Home > My Life in Shambles(19)

My Life in Shambles(19)
Author: Karina Halle

“I’d like to hear more about your Irish grandmother.”

“I’m saving it for dinner conversation. I’ve created a whole database of conversation starters for the next few days, and I’m proud to say that none of them include the weather.”

“But don’t you know that’s all they talk about in Shambles? Such is the curse of a seaside town. The wind blows in and the wind blows out and that’s about the most that happens.”

“Back to your grandmother…”

“We’ll be in separate rooms,” he says with some finality. “I’d be surprised if she’d even let us stay on the same floor. She’s … old-fashioned.”

“I could already tell from that spoon comment. I don’t want to get on her bad side. I better abide by the rules.”

And, well, honestly, this is a bit of a relief. What Angie had said the other day about the fact that I get emotionally compromised when I sleep with someone is totally true. I hate to think that our one-night stand will remain a one-night stand, but on the other hand, if I can keep a clear head, then all the better.

Plus, the last thing I want to do is explain to Padraig why I’d want to keep my distance in the bedroom. The fact that I don’t even have to tell him is a bonus.

I’m staring at Padraig (because that’s what I’ve been doing a lot on this drive) when he suddenly starts gripping the wheel tighter and tighter, his knuckles turning white on his large hands.

“Are you okay?” I ask him just as his eyes pinch shut in pain. I look to the road and the fact that we’re on the wrong side is confusing me, thinking we’re going to die. I’m not used to the way they drive here yet. Then when I look back, his eyes are open and unblinking.

“I’m fine,” he says. “Just had a dizzy spell for a moment.”

“Like a panic attack? Because I definitely get those.”

“That’s probably it.”

“Do you want to pull over? Do you want me to drive?”

He looks at me, squinting in disbelief. “Have ye ever driven on this side of the road before?”

“No, but I’m sure I can figure it out.” I don’t want to tell him that I’ve been wincing this entire time because it feels so damn wrong to be on this side.

“I’m fine. Really. Just … overwhelmed.”

I can only imagine, so I leave it at that.

For the rest of the drive I go over our fictional engagement until it’s starting to sound real, though Padraig definitely has something on his mind as he gives me nods and grunts and one-word answers.

Finally, the road curves out of the rolling green countryside and a wide estuary appears in front of us. The sun seems to come out from behind the thick clouds for just that moment too and I smile at the way it glints off the water, feeling serendipitous.

“Welcome to County Cork,” Padraig says as we drive over a bridge and the road hugs the water on the opposite side. Soon, the town emerges, a narrow slip of stone buildings along the waterfront, interspersed with bright, candy-colored buildings. “And welcome to Shambles.”

“It’s so cute,” I say, staring at all the charming pubs and restaurants and stores selling wool and gnomes and clover souvenirs. With the narrow cobblestone roads and stone walls, it fits the quaint Irish town of my dreams.

Except, as we keep driving through and out of the town, a wide expanse of sandy beach runs alongside the road.

“A beach,” I remark. “For some dumb reason I didn’t picture Ireland having white sand beaches.”

“We have plenty of beaches like this. There are miles of them down the coast here. In the summer, you can go swimming. In the winter, you can always go for a polar bear dip.”

“That sounds like something a macho rugby player would do after a few beers.”

“Maybe,” he says with a small smile.

After a few minutes of driving along the sea, he takes a road that heads inland through green hills bordered with crumbling stone walls and low hedges. Piles of melting snow are dotted here and there. We slow near a sign that says Shambles Bed & Breakfast and he turns onto the long gravel driveaway flanked by a wide expanse of lawn.

“A B&B?” I ask, surprised he didn’t tell me about that.

“Best one in town,” he says, winking at me as he puts the car in park. “I have to say that or I’ll get the spoon.”

In front of us is a rather large two-story stone house done up in stark white with an undulating thatched roof. I’d heard about all the thatched roof cottages and houses in Ireland and desperately wanted to see one.

I get out of the car and take in a deep breath of air. Even though it’s the dead of winter, there’s a freshness here. The air is chilled but damp with the sea and it feels like I’m waking up for the first time. Either that or the jet lag is finally wearing off.

“She’s pretty in the spring and summer,” Padraig says, stopping beside me and staring at the house. “But my nan takes good care of it.”

