Time and time again, Dillon found his eyes drawn to the trio across the room. He kept his stares and his observation to a bare minimum. The last thing he wanted would be for Robert to become aware of his interest. The older man wouldn't understand and Dillon was in no mood to explain. To bide his time, he smiled at the right comments and laughed softly at the appropriate moments, but he was not fully there. He was a few feet away, indulging his curiosity.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw John's two companions leave the table. From their body language, he sensed that their relationship was a close one. He briefly wandered in what capacity, but as the thought came to his mind, he quickly brushed it aside in favor of another one. Why would the two extremely different women dine with his mentor and friend on New Year's Eve? What was John's role in their lives?
Throwing caution to the wind, Dillon turned towards John as the last question came to mind. The young boy's facial expression remained the same bland one as he'd had the entire dinner, but his eyes…his violet blue eyes danced with exhilaration as from across the room, he witnessed John's misdeed.
Oh, the older man was smooth, Dillon thought with a wry smile as he turned back to face Robert. But John wasn't smooth enough to go unnoticed by him. What are you up to, Giovanni Montega?
The remainder of the dinner was uncomplicated and was filled with good food and light-hearted conversation. Priding himself on his warmth and humor, John was a charming host. His two companions basked in an effervescent glow from his attention and his spirits soared. The dinner was indeed a success and afterwards, he thought, would be even better.
"This has been the best New Year's Eve of my life," Lizzie declared. With the back of her hand, she stifled a yawn and she continued on, "Thanks again for including me."
"It was my pleasure," John pleasantly replied. "You never told me what your thoughts were on the gallery. Would you like for your art to be showcased there, or would you prefer a larger gallery?"
Lizzie sputtered as she choked on her iced tea. Gingerly, setting the glass back onto the table, she turned confused eyes to John. "Excuse me? You're not asking me what I think you're asking me…are you?"
"And what is it that you think I'm asking you?" he asked with a teasing smile.
As Liz's mouth dropped open, Simone looked from the Liz's daze expression to John's pleased one. Unsure of what to make of his comments, she patted her niece's hand and said, "John, don't tease her."
"I'm not," he said, his expression serious. "My question is legitimate. Monique, who owns the gallery, is an acquaintance of mine. She would love to have a showing for you, but if her gallery is too small…too intimate for you… Well, I have other connections…"
"I-I don't know what to say," Liz stammered. "I wasn't expecting this…when we came here… I'm not even sure if I'm ready-"
"I think you are," John said with confidence, "and so does Monique. The rest is up to you."
"How does Monique know? I didn't show her anything…"
John smiled. "I took the liberty of presenting your work to her. "
"And, how did you do that?" Liz asked, confused. She looked at Simone who seemed as surprised as she felt.
"I…um…" John spoke slowly, giving the appearance of embarrassment even as he deftly manipulated the situation with ease. With apologetic eyes, he looked at Liz. "A few days ago, while waiting for your beautiful aunt, I noticed your work in the garage. I spoke to your grandmother regarding the magnificent pieces and she kindly took it upon herself to show me her favorites. I expressed to her just how talented you are and how I was certain that Monique's gallery would be perfect for your work…if only… Well, if only I could show Monique your incredible works." John shrugged as he continued to charm them with his words and his smile. "Well, to make a long story short, Mrs. Hardy handed me her instant camera…a Polaroid, no? Anyway, I took a few photographs and the rest is, as they say, history. I trust I wasn't too presumptuous. Please, accept my sincerest apologies-"
"No!" Liz raised a hand to silence him. Resting her back against the cushioned chair, she expelled a slow breath. "No, you weren't. I'm just a little surprised. Monique really wants to show my work in her gallery… I can hardly believe it."
Simone smiled at Liz. "I can believe it. Considering your training, your work is truly remarkable. The painting of Dawn and Nikolas is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. You captured so much in that painting. That piece and countless others deserve to be shown in a gallery."
Liz turned disbelieving eyes to Simone. "Are you sure? You're not just saying that…?"
"I'm sure," Simone told her.
"Well, what do you think I should do?" Liz asked. "I'm so overwhelmed that I can hardly think straight."
"Well, I think the first thing you should do is take a deep breath and give your head some oxygen," Simone teasingly suggested.
"Breathe?" Liz asked, laughing softly. "I'm not even sure if I remember how."
John laughed softly. He smiled into Liz's dancing brown eyes and said, "Well, perhaps a sip of tea will help to settle your nerves. Perhaps, it might even enable you to give me an answer, too."
