When Irish Eyes Are Smiling Ch. 07byTomNJus©
Note to readers: We're just going to take a second here and thank Stella_Omega for her invaluable assistance in clearing the trees of undergrowth so that we could see the right path through the forest of possibilities. She truly is a valuable friend to have on your side. We'd also like to thank adetaildiva for her assistance in getting these last four chapters edited and posted. Her decision to be honest and shit on the changes that we'd made to this final chapter was what sent us off on a quest for the path we were clearly missing. We'd also like to thank all the people who proofread for us, blackhaus7 and slick_willie. I hope I spelled those right. *grin*
OK, enough kudos for now, y'all get to reading and see what becomes of our faithful heros. *wink*
When Irish Eye Are Smiling
By Tom Collins and 3113
Somehow, I made it the ninety-thousand blocks back to my building and got into the elevator without having to deal with anyone. I'd never felt so bad in my life, like I was on the verge of spontaneously combusting right here in this slow fucking elevator. Hammering at the button for my floor didn't make it move any faster, it didn't even make me feel better, but after an eternity it finally pulled up to a stop. It chimed as merrily as ever to announce our arrival at my destination and I wanted to rip out the little bell and stomp it. The doors thumped open and I practically ran to my apartment, trying to get in before that nosy bitch across from me decided to see what I was up to.
I dropped my keys a couple of times, but finally managed to fumble the right one into the lock. I heard her door opening just as I got over the threshold of mine and slammed it behind me. I slid to the floor, while setting the deadbolt, my knees not able to hold me.
I knew what was coming; it felt like it was tearing at my throat to get out. I didn't want it to happen, but there was no holding it back this time. Falling onto my side, I curled up trying desperately to hold the sobs back as I'd done when Eric walked out, but I couldn't. It hurt so much worse this time, and I didn't understand why. It didn't make sense that I could love Devlin more than I had Eric when I'd only known him for a month. Not even a full month, a mere twenty-eight perfect, blissful days with the most incredible man I'd ever met and I'd blown it.
I'd screwed up big time not telling him about the messages and I knew it. I'd been so stupid to think I could ignore the ghosts of the past and pretend they weren't coming back to haunt me. I'd driven the most thoughtful and considerate person I could ever find right out of my arms. He'd made what I'd already known perfectly clear; I didn't deserve him. How could I when I was lying here on the floor, weeping like a little girl. He'd also made it clear that he could replace me with someone better, someone more to his liking, without even trying, just like Eric.
I pulled myself up and stumbled over to my liquor cabinet, frantic to get something that would numb the pain. Jerking the door open, I reached for the bottle of Glenlevit, but my hand veered to the side, grabbing the Smirnoff instead. Smirnoff with lemon, I thought, his favorite. Clutching it to my chest as if it were Devlin, I dissolved into tears again, letting my rubbery legs lower me back to the floor. I don't know how long I knelt there, hunched around his bottle with me forehead on the carpet. It must have been hours.
I finally rolled onto my side to ease the aching in my knees and noticed the room was dark. Sitting up, I looked at the bottle in the quiet, orange of streetlights filtering through my blinds. It was half-full. Twisting the cap, I listened to the metal grinding against the glass and felt my throat tighten again. Putting the bottle to my lips, I tipped my head back and forced myself to swallow until my lungs demanded that I breathe. Pulling it away, I looked at it again. It had only a finger's worth left in the bottom. The harsh lemon flavor filled my head as the strong liquor made my empty gut clench and try to rebel. I held it down though, determined to anesthetize myself into oblivion.
Snuffling through my clogged nose, I recapped the bottle and I pulled out my phone. Hitting the speed dial for Gabe, I carried the remnants of my lost Dev's vodka with me as I stumbled toward my bedroom so I could lie down. The floor in the hall tilted alarmingly, the booze hitting me fast and hard. Gabe answered as I tripped through the doorway and fell to my knees.
"Hey, little-man, I was just thinking about you. Was fixing to give you a call and let you know that Mum's wanting to invite you and your guy over for dinner tomorrow. Don't worry it'll just be—"
The sight of my bed, still hopelessly rumpled from Sunday night, forced a moan of anguish from my burning throat and opened the floodgates on another round of bawling.
"Hey…hey, hey, c'mon, what's the matter? What's happened?"
