Vincenzo woke up alone and confused. Confused because he was alone, since his last memory was of him watching Sylvia sleep at two in the morning and wondering when he’d garner up the courage to ask her to move in with him. Now she was gone, like she was never there in the first place.
With the worst possibilities tearing into his mind, he checked the bathroom, then his balcony overlooking New York Bay. The air was thick with haze and hid the Statue of Liberty from view. He almost kicked down his door when he saw Mezzanotte sleeping against the frame and Sylvia’s letter by his bedside.
He’d learned about Sylvia’s love for letter-writing on their second date. After driving her home and walking her to her doorway, he found a letter on his car seat that he hadn’t seen before. He went to return it when he saw it addressed to him. Instead of saying her true feelings, she’d often write them down and tuck them away in pockets or underneath drinks. His heart always jumped whenever he discovered a new letter.
With his heart still recovering, he unfolded the letter.
I wanted to thank you so much for such wondrous evening yesterday. I slept soundly for the first time in months, and it was from you resting by my side. Like a husband, someone beloved. (See above.)
Last night—you and I, I’m still reliving those moments in my mind, dreaming about your lips on mine and the way you held me. Your love is different from any type of love I’ve felt with another man. I’m beginning to feel overcome by you. How did you put it? Ravaged. What a violent word for what we share.
I want you to know that I had a difficult time leaving your bed this morning. Your relaxed, sleeping face is something to behold. Alas, I need to be elsewhere. Mitsuko and Laurence had wanted me to go into Manhattan with them today. I hope I didn’t wake you. Your grandmother has just given me some bread and tea. I don’t think she understood me, but please give her my regards for last night’s meal. You have a beautiful family here. I’m humbled to think I’m now a part of it.
Good morning, my love.
Vincenzo read the note three more times, hearing her voice, making sure he didn’t smudge the wet ink. Then he placed it in his bedside drawer with the others.
He flopped back down and covered his eyes. Every decision he made last night came back to him vividly. What had he done with her? He remembered kissing her, hovering over her like some lech. He’d kissed her neck multiple times. He hadn’t even asked her permission first. He’d be sure to ask from now on. It was what he would’ve wanted.
He hiked up his legs. He was so destructively in love with her. Everything she said unapologetically broke his heart and bonded it back together in sappy love. She was so delicate, yet so put together, like she could live through anything, even him, and come out on the other side with her head raised high. He couldn’t see himself with anyone other than her. He prayed that she felt the same way.
Scooting Mezzanotte out of the way, he walked downstairs and found his Nonna reading the newspaper in the parlor. She’d made herself tea and had his breakfast ready on the kitchen table.
Vincenzo snuck up around her armchair and kissed her cheek. “Good morning,” he said in Italian.
“Good morning, my little bean. How’re you feeling? All better?”
“I am. I’m sorry for excusing myself last night and not coming back down to say goodnight. I was heated.”
“That’s okay, but don’t let all that food go to waste. Take some for your lunch and dinner, and bring some to your friends. Sylvia was up at five this morning. It’s too early!”
“Why were you up at five?” He poured himself a cup of coffee and picked a pastry from the pantry. “Sylvia said you made her breakfast.”
“I did. She barely ate anything last night. I wanted to make sure she was fed.”
“Do you like her?”
When she didn’t speak up, Vincenzo said, “So you don’t like her.”
“No, I wouldn’t say that. She’s a proper young lady with good manners. A little shyer than I imagined, and taller.”
“Italian and Spanish are both Romance languages.”
“It’s just that it would be better, is all, among other things,” she added, but smiled into her tea. “I can tell how much you like her. Is she kind?”
“Kinder than she should be.”
“Then that’s good. I’m glad you finally found somebody. I’ve always worried about that, you being alone forever.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that now. At least for the foreseeable future.”
“Speaking of futures, now’s the time to start thinking about marriage.”
The candlestick phone in the kitchen rang. When Nonna went to get it, Vincenzo held up his hand and went to answer it himself. He hated hearing her grunt as she used both hands to lift herself up on her cane. She deserved to relax on these calm mornings.
Something crashed on the other line. He heard a baby’s cries and someone struggling to live before he got a sense of who was calling.
“Luis,” he said, calming the irritation in his tone.
“Vincenzo!” he yowled. “Is your Nonna there? Is she free?”
“We’re eating, so no.”
