Well, holy crap. They had let him out. Someone had obviously told him about my mother’s ceremony, and the prison had decided to let him come.
I froze as my father dipped his head in reverence, low words exchanged with a couple of my mother’s friends, whose eyes were bugging just as crazily as mine. I froze as he smiled and embraced Ursula, as he shook hands with Mrs Bailey, as he stood there, accepting condolences as if they were prizes.
I stayed stock-still, gaping, right up until the moment Millie leapt from her place on the far side of the huddle and pushed herself in front of my father, so that he couldn’t come any closer, so that he couldn’t see what I could see from my vantage point. Then my brain fissured, and understanding hit me like a lightning bolt.
Michael Gracewell, aka Vince Marino Jr, heir to the Marino crime family, was unwittingly hovering ten feet away from Luca Falcone, the active underboss of the entire Falcone dynasty.
Horror roiled in my stomach, my head swivelling to where Luca was standing.
No. No. No. No.
Luca was staring right at my father.
His whole body was pressing forwards, leaning across that infinite space between them, and I swear in that moment I could feel the anger rolling off him. If looks could kill, my father – my ignorant, oblivious father – would have dropped dead on the spot.
Luca wasn’t moving. He was holding himself together, all his energy bound up in keeping still as he crushed his hands in and out of fists at his sides. His nostrils flared, shallow breaths swelling and falling in his chest. His lips were moving, but there was nothing coming out.
I had seen Luca angry, and I had seen Luca calm, but I had never seen him struggle so hard for composure. I had never seen him so scarily unhinged. He was trying to hold it all inside him, but all it would take was one thing, one tiny thing, to unleash it.
I stared so hard at him my eyes began to hurt.
Just look at me. Don’t look at him. Look at me.
But he was glaring, unblinking, at my father, assessing him with the deadly quiet of a lion stalking its prey. And why wouldn’t he be?
Here was the man who had killed his father. Luca knew the truth – he had seen Evelina’s ruby ring. He knew my father’s protested innocence had been a farce. Here was the murderer, standing unprotected not ten feet away from him, with a single uninterested prison warden sulking underneath a faraway tree. He wouldn’t be quick enough to stop anything, not if Luca pulled a gun.
Not if Luca lunged for my father. It could all be over in a heartbeat. His revenge was there for the taking.
Please don’t, I implored. Please don’t do anything.
Millie was embracing my father, inching him back into the circle, away from Luca’s glare.
Do something, Sophie. Do anything.
Everyone was staring at my father – the great mystery of Michael Gracewell, who was once again walking like a free man among them. No one was looking at me any more. No one was thinking about my mother. The day had been turned on its head.
Say something. Say anything.
I had to make my father disappear. I had to pull their focus from him. I had to redirect Luca’s thoughts. I had to calm him down, somehow, without drawing attention to any of it.
The words came flying back to me, from the only poem I knew, and the only one that would work just then. Thank you, Mary Elizabeth Frye.
‘Do not stand at my grave and weep,’ I said, my voice croaky with fear. I cleared my throat as, one by one, heads turned back to me. ‘I am not there. I do not sleep.’
Come on, Luca. Come on.
‘I am a thousand winds that blow.’ My father stopped whispering to Millie and looked up at me. ‘I am the diamond glints on snow.’
Stay with me. Don’t look across the circle. Don’t look at Luca.
‘I am the sunlight on ripened grain.’ Millie nodded at me as if to say Keep going. ‘I am the gentle autumn rain.’
Luca was pulling his gaze from my father, slowly, slowly, like the weight of it was a great, hulking thing. ‘When you awaken in the morning’s hush,’ I said, my voice cracking, ‘I am the swift uplifting rush.’
Please don’t hurt him. ‘Of quiet birds in circled flight.’ Please don’t take this day from her. ‘I am the soft stars that shine at night.’
Luca was looking at me again. His features had clouded over. ‘Do not stand at my grave and weep.’ My eyes were swimming with unshed tears. ‘I am not there, I do not sleep.’ And then my dad was breaking rank, crossing the grassy mound, coming towards me with arms outstretched. ‘Do not stand at my grave and cry.’ Everyone was watching us. A father reuniting with his daughter, and I realized I couldn’t push him away, no matter how much I wanted to. ‘I am not there.’ I blinked and the tears streamed down my face. ‘I did not die.’
‘Oh, Sophie, sweetheart.’ My father flung his arms around me. He pulled me into his chest, and I collapsed into him, staining his shirt with my tears. I hated him with a passion so fierce it burnt inside me, but I needed that hug – that embrace – and all the lies that went with it, because beneath all the anger, beneath every shred of betrayal, I still loved him. I still wanted him to be OK. I needed that hug because it was keeping him from Luca. It was keeping my dad safe.
We stood like that for a long time, my back to the others, my body a shield between the murderer who had lied to me my whole life, and the assassin who had been watching over me in his absence.