March Madness Chapter Twenty-Five and “Autumn”

Copyright Amy L. Montz

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

            “Jesus Christ, kid, it is so damn good to see your face.” Dominic stood in front of me, transferring his weight from one foot to the next, like a little kid. He wasn’t sure what to do, how to react, whether I was going to collapse at his feet or punch him in the jaw.

            I opted for the next best thing. I closed the space between us and wrapped my arms around him. After a moment’s hesitation, he returned the hug, clutching me tighter and tighter until I wiggled a bit in his arms. “Breathing. Becoming a problem.”

            He laughed, a quick, surprised sound that I felt from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. “Sorry.” But he didn’t let me go. His left arm slung over my shoulders and cradled me close to him. “Do you want to go home?”

            “Don’t I have to make a statement?” I asked this more of Jackson than of Dominic.

            Jackson shook his head. “I’ll give the cops your statement. No need to go over it again.”

            Right. His office had to fudge the details a bit. “Thank you, Logan.”

            His mouth curved into that little half smile and he gave me a wink. “You read books and like Billie Holiday. The Feds consider it a public service.” He turned his glance to Dominic. “She needs to go to the hospital, but she was adamant that she wasn’t going today.”

            “I’ll bring her tomorrow morning,” Dominic said. “And then I can get that statement from you?”

            “Yeah,” Jackson said. “I’ll drop it off tomorrow.” With that, he turned to go back to his jeep, idling at the curb in front of the police station.

            “Come on, kid.” Dominic urged me forward. “Let’s get you home.”

            The ride back to my apartment was quiet, so like that first ride in Dominic’s Blazer. We drove past the same buildings, the same brownstone apartments, the same diner on the corner. Kit and Sam were gone, however, and the sunlight was giving way to dusk. It was later than I had thought. “Where’s Remy?” I asked as we rounded the corner to my apartment.

            “He’s still driving back, last I heard.” Dominic took a last drag off his cigarette before he tossed it out the window. “He was halfway to Canada when Jackson called to say he had you.”

            “That’s so like Remy,” I said in a soft voice. “And Artful?”

            “With Mrs. Cunningham. And none of your brothers got on a plane, Big Tony and Tommy are safe, and Brian Bourgeois is still in jail. Are those all the loose ends?”

            No, not all of them. There were still those personal ones, left unfinished yesterday. Remy and David, me and Dominic, me and Tommy, so many problems and emotional heartaches that I couldn’t even recall all of them if someone paid me.

            Once we arrived at my complex, we retrieved Artful from a questioning, but unobtrusive, Mrs. Cunningham and began the long and arduous journey up the flight of stairs. Every step was an ache in my legs and side and arms and head. There was nothing I wanted more in this world than a bath and a nap, maybe not even in that order. But when I opened my door, and Dominic hesitated in the threshold, I remembered that there were more pressing needs at hand.

            “Do you want to come in?” I asked. Artful began squirming in my arms, so I put him on the ground. He scampered off to his dog bed and wiggled in it, delighted by the familiar scent.

            Dominic gripped the doorframe with both hands and leaned forward, a charming, boyish gesture that was completely unconscious. “Do you want me to come in? You need to sleep, you know. You’ve had a long day.”

            My mouth curved into a shy, secret smile, a little joke between me and myself. “A very long day,” I agreed. I walked away from the door and headed towards my bedroom. “Make some coffee, would you? And could you feed Artful? I’m going to take a shower.” I didn’t wait to hear his response.

            I closed my bedroom door behind me and slid down it, all the way to the ground. There was so much to do. I had to call my family. I had to find Remy. I had to change out of these ridiculous clothes and burn them. I had to make up with Dominic.

            “March?” Dominic knocked on the door. “Are you hungry? Jackson called and said you probably hadn’t eaten.”

            Who would have thought that I would have not one but two mother hens clucking over me? “Why don’t you order a pizza? Anything but pepperoni.”

            “Spinach?” Dominic paused for a long moment. “Do you want a spinach pizza?”

            This would go on and on, all night if it had to, until I started responding like a rational human being. He was waiting for me to break down, waiting for me to sob and cry and go into hysterics, but I wasn’t complying. Why wasn’t I complying? “Whatever you want. Just no pepperoni.”

            “Okay.” There was another pause. “Do you need some help?”

