn her head. Would she still look at me that way if she knew the truth? Of course not – that’s why I needed to leave her behind. Yet, again, my heart won the battle, allowing me to reach out to her. I guess it would never learn its lesson.
I awoke with the sunrise, staring out of an unfamiliar window, partially obstructed by wild plant life. For the first time since leaving my home territory, the touch of daylight didn’t make my eyes feel bruised.
I turned my side, tucked a thick pillow beneath my head, and stared at the strange sky. Colorful, yet pale with a hint of gloom. The wind blew furiously. Whipping and whining. The limbs and leaves brushed and clanged against the window panes. The ocean waves sounded almost angry, as they rolled into each other, splashing so hard against the rocks I could see the spray even though I couldn’t see the water itself.
It seemed my presence disrupted Beau Reve. As if nature itself could sense the deep darkness that cloaked my soul or perhaps it felt my anguish, my sadness, and my loneliness.
I’d lost a part of myself. An important piece that I hadn’t realized meant so much until that very moment. Like an abandoned car. Waiting in vain for a driver. Its engine idle because the key had been lost – and Jessie was that key.
Jessie was the perfect balance between sassy and sweet. A brightness in my world. With just enough shadow to survive it – but could she?
No, she was a distraction. I couldn’t afford the luxury knowing it would end in disaster. The memory of Sara’s last moment flashed before me.
Yet, the warning wasn’t enough to ban the desire from my heart. I wanted Jessie. I needed her and I cursed the circumstances that tried to convince me to forget.
“Maybe you like playing Russian roulette with the people you love.” Carl Bolivar’s words popped into my head. The memory of his empty pistol against my little sister’s temple vivid, as if it was playing out in the present.
In a quick movement, he shoved Mickey away and jerked a new hostage close. I stared into Jessie’s terrified blue eyes.
“The chamber’s not empty this time, Sean,” Bolivar cackled.
The pressure in my chest increased, my breathing grew ragged, and my fingers pulled into a fist.
I was selfish. Jessie was never mine. She’d always belonged to another and I had no right to steal her away. Yet, I tried anyway, knowing that any kind of obvious attention from me put her in grave peril.
I shook away the concoction of my imagination and took a deep breath.
Knowing I can never hold her again hurts. My heart thumped hard, heat spreads from the top of my head to the tip of my toes, and every single muscle tightened as held back tears sting.
I let out a deep, pain laced wail and slam my fist into the mattress. I’d rather let her go then risk her life. Just knowing she was alive somewhere was enough – it had to be enough. And what if one day she learned the truth and realized that I embody everything evil in the world? An unsettling feeling consumed me as I imagined the disappointment in her eyes. Seeing that – causing her that kind of grief –That would be worse than death.
Sleep put an end to my internal suffering, taking away control and surrounding me with the warmth of illusion.
The dancer I desired walked toward me on the sandy beach of Beau Reve. Her dazzling smile caused me to forget my troubles. Or did I ignore them?
I laid back against the lounger, placing my hands behind my head.
“You look to comfortable.” Jessie dumped a pail of cold ocean water on my stomach, causing my body to lurch forward. I hadn’t seen her carrying the bucket, but my eyes hadn’t been on her hands.
“Oh, you’re gonna get it!”
She took off toward the waves. Even her small head start was no match for the long strides I took to catch up. I scooped her up in my arms, causing her to squeal with delight. Then, I stilled and gazed into her eyes.
“I told ya I’d get ya.”
“Now what are you going to do with me?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Anything you want.” She leaned forward and touched pouty lips to mine, for a moment, then pulled the-m away. She loved to tease, even in my dreams. “Okay, you can put me down now.”
“Put me down.”
I chuckled and released my hold, watching her bottom swing back and forth as she retired to the lounge chair.
The moon glided over the sun. An eclipse. I raised my eyes toward the rare event. It was a sign. Love didn’t come along very often. I’d be a fool to let it slip away for any reason.
When the darkness lifted, she laid face down as if she were sunbathing and I reached for a bottle of lotion, intent on regaining our romantic escapade. I touched the cool substance to her tanned skin, but she did not jump. She did not move. I turned her to face me and she stared with lifeless blank eyes.
I bolted upright, out of breath and staring at a shadowy figure standing in the doorframe.
“Grato, what the hell are you wearing?”
My rainbow haired companion stepped into the light wearing a pair of crimson scrubs. His lips spread wide and he pulled a stethoscope from one pocket and a gun from the other.
“They’re not going to let you in this late.” At least I hoped they wouldn’t. Surely, a place as upscale as Kenton Heights had decent security.
Grato nodded his head, tapped his watch, then nodded toward the door.
“You know what? I don’t care.” I adjusted my pillow. “Good luck and if they lock you up, don’t call me. I’m too damn tired.”
Grato stuck up a thumb and left.
