The warm sounds of Gracie’s cello filled the hallway as I approached her office in the college music department. I stopped outside the door and laid a hand on the cool wood door, as if to soak her music into my soul and hold it there forever. I couldn’t lose her. I just couldn’t. I hoped my plans for the evening, starting with the two-dozen roses I held on my arm and ending with a promise that cleaned out my savings account of all but a couple bucks and change, would bring her back to me forever. The music stopped, and I heard the sound of pages turning—the perfect time to enter.
Gracie was seated near the window, with her cello between her knees, bathed in the spring sunlight, rifling through the sheet music on the stand in front of her. She wore another white gauzy top and camisole, paired today with coral pants and sandals. Sunlight bounced off her hair, held away from her face with a white headband. She looked up and gasped at the flowers.
“Niccolo! You didn’t have to do that!” She stood and took them from me, kissing me lightly on one burned cheek. She buried her nose in a bloom and inhaled. “Oh, they smell wonderful.”
“Of course I did! How was your day?”
Gracie didn’t answer, handing me the flowers back and searching for an empty vase in her coat closet. She stood on tiptoe as she brought one from the back of the shelf, sitting it on her desk.
“Pretty good,” she said finally. She smiled, I thought a little sadly, as she turned to take the flowers from me and began to arrange them in the vase.
She shrugged. “I talked to the folks at Berklee College of Music today.”
“I’m not in the running for that job anymore.”
“They decided that before even interviewing you?” I hoped I sounded disappointed for her sake. I wanted to jump up and down and cheer.
“Yeah.” She cast her eyes down. What did she mean? Did she feel stuck here now? Stuck with me because I wouldn’t sign the divorce papers? Was she convinced now that I was ruining her life?
“Well, they don’t know what they missed,” I said. I wanted to hold her and kiss her forehead, but remembering earlier rebuffs, I stood awkwardly in front of her. “How about we go out to dinner?”
I got the impression I would have gotten the same response if I’d said, “How about we go jump off a bridge?” Or, “Lets go home and burn down the house.” At least by the time we got to Ye Olde Gaol, she was starting to smile, though slightly.
After visiting Atwater at the jail earlier today, I’d managed to duck across the street to the Gaol and ask the maître d, Mr. Tony, a fixture at the Gaol for generations, for a slight favor. Of an uncertain age, somewhere between Ma and my oldest brother, Mr. Tony could work wonders for those who came to enjoy an intimate dinner or a grand feast, even on short notice.
Thanks to Mr. Tony, I was able to reserve one of the small corner tables downstairs, where the stony cell walls had been converted to warm intimate little dining areas, with soft lights on the walls and candles on the tables. I didn’t want to get one of the small private dining rooms upstairs, mainly because they had windows: the third time could be the charm, if someone still wanted to kill me. I wanted someplace that had memories, good memories, for both of us.
“Oh, Niccolo!” Gracie swept up a second bouquet of roses from her chair.
We gave Mr. Tony our drink orders and I reached over to take Gracie’s hand as we settled into our chairs. She didn’t pull away this time.
“You asked me to prove to you that I’ve changed,” I began. “I don’t know any other way than to show you. I wanted someplace where it could be just you and me, someplace with good memories for both of us. So I chose the place where I asked you to marry me, six years ago. You know this is the same table we sat at that night.”
Gracie looked around and smiled. “Oh, Niccolo,” she said again.
Mr. Tony came back with our drinks—a vodka martini for Gracie, a beer for me. He took our dinner orders and left. I took a sip of my beer and began again.
“I know I have a reputation and most of it is well deserved, but you have to know that from the day I met you, I never wanted anyone else. I never looked at another woman. I want you back, Gracie. I want what we had to continue. I want—”
She reached across the table and placed her long graceful fingers on my mouth.
“Hush, Niccolo.” Gracie folded her hands around her martini glass. “I have something to tell you. I had a visitor today.”
“You did?” Oh God.
“Yes. Judy Demyan came by. She saw the article about you in the Times.”
“The person who started all this mess came to see you? What did she want?” I turned my pilsner glass in circles on the white tablecloth as I tried to contain my sarcasm.
“That’s what she wanted to talk to me about, this whole mess.” She looked up at the rough limestone walls. I could see tears cresting in her eyes. “She asked me why you were at your office the night of the fire. I told her that after I’d caught her with you, we’d separated and were probably going to divorce. She got very upset. She told me exactly what happened that day, that she was drunk and angry because her husband had been unfaithful to her and you never encouraged her—the same story you’d always told me. Judy admitted she was out of control and apologized for the whole mess. She feels that she’s responsible for your injuries in the fire and she’s awfully sorry.”
