the godfather. tom hagen; tom/connie/sonny; r. 3600 words. for workswithwords as day three of holiday fics. (i'm getting on top of these, i swear.) At age six, Tom Hagen wanted to be a Corleone.
I still see your face, bone-white as my china
above the black velvet cape you wore to my wedding
twelve years ago, the hem of your black crepe skirt
brushing up the dirty rice swirls
as you swept down the reception line to kiss me.
"Now you’re going to get it," you whispered,
cupping my cheek in your hand.
[quarter to six, dorianne laux]
The morning of Tom's wedding, he wakes up at six as he does on every other morning. He wakes up, he dresses, he makes a cup of coffee and he calls his best man at seven o' clock, the time he knows that Sonny wakes, the time at which Sonny has woken for the last five years since he left college.
"Has Connie called?" he asked, when the pleasantries have been exchanged.
Over the line, he can hear Sonny's breath quicken, can imagine the way his jaw will tighten and then go slack. He has known him long enough for this.
"Why do you wanna know?"
Tom pauses, rolls the knuckles of his right hand into his eyes as if he is trying to chase the sleep away but he isn't. He is waiting for it to go bright behind his eyelids instead, waiting for the thick, dull pain behind his temples to quicken.
"Theresa wanted to know about the seating," he says, "Theresa still wants to know about the seating."
There is a sigh and then, a choke, between them.
"I'm sure she wants to. Wherever she is."
"Is that right?"
"Of course, Tommy." (Only Sonny ever calls him Tommy.) "You're like family."
There is a inflection in those words "like family" that sends the pain churning in Tom's head, has his fingers gripping tightly around his glass of water as if he is sick or as if he has drunk too much the night before but neither of these are why, it is only a more specific, Connie-kind of pain.
He breathes, rewinds and stares blankly at the rainbow colours on the inside of his eyes.
"Is Connie going to come to the wedding?" he asks, as if he has not asked before.
Tom is just short of six years old when he first comes to live with the Corleones. Six is a dangerous age, a dangerous age for anyone and a dangerous age to be a Corleone. Sonny finds his fists somewhere between five and six; Micheal, precocious and following, makes beasts of his own.
Tom doesn't fight with his but he watches anyway - he meets the Corleones on narrow, dirty streets and the boys have their knees covered in mud and the girls with their white socks and shiny lips, stand and watch on the side.
He remembers the first time he saw them, the three boys banded together, their sister in the middle with her thick knitted eyebrows and how even with though their fists and their skirts and their lips and their knees were the same as everyone else, they still stood just like that - just a little apart, just a little different and how, he, at the time, had wanted that; to be able to be apart from the rest as they were.
At age six, Tom Hagen wanted to be a Corleone.
Tom always wanted to be a Corleone.
(This is not a story of how that happened, but rather an account of how it didn't.
Tom would never be a Corleone.)
(On his first night in the house, he slept on the floor in Sonny's room. In the morning, Vito would buy him a bed but that first night, he slept curled like a dog on the floor at his feet.
He remembers the shape of the little boy under the covers, his shoulders thrumming with sleep. He remembers the little girl, the sister, little Connie Corleone shoving open the door with her shoulders and letting yellow light from the hall spill across the floor. The shape of the door cut out in light spread out to the edge of Sonny's bed. She crossed in padding bare feet and punched her brother awake, silent fists till he growled into wakefulness.
"What do you want, Connie?" he'd asked, rolling over, making room for her to climb beside him.
"You brought a friend home."
She had not looked at him as she says this. She stared intently into her brother's small face, scrunched up with sleep. Their bodies, lying side by side in bed, facing each other reminded him of miniature version of parents he'd once had.
"So, its not fair. I want to bring a friend home but now, Daddy says we have no room."
"We can share," Sonny compromised. Later, Tom would remember that even at six, Sonny only ever compromised with his sister. "You can share my friend."
Two pair of eyes in the dark had fixed on his form. Tom, with a mixture of anticipation and fear, had shut his eyes until sleep swallowed both of them up.)
At age twelve, Tom had spent half of his young life living with the Corleone family and felt, at this point, that he was a Hagen only in name.
