She was an angel. In no way could she have found him so quickly right when he’d lost the will to fight. She had a kindness to her that most people would never have, a love that put everyone else’s needs above her own.
All the grief he had about his choice washed away in calming waves, taking it away and replacing it with Sylvia. She sat there with him, in the car with Luis and Dominic, with her hand in his. Some of the anxiety remained—he didn’t know where his father was or who could’ve been following him—but at that moment, he could finally breathe without hiccuping.
“So, this changes things,” Luis said, breaking the tension. “I thought we’d have more time to figure out what we’re gonna do, but now that’s shortened to…now. Like, tonight. When we get out of the car, you need to know if you’re skipping town on that boat or not.”
“Are you coming?” Vincenzo asked. In the documents, Campo had given neither him nor his wife new lives.
“Nah,” he said. “Somebody’s gotta take care of Black Kitten while you’re gone, right? Can’t have it falling to shambles when half of its family has to leave it.” He chuckled at nothing, a shake in his voice. “So, uh, anyone gonna say anything?”
“I think everything has been said,” Sylvia said. “You’re a good man for doing this, Luis.”
“Ah.” He wiped something off of his face. “Fuck,” he whispered. “This isn’t fair.”
“I know, sweetheart. I know.”
When they reached Vincenzo’s driveway, every movement, flicker, and creak set Vincenzo off. It was almost midnight, his deadline to erase everyone who mattered to him. For the first time in his life, his legs wouldn’t stop shaking at the threat of keeping his future.
Nonna seemed to be asleep. The kitchen was deserted. The living room, lifeless.
“Go, go,” Luis whispered, instructing them upstairs. “The quicker we do this, the better.”
After Sylvia entered the bedroom, Vincenzo locked the door, threw open his closet, and took out two duffel bags and a large suitcase. Two were already filled with the essentials—clothes, shoes, socks, a blanket, his Bible, a gun.
“When did you make this?” Sylvia asked.
“The day before I got shot. I’d already known what I wanted to do, I just didn’t think we had this short a time limit to decide.”
“Oh. Good.” Reaching underneath the bed, Sylvia took out her own hidden, packed bag. “I started tonight.”
He tried packing the rest of his life in two bags. He packed his less formal attire, his corsets, an abundance of socks and undergarments, the remainder of his gun collection. In his pants pockets, jacket, and suitcase compartments, he hid around $1,225 and about fifteen ounces of cocaine in a tight bag. Sylvia marveled at the hundred-dollar bills and packet of white powder, but she said nothing about just how much money Vincenzo kept in his room as back-up.
Slightly uneasy, he turned to his bedside drawer. Paper wouldn’t weigh down his bags, right? Talking himself into it, he opened it and stuffed all of Sylvia’s letters from over the years into his suitcase.
“You’ve kept those,” Sylvia said.
“Every last one.”
That made her smile, but she lost it as she helped finish wrecking his room. She knelt down on his bags so they could seal it up properly, they cleaned out the rest of his closet. They packed more of their sentimental belongings—a hand-sized picture of Nonna, Sylvia’s pearls, Vincenzo’s signed Dodgers baseball. They made sure each of them had everything they needed and then some. The last piece came as their altered passports.
“We have to go to the Black Kitten,” Sylvia said. “Mitsuko and Laurence are working until two. If we can catch them, they can start packing at home and be ready before we—”
Her idea trailed off, her head tilting to the ground, and Vincenzo’s soul sunk into the floorboards.
Someone had opened the front door.
Quieting himself, he crept up to his bedroom door and listened. Sylvia stood beside him. He couldn’t hear either of them breathe.
“I don’t know, I don’t know.”
“This isn’t happening. Fuck!”
Vincenzo went for his gun, but Nonna pushed herself into his room, out of breath, carrying Mezzanotte in her arms.
Luis and Dominic came up behind her.
“They’re outside,” Luis said. “Two cars. They’re waiting.”
His breathing picked up. This wasn’t happening. He should’ve had more time.
“We can go out through the back, but we have to go now,” Dominic urged, and started taking their bags in both arms.
He held his hip, the pain radiating to his heart. He couldn’t come up with a plan quickly enough. His feet wouldn’t move, he was frozen still. Sylvia, his friends, they were all waiting on him to act and he couldn’t.
