Before the Sun rose, Vincenzo, Luis, Dominic, and Émeline left to find the nearest telegram office.
He’d assured Émeline that she didn’t have to come—their force and presence would get the job done—but she insisted. She, like Vincenzo, hadn’t slept after hearing Campo had abandoned them.
He’d betrayed him, there was no point in arguing that. He’d stranded them on a deserted island without so much as a wave goodbye. Vincenzo had his Nonna to take care of, his family. His cat. He couldn’t believe he’d just cut them off without telling them prior.
He wondered if he should’ve taken this as an order, but he hadn’t been “ordered” anything. This was his vacation and he deserved to come back home when he felt like it.
At six that morning, he sent the telegram.
FOUND OUT THE TRUTH.
WE REQUEST TO RETURN HOME.
WE WISH TO SEE OUR FAMILIES.
WHAT IS YOUR STANCE ON THE MATTER.
He’d never delivered a telegram like this before, having to wait so long for it to reach the receiver. The people who owned the building said it only took a few minutes for a telegram to reach America. They insisted that the receiver must’ve been thinking long and hard about what to say, or that they might’ve been out of the house.
Two hours passed. Vincenzo sent Émeline away to spend what little time she had left with Mitsuko and Luis to buy the cruise liner tickets. He didn’t want to waste any more time. He almost left with them to clear his head before the machine spat out Campo’s response.
IF MONEY IS AN ISSUE, I’LL SEND MORE.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT FAMILY. I’LL TAKE CARE OF THEM.
Vincenzo clenched his jaw so hard, he heard something crack. He left without paying. Dominic paid in his stead before the cops were called.
Instead of hitting anything, when Vincenzo left, he kicked at the snow like a child, splattering it into the street until he hit concrete. “Screw him,” he cursed. “Fuck him. He can’t keep us from coming back. We’re still leaving. This week.” He blinked. “Don’t tell him I said that.”
“I’d never.” Dominic folded the telegram and gave it to Vincenzo. “Sir, may I speak openly with you?”
“…You may,” he said hesitantly. Since when did Dominic ask to speak? Since when did he speak? Normally, it was Luis or Vincenzo who decided things for him.
They started walking back to their boarding house, Dominic’s feet dragging to elongate the time he had to talk. “As you might be aware, I haven’t always been…upfront with my personal life. I try and keep my thoughts to myself, as I don’t think it’s helpful to mix the pot with my input, but I wanted to tell you that I…” He nervously scratched his nose. “Laurence and I have become very close this past month, close enough that I do consider him my…partner.” He said the last word in a whisper.
Vincenzo waited for more information before speaking. He was scared of where this was going.
Dominic continued. “I only say this because I don’t want you to feel like this only affects you and Sylvia. You’ve been the target of most of these attacks, but when we go back to the states, all of us will be in danger, so don’t take on all the burdens by yourself. Don’t feel so alone, I guess is what I’m trying to say.” He cleared his throat, the embarrassment burning him red. “I-I don’t know what I’m saying. Laurence had told me to say something, but I’m not good at it. Forgive me.”
Vincenzo stared up at the man’s profile. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken up when he hadn’t been asked a question, and to flip it into such a personal declaration, too.
He smiled for the first time that day. “I didn’t know you were official with Laurence.”
“Ah.” Dominic hid his mouth. “Well, you know how it is.”
“I do. Are you happy?”
The smile peeked from his fingers. “The happiest I’ve been in years.”
“Then I’m glad it all worked out. And it still will, when we get home. I promise you that.”
“Thank you. Congratulations, by the way. About the proposal. Laurence told me last night. Despite what he says, he seems in love with the idea of your love.”
“Better be careful, then. In a few months, it’ll be you and him traveling to France and popping the question.”
“Gracious, he said the same thing.”
“‘Gracious’? Are you becoming more like him?”
He chuckled, and Vincenzo swore that was the first time he’d ever heard him laugh. The tension he felt from Campo’s harsh words lessened. “We should celebrate before going back. It’ll probably take a few days before we can book passage back home.”
“Do you have anything else you’d like to do here?” Dominic asked.
“Well, it sounds like you have something in mind.”
“Well…” He pulled out a small brochure from his back pocket. “Laurence was telling me that France is known for these salons that cater to people like us. They’re like pansy bars. They’re all over. I don’t know if they’d remind you of work, but to calm down from the news last night, I thought it might be fun if we went.”
Vincenzo considered it. While he’d visited many pansy bars across New York, he never thought about going to one for pleasure. And certainly not to toast his engagement with his fiancée.
But then he thought back to all the times he’d gone to the Black Kitten without purpose. He’d sit and sulk in the corner of the bar, watching Sylvia like a bat in its cave before picking her up and driving her home. He’d cower in the corner and call it waiting, silently fearing if and when somebody would harass him for taking up space in a place he thought he didn’t belong.