            I slapped a hand over my mouth to keep my hysterical laughter from breaking through. Did I need help getting undressed? Showering? Preventing myself from breaking down completely? “I’m fine,” I said between my splayed fingers. “Get some breadsticks, too.”

            As soon as I heard the sound of Dominic’s feet shuffling away from the door, I stood up and walked to my phone. My hand held the receiver for a long stretch of time before I willed myself to pick it up. I dialed my mother’s number through a daze, my finger flying with a speed I didn’t know I possessed.

            “Nathalie?” she said by way of greeting.

            “Hey, Momma.” I sat down on the bed and looked around the room. Had I ever hidden cigarettes in here?

            “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Nathalie, what in the name of Heaven is going on? Jeremy called in a panic. Said you were missing. You’re not missing, are you?” Her voice lowered. “Are you in trouble?”

            The Rubbermaid box under my bed. There had to be cigarettes in there. “I’m not in trouble, Momma. Not anymore. In fact, all the trouble should be done.” The box lid popped off with a loud sucking sound.

            “The boys are being all secretive. Ava’s a mess. She came over earlier and said something was wrong, but Jordy wouldn’t tell her what.”

            “I’m fine. Really. There was just a… complication with something. But everything’s fine now.” There was a half-crumpled pack of Benson and Hedges under one of my old diaries, a pack of matches stuck in the plastic. When I lit a cigarette, I almost choked from the near-stale taste of it. But after a moment, addiction was the better part of taste.

            “Are you smoking?” My mother’s voice was accusing. “I thought you quit, Nathalie March Sanderson.”

            I spent the next several seconds coughing. “How about you don’t lecture me, and I won’t tell the boys that you took cigarettes from me at Easter.”

            My mother made a noise in the back of her throat. “Well, is everything all right, then?”

            Was it? I was about to answer when Dominic knocked on the door. “March? Do you want me to run a bath?”

            “Yes, Momma,” I said into the phone. “Everything’s all right now. Tell the boys to stop worrying, okay?”

            “Okay, darlin’. I love you.”

            “I love you, too.” I hung up the phone and walked to the door, cigarette in hand. When I opened it, Dominic gestured a cup of coffee at me. “Thanks,” I said, taking it from him.

            “Pizza’s on its way. I got spinach. And breadsticks.” He glanced at the cigarette. “Got any more of those?”

            We ended up on the couch, coffee and cigarettes in hand, a vast space between us. I was on one end, and Dominic was on the other. We took sips of coffee and drags off our cigarettes in a desperate attempt to fill that vast space. To force the other to talk first.

            I took another long sip of coffee and just waited. There was so much to say, so much left unresolved between us, but he had to make the first move.

            Finally, some seconds or hours later, he did. “I didn’t mean to tell Jeremy.”

            My bottom lip trembled a bit. It wasn’t the way I wanted this conversation to start, but it would do. “I didn’t mean to kiss Jackson.”

            Dominic scooted an inch closer to me. “I wanted to keep you in the loop, kid. I really did. But the Feds were calling the shots, and I was worried that if you knew–”

            “I’ve just felt so alone lately, and I took it out on you. I didn’t mean any of the things I–”

            “…got the call that you were gone, I just freaked out. I didn’t know what–”

            “…the closet, and all I could think about was the fact that a few hours before, I was going to pack my bags and move back to Baton Rouge.”

            Dominic’s voice trailed off, and his mouth snapped shut with an audible click. “You’re not moving back to Baton Rouge.”

            I stared at the coffee cup in my hand. “I thought about it.”

            He inched closer still. “You’re not moving back to Baton Rouge,” he said again.

            “I fucked up everything, Dominic. Every thing I’ve done since I’ve been in Chicago has gone to shit. Tony’s case, David, Remy, you.” My hand was trembling so hard, I had to put my coffee cup on the table. “It wasn’t the greatest of new starts.”

            He leaned back on the cushion and crossed his arms over his chest. “The case is finished. Bad guys are locked up. Whatever you want to know, just ask.”

            “You think we can just start over from the beginning? Pretend none of this happened?”

            “Of course not.” He glanced at his watch. “But I’ve got all night and all tomorrow to make up for lost time.”

