Chapter no 19 – Late Night Reality Checks Shannon

Binding 13

“Good day?” were the words I was greeted with when I stepped through the front door after my disastrous car ride with Johnny.

Now, if anyone else in the whole wide world had asked me that question, I would have had a response, but this was my father we were talking about.

He was standing in the small hallway, with a rolled-up newspaper clutched in his hand, asking me about my day, and that was a terrifying concept.

“Are you fucking deaf?” he demanded as he glared down at me, the white around his brown eyes completely bloodshot. “I asked you a question, girl.”

The stench of whiskey from his breath impaled my senses and my anxiety sky-rocketed as I mentally tried to figure this out.

He was paid his social welfare benefits on Thursdays. That was the bad day.

Not Tuesdays.

Then I thought about what day it was and mentally slapped myself for being unprepared.

Today was March 1st

And it was the first Tuesday of the month.

Children’s allowance day.

The day the Irish government made their monthly cash payment to parents for every child they had.

Which meant hundreds of euros wasted in the bookies and the pubs.

Which meant weeks of struggling and scraping by would be incurred by our family because of my father’s inability to control himself.

My heart sank.

Muttering a quick response, I retrieved my house key from the lock, slipped it into my coat and sidestepped his huge frame with the intention of swiping a packet of biscuits from the kitchen cupboard and then hightailing it to the sanctuary of my room.

With my wits about me and my brain on full alert, I managed to make it to the kitchen, but like a bad smell, both figuratively and literally, my father trailed after me.

Dad leaned against the doorframe, clenching the newspaper in his hand, and blocking my exit. “How was school?”

I kept my back to him, busying myself with browsing through soup packets and tins of beans when I answered, “Okay.”

“Okay?” he sneered. “We’re paying four thousand euros a year for


There it was.

There he was.

“It was good, Dad,” I quickly injected. “I had a productive day.”

Productive day?” he mimicked, tone derisive and cruel. “Don’t get fucking smart with me, girl.”

“I wasn’t.”

“And you’re late,” he barked, his words a drunken slur. “Why the fuck are you late again?”

“I missed my bus,” I squeezed out, panicked.

“Fucking buses,” he snarled. “Fucking private school. You’re a pain in the hole, girl!”

There was nothing to say to that, so I kept quiet.

The way he always called me girl, like it was some sort of insult to be a female, didn’t even irk me tonight.

I was in full self-preservation mode, knowing what I had to do to get out of this room unscathed: take his shit, keep my mouth shut, and pray he left me alone.

“Do you know where your mother is, girl?” he snarled. Again, I didn’t respond.

It wasn’t a real question.

He was pumping me with information before the onslaught.

“Breaking her back over you!” Dad roared. “Working herself to the bone because you’re a spoiled, little cunt who thinks she’s better than everyone.”

“I don’t think I’m better than anyone,” I mumbled, and then immediately regretted throwing verbal petrol on his already burning temper.

“Look at you,” Dad sneered, waving a hand at me. “In your fancy fucking private school uniform. Coming home late. Thinking you are god’s fucking gift. Were you whoring yourself around?” He demanded, taking a few staggering steps towards me. “Is that why you’re late again? Got yourself a little boyfriend?”

I immediately recoiled but didn’t dare open my mouth to defend myself. He wouldn’t believe me either way.

Nine times out of ten, it made it worse.

And ten times out of ten, answering him back resulted in a stinging cheek.

“That’s it, isn’t it? You’ve been messing around with one of those posh, rugby pricks with daddies’ money at your precious Tommen,” he sneered. “Spreading your legs like the dirty, little tramp you are!”

“I don’t have a boyfriend, Dad,” I strangled out.

Swinging his arm back, he wacked me across the face with the rolled-up paper. “Don’t fucking lie to me, girl!”

“I’m not lying,” I sobbed, clutching my burning cheek.

Being slapped across the face with a rolled-up newspaper might not sound like a painful thing, but when the man yielding the weapon weighed three times what you did, it hurt.