He had become used to the inner workings of the house, the complex, intricate hierarchy of order. He knew that if Sonny had been in trouble at school, one must never tell his father and equally, that if the neighbours came around to say that the children had been trouble, it was absolutely unacceptable to take that news to their mother. The dichotomy is incomplete, illogical, intricate. So, Vito rules the roost and his wife, coy, steel, rules Vito.
So; Tom Hagen at twelve understands these things, these wild, complex things (marriage and the Corleones) better than some will in a lifetime.
So; at twelve, Tom feels a Corleone in all but name.
(He and Sonny run side by side in school. If Tom places first in class, Sonny comes one below. It doesn't matter how many of those papers are ones Tom wrote himself. Sonny comes one below. That is the way it is.
If Sonny places first in sports, still Tom will come just one place behind him.
None of this is coincidence or the simple result of a very tight race, it is just the way things are, the natural formation in which they have come to fall, again and again.
Sometimes, he sees Connie on the sidelines, smirking in her white socks.)
They ache as they grow; Sonny gets broader in the shoulders and Tom shoots up like a reed, something rakish about his frame, all bones and messy hair, Micheal makes the move from boy to man more evenly, growing in small, manageable degrees and never any different at any age, just larger with the melancholy eyes finally fitting into place. They are measured against a wall in their kitchen, the pale yellow wall by the door filling up with mark after mark, climbing up towards the ceiling. Fredo, alone, stays small.
(the girl grows different, a foreign shape moving between their clumsy bodies, she is thin and then, she isn't and all of her form seems to contort to something new.
the white socks on the sidelines become red lips and Tom lowers his head and waits for Sundays.)
He meets Theresa the summer before senior year. The city drowns in July, melts into the pavements under the burning sun and Sonny is told to straighten up, start thinking about college and it is understood that he and Tom will go together, will continue there, this same tight camaraderie. They are not friend or brother, they are not one person, Tom is just the shadow and Sonny the body that walks in the sun
They spend weeks out in the back garden, their bodies wet from the pool and the sweat that lingers on their skin, sinks in till it is part of their flesh and blood, salt running in the veins heel to heel with the vodka that Sonny has mixed into their drinks, into their Cokes and orange juices and Fredo didn’t know before he drank all of his and Fredo is now sleeping on a lounge chair like it is the middle of the night and not noon.
It is not the middle of the night. They are in their bathing suits, by the pool and Fredo is sleeping and the rest of them, sipping cautiously and furtively at their drinks, are wide awake.
This is when Mama Corleone ushers in a family full of daughters, fourteen, fifteen and seventeen into the garden.
The boys fumble into sitting position. Connie, cool, swings her legs down from where they were perched on Sonny’s shoulders.
Across, the lawn, the girl who is named Theresa smiles. As she crosses the lawn to say hello, Tom feels the gravity of the world shift beneath him, just the way he did when he first met Sonny.
He is good at recognizing when things like this happen, when patterns and plans for the future rest upon a single instance.
(Connie starts sneaking out at sixteen, starts first by stealing Sonny’s car and driving it off into the night. They never know where she goes, though Sonny tried once on foot, tried to chase the black car as it skidded over the roads but she was too fast and his limbs too heavy and Sonny had come home humiliated that night, he never tried again.
She comes back in the hours between midnight and dawn, no fixed time ever, with the red lipstick smeared off of her lips and taps at their door to hand over the key. Her lips laugh but it doesn’t reach her eyes, even drunk she is this way, her whole face shut like a guarded city.
She taps at the door, taps Tom on the shoulder and if Sonny is asleep, she will snap her fingers and laugh till he wakes.
Tom remembers the length of her throat in the dark, the shape of it as her head tipped back and she looked strong then, a thousand army strength.
He tries to hold together the pieces of their shared lives to see where it goes missing.)
He asks Theresa out when he is seventeen and she is sixteen. He has only known her a year and a half and these are the things he has learned; she likes chrysanthemums, Audrey Hepburn and all restaurants but Italian restaurants. Equally, she dislikes chocolates, being kissed on her cheek and Connie Corleone.
