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By Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland, Ellie Brennan
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Tessa Bailey
All rights reserved.
I manage to look like your average nineteen-year-old girl as I weave through passengers in Dublin Airport. Messenger bag slung over my shoulder, I let the unfamiliar accents roll over me. Looking at signs written in both the vowel-heavy Irish language and English. Ruddy-faced children in soccer jerseys greeting their relatives.
I entered Shutterclick Magazine's photojournalism contest knowing I'd win first prize — a one-month trip to Ireland. Among all the insecurities swimming around in my brain, the talent I possess for taking pictures is not one of them. I'm good at it. Hiding behind a camera comes naturally to me. Maybe it comes from years of reading my mother's erratic temper, or learning to fend for myself at a young age. I've learned to predict people's expressions and moods. I can see them coming before they transform the subject's face. If you sit in one place long enough, especially in a taciturn city like Chicago, something strange is bound to happen. When those occurrences take place, I don't photograph them. I snap the people watching. That moment of honesty when they drop their veneer and react with shock or pity. I live for those moments. When someone doesn't have time to think or get their filter in place, there is purity in their reaction. Everything makes sense for that split second.
Now I need everything to make sense for me. It's not going to be an easy job, ditching this guilt, this whitewash of failure, but I'm determined to do it. I need to sort through the rubble and find Willa again. I've lost sight of what she was all about and frankly I'm mad as hell about it.
The contest sent me to Ireland to take photos for a small, upcoming feature. A spread wherein readers catch up with the contest winner post vacation and experience Ireland through my photographs. But I'm really here to get back to the place I was in pre-Evan. When I didn't give a fuck about everyone's expectations for me. Yes, I'm difficult. Yes, I'm a god-awful smart ass. Yes, the ugliness never goes away, but I'd at least found a way to stabilize it. I used to love those qualities in myself, and I don't want to be ashamed of my coping mechanisms anymore. I don't need anyone to fix me. As Simon and Garfunkel said, "I touch no one and no one touches me ... I am a rock. I am an island."
Coincidentally, I'm also on an island. Far away from the painful memories of Nashville, the bittersweet bullshit of Chicago. I'm just me, here, in this place. I'm here to resuscitate Willa. To drag her lifeless corpse from the Chicago River and rid her lungs of the sludge she swallowed against her will. I'll bring her back to life. Nothing and no one is going to get in my way. The reasonable part of me knows I'm reeling from the blow of losing my first love.
The reasonable part of me can eat shit.
A musical voice sails out of an unseen intercom, announcing a flight boarding for London. I smile a little at the unfamiliarity that I'm suddenly craving and follow the signs for baggage claim. Ireland is a notoriously hospitable country, and I can already see that truth evident in passersby's smiles, their easy greetings. They aren't stilted or awkward in their friendliness. It's natural.
I allow a glimmer of excitement to trickle through my veins. Not quite enough to melt the cold feeling I've had since I broke up with Evan, but enough to allow for the possibility that this trip might be exactly what I need. It helps that nothing is familiar. The name of the inn where I'll be staying is tucked safely in my bag and as soon as I collect my suitcase, I plan on taking a cab directly there to get settled.
So when I see my name, Willa Peet, scrawled in black marker on a sign, I do a double take. Is it just a coincidence? I quickly discard the notion. It's not a common name, and we're currently the only flight disembarking into this terminal. My gaze tracks upward from the sign to the owner ... and I find myself staring into the most dramatic pair of blue eyes I've ever seen. Blue is an inadequate word to describe the color, really, when they are given an entirely unique dimension by the utter disdain lurking in them. Frankly, it's breathtaking, this individual's contempt. Not to mention, completely out of place in this frothy sea of tearful Hallmark-style reunions. I can feel my fingers sliding over my canvas bag, itching to take his picture, capture the contradiction he represents, but his mouth is moving now. Talking to me. A mouth, I realize dully, is a worthy companion of those storm-born eyes.
He straightens from his post, where he'd been leaning casually against a pillar. Tall. Absurdly masculine. I would use the word strapping, but it's such a lame description, I'd have to take a lifelong vow of silence afterward. His mess of deep brown hair looks as though he wet his hand and swiped the thick wave back on the way out the door, rounding out his irreverence perfectly.
"Uh, yeah. Hello? Are you the contest winner?"
His Irish brogue is thick, punctuated by irritation. I pull my proverbial shit together and nod. "Yeah."
"About bloody time. Did you stop to sign autographs?"
He doesn't wait for me to answer, but strides off in the direction of the baggage claim. I stare after him for a moment before a sympathetic look from an eavesdropper horrifies me into motion. When I catch up with him at the carousel, he's staring at me hard, but talking into his cell phone in a clipped tone.