“Explain this, then,” my father demanded. Tearing open the newspaper, he roughly flicked through the pages until stopping on the sports section. “Explain him!”

Blinking away tears, I looked down at the page Dad was pointing at and immediately felt my blood run cold.

There I was, in full technicolor, smiling for the stupid photographer, with Johnny’s arm wrapped around my waist, all smiles and blushed cheeks.

I couldn’t think about the picture or question why it was printed on the biggest newspaper in Ireland because I was terrified.

I was so frightened that I could taste it.

You’re going to die, Shannon.

This is the night he’s going to kill you…

“He’s the captain of the rugby team,” I hurried to say, trying to think up a lie to get myself out of the beating I knew full well I was about to receive. “They won some big match,” I rambled, desperately clutching at straws. “Mr. Twomey, the principal, had us all stand in for a picture with him…I don’t even know him, Dad, I swear!”

I knew I should have expected my father’s next move, he’d perfected it to a fine art down through the years, but when he clutched my throat and slammed me against the fridge, I was still caught off-guard.

Squeezing tightly, he hissed, “You are lying to me –”

“I’m…not,” I strangled out, clawing at his hands. “Dad…please…I can’t…breathe –”

The sound of the front door opening and then quickly closing filled the


Dad released my throat and I physically sagged in relief. Gasping for air, I scrambled away from him.

Seconds later, Joey appeared in the doorway, looking like a gift sent

from god with a grease stained face and oil-covered overalls.

Joey patted Dad’s shoulder and then pushed him aside with ease before strolling into the kitchen, swinging a set of keys around his fingers. “How’s it going, family?”

He looked relaxed and sounded cheerful, but the tightness around his eyes assured me that he was anything but.

Acting like he didn’t have a care in the world was Joey’s coping mechanism.

Mine was turning mute.

“Joey,” Dad acknowledged, looking slightly more alert now at the presence of the more dominant alpha in the family.

Our father may be big and bitter, but Joey was bigger and faster.

“Boys up in bed?” Joey asked, grabbing a can of coke from the fridge. Dad nodded but didn’t take his eyes off me.

“Where’s Mam?” Joey asked, obviously trying to ease the tension. Cracking open the cap, he took a deep swig, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Still at work?”

“Your mother’s at work and this one here is late home again,” our father barked. He pointed a finger at me and slurred, “Missed her fucking bus apparently.”

“I know,” Joey replied breezily, before turning his attention to me. “How’s it going, Shan?”

“Hey, Joe,” I croaked out, clenching then unclenching my fists to stop my hands from moving to my throat, as I desperately tried to get my heartbeat under control. “Nothing. Just hungry. I was getting a snack.”

Joey walked over to where I was standing, feet frozen to the floor, and playfully nudged my cheek with his knuckles.

It was a tender display of affection and a silent show of solidarity. “Did Aoife stay long when she drove you home?”

My eyes widened in confusion.

The look my brother gave me said go with it. Realization dawned on me.

My brother was giving me an out.

“Uh, no,” I choked out, eyes locked on Joey. “She just dropped me off and went straight home.”

Joey winked his approval and then reached around me, shoving his hand into the back of the cupboard –the one I couldn’t reach without the help of a chair. “Here.” Pulling out a packet of chocolate biscuits, he handed them to me. “No doubt, these are what you’re looking for?”

“It’s not a halfway house,” Dad slurred.

“This is my food, old man,” Joey shot back coolly, turning to face our father. “Bought with my money. From my job.”

“This is my house!”

“A house given to you by the government,” Joey countered coolly. “Because of us.”

“Don’t get smart with me, boy,” Dad shot back, but his tone lacked its usual punch.

Drunk as he was, our father was quite aware that the shit he pulled with me wouldn’t float with my brother.

They’d had several belting matches down through the years, but the fight that burned brightest in my memory was the one that had occurred this past November.

