Vincenzo estimated that it’d take twenty minutes to get back home. They were running, too, and there wasn’t much traffic to dodge.
They got home at 12:23, almost one hour later.
He hadn’t meant it. Getting chased by your rival after a night of partying? It would’ve sent him home sooner. But when Sylvia wanted to makeout on every other corner, flipping off the rare car in case it was Hannigan to piss him off, he couldn’t say no. He couldn’t say no when she’d taken off her heels and he, being who he was and what he wanted to explore, asked to try them on. It was a mess—he almost rolled his ankle near the gutter—but it was a happy mess. An explorative disaster that had Sylvia laughing and him smearing away her lipstick with his tongue.
When they finally returned home, he’d lost his hat somewhere in a bush and Sylvia had dropped her shoes in the middle of the street “for good luck.” Why, he didn’t know. If anything, they were going to cause a car crash.
He knew the risks of being this exposed out in the open, but he couldn’t help it. Becoming more and more daring throughout the evening, he’d even go so far as to say that he liked it. From standing up to Sylvia’s mother to kissing in the park to outsmarting Hannigan and his cronies. He felt good. He felt in love.
He felt safe with her.
His Nonna had passed out for the night with a book in her lap and tea by her bedside. He made sure to kiss her goodnight before gently shutting her bedroom door.
When he came back to the foyer, he said to Sylvia, “Let me call Campo and tell him what happened.”
“Alright.” She glanced into the kitchen. “Could I possibly make something to eat? I didn’t eat much today.”
“Of course, of course.”
“Would Nonna be cross? Did she make any dinner tonight?”
“I told her we’d be eating at the party. Ask me if you need help finding anything.”
As she left, he caught himself smiling at her. Seeing her at both her most ordinary and most elegant, what was better than that?
He knew, at least for her, what would be better. She’d stated it several times, her wants. He’d been trying to find a way around them all night.
He calmed himself down and rang for Campo’s home. This night had slapped him silly. He needed to come back to his senses.
Someone picked up. “Hello?”
Vincenzo furrowed his brow. “Hello?” he asked in Italian. “Why’re you using Campo’s personal phone?”
His father hung up.
Feeling the anger begin to foam in his stomach, he rang the number again, finger jabbing into the rotary. What was he doing, picking up Campo’s private line? Was the party still going?
He picked up again. “If you call—”
“I need to speak to Campo.”
“Because Hannigan found me again. After the party, I left to go get drinks at the Viola Tavern, and his men surrounded us and chased us away. They knew where I was going to be when I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone.”
Severo thought on this, made Vincenzo listen to the whistle in his dying lungs. Then he asked, “What of it?”
“What—This’s the second time this happened. He jumped me at the Black Kitten—”
“It seems like they have a problem with you keeping in touch with those faggots you fancy at those bars.”
Vincenzo blinked several times. Even with his life in danger, he was still on this. What was it with old men and their fascination with another man’s romantic life? “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I’ve mentioned this to Campo multiple times, and he agrees that you spend too much time there. You’re becoming more of a target the more you parade your fetish around on a leash. If this continues and you start placing the Family in danger, you’ll pay for it. I’ll make sure of it.”
“Now shut up and don’t call back. And don’t go out with that pansy nigger again.”
And he hung up.
Vincenzo stared into the dark end of the receiver. Comebacks and criticisms came seconds too late. Still, how he wanted to say them. How he wanted to run to Campo and tell him everything about Hannigan and his father. He’d expose him, show Campo he was nothing more than a spineless, abusive wretch of a man who was using his personal line for some unknown reason.
But it wouldn’t do much good. He couldn’t bother Campo on his birthday of all days. He’d call him tomorrow and set things straight.
And maybe his father was right. Maybe he should’ve been stepping back from the bars. His life would’ve been easier. Everyone would stop asking him about his sexuality for once and finally take him seriously as a man.
But that would never happen. He needed to be with someone like Sylvia for his own mentality. After years of questioning, she’d been the only one to understand him. He couldn’t have that with any other girl.
