Chapter no 5 – Laying down laws and breaking them Johnny

Binding 13

By the time I made it back to the changing room, after a detour trip to the lunch hall to speak to the vice principal, Mrs. Lane, the team was finished with practice and most of the lads had finished showering.

Ignoring the muffled remarks and stares when I walked in, I went straight to Patrick Feely, apologized for being a prick to him earlier, shook it out, and then skulked over to the bench.

Sinking down beside my gear bag, I kicked my feet out, rested my head against the cool, slabbed wall behind me, and exhaled a heavy breath as my brain went into overdrive, obsessing over every detail of the day’s events.

What a fucking day. Bullying.

I wasn’t a bully.

I’d never laid eyes on the girl before in my life.

Apparently, that little gem of information was lost on our vice principal who’d been called in by Mr. Twomey to help dispel the drama.

After a ten-minute bollocking off Twomey’s right hand woman, I’d been given strict instructions to stay away from the Lynch girl.

Her mother thought I was fucking bullying her and didn’t want me going anywhere near her daughter.

If I went near her again, I would face immediate suspension.

It was complete and utter bullshit and I hoped Shannon had the decency to straighten it out – and stand up for me.

Fuck it.


I would keep a wide ass berth. I didn’t need the hassle.

Girls were a fucking complication I didn’t need; even little ones with wild blue eyes.

Dammit, now I was thinking about her eyes again.

She still has your jersey, I mentally noted, which made me sad for a whole different reason.

It was new and I’d only worn it this one fucking time.

It looked better on her though, I begrudgingly acknowledged. She could keep it.

I just hoped she didn’t throw it out.

I would have to pay eighty quid to replace the bleeding thing.

“You alright, Johnny boy?” Gibsie asked, interrupting my thoughts, as he dropped down on the bench beside me. He was freshly showered and clad in a pair of boxers. “How’s the girl?” he added, bending to root in his gear bag.

Shaking my head, I turned to look at him. “Huh?”

“The young one,” he explained, retrieving a can of deodorant. “Who is she?”

“Shannon,” I mumbled. “She’s new. A third year. Today’s her first day.” “Is she okay?” he asked, spraying each armpit with Lynx before tossing

the can back in his bag and reaching for his grey school trousers. “She looked out of it.”

“Fuck if I know, man. I think I really did a number on her brain,” I muttered with a helpless shrug. “Her mother’s taking her to the hospital to get checked over.”

Gibsie paused, frowning. “Shit.” “Yeah,” I agreed grimly. “Shite.”

“Jesus, that must have been mortifying for her.” Slipping his feet into his pants, he stood up and dragged them up his hips. “Having your ass on display for the rugby team on your first day.”

“Yeah,” I replied, because what else could I say?

It was humiliating for her and I was responsible for that.

I blew out a frustrated breath. “Was anything said about her?” I looked around at our teammates and then back to my best friend with only one thing on my mind. Damage control. “Were they talking about her?”

Gibsie raised his brows at my question.

Actually, I think the raised brows and surprised expression had more to do with the tone of my voice.

“Well,” he began slowly. “She had her pussy and ass out, Cap– a very nice ass that matches the very nice rest of her – so yeah, lad. There’s been talk.”

“What kind of talk?” I bit out, feeling an irrational surge of anger boil inside of me. I had no fucking clue where the agitation was coming from, but it was there, it was strong, and it was making me feel half-demented.

“Interest, lad,” Gibs explained calmly – much calmer than me. “A lot of interest.” Reaching into his bag, he withdrew his white school shirt and shrugged it on. “In case it slipped your attention – and going by your reaction I know it didn’t – that girl’s a corker.”

He buttoned up his shirt with steady hands.

Meanwhile, I was trembling with energy that needed to be worked out of my body and quickly.

“She’s gorgeous and she’s new and the lads are… curious,” he added, choosing his words carefully. “New is always fun –” he paused, grinning, before adding, “gorgeous is better.”

“It stops,” I growled, agitated at the concept of my teammates talking about her.

I saw that look in her eyes. I heard it in her voice.

That vulnerability.

She wasn’t like the others. This girl was different.

I barely knew her, but I could tell that this one needed minding.

Something had happened to Shannon Lynch, something bad enough that resulted in her switching schools.

It didn’t sit well with me.

“Yeah,” he chuckled as he finished with his shirt and slung his red tie on, “Good luck with that, man.”

“She’s fifteen,” I warned, tensing. Sixteen in March, but still.

For the next two months, she was still very much fifteen. “She’s too young.”

Gibsie snorted. “Says the eejit who’s been sticking his cock in anything with a pulse since first year.”

Gibsie hit the nail on the head with that statement.

For Christ’s sake, I lost my virginity in first year to Loretta Crowley, who was three years older than me – and had a lifetime more experience than me – behind the school sheds after school.

Yeah, that was some clusterfuck of disaster.

I was all nerves and clumsy movements, well aware that I was too young to be sticking my dick in anything but my hand, but I must have done something right because Loretta happily joined me behind the sheds most days after school for several months before I got too busy with training and called time on our meetings.

If I had to say what type of female I was interested in, it wouldn’t be blondes or brunettes, curvy or skinny.

My type was older – with every girl I’d ever been with having at least a couple of years on me.

Sometimes many more.

It wasn’t a fetish or anything.

I simply enjoyed the drama-free aura that older girls brought to the table.

I enjoyed them when I was with them and then I enjoyed it even more when I wasn’t.

That wasn’t to say I didn’t fancy the shite out of the girl I was with when I was with her.

I did.

And I was loyal, too. I didn’t fuck around.

If a girl wanted exclusive, no strings, then I was more than happy to oblige. I didn’t enjoy the hunt or the chase that appealed to most of the lads. If a girl was expecting me to chase her then she was looking to the wrong guy. I wasn’t in the position to be boyfriend material right now. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a girlfriend; I just didn’t have time for one. I didn’t have the time for consistent dating or any of those demands.

I was too busy.

It was another reason I preferred older girls.