            I was quiet for a long stretch of time before I spoke. It was a peace offering, and who was I to refuse the olive branch lying between us? But I went in for the kill, all the same. Some things were better discussed first, and then put out of the way, never to be heard from again. “You broke up with me. You… you said horrible things. Mean things.”

            Dominic’s eyes softened, just a bit, the brown reddening. “Okay, first? We weren’t really dating, so technically, I didn’t break up with you. I just needed some… some time to cool off.” His jaw clenched tight before he spoke again. Some things would always hover between us. The incident with Jackson would always be there, in the background, waiting for another fight. I was sure of it. “And second?” Dominic said. “You said some pretty horrible things, too.”

            I stared down at my hands, at the gauze still wrapped around my wrists. There were small rusty splotches on the white, but no bright red ones. My cuts must be finally scabbing over. “Yeah, I did.” Maybe I had been right after all. Maybe we both fought too similar, too dirty, for something like this to work. “Why did…” my voice trailed off and I looked up at him. “This is stupid, Dominic. You don’t need to–”

            He put a finger on my lips, cutting off my sentence. “Come on,” he said in a soft voice. “Anything you want to know. Anything at all.”

There was still one question that no one had answered for me yet. “Why Tony? Why would the Feds go through such an elaborate scheme just to catch an old school mob boss?”

“Because the Gasconi Family itself was one of the five major Families left in Chicago. Tony’s one thing. His soldiers and lieutenants are something completely different.”

Of course. Jackson said that Tony’s Family wanted to move their operations into the twenty-first century. “The Family was getting away from him.”

“Exactly. They were starting to branch out on their own, and if they managed to form their own, new Families…”

“Chicago would be caught in the middle of a mob war.” It made sense, it really did. Tony was old, ready to retire. In order for this to work, his Family had to be out of the picture.

“Right.” Dominic swirled the coffee in his cup with lazy hand motions. “And this is only the beginning. It puts a decided damper on the rest of the four Families. If the Gasconis–one of the oldest Families in Chicago–can be shut down, what about the rest of them?”

The Callaghans, the Bineskis, and others, surely. And to think, before I moved to Chicago, I didn’t think the Mafia was that real. “Dominic?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you…”

Someone knocked at the door. Dominic got up, one hand on his gun, and went to open it. He came back a few moments later, pizza box in hand. “You hungry?”

I stood up and took the pizza from him. “Not yet.” As I walked to the kitchen table to set the box down, I realized I was trembling. There was still one question left, and it was the biggest, the scariest question of all. I stared at the pizza box, trying to will it to speak for me.

“March?”

I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the box. “I…” This was ridiculous. I wasn’t a lovestruck teenager. This wasn’t Psych 101, and Dominic wasn’t Michael Madsen. Words were sometimes, just sometimes, overrated.

When I turned to look at him, I think he knew. I only had to meet him halfway. He closed the rest of the distance between us.

At first we were gentle, cautious after everything that had happened. But we stripped away barriers with each step towards the bedroom, each layer of clothing and once we were skin against skin, we were desperate against each other, our hands and lips fluttering and our mouths whispering sweet words against skin. But I realized that speech wasn’t enough. I wanted to inscribe poetry on his chest.

And when I shuddered beneath him, my hands entwined in his, he met my eyes and I spoke the poetry I couldn’t write, whispered it against his mouth in a rush of colors and lights and sounds. And when he shuddered above me, his eyes spoke the words his mouth did not, and we poured words through each other, each body, for one brief moment, a single conduit of images.

And when we were quiet, when our bodies began to separate and cool, Dominic rested his head against mine. “March?”

“Hmm?” It had been so long since I felt this warm, this safe.

“You’re staying in Chicago, right? I mean, you’re not going to do something stupid like move back to Baton Rouge because of a few silly kidnappings and death threats, huh?”

I buried my head in the crook of his neck to hide my smile and reached for his hand. “I don’t know. I’d have to buy a coat.” I kissed his palm. “And snow tires.”

“True,” he agreed. His fingers wiggled a bit in mine.

“And maybe a stupid dog sweater for Artful, if it really does get that cold.” I kissed the inside of his wrist next.

His fingers began to curl in towards his palm, of their own accord. “It does, but we’ll get something really masculine. I mean, he’s the Dodger.”

“And one of my students is the daughter of the city’s now biggest Mafia don.”

