Scumbati (scoom-bah-dee): Messed Up!
The airport is crowded. Travelers rush to and fro with a solid purpose, to get somewhere. The wheels of their bags make whirling sounds across the floor. A monotonous female voice echoes through the terminal giving instructions for lost bags and gate changes.
Antonio is beside me holding our carry-on bags. I can feel his free hand caressing the small of my back as he guides me and my sister, Erin, towards security. I look up into his dark brown eyes to reassure myself that this is all real. That we are running away. He glances down at me, and it is powerful. His eyes shine with strength and confidence.
With my sister’s hand clutching mine, I take my place in line…a line that will take us away from Palmetto, New Jersey. I face forward to stare at the backs of heads. There are so many different types. Long flowing hair, short crew cuts, even bald spots. Each person has their own destination. Each person has their own hopes and dreams.
My hopes and dreams were simple up until a couple of weeks ago. Finish my senior year at Palmetto High and start college at Notre Dame. Simple. Normal.
Antonio’s strong hand rubs my back with small circles.
“You okay?” he asks.
“Yeah.” Trying to sound normal or unaffected is hard. Antonio’s question sparks me to turn to look at my sister. Her typical pale complexion is almost gray. It’s like her soul has been sucked out of her. Her once consistently bright blue eyes are outlined in red and bloodshot.
I release her hand and put my arm around her shoulders holding her to me. This close up, I gaze down at her again to see our fiery red hair mingle together. Despair coats her face.
In less than twenty-four hours, our world has fallen apart. My family was held hostage in our kitchen. A man died on our back steps at the hand of our father. The man would have killed us all.
My father’s hidden life—assassin, murderer, and, what the mob calls him, the cleaner—surfaced and rattled our lives. For my entire existence, I never suspected anything. My father went to work every day. We never owned anything flamboyant or ritzy. No expensive vacations or a big fancy house. We only have one car, for God’s sake, and it’s a mini-van.
The mini-van fit my harp. I really need my harp right now. If I could step out of this insanely slow moving line and sit on a bench and strum my fingers across the strings, I’d feel at home.
Just the thought of home…it’s a strange place to me. More foreign now than ever. An all Italian city with a subculture that I never fit into until I started spending time with Antonio Delisi, Jr.—the Palmetto mob boss’s son.
The breathtakingly beautiful man is standing right next to me—holding me, reassuring me, protecting me. Antonio is my savior. Having him with me makes the ickiness that is stuck in my stomach tolerable. He’s smart and strong. I know because I have witnessed it first-hand on more than one unpleasant occasion. My father arranged this escape, or whatever you want to call it. He is sending us away hoping to protect us.
I was supposed to be visiting Notre Dame at the end of the week anyway. I am going to college there next fall. My father had wanted me far away from Antonio, but recent events sped up the trip…and I have three additional passengers with me—Antonio, Erin, and Vito, Antonio’s friend. I bet my father never saw this coming.
Dad sees Antonio as dangerous because of his lifestyle and who he is. I lay comatose on my bed for a week suffering with the images of Antonio’s brutal attack on someone who owed his father money.
Antonio didn’t put that in my head, my father did. He wanted me to see Antonio for what he really is. My father is the one who gave me a front row seat to the ugliness. I did witness it. A cold and cruel beating, but I don’t see what my father thought I would see. I see Antonio as a man raised to be what he is. He is what he was taught and trained to be.
“We’re next,” Antonio says softly to Erin and me, as if we are fragile and much too breakable.
I remove my shoes and place them in the blue bin, gliding it over the rollers. Erin follows. A security officer waves a wand up and down my body, checking to see if I’m dangerous.
Leaning against a cement pillar and watching us navigate through security is Vito. His dark hair brushes the top of his collar, and a leather shoulder bag is hanging on his side. His face is impassive. It has only been a couple of hours since Antonio called him and asked him to join us. By the sound of the conversation, Vito didn’t even hesitate to agree. He is a large, intimidating guy.
Erin’s eyes are glued to the floor as she walks with effort towards the gate entrances. I caress her shoulder again as Antonio and Vito say their hellos.
“Hey man,” Antonio says, slapping Vito on the back. “Thanks for doing this.”
I observe Vito. The hard slab of muscle underneath his shirt shifts when he moves towards us. I think he is looking at me, but he’s not. His focus is solely on my sister.
“Hi,” I choke out around the dryness and misery lodged in my throat. Vito nods at me.
Erin moves with automatic motions, not acknowledging anyone. She hasn’t spoken since we left the O’Connell’s house and her cheating ex-boyfriend, Connor. I clutch her hand. I’m worried.
