Sempre – JM Darhower
Back in the ’20s, or ’30s, somewhere during Prohibition, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, seven men died in an old, grungy garage, brutally murdered by Capone’s people. Our people. My people. Whatever. The Italians.
They call it the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.
For most of my life, that’s pretty much how Valentine’s Day felt to me… hopeless, senseless, always two steps away from fucking mayhem as girls tried to corner me into giving them a slice of whatever I’ve got.
I never bought into it.
It’s bullshit, right?
I thought so.
But then there was her.
Haven changed the way I saw everything. What was once nothing more than a bloody, violent day in the middle of February suddenly became more… so much more. Everything became more because of her. I still think it’s fucking stupid, having a day designated to showing your love, when that’s something you should show every damn day, but she makes me buy into it.
She gives me a reason to play along with the game.
Snow fell sporadically, a good three inches already coating the sidewalk and street around Felton Drive in Chicago. It wouldn’t last long, the temperature tomorrow expected to go up to damn near springtime levels, but tonight they were stuck with the bitter cold flakes.
Carmine stood in the living room of the house he’d grown up in, staring out at the back yard, covered in a layer of stark white. He could remember a time when the sight of snow would excite him, bringing out the little kid he’d buried deep down inside of him when he was eight years old—the one he thought died that day, so many years ago, along with his mother, in an alley not far away. But now he was sick of fucking looking at it, and he certainly didn’t want to go outside in it.
Alas, he had no choice. Well, he had a choice, okay… his father believed they always had a choice, no matter what. But the only other choice made him a raging dick, and he tried his damnedest not to be one of those to Haven.
He could hear her moving around upstairs, her footsteps seeming to echo along the floor in the old house as she scampered around, getting ready for their night. He was as good as he was going to get, the black suit stifling and scratchy, but the brand new Jordan’s on his feet made it slightly more tolerable.
A gift from his girl.
A knock sounded through the house from the front door, firm and calculated, a distinct tapping Carmine knew well. It was like a bump, bump, bum-bum-bump, noticeably to the beat of the theme from New York, New York. He’d never made the connection before until he’d walked into his uncle’s office at his club, Luna Rossa, and saw the man tapping along to the beat of the song on his wooden desk. He wasn’t sure if Corrado did it on purpose, or unconsciously, but either way, Carmine dreaded ever hearing the fucking song because of it.
Sighing, he turned away from the window as the tapping echoed through the house again. He walked that way and unlocked the front door, cautiously opening it.
Corrado stood on the front porch, expression stern as he slipped his hands into his pockets. Carmine eyed him hesitantly, seeing the hint of black gloves peeking out at his wrists, and hoped like hell the man just had cold fingers and not bloody hands.
Corrado eyed him peculiarly, looking almost impressed by the suit, until his gaze reached his shoes. He said nothing, but the brief flicker of disgust twisted his face.
“Sir?” Carmine said, figuring this was business and not pleasure. Usually was, anyway. Corrado never came around for personal reasons anymore. Carmine guessed he couldn’t, didn’t have time for it, being as how he was now in charge.
“I need you to do a job for me,” Corrado said finally, meeting his eyes. “Nothing too difficult, but it might take a while.”
Carmine’s expression fell. “Tonight?”
“Yes,” Corrado said. “Is that a problem?”
“No,” he said instinctively, because that was just how it went… he had to say no. But then he heard the footsteps upstairs again, a vaguely familiar clicking against the wooden floor. Haven was wearing heels. She rarely wore them. “Actually… it sort of is.”
Corrado raised his eyebrows incredulously. “Excuse me?”
“It’s just that, well… it’s a problem,” he continued. Fuck it. He was already in a heap of shit for hesitating a second ago, so he might as well explain. “We had plans tonight.”
“Plans.” Corrado stared at him hard. “Does it look like I care about your plans?”
“Then cancel them. Do whatever it is some other day.”
“Yeah, okay.” Carmine glanced up toward the ceiling, letting out a deep sigh. She was going to be disappointed. He could see it now, the look she’d get on her face when he had to tell her she’d be alone tonight, because responsibility called.
Responsibility was an asshole.
“What’s wrong with you?” Corrado asked sharply when Carmine eventually met his eyes again. “Are you on something?”
“No, I just… sorry, sir. Just not looking forward to telling Haven she’s going to be alone today, of all days. But whatever, it’s fine. I’ll deal with it.”
Corrado’s eyes narrowed. “What’s so special about today?”
“Nothing, I guess,” he muttered. “Valentine’s Day is really just another day.”
Corrado’s expression shifted, the hints of anger in his eyes melting away. “It’s February 14th.”
A few seconds passed before Corrado shook his head and took a step back. “Forget about it. Business can wait for tomorrow.”
Carmine’s eyes widened as he regarded his uncle with surprise. “You sure?”
“Positive. You two go out and enjoy your night. I need to go buy my wife some flowers.” He hesitated, letting out a sharp laugh. “I owe her some, anyway.”
Curiously, Carmine wondered why he owed Celia flowers, but he didn’t ask, not wanting to poke the fucking bear as it’s backing away. Corrado turned around with a nod and strolled away, leaving Carmine standing there, baffled. His uncle had pushed business aside for Valentine’s Day.
Who knew the bastard could be so sentimental?
“Who was at the door?”
