Twenty minutes later, Carina held her cigarettes so tightly they were probably half destroyed while Brianna tried to pry the pack out of her hand.
As Carina fought, she whined, “No wine. No wee—”
“Oh hi!” Brianna let go of the pack and slammed a hand over Carina’s mouth. Everyone else was busy loading the boat, but still Brianna whispered under her breath, “You’ll be okay.”
Carina pulled Brianna’s hand away. “Do you know what kinda puttana I’ll be by tomorrow? I don’t even have the friggin’ gum on me. No patch. You and Tino will have to use me for target practice to put everyone else outta their misery. Trust me, don’t do this to yourself. What the fuck?” Carina spun when Nova bumped into her from behind. He had a big cooler in his arms, his biceps straining beneath his black t-shirt as Carina shouted at him, “Cosa?”
“I got you,” Nova said as he walked past her. “No one wants me leaving my cigarettes either and you’ll like mine better.”
“That’s true,” Carina agreed, and looked at Nova suspiciously. “You have some hidden? The good ones?”
Nova gave her a look like she was insulting him by asking. “I’ve been smoking on the sly and hiding it from Rome since I was in seventh grade.”
“Oh.” Carina looked a little sad then, like something Nova said hurt her. “At least he gave a shit.”
Carina’s parents never cared when she started smoking. Her mother bitched that it made the house smell and her father said she looked trashy, but neither of them really worried about her health.
“Yeah.” Nova nodded, like he understood as deeply as Brianna did. Then he tilted his head towards the boat. “Come on, Princess. I saw Carlo hide some wine too. Your party rep will remain intact for this trip.”
Carina laughed. “Lola’s gonna kill him.”
“They had it out about the wine before you got here,” Brianna added, because Nova had missed that part.
“Well, he’s Siciliano. He likes it when they bite,” Nova repeated Tino’s words from earlier. “I think he pisses her off on purpose.”
“Everyone keeps saying that. I’m dating a Siciliano,” Brianna pointed out, and had to ask, “What does that say about me? You think I bite? Is that how I come across?”
“Talk to someone else about that problem.” Nova started walking toward the boat before Brianna could complain. “I already know way too much about what the two of yous do.”
“I’m actually going to agree with Nova.” Carina followed her brother down the dock but raised her hand at Brianna. “Love you though!”
Brianna stood there feeling the back of her neck heat. She didn’t fit in with all the other dancers and sometimes she had to wonder if there was just something profoundly wrong with her. She’d been hanging around Italians too much, without the sharp-witted charm they wielded so easily to cover up all manner of sins.
She was still standing there when Tino walked past and said, “Hey, sexy,” as he smacked her ass.
He had bags over each shoulder, but other than that he seemed upbeat when Brianna asked, “Do I bite?”
Without even hesitating, Tino lifted up his shirt and turned back to her. He looked at his stomach pointedly. She followed his gaze, seeing the love bites on his abdominal muscles he was not only showing off proudly now, but would surely strip off his shirt and show to everyone on the boat in the name of getting sun later.
“That’s not what I meant!” She leapt forward and hit his shoulder. “And why didn’t you tell me we were going on the boat before you let me do that?”
Tino just laughed and dodged her hit. “It’s okay, baby, I’m proud of your bites…Bite me all over. I love it.”
Which was exactly what she was afraid of, so she hit him again.
“Stop being weird!” she snapped at him. “I’m serious. Do not be weird in front of your brother on this trip.”
“I’m always weird in front of my brother,” Tino assured her.
“Not that brother. I don’t want Romeo to think I’m some slut who’s corrupting you,” Brianna hissed.
“Is corrupting me an option?” Tino’s smile was wide and dazzling, all Sicilian charm that usually got him whatever he wanted. “Where do I sign up for that?”
Brianna just threw up her hands and gave up.
Once they got out on the water it felt like the real world was a million miles away. The music was beachy and lazy, the kind of stuff Carina loved because they were using her phone for the playlists.
Carlo had his captain’s license. Nova and Tino were perfectly capable crew, so there were no henchmen. No mob muscle, except the ones they loved. Just the sun sparkling like diamonds across endless blue water on a perfect spring day.
Brianna and Tino were the only ones dancing.
UB40 was playing and Tino was singing, being weird as usual, but all it did was make the afternoon more magical. Brianna could see her smile reflected in Tino’s sunglasses as the two of them moved together, Brianna in her bikini, Tino bare-chested and barefoot in his bathing suit, both of them enjoying the nice weather.
Everyone else was laid out on the deck getting tan. Unfortunately, the other couple on board wasn’t having the same magical time.
“Dacci un taglio.” A loud smack echoed over the music. “You don’t deserve it.”
Brianna turned in Tino’s arms to see Carlo had straddled Lola’s deck chair because Morettis didn’t handle being ignored very well.
Lola had been pretending he didn’t exist since they left.
Now he sat behind Lola and tried to take over her task of rubbing sunscreen into her shoulders. Instead she reached back and shoved him away when he wrapped an arm around her bare stomach, because she wore only a bright yellow bikini. Her long, dark hair was pulled back, but when Carlo tugged one of the stray curls that framed her face, Lola shoved him once more.