We make our way through the long passageway to the gates. I study the large blue numbers jutting out above our heads, searching for gate twenty-nine.
Antonio is attached to my other side while Vito trails behind.
“Over here, honey,” Antonio says, the endearment surprising me. I allow him to lead us over to a seating area.
A sea of fake black leather chairs faces the large glass windows. Airplanes line up outside. Sprinklings of people take up space in some of the chairs. Erin releases my hand and lies down across an empty row of three.
I hear Vito whisper to Antonio as I sit across from her.
“What the fuck is wrong with her?”
“A lot of shit,” Antonio says in a low voice. Then he sits down next to me and takes my hand. We both stare at Erin who seems lifeless while lying down, her face covered with her arms.
“I’m going to get a coffee,” Vito says. “You guys want anything?”
“Yeah, I’ll have a coffee,” I say. “Cream and sugar.”
“Me too,” Antonio responds. “Black.”
“What about her?” Vito asks.
“Her name is Erin,” I say crossly.
“I know her name, Red,” Vito states. “Does she want anything?” Antonio stiffens at Vito’s words. He always calls me Red, and apparently Antonio doesn’t like it.
“An orange juice would be great.” It is the only thing I can think of. When we’re sick, my mom always gives us orange juice. It’s the electrolytes, I guess.
I take my bag from Antonio and rifle through it looking for a hair tie. I find one. I lean over my sister and gather up the hair that has spilled all around her threatening to knot up. I gently pull her hair through the elastic. Erin doesn’t budge.
Sighing, I sit back down with Antonio. We both stare at her, probably thinking the same thing. What’s wrong with her?
Antonio leans in and kisses my temple. Electricity jolts through my body. “She’ll be better when we’re away from here.”
“I hope so,” I say, trying to believe it.
Seemingly from nowhere, Vito hands me a cup.
“Thanks,” I say, taking it. The warmth of the coffee through the paper cup feels heavenly. A gloomy coldness has been fighting to consume me since yesterday.
He hands a coffee to Antonio, too.
Unexpectedly, Vito takes two short strides over to Erin. He squats down with his back to us.
He is talking to her. Erin leans up on her elbows. Her face is splotchy and red. Lines have formed across her cheeks where she was leaning on her arms.
Vito pops the top off some high-priced organic juice and hands it to her. Erin sips it slowly and hands it back to him. He takes it and brushes some loose strands of hair I missed from her face.
“Flight four-thirty-two to Indiana is now ready for boarding.”
“That’s us,” Antonio says. We gather up our stuff. Vito helps Erin to stand.
My legs are like lead. I’m so tired and numb. It’s as if a four-hundred-pound boulder is resting on my shoulders. I ignore my discomfort, and head towards Erin. I pull her to me, my arm around her shoulder, as we make our way to the gate.
A crowd quickly forms in the small area in front of the catwalk entrance. Kids, bags, and people huddle around us. It’s hard to breath with everyone so nearby. A tickle of anxiety crawls its way into my chest.
Antonio and Vito are close, right behind us. They’re talking softly to each other. They are examining our plane tickets when Erin is pushed from behind. The blow affects me as well since I am holding her. We stumble forward a few steps. Antonio steadies us.
Vito’s arm immediately flies out and shoves a tall guy with glasses. I assume he is the culprit. He is just as startled by Vito’s reaction as I am. The guy, obviously intimidated, mumbles an apology.
It was clearly an accident. I shift my sister and myself over a bit towards Antonio. His arm snakes around my waist. Antonio shoots Vito a knowing look.
Maybe asking Vito wasn’t such a good idea. I gaze down at my sister who is still unresponsive. Vito acts as a wall and moves directly in front of the pusher, blocking him from our view.
Thankfully, the line starts to dissipate as passengers start loading the plane. Antonio hands four tickets to the flight attendant.
“4a, 4b, and 5a, 5b,” she says with false cheerfulness. Shit, we’re not together!
Erin and I sit down in the seats in front of Antonio and Vito. The third seat by the aisle is vacant. More and more people file onto the plane, seats filling up. The sound of belts clicking and bags sliding across the plastic overhead bins fill the cabin of the plane. Erin’s head is resting on my shoulder as I watch all of the hustle and bustle before take-off.
No one sits down next to us. There are only a few more people loading. The jet engines roar to life.
“Find another seat,” Antonio mutters from the seat behind me. I turn my head and peak to see the tall guy with glasses scurrying down the aisle towards the back of the plane.
Did that guy have 4c? I’m too tired to care.
