Shouldn’t I be in one place looking for another job and not spending money?
What life am I returning to when I get back? Where will I live?
Am I not being the most irresponsible person on earth right now?
What if Cole finds out, and would that jeopardize any chance of us getting back together?
That last worry made me angry, which also isn’t a good sleeping aid.
By the time we landed in Dublin, I was a sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, nervous wreck. It was also early and we couldn’t check into the hotel yet, so we spent the time wandering around the city. My sisters were jet-lagged too but well-rested and oohing and ahhing over everything, and I just wanted to crawl under a bench somewhere and never wake up.
Luckily I was able to stay up until the evening when I promptly went to bed and my sisters went out to enjoy the nightlife.
Today I’m still jet-lagged and groggy, and everything that happened yesterday feels like a total dream, as if it happened to someone else, but at least I’m functioning. It helps that it’s New Year’s Eve and there’s an infectious buzz in this city, a place that I’m slowly opening my eyes to.
I mean, fuck. I’m in Dublin, Ireland. I’ve been to London once, during the summer right after graduating, but I didn’t do much there but drink cheap pints at dodgy pubs and complain about how expensive everything was. I feel like this trip is my first one overseas as an adult.
Okay, so that’s a bit of a lie. I may be twenty-four years old but I don’t feel even remotely like an adult, especially not now. Maybe a month ago I would have said yes but in the last week it’s like my adult card has been revoked, as if the universe decided I wasn’t ready for it yet.
“Which pub do we want to go in first?” Angie asks as we stroll up the cold and slippery cobblestone street dotted with slush. It’s hard to hear her over the insanely drunk and noisy tourists who are mobbing the area and the live Irish music that seems to be spilling from every single pub.
And there are a ton of pubs everywhere you look. It’s like Disneyland but replace every child with a drunk tourist holding a flat beer and that’s what this is.
To be honest, it’s kind of hell and I can tell from the looks on my sisters’ faces, especially as some drunk guy nearly body checks Sandra as he’s walking past, spilling beer on her boots, that they think the same.
“Can we find a more, uh, quiet place?” I ask. “You know, with actual Irish people?”
“On it,” Sandra says, pulling out her phone and checking Yelp. She frowns and looks around her, and I can almost see her uncanny sense of direction kicking in like a sixth sense. “This way.”
We follow her down another street, then another, until we’re crossing over a river and standing in front of a small bar called the Sin E. Even though it’s only five o’clock and the area isn’t as touristy as it was on the other side of the river, the bar is still packed. But at least it’s packed full of cool people, many of whom seem to be locals.
The place is on the divey side, all red lights and vintage music posters, and I can hear a band doing soundcheck from the back of the pub. We manage to find three stools located in a tiny alcove and our table is half a barrel built into the wall, barely enough room to put down drinks.
We send Sandra off to get the first round and watch her as she goes to the bar. Because she’s gorgeous, she doesn’t have to fight her way in like everyone else does, and I think even a few patrons recognize her because they do this stare that so many people do, the whole “I know you from some place” look.
“Sometimes I think, how is that even our sister,” Angie says quietly.
I glance at her curiously. “You didn’t think she’d be an actress? It’s all she’s wanted her whole life.”
“Technically it was all Mom wanted for her,” she says. “That or to be a beauty queen. But I mean, like, every time we go out with her it’s like seeing her through everyone else’s eyes and not our own. They see Cassandra L. Stephens, TV star, and we see Sandra, annoying sister who loves posting unflattering photos of you on her Instagram.”
“I think that’s the way it is with everyone though. You don’t have to be famous for that,” I point out. “The way we see each other is totally different from the rest of the world. I mean, that’s even true within our own house. I bet you see me differently from Sandra. You definitely see me differently than Mom does.”
Angie lets out a dry laugh. “I would hope so. Seeing the world through her eyes is terrifying.” Her face grows serious. “I’m really glad you came, though. I know that this is such a scary time for you and you rightfully want to punch many holes into many walls, but I think this trip will be good to clear your head.”
“Maybe I don’t need to clear my head, though. Maybe that’s even scarier, to see things more clearly.” To really see how empty my life is without the things I thought identified me.
