Will you be over tonight?
Even though I already arranged with Douglas to come over to the penthouse tonight to bring groceries and clean, he always confirms with a text message. He’s extremely organized. Considering what they’re paying me, I always respond right away.
Yes, I’ll be there!
I don’t have any class today, so my afternoon will consist of going shopping for the Garricks, then heading over to their house to clean their invisible dirt and cook dinner. I’ve been working for their household for well over a month now, and I know the routine. I’ve got the shopping list in my hand, but I need to head into Manhattan to get everything they want.
Brock asked me to stay over last night, and I have been spending a lot of nights there, because he does live so close to the penthouse and fairly close to the college, but that’s all the more reason to say no. If I’m at his apartment any more frequently, I’ll basically be living with him. And that’s something I can’t do.
Not yet, anyway. Not until I tell him the truth. He deserves that much.
But I’m scared. I’m scared Brock will freak out and dump me on the spot if he knows everything about me. And I’m even more scared that when his wealthy, upper-class parents find out, they’ll talk him into dumping me. Brock is perfect, and his family is perfect, and I am so far from perfect, it’s not even funny.
My last relationship was the opposite of perfect. And somehow that felt better suited for me. I’m not sure what it says about me that my perfect match was a guy like Enzo Accardi.
Enzo and I started four years ago as friends, after a job of mine ended extremely unexpectedly. I didn’t have a lot of friends, so I was obscenely grateful for the support he gave me. We got to the point where we were spending almost all our free time together, and on top of that, we helped about a dozen women escape from their abusive relationships. A lot of the time, it would just involve getting the proper resources for them, but other times we had to be creative. Enzo made connections that allowed him to obtain new identification, burner phones that couldn’t be traced, and plane tickets to places far away. We got women out of their toxic relationships without having to resort to violence.
Well, no, that’s not true. If I’m being entirely honest, there were a few times when things got a little… messy. Enzo and I agreed never to speak of those times ever again. We did what we had to do,
It was Enzo who talked me into going back to college to get a social work degree. Little did I know, he was putting me on the path to a normal life that I never dreamed was possible for me. Even with my prison record, I could still get a social work job. I could do what I loved within the confines of the law.
Brock likes to say he and I are a good team. Maybe that’s true. But Enzo and I really were a good team: we worked together. We had a mission. On top of that, he was kind, passionate, and hot as hell. Especially that last one
—as much as I tried to be his friend, it was hard not to be acutely aware of his more superficial attributes. At the time, I hated the fact that I was developing a frustrating crush on the man.
Then one night, I was at his apartment, sharing a box of pizza delivered from our favorite restaurant (also coincidentally the cheapest). We got our favorite toppings on the pizza: pepperoni and extra cheese. I remember Enzo taking a long swig from his bottle of beer and smiling in my direction. This is nice, he said.
Yes, I agreed. It is nice.
He plopped his beer down on the coffee table. After all the houses I cleaned, I felt a little bit of giddiness whenever somebody didn’t use a coaster. I like spending time with you, Millie.
I didn’t have a lot of experience with men, but the way he was looking at me was unmistakable. And if I had any doubts, they were abolished when he leaned in and gave me a long, lingering kiss that I knew I would dream about for years to come. And when our lips finally separated, he whispered, Maybe we spend more time together?
What else could I say but yes? No woman could refuse a request like that from Enzo Accardi.
It’s funny because I always thought of Enzo as a bit of a player, but after that first kiss, he only had eyes for me. Our relationship moved fast, but it all felt very right. Within a few weeks, we were spending every night together, and soon after, we decided to live together. The two of us just clicked. Between school and my relationship with Enzo, I was the happiest I had ever been in my life.
I still remember the day it all fell apart.
We were sitting on our sofa, which Enzo had hauled in from the curb in front of our apartment building, but it was still very nice and usable (with only one stain that we couldn’t identify, but it was fine because we just turned that cushion over). He had one muscular arm slung around my shoulders and we were watching The Godfather II, because Enzo was recently horrified to discover I hadn’t watched the trilogy. Is classic, Millie! I remember cuddling up against him, thinking how happy I felt and also that my boyfriend was way hotter than Robert DeNiro.
And then his phone rang.