They weren’t expecting miracles from me.

Right now, for example, I was fooling around with Bella Wilkinson from sixth year and had been since April last year.

In the beginning, I liked Bella because she didn’t breathe down my neck. At nineteen, she had a couple of years on me, she didn’t hold me to some invisible standard I couldn’t or wouldn’t meet, and afterwards, I could walk away and concentrate on rugby, while she left me to my own devices.

But after a few months, I quickly realized that it wasn’t me that Bella was interested in.

It was the bullshit that came with being with me.

It was all about status with Bella, and by the time I realized it, I was too comfortable and too lazy to do anything about it.

She wanted my dick. That was it.

Well, my dick and my status.

Now, I stayed because she was familiar and I was lazy.

Bella had one expectation from me, one requirement that, up until a couple of months ago, I was more than capable of providing.

I hadn’t been doing much of anything with Bella since before my surgery – I hadn’t laid a finger on the girl since early November when it had become too painful to even contemplate it – but my point was that when it happened, it was just sex for me.

A steady release.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I acknowledged that this was an unhealthy attitude towards life and relationships with the opposite sex, and that I was probably deeply jaded, but it was hard to remain a boy when I was living in a man’s world.

It also didn’t help that I was playing rugby at a level where I was surrounded by men much older than me.

Conversations that were meant for people much older than me. Women that were meant for men much older than me.

Not girls but women.

Jesus, if my mother knew the half of the woman who’d offered themselves to me – grown ass women – she’d pull my arse out of The Academy and lock me in my room until I turned twenty-one.

In a way, my childhood was robbed from me because of my ability to play rugby.

I grew up very quickly, taking on the role of a man when I was little more than a boy; coached and pushed, pressured and championed.

I didn’t have a social life and childhood. Instead, I had expectations and a career.

Sex was the reward I allowed myself for being, well, good. For controlling everything else in my life.

For balancing my school and my sport with pristine control and an iron will.

I wasn’t the only one like this.

Aside from a couple of the lads with long-term girlfriends, the rest of the lads in The Academy were as bad as me.

Actually, they were worse. I was discreet.

They weren’t.

“We’re not talking about me,” I told Gibsie, dragging my attention back to the present, my anger growing by the second. “She’s a fucking kid, too young for all you horny little pricks, and every asshole in this room needs to respect that.”

“Fifteen is a kid?” Gibsie countered, looking confused. “The fuck are you talking about, Johnny?”

“Fifteen is young,” I barked, frustrated. “And illegal.” “Oh.” Gibsie grinned knowingly. “I see.”

“You don’t see shit, Gibs,” I shot back.

“Since when did you start giving a shite about what any of us do?”

“I don’t. Do whatever and whoever the hell you want,” I countered heatedly. “Just not her.”

He grinned widely, clearly goading me, when he teased, “Keep that talk up and I’m going to start thinking you’re going soft for the girl.”

“I’m not fucking around here,” I countered, taking the bait.

“Relax, Johnny,” Gibsie said with a sigh. “I’ve no intention of going near the girl.”

“Good.” I released a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.

“I can’t vouch for the rest of them, though,” he added, gesturing his thumb behind him.

Nodding stiffly, I turned my attention to the busy changing room and stood up, bristling with agitation.

“Listen up,” I barked, drawing everyone’s attention to me. “That girl on the pitch earlier?”

I waited until I had my teammates’ attention and then I waited for understanding to cross their features before bursting into a rant.

“What happened to her out there today? It would be embarrassing as hell for anyone and especially for a girl. So, I don’t want to hear one word of it repeated around school or town.” My voice took on a threatening hint when I said, “If it gets back to me that any of you have been talking about her…well, I don’t have to explain what will happen.”

Someone snickered and I turned my glare on the culprit.

“You have two sisters, Pierce,” I snapped, glaring at the red-faced hooker. “How would you feel if that happened to Marybeth or Cadence? Would you like the lads talking about her like that?”

“No, I wouldn’t.” Pierce reddened further. “Sorry, Cap,” he muttered. “You won’t hear it back from me.”

“Good man,” I replied, nodding before facing the team. “You don’t bring up what happened with her clothes to anyone – not your pillow pals or friends. It’s gone. Erased. Never fucking happened… and while we’re on the subject, don’t talk to her,” I added, on a roll now, my commands this time for entirely selfish reasons I didn’t dare think too much about. “Don’t get any notions about her. In fact, don’t look at her at all.”

To be fair to them, most of the senior players on the team just nodded and went back to whatever they’d been doing before my outburst, letting me know that I was being irrational about this.

But then there was Ronan fucking McGarry and his mouth to contend this.

I didn’t like this guy – couldn’t stand him if I was being honest.

He was a loud mouthed third-year who pranced around the school like he was king of the hill.

His cocky attitude had only magnified in annoyance this year when he was brought into the senior team at school after an ACL injury had finished Bobby Reilly’s season early.

McGarry was a mediocre rugby player at best, playing scrumhalf for the school this season, and a goddamn pain in my arse to cover on the pitch.

He was only on the team in the first place because his mother was the coach’s sister. It certainly wasn’t for his talent.

It gave me great pleasure taking him down a peg or ten at any given opportunity.

“Why?” he taunted from the safety of the opposite end of the changing room. “Are you laying claim?” The blond little fucker, encouraged by a couple of his benchwarmer buddies, continued, “Is she yours now or something, Kavanagh?”

“Well she’s certainly not yours, Prickface,” I shot back without hesitation. “Not that I was including you in that statement.” Sniffing, I looked him up and down slowly with feigned displeasure before adding, “Yeah, you’re not an issue for me.”

Several of the lads erupted into howls of laughter at McGarry’s expense. “Fuck you,” he spat.

“Ouch,” I feigned hurt then grinned across the room at him. “That hurt so much.”

“She’s in my class,” he tossed out.

“Good for you.” I clapped, not liking this new information one bit, but burying my annoyance with a heavy dollop sarcasm. “Do you want a medal or a trophy for that?”

