Home > My Life in Shambles(17)

My Life in Shambles(17)
Author: Karina Halle

“Of course,” I say, opening the door wider. I’m in such shock that she’s here that my manners have slipped.

They come inside, and the actress immediately starts poking around the living room, looking at books and rugby trophies and framed pictures.

I offer the three of them some espresso to which they all eagerly accept, and while I get the machine whirring, Angie pulls up a stool at the kitchen island and stares at me while I work.

“Never seen an Irish man and an espresso machine before?” I ask.

She narrows her eyes at me and then slowly nods. “Only at the Starbucks next to the hotel. Just wanted to make sure you were who I thought you were under the unforgiving light of day.”

My brows raise again. “And what’s the verdict?”

“I think you’re trustworthy,” she says and leaves it at that.

“Angie,” Valerie says and elbows her. “Be nice to him, he’s making you coffee.”

“I am nice. But if you’re going to run off with a stranger and pretend to be his fiancé for a few days, I’d like to make sure he’s not an axe-murderer. I wouldn’t be a very good sister if I didn’t do my due diligence.”

“What?” I ask. “Could you repeat that?”

“I want to make sure you’re not an axe murderer.”

I give her a pointed look. “No. The pretending to be my fiancé thing.” I glance at Valerie and now I recognize that hopefully shy and almost giddy expression in her eyes. “You had another think about it?”

She nods. “Yeah. I told them about your father, I hope you don’t mind.” Her expression falters into something like shame and it’s absolutely adorable because of course I don’t mind if it means she’s here. “They told me it was a good idea.”

“Well, we didn’t say it was a good idea,” Sandra says. “More like an interesting idea.” She comes over to the table and plunks down a rugby calendar from a few years ago, one where I appeared naked on the cover. I try and keep that thing buried under stacks of books so I’m amazed she was able to unearth it in such a short amount of time. Maybe she has x-ray vision for cocks.

She points at it. “Care to explain why you’re naked on this French calendar?”

I reach over and try to swipe the calendar from her. “All rugby teams do it every year.”

“And yet they picked you,” she says, holding it up in the air and trying to compare the two of us.

“It’s because I have an incredible arse,” I tell her. “Your sister can attest to that.”

I just wanted to see Val’s face go red and it does, all the way to her roots.

Sandra snickers in response. “Fair enough. So, can I keep this or is this your only copy?”

“It’s all yours.”

Lord knows my nana has a stockpile of them that she insists on giving to her church congregation.

“Thank you,” she says, sliding it into her purse with an eager smile.

“Anyway,” Val says, clearing her throat while giving Sandra a dirty look. “I just wanted you to know that if the offer still stands … I’d love to take you up on it.”

We stare at each other for a moment and I’m hit with the knowing that something is going to change. I’m not sure what but her sudden commitment to this crazy, ill-conceived idea of mine means that her need to say yes to new adventures is bigger than the both of us. I’m in her orbit now as much as she’s in mine.

“All right. Well, we leave tomorrow morning. We better get there before lunch or my nan is going to bring out her spoon.”

They all stare at me, brows raised in unison.

“I take it your nan didn’t whack you with a wooden spoon when you were young?”

“No,” Angie says. “Our beatings came from our mother and were mental, involving the deliberate erosion of our self-esteem.”

“Subtle, but effective,” Sandra adds.

“What time tomorrow? Should I meet you here or?” Valerie asks. For a second I’m disappointed that this means I’m not spending the night with her, but obviously I’m both thinking with my dick and being selfish.

“I’ll come pick you up at the hotel at nine,” I tell her. “Sorry if that’s too early.”

“I can’t promise she won’t be hung over,” Sandra says. “It is our last night in Ireland together.”

The crazy thought of Valerie meeting some other guy tonight, some guy who doesn’t have an outlandish plan of lies, makes a hot coal of jealousy burn in my stomach.

Shite, I’ve got to get a hold of myself. This possessive version of myself, especially over someone I have no right to get possessive over, is entirely new to me.

“Perhaps you two should, you know, exchange phone numbers,” Angie says with a bemused look on her face. “Might come in handy during the fake fiancé thing. Tell us again why you want to do this?”

