Authors: Gina Sorelle
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
Nathan Drazek slid his Hungry Man meatloaf dinner into the
microwave, pressed a few buttons, and stepped back. Arms crossed over his
chest, he watched the black, plastic tray slowly turn around and around.
He mentally ran through the “To Do” list he’d compiled last
night; ticking off each item until he was certain nothing had been left
Of course, it hadn’t been that extensive of a list:
picking up his uniforms from the dry cleaner, shining his work shoes,
circulating his sprinkler around and the front and back yards, and installing a
new radiator hose on the Denali. He’d also done his every-Saturday-afternoon
grocery shopping; stocking up on a week’s worth of TV dinners, orange juice,
and energy bars. He’d done a load of laundry, cleaned his already spotless
house, worked out and showered.
And it was only 2:30 p.m.
Three more hours…
The microwave beeped, Nathan removed the tray, and settled
in at the table. He peeled back the cellophane and ate in silence; staring
unseeingly out into his well-kept backyard.
It was a warm, sunny day, which meant people would be
wreaking more havoc than usual on the streets of East Cleveland – drinking,
brawling, loitering, soliciting, and pushing drugs. But as frustrating and
stressful as the job could sometimes be, Nathan loved it. He loved order, he
loved structure, and most of all he loved making the people on his beat feel a
little safer. His job was his life…his
life. And it was the
only thing he’d ever been remotely good at.
Well, other than keeping to himself and making people
uncomfortable with his quiet intensity.
Even with chewing slowly, eating the meatloaf, corn, and
mashed potatoes only took thirteen minutes. Another two minutes passed as he
threw the tray away, washed his fork and put it away, and gulped down a glass
of water. That washed and put away, Nathan considered how to spend the next
two and a half hours before his shift started.
He removed his cell from the charging station on his
kitchen counter and dialed.
“Hey, man, what’s up?” His partner, Danny McDonough,
“Nothing much. Just wondering if you wanted to hit the
court before work.”
Danny paused and Nathan heard a feminine giggle.
“Kinda in the middle of something here, D.” Nathan heard
another giggle and Danny grunted softly into the receiver. “Can I catch up
with you later?”
“Yeah. Sure. No problem. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Nathan didn’t wait for a response; hitting the “end” button and plugging his
phone back in.
He’d known Danny would probably be busy with his newest
conquest, but it had been worth a shot. Because, while some days the solitude
and silence were easier to take, other days Nathan felt like he was choking on
And today was one of those days.
Nathan laid out his uniform on the bed, arranged his
polished shoes on the floor, and removed his Glock from its holster on the
nightstand. He grabbed the cleaning kit out of his closet and headed to the
living room. The Glock was already perfectly clean, but it never hurt to be
thorough. Nathan turned on Sportscenter and watched highlights of the
Tigers/Indians game from last night.
Soon - thanks to the mindlessness of cleaning an already
cleaned gun and watching footage of a baseball game already watched – Nathan’s
mind started wandering.
He thought of the parole hearing he’d attended last week
and the board’s decision to revoke his father’s petition. He thought of how he
hadn’t received a phone call from his also-incarcerated little brother in a few
months…and how Nathan hadn’t gone to visit or sent a letter in even longer than
that. He thought of his mom and how devastated she would have been to see how
all of her boys ended up – in prison, dead, and/or dead inside.
Fortunately for Eileen Drazek, she wasn’t around to see any
of it and never would be. She’d been dead for eleven years; strangled to death
for daring to smile at the Fed-Ex man when he’d delivered a package to the
Nathan and his brothers hadn’t been able to save her from
her death at the hands of her father or all that had come before it. They
hadn’t been able to save themselves either.
But that was life. And a lot more people had it a lot
worse than Nathan had.
Pissed for allowing such unproductive and upsetting
thoughts to enter his mind, Nathan decided to go for a run. He’d still be
alone and he’d still have to battle the thoughts back into the Things That Made
No Fucking Sense mental trash can, but at least he’d be doing
And so he did just that; running for an hour in the 90
degree weather, taking yet another shower, and heading into work an hour
, Pops, it’s like 5000 degrees in here!”
Stella Ciaramitaro tossed her backpack and a bag of groceries onto the kitchen
counter and headed downstairs. “What are you doing down there, firing
Stella stepped off the last creaky basement stair, fanning
herself. “Seriously, Pops. You’ve gotta turn the air conditioner
on. I could hold a Bikram yoga class upstairs. I know you don’t
know what that is, but…
“Eh.” Pops waved her off from his favorite spot in
the world: a forest green recliner he’d acquired sometime during the Ford
administration. “What, you want me to be like the
Turning the house into an icebox ‘cause the sun came out?”
“Uh, no, but I would like to be able to visit without
worrying I’ll wind up with heat stroke.” Stella dropped in her mom’s old
chair (a perfect match to Pops’) and gestured to her father’s get-up.
“And the polyester pants, Pops. Come on, now, we’ve talked about
this. If you’re gonna cremate yourself down here, at least put on a pair
of shorts. It’s mid-June, for crying out loud.”
“Eh.” Pops turned his attention back to his
half-a-sandwich and a rerun of
; both sure signs this
conversation was over.
Stella stood and patted his shoulder. “Okay, but I’m
telling you, Gigi is gonna crank that air when she gets here.”
“You know, I wish you’d girls would get outta my hair with
this stuff. You’re driving me
.” Pops took a big ole
bite of his bologna sandwich, bald head shaking, and muttered, “Had to have
girls, didn’t I?”
Stella laughed as she headed back upstairs.
“Yep. And now you’re stuck with us, Pops. Nice going.”
