The bottom of the door to Alyssa’s room dragged across the carpet as it slowly opened. The swooshing sound it made didn’t have any better luck dragging her attention away from the thoughts tormenting her mind than the delicious odor filling the room did. She didn’t care who was entering the room. She didn’t care about much just then. Even when her weight shifted as a large shape sat down next to her on the sofa, she didn’t budge.
“Nothing good on?” Mario asked.
Alyssa remained silent, her gaze not shifting an inch from the flashing colors on the television.
She could feel his stare as he watched her silently for a few moments. Then he tried again, “The last time we spoke, I promised you some answers. Are you ready to listen to them?”
A shrug was the only response she could muster in her numbed state.
“Okay,” Mario began. “I’m gonna’ cut you some slack because you’ve been through a lot these last few days. Normally disrespect like that would earn you a backhand in this house, but I think you’ve already been beaten up enough.”
She replied with a short, humorless, “Ha.”
He ignored it and continued, “Your father’s name was Daniel Johnathon Rosatti.” The words burned Alyssa’s ears as they left Mario’s lips. She still didn’t turn toward him, but she shifted and sat up straighter. The gesture was just enough to let him know that he had her attention. After a brief pause, he added, “And your mother is a whore.”
Alyssa’s head snapped toward Mario, and she shouted, “Bullshit!”
Mario raised his hand up as his entire face seemed to squint. Then he raised his voice and scolded, “You watch that fucking mouth, little lady. I’m not sure how things run at your mother’s house, but in my house children are disciplined when they speak that way to adults.”
Alyssa desperately wanted to say more, wanted to piss him off, push him over the edge, and challenge his threat. She fought off the urge and remained silent, not quite content in watching him sit there, frozen and ready to blast her upside the head. Her face was still a bit sore and swollen from Vinny, and she really didn’t want to get hit anymore. Any words that would have left her mouth at that moment would have only served to get her hit again.
Mario glared at her for a few long moments with his hand high above his head, ready to strike. Eventually, the tension in his body fled and he dropped his arm. Then he adjusted in his seat, pulled at his collar, cracked his neck twice by turning his head in both directions, and began again. “Based on your reaction both times that we’ve spoken so far, I’m assuming that your mother never told you about your father. In fact, I’d throw money down that she never told you Mark wasn’t really your dad,” his tone had mellowed back to something friendlier and more conversational.
Alyssa bit her bottom lip as the corners of her mouth dipped down into a slight frown. Tears were poised at the bottom of both her eyelids. She closed them tightly, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry. Once she calmed herself to the point that she could speak without her voice cracking, she said, “I don’t believe you. I don’t know what you want with me or why you are lying to me, but I know that you are.”
Mario gently rested his hand on her left shoulder. When she shrugged him off, he raised both of his hands up and said, “Fine, I won’t touch you. Let’s try this another way.” He cleared his throat before asking, “Have you ever wondered where you got all of that thick, dark hair? Both of your parents are pretty blonde, aren’t they?” He paused a few moments, not really expecting a response. Then he asked, “Or, have you ever wondered why you and your brother don’t bear a stronger resemblance to each other. I mean, I can see a bit of your mother in both of you, but I only see Mark Ramsey in your brother’s face. You haven’t noticed that?”
Alyssa opened her eyes, but didn’t look at him. “My grandma has dark hair. That doesn’t mean anything.”
Mario chuckled as he fished something out of his pocket. It was an old photograph, slightly yellow and faded. One of the corners was bent in a bit. He held the image in front of Alyssa’s face and said, “Take a look at this.”
Alyssa turned her head away and looked at the ground.
“Look,” Mario said, as he leaned around her so he could keep the picture in front of her face.
She closed her eyes tighter and turned her head further away from him.
“Something that you’re going to have to learn pretty quick is that I don’t do real well with the spoiled princess thing,” he sighed as he grabbed the back of her neck with his left hand. He squeezed with that hand as he continued, “In fact, it really pisses me off. Now look at this fucking picture. Don’t make me ask again. I really don’t want to hurt you, sweetheart, but you need to learn some respect. And you need to learn to do as you’re told.”
