Clint went to open the door for the third time, then stepped back. His heart pounded, he could feel the sweat starting to bead on his forehead and he was sure he was going to hyperventilate. Every time he started to go into Phil Coulson’s office, his courage flew.
“Goddamn it,” Clint muttered under his breath. He’s a fucking kicking ass and taking names SHIELD agent.
In the years he had known Phil, the older agent had been not only his mentor, but also best friend and aside from Natasha, practically family. It’s just been in the last few, after more close calls and near deaths between him and Phil, the relationship had intensified. Hell, Clint loved him.
Now, Clint was nearly ready to take that step. He was positive (about 72%) that Phil would return the feelings. At the very least, Clint was sure Phil wouldn’t reject him outright. He could take being let down easy. Well, maybe not, but the hurt would pass, he hoped.
Phil knew everything about him except for the one secret that not even Natasha was privy to. Hell, everyone knew he was gay as the day was long. Clint could flaunt it like a drag queen and still be as Rambo as any other hardcore field agent.
But this, this one thing, his most treasured secret he had to be willing to share with Phil before taking that next step. There were a long list of reasons why he’d kept it to himself, but if he was going to open up his heart and soul to Phil Coulson, he wanted the man to know everything. No secrets.
“Okay,” Clint mumbled again. He took a deep breath, steeled himself and went inside.
“Hey,” Phil said with a hint of smile. He never got tired of Clint’s saunter and then the inevitable plop on the well-worn sofa.
“Hi.” Clint stretched out and linked his fingers behind his head. He was sure he looked pretty casual.
“What’s on your mind?”
Clint blinked. How does he do that?
“A few things. Everyone gone for the holidays?”
Phil went back to the computer. “All except for the agents willing to work through them. If it gets any quieter around here, SHIELD may need to change its name.”
“Guess even the bad guys want Christmas off.”
“So?” Phil prodded.
“You got plans?”
Without looking up at Clint, Phil answered, “My sister and her family are going to her in-laws. I have a stack of books and DVR’d several tacky reality shows to catch up on.” He glanced over. “You?”
“Well, it’s why I came. I’m driving over to Camden for Christmas. Want to come?”
Phil resumed his work. “What’s in Camdon?”
Clint hesitated a moment before answering. “An uncle.”
That got Phil’s attention. “What did you say?”
After sitting up, Clint continued. “More like a great uncle, on my mom’s side.”
“I thought you didn’t have any living family other than your brother.”
“I kinda hid that from SHIELD, Phil,” Clint guiltily answered.
“I was two years into my prison stint when you found me. My brother is working on his 10 year for bank robbery. The old man was in and out of jail before he died. My uncle did time, too. See the pattern?”
“You were ashamed?”
“That and I figured SHIELD would think I was a security risk being from a jailbird family and all.”
Phil leaned back and studied Clint. He could understand it, but it wouldn’t have made a difference. Clint’s always been touchy about his family and Phil never pressed him.
“None of it changes the fact you’re one of SHIELD’s top agents. Why the invite, Clint?”
“He’s important to me, Phil, and I want you to meet him.”
It was one of the most touching things Phil had ever heard coming from Clint. He was opening up a part of his life that Phil didn’t know existed.
“I’d love to go. Thank you.”
Seeing the child-like relief on Clint’s face made Phil smile. He wanted to reach out and pull him close as thanks for the trust.
Clint got to his feet, started for the door, stopped and spun around. “Oh, tomorrow we can leave about noon? Is that okay?”
“Sure. How long are we staying?”
“Two nights okay?”
“Absolutely.” Christmas with Clint sounded perfect.
“I’ll pick you up.”
If Clint wasn’t such a badass, he would’ve skipped out of Phil’s office.
With two hours to go until Clint arrived, Phil sorted through his clothes attempting to determine what would be acceptable. He should’ve asked Clint for specifics, but with the excitement of spending a first holiday with him, it had been forgotten. Wanting to impress Clint’s uncle almost felt like he was meeting the father of a potential beau.
Phil closed his eyes and sighed. No, he couldn’t allow himself to think of it that way. As much as he cared and loved Clint, he wasn’t about to violate the precious trust that had been built between them over the years.
The knock at the door got him back to the here and now. Phil answered the door and was surprised to see Clint.
“I thought you said noon.”
Clint walked in and nervously rubbed his face. “I know, but then I realized we never really talked about the visit. Have you packed, yet?”
“I was in the process.”
Before Phil could say another word, Clint hurried to the bedroom. Phil followed and watched him looking through the clothes on the bed. He picked up the two suits still on hangers and set them back in the closet.