He never questions the latter, accepts the rest and if he puts it down to petty jealously, high school tricks than Theresa doesn't know and Theresa doesn't care.
He buys her chrysanthemums. He takes her out to the movies. He never mentions Connie in her presence again.
Connie, conversely, waits by the door when he comes home. "Have a good date, Thomas?" she asks, sitting on the steps in her slippers and her shorts.
(Only Connie ever calls him Thomas.)
"Fine," he asks and she doesn't poke or prod but she asks after Theresa as if she knows.
It wouldn't surprise him over much. Connie makes a habit of knowing everything that goes on around here.
(Connie makes a habit of knowing and so does Micheal and so does Tom.
Fredo and Sonny like to live their lives in the dark.)
The summer that she is twenty one, Connie goes missing for the third time.
“Missing” here means that she is at a hotel in Vegas and no one knows where she is, but Sonny knows and Tom knows and “missing” is the word they use in the family, when their parents and their aunts and uncles discuss her. It is not “missing” as the police would mean it, only as the Corlenes do.
He finds her in a hotel room, with her heels kicked off. She is wearing sunglasses and reading a copy of December Vogue in the lamplight and outside, the sun is sinking down and spilling through the blinds, dark and fleeing. Connie is dark and fleeing.
This is the summer that she wears sunglasses all the time. Tom begins to think its to hide the cracks.
"Hiding from me?" he asks, when she turns into the sheets at the sound of an opening door.
She shakes her head.
"Thought you were someone else."
"You here with someone, then?" he asks, raising an eyebrow. Usually Connie's disappearances are solo acts, individual Houdini feats of vanishing into thin air.
(Actually, it feels just like that when she goes, like the air is closing around her like a thickening forest, each limb, each bit of her making slow progress out of the seen world and into another till all of her is gone. It happens in stages, like that, every time.
It happens quicker than a snap of your fingers.)
"What's it to you, Tom?" Her voice is muffled by the pillow.
He thinks that he would like to shake her, like to yank her out of that bed and clasp his hands around her shoulders and shake her till she came back to life.
He doesn't do that.
"Your family's worried about you," he states, calm and rehearsed. The lighter on the beside table is broken, coughs up only the smell of fluid and a dwindling flame when he clicks at it and brings it up to the cigarette in his mouth.
The room already smells of ash and cheap red wine.
Connie rotates in the bed and pulls herself up, the bones cracking into place as she stands there, in her slip and her bare feet.
"You do everything my family ask you to, Thomas?" she asks, "Or just my brother?"
"I don't know what you're on about, Connie and I don't like you trying to detract. Put some clothes on."
She ignores that last bit. Another time, perhaps, she'd have preened, put her hands up on his shoulders and pressed the length of herself against the length of him until neither of them could breathe but that was then and this is now and that was Connie, cold little Connie Corleone and this is a stranger in a Halloween mask, mouth painted into a smile.
"I'm curious, Thomas. There's no need to be so defensive."
"You going to come home, Connie?" he asks, breaking patience.
The girl closes her eyes. She looks very young like that, very much a little girl in white socks.
"I'll come home when I'm ready to come home."
"And when's that gonna be?"
(There is the thing about family, there are things you don't have to say. Exhibit A: Things That Tom and Connie Do Not Have To Say To Each Other (Because They Are Family);
TOM: Sonny's graduating in the fall, come home before then.
CONNIE: I will. I don't want to but I will. And I'll stand in the back and wear black and mother will push nice Italian boys at me and you and your Theresa will look perfect in every photograph. Over dinner, you will ask her to marry you and she will say yes and Sonny, of course, will be your best man (though I imagine there'll be some talk of Fredo or Micheal - just to keep things fair.) You'll go to work for the family doing whatever goddamn thing they want you to do and Sonny's will get another year's lease of playing the fool before he's dragged up to work, and that'll be the end of that.
TOM: Fine. [pause] I'll tell your father. Your father will like that.)
He will make a good husband, a good lawyer, a bad consigliere, exactly in that order.
Eighteen and he is already in training for all three.
It is the summer before college and the family headed to Long Island for the weekend, the Sicilians are visiting and the house, wide and empty is all his own.