Alyssa’s body tensed as she opened her eyes. “Fine,” the word fired out of her mouth between clenched teeth. Her form deflated as she looked at the face of the man in the picture. His eyes, his nose, the shape of his mouth, she really did look like him.
A wide smile spread across Mario’s face as he watched Alyssa examine the photo. “There,” he said. “Do you believe me now?”
Alyssa sat silently viewing the picture through the stunned expression that had taken up residence on her face.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Mario’s tone remained calm. “This is a picture of my son, Danny, your dad. Now I’m going to tell you a little story. I never got a chance to do that, tell you any stories. You were taken from me before you were even born, before I had a chance to know you. I blame both of your parents for that. Your dad’s been dead longer than you’ve been alive, so it doesn’t do me much good to blame him. That’s why I have to save it all for your mother. Anyway, the two of them took a lot away from me. I can’t imagine what you think of me right now, and I didn’t want it to be this way. There is nothing I can do about that. I’m going to tell you a story now. It’s a story that you may not want to hear, but you need to hear it.
“When your mother was sixteen years old, she already had quite a reputation. I heard about her from an associate. He said she was the best. She was a killer, Alyssa, an assassin. Of course, I thought exactly what you’re probably thinking right now, ‘A sixteen year old girl is an assassin? Yeah, right.’ This associate of mine was an old buddy from way back though, and he vouched pretty hard for your mother. I took a chance. Of course, I didn’t tell my father any of this. Big John wouldn’t stand for having any teeny boppers associated with our organization, even if they were kept at arm’s length. Had I told him about it, things would have gone differently. Your dad would be alive, your mom would be dead, and you wouldn’t exist. That’s a different story. We’ll talk about that one another time.
“Stiletto Rose, that’s your mom’s real name. Shelia Brody – Ramsey after she married that bum – that was a fake. We’ll get into that later. Anyway, she was good, like a ghost. I hired her to do this guy and she iced him in a crowd. Everybody saw him die, blood spitting out of his throat like a fucking geyser, but nobody saw your mother. She was good. I hired her again. All told, she did about ten hits for me in the span of three months, made quite a bit of money. I didn’t mind, because she took care of business, didn’t pick up any heat, and always left an impression. She helped me get my message across. Everything was working out great. What I didn’t know was that your father had taken a liking to her.
“Danny was a good kid. He was coming up pretty fast. However, he was easily distracted by a round ass and a nice set of tits,” Mario caught himself. “Sorry, kid. Your mom was a looker. Anyway, apparently your parents started seeing each other behind my back immediately after she did her first hit for us. Had I known, I would have squashed that shit right away. She was under age, and I’m not big on drawing unnecessary attention. Messing with underage girls is trouble nobody needs. On top of that, he was married. Not that I begrudge any man for having desires. A lot of guys have one or two on the side. His wife had a pretty powerful dad though. That is also drama that I didn’t need. Again, that’s another story that we can save for a different time. The meat of it is that your mom gets knocked up. I didn’t find out about that until later. I didn’t find out why my son was killed until after he was dead.”
Alyssa’s voice was barely more than a whisper, as she asked, “How did he die.”
Mario’s expression turned dark, as he sighed and said, “I cried when I found his body, what they did to him.”
“Did my mom…” Alyssa’s voice trailed off before she finished the question.
“No,” Mario replied, as he shook his head. “Your mom didn’t kill him. As far as I know, she didn’t even know about it. In fact, I’m not sure that she knows about it to this day. Unfortunately for her, she was the reason. My son was gutted. According to the coroner, he was alive when it happened. The motherfucker tortured him to death.” His voice cracked as a tear spilled over his eyelid. He wiped it away, sighed, and added, “There were pieces of him missing.” At that point, he broke down completely.
Alyssa stared silently at the sobbing thing before her, too bewildered to say anything. The guy was like a barbarian in a suit, a barbarian that wanted to kill her mother. However, his pain was so real that she couldn’t help but feel the slightest bit of compassion for him. She stopped short of rubbing his back while he wept. Everything was so confusing. Nothing made any sense. There was no way her mom could ever kill anybody. Yet, at least some of Mario’s story had to be true. There was no denying her resemblance to the man in that picture. If the man in that picture really was her father, it would mean that her mom had lied to her. Both of her parents had. What else had they lied to her about? Did her dad know about her mom’s past? It was too much. Despite all of her best efforts to remain silent, more words fell from her mouth, “So, who killed him?”
