One Step Closer To A Dream Come True

You live here? a whorehouse.

Had it really been so long ago since Richard stood in the same spot and said those words to Jimmy Darmody? It seemed like yesterday. It seemed that nothing had changed. Richard's eye scanned the entry of the Four Deuces, looking for one specific girl, and there she was, in almost the exact same spot she had been standing when he had first seen her. She was talking to another girl, but when she spotted Richard looking at her, she broke off the conversation and walked over to him.

"Hey, baby," she said, a smile on her lips. "It's good to see you again."

Richard's mouth twitched briefly before fully pulling up into a reserved smile. "Mm, hello, Odette." His eye roamed over her face, memorizing the roundness of her cheeks, the beautiful angle of her eyes, the perfect bow of her lips. She was more beautiful than he remembered, more beautiful than he even dreamed. He met her eye briefly, then slowly glanced down. "I hope you. Mm, have been well."

"Well enough," she said. Her voice was as sweet as birdsong to his ears. "How about you?"

"I, mm. Well enough. I..." He trailed off, unsure of what else to say.

"We heard about Jimmy," she said softly, stepping close to him and laying her hand on his arm. She looked up at him, genuine sorrow in her eyes. "I'm so sorry. He was a good man."

Richard nodded and said nothing. He glanced at her, then away again. His entire body felt fluttery in her presence. She smiled at him, which made his heart pound unevenly in his chest.

"C'mon baby," she said. "Let's get a drink." She walked with him to the bar, where they sat, and ordered, and talked a little, although it was Odette who did most of the talking. Richard was nervous, but it was a delightful nervous. As they sat on the stools, there at the bar, her knee would occasionally brush against his, and he felt a little jolt each time they touched. When she laid her hand over his, he wanted to melt into a happy puddle at her feet.

"You didn't come all the way to Chicago just to see me, did you?" she asked, smiling to show she was joking.

"What if, mm. I said...yes?" Richard asked, feeling bold. Odette wasn't the only reason he'd come to Chicago, but she was the only reason he had volunteered to come.

"Then I think Al might be kinda pissed," she said, leaning in like they were sharing some great secret. She was so close, and Richard had an image in his mind of leaning in and kissing her.

"Do you know. How many, mm, reasons there are. For why you're. Much more enjoyable. Mm, than Al?"

Odette playfully swatted his arm, looking moderately embarrassed as color blossomed in her cheeks.

"I'm sure there are plenty," she admitted as she slid off the stool. "But I think you still need to talk to him, hmm?"

"Yes," Richard admitted. "Business, mm, and all that."

"Come see me when you're done, baby?" she asked sweetly, resting her hand on his chest for just a moment. Richard could only nod to say he would, there was no way he'd get words out right now. He watched her walk away, aware that he was watching the most beautiful, perfect woman in the world.

He had a brief moment to imagine his dreams coming true, walking with Odette along the beach, kissing her, holding her for the rest of their lives.

He brushed his wistful thoughts aside as Al Capone joined him. They did their business quickly, with almost no side banter, because in truth, neither man particularly cared for the other. Richard thought Al was brash, uncouth, somewhat obnoxious and mildly annoying. Al thought Richard was unreadable, inhuman, unattached, and just plain odd. But they respected one another enough to come to an agreeable deal. Richard thought they were done, but Al held up his hand to stall him.

"Look, I know you and me don't exactly get along," Al said. "But I want you to give some thought to staying in Chicago, come work for me. Now that Darmody's gone, I don't think you got anything to keep you in Jersey."

"I...will give it. Mm, some thought." What more could he say? The idea wasn't unappealing. It wasn't overly appealing, either, but what would the difference be working in Chicago, working in Atlantic City? Nothing, that he could tell.

"You do that," Al said, lighting a cigar and turning away from Richard. Richard gave the man's back a long, contemplative look, then he left the bar, seeking Odette. She was waiting for him at the base of the stairs. She gave him a sweet smile and took his hand, once again leading him upstairs to her room.

