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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/921172-Stranger-than-Sympathy
Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Emotional · #921172
Ronnie's life, the beginnings.
          "Charla?" I came to consciousness but did not open my eyes. I was not sure quite why this guy was calling me a name that wasn't mine but I decided that I was not ready to face this yet so I kept my eyes closed.
          Until the guy touched my shoulder. I leapt up so fast he stumbled backwards. "What?" I asked.
          "Well...it's 8:30...and I- I have to go to class."
          "Class?" I looked around and realized that I was in a college dorm room. "Oh my God." I was also in a T-shirt that did not belong to me. "Where are my clothes?"
          "I folded them and put them on the desk." I jumped off his loft bed and walked to the desk. The boy was a gentlemen and averted his eyes while I took off his T-shirt and put my club clothes on from the night before. "Look, Charla, I had fun and all but I have a girlfriend so-"
          "Say no more." I picked my purse off the floor, slid in my shoes, and walked out the door. I scanned the parking lot for my Red LeBaron. I found it about 30 feet from the building. I walked as fast as I could, hoping no one would see me. After spinning around, I sped out of the parking lot. I flipped off the sleepy faces that peered out the dorm window. They would never know how much I envied them.
          I arrived at Phil and Cindy's Diner a half hour later and sat at my usual table. I didn't look at the menu--I knew it by heart. My stomach felt like it was a beer bottle being swirled around rapidly. I decided that anything greasy was out of the question, so toast with cream cheese would have to do. I waited for my friend and favorite waitress Gracie to finish her orders. When she did, she took out a Lucky Strike from her apron and sat down across from me. "You look rough Ronnie."
          "I feel rough."
"Do I even have to ask what you did last night."
"Some college guy from Sunny's bar. Didn't catch his name."
"You amaze me. Almost 28 years old and still landin' them young ones. The best I can do is Howard grabbing my ass, and he's got one foot in the grave." Gracie had pumpkin colored hair and deep wrinkles. She was only 45 but looked about 60.
"Men are strange."
"That they are." She sipped a glass of water and lit another cigarette. "So, you heard from Paulie?"
"No and I miss him like hell."
"I bet so. I never saw him without you."
"I know." I opened a sugar packet and dumped it on my napkin. I swirled it around with my finger without really thinking of the mess I was making."He did write me a few days before Easter."
"What did he say?"
"The usual, the food sucks, the guards are assholes, and that he hopes to see me soon."
"Why don't you go?"
"Well, Clinton is a long drive from here."
"Yeah, but I bet it'd pick your mood up some."
"It'll make me want him to come home more."
"True. Every blessing has it's price."
About that time, someone tussled my hair. I knew exactly who it was: Paulie's brother. "Dammit Vinny."
"Miss me?"
"A little."
"I didn't." Gracie said.
"Whaddya talkin about. You know you're my best girl Gracie."
"Yeah. Keep talkin' Vin." Grace stood up. "Cream cheese toast Ronnie?"
"You know me so well." Gracie went to the kitchen and Vinny sat where she had sat.
"What's new Ronnie?"
"Nothin' good."
"Figured as much." Vinny took out a Black& Mild and lit it up. "You look like hell."
"Haven't changed from last night."
"I talked to Paulie this morning."
I sat up straight. "What did he say?"
"He was very angry with me because I could not report on how his favorite girl was doing." I started to tear up and I cast my eyes downward. "Aww, c'mon girl." He put his hand on my wrist. "Please don't cry."
I didn't look up but said "I miss him."
"I know. I'm going to go see him this weekend to discuss some family business. I thought you might want to go see him too."
"Yes." I glanced up and smiled. "When are you leaving?"
"6 tomorrow morning. I'll pick yas up on the way. We'll get breakfast."
"Thank you Vinny. I've wanted to go see him but I didn't think my jalopy would make it."
"Paulie's missed you too." Vinny kissed my hand. "I gotta go, I got business to tend to."
"See you in the morning."