Turning my attention back to my team, I added, “She’s young, lads, too young for any of you. So stay the fuck away.”

“Not for me,” the little prick piped up. “She’s the same age as me.”

“No. It’s not a matter of age for you,” I countered evenly. “She’s just too good for you.”

More laughs at his expense.

“Everyone might act like you’re some kind of god at this school,” he growled, “but she’s fair game as far as I’m concerned.” Puffing out his chest like a defected gorilla, he smirked at me. “If I want her, I’ll have her.”

“Fair game?” I barked out a laugh. “If you want her, you’ll have her?

Christ, kid, what world are you living in?” Ronan’s cheeks turned pink.

“I live in the real world,” he spat. “The one where people have to work for what they get, and not have it handed to them because they’re in The Academy.”

“You think so?” I arched a brow, tilting my head to one side to take his measure. “Apparently not when you’re deluded enough to think I’ve been handed everything in my life – and especially when you refer to girls as fair

game.” Shaking my head, I added, “They’re girls, McGarry, not Pokémon cards.”

“God, you think you’re so great, don’t you?” he snapped, jaw clenched. “You think you’re so fucking amazing! Well you’re not.”

Growing bored of his antics, I shook my head and gave him an out, “Sling your hook, kid. I’m not playing this game with you today.”

“Why don’t you do us all a favor and sling your hook, Johnny! I wish you’d just fuck off to the youths and be done with it,” he roared, face turning an ugly shade of purple. “That’s what you’re in The Academy for, right?” he demanded, tone furious. “To be conditioned? To move up the ranks and get a contract?” Huffing out a breath, he snarled, “Then fucking move. Leave Tommen. Go back to Dublin. Take your contracts and go the fuck away!”

“Education is very important, Ronan.” I grinned, relishing in his hatred of me. “The Academy teaches us that.”

“I bet the Irish heads don’t even want you,” he tossed back angrily. “All this talk about you joining the u20’s in the summer is all bullshit you made up yourself.”

“Kid, you need to walk away now,” Hughie Biggs, our number ten, and a good friend of mine, interjected with a sigh. “You sound like a fucking clown.”

Me?” Ronan barked, glaring across the room at Hughie. “He’s the asshole walking around this town like he owns it, getting special treatment from the teachers, and ordering all you around. And you just take it!”

“And you are stinking up the room with your jealousy,” Hughie countered in a lazy drawl. “Pack it in, kid,” he added, dragging a hand through his blond hair, as he came to stand beside me and Gibs. “You’re making a right eejit of yourself.”

“Stop calling me kid!” Ronan roared, voice breaking, as he charged towards us. “I’m not a fucking kid!”

Neither Gibsie, Hughie, or I moved an inch, all highly entertained at his tantrum.

Ronan had been a problem for the team since September; defying orders, breaking rank, pulling stupid stunts on the pitch that almost cost us several games.

This little outburst of his wasn’t the first one.

It was just another in a long list of many tantrums.

He was ridiculous and needed reigning in.

If his uncle wasn’t prepared to do it, then I was.

“He’s your captain,” Patrick Feely piped up, much to my surprise, as he and several members of the team came and stood in front of me, blocking McGarry’s pathetic attempt at exulting power, and showing their support for me. “Show a little respect, McGarry.”

Well, shite.

I felt terrible now.

I looked at Feely, my eyes full of remorse for my earlier on-pitch antics. The look he gave me assured me that, for him, it was long forgotten.

It still didn’t sit well with me.

McGarry was right about one thing; I did get preferential treatment in town.

I worked like a dog on the pitch and was rewarded fabulously off it.

I would use that pull to buy Feely a pint in Biddies at the weekend – Gibs and Hughie, too.

“Run on home to mammy, Ronan,” Gibsie ordered, shoving him towards the changing room exit. “Maybe she’ll get your Legos out.” Swinging open the door with one hand, Gibsie pushed him out with the other. “You’re not ready to play with the big boys.”

“I bet yer one Shannon won’t be saying that,” Ronan snarled, forcing himself back into the room. “Or should I say, she won’t be able to,” he grinned darkly, eyes locked on my face, “when my cock is buried down her throat.”

“Keep talking about her like that,” I seethed, fists forming into tight balls at my sides. “I would love a reason to tear your fucking head off.”

“I sat behind her this morning in French, you know,” he taunted, grinning widely now. “Had I known what she was hiding under that skirt, I would have been friendlier.” Winking, he added, “There’s always tomorrow.”

“And that, folks, is how you sign your own death certificate,” Hughie muttered, throwing his hands up in resignation. “You stupid, little bollox.”

Not one person tried to stop me when I barreled towards Ronan. No one dared.

I had hit my quota of bullshit for the day and the lads knew it.

“Now listen to me, you little fucker,” I hissed, hand wrapped around his throat, as I dragged him back into the room, closing the door from witnesses

with my free hand. “And listen good, because I’m only going to tell you this one more time.”

Slamming Ronan against the concrete wall, I stepped in front of him, towering over him by a good six inches.

“You don’t like me. I get it. I’m not particularly fond of you either.” I clutched his throat tight enough to make it hard for him to breathe, but not enough to cut off circulation and kill him. I was trying to make a point, not commit a crime. “You don’t have to like me, but as your captain, you sure as shit will respect my authority on the pitch.”

At 5’10 and sixteen years old, Ronan wasn’t small by any means, but at seventeen, 6’3 and growing, I was a big bastard.

Off the pitch, I rarely used my size to intimidate anyone, but I would use it now.

I was sick to death of this kid and his mouth. He had no goddamn respect, and hell, maybe I could handle his crappy attitude and aggression towards me.

But not her.

I didn’t like, couldn’t cope, and wouldn’t put up with him talking about

her like that.

That haunting look of vulnerability in her eyes drove me forward, causing me to lose what little grip I had on my temper.

