The first time you see Vincent Mancini you're 8, he's 15. It's at a wedding of someone unrelated to you but who still calls your father “uncle.” You're twirling around in a corner, singing along to the hired band's hits of 1961, and Vincent is standing alone, sipping someone's discarded glass of champagne. You overhear one of the older boys make a remark about him you don't understand. Then you see Vincent hold something small and sharp against that boy’s back, whisper something into that boy's ear, and then that boy turns red and quickly leaves the reception. When you ask your aunt who he is, she says under her breath, “That's your Uncle Sonny’s boy. Stay away from him.” Your heart races.
You have a few boyfriends over the years, but none of them fill you with that same mixture of dread and excitement that Vincent did. You’re 26 before you feel that again, when your father takes Vincent into the family, and suddenly you find yourself wanting to be more Corleone again instead of Adams.
At first you two spend time alone trading secondhand stories about your family. You were too young and he was too outcast to know much about the old days. By now the Corleones are more myth than reality to you, but not to Vincent, who has held on to his tenuous connection to your grandfather's legacy with everything a bastard would ever be allowed. Sometimes you feel sorry for him, having grown up rough in Newark instead of pampered and protected in Nevada. But then he'll smile crookedly at you, say something in Italian that you should probably understand, and you forget why you'd ever felt bad for him.
He owns a nightclub…rather, he holds court at the nightclub, and everyone there gives him respect, and he comes and goes as he pleases. Who actually owns and runs the place, you suspect you'll never know. But it's a place he'll usually make appearances at in the day, when it's quiet, and you two can have a meal together without being interrupted.
You feel safe with Vincent. When you two walk down the street together, his eyes move from yours to the surroundings, always watching, always vigilant. You like the way his large hand feels against your back when he helps you into cars. You like that, even though he’s your first cousin, he doesn’t feel like a relation at all...and yet he does.
Asked if it’s true if he killed men who broke into his apartment, Vincent shrugs bashfully, doesn’t admit anything. When you ask if that whore reporter Grace Hamilton was really with him that night, Vincent drops the smile, mutters “Don’t you worry about that, sweetheart,” and offers you a taste of handmade pasta from his fingertips. You suck his fingers into your mouth, accidentally. He licks his lips.
The insight Vincent has into your background, to your family, is more than just interesting to you—it's intoxicating. You talk about how you love and resent your father; he talks about duty and legacy and how your grandfather wanted Michael to be a senator or a governor. How Vincent, growing up on the outskirts, having never met his own father, knows so much about your family secrets, you don't know, won't ask. Just listening to him explain as he cooks and stares at you with his impossibly large brown eyes is lesson enough.
You make up excuses to come into the city and see him: you need a guide to get to know New York all over again, you're doing research for the foundation in your grandfather's name, or you're jonseing for his homemade gnocchi. If you can find him, he always drops what he's doing to accommodate you. When you show up and he's not around, you don't let yourself think about what he's doing or with whom.
You start to look forward to family gatherings for the first time in years. Your mother mentions the constant smile you have on your face. Your brother kids that you're hogging your cousin, pulls Vincent away to talk opera with him. Your father watches you, stone faced.
It's not flirting if it's your cousin, you tell yourself. Still, you hear your voice going higher, and you flip your hair a lot more than you used to.
There's things going on in the family that they won't tell you. Dangerous things that remind you of the time when you were little, when you moved around a lot, when your parents were fighting, and when Uncle Fredo died. When you ask your father for honesty, he talks about protecting you, and you resent it. But when Vincent says he will do anything in his power to protect the family, to protect you, it makes you warm all over.
He tells you he missed growing up with you, with all his cousins. You want to say the same, but you it's not true. The cousins you knew growing up turned out to be either stiff businessmen who changed their last names before law school or dangerous roughneck guys that ended up in prison or worse. If you'd known Vincent growing up, he would be familiar to you now. He wouldn't make your stomach flutter now. You wouldn't be having disturbing dreams about him now.
New outfit and new lingerie on, you go into the city and head straight for Vincent's nightclub. He's alone, like you knew he would be. He's making gnocchi, you're favorite. You ask him to show you how to roll it. He does. When he's got you against the table, his arms surrounding you, both of your hands covered in flour, you accidently tell him you love him. He says it back. It doesn't feel taboo at all to say it, or to show it. When you kiss it doesn't feel like kissing a long lost cousin, but a long lost love you should have been loving all your life.
You kiss for the longest time. When he takes you to his bed, he's hesitant at first. He starts to say something, but you cover his protestations with your fingers. You look at your clasped hands—they don't look similar at all. Sometimes you wonder if he's really Uncle Sonny's son at all. Then you make love, and you decide you really don't care.
Anthony stands up to your father, telling him he intends to drop out of law school to become an opera singer. Your father balks at first, but your mother somehow makes him accept it. This gives you hope that your parents will be tolerant of your choices.
You look forward to the trip to Palermo for your brother's operatic premiere. You imagine taking drives with Vincent, having a picnic way out in a country villa, someplace beautiful. You can even imagine holding his hand in public, far away from anyone who would know you.
You even wonder what it would be like if you lived there permanently, as Mary Mancini.
As much as you'd been dreading it, the moment your family confront you about Vincent, you are surprisingly calm. Your father is characteristically stubborn, and your brother takes his side. It upsets you that they don't see how good this is, but you know your father will come around. He loves you—he gave his kids up to your mother because that was best for you. You just have to show him that this is what's best for you now.
Palermo is busier than you'd thought. You hardly see Vincent at all. You hang out in his room in the villa, and you overhear men saying things in Italian that you should really by now understand. There's more security around the family all of a sudden. That has nothing to do with Vincent, you decide.
The one time you two have alone before the premiere, you revel in Vincent's kisses, and you think about asking about your future, yours and his. You think the better of it, though. He is loyal and protective and sensitive, but he's a man. He'll want to take his time. He's not ready, like you are. And you know he'd be right—you have all the time in the world.
Your world comes crashing down while you're wearing an uncomfortable taffeta dress.
Vincent tells you it's over at the opera, where you're surrounded by people, where you can't make a scene, where he can't hold you and tell you it's going to be ok. He says it's his decision, not your father's, but his eyes are red when he says it. You know he loves you, and you can't think of what could be more important to him than you.
He tells you to love somebody else.
You can barely see the opera for the tears in your eyes. Vincent sits behind you, ever watchful, still protective, but now you wonder if what he's been protective of all along is his place in your father's heart, not yours.
You wonder if all the rumors you've heard your entire life about your father, your family, are true after all.
Still, you're not going to give up without a fight. You are a Corleone after all. Your grandfather would want you to fight…even for this.
At the end, you make the decision. You're going to go out there and tell your father—beg your father not to keep Vincent from you. He loves you, and he'll never want to stand in your way. He just doesn't understand what it is to lose someone, not like this. You're sure of it. You just have to make your way through the crowds and the security and tradition and pride to get to your father, and then you'll make him see. You'll make your father understand, and then he'll make Vincent take you back, and then everything will be fine.
You dry your eyes and go to where your father and the love of your life are, on the opera house steps. You'll make this happen if it's the last thing you ever do.
© April 20, 2018 by KTA