“That’s out of the question. T-shirts, sweaters are okay. A button down might be alright, but you probably have only got the office ones.” Clint turned. “Jeans, sneakers…shit, you probably don’t own sneakers, do you?”
“As a matter of fact, I do, Clint. What do you think I work out in?”
“Are you that worried I won’t make a good impression?”
“It’s not that. It’s the kind of impression I don’t want you to make.”
“And what would that be?”
Clint hedged, bit his lip before talking. “The G-Man kind of impression.”
“He doesn’t like feds, which we’re not.”
Clint stepped closer. “Phil, you gotta admit, you wear G-Man like it’s a second fucking skin.”
“Okay,” Phil said looking at the clothes on the bed. “I’ll dress working class.”
“Thing is, you will have to bring a suit for midnight mass.”
“He is and he’s determined to ‘brainwash all the protestant out of me’ as he says. So, when I’m there, we go to mass.”
“But not one of my suits, I take it.” Clint shook his head. “Explain to me why he dislikes government agents so much.”
Phil folded his arms. “We’ve got two hours.”
Clint sighed and stuffed his hands in his jean pockets. “My uncle used to be an important man in back in the seventies and early eighties. You see, Phil, he was trying to help Camden. The economy was shit. He was so desperate that he got conned into a scheme to bribe some politicians.”
“Abscam,” Phil whispered.
“I think that’s what the press called it. Anyway, he was told by someone he considered a friend that it was legit. My uncle brought in the politicians and money got passed. He never took a dime for himself. It was about saving his city. The people he trusted fucked him over, he was disgraced and arrested. Spent nearly two years in a federal pen.”
“Clint, who is your uncle?”
“Carmine Polito,” he roughly answered.
“He was the mayor of Camden,” Phil remembered. “The operation was nearly entrapment.”
“Well, Uncle Carmine was sure the Feds would do right by him. Instead, they wanted the good press and hung him out to fucking dry. He lost everything, Phil. His wife died of cancer and his kids moved away. I’m all he’s got.”
“Thank you for telling me. I know it wasn’t easy for you.”
“I told him I work security and you’re a coworker. It’s as close to the truth as I could get, but I’m pretty sure he knows it’s bullshit. Could never get much past him.”
Phil smiled a little. “Then let’s do our best. We’ll stop off on the way for less G-man type clothing.”
Clint’s eyes lifted in hope. “You’re not changing your mind after everything I told you?”
“Of course not. He’s your uncle, Clint. I can’t wait to meet him.”
“Thanks, Phil.” Clint felt like he could breathe easier. “Your coming means a lot.”
After fighting their way through last minute shoppers, Phil bought an acceptable pair of black slacks, midnight blue button down shirt and a charcoal jacket to match. Clint nearly lost the ability to speak once Phil came out of the dressing room. The blue eyes were sharp, bright. The pants showed off much more than what the standard office suit did. Clint hoped Phil didn’t catch him checking out his ass.
They got on the road and merged with the rest of cars who were attempting to get out of the city as well. What was supposed to be a two hour drive, turned into four with traffic backed up slowing to a crawl.
Clint got on the phone and dialed his uncle to explain the delay. It would work out. Dinner would be ready by then. Had it been snowing, it would have been much later.
Phil wasn’t sure what to expect when he pulled into the drive up to the garage. It was a small nondescript house with fading paint, perfectly trimmed bushes that had lost their leaves prior to winter and a plain wooden porch with only a chair sitting in the corner.
He glanced at Clint as they went to the trunk and retrieved their belongings. Other than the small nervous shake of his hand, the younger agent appeared outwardly calm. Phil knew better.
They started towards the door and it came open. Phil was stunned. If he didn’t know better, this was a Clint in his seventies. The grey hair was expected, but the man had Clint’s eyes, nose and mouth. It was a startling likeness.
“Uncle Carmine.” Clint set his bag down and hugged his uncle. “It’s great to see you.”
“You’re skinny as hell.” Carmine tightened his hold briefly and then released him. “This him?”
Phil stepped forward and held out his hand. “Mr. Polito.”
Carmine shook it. “Carmine’s the name, son. I expect you to use it.”
No one had made Phil feel like saying ‘sir’ more than Carmine did at this moment. The man was sizing him up. “Yes, Carmine. Thank you for allowing me…”
“Enough of that,” Carmine interrupted. “I already like you.”
Carmine held the door open while Clint and Phil brought their things inside. The living room furniture had to be at least twenty years old by Phil’s estimation. A small tree with a minimal amount of decorations sat in the corner. The room was warmed by the fire. Phil appreciated the simplicity.
