NICKY THE DRIVER:
UNDERBOSS INSURRECTION BOOK 2
coming SEPTEMBER 2, 2022
If I pedal hard enough, I can turn my brain off.
I wish the bike’s display had a reading for that—it’s got calories burned, speed, distance, resistance. There’s a leaderboard that I ignore. I bought the heart rate monitor, and I never look at it either.
It’s all about calories burned, right?
But if there were a metric for time remaining until I stop thinking, my eyes would be glued on that, counting down.
I’ve been doing a climb ride for almost an hour, and my thighs burn, my calves are cramping, but my brain’s still gnawing away.
Paul was short with me on the phone tonight. I know he’s struggling with pathology. He sucks at rote memorization. He’s always been a hands-on kind of guy. That’s why he loved gross anatomy, and that’s why he’s going to be an amazing pediatric surgeon. Or orthopedic surgeon. Whichever path he chooses, he’s going to be the best. That’s Paul. The best.
Ever since junior high, he’s been top of the class. Popular without trying. Most likely to succeed.
Maybe I’m not prom queen anymore, but we still complement each other. Right now, he needs my support. I can do that.
What do I have to bitch about? Living at home again? A stocked fridge and a laundry machine that doesn’t take quarters?
It made sense to move back home after college. Paul needs to focus on med school, and the professional relationships that he’s building with his roommates are invaluable. That’s what he says whenever I bring it up.
I need to stop bringing it up.
Just because I’m sleeping in my old bedroom again doesn’t mean I’ve regressed. I’m sacrificing for our future. Paul appreciates that. He says that, too.
I tighten my grip, and my engagement ring clinks against the handlebars. I might need to get it resized. It’s getting loose.
All couples go through periods of time when one partner needs to hyper-focus on their career. If I knew what I wanted to do with my life, I’d be grinding, too. I’m not afraid of hard work.
I tap a button and increase the incline. It’s not like I’m slacking. I’m sending out resumes, going on interviews. It hasn’t happened for me yet, but it will. I’ll find a job that I love.
I’ll figure out what I love.
My legs pump, my lungs burn, and sweat trickles down my spine.
What do I love?
Over my vanity, there are still the sparkly gold letters that my mom stenciled during one of her crafting phases. Dream big.
Oh, the irony. Daniella Graziano only ever wanted to have a richer husband than her sisters, more followers than her sisters, and a tighter ass than her sisters. Her husband’s dead, but two out of three ain’t bad. She’s not complaining.
That old, cold fear sloshes in the pit of my stomach, so I stand on the pedals and push it harder. I don’t listen to an instructor or music. I listen to my thoughts. I let them drive me crazy, and I watch the calories burned tick higher and higher. I didn’t mess up today, so it’s money in the bank. Insurance against future fuck ups.
Crap I can’t control ricochets around in my skull, generating kinetic energy.
Daddy’s not just dead, he was murdered. Dumped in the Luckahannock or buried under fresh concrete somewhere. Or dissolved in lye and rinsed down a tub drain.
We don’t know how it happened, and we never will. We don’t know who or when or why, but we can guess, and we can’t ever, ever say it out loud.
Lucca Corso and his men killed Dominic Renelli, my dad’s boss, and while they were at it, they killed my dad, Frankie Bianco, and Joey Zito—maybe more guys I don’t know—and we can think it, but we can never let on that we know.
In exchange, Lucca Corso pays Mom’s mortgage and the car notes, my brother Tony Junior keeps his job managing Sugarbits, and life continues on like usual. Tomorrow, I have a hair appointment. Afterwards, I’ll stop by Paul’s place. Cook him dinner. Suck him off. He always appreciates a homecooked meal.
Everything is fine. Shit could always be worse. I increase the incline again and pump my legs until my exercise shorts are plastered to my ass with sweat. My brain finally, finally disconnects.
For a few blessed minutes, I’m floating in nothingness. I’m lungs and muscles and nothing else.