“When I tell my team something,” I added, snarling now, the memory of her lonesome blue eyes clouding my judgment. “When I fucking warn you to leave a vulnerable girl alone, I expect you to heed my goddamn warning. I expect your submission. What I don’t expect is your lippy backtalk and defiance.” A faint choking sound came from Ronan’s throat and I loosened my hold but kept my hand there. “Are we clear?”

“Fuck you,” Ronan strangled out, spluttering and wheezing. “You can’t tell me what to do,” he rasped, breathless. “You’re not my father!”

This fucker.

He was determined to defy me even when he couldn’t win.

“I’m your daddy on the field, bitch.” I smiled darkly and squeezed, cutting off his air supply. “You don’t see it because you’re a jumped up, narcissistic, little spanner.” I squeezed tighter. “But they do.” I waved a hand behind us, gesturing to the team who were all standing down, not one of them intervening. “Every single one of them. They all get it. They all know I own you,” I added calmly. “Keep pushing me, kid, and it won’t

matter who you’re related to, you’ll be off this team. But go anywhere near that girl and god himself won’t be able to save you.”

Deciding I had terrified the young fella enough to get my point across, I released his throat and took a step back.

“Now,” folding my arms across my chest, I glared down at him and asked, “are we clear this time?”

“Yeah,” Ronan croaked out, still glaring at me. I didn’t mind.

He could glare at me all he wanted.

He could stick pin needles in a voodoo version of me and go on hating my guts for the rest of his life for all I cared.

All I needed from him was his submission. “We’re clear,” he spat.

“Good boy.” I slapped his cheeks with my hands and smirked. “Now fuck off.”

Ronan continued to mutter his misgivings, but since he was doing so under his breath, I turned my back on him and headed straight for the now- empty showers, choosing to scald the temper out of my body with water.

“Johnny, can I have a word?” Cormac Ryan, our number 11 winger asked, as he followed me into the shower area.

I swung around and glared at him, my fingers slipping away from the waistband of my shorts.

“Can it wait?” I asked, tone tight, jaw clenched, as my gaze traveled over him.

Annoyance flared to life at the sight of him, and I knew full well what he wanted to talk to me about – or should I say who he wanted to talk about.


The time for talking was months ago.

Right now, with the mood I was in, the chances of us just talking was slim.

Cormac seemed to realize that because he nodded his head and retreated from the doorway.

“Yeah, no bother,” he replied, swallowing deeply, as he backed up. “I’ll, uh, catch up with you another time.”

“Yeah,” I deadpanned, watching him leave. “You will.”

Shaking my head, I stripped off and stalked into the shower stall.

Twisting the chrome nozzle, I stepped under the steady stream of ice- cold water and waited for it to heat.

Pressing a palm against the tiled wall, I dropped my head and exhaled a frustrated breath.

I didn’t need another fight under my belt.

Keeping my nose clean this season was paramount, even in the shitty school league.

It would be bad publicity to beat the shit out of my own teammates. Even when my fingers twitched with the urge to do just that.

The lads were long gone back to their assigned classes by the time I finished showering, leaving me alone in the changing room.

I didn’t bother rushing back to class, prioritizing my time with hoofing down my lunch and a premade protein smoothie instead.

It wasn’t until I was finished eating that I noticed the blue icepack on top of my gear bag. There was a small note perched on top that read, “Ice your balls, Cap.”

Fucking Gibsie.

With a shake of my head, I sank down on the bench and grabbed the icepack.

Wrapping an old t-shirt around it, I freed my towel and did exactly what that note instructed.

When I was done icing my balls, I took my sweet ass time assessing a few of my long-term injuries, the most worrying being the angry looking scar on my inner groin.

The skin was hot, itchy, swollen, and fucking disgusting to look at. Playing with an injury was a common ailment for a guy in my situation,

but after eighteen months of suffering with a chronic groin injury, I’d thrown the towel in and agreed to the surgery in December.

Spending four days on the flat of my back in the hospital writhing in agony having caught an infection was bad enough, but the last three weeks of post-surgery rehabilitation had been pure fucking torture.

According to my GP, my body was healing nicely and he had signed off to let me play – mostly because I had lied through my teeth – but the bruising and discoloration on my thighs and around my area was a sight to be had.

I was also sore as shit down there. Cock, balls, groin, thighs.

Every part of me ached. All the damn time.

I wasn’t sure whether my balls hurt more from the injury or the need of release.

Aside from my parents and coaches, Gibsie was the only one who knew the details of my surgery – hence the icepack.

He’d been my best friend since moving down to Cork. Even though he was an overgrown, blond, eejit with a penchant for fucking school admins and the ability to drive me batshit crazy with his blasé attitude, I knew I could trust him to have my back.

Knowing he could keep stuff to himself was the only reason I told him. Normally, I kept that kind of shit to myself.

Sharing details of an injury was a dangerous move and a surefire way of having that injury targeted by oppositional teams.

Besides, it was embarrassing.

I was a confident person by nature but walking around with an out of commission dick –with no endgame in sight – meant that my self-esteem had taken a battering.

I’d had more people poke and prod at my bollocks in the last month than I cared to remember – and not in a fun way, either.

Getting it up after the operation wasn’t a problem for me; it was the horrible, searing pain that came with having an erection that I had an issue with.

That particular piece of information I had learned the hard way after a shitty porno marathon one Saturday had resulted in an embarrassing trip to the A&E.

It was St. Stephen’s night, ten days post-surgery, and I had been wallowing in self-pity all day, having received countless texts from the lads asking me if I was coming out to the pub, so when I went to bed that night, I’d thrown on a bluey to cheer myself up.

The minute the actress’s tits were out, my cock had shot to attention.

Feeling a slight amount of discomfort that was overshadowed by the realization that I still possessed a working dick, I had stroked myself off, careful to avoid the stiches on my groin.

Two minutes into my wank-fest and I realized what a terrible mistake I had made.

The problem arose when I was close to coming.

My balls tightened, like they always did when blood rushed to the head of my penis, but the muscles in my thighs and groin began to contract and spasm – and not in a good way.