“This place has only got two bedrooms and a bath.” Carmine expected them to follow and he opened the bedroom door. “Only one bed. You two can work out the sleeping arrangements. Supper’ll be ready in half an hour.”
Once he was gone, Clint let out a sigh of relief. He set his bag on the bed and opened it.
“He’s blunt,” Phil commented.
“He likes you,” Clint grinned.
“Are you sure?”
“Well, yeah. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have said it.” Clint took out the dress clothes for midnight mass and hung them in the closet. “I can take the couch and you’ll get the bed.”
“Nonsense.” Phil started unpacking as well. “The couch looks horrendously uncomfortable. We’ll share the bed. It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Those were ops, Phil.”
“Even though we’re off the clock, I’m pulling rank.”
“Fine, but I won’t promise no kicking.” Clint got his phone out. “I should call Nat. Make sure her and Pepper haven’t broken Paris.”
“She’ll be sleeping,” Phil warned.
Clint grinned cheekily. “She loves me. She won’t care.”
“It’s your life.” Phil finished unpacking while Clint spoke with a sleepy Natasha.
When they finished, both headed to the eat-in kitchen and Clint’s eyes widened at the food.
“Uncle Carmine, you fixed enough for a small garrison.”
“And you usually eat enough for five,” Carmine remarked as he uncorked the wine. “Sit down the both of you.”
“This looks delicious,” Phil commented. “Is that chicken saltimbocca?”
Carmine poured wine in each of the glasses. “You know your food.”
“It was years ago at a little seaport on the coast of Italy. I haven’t had anything close to it since.”
Phil wasn’t going to tell the man about that particular Op. He had been undercover for weeks tracking an illegal arms route.
Clint didn’t hesitate to dive into the food. He lifted his plate and began filling it. “Uncle Carmine can match any Italian chef in the city, even better probably.”
After Phil dished his own food, he took a bite and sighed at the taste. It was as perfect Italian as it could get. He suddenly realized why it felt familiar aside from the mission in Italy.
“Clint, your uncle taught you to cook?”
“It’s kind of a requirement in Italian families, or so I’m told.” Clint glanced at his uncle who had a small hint of pride on his face.
“No respectable Italian doesn’t know how to cook,” Carmine informed Phil. “At least that’s how it was in my day. Clint’s forgiven for the oversight since he was so eager to learn.”
“He’s always managed to put together some great meals since I’ve known him,” Phil offered. He was already almost half finished with his plate. Phil eyed the remaining food and then Clint. Seeing him so relaxed, being himself, was a pleasure in itself.
“Mr. Coulson, are you a church going man?”
Phil used the napkin on the corners of his mouth. “Call me, Phil, please. I’m more of a synagogue type. Jewish.”
“Got an opinion on us Catholics?”
“Uncle Carmine,” Clint chided.
“It’s alright, Clint,” Phil assured him. “My belief is that since our perspective religions were born within reach of each other, we’re intrinsically connected. It would be a disservice to both mine and yours were I to focus on the differences and not the similarities. There is much in common which I think we both respect despite the distinctions. Am I wrong?”
That was when Phil was mildly surprised at Carmine’s laugh. It was almost like Clint’s and his heart warmed.
“You’d make for a hell of a politician, Phil,” Carmine remarked.
“Not likely. I just think there are more important things in the world to fight over.”
Carmine raised his glass. “Now, that is something to toast.”
Phil, Clint and Carmine tapped their glasses.
“You come with me and Clint to mass, I promise to not convert you.” Carmine had a twinkle in his eye when he said, “Can’t promise Mabel Henry won’t make a go at you.”
During the meal it was determined they’d have to stagger the showers before mass. Afterwards, Carmine filled both sinks while Phil left for his shower. He tossed a towel at Clint. As Carmine washed, Clint dried and put the dishes away.
“You’re not going to be like this the entire visit?” Clint asked as he dried a plate.
“Like what?” Carmine hid his grin.
“Like overprotective father sizing up the boyfriend.” Clint leaned a hip against the counter. “Which he’s not.”
“I’ve got a right to know about the man you work with in your not-spy job, Clint. He’s more than capable of handling himself.”
“Come on, Uncle Carmine,” Clint protested.
“Now, kid, I’ve been around long enough to know what gun callouses feel like. Don’t bullshit a bullshitter like me.”
The corners of Clint’s mouth lifted. “Well, I can’t tell you much of anything.”
“Course not. I don’t expect you to.” Carmine handed off another dish. “How long have you had it for Phil Coulson?”
Clint straightened and leaned in, his face tight with anxiety. “Shit, Uncle Carmine. Can you say it any louder?” He whispered not hiding the panic in his voice.