I’m jerked back to reality by a thud on the stairs. I freeze, straining to listen past the blood rushing in my ears. There’s silence except for the wheels spinning to a halt. I slowly release my breath. It was just the house settling. Water in the pipes.
Something slams into the wall right outside my bedroom. My heart jumps into my throat.
It’s two o’clock in the morning. Mom’s asleep.
Mattie cannot be this stupid.
I get off the bike, stumble over my feet to get to the door, leap into the hallway and grab him, pinning him against the wall before he can slide into a heap on the carpet.
He laughs as I drag him into my room. Halfway to my bed, I lose my grip and trip over him, and we end up tangled on the floor.
“You’re drunk.” I roll him so he’s not breathing on me.
“And stoned,” he giggles, struggling to sit upright.
“You’re gonna wake Mom up.”
He shakes his head, pursing his bright red lips. “She’s high, too. She’s not waking up ’til noon.”
“Oh, Mattie.” I hop to my feet and offer him a hand up. It must have been a rough night. His mascara’s smeared, and he lost an eyelash. “Let me get you cleaned up.”
His big hands envelop mine. I remember when they were tiny, and he’d curl them around my pointer finger.
I have to lean all the way back so he doesn’t topple me forward as he regains his footing. At least he remembered to change before he came home. He’s in sneakers, jeans, and a navy hoodie.
“Sit.” I shove him toward the bed and grab my makeup case from the en suite.
“You gonna make me pretty, big sister?”
“You’re already pretty.”
He’s going to be maudlin. I hate him like this. I hate that there are things in the world I can’t begin to fix for him.
I drag my vanity stool over and grab his chin. Someone popped him in the eye and split his eyebrow. I probe to see how bad it is. He ducks his head. “Ow, Z.”
“I need to get some alcohol. Hold on.”
“I don’t see how you can drink at a time like this,” he calls after me, laughing at his own joke.
“Very punny.” That’s the Mattie I know. He might be down, but he’s not out. If you’ve given up, you don’t tell dumb jokes. Right?
I settle back on the stool and begin to dab dried blood with a cotton ball. He hisses. “Do I need stitches?”
“No.” I learned how to do stitches from my mother, and between Tony Junior and Mattie, I’ve had plenty of practice. That’s what Dani Graziano taught me—how to do makeup and first aid and keep my damn mouth shut. And one short summer, how to use a Cricut machine.
“Is this my mascara?” I ask while I switch from isopropyl to witch hazel and swipe under his eyes.
“I don’t borrow your stuff anymore.”
“You’re all grown up.” I tousle his brown hair. He’s left it down and curled it in fat waves. We have the same hair, the same natural highlights, thickness, and shine. It’s our crowning glory as Nonna would have said. “Do you want to get the eyelash, or do you want me to?”
“You do it.” He braces himself. We both hate peeling eyelashes off. I take my time running a Q-tip soaked in coconut oil along the adhesive so it won’t hurt, and I’m gentle.
I was six years old when Mattie was born. I doubt he was planned. I think one of Dad’s girlfriends got pregnant, and Mom got worried.
Tony Junior is a god in Mom’s eyes, but I swear, she can only see Mattie when he screws up or annoys her, so he was mine from almost day one. I heated his bottles and tested them against my wrist like I saw my aunts do. I changed him. I went to him when he cried in the middle of the night, and I sang him Kidz Bops because I didn’t know the words to the Italian nursery rhymes Nonna had sung to me.
I kept his secrets before he knew how to keep them himself.
Once I get the eyelash off, I grab one of my last cleansing cloths, the organic, compostable kind that costs thirty dollars a pack.
“Close your eyes.” I wipe his face. I can still see the baby in the shape of his nose, and the little boy in the tilt of his chin. He’s eighteen now, a senior at St. Celestine’s.
I’m so lost in worry that I don’t notice that he’s looking at me.
“Who worries about you, Zita?” he asks.