"What do you mean there's no customers in the pub yet?" He listens for a moment, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Have you unlocked the front door?" His head falls back as if imploring the ceiling for patience. "Yes, I reckon that would explain the line of people outside. Go unlock it. And if Faith hasn't gotten her arse downstairs yet to wait tables, give her a bell."
Okay. I'm starting to catch up now. The Claymore Inn is where I'll be staying for the month. A quick Yelp search on the way to the airport told me there is a pub located on the ground level, run by the family that owns the inn. They must have sent one of the employees to pick me up. Excellent choice, folks. He's clearly the warm, fuzzy, welcoming type. As he launches another strained set of instructions into the phone, I can't help but watch him out of the corner of my eye, even as I wait for my suitcase on the rotating metal carousel. We've been given wide berth by my fellow passengers thanks to the utterly untouchable quality of my reluctant driver.
I glue my attention to the baggage claim when I realize how long I've been looking. What was that about? Why am I weighing the risk of taking out my camera and inciting him further? It's the anger. He's doing nothing to hide it. It resembles my own, only he doesn't seem to have any desire to restrain the emotion.
And I'm fascinated by that.
It's in that moment, waiting in travel-hell for my suitcase, coated in airplane grime, my mouth dry from too many roasted peanuts that I decide to stay far away from him. Whoever he is, we will not be friends or even the barest form of acquaintances. I don't want to be fascinated by him, and I don't want to spare another minute guessing why he's so pissed off.
I spot my red and black-checkered suitcase coming toward me and ready myself to retrieve it. My hand curls under the stiff, leather handle and I pull, but the weight disappears. He is behind me lifting it effortlessly in one hand. He's finished his phone call and glaring at me again.
"I've got it," I inform him, my jaw tight.
"Oh, an independent American girl. How unusual."
"A stranger taking my bag against my will. How illegal."
His lips jump at one end as if a sense of humor might exist somewhere underneath all that hostility, but it's gone so quickly I know I imagined it. "Do you find, in America, that a lot of strangers hold up signs with your name printed on them?"
"Everywhere I go. I'm fucking famous, hence the autograph signing."
"Right." Rubbing a hand over his jaw, he considers me a moment as if seeing me for the first time. He hasn't shaved yet this morning and the hair darkening his chin makes him seem older than the early twenties I assume him to be. As he gives me a covert once-over, I know what he's seeing. While I might have shed the gothed-out top layer I rocked until age seventeen, I kept the nose ring and black is still my go-to color, clothing-wise. My hair, although half fucked from sleeping on the flight, is back to its natural golden-brown color, finally free of the black dye I used to torture it with on a monthly basis. Did I just catch a spark of reluctant interest in his gaze?
Finished with his perusal, he asks, "Are you always this difficult?"
"Actually, I'm usually much worse." I yank my bag out of his grip, catching him off guard. Without a glance backward, I wheel it toward the exit.
He catches up with me before I manage to make it through the automatic door. I swallow a gasp as he wrestles the bag from my hand. Before I can unleash the string of expletives hovering on my tongue, he leans in close. Defensively, I hold my breath so I won't smell his cologne. It's fresh and smoky at the same time.
"Listen, tough girl. Once I get you to the inn unharmed, my end of the bargain with the contest people is fulfilled. Until then, we're going to put up with each other. Otherwise I don't get paid. And I have a feeling I'll deserve every penny for putting up with you."
"I'm not getting into a moving vehicle with you."
He finds something about that extremely funny. "I assure you I can handle an automobile with better proficiency than most."
"I'm not worried about you. I'm worried about me tossing you out while it's still moving."
"I'd like to see you try. This suitcase is bigger than you."
"It's a good thing, too. I'll need somewhere to hide the body."
Someone passing behind us overhears my comment and laughs. His eyes narrow on me, obscuring some of their electric, snapping blue color. "I'll carry you if I have to, but you're getting in the car one way or another."
I've been avoiding making embarrassing scenes and pissing people off for two years. I've been swallowing my pride and acting like a reasonable adult because I felt that was the kind of girlfriend Evan deserved. I wanted him to be proud of me and not sorry he'd taken a risk on my scrawny, emotionally stunted ass. I could be the bigger person and go with this asshat to the car. Ignore him long enough to reach the inn.
I could. But I won't. Because, well, fuck that.
Willa's pale body twitches to life on the banks of the Chicago River.
I smile, but keep it tight as if I'm forcing it. "What's your name?"
He's suspicious. The smile doesn't fool him. "Shane Claymore."
"Shane." It fits him perfectly, and his last name tells me he's not just an employee. His family owns the place I'll be staying in for an entire month. Damn. I won't be able to avoid him completely. "I need to use the restroom. It's urgent. And I need a certain feminine product in my suitcase. Do I need to explain further?"
Surprisingly, he doesn't shrink into himself at the mention of the Scourge of Womankind. He crosses his arms and starts to protest, but his phone rings again in his pocket. With a muffled curse, he answers. "What is it, Orla? Have you set the place on fire now?"
