Sylvia concluded that most people probably didn’t enjoy traveling. The destination could’ve been grand, with wonderful opportunities and lands awaiting you, but getting there, especially in cramped living, proved strenuous on even the mildest of people.
Vincenzo didn’t sleep for most of the trip. He kept reading through Campo’s letters, making sure he knew everything about their new lives. He tried to give everyone their documents to memorize, but Mitsuko had no interest in lying and Dominic and Laurence never picked theirs up from their bedside table. At night, Sylvia heard them arguing across the hall, then at breakfast, they’d be holding one another, comforting each other in their own special way.
Mitsuko seemed the most put together out of the bunch. She said she was used to packing up everything and skipping town because of her time in the War and, as Sylvia guessed, she wasn’t too sad about revisiting her wife. She heard her practicing French after every meal.
Sylvia left Vincenzo alone for the first few days. He worked, she didn’t want to worry him. To her surprise, she was taking the trip well—she hadn’t gone into a panic, she hadn’t burst into tears—so she used this momentary calmness to her advantage.
For one, she wanted to buy everyone gifts. The main level of the boat—she didn’t know the word for it—had many wondrous places to purchase trinkets. Men were offering prized paintings, gold silverware, and jewelry that instantly caught her eye. They handled them with white gloves and closed eyes, letting the rich folk to Europe wonder if and when to place a bet.
Vincenzo had given her twenty dollars in crisp bills to humor herself on the week-long boat ride, which she hadn’t refused. He’d given them to her with glazed-over eyes. The bruise on his cheek had yet to go away.
So, wiggling herself into the gathering crowd, Sylvia examined the wares held behind bullet-proof glass, her fingers rubbing her dollar bills apart.
She came back to Vincenzo right where she left him: sitting cross-legged on their bed, surrounded by a half-circle of papers weighed down by bundles of cash. He had a hand over his mouth as his knee jumped in excessive thought.
“Hello,” she said, shutting the door behind her. Their room was a slight downgrade from the one they stayed in on their first trip. In a rush to be boarded, once he realized they’d be coming back to America, Campo must’ve given them second-class rooms. Maybe it was punishment for Vincenzo going against his orders. Maybe he had no other options to save them.
“I should’ve brought more,” he muttered without looking up. “Even if we don’t split this up with everyone, it still won’t be enough, and we’ll need to convert it, which might look suspicious to the banks. And I can’t rope Luis into wiring us money from America. My father’s ghouls will be monitoring everything that comes over.” He sighed. “We can’t even call them.”
Sylvia sat beside him and pushed back the curls from his eyes.
He looked at her. His frown was pained with unspeakable feelings.
“It’s getting late,” she said.
“Do you want to go to bed? I can take this over to the writing desk.”
“Don’t.” She caressed the underneath of his eyes, trying to wipe away the forming darkness.
“We’re screwed,” he said. “We’re dead and we’re screwed.”
“No, we’re not. Not yet.”
“We’ll be running for the rest of our lives. You can’t just leave a gang. What was I thinking? Dominic and I will have targets on our backs until the day we die.”
“Surely they have a clause that states a man is warranted to leave the country with his wife and friends if his father ruins everything he holds dear.”
She felt his cheeks tighten in a smile. “If such a clause were to exist, I’m guessing most men in America would pick up and leave to, God, Morocco. Or England. Or Brazil.” He shut his eyes. “I was never meant to do this. I should’ve never joined.”
“If you hadn’t, you would’ve never met me.”
His eyes snapped open. “You were, and perhaps will only be, the best thing I’ve ever found in my life.”
Her heart sweetened in love. “What a thing to say. Imagine how upset Mitsuko would be if she heard you say that.”
“You know what I mean.” He took her fingers and kissed her palm, his nose brushing up against her ringed finger. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” She slowly pulled back. “I bought you something.”
“Bought me something?” His smile seemed more genuine. “What did you buy?”
“Well, since you’ve always been insistent on buying me things, I felt it was appropriate to repay the favor, now that that part of our life is over.” She positioned herself in front of him, taking his hands into hers and folding them on his thigh.
“To be quite honest, I don’t know how this works. I’ve imagined it countless times, but it’s very different when it’s happening to you. Still, I wanted to give you those feelings you gave me.”
Before he could question her vagueness, she took out the ring box.
It was velvet and blue, with gold lining the opening. She didn’t know if it was real gold. She hoped what she was paying for was the ring and not its sophisticated container.
At the sight of the box, Vincenzo sat up, breathing in and holding it like he was afraid it might attack him.
“You never bought yourself a ring,” she commented. “I heard some men don’t buy one for themselves until the wedding, but I thought it was important for you to have this.”
As she offered it to him, he didn’t speak up right away. His eyes went from the closed box back up to hers and stayed there, processing the gift.
“Here.” She popped open the box to show him her chosen ring. “The man selling it said it was a more masculine ring, but it matches mine, more or less, so I hope you like it.”
He blinked, then looked off to the side, then to his argyle socks. She couldn’t tell at first, as his whole face appeared red from exhaustion, but as he took in the offer, his face burned red with embarrassment until he was noticably sweating.
Sylvia couldn’t bite down her lips quick enough and laughed. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“You…haven’t.” As he spoke, he covered his face with both hands.
“Your look says otherwise.” She playfully tried to pry off the fingers from his beautiful face, but he held them firm, shaking his head and curling his hands into his bangs.
“I’m embarrassed,” he confessed, and hid his shame in his lap like a little bug. “I should’ve bought one for myself. Who forgets something so important?”
