Before he closes the door behind him, he sticks his head back in. “I wouldn’t drink that cold tea if I were you. She’s been hiding the pot in her closet since last Tuesday.”
The door shuts on my laugh, echoed by his on the other side.
It’s dark when I make it back to the inn. I’m having a hard time keeping the smile off my face. Today might have started off on the disconcerting side, but it rallied as soon as I got to Dalkey Castle. By chance, I’d wandered into a live show where actors, dressed in authentic Medieval garb, pretend to be castle workers from the 1500s. I found it so clever and entertaining, I’d stayed for a second show. The illusion was shattered afterward when I saw the actors sharing a joint and talking on iPhones behind the theater, but hey, it was fun while it lasted.
After grabbing a quick lunch, I’d spent some time in the Heritage Center. I couldn’t wait to talk to Ginger and tell her what I found. As soon as I get to my room and kick these boots off my sore feet, I’m going to throw myself on the bed and give her a call. Since Chicago is six hours behind Dublin, she’ll still be working at Sneaky Peet’s, her furniture shop in Wicker Park, but maybe I can catch her in between customers.
Through the glass of the front door, I take a second to watch Shane as he serves a group of young female customers. He smiles absently as he slides them their change, probably not even realizing what a panty-soaker that mysterious half smile can be to the opposite sex, making it twice as effective. As soon as he turns his back, one of them pretends to swoon, the rest of the group pressing manicured hands to their chests as if he’s walked away with their still-beating hearts. I’m not annoyed by the sight, at least I don’t think so, but something is sparking in the base of my neck. Something that won’t go away when I swallow. Never having been jealous a day in my life, at least not over a boy, I can’t put a name to the feeling. But I’m positive I shouldn’t be feeling it over Shane.
If its commitment you’re scared of, you’ve nothing to worry about here.
As valiantly as I’ve tried to ignore Shane’s proposition this morning, his words have been echoing in my head all damn day. At first, they’d nicked my feminine pride a little. Weren’t boys supposed to at least bullshit you a little about wanting forever? Evan hadn’t wasted a moment offering me the moon on a silver platter. One time when he’d met me after an afternoon of tailgating and watching football with his buddies, he’d drunkenly started naming our future children. Back then, it had scared the shit out of me. Yet in contrast to Shane’s three-week exit strategy, or entrance strategy, depending on how you look at it, bestowing a moniker on nonexistent offspring is a comfort. It had merely been talk, while Shane’s indecent proposal required a decision in the here and now. I thought I’d made the decision. No way, no how, was I letting him anywhere near me. The more I think about it, though, the more it appeals. A lot.
We are obviously attracted to one another. Neither one of us wants or is available for any kind of messy commitment. On the bus ride home, one thought had permeated my head with stark clarity. Is this my first grown-up, no-strings-attached fling, just waiting to happen? I’ve never been in this position before. It’s entirely possible that this confusion and anger Shane provokes in me is…lust? Pure, undiluted, want-to-rip-his-clothes-off lust.
Maybe I’ve been so worried about my feelings getting wrapped up without someone else’s so soon after Evan, I’ve placed too much importance on what Shane makes me feel. I’m starting to wonder if the best course of action isn’t just to say yes to his proposition and get it over with. Scratch the itch. Once it’s done, I can move on, secure in the knowledge that I’m in control of my own destiny and not every man who crosses my path has the power to change me, or put some kind of hold on me.
Yes, I’m actually considering sleeping with Shane.
After all, what’s the worst that could happen? I’m only going to think about it. No harm in kicking the idea around, right?
With my tentative resolve wedged firmly between my shoulders, I push open the door to the Claymore Inn. For a Monday night, there is a decent crowd. Most of the bar is full and half the tables are scattered with empty glasses as customers lean toward one another and talk too loudly, laughing even louder. A Stone Roses song is playing, blurring all the conversations into one. The smell of beer, cologne, and fried food is starting to become familiar and it hits me now, reminding me I never ate dinner.
I feel Shane’s gaze warm me on the spot, like that instant where you step underneath the shower spray in the morning. It wakes me up and makes me aware of my body. This time, though, I don’t avoid his stare, I meet it head-on. Elbow propped on the bar as he chews on a cocktail straw, he narrows his eyes a little when he registers my decision not to ignore him. He clearly expected me to breeze though the bar without acknowledging him as I’ve done the previous two nights, but I’m done acting scared.
Slowly, he nods at me. I nod back, and just like that, some type of silent communication has passed between us, although I have no idea what was said. I need a decoder ring with this freaking guy.
I’m halfway through the pub when my phone buzzes in my pocket. My step falters, and I frown. No one should be calling me on my cell phone. Since arriving, I’ve only been calling the States using a prepaid calling card to avoid any expensive fees. Basically I’ve only been using it to check the time. When I dig my phone out of my pocket and see that Derek is calling, my instincts start to tumble in my stomach, like a dryer with tennis shoes inside.
“Willa.” My worry plummets when I hear the astonished joy in his voice. It’s so uncharacteristic for him, I double-check to make sure it’s really the lieutenant calling. “I’m glad I caught you.”
“What is it? Is…is Ginger okay?”
“She’s wonderful. She’s… God, she’s perfect.” For a second, he doesn’t speak and I get the sense he’s actually choked up. “The baby came this morning.”
“What?” My heart shoots up into my throat. “Ginger wasn’t due for another month. I-is the baby okay?”
“She’s beautiful. Healthy.” A short pause. “We named her Dolly.”
Tears begin pouring unchecked down my cheeks. My sister and I have idolized Dolly Parton as far back as I can remember. We claim our passion for her is due to the music, but as I get older, I realize that’s only a fraction of it. Dolly grew up in one-room shack in our home state of Tennessee without a dollar to her name and went on to become a superstar. Although it remains unspoken between me and Ginger, I think we use Dolly as an example of what’s possible for us, no matter the circumstances we were born into.
“Ginger wanted to be the one to tell you the baby’s name, but she’s sleeping now. I don’t think she’ll be up for the call for hours. I thought you’d want to know right away.”
“I did. I do.” Shock, happiness…and an overwhelming sense of disappointment take me over now that the initial relief has passed. Disappointment that I wasn’t there for Ginger. Disappointment that I’m in another country licking my own wounds like a selfish brat when I should be with the only family I’ve ever known. This line of thinking is selfish in itself. I know this. But the bitterness won’t stop. I take a deep breath, trying to focus on the fact that my niece was born healthy and Ginger came through it no worse for wear. “That’s amazing, Derek. Congratulations. You’re going to be a great father.”