“No one needs to worry about me. I’m fine.” I boop his nose with the cloth. He swats at me and misses, clearly no more sober than when he stumbled upstairs. “If you drove tonight, I’ll kill you.”
“I took a ride share.”
I don’t say the other part. If they catch him like this out in the clubs, they’ll kill him. He knows it as well as I do.
In our world, it’s still the 1950s. Lucca Corso may wear slim-fit suit pants, but he might as well be a reincarnation of Dominic Renelli. Say hello to the new boss. Same as the old boss.
Mattie sighs and flops back onto my comforter, and I return my makeup case to the vanity. When I turn around, he’s riffling through one of my wedding binders.
I climb on the bed, and we lie on our stomachs side by side, flipping idly through venue brochures tucked in plastic sheets.
“What was wrong with this one?” he asks.
“The botanical gardens? Too expensive.”
“Don’t the bride’s parents pay for the wedding?”
“I’d ask Dad, but—” I widen my eyes and grimace. “Too soon?”
Mattie cracks up. “Oh, that was dark.”
“It made you smile.”
“I always smile.”
He does, and he always did, even as a baby.
“Okay, what was wrong with this one?”
“That one?” I squint at the photo of a rustic barn strung with fairy lights. What did Paul say about that one? “I think it was too historic?”
“That’s a thing?”
I shrug. We exchange looks and dissolve into giggles.
“Paul is too picky.”
“Who says it’s Paul being picky?” It is, but why shouldn’t he be? His parents stepped up when Dad died and said they’d take care of the wedding. Dad didn’t exactly have life insurance.
Mattie rolls his eyes. “Come on. You do whatever Paul wants.”
“Not true.” I just don’t have many preferences. It’s not a shortcoming.
“Bullshit. Name one time you’ve gotten your way. Just one.”
I don’t want my way. I want family dinners where the women wear pants if they want to and no one swears in front of the kids. I want a man who asks me to help him study for pharmacology instead of to tell anyone who asks that he was home Saturday night.
“I love Paul.”
“I know. I don’t know how you’d put up with his smug ass otherwise.”
Mattie smirks. I slap his shoulder.
“I’m picky too, you know.”
“Yeah? You’re picky?” He grins and pinches my middle. I yelp. And then I’m trying to pinch him back, and he’s drunk and stoned, so he falls off the bed and knocks the lamp off the night table. He stays down there between the bed and the wall, catching his breath through his laughter.
I’d do anything for this kid, and there is nothing I can do for him.
“Get your ass to bed,” I tell him. “And drink water and take an aspirin before you go to sleep.”
He returns the lamp to its place with exaggerated care and hauls himself up using the side of the bed, his lips still curved into a dopey smile. “Okay, Mom.”
It’s my turn to roll my eyes.
“Leave the bike alone,” he says over his shoulder on his way out. “Give it a rest.”
I wait until the door’s shut to go back to my ride. I can’t fall asleep now. If I do another five-hundred calories, I should be able to pass out.
I’m almost right. When I fall into bed at three in the morning, I’ve burned seven-hundred calories, and it only takes a half hour or so to crash.
What feels like moments later, a voice jerks me from a deep sleep.
“Rise and shine, princess.”
I startle awake as rough hands tear me out of bed. My head bounces off the carpet. I scream and kick, my legs tangling in the gauzy white canopy. I’m torn free, my arm almost yanked from its socket.
I see a man’s legs. Joggers. Black rubber clogs.
My hip knocks my dresser. Lotions fall over, perfume bottles cracking against the mirrored tray.
“Stop.” The word sticks in my throat.
The man drags me to my feet, slamming me into the door frame.
My mother’s screams rise from the ground floor.
Oh, God. Mattie.
I lurch toward his room, but the man is too strong. He pulls me in the opposite direction, and I trip and fall. He doesn’t let me up again. He drags me down the hallway toward the top of the stairs, his arm hooked around my shoulder, and I flail, scrabbling at the walls, breaking my acrylics.