"It's over!" I wailed into the phone.
"What do you mean, 'it's over'?"
I tried to explain, to tell him what happened, but I couldn't make myself understood. When my voice reached a pitch that only dogs can hear, Gabe interrupted me.
"Wait. Just hang on, little bro. I'm coming over and we'll get you calmed down 'cause I can't understand a damned thing you're saying. Give me fifteen," he said, and hung up.
I managed to get back to my feet, pulling myself up on the bed. Grabbing Devlin's pillow, I clutched both it and the vodka like treasures to my chest as I stumbled back into the living room and flopped onto the couch. I curled up around the bottle once more, the pillow under my head, my face pressed into it so I could inhale his scent. His clean, masculine fragrance still lingered, acting like a lifeline now, letting me push reality away and pretend for a few minutes that he was still with me. Lying there, cradling his vodka and breathing into his pillow were the most pathetic things I'd ever done, but I couldn't help myself.
I stayed that way until Gabe arrived, unlocking the door with his key. "Joel," he called, as he shut and locked the door behind him. I waved the bottle up high so he'd see me and just kept inhaling Dev from his pillow.
"Jesus fuck," he said when he came around the side of the couch. "You're a right mess, ain'cha?" He sat next to my feet and hauled me into his arms. I brought the pillow and bottle with me, unwilling to let go of them for even a second. "What'n hell'd he do to you to make you cry like this? You never cried over Eric, least wise, not that I ever saw."
"I don't know why," I said weakly, feeling emotionally exhausted and too drunk to think straight.
"Don't know what? Why you're crying now or why you didn't cry then?"
"Both," I hiccoughed.
"Christ on a cracker. I had no idea you were such an idiot. I always thought I was the dumb ass in the family. You're crying because you're in love with him and, for some reason as yet undisclosed, you think you've lost him."
"I was in love with Eric, too," God, my own whining was making me sick, "and I was with him a lot longer."
"Bullshit. You might be able to pull the wool over your own eyes, but you never fooled me, baby brother."
"I did so love him!" I said defensively.
"Yeah, you loved him, but you weren't in love with him. You never were. What you were in love with was the idea of being in love. You were in love with that image in your head of the two-car garage and the little, white picket fence lined with rose bushes, and the three point two cats you dreamed of raising with him. You were in love with that shining suburban life that you thought would make your happiness complete. When Eric took a powder, he killed that dream. That's why you didn't cry, because that dream never had any substance. Deep down you knew it. It's also why you're so broken up now. You fell in love with a person instead of a dream. That's why it hurts so bad.
"Now, what happened? Maybe it's not so awful as you think?"
So, I told him. I spilled my guts about the whole, stupid thing, from the first text message all the way through to walking out of the bar. It took a while between the water leaking from my eyes and the repeated nose blowing, but I finally got it all out and he didn't interrupt a single time.
"I've got to tell you," he said with no little chagrin, "I'm surprised you didn't get back with Eric. I kinda thought if he ever showed up again—"
"That I'd forget the hell he'd put me though? You're right, I would have. Six months ago…two months ago even, I'd've swallowed all his repentant-prodigal-bullshit and welcomed him home. What's more, I'd likely've killed a fatted calf in celebration. Not now though. Not after Dev." I was more wiped out now than when Gabe had arrived. I leaned away from him, trying to lie down, but he pulled me up.
"C'mon, let's get you into bed." He stood, but I drew him back down.
"No, please, don't make me go in there. I can't sleep in that bed, Gabe, please. Just let me lay down here on the couch and I'll be fine in a little bit. I promise."
"Ok, you get some rest and I'll be back in a while."
"No! Please…" I seized his hand, hanging on as if my life depended on him being there. "Please, don't leave me alone. I can't be alone right now."
"Alright, baby brother. I promise I won't go anywhere," he said soothingly, sitting on the floor next to the couch and holding my hand.
"You know I love you…right?" I said, "You've always been there for me."
"Not always," he said regretfully, "but I'm here for you now." He smoothed my hair back, kissing my forehead. Holding my hand and my head, his cheek against my forehead I heard him say, "And from now on I will be," as the room rocked me to sleep.
"I'm going to have to find someplace new to live."
