Enzo Chapter One
The alarm mocked him as he woke to limbs tangled with his own. The blonde from the night before snuggled into his side. He ran a hand through his hair and rested his head on the pillow. Overnights weren’t his norm, but waking up alone on today of all days wasn’t an option. He had a love-hate connection with the day of his birth, and thirty-four was too old to deal with shit with liquor. So…he f***ed in excess and kept his liquor consumption to a minimum instead. Normally, he would be ready to go for round three, but all he wanted was silence…some peace. He moved away from the blonde and rolled from the bed, ready to wash away the night before.
“Time to go home, sweetheart,” he said.
She stretched her arms above her head, letting her blanket fall to her lap. Her perky breasts were perfection and obviously fake.
Still, Enzo took a moment to appreciate her investments.
“You sure I can’t tempt you into breakfast?” she purred.
“Positive, got somewhere to be.”
She pouted her plump red lips.
What kind of makeup shit lasts overnight? The thought of the chemicals involved made him shudder. “As amazing as you were last night, I’ll have to pass.”
She huffed and tossed the blankets aside, swinging her shapely legs over the side of the bed as she stood. She was petite, tanned, toned, and plastic. It made her easy to look at, have a good time with, and say good-bye to.
Not that he ever felt bad. She knew what she was getting into, they all did. He made it clear he didn’t do seconds and wasn’t looking for more than a mutual exchange of pleasure. Still, some of them seemed to think they would win some magical lottery, and things would change in the morning. He’d seen Tracee around the tattoo shop a million times. She was an ink chaser.
She wanted a tattoo artist for an old man in the worst way. He made it clear she was barking up the wrong tree, but she kept coming around. He wasn’t looking to have a significant other, and her desperation to land someone who would take care of her made his skin crawl. This would kill two birds with one stone.
“You’re a real ass, Enzo, you know that?” Tracee asked as she poured her body back into her skin-tight black dress.
“You already knew that, though, Trace. We knew this wasn’t more than a night of fun.”
She cocked her hip and narrowed her eyes. “You sure about that, sweetheart? We had a lot of fun. Imagine that in your bed every night.”
“Not looking for that, Trace,” he said with a shrug.
“Would you say the same thing if I had my head stuck in a book and my body covered from head to toe?” Tracee scoffed.
“What the f**k did you say?” Enzo asked, stepping forward.
The color drained from her face. She snatched up her sky-high heels and fled. “Nothing, see you around,” she muttered, skittering out the door before he could respond.
People wondered about him and his best friend, Aibhlinn. They didn’t think a man and a woman could be friends without jumping in the bed together. His theory was the exact opposite. Sex ruined things. It broke up lifelong relationships, made people paranoid, and upset the natural order you first had before romance entered the picture. No, his spitfire Irish lass with the piercing blue-green eyes and flowing chestnut mane would remain off limits forever.
The very thought of her made him smile. Even on his darkest day, she never failed to bring him a little happiness. He walked to the front door of his house and locked the door behind Tracee. A quick glance at the clock told him he had about thirty minutes to get his ass into gear. He walked back over the maple hardwood floor and into the bathroom. The white on white tiles and glass shower enclosure made the room appear more open and easy to get into and out of, which made the space tolerable.
Turning on the hot water, he sank onto the bench at the far end of the massive stall and let the gathering steam clear his pores and his muddled head. Lack of sleep and beer had him feeling sluggish. After a few minutes, he rose to his feet, stepped under the spray, quickly soaped down, and rinsed off.
He was pulling on his plaid button up when the doorbell rang. A few moments later, the lock turned.
“You decent, birthday boy?” Aibhlinn called with that slight lilt he’d grown to love.
“Yeah, I’m coming out now,” Enzo called back. He appeared in the doorway and smiled.
Dressed in a pair of black skinny jeans that hugged her thick thighs, and large ass, she was mouthwatering.
Off limits didn’t mean he couldn’t admire her assets. An off the shoulder Pink Floyd sweater displayed tantalizing porcelain flesh. She had her hair pulled up into a messy bun that showed off her long, slender neck.
“You ready to go?” she asked.
“What? No breakfast?” he shot back.
She rolled her eyes. “Smart ass. We’ll be back for that later. If you don’t hurry, we’ll miss the sunrise.”
He nodded his head and walked toward her, wrapping an arm around her waist as they hugged. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Thanks for coming, Ave.”
“Where else would I be?” she whispered.
Anywhere, with someone worthy of your time and affection. It was his deepest fear. That she would enter a romantic relationship and their friendship would go by the wayside. It was selfish wanting her to remain his number one girl…she deserved more. It worked for them now. They were both artists obsessed by the act of creating.
