Alessandra made her way down 11th Avenue away from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her last final exam of the semester now complete, she looked at the shops, and watched people going about their daily lives. She smiled to herself, thinking how few people knew they were being watched by the universe. It was actually real, and she was a part of it. The divine monitoring of good and evil was constantly happening all around her. Every single human being she passed from block to block was unknowingly causing good or bad things to happen to themselves based on their own choices.
She made her way past a set of car dealerships and came upon a park with handball courts, a dog run, and a baseball field. It was late morning during the week, and the park was flooded with people. She spent a few moments watching them playing softball and wondered if those people had jobs at night, or perhaps did not have to work at all. That must be nice, she thought. Some people, like Brady, didn’t actually have to work, but they were still choosing to get an education. She liked that about him. Despite his father’s coldness, Brady occasionally showed signs of being kind and compassionate in his heart. Unfortunately, he also had moments were she could see the less kind attributes of his father being manifested in certain things he said and did.
She continued down 11th Avenue, eventually making her usual left hand turn at 47th Street. She reached her condo apartment in the “Townhouse HK” building and smiled at a neighbor coming out the front door. Once inside her apartment, she dropped her keys and purse on the kitchen counter. She took a few steps into her living room, sat in her chair, and heaved a heavy sigh.
It was only two days until the end of the month, and she had arranged for a young woman named Lacey to rent the apartment over the summer. Lacey signed a three month sublease, which the condo board accepted with only a small amount of grumbling. Alessandra had two days to pack up whatever she wanted to take to Wayne, and then she would get out of Dodge. That wouldn’t be too difficult. She didn’t have many belongings, and most of her furniture pieces were thrown together out of the unwanted furniture of various friends and family members.
Alessandra had been collecting boxes over the past couple of weeks, and she had begun packing them earlier in the week. Mostly what remained was putting her limited wardrobe into a couple of boxes, and getting all of the boxes stacked together in the living room for quick and easy transport into Papa’s truck.
Alessandra headed out to the corner of 47th and 10th to her favorite restaurant, a Mexican joint called Agave. Brady had agreed to meet her there for a going away dinner date. She was a little early, and since the restaurant would not seat incomplete parties, she waited on a chair just inside of the front door. Brady arrived on time and Alessandra joined him at the host station. She gave Brady a hug and said, “Hey babe, it’s nice to see you.”
“You too, Allie. How did your finals go?”
“Very well, actually. I should finish the semester with at least a high B, if not an A, in all of my subjects.” Alessandra smiled proudly. “What about you? Are all your finals done yet?”
“No, I have two more to take tomorrow, then I’m done.” Brady started following the host to their table. As they sat, looking over their menus, their server took drink orders. Alessandra ordered an unsweetened iced tea. Brady made a screwface and ordered a diet soda. His father had turned him on to Scotch even though he wasn’t quite old enough to drink yet, but in public, he had to obey the laws of the land.
“I’m pretty much ready to go for the summer,” Alessandra said, setting her menu down on the table. Brady offered a quick hum in response, but nothing more as he continued to peruse the restaurant’s specials. She continued, “Papa is picking me up tomorrow afternoon. It shouldn’t take long to pack up his truck. I’m leaving the furniture in the apartment for my subtenant, and I don’t really have much stuff.”
Brady set his menu down and said, “It will be good for you to go home for a couple of months and be with your father. I’m sure he needs you, and I know he misses you.”
“I know it will be good for him, and for me. He asked me to help him start going through Daphne’s things. He wants to donate most of it, but he wanted me to be there so I could choose to take anything I wanted to keep.”
She tilted her head down slightly and said, “I’m not sure how I feel about that. Just thinking about it puts a lump in my chest.”
Brady looked at her with a touch of pity in his eyes, but said nothing. Their server returned with the drinks and took their dinner order. While Alessandra was taking a sip of her tea, Brady said, “I need to talk to you about the summer.”
After a pause with no apparent follow up to that sentence, Alessandra asked, “Okay, what is it you want to talk about? I’ll be back in early September.”
Brady puffed his cheeks with a nervous sigh, then finally said, “I won’t be coming back to New York next year.”
Alessandra had to consciously force her next inhalation. “What? What do you mean? Where will you be?” she asked, not liking the underlying tone in Brady’s voice.
“My father wants me to go to Harvard Law now, so I’ll be transferring there. That’s all the way up in Massachusetts, so obviously, staying here isn’t realistic.”