I couldn't sleep that night even though I was whipped from standing on my feet all day at the factory. I was so excited about seeing Paulie again. I hadn't seen him in about 6 months, since they had moved him from county jail to the prison upstate. Secretly, I was afraid to see him. I hadn't been sober for more than a week since he went in and I was not about to own up to that. Paulie probably already knew that I had fallen off the wagon; he knew me better than he knew his way around Rome.

It is a bitter cold winter night. We are walking down the Chadokin Park Walkway. The river is still flowing in spite of the chill and every now and again you can hear the water slap up on the cement banks that the factories supplied years before when my Grandfather first arrived here. I made Paulie tell me again how his great-grandfather picked the spot for Homes by Santos, where his mother's ancestors had made their living. I looked at his black hair and watched as wisps blew in his eyes and he'd push them back and run through his hair. At the story's completion we turned at the end of the walkway (which incidentally stopped at Santo's)and started back towards Main Street. "Let's sit on a bench."
"Okay." I said. He sat down and I sat next to him. I leaned my head on his shoulder and his arm wrapped snugly around me. I listened to the air go in and out of his lungs, and for a moment, the rest of the daily trials that I called life ceased to be. I just existed, painlessly, evasively, comfortably.
"What you thinking about?"
"Nothing." I said. It was the truth.


The alarm startled me out of my dream. I realized that I had only slept for about 4 hours. Surprisingly when I looked in the mirror, I looked like I had slept a full night. I brushed my hair and wished Paulie was there to do it for me. He was so gentle that even when my hair was a rat's nest, I never felt the slightest tug. I thought about putting some curl in my hair, but I knew it would take a while. I decided that I would straighten it and leave it at that.
I put the flat iron to my head and wondered what today would be like. Prison visits were something that I had gotten accustomed to running with Paulie's family. It killed me to see Paulie in the county jail before they moved him to an Upstate Prison. He was originally sentenced to 3 to 5 years for felony assualt, however, an appeal later, he was sentenced to 3 years. He had a little over 2 years left. He may be home even sooner if he got "good time." Paulie never bothered anyone that didn't bother him, So I was hoping he would make his merit board. I finished flat ironing my hair and decided to tackle the universal problem of what to wear. I decided on khakis and a lavender sweater. I put foundation and eyeliner on and I looked pretty good. Just as I finished, Vinny opened my back door.
"Ronnie?"
"I know, I'm late. But I'm ready."
"I ain't worried about it."
We ate breakfast at Aldo's and then headed to Clinton Correctional Facility. We rode in silence at first but things livened up when Vinny put in some Dean Martin. We both sang every word to every song. When the tape finished we still had an hour to go. "So Ronnie, let me ask yas a question."
"Yeah."
"Do ya love Paulie as something more than a brudder?"
"I always have Vin."
"So why aren't yas together, and why are there no screaming bambinos wantin' their uncle Vin to take dem on a pony ride."
"I don't know." I sighed. "I do want that wit Paulie but, I don't know."
"You do know. You just don't want to say."
"I doubt that Paulie wants to."
"Why do you say dat."
"Vin, let's be real here. He's had the last 10 years to marry me if he wanted to. He hasn't done it or even brought it up."
"There mussbe somthin stoppin' him."
"Yeah, I'm what's stoppin' him."
"No, da booze is what's stoppin him."
"Vin, I drink because I'm unhappy. It makes me feel better so what's wrong wit it?"
"You do it too much Ronnie. Way too much."
"Vinny, ya aren't around all da time. Ya don't know."
"I'm not always around but I do know, and so does Gracie, and so does Paulie. That's what's stoppin' him."
"Vinny what the hell are ya talkin' 'bout?"
"I asked him why."
"When?"
"Yesterday."
"Why didn't you tell me that?'
"I forgot."
"Jesus Vin, he said that and now ya think he's gonna want to see me."
"Don't use the name of our Dear Lord in vain. That's why yas in so much trouble all the time. You cuss like a saila."
"Shut your mouth, Vinny."
"See there ya go again. Ya ain't much of a lady."
"Ya never had a problem with it before."
"The truth is, I love yas Ronnie, but you need to quit bein' such a party girl and be a good wife fo' Paulie."
"I can be a good wife and have a beer or 12 every now and again."