Mario sucked in a bunch of mucous and swallowed hard. Then he rubbed his eyes, composed himself, looked at Alyssa, and said, “A piece of shit that your mom used to hang out with, Rufus Walker. That’s the son of a bitch that did it. I’m not sure what she was to him, but I’m sure that she is the reason he did what he did to my boy, your father.”
Mario’s words spun around in Alyssa’s head, mingling with everything else already spinning in there. There was too much. Things just weren’t processing. All she could come up with was, “I’ve never heard of him.” The words sounded far away as they left her mouth, like somebody else was saying them.
“Of course not,” Mario shrugged. “He’s one of your mom’s skeletons, a skeleton from her past that doesn’t fit the soccer mom thing she’s trying to do these days. If you had any idea what she was…” his voice trailed off as he shook his head and rubbed his eyes again.
Alyssa stared at him. She had nothing more to offer. The idea of her mom killing people, much less being good at it, just wouldn’t process. The person that Mario was describing sounded like some kind of monster. That wasn’t her mom. Her mom was caring and giving. She cooked. She cleaned up after everybody. She hugged when somebody was sad or hurt. She carted everybody to all of the places they needed to be. She wasn’t a killer.
Mario’s eyes were still red from crying as he looked over at Alyssa, faked a smile, and said, “I’ve been thinking about this moment since I found out about you. This isn’t at all how I expected it to go.”
Her left eye squinted as she turned her head toward him and asked, “How did you expect it to go?”
“I don’t know,” he sighed, scratched his head, and then added, “I’m your grandfather for Christ’s sake. I guess I thought that you might be just a little happy to meet me.”
Several sarcastic responses that would have effectively conveyed her shock flooded into her head. She was too bewildered and too numb to use any of them. She was honest instead, “I don’t know what would make you think that.”
“We’re family, blood,” he shrugged.
“We are not family,” her tone remained flat, distracted. “You destroyed my family.”
Mario slowly nodded while his face contorted through a series of expressions as if the muscles there face couldn’t settle on what emotion they were trying to display. Finally, he said, “I’m giving you your family back. It will be hard at first. You just found out that the people you trust most in the world have been lying to you for your entire life. That has to be a tough pill to swallow. You need some time. Once you have a chance to work through all of this, you’ll come around. I know you will. You’re a Rosatti.”
“Do you really believe that?” her voice cracked. “I’m a prisoner here. I’m not a part of this family. You killed my father…”
“He wasn’t supposed to die,” Mario snapped back. “Mark Ramsey wasn’t a bad guy. He didn’t know anything about any of this. That was an accident caused by a poor personnel decision. Never hire amateurs. All of that being said,” he raised the index finger of his right hand, “he was never your dad in the first place.”
“He was my dad, the only dad I’ve ever known, and you killed him. Sticking a picture of a guy in my face and telling me that he’s my dad isn’t going to change anything about my life,” the tears started again as she spoke. “And I will never be a part of your family.”
Mario smiled, cleared his throat, and slapped his hands on his thighs. Then he stood and walked over to the door, opening it slowly. As he stepped out of the room, he turned and said, “That’s enough for now. You have a lot to think about. You are a part of this family though. That isn’t going to change.” With that, he turned back around and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Alyssa stared at the door for a solid five minutes after he was gone. She couldn’t tell if she was sad, angry, depressed, hopeless, or a twisted concoction of all of those things. The loss of her dad hadn’t even had time to process before Mario added more to the sloppy stew sloshing around in her head. She hated him and the way he could slip effortlessly from smiling to scowling, happy to sad, and threatening to friendly, as if each emotion he expressed was fake, forced out to elicit a certain response. Too much pain, too much anger, too much sorrow, it was all too much. Her focus shifted from the door back to the television. The channels were still speeding by, those random flashes of color. She hadn’t realized that her thumb continued to rhythmically press the channel down button on the remote the entire time that she and Mario had been talking. She stopped changing the channels. It was a gameshow. Fine.