“Aw, jeez, Sir. Can I come over for just a moment? Sophie’s crying like a, well, baby, and I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried changing, burping, feeding, rocking, singing, and nothing, nothing is working. It’s been like this for hours. I’m tired, and Ana left to see her friends.”
“That doesn’t sound like my problem. We’re eating breakfast. Can’t it wait?”
“Well, you see, Sir, Nonna’s always so good with her. Two seconds is all it takes and she’s out like a lamb. Would you mind if I bring her—”
“It’d only be a minute.”
“No. We’re eating. You’re her father, aren’t you? Surely you can—”
“Nobody’s ready for parenthood, Sir! I’m not used to it yet. Nonna knows that best.”
“Who’s on the phone?” Nonna asked. “Is it Luis?”
“Ye—How did you know?”
“Because it’s the early morning and his wife’s car is conveniently absent from their driveway.” She set down her tea. “Tell him to come over.”
He arrived two minutes after Vincenzo hung up the phone. His pits were stained black and his eyes were haggard and pleading that somebody baby his baby.
Sophie’s screams were sirens that instantly gave Vincenzo a headache. She had food spilled all over her frilly pink dress—that also gave Vincenzo a headache—so he hoped she wouldn’t stain anything in his home.
Luis dropped her onto the couch and immediately made a spot on the ivory. “I don’t know how you women do this, Ma’am.”
“It’s not as hard as it looks.” Nonna took Sophie away from him and jumped her on her knee. “She ate?”
“No, Ma’am. Not yet.”
“I see, alright. Alright, little one, it’s alright.” Nonna rocked the baby all the way into the kitchen, singing nonsense to her in a way that felt oddly reminiscent to Vincenzo.
“Since when does my Nonna know how to mother your child?” he asked Luis.
“For a while now.” He collapsed into a pile of exhausted bones on the couch. “Sorry for barging in, Sir. When she gets like this, when I can’t control her, I usually bring her here.”
“And this’s a regular occurrence?”
“Kind of. You’re normally not home at this hour, but Nonna told me that if I ever needed help with parenting that I can come here. She works magic on that child, Sir, truly.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about that.”
“It’s only until I get a better handle on her. It’s hard, keeping her happy, making sure she’s growing up right.”
He got way too comfortable in Vincenzo’s home and even had the audacity to kick up his legs on the coffee table.
Vincenzo slapped them down.
Luis winced. “Ow.”
“You’ll ruin the grain.” He sighed. “Would you like anything to drink?”
“Is it too early in the morning for scotch?”
“It is,” he said, and went to the kitchen for two drinks, plugging his ears as Sophie continued crying, albeit in less shrill screeches and more so in hiccuping sobs.
When he came back, he handed Luis his glass. “You’re leaving after she calms down.”
“Yes, Sir.” He took a shot and exhaled loudly. “I hope Ana didn’t knock you too hard last night. We talked a lot about it, about what to say and not to say around Sylvia. She still doesn’t get it, so I asked her to keep her opinions to herself until she’s willing to accept it.”
“I appreciate that.”
“It’s…hard to tell her why it’s okay sometimes, though, you know? I wanted to ask you about that.”
He tensed up and, to combat his sudden nervousness, chuckled. “Not that I have a problem with it, Sir. We all got something different about us.”
“I just want to talk about it, is all. Every time someone tries to ask you about it, you shut them down. We gotta learn, don’t we? Who better to ask than you? We’re friends, aren’t we?”
“We are?” was his immediate response, and the change in Luis’ face—the hurt, he noted—made him think that maybe he wasn’t friends with Luis, but he valued him enough that he wanted to see him happy.
He faked a smile. “Kidding.”
“Oh. Don’t scare me like that, Sir. I’m working on three hours of sleep. But we are, aren’t we? We’re friends? Friends talk to one another about their relationships. They’re companions.”
Vincenzo couldn’t see himself with that sort of confidant, but he also didn’t see himself with a lover or a kitten. He said, “What I have with Sylvia is what you have with Ana. There’s nothing more to it. Plus, not to be rude, but I don’t have to explain how she sees herself to anybody. She doesn’t either, so I don’t want to hear you asking her these types of questions.”
“Oh, no, Sir. I totally get that part. What I’m worried about is her, you know? She’s a good gal—not much of a talker. Ana, you know, she can handle herself well with us, but can Sylvia? Is she okay being a gangster’s gal?”
“She is.” He sipped his coffee. “Turns out she doesn’t care one way or the other how this’ll end up, so nobody has to worry about her.”
