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Chapter no 17 – You’ve got a fast car Shannon

Binding 13

My body smacked into a hard chest of muscle, causing my school bag to fall to the floor from the impact.

Instinctively, my hands darted out in front of my face, self-preservation mode activated.

If I wasn’t so frightened, I would have been proud of the scream that tore from my chest.

It was progress.

Two large hands shot out, capturing my flailing limbs, and steadying

me.

“Hey – hey, relax.” I recognized the hint of a Dublin accent

immediately. “Shh, relax. It’s just me.”

Sagging in relief, I looked up at his face, registering the familiarity.

“Oh god.” My words came out in a sharp gasp, as I stared up at him, breathing hard and fast. “You almost gave me a heart attack.”

“Shite, sorry about that.” Johnny released me and took a step back, holding his hands out in front of him. “You were in the bathroom so long I thought I’d need to call in a rescue crew or something.”

He took another step backwards, then cupped the back of his neck with a hand, looking a little uncomfortable.

He was still wearing the same jersey with the sleeves slightly torn at the biceps, but had switched his shorts for grey sweatpants, and his footballs boots for a pair of runners.

“I just wanted to check that you were okay.” Shrugging, he dropped his hands to his sides and asked, “Are you?”

Was I?

“I think so?” My heart was beating at a hundred miles an hour and I felt like I was two seconds away from passing out from the adrenalin battering through my veins.

Pressing a hand to my chest, I took a few deep breaths to steady my frazzled nerves before I could speak.

He was so much taller than me that I had to crane my head back so I could look at his face when I asked, “Were you waiting out here for me?”

“Uh, yeah.” Shoving his big hands into the pockets of his sweats, Johnny nodded. “I wanted to make sure you were alright. Gibsie told me what he said to you.”

“He did?”

“Yeah.” Johnny nodded grimly. “That fucker won’t be bothering you again.”

“Ronan?”

He nodded, jaw ticking. “Listen, I need you to trust me when I tell you that little scene with McGarry had more to do with me than you.” He shifted uncomfortably and ran a hand through his disheveled hair. “He likes to push boundaries – mine more than most.”

Push boundaries?

More to do with him?

“Oh.” I wasn’t sure what to say to that. I was so confused.

“Thanks,” I added, because thanking him seemed like the right thing to

do.

 

“No problem.”

“Did you, uh, catch him?” I asked, then immediately regretted my

question.

Why was I making conversation with him? That was my cue to leave.

Why wasn’t I leaving?

And why wouldn’t my heart stop trying to beat its way out of my chest?

Was this going to happen every time I bumped into him? If so, I needed to get a prescription.

“Ronan,” I clarified, digging myself a deeper hole. “You were counting to five.”

“Like I said,” Johnny replied, jaw set in a tight line, “He won’t be bothering you again.”

My eyes widened. “You didn’t kill him, did you?”

He barked out a laugh. “No, Shannon, I didn’t kill him.” “Oh, okay.” I breathed a heavy sigh. “That’s good.”

He tilted his head to one side, expression curious, voice soft. “Is it?”

“Well, I-I, yeah,” I choked out. “I guess it’s always good to avoid a murder charge.”

“I guess that’s true,” he replied with a smirk.

“Well, I’m, ah, okay,” I said, tone a little strained. “Thanks for checking.”

He arched a dark brow. “You sure?” “Yeah.”

“Good.”

“Good.”

He made no move to walk away, and, weirdly enough, neither did I.

We both just stood there, a few feet apart, with him looking down at me, and me staring right back up at him.

It was hard to explain what was happening, but it almost felt like he was re-memorizing what I looked like.

At least, that’s what I was doing.

His dark blue eyes were on my face, moving from my eyes to my lips, and back up again.

He was openly taking me in and made no attempt to be discreet about it. It was disconcerting and exciting all at once.

My phone vibrated against my chest then, startling me, and thankfully giving me a much-needed reprieve from the strange tension enveloping us.

Unbuttoning my coat, I dragged my phone out of my pocket, glanced at Joey’s name flashing on the screen, and quickly pressed accept.

“Shannon! What’s going on?” my brother demanded down the line. “Are you okay? Did something happen –” his voice broke off and he growled down the line, “If one of those posh bastards did something to you, I will lose my –”

“I’m fine,” I blurted out, interrupting him mid-rant. “I’m okay. Calm down.”

My eyes flickered to Johnny who was still there, watching me with a considering look.

“I missed my bus,” I continued to say, turning my back on him to gain some much-needed composure. “And the next one’s not until quarter to ten tonight,” I quickly explained, keeping my voice low and hushed. “It’s already dark out and I don’t want to walk in case –” I stopped myself before finishing that sentence, then hurried on to ask, “Are you with Aoife? Can you guys come pick me up?”

Joey had his full license, but he didn’t have a car.

His girlfriend, who was still on her provisional license, had a fourteen- year-old Opel Corsa.

It was old and sluggish, but it worked.

Joey was a named driver on her insurance and her dessy driver most days, and I knew she allowed him to borrow it whenever he wanted.

“I’m really stuck, Joe,” I added, voice small. “I wouldn’t ask you if I wasn’t desperate.”

“Ah bollox, Shan. I’m working until nine,” Joey grumbled. “I got called in to cover for one of the lads, and Aoife works until half ten on Tuesdays so she has the car. Did you try Mam?”

“She’s working the late shift,” I mumbled. “And I’m not calling Dad.” “No! Jesus, don’t call him,” Joey agreed, tone hard. He sighed heavily

down the line and said, “Look, hang up and give me a few minutes. I’ll call around a few of the lads – see if anyone can pick you up. I’ll phone you back in a few.”

“No, don’t do that,” I was quick to interject, the thought of getting into a car with one of his friends, however tolerant they were of me, was not an appealing concept. “The school stays open late. I can wait here until my bus comes.”

A gentle tap on my shoulder drew my attention away from my phone call.

Spinning around, I looked up and locked eyes with Johnny. “I can take you home,” he said, blue eyes locked on mine.

“Huh?” I opened my mouth but nothing but blabbering came out.

“My car’s parked outside.” He inclined his head towards the entrance. “I can take you home.”

“I, uh, I…” Shaking my head, I sucked in a sharp breath and tried again. “No, no, that’s okay. You don’t have to do that.”

“I know I don’t have to,” he replied slowly. “I’m offering.”

“Do what?” Joey barked down the line. “Shan? What’s going on? Who are you talking to?”

“Oh, ah, just this guy from school,” I explained, face burning with heat. Johnny arched a brow.

I flushed bright pink.

