mafiosa - Page 67


He had stayed here. With her. He had bided his time far from Chicago, waiting for the perfect moment to strike against Jack, just as we had. We had all chosen Christmas Day.

Did she know what had become of him? Did she know her Marino ally was dead?

‘I promised him I would take you in,’ she continued. ‘I promised him I would help you. I hoped you would come.’ She turned around, her eyes large, her expression earnest. ‘I hoped you wouldn’t get swallowed up in it.’

‘I thought you were gone.’ I was still trying to process her aliveness. ‘I thought my dad …’ I trailed off, conscious of Emilia drifting around us, her skipping rope clapping off the wooden floors. ‘I found your ring. Your ruby ring.’

She laughed, a little grimly. ‘I told him to sell it. I wanted to thank him.’

‘When? How?’ I wasn’t talking about the ring any more. I was talking about everything. Everything, and all at once, and there wasn’t enough time in the world to get through it all but I wanted to try. I wanted to understand. This was a life raft, and I didn’t want to sink.

Evelina glanced into the hallway, making sure Emilia was out of earshot. She dropped her voice, pouring the lemonade into two glasses. ‘Your father came for me one night in the city many years ago. I was at dinner with my girlfriends. The Marinos had been tracking us – he had been tracking me. I suppose you know what Felice did to his parents. I suppose you know your father was out for revenge. I shouldn’t have been unchaperoned at the time but I was so tired of Felice by then. I was tired of always feeling afraid, of feeling trapped …’

I nodded, feeling a shimmer of understanding.

She stopped busying herself, cleared her throat. ‘He couldn’t do it, you know, when the time came. Even when it was just the two of us in the parking lot. Even when he knew he would have gotten away with it. He saw the bruises around my jaw. He saw the fear in my eyes. I was eight months pregnant at the time.’

I tried to piece together the scene in my head. A deserted parking lot, doused in darkness. My father with a gun pointed at Evelina Falcone. Her hands covering her bump, her face marred by Felice’s temper.

‘He was broken by it all,’ she said. ‘The anger, the violence. And so was I. We could see that in each other. We were on different sides, but we were the same in that sense. I was worried for my baby. For myself.’

‘Of course,’ I murmured, trying to imagine that particular brand of fear, and failing.

‘It was strange. So strange.’ Evelina smiled sadly. ‘He dropped his gun. I didn’t run, and neither did he. We talked. I wasn’t afraid. I was never afraid of him. Not in the way I feared my own husband. He wanted to punish Felice and I wanted to run. Our desires weren’t exactly at odds. There was something about him. It felt like we already knew each other.’

‘So, he helped you then?’ I said, willing myself to understand, to believe. ‘He helped you get away?’

She nodded. She was beautiful, lit up by the dying sun, her long hair gathered into a loose braid, streaks of caramel among the chestnut brown. A ghost come to life before me, and I couldn’t remember a time when I had felt so grateful for something. ‘He helped me take my life back,’ she said, simply.

‘Did anyone else know?’

‘Not a soul,’ she said. ‘Not until you.’

I pressed the back of my head against the wall and took a deep breath. The ceiling fan whirred above me. There were paper butterflies tied to it, whizzing around, their wings painted messily in different colours. Here was something; a kernel of light. I had to hold on to it. I had to keep it safe. But there was still so much to wade through.

‘Evelina,’ I said. Emilia had skipped into a different room. ‘My father is dead.’

‘I know,’ she said, softly. ‘I saw it on the news. I am sorry, Sophie. He was a good man.’

I swallowed the lump. ‘And Felice, too,’ I said, my voice turning to a rasp.

Her expression changed. ‘Yes.’

‘I was there,’ I whispered. The guilt was flooding through me and the words were tumbling out before I could stop them. I couldn’t stand in her kitchen and pretend to be innocent. I couldn’t lie to her face, not while his child was one room away, humming and skipping, her paper butterflies flying around above me. ‘He was going to kill Luca,’ I said. ‘He was going to kill him. He had the gun pointed at his head, and – and I had to do something. I didn’t set out to do it. I didn’t want to harm him, not really, but he was going to kill Luca, and I had to stop him.’

‘You saved a life,’ she said.

‘I took a life.’

Evelina took a step closer, a glass of lemonade held out in offering. I took it from her, held it tight against my chest. It felt bigger than it was. Another life raft.

She took a sip of her lemonade, swallowed hard and then looked right at me when she said, ‘I have known both Falcones, Sophie. You made the right choice.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, because there was nothing else to say, and I could still hear his daughter singing to herself in the other room.

Evelina nodded. ‘It is a kindness to us,’ she said, quietly. ‘That we no longer have to live in fear of him. And a kindness to Luca, whose life you saved.’

‘I love him.’ My voice was wobbling. ‘I couldn’t lose him.’ Evelina’s face creased, a whisper of empathy lowering her brows. ‘I can see why. Luca is very easy to love.’