The years were passing swiftly, and she’d gone from unknown to sought after in her career field. First come loves, and then comes marriage. He snarled, pushing the thought of the day she, too, left him far in the background of his brain.
“Come on, I’ll drive,” she said, pulling him to the door.
He allowed her to manipulate him.
At five-foot-eleven, she still lacked the strength to move him if he resisted. Along with f***ing, he liked to workout. It kept his head from getting overcrowded and allowed him a healthy way to work out his frustrations. Locking the door behind them, he followed her to the black SUV.
She hit the fob and unlocked the door.
Enzo was at the driver’s side, opening her door before she could protest. He knew how to treat a woman. He wasn’t so f***ed up that he felt a sick need to use and abuse them. His mother, the angel who adopted him and straightened his ass out, would skin him alive if he ever went that route.
“Thanks, Enz,” she said, climbing into her seat.
He made his way to the passenger side then leaned his head back against the headrest, and zoned out as she pulled out of his driveway and headed for their destination.
Fog hung in the air, creating a thin layer of white. The haze turned the massive structure that was their destination into something mystical, or creepy, depending on how one looked at it. Bundled against the fall chill, they made their way from the car and into Ault Park, in the direction of the pavilion.
After the climb, his eyes drank in the frosted landscape. He shoved his hands in his pockets.
This park held good and bad memories. His birth mother brought him here many times. Originally, he thought it was because she was a good mother who loved the outdoors and knew he loved to be among the beauty the park offered. As he grew, he understood it was a public place to get her fix. No one thought twice of a man, a woman, and a child walking through the woods.
He would never forget the first time his brain registered the cash she gave Uncle Ian was for drugs. The tiny brown squares were heroin. They’d found her body here on his sixteenth birthday, needle still in her arm, eyes vacant, and body cold. She’d turned a day he already loathed into something even worse.
He inhaled, embracing the chilly air that crept down his throat and into his chest.
The ache meant he was alive. That he’d survived against the odds. Thinking of the days scrounging for food in garbage cans, stealing from the stores, and running drugs for dope boys to feed his starving gut…he shuddered. She’d always saved the most fucked up shit for his birthday, like an anti-birthday gift. That last day she’d left and never returned was his twelfth birthday.
He bowed his head in solemn remembrance. All the bullshit made it hard for a guy to feel joy on the day he came into the world and landed in a pile of festering shit. But that’s not where I am now. He glanced over at the woman standing beside him as the sky yielded from an inky blue to a purple, and a dusky orange. The sun’s rays turned everything golden, and for that moment in time, things were clean and new. The world was a hopeful place. The darkness was banished.
“Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; but only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, so dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay,” he whispered, quoting Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. There was a man who understood how to live in the moments before dawn ended. He hadn’t gotten there yet.
Ava tangled her fingers with his, and he let her. She was a blazing white light in the murkiness. His Irish angel on his shoulder, constantly encouraging him to do better, insisting he reach for his dreams, and repeatedly telling him he was worthy. She was the best present he’d ever received, on the same day his mother left this Earth. Perhaps that’s why he liked having her with him on his birthday.
He sat in the back of the room, sketching in the expensive pad Mrs. Jordan had purchased for him as a birthday gift. As far as foster parents went, Karen and her husband Bill were one of the rare ones. Not only were they decent, they seemed to enjoy having him and the other boys there. The children who moved in and out were more than a paycheck; they were a chance to change lives. He thought it was an act at first. Now, he understood they were the genuine article. He’d been here six months, and other than bumping heads on being accountable for his whereabouts, it had been fairly smooth sailing. The high school was the same as any other, but he dug the art teacher, Ms. Leahy. The Irish woman with bright red hair, blue eyes, and a melodic accent encouraged him to hone his skills.
She said he had the potential to be a great artist. It was something he’d never really heard before. Writing and poetry were a means to escape from the shitty surroundings he often found himself trapped in. Artists and writers understood pain in the intimate way a boxing coach knew the mechanics of fighting.
“Hey, that’s good.”
He continued to darken the area of the crow’s wing.
“Hey, did you hear me?”
Peering up, he found himself lost in an ocean of an intense blue-green gaze. He blinked and took in the entire package.
The girl leaning over his shoulder was dressed from head to toe in a black dress with black tights and tall black boots. Her deep red lipstick stood out against her pale face and made her hair look more red than brown.
“You talking to me?” he asked.
