his chilly February morning, I awakened to bright sunshine and chirping birds outside my window. Except it wasn’t my window. It was Joey’s place in New Haven—his bedroom— where New York Yankees pennants, hats, and collectibles lined the four walls, and where his Nintendo hooked up to the TV, a stuffed armchair in front of it. He had a stereo with huge speakers, a dresser with no mirror, and a telephone. The bed I’d been sleeping in had warm comforters but no headboard.
It seemed, at first, I’d been dreaming.
I remembered drinking tequila at the Cove the night before—and Farran making eyes at Joey, flirting with him, and doing shots with him at the bar. They left, with Farran promising she would be right back.
My nerves had been on edge. Earlier in the day, I’d spotted the black Cutlass Supreme outside my bedroom window. Nobody was home, and I had just come home from school. Seeing Phil’s car unnerved me to the point where I considered grabbing the phone to call for help, but he peeled away and didn’t return.
In the bar now, Tommy came over to me. “Insensitive of her,” he said. “You’re hurting for your cousin.”
“So is she,” I said.
“Yeah … more like she’s itching to sow her wild oats. One day it’s him, one day it’s me, and every day she wants V.”
“Maybe you should tell her that instead of telling me,” I replied, taking a swig of my drink.
He maintained strong eye contact, exuding calm. “I wanna talk to you.”
“You look like you need a friend.”
I laughed. “Would that be you?”
“It could be me.”
He had changed somewhat since we’d first reconnected. For one thing, his hair had grown out. In the past, he never would have worn it middle-length with a carefree edge. I liked it. He also seemed more youthfully lean now rather than fit, but he looked good.
“Right now, I just want to get out of here,” I said, setting my empty glass down on the bar. “But she’s driving.”
He asked if I wanted to take a ride. He had his bike, and though it was cold for a bike ride, I agreed with a halfhearted shrug.
It was windy as we strolled through the parking lot. A February snowstorm had dropped almost a foot of snow across Connecticut’s northwest hills, but there had been only a dusting in New Haven.
I shivered beside him. “So what is all this friendship stuff? Is it to make up for all that crap you said to me when I was a kid?”
He was looking at something up ahead. “What crap?”
“What crap? Come on, you were so mean! You terrified me! When I saw you coming, I wanted to hide. You told me I was ugly, called me Four Eyes. You hated me.”
“If I did all that to you, I was an ass.”
“You did do it! You told me my family should go back to wherever the hell we came from, that we were spics and not welcome!”
“I don’t remember that, but I’m embarrassed,” he said. “I’m sorry. I was a bully back then, young and stupid. I learned all that is bunk. People are people.”
His words softened me. Besides feeling validated after many years, I became emotional.
“I’m sorry again for your loss,” he said.
“You went through a lot of loss yourself.”
“Yup. My pops got killed right on Fairfield Avenue near Pacanow Street, walking home from a bar, drunk. He knew he’d be drunk, so he didn’t take his car. He messed around with the wrong people, owed them more money than he could ever repay.”
It had occurred to me that when Tommy was a boy back in Glastonbury, he was often on a mission to locate his dad. It was common knowledge that if he didn’t find him asleep in his car, he’d head over on his bicycle to the nearest bar. Some days, Mr. Catalano would come to get Tommy or Paul and drag one or the other home by the ear.
“I’m sorry,” I told him now, “about your father, about Paul. I always meant to tell you that. I should have. Paul was so young.”
“He was manic depressive,” Tommy divulged. “No one heard the cries for help. I didn’t know. One day he lost it, went up to his room with my dad’s shotgun, put it up to his head, and pulled the trigger. For the first time, I was glad my mother had passed. She didn’t have to live through that. I was in Libya. I didn’t know how I’d go home to face that, or how I’d get through it, but I did. And you will, too.”
When we got to his motorcycle, he instructed me on what to do and what not to do on the back of his bike, but I already knew.
“I have to explain,” he said. “I never know what to expect with you girls. Shannon grabs the handlebars when she gets scared. She did it to Nico all the time and then to me. You’re all crazy.”
The funny thing about riding with Tommy was I felt safer than I had with Gianni or even my own brother. He was cautious, alert, and very much in control.
