Finding What’s Real

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All sexual interaction in this work of fiction is between characters over the age of 18.

Authors Note: This story contains themes of adoption and mental illness, both of which I am intimately familiar with. While these characters depict some of my own experiences, everyone’s experiences are different. This story also contains an addiction to lip balm, a geographically challenged heroine (I may have gotten lost in a parking lot or two), and lots of snark. This story has been brewing off and on for many years, so I hope you love Vinnie and Kira as much as I do.

Prologue

Christmas Eve, 2002

“Mama D, are you sure Angie won’t mind if I stay here?” 14-year-old Kira Jensen nervously twirled her untamable frizz and chewed on a hangnail.

“I promise, my sweet. She knows you hate crowds.” Donna DeLuca, or Mama D to Kira, held on to a slight Italian accent even though she was born in America. She gently pulled Kira’s thumb away from her mouth and pulled her into a hug. She smelled like the Christmas cookies she’d been baking.

“Tell her to break a leg for me; or maybe, break a heel would be more appropriate?”

Angie had been Kira’s best friend since the third grade when Kira moved to Clearwater with her mother in the middle of the school year. After her new teacher made her go through the embarrassing process of standing and introducing herself, she proceeded to choke on her own spit and get a wicked case of the hiccups that lasted the rest of the day. She was horrified, but the rest of the class found it hilarious. When Kira entered the lunchroom, a pretty girl with shiny, dark hair took her hand and told her that she would be her best friend. The rest was history.

Kira and Angie definitely fell into the opposites attract category. The often-dramatic Angie was very girly-girl, always wearing makeup and coordinating accessories. At 14, she had already stopped trying to bring Kira over to the glittery side. That night, Angie was modeling in a special fashion show at the Community Center to raise money for the local homeless shelter. Surprisingly, scheduling it on Christmas Eve had garnered a ton of confirmed guests.

Mama D laughed. “I think telling her to break a heel would be perfect.” She pulled Kira into one more hug and kissed her on the forehead, surely leaving bright red lip prints.

Mama D had been like a second mother to Kira. Well, third, technically. Kira was adopted as an infant, and while she didn’t consider her birth mother her mother, she had the hope of meeting her one day. When Kira fought with her adoptive mom, Cindy, which was often, she came to the DeLuca house. Mama D always made her feel better. For some reason, she could tell Kira the same things that her mother had, but it seemed easier to accept coming from Mama D. She had this calm aura about her that Kira craved, while her mom, Cindy, was…excitable. That excitable nature didn’t mesh well with Kira’s teenage mood swings.

And then there was Vinnie, Angie’s big brother. What she and Angie lacked in commonality, she found with Vinnie. Vinnie took her fishing and skateboarding and played video games with her. She secretly thought that he was her real best friend. She also thought she might be a little bit in love with him—in the way that teenage girls fall in love with boys, but at 18 and heading to college in the fall, he was way out of reach. He wasn’t the cutest guy ever—kind of nerdy, really—but he made her feel…safe.

She’d been worried about him lately. He’d seemed uptight and a bit snappish…lost in his head a lot. Their interactions had felt stilted, almost like he was just going through the motions.

She hoped he’d be back to normal soon. She’d miss him like crazy once he was gone, but surely, they’d still talk, and she’d see him on holidays.

Wanna watch a movie, Squirt?” Vinnie walked into the living room with one of those new DVD cases.

She huffed. “Quit calling me Squirt, Jerk Face. I’m not a kid anymore.”

“Whatever you say, Squirt.”

“What are we watching?” She plopped down on the couch beside him and propped her feet on the coffee table.

“Christmas Vacation.”

“Score! I freaking love this movie.”

“I remember.” Vinnie pushed up his large, square glasses and scratched at his ear.

“Ooh, we need cookies.” She hopped up and dashed to the kitchen where Mama D had left the sugar cookies they’d decorated earlier in the day. Kira’s mom didn’t let her eat many sweets. She didn’t outright call her fat or anything, but she was always panicking if Kira wanted seconds and telling her she didn’t want to end up heavy. Kira wasn’t thin, but she wasn’t really overweight either. Unfortunately, her mother’s paranoia only led to Kira thinking about food a lot more than she’d like, so when she wasn’t home, she tended to make poor choices.

She sat back down with a plate of cookies and a glass of milk. She’d have to be sure to save some for Santa at the DeLucas’.

