TWO AND A HALF YEARS LATER
It’s always looked like something out of a Batman movie. The high-rise is sleek black glass, fogged in spots by my white cloud breath, gleaming with the red and green and blinking blue and neon pink reflections of other buildings, cars, and street lights. It’s twenty-two stories. Is it black, or just reflecting nighttime? I don’t know. I never come here in daylight. And I don’t remember from…before.
Roberto asked to see me here tonight. Pretty sure he mostly wants me at the poker table. He so rarely asks that when he does, I can’t say no. Honestly, I wouldn’t even think about it. Even if it’s here.
I feel okay, though. I can do this. Power through. Isn’t that what they say? Sometimes you’ve just gotta power through by force—like ramming a hole through a wall. If it hurts, you figure that out later.
I don’t think she’ll be here. So what if her dad’s giving a speech? These banquets for the Most Holy Redeemer “charity”—which is really a money front—are just an excuse for the old guys to drink and smoke cigars and fuck the serving girls if they’ve got that kind of thing worked out with their wives. A surprising number of them do.
Luigi’s people are working tonight, which means Leo is running the show. Afterward, he and Alesso will hook up with me. Roberto knows them both, and they’re welcome where I am—which is good, because Alesso doesn’t get out enough. Spends all his time working on bikes.
And Leo’s fancy girlfriend just dumped his ass. He’s been mopey, but I’m sure he could still work the table. Even I can’t read his poker face. Both my bros need to cut loose. I do, too. It’ll be a good night, I tell myself.
I blow out another cloudy breath and walk toward the gold revolving doors. Stepping in, I catch a glimpse of my reflection. Weird the way I look like someone who belongs here, walking into the Columbus Building at nine-thirty on the last Friday in November. I’m wearing my own tux, with my grandfather’s cufflinks, and I’m glad to have them.
Anything that makes tonight more bearable is a win—right down to the orange Tic Tacs I’ve got riding in my pocket.
In another glass slot of the rotating door, there’s a red-haired girl in a long, blue gown. She steps out into the lobby, and then I do. She smiles over her shoulder. I arch my brow.
“So cold tonight,” she remarks as we walk toward the elevators.
“It is.” My voice sounds low. I look her over discreetly as we both approach the elevator banks, giving her a solid 8. Then she laughs and turns back toward the revolving doors.
“I left my purse!” She grins and shakes her head, her freckled face expressive and friendly, as if we know each other. “See you upstairs?”
My cheeks feel a little warm as I step into the elevator. There are three mirrored walls and a glass one where I watch the woman walk toward the front doors. How old was she? Later twenties?
I look at the floor, and my eyes get stuck there. I don’t want to look at my reflection in the mirrored walls. Soon enough, the doors are opening, and I’m off on the twentieth floor.
One second, it’s all good. The next, my feet just…stop. It’s crowded in the hall and smells like flowers. It’s too loud, with a band playing just like every other time I’ve been here before. I feel like I can’t breathe.
I start down the hall, figuring I should find a room to step off into, but within seconds, I see is Roberto, surrounded by a few of his lieutenants. I’m in charge of all his shipping shit—of lots and lots of cargo and logistics—and he trusts me. He thinks I’m okay. I have to pretend tonight, or he’ll doubt me.
A few steps closer, and I see he’s smiling, holding a wine bottle toward me. When I’m close, he claps me on the shoulder, smiling even as he eagle-eyes my face. I give him a smile I hope isn’t too strained. He pats my shoulder again.
“Looking well,” he tells me in Italian. “Here—for your friends.” He waves the bottle, and I take it.
“Go and say hello. Later, you’ll come to the table,” he says, still in Italian.
He gives me a knowing look, telling me with dark eyes that he knows I’ll struggle, being back here where things went down the week of high school graduation, but it’s all good. I head through the well-dressed crowd, past the ballroom, and toward the largest kitchen, feeling numb and heavy. Behind the swinging doors are faces I don’t know and smells that make my stomach churn. My hands are sweating and my body feels too light, like a helium-filled balloon.
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