Rowan Portor leaned against the bar as the other guys around him cracked up about some joke. His own lips tipped up, but he didn’t find it quite as funny as they did. He didn’t know what his problem was tonight. He was usually more easy-going than this. And this was their one night of freedom before having to report to Curragh Camp for their advanced training. He should be having a good time, not brooding.
“You’re always brooding, páiste. His father’s words rang in his head. It wasn’t true, though. Just because he could be thoughtful didn’t mean he was always brooding.
“Stop brooding, Portor,” one of the men said, slapping him on the back. “We’re here to have fun.”
He lifted his glass of Guinness instead of responding to him. He didn’t understand this itch between his shoulder blades. He wasn’t usually like this, no matter what anyone else tried to say.
A laugh rang out from the other side of the pub, and Rowan found himself turning toward it. The woman’s head was still thrown back with that laughter. One of the other women at the table with her was wiping tears away from her face. He guessed they were of laughter, because that other laugh hadn’t sounded like one of evil intent.
As her head came back down, the laughter drifting away, her gaze clashed with his. Her face was as beautiful as her laugh. He set his glass down and moved away from the bar. “Where you going, Portor?” one of the men called after him. He didn’t respond just kept moving toward the table. He knew he shouldn’t. Should just let her have her laughs with her girl friends. But, he didn’t think he could stay away either.
“Dia Duit, ladies.”
The other two women grinned at him, but the one who had been laughing didn’t take her eyes from his. He didn’t look away from her, either. “We have no idea what you just said,” one of the women told him, her voice sounding a little slurred, “but it sounded lovely.”
His lips lifted in a soft smile. He’d grown up switching between speaking Gaelic and English, and it still came natural to him. But, judging by the woman’s accent, they were definitely tourists. Or at least that one was. “Hello,” he repeated for them in English.
The woman who had been staring back at him slid over just a bit. “You can join us if you want,” she said softly, almost shyly. She had even more of a drawl to her voice than the other woman.
He did. He really did want to, so he slipped into the booth with her. “What brings you ladies to Ballyhaunis?”
Apparently something about the name of the town struck the women as funny because all three of them started snorting with laughter again.
“Sibh ólta,” he murmured with a slight shake of his head. The woman beside him raised an eyebrow at him and he gestured to the drinks sitting in front of them. “Quite drunk.”
“I could listen to him all night, even if I don’t understand him,” one of the women on the other side of the table said. “Don’t you agree, Alexandra.”
The woman beside him flushed then glanced back over at him. Her gaze dropped back to the table though without her saying a word. “What are you and those other guys doing here?” one of her friends asked.
“Dul chun drabhláis,” he said with a grin. He wasn’t going to translate that one for them, though.
The waitress came over, and he ordered a round of pints for all of them. While they drank those, he found out the three of them had indeed come from America: Alexandra from Texas, the red head, Karen from Mississippi, and the brunette, Cynthia, from Georgia. They’d sat on the plane together and hit it off during the flight. From the way they acted, he would have thought they were long-time friends. But, he’d never left his family’s farm outside Bekan until he’d joined up with the Army, so he hadn’t met a lot of new people. Until he had joined up. And he’d hit it off like that with some of the other recruits.
The other women kept interjecting, but it was Alexandra he spoke to. Who kept touching him. Who he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of. And when their round was finished, he slipped out of the booth and held his hand out to her. “Can I walk you to your hotel?”
The other two women giggled and staggered out in front of him. He’d make sure they made it to their rooms as well. He noticed Alexandra didn’t stagger. And her words hadn’t been slurred. Maybe she wasn’t as drunk as the others.
She proved that pretty well when they made it to her room, slipping her fingers deftly into the belt loops of his pants and holding him in front of her. “You have to leave for Kildare in the morning?”
If she remembered one of the first things he’d told them when he’d sat down, he definitely didn’t think she was too impaired. “Yes,” he said, regretting it for the first time. She’d said they were only here for a few more days. She was traveling all over the country then jumping over to the UK and the continent. She wouldn’t be coming back here until the following June and then only to return home to Texas.
“Then, come in with me,” she said. “Please.”
“You sure, Alexandra?”
“Yes,” she said and pulled him into her room.
Rowan walked down the street, taking the pushes from the guys around him with practiced ease. They’d ribbed him so hard on the way to training five months ago. And it hadn’t ended there. Every time he saw a blonde woman, and he reacted like it was Alexandra. Every time he got lost in thought, remembering that one night they’d had together. Every time he let her name slip out.
He needed to get over it. It’s not like he was ever going to see her again.
