After I was finished, I made my way downstairs.
I was in complete shock from how quickly Leo had gotten everything set up in the party area. It was beautiful and simple like Marcus. Candles burned on top of the linen-covered tables as twinkling lights sparkled throughout the outdoor tent. Vases of all sorts of shapes and sizes surrounded the inside, full of large flower arrangements. Laughter sounded in the room as guests began to enter. I hadn’t recognized anyone yet. I assumed they were friends of Theresa, rather than family and friends of Marcus. I looked around until I spotted Theresa, who was speaking to an older gentleman. She was dressed in an emerald sleeveless cocktail dress. Her hair dropped down her back in flawless waves. She was absolutely stunning.
“Mia?” A familiar tone trickled through my mind. Spinning around, I couldn’t help the slight squeal that escaped me when I saw Romeo standing a few feet away, looking more handsome than ever. With a smile, I pulled him into a hug.
“Romeo, how are you?” I squeezed my arms tightly around him. The last time I saw him was in this very house as he sat in the kitchen with a bruised and bloody face. We pulled away from our embrace. His eyes danced with humor.
“I’m doing well, Mia. Well, school’s a bitch.” He laughed. “But I’ve been okay. How ’bout you?”
Grabbing his face, I studied his features. There was a slight scar over his brow where the cut that I had once nursed for him used to be. A slight frown formed on my lips. “I’m doing well.” I brushed a finger over the scar. His eyes averted as his grin fell. I didn’t want to bring down the moment, so in an upbeat tone, I said, “Well, have you stolen any girl’s heart yet?”
He burst into a loud laugh. “Nah, no one wants me.”
“Are you kidding? You’re gorgeous!” Playfully, I lightly nudged his arm. “I’m sure you have tons of girls after you.” He was gorgeous. He was the younger version of Marcus with his dark brown hair, chocolate sparkling eyes, and million-dollar smile. He was surely a heartbreaker.
“Yeah, okay, whatever you say, Mia.” Changing the topic, he looked around the room. “So is this still supposed to be a surprise or has Marcus figured it out?”
“As far as I know, it’s still a surprise, unless Jimmie spilled the beans while they were out.”
Romeo raised a brow. “Jimmie and Marcus are hanging out together?”
“Yeah, I sent them off to have some brotherly bonding. They’re drinking and hanging out.”
Sucking his teeth, he smiled mockingly. “Yeah, good luck with that. I’m sure by now they’ve gotten into a fist fight and Jimmie ruined the entire surprise.” My expression fell. “Just kidding, Mia. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” He laughed. Shaking my head, I gave him one last hug and then went off to find Theresa.
For the next hour, I was introduced to a decent amount of people. There were a total of fifty guests by the time six-thirty rolled around. The nerves trembled in my stomach as I anticipated Marcus’s arrival. The martinis I’d consumed in the short period of time to calm my nerves were beginning to take effect. Grabbing another drink, I made my way toward the living room and leaned against a wall, observing my surroundings. Several groups were engaged in conversations: one in particular was laughing to a few jokes told by Uncle Marty, another group seemed to be in a serious discussion, while a few of the women sipped on glasses of wine and talked about the latest gossip.
“Mia?” A deep male’s tone sounded beside me.
Tilting my head, I stared up at a five-foot-eleven, nicely built man. His gentle light brown eyes met mine. “Hello, I’m sorry. Do I know you?” I felt rude for not knowing who he was, but it was clear that he knew me.
“I’m Vinnie, a friend of Marky’s.”
Vinnie? The name sounded familiar and then it dawned on me from my recent conversations with Marcus. “Oh yes! He’s mentioned you lots of times. He refers to you as his ‘right hand man.’” I laughed.
Vinnie nodded with a wide smile. “Yeah, that’s what he tells me. It’s nice to finally meet you.” He reached out his hand, and I took it.
“Nice to finally meet you too. I don’t meet many of Marcus’s friends, but he talks fondly of you.”
“Ha, that’s good to know. So next time he’s grilling me about a job, I’ll make sure to mention that.”
“Don’t tell him you heard it from me!” I stabbed a finger at his arm.
“I won’t, although, it’ll probably save my ass.” We both laughed.
Vinnie and I continued to talk as we waited until the lights went off in the room, getting our attention. “Okay, everyone, Marcus will be here in five minutes. Please gather around.” Theresa’s voice pierced through the room. My heart crushed heavily against my chest as I straightened my posture but remained against the wall. I could hear footsteps scattering around the hardwood surface as people attempted to reach the entrance. After a few minutes, the whispers had died down when tires screeched along the driveway.
My lips curled into a smile after I heard the car door shut following the sound of Marcus and Jimmie’s voices. The sound of their boots crunching against the gravel surface came closer as their laughter erupted. After the jingling sound of the keys, the door opened, and then the lights flicked on.
“Surprise!” Everyone yelled.
Stretching my neck, I tried to look over the crowd that had formed around Marcus. I had yet to see him and had totally missed his reaction. I knew he was in the center of the crowd because I could hear family and friends yelling and wishing him a happy birthday. There was no way I was going to be able to push through that crowd, so I stayed in place until I felt I could get to him. “Happy birthday, Baby!” Theresa squealed. My eyes moved toward the right, where I saw that Theresa had thrown her arms tightly around Marcus. My entire body relaxed at the sight of him. He seemed thrilled by everyone’s presence. When he finally looked up, his eyes locked with mine. After thanking his mother, he made his way toward me.
With a bright smile, I moved forward toward him until we met in the middle. “Happy birthday,” I mouthed. Without a single word, he pulled me into him, wrapping my arms around his neck. I looked up. “Have you been drinking?” I asked, the answer written all over his eyes and the smell of beer lingering on him.
With a lazy smile, he pulled me in tighter, “Yeah, Jimmie and I were playing a drinking game.” He shrugged. Laughing, I shook my head and reached up for a kiss. “Marky!” Uncle Marty shouted from behind. Marcus pulled away from the kiss and rolled his eyes before he turned around. Uncle Marty held two shot glasses in his hand and gave one to Marcus. The both of them clinked glasses and downed the shot. More family members approached him with drinks.