“Well, that’s really good news, babe. I’m happy for you,” she replied with little sincerity. Her stomach was forming a rather large knot, because she had a bad feeling where this conversation was heading. Brady’s father had never approved of him dating someone who wasn’t wealthy or connected.
Brady lowered his gaze. “Look, Allie, I do care for you very much.”
Alessandra’s fists clenched under the table.
Brady’s body settled with resolution. He looked back up at her. His aura had changed. It was suddenly cold, with an expression he had never shown her before. Alessandra could see the change in his eyes, feel it in the way he now looked at her. She could tell his mind was made up. She knew what he was going to say before he even opened his mouth.
He looked back down at his soda, “I just don’t think a long distance relationship is going to be good for either of us.”
There it was. Brady’s words hung in the air, a nearly tangible slap in Alessandra’s face. She waited for him to look back up at her, but he just stirred the ice around in his glass. She looked up at the ceiling, hoping the angle would force the growing tears back inside so that he wouldn’t see them pour down her cheeks. She closed her eyes, forcing the tears back in, and switched her thoughts to angry ones.
With acid forming in her blood she muttered, “So Daddy’s paying for you to go to Harvard. How nice. You certainly do lead a charmed life.”
“Excuse me?” Brady said with a furrowed brow and a hint of indignant anger in his tone.
“You heard me,” she growled. “Daddy’s money buys you whatever you want. You have never earned anything. You don’t know what it means to really work for something, so you don’t know what value truly is. That includes people! Your family doesn’t value me just because I don’t happen to have a lot of money. I have value, Brady Wexford! I have a hell of a lot more value than you’ll ever understand!”
She got up, snatched her purse, and walked toward the door. She sped past the other restaurant patrons who had all paused to watch the unfolding scene. She nearly knocked over the server bringing their order to the table. Out the door she went, not letting her emotions loose until she passed beyond the restaurant’s windows. The last thing she wanted that ungrateful bastard to see was her tears. He was no longer worthy.
Alessandra walked into her apartment, dropped her purse and keys down hard on her little white table, and slumped into her chair. She shook her head, wondering how a person could be that cold and unfeeling. Her thoughts immediately went to Brady’s father. The nut surely didn’t fall far from the tree.
Brady was probably going to run off to Harvard and fall for some beautiful young blonde lawyer, they’d have 2.5 kids together and run some highly profitable law firm defending scumbags and getting hardened career criminals off the hook. They’d have a huge house in Connecticut and some ridiculous chateau in France at Connard-sur-Mer that they only used two weeks out of the entire year. He’d make ludicrous amounts of money and then he’d lose most of it in the divorce after his wife walked in on him mounting her younger, blonder, sexier personal assistant. He’d have a heart attack while drinking four thousand dollar Scotch on his yacht and fall over into the sea, where he’d become nothing more than a smorgasbord for crabs and other bottom-dwellers.
“Wow, that got dark fast,” she muttered to herself. She sighed and put a hand to her brow, wiped the tears away from her cheeks and flicked them into the empty air in front of her. They had only been together a short while, not even a year. That didn’t make it hurt any less. How long had he known he was going to be leaving? How long had he spent time with her, stringing her along, knowing it wasn’t going anywhere? That thought made her cheeks flush with anger. She slapped the arm of the chair and cried harder.
After taking a few breaths to calm herself, she went to her kitchen to boil some water for tea. While she waited for the pot to whistle, she imagined several ways she wished the conversation at Agave with Brady would have gone.
Once the water was ready, she poured her tea and sat back down. The tears were more controllable now, but she still felt like garbage. To clear her head, she took out a book and started reading. Almost immediately, she put it back down. She had been studying non-stop for months, especially in the recent weeks leading up to her final exams. More reading at this point, even for fun, just felt like too much. She turned on the television and checked out of reality until it was time for her to go to bed.
The next morning, a buzzing sound woke her up. Her alarm clock was packed, and it wasn’t her phone. Confused, she sat up in bed and looked around. She realized it was her front door buzzer. She jumped out of bed and ran to the intercom.
“Good morning, cucciola! Are you ready to get outta this one-horse town?” the beloved and familiar voice said through the tinny sounding intercom speaker.
“Good morning, Papa. Come on up.” She buzzed him in, opened her door a crack, and headed back into her room to get dressed. Her front door soon opened and Papa walked in. She emerged from her room and ran into his embrace. She hugged him harder than usual, enough that he was taken aback by the sheer force of it.
“I’m… happy to see you too, honey. Everything okay?”
“I’m so happy you’re here, Papa.” Despite herself, a few fresh tears welled up.
