Before jamaica lane, p.13
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       Before Jamaica Lane, p.13

         Part #3 of On Dublin Street series by Samantha Young
Page 13

  Jo called to ask me over that evening, and when I got there I found the guys were there, including Peetie. Peetie’s fiancée, Lyn, wasn’t with them and I hadn’t expected her to be. The few times we’d met I’d thought she was nice, but she never went out of her way to hang out with Peetie’s friends. She had her own group, and both of them seemed cool with that.

  Nate and Cole were playing a war game that Nate was in the middle of reviewing, while Peetie and I waited patiently for our turn. Cam sat in the corner at his desk, going over some work stuff, while Jo lay half snoozing on the rug in front of the fireplace.

  I sat next to Nate, attempting not to feel weird hanging out with him in a normal situation with our friends after having spent all Thursday evening flirting with him. Despite it being friendly lessons, there was still something kind of naughty about the fact that none of our friends had any idea Nate had told me he thought about fucking me, or that we’d spent four solid hours lightly flirting until I’d begun to tingle between my legs.

  ‘I’m rethinking my plan to become a tattoo artist,’ Cole announced, his thumb going into rapid motion upon the controller as an enemy target appeared on the screen.

  Jo stirred and blinked sleepily up at her brother. ‘Why? You’ve been going on about it for months. ’

  The game paused while Cole stared at her with a somewhat mulish expression on his face. ‘I don’t “go on. ” ’

  Cam grunted from the corner of the room and murmured without looking up from his drawings, ‘He’s got you there, baby. ’

  ‘Okay. ’ Jo yawned and sat up slowly. ‘You’ve talked about it. For you that is “going on” about it. ’

  Cole shrugged. ‘I want Nate’s job now. ’

  ‘Stick to the tattoos, mate,’ Nate replied. ‘One, this is a part-time gig. It doesn’t pay all the bills. And two, I’ve seen the tattoo you designed for Cam. You should stick to it. ’

  ‘Yeah?’ Cole was trying not to look too pleased. ‘I could design you a new one. ’

  ‘A new one?’ Jo didn’t look sleepy at all now as she brushed her hair off her face. Her eyes were bright with curiosity. I knew for a fact that she found Nate a bit of a mystery because she’d tried to pry answers about him out of me before. As much as I trusted her, Nate’s story was not mine to tell, so she was left in the dark for the most part. ‘You’ve got a tattoo, Nate?’

  On this, it would seem, so was I.

  I’d had no idea Nate had a tattoo.

  The room grew weirdly tense at Jo’s question, and Nate’s reply was tight and abrupt. ‘Aye. ’

  ‘What is it?’

  ‘Nothing. ’ He shrugged and restarted the game.

  ‘Well, it’s got to be of something. ’

  ‘I told you it’s nothing. ’

  ‘When did you get it?’

  ‘Jo –’

  ‘Where is –’

  ‘Christ, I said it’s nothing, all right?’ Nate cut her off tersely and I stared at him in surprise. It wasn’t like him to be moody or short with people. That meant one thing. The tattoo had something to do with her.

  However, Jo didn’t know enough about her to get it, so she looked a little wounded.

  ‘Baby, do you want to help me put some snacks together?’ Cam asked quietly, standing up from the desk.

  She looked up at him and a silent conversation passed between them. ‘Sure. ’ She took the hand he held out to her and he helped her up. Even after they’d left the room it was still thick with unease.

  Cole cleared his throat and started playing the game again. ‘I think the reaction time on this is a little slow, by the way,’ he offered, trying to change the subject.

  Nate nodded gratefully at him. ‘I think you’re right, wee man. ’

  They began discussing the game with Peetie. The whole time, I watched Nate, waiting for the tension along the back of his shoulders to disappear. It didn’t. My chest ached for him. I needed him to know that if he was having a hard time, I was there for him just like he was there for me. I shuffled closer to Nate as Peetie disagreed with Cole over the graphics.

  ‘Tattoo?’ I asked softly in his ear, not sure whether I would get my head bitten off like Jo had.

  Nate turned to me, his eyes soft as he gave a shake of his head. ‘Later, babe,’ he muttered. ‘I shouldn’t have spoken to Jo like that. ’

  ‘She’s fine,’ I reassured him. Giving his knee a gentle squeeze, I got up with the intention of going to help Jo. As I was leaving the room, Cam was coming back in and he was scowling.

  ‘You okay?’

  He gave me a slight shake of his head. ‘She feels bad for pushing him. ’

  ‘He feels bad for snapping, so don’t give him a hard time,’ I murmured.

  Cam gazed over at his friend and then whispered, ‘You forget I know, Liv. I wasn’t going to give him a hard time. But I sometimes wonder if someone should. ’

  Not really sure how to answer that, I gave him a sad smile and slipped past. I found Jo in the kitchen, pouring bags of chips – or crisps, as she and Dad called them – into bowls. I spotted packets of peanuts and empty bowls, and began to help out.

  ‘So how’s your week going?’ I asked her quietly. ‘Has Dad worked you to the bone?’

  Jo smiled at me over her shoulder. ‘We’re really busy. But that’s a good thing. ’

  ‘And the new employees?’