She watches me for a moment and then nods. “You know what? It’s New Year’s Eve. It’s not the time to worry about all that. You’re here and that’s all that matters. Spend some time with your sisters, open yourself up to new opportunities, and just have some fucking fun. Now where the hell are our drinks?”
I laugh and look back over at the bar to keep tabs on Sandra. She’s throwing her head back and doing a movie star laugh at something someone said, and everyone seems to be fawning over her as usual. I don’t normally get jealous of my sister because I accepted a long time ago that she’s one way and I’m another. But sometimes I wish I knew what it felt like to have my life all together.
After I see the bartender give the bottles of Bulmers Cider to Sandra, my eyes drift down the crowded bar to the end. Sitting near the doors is a man staring down at his pint of beer, dark brows lowered, forehead creased. I can’t see his eyes but I still feel like I’m looking into them anyway.
He’s broken. There’s something inside me that always seeks out those broken or down on their luck or dealing with inner demons. Like a sixth sense. My heart always bleeds for them intensely, the same way it does when I see a stray dog on the street. It’s something like mutually shared heartbreak for another being, even if you don’t know them, even if just in passing, and it can sit inside me for a long time.
For some reason, I’m drawn to this man.
Okay, well it’s not just the way he’s palming his beer with his big hands and staring deeply into the drink, as if he hopes it will swallow him whole. He’s also a very commanding figure and a quick glance around the bar tells me that others are just as drawn to him as I am. He’s tall, with huge, wide shoulders and arms the size of my leg, even when covered up by a black leather jacket. He’s got a carefully groomed beard and this gorgeous head of hair, all dark and wild and thick, longer on top than the sides, the kind of damn good hair that you don’t often see on a guy.
I keep staring at him, waiting for him to look up, to see his eyes and see if they match the vibes I’m catching off of him, but then Sandra blocks my view by waving the bottle of cider in my face.
“Hellooo,” she says. “You’re welcome.”
I glance up at her, feeling sheepish, like I’ve been caught doing something I shouldn’t, and give her a grateful smile as I take the drink. When I try to look back at the guy, someone is standing in front of him, blocking my view.
I shake it off and raise my drink to my sisters. “Here’s to the Stephens Sisters.”
“May they rule the world,” Sandra says as we clink the bottles together.
“Or at least get laid tonight,” Angie says as I take a sip.
I practically spit the drink out and exchange a look with Sandra, grimacing.
“What?” Angie says, gesturing wildly. “Just because I’m a single mom doesn’t mean I can’t have fun. This is the first real vacation I’ve had since Tabby was even born and now Tabby is with Mom, so I just want to let loose tonight, preferably with someone else and someone Irish.”
“What are we, chopped liver?” Sandra asks.
“Look, before anyone gets carried away, I say we have the rule that no one brings anyone back to the room,” I tell them. Especially since Sandra and Angie are sharing the bed and I’m on the couch. “You want to go get laid, go out there and stay out there.”
Angie laughs. “I’m glad I have your permission. Though maybe you’re the one who needs it most of all.”
“What about me?” Sandra asks, perching on the edge of her stool.
Now Angie and I are exchanging looks and rolling our eyes. “Right,” Angie says. “Like you need a guy. Every week I see those stupid gossip accounts on Instagram talking about you and whatever hot actor or musician of the moment.”
“You should know better than to trust everything you read online,” she says, and then they start arguing back and forth about rumors and the tabloids and I know a lot of the digs are being thrown my way, considering reporting on that shit was my job, but I’ve stopped listening. My attention is back across the room and at the bar again.
Now he’s looking up. Not in my direction though—his face is tilted toward a blonde, overly orange girl with batting eyes who is chatting excitedly with him. Or should I say, at him. He’s just occasionally nodding at her but I can tell his thoughts are a million miles away and steeped in pain. You can see it plainly in his eyes, these beautiful dark eyes as they search everywhere around the bar except at the girl, either lost in thought or looking for an escape.
How can that girl be so blind? Even though I’m socially awkward at times, I’m good at picking up social cues and moods. Maybe even a little too good—sometimes empathy is a switch you can’t turn off. Still, it’s quite obvious he isn’t interested in her.
“What are you looking at?” Sandra asks, her voice loud and right in my ear.
“Nothing,” I say, but when I glance at her, her eyes have zeroed in on the guy. She doesn’t miss much either. It’s probably why she’s such a great actress.