Sylvia awoke to the sound of heels tapping in circles, then to people whispering in secret.
She was alone in bed, Vincenzo gone, and their bedroom door was cracked open. A stream of light hit her cheek. A fire had been lit and was snapping in-between conversation.
Slipping into her slippers and robe, Sylvia got herself dressed and peeked around the door.
She must’ve missed something. A letter, a meeting. All of her friends—Laurence, Dominic, Mitsuko, Émeline, Luis, even Ana—were in their living room. Laurence and Dominic were standing near the fire. Ana was sitting on the rocking chair while Luis paced in the kitchen. Vincenzo had just handed Émeline a cup of tea. She looked grief-stricken, like she’d been wailing for hours. Mitsuko was beside her on the couch with an arm around her back.
Sylvia announced herself by letting the door creak.
Vincenzo looked up. “Oh, good. I was about to wake you.”
“What’s going on?”
Whatever she’d said sent Émeline back into tears. Vincenzo sighed and went to tend to the fire.
Sylvia sat next to the poor girl and took one of her hands in support of whatever she was going through.
“It’s…Well, I don’t think I can say it’s not that bad,” Mitsuko said. “Ém and I were talking.”
“I’m so sorry,” Émeline blubbered.
“It’s okay,” Sylvia said, not knowing what else to say.
“But now that we’re all here, now should be a good time to explain things,” Vincenzo said. “Émeline, what is it that you wanted to tell us?”
She blew her nose. “I’ve been trying to find a way to explain it. It was all so sudden and I was too afraid to speak up, but after eating with everyone today, I…”
Sensing that Vincenzo wanted answers by whatever means necessary, Sylvia beckoned for him to sit. He did and took her free hand, rubbing over the ring still on her finger.
Goodness, she’d almost forgotten that. Everything he’d explained to her, the promises he’d sworn to keep. She sucked in her lips, hoping her friends’ sharp eyes hadn’t noticed the beautiful ring.
“Want me to explain?” Mitsuko asked.
“No, I…I’ll try.” She wiped her eyes. “About three weeks ago, I received a telegram from a Mr. Campo d’Antonio asking me about my escort services. He wanted me to lead a group of his acquaintances around Paris for seven-hundred American dollars. I thought this proposal was…off, and a bit perplexing. My services weren’t worth that much, so I thought it was a trick and declined the generous offer. Then, a few days later, I received another telegram. Here, he mentioned Mitsuko.”
At her name, Mitsuko took a shuddering breath. “I never told anyone about her. There’s no way he could’ve known about our relationship.”
“And I never mentioned you after the War ended,” she said. “Not even my parents knew, so it frightened me that this strange, wealthy man from America knew about us.
“Fearful that he was going to expose my past, I wrote back inquiring about his offer, and he gave me more information. He said he was going to send over a boy he saw as his own son and many of his acquaintances from New York. He said he was afraid for all of your well-being, especially you.” She said that while looking at Vincenzo. “He seemed to think you were in critical danger.”
Vincenzo leaned in to better see her. “Why did he say that to you?” His expression was incalculable, eyes empty and unblinking.
“He said you were, I don’t remember the word, but he explained your profession and your lover, you,” she said to Sylvia. “He explained that someone was targeting you and that you needed to leave the country.”
The question tensed her up. “I-I don’t know. Something about a talk with Sev…Sevi—”
“Severo,” he answered.
She nodded. “I believe Campo told you that this was a vacation meant to celebrate your birthday with a small job to accomplish on his behalf.”
She dabbed her eyes. “He said that was a lie. He told me not to tell you until you got suspicious, but I can’t do it anymore. He said you’re not to come back to America. You’re all to live here now.”
Betrayal cracked down Vincenzo’s face and into his heart. His hand slipped from Sylvia as he stood up, knees locked as he processed the news.
“He said what?” Ana asked. “That’s preposterous! I have my child back home. He can’t do this!”
“And I have my family,” Laurence asked. “How could he do this?”
“Why would he do this?” Sylvia added. “I thought…” She looked up to Vincenzo. “I thought he liked us.”
Vincenzo walked to the windows. His vacant eyes stared out to the street beneath him. He slowly closed the curtains.
“I’m sorry,” Émeline said. “I’ve discerned through the telegrams and your conversations that you’re in those gangs I’ve heard about from the newspapers, so I was scared to speak up until now. And it’s been so hard, keeping this away from you all, and seeing Mitsuko again after so many years…”
She started crying again, and Mitsuko took her in her arms, hiding her face from everyone.
