Everything had already been paid for. Still, Rocco would have been willing to postpone the wedding. He told me so. He was thinking about Jack of course. He knew Jack would be remembering the last time there was a wedding in the family.
Six years ago.
It didn’t sound like a long time. It was a senatorial term, a kindergartener’s birthday, an anniversary that recommends a gift of iron. I had no idea how I came to possess this last piece of information but I was sure it was correct.
Jack had startled me when he insisted that we start leading the guests in the tarantella. No one expected it even though the dance had been a keynote event at just about every Giordano gathering since he taught me the steps some twenty-five years ago. But Jack wore his misery on his face. He flinched under the weight of the clapping rhythm and his movements were listless. Our spinning became slower and slower. That’s when I realized he was crying and trying to hide the fact that he was crying. We slowly reached a sad halt and I hugged him tightly for the second time in a week. The first time was the morning of a funeral. Before that, I hadn’t hugged my father in six years.
Six years was long enough to cram a lifetime of love in, but only if you know it’s all going to end prematurely. It was long enough for a child to be born and start to become aware of the world as the people around her looked on with pride. Six years was a long time to slowly die.
Or maybe it wasn’t long at all to the one who was actually dying.
“Claudia.” There was a voice at my back and I jumped, surprised. I’d run out here alone and had not heard anyone follow me. But if I had to be followed by someone I would want it to be him.
I waited for him to come to me and he did. Every nerve in my body was instantly alert, an effect that he alone was responsible for. He was one of those rare men with an overpowering physical presence. It seemed to increase with every passing year. He was clean-shaven today, probably out of respect for the bride and all the wedding pictures she would treasure through the years. His tux was carelessly rumpled though and his grief was apparent. I caught sight of him as Jack clung to me on the dance floor and he appeared stricken. They all were. We all were. We had good reason.
“Did you find him?” I asked and he nodded.
“Yeah, he was vomiting in the men’s room. Rocco asked him if he wanted to go home but he shook his head and said he just wanted another whiskey shot.”
I watched the lightning bugs flicker in the darkness. When I was little I used to catch them by the dozens and keep them in a jar. Now that seemed like a cruel thing to do.
“Did he get it? His shot?”
“Rocco should know better. Jack’s already had too many tonight.”
“Does it matter, Claudia?”
I closed my eyes. “No. No, it doesn’t.”
He was next to me now, his breath close enough to brush my neck, his shoulder touching mine as if to reinforce the fact that he was here, that he was solid and masculine and our long history couldn’t be ignored. None of that was an accident. It never was with him.
I knew I should go back inside. I should check on Jack and also make sure that someone was keeping an eye on Allison. Sometimes I forgot that the little girl who was my sister was at an age where she could easily be my daughter. Then when I remembered I always felt maternal, protective. Especially now that her own mother would never again have the chance to do any of that protective mothering.
The ocean was miles away but I could smell it. A faint summer breeze carried its perfume the way the desert wind bears the scent of its telltale greasewood. When I was living in the southwest I desperately missed the coast. But since I had returned to Long Island I yearned for the desert.
Goddamn it. Why the hell do I always want what I can’t have?
He was still beside me. He turned his head when I whispered his name. The longing in my own voice was thick, unmistakable. Anyhow, Easton has known me long enough to understand what I want.
“Here?” he asked as thirty yards away the reception carried on without us. But he was already breathing fast and his voice was husky with the knowledge of what his body planned to take.
“There,” I said and pointed to the shadowy area around the side of the building where the light didn’t reach.
He seized me; aggressively kissing, feeling, shoving the rock solid length of himself against me so hard I felt every inch through the layers of our clothing. He kissed me so roughly I knew my lips would be swollen and I still hungrily angled for more. When he moved to my neck he sucked the skin between his teeth with enough pressure to inflict the barest hint of pain and it drove me wild.