"Your definition of every now and again is different from mine."
"I know. Look Paulie deserves the best and it ain't me."
"You don't know that. I think you are the best for him and real happiness scares ya."
I glared at him, knowing perfectly well that he was right.
"Come Josephine, in my flying machine and up she goes." Kate Winslet was singing on the screen. I was swirling the ice in my drink cup and watching Paulie. He was half-asleep in the chair next to me. I nudged him.
"I'm up, I'm up."
"You didn't really want to see this movie."
          "Nonsense. I'm here for the company. We could be watchin Bambi for all I care." He sat up straight and put his arm around my shoulder.
          When the last credits rolled, Paulie whispered in my ear "Come home with me."
          I smiled. "Do you really want me to?"
          "I want to hold you." He gently kissed me on my lips and then my nose.
          There was something different about the way that he touched me that night. He was softer , less confident. When we got to the car, he opened my door for me. He had never done that before and it caught me off guard. I climbed in the Mustang and was trying to figure out what he was up to. He climbed in and started up the car. He reached for my hand and his intentions hit me like a semi. Not sure what else to do, I gave him my hand. He turned down a road that did not lead him to his house. "Where are we going Paulie?"
         "Wherever the road takes us."
         "Whaddya mean."
         "I have to tell ya somethin Ronnie."
          Nothing good ever started that way. My hands started to shake. Paulie applied more pressure while he was rubbing my hand with his thumb. "What?" My voice cracked.
          "I have to go away for a while, back to Italy."
          "Why?"
          "I can't tell anyone, not even you right now."
          "Does Vin know?"
          "No."
          "Then I don't want to know."
          "Okay."
          We drove on a little farther and wound up near a gorge. He pulled into the parking area. He lit a cigarette and handed it to me. I took a drag off it and was thinking for a minute. "Yes I do want to know. Why do you keep leavin me?"
         "Ronnie don't do this right now."
          "If not now den when?"
          "I dunno. I just don't see why you're acting like you miss me now when it comes right down to me leavin."
          "What da hell do ya mean?"
          "It takes me leavin' for you ta admit that you're gonna miss me."
          "If you don't know by now that I care about you den I don't know what to tell ya."
          "Don't go Paulie sounds real good to me. Or maybe I love ya Paulie."
          "Ya know I don't believe in that bullshit Paulie."
          "That's because your scared." He flicked his cigarette butt out of the the window and stared off into space. "Name me one time, Ronnie, that I have hurt you. Name me one time that I let you down." A tear fell down my cheek and I wiped it away. "That's right. There ain't never been a time and ya know it."
          I put my hands in front of my face. He pulled them down. "Don't hide from me. No matter what you do, I always see you."
          I leaned on his shoulder. "I love you Paulie."
          "Then be with me. Marry Me, have my babies. You say the word, I'm dun fuckin around. Whatever you want."
          "I can't."


          "Ronnie? We got 10 more miles."
          "Sorry, I blanked out for a minute."
          "I understand. I do that all da time." I started to rock back and forth in my seat."What's the matter for you?"
          "I have to pee."
          "Well, hold it. We're almost there."
          I didn't really have to pee. I was rocking back and forth because I was really nervous. I hated getting searched and I hated the way the prison smelled. I hated that I was this concious at 11 am. We would have gotten there closer to noon but Vinny sped like hell. When there is Dean Martin on the radio and sunshine in the sky--speed limits are unimportant. "Ey, Vin?"
          "Yes my dear."
          "Does Paulie really want to see me?"
          "I tells ya once, I tells ya twice, I'm not gonna tell yas three time, YES!" He shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Ya damn women are gonna be the death of ol' Vin."
          We pulled up to the gate and he greeted the Corrections officers. "Good mornin' Abe, How's the wife and kids."
          "Just fine Mr. Centriano. And who is this lovely gal we have here."
          "I wish I could claim her as my own. But this is Veronica Paulie's best girl."
          "Veronica, it is a pleasure to meet you."
          "Likewise."
          "Well. Mr. Centriano, Paulie seems to be doing very well. Nobody bothers him, and he doesn't bother nobody."
