A Relationship Beckons: Jake/Luca (#5)
To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click Crisis Averted #1 on the sidebar of the blog page.
As the garage door descended with a low hum, Jake managed to extract himself from his Toyota Tundra pick-up truck and wearily climb the four steps to the interior entryway. He trudged into the mud room carrying with him the heavy yoke of fatigue. His two-story Georgian in a medium-sized bedroom community in upper Newport News, Virginia was eerily dark and deafeningly quiet. It was always that way when Lizzie stayed with his sister, Claudia, or his mother.
He placed his soft-sided briefcase on the kitchen counter and draped his white lab coat on top of it. He flipped on the lights as the refrigerator kicked on with an electric drone. The clock on the microwave read twenty-three minutes after nine.
Even as dog-tired as he was, he missed the sound of Lizzie’s bare feet pitter-pattering across the hardwood. Or the gentle, breathy whisper of her voice calling out “Daddy” every few minutes to ask an innocent question or for a snack or to be read a bedtime story. He yanked open the stainless steel door of the KitchenAid and retrieved a longneck. He twisted off the cap with whoosh of air and sucked down two pulls of the ice cold beer. It hurt sliding to his belly. But it felt good. And after the bitch of a day he’d experienced, he needed it.
Moving through the kitchen and into the spacious master suite, he switched on the lights, toed off his shoes without untying them, removed his Polo pullover and undid his belt. Bare chested and in his stocking feet, Jake walked toward the bathroom. To do so, he moved past Olivia’s tall Colonial-era lingerie chest. The article of furniture still held all of his wife’s jewelry, intimates and delicates. The contents had not been touched nor moved since he’d provided a dress and other clothing items to the funeral director for Olivia’s visitation. Her walk-in closet also appeared the same as it did before her death.
On top of the chest rested three photographs rimmed by ornate, frilly frames.
One was a black and white balcony shot taken minutes after they had become husband and wife. It possessed an gauzy, artistic quality and–Jake thought–if it were to be enlarged would belong in the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk. In fact, Their reception had taken placed a few miles away from that cultural attraction at one of the downtown hotels in Norfolk. The second picture was a light-hearted maternal likeness of Olivia and Lizzie taken a week after his daughter’s birth. Mom smiled down on her seven-day old daughter with a sleep-deprived but intensely, gratified countenance. The bright-eyed infant clutched mom’s index finger as a toothless smile stretched across her tiny, perfect face. The third shot was a spontaneous portrait of the new family when Lizzie was a year old. This photograph was Jake’s favorite. It tugged at his heart with an intensely emotional weight. But it was laced with a hauntingly harsh history. The day it had been taken was one of the best of his life. A few weeks later, his life would come crashing down around him when he received news of Olivia’s death.
Despite his weariness, Jake paused before the lingerie chest. The framed likenesses at eye-level, peered back at him. He stopped to regard them frequently. Each time his heart bumped and sank as if a large boulder had been placed atop it. Tonight with the house hushed and deserted, Jake was drawn to them again and the memories they evoked.
Jake and Olivia had been married for a year and half when she had become pregnant. When Lizzie was born, they were both over-the-moon ecstatic. A year later, Olivia had arranged for a photographer to take their portrait on the sands of Fort Story on a glorious spring day. With their backs to the Atlantic and the setting sun casting a golden hue on their tanned faces, all three were in the midst of a belly rattling laugh following the photog’s outrageously bad dad jokes. Lizzie loved it and chortled with abandon causing Mom and Dad to follow suit. The photographer snapped eight shots in rapid sequence. The full tableau of photos was framed and hanging in order on the wall upstairs in the room over the garage.
Later that night as they ate dinner at a moderately-priced Italian restaurant at the Virginia Beach oceanfront, the meal almost finished and with Lizzie’s cheeks smeared with marinara, Olivia placed a small envelope on the table in front of him. “What’s this,” he asked.
“It’s something from me to you,” she replied huskily. “Just for you!”
“DaDa!” Lizzie exclaimed as she sucked a short cut-up noodle through sauce-covered, puckered lips.
With a knotted brow, Jake flipped open the flap and withdrew a square piece of thermal paper. He turned it over and looked at the black-and-white image of an ultrasound. The first rendering of their second child.
Jake’s mouth dropped open. “You’re pregnant? Again?”
He leaned over and stamped his mouth on Olivia’s, claiming it. “How? When?”
Olivia shook her head. “You’re a pharmacist. Do I really need to explain?” Olivia hesitated then added, “Or should I recreate how it happened tonight after we put Lizzie down?”
Jake grinned lustily. “Yeah, that’ll be great,” he growled. “I mean…you know…”
“About six weeks ago.”