The fight had been about the usual; infidelity.

Dad had been caught with another woman, no surprises there, and had decided to up and leave us for the other woman – again, no surprises there.

Mam had just found out she was pregnant the day he left and had taken to the bed.

Joey and I had spent almost two weeks taking care of the younger boys and cleaning up the mess our parents had made.

When our father finally rolled through the door, ten days later, stinking of whiskey and throwing shit at Mam, my brother had lost it.

He and Dad ended up brawling in the living room, smashing through furniture and ornaments as they went for each other.

That wasn’t why it stood out, though.

It stood out because the fight had ended with my father curled up on the living room floor in the fetal position while my brother delivered blow after merciless blow to his face.

It was absolute carnage, and while Dad had managed to break Joey’s nose, it was my brother who’d come out on top.

Dad was in a bad way after the beating he’d taken, and in a screwed-up way it had worked to his advantage because Mam had felt sorry for him and taken him back.

However depressing that day was for us, as the children of toxic parents, it also signified a shift in power.

That day’s events showed our father that he was not the top dog anymore.

There was a new dog in town – one who’d taken one too many beatings from him and was prepared to shut his shit down at any moment.

“Shannon,” Joey said, tone level, eyes locked on our father. “It’s getting late. Why don’t you head on up to bed?”

Joey didn’t need to tell me twice.

Taking the offered escape like a drowning victim would take a lifejacket, I made a beeline for the stairs, halting in my tracks when Dad blocked the doorway.

“I’m not done talking to her,” he slurred.

“Well, she’s done talking to you,” Joey deadpanned, coming to stand behind me. “So, get out of her way, old man. Now.”

There was a solid thirty second stare down between them before Dad finally stepped aside.

Bolting out of the kitchen, I ran up the staircase at top speed, not stopping until I was safely holed up in my bedroom with the door closed and the lock turned.

Barely taking time to catch a breath, I tossed the biscuits on my bedside locker, stripped out of my uniform as fast as humanly possible, and threw on my pajamas before diving onto my bed.

Scrambling under the covers, I reached for the portable discman under my pillow and pulled the covers up to my chin.

I had one earplug in when the screaming started.

Seconds later, the sound of furniture crashing filled my ears.

My stomach churned and I quickly rammed the other earplug in before firing up the old, discolored discman.

Fumbling with the buttons, I pressed play and turned the volume up to maximum level, praying the batteries had enough juice left in them to block out the hell that was my home.

Clicking onto the loudest, hardest metal track on the CD, I laid back on my pillow and remained perfectly still, body rigid and coiled tight with tension.

Four songs in and my heartbeat returned to normal rhythm.

Three more songs and the ability to form coherent thoughts returned. It wasn’t always like this.

Weeknights were mostly okay, with the exception of Thursdays, when Dad got his social welfare money at the post office.

The weekends could be sketchy, but I was fantastic at avoiding confrontation with my father.

If he was drinking on a week day, I always made it my business to be home from school, dinner eaten, and locked in my bedroom by six o’clock.

If he was drinking at the weekends, I didn’t come out of my room at all.

However, the events of today had thrown me and I had made a fatal mistake.

Johnny had thrown me. I let down my guard.


The album played to the end and I flicked it back on, repeating it on a loop.

It was only when I heard the sound of the bedroom door next to mine slamming over the music in my ears that I unlocked my coiled muscles.

He was okay.

Exhaling a shuddering breath, I lowered the volume and listened carefully.


Pulling out my earbuds, I threw the covers off and climbed out of bed.

Tiptoeing over to my bedroom door, I turned the lock and crept into the empty landing.

Feeling my way over to Joey’s door in the dark, I grabbed the door handle and slipped inside.

“Joe?” I whispered when my eyes landed on him. He was sitting on the edge of his bed in his boxer shorts, holding a wad of toilet paper to his mouth. “You okay?”

“I’m grand, Shan,” he bit out, tone sharp, as he dabbed the tissue against his bottom lip. “You should go to bed.”