He took the brochure. “Where’s the nearest one?”
Ana was not amused by how a French pansy bar operated. Through Luis’ encouragement, she tried to come in with them, but when she was greeted by a woman wearing nothing but feathers and heavy eye makeup, she ran out blabbering about “common decency.”
“Oh, you drop that off at the doorway, sweetheart,” Laurence yelled at her, and Sylvia laughed.
The smell of crisp alcohol in crystal glasses brought them back to semi-normalcy. The bar wasn’t held in a dark basement, but the feeling, the freshness of the people dancing and having a good time, it was there and welcomed them.
The performers were, for lack of a better word, nude, albeit with perfectly placed pearls and torn clothes covering their skin-colored dresses. Vincenzo covered his eyes as their waiter, a woman showing full knee, took their orders. France was definitely something to get used to. Luis shamefully watched between his fingers. Mitsuko and Émeline took long gazes. Sylvia complimented them on how beautiful they looked.
It amused him how Dominic and Laurence paid the women no mind and just laughed whenever one of the girls tried flirting with them. But when the men came out wearing cherry-red lipstick and high heels, the whole table laughed at Laurence’s reaction. One server, a built man with a curly mustache, even sat on Dominic’s lap for a fraction of a second before twirling off and disappearing. That didn’t seem to please Laurence. He chugged the remainder of his champagne in a pout.
“Sit on his lap, then,” Luis teased. “You’ll lose that frown quick enough.”
“Not interested,” Laurence grumbled. “We’re not like the lot of you. Dominic doesn’t like public—” He caught himself too late. Dominic had hidden his face, his ears hot pink.
Vincenzo didn’t know what he was laughing at. He’d only drunk one glass. For once, the atmosphere was more intoxicating than the drink in his hand, and when he saw all his friends together like this, with Sylvia by his side, laughing and eating and enjoying herself in the most pleasing way, he realized he was happy. The thought of Campo imprisoning them in Europe left with his sobriety.
A song started up, an English one he and the rest of the table knew. With drinks in hand, they all volunteered to provide the needed vocals. They raised their glasses—Luis stood on his chair to get a better vocal range. Émeline wrapped her arms around Mitsuko’s neck as she rocked to the beat. Sylvia took up Luis’ offer and sat on Vincenzo’s lap, the weight of her bottom pressing down on his crotch. The Frenchmen and women in the bar stomped their feet to their performances.
When the songs finally reverted back to French, Laurence had lost his shirt, Dominic’s was unbuttoned, Mitsuko and Émeline had excused themselves to the bathroom for a full hour, and Luis had somehow held an entire conversation with a French man drunker than he was.
Vincenzo and Sylvia had found their way on stage. There was no microphone or piano for them to hog, but that didn’t stop them. Vincenzo sang. Sylvia kicked out her heels as she danced. Nobody minded except the performers whose performances they were ruining. By the time Vincenzo was dueting with Laurence and Sylvia had found her dance partner with Mitsuko, the French people were laughing at their attempts to be engaging.
Hours drained into the night. Their meals went cold. Vincenzo’s throat hurt from singing. As far as he could tell, the French people loved them, or them hollering that they keep singing was that encouraging. By the end of the night, Vincenzo had lost his voice and turned to “a little mouse,” according to Sylvia. He didn’t mind the pet name.
Ana, the parent that she was, was waiting outside for them. She had a mug of hot cocoa in her mittens as she dined with two women of the night. When all of them ambled out, she bid her company goodnight and wrangled in her husband.
“Who’re they?” Luis slurred.
“Two girls from America. We got to…talking, and I was watching you all make fools of yourself in there. Even though I don’t approve of letting oneself go so extravagantly, I suppose…I understand this livelihood a bit more. I can see how it’s comforting to be with people you see yourself in.”
“Aha, Ana likes pansies!” Vincenzo said, which erupted into a chorus of “Ana likes pansies” that continued throughout the car rides home.
He didn’t know what Luis had done, but he’d booked their voyage home for the next morning. Ana had refused to be without her child for a second longer, and he knew he was feeling homesick. He missed the smell of his own bed and finding Nonna waddling around the kitchen. He felt like Laurence and Dominic could spend another week here. Mitsuko would’ve spent the rest of her days here by Émeline’s side, but the urgency to get back home weighed down on them.
That night, they all slept in the same room. When Vincenzo woke up to use the bathroom, he found Luis using the curtains as a blanket with Ana on the couch. Laurence was using Dominic as a pillow, Émeline was curled up with Mitsuko in the bed. Sylvia was passed out in the bathtub. She was cradling a bottle of tequila and the blanket she’d stolen from their closets.
After relieving himself, Vincenzo came back to Mitsuko sitting upright, petting Émeline’s blond hair as she slept on her lap. The softness of her eyes showed Vincenzo a different side of her. If he hadn’t been so tired, he would’ve sworn she’d been crying.