She’d just hit the top step when he yelled out, “
voglio bene, Stell!”
Stella called back over her shoulder, “I know, Pops.
Love you too.” Under her breath, she added, “You nutball.”
She put a gallon of milk and some grated Romano in the
fridge and a loaf of bread in the cupboard before grabbing her backpack and
making her way to the bedroom she’d once shared with two of her four
sisters. Both cherry bunk beds were still made up with the faded pink
rosebud sheets and mismatched quilts from her childhood, but noticeably absent
were the boy band posters (that had driven her sister Kat nuts) and Kat’s
weirdo quartz collection (that had driven everyone else nuts).
Stella toed off her Converse and shimmied out of her jean
shorts, replacing them with standard-issue ER teal scrub bottoms and white
Nursemates. She pulled her tee shirt off and tossed it into her
And hated herself for the hesitation that followed.
Go ahead. Look. It’s okay to feel anxious, but
you still gotta look. Or it’s never gonna get easier.
Stella faced her mostly familiar reflection. Her hair
was still dark chestnut brown, albeit a little curlier. It was shorter
than she’d always worn it, but these things took time. Her skin tone had
reverted back to olive and she’d slowly crept up to a healthy weight. All
in all, she was looking pretty damn close to the old Maristella Josephine
Ciaramitaro she’d always been.
Stella’s dark brown eyes rested on the only thing woefully
out of place: a flesh-colored silicone insert stuffed into the bra cup
her left breast used to occupy.
It was impossible to decipher her uni-boob when Stella was
dressed, other than those times she was wrestling a detoxing or psychotic ER
patient and the prosthetic shifted. Or the one horrible time it popped
Thank God the other nurse, Mel, had a fabulously twisted
sense of humor. They’d actually tossed it back and forth a few times once
the patient’s sedation had kicked in.
Stella removed the insert and set it on the antique dresser
her mother had supposedly brought from the Old Country. How her
penniless, Italian immigrant of a mother had brought anything but the clothes
on her back from the Old Country was a mystery, but, then again, Francesca
Ciaramitaro had been a mysterious woman. Well, she had tried to be,
anyway. Mostly she had just been a warm, witty goofball.
Stella undid the front clasp and pushed both black bra cups
The whole drama surrounding her missing breast still blew
Stella’s mind. She was a
. A health care professional. And
as such, she should have been able to view her unilateral mastectomy like any
other lifesaving procedure. All her surgeon Dr. Aboud, had removed was a
bunch of cancer cells, fat, and some extraneous skin…nothing that should have
made any difference.
made a difference. A big one.
Because, as Stella was learning through therapy, it wasn’t really about the
missing breast. It was about what all those cells and skin signified.
And she couldn’t even reconsider reconstructive surgery until her body completely
healed from all of the radiation-induced cellulitis and skin damage.
And so here they all were – one big, happy family:
Stella, her uniboob, and her overactive brain...slogging through. Getting
by. Patience had never been Stella’s strong suit, but Stage III invasive
ductal carcinoma and psychological healing didn’t really give a shit, so going
was slow. But steady. Oh, and she was
. And as
long as that remained true, Stella had faith everything else would eventually
fall into place.
She applied some Mederma to the scar and put her bra/fake
boob back on. Right after she slipped her scrub top over her head, her
cell rang. Stella dug it out of the backpack and wedged it between her
ear and shoulder. “Hey, Nina, what’s up?”
“Eddie put his hands on Fi again.” Stella’s second
oldest sister, Nina, sounded incredibly pissed, which was right where Stella
was in two seconds flat.
“What? When did that happen? I thought she was done
“A couple of hours ago, I guess. He showed up at
their apartment while Kat was at work.”
Stella’s inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly in an attempt to
lower her blood pressure and curb the adrenaline surging through her blood
stream. Through gritted teeth, she said, “What are we doing about this,
Nina? I need a plan. Because right now all I can think about is
driving over there and tearing him limb from limb.”
“I know. I feel the same way. But we can’t.”
“Can you and Jay go over there and scare him?” Stella
“Honestly, Stell, I’m afraid to go over there.
Because if that idiot looks at me sideways, I swear to God I’ll kill him.”
“Do it! And then claim he resisted talking to you or
Nina snorted. “Resisting talking to a police officer
is not an excuse for fatal force, babe. Sorry.”
“What does Carla think?”
Carla, Nina’s wife of nine years, was a social worker in
Cleveland, which was almost as dangerous as being a cop. They had two
adorable little girls, Sam and Gabby, they’d adopted from Guatemala and a nice
little two story in North Collinwood.
“Carla’s vote is for an ass-kicking, which tells you
something. She’s normally all ‘let’s talk this out,’ but not where this
kind of shit is concerned.” Nina paused and Stella knew she was running a
hand through her short, dark, spiky hair. “She asked if Jay and I could
talk to him too. Like I said, I can’t handle it and Jay is my partner, so
he shouldn’t be involved. But maybe I could get some of the other guys to
talk to him.”
“Where’s Fi? Is she okay? What exactly
happened?” Stella pulled her iPhone away to check the time and grabbed
“I don’t know the details yet, just that Eddie manhandled
her. Fi’s at my place with Carla, Kat, and the girls. She’s pretty
shaken up, but she was afraid to tell you because she knows you’ll wig
out. But I promised her you wouldn’t do anything stupid, Stell.
Gigi and her three boys – Carlo, Gianni, and Anthony – came
through side door and into the kitchen as Stella came in from the hallway.
“Listen, Gigi and the boys just walked in and I have to get
to work. I’ll call you after I get off tonight,” Stella said, giving each
of her nephews a quick side hug.