The low chuckle from Carmine got Clint to relax a little. After his uncle dipped the pot in the water, rinsing off the soap, he took it.
“A little while…a few years maybe.” Clint sighed. “Six years.”
Now, that got Carmine’s attention. “What the hell are you waiting for, kid? An invitation to the ball?”
“It’s complicated.” This visit was to make that step in confessing his feelings to Phil, but Clint was already having second thoughts.
“Well,” Clint said as he put the pot away under the counter. “Look at him, Uncle Carmine. Phil is so out of my league. He went to Columbia, for crying out loud. His family is the Boston Coulsons, to hear everyone else tell it.”
“Is that all?” It was more of a statement than a question.
“You don’t get it. I’m an ex-con carnie trash. I’m the guy they hire to take out the trash as long as I don’t step onto their fucking white pristine floors.”
Carmine stopped what he was doing and got in Clint’s face. “Don’t you ever talk like that about yourself, Clint. Not in this house. You’ve no idea how good of a kid you are. People say we look alike and maybe they’re right, but where it counts is in here.” Carmine put his hand on Clint’s chest. “You’ve got a good soul and that right there makes you worth ten times anybody who’d think you’re beneath them. Phil Coulson sure as hell doesn’t. I saw that for myself when I met him.”
Clint was speechless. He watched his uncle turn back to the sink and clean the last of the dishware before setting in the water.
“Yeah, okay,” Clint said. He wanted to hug his uncle for thinking so much of him and for chasing away most of his self-doubts.
“First time I saw your Aunt Dolly, I damn near proposed on the spot. She was that beautiful, not just on the outside, but in her soul, too. Since she passed on, I make a point of talking to her at least twice a day. I miss that woman like hell and I’d give anything for another minute with her, Clint.” Carmine took the towel from Clint and dried his hands. “I know why you brought Phil here. I’m old as fuck, but I’m not blind.” He touched Clint’s cheek with his knuckle. “Don’t wait to tell him how you feel.”
Clint had nothing to say to that and it was all he thought about the rest of the evening and the words stayed with him even through mass. He’d tell Phil soon, eventually.
As per familial tradition, Carmine, Phil and Clint returned home from midnight mass, wound down with hot cocoa and cookies. The first contagious yawn came from Clint and then it was Phil. When Carmine followed suit, it was decided sleep was next on the agenda.
As soon as Phil and Clint were in the bedroom, Clint sat on the bed and the loud squeak had him nearly covering his eyes.
“Shit,” Clint ground out. “I forgot about this thing. The springs are probably depression era.”
Phil smirked at seeing Clint’s flushed face. “We’ll manage.”
“It reminds me of the hostel in Berlin.” Clint eased off the bed careful not to make a sound. “The bed in the next room sounded like a seal in labor.”
“And all night, too.” Phil slid off his jacket before putting it on a hangar. He started to unbutton his shirt. “You’re still not thinking about sleeping on that couch, are you?”
“No,” Clint sighed. He began the process of undressing. “I should really talk Uncle Carmine into letting me buy him a new sofa.”
“Think he’ll let you?”
“Maybe. He can be stubborn as hell about his old shit.”
Phil toed his shoes off and kicked them to the dresser. “Who can blame him? It harkens back to a time when he was happiest, I think.”
“You’re right. He’s told a lot of stories about the early days with his wife and kids.” Clint had his shirt off and was stuffing it in his bag not intending to wear it again for the remainder of the visit.
“They blame him for what happened?”
“Partly. It tore everything apart and then Dolly getting sick didn’t help any. Dominic went into the Army and hasn’t been back since. He sends a postcard sometimes. Francis moved to Florida. Elizabeth is in Tuscon and Lorna married some broker in London. Doreen, Uncle Carmine’s youngest, was killed in a car accident eight years ago. If she was alive, she would’ve stayed.”
After fishing out sweat pants, Phil looked at Clint. “How well do you know them?”
“I met Doreen twice.” Clint stripped down to his boxers and searched the bag for his toothbrush. “She was a nurse and saw good in everyone she met. It never made sense that her brothers and sisters turned their backs on him.”
“Doesn’t to me, either.”
Clint couldn’t argue that. When he finished in the bathroom, Phil went. By the time he returned, Clint was turning the covers down on the bed. Phil got in first with a minimal amount of noise. When it was his turn, Clint grimaced with every squeal of the bed as he moved to get comfortable.
They both settled, flat on their backs looking up at the ceiling. Neither spoke for nearly five minutes.
“You usually shift positions on average four times before finally getting comfortable,” Phil observed.
“As often as we’ve slept in the same bed over the years, Phil, I’m slightly concerned you’ve taken note of that.”