He watches the way the sun sets and falls around it, the way it rises in the mornings, notes which rooms the light touches first (Connie's) and which last (Fredo's) and notes, also, the precise hour at which the milkman chases by (of which he had formerly only had a murky, indistinct awareness).
He drinks coffee alone at the big table, cooks a breakfast for five and sits down at his regular place, three spots from the head, never anywhere else and reads the sports section of the paper.
(This is the week that Theresa shows up at his doorstep, wearing her white summer dress and asks, softly, if she can stay the night.
This is the week he knows for certain what he already knew in his bones two years ago, knows that some part of him will always rest around some part of her. She is small, smaller than he expects, the tiny bones over sighing under him as he lays her out on the bed, her pale virgin legs spreading.
He keeps his eyes open the whole time, keeps them fixed on her face, the dark eyes, flushed skin and wraps his hands firmly around the soft curves of her, holding her in place against the rumpled sheets.
"Well," she laughs afterward, shakily, "I don't suppose this is what your family intended, leaving you all alone here."
"Probably not. Little Theresa Romano from next door, coming in to seduce me."
She strokes her fingers along the length of his mouth, lifting his head off of where it rests between her shoulder and her neck.
"They'd be horrified," she says, in whispering, conspiratorial tones, "Absolutely gobsmacked."
"I suppose this was a bit of luck - some time together before you go off."
She smiles then, frightened and eager and she looks small again, small enough that he could fit all of her in his hand and keep her there, caged in his fingers.
He presses his mouth lightly to the top of her head and keeps it there for a space of time that seems to stretch, indefinitely between them.
In the morning, she sits across from him at the breakfast table.)
It is harder to be Tom Hagen at college, harder to be Tom Hagen-but-really-Corleone.
He and Sonny are together and apart; same school, different dorms. Only a few mutual classes.
On weekends, sometimes, Micheal and Connie drive up.
The world begins to feel as if it has started to spin apart.
(The world will have completely fallen apart by the end of freshman year, in Sonny's dorm room.
Most of the time, he tries to forget.
Most of the time, now, he will not think about that night or if he does, he will try to remember in abstracts and not specifics, not in the shape or taste of red lips or the way two pairs of legs felt pressed up against his. He will not remember the way Connie's tongue tasted of vodka and Sonny's of cigarettes or how they pulled him in between them by the length of his tie.
"What do we call this," he'd asked, laughing as he kissed Connie, mouth sore from where her brother bit down on the skin, "Keeping it in the family?"
"Something like that."
In the morning, Connie was gone for the first time.)
He stops at the family's house on his way to the church. There is a flurry of sound within, of pacing feet and clothes begin straightened into place, of fuss and merriment and wine already being poured. Upstairs, Mama Corleone is straightening her husband's tie. There are children parading up the road to the house, carrying flowers in their tiny arms.
Inside, the phone is ringing and everyone is too busy to answer it.
"Getting the groom on his wedding day. I must be a lucky girl."
They pause like this, again and again. Each is waiting for the other's breath to heave first, a childhood game of firsts.
"You're not very talkative today."
"You in trouble?" he asks and when she doesn't say a word, he ask, "You coming to the wedding?"
There is a scuffle, feet wrestling in the hallway and Sonny emerges, freshly shaven Sonny, Sonny in his Sunday best and Tom's grip on the phone tightens.
"I only ask 'cause Theresa wanted to know."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world."
When Sonny asks, "who was that?", Tom doesn't tell him the truth. He will reflect later, that its the only time he ever lied to Sonny, the only time it ever meant something.
Their sister stumbles in just before the vows, wearing a black veil and white stockings and she sits beside her brother and mouths a "good luck" that he can feel without turning, that he can feel in the back of his shoulder.
When he leans down to kiss his wife, he can see them at the corner of his eye, the Corleone family sitting in their rows.
Of them all, Connie is the only one who no longer looks knowing. There is a dead beat weakness in the jut of her jaw that Tom only ever see in the mirror.
He is married on a Sunday morning, to Theresa Romano, with all and none of his family present.
The word fits around him like dust.