My reaction brought a smile to his full lips.

“Guy?” my brother demanded, drawing my attention back to our phone call. “What guy?”

“Just a guy I know,” I squeezed out, tone pitchy. Biting down on my bottom lip, I glanced up at Johnny and said, “Honestly, it’s fine. You don’t have to drive me home.”

“Hold up – who’s driving you home, Shannon?” Joey barked down the line, distracting me once more. “Why are you talking to guys old enough to drive you home? You’re fifteen!”

“I know what age I am, Joey,” I shot back, nerves frazzled. “Look, relax.” Pressing my palm to my forehead, I said, “I’ll wait here until my bus comes.”

“Put him on the phone,” Joey ordered. “What?” I gaped. “Who?”

“The lad who’s just a guy you know with a car,” he spat, throwing my words back at me.

I balked. “Why?”

“Because I want to talk to him,” Joey replied impatiently. I peeked up at Johnny who was looking at me expectantly.

Dropping my gaze, I whispered, “Why do you want to talk to him?”

“Because I want to talk to the fucker offering to take my baby sister home in his car, that’s why.”

Letting out an impatient sigh, Johnny cleared his throat and held his hand out.

I stared at his hand and blinked in confusion. “Give me your phone,” he instructed calmly. “My phone?”

“Yes.” Johnny nodded. “Your phone.”

When I made no move to hand it over, Johnny swiped it out of my hand and pressed it to his ear.

“Hey, this is Johnny,” he said down the line, holding my shitty phone to his ear. “Yeah, I know your sister –” He paused before saying, “Kavanagh – yeah, that’s me.” Another pause followed before he nodded. “Thanks. It was a strong performance all round.”

Mortified, I reached up and tried to grab my phone, but he was too tall.

Holding a hand out between us to keep me at bay, Johnny continued to talk – to my brother.

“Probably,” he said into the phone. “Yeah, it’s a risky move. No, tickets don’t go on sale for the summer tour until May…Yeah, I’ll see what I can do. Home games only, though…Cool.”

What?

Seriously, what?

Confused didn’t begin to explain how I was feeling in this moment.

“I’m well aware,” Johnny said in a dry tone, obviously responding to something Joey was saying. “No, I don’t… We’re, uh, yeah, we’re friends… obviously…a full license…yes…” His gaze flickered to my face. “Seventeen…I know that…yeah, I get it… I know the difference… I won’t,” Johnny said before pressing end on the call and holding my phone out for me.

“What just happened?” I balked, staring down at the black screen of my phone. “What did he say to you?”

Johnny shrugged, but didn’t answer my question. Instead, he swooped down and grabbed my school bag.

“Come on.” Throwing my bag over his shoulder, he pressed a hand to my back and nudged me forward. “Big brother gave me permission to take you home.”

“What about your school bag?” I blurted out, noting he was only carrying mine.

“It’s in the car,” he replied, continuing to shepherd me towards the door. “Let’s go.”

Like a lamb to the slaughter, I went with him, knowing this was a terrible idea, but unable to stop my feet from moving.

There was only a handful of students in the corridors, but I swear I felt every one of their stares as I walked towards the front door with Johnny.

Johnny yanked the glass door open and waited for me to step out before following me.

I had no idea what to do – or say for that matter.

I was so far out of my comfort zone I could barely function. I felt a little light headed if I was being honest.

We walked side by side in silence through the court yard and down the avenue towards the student carpark.

Even though today was March first, and the second month of Spring in Ireland, it was dark outside, not to mention freezing cold.

I wasn’t a fan of being outside in the dark, and I found myself sticking close to him.

Concussion-giver or not, some part of my brain told me that I was safe with this boy.

That was probably the concussed part talking.

“He didn’t hurt you, did he?” Johnny asked, breaking the silence when we entered the parking area.

“What?” I turned my face to look at him. “No, no, I’m okay.”

“You’re sure?” He was staring straight ahead, so I did the same, feeling too exposed around him. “He didn’t put his hands on you?”

“I’m sure.” Sliding my hands into my coat pockets, I kept my gaze on the line of cars up ahead. “I’m okay.”

Johnny tensed and the move caused his arm to rub against mine. “You know, you can tell me if he did.” He shoved his hand into his pocket and retrieved a set of keys. “You don’t have to be afraid.”

“He didn’t.”

“Okay, good,” he muttered, pressing a button on a sleek black car key. Lights flashed from a nearby vehicle and he steered us towards it. “This one’s mine.”

“Whoa,” I muttered when I was close enough to make out the impressive looking car. “You have an Audi?”

“I do,” he agreed, yanking one of the back doors open. “Is it yours?”

“Why else would I be driving it?”

I cringed. “I thought it might belong to your parents or something.” “No, it’s mine,” he replied. “My folks have their own transport.”

“Oh,” I breathed, gawking in admiration.

Because of the darkness, I couldn’t depict if the car was black or navy, but god almighty, darkness or not, I could easily tell that it was fancy.

And new. And fast.

And expensive.

No wonder he didn’t want the €65 back. “Is it an A3?” I asked, awestruck.

“Yeah,” Johnny replied, tossing my bag into the backseat where it joined another schoolbag and several more gear bags, all with different club crests.

I could spot a sports bag a mile away, having spent most of my life falling over them.

I was also painfully aware of the stench of teenage boy that came from one of those bags. It was similar to the stench that wafted from Joey’s bedroom; a distinctive odor comprised of a combination of sweat, sex, and man.

Peeking over his shoulder, I ignored the stench of boy and marveled at the leather interior.

“Are you into cars or something?” he asked, turning his head just in time to catch me snooping over his shoulder.

“Not really.” I took a step back and shrugged, feeling a surge of heat flood my face and a whole truckload of relief to have been caught checking out his car and not his ass in those pants.

Because I had totally checked that out, too. It was hard not to.

It was round and firm and…

“But my brother Joey is, so I know a lot of the types from listening to him, ” I hurried to explain and distract myself from my dangerous thoughts. “That’s a fast car.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty decent for now.” “For now?”

Nodding, Johnny closed the back door and flashed me a quick smile before opening the front passenger door.

“Ah, shite,” he grumbled, staring in dismay. “Sorry about this. I wasn’t planning on having anyone in here.”

My eyes took in the absolute carnage that was his front seat.

Holy hell.

It was a total mess.

“I can sit in the back if it’s easier for you?” I offered, not wanting to put him out any more than I already was.

“What – no,” Johnny muttered, scratching his jaw. “Just give me a sec.” Diving into the car, he scooped up an arm full of empty bottles, socks,

plastic containers, chewing gum packets, deodorant cans, and towels, and tossed them over the back of the seat.

