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What Ruins Us

Updated: Mar 19

Prologue



Simo

 


In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have come out to Ma the way I did. The look of shock on her face made it hard to decipher which part of my word vomit had robbed her of the ability to speak. 

Was she stunned I was gay, that I was in love with my best friend, or that I was moving out to shack up with him? Or maybe it was the shock of her son, the heir to a mafia kingdom, falling for her maid’s son. That was, after all, Rush’s concern whenever I told him I wanted to go public about us.

Our relationship should hardly come as a surprise to Ma, though. The only thing left for me to do was kiss him in front of her, and I gladly would have, if Rush didn’t stop me every single time. Alone, he couldn’t wait to climb on top of me, but in public, he had this ridiculous notion he might not be enough.

This “listening to your partner and respecting their boundaries thing” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Sure, our relationship was rock solid, but there were moments I wanted to smash his defenses down and claim him in front of the whole fucking world.

That’s right, motherfuckers. He’s mine.

I honest to God thought it was already obvious Rush and I were fucking. No, not simply fucking. We were stupidly in love with each other, and I was ready to lock him down—stamped, sealed, and approved by the state.

Ma should be the one on our side, but her deer-caught-in-headlights look made my stomach churn. Wasn’t she as cool about this as I thought she would be?

As the son of a mafia kingpin, I didn’t fear much. But in that moment it hit me how much I craved Ma’s support of my relationship. 

“Ma, will you please say something?” I took a step closer to where she sat before the vanity with its carvings of vine leaves and roses that wrapped around its edges. Her mascara brush was poised in one hand, forgotten.

“Well, dear.”

Two words. She made it to two words before she burst out laughing.

Well, that’s new. What the hell am I supposed to think now?

After all these years of her saying it, I’d finally driven Ma crazy.

Gioia mia, the look on your face!” She chuckled and reached for a napkin amidst the assortment of makeup, all meticulously organized on the vanity, to dab her eyes. She rose to her feet, smiling.

“I have to say, Ma, you’re not making this easy.”

“I’m not making this easy?” She rapped her knuckles against my forehead. “Finally, you come out and admit how you feel about that boy.”

“Huh?”

“A mother knows these things, son. No need to look surprised. If I weren’t so happy for you, I would have dragged out acting shocked, but you looked so devastated.”

“God, Ma!” I hugged her tight. “Don’t do that to me again. You almost made my heart stop.”

She patted my back. “Does my approval mean that much to you? Would you have ended the relationship if you thought I didn’t want you to be with Rush?”

I pulled back, her questions making me nervous. “Of course, I want you to be okay with us, but… I don’t think I can give Rush up. We’ve been together for years, hiding it. I love him Ma.”

“Don’t worry, amore mio. I would never ask you to do such a thing. Rush is practically family already.”

“Exactly what I keep telling him, but he gets so hung up on the fact that his mother is a maid here.”

“Would it help if I fired her?”

“God, no! You know they need the money, and they’re all so damn proud that they don’t accept handouts.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“All I want to do is take care of him.”

Ma took my arm and led me over to the sitting area in the bedroom. She sat on the couch and patted the space beside her. 

“I’ve watched the way you are with him for years, Massimo. I know you love him. Does he feel the same way about you?”

“He does.” That much I could say for certain.

“Good, I believe he does as well. I’ll never forget how he used to take the blame for your unruly behavior when you were kids. Remember your father’s Jag?”

I groaned. How could I forget? My dad had just bought a brand new car. I’d tried skating over it only to crash into the shiny metal, badly scratching it. Rush had taken the fall for me that day. Trembling, and with terrified eyes, he’d stammered his way through explaining how he ruined the car. Dad had docked his mother’s pay every two weeks to repair the damage, but Ma had funneled the money back to them.

If Pop had known then that I was the one responsible for the damage, I wouldn't have gotten off so easily.

“He’s a great guy,” I said.

And dynamite in bed. He’d only made me wait for three fucking years before he gave me that sweet ass. Now, I had an addiction. I pursed my lips to restrain my grin.

“When exactly are you moving out?” she asked. “Do you need any help?”

“I got it. I want to do this for both of us with my own money. Found a place we can afford. Of course, I’ll have to lie to him about the rent since he’s gonna want to pay his half.”