“But think of the presents you’ll get at Christmas. Callaghan is loaded.”

I rested my chin on his chest and looked up at him. “Then that’s it. I have no more arguments. I guess Chicago it is.”

He pressed a kiss to my lips. “Welcome home.”

When he kissed me again, I kissed him back. And when he whispered words to me, three little words, I whispered them back. We were separate now, but we had been one body, for a moment there. It had been a long time, a very long stretch of time, since I had felt this way. Since I remembered what it was like to be in love.

#

Flash. I blinked against the light as the room dimmed. Lightning. Summer storm.

I was awake.

I glanced over at Dominic. He had one arm flung over my waist and the other curled under the pillow, his fingers playing against the cotton even in sleep. I leaned over and pressed a feather kiss to his forehead before I eased out from under his arm.

I pulled on my pajamas, scratched Artful on the head, and headed downstairs as quietly as I could. It was near dawn, the inky black of night just beginning to gray. As I walked towards the front door, I saw another flash of lightning. Electrical storm.

I walked outside and wasn’t at all surprised to see Remy sitting on the front steps of my building, two cups of coffee next to him. What did surprise me was the curl of smoke drifting over his head.

“You don’t smoke,” I said, walking towards him.

He didn’t even turn around. “I brought you coffee.” He gestured towards the coffee with the cigarette in his right hand. Momma always said that Remy and I were mirrors. He was right-handed to my left, even-tempered to my rash, the goody-goody to my troublemaker. I clarified the statement and said that Remy and I were character foils, complementary opposites, but still two parts of a whole.

I sat down next to him and picked up a cup. The coffee was still hot. I took a cautious sip. Cream, two and a half sugars, and a dash of caramel syrup. “Thanks.”

Remy nodded and peered at the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger. “It’s really a disgusting habit.”

“Then stop.”

“I think I got some of your nicotine cravings somehow.” He passed the cigarette to me.

I took a drag before I handed it back. “Tennessee Williams was in my dream.”

Remy wasn’t even fazed. “What did he say?”

“That I lost the psychic boy. That I lost you.” I watched him take deliberate drags off his cigarette. We were quiet for a few minutes before I spoke again. “What happened with David?”

Remy passed the cigarette to me. I looked down at the burnt-out butt-end of my days and ways and threw it out in the yard. “I was just going to scare him. That’s it. I just wanted him to confess to knowing about the situation with Maria.”

Remy sipped his coffee and looked me full in the face. “I… suspected, but I never knew for certain. There was just something about the whole thing that rubbed me the wrong way. After the day of Maria’s attack, you just… were different. I thought it was about Maria at first, but then I remembered your cut lip, and you never said anything about Maria hitting you in the face.”

He lit another cigarette and passed it to me again. “I just let David have it. He fought back at first, but afterwards, he just lay there and let me hit him. I kept hitting until Bobby and Dominic came barging in. Bobby knocked me out. Did he tell you that? I woke up in the back of a cop car and wondered why my twin never told me that her ex-husband hit her. I wondered how my Natty even let David hit her in the first place.”

“Because I’m weak,” I whispered, repeating the thought that had haunted me since the divorce. “I didn’t even fight Maria back.”

“Nathalie, listen to me. You are not weak. You are probably the strongest person I have the privilege of knowing. But you always thought it was me, didn’t you?” He stared off into the distance, at the dawn brightening over the buildings. “I’ve lived my entire life trying to live up to you, to being my big sister’s idol. It wasn’t easy. You looked up to the rest of the boys, but we’re twins, you know? You saw me as this unbeatable thing.”

“And then you beat up David, you thought you had lost me.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “And I did lose you, for a second there.” He was quiet for a moment. “David happened, and the baby, and I thought it was all my fault, that I had left you alone and look what happened when I did.”

He paused, still staring at the sky. “But it wasn’t anyone’s fault but David and Maria’s. And you put down your heels, dealt with the situation, and moved to Chicago to start a new life. Not because you were weak or running away, but because you were strong enough to leave the nest. You went halfway across the country to start a new life and you did it.”

I started crying and he pulled me close. I settled my head on his shoulder and inhaled. Remy always smelled like fresh water, cold mountain streams, lazy days at the lake. A little salty, very clean, almost like an odd sense of the color blue. If blue had a scent, Remy would smell blue.

