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How to Paint a House

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February 1992 - Age 12 

“You should see the other guy.” Sonny laughed to the fifth pair of eyes that looked at his face in horror at mass. Gina all but scoffed at her brother’s response and rolled her eyes. She sided with her father in all of this. 

“I’d like to.” She said when the exchange with one of his parent’s friends ended. 

“C’mon, not here, Gina.” Sonny sighed as they looked to the swarm of people taking their place for the service. They found their own seats, their parents dragging them to their usual spot only to be met with Serafina’s scathing whispers as she realized their typical seats had been taken by another family. He didn’t need more than a minute to recognize the back of a scruffy t-shirt of the boy in front of him before his stomach rose to the middle of his throat.

“I just don’t get it.” Dominick Sr’s voice echoed through the house and Sonny had to swallow back the bile that crawled to the top of his throat. His father had barely been able to look at him since they released him from the hospital. 

The bed creaked as the only Carisi son leaned back against his pillows. He waited ever so patiently for the ceiling lights to dissolve into hundreds of little stars to take him away. The painkillers would help, so the doctors said. And as much as he didn’t want to stare the gift horse of modern medicine in the mouth, he wished they worked a little faster. It hurt to move, to blink, to frown. But most of all, it hurt to listen. He wasn’t sure his parents would understand the reasoning he kept his mouth shut, besides fear. He prayed he could get lost, that maybe the walls would swallow him whole until he healed or at the very least until his parents were through arguing. Four kids and his sisters would complain he was lucky to be the only boy when it meant he got his own room, his own privacy, but he’d gladly take sharing a room with his little sister over shouldering the weight of the disappointment in his father’s eyes 

His sisters had questions, all of them, even Teresa who was out of the house. With Teresa gone, Gina thought it was her responsibility to protect him and he’d lost count of the number of times she threatened to do the same to the “little punk” that put hands on her little brother. 

“You may be above beating up some junior high kid, Teresa, but I’m not.” Gina said with the cordless pressed to her ear. She was older than him, going into her Junior year at Tottenville High. 

“Knock it off, Gina.” Serafina scolded and she only stared at her son before dismissing him up to his room to get some rest. 

Sonny continued to ignore the questioning eyes of his siblings, Bella was just glad her brother was alright. But the violence didn’t sit right with him. His stomach whirled with nausea just thinking about it. 

“Fina, they might have damn well stitched his mouth shut.” His father snapped again. 

His father was a little-bit right though. Dozens of stitches on his face and arms and he couldn’t find it in himself to open his mouth to say it. One word and he’d be freed from the glares, the disappointment. 

Sonny Carisi usually had words for everything, but he remained quiet. 

Was it trauma? Serafina couldn’t help but wonder. It wasn’t like him to be quiet. 

But the truth was, the only thing it was, was over.  They all had an opinion but it wasn’t them bearing the weight of everything. It wasn’t them who took a face full of glass. 

It would have been so easy just to let it go, to just fall back into the reality of everything that happened. His parents would take the weight, they loved him enough to take the brunt of it. But then he’d be a snitch and his problems wouldn’t go away. He’s done little to warrant getting his face shoved through a school window and didn’t want to fathom a thought on what would happen if he did something to actually wrong his bully. 

Part of him, deep down, had other thoughts. Maybe this would be it. The bully had his fun, he’d taken it too far, and maybe the guilt of having to wash his hands of the blood of another, someone he’d hurt would change his mind and knock some sense into him. 

Maybe Bobby Bianchi would turn over a new leaf. 

Sonny had to stay positive, he saw the look on Bobby’s face after he heard the shattering of the glass. He felt the hesitation in his grip as he let go of Sonny’s shirt, and heard the squeak of his ragged shoes on the floor as he retreated from the scene. It was fear that kept him quiet but he tried to justify in his head, sifting through maybes, what-ifs, and whens. 

In school, he’d sat behind Bobby Bianchi. He sat close. Close enough to notice the tatters on his clothes, the occasional dirt on his neck, the details beyond the permanent scowl plastered to his face. 

The comments started after Sonny took his new portable game system to school to show his best friend Ryan. They were snide and mean, coming from the meaty kid in front of him, but he didn’t care. His parents worked hard to get him a GameBoy for Christmas and he was proud to show it off. 

It was in those details he thought about, waiting for the meds to hit, and he didn’t regret it. He didn’t know anything about Bobby’s homelife other than that he had a kid sister who Bella hung out with sometimes that lived in a not-so-great part of town and that it was rare his parents attend weekly mass on Sundays. 

What he did know was that Bobby was starting high school next year, he was leaving the walls of St. Paul’s K-8  and Sonny prayed he could leave it all behind. He hoped his silence would buy his bully some time.

“Can’t even dress up for Mass, I swear-” Serafina continued, observing the family in front of them. She was only pacified when her youngest squealed in delight at the look of the thin girl at the end of the pew.

“Rachel!” Bella squealed, seeing her friend, and the girl perked up in excitement as she turned back to Bella. “We never see you at church!” 

