I walked away with a confident swag, my head held high, dry cleaning slung casually over my shoulder. Appearing strong, unemotional, but inside ... well ... that’s what dark sunglasses were for.
It was ridiculous to wear them – own them in Demora, where the sun never shines its light, but that’s what people who had something to hide did – And I always had something to hide – tears were just the easiest.
I pulled keys out of my pocket and opened the door of shiny white four-by-four sitting on the curb and mumbled a curse under my breath, thinking about the sports car that went up in flames the night before – A Camaro, patterned after a sixty-nine model on the outside. I had taken great pains to obtain it and had spent a small fortune rebuilding it to modern working order – several times – the damn thing was my favorite possession. It was official. My world would destroy anything I dared to love. Everything and ... everyone.
I looked back. I told myself not to, yet there I was, paused by an open door, staring at her. Telling myself to take a good look because it was the last time I was going to look her way.
Jessie Lawson was still sitting in a booth by the window of that diner, where I’d left her.
‘Sean, I like you too, but I would like to know what I’m getting into.’ Her words replayed in my head.
I was doing the right thing. I was someone she should forget, but I knew I wouldn’t forget ... I would never forget her beauty. How her long ebony hair swayed across her back as she walked or how the light made the little flecks of turquoise in her blue eyes shine like glitter. And I would never forget how she looked in that moment – sobbing - holding back her emotions by biting her hand, ironically ending our affair in the very place it began. Oh, I would have given anything to relive the first time we’d been in that diner together – scalding coffee and all.
I slid into the driver’s seat and glared at the shaded eyes staring back in the rearview. I slipped my sunglasses down so I could see the steel-blue I’d inherited from the monster that contributed to my birth. I looked just like my father. The same nose. The goatee on my chin and the same black hair tied back neatly. It was getting harder to see myself behind his image. I tossed the glasses away.
I’d gone through an internal hell since the moment I’d met her. Our romance a dangerous dance of truth or dare. The night before, as I’d finally held her the way I’d often fantasized, I believed the universe had given me a second chance at love. Something I didn’t think could happen after losing my wife – I’d mourned her for ten years and I felt the pain of her absence in my heart every day – until I met Jessie.
Jessie had made me remember how to be a decent human being. With her, I was normal. I believed there could be something else. That I could be a legitimate businessman. Live a good life. The regular kind … the way I briefly lived with Sara … but that was a fantasy. That was the fact I had to face. I was my father’s son, living as he lived. I was what he was – Past, present, and forever.
I glanced her way again, took a deep breath. I could still smell greasy, salty fries drifting from the diner. For the rest of my life the scent of fresh cooked fries would remind me of her and the moment I left her crying alone in a busy diner booth.
I should have cast her from my life the moment she’d arrived at De’Bris, the gentleman’s club I owned. There were several bona-fide reasons. She’d gained employment as an exotic dancer without my consent. Her skills as a stripper and as a waitress were atrocious, but I was quickly addicted and each gaze calmed my withdrawals … well, at least this relationship had a better ending than the last. She wouldn’t suffer my late wife’s fate … she wouldn’t die ... if I left her.
Growing up, my father often said with a chuckle that the mob life was easy — he lied. It was hard. Treacherous. And I believe he was the only who believed it. And no one – not even his most trusted man had the guts to disagree with him. Everyone, and I mean everyone I ever knew, harbored secrets. They excluded big bits and pieces of their story from the world and even from the ones they loved. Just like me, they make believe that everything is fine, when really, everything within us screams ‘how the hell did I get myself into this mess!’
Eventually, those same thoughts would torture Jessie. I couldn’t do that to her. It was a hard decision to make especially with her in my line of vision. She turned her head. Looked out the window. Our eyes met, giving me a clear view of the tears streaming down her cheek. Her pain caused a sharp jolt of pain to shoot through my heart. Knowing I’d caused it caused a hard ball to form in my stomach and it grew and tightened the space, making me feel like I was going to vomit. I wouldn’t cause her anymore.
I turned the key. Breaking the silent stillness with the roaring engine. I turned on the headlights and eased away from the curb. The sooner I was gone, the sooner she could forget me.