I’m positive I’m staring at her like she’s crazy. “Look, we’ll try this another night—”
“No.” Faith suddenly looks desperate. “It has to be tonight. I can’t spend another night cooped up at the inn, Willa. Please.”
Dammit. This is what I avoid like the plague. In my limited experience, when you let someone in a little, they’re never satisfied until you’re bleeding in front of them on an altar, every single one of your layers peeled back for them to psychoanalyze. This is the first step in that process. Faith is wiggling her way under my skin, appealing to whatever tiny shred of empathy I have inside me. Next thing you know, she’ll be pouring her heart out and acting wounded when I don’t do the same.
When she sucks in a breath, I know she can see the thoughts on my face, so I turn my head, casting one more glance at O’Kelly’s. The two men have finished beating the stuffing out of one another and are now…shaking hands? God, the Irish are confusing as hell.
A car door slams, and I stare wide-eyed as Faith rounds the front of the cab, marching toward O’Kelly’s with bring on the trouble written all over her. Both bloodied men notice and say something undoubtedly crude to her as she walks past them into the bar. Into the bar. Shit. I spring into motion, throwing a handful of Euro—which honestly looks like Monopoly money to me—at the cab driver and hustle my ass toward the entrance.
When I walk inside, the first thing I notice is the cigarette smoke. Smoking is banned inside bars in this country, but this place clearly isn’t following the rules. Red flag number one. Second red flag? The four men arguing over a table strewn with playing cards and cash. And enough whiskey to drown two sumo wrestlers. As if I’d walked in shouting through a bullhorn, every one of the men looks at me. I do my best to look bored as I scope the crowded bar to determine in which direction Faith took off.
“Bad Samaritan.” One of them shouts over the loud music that has just started. His accent is so thick I can barely understand him. “Show me your tender mercies, and I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth.”
I pretend to choke on my own finger and keep walking. So many people crowd the bar, calling out drink orders, I wouldn’t be able to see Faith unless she was standing right beside me. I take a moment to marvel over customers having casual conversations with the bartenders in the middle of this chaos, natural and easy, as if they are standing in their own living room. As I move closer to the back of the bar, the music increases in volume. It’s the fast-paced fiddle, foot stomping, storytelling music I’ve heard coming up through my floorboards all week, but tonight it sounds different. There’s urgency behind every word, passion being communicated through the collection of instruments. Patrons surrounding the performance area sing along at the top of their lungs, taking long pulls from their pints in between verses.
I push through the thick mass of people, searching for Faith. At this point, I’m starting to get nervous. It appears I’ve opened up a Pandora’s Box of issues by giving Faith a taste of freedom, and she’s clearly decided to take full advantage. A fleeting image of Shane’s face when I tell him I lost his little sister propels me faster through the crowd. When I make it to the stage, I do a double take when I see Brian and Patrick are the musicians. Brian, sweating profusely under a newsboy cap, is so focused on his furious fiddle playing, he doesn’t see me, but Patrick’s eyebrows shoot up in shocked delight.
He waits until he reaches the end of a chorus before pointing me out on the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, joining us all the way from the Unites States…Beyoncé!”
I’ve never seen so many people disappointed to see me. It’s a little demoralizing. Enough to make me wish, just for a second, that I look sexy shaking my ass. I don’t have too much time to think about it, though, because I’ve just spotted Faith. She’s talking to some dude who has handed her a drink. Alarm bells begin clanging in my head. I can hear Ginger’s drawl, reciting the lesson she’s repeated too many times to count. Willa, never, ever take a drink from anyone with a penis. He’ll only ever want two things. To sleep with you, or drug you and then sleep with you.
Ignoring Patrick’s request for me to join him on stage for an Irish rendition of “Crazy in Love,” I stomp toward Faith and pluck the drink from her hand before it can reach her mouth.
“Willa! I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“Nice try, slick. I’m on to you.”
Faith acts like she’s just been struck deaf, leaning toward me and squinting. Her companion puts a hand on my arm. “Get you a drink, love?”
“Here, take this one,” I say wearily, handing him Faith’s drink. I’m not getting her out of here unless I club her over the head and drag her. It’s there in the stubborn set of her chin. For the first time, I can see a resemblance between her and Shane. I squeeze between two girls to get to the bar and order two fresh drinks for us. When I turn around holding our beers, I stop short. Faith is dancing near the stage, looking as though she’s just gotten out of school for summer. And found out she’s won the lottery. Hands above her head, she twirls in a circle and sends me an exaggerated wink.
I can’t help it. I laugh.
It feels really f**king good to laugh.
By my third drink, I’m battling the foreign urge to sing. Loudly. However, compared to the pace with which the people around me are drinking, I’m sober as Judge Judy. With Faith picking a new dancing companion every ten minutes, I’m staying sharp to keep an eye on her, but I’m starting to loosen up a little and have a good time. O’Kelly’s, while definitely rough around the edges, is humming with energy and packed full of colorful characters. Sure, I may have been required to dodge another fistfight since arriving, but I’m starting to become fascinated by what starts the arguments. How once the fight ends, the participants go back to their pints like it never happened. A planned part of the evening.
As Faith dances to the final song of Brian and Patrick’s set, I lean back against the bar and let the music beat through me. In the dimness of O’Kelly’s, with a buzz singing in my veins, I feel calm. Thoughts of Evan have receded for the first time in weeks and while I know it’s thanks in part to the beer, I decide not to give myself a hard time. For tonight, I’m not worried about nudging my alcoholic gene to life. A million miles away from my past, the warning I’ve always lived with in the back of my head doesn’t seem quite so glaring.
Not that I’ve ever been worried about turning into my mother. Nothing, no amount of pain or disappointments in this lifetime, could turn me into Valerie Peet. But growing up in the same house with her, witnessing her behavior while under the influence, removed the appeal of getting drunk or stoned. At the odd high school parties I attended, people were always shocked when I rejected beer or the joint they were passing around.
It had slowly dawned on me that my clothing, the way I hid under piles of black, created the assumption that I was a user. Like Valerie. While I found that ignorant, I still hesitated when it came time to redye my hair. My hand became a little less heavy when applying eyeliner.
I don’t like being anyone’s assumption.