“Dad was insistent on coming this week.” She said, smiling innocently and tucking a strand of long brown hair over her shoulder. The girls continued to slip into giggles over something that happened in the classroom Friday.  Sonny straightened up but didn’t interrupt their conversation, he could only stare at the boy in front of him or more so, the tight grip Bobby Bianchi’s father had on his son’s shoulder. His knuckles were white and hard as if his son would float away like a balloon to the church ceilings if he moved only an inch. 

We’re they waiting for something? Waiting for their world to shift? Waiting for their son to be escorted out of the service like a convict in an old movie? Is that what would happen if Sonny were to come clean? He didn’t know much about law enforcement. Maybe he’d do some research to at the very least get the pleasure of an internal picture of Bobby being dragged out of the sanctuary in large handcuffs. 

The tension in his body tightened at the picture, but he kept his arms tight to his side. 

He shot a look to the end of their pew and his father, shoulder’s tightened, was only focused on the head of the church, nothing odd stood out about the family in front of them. 

Sonny saw Ryan pass the tabernacle at the altar out of the corner of his eye, his white robes a little too big for him, and pushed back whatever internal fantasies he had as seeing an alter boy meant the service was about to begin. He'd give anything to swap places with Ryan. He'd been on the schedule this week to serve but Father Overmeyer insisted another altar boy take over in case Sonny wasn't feeling up to service. 

Father Overmeyer was right.

  “Wow, he really did a number on you. I didn’t think you’d be out of school all week. I brought your work.” Ryan Duffy said when Sonny opened the door for their sleepover. It occurred on a weekly basis, his mom would work late, they’d eat Pizza and play video games way past their bedtime and struggle their way to church in the morning. 

“Doctor recommended some rest and you know my ma. Kept me all but chained to the couch all week.” Sonny said, frowning. He thought his injuries had vastly improved over the past few days. He moved to the side for his friend to step in, but instead he dropped his bag to the ground and inched closer, eyes widening as he took in the stitches that littered Sonny’s face. 

“Sonny, did Bianchi do this? He’s been after your for weeks.” Ryan asked. He wasn’t one to cut corners, but his words were a little louder than Sonny liked with his sister’s sitting just in the other room. Teresa came back to visit for the weekend and had hawk like hearing. Ryan was the only one who knew what really went on at school. Most of it anyway. 

“Shh.” Sonny said,  dragging his friend through the entryway. “Keep quiet…about that.” 

Ryan furrowed his brows and reached back through the door to grab the overnight bag he’d dropped at his feet. 

“Alright, its…not a big deal. I-i just haven’t told anyone about the crap Bobby’s been pulling.” Sonny started, shaking his head. “Just come on in. I just beat level twenty on Super Mario Bros. Let’s see if we can beat the game tonight.” 

Ryan shrugged and looked to the kitchen entryway, “That’s cool. But Sonny, we really should tell-” 

“No. We can’t. If anyone can understand that…” Sonny started. Ryan had become one of his closest friends since his family moved and he knew he could trust him.  “Just don’t tell anyone, all right Ryan? It’s bad enough…I’m just hopin'…” He said. His friend only stared, trying to understand. 

“Maybe he…was having a bad day. My parents want to get the cops involved, but…that’s pretty permanent, isn’t it? He’s already probably gonna leave me alone for good after that, why make it worse? Father Overmeyer is already going to give it to him…” He trailed off as he and Ryan considered the amount of hail mary’s Bobby Bianchi was surely going to have to endure next time they were shoved into the confession booth. 

“I just don’t have a good feeling about it.” Sonny finished, shutting the door before his father said something about the draft. 

“Or maybe he won’t leave you alone, Sonny. Maybe it gets worse.”

“What’s worse than this?” 

Ryan rolled his eyes, but considered the sincerity in his friend’s voice.  “I’m keeping my mouth shut.” 

“Yeah, okay.” Ryan said.  “But \ff it gets worse…or if he does this to someone else…” 

“Then I’ll consider changing my mind. But I think he got scared. I’m…hopin’ this will help him…turn over a new leaf or somethin.” 

Ryan continued to frown but nodded. 

“Sonny, is that Duffy?” His father yelled from the kitchen. 

“Sure is. Hey Mr. Carisi.” Ryan called, changing his demeanor entirely. 

Sonny trailed off, turning toward the stairs.  “My face is nothing compared to what your toon is gonna look like after I drag him through the mud of level twenty-one.” 

Ryan chuckled as he followed his friend, “sure, Sonny. I guess I’ll take pity on you this time.” 

He made his decision and he had to stick to it. 

Aside from Rachel, the Bianchis were statues for most of the service. 

“The Peace of the Lord be with you always.” Father Overmeyer sang to the congregation. 

“And with your spirit.” They replied in unison. 

“Let us offer each other the sign of peace.” 

Sonny turned and instinctively stuck out his hand to anyone who turned to him, shaking hands and muttering words under his breath, nodding his head, and moving on to the next. But the words were hesitant to fall out of his mouth when a familiar, meaty hand stuck out to him. He looked up to see Bobby turned around, staring him in the face with his arm extended. He felt the hot glare of Mr. Bianchi radiating off of his son and reacted, forcing his hand into the arm of his bully. 

“Peace be with you.” Bobby offered stiffly. 

“And also with you.” Sonny said tightly.