“What do you mean?”
“She told me last night that she doesn’t care how I feel about her, so long as she’s appreciated by somebody. It seems like she’s perfectly content with a man who doesn’t beat her.”
“Oh. I didn’t get that impression from her at all.”
“She keeps up appearances in front of others. It’s her defense mechanism, I believe. She’s dealt with a lot of terrible things in her past, and it’s made her strong, strong enough to be with me and this business.”
“Got it. That clears things up a bit.”
Feeling the waters calm down, Nonna came back into the parlor with Sophie now whimpering instead of flailing. She placed her in Luis’ lap and pushed the curls from her eyes. “Be gentle with her, darling, and talk to her when she’s feeling restless.”
“Got it. Thank you, Ma’am.”
She smiled, then brought them a plate of cookies and left to clean the kitchen. Luis scoffed them down with the same fervor he had last night and let Sophie lick the icing off of his finger.
Vincenzo didn’t understand children. He never understood the crying, the puking, the smells, the wetness. Still, whenever he tried to interact with Sophie, she never smiled at him. Not once. Even when he pulled funny faces with her in private. Nothing. Maybe God really didn’t want him to be a father. It wasn’t something he craved, but he wouldn’t have minded showing up his father in fatherhood.
When Luis caught him staring, he lifted Sophie towards him. “Do you want to hold her? She’s calmed down some. She can get more Dad Time.”
Vincenzo gaped at her like some prized jewel covered in poison.
Guessing his answer, Luis handed her off.
Vincenzo buckled. He kept from dropping her, but her head, unable to support the weight, snapped back. He cradled her the right way before Luis lunged.
“You’ve held her before, right?” Luis asked, worried.
Vincenzo hyper-focused on keeping the baby from dying. He knew these creatures were fragile, but in their mothers’ arms, they looked more secure, less threatened. “Why’s she moving so much? Is that normal?”
“Yeah. Sir, is this your first time holding a baby?”
“I didn’t know they felt so warm.”
“They’re human, after all.” He played with her socks. “Do you ever want to have kids? I’ve never seen you interested in anyone before Sylvia. I thought you were against it totally.”
“I don’t think I’d be able to have children.”
Luis looked up at him and deconstructed that thought for too long. “Right,” he then said. “Of course. Does, uh, Sylvia ever want children?”
“I just said—”
“Hey, you can always adopt! One of Ana’s friends from church adopted a boy from Connecticut. Is that something that’s possibly on the table?”
“Don’t place your baby-having habits on me. They’re too messy, and Sylvia…probably wouldn’t want one, though I’d have to ask her.”
“And if she does?”
“Then I’ll do whatever she wants,” he said automatically, then added, “It’d take some time. We’d probably hire a nanny.”
“Ah, maybe that’s best. I always wondered if me and Ana should’ve waited, but I didn’t have a choice when we found out she was three months pregnant, you know?”
“Sylvia and I won’t ever have that problem.”
Luis laughed heartily, and Vincenzo realized he’d been waiting for that and finally relaxed with him as friends would.
They mingled for another half hour, eating breakfast delights and talking about nothing. Mezzanotte came down after finally waking up, then saw that the baby was still here and pranced back upstairs. She and Vincenzo didn’t have a lot in common, but they did share their fixation/fear of small humans and how they worked.
At around ten, Sophie decided that she was too cranky to stay a minute longer and wailed for a nap.
“Yeah, she didn’t get much sleep last night,” Luis said. “I’ll head out now. Thanks for having me over, Sir.”
“I didn’t invite you over, but sure. Next time, come without the child.”
“No way! You gotta learn how to be a daddy.”
Instead of hugging or kissing him goodbye, Luis made Sophie wave at him before she yanked her hand away. “Talk to you soon.”
He didn’t know what to say to that, so he just repeated the phrase and gave him a single wave. Then, after making sure his Nonna was sitting down and resting, he went upstairs to one of his spare bedrooms and tried imagining a nursery. Just a silly look-around, constructing the placement of the crib—or cribs—and thinking how it would’ve been better to keep the baby in his room, obviously, so he and Sylvia knew it was safe at all times.
When he started envisioning the color scheme and where he could buy rainbow wallpaper, he physically wrenched himself out of the room. What was he doing? He had a meeting to attend to in two hours. Why was he wasting time?
As he dressed himself for the day, he wondered why he thought thinking about his future was considered a waste of time.