Papa held onto her for a long moment, then pulled her to arm’s length. “Tell me about it on the way home. Let’s get moving so that we can be done in time to avoid rush hour traffic.”
“Oh, I barely have anything. It’s just these boxes in the living room. It should only take a few trips to the truck,” Alessandra said, lifting a box and placing it into her father’s hands. “This one’s nice and light, so you should be able to handle it, vecchio.”
“Who are you calling ‘old man’? I’m not even sixty yet,” he said with a smirk and grabbed a garment bag with his other hand.
“Where are you parked?” Alessandra asked, heading toward the front door with a book in her hand.
“Your building super is watching the car while we load up. He offered to help bring down boxes, but I said just watching the car was more than enough.”
“He’s a really nice man, Papa. He always looks out for us.” She wedged the front door open with the book, grabbed a box, then headed to the elevator.
They loaded up the truck, and Alessandra went back into the apartment for one last walk through. Satisfied that everything she needed was out, she returned to the lobby.
“See you in September, Mohammed,” she said to the building super and gave him a firm handshake.
“See you in September, Miss Genovese. Enjoy your summer.” Mohammed gave her a small bow and headed back into the building.
Papa covered all of the boxes with a tarp, which he fastened down with rope and a colorful variety of bungee cords. Ready to leave the city, they slowly merged into 47th Avenue traffic and headed toward the right hand turn that would place them onto the West Side Highway.
Alessandra looked around the highway as they passed by various piers on their left, and a variety of buildings on their right. The highway rose slightly, and quite suddenly they were surrounded by trees. It always fascinated Alessandra that in a city as urban as New York, there were so many sections with lovely trees and parks.
As they made the looping turn to head onto the George Washington Bridge, she felt a subtle weight release itself from her neck. Living in New York was definitely exciting, but whenever she left the city she would actually feel her shoulders relax and drop down on her torso. There was a palpable fight or flight tension attached to daily life in the Big Apple. It was really easy to do amazing and unusual things, and at the same time, it was really hard to do average and simple things.
The ride back to Wayne was pleasant enough. Alessandra was preoccupied with her recent breakup, so she didn’t talk much. Papa knew when his daughter needed space, so he just let her be. Raising two girls he found out the hard way when to try and fix their problems, and when to just be present for them.
When they pulled into their driveway, Alessandra felt a wave of grief flood over her. She knew better than to imagine the sight of Daphne coming out to greet them, but she couldn’t stop herself from hoping it was all somehow untrue. Her little sister was gone. Her boyfriend was gone. The school year was over and she was back at home again, feeling like somehow everything in her world was coming to an abrupt end. Home would certainly not be the same without Daphne there, and with Tony stationed on the other side of the country, the house was going to be a lot quieter than she was accustomed to.
She sat motionless in the truck and wondered how she would feel, going back into Daphne’s room to sort out her things for donation or keeping. That was the sort of thing you did for a neighbor when an old person died. It wasn’t what you were supposed to do for your teenage baby sister’s cherished belongings.
Papa’s voice came from behind the truck, “Hey. Are you coming inside or sleeping out here? Let’s get this stuff inside before it gets dark.” He threw back the tarp to reveal the boxes representing the culmination of Alessandra’s life so far. She grabbed a couple of boxes and started moving them from the back of the truck and into her old room.
“I’m surprised you didn’t turn my room into storage for your vinyl record collection,” she said while stacking the last box against the eastern wall.
“Who says I didn’t?” Papa joked. “I had to spend the last two days moving it back into your brother’s room.”
Alessandra gave a wan smile and hugged her father.
“What is it, cucciola?” he asked. “What’s troubling you?”
“Oh, Papa, it’s okay. I was just really upset last night. Brady’s father is making him transfer to Harvard Law, and Brady doesn’t want a long distance relationship.”
“He broke up with you? Oh, mia figlia, I’m so sorry.”
“Now that I’ve had some time with it, I guess I’m not really surprised. We were having a few weird moments here and there. I wasn’t even sure where we were headed anyway. Neither of us had used the ‘L’ word, either.“
“Lasagna?” Papa asked, trying to lighten his little girl’s mood.
“Har, har. I just feel a bit lost right now. I’ll be okay. I’m going through a lot right now.”
“Well, Brady is a moron. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. You’re beautiful, intelligent, funny, charming, and wonderful.” Papa squeezed her a little extra hard, then released her.
“Stop trying to fix me, Papa. I’ll be okay.”
“Can I at least help you unpack?” he asked.
“That… is an offer I would not turn down.”