“Vincenzo, when you have a moment,” Sylvia said, and ducked her head back into the kitchen.
He did have a moment to spare, but he took several more on the couch, refocusing himself on who mattered most.
During his very short phone call, Sylvia had properly wrecked his kitchen. Already, soup and vegetable slices stained the counters. She’d left the fridge open for easy access, but she also had every cabinet door open. He couldn’t judge, as he’d never made his own dinner before, but something about her destruction was at once admirable and a bit concerning.
“I was on the phone for no more than two minutes,” he said. “Is this how you cook?”
She set down her ladle. “It’s usually worse.”
He looked over her shoulder to see what monstrosity she was cooking. “What’re you—?”
The flirty insult he had planned slipped away. The smells, salty like home, and the bag of clams, still fresh from being caught that week. He was brought back to his childhood. That feeling of safety, however strong it already was, grew thicker around him.
“You’re making clams and pasta?” he asked.
“Uh, yes. I think. It’s your Nonna’s recipe. She’d tried to teach it to me this morning, but I don’t know. I have garlic, and I notice she bought fresh Parmesan yesterday.” She read the clams’ label. “I’ll get better at this. I’m not used to cooking for two.”
Every time Vincenzo came home from work, whether he was thirteen or twenty-three, he was met with his Nonna cooking. It was his one constant in life, something he knew would never change. To see Sylvia trying her best to replicate that feeling, even though she was trying to boil the pasta and the clams in the same pot…
He hugged her from behind, burying his head into her back. He once called her his wife, but she must’ve been more than that now. She knew what made him happy at his worst and over the moon at his best. Without asking, without triggering anything bad. She was his angel at those times, his soulmate.
Before she shook him off or he pulled himself away, he took her hand and led her upstairs.
“Oh my,” she said. “Where’re we going?”
He brought her into their room and closed the door behind him.
“Now, what’s this?” she asked, smiling.
“Hm?” He kissed her, then again, backing her into the bed until he was straddling her. Mezzanotte, who was sleeping on his pillow, got up to see if she needed to run.
“Did something click?” she asked.
“I’m not sure.” He parted her bangs to better see her. “I’ve been thinking over what you said to me in the park. About wanting to, you know, make love.”
“Oh.” She tried closing her legs. “You don’t have to. You don’t have to force yourself.”
“I know. It’s just, I’ve been so afraid of this side of me, I never trusted myself to be intimate with another person before. It’s true that I’m not as…forward as you, but that doesn’t mean I’m…” He searched for the right words. It was hard to describe something so twisted in your own head. It was like chopping away vines. “I’d like to try, to be more open, with you. I’d like to experiment.”
Sylvia touched her chest, holding her breath at what he’d just said.
“Because I want to,” he confirmed. “Not because I feel pressured. I feel comfortable enough to try things with you.” He laughed at himself. “It sounds silly, but I feel safe with you.”
“How is that in any way silly?” she asked.
He said, “I don’t know. It doesn’t feel manly.”
“Feeling safe with a woman?”
“I guess.” He pinned her down and kissed her. Mezzanotte wagged her tail at his movement. He wished cats weren’t like this. They watched everything.
He stopped, too fearful of moving another inch. “What? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she said. Since kissing her, her face had gone redder. “I just want to ask, since you’re experimenting…”
His heart skipped.
“May I touch you?”
His body did what it knew best and locked up, protecting him from any outside threats. With being in a relationship, he knew this’d come up eventually, but he wasn’t ready to tell her the truth yet. Cruelly, he thought it would’ve slipped out by now. His family would’ve taken her aside or she would brush against his pant legs and realize, “Oh.” “Oh, you’re different.” “Oh, you’re just like me.”
Then he would have to go into why he hid so much from her. Why it was such a big deal in the first place. Why he’d been so, so scared to tell her the truth. Because she’d think him a liar. Or a girl. Or someone who was faking it for attention, just like his parents thought, even though he’d told them time and time again that it wasn’t a big deal when he knew it was. He knew nobody understood it, so they wanted their explanations debunked and questions answered.
