Home > My Life in Shambles(9)

My Life in Shambles(9)
Author: Karina Halle

In fact, the last thing on my mind right now is my hot mess of a life. All I can think about is him.

I pull on my coat just as he opens the door, holding it open for me like a gentleman. I thank him, pretty sure I’m blushing again, and then step out into the night.

It’s icy cold yet fresh at the same time, busy, and a light snow is falling and peppering the streets, turning the slush into something solid. Pretty damn magical if you ask me.

“Where do ye want to go?” he asks me, shoving his hands in his pockets. I stare up at that gorgeous head of hair of his, watching the snowflakes get caught in his dark strands.

“Anywhere,” I tell him. “Somewhere quiet, preferably.”

He nods, and from the shadows on his face I can’t catch the expression in his eyes. I’m getting drunk and he’s sexy as hell, but I’m not sure if I’m brave enough or bold enough to go back to his place, if that’s what he’s thinking. I wish I were, but the idea of getting naked with a stranger, for him to see me as I really am, gives me anxiety.

I’m not sure if he can read it off me or not because he says, “I know just the place.” We start walking down the street, dodging the revelers who are wearing their party hats and blowing their horns. Every now and then one of them will yell, “Padraig! They need you!” or “Hope yer playing soon!” or “Get back in the game already, you wanker!”

Finally, I have to ask, “Are you not playing at the moment?”

He winces at my question. “No. I had a concussion about six weeks ago. During the game.”

“Oh. And you’re still not better?”

He rubs his lips together into a hard line and shakes his head. “No.”

“Must have been a bad hit. You guys don’t wear helmets like they do in football, do you?”

“No,” he says, voice trailing off a bit. “Anyway, the team has been doing fine without me. Some say that the last few games they lost were because I wasn’t there, but I doubt that. They just want someone to blame.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll be back soon enough,” I tell him hopefully.

But it doesn’t look like that hope reaches him. In fact, he’s starting to put out the vibes that I was getting earlier, the ones that gave me a glimpse of a broken man. Clearly this isn’t something he wants to talk about.

“So where are we going?” I ask, switching the subject.

“It’s not easy to find something quiet in Dublin on New Year’s Eve, but…”

We round the corner and he stops in front of a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant. I mean, it’s literally a hole in the wall, with a small door placed deep in the brick and a few rough-hewn windows that only show the dim light from within.

“I figured ye might be hungry,” he says. “And this place has the best Chinese food in town.”

My stomach literally rumbles at his words. I haven’t eaten since the Guinness Brewery, and that feels like a lifetime ago.

Padraig leads me inside.

It’s dark with a red-light glow, lots of small wood booths, and some kind of Asian pop music playing. The place is definitely authentic with almost all the patrons being Asian. It’s also busier than I thought it would be but still quiet, and the moment we enter, the hostess, waitress, and one of the cooks all yell at him in a Cantonese greeting.

“They seem to know you,” I comment as the hostess leads us over to a table in the back corner, smiling at me enthusiastically.

“I come here often,” he says. “It’s quite different from your regular Chinese food but trust me, it’s good. Plus, I’ve never been recognized in here.” He pauses as we both sit down across from each other. “I know that sounds obnoxious but I really prefer to keep to myself.”

“I can tell,” I say. “I think if I had even a morsel of fame I’d be the same way. I don’t know how my sister does it, but she obviously thrives on the attention.”

“Your sister?” he asks, and I realize that I hadn’t fully filled him in.

“She’s an actress. A bit part on a show but she’s really popular online and I know this is just a stepping stone to bigger things. Anyway, she’s recognized often but she loves it.”

He nods at that thoughtfully. “So, if ye didn’t know who I was, why did ye want to buy me a drink?” he asks, his dark brow raised, the one with the scar above it. I want to ask him about where he got the scar. Probably from rugby.

“Honestly?” I ask, wanting to be careful. I should tell him a partial truth, that I just thought he was sexy as hell and I’ve always been attracted to the brooding types. “You were alone. I wondered why a guy like you would be alone on New Year’s. You didn’t seem to want to talk to anyone. You just seemed … a little broken.”

I expect him to flinch at my words because no one ever wants to hear that they look broken to others, but instead, his eyes seem to drink me in, deeper and deeper.