We stopped at another bar because he said he needed to talk to someone. I suspected he enjoyed the attention I got and the assumption that we were a couple. I didn’t mind. I enjoyed walking alongside him, helmet in hand, playing the biker girl. Someone had given him a joint, and I called him on it when we left.
“Guy said it’s angel dust,” he told me. “I haven’t smoked that shit in years, man.”
Up until this point, I hadn’t thought much about my past drug use. I’d gone from drinking beer and wine with Angie at age twelve to smoking pot with Mike at thirteen. I didn’t like pot but wouldn’t turn down hash, and I began popping pills—amphetamines in particular. Mike wasn’t into any of that and didn’t like that I was, but, at the time, no one could stop me. I didn’t know how to be myself and would ask Farran or Robbie how they managed to be themselves. They never understood the question. I ultimately figured out that you couldn’t be yourself until you found out who you were. It wasn’t rocket science, but it had me stumped for years.
“I tried it once,” I said, “about two years ago.”
“Really?” He looked at me. “Who got you started with that shit?”
“Robbie gave me pills and stuff, but I did the dust with Angie and Farran. We bought it from someone.”
“Figures, because I know Joey wouldn’t let you do drugs.”
“No way. Joey frisked me a couple of times like a freaking cop. When we hung out at Addison Park, I’d see him coming with his battalion of comrades, and I wanted to run. Like whenever I saw you.”
“Tsk.” His eyes were downcast. “Aw, I’m sorry, man.”
“You probably don’t remember this,” I went on, “but I didn’t want to wear my glasses because you made fun of them.”
“Well, wait, there’s a good story here.” My hand lightly grazed his shoulder. “See, according to my mom, St. Lucy was the patron saint of eyes. She explained to us that St. Lucy carried her eyes in a cup. My father was like, ‘You don’t call that a cup, Grace. They call it a chalice.’ And Robbie was horrified, wanting to know how St. Lucy’s eyes got into the cup in the first place. Supposedly, she gouged her eyes out, and, at some point, God restored her vision, and it was a miracle.”
Tommy gripped the sides of his head as if to cover his ears. “Holy shit. Who tells a kid these stories? Here’s this saint who gouged out her eyes, but she can still see you.”
“Well, you went to Catholic school,” I said, laughing at his reaction. “And, yes, so when I was in second grade, she wanted me to be St. Lucy for Halloween—eyeballs in a cup and all. She said the way St. Lucy walked with her eyes in that cup meant she was proud, not ashamed, that she stood straight and tall, like she was carrying gold, and that I should be that way, too. But all I could think of was, What if I run into Tommy Catalano?”
“Please tell me I wasn’t throwing eggs at this saint with no eyes.”
I laughed hysterically.“No, no, well you did have eggs. I was trick-or-treating with Angie, and you were walking toward us with your friends, but I kept my erect posture and dignity like my mother said. You freaked out a little about the eyes in the cup, but when your friends wanted to bomb us with eggs, you gave the wave to let us pass.”
“Mighty genteel of me.” He shook his head. “So what happened with the glasses?”
“My next eye examination, the doctor told me I had twenty-twenty vision in both eyes. Of course, my mother says that was a miracle, too. They celebrated by getting a piano and paying for my lessons.”
“You play piano?”
“I lost interest by the time I was eight, but yeah. Then no one else wanted to learn, so they gave it away. Now I wish I had it.”
“Wow, that’s cool,” he said. “I just bought a Strat. I’m learning to play. I wanted to play guitar ever since I was a kid—blues rock like Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Those are my idols.”
It occurred to me that although I’d known Tommy all of my life, I’d never really known him. He was becoming more human to me.
We were back in the Cove parking lot when he asked if I wanted to smoke that joint with him. I think it was a momentary lapse of judgment on his part and mine. I hadn’t touched any of that stuff in over a year, but I was desperate for an escape.
He lit up, took a few tokes, and then handed it to me. I did the same, but I began coughing and couldn’t stop. I had a hazy awareness of falling, and he caught me before my head hit the ground.
“Oh, shit,” I heard him say. “Hold on. I’ll get help.”
No, don’t go. Please don’t go. Don’t leave me. I was thinking that, but I couldn’t speak.
I heard another voice. “Oh, my God, Danielle. Oh, God, can you hear me? Wake up!”
A blurred figure was shaking me.
“What day is this?” I asked.
“It’s Friday night. You waited all week for this night.”