“She should be fucking sorry,” I said sharply.
“She’s going into rehab.”
“I owe you an apology, too. I just happened to walk in exactly the wrong moment and jumped to the conclusion that you’d returned to your old ways, Nicco. That was wrong. If I’d believed you that day, you wouldn’t have been in the office the night it was firebombed. You’d have been home with me. You wouldn’t have been hurt.”
I swallowed hard and slipped my hand into my pocket, wrapping my fingers around the small velvet box there. Gracie kept talking, saying things I never thought I’d hear again.
“I’m not from here, but you are. You grew up here in Fawcettville and I just came here to work. I never experienced the feeling of family that I did with you. The other night, when you came home from the hospital and your mother made dinner for us, it was just like all those Sundays we had in the past, surrounded by that big, crazy, Italian family of yours. I realized then how much I’d miss if I let you go.” She looked up at the ceiling again and wiped her tears away.
I pulled the velvet box from my pocket. Holding the box in my lap, I opened my mouth to speak, but she held up her hand.
“Not yet, Niccolo. I have a couple more things to tell you. I told you that I’m not in the running for the Berklee College of Music job.”
“I know, and I don’t want you to feel you’re stuck here, Grace, just because they decided you weren’t good enough for them,” I said. “You’re a great musician and an even better teacher—fuck ‘em if they don’t know what they passed by. I know the college isn’t Julliard and I know this is a really small town. Six years ago, I asked you to marry me right here at this same table. I brought you here tonight to make a damned good argument for you to take me back and right now, all I can say is this: I want us to continue and I want you to have this as a promise from me that things will be different from here on out.”
“Nicco, honey, you’re not listening. I’m the one who called Berklee. I told them I was no longer interested in interviewing for the job. I also called the attorney and withdrew the divorce papers. I want to make things work, too, Niccolo. I want us to work.”
She wanted to stay. She wanted to stay with me. Wordlessly, I opened the ring box up and sat it on the table between us. She gasped at the band of diamonds.
“I want to start again, too, Gracie,” I begged. “I don’t ever want to lose you. Please, Gracie. Let’s start again.”
She took the ring from the box, slipped it onto her finger and nodded.
The dozen roses hit the living room floor as the front door slammed behind us. I pushed Gracie up against the closest wall; our lips were locked together, her arms around my neck as my hands were frantically trying to open her blouse. She wrapped one long leg around me; my hands left the blouse to grasp her firm, sweet ass.
“Oh God, baby,” I whispered into her neck.
“Let’s go upstairs,” she whispered hoarsely. She shifted her leg back to the floor and ran her hands inside my shirt just as my cell phone rang in the back pocket of my jeans.
“Goddammit,” I whispered.
“Don’t you dare answer that, Niccolo.” Her voice was dark and husky.
“Don’t worry,” I answered, sliding my hands to her breasts and kissing her neck. The phone kept ringing. Gracie pulled the phone out of my pocket, bringing my hips closer to hers. She swept her long hair from her face and held the phone up in front of me.
“Who is this?”
My eyes struggled to focus. My eyes may be telling me I was getting old, but there were other parts that weren’t—at least for right now.
“Shit. It’s Ambrosi, Mike Atwater’s attorney.”
“You can call him back later.” Her lips met mine as she slid the phone onto a nearby side table. Her hands moved to the front of my jeans and began to work at the zipper. “Right now, we’ve got better things to do.”
About one in the morning, I staggered downstairs for a glass of water. The entry way was bathed in the spring moonlight, making it easy for me to grab the phone from the side table as I passed through to the kitchen. Sitting at the kitchen table, I punched in the voicemail code and listened to Ambrosi’s message as I sipped from my glass.
“Fitz, it’s me. I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I found a desk for you to work from. The other good news is that the time stamp on Jacob Poole’s cell phone photo is incorrect. The bad news is Mike Atwater’s .38 was finally recovered in the alley behind the Mexican restaurant. Ballistic tests matched it to the weapon that killed Gina and it’s got Gina’s fingerprints on it. I’m thinking we don’t have any choice but to work a plea deal after the grand jury. Call me back.”
Can’t wait to see how it ends? The entire book is available for purchase on my website, www.debragaskillnovels.com or come back next week for the next chapter. Holy Fitz, the next book in the Fitz series is also available on my web site.