The scorching pain that had rocketed through my body was so severe that I’d screamed out in agony before unceremoniously vomiting all over my bedsheets.

The pain was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

The only way I could describe it was to say it was like being kicked in the nuts repeatedly while someone stamped a red-hot cattle prod on my dick.

Unfortunately, the visual of the plastic-breasted woman getting dicked on the screen and the loud audio of her “fuck me harder” sexy as hell screams made it virtually impossible for me to get it down.

Dropping to floor, I had crawled on my hands and knees over to television set with the intention of putting my fist through the screen.

That was the exact moment my mother had burst into my bedroom.

She ended up having to help me get dressed, raging hard-on and all, and then rush me to the hospital, where I was scolded by the doctor on call for interfering with myself.

I shit you not, she used those exact words before delving into a deeply disturbing rant about the dangers of masturbating so soon after the surgery I had, and the long-term ramifications it could have for my penis – with my mother sitting next to me.

Seven hours, a round of blood tests, a shot of morphine, and one testicular exam later, I was sent home with a prescription for a new round of antibiotics and strict instructions to leave my penis alone.

That was two weeks ago and I still hadn’t touched my dick. I was traumatized.

I was a broken man.

I knew I should be grateful I didn’t have any long-term nerve damage in the area, and I would be once everything healed and worked again, but for now, I was a pissed off almost-eighteen-year-old with a broken dick and a deflated ego.

Fucking Ronan McGarry thought I had everything handed to me.

If he realized the sacrifices I made, and the limits I pushed my body to, I doubt he’d feel the same way.

Then again, maybe he would.

He had such an issue with me that I reckoned nothing could sway him from his I-hate-Johnny campaign.

Not that I gave a single fuck.

I had less than two years left in this school, and possibly a further one year with The Academy.

After that, I would be leaving Ballylaggin and all the begrudging Ronan McGarry’s behind me.

Stretching my legs out, I gently rubbed down the area with my prescribed anti-inflammatory gel, biting down on my lip to stop myself from screaming in pain.

Clenching my eyes shut, I forced my hands to move over my thighs, performing the exercise my physio had instructed I do after every training session.

Once that was completed, and I was confident I wouldn’t pass out from the pain, I worked on my shoulders, elbows, and ankles, packing and strapping every old ache and injury like the dutiful apprentice I was.

Believe it or not, my body was in great condition.

The injuries I had sustained from playing rugby for the past eleven years, including a ruptured appendix and a million broken bones, were miniscule in comparison to the injuries some of the lads in The Academy were carrying.

It was a good thing for me considering I was on the cusp of a lucrative contract and a career in professional rugby.

In order to achieve that, I needed to be as close to perfect in every aspect of my life.

That meant performing on the pitch, maintaining optimal health both physically and mentally, and keeping my nose – and my dick – clean.

Protection was an impossible thing to forget with The Academy breathing down our necks, lecturing on how this was a pivotal time in our careers and how we were not, under any circumstances, to let a girl turn our heads or saddle us down with a baby.

Like fuck.

I’d rather cut my poorly functioning cock off before I let myself fall into that trapping.

Condoms and birth control were an absolute necessity.

always carried one, I always wore one, and if the girl I was with wasn’t on the pill or the bar, of if I didn’t trust she was being honest with

me, I always pulled out.

No risks.

No exceptions.

Not that it matters now, I thought to myself, as I stared down at my bruised balls.

Aside from remaining fatherless and STD free, I had to keep my marks


It was all about perception for the scouts and potential clubs, and they

wanted what was perceived as perfection.

They wanted the best players from the best schools and the top universities in the country.

They wanted merits and silverware, both on the pitch and academically. It was tiresome work, but I did the best I could.

Luckily, I was good at school.

I didn’t fucking like going very much, but I was good at it.

My classes were all honors subjects and I had always been A+ to A- average in all of them with the exception of Science, where I was a reluctant C student.

I just hated that fucking subject.

Man, it gave me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about periodic tables. I didn’t care for it, and it was the one class I had always slept through.

It came as no surprise to my parents that when the time came for me to choose my leaving cert subjects this term, I had avoided the three science subjects like the plague.

No, they could keep their biology, chemistry, and physics for the hard- core braintards.

I would stick to business and accountancy.

An unlikely passion for a rugbyhead but it was right up my street.

I would get a standard degree in Business, play until well into my thirties, retire before my body completely gave up on me, and then pursue my masters.

See, I had it all planned out. No room for change.

No room for girlfriends.

And no goddamn room for injuries.

My life choices and strict routine pissed my mother off to epic proportions.

I knew Mam didn’t like my lifestyle and she was always nagging me. She said I was limited.

That I was missing out on so much of life. She begged me to be a child.

The problem was, I hadn’t been a child since I was ten.

When rugby took off for me, I left that shite behind, my childhood dreams of playing rugby morphing into a focused, hungry, driven obsession.

I had spent the past seven years in beast mode 24/7 and had the physical body shape and size to prove it.

My father was easier on me.

He mollified my mother and coaxed her to stop worrying so much – telling her that it could be worse. I could be going out getting stoned off my head after school or getting legless with the rest of my friends down the pub.

Instead of doing any of that, I trained.

I spent my days studying, my afternoons on the pitch, my evenings in the gym, and my weekends rotating between all three.

Jaysus, I couldn’t recall the last time I blew off the gym for a night out with the lads or ate a 99-ice-cream cone without worrying about wasteful calories and unbalanced macronutrients.

I ate clean, I trained hard, and I followed every order, suggestion, and demand given to me by my coaches and trainers.

It wasn’t an easy lifestyle to uphold, but it was the one I had chosen for myself.

I trusted my gut and pursued my dreams with relentless drive, taking comfort in the fact that I was almost there.

Until I made it – and I would make it – I would continue to make the sacrifices and remain focused, dedicated, and undistracted from bullshit, teenage drama.

It was for those exact reasons I was feeling so edgy.

A girl, a fucking female I’d known for no longer than two hours, had managed to do what no one else ever had; knock me off kilter.