He had to repeat this cycle three more times, dumping the rubbish from the front seat to the back, before the space was clear – pausing midway to pocket a black wallet to which he informed me that he had been looking for this.

Finally, when he was finished with the impromptu clean up, he climbed back out, grinning sheepishly, “I think we’re good now.”

I smiled. “Thanks again for offering to drop me home.”

“It’s no problem,” he replied. “I figure I still owe you for the broken head, huh?”

“You didn’t break it,” I was quick to clear up. “You just knocked my brain around a little.”

Johnny grimaced. “I kind of did, didn’t I?”

“Well,” I mused. “It’s fifteen miles to my house. So, between the money, threatening to cut off Ronan’s penis, and the spin home, I think we can call it quits.”

“He’s not in your class, is he?” Johnny expelled a frustrated breath. “Because that can be sorted, too.”

“We only have one class together twice a week,” I explained.

The male to female ratio in third year was heavily unbalanced with eighty boys and only five girls.

All five girls were placed into the same class, 3A.

Luckily for me, Ronan McGarry was in 3D so, with the exception of a couple of mixed classes during the week, I wouldn’t have to look at him.

“He’s never spoken a word to me until this evening,” I added.

“Well, if he gives you even a whiff of shite then let me know,” Johnny growled. “And I’ll fix it.”

“You’ll fix it?” I questioned. “You make it sound like you’re in the Mafia or something.”

Johnny barked out a laugh and held the door open, gesturing with his hand. “Come on, Shannon like the river. Get in my car.”

He was so unexpected, and I was so distracted by him, that I didn’t feel any hesitation.

I just climbed in and fastened my seatbelt, watching as he closed my door and jogged around the front of the car to his side.

It wasn’t until he was sitting in the driver’s seat beside me with the doors closed, that I felt my heartbeat increase and my usual swell of anxiety churn.

“Christ, it’s freezing,” Johnny announced, rubbing his hands together before starting the engine.

He was right.

It was freezing in here.

“It’s late to be catching a bus,” he added, flicking on the light overhead. “School finishes at four.”

“Yeah, I know.” I clasped my hands together, my entire body a bundle of nerves. “But the half-five bus is the only one that goes past my road.”

“That sucks.”

“It’s not so bad,” I replied, adjusting my seatbelt. “I usually manage to get most of my homework done before I leave school in the evenings.”

A small shiver rolled through me then, to which Johnny automatically responded with, “Are you cold?”

Reaching for the heater, he turned it on full blast, then returned to rubbing his hands together and shivering.

“Shouldn’t take long to melt,” he added, pointing to the thin layer of ice on the windscreen.

“I’m okay, but you should probably put a coat on,” I stated, eyeing his bare arms. “Or at least a jumper. It’s like 2 degrees out there. You’ll end up getting sick.”

“Nah, I’m used to it,” he told me. “I spend most of every winter on a pitch in the pissings of rain.”

“Playing rugby,” I filled in thoughtfully.

“Yep.” Cupping his hands close to his mouth, he blew a breath into them and continued to rub. “Do you play any sports?”

“No.” I shook my head and fingered a button on my coat. “I like watching, though.”

Tilting his head to one side, he studied my face. “Do you watch a lot of rugby?”

I could feel the weight of his stare in my cheeks.

They were on fire.

“Ah, no,” I mumbled. “I mean, I watched that one match last week, and I watch Ireland in the Six Nations championship every year, and I sometimes follow the soccer. But it’s mostly GAA – Gaelic football and hurling.” I looked over at him. “My brother, Joey – the guy on the phone? He plays for Cork.”

“No shit?” Johnny’s brows shot up. “Senior level?”

“No, he’s only eighteen, so it’s the minors for now,” I replied. “But there’s talk of him being called up to the senior team next season.”

“You know, now that I think of it, the name Joey Lynch sounds familiar,” Johnny mused. He twisted in his seat to face me, expression full of interest. “He’s over in BCS, right? A hurler?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “He was a duel player for years, like most people, but when he got called up to county level, he dropped football.”

“Nice.” Johnny blew out a breath. He sounded impressed when he leaned back against his door and said, “It’s not easy to get a call up to county level anywhere, but especially in Cork where the competition is so fierce.”

“It really isn’t.” I kept my body position straight ahead but turned my head to look at him. “People don’t get how incredibly hard it is to play at that level and stay there. They assume it’s easy for athletes and that they’re spoilt and entitled, but they don’t see the huge, behind the scenes sacrifices that are made daily by those guys.”

“You can chalk that down,” he replied, nodding his head in agreement. Propping a foot on his seat, Johnny hooked his arm around his knee,

rested his other arm on the steering wheel, and gave me his undivided attention.

“Your brother’s taking this opportunity with both hands?”

“I guess,” I replied, thinking about my brother and his attitude towards life.

This was strange.

I usually wasn’t much of a talker. Not around strangers at least.

It didn’t feel that way around him, though. Not tonight, at least.

I felt oddly forthcoming and Johnny’s interest in what I had to say encouraged me to keep talking.

Besides, my brother was a safe topic.

Everybody loved Joey, myself included, and I was fiercely proud of his achievements.

“But he’s still in school – doing his leaving cert this year – and there are a lot of distractions for him. Our father wants him focused on hurling 24/7, but Joe is a sociable guy. He finds it hard to say no to his friends,” I continued to ramble and he continued to listen intently to what I was saying.

“Honestly, Joey has the talent and skill to play at any level,” I stated truthfully, appreciating every nod Johnny made as I spoke. “It’s keeping his head that’s his biggest problem, and distractions are everywhere. Everybody wants a piece of you when you’re in the public eye, and Joey has a hard time keeping his feet on the ground.” I waved a dismissive hand in the air as I spoke. “I guess it’s hard to keep your feet on the ground when you’re a teenager playing in a man’s world and reaping the rewards for it – ” I paused, exhaling a heavy sigh before adding, “You know how it is with parties, girls, special treatment, and all that.”

“Yeah,” Johnny replied, rubbing his jaw almost absentmindedly. He had this strange expression etched on his face as he looked at me, one I couldn’t quite depict. “I do know.”

“It was the same for Darren,” I added thoughtfully, thinking back to how similar my brothers’ lives were at eighteen.

Johnny’s brows knitted. “Darren?”

I flushed. “Oh, he’s my oldest brother. He played a year of senior level before giving up.”

“No shit?” Johnny’s brows shot up. “Why did he give up?”

