FIRST, I LOVE YOU
By Genevieve Dewey
Copyright 2012 by Genevieve Dewey, All Rights Reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction; any resemblance to living persons is entirely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
In her mind, there was nothing in the world quite as invigorating as the smell of a new pair of designer pumps. Katherine Anastasia Downey – Kiki to her family and friends – loved a great many things, but spending Daddy’s money had to be at the top of the list. She often thought in her cynically altruistic moments, that it was almost her civic duty to put money back into the pockets they came from. Kiki spent her money on a great many different things, some important, some unimportant, but today was a rare all-about-her day. She was not going to stop shopping until she found herself a pair of Dolce and Gabanas or Jimmy Choos to match the designer necklace and earrings her mother had gotten her for her twenty-first birthday. They were one of a kind. Literally.
Her mother had cultivated a number of useful friends over the years being the daughter of Giovanni ‘Big Joe’ Anastasio and the wife of Michael ‘Mickey’ Downey, but the ones she’d made living in Paris these last several years seemed to be extra… generous… to put it mildly. Kiki might be a daddy’s girl in most respects, but her mother’s one enduring claim on her heart was the way she supported Kiki’s job as a fashion blogger for the Sun-Times. Daddy found it amusing at best.
The trouble with having a father who adored her unconditionally was being left with the feeling of never quite having earned his approval. It left her in a constant competitive state of ‘Look, Daddy, no hands!’ and the emotional dissatisfaction of him not even looking up from the paper to say ‘Knew you could do it, sweetheart.’
“Well, damn, Kiki you’re gonna be the hottest fucking thing in all of Chicago this Saturday night wearing those. Have you picked out a dress yet?” Jessica Bonanno trilled out, interrupting her thoughts.
“Like it matters, stuck here in this hell-hole,” Kiki mumbled, thoughts of her parents ruining her usually cheerful mood.
“Oh, come on, Chicago is far from a hell-hole and you know it. Besides, they have one of the best Nordstrom’s in the country. And I’m here for your party, aren’t I?”
“You know what I mean. All our real friends are back in New York. I just don’t get why Daddy had to retire to Chicago of all places. I mean, who does that?”
“Kiki, you’ve lived here for five years. You’re not a minor. You’re filthy rich. You can leave anytime. Besides, I’m not going to believe you haven’t made some friends here. I mean, I’ve got four or five cousins here I can think of, which means you do too, if you’d just reach out… And, please, no one believes your dad is actually ‘retired’.”
Jessica did the air quotes with her perfectly manicured fingers and a wiggle of her equally manicured eyebrows, forcing a laugh out of her oldest friend and cousin. She scooted closer to Kiki on the bench.
“Is… Is your brother going to be there?” Jessica asked softly, a gleam in her eye.
“Joe? Of course!” Kiki answered, surprised.
“No… I mean… you know,” Jessica whispered.
Kiki sighed and slipped the shoes back off. Not meeting Jess’s eyes, she tossed her chestnut curls in a flippant gesture. She was tired of pretending to be what people wanted her to be, so tired. There used to be a time when she and Jessica had been close, inseparable really, when she felt she could be honest with her, instead of keeping up the role she played for everyone else. But now they seemed so far apart, not just in geography, but in interests. Jess was a couple years older and married with a child, but her husband was serving 5-10 in prison, and she clearly felt fidelity was not necessary while she waited; she didn’t even use his last name. Jessica’s life was a never ending party. Most of the time it was Kiki who was drug along for the ride, but yet the papers painted her as the wild child.
“How should I know? Probably not. Not that I care,” Kiki finally replied, thinking, why does she always bring up Tommy? What’s it to her anyway?
“You’re a terrible liar. Just sayin’,” Jessica said.
Kiki forced herself to meet Jess’s eyes and started laughing. “Let’s see if they have another pair for you,” she suggested in a desperate move to change the subject.
She didn’t want to talk about Tommy because she never knew what she was supposed to think – or feel – about him. The prodigal son that Daddy made with the woman he loved far more than her own mother. Everyone knew that. The man he kept trying to pull into the fold even after he became a cop. A cop, for God’s sake! Resentment was definitely there, maybe some jealousy, but there were other emotions – other softer, sweeter emotions that far outweighed the bad ones.