Shannon like the river was on my mind, and I didn’t fucking like it. I didn’t like that she was taking up valuable time in my head.

Time I didn’t have to spare or to give to anything – or anyone – other than rugby.

“She was already pulled out of Ballylaggin Community School for being verbally and physically attacked. And what happens on her first day at Tommen? This!”

“You assured me this kind of thing wouldn’t happen at this school and look what happened on her first day!”

“Shannon, I don’t know what to do with you anymore. I really don’t, baby. I thought this place would be different for you.”

What the hell was going on?

What happened to her?

And why the fuck was I obsessing about her like this? I barely knew the girl.

It shouldn’t matter to me. Jaysus, I needed to get a life.

Take up watching some train-wreck reality tv program or something – anything to block out today’s events and those lonesome blue eyes.

Forcing myself to block her out, I concentrated on tending to my injuries, all the while thinking about potential strategy and tactics for the match on Friday.

When I was all patched up and had thrown my school uniform back on, I checked the time on my phone and noted that if I hurried my ass up, I would make it to my last class.

I skimmed through a couple of new text messages from Bella, asking me if I was better and wanted to meet up.

I shot her a quick reply saying still out of action and waited for her response.

It came almost immediately, followed by several more texts.

I’m getting sick of this shit Johnny. I don’t like being ignored.

Everyone’s talking about you, you know.

Saying your performance on the pitch is going to crap.

It made the papers.

They’re saying you’re losing you’re touch. I agree.

You are being a useless dick and you have a useless dick. I know there’s nothing wrong with you.

You’re just trying to get out of taking me to the awards gala at the end of the month.

Why don’t you ever take me to those things? I never ask you for ANYTHING.

If you don’t start appreciating me, I know plenty of lads who will…

I expelled a heavy breath and quickly read each message. Yeah, this was getting out of hand.

I could feel the noose tightening around my neck.

I tapped out a quick reply saying ‘Do whatever you want. I’m not your keeper’ before turning my phone off and heading back to the school, stopping at the office.

“Johnny!” Dee, the school secretary, cooed when I stepped through the doorway. “Back already?” she asked, taking a slow appraisal of my body. “Mr. Twomey hasn’t sent for you, honey.”

Our school secretary was a low-sized woman in her late twenties, with peroxide blonde hair, a penchant for teenage boys, and a serious weakness for rugby players.

Her blue eyes were lined with way too much black eyeliner and thick, mushy mascara that blended well with the mountain of foundation caked on her face, and blood red lips.

She wasn’t an unattractive woman.

She had a nice shape and a fantastic ass.

But she was a case of mutton dressed as lamb.

Despite her cougar attempts and blatant inappropriateness, I was oddly fond of the woman. She helped me out on more than one occasion down through the years, signing me out of classes, covering my absenteeism, burying misdemeanors and all types of incriminating shite that would reflect badly on me.

Back in third year, when I came home from training camp, I’d dropped an Ireland jersey with most of the team’s signatures in to her.

It was a last-minute display of appreciation on my part, knowing that she’d gone to a great deal of trouble to get the Board of Education to waver

a compulsory oral junior cert exam I’d missed while away.

I had the jersey in my gear bag and just gave it to her, feeling like I needed to compensate the woman for her efforts.

After that, she was my biggest champion, doing countless, and often morally questionable, favors for me.

And I, in turn, snagged her tickets to games whenever I could. We had a good arrangement.

“I’m here to see you, Dee,” I shot back with a flirty wink. Fighting down the urge to run for the hills from the school cougar, I sauntered over to the counter that separated her office from the rest of reception and grinned. “I was hoping you could help me out with something.”

“I’m always willing to help my favorite all-star,” she purred. “With anything.”

“Appreciate it,” I replied, repressing the urge to shudder when she reached over the counter and stroked her inch long, flaming red fingernails across my knuckles. “Do you have an envelope?”

“An envelope?” Her drawn-on brows shot up in surprise. “Oh,” she muttered, looking a little forlorn.

Reaching behind the desk, she rummaged around before slapping a plain brown envelope on the counter.

Pulling out my wallet, I snagged two €50 notes and stuffed them inside. “Do you have a pen?” I asked.

With a little huff, she handed me one.

“You’re a lifesaver,” I mumbled as I quickly scrawled a note on the envelope before placing the pen on the counter.

“Is that all?” “Actually no, it’s not.”

Resting my elbows on the counter, I fingered the envelope between my hands and smiled down at her.

Here it goes…

“I’m looking for some information on a student.” Dee frowned. “Information on a student?”

“Yeah.” I nodded, widening my smile. “Shannon Lynch.”

Who had I been fooling with distracting myself with reality tv?

I was an obsessive bastard by nature, with a one-track mind that was currently – and solely – programmed on her.

had to know more.

needed more.

I wasn’t thick enough to think this didn’t matter.

Or that my reaction to McGarry in the changing rooms earlier didn’t matter.

It mattered that she was able to do this to me.

It mattered that, hours later, I was still thinking about her, wondering about her, and inevitably worrying about her.

It mattered that she mattered when no one ever mattered to me before. Fuck, now I was confused about all the matters.

“Oh, Johnny.” Dee pursed her lips, her frown deepening, as she drew me back to the present. “I’m not sure. Mr. Twomey made it clear that you are to have no contact with the Lynch girl–” her voice broke off and she reached for her notepad. “See?” she tapped her finger on the scrawled pad. “It’s written down and everything. Her mother was demanding you be suspended for that incident on the pitch today. She’s calling it assault. It took a lot of persuading on Mr. Twomey’s part to stop her from phoning the Gardaí–”

“Come on, Dee,” I purred, smothering my outrage with what I hoped was charm. “You know me. I would never intentionally hurt a girl.”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” she breathed, blinking up at me. “You’re a good boy.”

“And you’re very good to me.” Leaning closer, I covered her hand with mine, and whispered, “So, all I need you to do is tell me what you know about her – or better yet, let me see her file.”