“You’re bleeding,” I strangled out, eyes locked on the stream of blood stained tissue.

“It’s just a busted lip,” he shot back, sounding a little irritated. “Just go back to your room.”

I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

I must have hovered at his door for a long time because when Joey looked up at me, his expression was resigned. Sighing heavily, he ran a hand through his hair and then patted the mattress beside him. “Come on.”

Bolting over to him, I collapsed down on the bed and wrapped my arms around my brother’s neck, clinging to him like he was the only thing holding my world together.

Sometimes I thought that might be true.

“It’s okay, Shan,” he whispered, comforting me.

“I’m sorry,” I choked out, tightening my hold on his neck. Tears spilled over my cheeks. “I’m so sorry, Joe.”

“It’s not your fault, Shan.” “But I made him mad –”

Not your fault,” my brother repeated, tone stern. “I don’t want to be here anymore, Joe.”

“Me either.”

“I’m sick of feeling scared all the time.”

“I know.” He patted my back and then stood. “One of these days, everything will be better. I promise.”

Walking over to his wardrobe, he pulled open the doors and dragged out the familiar sleeping bag and spare pillows.

I didn’t have to ask what he was doing; not when I already knew and it made my heart squeeze tight.

When Joey was finished setting up the makeshift bed on the floor, he dropped onto it.

Folding his arms behind his head, he released a heavy sigh. “Turn off the light, will ya, Shan?”

Complying, I leaned over the bed and flicked off his lamp before climbing into his empty bed.

“Thanks Joey,” I sniffled, wiping my nose with the back of my hand, as I settled under the covers.

“No problem.”

Turning onto my side, I looked down at him lying on his bedroom floor.

His curtains were closed, but the streetlamps on the footpath outside the house cloaked the room in a dull hue of faded color, illuminating the shadows on my brother’s face.

“Hey, Joe?”


“Can you do me a favor?”

He tipped his chin up, letting me know he was listening.

“Please don’t do to me what Darren did to us.” Folding my hands under my cheek, I whispered, “Don’t leave me.”

“I won’t,” my brother vowed, tone laced with grit and sincerity. “I won’t

ever leave you here with him.”

I breathed out a shaky breath. “Mam is never going to leave him –” “Mam can do whatever the fuck she wants,” Joey interrupted, tone

hardening. “She made her bed when she took him back last time. She can keep popping out his offspring and put up with his bullshit for the rest of her goddamn life for all I care. But you and me? We stick together.” He turned his face to me and said, “When I get out of this shithole, and I will get out, I’m taking you with me.”

Chewing on my lip, I asked, “What about the boys?” Joey exhaled heavily but didn’t respond.

Nanny Murphy, our maternal great-grandmother, picked our younger brothers up from school every day and dropped them home, fed and watered and dressed for bed around 8pm.

Nanny had done the same for Darren, Joey, and me up until we moved on to secondary school.

It was a strange arrangement considering she and my parents barely spoke, and one I had asked Nanny about. I wanted to know why at the age of 81 she continued to help my parents when they clearly didn’t appreciate her.

She had raised my mother and her sister, Alice, when their parents passed away when they were children, but you’d swear Nanny was a stranger the way our mother treated her.

Nanny told me that she didn’t do it for them. She did it for us.

Because she loved us.

And we were not to suffer for our parents’ poor decisions.

She had toilet trained every one of us when our mother was working all the hours god gave her and our father wasn’t interested.

Nanny Murphy had stepped in when our mother and father stepped out.

Nanny made it clear that she would love and nurture every child born out of their fucked-up union because we were her great-grandbabies.

Tadhg, Ollie, and Sean were relatively protected from the tornado that was our father because we were lucky enough to have a great-grandmother who loved us.

The problem was, Nanny was pushing on in life, and she couldn’t do this forever.

She couldn’t keep wading in and saving the day.

