Two cars … well, really my parents’ truck and a cargo van. No sign of the Moretti’s old Monte Carlo. I thought, “Oh no, they had an accident.” It would have certainly explained Mr. Moretti’s yelling and screaming.
But he was yelling and screaming at Tony who was leaning against the cargo van like he could barely stand up. Mrs. Moretti was hugging and kissing on Ana like she’d been missing for a week. Lucia was crying and then ran to Bennie when he followed me into the yard. Things began to take on a surreal quality and I only caught tableaus whose meaning seemed to be just out of my reach.
I kept looking around. I thought the house and started to run that direction but Bennie stepped in front of me and shook his head and turned me around. Not the house? Maybe in the van and I went to walk towards it but Lucia pulled me away.
“Dad? Mom?” I called looking around. No answer. Then I asked, “Lucia, where are the boys?”
My voice brought the entire yard to an immediate hush. Lucia’s face froze in some horrific grimace caught between emotions I wasn’t ready to name. Mr. Moretti had his fist drawn back like he was going to hit Tony. No, that couldn’t be what it looked like. The twins and Mrs. Moretti looked at me and then Mrs. Moretti straightened up, wiped her face, and started coming my direction.
Nope. I did not like the look of that and took a step backwards. Bennie’s bulk kept me from retreating. Then I watched as Tony slid down the van, landing on his knees, his arms hanging loosely, his head bowed like the weight of the world had bent it beyond his control. Mr. Moretti got a disgusted look on his face and jumped away from the van.
I brushed past Mrs. Moretti and not even Mr. Moretti’s outstretched arm could stop my forward motion. Still there was no sound besides the quiet sobs of Lucia’s sisters as they held onto each other. I went down on my knees beside Tony.
Quietly, in a voice that seemed to come from far away, I asked, “Tony? Where are my parents? My brothers?”
It seemed to take everything he had but Tony lifted his head and looked at me. I gasped. Something was very, very wrong. He was trying to say something but it took several tries before he could push words beyond his parched lips. “I’m sorry Ragazza … I’m sorry.”
He slowly fell forward, still kneeling and he ended up at my feet like he was prostrating himself. In a dream I put my hand on his head and he sighed and again said, “I’m sorry … so sorry.” He was burning up. I’d never felt anyone so hot, and his head felt lumpy. It immediately reminded me of my brothers when they caught mono in their last year of middle school. Their lymph glands had been so swollen it looked and felt like someone had beaten them with a stick.
“Sorry?! Sorry?!! You worthless piece of …” Mr. Moretti was screaming so horribly that I couldn’t even understand what he was saying. Or maybe I didn’t want to.
I saw a man step forward that I vaguely recognized. He was calm and got between Mr. Moretti and Tony as the man I’d thought of as a second father tried to aim a serious kick at the sick one I was all but holding in my arms.
Still detached from it all I asked Leo in a strangely even tone, “Do you know what happened?”
“Yeah,” he said looking at me with some sympathy; too much sympathy, and I had to look away. “Yo Bennie, take Mr. Moretti here over to that stoop and maybe you could see some way to get him something to drink. He’s … er … overset.”
Snarling Mr. Moretti said, “I’m not sitting. I’m not staying. Me and my family are heading back and no one …”
Leo, obviously having some experience dealing with people who were … er … overset said, “Mr. Moretti no one is going anywhere yet.”
“I’ll damn well …”
“ … Do nothing,” Leo finished with a little more bite to his words. “I’ve got the keys and access to the fuel. You calm down and get out of my face. Take you nice wife and daughters there and go sit down while I work some things out. Joey here needs some answers before you get what you want and Tony … Tony needs …”
Hearing Tony’s name Mr. Moretti stomped away shouting, “Tony MacGregor can go to hell.”
That more than anything shocked me. What on earth could be going on? The protective calmness was beginning to dissolve and I started breathing in deep gulps. Tony kept muttering about being sorry. Neither Bennie nor any of the Moretti family would meet my eye. That left only Leo to make sense of the nightmare.
He shook his head. “We need to get Tony inside first. Haven’t got no idea how he’s lasted this long except he’s stubborn as hell. I’ve thought it over, he ain’t infectious no matter how ol’ Nicky acts but I don’t know whether he’s going to live or die … he’s damn sure not gonna live if we leave him on the ground like this.” The curtain came back down on my curiosity. I was no longer sure I wanted the answers that Leo could provide but faced with Tony’s real suffering I couldn’t abandon reality completely.
Bennie started to come over to help but Mr. Moretti threatened to refuse to let him near Lucia if he moved a muscle. Nick Moretti was suddenly a stranger to me. I looked at Mrs. Moretti and as heartsick as the situation was obviously making her she simply turned her eyes down unable to go against her husband’s will.
When I turned my back to them and helped Leo get Tony up the stairs it was like I was turning the last page of a novel and closing the cover, leaving certain characters I had grown fond of behind forever. In the kitchen Leo stopped and told me, “You should maybe want that door locked for a bit to give us time to talk without people busting in and … distracting us.”
It was a strange suggestion but I did as he bid because I somehow felt safer knowing I at least controlled a little bit of what was going on around me. We took Tony over to the nearest bedroom and while Leo put Tony on the bed and undressed him I ran to get some cloths and a basin of water.
I came back and was shocked. Tony was down to his undershorts but that wasn’t what had my attention. He was covered in odd bruises and I could tell even in his half-conscious state he was in pain.
Leo looked at me and said, “Looks like the worst of the swelling is gone but he ain’t out of the woods yet.”
I whispered a frightened, “What is this?”
“Don’t know but … but look see … you … you need to sit down and let me tell it from the top. It don’t make sense otherwise.”
I couldn’t stand to see Tony like he was so I started washing the sour sweat from his body. I had to be gentle because everywhere I touched him seemed to cause him pain. As I ministered to Tony the best I could Leo sat on the bottom bunk and started talking.