“Didn’t I help you write a term paper?”
“Yes, weeks ago.”
“I bought two boxes of chocolates in a heart for Valentine’s Day for my mom, in case I’m tempted to eat one.”
“I know you did, darlin’. I just got back. Tommy went inside to get help.”
Someone else was there now, another blurred figure that sounded like Billy. “Take my arm,” he said.
I grabbed his hand, and he lifted me.
I heard a bike pull up and wondered if it was Valentin, but it was an irate Nico castigating Tommy. “What the hell’s the matter with you? Stupid shithead, I should bash your head in. If anything happens to this little girl, you’re responsible. She’s a child, for God’s sake.” Next thing I knew, he was on one side of me, and Tommy was on the other, but I couldn’t see them. They held my arms, led me along, and stopped me from falling whenever my knees gave way. Farran walked alongside us.
“Damn, I’m an idiot. I’m so sorry, man,” Tommy was saying. “We started smoking a joint, and then she passed out.”
“A joint of what?” Nico yelled. “She’s out of it.”
“It was dust,” Tommy confessed.
“Could have been laced with something,” Billy said. I determined by his voice that he was now behind me.
Farran explained to everyone that I’d also had a few drinks at the Cove. “Could that have affected her? I mean, Tommy’s fine. Maybe stress because of Angie? Anyway, Joey’s home. We can take her there.”
We left the Cove’s bright spark for a house shrouded in darkness. I could barely see it when we arrived, although I was cognizant of its monumental size and the seemingly endless climb to its door. Fieldstone walls framed the stairway, so there was nothing to grip but Tommy and Nico.
“What the fuck happened, man?” That was Joey when he opened the door, though he was a faceless silhouette.
We passed through a massive space of old hardwood flooring that creaked. Nico and Tommy took me into the living room. Nico asked everyone to sit on the rug, and then he took off my coat, lifted me up in his arms, and carried me to the sofa, placing me on my side. When he draped a blanket over me, I wanted to hug him.
Farran asked why they couldn’t put me in Joey’s room.
“We need to keep an eye on her,” Nico replied.
The room was lamplit, with an additional light coming from the kitchen. The bodies began to take shape. It was Billy, Tommy, Farran, and Joey on the floor, along with a few other guys who shared the place with Joey. I felt like an illustrious centerpiece—Cleopatra on her regal palanquin—except nothing about my predicament was imperially impressive. It wasn’t romantic, and it sure wasn’t pretty. More pertinently, my demise was on display, as Angie’s had been. My mourners appeared to be talking among themselves as if I were dead. I was merely hogging the sofa. I could sense Tommy was beside himself and didn’t know what to do. Nico came over to check on me, looking worried. He seemed to be going in and out of the kitchen. I saw Joey walk out of there and take a seat on the rug. He seemed mad at me or embarrassed. In that moment, I felt like I would die, or I wanted to, as the realization of what had happened began to sink in. I didn’t understand how I could have let it happen after everything.
I saw Angie then. Had I fallen asleep, or was she there? Her face was such a comfort.
“I’m freaking out,” I told her.
“Nah, you’ll be all right,” she said. “I’m right here beside you.”
I don’t know how much time had elapsed before the image of her seated beside me had faded.
Nico crouched before me. “Are you okay?” His smile was gentle and sweet. “Would you like another blanket?”
I shook my head. “Am I dreaming?”
“I don’t think so,” he replied.
“I love you,” I said to him. He was just so cute, I couldn’t help myself. I meant it, too, as he had been kinder than I ever would have expected.
The revelation seemed to stun him. His eyes filled with compassion and concern. He went back to the kitchen and returned with a cup of water. “Think you can sit up and drink this?” He set the cup down and helped me up. “I’ll hold it for you.”
Tommy was apologizing again to Joey, who said, “You didn’t know that would happen, but that’s why I don’t mess with any of that shit. I’ve heard one horror story after another.”
“I need to go home,” I said, after taking sips from the cup. “I have to.”
“I’m not sure you’re all right to go home yet,” Nico said.
I felt terrible having caused all this fuss. I was ashamed. “I’m much better,” I insisted. “I swear.”
“Well, hang on.” He called Joey.
“You can stay here,” Joey said, approaching me. “I’ll call and tell them you’re here. You can sleep in my room. I’ll sleep on the couch.”