“Yeah. I like the way you’re shading that in,” she replied, gesturing toward the paper.
She laughed. “That’s about the usual response to me.” She held out her hand. “Aibhlinn Leahy, I’m Ms. Leahy’s daughter. I just transferred to this high school.”
So, she didn’t know to stay away from the degenerate foster boy yet. “Enzo,” he said, quickly shaking her hand.
“Ahh, it’s nice to meet someone else around here with a unique name.”
He snorted. Heads turned to glance back at them. He scowled, and they faced forward. “Look, you’re new here, so you don’t know any better. But…I should warn you. Being seen with me will get you labeled as an outcast.”
“And now, you’ve intrigued me,” she said with a smile that showed the tiny dimple in her right cheek.
He shook his head, not willing to be the bad boy to some good girl gone wrong. “I should also mention, I don’t like people.”
“Oh, you’ll like me, I promise.” She sank onto the seat beside him and set down her pad. “You like comics?”
He blinked, trying to keep up with her crazy topic jumps. “Yeah.”
She opened her page. “Me too.
The impressive comic strip of Wolverine made him whistle. “You did this?”
“Yeah, need to work on my shading in certain areas. Which is why your work caught my eye.”
So, it’d been a self-serving thing. That he could understand. “Your detail is on point. I could use some pointers.”
“Then I’ll help you and you can help me,” she offered.
He had no way of knowing it was the start of a lifelong relationship that would in many ways define him as a man.
After they returned from Ault Park, Aibhlinn studied Enzo from beneath her lashes. He seemed more sullen this year than he had previously. “What’s wrong?” she asked, setting his bowl of steel cut oats and toast in front of him.
“You know I hate my birthday,” Enzo replied, and pushed the oats around with his spoon like a petulant child.
His pouty expression was adorable. She tried not to smile at the picture he presented. It was all too easy to imagine what little Enzo looked like once upon a time. “No, this feels like more than that,” she said, frowning.
He glanced up at her and sighed. “We’re getting old.”
She snorted. “Speak for yourself, grandpa. We’ve barely hit our thirties.”
“Yeah, but you know how fast time flies. We’ll blink, and it’ll be our forties.”
“So?” she asked, shaking her head.
He shrugged. “Makes a person wonder what their contribution to the world is, or why they were brought here in the first place.”
“What about Jinx Tattoos? You guys are taking names and kicking ass. You just did an interview with the local paper. That’s not something a mediocre shop does,” she said.
“Yeah, I mean, business wise I’m doing okay, just…”
“Ahh, so we’re talking about an ailment of a spiritual nature, then?”
“What? If it’s not logical, it’s of the heart. Why do you always get antsy when I mention this?”
“Because I don’t know if I believe in this shit. I mean, what kind of God lets all this crap happen to innocent people”
“One who believes in free will. He allows us to do what we choose, even when it’s soul killing and bat shit crazy acts.”
“Because, if He didn’t, we’d be nothing more than puppets. This forces us to be accountable for our actions.”
“You believe that? After everything?” he asked.
She sighed. “After what happened to my father you mean? Yes. He made bad decisions, and it cost him his life. Catalyst being, my mother got out of there and made a better life for us.” Her heart turned to lead as she thought about her father and his obsession with purifying Ireland. They’d lost him to a bomb. He lived by the gun, and he died by it. Her mother had distanced herself from his associates and casually applied for a working visa. The rest was history.
“I’m sorry.” He set his spoon down and placed his hand over hers. “That was shitty of me.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s okay. You asked an honest question. I try not to think about that too much, Enzo. It’s no use rehashing a past none of us can change. If anything, I used it as a model for what not to do. We can’t control the things that happen to us. But we can decide what to do with the rest of our life afterward.”
“You make it sound so damn easy, Ave.”
“Ack, I never said that. I’m a bag full of crazy on a good day and fully aware I’m a thirty-four-year-old comic book author who has a sorely lacking social life, a D.O.A. love life, and very few friends.”
“You’re brilliant, and you know it,” Enzo countered.
She laughed. “To you maybe.”
“More than me. I’ve watched you work your ass off to get where you are. I remember when you were pounding the pavement submitting your resume everywhere, doing any sort of pro bono work you could to get your name out there. You worked a bevy of craptastic jobs to support yourself while you went after your dream. Now, you’re well on your way to achieving them. Own that shit.”
Heat rushed to her cheeks, and she glanced away. She would never possess his swagger. Some days her plentiful contracts felt like a streak of good luck, though she had the work history to prove it to be anything but that.
“One day some man is going to swoop in and whisk you away from me. Then who’ll be here to call me on my shit?”