  ‘Good. I think Cam was a bit worried about it – how the guys would treat me – but Mick has chosen carefully. They’re literally two more Uncle Micks, so I’ve got three of them to deal with now. ’

  I smiled. ‘I gathered that much when talking to Dad. ’

  ‘What about you?’ Her brow puckered as she stared at me. ‘Are you okay? You seem … I don’t know … Last night at the restaurant you were really quiet. Is it Mick and Dee? Are you okay about them? We haven’t really spoken about it and they definitely seem serious now. ’

  Last night I had been quiet, but it was mostly because I was replaying all the very complimentary and somewhat risqué things Nate had said to me during our lessons the night before. ‘Honestly, it’s just been a tiring week. I think Dee is great. No problems there. ’

  ‘You’re still allowed to feel strange about it – you know that, right?’

  I shook my head but felt that ache press in on my chest as I replied, ‘Dad adored Mom and he held her hand through it all. She spent a lot of their marriage sick. Too sick. So sick they were more like companions than lovers, but Dad didn’t complain. I don’t think he even cared – he loved her that much. ’ I smiled through my suddenly blurry vision. ‘He deserves happiness now. Dee is really cool and she makes him happy. I’m good with it. ’

  I wasn’t surprised to see tears shimmering in Jo’s eyes. She had a tendency to cry when her friends did because she cared enough to feel what they felt. ‘You can always talk to me, Liv, if you’re having a hard time about anything. ’

  Of course I knew this was true and I knew that Jo would be there for me anytime I needed her, if only just to listen. I knew I could talk to her if I was having a bad time about my mom, but the last time I did go through a hard time about it – which was Thanksgiving last year – Nate happened to be the one who was there to see me through it.

  As for the problems I was having now …

  I couldn’t talk to Jo about them.

  Starting over in Scotland, starting over with Jo, was a clean slate in more ways than one. I didn’t have a close group of friends back in the States, but those few friends I did leave behind knew me long enough to know my history – or lack of – with men. They never said it outright, but they always spoke to me about guys with this hint of pity, sometimes even superiority, that made me feel even worse about myself.

  But Jo … Jo didn’t know any of this.

  When we first met she was going through some pretty bad stuff with her mom and dad. For a long time I think she thought the a
buse she suffered at their hands was somehow her fault. Meeting her at such an emotional time for her accelerated our friendship. I became a confidante for her, and somehow I found the right words to make her feel better about herself. Because of that and my sometimes cocky sense of humor, Jo saw me as this self-assured, strong, confident, and sassy woman. I knew this because she told me so all the time. She told me she admired me. With Jo, I liked myself so much more than I usually did. She was the only mirror I liked looking into.

  I wasn’t ready to let go of those moments when I felt about myself the way I should. Telling her the truth, about all these insecurities that Nate was helping me through, would put an end to that. I wanted to continue to grow into the person I wanted to be, and then I would open up to her. Not confiding in her was not a reflection upon how good a friend she was. Because she was the best.

  ‘I know I can always come to you. ’ I grabbed her hand and squeezed it affectionately. ‘You’re the best non-sister sister I ever had. ’

  Her green eyes widened with surprised pleasure at my announcement, and her lips parted as if she was about to say something in return when we suddenly heard a loud thump from upstairs. The smile was instantly chased from Jo’s face as she stared up at the ceiling. On a heavy sigh she murmured, ‘I better go check on her. ’

  Last year Jo had moved out of the apartment upstairs that she had shared with her mom, Fiona, and Cole. Upon discovering that her alcoholic mother hit Cole, Jo had attempted to keep her brother away from their mom as much as possible. They spent a lot of time downstairs in Cam’s apartment. Finally Cam asked Jo and Cole to move in with him, not only because he wanted them there but because Cole needed to be out of that situation pronto.

  ‘Do you want company?’ I offered, knowing that dealing with Fiona was often unpleasant for my friend.

  She shook her head and gave me an apologetic smile. ‘You know how she feels about you. ’

  Indeed I did. When I first met Fiona she’d been ugly to me because she’d always had a thing for my dad and was jealous of my mom and resented me. She’d told me I looked like my mom, as though that was a bad thing. It was actually one of the nicest things she could ever have said to me.

  ‘Go on. ’ I waved her off. ‘I’ll deal with the snacks. ’

  Sighing again, Jo headed out of the kitchen and I followed, carrying a plate of little sandwiches she’d made up.

  ‘I’m going to see if Mum’s okay,’ she called out to the guys as she passed the sitting room.

  Cam almost bumped into me. He let me pass, calling out to Jo, ‘I’m coming with you. ’

  As I entered the sitting room, my eyes immediately went to Cole. Just as I expected, his handsome, boyish features were strained as he stared up at the ceiling. I hated seeing that look on his face. I worried what it meant, what was going on inside.

  Cole never talked about it, but I couldn’t imagine it was any easier for him growing up with a mom like Fiona than it had been for Jo. Not easy either to grow up without a dad, and then to discover that your dad was an abusive asshole. By all accounts Jo had been his mother, not Fiona. Still, their mom’s abuse must have left its mark, and just the thought of that mark scarring Cole made me feel sick to my stomach. He was the best kid ever. I couldn’t understand how anyone could hurt him.

  Sensing my gaze, Cole looked over at me and I smiled gently.

  He gave me a small smile back, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

  ‘Sandwich?’ I asked, walking over to him with the plate. Before he could say anything I sat down next to him and thrust the plate under his nose.

  Cole slowly accepted a sandwich.

  I remained silent.

  He looked up at me, as if he was waiting for me to say something.

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