“Come on, Amuri, you gonna stay mad at me the whole the trip?” Carlo asked, sounding genuinely hurt.
“Sì.” Lola leaned over and worked on her shapely, tan legs, rubbing the sunscreen in with more force than necessary. “I’m already upset about my sister and you knew that. Then you had to go and start merda for no reason. You wanted me to be mad at you, so enjoy it!”
“Lola, you know it’s not a big deal.” Tino cut in, like it was physically impossible for him not to help his uncle. “He doesn’t care if Carlo’s starting shit, do you, Rome?”
“No.” Romeo laughed too. “I’m more than capable of taking care of myself when guys start merda with me. Did you go to school with Tino and Nova in Brooklyn?”
Romeo looked at Carlo when he said it. He didn’t mention the age thing again, but it was obvious he was thinking it.
“I did.” Lola didn’t even hesitate with the lie. “For a few years.”
“We went to school with lotsa Brambinos,” Tino choked on the name when he said it.
Romeo obviously noticed, because he asked, “If your families hate each other so much, how’d you get to be friends?”
“Well, you know, Lola’s different.” Tino shrugged, looking uncomfortable again. “She’s—”
“A bastarda,” Carlo finished for him, saying it like a challenge. “It means she got shit on like the rest of us. That’s why I’m protective, overly, irrationally protective to the point of being a massive strunzu.” Carlo touched Lola’s shoulder softly and whispered, “Especially around other men. I don’t want anyone to hurt my baby. Not anymore.”
Lola’s arms had been crossed over her chest, her body stiff in anger, but some of it seemed to slip out of her. She reached up to push Carlo’s hand off her shoulder, but she kept ahold of him rather than shove him away. She squeezed his big palm in her smaller one, and then pulled his hand onto her lap.
“Sorry,” Carlo sounded like he meant it.
Lola reached back and caressed his cheek, making it obvious she couldn’t stay mad at Carlo for long, even if he was a big, scary, extremely territorial Sicilian, who got in trouble more often than not. “I know the problem is me. I’ve been in a bad mood. I thought I’d have the summer with Carmen, and now I don’t. I’m taking it out on you. I’m the one who should be sorry.”
“The summer’s not ruined.” Carlo leaned forward and smiled at her. “You’ll still have a sexy Siciliano to keep you company by the pool.”
“Yeah, papi, I know.” She used her hold on Carlo’s arm to pull him closer to her. “But that doesn’t stop me from missing her.”
“What happened with your sister?” Tino asked, clearly still trying to save Carlo. “Are you fighting?”
“Not fighting, really, but she told me yesterday she’s not coming home for the summer. I’m disappointed.” She hit Carlo’s thigh lightly with her hand. “And you being so happy about it isn’t helping.”
“She still calls you.” Carlo wrapped his other arm around her waist, hugging her to him. “And texts. You’re always talking to her one way or the other.”
“It’s not the same. She just got back from Peru, and now this. Why the hell did she have to go all the way to Tampa? It’s always something with her, getting lost in some fucking jungle or —”
“Lola, why is your sister in Tampa?” Nova interrupted her. “That’s a cold spot, a southern cold spot that I’m certain Carlo knows about. Not a great place for a Northern girl like your sister.”
“She said Florida, I assumed Miami,” Carlo said defensively, since Nova’s accusation was obvious. “Maybe Daytona Beach for Spring Break. I didn’t even think about Tampa.”
“Seeing how Tampa is anything but cold, this sounds suspiciously like business,” Romeo warned. “That’s bad for all of us.”
Lola frowned, and ignored Romeo by asking, “How cold is it?”
Nova pushed up his sunglasses and gave her a pointed look. “Ice cold.”
“Casanova,” Romeo warned again.
“It’s about protecting her sister, and this is all common knowledge anyway.” Nova took his sunglasses off and set the book on the table to the right of him. Then he leaned forward and stared pointedly at Lola still wrapped in Carlo’s arms. “The De Lucas hold Tampa. It used to be their home base until their old don retired early—”
“Retired how?” Brianna asked.
“Car bomb, killed him and his wife.” Nova winced. “But it didn’t take out his two sons and there’s the problem. They stayed with their mother’s Cuban family in Florida. Now these motherfuckers are grown and building their own fucking empire. My guess is they have very little loyalty to their Siciliano side after their uncle stole the don position,” Nova clarified with raised eyebrows. “You do not want Carmen to accidently step on the Tampa landmine that starts a De Luca civil war.”
“What if you just had a layover in Tampa?” Romeo asked Nova dryly. “Is that allowed, or will the Cuban De Luca’s just ice you in the airport?”
Nova didn’t appear to notice or care about Romeo’s sarcasm. He was too busy being Capo Bastone.
“The Tampa De Lucas do not like outsiders, especially other borgatas. We look like the authority to them, and no one wants to look like the authority to a bunch of paranoid Cubano-Sicilano gangsters sweating their balls off in Tampa. So, to answer your question, Rome, no, I wouldn’t take a layover in Tampa. I don’t like playing bad hands for no fucking reasons.” Nova looked over to Carlo still sitting behind Lola and held out his hands incredulously. “Go get your girl’s sister.”