“Why do you make it sound like a bad thing that you have a man who’s willing to help you?”

“It’s just that I can afford it, but whenever I mention that, he gets upset.”

The angry sex was good, but I didn’t want him getting angry over a simple fact. 

“Honey, don’t throw your money in that boy’s face.”

“I don’t, but he struggles, and only lets me help with the important stuff.”

“You know I always tell you to respect other people’s boundaries.”

I jumped to my feet and paced. “Thanks for that, by the way. If I didn’t have your voice echoing that same phrase in my head, I could get my way more often.”

Ma laughed. “Stop being dramatic. When do I get to see this new place of yours?”

“Tomorrow?” I asked. “I did everything myself, furnished it and all that, but you can tell me if I’ve forgotten anything. I want it to be perfect when I bring him there.”

“Sure, I’d love to help.”

“Thanks, Ma.”

“I’ll always root for you. You know that.”

Her words held a resounding worry in them. I knew what she was thinking. I’d deliberately chosen not to think about how my father would react to the news.

“He doesn’t need to know about the relationship,” Ma said. “It’s not odd for the two of you to live together, given you’ve always been close.”

“If you’ve figured it out, don’t you think he has too?”

“Your father doesn’t pay attention to most things unless it serves his interests, dear.”

“I don’t want to hide it, Ma. I’m going to marry Rush.”

She sighed, the sound ominous. “I won’t try to talk you out of it. You’ve made it through college. You’re your own person. When will you propose?”

“I’m not sure yet. One thing at a time. First, I get him used to the idea of us living together and then I propose.”

“Good idea. Well, when the time comes, I’ll be here to stand with you.”

“I was thinking of telling Pop over dinner.” It was the only reason I was here instead of out with Rush. “He insisted that I come. Do you know what that’s about?”

She shook her head. “You know your father and his grand announcements. I should finish my makeup and head down.”

Pop hated people who were late. I’d seen him shoot a man once because he was half an hour late for a drop. Renato Borelli wasn’t to be fucked with. Now I had to tell him I was moving in with my man. Pop would be furious, but Ma was on my side. She would talk to him. She was the only person who he listened to. Sometimes.

“I’ll see you downstairs, Ma.”

“Massimo.” Her voice stopped me at the door.

“Yes?”

“He’s a good choice for you.”

I breezed downstairs, my steps full of energy. It felt good getting it out in the open how much Rush meant to me. The first five years of hiding that we were together had been easy. After all, we were in high school. Just “good friends.” The last two had been harder, wanting to touch him all the time regardless of who was watching.

I’d forgotten my phone in the car, so I quickly ran to the garage to get it. The battery was dead. Fuck. I grabbed the charger and brought it back with me to the dining room, not wanting to risk my father’s wrath. Not tonight when I needed him at his calmest.

Mom was already in the dining room, seated.

“Where’s Pop?” I plugged the charger into the nearest outlet to juice my phone. I just needed enough charge to let Rush know where to meet me later.

“I’m right here.”

I snapped my spine straight. My father entered the dining room, dressed in one of his power suits as usual. I swore his pajamas came starched, double-breasted with lapels.

For a man almost fifty, he looked good. All the time he spent in the gym was worth it. If genes were as strong as they claimed, at least my future was bright in the looks department.

“Pop, I—” Movement behind him caught my attention. “Rush?”

I couldn’t help my face splitting in a grin. “What the hell are you wearing?”

I hadn’t seen him in a suit in ages, but he looked like a carbon copy of my father. Hell, I wasn’t even wearing a suit and it was my family dinner. He looked like someone about to get married. Or about to propose. Was Rush about to propose to me?

Fuck, yeah.

“It’s called a suit, Massimo,” Pop said. “Would it kill you to wear one to a family dinner?”

“I’ll try,” I strangled out just to please the old man. “Rush—”

“Sit,” Pop barked.

I frowned. Rush hadn’t said anything. His face looked pale and he wasn't even looking at me. I glanced between him and my father as we took our seats. We had designated spots from when he joined us in the past, but he chose a different chair this time, on my pop’s left. Such an odd place for him to sit, considering my mom sat on his right.

I took the seat right across from him.

“You didn’t tell me you would be here,” I whispered. 