          "It is just a shame that Paulie is in here. One lousy fight wit Amos Raguzzi."
          "Well, I am sure that old Amos has gotten his fair of bad happenings too."
          "Is that so?"
          "Yes sir, he went for a swim in Lake Erie, and I'll be danged if some crocodiles in the Lake didn't eat his heart out."
          "Tragedy." said Vinny. "Remind me to send the widow some flowers on my way out." Vinny drove forward into his parking place. It was in the shade away from the road. "I told yas dat I got Paulie safe. Old Abe has a problem wit sharks if ya know what I mean."
          "Gambling debts."
          "No real sharks. He keeps them in the swimming pool in his back yard." He thumped my forhead. "Ronnie, ya gots to quit drinkin', you're gettin' dumber every day."
          "Vinny, you're an ass."
          "Shut yo mouth and let's go. Time's wasting."

          Vinny and I played a quick hand of rummy while we waited for Paulie to be brought in. I was sitting with my back towards the area where the inmates came in from. Paulie was allowed to have Honor Visits because he was a model Prisoner. The visits weren't that different from normal visits except that you could kiss and hug more than at the beginning and end of each visit, and there were no boards on the table. Before long I felt arms around my shoulders and lips on my cheek. "Hey beautiful."
          "Aww come on Paulie, you was always da pretty boy." Vinny laughed.
          "Hello Big brutha." Paulie said and shook his hand."I certainly wasn't callin' you beautiful." Paulie sat down next to me.
          "Paulie, yer breakin my heart." Vin said, putting his hand to his chest.
          Paulie smiled and kissed my forehead."Don't Paulie, I don't want you to get in trouble."
          "Babe, look at da desk." The guard was half asleep. "For da next 4 hours I can kiss you all I want unless he is opening the door for someone."
          "Did you buy him off so he wouldn't pay attention, Paulie?"
          "No, I bought him off." said Vinny.
          I laughed. "What am I gonna do with you two?"
          For the next hour or so Vinny and Paulie talked about their business. Basically saying "Well that thing is no longer a problem, because that person took care of it." I was playing Solitaire with the cards while they were talking. Paulie touched my leg under the table with his, he looked me square in the eyes when I looked up. My heart about leapt out of my chest. I smiled and looked back at my cards. "Vinny, have you talked to Papa about havin' a meetin' with me."
          "Yes I did Paulie. I must say, he is very disappointed in what you are proposing."
          "Vin, you know dat der is nothin dat I would do to hurt Daddy."
          "I know Paulie. I know yas wants what is best for ya and Ronnie."
          "Yeah I do too. If there is a me and Ronnie."
I slammed down the three cards in my hand.
          "What da fuck does dat mean?" I asked.
          "I'll tell ya in a minute just sit tight and keep yer voice down." I looked at the floor praying that this was not going to get ugly. I did not want to fight with Paulie. I did not want to feel any pressure. I just wanted to enjoy the 3 hours I had left before all of my hurt came back in my face. Paulie let Vinny finish and then he put his finger under my chin and made me look at him. "I have been doin alot of thinking. That is pretty much all that I have time to do anymore. Ronnie, I need to know once and for all why don't you love me."
         "Paulie I do love you. That is why I can't get involved with you. I couldn't bear the thought of losing you."
          "Ronnie, I cannot live this way anymore. I can't go on just dating strangers to hear the things from them dat I wanna hear from you. I can't watch you drink yourself to death because you're hurtin from some pain dat I can't protect ya from. I love you Veronica, I love you so much that it hurts my heart everytime you say you can't be wit me." I couldn't help it, tears started to go down my face. I didn't bother wiping them away. I put my head on the table. Paulie smoothed my hair and whispered "shh." into my ear.
         "Paulie, don't you have somethin else to tell her?"
          "I was gettin to dat. Hold yer horses Vin."
          "I want to hear what she has to say as bad as you do."
          "What Paulie, oh my god, what?
          "Ronnie, you have a very important choice to make right now. You can either be with me, title and all. Or it stops, no huggin, no fuckin, no more dates. As unfair as it sounds, I can't be your best friend because I love you."
          "What brought this about."
