THURSDAY, 24TH DECEMBER, 2009 (CHRISTMAS EVE)
My life had changed so much since I left Joseph and Nadine’s madhouse in October. Within almost three months, I had gone from spending most of Thanksgiving weekend in my car, to living in a swank condo on the Waterfront, to uncovering some painful secrets that no one should ever have to know, to having real friends and real family in my life, to having $500,000 in my possession. I had made so much progress in such a short amount of time, especially with the first decade of the new millennium rapidly heading for the archives of history. When I woke up on the morning of Christmas Eve, I looked out the window, and despite it being snowy and cold, my heart and outlook were warm. I didn’t know that, by the time Christmas Day came around, everything would change.
Like many people, Brandon and I had a lot to accomplish on Christmas Eve. We spent most of the morning putting the last-minute touches on our Christmas feast and tidying up the apartment. I called Aunt Kendra, Aunt Tatiana, and Uncle Wayne and Aunt Elfriede to wish them all a Merry Christmas. I called Mykhaylo and Claire to do the same. Mykhaylo was spending Christmas with his family, and they too were running around the house in anticipation. Claire’s arm was healing rapidly, and she was staying at her sister’s house in Etobicoke being a doting aunt to her nieces and nephews.
Around 2:30PM, Brandon realized that there was no eggnog in the refrigerator. He wanted to make a batch of eggnog like the one that he saw Martha Stewart do. Since he was still recovering from the attack twelve days earlier, I told him that, to be on the safe side, I would go with him. He didn’t put up a fight. And after I gave Britney her lunch, we left.
Arriving at the Metro supermarket on College Street, we were lucky to find a spot at all. The parking lot was packed, and so was the store. Left, right, and sideways, people from all walks of life, even those who weren’t members of any Christian denomination, were going up and down the aisles, getting their hands on last-minute holiday foods, drinks, and other accoutrements.
Brandon finally got the eggnog that he so desperately wanted, nay, craved. We also picked up a few more items, including paper towels and paper plates. As we headed for the check-out counters, I heard someone call out my name:
I turned around, and there was Marie-Lourdes, pushing a cart full of food. “Merry Christmas!” she exclaimed.
“Hi, Marie-Lourdes!” I said, hugging her. “Merry Christmas.”
“Thanks. I see you’re finishing up your Christmas shopping,” she said. And then she looked at Brandon. “Professor Gutensohn!”
“Hey, Marie-Lourdes,” Brandon said, giving her a hug. “How’s everything?”
“Great. My girlfriend and I are having a Christmas Eve lesbian potluck later tonight, and I’m so behind!” she exclaimed. “I was lucky to find some turkey. They’re disappearing!”
“Aren’t most of your friends vegan?” I asked.
“I’m not. I love animals, and I’m all for animal rights, but I also want protein, and peanuts aren’t going to cut the mustard. Besides, I got humanely processed turkey.” She noticed a line open up nearby. “Gotta go. Keep in touch, guys, and Happy Holidays!” she cheerfully said, speeding towards the check-out line in question.
After we made our purchases, Brandon and I walked out into the cold, late afternoon. Already the sky was darker than before, and the sun was barely visible in the clouds. We crossed the parking lot to Brandon’s car, and we loaded the trunk. Just as we were about to enter the car, a van suddenly appeared out of nowhere, right next to us. The windows rolled down, and two men got out and approached us. Both of them were muscular, a bit hirsute, and sported tattoos of the Albanian eagle. I could tell because they weren’t as bundled up as we were. One of them wore a red cap, and the other wore a black cap.
“Are you Graziano Buonfiglio?” asked the guy in the red cap, in a thick Albanian accident.
“Why do you ask?” I replied.
“Get in the van.”
The guy in the black cap suddenly grabbed me and SLAMMED me against the van. “GET IN THE FUCKING VAN!!” he screamed, his breath stinking of vodka.
“Brandon, help me!” I screamed. Brandon tried to force the guy off me, but the bastard in the red cap shoved him towards his car. And within a few seconds, the asshole in the blue cap had opened the back door of the van and thrown me in. I looked out the window, shaking like a building in an earthquake, and screamed, “BRANDON!!!” I saw Brandon run after the van, and soon he disappeared from view.