“The pressure?” I offered weakly, unwilling to delve into my family’s issues. “I guess he lost heart in the game.”

There was a long, pregnant pause after that where neither of us spoke. It was unsettling and brought with it my earlier anxieties.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, tucking my hair behind my ear. “I probably just bored you half to sleep with all that.” Fingering my braid nervously, I looked from the now ice-free windscreen to him before saying, “I’d say we’re good to go.”

Johnny made no move to leave.

Instead, he surprised me by saying, “What about you?” “What about me?” I replied, feeling a little unnerved.

“Are you a skilled camogie player?” He shot me a grin. “Since it clearly runs in your family.”

“Ah, no,” I replied, flushing bright red. “Definitely not. I was never any good at it. But I love watching. I love the physicality of the game.”

Johnny nodded, absorbing everything I was telling him with perfect politeness, only to surprise the hell out of me when he said, “I think you’d like rugby.”

My brows rose up at the odd statement.

“I think what you meant to say is I might die playing rugby,” I corrected, gesturing to my body. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of on the small side.”

A huge smile spread across his face, dimples emerging.

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” he chuckled. “I meant that I think you’d enjoy watching rugby. If you enjoy GAA so much, you’d love the physicality of rugby.”

“I do enjoy it,” I reminded him. “When Ireland are playing.” Not that I have a bull’s clue of what’s going on, I skipped adding.

“What about local teams? School rugby? Provincial sides? Ever been to any games before last week?”

He was firing off questions quicker than I could respond.

I attempted to answer him as best I could. “No, I don’t follow any team aside from the international squad, and I’ve never been to any other games.”

Johnny nodded again, taking in everything I was saying like it was important.

“I play,” he finally said.

“For Tommen. Yeah, I know,” I quipped. “I saw you, and I still have an egg on the back to my head to prove it.”

Johnny grimaced. “No,” he pressed, tone oddly serious. “I mean I play.” I stared blankly back at him. “That’s…good?”

He released an impatient laugh. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

“Nope.” I shook my head. “I honestly don’t.”

He considered this for a long moment before nodding. “I like that.” “You like what?”

“That you don’t know what I’m talking about,” he replied without hesitation. “It’s a little insulting and a lot refreshing.”

“Uh, well, you’re welcome?” I offered, not knowing what to say to that. “So, rugby’s your thing, huh?”

Johnny smirked. “You could say that.”

I felt like I was missing something here. “And you’re good?”

I thought he was good.

I thought he was the best out there last Friday, but I didn’t have a clue about the sport.

His smile widened, eyes crinkling slightly, as he repeated his earlier words, “You could say that.”

Okay, I was definitely missing something.

“Am I going to be embarrassed by this?” I asked, racking my brain for information that might help me.

I didn’t have any.

Sure, I knew he was the captain of the school team, and those photographers and reporters were snapping at his heels, but I figured that had to do with him being captain and the best player on the field that day.

However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something.

“If I do an internet search on you, am I going to find out you’re some sort of rugby god?”

Johnny threw his head back and laughed. “No,” he mused. “I’m no god.” “Then what?” I pressed.

With a rueful smile, Johnny steered the topic back to me once more by saying, “So, GAA’s your thing, huh?”

“Well, I really don’t have much of a choice in the matter,” I responded, going along with his diversion. “I have five brothers and a GAA-fanatic father so…” I let my words trail off with a small shrug.

“No sisters?”

“Nope,” I replied. “It’s just me and the boys.” “How’s that for you?”

His question threw me and it took me several moments to form a response. “Okay, I guess.”

No one had ever asked me that before. Not even my parents.

“It makes for a busy home life,” I added, feeling the need to elaborate. “It gets kind of crazy sometimes.”

“I bet.”

Shifting his hand from the steering wheel to the leg he had planted on the floor, Johnny began to smooth his large hand over the front of his sweatpants, stopping to knead his thigh with his knuckles.

I would have been super creeped out by the move if it weren’t for the fact that he seemed to be doing this subconsciously, like he was soothing an ache.

“Are you close?” he asked, distracting me from my staring. “Close?” I blinked rapidly. “To who – my brothers?”

He nodded.

I thought about it for a moment before responding. “I’m close to Joey – that’s the one on the phone earlier. He turned eighteen at Christmas, so he’s the closest in age to me. Darren doesn’t live in Cork, and the three younger ones are only eleven, nine, and three, so we’re not very close.”

“He’s good to you?” “Who – Joey?”

He nodded.

“Yeah.” I smiled. “He’s a great brother.” “Protective?”

I shrugged. “Sometimes.”

Johnny nodded thoughtfully before saying, “So, you’re the middle child?”

“Yeah, I’m the third.” “That’s a lot of kids.”

“What about you?” I turned the tables on him. “Any sisters or brothers?” “Nope,” he replied with a shrug. “I’m an only child.”

Wow. “What’s that like?”

“Quiet,” he quipped before shifting the limelight back onto me once again. “You’ve lived here all your life?”

“Yep. Born and raised in Ballylaggin,” I confirmed. “You’re from Dublin, right? You moved down here when you were eleven?”

His eyes brightened. “You remember me telling you that?” I nodded.

“Christ, you were so out of it that day, I didn’t think you’d remember any of it,” he replied thoughtfully, scratching his chin.

“Even if I hadn’t, your accent is a dead giveaway.” “Yeah?”

Nodding, I put on my poshest southside accent and said, “I’m from Blackrock darling.”

Johnny laughed at my attempt. “Not even close.”

“Let me guess, you enjoy dipping your toes in Sandycove before heading for a spot of lunch in D4?” I added with a snicker and another forced accent.

My cheeks burned.

God, I was so awkward.

“There’s nothing posh about me, Shannon,” Johnny countered, smile fading. “I might come from a decent area, but my parents work hard for everything they have. They came from nothing and built themselves up.”

“You’re right.”

He didn’t sound posh at all.

My attempt at impersonating him was an epic fail.

What an idiot…

Embarrassed by my rare and poorly executed joke, I fiddled with my braid and mumbled, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he replied dismissively, smiling again. “Now, my Ma, on the other hand, has a really thick northside accent.”

My eyes lit up. “Like in Fair City?”

Johnny scrunched his nose up. “You watch soaps?”

“I love them,” I admitted with a smile. “Fair City’s my favorite.”

“Well, if you heard my Ma, you’d be in your element,” he chuckled, oblivious to his weird hand-to-thigh movements. “My Da was born and raised in Ballylaggin. So, he’s a Cork native like yourself.” Shrugging, he added, “I suppose I sound like a fucked-up mixture of both.”

He wasn’t.

