Chapter 6. Rubble
Things with Aria hadn’t changed much. Aria hadn’t woken up out of the coma, and it had been five days since the incident.
I hired a team to clean up the rubble at the mansion and rebuild what they had to of it. The GTO rolled to a stop in front of the estate. My eyes took in the scene. Rubble and debris still covered the ground where the front door had been. As I stared at the ruins, I realized that rubble pretty much summed up my life. My life was a massive pile of rubble that I couldn’t climb out of.
Throughout my life, I had my fair share of grief, but this was torture — and I had no choice but to endure it. I hadn’t seen Angel since the incident. This was the first time I had left Aria’s side — if I had a choice, I wouldn’t have. However, I had funerals to go to, and I needed to see my son.
Angel was still with my mother. Mom intended to bring Angel to the funerals today. Andersen’s funeral would happen first, and Jennifer’s funeral would be after. Funerals and I didn’t mix — I hated funerals, to say the least, but Joey needed me. Andersen deserved a farewell from me, and so did Jenny.
Our bedroom was exactly the same as we had left it. Aria’s pajamas from the night before were still strewn across the mattress. I stared around the bedroom for a long moment. Aria’s hairbrush sat on the dresser beside her jewelry box. Nobody had made the bed.
It was impossible to stand in the bedroom and not breakdown. Crying wasn’t something I did often. Tears fell from my eyes as I sat down on the bed. Aria and I should have been in Paris on our honeymoon. The feeling of Aria not being here crushed me.
Andersen’s sleek black casket was closed. Due to the conditions of Andersen and Jennifer’s body, we had to leave the coffins closed. My hand rested on top of Andersen’s casket.
“You were a great friend and an amazing worker, Andersen,” I said. “You were a true Latin King. If you see Carlos, tell him I said hi.” I placed my fingers to my lips and pressed my fingers to the casket.
A hand rested on my shoulder.
I gazed back at Austin.
“We still have one more,” Austin said.
“Yeah, I know,” I muttered. “Are you sure it is okay with Joanna that we go?”
“Joey talked to her. Joanna wants us there. We’re going to carry the casket out when the funeral is over,” Austin said.
Luis, Benny, Austin, Abel, and Joey came up behind me, and they all placed a hand on top of Andersen’s casket. We stayed silent for a long moment.
The sun sat high up in the sky. We carried Andersen’s casket out to the hearse. I spun around to face the guys.
“Jenny’s funeral will take a little while longer. There will be more people there as well. Joanna wanted the burial to be private,” Joey said.
Jenny’s funeral was across town in another church. I was somewhat surprised that Joanna allowed us to be a part of Jenny’s funeral. Sometimes when a family lost a loved one, they didn’t want the Latin Kings involved. At times they blamed us for the things that went wrong.
Joanna knew about us long before Jennifer found out about us. Joanna worked for Carlos and was good friends with my mother. I had been friends with Jennifer for as long as I could remember.
The church’s parking lot filled with different vehicles — some of the people I recognized and others I didn’t.
Joanna stood near the doors of the church and greeted people on their way in. Joanna pulled me aside.
“I’m glad that you all came. I know this must be difficult for you. You have had more than one tragedy in the last couple of days,” Joanna said.
“We appreciate that you let us be a part of it. Did I give you enough to pay for everything? If you need more money for the costs or need anything else, please let me know,” I said.
Joanna stepped forward and wrapped me in a hug. “It was very kind of you, Ace. It was plenty, thank you.” Joanna kissed my cheek and went back to greet more people.
Joanna wanted us to sit in the front as family. Music and chatter filled the large room. Pictures of Jennifer seemed to be anywhere you looked. Different flowers lined behind her casket and beside it.
Joey stared at the casket with a blank expression. Joey tried as hard as he could to keep it together. The only way he knew how to keep it together was to pretend like it wasn’t happening at all.
“Joey.” I nudged Joey’s leg with mine.
Joey looked up at me unwillingly. “Hmm?”
“You’re supposed to give a speech,” I whispered.
“I can’t,” Joey’s voice cracked.
“Did you write it down?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Joey said and arched a brow at me.
“Give it to me.” I put my hand out.
Joey pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to me. “Are you sure?” Joey asked.
“Yeah, man. Don’t worry about it,” I said. I got to my feet and made my way to the podium.
Everyone watched me with curious eyes as I unfolded the paper. I didn’t look at the paper — instead, I folded it back up.
“Jennifer and Joey have been together for as long as I can remember. Even when we were kids, Joey used to chase her around the playground,” I started.
Everyone broke out into a chuckle.
Joey smiled, and tears rolled down his face.
“Joey wrote a speech for Jennifer. I was going to read it for him, but that doesn’t seem right. I’m going to ask that this piece of paper be buried with Jennifer instead. I can assure you that whatever is on this paper is probably the most heartfelt and painful words you would ever hear. I don’t need to read this speech to know that. Joey loved Jennifer very much. Nothing could come between the two of them, and I know that life and people definitely tried,” I said.
Joey stared at me bewildered.