I sat at Brian and Deb's breakfast table, sucking down coffee and trying to nibble at toast. Their breakfast nook had three windows, all with sunshine relentlessly pouring in. The table itself was unmercifully cheery, down to the personal coffee press Brian had set before me, and the vase of daisies.
"Come again?" Brian said, breaking the yolks of his eggs with his toast. Thanks to that gallon of water Deb had poured down me, my headache was minimal, but my body hadn't quite forgiven me for poisoning it the night before. The sight of those runny yellow eggs upset my stomach and hurt my eyes.
"That's crazy," was Deb's opinion. She was enjoying a bowl of fruit and yogurt.
I took another nibble of crust. Having showered and shaved, I now felt semi-human and able to think more clearly. What had happened yesterday confused me. The phone calls Joel kept getting, the mysterious meeting he'd gone to on Wednesday and the kiss, all suggested that he and Eric had reconnected. Yet seeing me dancing at the bar had upset him badly.
In my vodka-hazed brain, I thought he'd come to explain that it was all over and to say good-bye, and that still made some sense. Now, however, I was wondering if this whole month had been some kind of test drive. He hadn't been able to keep his eye off the latest sports car there in the dealership window. Given the chance, he'd taken it for a spin, put it through its paces to see if it could really compete with that vintage auto he'd once known and loved.
Then that vintage auto had unexpectedly come back into his life. Yeah, Eric had been a shit and treated him badly. I didn't even know the guy and I wanted to strangle him for what he'd done to Joel. That didn't change the fact that the two of them had a shared history and all I'd had so far with Joel was a fling.
So how many times this month had I fallen short of Joel's expectations? I doubted he'd gotten as good as he'd given in the sex department and that was several points against me. Had Eric's kiss reminded him of what he was missing? I'd been stupid at the barbeque and failed to hold my own with his family. Seeing me dancing with a strange woman, feeling her up, might have been the last straw. Test drive over.
"I can't stay in that apartment building and risk running into him," I explained now to Deb and Brian, "forcing myself on him." Hell, I thought, getting maudlin, I'd have to stay out of Espresso Yourself. Their coffee was one of Joel's few, unadulterated pleasures and I couldn't ruin it for him. Not even if my first inclination was to sit at a corner table and pine for him.
"I'll have to move," I concluded aloud, "which is fucked up. I'd just gotten to know the doorman and the guy in the garage, and I love the gym. Maybe that new high rise on fifth—"
Deb slammed a hand down on the table, causing both me and Brian to jump. "Stop it!" She glowered in a way that told me I had well and truly pissed her off. "You do this all the time. Lease a car rather than buy it and the minute something goes wrong you lease a new one. Rent an apartment instead of owning a home, and when the faucet leaks, you're out of there. Well you can't rent people! They will have problems and, if you turn away from them when there's a problem, they will dump you."
"Joel's already dumped me."
"You don't know that." She reached across, jerked the toast out of my hand and threw it on the plate. "Why are you still here? Why did you get drunk last night and come here?"
"Um…because I felt like shit?"
"God!" She threw her spoon down. "What 'big men' you and Joel are! You see something that shakes your confidence and you run. If Cathy had seen another woman kissing her man, she would have gone right in there and found out what's what. If I had seen Brian dancing with another woman, I would've marched up and had it out with him. But you two big, macho men turn tail and flee for your lives. Oh! Oh! Oh!" She flapped her hands in mock distress, "The faucet's leaking, I've gotta move!"
She shoved back her chair, took up her coffee and eyed me with disgust. "If you and Joel had been lesbians, this would have never happened!"
She strode out. In the silence that followed, Brian forked egg on his remaining toast and munched away.
"Well," I said, "she sure told me."
"She sure did," Brian agreed, wiping at his lips with a napkin. "She is right though. You can't keep hiding from the truth, wallowing in vodka and your friends' sympathy. If you're not willing to fight for Joel, you don't deserve him. So come on," he shoved aside his plate, "I'll drive ya home."
I wish I knew how I deserved such good friends.
I woke feeling wretched. My head wasn't bothering me much, but my stomach roiled in acidic nausea. This was why I never drank vodka, it always made me feel so sick the next morning, no matter how much or little I drank. I sat up, hoping gravity would stop the bile from shooting up my throat, but it didn't. Levering myself up from the couch, I went into the kitchen to see what I could find to soak of the crap leftover from last night's binge.