          "Too many long nights wantin my girl beside me." He rocked backwards in the chair."Ronnie, I ain't got nothin to come home to if I don't have you." He rocked forward and grabbed my hand. "I love you Ronnie, I don't wanna lose you. Please say you wanna be my girl for real."
          "Paulie, I have loved you since before I knew what love was. And for you to come off with ultimatums and threats just isn't fair. I'm gonna go to the bathroom. When I come out, I'll answer you. But I have to tell you, you haven't left me alot of options that I like." I stood up from the table and walked into the restroom.
          I splashed water on my face and looked at myself in the mirror. The water gathered around the scar on my cheek and it took me back to a place I didn't want to go.
          "Where were you?"
          "With Paulie."
         "I told you not to be around dat loser." My father's onyx ring cut my cheek as he punched me in my cheek.
         "Dad I didn't do anything STOP!" He hit me again and blood gushed out of my mouth.
         "Veronica Netti, we raised you not to be some gansta's whore." My mother's high pitched voice made the pounding in my head worse. My father hit me again and I fell to the floor.
          "Gangsta whore." My father's boot landed on four of my ribs."You're a disgrace."
         "Fuck you Dad." He kicked me in my face and my cheek bled more.
         "Slut!" He punched me in my head again.
          There was a knock at the door and my mother answered. "Hi Ronnie left her sweater--" I looked up and saw Paulie. My father saw him too and kneed me in my jaw. I yelped and Paulie jumped in his face. "Get off her, or you just breathed your last."
         "What do you think you are going to do Kid?" Paulie whistled and Vinny, Joey, and Biff all jumped the steps.
          "What's da problem Paulie?" Vinny asked."Oh I see, big man likes to beat up on his daughter." Joey and Biff ran to help me up. Biff tried to grab me up by my ribs. I screamed because it hurt so bad.
          "Get out you tramp." My mother yelled. "Don't ever come back either."
          "She won't ever be back you bitch." Vinny said. "Paulie go outside with Ronnie."
          "Vinny I can take of this."
          "Paulie this you don't want to see."
          "NO!" I screamed. "Vinny No! Let's just go come on please." Screaming hurt my chest so bad that I almost passed out.
          "Vinny, Paulie, she is hurt bad, she needs a docta." Joey said.
          I could see two shadowy figures standing fully erect in the doorway. "You touch her ever again, You'll be sorry." Vinny said.
          "You're lucky your daughter is so forgiving or you'd be dead." Paulie said. He walked down the stairs and sat in the backseat with me. I passed out four times on the way to the hospital. I had a concussion, 6 broken ribs, a broken nose, a broken arm, and internal bruising. My blood pressure kept dropping and I was in ICU for a week and in the hospital for 12 days.
         I pressed charges on my dad but it didn't matter because the next week he and my mother were dead. They were driving home from the bar and my father drove into a telephone pole. I went to the funeral with a cast on my arm, tape on my ribs, and not a tear in my eye. I knew that my family thought that I had put Paulie up to killing them. My Aunt Marianne came up to me and said "I pray for your soul Veronica." They all stared at me during the service and while they put them in the ground and they seemed to wonder why I didn't cry.
          Ever since that day I had wondered if Paulie or Vinny did have something to do with the death of my parents.


          I walked out into the visiting room with one question on my heart. A question that I should have asked all of those years ago. "I know I said I'd have an answer when I came out. But I have to know one thing before I can answer. Did you have anything to do with my parents' death."
         "What?" They both asked.
          "Don't lie to me because I'll know."
          "No." Paulie said looking me dead in the face. "I had nothing to do with it."
          "Vinny?" I asked. "And you?"
          "Ronnie, I had nothing to do with it. I am not sorry they are dead but I had nuthin to do wit it."
         "Paulie, I'm afraid that if I do this we will ruin everything."
          "It is a risk that you'd take if you loved me."
          I thought about it for a moment. I tried to imagine what my life without Paulie would be like and I couldn't. "You're right."
         I leaned across the table and kissed him. I looked into the brown eyes that always saw everything good in me and said "Then I guess ya got yourself a girl."


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