Her health was fading, old age was setting in, and money was as tight for her as it was for us. Nanny didn’t have the money to feed us on top of our three younger brothers, and every time we ran to her with another problem, another wrinkle appeared on her face, and another doctor’s appointment accrued.

It was for those and many more reasons why Joey and I had scaled back on our visits.

“They’re our brothers,” I whispered, dragging myself from my thoughts. “I’m not their father,” Joey croaked out. “And who knows, maybe Mam will come to her senses before they completely fuck them up like they did

us and Darren. Either way, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t take care of them, Shannon. I can’t afford it and I don’t have the time. I’m getting us out of here. That’s the best I can do.”

“You promise?”

He nodded. “As soon as I’m finished with school and settled in college next year, I’ll get a flat. It might take me some time to put together the cash and get on my feet, but I’ll get out of here, Shannon. I’ll get you out of here. I can fucking promise you that.”

“I believe you,” I told him. And I did.

He’d been telling me this plan since Darren walked out the door five years ago and left us to deal with our father’s whiskey wrath alone.

I believed that my brother meant every word he was saying, every promise he was making.

Problem was, I could see the unimaginable sacrifices that would have to be made by my brother in order to make this work for us, and knew deep down in my heart that the probability of it actually going to fruition was slim.

Either way, the child inside of me clung to the promise for all it was worth.

And promises like that to girls like me were worth everything. “Anyway, enough of the parental bullshit talk,” Joey said, looking up at

my face. “Tell me how you know Johnny Kavanagh.”

What?” I gaped down at him, startled by the sudden change in conversation.

It wasn’t uncommon for us to change the subject after a night like this and talk about ridiculous things. To others, it might seem strange that we were able to switch from serious, meaningful conversation to simple chitchat, but it was the norm for us.

We’d been dealing with our father’s bullshit our entire lives.

Changing subjects came naturally to us. It was a coping mechanism we had perfected down through the years; deflection and distraction.

But asking me about Johnny? That threw me.

“Kavanagh,” Joey confirmed, eyes sharp and searching. “How do you know the guy?”

“He goes to Tommen,” I explained, grateful for the semi-darkness so my brother couldn’t see how red my face had turned. “He’s, uh, in fifth year, I think?” I know. “And I’ve seen him a few times at school. He’s the one who knocked me out on my first day.”

Joey’s head snapped towards me. “It was Kavanagh who knocked you out?”

“It was an accident.” I quickly reeled off the familiar words I’d spoken time and again in the past month or so. “He made a bad pass, or kicked the ball wrong, or something like that – anyways, he apologized like a million times, so it’s all good…” I finished with a big sigh, unwilling to provide any further information on the matter. “All over and done with.”

“Well, shit,” Joey mused, scratching his chest. “You’d think a guy in his position wouldn’t be making mickey mouse mistakes like that.”

“A guy in his position?” I remarked. “I’m pretty sure he’s not the only person in the world to kick a ball arseways.”

“No…” Joey shrugged. “Still though; I didn’t think they made those kind of schoolboy errors in The Academy.”

“Academy?” I exhaled a huff. “It’s called Tommen College, Joe. Not

The Academy.”

“I’m not talking about your school, Shan,” Joey said. “I’m talking about The Academy – you know; The Institute of Further Progression. The Academy’s only a nickname.”

“What the hell is the Institute of Further Progression? And how do you know him?”

“Exactly what it sounds like; an institute for further progression,” he shot back sarcastically. “And everyone knows who Johnny Kavanagh is.”

I didn’t.

I was baffled.

“Then why nickname it The Academy?”

“Because The Academy sounds better than The Institute.” Joey barked out a soft laugh. “You really have no clue who he is, do you?”

When I didn’t respond, Joey laughed again.

“That’s priceless,” he mused, clearly entertained. “You were driving around in his car tonight and you didn’t even know.”

“Know what?” I snapped, feeling flustered and annoyed by my lack of comprehension.

Johnny’s earlier words floated into my head.

