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“It’s not the shagging that bothers me—”
“Let’s agree to drop that word.”
Faith frowns. “Fine. It’s not the fu—”
“And back to shagging.”
We reach the edge of Merrion Square Park and begin walking down a pathway leading us farther into the grassy field. Absently, I notice the park is way more packed than usual, but I chalk it up to the rare sunshine. Faith has gone quiet beside me, for once, so I focus on her. “What part of it does bother you?”
“It’s just that I like you so much, Willa.” Faith slows to a stop, shooting me a hesitant look. “Since I can remember, Shane has loved racing. It’s his life. Sometimes I think there’s no room for anything else.”
Without looking, I toss my empty juice carton in the garbage can. “I appreciate your concern, but I don’t need him to make room.”
“Do you have room, Willa?”
I swallow hard, unnerved by the question. “For what?”
She opens her mouth to answer, when I hear two familiar voices approaching behind me. Faith’s blooming smile confirms the newcomers’ identities, so I don’t even need to turn around to know its Patrick and Brian. “I thought we were going shopping,” I stage-whisper to Faith.
“You owe me.” She’s barely paying any attention to me now. “After all, you’re shagging my brother.”
“Not yet,” I remind her tightly as Faith floats past me, turning just in time to see her throw her arms around Brian’s neck, nearly toppling him back onto the weathered guitar slung over his shoulder. And there certainly won’t be any shagging if Shane finds out I just escorted his little sister to a date with a pickpocket. There’ll be a lot of glaring, followed by some glowering.
When Brian and Faith show no signs of breaking their hug, Patrick rolls his eyes conspiratorially at me, but he has a giant grin plastered to his face. “Fancy meeting you two doves here.”
“You expect me to believe this is a coincidence?”
Brian tucks Faith into his side. “It’s no coincidence. Yous two are here to serve as our cheerleaders.”
Patrick laughs at my lost expression. “The Street Performer World Championship is on today in the park. Did you not wonder at all the people milling about?”
“I thought they were here for the sun,” I respond lamely, finally taking notice of the huge white tents just beyond the trees, the pumping strains of music and cheering in the distance. “Does this mean you’re performing?”
“And winning, hopefully,” Brian chimes in, smiling down at Faith. “Although you could say I’ve already won my prize.”
Patrick and I both groan. “You’re embarrassing the family name, brother,” he says.
It occurs to me then, that in order to arrange this little meeting, Brian would have needed Faith’s phone number. Obviously their relationship had progressed further than I’d thought. I’ll need to keep an eye on that, I think, before I remember I’ll only be in Dublin for another two weeks. Ignoring the tug in my chest, I sigh. “Well. Since we’re already here, I guess I can overlook the fact that I was lured away from my laundry under false pretenses and stick around for the show. I forgot my pom-poms, though.”
“Throw in a few high kicks and all’s forgiven,” Patrick says, patting me on the shoulder.
Brian and Faith trudge off ahead of us, plastered to one another’s side, and Patrick and I follow at a slower pace. I’m kind of surprised to find I’m not at all upset over being duped. As we get closer to the busker’s stage where Brian and Patrick will perform, I’m actually kind of excited to watch the competition. I might even have a beer to celebrate this new, easygoing Willa I seem to be morphing into.
Patrick bumps me with his hip, and I stumble on the grass. “What was that?”
“Did I overhear that someone is shagging?”
“Jesus,” I mutter, slapping a palm to my forehead.
“I know it’s not me. Sad to report, I’m in the midst of a dry spell.”
Laughter races up my throat. “Sorry to hear that.”
“Not half as sorry as I am.” He hikes up his guitar on his back. “So we know it’s not me getting shagged. It sure as hell isn’t Brian. We share a wall.”
“Oh, you found another place to live?”
“Ah, she’s talented at changing the subject, she is,” he teases with a grin. “We’ve moved back in with our ma. It’s only temporary, mind you, until our offer on the yacht gets accepted.”
“Duly noted,” I say with mock seriousness.
“It should be any day. Really, our financials are above reproach.”
I press a dainty hand to my chest. “I’m sorry, did I look skeptical?”
“That’s entirely fair.”
“So unless I’ve completely misjudged our Faith, I’d say Willa is the one doing the shagging.” He ignores my eye roll, merely looking thoughtful. “Is it the bloke who came to fetch you that night in O’Kelly’s? I guess he’s easy enough on the eyes, if you go for the tall, physically fit type.”
“This is not open for discussion.”
“It’s him, then.” Patrick jogs to catch up with me when I begin to speed walk away from him. “All right, I’ll leave off about it. You can’t blame me for being jealous. He’s a lucky man.”
My gaze shoots to his, but he’s already muttering something to Brian. His brother says back something that sounds like an insult and they begin to wrestle in the grass, to the utter delight of Faith, whose skin has already begun to go pink in the sunlight. I’m happy, at least for now, the spotlight is off my nonrelationship with Shane. I haven’t even had enough time to think about it myself, let alone field uncomfortable and unwanted questions. Worse, when people talk about me and Shane in relation to one another, it implies we’re a couple, which we’re not and never will be.
When I realize my fingers are pressed to my still slightly puffy lips, I shake myself and run to catch up with the others. For the next few hours, I’m not going to let my suddenly raging hormones stop me from having a good time.
Patrick and Brian check-in as participants and receive their entry paperwork. We buy a round of beers and sit on the grass toward the side of the performance area. For the next hour, we watch their stiff competition take the stage. Jugglers, contortionists and break dancers among them. Faith sits on Brian’s lap and he teachers her a few chords on his guitar, praising her efforts even when it sounds like a cat being run over. My developing beer buzz, along with the sunshine makes the antics happening on the stage infinitely more funny. Soon I find myself heckling or cheering along with the rest of the crowd.
In between acts, I lay on my back and look up at the cloudless sky, wondering why my usual reservations have taken an extended vacation. Is it because no one in this country knows or expects a certain type of behavior from me that I feel so free to loosen up?
People like us, we keep too much inside already. We can’t bottle up everything or we go crazy.
Shane’s words from last night drop out of the sky and scatter across my prone figure. At the time, I thought his meaning had been purely physical, but now I wonder if there wasn’t more to it. For so long, I’ve kept all my demons inside, just as he said. I’d released them one at a time to Evan in a way that wouldn’t scare the hell out of him, but it hadn’t freed me. Oddly, it had only made me feel more and more restrained. He’d encouraged me to open up, as if once I released the ugliness, it would to turn to ash and I could start acting normal. But what is normal? And if there is such a thing as normal, is that what I want to be?