And these were the feelings, oddly enough, that she felt the most defensive about with everyone but her father. One of her fondest memories was how kind Tommy was to her the day they first met seven years ago, the way he teased her out of her painful teenage shyness with silly and often really, really bad jokes. Even though he was only four and a half years older than her, and just out of high school, he had looked so grown up and oddly sophisticated in his faded jeans and Huskers T-shirt.
She smiled remembering it; little Joey running all over the hotel lobby getting into things the way restless nine-year-old boys do, Daddy all tense and silent, staring at ‘that woman’, as Mom had always called her, and Tommy – Ha! – Tommy, acting like he had just wandered into the Omaha Hilton because he had nothing better to do. But she could see in his eyes he was just as nervous as she was. Just as curious to finally meet his siblings. He was just better at hiding it than she was.
Kiki was never good at hiding her emotions. Instead, she hid herself. When she was little, she used to pretend each room in the sprawling mansion was an exhibit at the museum that Daddy would take her and Joey to on Saturdays (when he wasn’t busy with ‘work’ of course). In this room, she was an Egyptian princess, in this one a Native American princess, this other, a Mayan princess. She was always a princess. Daddy’s little princess. That’s what he’d call her in his distracted way, with a quick, whiskery kiss, the hint of pipe tobacco on his breath.
She far preferred Daddy’s smell to Mom’s. Mom always smelled like French perfume and the Benedictine she drank with her whiskey ‘for her health’. Kiki had snuck a taste in once when she was eleven. It tasted like a forest with too many flowers in it; sickly sweet, not like the wine they drank with supper. When she was younger, she was always proud to tell her friends that Daddy let them drink wine at the table with the adults. He’d wink at her and say, ‘One glass won’t hurt a Downey; it’ll put hair on your chest!’ Then he would laugh his gravelly laugh and Mom would purse her lips.
Her mom hated it when he referred to them as Downeys, even though that was their name, like it was ignoring the Anastasio blood in them. Mom was very proud of her Anastasio blood. Kiki figured Daddy did it on purpose since the only time they ever interacted after the divorce was at family suppers. Her mom had insisted in the settlement that all holidays and one Sunday a month the entire family get together for a traditional Italian supper. ‘There’s nothing more important than family,’ Mom would singsong.
Except by ‘family’, Theresa Anastasio meant her family. The first time Kiki found out about her half-brother Tommy was when her parents were having one of their many, many fights.
Kiki was busy pretending to be Princess Jasmine turning down her suitors in the throes of true never-ending love for Prince Ali Baba in the pink – ‘It’s salmon, darling!’ – guest bedroom when she heard her mother shouting. This was worth pausing for, since Mom never shouted. That was Daddy’s thing. Mom was more fond of jeering insults, crying jags, and dramatically leaving the room, all of which tended to drive Daddy’s temper through the roof.
Belly crawling to the balustrade she peeked over and watched them below.
“I will NOT stand for this one SECOND longer! You will NEVER bring up that woman’s name or her brat in my home ever again, do you hear me? How could you disrespect me this way?!”
“Disrespect you? That would imply I ever had any respect for you, Theresa.”
Mom threw her prized Tiffany vase against the wall. Daddy raised a dark eyebrow the way he did when one of his men didn’t do what he told them to do fast enough.
“Maybe the stress of the new baby has you—”
“Don’t you dare – don’t you DARE, Mickey! This has nothing to do with our son, and everything to do with your BASTARD! Do you know how much I tried to be a good wife, to ignore the fact you had that gumare, that whore on the side? That you preferred her company to mine? That you gave her your firstborn son and you barely touched me?”
“You know exactly why I married you, Theresa. Don’t play coy at this late date. It was a mutually beneficial agreement, nothing more than a business deal with added benefits. But after the trial, I tried my best to patch things up with you, to devote myself to the family we agreed to make together.”
“Bullshit! You only tried for a baby to suck up to my father because he was so furious with you for not putting a muzzle on that snitch bitch. I thought she was gone from our lives forever. Her and that boy. I thought we had a real chance finally. This whole time you’ve been looking for her. This whole time!” Mom’s voice broke on the last word.
