I hear Bad Willie’s yell from across the bar. “Ciara! Luke here says he can drink you under the table.”
“It was only a matter of time.” I hear Jake mutter from beside me.
“Oh really, what makes him think that?” I eye the new recruit. He’s been here a week and only been around me a few times. He’s a big, built, blue-eyed, blonde Dolph Lundgren lookin bastard. A drinking match would be a good end to a pisser off a day. Between tearing my shoulder open and having the movie star set me off, it’s been a long day.
Luke eyes me back, “I think they let you stay because you’re the boss’s sister-in-law. I wanna knock some of that swagger out of that fine ass.”
I hear Bad Willie groan and hold up a hand to stave off the warning he’s about to give Luke. “He’s a big boy William. He can live with what he says. Isn’t that right Luke?” I set my pool stick on the table and head towards the bar. “And besides, don’t you know there are better things to do with my ass darlin?”
Luke’s grin gets bigger, “You offering sweetheart? I bet I can do a better job than your never present husband.” He must know by the way the room becomes instantly silent that he’s stepped across an invisible line. But it’s too late.
I see Bad Willie’s face tighten as I reach the bar. “Now Ciara…” I stop Bad Willie with a look. The cockiness in the newbie hasn’t faded yet. He doesn’t know that Nolan died three years ago today. He doesn’t now that Nolan was the love of my life and that I still see the way he died at least once a night in my dreams. All he knows is he’s pissed me off, but unlike the men in my team, he doesn’t know how frayed the leash on my rage is today. “Pick your poison little boy.”
He grins, “You and me’ll be drinkin’ whiskey tonight. That alright with you or’d you rather have another pretty little soda like you’ve been sipping?”
“Son,” Jake shakes his head, “You’ve gone and truly fucked yourself.”
I grab four bottles of bottom shelf whiskey, no sense wasting the good stuff for this slaughter, and head towards the battered round table where everyone is congregating. I take the last chair and slouch into it, waiting for Jake to line up the shot glasses and pour. I feel a hand on my shoulder and turn just as Lance crouches down into my vision. “What’re you still doin’ here playboy?”
“I’m here for a few days. Guess Milo, sorry Greek, didn’t mention that.” He looks ay me square on, “Didn’t realize you were married.”
“He’s dead.” I see his eyes go still a moment.
“Why? You didn’t know him.”
“No. But you loved him and it stills hurts, deep down where you don’t let anyone in.” Around us the chaos of voices soars as whiskey splashes into shot glasses and Luke talks more shit.
“And you know this because?”
He smiles, a white flash of teeth that lightens the mood, “I’m good at reading people. So, how fucked is the kid?”
I grin, and at the same time make a mental note tat he’s dangerously good at reading people. I raise my voice so that it carries across the mayhem, “Very fucked. And he’s either humbled by it or he isn’t a good fit here. So, he’s double fucked.”
“Pretty confident there.”
I look across at Luke and lay my accent on thick and heavy, “I’m Irish laddie. I drank whiskey before I drank me own mother’s milk.” Before he can respond I slip the first shot of whiskey down my throat and relish the burn. It takes him a few minutes to realize that he’s five shots behind and dropping farther back. I see him start to panic so I reach across the table and grab two of his shots, “Here laddie, let me help you out a bit.” I down them one after another and then go back to my line of refilled shot glasses. I hear Lance laugh from behind me and I let a laugh of my own out as I get into a smooth and easy rhythm of drink, shit talk, drink, and shit talk.
45 minutes later I’m ahead by 11 shots and Luke is five shades of green. “C’mon laddie were not even into the fourth bottle yet.”
With bleary eyes he looks up at me, “I’m done.”
“Done? The hell are you done for? I’m just getting warmed up.” He shakes his head and then drops it into his hands. I reach across the table and lift his head by a hank of hair. “Remember one thing boy. I’ll take a ribbing like any other team member. But my dead husband is off limits. Consider this your one and only friendly warning.” I look at the rest of my team and at the other two teams scattered about the room. “Go take him through the course.” With whoops and hollers they drag the stumbling drunk newbie out the door and off into the darkness towards the training grounds. I stand and then have to put my hands flat on the table as the world spins crazily. I feel hands on my waist, steadying, and I turn to find myself staring into those big green eyes again. “You’re eyes remind me of home.”
Lance’s left eyebrow lifts, it seems to be his favorite expression. “Oh?”
“Yeah, the green of home. It seems I could use some help up the stairs. Wanna be a doll and let me use your shoulder?” We make it my doorway and I support myself against the doorjam. “You’re not half bad when you’re not bein a pig.”
“Thanks, I think.”
“We’re not usually party animals ya know?”
“So why are you tonight?”
“The teams all came over to keep me occupied. Nolan died three years ago today.”
“Nolan would be your husband?”
“Did you love him?”
“I’ve never been able to put into words how much I loved him.”
“Odd isn’t it? How life goes on even when they’re gone?”
I look at him through whiskey hazed eyes. “Who’d you lose playboy?”
He smiles, a quick sad smile, “Go to bed Ciara.” And he walks away, leaving me in the dark of my room to fend for myself. As I fall asleep across my bed, for the first time in years, I’m not thinking about Nolan and the hole that he left after I scraped his brains off that godforsaken wall.