“That’s because I can’t sleep until I know you’re asleep.”
“It doesn’t make it any less disturbing.”
“I had a good time today, Clint.”
“Even Mabel Henry’s boulder sized hints of the sad life you’re living as a single Jewish man?”
Phil smiled a little. “That was one of the highlights. Your uncle is an interesting man. I like him.”
Mindful of the kitchen conversation, Clint said, “He knows, Phil. I mean not everything, but he’s got the gist of what we do.”
“Clint, have you considered talking to him about moving to the city to be closer to you?”
Clint nearly rolled his eyes. “I have and trust me, that is one subject I will never bring up again. I might as well have been asking him to give up both lungs.”
“That bad, huh.”
“Camden’s his home, Phil. He’ll never leave it.” Clint could feel his fingers brushing Phil’s knuckles and he didn’t want to break the small contact. “Dolly’s buried here, too. He won’t leave her.”
“He really loved her from the sounds of it.”
“Yeah,” Clint whispered. “He still does.”
He’d tell Phil. Clint was sure of it, but not tonight. How could he say it without coming across like an idiot? Closing his eyes, he considered just sending a note through Natasha telling Phil to check yes or no.
Phil woke first. He looked over at Clint who had shifted to his side facing towards him. It took everything in him to not cup his cheek and kiss him awake. He was careful to slip out of bed and dressed in jeans and a comfortable sweater. A quick check outside showed newly fallen snow.
When Phil walked into the kitchen, Carmine was sprinkling powdered sugar across a star-like pastry.
“That looks delicious.” Phil poured a cup of coffee and inhaled the rich aroma.
“My mother used to make it when I was a kid. It’s called nadalin. Every Christmas morning, we woke up the smell. They say to make it five days ahead, but Mama liked it right out of the oven. I never have been able to get it quite right.”
At hearing the shuffling, Phil and Carmine looked to see a sleepy-headed Clint making his way in the kitchen. Phil handed his cup to Clint and poured another one for himself.
“What time is it?” Clint asked with a yawn.
“Almost eight,” Phil answered.
After taking in coffee and breakfast, the three went to the living room. Under the tree sat two wrapped gifts in addition to plain envelopes.
Clint didn’t hesitate to hand one of the packages over to Phil.
“You better rip that paper like you’re eight-years-old, Phil,” Clint warned with a half smile.
Phil did and under the paper was a beautiful wooden case. He lifted the lid and his mouth opened in shock. Nothing could have surprised Phil more. He lifted a carved chess piece out and admired the workmanship.
“My god, Clint.” Phil was in awe.
“The kid spent the better part of eight months working on that set,” Carmine bragged.
“You made this?” Clint blushed and nodded.
“You’ve said more than once you never get enough time to play and I didn’t see one at your place. Uncle Carmine let me use his shop out back.”
Running his hand over the various pieces, Phil was moved at how much time and care went into each one.
“It folds out,” Clint told him. “The chess board is built into the case. Uncle Carmine showed me how.”
“Thank you, Clint. I don’t know what to say.”
The beaming smile on Clint’s face warmed Phil. He wanted nothing more than to take Clint in his arms in gratitude and love. Phil carefully closed the case.
“We’ll definitely make time for this,” Phil promised. He reached over and picked up one of the envelopes and gave it to Clint.
Curious, Clint slid open the flap and took out two tickets. He read them and then his eyes widened.
“La Bohéme at the Metropolitan Opera.” Clint gazed at Phil. “These are damn near impossible to get.”
“I called in a favor before we left,” Phil simply replied. “I thought you and your uncle would enjoy going.”
“Puccini,” Carmine stated. “The man was a beyond a genius. It’s more than an opera, Clint. It’s an experience. Your Aunt Dolly and I saw it every chance we got. You and Phil should go.”
“But Uncle Carmine…”
Carmine held up his hand. “You’ll know what I mean when you see it.”
There was no use arguing with him and Clint looked to Phil. “You want to?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
“Yeah, okay.” As much as he loved his uncle, he couldn’t wait to see his first opera with Phil.
Clint grabbed the envelope and handed it to his uncle. “You’re next.”
“Told you not to get me anything,” Carmine grumbled. He took it and pulled out a plane ticket. He flipped it open and smiled. “Paris?”
“Well, you said you wanted to see what the fuss was about over the Mona Lisa,” Clint explained.
“Personally, I think she’s overrated,” Phil told him. “But Da Vinci’s other works are well worth the plane trip, not to mention the Louvre.”
“Jesus, Clint.” Carmine shook his head. “Don’t think I want to go without my nephew.”
Relieved, Clint smiled. “The dates are open on the ticket. Maybe we can go in the spring.”