He just shook his head. Two of the maids entered and laid the food out on the table, cutting off my conversation with him. 

I’d been so nervous about telling Ma about us that I hadn’t been able to eat all day. The food laid out before us made my stomach growl. I dug in. Later, I could find out what my dad might have said to give Rush that constipated look on his face. Otherwise, he looked damn fine in a suit. I would have to bend him over while he was still wearing it later.

“Have you decided which aspect of the business you want to take over now that you’ve graduated?” Pop asked.

“Honey, do we need to talk business at the dinner table?” Ma asked.

“I’m making conversation.” Pop reached for the salt, his gaze still firmly on me. “Well?”

After graduation, he’d given me several choices of businesses we owned: the strip club, casino, restaurant, or the chain of motels.

“Actually, I wouldn’t mind replacing Gus.”

Gus had been in charge of debt collecting until my father found out he pocketed much of the debt he collected, then killed the borrowers and pretended they gave him nothing. His body was now at the bottom of the Hudson with a dead weight tied to his ankle.

I felt Rush’s eyes on me. He looked troubled, but I couldn’t read into what he was trying to say to me. We’d already talked about this, and he was okay with me wanting to take over a darker side of my family’s business. After all, one day I would run the entire operation. I wanted to work my way up, get my hands dirty, just like the middlemen, and earn their respect.

“You’ll handle the strip club,” Pop said. “Or take over the family business back in Italy.”

Tension strained between my shoulder blades. “I can handle the debt collecting.”

“I’ve made the decision.”

Of course. Whatever he decided, the rest of us had to go along with it. Ma would have been happy raising his illegitimate child from an affair so I had a relationship with my sibling, but he’d shipped my half brother off to Italy too. None of us could have changed his mind.

I dug into my food, stewing, and not even caring if he knew it. He made small talk with my mother, and I played along for a few minutes before I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Why?” I grounded out.

“Simo,” Rush said softly in warning, but I was pissed at him too. He hadn’t strung two words together to address me since we sat down to eat.

“No, don’t stop him.” Pop reached across the table to put a hand over Rush’s. I stared at their hands, and heat surged through me.

I glared at Rush, willing him to do something. To move his hand away. He knew I’d broken a man’s arm once for touching him at the club. I didn’t care that this was my father. No one else was allowed to touch him, goddammit.

Why isn’t he moving his hand?

“All right, what the hell is going on?” I wiped my lips with the napkin and threw it onto the table. 

Pop sighed. “I wanted to wait until after dinner to share the good news, but I’m afraid the cat’s already out of the bag. Rushton and I are getting married.”

“Don’t call him Rushton.” He hated the name. 

“Did you hear what I said, Massimo?” Pop asked. “Rush and I are engaged. Show him the ring, pet.”

A buzz went off inside my head, deafening in its intensity. The breath in my lungs refused to be expelled.

“Renato, don’t joke around,” Ma said. “It won’t be funny when you give your son a heart attack. Did you find out about their relationship? Is that what this is about?”

“Relationship? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But the smirk he aimed my way said otherwise. “I asked Rushton to marry me and he said yes.”

“Stop calling him Rushton.” The chair scraped back against the floor as I got to my feet. Why wasn’t Rush calling my father a crazy old bastard? “Show me your left hand.”

“Simo, I—”

“Show me your fucking hand, Rush.”

“That’s no way to talk to your future stepfather,” Pop said, the corners of his eyes crinkling and his lips twitching.

Stepfather? What the hell twilight zone had I fallen into? 

“I proposed this afternoon and he accepted.”

“My God, are you still talking?” I snapped, all respectability thrown out the window. “Shut the fuck up. I have nothing to say to you. Rush, show me your hand.”

Slowly, he raised his left hand and placed it on the table. An engagement ring sat on his third finger, the solitaire diamond set in the gold band reflecting the overhead light. The size of the rock was huge. I shouldn’t have missed it before.

“Are you out of your mind?” Ma slapped Pop across his face and got to her feet. “I’ve put up with your disrespect for the last time, Renato. This is going too far. We’re married! How can you be engaged?”

“Not for long, Viv,” my father said. “You’ve already signed the divorce papers, and what we decided to split up was very generous. I can’t have you on the streets. It’ll make me look bad.” 