“Are you going to eat all of those, or can I have one, bursa eskort too?” Vinnie’s tone sounded almost snide instead of the playful teasing she was used to.

She froze, feeling immediately ashamed and embarrassed. She hadn’t planned on eating them all. She felt tears start to well up and she clenched her eyes shut to keep them at bay. There was no reason to be so oversensitive.

She silently passed over the plate and watched the movie. Before long, she was laughing and had put the odd comment behind her. She leaned over to put her head on Vinnie’s shoulder like she’d done 100 times before.

As she shifted to get more comfortable, Vinnie stiffened. A moment later, he pushed her off.

“I don’t need you hanging all over me. Grow up.”

Kira was stunned. He’d never talked to her like that before. This time, she couldn’t help her tears. She curled up on the other end of the couch and cried silently. Never wanting the attention, she’d perfected the art of silent crying years ago. She pulled a blanket over herself to block Vinnie’s view of her face and pretended to watch the rest of the movie.

When Angie and Mama D returned home, she pretended to share in Angie’s joy over the fashion show’s success. She hugged Angie goodbye and called out, “Love you, Vin,” like she always had but received only silence in response.

“What happened, baby?” Mama D asked in the car on the way home. Always attuned to the smallest mood changes, her voice was sympathetic.

“Hmm? Oh nothing, I’m fine.” She kept her face turned to the car window.

She felt Mama D’s hand cover hers where it was resting on her thigh. “I know you better than that. What happened?”

Kira sighed. “Vinnie. He was…he hurt my feelings tonight.”

“I don’t know what’s going on with that boy lately. He sure has been acting strange. But he’s growing up and moving on. I’m sure it will work itself out. Don’t let his mood swings get you down.”

Kira nodded and squeezed her hand as they pulled into her driveway. “Merry Christmas, Mama D.”

“Merry Christmas, beautiful girl. Go hug your mama and tell her Merry Christmas for me. We’ll see you tomorrow night for dinner.”

*****

Vinnie DeLuca stared, unseeing, at the formulaic Christmas movie on TV. He felt broken. He’d just pushed away the one person he’d felt most connected to in the whole world. Why couldn’t he have that kind of connection with someone his own damn age?

Since the day Kira had come home with Angie when she was eight and he was 12, they’d connected. They watched Nick at Nite together every weekend and laughed at I Love Lucy and Newhart. They went fishing and bowling. He’d taught her to skateboard and put band-aids on her skinned knees when she was about as graceful as a baby giraffe. She had never been very coordinated. She’d been like a little sister that he could tolerate. Not that he didn’t love Angie, but Angie was so…girly. He didn’t understand Kira and Angie’s connection, but then, Angie didn’t understand his connection with Kira either.

What everyone agreed on was that Kira was family and she was loved as one of their own. And now, he’d alienated her. He had no doubts that she’d forgive him. It wasn’t like they’d never fought before. Maybe this was for the best anyway. He’d be leaving for college soon and she had a lot of growing up to do. She didn’t need to see him like this. She didn’t need to be subjected to his random anger or his bouts of depression.

He pulled at his hair and squeezed his eyes tightly together. What the fuck was going on with his mind lately? His racing thoughts wouldn’t stop, and he couldn’t control his impulses. He was watching porn like it was going out of style and he’d started skipping school. None of this was like him, at all. Tomorrow was Christmas Day, his favorite day of the year, and he couldn’t give less of a fuck. He just wanted to lock himself in his room, hump his mattress until he was raw, and sleep. No, Kira didn’t need to be anywhere near this.

Present Day

Vinnie walked briskly into the cardiac ward of the hospital, hoping his own heart wouldn’t pound out of his chest before he located his mom and sister. He found the right room and entered to find his sister Angie valiantly trying to hold back tears as she held their mother’s hand. Donna DeLuca was only 60…too young to die. People survive heart attacks every day. Mom will just have to change her lifestyle.

“Everything is going to be fine, Mom, you just hang in there. I called Vinnie and he should be here soon,” Angie tried to say brightly, but she wasn’t fooling anyone.

“I’m right here.” He leaned over to kiss his mother on the cheek and to take her other hand, pointedly ignoring the wires and machines. One of the good things about the meds he took was that he tended to be calm in a crisis, something he was grateful for.

“What’s the prognosis?” he asked Angie.