Some days I was glad the guy couldn’t talk. I don’t think I could handle knowing what went on inside his head. Whatever he was up to – if he pulled it off – it would save me a lot of thinking, worrying, and headaches.
Later that day I found myself at the Diamond Cove Gym. I pushed the dumbbell up and brought it back down again in smooth even rips. I liked to work out when my mind was full of confusion and guilt.
I began to think back. My whole life had flashed by, swiftly sweeping me away with it.
I let myself get lost in my memories. It was time to let them all in. Time to figure out how I had turned out to be exactly what I hated.
I bounced down the steps of my father’s mansion and ran out the door.
“Sean, come in here a minute. I need to talk to you.” My father called from his office.
“Yeah Dad.” I said as I slid on my jacket. I hoped I wasn’t about to go into one of his long lectures because I was in a hurry to pick up Sara for our first date. It had taken three months to get her to say yes and I knew if I didn’t show up on time I would never get another chance.
“Where are you going?” my father asked seeing my keys in my hand.
“I got a date.”
“Sit down. You’ll have plenty of time for dating later.”
“Okay.” I plopped down in a chair reluctantly.
“It’s time that you started learning the business. I’m not going to be here forever and it will be up to you to carry on.”
My face turned white. Little did my father know that I already knew what went on behind the scenes of his many factories and it turned my stomach.
“The fathers of this family have passed this business down to their sons for five generations. I allowed your birth for this very reason and now you’re old enough to claim your inheritance.”
I was twenty and had learned to ignore the way my father made his living but I never dreamed I would have to take over.
“I don’t want it,” I stared him straight in the eyes. Imploring him, as my father, to understand. “Dad I want to do something else with my life.”
“And what is it you think you are going to do.”
“I don’t know. I want to go to college. Maybe take a year off and travel.”
“Ha!” Adrian spat. “That is foolish and childish dream.” He stood and buttoned his jacket. “This is what you’re going to do. You’re going to come to the club every day after school. You learn watch what I tell you to watch and you will do what I tell you to do. I’m going to teach you everything I want you to know. And when you graduate, you will take soul responsibility of running De’Bris.” He stuck a cigarette in his mouth and lit it as he strolled toward the door. “That’s all there is to it.”
“No.” Defiantly, I spoke the first words that provoked the war. Deciding in an instant to fight for what I believed was right.
My father’s fist collided with the side of my face. The large ring on his right hand catching the corner of my eye, splitting it wide open.
I turned my head, shook away the pain, and turned wild eyes on him.
It was the first time my father showed any fear of his son, but he shook it off.
“You will do as I say. There are no other choices.”
“What you’re doing in the back of that strip club is wrong, Dad. And I want no part of it.”
“How dare you defy me?”
But I was already walking out the door. I jumped in my car and sped out of the driveway.
“It ends with me.” I vowed to the road ahead. “It ends here.”
“I believe this belongs to you.”
Before I could respond to the voice, cold steel pressed against my neck, threatening the airway. I shifted eyes toward the nearby heap. Unmoving. Rainbow strands streaked with dirt and blood.
I stared into the eyes of Bruiser Baits and cocked an eyebrow.
“You always were a hard headed little son-of-a-bitch.” He blew out a breath of stale smoke and flicked away a cigar. “Your father would be proud. You’re just like him.” He squinted wrinkles and curled his lip in the same angry way he had in the past, adjusting his full weight upon my throat. Lose skin wobbled beneath weakened biceps.
I growled. Adrenaline coursing through my veins, I shoved the dumbbell and my assailant upward. They fell to the floor with a loud crash.
I drew in controlled breaths, refilling my lungs without a single panicked gasp, then stood, towering over the frail remnants of a mighty henchman.
“You’re getting to old to play this game, Baits.” With one hand, I removed the large weighted bar from his chest. “You once told me the only way out of this family is death. And you are not as dead as I thought.”
“Messed up your world didn’t it, boy?” He cackled.
“I’m not that boy anymore.” I snarled. “And Adrian no longer runs things.”
The smile faded with sudden realization.
“Give me on good reason to keep you around.” I pulled the pistol from the waistband of my jeans. I had to admire the aging henchman’s spirit. Still secure in his own strength that he didn’t feel the need to disarm me. “First you hide and omit valuable information, and now you attack the boss?”
“I’ve been living on borrowed time anyway.” He sat up, staring with no fear.
“I find this little … disagreement … cute.” I mocked with a smirk. “A frail old man thinks he’s still the big bad enforcer he once was. Real cute – really it is.” I paced, taking the aim from Baits as I thought. “You want to play this old school.” I nodded, forming an idea. “Sure. Why not?”
“What do you know about the old ways?” He spat. “You haven’t done a damn thing right since you took control.”
“Your life or Adrian’s!” I growled. “Only one of you can continue living. Which one … is your decision to make.”