“I’m sorry,” he said against my hair.

“Me, too.”

We sat out on the steps together as the sun slowly rose in the distance, Remy’s arm around my shoulder and my head settled against his. And while the dim rays of early morning brushed our cheeks, we finished our coffee in comfortable silence and I knew, really and truly knew, what it meant to be home.

AUTUMN

“Come on, kid. Wake up.”

“Mmph,” I said, face-down in the pillow.

Fingers trickled along my back. “March, you said to wake you up at eight. It’s 8:15.”

“Hate you.” My voice was muffled by the pillow, so Lord only knew what Dominic thought I was saying.

He pushed at my arm until I rolled on my back. I blinked up into his amused brown eyes and growled at him. “Stupid morning people.”

He pressed a kiss to my lips. “Morning to you, too.”

“Mornings suck.”

“Yes, they do. But you have papers to grade, and you told me to wake you up at eight.”

“I did? What the hell was I thinking?”

“You were thinking, as you told me last night, that you have sixty in-class essays to grade for Monday.”

I rubbed my eyes and glared at the open curtains. “There’s sunshine pouring into my room. Whose idea was that?”

“Mine. The better to wake you with, my dear.”

I smiled at him. “Hi.”

“Hi yourself. It’s a beautiful Saturday. Don’t waste it in bed.” His brow wrinkled for a second. “Alone, that is, since I have to be at work in…” he leaned over me to check the clock. “Forty-three minutes.”

“Tell me something first.”

“What?”

“What teacher is stupid enough to give in-class essays the third week of class?”

He pressed a finger to my nose. “That would be you.”

“Let’s not forget the poetry projects coming up.”

“I envy your life.” He settled his head on my chest.

“You already showered?”

“Yep. I even walked Artful and fed him. I’m a morning person, remember?”

“God, the bright eyes and bushy tail. How could I forget?” I ran my fingers through his hair. “You have the most beautiful hair,” I said as I watched the loose curls dance around my fingers. “It’s not fair that this gorgeous hair gets wasted on a man.”

He chuckled against me, his body vibrating against mine. “But if I didn’t have this stupid girly hair, you wouldn’t get to play with it.”

I twirled one of the locks around my finger. “I don’t get to play with it enough. So I’m making sure I will from now on out. Dominic walks in room, Dominic gets kiss, then March gets to play…”

A loud ring came from the end table on his side of the bed, cutting me off. “And good morning to you, too, Bobby.” Dominic rolled over and grabbed his phone. “Okay, I really have to go.”

“Sunshine and bunnies?” I asked in a hopeful voice.

“Darkness and homicide.” Dominic checked the clock again before he sat up. “I may be a while. Ten to one this is connected to that new case I’m working.”

“The weird one?” I asked, sitting up myself.

“No rest for the wicked,” he agreed. After another quick kiss, he got out of bed. “But I’ll see you tonight. Dinner and dancing. No arguments.”

“None from me. Promise. It’s been ages since I’ve gone dancing.” I stretched my arms high over my head, groaning as muscles shifted and joints popped. “Be careful.”

“Always,” Dominic said, before he smiled at me. “Have a good day.” Then he slipped out of the bedroom.

I listened to him walk across the living room, waited until the door closed behind him, and then forced myself out of bed. Dominic may have work, but I had more important things scheduled, like an all-day grading session with as many caramel lattes as Marigold’s could legally give me.

After I got dressed and leashed Artful, we took the scenic route to Marigold’s, enjoying the warmth that, according to Jackson, was only a few weeks away from being a long and distant memory. Chicago may have turned out to be many things, many wonderful things, but winter had yet to come. “Still need that sweater, Art,” I said as we rounded the corner to Marigold’s. “According to the ubiquitous Mr. Jackson, things are about to go Little Ice–”

“Jeez, Sanderson!” Marissa said from the front patio of Marigold’s. “Stop stalking us! Let us settle into a routine at least.”

I smiled, in spite of myself. “It’s Saturday, Marissa,” I called back to her. “I’m off-duty.” Artful and I walked towards five of my students, papers and books piled high on the patio table. At my favorite coffeehouse. Five days before a big due date.

I walked onto the porch at Marigold’s and picked up one of the packs of paper. “Let me guess. The five of you are trying to win the contest, and you were hoping I’d randomly stop by for a weekend latte and help you out?”