He didn’t have an ounce of Cork accent in him, he was one hundred percent Dub, but I decided to skip telling him that and ask, “Why did your family move here?” instead.

“My Da’s mother was sick,” he explained. “She wanted to come home to, ah, you know, so we moved down to take care of her.” Dropping his hands in his lap, he fiddled with his thumbs. “It was supposed to be a temporary thing – I was enrolled in Royce College for the following September. We were supposed to go home after the funeral.”

“But you didn’t go back to Dublin?”

He shook his head. “Nah, the ‘rents decided they liked the quiet way of life down here, so they put the house in Dublin on the market and made the move a permanent one.”

“How was it – moving at that age?”

I had no idea why I was asking these questions.

I couldn’t remember ever talking to a random person for this long before.

But this was nice and Johnny was interesting. He was different.

I was stunned at how easy it was to actually talk to him. “It must have been hard.”

“It was a pain in the hole,” Johnny muttered, clearly thinking back at the memory. “Coming into a new school halfway through the school year. Changing clubs and finding my feet in a new squad. Taking some other fella’s spot on the team and then dealing with the fall out. ” He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair. “I had to repeat sixth class over the move – some shit about policy or something.”

“Where?”

“Scoil Eoin,” he offered with a grimace. “The all-boys, Catholic primary school.”

My brows shot up. “Same as Hughie Biggs?”

He nodded, smiling. “Yeah, that’s where I met Hughie, Gibs, and Feely.” “Those guys are your friends?”

He nodded, grinning now. “Unfortunately.”

“Did you mind?” I asked then. “Having to repeat sixth class at Scoil Eoin?”

“I was raging, Shannon.”

“You were?” I asked, ignoring the way my insides shivered when he said my name.

In fact, I was desperately trying to ignore the electric current of heat pulsing through my veins.

“Yeah, I was really looking forward to going to Royce with my buddies and the lads from the club,” he explained. “Christ, I was fuming with my folks when they pulled me out and enrolled me at Tommen.” He let out a small laugh, then said, “Six years later and I’m still pissed about it.”

“Well, you seem to be doing okay for yourself here,” I offered, unsure of what to say. “You have lots of friends, and you’re still playing rugby and

stuff.”

“And stuff,” Johnny chuckled, highly amused by my words. He studied my face for a long beat before asking, “Do you dance?”

“No, why would you ask that?”

“I don’t know.” Johnny shrugged. “Some girls dance instead of playing sports.” His eyes trailed over me for a brief moment before returning to my face. “You look like you could be one of those–” he waved a hand around, obviously searching for a word, before finishing with, “You know, one of those tutu dancers.”

My eyes widened. “You think I look like a ballerina?” He nodded and a laugh tore from my lips.

“What?” He grinned sheepishly. “You’re small,” he motioned to my body with his hand before adding, “it’s not that far of a stretch of the imagination.”

“Well, I’m not a ballerina,” I laughed. “Or any other dancer, for that matter. I’m just stunted.”

Johnny cocked an amused brow. “Stunted?”

“Have you seen me?” I gestured to myself. “I’m fifteen, barely five feet, and I weigh like 85 pounds.”

“You’re six stone?” he breathed, eyes widening in disbelief.

Meanwhile, my eyes widened in disbelief at how fast he was able to convert pounds to stones.

Whoa.

“Jaysus, I bench twice what you weigh in the gym.” Johnny looked me over before asking, “Are you seriously only five feet?”

“If I stand really straight, I am.”

“Christ, I’m 6’3.” He shook his head. “You’re so small.” “Exactly.” I pulled a face. “Stunted.”

“Jaysus, no wonder you folded like a lawn chair when the ball hit you,” Johnny muttered, rubbing his jaw again as his eyes traveled over me. “I could have broken you in half.”

“That’s one way to put it,” I replied, scrunching my nose up at the analogy.

“Is your mother still raging with me?” “My mother?”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “She looked like she was two seconds away from ripping my head off that day.”

“My mother just got a fright,” I mumbled. “She saw that I was hurt and jumped to the first conclusion.”

“And the first conclusion was that I battered you?”

I shrugged uncomfortably but gave nothing away. “It happens.”

“Not from me, it doesn’t,” he pointed out, tone a little thicker now, eyes locked on mine. “Never from me.”

“Hey now, don’t be so quick to deny.” I attempted humor. “I just witnessed you threaten to cut off Ronan’s penis.”

“That little eejit doesn’t count,” was his grunted response. “I can’t fucking stand that kid, but his uncle’s the school trainer so I have no choice than to tolerate him. He’s always pushing my buttons and acting out on the pitch, pulling reckless stunts, and causing unnecessary drama. It’s like babysitting a fucking toddler during matches. I swear, it’s a daily test to my self-restraint not to throttle the little bollox.”

I smirked. “So, you’re not friends then?”

Johnny scoffed at the notion. “Definitely not friends.”

“Well, he’s still young,” I offered optimistically. “So maybe he’ll mature with time.”

“Like you?” “Huh?”

“I mean you’re in the same year as him,” he hurried to explain. “But you don’t act like you’re fifteen.”

“I don’t?”

He shook his head. “You come across as a lot older.”

“That’s because I’m a ninety-year-old woman disguised as a teenager,” I quipped.

“That’s…” Johnny scrunched his nose up. “A disturbing concept.” “Yep,” I mumbled, embarrassed at my crappy banter. “It is.”

“So, what do you do?” he surprised me by asking.

“What do I do?” I’d been half-expecting him to end the conversation there.

“Yeah.” He nodded encouragingly. “In your free time.”

I paused and thought about his question. “I don’t really do anything,” I finally said. “I guess I watch television and listen to music in my free time – oh, and I read a lot.” Shrugging, I added, “As you can tell, I’m not very interesting.”

Johnny tilted his head to one side, studying me with intense, blue eyes. “What types of books?”

“Autobiographies. Fiction. Crime. Thrillers. Romance.” I sighed, thinking of the pile of books in my room. “I’m not picky about genres. I just have to like the blurb. If the back of the book can suck me in, then I’m sold.”

Johnny watched me while I spoke, his gaze intense and searching. “You’re a reader,” he finally said.

It wasn’t a question, it sounded more like he was banking that piece of information away in his mind.

“That’s really good.”

“Do you read?” I asked him.

He grimaced. “Not as much as I should.” “So, not at all?” I teased.

“Honestly, no,” he admitted with a lopsided grin. Shifting closer, he said, “The last book I read that wasn’t school ordered was about Chicken Licken and the sky falling down on all the little talking animals – do you know the one?”