Back in the present, those four words echoed in his memory. A weighty ache clutched his heart. The pressure squeezing his ribcage pushed the breath from his lungs. Perspiration erupted from every pore of his skin. The photograph of the three of them was in his hands. He’d lifted it from the top of the dresser without realizing it. With the back of a hand, he swiped at a stray tear snaking its way down his cheek.
It had been about three months since his last panic attack. In the three years since he’d buried Olivia, the anxiety-laced spasms had begun to occur less frequently. But they still happened, especially when he was fatigued. He hated them. But at the same time, they reminded him that his all-consuming love for Olivia was real–and still present. Jake was deathly afraid of allowing his feelings for her to melt away. He never wanted to forget her or push her memory onto the back burner of his heart.
The chime of his cell phone harshly interrupted Jake’s . He wagged his head once to clear the memories then removed the device from his back pocket, checked the caller ID and clicked on.
“Hi Mom,” he said as energetically as he could.
“You sound tired, darling.”
“I am. How did my girl do today?”
His mother gave Jake the broad brush strokes of his daughter’s day, what she ate, what televisions shows she watched and her nap time. Then she added a grand motherly milestone to the list.
“She did great. She drew a picture of me. She said ‘This is you, ‘Mimmi.’ I look like a snow man with hair. But it the cutest thing ever. I put it on the fridge.”
“Wow, that’s awesome.”
“She asks lots of questions. “Why is the sky blue? How many eggs are in the carton. I took her shopping with me. And…” There was a pause on the line.
“You there , Mom?”
“Yeah, and she was running and accidentally hit her hand on the coffee table. Then she yelled, ‘Damn it’!” Have you been saying bad words around her?”
Jake rubbed his temples between his thumb and forefinger with his free hand. He smiled to himself. “Oops! She may have heard me say something like that.”
“Jake,” she admonished. “I don’t want my granddaughter learning all that bad Marine language. Mind your tongue!”
He sighed. “I’ll do better, Mimmi!”
Jake’s phone chimed in his ear as she spoke indicating he had a text message. He moved the device away from his ear and saw that the message was from Stephan Willings, his pharmacy district manager and boss. Acid instantly began churning in his belly. This can’t be good, he thought.
“Did you hear me?” Lily asked.
Jake could tell by her tone that she had asked a question. His failure to reply prompted a second inquiry.
“I said, ‘What time do you want me to bring her by tomorrow?'”
Jake thought on the question. “Um. Let me come over there. I have an errand to run tomorrow. Then I’ll swing by. Okay, see you then. What errand?”
Jake thought about making up something, but instead leveled with her. “I have to return something to someone. Maybe around eleven.” He told her good night and clicked off.
Jake tapped the icon on his phone and read Willings’s message:
We need to discuss your not following policy regarding the drive-thru today. Call me first thing in the morning!
That could have waited until the morning. or better yet, until he returned to the store in tow days. It was just like that sonofabitch to leave him a message after work, Jake thought. Willings seemed the type to take pleasure in ruining Jake’s evening. Screw him! I have something a little more important to do tomorrow.
He reached into his other back pocket and removed a second cell phone. He’d retrieved it from the floor under one of the chairs in the waiting area of the pharmacy after he’d locked up the department. The chair had been askew. Being the ultimate Marine, Jake needed everything square and perfect. It was a quality that made him a good Marine. And it was a quality that also made him a good pharmacist. He moved the chair back into alignment and that’s when he spied the stray device.
He tapped the screen again as he’d done in the store. The time came up on the screen. 9:42pm with today’s date. The wallpaper background on the screen was a photograph. A boy with a wide grin and sparkling green eyes. Jake’s heart gave a slight bump at the sight of the boy. It was Peter, the boy to whom he’d administered the breath saving inhaled medication. The son of the attractive thirty-something mother whose name he did not know. For an unspoken reason, his chest swelled slightly with anticipation. He would have to figure out how to return the device to her.
“Screw you, Willings!” He whispered the words audibly in a husky baritone. “I’ve got other plans.”
Luca and Big Tommy
Luca silently braked his Mercedes S-Class sedan to a halt two blocks from his boss’s multi-million dollar mansion on West Ocean View Avenue in Norfolk in the dark shadows under a weeping. His slinky black-haired vixen Deb Perry sat in the passenger seat. As Luca turned off the motor and the engine clicked with heat under the hood, she leaned over the console and placed her plump lips close to his ear. On a heavy sigh, she whispered, “Time for a little me time? We’re early. We have some time for…you know.” Her right hand slipped beneath his leather jacket and slid with erotic intent against his torso.
Luca inched his head away from her with a frustrated jerk and grasped her wrist, removing it from his chest. He placed it firmly on her thigh.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Big Tommy is what’s wrong.”