“Absolutely, Ms. Sanderson.” Patricia waved her poetry packet and project sheet at me. “And fifth period is going to get the pizza. I can feel it in my bones.”

I set the booklet down and leaned against the railing. “Then what’s Vanessa doing here?”

Vanessa threw her hair over her shoulder. “I’m the third period mole. Marissa promised me a piece of pizza if I came with my notes.”

“I finished the poetry unit!” Marissa said. “I swear, Sanderson.”

When Nova waved a piece of chocolate at me, I took it from her. “Did she finish?”

Nova ignored Marissa’s protests and declarations of treason. “No deal, Sanderson. She’s still on Eliot.”

I widened my eyes at Marissa. “You have a lot of reading to do.”

Marissa threw a crumpled napkin at Nova. “Traitor.” She glanced to me, her eyes a little vulnerable. “Okay, so here’s the deal. I just don’t get the Elizabeth Bishop poem. Can you give me a tiny little hint?”

I sank down in an empty chair. “What don’t you get?”

“Why does she write this big long poem about loss and then say it isn’t that big of a deal?”

Connie asked if she could play with Artful, and I let her. I opened Marissa’s poetry packet to “One Art.” “Okay, let’s look at this a second. The narrator in the poem keeps saying that losing something is no matter, right?”

I looked up and found all the girls staring at me, pens ready. “Just listen.” I turned back to the poem. “And it’s in what form?”

“Villanelle?”

“Right. And remember, that’s a very strict form. Now look at the last line.”

Marissa stared for a second before her face lit up. “She changes the rhythm. All of a sudden, there’s this italicized word and a parenthetical aside just thrown in there.”

Nova looked up from her copy of the poem. “So she’s trying to convince herself that losing her love is no big deal?”

Not herself, dePhillips,” Connie said. “Him. She’s all like, so what? I lost a whole continent and some keys and stuff, and you mean less to me than they do.”

“He doesn’t deserve her,” Patricia said, slumping down in her chair. “I bet he looks just like Ryan Kelly.”

Nova threw her friend a piece of sympathy chocolate before turning towards me. “He asked Stephanie Allen to St. Michael’s Homecoming instead of Patty.”

“Oh honey, I’m sorry.” I reached over and patted her hand.

She waved her hand in dismissal. “Stupid Ryan Kelly and his stupid green eyes.”

And I remembered a conversation ten years ago with Ava, very similar to this one, right before a big game at Tiger Stadium. I hoped, for Patricia’s sake, that, unlike me, she was willing to back out on dares.

“Green eyes or not, Callaghan, you promised to help us with this poem.” Marissa turned to me. “So is that it? It’s like Patty trying to convince Ryan that she doesn’t care that he asked Stephanie to Homecoming, but we can see that her heart is breaking in the last line?”

“No hearts breaking here. Ryan Kelly doesn’t deserve parenthetical asides.”

“Nor italicized words,” Nova agreed before she took a sip of coffee. “Stupid Ryan Kelly.”

“But wait, Sanderson, pronoun question,” Connie said around a mouth full of chocolate. “Wasn’t Bishop a–”

I cleared my throat and stood up. “I don’t even know why you girls even bother asking me questions anymore. You figure it out yourselves.” I glanced over at Connie. “And I thought we had that conversation about separating the author from the work.”

But I felt a little off-kilter as my own youth flooded through me there, ten years later, watching my high school students argue about green eyes and poetry. I brushed it aside and turned back to Connie.

“Honey, I’m going to go get some coffee. Do you mind watching Artful for me while I’m inside?”

“Of course not, Sanderson,” she said. “He’s adorable.

“Behave, girls. I’ll be right back.”

“Thanks, Sanderson!” they chorused.
            I walked inside, shaking my head. Stupid Ryan Kelly, indeed.

“Usual, March?” the barista asked. She gave me a slight smile. “Want some water for Artful, too?”

“That would be great, Donna, thanks. And can I have–”

“March Sanderson?”

I turned around and looked into warm brown eyes, took in the steel grey hair, and suspected who stood in front of me. My case may have been over, but the Mafia was still alive and well. Or ex-Mafia. “Mrs. Gasconi?”