“Yeah,” I snickered, thinking about Johnny reading children’s fairy-tale stories. “I’ve read that one a couple of times to Sean.”

“Sean?”

“My youngest brother,” I explained. “The three-year-old.”

“You shouldn’t, ” Johnny warned, suppressing a shudder. “That book scared the bejesus out of me. I haven’t read for fun since.”

My mouth fell open. “Are you being serious right now?”

“Hell fucking yes, I’m being serious,” Johnny shot back, looking comically wounded. “I was only small. It was one of those read it yourself books with the pictures in place for words and all that shite. They should have rated it PG because I swear to god, I genuinely believed the whole fucking sky was going to cave in on me.” He shook his head at the memory. “I slept under – rather than on – my bed for three fucking weeks until my Da finally caved and moved me into one of the bedrooms downstairs.”

“Why?” I laughed loudly. “What good was moving downstairs going to do if the sky was falling?”

Johnny grinned and his dimples deepened in his cheeks.

“Ah, see,” he chuckled, tapping his head with his forefinger. “In my naïve, six-year-old mind, I was thinking that if the sky did in fact fall, it

might break the roof, but it couldn’t possibly break the downstairs ceiling too. I’d have a better chance of surviving on the ground level.”

“You were a clever, little fella, weren’t you?”

“I was something alright,” Johnny replied, laughing along with me. “A bleeding eejit.”

“Wow,” I snickered between fits of laughter. “That’s survival at its finest.”

He gave me a wolfish grin. “Original boy scout right here.” “Were you in the boy scouts?”

“Like fuck I was,” Johnny shot back, laughing harder now. “I was messing.” His eyes danced with amusement. “Why? Were you in the Brownies?”

“Ah, definitely not.” I shook my head, stifling a giggle. “My survival skills are terrible.”

Johnny’s voice was a little deeper when he said, “I don’t know about that.”

His expression shifted then, growing more intense.

Unable to take the heat, I turned my face away and glanced at the clock on the dashboard.

It read 8:25.

God, how long had we been sitting here talking?

“Tell me something,” Johnny distracted me by saying. He was still smiling, and his eyes were warm, his tone soft, when he asked, “Why’d you transfer to Tommen?”

His question caught me off guard.

“I, uh –” clasping my hands together, I cracked my knuckles and exhaled a heavy sigh, “I needed a change.”

“A change?” He arched a disbelieving brow. “Halfway through your junior cert?”

“It’s complicated and sort of private…” my voice trailed off, and I turned my face to look out my window, though all I could see was darkness outside.

I wasn’t comfortable with the direction this conversation had taken.

Every time I thought about my old school, a fresh batch of terror enveloped me.

My reasons for being here weren’t something I was willing to talk about with anyone.

“Hey.” I felt his fingers brush against the back of my hand, his voice closer now, soft and probing. “Where’d you go?”

Startled by the contact, my head snapped back, my gaze flickering from his face to where his thumb was still grazing my hand, smoothing soft circles over my knuckles.

It was only a harmless touch meant to capture my attention but what surprised me most was that I didn’t immediately pull away.

The awareness that I liked his touch was unsettling, but not nearly as unsettling as the urge I had to flip my hand over and entwine my fingers with his.

“Shite.” Yanking his hand away, Johnny shifted back to lean against the door, grimacing in what looked like discomfort at the move.

His hand automatically shot to his thigh again.

“Sorry,” he grunted and it was a noticeably pained sound. Clearing his throat, he added, “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“It’s okay,” I whispered, chewing nervously on my bottom lip. “I don’t mind.”

He exhaled a hard breath and then ran a hand through his hair with his free hand.

“No, it’s not okay.” His gaze drifted to my mouth and he expelled another hard breath. “It’s not fucking okay at all.”

“It is okay,” I tried to comfort him by saying. “Don’t be mad over it.” “I’m not mad,” Johnny bit out, jaw clenched. “I’m just…fuck!”

He so was mad.

My gaze flickered to his right leg, the one on the floor, and then to where his knuckles had turned white from the pressure he was using to knead his thigh.

Distracted by the sight, I blurted, “What’s wrong with you?” Johnny’s brows furrowed in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“You had an icepack on your leg at school earlier,” I stated, gesturing with my hand to where he was still digging his fist into his thigh. “Are you hurt?”

His gaze followed mine to his thigh and he quickly yanked his hand away.

“Jesus,” he grunted, looking appalled, “I didn’t realize I was doing that.” “You’ve been touching yourself since we got in the car,” I announced.

“Jesus Christ!” Johnny hissed, gaping at me in horror.

I immediately regretted my choice of words and began to back pedal. “I mean, not touching yourself. Obviously, you weren’t ‘touching yourself’ touching yourself –”

“Please stop talking,” Johnny begged, holding up a hand. I closed my mouth and nodded.

Shifting his body gingerly, he sank back down in his seat, flinching ever so slightly at the movement.

I watched in silence as he fastened his seatbelt and inhaled a deep breath, expelling it slowly.

“Just to be clear,” he stated after a long pause of silence. “I really wasn’t

feeling myself up or anything like that. I’m just…”

“Sore?” I offered, remembering his words from that day. His gaze locked on mine, wary now.

“Yeah,” he admitted with a pained sigh.

I nodded in understanding. “You have an injury?”

Johnny looked from my face to his leg, a frustrated expression crossing his features.

“I have something, alright,” he muttered under his breath, and then released another agitated sigh before blurting out, “I fucked my adductor muscle when I was sixteen. It was brutal. Nothing helped, and it was compromising my game. I was in constant pain, Shannon. Constant. The physio wasn’t working and I couldn’t cope with the pain anymore, so I gave in and had the surgery at Christmas.”

He sounded angry with himself which pushed me to ask, “And you’re mad because?”

Johnny shook his head and then ran a hand through his hair.

He was quiet for so long that I didn’t think he was going to answer me, but then he mumbled, “It’s not healing.”

“Your leg?” I whispered, concern bubbling up inside of me. “Or your stitches?”

“Both?” he offered with a resigned shake of his head, then whispered, “All of it.”

This was a strange admission between two relative strangers, and I got the distinct feeling that Johnny didn’t overshare often.

He looked annoyed with himself, and I wasn’t sure if it was because he was injured or because he told me about it.

Either way, I had the biggest urge to comfort him.

“Well –” pausing, I twisted in my seat to look at him, and gathered my thoughts before saying, “it usually takes a lot longer than a few weeks to recover full from an operation. You’re not a machine, Johnny. The healing process takes time. A teammate of Joey’s had surgery last year to have his hamstring repaired. It took five months until he was match fit.”