So he never spoke about it. Not even to his friends. Or to Sylvia. He passed. That was all that mattered.
He just wanted to be Vincenzo DiFiore, a man who wasn’t interested in sex who wasn’t forced to say or do anything he was uncomfortable with.
But then, he realized who was underneath him: his stability who accepted every part of him.
He gave her a small, small nod, barely registering as consent, and braced for the worst.
Working with his pace, Sylvia slowly wiggled her arms free, reached up and over his head, and wrapped her arms around him.
She curled her fingers in and out of his hair, messing up the gel and re-creating his natural curls. There wasn’t enough room for him to do the same, so he just hovered above her, watching her watch him. He usually didn’t make so much eye contact with people for this long, even with her. He felt himself go hot, everywhere.
“Okay,” she said, and dropped her hands. “Thank you. I wanted to fix that for forever.”
“Your hair. I love it greased up, but I love this look even more.”
“But don’t you want to, well, touch anywhere else?”
She looked down at his crotch. “No.”
“I’m not. While I would enjoy touching you there, you don’t want me to, right? I can see it on your face, and it’s not as if I need that part of you in order to feel loved.”
“But you do.”
She shrugged. “I’m just an incredibly horny girl,” she said. “My hands are perfectly adequate in relieving that for me. I do like thinking about it, though,” she added. “That can’t be helped, unfortunately. You’re much too handsome for me not to fantasize about.”
He almost fainted. His body was so rigid, and then to hear that? Here he thought he should’ve been doing so much more. It was what was expected of a man, to perform his duties. Now, not only was she not expecting anything, she understood why he couldn’t go any farther than this.
Well, partly. Whenever he was ready to finally tell her, he knew he’d be okay.
He dropped his forehead against hers. She cooled him down. “Thank you.”
“Of course. This’s about you experimenting with what you’re okay with, and I’m okay with it all.”
He kissed her lips.
“And nothing is mandatory.”
He dipped down to her neck.
She panted. “Unless you’re okay with it. Neck kissing is lovely.”
As he went to lick more of her neck, she moaned into breaking off with him.
“You okay?” he asked.
Upon hearing her hesitation, he pulled himself up and made sure she was alright.
She was, but that wasn’t the problem. Hiding her face, she used her free hand to cover the spot between her thighs. “I got excited again,” she said.
He kept himself from looking down. For his sake and hers. Did he have to do anything? Should he try? Did he want to?
Just a bit. A taste, even, to say he’d tried it.
She peeked at him through her fingers.
“Do you want me to relieve you?”
“Only if you want to.”
He looked up.
“Only if you want to.”
He breathed into her neck, taking in the lingering perfume that clung to her soft skin. It’d be okay. It was just them, alone, and his father wasn’t even a phone call away because he’d told him not to call again.
But why couldn’t she take over? He knew men were supposed to take the first steps in a relationship, but it felt nice knowing a woman could handle the reins when you were too scared to walk.
Stealing one last kiss from her, he slipped off the bed and found himself on his knees like a squire about to be knighted by his queen.
She tightened her knees.
“Sorry.” He backed up. “Is this too much? Is it—?”
“No, it’s okay. I just didn’t want you seeing anything that might…alarm you.” She parted her legs. “This okay?”
“Yeah,” he said, but his mouth had gone dry. He’d read novels about romance and studied poetry describing passionate nights between lovers. Watching Sylvia’s hand disappear underneath her dress, he didn’t feel at all ready. He felt weak, weak for her.
After knowing he was okay, Sylvia lifted up the rest of her dress like curtains to her play.
He worked quickly. For a daft moment, he didn’t know how to take off her stockings. He thought her slip had some type of zipper on it like a pair of pants. He never knew she wore so many layers. He was probably a hypocrite in that regard.