His Nonna took his face in one hand. Her fingertips were ice cold. “I knew this would happen sooner or later,” she said. “I knew that one day you’d have to leave me because of this.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I should’ve protected you.”
“You should’ve been in no position to protect me as much as you already have. Your father shouldn’t have done that to you. He called me about an hour ago, your father. He was…different. He sounded like the Devil, the way he spoke about you. And I’ve seen the way you look at her. I used to be wary of it, but now I can’t see you with any other girl. This love is one of the best things that’s ever happened to you, and I want to see the two of you blossom together.”
She kissed both of his cheeks. “I love you so much, Vincenzo. Your father is a damned soul, but you have created a very pure, very loving heart, and you should be proud and keep hold of it. Now.” She tugged Sylvia down and kissed her, then handed Mezzanotte over to Vincenzo.
He cradled her warmth into his chest, this little stray he’d taken off of the streets. She’d grown so much over the year. With so many people in the room, she hadn’t even made a run for it yet.
He kissed her head before handing her back to Nonna. “Thank you for everything, Nonna. I love you.”
“I love you, too, my loving boy.”
Giving his room one last look, Vincenzo bit his tongue and followed his Nonna’s orders. “Let’s go,”
Incredibly bright floodlights shined through the living room windows in wait. At least two or three cars had skidded to a stop right outside, their motors running.
“We’ll go out through the back,” he whispered. “Sylvia, stay behind—”
The first bang of gunfire sent them to the ground. The second blew out the newly installed windows and littered the ground with glass.
Luis slammed into Vincenzo and knocked him to the floor. Dominic and Sylvia hid around the door. Vincenzo bit down on his sensitive abdomen, but his pain was drowned out by Luis scooping him up and thrusting him out the back door. “Go, go!”
In a scramble to stay up, he reached out and found Sylvia’s hand. “Our cars.”
“We’ll take one of mine,” Luis said.
Vincenzo looked back into his home. “Nonna—”
“Down!” Sylvia tucked down her head just as two police officers barreled into Vincenzo’s own home.
He went for his gun to kill them right there, too accustomed to seeing them as his enemy, but the men aimed their weapons into the home, securing them from a real threat.
“Get down!” they ordered. “Get down, take cover! Outside, now!”
“Will do,” Luis said under his breath.
“What’re they doing?” Sylvia asked as they passed another officer. “How’d they get here so fast?”
“Don’t know, but we should count our blessings while we still have them.”
Ignoring the officers’ orders, the group of them crossed the street to Luis’ house. Severo’s cars were parked against the sidewalk. Two bodies were on the ground. Three men were being led into a wagon, but Vincenzo’s father and the bowler hat men were missing.
Luis led them around his gardens to his other cars untouched by gunfire. His bedroom light was off, but as they came around, the window opened to Ana holding her child. “I saw the cars,” she said. “I knew it’d be bad, so I called the police ahead of time.”
“That’s my girl,” Luis said. “Baby, I need to drive this lot someplace safe, then I’ll be right back. Don’t worry about a thing, okay?”
She smiled. “I’m a moll, darling. All I do is that.” She dropped something out of the window for Luis to catch it expertly. It was a handgun. “Be safe, everyone.”
They all crammed into Luis’ car. Vincenzo was sitting on Dominic’s hand. Sylvia was somehow in the passenger seat and Luis was driving. Not that he shouldn’t have been in his own car, but Vincenzo couldn’t think of a time where he was in a car’s back seat. He felt like baggage, but also an important guest being led somewhere important.
They peeled out of his backyard gardens over the curb and sped through the parked cop cars. Vincenzo caught sight of one of his father’s unmanned cars, then looked behind him to his cul-de-sac.
His last time. His Nonna. Her Christmas decorations. Her food. Their love. Had he chosen this too abruptly? Had he even said goodbye to her? He had one portrait picture of her in his wallet. Was that all he’d have now?
They drove northeast and crossed Queensboro Bridge, skipping over the lower east-side traffic to put as much distance between them and Brooklyn as possible. When they pushed through the west side of the borough, Luis finally sighed and drove in a steadier line. “Jeez.”