It was deja vu, the way he stepped aside to let her precede him into the room. She turned and gave the same beckoning motion with her fingers, the same eye flutter. He stepped into her room, his nerves even worse this time than they had been the first time. Then, he had been walking into the room of the woman he would lose his virginity to. Now, he was walking into the room of the woman he loved.

She shut the door gently, locking it and leaning against it once more. He turned to look at her, wanting to tell her the truth of his feelings, that he was in love with her, had thought of her so many times over the months, that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, loving her, revering her, taking care of her, making her happy. But when he opened his mouth to speak, nothing would come out, not even her name, a simple word he had whispered to himself so many times he had lost count. She smiled at him, closed the distance between them, gently resting her hands on his lapels. Richard was certain she could feel his heart hammering in his chest. She gazed up at him, her eyes so deep and beautiful that Richard swore he could drown in them, knowing if he did he would die a happy man.

"Odette," he finally managed to whisper, the sound harsh enough to make him wince. He couldn't tell her, no matter how much he wanted to. She would turn away, repulsed. Or she might give a little laugh, say "That's so sweet, baby" and leave it at that. He couldn't bare his heart only to have it crushed.

"Will you do something for me, please?" Odette asked softly, looking up at him with an almost uncertain look in her eyes.

He wanted to tell her he would do anything for her, even if it meant walking to the ends of the earth, but he simply nodded.

"Take off your mask. Please, Richard?"

"You remembered, mm. My name," he said, awed. It was the first time she had ever said it.

"Of course I did," she said, brushing her fingers down his face. "I haven't stopped thinking about you." Richard felt his heart skip at her admission. "I kept hoping you would come back. I...I asked Al if he'd take me with him, the last time he went to Atlantic City, but he said no. I couldn't come up with a good enough reason for him to take me."

"I asked you. Were, mm. When he was there. He, mm. Didn't answer me, very well."

"Al doesn't exactly have a way with words," she said with a small laugh.

"Al doesn't...exactly, mm. Like me."

"Al isn't exactly the brightest light in the chandelier."

"Why are we...talking. Mm, about Al?"

"Because you never answered my question."

Richard turned his face away, closing his eye, remembering all the dreams he had of her, of him, of them together. How he always saw himself as whole, undamaged. Even in his mind he could not show her what he really looked like. She was so beautiful, so perfect. He was hideous, flawed. He felt that showing her his face would ruin her absolute perfection.

"Hey," she said softly, coming to stand where he could see her. "I know it's bad under there. I asked Jimmy about it, later. I was curious. He told me you've got a lot of scars, that you're missing your eye and that part of you mouth is pulled out of shape. You probably don't believe me, because I'm sure there have been plenty of people who say 'Oh, I don't care what you look like underneath. It won't bother me.' I really don't care what you look like under there...a whore above any other profession can tell you that looks don't matter at all. I've seen truly beautiful people show great cruelty. And I've seen people that we'd call ugly do the most beautiful kindnesses." She took a breath, cupping his right cheek with her palm. But he interrupted her.

"Can you say. That the sight won't, mm, bother you?" He wanted to reach out and touch her, it was all he had wanted to do for so long, but he felt paralyzed with fear.

"I could, but I won't, because I won't know for certain unless you show me. I'm not going to lie to you about that. But I can be honest and say your sort of makes me uncomfortable. It's It doesn't reveal anything, it's so cold and emotionless. You have such an expressive face, otherwise." She gave a nervous little laugh, and glanced down, saying "You know, all these months, I used to imagine this moment, and what I would say." She glanced up at him briefly, then back down with a flutter of her eyelashes. "I had it down perfect in my head," she chuckled, "but when I'm actually saying it I sound don't know what. But it really sounded wonderful when I imagined it." She looked up at him, took a deep breath and said "Do you know why a whore will never kiss a customer on the mouth?" Richard shook his head, holding still otherwise for fear that moving would break the spell. "It's because it's too intimate. We've got a saying 'You kiss the person you love, not the person you screw.' Does that make sense?" This time Richard nodded.

"I can't kiss you with your mask on, Richard."