I raise an eyebrow at him, and he waves me off with a flick of his hand, already beginning to pace. I'd been planning on sneaking out a different entrance, but he's just made it even easier. I owe you one, Orla. As soon as his back is turned, I wheel my suitcase out the front entrance and slip effortlessly into a cab.CHAPTER 2
While I'm in the cab it begins to pour rain, then stops ... and begins again in a matter of thirty minutes. I thought the weather in Chicago was volatile, but volatile doesn't begin to describe the Irish weather. One minute I'm squinting through the sunshine, the next clouds are darkening the sky, turning it to nighttime in the middle of the day.
We wind down narrow cobblestone streets, slick from the intermittent downpours and pull to a stop outside the Claymore Inn, located on Baggot Street. Slightly off the beaten path, away from the touristy end of town. The inn is a gray, stone building, four stories high. Windows are painted a crisp white, flower boxes containing cheerful pink flowers attached at their base. A trio of Irish flags, white, orange, and green wave from the roof. The bottom floor has a dark wooden facade, a dramatic break from the floors above. A green awning with gold lettering extends from the entrance to the curb where my cab sits idling, the driver waiting for me to pay.
But the wallet is frozen in my hand.
Underneath the awning, leaning against the outside of the pub, is Shane. Somehow he's beat the cab, and I have no idea how. We managed to avoid all traffic on the way. He's watching me with an expression I can't decipher. It's a mixture of relief and pure, undiluted pissed-off-ness. I want to study that expression later. So I do what comes naturally. I yank my camera out of my messenger bag and snap a quick picture. And I was wrong. He hadn't been pissed off before.
Now? Now, he's good and pissed.
I step out of the cab and thank the driver, who has lifted my suitcase from the trunk for me. Making sure to school my features carefully, I swagger toward Shane. A truly dope swagger is a little trick I picked up from Ginger over the years, although she probably wasn't even aware she'd passed it on. Your walk can mean everything. It lets whoever you're walking toward know just what the hell they're in for. Although my little vamoose at the airport has probably already tipped him off.
I suspect he's waiting for me to ask how he made it back so quickly. So I don't. "The weather in this country sucks ass," I remark instead on my way into the pub.
He catches the door and follows me inside. "That stubborn pride is going to get you into trouble, tough girl," he whispers gruffly in my ear.
Ignoring the shiver his voice sends down my spine, I wink at him. "Bring it on."
With a snort, he leaves me standing in the entrance and ducks beneath a hatch leading behind the bar, joining a redheaded girl who looks flat-out panicked at the amount of customers staring at her expectantly from the other side the bar. I can't hear her over the music and conversations crowding the room, but she appears to be rambling some sort of explanation to Shane. Clearly ignoring her, he takes a drink order and begins to pull pints of beer from a white handle.
Determinedly, I push Shane Claymore and his Hulk-sized attitude to the back of my mind and take in my surroundings. Claymore's is small, clearly ancient, but immaculate. And popular. Every polished, wooden table is full with customers digging into their food between sips from pint glasses.
I know what a tourist looks like. In Chicago, they're everywhere, slowing you down by crowding the sidewalks as they try to decipher oversize maps. I'm trying my best not to look like a tourist even though my suitcase might as well be a flashing neon sign that says outsider. Unlike the Temple Bar section of Dublin I read about on the flight, this is definitely where the locals come to eat lunch. Men dressed smartly in suits, female coworkers gossiping over their salads. At the bar, older gentlemen keep themselves company, watching horse races on overhead televisions. Regulars, Ginger would call them. A few of them send me curious glances that I return steadily.
Laughter, clinking silverware, chairs scraping, the bell dinging in the kitchen ... all are unfamiliar sounds to me, but when combined, they are immediately welcoming. Instinctively, I know this isn't the type of establishment my sister worked in to support us from age sixteen. The ones that sent her home to our crumbing two-bedroom house on the wrong side of Nashville smelling like cigarette smoke and despair. There is an air of acceptance here, as if anyone walking through the door could seamlessly mesh right into the tapestry of color and sound.
My thoughts surprise me. My modus operandi is usually to find the negative aspect of something first and ask questions ... never. But I don't have time to think on it for long, because a blinding, hundred-watt smile on female legs is jogging toward me. Jogging. My first instinct is to hold up a cross to ward her off, but I'm suddenly being hugged. When I say hugged, what I really mean is suffocated within an inch of my life. And if the hug-o-death doesn't manage to knock me on my ass, the abundance of Tommy Girl perfume assaulting my senses will finish the job. Just when I've finally recovered from shock enough to attempt self-extrication, the unknown hugger beats me to it.
Excerpted from Unfixable by Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland, Ellie Brennan. Copyright © 2014 Tessa Bailey. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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