“Your mother, and come on, you know that’s never going to happen. I’ll always have time for you.” It could be you if you’d let yourself try with me.
“Even after you get hitched and pop out a few babies?” He met her gaze, pinning her to the spot with his thoughtful expression.
Something she couldn’t name crossed his face.
“Well, thank you for marrying me off and knocking me up.”
“What? We both know you’re dying to have kids.”
“With the right man…someday, yes. At this point, I’ve never had a relationship make it to the one year mark. I’m a lot to handle, and it’s going to take one hell of a man to get me even half as well as you do.” She willed him to finally see what was in front of him. They were a key and lock, made to fit and always working in tandem. It was a rarity.
“We’re not getting any younger, Ave. That day is coming around the corner.”
Unless you step up to the plate. She glanced out the window, afraid he would see the longing in her eyes. Maybe he’s trying to tell me we are never going to happen and I need to move on without him. And my ass is too stupid to realize it. “I don’t feel the crush of age the way you do. I think it’ll happen organically. Life has a way of putting you on the right path eventually. For now, I’m in love with my life. I love my vintage two-bedroom apartment in the charming historic building. The freedom of being a freelancer, and the point I’ve reached in my career. Why borrow trouble worrying about what may or may not happen?”
“Just like that?” Enzo snapped.
“No, it’s a conscious choice I make daily. You know I live in my head. I’ve been in the dark before…really deep. I’m trying not to return there. I didn’t like it much the first time.”
Enzo nodded and shoveled a spoonful of oats into his mouth. He was a brooding thinker, her creative best friend. Most only saw the successful tattoo artist with a hot bod, and what they took for a short fuse. While he might have some anger issues about certain events, he never flew off the handle or did anything impulsive. He was a brooder. A deep thinking individual who camouflaged his sensitivity with humor, crassness, and walls.
She’d scaled them one by one over the years, but an unbreakable obstacle remained. She forced herself to eat her breakfast. Times like this, it was best to let the silence remain between them. His birthdate was always rough. She never really understood why he wanted her with him. He never went into detail, simply saying it made him feel better.
She was a sucker that way, not wanting to bring up painful memories of his past. Maybe I should practice tough love? How could she when the majority of his formative years had been hell? The things that happened to you in the first five years shaped your life forever, she knew that more than most.
They finished their meal, and she took the plates away, washing them by hand to give herself time to figure out how to best approach him.
“So what movie are we starting with?” she asked, wiping the kitchen island down. The horror movie marathon had grown legendary. People would show up with birthday offerings, popcorn, candy, and snacks. He celebrated the traditional way with family the day after his birthday. This day was just for them.
“The bloodier, the better,” he answered.
“Hmmm, classic or modern?”
He leaned in closer. “That depends on what you have in mind.”
“Dead Alive or Saw, the first film.”
“Hmmm. Dead Alive. I could use a bit of laughter with my gore.”
“Excellent choice. Morning margaritas?” she asked, quirking an eyebrow up.
He laughed. “Yeah right.”
She laughed with him and retrieved a bottle of scotch and two glass tumblers. Setting the personalized glasses onto the counter that she’d brought back from Ireland on a visit, she moved to the fridge for the ice. “You get the movie cued up, and I’ll be in a minute,” she said.
Aibhlinn then pulled out the plastic black ice tray and cracked the round ball of ice out of its mold. Setting one gently into a glass, she repeated the process, proud of the habits Enzo picked up from her. Her love of fine whiskey was another trait she’d inherited from her father. Back home, people took their drinks quite seriously. While her mother could drink with the best of them, she wasn’t as particular on her pick of poison.
She poured them both a healthy dollop and placed them—along with the bottle—onto a chocolate wood breakfast tray she’d bought. It was amazing how many of her touches she could see throughout his house. If she’d left it up to him, the place would still be a barren bachelor’s pad. The man could be his own worst enemy. It was like he didn’t believe he deserved happiness. She entered the room, set the tray on the black table in front of the couch, and sank onto the soft grey cushion.
“You ready?” he asked.
“Let the horrorathon begin,” she replied solemnly with a nod.
He snickered and pressed play.
As the movie began, she tucked her legs under her and leaned into his side. It was the only time she could get this close casually. His body exuded heat, and the scent of something dark and delicious seeped from his pores. She knew the brand of body wash he used, but it was something about his chemistry that turned the scent into an indescribable buffet for the senses. Content, she let herself get lost in the movie.
“The nineties gave us such great one liners,” Enzo noted as the priest showed off his ninja assassin skills while claiming to kick ass for the Lord.