“I play…No, I mean, I play…”

Dammit, I knew I had been making a fool of myself.

“What?” I demanded. “Is he a hotshot rugby player or something?” Joey snorted loudly. “I can’t believe you don’t know.”

“Tell me!”

“You should have snapped a pic,” he added thoughtfully. “Oh, wait – you did. What’s the story with you being in the papers with him? The old man practically rammed it in my face.”

“I have no idea, Joe.” I shook my head and exhaled heavily. “They won some cup last Friday and I got pulled into a picture with him.” I shrugged helplessly. “I had no idea it would end up in the papers.”

“It ended up in the papers because he’s Johnny Kavanagh,” my brother stated, enunciating his name like it should mean something to me. “Come on, Shan.”

When I came up empty, Joey heaved an impatient sigh.

“He’s a big fucking deal on the rugby circuit. Jesus, you only have to turn on a computer or crack open the papers to read all about him,” he continued to say. “He was recruited into the rugby academy when he was like fourteen or some insanely young age like that.”

“That’s the institute place?” I shifted, leaning over to the edge of the bed to take his measure. “Is that a big deal or something?”

“It’s a big fucking deal, Shan,” Joey confirmed. “You have to be hand- picked by top Irish rugby scouts to get trials. Money and pull have no factor. Selection is based purely on talent and potential. They teach them everything they need to know about a professional career in rugby, and have the best coaches, physios, nutritionists, and trainers in the country watching over them. They run these insane conditioning programs and camps for their players, and it’s the best place to meet potential scouts. It’s like this school of excellence for upcoming professional rugby players – except it’s not a school. It’s a state of the art sports facility in the city. Actually, it’s more like a puppy farm where they produce thoroughbred, high caliber, rugby players instead of dogs.”

“Ew.” I scrunched my nose up. “Disgusting analogy, Joe.”

“That’s what it’s like,” Joey chuckled. “Only the most promising teenagers in the country get a chance to work with The Academy, and even at that, it’s brutal. You have to be made of something fucking special to make it through the trials and get a season with them, never mind getting re-

selected. Personally, I can respect the hell out of anyone with that kind of self-discipline. He has to have some huge fucking work ethic to perform at that level in his sport.”

“So, he’s good?”

“He’s better than good, Shan,” my brother corrected. “I’ve seen a few of Kavanagh’s games with the u18’s squad that were aired on the telly over the summer campaign and I’m telling you now, he’s like a loaded gun on the pitch. Give him a slither of opportunity and he’ll expose the defense and hit the fucking target every time. Shit, the guy’s only seventeen and this is his second season with the Irish under 18 youth team – and he’ll move right on up to the under 20’s once he turns eighteen. After that, it’ll be the senior team.”

So, Johnny wasn’t joking around when he said he played.

“I didn’t know any of this,” I mumbled, feeling like an idiot. Why didn’t anyone mention this?

All the girls said at school was that he was amazing at rugby and was captain for the school team.

I never even heard of this academy thingy.

“You’re blushing,” Joey stated, sounding amused.

It was a completely accurate assessment, one I furtively denied. “I am not.”

He snorted. “Yeah, you fucking are.””

“It’s too dark to see that, so how do you even know that I’m blushing?” Joey laughed softly. “So, you admit it?”

“I do not.” I bit back a curse. “And I am not.” He scoffed. “Don’t give me that shit.”

“What shit?”

“You let him drop you home.” I gaped. “Yeah. So?”

“You don’t even get in the car with Podge, and he’s been my best friend since nappies,” Joey challenged. “I’ve never seen or heard about you being friends with fellas.”

“That’s because I don’t have any friends,” I growled. “Or at least I didn’t.”

“So, you’re friends with him?”

“No, I’m not friends with him,” I ground out. “I missed my bus. He overheard me talking to you on the phone and offered to give me a spin

home. You know this.”

“Yeah, well, word to the wise,” he replied breezily. “Don’t get your hopes up with him.”