“You got it.” Carmine rubbed the imagined dust from his eye and pointed to the final package under the tree. “Get to it, kid.”
After a glance at his uncle, Clint picked it up and set it on his knees. He ripped off the paper and discovered a leather-bound photo album. Clint opened to the first page.
A large photo of a family happy smiled at the camera. Clint stared at his own likeness even knowing it was his uncle.
“That was taken in ’76 during the Bicentennial. We spent the entire day and half the night at Liberty State Park when it opened,” Carmine explained.
Clint flipped through several more pages studying the pictures with Carmine as he reminisced about those days so long ago. He stopped at another page when he saw his uncle standing next to a little girl with blond hair.
“Yeah,” Carmine told Clint. “Your mom and me. 1970, I think. She was about 13 there.”
“You never showed me this before.” Clint was stunned at not just how much alike he and his uncle looked, but seeing his mother had his chest thick with emotion.
“When I figured out what to give you for Christmas, I went searching through all the old photos. Found this and a few others I forgot about. Made some copies and put the album together. I thought you’d like it.”
“God, yeah. I never saw a picture of Mom as a kid before.”
“Your mom was always a stunner,” Carmine remembered. “They never got back this way much, but when they did, we spent a lot of time talking. She was always full of questions.”
After turning through a few more pages, Clint stopped at another one with his parents, Barney and himself as a baby.
“Your mom and Harry made it here once. I think it was ’77 that year. We went to Battery Park for the day.”
Clint went to the next page and stilled. A much younger Carmine sat at a picnic table holding a baby with a huge smile on his face. The baby had a hold of his finger.
Carmine cleared his throat before talking. “We met when you were a baby, Clint. It was the first and only time I saw you. Damn, you were a good baby. Not one of those crying ones always needed to be held. You laughed so easy and it wasn’t hard to take to you.”
Blinking back the tears, Clint rubbed his thumb over the photo. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, kid, this is just my way of showing that you had family who really loved you. Wish we’d got one with you and Dolly. She rocked you until you were sleeping that night.”
When Clint turned another page, they were blank.
“Left you lots of room to fill it up,” Carmine smiled. He rubbed Clint’s shoulder.
Phil sat back and watched uncle and nephew sharing a tender moment thankful he was able to witness it. Seeing Clint connect with a family member in such a meaningful way made him fall in love with him that much more.
Carmine brought Phil into the conversation as they went through the photos a second time. They spent another half an hour talking about those days in the seventies talking up the Bicentennial celebration and family events.
Afterwards, Carmine went to the kitchen to work on the Christmas meal. He was joined by both Phil and Clint, who were excited about the osso bocu and other side dishes. Homemade cannoli would top off a great holiday.
“Clint,” Carmine said. He did another check on a dish.
“I need you to run to Father Lucca’s mission.”
Phil turned his gaze to Carmine curious at the unusual request.
“He had some authentic chianti shipped in from the old country. Never got to pick it up yesterday. He’s got it at the mission and I need you to get it before we eat.”
“Are you sure? It’s across town.”
“Yep. Remember where it’s at?”
“Yeah.” Clint looked from Carmine to Phil who shrugged his shoulders. “Guess I’ll be back in about an hour.”
“Take your time,” Carmine suggested.
After Clint went out the door, Phil observed Carmine going to the window making sure he was gone. When he turned around, he stopped at seeing Phil.
“I trained Clint,” Phil told him. “He didn’t buy that for a second.”
Carmine gave him a very Clint-like mischievous grin. “I knew he wouldn’t say no.” He walked through the kitchen to the back door. “Come on, Phil. I want to show you something.”
Phil followed him into the connected garage and once there, he stopped to see a large covered vehicle. Carmine went to the other side at the front bumper.
“Want to help me out?” Carmine asked.
Intrigued and eager to see what was under the car cover, Phil carefully lifted it. He and Carmine eased the covering back to unveil a dark orange/red metallic colored car. As it was pulled back, Phil could feel his heart pounding at the beautiful vehicle. He stepped back once they were finished and took it in.
“1976 El Dorado convertible,” Phil breathed. He stepped closer, but wouldn’t touch it. “Is that Firethorn?”
Carmine nodded in pride at seeing how much Phil appreciated the classic car. “Yep, metallic.” He put his hand on the white leather seat. “She was our second brand new car. Dolly and I took the kids in it to Florida twice. She and I went to our share of drive-ins with this beauty.”
“The car is amazing, Carmine.” Phil leaned in to get a better look at the dash. “Why was it important for Clint not to be here?”