“Fuckin’ chooch,” Vito murmurs.
Rushing air hurts my ears, I’m falling. My arms and legs flail as I plunge downward. I can’t stop myself. I panic as I watch blue sky and clouds surround me. I’m helpless to stop myself. The air ends, and cold dark water envelopes me. I open my eyes, but I can’t see—everything is murky and dark. I try to push up, but I don’t know which way that is.
I can’t breathe. The water is crushing my chest. I have an uncontrollable urge to take a deep breath, but if I do I’ll inhale the ocean.
Hands encircle my ankles. I scream into the water. It’s a muffled nothing of huge bubbles. I try to kick the hands away, but they hold on. The hands move up my ankles to my calves, then to my thighs. They grab me by the waist and propel me up. I break through the surface of the suffocating water, choking and sputtering. I focus and Antonio is there bobbing in the water smiling at me with rays of the sun shining behind him.
I jar awake. Sweat makes my shirt stick to me, and my limbs are heavy. Arms are around me.
“It’s okay,” Antonio whispers. “You were having a bad dream.”
“Ugh.” I rub my head. It’s throbbing like little men are hammering on my skull. I squint to look at him. He is positioned against the window with me in his lap.
“Where’s Erin?” I ask in a panic. Antonio points behind him.
Scootch (sk-oo-ch): a pain in the ass!
Vito and I moved the girls when they were both fidgeting in their sleep. I carried Erin and placed her in my seat, and then settled in next to Megan, molding her body to rest over mine. My beautiful Megan lies crushed tightly to my chest. The soft white skin of her neck calls to me while I watch her sleep. I restrain myself from trailing kisses across it. I finally wake her when she started kicking.
Erin lies sprawled across two seats behind Megan and me with her legs in Vito’s lap.
“Does your head hurt?” I ask her.
“Ugh, yes…bad,” she says, and I push the button above us for the attendant. “How long ‘til we land?”
An attendant comes down the aisle and stops at our row.
“Can I help you?” she asks.
“Do you have any aspirin?”
“Of course.” The attendant leaves.
I massage the back of her neck with my hand, and she moans. I reflect about all that Megan has had to endure over the past two weeks. I want to rip someone’s fucking head off just thinking about it. Her fucking father did this to her. Megan didn’t grow up knowing this shit—beatings, money, hits. Patrick-the-fuckin’-cleaner-O’Neill. I didn’t see that coming. The son of a bitch tried to make me out to be the bad guy. And all along he was chopping up Pop’s clients who didn’t pay.
This makes me in awe of her though. I haven’t met many girls that could take it. I’m thankful that Megan isn’t bowed over in a catatonic ball like her sister. Her father has put her and Erin through hell, and it truly pisses me off.
“Here you go.” A cheery attendant returns with a small white packet and a miniature glass of water. She hands them to Megan.
Megan gracefully gulps down the pills and then returns to resting against me.
“I had an awful nightmare,” she says into my chest. “I was falling, then I landed in the ocean.”
“It was just a dream,” I soothe, brushing her hair with my hand.
“It was so real,” she shudders in my arms. “But you pulled me up to the surface of the water.”
“I’d swim the Atlantic for you. In fact, I’d do anything for you.” I say straight into her eyes.
I tip her head up by her chin and gently press a kiss to her lips. Megan shifts and snakes her arms around my neck. She kisses me back, greedily, like she was looking for something and found it.
I caress her back with my hands and part her lips to make the kiss deeper. Oh, how I love this sweet girl! My heart is slamming in my chest. I raise my hands to her thick mane of wavy red hair, and I am lost. No hum of plane engines, no attackers, no hurting people.
My chair snaps forward twice. I swivel my head and give Vito a brutal stare. Megan shifts away from me dazed. He’s lucky he’s my best friend because, if it were anyone else, I would rip their fuckin’ head off.
Vito points to Erin, who is now awake and watching us make out through the space between the seats. Her face is discolored and vacant.
I get the message loud and clear from Vito and nod to Megan.
“Your sister’s up,” I say.
Megan twists around and taps Erin’s knee.
“You okay?” she asks.
No response. But Erin unclasps her seatbelt and stands. Megan snaps up too. What is she doing? Erin leaves her seat and walks to the back of the plane. Megan follows her.
“What the fuck, dude?” Vito asks me. “Keep that shit to a minimum. People were rubberneckin’ to watch you.”
“I don’t give a shit!” I huff. “She’s mine.”
“Well, her sister’s already zoning the fuck out, she doesn’t need to watch that shit too.”
“Fine,” I concede.
