50 to Life

Chris had nearly been at the end of his rope and this might just be his only way out.  The only thoughts that comforted him now were the thoughts he’d imagine of what life would be like with the woman he wished he was free to be with, but with every indulgence in these delusional fantasies came the price of knowing that it would never happen . . . at least not until now. Still, it was impossible to rid his mind of the image of Kim’s dark hair falling on her shoulders framing her beautifully round cheeks as she leaned in to embrace him all those months ago.  It had been one of the few times he had felt comfortable touching her, and for reasons that couldn’t be rationally explained, it was the last time he felt a touch that meant something to him.  With each passing day, however, his memory grew hazy and his thoughts grew narrower.  He hadn’t been absolutely sure that something had sparked between them, but he felt drawn to Kim in a way that just didn’t seem rational. In more ways than one, Chris knew that his attraction to Kim would be his undoing and that it could be dangerous, but there comes a point in every man’s life where risks need to be taken otherwise he’d be doomed to spend a lifetime living a life he never wanted.

Autumn came rolling in leaving a trail of dust withering with the unfulfilled dreams of summer.  The air thickened and the wind now carried a wistful breeze each day for the past week. Chris stepped outside and felt the breeze gently brush his face as he heard the brown and red leaves fall from their low branches. Before today he’d earnestly start every day with the expectation that little in his life could possibly change.  There had been an inner peace he felt knowing that each day would be like the last and although the seasons would change, his life would remain constant.  There had been an eerie solace in the promise of routine that he had grown accustomed to. Life was far from perfect but as long as he could sleepwalk through it, it would all be fine in the end.  Then as if his subconscious conspired against him, a memory of Kim would intermittently jolt him awake and remind him of the life he couldn’t have, a life that if he was free to pursue would most likely liberate him from the dull comfort of routine and force him to meet new challenges each and every day, not the least of which would be staying hidden and alive.

Staring out of the bus window on this occasion, he discovered a song emanating from his heart and it played and beaconed him towards freedom. The song that he couldn’t get out of his head was “Wanderlust” by Paul McCartney.  It wasn’t a love song by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a song about being free.  Whenever his mind jolted him out of his routine, this song would play and he’d imagine himself with Kim smiling innocently next to him on the deck of a cruise ship as they sailed for the shores of Jamaica. The wind would blow her hair about and as they’d embrace he could almost feel it sweeping across his face and nothing else would matter.  With his hands around her waist, he’d feel the tight fabric of her bathing suit and they’d retire to their room where all they would hear would be the sound of the ocean.  They’d watch the sun rise the next morning, discover whatever pleasures awaited them, and each day would feel like an adventure.  As Chris stared out through the dreary urban sidewalks, he’d turn each pathetic urban stick figure tree into a palm tree on a distant shore, and it until he turned away from the window that’s where he lived.

When the daydreaming ended, Chris found reality almost too difficult to bear.  The Caporelli family was a piece of work, and he’d only wish he’d been able to get out before he married the patriarch’s daughter. He knew enough to put a number of members away in prison for a lifetime, however, the problem was he’d be dead long before he could even get to the stand, and there was the matter of Francesca who hadn’t been a terrible wife.  They had met before news broke out of the Easter Massacre, which had implicated her family. Her father, Paulie Caporelli, had done well to evade investigation prior to that.  As the owner of a popular livery cab business, he had emerged from the 1990s crackdown on the mafia entirely unscathed despite having a hand in the leading drug and prostitution rings in the city.  Chris had been a driver and one night he had been asked to drive the boss’s daughter home and from that night they had been inseparable. A year later, after a lavish wedding he found himself married, but when he had wanted to quit his job as a livery driver to pursue a degree in business management, Franscesca balked at the idea of temporarily sacrificing her lavish lifestyle so he could go back to college.  Paulie offered to move his new son in law up in the organization, but Chris had always aspired to be more than just a soldier on the lines of a mob front.  He chose to leave his life in the Caporelli business behind and go back to school and earn a business degree, however, he found himself indebted to Paulie Caporelli for continuing to keep Francesca in the lifestyle she had grown accustomed to while he pursued his degree.  In no time, he found that Paulie had insisted on some quid pro quo and he was forced to occasionally comply with a few odd favors to appease his father in law. Sometimes, Chris had even resorted to cracking a few skulls despite the fact that he abhorred violence.  For the most part, Paulie had restricted his requests to just helping out on routine collections until it inevitably turned into more than that.

Last night he had been paired with his brother in law, Sal, on what was supposed to be another one of those routine pickups, but it had gone fatally wrong. Sal had arrived in his wind chafed blue Sudan around dusk and what was supposed to be a quickie collection deal turned into a deranged shootout of Reservoir Dogs proportions. There was just nothing else to compare it to the more Chris thought of it.  Sal had gone nuts executing people left and right once Billy, the club owner over on 9th Street, refused to cough up the outrageous vig on a two times college basketball bet over some technicality. Next thing Chris knows, Sal whips out his fucking pistol and starts mowing down the customers in a rage.  Police arrived just in time to see what was going down and the next thing Chris knew he was in a shootout alongside the last person he would want to be standing next to in that scenario.  Blood spewed everywhere.  Hostages were taken, and somehow Chris and Sal made it out alive and unidentified, but the more Chris thought of it the more he hated himself for being trapped in the situation to begin with.  It’s one thing to find yourself in fubar mix-up of your own doing, it’s another thing to get mixed up with people like Sal Caporelli and almost get killed because some loser failed to fill up the Caporelli coffers.

