The evening of Fabrizio’s little gathering came after a flurry of activity. Regina helped Lotta look into the charity and spent every evening keeping Enzo’s spirits high over the phone. It bothered her that he asked her to stay away from his home and office, but she granted him that it made sense to be cautious, especially if Fabrizio still had his private detective following him. She had to believe that the distance she felt between them would melt away as soon as this was over. It was a small comfort that she could see him at the party, maybe even get him to herself for a bit.
On the night of the party, Gina and Lorenzo met up a little ways from Fabrizio’s house and she became aware that Enzo must have put a lot of pressure on his friend. Lorenzo greeted her coolly and it was clear he took no pleasure in being around her. He made a toss of his head to indicate that she should follow.
They walked for a few minutes in silence before he said:
“What do you want from him?”
Gina looked up at Lorenzo. “Excuse me?”
“Are you after his money?”
“If I wanted his money, I’d rob him, asshole. I don’t give a damn about that shit.”
Lorenzo sighed. “I hope you’re telling the truth. He’s been through enough as it is, same with Lia.”
“I know. If I didn’t care, I would have noped out as soon as I found the painting for him. I’m helping for a reason.”
“Why are you helping him?”
“Why are you?”
Lorenzo stopped and turned to her. “He’s one of my best friends and you know how I feel about Lia. Stop deflecting and answer my question.”
Part of Gina was angry at him for considering that she would take advantage of Enzo, but another part felt a faint glimmer of respect for Lorenzo. She decided that it was worth it being honest.
“He’s my client. He didn’t hire me to do this, but I still consider this part of my job.”
Lorenzo crossed his arms. “So that’s it? It’s just because it’s your job?”
“I wasn’t done talking, Lorenzo. It’s also because nobody else is helping him. It’s fine that you and Lia are trying to keep him out of trouble, but most of the time you’re not helping, you’re even actively fucking it up for him. He’s been handling all of this shit alone for way too long and if it wasn’t because he was so loyal to his family, I would have taken him away from here long ago. He’s blaming himself for things he shouldn’t and I fucking swear, I’ll make him realise that someday.”
Something in Lorenzo’s face softened. He didn’t smile, but his face smoothed and the frown was gone.
“We agree on that, at least. So long as you’re not just here for money…”
“I can always make money. This is not a good way of doing it.”
“Good,” Lorenzo said.
He started walking again and they were silent until they arrived at the path to the house.
“You’d better take my arm,” he said, “since you’re supposed to be my plus-one.”
Gina did so and the two of them entered the house together. It wasn’t as nice as the Napoletanis’ house, or even Enzo’s. Whereas those were older-looking, regal in a way, this was more like modern boxes of glass and sandstone stacked on top of each other. Her impression of the house only improved a little bit and then only because Enzo was right there as soon as they entered the ballroom. He may not enjoy his suits, but they only did good things for his figure and she couldn’t help a warm fluttering in her chest. She was vaguely aware that Lorenzo glanced at her.
“You two are supposed to keep your relationship a secret, aren’t you?” he asked under his breath.
“No of course not, exactly as Lia and I were never in a relationship. You know you’re very obvious, right?”
Gina glared at him and moved resolutely towards Enzo. Both he and his sister talked to a guy who looked decidedly small and frog-like, next to the striking Cavalcante-siblings. She didn’t even have to ask who it was. The three of them turned as Gina and Lorenzo came over, though Fabrizio barely spared them a smile before he continued talking. He must not know what Gina looked like, because otherwise she was sure he would have reacted.
Enzo and his sister weren’t much more welcoming than he was. Lia greeted Lorenzo with a quick smile that didn’t reveal any particular feelings on her part, while all Gina got was a small nod. Enzo shook hands with them both before turning to Fabrizio.
Gina tried to ignore the sting. They had talked about it and he had told her he couldn’t pay any special attention to her at the party.
He just didn’t mention he wouldn’t pay any fucking attention at all…
She pushed the feeling away. It made sense, but still she couldn’t help but feel pained, looking at him. This was how he acted nearly every day of his life. He talked in an even, controlled tone, so far removed from how he had sounded just a few days prior. The difference was almost severe enough that he looked like someone else, like the man that had broken her heart and not her rich boy.