Before he can say anything or I can attempt to bury my comment with inane blabbering, the waitress comes back with two tiny porcelain cups which look too small for tea, then puts down a matching bottle.

Padraig thanks her and gestures to it. “I always start with this. Figured ye might be game enough to give it a try.”

I haven’t forgotten what I’d just told him but if he wants to brush my comment under the rug, I’m not surprised. “Is it sake?”

“It’s the same idea,” he says, pouring the clear liquid into the tiny cups. “It’s Maotai, a type of sorghum-based alcohol.”

“What does it taste like?” I ask, bringing the tiny cup under my nose. It immediately makes my eyes water. It smells like burning.

Padraig chuckles. “I think ye have an idea already,” he says. “Make this another thing ye have to say yes to.” He raises his glass to mine and we say “sláinte” again (though I feel like I keep butchering it).

The drink is painful. Like, enough so that I almost spit it back up. It’s spicy and a whole bunch of things I can’t really describe.

“How do you always order this?” I ask him, coughing into my arm. “Jeez.”

He gives me a small, amused smile that makes a dimple appear on one side. God, he’s so damn handsome. Really. Truly. Just…

And that’s when it hits me. The booze, that is. Suddenly I’m an extra level of relaxed, like I’d just lowered myself into a warm bath.

“See,” he says, nodding at me. “That’s why I drink it. It tastes better when ye know how it makes ye feel.”

“I get it now,” I tell him. “And I’m going to assume by the time you get to the bottom of the bottle, you feel pretty good.”

He nods, has a sip, and winces slightly, folding his hands in front of him. “I had some bad news today,” he says.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I tell him quickly, feeling flustered that I said anything earlier.

He clears his throat, eyes focusing on his drink. “I didn’t have plans for tonight anyway. I would have just stayed at home. One of my mates, Hemi, was supposed to be in town but it fell through. And after the news, I didn’t feel like being alone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone but I didn’t want to be alone either.”

I more than understand. A lot of people are scared of being alone, and while it’s still something I’ve been working to get over, sometimes I wish I could be around people and be by myself at the same time. I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to go to a bar alone, but if I were, I could see myself doing that. Just to feel like I still exist.

“What was the bad news?” I ask after a beat, even though I know it’s inappropriate to pry further. But, damn, this man makes me want to keep prying.

He takes my question in stride. “My father has prostate cancer. He’s had it for less than a year. He and my nan insisted that it was fine. I should have looked into it, I should have visited him to make sure. I should have known that they’re stubborn Irish just like anyone else and that they’d pretend everything is fine. It’s not fine. The cancer has gotten worse and I’m not sure how much longer he has to live.”

My heart absolutely breaks for him and I wish there was something I could do. “I’m so sorry.”

He sighs, long and hard, eyes roaming over the restaurant. “It’s a lot to process. I’m supposed to go see him in Shambles—that’s where I was born, a little town, and honestly, I’m terrified.” His eyes swing over to mine and hold me in place, so dark and deep it’s like I’m looking into something I shouldn’t, something hidden. “We don’t have the best relationship…” He trails off and I watch him swallow, his Adam’s apple moving in his thick neck.

“But it sounds like you’re doing the right thing by going,” I tell him softly. “Otherwise you’d regret it.”

“Yeah. I would. So if ye were thinking I looked a little broken, well, there ye have it. I guess I am.”

I wince internally. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“I’m glad you did,” he says, pouring us another glass. “It feels good to talk about it. Just knowing someone else knows.”

“Even though I’m just a stranger?”

He pauses and glances at me, his lips curling into a small smile. “You don’t feel like much of a stranger anymore.”

The intensity in his eyes flares again, a pull I feel deep inside me, in places I thought had been wiped clean, left to dust. It’s a yearning and a longing and a wanting for him, for the idea of him, for this moment, for more than this moment. The longer I stare into his eyes, the more this feeling burns until I feel I might just go up in flames.

I wonder if I should blame it on the liquor.

The waitress comes by just then as if she was waiting in the wings for a lull in our conversation. I tell Padraig he can order whatever food for me since I don’t understand a thing on the menu, as long as it’s nothing too weird, like chicken feet.

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