That one word seemed to breathe relief into the rest of the car. Dominic took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow. Sylvia swore and fanned herself with her shirt. Vincenzo kept looking back for something. A car, his Nonna. They passed his father’s docks without a word.
“When did you say Laurence and Mitsuko leave the Black Kitten?” Dominic asked Sylvia.
“They leave at two.”
“Then we have to drive faster. If they’re gone, you can drop me off. I can run to Laurence’s house. It’s only four blocks away from the bar. If he’s there, I can bring him back.”
“Should we separate? Since so many people are after us right now, I don’t know if it’s safe.
“I’m separating if it means keeping him safe.”
Vincenzo eyed him. His request wasn’t that unreasonable, he’d just never heard him declare anything so powerfully before.
“We’ll swing by the Kitten first,” Luis said. “Stopping by their houses might lose us some time. If they’re both there, we’ll be golden. If that’s okay with you, Boss.”
Vincenzo was already nodding along with them. “That’s good.”
Dominic sighed and covered his eyes with one hand. His knee started jumping and didn’t stop until they passed the bridge.
“It’ll be okay,” Sylvia told him. “We’ll save him. We’ll save all of them.”
“Damn right,” Luis said, and pressed his foot on the gas.
Dominic had one hand on the car door, the other on the gun in his pants, when Luis turned into the Kitten’s lot. When he barely stopped the car, he heaved himself out and ran for the front door.
“Let’s go get our darlings,” Luis said, and went to open the door for both Sylvia and Vincenzo.
Somehow, being back in the Kitten’s smoky basement made Vincenzo feel the safest. If he could, he’d crawl back into his little niche with Sylvia by his side, listening to Mitsuko and Laurence perform while Dominic and Luis shared drinks at the bar. How he wanted that simplicity again.
But Dominic wasn’t at the bar. He wasn’t hiding or keeping himself isolated. He was on the stage. Interrupting a jazz quartet, he captured everyone’s attention by scanning the crowds for his lover.
Vincenzo searched for any of his father’s men. Too often men came here incognito, hiding their face and creeping in the shadows so nobody knew about their needs. Tonight, the Black Kitten was pretty packed, and he saw at least twenty men hiding their faces in scarves or underneath hats. If he called out Laurence’s name in front of everyone, if he caught the interest of a terrible man…
The back door leading to the dressing room opened and, with a glass in each hand, Mitsuko and Laurence came out to the main floor. They weren’t dressed up, not yet. Laurence had yet to put on his wig while Mitsuko had just started with her makeup.
“Lau—” Dominic choked on his name and jumped off the stage.
Laurence was able to pass his drink to Mitsuko just in time, for Dominic pushed him against the wall and hugged him like he’d lose him. Laurence, lost for words, mouthed a question to Sylvia before taking him in his arms. “What’s wrong?”
“Vincenzo’s father just shot up his house,” she explained. “Again. And now, he’s coming after us. He wants me dead by Vincenzo’s hand, then him dead, and we don’t know if any of you are at risk.”
Mitsuko stared at her glass of milk before chugging it and dumping the remains on the floor. “So, we leave.”
Laurence looked back to her. “We are? Right now? We’re really doing this?”
“Unless the last impression you want to leave on this Earth is a bloodstain on the pavement, we don’t have a choice. We have five free tickets across the world where murderous, Italian gangsters have a lower chance of splattering our blood for fun. I’m leaving. Whatever you choose is your decision.”
Laurence looked down in thought, trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life in thirty seconds. He looked to the left, then the right, then slowly, his fingers curled around Dominic’s, and he nodded to himself assuredly. “Okay,” he said, then gulped. “Okay.”
“Okay,” Dominic echoed.
Bobbie hooked around the corner with a gun in his hand. “I was just upstairs. Three cars pulled up around back. They have Tommy guns.”
Vincenzo calculated their odds. He had two guns on his person. Luis and Dominic had one each. Bobbie had at least two on the property, and Mitsuko had her knife.
“Well,” Mitsuko said, “are we busting out of here now, or are we waiting for them to storm in and corner us?”
“We need to get everyone out,” Vincenzo said. “It won’t be easy, or quick.”