He didn’t know what to expect. This part of the body he’d agonized over for years, it looked pretty well normal by his standards. Dare he say it, but he was a bit jealous. It was different than what he thought—definitely hairier, and bigger—but it was as soft and pink as his and, as she bit her lower lip, just as sensitive, it seemed.
He played with her using his hand. He’d seen this in artwork and knew it happened often, but he never imagined himself doing this with anyone before. Certainly not on his knees, maneuvering his weight so as not to make it awkward.
Whatever he was doing, it was doing more for her than it did for him. Upon the first touch, she grabbed the sheets and melted into pleasure. Her parted legs lifted up her dress and gave him more room to work with. “Oh, Vincenzo.”
Dumbly, he nodded like she was asking him a question. He was so focused on pleasing her, he didn’t realize where he was in the process until it was very prominently in front of him.
He licked his lips before trying to please her in a new way.
He didn’t know how women—or men, he considered—did this well, or at all romantically. It felt too delicate in his mouth and too lost in his hand. He wanted to ask if he was doing anything wrong, but her begging that he “keep going” because he was “so good,” how could he disobey her? He thought kissing was enough. This opened so many new doors.
Too many doors. Between his legs, a damp warmth was beginning to spread. He covered it with one hand, but the tightness of his pants did him no favors. He hoped it’d go away or that it’d magically let him cum and get it over with. He had a job to do here and this was distracting him.
With his confidence rising, he looked up to see if she was still enjoying herself.
Gasping on the love leaking from her lips, Sylvia clawed into his hair and pushed him even deeper.
He gagged. Mezzanotte meowed and scratched his thigh. Was this better? Worse? Was she close?
She tightened her knees around him and moaned. Every time he pulled back to breathe, her hips bucked for him to come back.
This was it. He knew it. All the writings he’d studied. The illustrations. It didn’t make sense, but hearing her call out his name made all the sense in the world.
If you were to ask him, he didn’t know why he kept her in his mouth when she came. Maybe because it was their first time together and he didn’t want to disrespect her by pulling back. He also might’ve wanted to taste it. He was experimenting, after all. He couldn’t say he hated the taste if he’d never tried it.
He also wanted to “be there” to experience it. With his eyes closed and mouth occupied, he could sense her all around him. She groaned louder, more desperate, and when she released, the inner parts of her thighs shivered around his cheeks. He wouldn’t forget that.
He did spit it out afterwards. He had to make sure none of it stayed inside him, as he couldn’t contextualize it in a healthy way yet. Maybe later, when he had a few more tastes of her.
After cumming, she rightfully collapsed, arms shaking to keep herself vertical. Mezzanotte, all too curious, jumped onto her thigh and sniffed her.
“Did I do okay?” Vincenzo asked, trying to push his cat away.
Without the words to answer him, Sylvia took him by the jaw and kissed him. Even when he’d done such a dirty act. She must’ve been more adventurous than he was.
Trying to keep up with her, he used his dirty hand and went to touch himself. It was still warm there.
A knocking came from downstairs.
The strength of the knocking alone indicated that something was wrong, but Sylvia slamming her knees together reaffirmed that concern. “That’s him,” she whispered. “The same knocking. The man who broke into my apartment.”
It surprised him how quickly his arousal turned to bloodlust. Heart icing over, he jumped to his feet and wrenched open his bedside drawer.
Sylvia, still in a daze, reacted slowly as he handed her his gun. She fondled it with the knowledge that she did know how to use it but wouldn’t if she didn’t have to.
“Use it,” he whispered, “if you need to.”
“Alright,” she said, and hid her exposed body underneath the covers.
Without explaining himself, he tiptoed down the stairs, armed himself with one of the kitchen knives on the counter, and headed for the front door. How dare someone take this away from him? How much longer would he have to fight to be with her?
It’d always be this way. Nobody understood them, people who’d been shaped outside of the ideal mold. But he wouldn’t stop fighting for it. He wouldn’t stop visiting the Black Kitten or kissing his lover. That was his world, and nobody was taking it away from him.
Just as he expected another knock, Vincenzo said a prayer and went to open the door.