“No way, Johnny.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “If anyone found out, my job would be on the line –”

“You think I’d get you into trouble, Dee?” I coaxed with a small shake of my head. “It can be our little secret.” God, I was a complete fucktard, playing on this poor woman’s emotions.

But I wanted that file, dammit.

I had a burning curiosity to find out about Shannon – more specifically what happened to her at her old school.

Mr. Twomey’s words had planted the seed inside my head and I was dying to find out.

“I’m sorry, honey, but I can’t help you this time,” Dee replied, lips pursed. “I need this job.”

Frustrated, I shook my head and wrestled my temper into touch before trying again, “Can you at least give me her locker number?”

Dee’s eyes narrowed. “Why do you need that?” “I just do,” I shot back, tone a little harder now. I was pissed off.

I wasn’t used to being told no.

When I asked for something, I usually got it.

It was a shitty way to be, but that’s how life went for me.

“I already told you,” she retorted. “Mr. Twomey said you’re not supposed to go near her –”

“It’s her locker number, Dee, not her fucking home address,” I snapped, irritation growing. “You’d swear I was a fucking murderer or something – the way you’re all acting.”

With a heavy sigh, Dee nodded dejectedly and walked over to the filing cabinet. “Alright.”

“Thank you,” I replied, tone heavy with sarcasm.

“But you didn’t get this off me,” she grumbled, rummaging through each drawer until she found the desired folder.


“I’m serious, Johnny. I don’t need the hassle.” “Neither do I.”

Flicking the folder open, she quickly scanned the first page before snapping it shut. “Locker 461. In the third-year wing.”

“Great, thanks for this.” I grabbed the pen and scrawled the number on the back of my hand, before heading for the door. Pausing in the doorway, I turned and asked, “Can you at least tell me how she is?”

Dee sighed. “The last I heard, her mother was taking her to the A&E for a scan.”

“A scan?” I frowned, anxiety gnawing at my gut. “She alright though, isn’t she? When she left? She was walking and stuff? I mean, she’ll be grand, right?”

“Yes, Johnny, I’m sure she’s fine.” She picked up the pen on the counter and placed the cap on it. “It’s just a precautionary measure.”



Uncertain, I blurted, “Do you think I should go – to the hospital, that is?” Shrugging, I added, “Should I visit? It’s my fault she’s at the hospital. I’m responsible.”

“Definitely not!” Dee snapped, her tone taking on a hint of authority. “If you know what’s good for you, Johnny Kavanagh, you will stay well away from the girl.” She let out a loud huff before adding in a much quieter tone of voice, “Between you and me, her mother is out for your blood. You’d do well to avoid all contact with her. And if I’m being honest, the girl just doesn’t seem–” she paused, chewing on her bottom lip for a moment before finishing, “well, stable.”

My brows furrowed. “What do you mean she’s not stable?” Dee chewed on her pen, looking uncomfortable.

“Dee?” I pressed. “What do you mean by that?”

“Maybe stable isn’t the appropriate word,” she admitted, tone low. “But there’s something… off about her.”


“Troubling,” Dee clarified and then corrected herself by saying, “Troubled. She seems troubled.”

Well shite.

Trust me to fixate on the crazy.

“Right,” I muttered, turning for the door again. “Thanks for the head’s up.”

“Keep your distance, Johnny,” she called after me. “And stay away from the hospital.”

Deep in thought, I strolled out of the office with the envelope in hand.

I wandered down the left wing of the main building, stopping at a row of freshly painted blue lockers outside the third-year common area.

I scanned the rows for locker number 461.

When I found the one I was looking for, I pushed the envelope through the tiny gap at the top of the metal door.

I didn’t care if her mother didn’t want the money, she could burn it for all I cared, but I had to give it to them – to her.

Readjusting my school bag on my shoulder, I slid my hand into my pocket and retrieved my car keys, decision made to blow off the rest of the day and wait in the car for Gibsie.

Besides, there was no point in going to class right now. I couldn’t concentrate on business ABQ’s if I tried.

My head was too clouded with words of warning and images of sad, blue eyes.

Strolling down to the students’ car park, I unlocked my car and dropped my shit into the back seat before collapsing inside.

Exhausted and sore, I pushed back the seat and adjusted the recliner so I could stretch my legs out.

The thought of driving with the pain currently burning its way up my thighs was an unwelcome thought, but it wasn’t my main concern right now.

We had a lot of boarders at Tommen, students coming from all over the country and some parts of Europe to study.

I lived half an hour from the school so I was one of the day-walkers. Most of my friends were.

I knew Shannon was from Ballylaggin too, but I’d never laid eyes on her before that day.

It wasn’t a massive area, but it was big enough that our paths had never crossed before today – or maybe they had and I just didn’t remember her.

I wasn’t great with faces. I didn’t look at one long enough to commit it to memory. I didn’t care to. I had enough names and faces I needed to remember as it stood. Adding unnecessary names of strangers to that list seemed a pointless feat.

Until now.


That’s what Dee called her.

But weren’t all teenagers a little fucked up and troubled sometimes?

I was so consumed in my own thoughts that I didn’t notice the final bell ringing, forty-five minutes later, or the flood of students climbing into cars around me. It was only when the passenger door of my car flew open that I jerked back to the present.

“Hey,” Gibsie acknowledged, dropping into the passenger seat beside me. “I see your heart’s still set on sporting the semi-homeless look in here,” he added, kicking a pile of shit away from his feet. Reaching around, he tossed his bag into the backseat. “It fucking stinks in here, man.”

“You could always get plenty of fresh air walking,” I grumbled, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. Yeah, I was that fucking tired.

“Relax,” Gibsie shot back and then snickered when he added, “no need to get so testy.”

“Very funny, asshole,” I deadpanned, my hand immediately moving to my dick. “Now you really can get out and walk.”

“Here,” he paused to dump a vanilla colored folder on my lap, “you can’t make me walk after getting you this.”

I stared down at the folder. “What’s this?”

“A present,” Gibsie replied, adjusting the visor.