She bit the inside of her cheek to distract herself from that line of thinking and instead she tried to follow the conversation. Fabrizio had been talking—he honestly did most of the talking, it seemed—and now he had turned the topic of conversation to his ‘charity’.
“… since the charity has been such a success so far, we’ve…”
“Charity?” Someone else butted in, an older woman who had silently joined the group. Gina hadn’t noticed her because she was so focused on Enzo.
All of the others turned to look at the woman, but Gina kept her gaze fixed on Fabrizio. He looked at the woman as if he had only just realised that she was there. He let out a little huff, a sound that told anyone who listened that this woman wasn’t really worthy of his time.
“Oh, it’s a local charity I support. I’m sure you wouldn’t know of it.”
“I’ve heard of it but I’m not sure what it is they do,” the woman said.
Despite the woman’s lack of importance, Fabrizio puffed up his chest and put all his energy into telling the woman what the charity did. Gina noted that he used the word ‘we’ an awful lot—it made it sound as though he personally handed out shoes to orphans.
“You’ve always been so thoughtful,” said the woman. “It’s a lucky woman who snatches you up some day.”
Next to Gina, Rosalia let out a sound, like a snort poorly masked by a little cough. Enzo glanced at his sister for a fraction of a second with a warning look, but it was so short-lived, nobody would have noticed unless they specifically looked for it. The short interaction made Gina sick to her stomach and she, unlike the siblings, didn’t have their training.
“Are you all right?” Lorenzo asked and all eyes turned to her.
“Yes, perfectly fine. Just a sudden bout of… nausea,” she replied and smiled as sincerely as she could.
“Oh, you should go sit down,” said Fabrizio.
He pointed towards a room to the side and Gina left, waving off Lorenzo when he asked if he should come with her. She was grateful to find the other room empty, though it wasn’t for long. Enzo entered moments later.
He looked around to check that they were really alone, before he came in and caught her hand in his. Gina felt her whole body relax when he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it—at least when they were alone, he acted like himself. He glanced up and, smiling softly, asked:
“Is everything all right?”
“It is now.”
More glances to confirm they were alone followed before he drew her in close. She couldn’t help the wide grin that spread on her face.
“I thought we were supposed to stay away from each other,” she whispered.
“I know,” he said back. “But I’m not good at doing what I’m supposed to do when I’m around you.”
“So, you’re saying you’ll help me search the house?”
He hesitated, then stiffened. Before she could ask what it was, he took her hand and started moving her around to the music from the other room. Gina raised an eyebrow.
“Someone next door was looking,” he said. “Dancing is a good cover. I hardly think anyone can fault me for that.”
“Doesn’t it get exhausting, always having to think about that?” she asked.
Not that she was complaining about the dancing. Last time they had danced, she had still hated his guts and hadn’t stopped to appreciate how good he was at it. He moved with grace and obvious skill, leading her with so much certainty, she didn’t have to do much. It was a good thing, too, because her mediocre abilities were entirely masked by him.
“I’m nearly always exhausted,” he conceded, “but I comfort myself that if we can only pull this off, I’ll be able to do this with you in public.”
“Among other things.” He pulled her a little closer. “I’m looking forward to a time when I can arrive at functions with you myself, instead of leaving it to Lorenzo.”
Gina laughed. “Right, because I’ll be going to functions all the time.”
“Well, only when I go, of course.”
She stiffened in his arms and tried another laugh, though it sounded hollow to her own ears.
“I don’t think so. Can you imagine me mingling with rich folks on a regular basis? I’d end up shooting somebody.”
His arms dropped.
“You’re doing fine.”
“Yeah, because I have to. I’m doing it this one time, for you.”
He took a deep breath. “It’s extremely important for us to go. Our relationship might not be popular and if we’re to stay on good terms with everyone…”
Gina felt an actual onslaught of nausea and she took a step back.
“Maybe I should look in Fabrizio’s bedroom. Can you show me where it is?”
A crevice formed between them as realisation started to dawn on her. The fact that they had such different expectations… She saw his hand twitch as though to reach out and bridge the gap, but then he put on that face—the cool, aristocratic one—and he let his hand fall.
“Yes, of course.”
He looked around before offering his arm to her and leading the way upstairs. They walked in tense silence until he pointed out a door.
“In there,” he whispered.
“Oh God, it’s Fabrizio’s man cave,” she murmured.
She could see him struggling against a laugh, but then he wrangled his face into something more rich boy-like and said: “Do you think anyone’s in there?”