“It’s been ten weeks,” he shot back, his tone taking on a hard edge, mirroring the frustration in his eyes. “My surgeon told me that I’m on track to full recovery, and my GP cleared me to play after three weeks. It was supposed to be a minor procedure but it looks fucking horr –” Johnny stopped short and shook his head, exhaling a frustrated breath. “It shouldn’t be taking this long,” he reiterated, glaring down at his thigh like it was the enemy. “It’s a fucking mess.”

“You were given the all-clear to play after three weeks?” I frowned. “That doesn’t seem like a long enough time frame for your body to heal,” I heard myself respond, tone gentle.

“Yeah, well, I was,” he huffed.

“Johnny,” I said quietly. “You should probably only be going back to training now.”

He shook his head and muttered, “You don’t get it.”

No, I definitely didn’t, but that didn’t stop me from saying, “You said your stiches haven’t healed?”

He gave me a wary look but didn’t respond.

“Can you show me?” I asked. “I’m good with stiches.”

I’ve had enough of them.

“Shannon, I had surgery on my adductor,” Johnny bit out, tone thick, eyes laced with confusion.

“I know,” I replied. “But I’ve seen a million sports injuries on legs and knees, so maybe I can tell you what the problem is?” Shrugging, I added, “It’s probably just taking longer to heal because you’re on your feet all the time.”

“My leg’s not the problem, Shannon.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I just presumed because I saw you limping,” I replied. “Is it your thigh?”

“No,” he deadpanned.

My cheeks switched from mildly warm to hot as a furnace in the time it took me to register that Johnny’s injury was positioned much higher than I had originally thought.

My mouth formed an O as vivid images of severed boy parts entered my mind.

“Yeah,” Johnny bit out derisively, looking both frustrated and uncomfortable. “Oh.”

“Well, I-I…” Rambling, I shook my head and tried again, “I don’t know how to help you with that.”

“Relax, I wasn’t going to let you examine it,” he tossed back defensively.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, thoroughly mortified. “I didn’t…uh, realize where it was.”

“And by the way,” he added, eyes narrowed, “It’s my groin I had surgery on – not my cock – so I’d appreciate you having the facts right before you go running your mouth about it.”

What?

“Running my mouth?” My eyes drifted from his face to his crotch, an unstoppable reaction of hearing the word ‘cock’ come out of his mouth. “I don’t –”

“I know what girls are like for gossiping,” he bit out, jaw flexing. “Fuck, what am I doing?”

I gaped at him. “Gossiping?” Was he serious?

“Look, just forget I told you any of that,” he huffed. “It’s getting late.”

Reaching between us, he closed a large hand over the gearstick and shifted into gear.

“Where am I taking you?”

I blew out a breath. “I have no idea.” He turned to look at me. “What?”

I squirmed in my seat. “What?”

“Your address, Shannon.” He drummed his fingers against the steering wheel impatiently. “You need to tell me where you live so I can take you home.”

“Oh.” God. “Sorry. Um, Elk terrace in Ballylaggin.”

With a clipped nod, Johnny reversed out of his parking spot and then threw the car into forward gear before taking off down the school driveway. Flicking on the indicator, Johnny slowed to a temporary stop when we reached the entrance, leaned forward and checked both ways, before pulling

onto the main road at lightning speed.

Leaning back in my seat, I raised a hand and grabbed the Jesus handle and focused on counting the cars passing us in a bid to distract myself from obsessing over the speedometer on his dashboard.

I could feel the tension emanating from him, his earlier friendliness replaced with stony silence, our conversation obviously the catalyst behind the shift in his mood.

The silence enveloping us right now was thick and uncomfortable, and I was irrationally disappointed by this.

I was more than disappointed. I was reeling.

For the first time in forever, I had been enjoying myself.

I had loosened up, bantering back and forth without the fear of, well, backlash.

And then he dragged the rug right out from beneath me.

I hadn’t seen it coming and I was regretting ever coming out of that bathroom stall.

When Johnny reached across the console and started switching out CD’s in his swanky car stereo, I had to sit on my hands to stop myself from grabbing the wheel.

A few moments later, he settled on a song, track number five, and the car filled with a familiar guitar intro, providing a temporary distraction from my troubling thoughts.

Johnny cranked the volume and Jimmy Eat World’s The Middle blasted through the car speakers so loudly I could feel the vibration of the bass in my bones.

I loved this song and considered it my anthem.

Like seriously, I drowned myself in the lyrics daily.

If music healed the broken hearted then the lyrics of this song soothed my soul.

It was on a mix CD Joey’s girlfriend made him for Christmas. He obviously wasn’t keen on the CD Aoife had made him because I had swiped it from his bedroom last month during a random sister snoop- fest/spot-check and Joey had yet to discover it was missing.

It was currently in my portable discman where I listened to it on repeat every night before bed.

Concentrating on the lyrics of the song I already knew off by heart, I attempted to get a handle on my nerves, but the punk rock beat only seemed

to encourage the crazy in my designated driver because the minute we slipped onto the main road, Johnny put the pedal to the metal and floored it.

When the speedometer tipped over 120kmpr, I closed my eyes and stopped breathing.

Covering my face with my hands, I peeked between my fingers, groaning when the flash of headlights of cars in the opposite lanes whizzed past us.

“What’s the matter?” Reaching over, he turned down the volume on the stereo. “Shannon?” His attention flickered between the road and my face. “Are you okay?”

“You’re going too fast,” I strangled out.

“Relax, we’re going the limit,” he replied, but he slowed the car. “And I’m a good driver. You’re safe with me.”

“Okay,” I muttered, still feeling like we were going way faster than 100 kilometers an hour. “But I’d feel better if you slowed down.”

Exhaling heavily, Johnny slowed even further. “Happy now?” he asked, tapping the dashboard. Leaning over, I checked the speedometer.

80 kilometers.

“Yes,” I breathed, my coiled-up muscles relaxing ever so slightly. “Thanks.”

Sagging back in my seat, I allowed my gaze to drift over him.

He was staring at the road ahead, one hand resting on the gearstick, the other elbow leaning against the door.

Like he sensed me watching him, Johnny glanced sideways and caught me red-handed.

I smiled weakly.

He stared heatedly back at me, unsmiling. My smile faded.

With a low, frustrated growl, he turned his attention back to the road. Shaking his head, he muttered something unintelligible under his breath,

hand tightening around the wheel.

Feeling dismissed, I clasped my hands on my lap and stared out the windscreen, not daring to cast another glance at him.