I stood in protest. My head was spinning, and I fell forward. Nico was quick to catch me, and, for a moment, just held me in his arms.
“I have whatever you need—even an extra toothbrush, unopened,” Joey went on. “And there’s a washer and dryer downstairs.”
Billy was on his way out the door, and Nico said he had to leave.
“I think you should stay,” Nico told me before he departed.
Farran left soon after that, and I could tell she wasn’t happy.
I sat on the rug with Tommy. Joey went to get extra blankets.
“I messed up,” Tommy said. “We were laughing together. Got swept up in the moment … I apologize.”
I told him it wasn’t his fault. I didn’t feel deserving of so much fuss, and my old nemesis was beating himself up on my behalf.
He let out a sigh. “I care about you, Dani. We all do. I’m supposed to be one of the guys looking out for you here, protecting you.”
His admission brought tears, and I lost it. I tried wiping each tear that fell, but they kept coming.
He said, “Talk to me, doll.”
I told him about Phil and Sergio. I somehow blurted it out, what had happened to Angie and me, as if I could no longer contain it.
He was shaking his head. “I didn’t know. Do your brothers know?”
“Robbie does, but not Joey.”
“Why not Joey?”
“I want to tell him. I will. I’m scared, I guess.”
Joey returned and, for once, looked so innocent.
Perhaps the shock had worn off, but it pained me to talk about Phil and Sergio now. I don’t remember how I said it, but I managed to tell him what I had told Tommy.
He sat on the couch, his eyes wide. I hadn’t seen him that shocked since the day Robbie overdosed. His response was, “Farran, too?”
I suppose he asked that somewhere between shock and denial, not knowing what else to say in such an uncomfortable moment.
“She wasn’t with us that day, but I told her,” I said. “She didn’t believe me.”
“How could you not believe your friends?” Tommy asked. “You’re not a liar. Man …”
Joey asked if our parents or Robbie knew, and he appeared surprised by the revelations. “And then you told Tommy.”
I interpreted that as, Why in the world would you tell Tommy? His eyes suggested the realization that I had trusted Robbie, Farran, and now Tommy before trusting him. With both of them staring at me, I was at a loss to explain. I can only surmise, in retrospect, that with Tommy, I saw the open window or, perhaps, an open heart—the invitation to divulge in a space that welcomed me. I had felt safe in the moment.
Joey’s eyes remained focused on me. “Are you okay?”
I told them both about the calls and about seeing Phil and Sergio in the car that day.
“Bastards,” Joey said. “Who are they? Do I know them?”
“Hire Gianni,” Tommy suggested. “He’s certified in Personal Protection and Intelligence. He has a concealed gun permit, and he’s licensed to carry a firearm, a concealed tactical shotgun, and a handgun in a holster. Whatever he has is registered.”
“To do what, guard me?” I knew Phil and Sergio were not going to do anything unless they could get me to take their drugs again, and that was never going to happen. “I do think these two guys are cowards. They were talking like they were mobsters or something.”
“What’d they look like?” Tommy asked. “Do you know their names? They probably didn’t use their real names.”
I provided whatever details I could, and when I mentioned their names, Tommy said he thought he knew them. “If it’s who I’m thinking, and I’m pretty sure it is, Sergio went to school with Gianni’s older cousin on his mom’s side. Has to be. He hangs out with a guy named Phil. The descriptions match.”
Joey was shaking his head as if in disbelief. “So they’re from Bridgeport?”
“I don’t know where they’re living now,” Tommy said, “but I can find out. They’re both drug-dealin’ burnouts—and poseurs; I’m sure, with the gangster talk.”
I told him I didn’t want anyone I cared about to go after them and get hurt or end up in jail.
Tommy nodded. “Promise me, if they come by again, you’ll talk to the police or Gianni.”
“If I thought I had the slightest chance of getting them put away, I would have so they couldn’t do it to someone else,” I said, “but I heard the odds are slim even with way more evidence than I have.”
“I understand what you’re sayin’,” Tommy replied. “I had a friend who went through that—someone who meant a lot to me. It sucks.” Before he left, he hugged me gently and gave me a goodnight kiss on the cheek.
So here I was now, still at Joey’s, though it seemed oddly quiet for a place shared by four guys. Grabbing a robe that hung on the door, I ventured into the living room.
