He came back to me 16 minutes and 59 seconds into Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7.
We parted amid tragedy, so it seemed poetic. Dylan O’Dea, my childhood sweetheart, had once
meant everything to me. Now we were strangers, and honestly, after eleven years I never thought
I’d see him again.
I lived in the world of the average, of getting paid by the hour and budgeting to make ends meet. But
Dylan, he lived in the world of wealth and success. He’d achieved the great things I always suspected
he would. The dissatisfaction he’d felt as a teenager had obviously been an excellent motivator.
He started a business from scratch, pioneered a brand, and created perfumes adored by women
across the globe. I was just one of the people who’d been there before. Now he was living his best
life in the after.
And me, well, I’d been in a dark place for a while. Slowly but surely, I was letting the light back in, but there was something missing. I was an unfinished sentence with an ellipsis at the end. And maybe, if I was brave enough to take the chance, Dylan could be my happy ending.
Inner City Dublin, Ireland. 2006.
Waiting for a flower bud to open was one of my favourite things.
It started out like a closed little pistachio. The next day its petals moved. The following day they spread. The day after that they spread a little bit more, and then finally the flower blossomed to its full potential.
I was waiting for the buds on my pink hibiscus to open, but they still had a few days to go yet. I poured a little water into the pot with a plastic bottle then screwed the cap back on. I was just about to place it on the shelf when someone hammered on my door.
It was a panicked knock, one that demanded attention. In this neighbourhood, it didn’t always bode well to open the door to knocking like this. I squinted through the peephole and recognised a boy I went to school with. His name was Dylan O’Dea, or was it O’Toole? Anyway, I was pretty sure he lived one or two floors below me here at St Mary’s Villas.
Don’t let the ‘Villas’ part fool you. There was nothing villa-like about this place. St Mary’s War Bunker would’ve been a more appropriate title. Everything was grey. The windows gave the barest minimum of light and every single flat smelled vaguely of mildew, no matter how much you cleaned or aired the place.
Dylan looked sweaty and desperate, and there was something about his panicked gaze that had me unlocking my door for him. Before I even had the chance to say a word, he barrelled in and slammed the door shut behind him.
“What the hell!” I exclaimed, at once regretting my decision. I lived with my aunt Yvonne, but she was at work and wouldn’t be home for hours.
Dylan stared me dead in the eye, his chest heaving, and raised a finger to his mouth in the universal gesture of ‘be quiet.’ I closed my mouth and a second later noise sounded from outside. People banged on doors the same way Dylan had been banging on mine. Our eyes met again, and he must’ve sensed I was going to say something because he came at me. He backed me up against the wall until his frame surrounded mine and his hand went to my mouth. I instantly struggled but then he whispered in my ear.
“Please, don’t make any noise. Some people are after me. I just need to hide here for a few minutes and then I’ll leave. I promise.”
I glared at him and lifted my foot to stomp on his ankle. He swore under his breath but didn’t loosen his hold.
“Fuck you,” I mumbled past his fingers. “Get out!” It sounded more like, “Fup Ooo. Et oot.”
“Please, Evelyn. I need your help.”
My heart hammered. He knew my name. Although it wasn’t so strange since most people knew each other’s names around here. It just felt odd for him to address me so familiarly, because we’d never spoken.
The sincerity in his dark blue eyes made me pause in my struggle. We stared at each other for another long moment, and goosebumps claimed my skin. His chest was wide and solid, and he smelled like cloves.
“If I lower my hand, do you promise not to scream?” he asked very quietly.
I nodded slowly, and his hand left my mouth. “Who’s after you?” I whispered, worried he’d brought trouble to my door.
“A few lads from the McCarthy gang. They’ve been trying to recruit me. I told Tommy McCarthy to go fuck off and now they want to give me a hiding.”
“Shite,” I breathed.
The knocking came closer. Whoever it was reached the flat next to mine and hammered on the door. I held still, barely breathing. My eyes traced Dylan’s face, his dark blue eyes, masculine jaw, and gruff expression. He wore grey jeans, black boots and a navy padded jacket. His sandy hair was somewhere in between blond and brown, and it had a slight curl to it. It was clipped short, so the curl didn’t have much room to . . . be curly.
