Honestly, I’m not even sure these feelings are genuine, or just an illusion I’ve created to get over Evan. It’s possible I’m just fragile after our breakup and my fascination with Shane is a coping mechanism. I never thought I’d be the type of girl who could develop feelings for another guy so quickly. It’s fickle. A trait I’ve never equated with myself.
With a heaved sigh, I lean against a wooden piling at the end of the pier I’m standing on. Since I didn’t get much of a chance to take photographs yesterday while I was with Kitty, I’d come back to Howth this afternoon to remedy that.
Sitting on the north side of Dublin Bay, Howth overlooks a busy harbor, fishing and tourism boats passing each other through the narrow inlet. Students and families carry bags from Beshoffs full of fish and chips, plunking down on the pier to eat their late lunch. It’s another unusually warm day, and I’ve been told by several store owners that I should count myself lucky to witness such a long stretch without rain. I lift my face up to the sun, enjoying the weight of my camera in my hand, trying to think of nothing else.
Instead, I see Shane, as if his image has been stitched on the back of my eyelids. His relief at seeing his mother yesterday, the sound of his laugh, the feel of his hands. This can’t be a coping mechanism, because it’s doing nothing to help me. I might be thinking of Evan less, but those gaps are being filled by Shane in an altogether different way. When I think of Evan, I think of purple flowers. Irises. He was the first boy to ever present me with flowers, and that moment is imprinted on my subconscious. I think of hand-holding and lying on a flannel blanket in the Millennium Park. Playing Frisbee. Eating Italian ices.
I think of trying too hard, of forcing a smile onto my face. I think of failure. Regret.
Pushing aside those troubling thoughts, I let myself think of Shane. On cue, my pulse trips over itself, then grows loud enough to hear over the waves lapping against the side of the pier. I try to picture him on a blanket in Millennium Park, except instead of playing Sudoku like Evan used to do, his hand is tracing lazy circles around my belly button. He’s letting the Italian ice drip a little onto my skin, then licking it off slowly. He’s looking at me like he knows exactly what I’m thinking, instead of giving me that look I used to dread. The one that’s trying to puzzle me out.
Quickly, I raise my camera and discreetly snap an elderly couple watching their granddaughter toddling along the pier, holding her father’s hand. They look fierce in their pride, as if they share a heart and mind. Turning before they can catch me watching them, I snap two fisherman that sound like they’re arguing over a soccer match. At the end of their argument, however, they slap one another on the back and part ways with an, “I’ll see ya ’round, mate.”
Laughing softly, I sit down on the edge of the pier and let my feet dangle. It’s dark before I know it, all the boats returning to the harbor for the night. Yet I’m no closer to a solution for my Shane problem, I’m out of film, and I’m starving. I stand and dust off the back of my jeans, wondering where I can go next to avoid the Claymore.
My cowardice floods me with self-disgust. Why am I avoiding the inn at all? Taking a deep breath, I think of how Ginger would handle this situation. She would saunter in there, Southern attitude in every single step, and wink at the guy giving her trouble. Then she’d continue on right up the stairs without a backward glance, secure in the knowledge that he’d be staring after her.
I store my camera inside my messenger bag and walk back toward the bus stop, with twice as much determination as when I’d disembarked in Howth.
When I walk in the Claymore, it’s eerily silent. Shane isn’t standing behind the bar, where he would typically be at this hour. Orla is tapping a pen against a pint glass, staring nervously at the back hallway door. The few customers scattered around the bar appear subdued, watching the televisions but not really seeing them. My first thought is, oh no, something happened to Kitty. It feels like someone is stepping on my throat at the possibility, but I manage to walk to the bar and casually ask Orla what’s going on. I’ve never actually spoken to the perpetually late redhead, apart from an odd hello once in a while, but she answers me now without hesitation.
“Shane is in the office, talking to a man who walked straight in off the bleedin’ street. Brought his solicitor and everything.” She lowers her voice to a whisper. “They come to talk about buying the inn. They didn’t even have an appointment. It’s cheeky, if you ask me.”
“Cheeky,” I repeat softly. When I first walked into the Claymore with my suitcase, the thought of selling it was repellant. Now, it feels like a sacrilege. This is a home. A place to be proud of. It has character and memories. Good and bad, yes, but their memories. How could you walk away from something like this? On top of these rapid-fire thoughts, I’m keenly aware that this puts Shane one step closer to leaving Dublin. Back to racing and traveling around the world.
This is good. Knowing his time here has a specific deadline is good. It’ll make it easier to get on the plane, knowing he’s not standing behind the bar in the same place I left him, while I move farther and farther away.
Jesus, I’m turning into a really good liar.
“From New York, the bloke is. Not even Irish.” She lays a hand on my arm. “Nothing against your lot, it’s just that an American will ruin it straightaway. Put up a bunch of flat-screens on the walls and show American football on them. They’ll definitely want someone behind the bar with decent tits.” She pokes the side of her right boob. “These sad, old danglers won’t stand a chance.”
“You…they’re fine,” I stammer. Honestly, this is our first conversation and we’re already discussing her rack. “My bra is padded enough to double as a flotation device.”
Orla’s face clears of worry as she laughs. “Ah, I get it now. Why our Shane has the wee eye for ya.”
“The wee what?”
“He’s been jumpier than a bag of cats since you arrived. I doubt it’s a coincidence.”
“Maybe I give him indigestion?”
Orla leans forward on the bar, as if imparting a great secret. “Irish men are a complicated sort. That one more than most. Don’t judge by what you see on the surface, or they’ll knock you on your arse when you’re not looking.”
I stow that insight away for later examination. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Why doesn’t he fire you? You’re never on time.” When she bursts out laughing, I can’t contain my own smile. “I know from experience he doesn’t take anyone’s shit, so why—”
“Does he continue to employ me?” Orla sighs. “My husband lost the use of his legs in a factory accident last year. It’s been a difficult adjustment. When I’m late to work, it’s normally because I’m hauling him to physical therapy and back.” She shrugs. “Or we’ve simply had a bad morning.”
I’m staggered by this. Not only Shane’s generosity toward Orla, which he’s never uttered a word about, but it proves he cares about this pub and the people who work in it. He’s not as indifferent about the Claymore Inn as he presents to the world.