Her voice wavered. “It doesn’t look good at this point, but they want to wait for Dr. Mercer to arrive before we bursa escort bayan make any decisions concerning the next step. They think the best thing for us to do right now is to keep her stable and comfortable.” Angie sobbed and then yelled out into the hall, her composure lost. “Can’t you page him again! This is ridiculous. I’m going to sue this hospital for negligence!”

Vinnie rolled his eyes. “Angie, settle down. The best thing for Mom is for us to stay calm and continue to let the hospital staff do their jobs. They know what they’re doing.” He stepped close to the other side of their mother’s bed, refusing to acknowledge her frail appearance. He tamped down the feeling of dread that wound its way through his heart and into his throat. His mother was the strongest woman he’d ever known. She would walk out of here soon enough. She had to. He needed her. “Hey, Mom,” he said with a tender smile, “I hope you’re finding humor in Angie’s dramatic outbursts”.

“Vincent DeLuca, your mother is in a hospital bed, and we don’t know if she will make it out. How dare you call me dramatic?”

Vinnie gave her a stern look and replied between clenched teeth, “The last thing she needs is to worry about us right now, so snap out of it!”

Donna finally opened her eyes and grasped her children’s hands tightly. “Stop it you two and listen to me. There is a box on the top shelf in my closet. It contains my will as well as other important documentation.” Tears filled her eyes as she pulled her children against her for a tight hug. “I love you both so much. Life won’t always be easy, but then you know that already. Take care of each other and don’t let Kira hole herself away much longer. She’s been gone too long already. I’m so proud of all three of you and I’ll watch over you always.” She squeezed their hands weekly and let her eyes drift closed.

“Mom! No, don’t talk like that!” He could barely choke out the words as the tears threatened. He couldn’t lose his mother. She was his best friend. He couldn’t imagine life without her. Her breathing was becoming labored, and her face was paling quickly.

“Somebody! Please! Help us!” Angie cried.

As the heart monitor began sounding its high-pitched warning, Vinnie and Angie were roughly pushed aside as a team quickly tried to resuscitate their mother.

Thirty grueling minutes later, the time of death was declared. He had to give the hospital credit. They didn’t give up easily.

“No!” Angie screamed pushing her way through to her mother’s bedside. She threw herself across her mother’s chest, sobbing.

Vinnie froze, temporarily unsure if this was reality or if he was dreaming. He felt a tremble start in his hands and clenched his fists before swallowing the sob that threatened. He needed to be strong for Angie. He couldn’t be out of control right now. He pulled Angie tightly against him, letting a few tears escape to splatter in her hair. He breathed deeply, taking in the familiar scent of her shampoo and letting it ground him. Her tears soaked his shirt, and she held on like she’d never let go. Deep breaths. Just breathe. For Angie. In. Out. Now isn’t the time to let go.

They stood and held each other long after the team of doctors dissipated. Angie eventually let go and moved to the side of the bed to kiss their mother’s soft cheek and stroke her silvering hair. Vinnie forced himself to do the same. He couldn’t believe this was happening. Had happened. In. Out. They had to call Kira.

Chapter 1

“Oh, Ang!” Kira cried as she stepped off the plane and rushed into Angie’s arms. Kira wiped the tears from her eyes and looked up at her friend. When she’d last seen her in person, Angie had just started to show interest in the world of modeling but hadn’t landed a break until the previous year; and a big break it was. At 5’10 with her dark, olive skin and shining, black hair, she had always been a natural beauty. Now, Angie had toned her body into a figure worthy of a magazine spread. Even in jeans, her legs looked as if they went on forever and her dainty feet were tucked into chic, high-heeled sandals. Kira could only tell she’d been crying by the faint tear tracks through her make-up.

“You look absolutely amazing,” Kira said breathlessly, immediately feeling inadequate in her tee shirt, denim jacket, jeans, and red converse.

“Thanks,” Angie replied. “I guess the modeling world has done well for my appearance but eating nothing but lettuce can wear on a girl’s nerves,” she said with a watery grin. “Come on, let’s get your bags. Vinnie’s waiting in the car. Oh, and by the way, your shoes clash with your hair.” She winked.

Kira rolled her puffy eyes and smiled. Angie was always the fashion-conscious one. Internally, she froze at the thought of seeing Vinnie. She’d long ago let bygones be bygones and forgiven Vinnie for whatever had made him pull away from her. They’d both been children after all; well, she had been anyway. His withdrawal had been incredibly painful at the görükle escort time, but in a way, it forced her to grow up a bit. She hadn’t seen him in at least 15 years. He’d left for college, and by the time he graduated, she’d been accepted to the University of South Carolina and had eventually made Charleston, SC her new home when she’d landed a job there.