He was very attractive, but that didn’t take away from the fact that he’d basically broken into my home. When my neighbour came out and started talking to the lads who were looking for Dylan, I whispered, “Why did you come here to hide?”
He made a thoughtful expression, his brow furrowing in a way that made him look like a grumpy bear. “What?”
“You could’ve gone into any flat, why this one?”
There was a beat of silece, then finally he whispered back, “Because you’re the only person on this row who wouldn’t feed me to the wolves.”
I arched a brow. “You don’t know that.”
You don’t know me.
Before he had a chance to reply, the banging started on my door. My chest seized, clutched by fear, because I knew the type of blokes who were out there.
Poor. Hard. Brutal.
Suddenly, Dylan was on me again, his hand on my mouth, his body holding mine in place. This time I didn’t struggle, instead I held still and stayed quiet. A shiver trickled down my spine at his closeness. I wasn’t often this close to people I hardly knew.
“Answer the bleedin’ door,” a male voice shouted. “Or I’ll knock it the fuck down.”
“Maybe I should answer and tell them you’re not here,” I whispered against his fingers.
He glanced down at me, probably because my lips were on his skin. He tilted his head, like he found it in some way interesting, then said, “No, they’ll come in and ransack the place.”
I let out an anxious breath. He was right. And I couldn’t do that to Yvonne. I couldn’t have her come home from her shift at the bar to a wrecked flat.
More banging ensued. I startled when a head appeared at the window, though thankfully Yvonne’s net curtains shielded us from view.
“He’s not in there,” someone said. “He probably ran down to the Willows.”
The Willows was a dilapidated block of flats about five minutes away. It was where people went to drink and do drugs. If you were homeless, it was where you went to sleep.
“Come on,” the same person said and the guy peering in the window disappeared. Dylan let go of me, took three strides across the room and looked out through the curtains.
“They’re gone,” he said and exhaled, his shoulders slumping in relief.
“Yes, now you should go, too,” I said, on guard again. I felt on edge having a strange boy in my flat who I’d never even spoken to before. Though ‘boy’ wasn’t exactly the right term. Dylan was probably about a year older than me, eighteen maybe, but he was built like a man. Soon his shoulders would get even broader, his features more defined. He’d be a sight to be reckoned with then, I was sure.
He turned back to look at me, one eyebrow arching as he stared me down. He didn’t do anything for a long moment and then his attention moved about the living room. His tension faded, and something like fondness, or maybe amusement, took its place.
“Big fan of New York?” he asked wryly, taking in all the posters and memorabilia.
I cleared my throat. “No, my aunt Yvonne is. She saw When Harry Met Sally and became obsessed. She’s saving up to move there in a couple years.”
Dylan’s mouth formed an attractive, thoughtful line. “And what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Will you go with her?”
I shrugged. “I don’t think so. Probably not. My grandma lives in the retirement home in Broadstone. We’re all she has. I couldn’t leave her.”
Dylan took this in, his dark eyes softening, then stepped to the front door. “Thanks for letting me hide here. I owe you one,” he said, ducking his head to make sure the coast was clear.
“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
He looked back at me one last time. “See ya, Evelyn.” And then he was gone.
“I’m sorry, but I’d sell my own mother for a night with Jared Leto, no question,” said Sam as we walked to English on Monday.
“Are we talking 30 Seconds to Mars Jared Leto or Jordan Catalano Jared?” I asked. “Because those are two entirely different kettles of fish.”
“30 Seconds, of course. You know I can’t resist a man in eyeliner,” he said then winked. We reached our lockers when a familiar head of sandy brown hair emerged from the crowd.
He must’ve sensed my attention, because his eyes flashed to mine. I sucked in a harsh breath at the sight of him. He had a purple bruise beneath one eye, and there were various other cuts and grazes all over his face. Jesus.
Sam followed where I was looking and made a crass comment. “Looks like Dylan O’Dea likes it rough.”