So, when he did see another flash of that same shade of blonde hair, he sucked in a breath and looked the other way. He was off duty today after a trying few weeks patrolling the border. Things were bad lately with the IRA. Thankfully no one in his unit had been blown to bits. They were supposed to be back here in Athlone for a while, at least that’s what the commander said.
“Let’s grab a bite,” one of the men said, gesturing to the nearby pub. The same one that woman had gone into.
It was fine. It wasn’t her. She’d been planning to head to England in the weeks after he’d met her, touring through Wales and Scotland, too. She was probably still there. It shouldn’t make his chest ache so much to know he’d likely never see her again.
He pushed through the doors of the pub and headed for the bar with the other guys. “I thought you said a bite, not a pint,” he said when the man who had suggested coming in had the bartender draw him a pint.
“I can have some o’ the both,” he said, grinning at Rowan. Then, he looked over Rowan’s shoulder and something in his expression shifted. “Hey, isn’t that the girl you have been mooning over, Portor?”
Rowan rolled his eyes. “Not falling for that, Dolan.”
“No, I’m serious, Row. It looks just like her. Pretty sure I heard that Texas drawl you would not shut up about, too.”
He did whip his head around at that, to the laughter of his buddies. He almost turned back, sure they were having fun at his expense again. But, before he could, he saw her, too. It was definitely Alexandra, but there were some slight differences. She sat in a booth alone this time, and she seemed to be drawn in on herself, her skin looking pale and almost fragile. Was she sick? She seemed to be just pushing the food around on her plate.
He moved away from the bar without ordering anything. Dolan reached for him. “Don’t do this to yourself again, Portor.”
He ignored the man and headed for her table. “Alexandra?” he asked, afraid he’d made a mistake.
Her head jerked up, though, and her eyes widened at the sight of him. It was her. “Ro-Rowan,” she stammered. “What are you doing here?”
He slid into the booth with her. “I’m stationed here now. We didn’t have to work tonight,” he said, gesturing to the group he’d come in with. “What are you doing here?” he echoed her question. “Thought you would be in Scotland now. Or should you be on your way to France?”
She let out a little laugh, but it was watery, and he could already see the tears welling in her eyes. “I cancelled the rest of my plans,” she said. “The doctor said it would be fine for now, but I didn’t want to risk it. And when it would be time to come back, I probably shouldn’t fly.”
That didn’t make much sense to him, but tears were falling from her eyes, and he couldn’t take that. He slipped out of the booth and moved over to her side. “You’re sick?” he asked, feeling chilled and sick himself.
“A bit,” she said. “I’m sorry, Rowan. I didn’t know how to get in touch with you. Or I would have told you. I swear.” She was hiccupping with sobs now, and he didn’t understand.
“It’s bad? How long?” Her dying was the only thing he could think of that would cause her to act like this.
“About six more months,” she said through more sobs. “I didn’t know. Not until you were well gone. I’m sorry.”
Sorry? She was dying, and she was sorry? “Why? It’s not like you did it on purpose. There’s…nothing they can do for you?”
She shook her head. “It’s a baby, not a tumor, Rowan.”
That kicked him in the gut, and he pulled back to look at her. Now, he could see it, just the slight rounding of her stomach. “A baby?”
She sniffed and nodded. “I’m not…I don’t sleep around, Rowan. I swear. Even though…what we did. I don’t run around sleeping with every guy who talks to me in a bar. I swear. I haven’t…not anyone but you. Not since I left Texas.”
His heart was still pounding hard, and her words hardly made it through the fog in his head. Maybe that was why her words didn’t make a lot of sense. “A baby? Mo leanbh.”
She let out another watery laugh. “I’ve been studying, Rowan. Yes, your baby. I told you, I haven’t been with anyone else.”
He believed her. He didn’t know what they were going to do, but that didn’t matter. He pulled her to him, pressing his mouth to hers. “We’ll make this work. Whatever we need to do, we’ll make it work.”
Note: This is the story of how Declan’s parents met. It took them a while to figure everything out, which led to Declan bouncing a lot between Ireland and Texas.
Note2: I had a lot of fun(ok, too much) slipping Gaelic into this one. I have an Irish-English Dictionary & phrasebook I’ve had for a long time that I used for most of it. For everyone else, a pronunciation guide
páiste [paashchi] – child
Dia Duit[jeeu ghich] – hello
Sibh ólta[shiv aulta] – you are quite drunk
Dul chun drabhlá[dul hun drowlish] – go on a spree of revelry and debauchery
Mo leanbh[mu lanov] – my baby