It was after two a.m. when he allowed his knees to bend. When he slowly slid down to the floor and sat on the carpet, leaning his head against the door. But he didn't relax. He never relaxed.
Now was the part of his watch where he fine-tuned his other senses. Touch (tightly knit weave under his palms, brushing the fine material of his dark suit). Taste (stale air and the remnants of a Lifesaver he'd finished hours ago). Smell (his own cologne...rug shampoo...burnt popcorn and marinara sauce). Mostly his hearing.
The hallway was silent.
The elevator, too. No grinding of gears there.
If he strained, he could hear beyond the door across the hall. Sniffles. Muffled sobs. He knew Ms. Davis was curled up on the couch, crying. She did that often on nights when Mr. Ashton wasn't there. Especially lately...since Mr. Ashton hadn't been there at all.
There were no sounds from within the door he was sitting against.
For that, he was thankful.
He wasn't sure he could take the sounds of Mr. Corinthos and Carly having sex. Not that he hadn't heard it *before*, but hearing it now, so soon after they'd almost lost each other, it felt like...it felt like breaking a trust. And he was glad he couldn't hear Michael fussing and crying. Because hearing Michael would just remind him of what he didn't have himself.
What he *couldn't* have.
It was almost funny. He hadn't grown up wanting to be in the Organization. He was pretty sure nobody actually did. He'd wanted to be a fireman. And, then, after he'd burned his hand touching a hot stove coil, he had decided fires were out...and he'd wanted to be a cop. A *cop*. Yeah, it was almost funny.
It was funny because he could still see himself in the blue and black uniform. Picture twirling a nightstick, tipping the cap at a pretty girl, joking with guys at the station.
And now it was guys in those very blue and black uniforms who had almost cost him his job. Had almost made it so he would never have to stand outside this door again.
A tiny part of him liked the idea.
Not the idea of Mr. Corinthos getting shot and dying! No! Never that (at least he told himself that several times a day).
But the idea of being able to step away from the door. To step away from following Carly everywhere...from Benny and the warehouse...and the bullet proof glass and the silence. The vigilance. The entirety of being what he was.
Those were the nicer terms.
The worst one he could think of....was 'expendable'.
He hadn't been 'expendable' to Nana Giulia...who had kissed him goodnight every night for years, whispering, "Gianni, be a good boy...and be the best man."
He hadn't been 'expendable' to Angela Martino when he'd lost his cherry in the confessional at church and she, an experienced 9th grader at Sacred Heart, had moaned, "Oh, Johnny...you're going places, *caro*." (He'd definitely 'gone places' that day.)
He hadn't been 'expendable' to the boys he'd run with after dropping out of school. Helping them bust windows and knock over liquor stores and always getting them away before the cops arrived and getting slapped on the back amidst cries of "J-man...*brava*! You're fuckin' awesome, Man!"
He was 'expendable' in the Organization.
To Mr. Corinthos.
It was his job.
But he knew one thing for certain: he wasn't 'expendable' to a little red-haired boy. To a baby that liked to curl up against his chest as they rode in the elevator. Who, sometimes, didn't lean out and demand to be "upped" by Leticia and, instead, played with his tie and asked for a story from "Unca Joh". Who stared up at him with bright eyes and listened. And *saw* him. And laughed uproariously as he talked, softly, about playing stickball in the street and dancing in the spray of a broken hydrant.
He wasn't 'expendable' to Michael.
So, this was his life.
No nightsticks. No caps to tip. No jokes. No blue and black uniforms.
Just dark suits and bullet proof glass and vigilance.
And the blessed sound of silence at 3 a.m.
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