He parks and I hesitate getting out. His hand finds mine and he tucks it within his own, a reassuring glint in his eyes. I’m safe so long as I’m with him.
Salvatore’s not going to let anything bad happen. Fabio and Arturo are even with us, providing security.
I get out of the Mustang and gasp when I realize the building we’re parked in front of. It’s the Old Northam cinema that’s known to play vintage classics for the average film buff. My face lights up with a smile as he hooks his arm around my waist and we set off inside.
The whole movie theater has been shut down. Salvatore’s doing for our date.
I admire the old cinema in all its glory. Historic limestone walls and the many cracks in them tell the stories of decades past. So do the endless collection of vintage movie posters decorating the space, a visual timeline of cinema through the ages. The bright red carpet is older than we are yet plush and cozy beneath our feet, and the scent of buttered popcorn lingers forever in the air.
We settle into our seats as the lights dim and the screen flicks on. Bucket of popcorn and boxes of candy in our laps, we relax as the opening scene toCasablancaplays.
I can’t stop smiling from ear-to-ear, impressed by Salvatore’s creativity. I had racked my brain for places he’d bring me on a fake birthday date, believing it’d be dinner at Grimaldi’s, or some other candlelit restaurant.
This feels so much more special, a throwback to our very first date at the drive-in movie where we watchedThe Birds.
I snuggle closer and rest my head on his shoulder. He welcomes me into him by lifting up the armrest and putting his arm around me so I’m pinned at his side. We sit like this for almost two hours, enjoying the movie and soaking up each other’s presence.
Sitting alone in the dark cinema, the black and white movie playing on the screen, feels inexplicably intimate. If the world ended and we were the lone two survivors still alive, I’d believe it.
When the movie ends, some of the theater lights twinkle on. I’m so comfy relaxed in Salvatore’s arms I almost don’t want to get up.
He snatches the empty bucket of popcorn off our laps and stands up with my hand in his. “Dinner time.”
Arturo, who has been guarding the entrance to our theater room, opens the door for us as we walk through. I assume we’re leaving, but Salvatore leads me toward a carpeted staircase lined by vintage movie posters.
On the second floor is a private terrace that overlooks what used to be a courtyard. So many decades later it’s riddled with overgrown shrubs and vines, though still beautiful and charming in a relic, days-gone-by sort of way.
In the center of the terrace is a table set for two. Salvatore pulls out my chair. I slide inside feeling tongue-tied.
“You didn’t have to arrange any of this.”
His shoulders lift in an unapologetic shrug. “I planned tonight because I wanted to.”
“To cheer me up?”
“To celebrate your birthday,” he corrects. His brows raise, though humor flickers in and out of his gaze. “Just wait ‘til what I have planned next. Payback for that little surprise party you and Francis threw me.”
“You’re still mad about having to wear the party hat.” Try as I might to hold it in, a giggle bubbles out of me at the memory. I even have photographic evidence—I snapped a secret pic of him sitting beside Salt, both equally disgruntled and cute as hell in cone-shaped party hats.
“Keep it up. You’re digging your own grave, Phi.”
A man dressed in a waitstaff uniform arrives carrying a bottle of wine. I thank him as he fills both of our glasses. He disappears as quickly as he appeared.
“So,” Salvatore says once we’ve taken our first sips, “you said you were struggling with career stuff.”
“My leave of absence and what I want to do after that.”
“You mean… you’re considering stepping down as ADA?”
A poignant silence follows his question. Neither of us shy away from holding our eye contact in those few seconds.
We both understand what it means. Another marker of how familiar we are with each other. How well we communicate even without words.
The biggest deterrent to my relationship with Salvatore—aside from my father’s sabotage—was my position as assistant district attorney. If I’m no longer ADA, then there’s nothing left holding us back from being together.
Nothing else forbidden about our relationship. For the first time in the over fifteen years that we’ve known each other and dated, we’d befree.
Finally, our chance at a real relationship.