“Your grandmother runs this place?”

“Yea,” he says and then looks over to the green-painted door that’s opening. “Now you can finally meet her.”

I’m not sure if he’s saying that because he’s already playing the role, but out of the front door steps who I assume is his grandmother.

And she’s not at all like I pictured.

For some reason my mind conjured up this tiny round woman wearing a perpetual apron and permanent scowl, her hair kept under a bonnet.

For one, she’s tall. Even though she’s got a hunch, she’s at least an inch taller than me (I can see why she’d be so formidable with a wooden spoon). Her face is pale and wrinkled, with deep folds around her mouth, yet her eyes are bright, curious, and shining. She’s bundled up in a big coat and I don’t think there’s an apron underneath. Her white hair is kept back under a scarf, though, like a young Queen Elizabeth.

“Padraig!” she cries out. “Yer late!”

I can barely understand her thick accent, or if she’s genuinely upset or not.

Padraig takes my hand and gives it a squeeze, his warm palm pressed against mine, contrasting the chill outside. In that squeeze, I feel everything that’s going through his head with what we’re about to undertake.

He’s home and I’m here with him and this isn’t going to be easy.

What have I gotten myself into?

“Nana,” he says, pulling me over to her where she waits by the front door, her coat pulled tightly around her. That’s when she really notices me, notices us holding hands, and her gaze becomes sharp as an axe.

We stop in front of her and her eyes run up and down me in inspection before looking back to Padraig.

“Where are yer manners, boy?” she says to him, jerking her head toward me. “First of all, ye haven’t introduced me to yer girl here, and second of all, ye never told me you were bringing company. I should have known. I could have cleaned up. The good lord knows this place could have been fully booked and there would’ve been no room for her.”

Padraig gives her a patient smile. “Are the rooms all booked up?”

“Ach, no,” she says almost angrily. “It’s January. There’s only the Major here.”

“The Major?” I ask.

“That’s what I call him,” Padraig says to me. “Ever seen Fawlty Towers?” I nod. “Well then, ye know the Major is the old man who lives at the hotel. We have a Major here.”

“He has a name,” his grandmother chides him, even though she’s the one who called him the Major first. “And speaking of names, what the devil is yer name, miss, since Padraig has lost his manners somewhere on a rugby pitch?”

I hold out my hand. “I’m Valerie Stephens.”

Her skin is rough and calloused and she gives my hand a bone-crushing shake. I try not to wince.

“You’re a Canadian,” she says to me.

“No, American,” I correct her. “I’m from Philadelphia. But I live in New York.” Or, I did.

Her eyes narrow at that. Very unimpressed. I’ve noticed a bit of hostility from people here when I tell them where I’m from.

“Yea,” she says carefully. She brings her sharp gaze to Padraig. “Where ye find this one then? Don’t think you’ve ever brought a girl home before, let alone some American. Ye snatching up tourists?”

Kind of.

“How about we make the introductions inside where it’s warm,” Padraig says. “And where’s my hug, anyway?” He gently pulls his grandmother into a big bear hug and my heart seems to grow a few more sizes.

“Oof,” she says, trying to get out of his embrace. “You trying to kill yer oul’ nana?” She manages to pull away and heads through the door. “Okay, come on, come on. I’ll get a pot of tea going.”

We step inside the front hall and I’m immediately met with a rush of warm air. The place is all white stone walls and wood floors and so many cozy earthy knickknacks and thick rugs all over the place.

“Hang up yer coats on them hooks. Take off yer shoes,” she says to me, pointing at my boots. “Put on those slippers, miss. You too, boy.”

I hang up my coat and quickly unzip my boots, picking out a pair of handmade wool slippers that are all lined up in various colors and sizes along a low bench. I put on a pair of dark green ones and to my surprise Padraig chooses hot pink.

I giggle, and he shrugs. “They’re the only ones big enough for my feet. I know my nan knitted these as a joke, she just won’t admit it.”

“What are ye blathering on about?” she says as she disappears around the corner. “Don’t think my hearing has gone. The devil has cursed me for having to listen to yer nonsense until the day I go.” She then mutters under her breath, “Won’t be a moment too soon.”

I look wide-eyed at Padraig. She’s both hilarious and intense in her grumpiness.

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