“Sure it’ll be. Excuse me.” She climbed on stage and took the mic from one of the performers. “Everyone!” she yelled. “Drop your glasses and the hands you’re holding. Everyone needs to evacuate immediately. There’re currently men upstairs ready to raid this bar with Tommy guns and a need to see people like us dead. Don’t give them that primal satisfaction of seeing our bodies drop. Now, follow us!” She almost screamed the last part, slamming the microphone to the floor to make her impact meaningful.
“Let’s go, everyone!” Bobbie said in a deeper tone. “Now. Kitten’s closed. Let’s go!”
With Dominic’s, Laurence’s, and Luis’ help, they got almost all of the patrons of the Kitten into the back rooms. Questions and nervous glances swam through the crowd of drunks about whether this was real or not. Vincenzo cocked his gun to make sure they knew.
He and his men aimed at the door. Sylvia kept back with a hand hovering over his back, Dominic was holding Laurence’s wrist. Mitsuko had a deadly, homicidal look in her eyes.
“They’re not taking this place from us,” she promised. Spinning her knife into her clenched fist, she kicked open the door and went to cut the first person in front of her.
But there was nobody there. No gunfire, no cars skidding to a halt to claim their first victim. Luis’ car was parked right up against the entrance, giving them a proper cover, but Vincenzo had been anticipating more than nothing.
Then the first man jumped from the roof.
Dozens of armed men dressed in black rained down on them. They jumped and skidded over the hoods of their cars. A few were cheeky enough to fire through Luis’ car only to hit the brick and scatter the less prepared.
As he should’ve expected, his father had planned a sneak attack on the Kitten.
He chose his shots wisely, firing only when he had a clear shot to the chest. He ended the lives of men he never saw the faces of, he shoved them to the ground before shooting them in the back of the head. One man got on top of him, gunless, and began strangling him with his ugly hands. Vincenzo went to kick him off, to battle for this life he’d created for himself, when Luis collided into him and buried him into a pile of dirty snow. The snow muffled the gunshot used to end the man’s life.
Vincenzo went to thank him, but he hadn’t the time. People were running about now. He couldn’t tell who was on his side or who was a bystander. He’d lost Sylvia in the fray, but then he saw Laurence was defenseless and on the ground, so he went to protect him.
Then he heard it: an aggressively, vile Italian man, swearing at a woman for being obstructive.
Circling one another like dogs, Severo and Mitsuko were locked in a spiraling knife match. Mitsuko was crouched, Severo standing at an angle from a bullet wound to his leg. He’d somehow retrieved a butcher’s knife, likely from upstairs in the Black Kitten, but he wasn’t holding it the right way. The skill and precision came from Mitsuko, who had hers in reverse and was slashing it in the air, inching closer to Severo. Around them, Severo’s and Hannigan’s men were shouting at them, trying to grab at Mitsuko but missing, and in that short moment, Vincenzo realized that Severo had been working with Hannigan’s men all this time, fighting a common enemy that was Campo and the ideal world he was trying to create.
Severo lunged. Mitsuko side-stepped, tripped. She pushed herself up from the concrete just before Severo struck her. Then she kicked him in his bad leg and sliced into the air he was breathing.
Vincenzo met his father’s gaze as he got up from Mitsuko striking his chest. She’d ripped open his chest and left a line of black blood across his clothes.
The look in his eyes was that of a stranger, and now, that’s who he was. At the end of his long twenty-four years of living, Vincenzo didn’t know his father any more than his father knew about him and what he’d truly wanted from this life.
Coughing, Severo picked himself up and went to cut Vincenzo.
“No!” Mitsuko darted into his view, standing in-between him and the knife, and expertly disarmed him and sent his blade spinning into the air. Then she pushed him off of his feet and defended Vincenzo with her life, darting her eyes around the harmful men.
As Severo fumbled to get his bearings again, Vincenzo’s worst fear came to fruition: Sylvia. She was coming at them without a weapon of any means to defend herself. Sensing this just was Vincenzo did, her eyes went to the ground as she searched for something.
“No!” He looked for help and saw Dominic close, but as he yelled out his name, he, for the first time ever, ignored him, and he ran back to the Black Kitten.
Laurence had cornered himself against a man with a Tommygun. He’d fallen to the doorsteps with his hands covered his head, unable to protect himself against the automatic weapon. He was lucky, in that sense, when Dominic rammed his shoulder into the man and knocked him out against the wall. He twisted the gun from his grip, used it to slap him across the face, and dropped him on the ground, unconscious.