They unpacked Alessandra’s boxes and got her settled back in. Papa kissed her forehead, and left her alone with her thoughts. Alessandra looked around her bedroom and tried to recall the seemingly trouble-free existence she once felt there. Things used to be so much easier. Sure, they weren’t in a great neighborhood, but there was much more of a sense of community here than in New York. It was a phenomenon Alessandra marveled at, that in a city where so many people were living right on top of each other, they could all still be so distant.
She walked out of her bedroom and into Daphne’s. Impossibly, it had not changed. Nothing was moved, nothing was different. It even smelled the same. Daphne wasn’t physically present, but her presence in the room was almost tangible, teasing Alessandra with a visceral memory of something she could never have again. Anger and helpless frustration simmered inside as she looked around at the remains of a life cut so tragically and senselessly short. Daphne’s perfume bottle still sat on her white wicker vanity. The reflection of the person who should have been sitting there was painfully absent from the vanity mirror.
Her bed was impeccably made. Between the two large pillows sat a raggedy old stuffed teddy bear. It had seen better days. Daphne had that teddy bear nearly all of her life. Being the creative three year old she was at the time, Daphne had named him “Bear,” and dragged the poor thing around the streets of Wayne, New Jersey for years. Alessandra wasn’t entirely sure how it was even still being held together. She sat on the edge of the bed and picked up Bear, holding him tightly to her breast and giving him the loving embrace she desperately longed to give her baby sister.
When they were much younger, Alessandra had to convince Daphne not to carry Bear to her first day of school. “Someone might steal Bear, and then you would be so very sad!” Alessandra had told her, hoping to somehow get the idea through Daphne’s head.
Daphne was not happy. She cried and screamed at her big sister. “You’re mean, Lessie! I love Bear! Papa says no one can take away the things we love!” Daphne ran from the bus stop back into the house and into what at the time was their shared bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her. Daphne hid underneath her bed along with Bear. Papa finally had to coax her out with a cookie. And a promise. Papa promised Daphne that he would make sure Bear never left her. Daphne would get home from school and carry Bear around the house for a couple more years. Eventually, as Daphne got older, Bear made a more permanent home on Daphne’s bed.
“Sweet Bear,” Alessandra said, “you and Papa kept your promise. You never left Daphne. But, she left us.”
She looked down at Bear, who looked back at her blankly. “I know you don’t understand why she left you. I don’t understand either. I don’t understand why she didn’t tell me she was hurting. I don’t understand why she would hide anything from me, much less something that important.”
“She hid it from me too, cucciola.”
Alessandra jumped, and Bear fell down into her lap.
“I’m sorry,” Papa said, “I didn’t mean to startle you. I heard you talking to someone, so I came by to see if you needed me.”
“No, I was just…” she paused.
“Talking to Bear. I know. I admit that Bear and I have had more than one heart to heart since Daphne left us.”
“How do you deal with seeing her room like this, every day? I’ve been busy with studies and with getting by in the city. I’ve barely had time to think about her, and I feel like she invades my thoughts almost daily. I can’t imagine what you must have gone through, walking by her room every day.”
Papa sat next to Alessandra on the bed. He put Bear back in its place on Daphne’s pillows. “If I said it’s been easy, I would be lying. If I said it was getting easier with time, I would at least be lying a little. But, every day I am more and more at peace with her passing knowing that she is no longer suffering. I don’t believe she would want us to be suffering from the memories of her. I think she would want us to celebrate the life we all got to share together. That’s why I have kept her room as it was. But, in the end, it’s just a room. These are just things. These things and this room are not your sister.”
Alessandra picked Bear up again and held him close to her heart. “I don’t want to take down her room. I don’t want to forget.”
“Come now, Alessandra. Do you imagine it’s even possible for us to forget her? She will always be a part of this family, a part of our hearts. We’ll carry Daphne with us for the rest of our lives. Over time, the pain might get easier, but it will never fully leave. Thankfully, our love and fond memories of Daphne live forever, and eventually, that joy and love will overshadow the pain of her loss.”
“I can’t even imagine that.”
“I know, cucciola, but that is because you’re in the middle of the most difficult part. I’ve experienced loss before both with family and close friends. I promise you, the burden will become easier to bear over time. You don’t ever lose the hurt completely, but you will come to a place where you are more at peace with it.”
“Thanks, Papa.” Alessandra looked around the room, taking in as much of it as she could. “Can we wait a few days before we take down her room?”
“Of course. There is no rush. We can do it whenever you are ready.”