Antonio, driving a three-year-old Alfa Romeo, reached over and took my hand, knotting the fingers together in my lap. “You all right?”
“Wait for me.” He inched forward in the line. “Remember.”
“How do you say it in Italian?”
“Will you take me to Italy some time? My sister lives there.”
He took his gaze off me, and turned in to the gate, stopping at the guard station.
“Well?” I asked.
“Yes. Sure.” He squeezed my hand and let go.
“Hello, Sir,” the guard said. He wore a boutonniere in his uniform, a little white carnation wrapped in green and fastened with a pearl-head straight pin. “Can I have your name?”
Another security guy took down Antonio’s license plate number.
“Antonio Spinelli,” he said.
“And you, ma’am?”
“Can I see some ID?”
We showed him. He checked our photos and took the license numbers down.
“Romance in America,” Antonio said, quietly joking.
“Movie stars and mobsters get the same treatment.”
“In Italy, they’d just shoot anyone who made trouble. To avoid the war, you play nice.”
“We’re about to ruin the whole party,” I said.
“We are mad, aren’t we?”
“We are.” I squeezed his hand. “Let’s do this. Before I go to the truck, let’s enjoy this. Let’s forget everything and dance for one hour. Let’s be who we could have been. Just Antonio and Theresa, with a real future and boring pasts. I’ll act like my biggest problem is whether or not you like my dress. And you’ll act like yours is how to get under it. We’ll be the most thrilling things in each other’s lives.”
He touched my lip, turning it down, then stroked my chin. “You already are the best thing I have.”
“Pretend I’m also the worst thing.”
“I haven’t earned the life you just invented for me.”
“Mr. Spinelli?” The guard leaned down, our licenses on a clipboard.
Antonio turned from me. “Yes?”
“Sorry about the wait.” He handed the licenses back to Antonio. “Can you get out of the car?”
We were frisked. My bag was rooted through. They fingered the space behind my ears and looked inside them with the same little handheld lights doctors used, apologizing the whole time. Across the way, on the line of cars coming the other direction, another couple was getting the same treatment. Then the guards smiled and nodded, letting us through as if patting down guests was normal.
Was it wrong to give her good memories of me when I knew I was leaving her? Yes, it was. I should have been making her hate me. But if I was going to keep two conflicting ideas in my mind at the same time, one was going to sweeten the bitterness of the other.
I was being selfish, but her suggestion that we enjoy the wedding appealed to me, and I couldn’t let it go. So after we gave the valet our keys and walked into the Heritage House, I guided her with my hand at the small of her back, which she relaxed into as if she belonged there. When the champagne went around, I took two glasses and gave her one, looking deeply into her eyes when we toasted.
“Am I getting dirty looks?” she whispered to me.
If any part of our plan failed, but the next week, she’d be the camorrista whore. But I’d be long gone, and no shame would be brought to anyone. Today, to everyone but a few, she was just a woman I brought to a wedding.
“And Paulie’s not coming? You’re sure?”
“I’m sure,” I said.
Donna Maria sat at a small cocktail table with Irene and Carlo, shaking hands with subjects who passed. Irene wore a blue shift dress that went to the floor. There was no sign of the hypersexed little flirt I’d seen in the yard. She avoided looking at me.
By the dais, Bernardo Lei and Giacomo Bortolusi, the fathers of the Neapolitan bride and Sicilian groom, respectively, held court as if this coronation were the end of years of competition, when in fact it was only the beginning.
“We have to go pay our respects,” I whispered to Theresa.
“Can I get drunk first?”
I removed the empty champagne glass from her hand and led her to the line.
“I once met the Queen of England.” Theresa said quietly.
“Elizabeth. My whole class went. It was a trip to London, and you know, private school. Los Angeles. Rich people, blah blah. I wasn’t even nervous. And when it was my turn in line, and I said ‘How do you do?’ exactly like I was taught, I could tell she was just bored out of her mind.” She tilted her head to the right slightly to see the front of the line, the curve of her neck begging to be touched and bitten and licked to a bruising. But I couldn’t touch her. She turned back to me. “These guys don’t look bored.”
“This is the height of their lives. A business arrangement disguised as a marriage.”
She squeezed my hand. “Have you ever thought of just doing it? Maybe it won’t be so bad?”
“How could I go back to earth, having kissed heaven?”
I didn’t know if I was leading her on. I wondered if speaking the truth to her in those last hours would just make the separation worse. Would my love make sting of her hurt last longer or go deeper? Would the venom course through her veins longer, or would she just have some honest piece of me to hold onto after I left?
“Master Racossi!” Bortolusi bellowed. He knew my father and was his main competition in the cigarette trade. He was ambitious, cruel, and ruthless.
“I go by my mother’s name,” I said as I shook his hand, looking him in the eye. I was famously unashamed of my bastard lineage, and I wouldn’t take any shit about it.
And he knew it. That disconcerted me.
“This is Theresa Drazen,” I said.
He took her hand and kissed it. She was perfectly gracious, neither too proud, nor coy, nor embarrassed.
“Pleasure to meet you,” she said.
“I recognize that name.”
“I have a big family. You might have met one of my sisters. I have six.”
He laughed and nodded then turned back to me. There was a line of people behind me, waiting to meet the father of the bride, but he took the time to put his hand on my shoulder. “A little bird told me I’ll be seeing you back home in a few weeks.”