Gina put her ear to the door, but didn’t hear anything. When she tried the handle, it didn’t budge. She fished in her hair for two pins and held them out to Enzo.
“You said you still know how, so show me your stuff, rich boy.”
Their eyes met in the dim hallway. Rather than taking the hairpins, he took her hand and gave it a squeeze.
“Gina, I want us to work so badly. I don’t know how but… but I want it.”
“I want that, too.” She looked around to check they were alone before she stood on tip-toes to give him a quick kiss, then she pushed the pins at him again. “Go on, love.”
He finally took them and started bending them into the right shapes with a practised hand, then he knelt by the lock while he worked. After a good minute, she heard the final click and the door was open. He wasn’t as quick as her, but it was pretty good all the same.
“Not bad,” she said.
“I learnt it from the best.” He held the door open and the two of them slipped inside.
Gina stopped in the room and shared a look with Enzo.
“So we can conclude that Fabrizio is… fond of animal print,” she said, letting her eyes hover for a moment longer on the leopard print armchairs.
Enzo winced. “My sister is supposed to share this room with him when they marry.”
“She won’t have to if we find something good. So, tell me, we’re looking for something that will scandalise Fabrizio so badly, he won’t reveal the murder. Is there any chance we could tell people about his interior decorating? I mean, those arm chairs would certainly shame me into compliance.”
He chuckled. “I’m afraid not. You’ve said it yourself: most of us have so much money, it damages our taste.”
“Okay, then what are we looking for?”
“Anything that can damage his reputation severely, so that means something that we would find immoral. Drug abuse, solicitation of a prostitute, homosexuality…”
Gina glanced at him. “Being gay? Seriously?”
“I’m afraid so. The younger people in our circles are more accepting, but…”
“Let’s hope we don’t have to go that route.”
Gina walked up to Fabrizio’s bedside table and started rooting around in the cabinet and drawer. Nothing immediately jumped out. She found regular headache pills, a sleep mask… Enzo had gone to check the other bedside table, but after a while she noticed that he wasn’t rummaging and soon she felt his eyes on her.
“I hope you know it’s not because I find it shameful. Homosexuality doesn’t bother me.”
She smiled softly and came over to him.
“I know,” she said, standing close to stroke his cheek. “But this is what I mean when I say I wouldn’t want to mingle with rich people. Do you seriously not want to get away from all of this? If you had a gay kid, would you keep quietly endorsing their bigoted bullshit?”
“No of course not, and I would never kick them out as most of our circle would, but Gina, I… I can’t really get away.”
“You did last weekend. Wasn’t it nice? Just… being away from all this? We didn’t have to think about being seen or doing something wrong. It was just you and me.
He sighed. “It was the best weekend of my life.”
“The rest of your life could be like that, Enzo.”
“… is a big girl. She’ll be fine. We’re going to make sure she doesn’t have to marry this dipshit and then you’ve done everything you can for her. You need to get away from all this stress and the forced dress code and the endless duties. There’s a way out.”
Enzo closed his eyes and leaned into her hand. “I-I… Gina…”
“You can leave whenever you want.”
He opened his eyes again and they shone at her, big, blue, and hopeful. His chest moved rapidly and she could tell there was something he wanted to say. His mouth kept opening and closing.
“Go on,” she said with a laugh.
“Gina, I really—”
Whatever it was he wanted to say, it died on his lips when the door swung open.
It closed again with a low thud and Gina turned, a sense of doom slowly creeping into her mind. It grew stronger when she looked into the bright, blue eyes of an older man. Tall, grey-haired with high cheekbones, and wearing an immaculate suit, she knew immediately who this was. All of his children looked so much like him, they could have been clones.
Enzo’s father didn’t look at Gina. From the moment he had entered, his eyes had been trained only on his son, whose face had turned white as a sheet.
Vincente kept his voice low and even as he said: “There you are, Vincente, and Ms. Mancini as well.” He glanced shortly at Gina, only now acknowledging her existence. “That’s very good. I thought it was high time we had this talk.”
Her eyes desperately darted to the windows, as if to find a route to escape and take Enzo with her, away from this confrontation that would only hurt him, but there was no way out.
Author’s note: Next chapter is going to be very fun and absolutely nothing bad will happen. I’ll see you in the next post.