"Perhaps." Liz giggled as she reached for the remainder of her icy cold beverage. The sweet, raspberry-flavored liquid slid down her throat in one swallow, enabling the sugar, caffeine and other ingredients to course through her all at once. When she finally set the empty glass back onto the table, her audible sigh of satisfaction was a given.
"I wondered if you intended to swallow the glass, too," Simone teased.
"I guess I was thirsty," Liz laughed as she tapped her napkin to the corners of her mouth.
Holding back a triumphant smile, John smiled at the young girl. "So, have you an answer for me?"
"Yes," Liz said. "My answer is yes. I would love for Monique to have a showing of my work."
"Wonderful." John beamed. He looked at the remains of their dinner and then at each of the women. His smile broadened. "I think we've done enough damage here. Isn't that how the saying goes? Perhaps, it's time for the three of us to really celebrate. Are you game?"
"I know I am," Simone replied. "I've eaten entirely too much. I think a walk in the freezing cold air would do just the trick. What do you say, Elizabeth? Times Square isn't that far. Want to check it out?"
Liz blinked as she willed her eyes to focus on Simone and her mind to focus on Simone's question. Suddenly, the girl felt tired. She stifled another yawn and shaking her head, said, "I think you'll have to count me out."
"Are you okay?" Simone asked. "Your eyes look kinda glassy."
Smiling, Liz shook her head. "I'm just tired and I think my brain is on overload, too. I feel the need for a nice long soak in that huge bathtub and a nice long rest in that even bigger bed."
"Are you certain?" John questioned, his gray eyes mirroring Simone's concern. "New Year's Eve in the city that never sleeps and you want to…sleep?"
Dreamily, Liz nodded in response. At that moment, sleep was all she wanted. She opened her mouth to say the words, but another yawn overtook her. She waited for it to end before she tried again. Once it was over, she said, "I'm sure. Just direct me to a cab, and you two can enjoy your evening. I'll be just fine."
"If you're sure…" John shrugged.
Simone's brow creased into a frown. She wasn't so sure. "Maybe we should call it a night-"
"No." Liz's voice was firm and to the point. "No, Aunt Simone, don't miss having a spectacular New Year's Eve because of me. I'll be okay. A quick nap and I'll be just fine."
"Elizabeth, I'm not so sure about leaving you alone," Simone said. "I'd feel awful knowing that you're bringing in the New Year by yourself. I wanted you to share this experience with me."
"But, I'll be asleep," Liz said, matter of fact. She reached across the table for Simone's hand. "Really, it's okay. You and John can party in Times Square without me. Of course, when I wake up, I'm gonna kick myself for missing it, but for right now, the best thing for me to do is go to bed. And, the best thing for you to do is go out and enjoy yourselves!"
Although she wasn't completely convinced, Simone nodded. "Okay. You have my permission to go to bed, sleepyhead, but we're taking you back to the hotel. There's no way I'd let you take a cab by yourself with you about to keel over."
Recognizing from Simone's tone of voice that she would accept no further argument, Liz simply nodded. Meanwhile, across the table, John could barely contain himself. Anticipation and excitement consumed him, and he couldn't have been more pleased.
Soon, mi querida. Soon.
"Can't this thing go anything faster?"
Sonny glanced over his shoulder at Tommy and Gina, whose hand clutched Tommy's in what looked to Sonny's eyes like a death grip. He smiled to himself. Turning back to New York's beautiful skyline, he spoke into his mouthpiece. "Choppers are known for their speed. Settle down back there. We're almost there."
"Are we?" Gina's voice quivered through the headset. "I'm sure you know what you're doing, Sonny, but…in all honesty, I'm about to lose it."
"I know, Gina," Sonny said, his voice comforting without a trace of insincerity or mirth. "I know. We'll be there soon. I promise. Just keep holding onto Tommy, and you'll be fine."
Tommy smiled as he pulled Gina closer against him. "I can see Lady Liberty, which means we're here, and I'm sure Sonny will set this baby down soon. Right, Sonny?"
Tommy's emphasis on 'soon' didn't go unnoticed by Sonny and he could help but marvel at the kid's guts. Most would have thought twice about using that tone with him—former mob boss or not—but not Tommy. He was a good kid, Sonny thought. He loved his mother and would do anything for her. An image of his own mother, Adele, came to his mind as well as an image of Deke's fist. The brief flashback was chilling and in that instant, Sonny was a little boy again, hoping that he could protect his mother from the monster. It took the sound of Tommy's insistent voice to bring him back to the present. Returning his attention back to the control panel, Sonny shook off the past and answered the younger man. "Right, Tommy. Soon, we'll set down."
Soon. The past can't be helped, but soon, we'll do something about righting the present. Very soon.
Go to Chapter 118.