They got to the docks early the next morning. Their hangovers worked against them—Sylvia hadn’t budged until ten minutes before they checked out—but they were on a time crunch. No more could they bask in France’s delights. Now, they needed to return home.
They took their three separate cars, as usual, but when they got off and filed into the boat, they’d lost sight of Mitsuko and Émeline.
“Their chauffeur said they got out with us,” Luis said when he went to check on them.
They boarded and searched the top deck, then around the stairwells and first floors. Dominic and Laurence waited by the boarding dock in case they crossed paths.
The officers and sailors called for everyone to board. The horn wailed out across the docks and echoed into France.
“We can’t leave without them,” Sylvia said.
“Did she say she was coming?” Vincenzo asked.
“No, she hasn’t,” Laurence said, and looked over the railing once more.
He gasped. “There!”
Down beneath a metal awning, Mitsuko and Émeline were standing. Hand in hand, ready together.
“Is she getting on?” Sylvia asked.
“Which one?” Vincenzo questioned darkly.
Mitsuko looked up at the boat, scanning it from bow to stern, shaking her head. She said something to Émeline and squeezed her hand. They exchanged a muted conversation that Vincenzo didn’t strain to lip read.
Mitsuko turned Émeline’s face so they were looking at one another. She caressed her soft cheek, took it in one hand, then stood on her tiptoes and kissed her right in front of a policeman.
People stared. The policeman stumbled back, aghast. They didn’t care. Mitsuko gave her wife one last hug and stole a kiss on her cheek before she boarded by herself with her satchel. Émeline touched her cheek, then waved to her until the ship sailed out.
Luis, Ana, and Dominic left to find their rooms. Vincenzo, Sylvia, and Laurence stayed for Mitsuko’s sake. Even though she could no longer see the coastline, she still had her hand up.
Vincenzo went to touch her, but she swung around and exhaled loud enough for the whole deck to hear her. “I need a drink.”
“But you’re sober.”
“Drink. Of milk. A gallon of it. If I puke, don’t stop me. Any of you.”
“You made a hard decision,” Sylvia said.
“You bet your ass I did. ‘Long distance’. I’ve been pining for that woman for a goddamn fucking decade. I can take another year. Can you imagine how many letters I’m going to send her? If I didn’t love the Black Kitten so much, I would’ve given her a quicker answer than I did. At least I know her address now. And her parent’s house. And her cousin’s place. And her place of work.” She wiped her eyes, then shouted at a sailor, “Where’s the bar?”
“Let’s go, darling,” Laurence said, and escorted her to the bar.
The trip back home was less hazy, mostly because they drank a third of the amount of alcohol and all split up into their couples, Mitsuko’s couple being her and her bottles of milk. When they reached Liberty Island and stepped onto American soil again, they got into their parked cars with their brains fried. They didn’t talk much, but they knew who was leaving with whom. Dominic slept over Laurence’s, Mitsuko drove Laurence home. Luis and Ana followed Vincenzo in his car, and Sylvia sat beside him, her hand over his thigh.
“Do you know when you’re going to meet Campo?” Sylvia asked as they entered Brooklyn.
“I was planning on dropping you off and saying hello to my Nonna, then I was going to phone him. We left early, so he won’t be expecting us.”
“I hope everything goes well. I’d hate for you and him to have a disagreement. He must’ve known that you’d find this out sooner or later.”
“That’s what I was having trouble figuring out. It doesn’t make sense. He should’ve known I’d find out.”
He pulled up to his house and saw Mezzanotte waiting for him in the hallway window. When she saw his car, she poofed up with her hackles raised. He almost waved to her when he noticed a car parked out on the curb.
He slowed to a stop in his parking space.
“Who’s that?” Sylvia asked.
He reached underneath his seat and pulled out a pistol.
Sylvia stayed close to him as he carefully made his way up the steps. Mezzanotte would’ve run if there’d been a commotion, but none of Nonna’s friends drove those types of Fords. The only ones who did worked with him.
He unlocked the door.
A man was sitting in his living room with a hat clutched in his hands. Vincenzo recognized him as Sylvester, a worker who helped Campo with measly tasks.
Nonna walked into the kitchen with tea when they shut the door. “Vincenzo!”
“Oh, sir.” Sylvester stood up and bowed. “I’m…I didn’t know you’d be here. We all thought you’d come in later this month.”
“What’s going on?” Vincenzo asked.
He squeezed his hat like he was wringing out a rag. “Have you heard the news, sir?”
“What news?” he snapped. “Tell me.”
“It’s about Campo, sir. Campo…” He shuddered. “We’re still trying to figure it out, but someone broke into his property late at night. He had his kids there, his family. They were eating dinner.”
He bowed his head in respect. “He’s dead, sir. His whole family was shot and killed last night. He’s gone.”