So it was O’Dea.
“I think he got that beating on the streets, not in the sheets,” I said, chewing worriedly on my lip. Those McCarthy fellas must’ve caught up to him yesterday.
“Good one.” Sam chuckled, but I didn’t share his humour.
A pang of concern hit me square in the chest and I moved toward him automatically, leaving Sam by his locker. Dylan saw me approach and stopped in place, his attention skittering over me. He hitched his bag up on his shoulder and let out a gruff breath. “What?” he asked.
“They got you, didn’t they?”
He shifted from foot to foot, seeming uncomfortable with my concern. “Nah, walked into a wall.”
“Don’t be cute.”
Another sigh. “Yeah. They got me, blondie. Probably better to get it over with anyway. Now maybe they’ll leave me alone.”
I nodded slowly, not sure how to react to his endearment. It wasn’t very original, but it still made my breastplate tingle. “You think?”
“I hope, but who knows.”
“Have any teachers asked about your bruises?”
He gave me an incredulous look. “Where do you think we are? Nobody gives a shit here.”
I hated that he was right. The teachers at this school were either too mean or too downtrodden to care about students’ home lives. In a way, I didn’t blame them. Even the nice teachers eventually got so sick of being bullied and verbally abused that they shut off all their emotions. This wasn’t a soft place to grow up, but I liked to think I still had a heart.
I didn’t think before I said my next words. “Well, I give a shit.”
He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Why?”
“Because I’m not an unfeeling rock, that’s why.”
Dylan stared off over my head and shoved his hands in his pockets. “You probably should be,” he said, then walked by me and disappeared back into the crowd.
“Oh blondie, get your bum over here,” Sam crooned, and I turned back to my friend.
“What?” I asked.
“I didn’t know you and Dylan O’Dea were acquainted.”
I frowned. “We’re not. Not really.”
He folded his arms and pursed his lips. “Sure sounded like you are.”
“He was being chased by some blokes who wanted to beat him yesterday and I let him hide in my flat. That’s it.”
“Oooh, racy. Did he happen to hide in your bedroom by any chance? And did you share a sexy moment once the coast was clear? How did he express his gratitude?”
Trust Sam to turn everything into some sort of risqué soap opera. Although thinking about it, the way Dylan held his hand over my mouth did give me a flutter in my belly.
“He told me he owed me one,” I replied with a shrug. Sam’s eyes glittered.
“That means he owes you a good rogering.”
“Don’t be disgusting.”
“Nothing disgusting about sex with a fella like that, Ev. Besides, you need to lose that flower of yours before it shrivels up and dies.”
I scrunched my face. “Please don’t call it a flower. And anyway, I’m not the only one who needs to lose it, so you can quit talking like you know it all.”
He gave me a sassy look. “If I were as straight and as pretty as you are, I’d have lost it years ago. It’s not exactly easy to find gays in this neck of the woods.”
“Not easy to find gays who are out, you mean. Just wait for the next person who throws some homophobic slur at you and there’s a good chance he’s in the closet.”
“Hmm, I do get a hint of an angry sex vibe from Shane Huntley sometimes. Maybe you’re onto something.”
Speak of the devil. A few seconds after Sam mentioned him, Shane walked by with his ever-present posse of arseholes, usual sneer in place. I wondered why the meanest kids always seemed to have the most friends. I didn’t have a mean bone in my body and the only real friend I had was Sam. Shane walked on, not acknowledging us aside from his sneering expression, and I turned to neaten up my locker.
“I found a book on Freud in Yvonne’s collection,” I told him. “He had this theory that when we see the things we dislike in ourselves in others, we hate on it.”
“Hmm,” said Sam. “Could be some truth to it. But anyway, back to the luscious Mr O’Dea, when are you going to cash in on that debt?”
I chuckled. “Not sure. Maybe the next time I need some help moving furniture. The boy’s got some serious shoulders on him.”
“All the better for throwing you around the bedroom with.”
I shot him an irritable glance. “You’re not going to quit with this, are you?”
His answering wink was pure devilment. “Not in this lifetime, blondie.”