Daddy turned away and scooped his Lexis keys off the Italian marble vanity.
“It doesn’t matter what you say, Theresa. I’m going to get my son. I’ll have my lawyer send over the papers. But understand the children stay with me. You try to fight it, and you will regret it.”
“Not for nothing, but my lawyers are gonna take you to the cleaners, you know that, right? You were nothing without me and my father. Nothing!”
“Maybe without your father, God rest his soul, but not you. Without you, I had something. And it’s past time I got it back, whether you like it or not.”
Daddy walked out the door without looking back. Mom screamed a little scream that sounded almost more like a groan, then she sat on the tile and cried. Kiki knew better than to bother her mom when she needed a good cry, so she crept down the hall to where her baby brother slept in his hand-carved crib.
“It’s ok, Joey. Daddy’ll be back. He always comes back. And he’s going to bring us a brother,” Kiki said, and then frowned. She would have preferred a sister, so they could play Princesses together.
But Daddy didn’t bring back her brother. And after Mom moved out, he spent a lot of time alone in his study. Men would come and go, sometimes they would bring her and her brother presents, sometimes they’d bring their kids, most of whom she knew from church and kindergarten she’d just started that year.
Not too long after he came back, she knocked on his study door and waited for his husky voice to bid, ‘Enter.’
“Daddy, it’s Kiki. Can I come in?”
She heard the creak of his chair then the door opened. His eyes looked tired, but they lit up when he saw her.
“Come in, princess. Sit on daddy’s lap while I write this letter to your brother.”
Kiki giggled as he swung her high and into his arms, then he pretended to stumble into his chair. He cuddled her close.
“Silly Daddy, Joey’s too young to read,” she said, nuzzling his strong chest.
“No, this is for your older brother. Tommy. You haven’t met him yet. Maybe one day,” he answered.
“Does he like to play Princesses?” Kiki asked.
Daddy didn’t answer, just chuckled as he picked up his pen and wrote:
First, I love you. I hope you enjoyed the present I sent—’
“Daddy, guess what! I read the word love!” Kiki said, feeling proud of herself.
“Very good, sweetheart, very good,” he seemed to choke out the words like something was stuck in his throat. Then he kissed her head and continued to write.
Whenever she would catch him writing to Tommy over the years, his letters would always start the same, ‘First, I love you.’ Then they would contain some mention of what Kiki and Joe were up to and always end the same way, ‘Your loving father’. It didn’t seem to matter to Daddy that the letters would come back marked ‘Return to Sender’, he would just put it in his desk drawer and write another. When she was eleven (Blame it on the Benedictine, she thought) she got up the courage to ask him why he still wrote to Tommy.
He smiled his distracted smile and said, “Because I’m a Downey. And Downeys don’t give up until they’ve got what they want. Ever.”
She never did figure out how he got Tommy to come that day in Omaha, but she was pretty sure he stayed because of her and Joey. On the rare occasions she saw Tommy in the years after, it was always something important in their lives, not Daddy’s, and he always, always, would do his best to distance himself from their father. Tommy communicated mostly through texts and major-holiday phone calls in between those times. But this time it was going to be different. She had a plan.
Quickly she stifled the hope – hope was so dependent upon someone else, and that made one weak – and focused on a more practical emotion, grim determination. Tommy had texted her a few weeks back and said he’d be working right here in the windy city on some big case for the next several months. That only gave Kiki a short time to work with, but the only thing she prided as much as the fiercely stubborn Downey constitution was the Anastasio cunning. Downeys might not give up, but Anastasios make it happen.
Ducking Jessica on Michigan Avenue, she stopped in a tourist shop and fished her smart phone out. It only took a minute to find the phone number she needed.
“Hello?” a sweetly cheerful voice answered.
“Hello, Mary. It’s Kiki Downey. Do you remember me?”
In the gulf of answering silence, she could hear her Daddy’s voice in her head; ‘Now this here is what you call a Hail Mary pass…’
She smiled in anticipation.
–Copyright 2012, Genevieve Dewey.
Read on… Chapter Four, “Mary”
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