“Homework?” I deadpanned. “Wow. Thanks so much.”

“It’s yer one Shannon’s file,” he corrected, rolling down the sleeves of his jumper. “No doubt your obsessive ass was looking for it.”

Well, shite.

An unsettling surge of excitement coursed through me as I stared down at the folder in my hands.

My best friend knew me too well.

“When you didn’t come back to class after training, I figured you were out here sulking over her – or pining,” he shrugged before adding, “Or whatever the fuck you’d call what you did in the locker room earlier.”

“I don’t sulk.” He snorted.

“I don’t fucking sulk, asshole,” I bit back. “Or pine. I wasn’t doing any of that shite. I was just –”

“Losing your head?” Gibsie filled in with a wolfish grin. “Don’t worry about it. Happens to the best of us.”

“Why would I be losing my head?” I demanded and then swiftly answered, “I wasn’t losing my goddamn anything!”

“My mistake.” Gibsie held his hands up, but his tone assured me that he was far from sorry. “I must’ve read it wrong. Give me her file and I’ll put it back.”

He reached for the folder and I snatched it away. “What – no!” Gibsie laughed but didn’t say anything else.

The knowing grin he gave me was enough of a response.

“How’d you manage to convince Dee to hand it over?” I asked, changing the subject.

“How’d you think?”

I repressed a shudder. “Jesus.”

“It’s not all bad.” Gibsie smirked. “The woman sucks like a hoover, and the thrill of getting caught always makes for fun times.”

I held a hand up. “Didn’t need to know that.” He snorted. “You already knew that.”

“Yeah,” I sighed heavily. “Well, I didn’t need to be reminded.”

“Jesus,” he muttered, pulling at the collar of his school shirt so he could get a good look at his neck in the small, rectangular mirror. “Always the neck.”

Unsatisfied with that view, he twisted the rearview mirror to face him and groaned.

Turning to look at me, Gibsie said, “See the sacrifices I make for you?” My eyes landed on the purplish bruise forming on his neck.

“Better be something worth reading in there,” he grumbled.

Turning my attention back to the folder, I flicked it open to the first page and then tensed, eyes moving to his. “Did you read it?”


“Why not?”

“Because,” he replied, digging around his pocket. “It’s not my business.” He pulled out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. “I’m hanging for a smoke.” He shoved the door open and stepped out, stopping to lean in and announce, “Orgasms make me crave nicotine,” before closing the door and sparking up.

Shaking my head, I turned my attention to the file in my hands, riveted to every detail of information Shannon Lynch’s confidential file revealed.

Pages upon pages of incidents and reports all neatly typed out on white paper, detailing every horrendous ordeal the girl had suffered in her old school – and there had been a lot.

Fourteen a4 pages of incidents.

Front and back.

A few pages in and I learned that Shannon had slipped from a solid C student at the beginning of first year to scraping D’s and E’s by the end of second year.

Attached to her less than stellar exam results were notes from her former teachers, praising her gentle nature and diligent and conscientious work ethic.

I didn’t need a note to explain the steady decline in her grades, I’d figured that out on page one.

She was the victim of bullying.

They cut her ponytail off when she was in first year. When she was thirteen. Their punishment for such a crime was a week’s suspension. Seriously. A week off school for cutting a girl’s fucking hair off.


They were so goddamn sick and twisted.

How anyone could expect the girl to concentrate in a classroom setting as volatile as that was beyond me.

Seriously, what the hell was wrong with people?

What was the matter with that school and those teachers?

The fuck were her parents thinking leaving her there for two years? The more I read, the sicker I felt in my stomach…

Incident in P.E resulting in a bloody nose.

Vomiting incident in the bathroom. Incident in Woodwork with a glue gun. Issue after school with third year girls.

Another vomiting incident in the bathroom. Issue before school with fourth year girls.

Refusal to take part in overnight school bonding retreat. Were they fucking kidding?

Many, many more vomiting incidences. Referral to educational psychologist.

Older brother lodges fourth complaint about the bullying. Older brother should have found some older female friends and had them kick the shite out of these mean girls.

Graffiti on bathroom walls.

Assault in the school yard, older brother suspended. Older brother must have sorted it himself.

Isolation reported by several teachers.

Serious physical assault by three older students, Gardaí called. No shit, Sherlock.

Older brother suspended again for intervening.

Removal from school at the request of mother. About fucking time.

School records requested by the principal at Tommen College.

Horrified didn’t being to describe my feelings when I was finished reading.

Pissed off didn’t quite fit the bill, either.

Disgusted, disturbed, and wholly enraged seemed a more accurate assessment of my feelings.

Jesus, it was like reading a goddamn police report of a domestic violence victim.

No wonder Shannon’s mother flipped the fuck out on me today. If I were in her position, I would have done a lot worse.

Christ, now I was even more pissed with myself for hurting her than I was earlier.

Who the hell did this?

Seriously, what kind of creatures were they breeding in that school?

“Well?” Gibsie’s voice broke through my thoughts when he climbed back into car, smelling like an ashtray. “Find out what you need?”

“Yeah,” I muttered, handing the folder back to him before cranking the engine. “I did.”

He looked at me expectantly. “And?”

I turned my attention to the road. “And what?” “You look pissed.”

“I’m fine.” I needed to do something, put my foot down, hit the weight room, anything to expel the tension building inside my body.

“You sure, man?”

“Yep.” Tearing out of my parking spot, I shifted into second gear, and then third, ignoring the Caution Children Crossing signs in my bid to get onto the main road.

Sometimes we worked out in my converted garage at home, but right now, I thought the thirty-minute drive to the gym in the city might do me some good.

I knew I had stepped over a serious line by breaching her privacy like this, but I didn’t regret it.

Dammit, I knew she was vulnerable. That feeling I had earlier today?

The pain I was so sure I’d seen in her eyes.

It was real, it was there, I recognized it, and now I could do something about it.

I could prevent anything like this from happening again. It wouldn’t happen again.

Not on my goddamn watch.

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