She beamed before she enveloped me in her arms. “Tony and I were hoping to find you here. He said you come here in the mornings and all. And with that red hair, I knew it couldn’t be anyone else.”

I hugged her back. “Thanks for the manicotti, Mrs. Gasconi.”

She waved her hand away. “It’s the least I could do for my March,” she said. “Tony! Come here!”

“Good morning, March,” Tony said as he bustled over to join his wife. We shuffled out of line so we could chat without blocking the counter. “You got the manicotti, right?”

“I did, thank you.” I looked past them at the table where Tommy and Evan were in a deep discussion. As soon as my eyes swung their way, Tommy looked up and gave me a wink. “Hey, Tommy,” I said.

“Hey, sweetheart.” He leaned back in his chair and scratched his chest. “You doing okay?”

“I’m good. Evan, are you working tonight? Dominic and I are coming in.”

“Sadly, I’m off. But I’m working next weekend.” Evan started in his chair and then glared at Tommy. “What?”

Tony pulled me back into the conversation. “We got something for you. Lotta, did you give March the bracelet you found?”

 “Not yet.” Lotta rummaged through her purse and pulled something out. “I found this in my jewelry box and knew you should have it.”

She placed a beautiful art deco bracelet in my hand. As I stared at it, I wondered what the going rate for souls really was. For the Gasconis, the price of Tony’s soul was gifts of food and jewelry to me, Tony and Carlotta showing their love in the best ways they knew how. For me, the price of my soul was friendship and literary lunches with Jackson.

As the gilded edges of the dragonfly bracelet blinked in the sunlight shimmering through the windows, I wondered if it ever stopped, this communion of souls, and if that is what Elizabeth Bishop meant when she interrupted the rhythm in the last line of her poem. Because sometimes, if you do write it, the art of losing looks like disaster. “Mrs. Gasconi–”

“Lotta.”

“Miss Lotta–”

“Just Lotta.”

“Lotta,” I began again, “really, you don’t need to give me any more presents. What with the food and the coffee deliveries….” And the leash post outside of Marigold’s, the house cleaning after the shooting, and the vintage coat which, I found out, were all her ideas.

“March,” she said, “we’re going to take care of you whether you like it or not.”

But sometimes, loss was necessary to start over again. I had lost so much: a baby, a marriage, my beloved Baton Rouge. But those losses, while they looked disasters, were only temporary pains, an interlude before the storm clouds broke.

I glanced up at the Gasconis. “Miss Lotta, really, I’m fine. Not that I don’t appreciate everything you do for me, but I can take care of myself, honest to God.”

But Carlotta Gasconi was having none of that. She just shook her head and patted me on the cheek. “You’re a good girl, March Sanderson,” she said, her brown eyes sharp and determined. “But you’re too thin.”

She was an exceptional woman. “You know, the more people say those things, the more I’ll start to believe them.”

“Your coffee’s ready, March,” Donna said from behind the counter.

“We should let you go,” Lotta said. She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to my cheek before she took the bracelet from me. “You let us know if you need anything.” She settled the bracelet on my left wrist, gave it an affectionate squeeze, and then headed back to the table with her family.

I stared down at the bracelet for a moment before I transferred it from my left wrist to my right. I was left-handed, and never wore anything on my left wrist. It got in the way of writing. But Lotta wouldn’t have known that. She, like so many, just assumed I was right-handed, and put it on the opposite wrist.

“March?” Donna asked again.

“Sorry.” I turned back to the counter and handed Donna a five. “Thanks. I’ll probably see you tomorrow.” When she tried to give me my change, I waved it away.

Loud laughter erupted behind me. I half-turned to see the Gasconis laughing at Tommy, who was doing an impression of some kind, something that involved a lemon wedge stuck under his top lip, over his teeth. His hands were in the air, miming claws. A motley crew, certainly, but they were family.

I had watched my last, or next to last, of two loved houses go. I had lost a river, a state, realms I owned. All of these things wouldn’t bring disaster.

The bracelet on my wrist caught the sunlight again as I stepped towards the door.

“Bye, March!” the Gasconis called from behind me. I turned to give them a wave before I headed to my puppy and my students on the patio, and, even farther and even faster, towards new starts, new beginnings, new loves, by simply stepping through the door and blinking against Chicago’s warm, but brisk, Autumn wind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s