The knocking stopped. Someone walked down the stairs, bored with waiting. The threat gone, or momentarily delayed.
He eyed the windows by the door. The right one gave him the best view of the street, but he would have to part the curtain.
He tried, and caught sight of a man, just barely. He wore a grey trench coat and a black bowler hat.
He was the fucking man from the Viola Tavern. The one sitting with the other man. Of course. He hadn’t made the connection because of the cursed alcohol, but now it made sense. Now he just needed to see his face. Then he’d ruin him.
Just as he went to part more of the curtain, the window cracked and shattered in his face.
Glass exploded all around him. Pieces spread across the carpet like snow. Something bashed into his arm and rolled near the coffee table, but when he aimed his knife at it, expecting to find a person, he was met with a rock, a jagged boulder the size of his head that would’ve knocked him out or killed him if the aim had been right.
A car skidded away. The footsteps were gone. Their mission, whatever it could’ve been, was complete.
Vincenzo took large gasps of air to calm himself down. The night was infiltrating his home and making him shiver. It had to have been that, the night air. One-fourth of his window was gone and exposing himself to darkness.
He had to move. If he got to his car, he could apprehend whoever was doing this to them and end it all.
But he couldn’t. His feet would allow it. Sylvia, upstairs. His Nonna…
A door opened behind him.
He gripped his knife.
Nonna reached out her candlestick into the dark. Her glasses were skewed on her innocent face.
“Close the door,” he whispered.
She did as told, shutting it on her nose, eyes locked on her grandson.
He stared at the massive boulder by his foot. When people cursed him out or shot at him and his men, he stayed strong. People attacked him vigorously for a slew of reasons, all of which he could deflect.
This rock felt more sinister than all of those times put together. Never before had someone actually attacked his home at night. He felt taken advantage of by a stranger, “stranger” because he’d never seen this muscular man by Hannigan’s side. And he didn’t know who’d thrown the boulder. Until he saw his face, he had no idea who or how many people wanted him dead.
Acting as the man he was, Vincenzo fixed the problem the only way he knew how. Since he wasn’t a handyman, he mended the hole by lifting the coffee table onto its side and leaning it against the pane. He got as close to the wall as he could in case anyone else wanted to break in and enter tonight. To be safe, he did the same with the other window. He didn’t have another coffee table that long, but a barrier was still a barrier. It protected you from the evils outside.
With the front of the house secured, he double-checked that the back doors were locked and that the windows were firmly shut. He also turned off the stove—it was a lost cause, the pasta had been overcooked—before going back to his Nonna.
She was still behind the door, hand covering her light. “Is everything alright?”
“Was it a break-in?”
“Yes, but they’re gone now.” He kissed the top of her forehead. “Love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Sylvia had learned from her ways and stayed locked inside of their bedroom. He had to announce himself before she unlocked it. She had his gun in her hand.
“Did you get him?” she asked.
“No.” He flopped into bed.
“They tried to break in.”
“Do you think this’s because of me?”
“I think it’s because of both of us.”
“Jealousy is a deadly sin, isn’t it?”
“I’m sure that’s it.”
“It must be, isn’t it? I don’t want to think of any other reason.”
He caressed her face with his clean hand. He’d never let anyone hurt her, even if the world had other motives to end their lives.
“Oh, God, the pasta.” She bolted upright. “I’ll make you a plate, if it’s ready.”
“Don’t.” He grabbed her wrist. “I took it off the stove. Just stay here.”
Listening, she sat beside him. “Hey.” She curled his bangs around his ear. “It’s okay.”
He closed his eyes. It could’ve been. With the world quieting down, he dreamed of a cottage the two of them owned, with a dog and a kid they’d adopt off the streets. She was there with him in that dream, just as she was here now, caring for him. He was okay in both worlds.
As they snuggled together in the real world, her kissing his fingers one by one before moving to his lips, he was reminded of what he had, what he needed to protect: both her and himself, and what they’d created together.
If this could be their new normal, how happy he would be.