“I feel like whatever Joey wrote to Jennifer should be left between the two of them. Joanna, we’re all sorry for what happened, and we miss her too. You raised an amazing girl. Jennifer was one of the most loyal people that I ever met. I’m just happy to have known her. It’s unfair that her life was taken so soon. My suggestion to all of you in this room is to hold your loved ones a little tighter and don’t shy away from telling people that you love them. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us,” I said.
I left the podium and walked to Jennifer’s casket. I opened the casket just a crack, slipped the not into the coffin, and closed it again.
Joey came up beside me.
I turned to Joey and embraced him.
The guys all came to stand around the casket.
“We’ll find out who did it, Jenny. I promise,” I vowed.
“Amen,” the boys chorused.
Music filled the room once again as we descended with Jennifer’s coffin. The driver of the hearse opened the door for us. We slid the casket inside.
Joanna came up to us. “Thank you. It was a good speech, regardless.”
“I’m sorry, Joanna. I couldn’t read it,” I said. “I’m sure it was too personal.”
“Maybe a little,” Joey agreed. “I kind of don’t think that I wanted anyone to hear it anyway.”
Joanna hugged all the guys and stopped at me last. “Just promise me one thing?”
“Of course,” I said.
“You find and kill whoever did this to my daughter,” Joanna said.
“Without a doubt,” I said. I kissed Joanna’s cheek and turned to leave. I had spent time with Angel before Andersen’s funeral. I just wanted to get back to Aria.
Months had gone by, and Aria was still in a coma. I had no choice but to run things. The workers I hired finished the mansion, but I usually stayed at the hospital with Aria. Sleeping in bed without Aria felt impossible, and I didn’t even want to try.
I threw the dining room doors open. The guys were at the table along with the council.
“Happy that you made it, Ace. We were informing the boys that the Colima Cartel wants to start a gun trade with us,” Pedro said. “We told Colima that we didn’t see a problem with it.”
I sat at the head of the table and narrowed my eyes at Pedro. “Is that right? So, you went ahead and agreed to a new relationship without so much as asking me? I told you before these types of decisions are Aria’s choices and hers alone.”
“Well,” Alejandro started. “We didn’t see an issue with it since Aria is currently in a coma, and you are now the leader.”
“I’m not the leader,” I snapped. My hands slammed down on the table, and the table shook beneath my hands in protest.
“What Alejandro means is that you are currently running things,” Antonio corrected.
“Let’s get one thing straight. I can still run current relations, but it isn’t my choice to start a new relation. I did not agree with this. You will tell Colima to go fuck themselves.” My hands shook, and my nostrils flared. How dare they go behind my back. “If you pull a stunt like this again. You will all be suspended until Aria wakes up, and she can decide what to do with you after that.”
“You were told there was a chance she wouldn’t wake up, is that right?” Juan asked. “Maybe you should consider taking over until you know for sure.” Juan’s attempt to persuade me with his eyes and a soothing voice didn’t work.
“Aria will wake up eventually. It’s not going to happen with Colima,” I spat through my clenched teeth. “Call off Colima. Aria will want to check them out before she agrees to anything.”
“We have already taken the liberty of checking them out. They haven’t been in any wars in the last ten years. There is no reason not to trust them.” Ray’s voice came out reassuring, which is exactly why I didn’t trust it.
“I don’t give a fuck,” I scoffed. “It will not happen. I will continue the plans Aria had set in place, such as the hotels, clothing lines, and other businesses. I will deal with our current relations, but I will not choose new relations and won’t get rid of old ones unless it is absolutely necessary. You’re overstepping your boundaries, gentlemen. I suggest you step off.”
The guys didn’t look the least bit surprised by my reaction. They stared off in different directions as if they had no comment.
Fernando looked at the boys as if for a second opinion, and that pissed me off. The boys had no power over the relations, and they didn’t have control over me.
“Look at me, you fool!” I shouted. I stood up so fast that the chair I had been sitting on fell backward. I leaned over the table.
The council members all looked up at me unwillingly.
“What they say doesn’t matter. They are beneath me. They don’t make my choices, and I do not make Aria’s choices. Get the hell out of my house before things get ugly!” Part of me had to wonder if steam came out of my ears — my head wanted to explode.
The council members got to their feet and walked out of the dining room without another word.
I waited for the front door to shut. I grabbed my chair and sat back down. “I’m sorry,” I muttered. “I hate that even when she is lying in a damn hospital bed, they are trying to push her out of the chair.”
“Don’t apologize. We didn’t agree to anything, Ace,” Luis said. “I told them they made a huge mistake. We all warned them that you were not going to be happy about this.”
“Did you guys deal with the Cali Cartel?” I asked.
“We did. They won’t be needing another shipment of guns until next month. Everyone has been dealt with,” Austin said.
“Good. Benny, do you have any news from the post office about who could have sent that bomb?” I asked. My eyes felt heavy. I hadn’t been sleeping well.
“It would be easier if I knew the tracking number,” Benny said.
The only thing we were sure of is that there had been a bomb delivered to the mansion by mail.
“Just keep trying,” I said. “We need to start looking at all possibilities and rule them out one by one. You guys can go.”