He keeps going. My tailbone smacks against a wooden step so hard that my eyes water. The man yanks me along, and I slide behind him, colliding with his shins.
“Fuck.” He hops out of the way, and I tumble into the landing, hitting the wall with a thud.
“Watch it,” a cool, deep voice warns from below.
The man in rubber clogs was reaching for me, but he stops, straightens, raises a thick eyebrow, and gestures for me to go down the last flight of stairs.
I know him. Vinny Bianco. Frankie’s cousin. Frankie was killed with Dad. Vinny must’ve picked the right side since he’s still alive.
I push up to my knees, dizzy, my hair in my eyes. My PJ shorts are twisted, and the V-neck of my top is yanked down almost to my elbow. I fix myself while I stand, legs wobbly, fingers trembling uncontrollably.
I’ve had nightmares about this all my life, and now it’s happening. And like in the nightmares, I’m paralyzed.
Vinny shoves me to keep going. I clutch the railing and hobble down. I hurt. My butt. My hip. My ankle.
Why is this happening now?
Dad’s dead. We were told that if we keep our mouths shut, and if Mom keeps Tony Junior in line, we’ll be fine.
Tony Junior stepped out of line.
That fucking idiot.
I cross the foyer, round the corner to the kitchen, and as soon as Mom sees me, she sobs and snatches me to her chest, hysterically smoothing my hair, her rings catching strands and stinging my scalp.
I pull free and wrap an arm around her, tucking her to my side so she’s not blocking my view. My heart stops midbeat.
In the middle of the open floor, between the breakfast nook and the island, Furio Renelli, Tony Junior, and Mattie are kneeling in a line, hands behind their heads.
Mattie’s crying softly, a black streak running down his cheek. I missed some.
He won’t look up at me. He’s staring at the tile floor, rigid. Terrified.
This is bad. Really bad.
Dad coming home covered in blood and yelling at Mom to bring a garbage bag to the laundry room.
Mrs. Amato coming to mass with her jaw wired shut and a pinky missing.
Uncle Arturo disappearing one day and no one ever speaking his name again.
That kind of bad.
Tony Junior is scowling. Furio is running his mouth, wheedling, saying let me explain, it’s not what you think. No one’s listening. Lucca Corso and Tomas Sacco stand to the side, turned toward each other, conferring like they do in short, mumbled words and speaking glances.
Lucca wears a pressed, gray wool suit with a blue accent scarf. His hair’s styled and highlighted, his nails buffed and polished.
He’s pretty enough to be a model—for editorial work. Tomas is his dark side. Swarthy, shaved head, nose like a beak broken too many times. A pretty man and an ugly man. Two sides of the same coin. The whispers say that they mowed down half the made men in the Renelli organization in a matter of seconds. Dad included.
Dario Volpe, the money man, is sitting at the dinette table, legs crossed like one of my professors, scrolling on his phone. His man Ray looms behind Tony Junior, a gun in the hand hanging loose at his side. Vinny goes to stand next to him.
Ray’s wearing rubber shoes, too.
There’s no one blocking Mom and me from running to the front door, but we’re not going anywhere, not with Mattie and Tony Junior on their knees. They know it, too. Men like my father—they always know.
There’s another man, too. I didn’t notice him at first. He’s off to the side by the French doors. He’s familiar, but I can’t place him.
He’s wearing a suit like Dario and Lucca. Dark. Buttoned. Sharp pant crease. Shiny black dress shoes. Not rubber shoes like the men standing behind my brothers, guns in their hands.
My heart slams in my chest. I clench my back teeth together to stop them from clattering.
The man by the French doors is watching me. He’s motionless. Almost casual. Not bored. He’s alert, but unconcerned. He’s not wearing the cold and menacing mask that the other men wear. And he’s staring.
I don’t dare stare back at him, but I also can’t stop my gaze from flicking over. How do I know him?