“Come get a beer and I’ll tell you.” Carmine went to the small fridge and handed off a bottle to Phil before grabbing one for himself. “Clint told you about me?”
“Before we left,” Phil answered. “He never said a word he had other family besides his brother.”
“Clint believes that the Feds screwed me over and that I was innocent in that whole scandal.” Carmine took a drink before talking again. “Hell, I let him think that. I didn’t want to take any chances with him. Fact of the matter is, Phil, I knew what was happening and I was too fucking desperate to let the illegalities stand in the way. I wanted to be a damn hero and I wanted to do some good.”
“It wouldn’t have changed anything as far as he was concerned, Carmine. Surely you know Clint better than that.”
“Roads to hell are paved with the best of intentions, Phil. I got that in spades. I thought I made a good friend who was helping me out, only it was all a scam and I went along ignoring that voice in the back of my head screaming to run like hell. Irving came to me afterwards and owned up to the part he played only I was too pissed and hurt to listen. That man went to his grave thinking I never forgave him.”
Carmine tipped the bottle back. “I broke the law, Phil, and I went to prison for it. Dominic was the angriest and Francis soon followed. It was hell on Dolly while I was locked up. She was working so damn hard to keep the house and put food on the table. The boys did what they could and the girls never said much when they visited me. Dolly did her damndest to keep us a family.”
“She was the glue that kept you all together,” Phil observed.
“After I was released, we thought it was going to be okay. We were trying to put our lives back together. I even managed to get a job in town despite the respect I lost. It was a few years later that Dolly got sick. For over a year, she fought that cancer like it was the devil incarnate and for a little while, we were sure she was beating it. Then out of the blue, it was in her bones and she hurt so fucking bad that I thought I was going to die right along with her.”
After wiping a tear away, Carmine moved to a stool and sat. “When my Dolly died, my world died along with her. I used the pain to lash out and my kids right back at me when I wouldn’t let them comfort me. I did a damn good job of pushing them away, but it wasn’t that hard for them either. They rightly blamed me for my part in what happened before going to prison.”
“You’re a different man,” Phil said. “They should see that.”
“There’s such a thing as pushing someone too far and I did that. Doreen was little enough in those days, that she didn’t see everything. Dominic won’t ever speak to me again. Francis calls on the occasional holiday, but he’ll never forgive either. The girls were closest to their mother and they see me as a stranger now.”
“Carmine, I have to ask a horribly uncomfortable question.”
“Why didn’t you step forward when his parents were killed?”
“It’s not a good excuse, Phil, but I hadn’t been out of prison all that long. The family was barely holding on after what I had done. By the time Dolly and I found out where Barney and Clint were, she was in no shape to take on two boys who had lost their parents. Not only that, we were in financial freefall from the medical bills and trying to keep the house. Not long after Dolly died, I lost the house. Everything came down on my head. The kids were grown and after they left it took another few years to get out of the misery I had let get a hold of me. When I crawled out of it, I got my head together and called the only friend I had left who knew someone at the FBI. Both boys were gone and no one could find them.”
Phil nodded. Clint and Barney were with the circus.
“I managed to get this place and put a simple life together. Some more years passed and I got a call out of nowhere. Clint was serving time.” Carmine finished off his beer and tossed the bottle in the trash. “If I had just gotten them boys…”
“Carmine, you shouldn’t shoulder the blame for what happened to Clint and his brother.”
“Doesn’t change the fact that I failed my family and that includes them.”
There was no changing his mind and Phil remained silent.
“First thing I did was call the prison and got Clint on the phone. He must’ve thought I was some crazy bastard calling out of the blue, but when I told him about Eddie, his mother, the kid damn near started bawling on the phone.” Carmine had a sad smile as he remembered. “I made him promise to call me every week and if he didn’t, I was going to rob the nearest bank and we’d share a cell together. He never missed a Saturday.”
“It was the FBI contacting my superior that got our attention, Carmine. They couldn’t recruit him because of his record, but my organization could. For what it’s worth, we wouldn’t have known about Clint if it wasn’t for you.”
“That’s really nice to know, Phil. I appreciate that.”
Phil put his empty bottle in the trash and looked back at the car. “She is beautiful.”
“There’s a reason why I’m showing you this. I decided some months ago, I wanted Clint to have the things most important to me when I pass; that photo album and this car.” Carmine moved back to the El Dorado. “When I updated my will, I specifically stated Clint was to get this car. I wrote a letter, too, so there won’t be any doubts.”
“Does Clint know?”
“No, and I don’t want him to. I want Clint to have the car because he understands what it means. We’ve taken a few short trips in it and he knows all the stories. He never got the family he deserved and this is as close as I can give him.”