The conversation that ensued was entirely in Italian, and I strained my ears, trying to pick up a word or two. Malata, he kept saying over and over. I finally typed it into my phone, which translated the word for me:
After he hung up, he explained the situation to me with the heavy accent he sometimes got when he was stressed or angry. His mother had had a stroke. She was in the hospital. He had to go back to Sicily to see her, especially since his father and sister were both gone, and he was the only one she had left. I was confused because he always told me he could never go back home. Before he left, he had beaten a very powerful man half to death with his bare hands, and now there was a price on his head.
You told me you couldn’t go back, I reminded him. You said there were bad people who would kill you if you went back. Isn’t that what you said?
Yes, yes, he said. But that is not a problem anymore. Those bad people… they were taken care of by other bad people.
What could I say? I couldn’t tell my boyfriend that he wasn’t allowed to see his own mother after she’d just had a stroke. So I gave him my blessing, and he flew out to see her a day later. After I accompanied him to the airport and he kissed me for like five straight minutes before going through security, he promised he’d be back “very soon.”
I hadn’t counted on him never coming back.
I’m sure he meant to come back—he wouldn’t have lied to me intentionally. In the early days, we talked on the phone every night, and it got pretty steamy at times. He would whisper into the phone how much he missed me and how we would be together again soon. But as his mother’s illness dragged on, it became more and more obvious that he could not leave. And she could not come here.
I hadn’t touched him or seen his face in an entire year when I finally asked him outright: Tell me the truth. When are you coming back?
He let out a long sigh. I do not know. I can’t leave her, Millie. And I can’t wait forever, I told him.
I know, he said sadly. And then: I understand what you must do.
And that was it. That was the end. Just like that, we were over. So when a couple of months later, Brock asked me out, there was no reason to say no.
With Enzo, my life was some sort of exciting adventure, but now I’m on my way to the perfect, normal life I had never thought was possible for me. Brock doesn’t know any guys who could dig up a fake passport in twenty-four hours—I imagine if I asked something like that of him, he would look at me in utter shock.
Enzo knew a guy for everything. That was practically his catch phrase when I asked him for help. I know a guy.
And now I am performing the most normal task there is. Going grocery shopping. Although to be fair, there’s nothing normal about the list of items that Douglas has tasked me to obtain. As I check out the first few items on the list Douglas Garrick texted me this morning, I cringe at the scavenger hunt he is sending me on:
Fiddleheads Cucamelon Poha berries
I swear to God, he must be making these names up off the top of his head. Cucamelon? That’s not a real thing, is it? Definitely sounds made up
Clutching the grocery list, I grab my jacket and head down the stairwell. I have no idea how long it’s going to take me to find a cucamelon, or even figure out what a cucamelon is, so I’d better give myself some time.
Just as I reach the landing for the ground floor, I almost run smack into that man who lives right below me. Directly below me. The one with the scar over his left eyebrow. I cringe when I see him.
“Hey.” He grins at me. He’s got a gold tooth for his left second incisor that makes me think of Joe Pesci in Home Alone—my favorite movie as a kid. “In a hurry?”
“Yes.” I smile apologetically. “Sorry.”
“No worries.” His smile widens. “I’m Xavier, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you,” I say, pointedly avoiding giving him my own first name.
“Millie, is it?”
Well, that strategy failed. I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach—this man both knows exactly where I live and somehow knows my first name. Probably my last name too. Of course, he could have easily figured it out from our mailboxes.
I’m still intermittently getting the feeling that I’m being watched. There are times when I think it might be all in my head, but at this moment, I’m not so sure. Xavier knows just a little bit too much about me. Is it possible that he’s…?
God, I can’t think about this possibility right now. It’s scary enough walking down the streets of the South Bronx without worrying that the guy who lives below me is stalking me. Maybe I should take Brock up on his offer to move in with him. Xavier will probably leave me alone if I relocate to the Upper West Side. And if he doesn’t, he’ll have to contend with the doorman in a little suit and hat. You don’t get past one of those doormen. I think they can use those hats as boomerangs if they need to.
“What are you up to today?” Xavier asks me.
I move in the direction of the exit. “Just some grocery shopping.” “Oh yeah? Want some company?”
Xavier looks like he has more to say, but I don’t give him a chance to say it. I push past him and out the door. Whether I end up with Brock or not, I might have to move in the near future. I don’t feel comfortable around this man. I have a bad feeling he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.