“Hey, does that chooch Troy even know we’re coming? He’s going to be pretty surprised when Megan shows up with us.”
“I hope Patrick told him,” I say, my blood starting to boil. “That pansy better keep his hands to himself when it comes to Megan. Memories of them together at the fire hydrant have been seared in to my brain.”
Vito laughs, “That was one…hot…fuckin’ show.”
“Thanks ass-wipe,” I mumble, and he laughs harder.
Turbulence makes the plane dip and shake. I do the opposite of the little red sign that reads, “Please fasten seatbelt.” Megan and Erin haven’t come back yet. The plane isn’t that big, but, when I check up and down the aisle, I don’t see them.
I motion to Vito and point towards the front. I knew they had headed to the back of the plane originally, but I wasn’t taking any chances, weird shit happens on planes all the time.
Even with the warnings over the speaker system to sit down, Vito and I walk the aisle in opposite directions.
At the galley area I find them, Erin is in a jump seat by the bathroom throwing up in a federally-regulated barf bag. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Megan in another seat in the corner by the huge aircraft door. The sound of the engines is much louder back here.
The big brother twitch finds me again. I lean over a panting, green-faced Erin, and kiss the top of her head. I can feel Megan’s eyes on me and glance her way. She is smiling broadly at me. She is so fuckin’ pretty!
One of the flight attendants takes Erin’s bag and hands her a new one. Vito stands in the aisle at the last seat watching the scene. His face has an unfamiliar expression. I can’t pin point it. He motions me over.
“Shouldn’t they give her something?” he asks. “She’s gonna dehydrate.”
I shrug my shoulders. The crackle of the loudspeaker sounds again. “We will be landing in South Bend in approximately ten minutes. Please take your seats. Make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened. And as always thank you for flying with us!”
Megan gets up and helps her sister to stand. We walk single file back to our seats. The girls sit together again as we land in Indiana.
Down the passageway and out into the terminal, it’s like we landed on foreign soil. I am totally out of my element. This is not New Jersey, and it makes me uneasy. Even the faces of people in the airport seem to have a different shape and context to them. I have a burning need to get my hands on a weapon. It would comfort me.
Vito is on high alert, too. It is crowded and, for all intents and purposes, we are on alien ground. My Mafia education kicks in, and I will have to rely on only that until I can get my hands on a piece. That will be my first order of business once we settle in.
We rent a car. Vito wants to rent two sports cars to tool around in. I nix that idea and rent a black Porsche Cayenne SUV. Definitely more practical, and with the money Pop gave me, we can afford to be extravagant and comfortable.
I pull the vehicle to the curb. I pop the rear door, and Vito loads the luggage in. I jump out to help.
“Wow, this is ‘mob-ish.’” Megan deadpans.
“How does the saying go, ‘If the shoe fits…?’?” I trail off, smiling at her.
Erin’s complexion isn’t blotchy and red anymore. It is a perpetual grayish-green. She sits in the backseat, and Megan sits next to her.
I drive while Vito rides shotgun. Vito uses his phone to put in the address of the campus.
“Pull in here,” he says.
I navigate into the parking lot of a convenience store. Vito gets out and goes in. I turn in my seat to check on the girls.
Erin is staring into space, and Megan is looking at me. She shoots her eyes to Erin, deliberately, letting me know without words that she is worried.
The passenger door opens, and Vito slides back in. He has a box of saltines and a large bottle of Gatorade. He opens the saltines and tosses one in his mouth. Then he reaches diagonally behind him and waves the box at Erin.
With effort, she reaches into the sleeve of crackers, taking a few. Slowly, she puts one in her mouth and chews. We sit there waiting and watching Erin. She never looks anywhere but out her window.
Vito then twists the top off on the Gatorade and hands it to Erin. Either she doesn’t notice or doesn’t want it. Megan takes it from Vito’s hand and holds it under her sister’s nose. She won’t take it.
“Come on, Erin, have a small drink,” Megan pleads quietly. Erin remains unresponsive.
Vito unclicks his belt and gets out of the car again. What is he fucking doing now?
He opens Megan’s door. “Why don’t you ride next to Tonio?”
Megan gets out and sits next to me while Vito buckles in next to Erin. He whispers to her. Then Vito reaches forward and motions for Megan to give him the Gatorade. Erin drinks it. It is only a couple of sips, but at least it is something.
I pull out of the parking space and get back on the road to Notre Dame.
“So, this is cool. You get to visit the college before you come here next year,” I say to Megan to fill some of the silence in the car.
“Yeah,” she responds quietly.
I take her hand in mine, and Megan leans her head back and closes her eyes.