We didn’t speak for the remainder of the drive, with only the songs coming from the stereo breaching the thick silence.

“Listen,” Johnny announced, breaking the silence when the lights of Ballylaggin town came into view. “What I told you back there? About my surgery?” His tone was level, polite even, as he stared straight ahead, maneuvering through the narrow streets and laneways. “I would appreciate your discretion.”

Appreciate my discretion?

He was embarrassed about having an injured groin?

He should try having a useless father whose only talents were gambling his dole money and impregnating his mother, while whoring himself around to anyone stupid enough to have him.

Frustrated, I turned to him and said, “Who would I tell, Johnny?”

“Your friends,” he countered and then in a much quieter voice muttered, “my friends.”

“Well, I’m not going to tell anyone,” I bit out, annoyed and insulted. “I’m not a motor mouth.”

He tightened his hand on the wheel but made no response.

Irritated by the sudden formality in his voice, not to mention the fact that he had spent the past fifteen minutes ignoring me, I glared at the side of his face and growled, “Why would I bother telling anyone anyway?”

“Because,” he bit out, keeping his attention to the road. “I know what most girls are like.”

Most girls?

If he considered me to be like most girls, then why spend all that time talking to me?

Why ask me all those questions and make me feel comfortable enough to answer him if he considered me to be just like most girls?

Why bother with me at all?

“You’re being ridiculous,” I muttered.

“I’m being careful,” Johnny corrected calmly. “I shouldn’t have said anything to you, it was incredibly fucking reckless on my part, and now I’m asking you to do me a favor and keep it to yourself. I’ve a lot on the line here, Shannon, and word getting out about this could really mess things up for me. More than you will ever know.”

I folded my arms across my chest. “Fine.” “Fine?” he repeated warily.

“Yeah,” I deadpanned, staring straight ahead. “Fine.”

“Great.” He blew out a heavy sigh and said, “Thanks,” following it up several seconds later with, “I appreciate it.”

Silence followed; thick, heavy, and unbearable. I was conflicted by the turn of events.

Was he playing me?

Had this been a big game to him?

Messing around with my emotions by being kind and roping me into a false sense of security with all that getting to know each other talk back at the school?

Dangling the prospect of a friendship in my face with all that niceness and small-talk and then snatching it all away?

It wouldn’t be the first time this happened.

I should have seen this coming and I was disappointed in myself for letting my guard down so easily around him.

Dammit!

“Are you okay?” he asked, breaking the silence. I didn’t respond because I couldn’t.

I was concentrating too hard on not crying.

“Shannon, I didn’t –” Johnny started to say but stopped short. He rubbed his jaw and then dropped his hand back on the wheel. “I don’t –” He stalled again, this time shaking his head. “Forget it.”

I didn’t probe or push him to finish whatever he had been trying to say. I didn’t want to hear it.

Retracting from the current source of my confusion and frustration – which was my designated driver – I focused all my efforts on ignoring him and keeping my emotions at bay.

If I could jump out of the car right now, I would, but he was a fast driver and I didn’t fancy my chances of surviving the post-jump impact.

“What are you thinking?” Johnny finally said, making a left turn onto my estate.

It was a deep, hilly ascent to my house with several hundred attached houses running side by side on either side of the road, mine at the very top.

Many of the houses were boarded up, others were dilapidated with untended gardens – my own included – but right now, I was too annoyed to care what he thought.

I swung my gaze to glare at him. “You want to know what I’m

thinking?”

Johnny glanced sideways, eyes full of heat and barely contained frustration, and gave me a clipped nod before turning his attention back to the road.

“Fine,” I snapped, blinking back the familiar sting of tears as I proceeded to tell him exactly what I was thinking. “I think you’re paranoid about people finding out you’re injured because you know you shouldn’t be playing.”

The words were out of my mouth before I had a chance to check myself. But instead of apologizing or trying to take them back, I surged forward,

shocking myself with the emotion in my tone.

“I think you’re in denial about your healing process and I know you’re hurt. You limp at school. Did you know that? All the time. Others mightn’t notice it, but I do. I see it and you do it all the time! So, I think you’re playing a dangerous game with your body, Johnny. And I think if your doctors knew how much pain you are actually in, there’s no way they would have signed off and released you to play.”

I had no idea where this was coming from, but the words were bursting to come out of my mouth so I let them spill.

“I think this was a terrible mistake – I should have never accepted a lift from you. I think you overreacted tonight. I think you handled yourself terribly. And I think it would be best if you and I didn’t talk anymore.”

I blew out a huge breath, chest heaving from the sheer height of vocal exertion.

My face was burning with heat, but I was proud of myself for getting that off my chest.

It was uncharacteristic of me to have an outburst of this magnitude with anyone outside of my family, but I was glad.

I guess it spoke volumes that I felt heated and weirdly comfortable enough around this boy to lose my shit, but I was too worked up to delve into the workings of that particular conundrum.

For now, I would remain stewing in my apprehension and disappointment.

“Listen, I appreciate your concern,” he finally bit out, pausing for a moment before adding, “At least I think that’s what that was. But it’s not necessary. I’ve got it handled –”

“You clearly don’t,” I shot back, interrupting him.

“You have no fucking clue of what you’re talking about!” he snapped back. “I get that you mean well, but I know my own shit. I know my own body.”

“Of course, I don’t,” I muttered, turning my face away to look out the passenger window. “Like most girls.”

“You don’t,” he continued to argue. “You don’t know me, Shannon.” All out of steam, I exhaled a deflating breath.

“You’re right, Johnny,” I whispered in agreement. “I don’t know you.” “Stop doing that!” he snapped, running an impatient hand through his

hair. “Christ.” “Doing what?”

“Twisting my words,” he shot back angrily. “Not giving me a chance to explain. It’s a dick girl-move and I can’t – fuck!” he roared, slamming on the brakes to avoid a rogue bicycle that was strewn in the middle of the road. “For Christ’s sake. What the hell is wrong with people? Does the road look like a goddamn place to park a bike?”

“You can let me out here,” I stated flatly, unclicking my seatbelt. “I can walk the rest of the way.”

I had the car door open and was out of my seat before he had a chance to respond.

Slamming my door shut, I opened the back door and reached into the piles of rubbish and dirty clothes for my bag.

“Shannon, wait, don’t go –”

“Bye, Johnny,” I whispered before closing the door and crossing onto the footpath.

I didn’t turn back when he rolled his window down and called my name three times.

And I didn’t turn around when he pulled up at the footpath, choosing to slip through the alleyway instead, with my head down and the sting of bitter regret weighing heavily on my shoulders.

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