It doesn’t matter—only Mattie and Tony Junior matter—but my brain won’t quit puzzling it out.
He’s not in charge. He’s not the greatest danger here. That’s Lucca Corso without a doubt.
But still—I know him from somewhere.
His people have to be Italian. He has the dark brown hair, the almost-black eyes, and the olive skin. He’s handsome. Built. His hair’s trimmed and styled, his shoes are polished, but somehow, the look isn’t quite right. It’s like there’s a mafioso filter on him.
He scares me. More than I already am. Everything else makes terrible sense. Tony Junior fucked up. Lucca and Tomas found out. Vinny and Ray are here as the muscle. So who’s the man by the door?
It feels like forever, but it’s only been maybe a minute or two.
Mom and I startle when Lucca finishes whatever he was saying to Tomas and stalks across the kitchen to the pantry.
Lucca points to the door. “This where you keep the buckets, Mrs. Graziano?” he asks, flashing his bright white veneers. He doesn’t wait for an answer. He flings the door open, rummages around, and comes out wheeling a red bucket.
Mom snuffles back snot, and manages to moan, “Lucca, please—”
He cuts her off, raising his hand. “One minute, Dani.” He hoists the bucket into the sink. “May I call you Dani, Mrs. Graziano?”
Mom doesn’t answer, but he’s turned on the faucet, so he wouldn’t have been able to hear her anyway.
Mom is shaking so hard that she’s almost convulsing in my arms. She’s going to collapse. She’s not a good mafia wife. She was raised in Indiana. She likes the money and the cars and the lifestyle, but she’s always pretended to herself that Dad was an ordinary businessman.
If Vinny put his gun to her head now, she’d swear my Dad was in sales, and she’d believe it. She’s not going to be able to get us out of this—whatever it is. Pretending won’t make it go away.
Lucca has filled his bucket with steaming water, and he sets it back on the floor and uses the mop as a handle to roll it over to the kneeling men—if you can call them that. Furio is my age—twenty-four. Tony Junior is twenty-two. Mattie’s still in school.
Whatever they did, Mattie had nothing to do with it. He doesn’t want to be a made man. He wants to draw and play Madden and steal my makeup and worry me to death. Paul promises that once we’re married, he’ll let Mattie move in with us. We’ll give him choices.
But first we have to get out of this kitchen alive.
“We had an agreement, didn’t we, Dani?” Lucca stops next to Furio who’s lapsed into silence.
Lucca poses, leaning on the mop, like that old dancer with his umbrella in Singing in the Rain.
“Dani?” he prompts.
“Y-yes.” Mom raises her eyes. “I’ll do anything. Don’t hurt my boys.”
“Relax. I don’t need you to do anything.”
He smiles, winks over at Vinny, and Furio’s skull explodes. There was no gunshot, but wet flecks of red are splattered up and down the side of Lucca’s suit, and a puddle of blood is creeping across the tiles away from Furio’s slumped body.
Mom screams. Vinny raises his gun, topped with a silencer, and levels it at her. I shove my hand over her mouth and pin her against me, using all my strength to keep her upright.
“Mom, shut up, shut up,” I mutter, forcing my throat to cut off the surging acid from my stomach. Mattie’s shoulders are heaving. Half of Tony Junior’s face is covered in blood splatter and brain, but he doesn’t move an inch. There’s a dark stain spreading at the crotch of his white joggers.
The man by the French doors watches me.
It hits me in between waves of panic. I do know him.
We went to school together. He came to St. Celestine’s in eighth grade. He followed me around until I told my cousin Tino that he was making me uncomfortable.
His pants never fit. They were too high. What my Nonna called floodwater pants.
He always reeked of cigarettes. Even his backpack.
He had that dirt-smudge kind of mustache boys had when they first grew facial hair.
After Tino talked to him, he left me alone. I stopped noticing him after a while, and I don’t think I’ve seen him since graduation.