Carmine turned around at the sound of the voice, spotting Haven standing at the top of the stairs. She slowly descended them as his eyes raked down her body. The sleek black dress hugged her curves, her legs looking long and deadly in the matching heels. Those legs… those glorious, creamy legs, would look great wrapped around him as he plowed into her.
What he wouldn’t give to take her right back upstairs and make that happen…
“Corrado,” he said, closing the door when she stopped in front of him in the foyer. “He was just stopping by.”
Carmine shrugged. “Who knows with him?”
Haven grabbed her coat, slipping it on along with a scarf, bundling up as Carmine grabbed his wallet and keys. He opened the door again, motioning outside. “Come on, tesoro. The night awaits.”
The snowflakes bombarded them, coating Haven’s wavy brown hair and landing on Carmine’s shoulders, soaking the fabric. He walked over to the Mazda and opened the passenger side door for her to get in before slipping in the driver’s side, blasting the heat as Haven started shivering.
“Where are we going?” she asked, eyeing him curiously as he put the car in gear and slowly backed down the driveway. The Mazda drove like shit in the snow, skidding and sliding, since he’d been too busy to put snow tires on it.
“A picnic,” he said, driving slowly so not to wreck the damn car. “A cabin in the woods. You know the deal.”
“Is that right?”
“Yep,” he said. “I’m going to sing you a song and pop your cherry.”
She let out a laugh, reaching over to playfully nudge him. “You’re a few years too late.”
“I know,” he said, shrugging a shoulder. “I kind of set the bar high with that shit. Not sure if I’ll ever be able to top it.”
It was only their second Valentine’s Day together, as hard as it was to believe. A few years had passed since they’d met each other, a few years since that moment in the kitchen in North Carolina that changed Carmine’s life in irrevocable ways, but it was the second time they’d ever been together on this day. He wanted to make it special, but he wasn’t very good at grand gestures.
Dia wasn’t around to save his ass this time.
He drove them to Lincoln Park, parking in a spot on Clark Street before helping her out of the car. The snow was coming down slower here, mere flurries infiltrating the sky around them. Haven smiled, wrapping her coat tighter around her as she glanced around the neighborhood.
Her eyes drifted to the sign as they approached the tall, three-story brick building. Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. “A pizza place?”
“Not a pizza place,” he said. “The pizza place. The best pizza in Chicago. Fuck, the best pizza in the world, tesoro.”
He took her hand, bringing it up and placing a kiss on the back of it. She smiled sheepishly, her cheeks flushing as she bumped up against him playfully. There was a line waiting, and they had to wait a few minutes for a table, but she leaned back against him contentedly, sighing as he wrapped his arms around her, holding her against the wall by the door.
Carmine’s gaze kept shifting outside distractedly. He surveyed the dark neighborhood, his eyes drawn right across the street to the empty lot, an iron fence lining it, a few trees scattered around. It looked harmlessly, a tiny grassy sanctuary tucked in a busy neighborhood, but it was more than that.
So much more.
“What are you looking at?” Haven asked quietly, glancing at him.
He nodded toward the door. “You see that lot across the street?”
She glanced that way. “Yes.”
“A building used to stand in that spot,” he said. “Hasn’t been there in decades. I never saw it actually. Was torn down way before I was even born.”
“What was it?” she asked, gazing that way.
“The garage,” he said, “where the St. Valentine’s Day massacre occurred.”
Her eyes widened. “Really?”
“Yep. Rumor has it Capone used this building we’re in as a lookout to watch them before attacking.”
“Wow,” she said. “Why’d they have it torn down?”
“Because the mayor was on a crusade against all things, you know…” Mafia. “He had a hard on for my grandfather, or great-grandfather. I don’t even know who was in charge back then.” Corrado would throttle him for his ignorance. “Did it as sort of a fuck you to the family.”
“That’s sad,” she said. “It was a piece of history.”
“Yeah, well, I guess sometimes history should stay in the past. It’s strange, though. It’s the site where people were slaughtered because of a rivalry that still exists, and they try to pretend like it never even happened, like it couldn’t happen again. That it hasn’t happened again. Ignoring it doesn’t make the shit go away, or erase it… if you don’t learn from history, you’re bound to just do the shit all over again.”
She was quiet for a moment, just gazing outside, as he wrapped his arms tighter around her.
“You amaze me, you know,” she said eventually. “You’re so smart. You could do so much good in the world, Carmine.”
He smiled, kissing the top of her head as the hostess called out his name. DeMarco, table for two.
“Yeah, well, I can’t do shit for the world today, tesoro,” he said. “But how about I start with making your Valentine’s Day great.”
It wasn’t the best Valentine’s Day ever. It wasn’t even great. It turned out to be quite fucked up, to tell you the truth. A blown car tire and a power outage later, the two of us lay in bed, wrapped up in blankets, soaked and cold and downright fucking miserable.
And then my phone rang, a few minutes past midnight… apparently Corrado’s reprieve for the holiday ended when the clock struck twelve. But it didn’t really matter, because we’d spent the day together, and that was what mattered when all was said and done. The world’s fucked up, and not everything will always go right, but I have my girl, and when I have her, I don’t need shit else.
And she doesn’t either. She doesn’t need diamonds, or money, or flowers. She doesn’t even need picnics, or cabins, or songs sung to her. She just needs love. She needs me.
But fuck if I won’t spend the rest of my life fighting to give her everything else, too.
And not just on Valentine’s Day. I still say fuck the holiday.
I’ll give her everything I’ve got, every day of the week.