So, this was it. Chris decided that today would be the day that he would quit it all. He’d quit the Caporelli business, quit on his wife, and quit on his entire life even the business school.  Instead of going to class this morning, he’d rush to find Kim at her job, confess his feelings for her, and maybe, just maybe she’d run off with him and they’d find a quiet place to lay low before settling down in some hick town where they could live quietly and happily ever after.  Chris thought it would be just like a fairy tale, only this was a fairy tale full of slimy sociopaths who just wanted to control every aspect of his life as if controlling their own territory in Manhattan wasn’t enough.

Kim worked at a diner in Jackson Heights.  It wouldn’t take long to get there, Chris thought.  He wondered what her reaction would be. If she looked anything like the way she looked when they first met, he knew he was done for.  He had been instantly attracted to her as he spotted her when he stopped in to her dad’s diner for a coffee break late one night.  Her hair had been frazzled from working a long overnight shift, but she had been reading a book on the life of Elliot Ness and they instantly began talking.  He never thought he’d meet a woman who had been as fascinated as he was about the history of the mob going back to the era of Prohibition. It took only minutes before she felt comfortable sitting at his table chatting up the whole night away with hardly any customers to worry about serving.  Chris had even learned quite a few things about the role the women’s suffrage movement had played in getting Prohibition passed around the same time women had won the right to vote.  It didn’t take long, however, for Kim to spot the wedding ring on Chris’ finger and once Chris told her that he had married into the Caporelli family, a grave disappointing look had crossed her face.  Still, that first evening had been full of magic. He had so much more chemistry with Kim and found himself wishing he could be free to get to know her better at the very least.

Over the next year and a half, Chris found himself wandering into the Jackson Heights diner to see Kim and talk to her, but over time his inability to get closer to her frustrated him. One night 4 months ago before he could ever imagine being in a bloody shootout, he decided to stop going to the diner. He made no big pronouncements about it, but he just thought to himself that there was no way he could continue to imagine a future with Kim when there was no way of leaving Francesca without significant risk to his own life. Besides, wasn’t he being selfish to some degree continuing this long fascination with another woman when he had no means of giving Kim the full attention that she deserved? Wouldn’t Kim be better off finding a guy who could devote his entire life to her, a guy who didn’t have dubious ties to the mob, a guy who could maybe actually make her happy?  Doesn’t she deserve that?

It was a difficult stand to take because Chris missed Kim incredibly in the months that followed, but he felt he made the right decision for her sake.  Then the shootout with Sal happened, and Chris had an epiphany.  He couldn’t continue to live out his life knowing that he longed for Kim with every fiber of his being.  He felt secure in the knowledge that they could make each other happy if they could only be together.  As he approached the diner in Jackson Heights, he had made up his mind once and for all that he’d take a stand and propose that they start a new life together albeit on the run for a while, but sooner or later he figured the heat would die down and the Caporelli family will eventually have bigger targets and concerns to deal with.

It was still early morning as he walked in.  The smell of scrambled eggs greeted him as he walked through the door.  He took his usual spot at the corner table by the window and waited for Kim to emerge. When she did, she was wearing a red and white striped blouse with her hair falling gently on her shoulders.  He stood up to embrace her as she approached, but she shuddered.

“Chris, what are you doing here?”

“It’s a long story but we need to talk.”

“Sally called out this morning. Now is not the best time.”

“Kim, there’s a lot I need to say to you.  A lot that I’ve been holding back, a lot that I just want to tell you so you could know and react and maybe decide where we go from here. I just need a few minutes.”

“Sorry, Chris. I can’t . . . Yes, Mr. Franks – I’ll be right with you.”

Chris waited for what seemed like hours only it had been around 40 minutes.  The breakfast rush began to die down and finally Caroline came in to relieve her.  Kim approached Chris’ table with an exhausted look on her face.

Ignoring her sigh as she sat down, Chris continued as if he had never been interrupted, “Listen, I’m crazy about you. I think you know that. I want us to be together. I’m starting over. I’m leaving everything behind. . . Everything.  We can run away together.  Who knows, maybe in a couple of years we can come back to New York, but right now I need to be away.  The only thing I got going for me is that I’m not a snitch.  Sooner or later, Franscesca will meet a muscle bound blowhard and she’ll forget all about me and it’ll be safe.  Meanwhile, the two of us can maybe spend time together outside of this diner and maybe find out more about each other and maybe we’ll learn what I’ve suspected all along that we were meant for each other. I know it sounds crazy and believe me, I’m not trying to freak you out, but this is the situation we’ve been dealt and I think we can make it work. Talking to you over that year and half and being here those nights with you were some of the best times of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite as remarkable as you.  You’re a woman I admire and respect and I think maybe time will prove that we were meant to be together. Stranger things have happened….”

Kim frowned as tears welled up in her eyes, “Chris, I’m flattered you feel this way, but stop and listen to yourself. You sound crazy, and besides that . . .it’s too late.  Maybe if you made this gesture months ago things might be different, but I’ve met someone.”

Chris noticed the ring on her left finger.  The diamond was small but formidable. He swallowed some air and the more his eyes focused on her ring the more his heart shattered.  He had once laughed at a kid who wanted to be a boxer with a glass jaw, but a heart of glass proved to be far worse.  In that moment, Chris looked deeply into himself and his future and found nothing but sorrow. If he could bring himself to cry he would have, but his tears had long since ceased to function. There was nothing left to say so he stood up, said goodbye, wished Kim well, and told her that whoever gave her that ring was a lucky son of a bitch.

Instead of going home, Chris found the nearest police station and confessed to the massacre at the nightclub. He took the rap for Sal Caporelli and let the cops throw the book at him. Some may say he was lucky to not live in a death penalty state, but a lifetime of dreaming of the life he almost lived with Kim while living in the penitentiary could be considered either a blessing or a curse. It just depends on how you look at it.

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