My dad never mentioned him. Neither did Tony Junior. He can’t be that high up in the organization, but he’s my age, and he’s not wearing rubber shoes. He’s checking a Rolex, waiting by the door. Waiting for what?
Lucca sloshes the water in the bucket, and my attention falls back to the scene in front of me. He wrings the mop and sloshes it through the blood, smearing it in arcs across the white tile.
He grins at Mom as he does it. “I was raised to clean up my own messes, Dani. I’m sure you taught your boys the same, eh?”
Mom whimpers. “Don’t hurt them.”
He stops mopping and leans again on the pole. “Well, that’s entirely up to Zita here, isn’t it?”
My blood freezes at the same time guilt floods my face with heat.
I didn’t do anything. I keep my mouth shut and my head down, but that doesn’t matter. I’m good at guilt and shame. A natural.
Mom glares at me, lips peeled from her teeth. “Zita,” she hisses. “What did you do?”
Mom’s a natural at blame.
“Now, now,” Lucca tuts. “Don’t get the wrong idea. It was Furio here who fucked up. He didn’t like what happened to poor Uncle Dominic, and he thought he could get some of his boys together and do something about it.” Lucca flashes a smile as if something just occurred to him. “Mea culpa. I guess I’m sort of an inspiration to the kids.”
He sniffs and glances at Tomas. Tomas doesn’t blink. He stands with his bulky arms crossed, his craggy face blank.
“No?” Lucca says to Tomas. “You don’t think so?”
Lucca doesn’t wait for a response, and Tomas doesn’t give him one.
“Well, notwithstanding that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we can’t have people talking that kind of shit. Or entertaining that kind of shit.” Lucca transfers his sharklike gaze to Tony Junior. Tony Junior drops his head.
What does Mattie have to do with this? He doesn’t work for the organization. Dad never brought him into the business like he did with Tony.
“Now, I’m a simple man. I like a simple solution.” Lucca knocks the mop against the floor for emphasis, and Mom startles. “I think we should put a bullet in every Graziano, starting with Tony here, and be done with it. I like a clear message, you know?”
He pauses like he’s waiting for someone to agree with him. Mom moans in fear. The only other sound is Tony’s ragged breathing.
“But Dario thinks we should use a more subtle approach.”
Dario lifts his eyebrows, barely acknowledging his name. He’s still scrolling on his phone.
“So here’s what’s gonna happen. Zita, you want your little brothers to walk out of this kitchen, right?”
I don’t hesitate. “Yes.”
By the doors, Nicky’s shoulders square. It’s a small movement. I wouldn’t have noticed if my nerves weren’t stretched almost to the point of snapping. I can’t lose it, though. The knees of Mattie’s jeans are soaked in blood.
“Good girl. And Tony—” Lucca toes Tony Junior with his wingtip. “You wouldn’t do anything to get your big sister hurt, would you? I mean, that’d probably kill your mother, right?”
“This shit was on me, man. Leave them out of it.” Tony Junior blubbers.
Lucca kicks him in the ribs, and Tony Junior folds in half, clutching his sides.
Lucca exhales and takes a moment, straightening his cuffs. “So here’s what we’re gonna do. In honor of Tony Graziano’s close relationship with my mentor Dominic Renelli, may they rest in peace—” Lucca crosses himself. “We’re gonna build a new relationship. A marriage. Between your family and mine.”
What is he talking about? A literal marriage?
“What do you say, Zita? Wanna get married?”
No. This is crazy. I’m engaged. Lucca’s with Tomas, right? Even though no one would ever say it out loud?
I look at Tomas. His face doesn’t give anything away.
“To you?” I ask, because I can’t say no.
Lucca’s eyes round. “Oh, no. Not me, honey. I’m not the marrying type. But lucky for you, he is.” He jerks his thumb toward Nicky.
Nicky steps forward, his hands clasped in front of him, his spine ramrod straight, watching me. His face is unreadable. Shivers skitter across my clammy back.