Angie didn’t talk about Vinnie all that much, but Kira knew that they shared an unbreakable bond. Mama D’s death had left only the two of them to rely on each other. Their father had died when Angie was very young and there was no other family that she knew of. Before Kira realized it was happening, she was sobbing again, and Angie was handing her a pocket-pack of tissues.

“I know, it just comes out of nowhere, doesn’t it?” Angie sounded choked up herself.

“We texted all the time and played Words With Friends every day.” She sniffled and tried to pull herself together. “I’m sorry, this must be so much harder on you. I’ve been gone for so long…”

Angie grabbed her hand. “Stop it. I know how much she means to you. Meant.”

Kira snagged her single, purple suitcase that was covered in bright, abstract flowers from the baggage claim, and they made their way to the exit. Kira donned her sunglasses to hide her eyes more than protect her from the sun. When she cried for long periods, her eyes got so puffy that one might think she’d had collagen injections into her eyelids.

Angie pulled her towards a shiny, silver, BMW X5 that was holding up traffic in the drop-off lane of the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. A dark-haired man leaned carelessly against the passenger door. After closer inspection, Kira realized that it was Vinnie. He looked nothing like the boy she knew all those years ago. The thick glasses were replaced by rectangular, hipster-like frames, and his hair was shorter but still fashionably unruly. He was around five-foot-eight and thin, but muscular. The typical Italian, olive skin and black hair were offset by his striking green eyes that he and Angie had inherited from somewhere way back in the family gene pool. Kira tore her eyes away quickly so she wouldn’t be caught staring; no, gaping was more like it.

“Kira,” he said warmly, pulling her into a tight hug.

Kira stood stiffly at first before she finally wrapped tentative arms around Vinnie and returned his hug. It felt…familiar, comforting…warm. He gave her one last squeeze, pulled away, and picked up her single bag.

“Is this all of your luggage?” he asked as he set the bag in the trunk.

She stood dumbfounded for a moment before she jerked herself out of her trance. “Yeah, I travel light. It’s good to see you again, Vinnie. I’m so sorry for your loss.” There, that sounded normal, didn’t it? She never had shed her social awkwardness, though she was usually much better at faking it than this. The flight and being forced to interact with people had left her a bit spent.

“Thank you,” he replied.

Kira settled into the back seat of the SUV and took a deep breath. The ride was silent except for the random sniffle until they made their way out of the airport and onto the freeway.

“How are you both holding up?” she asked softly, trying to keep her own tears at bay for at least a few minutes.

“We’re hanging in there, but we’ll be better now that you’re here,” Angie replied, twisting in the passenger seat to give Kira a sad smile. “We still have to make the arrangements…neither of us could focus on that yesterday. How long can you stay?”

“I have weeks of vacation time built up, but I won’t stay that long. I just didn’t want to have to micro-manage my time.

“Nonsense,” Vinnie replied warmly. “You can stay as long as you like. You’re family.”

The sound of Vinnie’s smooth voice made her shiver, and she wrapped her denim jacket more firmly around herself. “Even still, I don’t want to impose. I’ll help with the arrangements this afternoon.” She had no idea why she was being so damn formal.

******

Vinnie gripped the steering wheel tightly. He fought the urge to find Kira’s face in the rear-view mirror, keeping his eyes on the road. At 18, he’d been coming to terms with a mental illness, and he’d been completely overwhelmed. In an effort to protect her from his wildly swinging moods, he’d tried to distance himself, but managed to crush her in the process. She was all grown up now, and he felt as if he was seeing her for the first time.

She was short and adorably chubby with large breasts and round buttocks, but it was obvious from her body language that she was uncomfortable with her figure, and he would bet that social situations still made her anxious as well. He was sure that standing next to Angie hadn’t been a boost to her self-confidence. The short, wild, red curls had grown, flowing down her back with a shine that caught the sun, making it appear to glow, and delicious freckles covered her fair skin. Her eyes were hidden behind her funky, multi-colored sunglasses, but he could imagine the clear, unique, grey irises, full of compassion and intensity. He could still feel her body pressed against his from the hug. He knew she was confused by the tight embrace after so many years of silence. He hadn’t been able to help holding on just a bit longer than was normally acceptable.

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