“My hopes?”

“Yeah,” Joey yawned lazily. “It won’t end well.”

“What are you – why would I get my hopes up?” I shot back, flustered. “And hopes for what?”

“Whatever shit teenage girls get their hopes up on,” Joey countered, yawning again. “At the risk of sounding like an overprotective brother: he’s too old and way too fucking experienced for you.”

“I’m not getting my hopes up on anyone,” I denied heatedly before quickly adding, “Why are you even telling me all of this?”

“I’m not thick, Shan,” Joey replied. “I’m well aware of the way young ones get all hung up and go all fangirly on fellas in his position.” He shifted around on his makeshift bed, stretching out. “All I’m saying is, don’t read into him taking a picture with you or giving you a lift home tonight. He more than likely does that with a lot of girls.”

“I wasn’t!” I snapped. “I didn’t even know about his position until you just told me.” I followed up with, “And I’m well aware that him offering me a lift was an attempt to make amends for the concussion.”

“You’re sure?” “Of course.”

“Are you sure you know that’s all?”

I balked with indignance. “Yes, Joey.”

“Well, good,” he sighed. “Because from what I’ve read in the papers, he’ll be out of here after the leaving cert, so pining after him would be a bad idea. Clubs are already crying out for him – even in the southern hemisphere. It’s only a matter of time before he’s contracted out to the highest bidder.”

“So?” My tone was defensive. “Why would I care? I don’t even like rugby!”

“Calm your tits, Shannon,” Joey huffed. “I was only trying to give you some brotherly advice.”

“Well, it’s not necessary,” I grumbled, face burning. “And for your information, he’s actually not that great,” I decided to throw out there in a distaining tone.

My earlier altercation with Johnny was still fresh in my mind, and I had an insane urge to take him down a peg or two – even if it was just to my brother.

“He’s really moody and he drives like maniac – and his car is a disgrace it’s so filthy.”

“What does he drive?”

“An Audi A3.” I grimaced before reluctantly admitting, “It’s so sweet.” “Of course, he does. They practically toss out top of the range cars to

their players.” Joey blew out a breath and sounded a little fan-girly when he said, “Lucky bastard.”

Silence fell around us then, as I quietly staggered through my thoughts. Reeling, I tried to dissolve the information Joey had given me.

I tried to connect it to the Johnny I had met, but I couldn’t.

He didn’t seem like a superstar rugby player to me.

Okay, sure, physically he looked every inch the description of one, but he wasn’t…he didn’t…

I shook my head, thoughts awry with confusion.

Now that I knew exactly how invested he was in rugby, I could understand his irrational reaction tonight.

He didn’t want anyone to know about his injuries because he was scared.

He hadn’t admitted it, but now that I knew what was at stake for him, it made complete sense.

If my future career I’d invested so much time and energy into was up in the air over an injury, I would do whatever it took to get back on track.

But lying about his recovery?

That seemed like a risky move to me. A dangerous move.

He’d said it himself; he wasn’t healing right. So why risk his body like that?

“What happens to a boy when he tears his adductor muscle?”

The question was out of my mouth before I had a chance to think it through.

“What – like in the groin?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “What happens?”

“Depends on the severity of the tear,” Joey replied without hesitation. “But he’d be sore as fuck for a while. If it was bad, he’d probably need

physio and rehab.”

“What if it was really bad?” I chewed on my fingernail and asked, “What if it was bad enough that he had to have surgery down there?”

“Shannon, stop!” Joey visibly shuddered and cupped his junk. “I don’t want to think about it.”

“Would it be really bad?” I kept pushing. “For a boy, that is? Would it hurt?”

“Put it this way,” Joey bit out, still shuddering. “I’d rather break both legs than suffer that kind of trauma to my package.”

“Would it hurt to walk and stuff?” I asked. “What about playing sports?” “Shannon, it would hurt to take a piss,” Joey deadpanned. “Never mind

running around on a pitch.” Oh, Jesus.