“We’re still learning, and we’ll continue to learn in this new place free from your father.” Helping him fall back to earth, she softly tackled him backwards into bed. “We’ll learn how to work normal jobs and be a normal couple. With our new passports and everything, I wonder what we can do?”
He settled beside her. “Buy a house together without strife.”
“Adopt children together.”
“Get married. Officially. To see you in a veil is all I want.”
She smiled. “I’d say that I’d want to see you in a beautiful three-piece suit, but that’s already happened.”
“I suppose I’ll have to find a new way to amaze you.”
“I’ll await it.”
Smiling, Vincenzo pulled out the ring and fit it to his left ring finger. He admired it between them, then against Sylvia’s matching one. “Thank you.”
He interlaced his fingers with hers, the smile never leaving his face even when he closed his eyes to dream of better times.
On their final night together, after Vincenzo made love to her for a sloppy three hours, Sylvia was awake with her running thoughts. Vincenzo had finally begun resting as he should’ve and was currently asleep on her hand, cuddling it like he would his cat. She didn’t mind. With him being so out of it, she was able to gently pet his face without waking him. If she had, he was doing a marvelous job at keeping still.
Out of all the thoughts chasing each other around in her mind, she kept landing on her mother and how she would disapprove of all of this. She couldn’t rationalize that her ties had officially been cut. She’d never have to deal with her again, she’d never have to justify her choices to her cruelty again.
She was officially Sylvia Belmonte, or whatever silly name Campo had chosen for them. Whatever it might’ve been, she would forever be herself, a frazzled girl who loved to make music and write out her feelings, who ate ice cream when she was feeling down, who was married to one of the most caring men who had the softest of spots for cats and people’s feelings.
She leaned forwards and kissed his lips, to which he generously reciprocated with a smile.
When they docked, the clouds had settled low over the port, making the city grey and the air stiff and cold. A glaze of ice had overtaken the outside of the ship. Sylvia bundled up in her mittens and scarf before departing.
Laurence and Dominic seemed in worse shape than when she’d left them. Laurence’s hair was parted wrong, Dominic’s mustache had grown into a stubbly beard. While Mitsuko came out teething on a toothpick, her other friends looked like they had a longer way to go before they felt peace in a time of uncertainty and fear.
Luckily, Vincenzo had gained a boldness to him. As they gathered on the curb, he came up to Laurence and asked, “What happened?”
Neither of them spoke. Laurence used his turtleneck to cover up his mouth.
“It’ll help to talk out your feelings,” Sylvia encouraged, “but if you don’t want to talk about it right now, it can wait.”
“Or we don’t have to know,” Mitsuko suggested. “Sometimes business is business, you know.”
“Whatever makes you feel the most comfortable,” Sylvia added.
The two men looked at one another for a brief moment before tearing apart. Sylvia noticed that their hands kept reaching out for something they didn’t feel right taking.
Laurence licked his lips. “We were talking last night,” he started, “talking about the future—our future—and what we’re going to do next. We have different…not ideas, but different ways we were thinking about moving on. And, in a fit of anger, he…”
He walked off, covering his face with both arms. “Ugh, nevermind! I can’t handle it!”
Sylvia waited until he was out of earshot to ask Dominic, “What happened, darling?”
He watched him walk off in no particular direction. “I said…the ‘L’ word.”
“L word?” Vincenzo asked.
“The forbidden L word,” Mitsuko said. “The word Laurence has never said to any man, the word he refuses to utter.”
“Wait, I’m confused,” Vincenzo said. “What did he say? Lady? Language? Like…”
When Sylvia began chuckling, his shoulders dropped and he looked around for the joke. “Wait—Wait. What is it? Sylvia, tell me. What did he say?”
“I said that—” Dominic blushed and lowered his voice upon hearing it spoken so loud. “I told him how I really felt.”
Sylvia touched her heart. Was she thinking of the wrong word?
He did the same, watching his love get flustered over the idea of “them.” “I told him that I love him, and that I’m not apologizing for it, because I’ve just been run out of my own home with nothing but the clothes on my back, and I’m done feeling ashamed for how I feel. That part of my life is over.” He fixed his hat over his eyes. “That’s all,” he said, his ears turning a new shade of pink.
Laurence flung up his hands. “Stop it!” he begged. “You can’t say that! It’ll undo me.”
“I think we’ve all been undone,” Sylvia said. “Now, we need to weave ourselves into a new tapestry.”
“How about new clothes?” Mitsuko said. “I’ve been wearing the same thing for almost a week. We need new outfits stat.”
Dominic called for a taxi. Instead of bringing them to their apartments, Mitsuko, in broken French, sent them to Émeline’s house. They needed to reconnect. Vincenzo had been right. They would have enough to support themselves for a while, but they’d need new jobs in Paris. They’d need to create new lives in which they could settle without someone taking everything away from them. She hoped Émeline could help them, and she knew Mitsuko needed to see her and touch her and find herself back with her and know they wouldn’t have to part again. She saw it in her hands, clenching and unclenching on her thighs. She was ready.
Vincenzo was doing the same, but digging his nails into his hands. Not wanting him to make any more scars, Sylvia took them both and pulled him in close.
“Sleep,” she told him. “We’ll be there soon.”
He ran a tired hand over his eyes, thinking. His dark eyes swarmed with the possibility of everything failing. Then, slipping away from his anxiety, he dropped his head onto her shoulder and fell asleep minutes later.
Sylvia looked out the window. The clouds were parting. Up above, a promising blue sky welcomed them to their newly chosen home.