She laughed. “Well, yeah, but so did Peter Jackson. He’s a special kind of sick and twisted, though he hides it well these days. I mean, Meet the Feebles?”
“Truth. I’d like to see him do another horror movie.”
“It’ll never happen. He knows where his bread and butter lies,” she said.
“That’s the double edge sword of fame I suppose. When you’re just making a name, you’re not expected to do anything in particular. The world is your playground, and the only limitation is your imagination. Then you get recognition, get labeled, and wind up stuck in a box. He’s still making Lord of the Ring films how many years later?”
“I don’t know, he has a cult film following, too, though. That’s something to be proud of. Plus, there was District 9. That was a step back toward those movies where he really flexed his creative muscles and stepped ‘outside of the box’,” she said using air quotes.
“Yeah, that’s true. I forgot about that one. I actually liked it a lot.”
“I know. I did, too.” She smiled up at him.
“Well, you do tend to have pretty good taste.”
“Shut up, I’m awesome,” she retorted.
“Yeah, you are. Thanks for hanging with me.”
“Hey, traditions are meant to be kept,” she replied, careful to keep things light.
They returned their attention to the movie, and she allowed herself to enjoy his closeness.
A knock sounded on the door halfway through the movie.
Enzo pressed pause. “Got to be Rhys. No one else gets up this early.”
“I’ll get it,” Aibhlinn said, eager to put some distance between the two of them. It was a little too easy to pretend things between them could be romantic behavior. She peered out the window above the door and grinned at the sight of the blond male with green eyes. The baby of the brothers, he had a lightheartedness about him. She opened the door. “Rhys.”
“Aibhlinn,” Rhys cried, sweeping her up into his arms.
“I told you about treating her like a doll,” Enzo barked from the couch.
“Should we royally piss him off, then?” Rhys asked.
She nodded her head.
“When are you going to let me make an honest woman out of you?” Rhys asked, loud enough for Enzo to hear.
“I don’t know. What do you have to offer?” Aibhlinn asked in a sultry voice.
“Okay, seriously?” Enzo grumbled.
She and Rhys laughed.
“What? I only came here to see Aibhlinn,” Rhys defended.
“No way, man, it’s my day. Get your own girl,” Enzo growled.
Rhys’ eyes widened.
Aibhlinn quickly looked away, ignoring the blood that rushed to her face.
“I am,” Rhys said.
“Pain in my ass,” Enzo stated as his voice drew near. He entered the living room and scowled at his brother who held out a bag.
“Don’t shoot the messenger. It’s from Mom.”
“And she told you to bring it to me at the ass crack of dawn?” Enzo asked.
“She said first thing, and then proceeded to call me to make sure.”
“What is it?” Enzo asked.
“No clue, bro. She gave it to me last night when I was over there for dinner. Happy womb liberation day.”
“Thanks,” Enzo grumbled.
“Well, I’ll let you two do whatever it is you do when you’re together,” Rhys said.
Enzo rolled his eyes. “I’m starting to think you have a crush on my girl for real,” Enzo accused, wrapping his arm around her shoulder.
“All I’m saying is, Netflix and Chill has led to many babies, so please be safe,” Rhys teased.
Enzo stepped forward.
Rhys moved back, laughing. “I’m headed to the gym now. I got an early appointment that’ll take a good chunk of my day up.”
“Where do they want it?” Enzo asked.
“A back piece. Luckily, it’s not their first. I always cringe when first times come in and try to do a back piece in one sitting.” Rhys shook his head.
Enzo snorted. “Call me if you need anything.”
“We won’t, and if we do, I’m calling Noah. It’s your day.” Rhys and Enzo fist bumped. “See you soon, pretty girl,” Rhys said, giving her a hug before he disappeared out the door.
She spun around. “Open the bag.”
He laughed and removed the red tissue paper. “Oh, man, she did good.” He pulled out a bulky box set. “We are watching Kill Bill next.”
She leaned in and read the description. It was a gift set featuring Quentin Tarantino’s best and bloodiest. “I love your mom. She’s so cool.”
“Trust me, the feeling is mutual with your mom. Come on, let’s finish our movie before we’re interrupted again.” Enzo led her back into the living room.
Once again, she was lost to her thoughts of what if. Enzo was the sun. She had no choice but to keep circling him.
We fight it down, and we live it down, or we bear it bravely well,
But the best men die of a broken heart for the things they cannot tell.
“Things We Dare Not Tell” ~Henry Lawson
A leanbuh (uh LAN-uv): My child