He wiped his brow again and helped Laurence up. Laurence looked like he tried to thank him, but a sob caught in his throat and he just hugged him.
“Keep still, you piece of shit.” Mitsuko switched her blade to her non-dominant hand and slashed a red line down Severo’s arm, but with now three visible injuries from this fight, Severo hadn’t lost any steam. Grabbing a fistful of her hair, he brought Mitsuko down and went for her eyes.
Sylvia, quiet as a timid mouse, stood up behind him, and raised her arms high above her. In both hands, she held a heavy brick from near the Black Kitten’s wall. It made her topheavy, but it didn’t stop her from bringing it down hard atop Severo’s head to save those she cared for.
Someone knocked into Vincenzo, but he couldn’t be bothered anymore. The impossible had happened, something that’d broken his perception of everything that he’d once known, and left him in shock and so incredibly terrified and in love of Sylvia Belmonte.
His father went down hard. He hit the ground headfirst. He didn’t get up. Some of the men around them stopped to take in the scene, but the customers from the Black Kitten had started fighting back and becoming more of a threat.
Sylvia sighed and carefully dropped the bloody stone.
As Vincenzo still gaped at her, Mitsuko took his wrist and turned him towards the car. “Can you please move and stop giving us more to work with? On your feet!”
He got up when he heard Luis’ car rev near them and, finding Sylvia’s hand, the three of them ran for safety.
“I tried calling for you,” Sylvia told him. “Were you hurt?”
“No.” He checked his side. His stitches were holding up. “Just seeing my father like that, I don’t know. I tuned everything out.”
“W-which one was your father?” Mitsuko panted.
“The man you were fighting with, the one Sylvia just hit.”
She looked down at her blade and hid it in her shirt. “Damn. I guess you’re welcome.”
He gulped and wanted to look behind him to check on him, but he forced himself to keep looking forwards. He’d chosen which direction he wanted his life to go, and nothing about that man should’ve meant anything to him.
What hurt the most was that he did still matter to him, a lot, but still, he kept running. That was all he could do now.
“Come on!” Luis skirted his car in front of them. “Let’s go!”
Vincenzo turned to Bobbie. Blood was smudged on his upper brow, but he still looked ready to defend his store.
“All of you,” he added. “Wherever you’re going, stay safe, and stay together. Keep your community strong.”
“We will,” Sylvia said. “Thank you, Bobbie. Thank you for everything.”
He nodded once, then heard someone shout and ran. “Go!”
Vincenzo helped Sylvia into the backseat. From the other side of the car, Laurence and Dominic got in. Mitsuko took the front seat, doors closed, and Luis pressed his foot on the pedal and drove out of the parking lot. A few brazen men shot at their car, but after only cracking the back window, they escaped alive.
A collective sigh travelled through the car. Mitsuko pushed back her hair, revealing a shakiness she was trying to hide. Laurence was stifling back tears as Dominic consoled him in the back seats. Because of the tight squeeze, Sylvia was sitting partly on Vincenzo’s lap. His hand found its way into her sleeve, feeling like it was the safest place to be to stay sane.
“We’re all okay, yeah?” Luis asked. “Dom? Sylvia?”
“I’m okay,” Laurence said, controlling himself. “My knees are scraped, but that’s it.”
“And I’m okay,” Dominic said.
“Ask me again when we’re on this fucking boat,” Mitsuko said. “Where’re we leaving from? Manhattan?”
“What about my things?” Laurence asked. “When’s our departure?”
“Tomorrow morning,” Vincenzo said. “We have to get out now. I’ll make sure we can leave by then. I’ll…persuade them, do something.”
Sylvia rubbed the top of his hand. “We can drive back to their homes, have them pack like we did.”
“That’s too risky,” Vincenzo said.
“I need to get my things, Vincenzo. You have your bags. It’s cramped. At least let me get a picture of my family, honestly.”
Sensing the hostility from him, Vincenzo keeled over. “Fine, whatever. But give it a few hours, let them think we’ve gone. Then we’ll come back.”
“Thank you,” he said, then hid his face in his hands. “This’s awful. I can’t stomach it. I saw people die right in front of me. I don’t know what to do.”
