It was a fitting day for a funeral. I always believed it was an insult to the person who had the misfortune to pass to have a bright, sunny day for a funeral. Bright days should be reserved for day trips and barbecues. Not nasty, gloomy affairs like funerals. For once, Mother Nature agreed and opened the sky. At least a little. It’s not heavy rain—more mist-like but enough to make hair damp without an umbrella. I shiver and pull my arms closer to my body. I had opted out of an umbrella. It was one more way to torture myself.
“Claire, you need to come now. It’s Dad. He’s… gone. Please… come… Please.” Rebecca’s voice from a week earlier runs through my mind as the last bit of dirt falls from my hand. Looking down at the dust that’s left behind, I know no matter how much I wash, it will never be entirely clean again. My sister and brother are next—then, lastly, Uncle Wil.
The priest continues to say his prayers over Lucas Rossi’s grave. Speaking about how he was a good man and now is at peace with the Heavenly Father. I highly doubt he’s at peace or in heaven. Unless someone made a mistake and didn’t check the list well enough.
My father was many things, but a good man wasn’t one of them. Being the head of the Rossi crime family since he was eighteen made him hard and ruthless. He ruled with an iron fist, and all those who knew him knew not to cross him. He made the consequences clear.
My feelings switch from pure, red-hot anger to overwhelming sadness over my loss. Elijah, my brother, would now be the head of the Mafia that controls the Eastern territory of New York. At twenty-five, he was young, but he was more than prepared for the job. My father and uncles had trained him well, and many liked his charisma, as well as his leadership skills. He would become part of the Five – the five families that rule New York and surrendering areas.
The priest must have finished without my realizing because people begin to move away towards their own cars and back to their worlds. My world had blown up, and I was still trying to see through the smoke. Elijah nudges me, signaling that it’s time for us to say our final goodbyes. Shortly after we leave, the grave will be fully covered in dirt. Rebecca starts to cry again; Uncle Wil pulls her to him in a comforting hug.
Elijah and I just stare at the open ground. We have no more tears to give. Uncle Wil takes Rebecca away to the SUV.
“Where was Mike today?” Elijah’s voice is cold.
Why is he asking about Mike? Yes, he was supposed to come. Yes, I wanted him to be here. And yes, I think it would be helpful for my fiancé to attend my father’s funeral. I’d texted him and called, but he hadn’t responded. Something huge must have come up.
“I don’t know, Elijah, something with work maybe. He must not have been able to get on his phone,” I say, equally icy. I’m in no mood to play with words. I just want to go home and drink my pain away.
“You would think that as your fiancé, he would put work aside for just one day.” Elijah’s voice is beginning to turn deadly.
“Like I said, I don’t know.” Tiredness overwhelms me as the events of the past months crash down.
Without another word, Elijah walks away from our father for the last time, leaving me alone. It was only fitting—I was the last at our mother’s funeral as well. Should I voice the thoughts in my head out loud? Did it even matter at this point?
I settle for out loud; maybe by some miracle, my father could hear them.
“I don’t know what to say to you. I regret the last words we had.” Still, I don’t cry. That’s the last thing he would want from me. Crying showed weakness. Not crying here would be my last gift to him. “I’d take them back if I could. I’ll make you proud. I’ll miss you so much. I will get you your revenge, I swear.”
With my final words, I turn away. It was one of the hardest things to not turn back.
The ride back home is silent, with Elijah making plans and me checking my phone to see if Mike’s called or texted. I’m starting to get nervous. What if something’s wrong? I need to hear his voice to know if he’s all right. I quickly send another text.
Please call. Are you OK? You’re making me nervous.
Obsessively I stare at my phone the whole thirty-minute drive home, waiting for those three little dots to appear under my message, but they never appear. The rain is falling harder now, hitting the windows in anger as if sensing my emotions. At least the sky can cry for my loss.
Elijah stares out the window as well. Neither of us want to speak about what happens next. The future that we’d envisioned was gone. Hopefully, Rebecca was processing things better with our uncles in the car in front of us.
Closing my eyes, I try to block the last conversation I had with my father, but it comes flooding back. The dam has broken.
“You never liked him!” I yell into the phone.
The moment of silence that follows is unnerving. I can’t recall the last time I yelled at him. Come to think about it, this may be the first time I’d had the nerve.
“Claire.” He says my name calmly. That’s the most terrifying sound. “It has nothing to do with liking him. There are things you don’t know. Things we need to talk about.”
“You already had him checked out. There was nothing. Why can’t you just believe that someone wants me for me? Why is that so hard to believe?” My voice creaks at the end. Damn.
I can hear him take a breath. “This is something we can discuss later. You’ll be at dinner tonight?” he asks.
I debate saying no, but that isn’t an option. “Yes.”
“Good. Good. We’ll get everything worked out. I love you, Claire.”
Removing the phone from my ear, I hang up.
It was the first time in years I hadn’t told him I loved him before hanging up. It will be one of my greatest regrets.
“Claire, come in the study with me. We need to talk,” Elijah commands as soon as the car is parked. At least it sounds like something to get my mind off that last conversation with my father.
Elijah’s steps are urgent. As if this is something he’s been thinking about all day and can finally get done.
Entering the study, I take in the scene. All three of my uncles are in the room at various sides of the room. Antonio, Matteo, and Chris are there as well. They were my father’s finest enforcers; now, they’re my brothers. With all of them in the room, it can’t be good news.
“What’s going on?” I ask, trying to squash my rising panic. What if something’shappened to Mike?
“Claire, can you sit for a minute?” Elijah asks, standing over the chair that once belonged to our father. I have fond memories of coming into this room to watch him go over numbers and then playing chess, but these memories are now overshadowed.
Elijah opens the drawer to the desk and pulls out a vanilla folder. Never one to mince words, he cuts to the chase: “Dad and I had Mike investigated when you began dating.”
“I know. You told me. You also told me that it came back clean.” My stomach is in knots.
“Yes, it did. Too clean. We made the decision to dig deeper without your knowledge.” He pushes the folder towards me.
I open it to a picture of Mike walking with two other men; they look as if they’re in deep conversation. I flip through the pages. More photos of Mike, some with the same men, others with different men I don’t recognize. The last picture is him with Adrian Regio’s sons.
“I don’t understand.” But I’m afraid I do. I keep flipping.
“The men in the last picture are Adrian Regio’s sons.”
“I know. I don’t understand what this has to do with Mike.”
“Yes, Adrian has two sons. We’ve both met them. What we didn’t realize or know is that he has another son from a mistress. His middle son is Alexander; we know him as Mike.”
Pieces started falling into place, but it was as if each one was from a different puzzle, the image they made unrecognizable.