“Ponzio, you’ve got a letter, it’s from your mother.” I find the sulking man on the deck of his new yacht.
“Bonifila! Come, come, have a drink with me. It’s my birthday, celebrate!” he turns slightly, enough for me to see his pale green eyes and his smirk.
“No, my job is to protect you; not have wine while neglecting our duties.” and his smirk falls slightly.
“Must you always be so serious?”
I refuse to dignify him with an answer to that, just holding out the letter so he can fully see it.
When he turns fully towards me, he sees my stotic expression and the letter before sighing. “If I read the letter, will you have a drink with me?”
“Only if I don’t have to finish it.”
“You’re boring but I guess that’s fine. Come here, sit down, and look here; only five and a half percent proof.” he holds up the uncorked bottle, he must have poured his own glass from.
“Read first, then I drink.” I hand him the letter; the dark red wax seal gleaming in the candlelight looking like blood soaking into the surface the page.
“Read it for me, you know I don’t read.” he winks lounging on one of the tan woven chairs, kicking his feet up on the glass table.
I pull the knife from inside my work jacket and sliced the seal off. The cursive writing swarming the page; and of course, the Scurtis would put this much effort into a simple letter to their, practically disowned, son.
“Dear son; Ponzio,
Your father and I regrettably cannot find the time to join you for your birthday. We have enclosed a check to help cover our tardiness of the celebration.
Love; your mother and father.”
As I read through the letter, I saw his face fall; a lot. He looks absolutely betrayed, even heartbroken.
“It’s fine, I just . . . I,” he pauses, taking his feet off the table, turning to look off the deck; tears welling up and his face scrunching away, “how much was the check for?”
I look through the folds of the paper and find the check.
“Seventy-five thousand.” I wince; knowing the more they send, they more time before they’ll visit again. He knows it too; it’s been too long of this charade to not know it. Staring into his glass briefly, he downs the rest of it before placing the glass on the table. “I’ll grab you something stronger, Ponzio.” I start to turn away from him when a hand grabs my wrist.
“Please,” his voice cracked, “I don’t want to be alone.” I can almost feel his sadness from his voice.
I turn back to face him, and his eyes lit up slightly. “I’ll text someone else to grab it then.”
He still hasn’t let go of my wrist, but, in a strange way, I don’t mind it. I grab one of the other chairs and sit it next to the one he had been sitting in.
With my empty hand, I grab my phone and text one of the maids to grab a bottle of whiskey and a couple of shots glasses up to the main deck.
“Are you gonna be okay?” my voice so soft, I barely even hear it myself.
“I don’t know,” the volume of his voice bearly heard over the Mediterranean waves roaring on to the sides of the boat, “they’ve never had time for me. The only company I ever have regularly is you, but you don’t talk to me. I don’t know anything about you, despite all of that time.” he tightens his grip on my wrist; not in a wishful harm way though, more like a grip of dependence, or trust.
“I feel like it might be something I did,” he gets more choked up the more he tries to speak, leaving a pregnant pause between his sentences, “uh, not with you. I mean my parents.”
“Hey, it’s not something you did. You’re a guy who just wants attention from his parents, that’s normal.”
“Is it? Most people don’t get checks with almost a hundred grand in place of parental love and affection. Considering how much they ignore my existence, it feels as if they didn’t even want a child in the first place.”
“Hey, I don’t know my parents either.” that got him to look at me, confusion and wonder temporarily replacing anything else he was feeling. “They died in a plane crash, back when I was very young, so I spent my childhood bouncing from foster home to foster home.”
“Does that have any correlation to why you don’t laugh? Or even open up about yourself?” he lets go of my hand, and I immediately want it back. He stood up and turned his chair so he could face me better. I barely notice him doing it because I’m too infatuated with the color difference between where he was holding so tight that is turned even my dark olive skin turn red.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” he gulped, looking ashamed at himself.
“Don’t be,” I say, cutting him off, before he can continue what he was saying, “just, hold it again. Please.”
He looks surprised at my request but fulfills it regardless.
“And no, the foster homes aren’t why I wear a mask, or have a wall, or isolate before someone gets the wrong idea.”
“Can I ask why then?” he tentatively tried poking the mask, trying to see if it might fall if he pushes further.
“Someone ought to know, I guess. And it was an ex. He was . . . originally very kind, like the kind of man everyone enjoyed. But the farther I fell for him, the worse he got.” I pause to find the scar on my left collar bone, stretching from over my heart on one side to the other.
“You’ve asked about this scar, on an almost daily basis, and I’ve never told you anything about it. My ex, he was a very angry drunk. And he freaked out on me after I grabbed the wrong chips for him; he shoved me down onto the ground. But on my way down, I knocked a sword he had for decoration loose from its wall rack. It had fallen onto my top should, before rolling forward onto my chest.” I had to pause, the memory of it all --the pain of the injury, his voice laughing at me, the struggle of calling the paramedics with my non-dominant hand-- crushing the words out of my lungs.
“Oh.” was all Ponzio could muster up the voice for. He entwined his hand --the one not holding my wrist-- in mine.
“He . . . got arrested, the paramedics had him arrested after I was stable for assault. I think they said he had died before the day of trial, he overdosed on some prescribed opioid. I haven’t laughed since before I met him, and that was seven years ago. I have used a mask, since then too, because I thought that he didn’t care about anything mundane, like emotions. I just,” I began before getting cut off.
He’d kissed me. The rakish now twenty-two year old kissing me, his bodyguard. Someone that’s never told him anything. I quickly regain composure after the shock of it; kissing back before he gets the wrong idea.
“I don’t get it, but I understand,” he whispers after pulling away. Taking his hand from my wrist, he cupped my jaw forcing me to look in his eyes.
“And I, you.” I rest my head in the crook of his neck, forcing him into a hug. “Ponzio?”
“I . . . think I love you. And I don’t know what to do with this feeling.”
“Act on it.”
I was about to respond but one of the maids --Ponzio and I had pulled apart as soon as we heard the door open-- had come up with the whiskey. Probably tensing the emotionally charged air around us, she just places it on the table and leaves.
Cracking open the glass bottle, he pours one shot before meeting my eyes. He raises an eyebrow, giving a slight gesture to the drink; asking if I want any. Nodding at him, he pours a second one before sliding it over to me. We knock it back at the same time, almost simultaneously.
“How old are you, Bonifila.”
“So you’re older than me?” he almost snorts.
“Not necessarily.” his smile is starting to return from the heavy set emotional brutality from earlier.
“How? I just turned twenty-two today, how can you be younger than me and twenty-two?”
“Because it just so happens that today is also my birthday.”
“I could get used to you talking to me,”
“Ponzio, if you want to, you can just call me Boni.”
Leaning in, he rests his forehead on mine; smiling slightly, his eyes almost force mine to lock onto his.
“Okay, Boni. And I think I love you too.”