“That’s about it,” she concluded, “so we’re absolutely fucked.”
“But he can’t keep us here, can he?” Luis asked. “I mean, Ana and I, we’re not part of this. We have our baby back home. We have a house. We can’t leave all that behind just because Campo and Severo are fighting.”
Vincenzo pulled back his hair as if to tie it up. He let his face breathe, took in a harsh breath. Then he left for their bedroom.
He came back with a handful of papers, sorting through them as he walked. “There’s no return date,” he said. “He hasn’t given us a ship ride home. There’s nothing scheduled.” He pinched his nose, then slapped the end of the couch. “Fuck!”
“I’m sorry,” Émeline said. “He told me to tell you at the end of your trip, but I couldn’t withhold it any longer. I didn’t think it was fair.”
“This isn’t your fault, dear,” Laurence said, “You were caught up in something much bigger than yourself.”
Vincenzo searched through his papers once more, for any answers to Campo’s decisions. When he couldn’t find any, he then tossed all of them into the fire. He, Luis, and Dominic watched them crinkled into themselves and burn.
“We have enough money to get back, don’t we?” Luis asked.
“I have some,” Dominic said.
“Please, use what he sent me,” Émeline said. “Seeing all that money in my bank account makes me sick.”
Vincenzo stuffed his hands in his pockets, watching the fire burn until a log snapped and broke in two. “We’ll figure this out in the morning,” he said. “You can all leave now. Dominic, Luis, we’ll leave at six. I need to send a telegram to Campo, then find…fuck, seven tickets back to America all on the same boat as soon as possible.”
Luis and Dominic agreed and left quickly with their lovers in tow. Mitsuko helped Émeline out, but before leaving, she caught Sylvia’s eyes and grabbed Laurence’s sleeve. She pointed at the ring on her own hand, then at Sylvia.
She should’ve known she couldn’t hide this from them. They cared too much for her. Giving in, she showed them the ring.
Laurence covered his mouth and ran back to give her a hug. Mitsuko joined in but kept an eye on Vincenzo. His shoulders were heaving now.
“Congratulations,” Laurence whispered.
“I can’t believe he really did it,” Mitsuko said. “Ém said he’d asked her where I bought her ring. Didn’t know the stick in the mud could pull it off.”
“I can’t believe it, either. I wish I could’ve announced it under better circumstances.”
“It must be a Kitten custom, to propose under unconventional conditions.” Mitsuko nudged Laurence. “You’re next.”
“Not on your life,” he said, and gave Sylvia another hug. “We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
“Of course. Goodnight.”
When they were alone, Sylvia walked up to Vincenzo by the fire and held his hand. She’d only met Campo twice, but even though he was a gangster, and a powerful one at that, with how highly Vincenzo talked about him, she never distrusted him. He had their best interests in mind. He liked them. He protected them. He loved Vincenzo.
“I don’t know what to say,” Vincenzo whispered. “I’m…angry. I’m confused. I’m pissed.”
“Émeline said that he was worried about us. He must only be doing this for your safety. Our safety.”
“But to never even speak to me about it. I thought I was his right-hand man. I thought…” He sighed. “I guess I thought wrong.”
“I’m sorry.” She helped bring him to bed. She didn’t want to leave him alone as his world was falling apart and find him hitting the couch or ambling around the streets at three in the morning.
“I’ve never lied to him,” he vented as he tucked himself in, “not once. I’ve always been upfront with him, did everything he asked. To endanger and inconvenience us like this, to send us away without explanation. Luis has a child at home, for God’s sake. If he’s so worried about my father, he should talk to him, not send me away.”
“I agree. It’ll be okay. We’ll go back home and you’ll sort all of this out.”
“Yeah,” he said unconvincingly, “if I’m even welcomed in the Family now.”
To make him feel better, she let her hand fall over his upper chest, tickling him.
He took her curious fingers and brought them to his lips. Then he took his preferred hand—her left—and kissed her ring.
“Mitsuko saw,” Sylvia said.
“I heard.” He looked away. “I’m scared of you wearing that when we go back home.”
Her full heart panged only for it to refill with his love and concern. “We’ll be okay.”
“But what if we aren’t? I don’t want my father hurting you.”
“He won’t. Campo probably panicked from all those attacks we faced last year and didn’t know what else to do. You’ll talk with him and smooth things over, then we’ll go back to the Kitten and everything will be normal.”
He sighed, so Sylvia kept repeating her lies until she believed them herself.