“I thought I was gonna have to call an ambulance for you last night!” Joey bellowed. Of course, he was up, getting ready for work.
I shushed him. “Stop yelling.”
“It just feels like I had the most bizarre dream.”
“It was no dream.”
I winced. “Look, I used to do stupid stuff as a kid—”
“You’re still a kid.”
“Okay, but I learned my lesson. I’m sorry about last night.”
“Let’s just not do that again, and I’ll be happy.”
“I won’t,” I promised.
But the moment he stepped out of view, the wheels began turning in my head. Was I losing my mind? Considering all that had happened, it seemed possible. I’d been terrified of anything that could further along the crippling of my spirit. On the other hand, I thought the worst that could happen was something was so burdensome, that I didn’t want to live anymore. I soothed myself with the conclusion that I didn’t have to, that there was, ultimately, a way out of all of the misery.
Wanting to both pacify and punish myself had created a vicious cycle that had led me to hate myself more and respect myself less. There was a danger in shutting down the way Angie had. I certainly didn’t want to die, but I could have just as easily, and the threat still hung over me.
I wished I could be a different person—wiser and more comfortable in my own skin but always in control—carefree and uninhibited, rather than painfully aware, hyper-vigilant, and afraid. At the same time, I didn’t want to lose the part of me that cared about everything and everyone on a level that surpassed the anger in me. Above all, I wasn’t going down without a fight.
Farran came to pick me up after Joey had gone. Her stern voice was sobering as she confirmed much of what I remembered. “You told Nico Castel that you loved him. Did you know that? I was standing right there.”
I knew then that all of it was true.
She rambled on. “Do you realize you scared the crap out of me? I mean, you lecture me about getting into trouble, and then you do this. Dammit, Dani, we just lost Angie.”
The nurturer in her seemed to take over. “Are you hungry? We can stop in Dunkin’ Donuts and get some breakfast, if you want.”
“Sure,” I said.
She grinned. “So did you and Tommy fool around?”
“Of course not.”
“I wish I could say the same about Joey and me. Oh, wait, no, I don’t.” She laughed. “Man, he was wild last night. We made out in his Maserati. I didn’t exactly stop his hands from wandering.”
“I really don’t want to hear this,” I said.
She laughed again. “Why? Aw, come on. Damn, girl, I have to tell someone. I’m about to bust.”
My hand was on my forehead.
“We went to his room. We were doing pretty much the same thing, but my top was off, then he unbuttoned my pants, but I got scared. I tried to sit up, but he pushed me back down.”
A feeling of dread coursed through me. “What?”
“Well, wait, it wasn’t rape. I don’t want you to start saying it was rape or anything. He got my pants open, but I said, ‘No, Joey, don’t!’ That’s when he said, ‘I knew you were a tease.’ He got up and made me leave! Yep, he kicked me out. So I went back to the Cove and found you laid out in the parking lot.”
I was all over the place trying to juggle my emotions. “I’m relieved he didn’t force you, but I can’t believe he kicked you out of his house and made you walk back to the Cove alone and freezing in the dark.”
“It wasn’t that far, and he wasn’t physically forceful in kicking me out or anything. He tossed me my coat and my bag and told me to get out. I got dressed real fast. He walked me to the door and slammed it behind me. It was embarrassing but totally my fault. I don’t blame him.”
“I do!” I was mad. “I will never forgive him for this.”
“Think he’ll tell Valentin?”
“Why? Do you want him to?” I couldn’t believe her. I would have been devastated if someone had treated me that way. Once again, Farran and I were in two different places, because she seemed to be enjoying this dangerous game.
“I don’t know. It might convince Valentin I’m not a little girl.”
“Is that why you’re doing this?
“Nah, I have a huge crush on Joey that goes way, way back. I’m not in love with him like Valentin, but he drives me nuts, and, girl, I don’t do anything I don’t wanna do. He was mad that I came back to the house with you. He didn’t want me there.”
“You were the one who should have been upset.”
We got coffee and a couple of donuts, but I didn’t enjoy it much.
Deadly Veils Book One: Shattering Truths was originally published as Deadly Veils: Book One: Provenance of Bondage copyright © October 2015 by Kyrian Lyndon. The revised edition, Deadly Veils: Book One: Shattering Truths was published in December 2016. Cover design by KH Koehler Design.