No wonder Johnny was sore. “Why?” he asked then.

“Oh, I was just wondering because Lizzie said her boyfriend, Pierce, had surgery to repair his adductor muscle back in December.” Shrugging, I continued to lie through my teeth. I didn’t know Lizzie’s boyfriend’s last name, let alone the condition of his adductor muscles. “Lizzie said he’s back playing rug-uh-soccer again, but that he’s still in a lot of pain. She asked me if I knew anything about it since you play hurling. I told her I’d ask you.”

“Well, you can tell her that I said the poor bastard deserves an unlimited supply of morphine,” Joey muttered. “And a bed. And an endless supply of icepacks for his balls.”

“His balls?” I swallowed deeply, eyes widening. “Why would he need an icepack for those?”

“Because when the surgeons cut you open for that kind of procedure, they make an incision right below your s –ugh! I can’t.” Shaking his head, Joey snapped, “I can’t even think about it without going out in sympathy with the poor bastard.”

“But what if–” “No!”

“But I just –”

“Goodnight Shannon!” Flopping onto his side with his back to me, Joey grumbled, “Thanks for my future nightmares.”

Flopping onto my back, I cradled the top of my head with my hands and released a slow, steadying breath, hoping to calm my tremulous thoughts

and make my mind go blank.

When the sound of Joey’s deep-sleep snores filled my ears, several hours later, I was still wide awake.

I was tired.

I was chasing sleep, urging it to come, but try as I may, I couldn’t make my brain shut off.

Staring up at the ceiling, I mentally flicked through my own personal catalogue of heartache.

It was a sick form of self-harm because thinking about it did me absolutely no good, but still, I relived every argument, cruel comment, and painful memory I’d endured; ranging from taunts on the school yard at the age of four to the comments made by my father tonight.

It was the ultimate form of masochism, and a ritual I always performed after a bad day.

Closing my eyes didn’t help matters either.

Every time I allowed my eyes to flutter shut, the mental images of Johnny Kavanagh danced across my lids.

I wasn’t sure if I preferred it when he was just the stranger who’d knocked me out and smiled in the hallways, or the moody, overreactive asshole who’d blown hot and cold tonight.

I definitely knew that I regretted learning what I had about him.

Discovering Johnny was an up-and-coming rugby star with a future bright sports career was depressing for several reasons, but one particular one stuck out in my head.

I had a superstar brother of my own, a can-do-no-wrong-in-anyone’s- eyes pretty boy who was praised for his performance on the pitch and rewarded with free reign of it.

Joey, as good as he was to me, was also a total manwhore who had left a trail of broken hearts from Ballylaggin to Cork City.

He’d been seeing his girlfriend, Aoife, exclusively for about eight months, and he seemed completely devoted to her, but the jury was still out on whether he was fully reformed from his old ways or not.

Experience told me that boys were dogs. And fathers.

Fathers were bastards and men couldn’t be trusted. Not all men, I begrudgingly admitted, but most were. Especially the athletic ones.

Being the sister of one, I had an insight into the mind of these teenage athletes and knew that it was safest to be related to them, platonic friends, or just avoid them like the plague.

They had big egos, larger than life attitudes, and highly charged sex drives. Loyal to their families, their team, and not a lot else.

Trust my stubborn teenage hormones to spazz out at the sight of one.

Acknowledging it was the safest option, I decided I would move forward from tonight’s events by blocking out everything I had learned about Johnny Kavanagh and by avoiding him.

I was young but I wasn’t stupid, and I knew that harboring any sort of feelings, harmless crush or not, for a boy like Johnny Kavanagh would do me no favors in the long run.

Because in all honesty, since the day he knocked me out, I’d been harboring a lot of conflicting emotions towards him.

But the horrible way Johnny handled his discomfort tonight, along with the talk from Joey, was the cool, hard dose of reality that I needed to kick myself back into touch.

I needed to forget about him. And I would.

I hoped.

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