Deb rotated her palms toward the ceiling of the vehicle. “So!” She’d noticed Luca’s quiet, agitated demeanor on the drive over, but decided not to push him. He seemed forlorn,
“He’s been riding my ass. We’ve been losing territory to Gomez’s. They’re squeezing us…me out. I’ve lost a shitload of revenue. I used to be the biggest earner in this area. Tommy wants to see me. He’s been losing points every month.” Luca raked his fingers through his thick, black mane as he pushed out a lungful of air. “He asked me here tonight because he wants a solution.”
Deb moved away from him as if he were suddenly electrified. “Then why I am here?”
He’d been staring at the designer steering wheel since they’d arrived. Now, he rotated his gaze to her. His eyes were hard and revealed a deep-seated fear she had never seen in the time that she’d been sleeping with him. She had become Luca’s girlfriend during his final two years of his marriage to that bitch Caroline. As his Amore mio and sometimes go-for, she’d learned the basics of Luca’s business. Luca owned two dry cleaners in the area. But Deb knew that was only a front. Her man was currently a capo of Big Tommy’s drug smuggling enterprise. Tommaso “Big Tommy” Romano was the boss of the Romano mafia family in the Norfolk, Virginia area.
After the FBI had all but obliterated the five major crime families in New York in the seventies and eighties. And following the conviction of “The Teflon Don” John Gotti and his death in prison, members of the families began a slow migration out of the five boroughs in search of more fertile areas of revenue. The nineties and first decade of the new millennium saw the rise of organized crime in southeastern Virginia. The loansharking, prostitution rings and drug smuggling catered to the enlisted men and women of the large military community, the business men and any and all who wanted the escape of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl
But in the last seven or eight years, a new player had appeared to compete for the illicit drug market. Fernando “The Spic” Gomez, a Cuban émigré had infiltrated the area. Gomez’s growing enterprise and family had been eroding away at the revenues of Luca’s enterprises. Hence, the points he was supposed kick up three points to Big Tommy from his collections. “The Spic” moniker had been given to Gomez by Luca. Deb doubted that Gomez knew about it and would not take kindly to the racial appellation.
“Gomez’s gangs have been cutting into our profits. We lost another neighborhood in south Norfolk. I’ve been kicking up the same dollars to Tommy by dipping into my own cash. But that’s running out. The last two payments I sent him were less than what he’d been expecting. He’s not happy. He wants to discuss…” Luca filled his chest with air and pushed it out slowly in a shaky exhalation. “…options.”
Deb knew what that meant. Big Tommy wanted to discuss a coming war against the rival family. And she sensed Luca was nervous about how Big Tommy was going to deal with Luca’s dwindling tributes.
She said what Luca was having a hard time expressing. “I’m here for your protection. I’m your human shield, right?”
Luca gazed out the windshield. “Yes,” he gasped in a husky whisper.
Caroline slammed down the landline. Damnit! she cursed out loud. She hadn’t been able to locate her phone. After multiple checks of her Escalade, her purse and the grounds between the parking lot and the emergency room, Caroline concluded she’d misplaced it. It had gone missing at some point during the day. She’d just ended a call with her mother, Nora, who’d not seen it. Nor did she remember seeing her with it. Caroline also checked with the emergency room, asking for Gretchen the friendly nurse. But she had gone home for the day and the woman who answered the phone was not aware of any unclaimed device. And there was nothing in their small box of lost and found. Then Caroline tried the pharmacy where she’d frantically demanded the pharmacist’s help Peter. He’d come through wonderfully. But at this hour the store was open but the pharmacy had closed about an hour ago. Shit! Caroline expelled a exasperated gust.
Peter was asleep in his bed. She’d given him his Singulair right before bed. After his breathing treatment at the hospital, Peter had been discharged. Caroline purchased two extra inhalers from the outpatient pharmacy at the hospital, placed one in her purse and one in Peter’s backpack. She was about to call Nora who had left earlier and let her know she was on the way home when she’d realized she did not have her phone.
Clad in a lightweight tee-shirt, a pair of gym shorts and a shroud of frustration, Caroline climbed under the covers and extinguished the bedside lamp. In the dark of the room and the large expanse of the massive king-sized bed, Caroline felt lost and alone. After the lost phone, Peter’s medical emergency and her confrontation with her ex, Caroline was frazzled. She sighed again, quelling the tension. That’s when tears slipped from her closed eyes down her temples into the hairline of her disheveled locks.
After ten minutes of silent weeping, she wiped the moisture from her face and summoned a reserve strength. She recalled a familiar quote that had buoyed her often. “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the small voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I will try again tomorrow.”‘
To Be Continued-
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