“You give him that now, but I do understand. Clint would treasure this car.”
“Exactly, Phil. Now, my kids would fight for it. You and I both know Clint would want to keep the peace and let them have it. I’m telling you this, because I want you to make sure he doesn’t do that. Now, if I get too feeble to drive, I’ll give it to him. But if something unforeseen happens, he’s to get it. I need a promise, Phil.”
The sincerity and love was in Carmine’s eyes. Phil nodded. “You have my word.”
“Thank you. I can rest easier knowing that.”
Phil couldn’t help but respect the former mayor even more than he did before. He’d make sure Carmine’s wishes were fulfilled to the letter.
As they started putting the cover back on the El Dorado, Carmine said, “You know Clint’s devoted to you.”
“He’s always been very loyal,” Phil commented.
“Yeah, but that’s not what I mean and you know it.”
Phil paused and looked over the car at Carmine.
“The kid’ll move slow as molasses if you let him get away with it, Phil.”
With a weak smile, Phil pulled on the cover. “I’ve never met anyone so easy to love before, Carmine. Despite everything he’s been through, Clint somehow still has so much of it.”
“That’s his mother in him. He got the best of her.”
Phil couldn’t agree more.
When they finished covering the car, Carmine turned to Phil.
“Dolly loved mistletoe around the holidays. She’d tack the damn things all over the house sure that love would happen like it did for us.”
“Almost sounds like a threat,” Phil replied grinning.
“More like a regret I didn’t do the same this time around, but you can fix that,” Carmine smiled back.
After much of the food was eaten, the bottle of chianti emptied, and all of the cannoli was consumed, with laughter and shared stories, the evening turned to night. Carmine headed to his bedroom and Clint and Phil finally made their way to bed as well.
They laid side by side as they had the night before looking up at the ceiling.
“So, Uncle Carmine had to show you the car without me,” Clint stated. While not a question, he had thought of little else as to why.
“It’s a great car.” Phil was still admiring the car in his mind.
“Yeah, she is. Lola’s no slouch, but that Caddy can certainly hold her own alongside her.”
Picturing both Lola and the El Dorado side by side, Phil couldn’t resist a large smile. “It’s not hard to imagine.”
“Why was it so important for me to get out of the house?”
“He felt he had to explain a few things in addition to showing off the El Dorado.”
Clint sighed. “He still blames himself and he shouldn’t. I’ve never seen anyone given a worse hand than he did.”
“It was life, Clint. It’s messy and inelegant.”
“In other words, shit happens. Uncle Carmine got the worst of it.”
“You’ll never undo the guilt he feels.”
“He lost so much and I just want to give him at least a piece of that back, if I can.”
“Clint, trust me when I say you have. Your uncle loves you as if you were his own.”
After a moment passed, Phil turned his head to look at Clint.
“Why don’t you tell me the real reason you invited me?”
Instead of looking at Phil, Clint shifted his eyes to the sheet and toyed with the edge.
“I told you. Uncle Carmine’s important to me.”
“You took someone you cared about, namely me. You could have invited Natasha before she went to Paris with Pepper.”
“I planned on it, but I wanted you here first,” Clint admitted. “Uncle Carmine’s became such an important part of my life that at first, I didn’t want to share it. Plus, I wasn’t sure how long it would last.”
“You found yourself with family, Clint. It’s understandable you’d want to protect that.”
Clint bit the corner of his mouth before continuing. He realized he had to tell him.
“I wanted the most important person in my life to meet the other most important person in my life,” Clint softly told him. “This was my way of making sure you knew everything about me, Phil, before I told you how I feel.”
The bed squeaked just enough as Phil shifted to his side. He cupped Clint’s cheek.
“I can’t tell you in words what it means that you would share this part of yourself with me, Clint.”
“Words?” Clint whispered.
“I love you.”
Phil leaned over and gently placed his lips on Clint’s. It was soft, easy and warm. He raised his head and smiled.
“I love you, too, Phil. Guess I should have had a clue all along.” Clint pulled Phil in for another kiss.
They pulled each other closer and as they moved their legs together, the bed squealed much louder. Clint froze and Phil raised his head.
“Shit,” Clint bit out. “We keep this up and the entire neighborhood will hear us.”
“You’re right,” Phil said. “One more?”
“Yeah, definitely, one more,” Clint readily agreed.
Carmine heard the old bed from his room down the hall. As the squeaks and squeals continued, he turned to his side and looked at the photograph of his late wife, Dolly, smiling back at him.
“You were right all along.”
He touched his fingers to his mouth and used them to kiss his wife.
After settling on the pillow, while the noisy bed continued to echo around the house, Carmine closed his eyes with a smile.