Carlo gave Nova a long stare of silent communication: the look of one man to his best friend that conveyed absolute betrayal. Lola turned sharply, busting Carlo despite his attempt to casually run a hand through his hair as a cover.
“Why don’t you tell everyone why you’re glaring at him,” Lola taunted. “Admit you’re scared of her.”
“I’ll admit it.” Carlo didn’t even hesitate. “I’d have to be stupid not to be. Everyone’s scared of her, ask Tino.”
“Don’t bring me into this,” Tino snapped at his uncle, before he turned to Lola. “I’ve never even met your sister.”
“Stand here right now and tell me you haven’t heard things!” Carlo challenged.
“You always do this, just open your mouth and throw up opinions. Sometimes you are so backwards,” Lola started defensively. “It was just a bad first impression.”
“A bad first impression?” Carlo choked out. “That was the worst first impression I’ve ever had in my entire fucking life, and I do personal training for a living.”
“She has a lot of reasons to be stressed about us dating.” Lola held up her hands to him as evidence. “It doesn’t usually end well for us.”
“She cursed me! Doing what I do, she said that shit.”
“Only because personal trainers make her nervous! You can’t blame her for that!”
“I can’t blame her for doing crazy Brujeria witchcraft on me? I can’t freak out about that?”
“She’s just trying to become more centered. It’s not any big thing like you’re making it, mostly yoga and meditating. She needs a positive outlet for all that anger, and—”
“That makes me feel a lot better, being the positive outlet for her anger,” Carlo snorted incredulously. “Trust me, Nova, that puttana is more than safe in Tampa. If anything, you should be warning the De Luca’s she’s there and help those motherfuckers out. Fuck that, no, she scares the shit outta me. I don’t hang out with bruja who hate me. In case you forgot, this motherfucker” —Carlo gestured to himself—“grew up in Washington Heights. I know better.”
“Carmen doesn’t hate you.” Lola shook her head in exasperation and looked pleadingly at everyone else. “This is an overreaction because he’s so fucking Siciliano he dramatizes everything. She’s a little eccentric, but she’s harmless, I swear.”
“First time I ever met her and she cursed me, Amuri. She wants me to suffer,” Carlo said it like he believed it. “That’s more than eccentric.”
“You know she didn’t actually curse you,” Nova started slowly, like he had this same discussion many times before. “She can’t magically do something to you. It’s not a real thing, and I don’t care what Washington Heights taught you.”
“It felt like a real thing,” Carlo growled, like it still made perfect sense. “Two fucking weeks I couldn’t get it up!”
Carina choked on her water, spitting and coughing while Lola and Carlo kept arguing.
“She didn’t know you were that sensitive about it. She said she was sorry. You need to —”
“I’m not going to forget about it,” Carlo assured Lola before she could finish. “And it’s not just Washington Heights. My mother taught me how it is. We believe in God, but we see the darkness too. We don’t hide from it and pretend it’s not there. Roll your eyes, Nova. Call me superstitious, I don’t give any fucks. I know what I know and I’m not the only one—ask any motherfucker about her sister.”
“All Carmen did was make a command in a way that you believed, which wasn’t hard because your mother filled your head will all that evil eye, old country bullshit. Curses aren’t real, paisan.” Nova sounded less than moved by Carlo’s speech. “They’re placebo effects that happen when the suggestion is planted in your subconscious brain against your will. All you did was curse yourself being the dumbass who followed her suggestion.”
Carlo stood up and grabbed his dick through his swimsuit. “Placebo this, motherfucker.”
“Okay, cry over it.” Nova picked his book back up and stretched out. “Most men have had that problem at some point anyway. It was probably just stress.”
Tino snorted with amusement. “Oh yeah? Why don’t you tell us about that, Casanova? Stressed much, lately?”
“The ED industry makes billions anually. It’s a real problem.” Nova lowered his head and looked past the rim of his sunglasses with a smile. “At least that’s what I’ve heard.”
“And the afternoon wouldn’t be completely without some sort of Siciliano pissing contest. Even the smart one can’t help it.” Carina rolled over on her towel, clearly unimpressed. “I need a nap now.”
Something about the suggestion left them all sleepy, even when the noise below deck changed from fighting to something much more sensual and primal. Neither Carlo nor Lola quiet about it, but no one really minded. Not at this point in their lives, when it was one party after the next.
They just turned up the music and slept, all of them, sprawled out all over the deck in the sun. The thump of the base was comforting somehow, an un-crashable party in the middle of the ocean, no cops to worry about.
Right then, in that moment, no one could hurt them.
For the first time in her life, Brianna knew what it was like to feel free, and she wasn’t the only one. Everyone got along for the rest of the trip. Even Carlo and Lola stopped fighting and that was their favorite form of foreplay.
The real world felt a million miles away the whole time.
They ate fantastic food.
They laughed a lot.
It still ended up being one of the most bittersweet memories of Brianna’s life—for a lot of reasons.