Calling out to Gabe as I looked through the cabinets and getting no answer, I pulled down Devlin's box of cereal. My preference was Frosted Mini-Wheats, but Dev was a confirmed Wheaties man. I picked his cereal because it had less sugar than mine, but mostly because it was his. I'd probably wind up saving a little in the bottom of this, too, which was just the opposite of what I'd done with Eric's things, what he'd left behind that is.
Shit, he'd even taken Captain Jack, our cat. So named because he was the scruffiest, most disreputable looking kitten either of us had ever seen. Part of his right ear had been ripped, or bitten, off and he had a gimp leg that the vet couldn't do anything about. Pirates of the Caribbean had come out a couple months before that, so he'd been dubbed Captain Jack.
Eric had found him in a box in an ally on his way home one evening so, naturally, he'd considered Captain Jack his, even though the kitten had favored me. I hadn't thought of Captain Jack in more than a year, hadn't let myself think of him because it hurt too much. It was probably for the best he hadn't come to mind until now, otherwise I'd've probably killed Eric yesterday—or at least blacked his eye for him. I wouldn't want that to happen in public, with witnesses traipsing past every few seconds.
I sat on the couch cuddling Dev's pillow and eating his cereal right out of the box. Even considering what happened yesterday, I couldn't see Devlin being so heartless as to take someone's pet. I wondered if it wasn't time to get a new cat.
I was half-way through the box, mind blank aside from meandering thoughts of Captain Jack, when I had an epiphany. Like lightning out of a blue sky, I saw Devlin running away from the coffee shop and remembered being angry with him. He hadn't come in to find out what was going on, he'd simply assumed the worst of all possible explanations. I'd been hurt, not solely because he'd thought the worst of me, but because he hadn't even tried to fight for me. He'd walked away rather than trying to win me, because he couldn't stand the possibility of rejection.
I'd known this last night, while I was dealing with Eric, but what hit me between the eyes was the fact that I'd turned around and done the exact same thing to him. If I loved him so damned much that I felt like I was dying when I thought I'd lost him, why was I sitting around my apartment, drinking myself sick, shoveling dry cereal down my throat and cuddling his pillow and wishing it was him? Why wasn't I out there looking for him to tell him I wasn't going to let him get away that easily? Why wasn't I fighting to hang onto the best thing that'd happened to me in years—maybe in my whole life? I was as big a dumb ass as Gabe had accused me of being, no doubt about it.
I was on the verge of standing up so I could go out and try to find him when I heard the knob turn. "Gabe? Where'd you—"
It wasn't Gabe. It was Devlin.
Brian stopped in front of my building, squeezing my shoulder and reminding me to call and keep them informed. I thanked him and headed for the elevators, my coat over my shoulder, Joel's picture, rewrapped in its paper under my arm.
Apartment dwellers poured out of the elevators into the lobby, ready for a casual, summer Saturday. I couldn't understand why Joel and I weren't among them; how had our whole relationship been derailed so quickly? Maybe—maybe it was because we'd rushed it—or I'd rushed it?
The elevator crawled, finally dinging open. Gazing down at my feet, I made my way down the hall. I was just short of my door when I noticed a pair of worn, white sneakers. Up to a pair of jeans. Up to a gray t-shirt. Powerful arms covered in coppery red hair.
A blink up to a very, very angry face and burning green eyes. Brother Gabe was waiting for me.
He didn't have to say a word. Obviously, Joel had called him. I'd no idea what Joel had said, but whatever it was, Big Brother had decided that I was going to pay for it.
He straightened up. Carefully, I set down the picture and my jacket then deliberately pushed past him, reaching for my keys. I felt rather than saw him move, his hand going for my neck. Likely, he meant to grab me and force-march me back to the elevators. That was the way the O' Shaughnessys dealt with wayward children, I'd seen it at the party—and I was having none of it.
His fingers clamped on my neck and I elbowed him in the gut. His abs were hard as rocks, but he wasn't expecting it and I put a lot of pent-up anger behind the blow.
I heard a surprised, "Oof!"
Lashing an arm up, I broke his grip and spun around.
"You want to drag me to Joel's?" I snapped, putting my back to the door and my fists up. "You can fucking wait a minute while I put some shit away…or we can have it out here in the hallway!"