Sylvia went to open her mouth to encourage everyone that it’d be alright, but Dominic spoke first. “We’ll…be okay.” He said it carefully, like he was trying to make himself believe it. “Yes, things are bad. They’re about as terrible as they can be right now, but…we made it. Right now, we’re all alive and ready to start anew.” He looked to Sylvia. “Right?”
She nodded enthusiastically. “Yes. You’re absolutely right.”
“Can we talk about your finishing blow?” Luis said lightheartedly. “Just wham! You knocked Severo out good.”
“She did?” Dominic asked.
“He was going after Vincenzo,” she explained. “I knew he was in trouble, so I just…acted as one would.” She looked over her hands still across Vincenzo’s. “I didn’t think I could do it, but then I felt myself picking up the brick.”
“Well, I’m glad you did,” Luis said, “otherwise we might’ve lost one of us, and we can’t have that now, can we?”
Luis pulled his car into an alleyway overrun by a snow pile and parked it behind a dumpster. It was close enough to the start of the street to escape, but they were still out of sight from the moon and stars.
They all sat in the car with the engine going. Luis chatted about who threw the best punches and who got whom exceptionally well. Laurence went off about how Dominic took on three men at once for his honor. Mitsuko polished her blade of Severo’s blood.
Vincenzo rested his head against Sylvia’s shoulder. Not that he was tired, he was just so awake and alert with the world that he needed to cut himself off and think nothing but her continued breathing.
At around two-thirty, they inconspicuously drove up to Laurence’s house. There weren’t any suspicious cars around, all the neighbors had their lights out for the night. The tenement was fairly crowded, so, to be his guard, Dominic went in with him.
“Your own bodyguard,” Mitsuko said. “Vincenzo, you’ll need to hire a new guard in France.”
“We’ll be quick,” Laurence told them, and glided his hand over Dominic’s back. At this angle, Vincenzo couldn’t tell who was whose bodyguard, they seemed so protective of one another’s safety.
“What about you?” Sylvia asked.
Mitsuko leaned back in the passenger seat. She pointed at the Moon. “Everything I’ll ever need is three thousand miles across the ocean.”
“But don’t you want your things? Don’t you want anything?”
She shrugged. “I was never one to keep hold of sentimental things. If this trip is really our last and we can never show our faces in America again, I think I’d like to make new memories.”
“We can make the stop, ma’am,” Luis offered.
“I’m good, and don’t call me ma’am.” She smiled to herself. “There’s only one girl who can call me that.”
In total, it took Laurence fifteen minutes to pack away his life. They’d left with three bags, all of which Dominic was carrying, and a new change of clothes for the ride. Vincenzo saw books and journals and even two records tucked underneath Laurence’s arm. One was his Christmas present from Dominic.
“That was quicker than I expected,” Mitsuko said as she buckled herself back in.
“It’s hard to pack your entire life at a moment’s notice,” Laurence said, “and I was so worried about someone sneaking in on us. It helped that Dominic had a few things over my house. We got them packed here.”
“You had things over his house?” Luis asked.
“J-just within the past few days, yes,” he said.
“I’ll just sit in my sweaters and knickerbockers, then,” Mitsuko said, “or I’ll steal some from Vincenzo, huh?”
Vincenzo didn’t even recognize that she was playing with him until Sylvia chuckled. He knew what they were doing, trying to change the subject for their sanity’s sake, but he couldn’t play along. He just wanted to disappear.
The drive through Harlem into Manhattan took almost an hour. Their departure was near Battery Park. Just across the river would be his father’s docks. He saw them through the night fog, some distant world he’d never be able to come back to. Even if his father died from his injuries. Even if every man who worked for him dispersed to Chicago or across the border. He could never return, and neither could Dominic. Maybe Sylvia could, and Mitsuko and Laurence. He prayed to God they wouldn’t, that they’d stay together forever. He’d never had real childhood friends. He wondered if he could uphold them in his twenties.
Campo hadn’t played them dirty. All the documentation and boarding passes got them on a boat back to Europe. Gone was their anticipation and joy about going on a new adventure. Now all Vincenzo wanted was to fall asleep and dream of better days.