Since we still have our espressos to finish and they’ve only heard the truth second hand, I tell them the same thing I told Valerie. In the end, Sandra has watery eyes and is clutching her chest, while Angie looks moderately affected.

Then they leave and Valerie and I say goodbye for now. It’s just a wave as she makes her way to their taxi, which Sandra had called without me noticing.

A wave that’s distant and awkward and shy, the kind of wave you give someone you don’t know very well.

And that’s when it hits me that I don’t know her very well.

And I’m about to take her home.

To see my nan.

To see my father.

And have her pretend to be my wife-to-be.

What the fuck could possibly go wrong?

The next morning I have my stuff packed in the back of my Cayenne and I’m heading over to Valerie’s hotel.

The snow has transformed into grey slush and everyone looks positively miserable at the prospect of going back to work. I’m honked at twice for reasons I can’t discern, and by the time I pull up to the hotel, I’m ready to get out of Dublin before the city starts to implode.

Valerie is waiting on the steps, talking to the hotel’s doorman. I get to observe her for a moment before she sees me.

Am I doing the right thing?

Do you trust this girl to lie for you?

Don’t you wonder why she would?

I can’t say I haven’t been asking myself those questions a lot over the last twenty-four hours.

But now that I’m looking at Valerie, the doubt subsides. Just enough to think that maybe this will work anyway.

I mean, the woman is gorgeous. Even when she’s smiling politely at the doorman (and also frowning in such a way that it makes me think she can’t understand a word of what this guy is saying), she exudes something that I can’t put my finger on. I’m not poetic or worldly enough, perhaps.

The best I can say is that she reminds me of the first day of spring. Not the arbitrary date in March, but that first real day when the sun is out and the air is fresh and you close your eyes and you can almost feel yourself being reborn again.

I can’t say I’ve ever gotten that feeling from someone else before, and it’s just enough to cause my rapidly beating heart to slow.

I take a deep breath and get out of the car, heading to the steps of the hotel.

“Good morning,” I tell her, coming up beside her. “Are ye ready?”

Now that I’m closer, I can see the shyness in her eyes, the fact that she’s as unsure about this as I am.

“As I’ll ever be,” she says, and the doorman attempts to grab her suitcase but before he can I’ve already scooped it up and I’m gesturing to the car.

Meanwhile I can hear someone else behind us talking to the doorman: “Is that Padraig McCarthy? That fool should be back in the game. He looks fine to me.”

I wonder when they’ll learn I’m anything but fine.

I put her luggage in the trunk and quickly go around to her passenger door, opening it for her.

“Such a gentleman,” she comments, looking impressed.

“Definitely not a gentleman,” I say as I go around the front and get in my side. “Just a man who knows his manners.”

She buckles her seatbelt and gives me a smirk. “In America, that’s a gentleman.”

“Nah,” I say with a shake of my head, pulling out onto the busy, slushy street. “I reckon a gentleman is someone with class and education, as well as manners. That just ain’t me. As you’ll find out, I was born a country boy.”

“How many people are in Shambles?” she asks.

“About a thousand.”

Her eyes widen. “Wow. That’s not exactly a place where you can go and hide, is it? I grew up in a suburb and it’s like everyone in your cul-de-sac thought they were entitled to your business.”

I chuckle. “Yeah, it’s kind of like that. You get used to it, but believe me, if you want to fool around with the neighbor’s daughter, you better believe that half the town knows about it the next day.”

“I take it that happened to you?”

“Yeah, but they had a lot of daughters so it was a common occurrence.”

She laughs and runs her fingers down the side of the window. “Well, I have to tell you that as nervous as I am, I’m looking forward to this.”

“You’re nervous?”

She rubs her lips together and nods. “Oh yeah. I mean…” She tilts her head to look at me. “This is sort of insane, you know.”

“I’m aware. But it takes two to do something like this. One to suggest it and the other to go along with it.”

“Ever the diplomat. But I’m serious.” She clears her throat. “Yesterday when we were discussing how long I was going to stay, you said a few days. But don’t you have to stay longer than that?” She cranes her neck to look at the back of the car. “You’ve packed a lot of stuff for just a few days.”

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