The guy in the black cap shoved me to the floor and screamed, “THIS IS FOR JOSEPH AND NADINE AND CHARLOTTE!!!” And then it hit me: these Albanian sons of bitches had been hired by the Buonfiglios to kill me. And then, the black cap bastard delivered the first punch against my temple. I immediately fought back, and for the next fifteen minutes, it was me and this brute asshole in the van, punching and slapping and rolling in the van as the fucker in the red cap drove along on a seemingly random route through Toronto.
I fought for fifteen minutes, but my aggressor was, despite being slightly smaller in weight than me, too fucking strong. I began to drift in and out of consciousness as the asshole continued to pound mercilessly. My body was burning in pain. My insides seemed to turn into liquid. The last thing that I felt before I completely blacked out was a hot tear run down my left cheek. And then, nothing.
LATER THAT NIGHT
When I woke up, the first thing that I saw was the night sky, and it looked like a bunch of cotton balls dyed purple. My body was still aching, but I could still feel every part of it. I slowly got up, and realized that I had ended up in a snow-drenched forest, near a frozen brook. I had no idea where the hell I was.
Everything was quiet. Nothing was making any sound, not even the chipmunks and squirrels in the trees, if there were any to begin with. I could feel my cell phone in my jacket, against my chest. I turned it on, and not only did I get the time (6:30PM), but there were no fewer than 10 phone messages, most of them from the past two hours. I pulled up Google Maps on my phone, hoping that there was a clue to let me know where I was. Alas, there was no Wi-Fi connection to be had. Google Maps could not find a location.
I was beyond scared. I was beyond petrified. I don’t think that there is a word in any language to describe the level of fear that I had reached. I sat down against a tree, and dialed Brandon’s number. But I could not get a connection. The network didn’t work. I got up and walked around, trying to get a signal. My heart was pounding loudly. With each step, I was getting more and more nervous and scared. Plus, the temperature was getting colder.
It wasn’t until the clock on my phone read 7PM, that I finally reached a path. And not just any old path. I had come across a picnic area with wooden benches and tables. And then I saw a map nearby. I walked up, and I soon discovered that I was in HIGH PARK! I felt somewhat better, but still scared as fuck. I checked my phone. The Wi-Fi and phone networks were active again. I promptly dialed Brandon’s number. A few seconds later:
It was Brandon, and his voice was shaking in fear. I immediately burst into tears.
“Graziano, it’s going to be alright. We’ll get you home soon.” I continued to bawl, even as the frosty winter air made my tears turn into stinging, frozen balls. “Where are you?” he asked.
Through my tears, I said, “High Park.” I looked at the map. “I’m… scared.”
“Graziano?” This time I heard Mykhaylo’s voice, also rich with fear. “Where in High Park are you?”
“I’m at a picnic spot.” I looked at the map further. “Number 26, at Centre Road and Spring Road.”
“I know that area,” Mykhaylo replied. “Okay, Graziano. Whenever I go to the park, I always like to go to the Dream Site. It’s just up the road. I want you to get there as fast as you can. We’ll meet you there soon.”
“It’s going to be okay, Graz. I love you, buddy.”
“I love you too.”
As soon as he hung up, I began my trek up Centre Road toward the Dream Site. Again, I was growing more and more scared with every step. Plus, my bodily pains were acting up. Every part of my body was in pain, and it hurt just to walk. I had to steady myself against trees along the way, until the pain had subsided enough.
I arrived at the Dream Site, an open-air amphitheatre which I had never been to, even in the summer. By then, the pain was lessening, but not by much. I sat close to the stage alone, freezing and crying. The Dream Site, from any angle, looked imposing and foreboding. I was worried that no one would ever come. And then, I heard someone call out my name.
It was barely audible at first, but then it got louder. And it kept getting louder and louder until I looked behind me and saw Brandon, Claire, and Mykhaylo at the entrance. I immediately got up, and walked to them slowly. They were fast and I was slow. And then, we finally met, and I collapsed into Brandon’s strong and gentle arms.
“I’m so sorry,” I bawled. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Brandon whispered. “You’re safe. The police are on their way.”
And then, suddenly, the lights around the Dream Site turned on with a dramatic flourish. “What the hell?” I replied. My eyes, already red with tears, ached even more under the bright lights. The four of us walked toward the stage, and as the immediate brightness subsided, three figures appeared on stage. And those figures were, dressed in their holiday finest, Joseph, Nadine, and Charlotte Buonfiglio. And all three of them had guns in their hands.
“Oh, shit,” I muttered, my fear turning into annoyance.