“You become Mrs. Biancolli, and we,”—Lucca gestures to his other men—“have the reassurance of knowing that the Graziano family won’t be giving time to any more motherfuckers who think things were better before.” He claps his hands together. “It’s a win-win.”
Lucca cocks his head expectantly.
I can’t marry someone. I’m engaged to Paul DeStefano.
I’ve been in love with him since tenth grade when he took me to the movies at the Rotunda and whispered, “Can I kiss you?” during the previews, and I said yes, and he did, and then he held my hand for three hours, and never even tried to cop a feel.
I’m going to marry Paul. That’s the certain thing in my life. Since the missed period freshman year of college when he went out for a test and came back four hours later with a small velvet box, too.
The next week, when my period finally came, he didn’t ask for the ring back, and I knew. We went to Sunday dinner at his parents’ house, and his mother saw the ring, turned gray, and gasped, “Oh, Pauly, no. You’re too young.”
Paul said, “We’re older than you were when you married Dad. Pass the bread, please?”
He didn’t blink then. I’m not giving him up now.
I’m not letting them take this from me.
They don’t get everything.
Lucca clears his throat.
All eyes are on me. Except Mattie. His pupils are huge, and they dart from the mop in Lucca’s hand to the gun at Ray’s side. Oh, Jesus.
He’s gonna try something.
His fingers twitch, and his muscles tense. I see it in slow motion—every ball that slipped out of Mattie’s glove from tee ball to Little League.
He’s going to get himself killed.
He draws in a deep breath.
“Yes.” It’s out of my mouth before my brain can catch up.
Lucca’s eyes round in surprise. “Really? Honestly, that was a little easier than I thought it would be. Aren’t you engaged to the Italiano’s Pizza Grille kid?” Paul’s parents own the Italiano chain.
Nicky moves forward, and Lucca punches his shoulder. “Watch out for this one. She’s easy come, easy go.”
Nicky ignores him.
He comes to me, careful to step around the blood. He stops about a foot away, his gaze raking down my front, not cold anymore. Smoldering.
“Where’s your shoes?” he asks.
I have to swallow spit before I can answer. “Upstairs.”
“Go get her shoes,” he says to Vinny. “And pack her a bag.”
“Where’s your phone?” he asks me.
“In my purse.”
He tilts his head slightly. Waiting.
“It’s upstairs. On my chair.”
“Get her charger, too,” he tells Vinny.
Vinny doesn’t make any move at first. He looks to Lucca and raises an eyebrow. Lucca smirks, and after a beat, inclines his head.
Vinny heads toward the stairs with a sigh.
“Take your fucking shoes off,” Tomas calls after him right before he leaves the kitchen. “Don’t track that shit onto the carpet.”
There are big red footprints tracked across the tiles. Almost comically big. Like clown shoes.
A wild laugh bubbles up my throat. I screw my eyes shut, willing it back down, balling my fists, tensing my muscles as if I can make myself heavier somehow so I don’t go flying off into hysteria.
A hand brushes my shoulder.
My eyes pop open. How could I close my eyes on these motherfuckers for even a second?
Delayed panic roars through me.
Nicky is standing there, staring down at me. He was lanky back in school, but now he’s solid. At least six foot three, two hundred and twenty pounds. I wouldn’t have a chance against him.
I won’t have a chance.
I can’t do this.
I can’t breathe.
He places his hand firmly on the small of my back, and even though I can’t work my arms and legs, even though there’s nothing in my brain except the whomp whomp sound when you roll down the back window in the car and leave the front windows up, I let him lead me into the foyer, and I stand next to him, waiting for Vinny to bring down my University of Pyle duffle bag, my purse, and a pair of sliders.
Nicky slings the bag over his shoulder. I hold my purse by the strap, limp armed. He opens the front door. I walk out first.
Behind us, Mom collapses to the floor with a heavy thud, and Lucca Corso says, “Damn, Dani, you’re getting that shit all over yourself.”