Luis watched them board with a strained smile. “Hey, you know, you might be back in a few months. Things might calm down. Your dad might forgive a brick to the head. Eye for an eye, right?”
Vincenzo, halfway onboard, stepped up to Luis. At this angle, he was taller to him. To get that feeling away, he walked up to him so they were chest to chest.
Luis’ fake smile cracked and he lifted him to his tiptoes and hugged him. Vincenzo gladly hugged back, taking in that cologne he always thought was too strong.
“Thank you, Luis,” he said, “for everything. You didn’t need to risk your life for us tonight.”
“Oh, shucks, sir. Don’t say it like that.” He held him out at arm’s reach. “I love you, Vincenzo. You’re such a class act. You’ve taught me so much that I’m going to take into my adulthood. And Dominic, man.” He took him in and slapped his back. “You’re such a good guy. I know you’ve told me differently. I know you’re still going through the worst of it with how you think about yourself. But I’m gonna miss you so much.” He kissed both of his cheeks. “I’ll take care of Nonna, I’ll take care of everything.”
“You don’t have to do all this,” Vincenzo said, even though he knew what he’d say to that. “You have a family now.”
“I do,” he said, reaffirming himself.
Laurence called for Dominic to help with their bags. He gave them all a nod before departing.
Luis chewed on his lower lip. “You all deserve so much better than what the world gives you. You should be able to live the way you choose. You and Sylvia, and how you were born to be.”
Vincenzo blinked up at him. The way he said that…
He looked away. “Two years ago, back before we were properly introduced, I guess your dad heard that I was going to be working underneath you. He took me aside and told me about…certain things.” He glanced over at Sylvia. “In case it’s still all private information, I won’t say what he told me, showed me in photos, but not once did I ever let that color my perception of you, sir. It did put a lot of things in perspective, things I never thought about until then. But now, I know why the Kitten meant so much to you, why you put so much of your heart into it. Oh, I never told anyone,” he added as Vincenzo continued gaping at him. “Not one soul.”
You knew?” Sylvia asked for Vincenzo.
“Uh, if we’re all talking about the same thing, yeah. Between this secret and Dominic’s, I’ve been the harborer of a lot of my friend’s secrets over the years. It was hard, it was, but I would’ve expected the same from my friends.”
Vincenzo was lost for words. A year ago, if he’d heard this from Luis, he would’ve screamed at him and thrown chairs to keep him away from him. A breach of secrecy, a chink in his armor. Now, though, seeing him battered and exhausted, all for his sake…
He took him in for another hug, clutching him as if he was scared of losing him as a friend. “Thank you,” he said again. “I’ll never forget what you’ve done for us.”
“Don’t make me cry, man, come on.” He took him in his arms and squeezed, then nodded to Sylvia and the rest of them waiting on the boat and stepped away. “Ya’ll better write home, you hear! I want essays and books written about your adventure! I mean it!”
The boat set off at five that morning.
Vincenzo had left his friends alone. Laurence had begun to cry and Dominic took him into their room to comfort him. Mitsuko stayed up on the main deck for so long, she needed her coat and scarf to keep warm. Sylvia stayed close to him as he would’ve liked her to, but after a few hours of cuddling, he needed to be alone.
“I’ll be inside,” she said as he left. “Whenever you’re ready.”
He slouched against the port railing. His breath left him in puffs of white, drifting back towards New York City. He expected to see his father standing at the passing docks, waiting for the Sun to rise before he continued his chase.
Water splashed against the boat’s hull. They were so loud, drowning out the city noise and leaving him on this floating island to a new home he was being forced to leave.
Taking in a deep breath, he leaned his stomach against the coldness of the rail, raised his shoulders, and screamed. All the energy he had from tonight seeped out of him and his straining voice. He couldn’t remember a time he’d ever screamed, not even when he’d gotten his surgery. When his voice cracked and it dwindled to a soft cry, he felt embarrassed, and silly, and felt like he should’ve gotten off the boat to find and kill his father and all of his men for what they’ve done to him and his loved ones.
Then he caught the sun rising over the buildings, filtering through the misty clouds in a soft haze of orange and gold. The city warmed up and awoke for a new day, just like it did every day, just like it’d continue to do forever.
Feeling the energy of New York flow back into him, he wiped his eyes and walked back to his room.