“I never signed anything!” Ma yelled. 

“Didn’t have to. A judge signed off on it, that’s all you need to know.”

I blocked out their arguing and focused on the man across the table from me with his gray eyes, and floppy brown hair. His lips sported a ring, one he’d allowed me to buy him a few months ago as a spontaneous little present. Those lips had kissed me for the past seven years. Could they really have touched my father’s?

Hell, no, this must be a prank. My father was capable of pulling this stunt, but not Rush. He was real. The way he felt about me was real. We had seven years in the bag.

“Are you marrying my father?” I asked.

Rush hung his head and nodded.

“No, you don’t get the easy way out. Look me in the eye and tell me the truth.”

He squared his shoulders, and I recognized that steely resolve of his. He’d square up like that whenever we were about to go toe to toe.

“I am going to marry your father,” he said.

“Why?” I whispered, loud enough for him to hear as the fabric of trust, respect, and love we’d stitched together over the years unraveled around us. My skin felt numb and an icy sensation trickled down my spine. Was this what heartbreak felt like? I’d thought myself so lucky that the first person I fell in love with was my forever person.

If the betrayal of my love wasn’t devastating enough, the violation of my trust was like a bridge collapsing. He knew how I felt about my father. How tumultuous our relationship was. Why my father?

“He can give me what you can’t,” Rush said.

“How dare you!” Ma fired at Rush. The tears I wished I could shed streamed from her eyes. “I welcomed you into this home and treated you like family. I just listened to my son tell me how much he loves you—that he’s picked out an apartment to share a life with you. He wants to marry you, and you’re having an affair with his father? My husband?”

Rush’s eyes widened, and he rose to his feet. “You… picked out an apartment for us?”

“What does it matter now? I can give you an apartment but he can give you a mansion.”

At the back of my mind was a tiny voice yelling that none of this added up. Rush wasn’t dazzled by money. Half of our fights were about him being annoyed that I got him something valuable. Some of those items, he’d made me return.

This makes no fucking sense.

“That’s right,” he said. “I truly didn’t mean to hurt you, but I have to do what’s best for me.”

I narrowed my eyes. Pop sat comfortably, eating as if none of this bothered him. Of course he was content to ruin my life. He’d always been this way. I had something that I loved and he took it away from me just to show he could.

“Rush, I love you,” I said. “I don’t know what he’s offered you that makes you believe that’s more important, but trust me, it isn’t. Baby, I—”

“Don’t call me that,” Rush said, sitting back down. “It’s disrespectful. Your father’s right here. What we had belongs to the past. R-Renato is my future.”

I lunged across the table and grabbed Rush by the neck. Glassware smashed between me and the table, but I didn’t even care. “You fucking liar. You love me. Me, not him! You tell the fucking truth right now, Rush, or I swear to God! Don’t do this to us. Seven years, Rush. Seven fucking years.”

The unmistakable click of a gun had me glancing up. I wasn’t surprised my father was packing. He didn't go anywhere without a gun, but to find it aimed at me was new. “Take your hands off him.”

“Renato, don’t you dare!” Ma cried. “He’s your son.”

“And he’s touching what’s mine,” Pop said.

“Simo, please.” Rush was shaking. “Just let it go. Let me go. I’m his now. I can’t be yours anymore.”

“You’ll never be his!” I shouted at him, but I was the only one fighting for us. He just sat there like the fight was knocked out of him. He wouldn’t even try. The truth of the matter sank in hard. Releasing him, I stepped back. “When you lie in bed with him at night, Rush, I’m the one you’ll be thinking about.”

“Trust me, son, it’s my name he’ll cry out when I teach him things you’re too young to understand.”

The words rested on the tip of my tongue to break down and beg him not to do this. That Rush didn’t get to be a piece in this human chess game he liked to play, but that was exactly what he would have wanted. For me to beg when it would never make him change his mind. The only thing that mattered to him was whatever sick, twisted plan he’d concocted. And Rush had fallen for it.

“I’ll go to Italy.” Not letting my anger and hurt bleed into my voice was the hardest shit I’d ever done. “Excuse me if I don’t attend the wedding.”

I took my mom’s arm. There was no way I was leaving her behind to face this hell. One thing was for sure, Rush was going to regret this.






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