The guys stood up and headed out of the mansion. I sat back against the chair and gazed around the dining room.
After a long moment, I got to my feet and sauntered toward the door. I stopped when the front door opened and closed.
My mom came into the mansion with Angel. Mom stopped and gave me a sad smile, and she had Angel’s diaper bag slung over her shoulder.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” I asked.
Mom closed the distance between us and handed Angel to me. “Austin told me you would be home for a little while. I needed to speak with you,” Mom said.
“About?” I tilted my head.
Angel smiled at me.
“I won’t do this anymore. I don’t mind watching Angel for you from time to time, but Angel will not live with me while you waste away in that damn hospital,” Mom said sternly.
“Mom!” I scoffed. “How could you—”
“Ace, I’m not saying that to hurt you. I know that you miss Aria. I understand that things haven’t been easy for you, but your son still needs you,” Mom said sternly.
My eyes flickered to Angel’s eyes. It was challenging to look into my son’s eyes because they were exactly like his mother’s eyes.
“Angel has hardly seen you or his mother in months. Maybe you should take Angel to the hospital with you,” Mom suggested.
“Right,” I snorted. “It’s a great way for him to bond with his mother.”
Mom sighed. “No, it isn’t, but maybe he needs to see her as much as you do. I think that you don’t want to take care of Angel, not that you can’t.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I muttered.
“It’s not, hijo,” Mom snapped. “You don’t want him because he is a reminder of Aria! You will not avoid your son.”
I swallowed hard. I wanted to argue with her, but I knew she was right. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Angel because I did. I had never loved anything as much as I did Angel and Aria. Being around Angel was difficult because he reminded me of Aria.
“Fine,” I breathed. My throat went dry.
“I love you,” Mom said. Mom kissed my cheek and kissed Angel’s forehead.
Angel put a teething ring in his mouth and stared up at me. Most people would think I was crazy, but there was a cleverness in Angel’s eyes. Angel would be an intelligent kid, maybe too damn smart.
“Hey, little man,” I murmured. “Did you piss off grandma?”
I chuckled. “You did, didn’t you?” I teased. “I guess we could go see your mom.”
It didn’t seem right to try to stay at the hospital with Angel. Angel was still young, and he needed his bed. I wanted to stay with Aria, but I knew my mother was right. I had spent every night with Aria and barely saw my son. Angel would be a year old in three months. Part of me worried that Aria wouldn’t be awake to celebrate Angel’s first birthday. It would tear Aria apart if she missed Angel’s first birthday.
Angel listened intently as I read Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess. I rocked the chair back and forth. Soft music filled Angel’s nursery from the mobile that was on his crib.
When I finished reading the book, I tossed it onto the floor.
Angel smiled widely at me.
“You don’t look tired at all,” I said. “You know. . .” I trailed off. “I’m a little surprised that you don’t talk yet. No Mama, no Dada?” I arched a brow.
Angel snorted and giggled.
“I got this feeling like you could talk if you wanted to, but you don’t want to,” I said and chuckled.
“Oh, so you are tired?” I stood up and placed Angel in his crib. Angel smiled and closed his eyes.
Angel started crawling three months ago. I hoped he wouldn’t do any major things like talk or walk while Aria was in the coma.
I couldn’t bring myself to sleep in my bedroom. I took the baby monitor downstairs to the living room. I curled onto the couch and pulled an afghan over the top of me. Misery took me over, and I made no attempt to stop it.
Angel sat on the floor and played with his blocks in front of the desk while I did paperwork. Angel farted and giggled.
I threw my head back and laughed. “Damn, son. I think you might need a new diaper after that one.”
Angel fell over and laughed.
I shook my head and chuckled at him.
The study door swung open.
“Hey,” the guys greeted me.
“Hey,” I said.
Austin sat down on the floor beside Angel. “Oofta, kid. You need a diaper change.”
Rosa came into the study. “Do you need anything, Ace?”
“Could you change Angel and put him down for a nap for me?” I asked.
“Yes, of course.” Rosa took Angel and left the study.
“Have you been up to see Aria yet?” Luis asked.
“Not yet,” I said.
They all stared at me, surprised.
“What?” I arched a brow.
“Haven’t you heard?” Luis asked. His words came out slowly, and it instantly made me suspicious.
“Dude, what the fuck? Nobody called you?” Benny’s eyes widened.
“Oh boy,” Abel huffed.
“What the hell are you guys talking about?” I asked. The pen slipped through my fingers, rolled off the desk, and hit the floor.
They all stared at me with a dumbfounded expression.
“Damn it, tell me!” I slammed my hands down on the desk.
“Aria woke up this morning,” Austin murmured.
The oxygen in my lungs escaped. “W-what?” I choked. “How the fuck did you guys know about it before I did?”
“Aria called my mom,” Luis said.
“Why the hell wouldn’t she call me?” I murmured. I stood up and ran my fingers through my hair.
“I’m not sure. Mom hasn’t called me yet. Last I knew, Mom was going up there to see her, but I thought someone had called you already,” Luis explained.
“Fuck,” I muttered. “Tell Rosa to keep an eye on Angel.”
The guys stared after me as I sprinted out of the study.