She goes on. “So I was suspicious. And then the other day at dinner, during your so-called engagement party, when he proposed, I heard what ye said. That ye couldn’t do this anymore. It didn’t seem right to me. So I did some more searching and I found this article with your name in it. Valerie Stephens. Says that you were engaged to Cole Masters as of December.” She pauses and gives me a triumphant smile. “Bit curious isn’t it, how you and Padraig apparently started dating in March, yet this article places you as living in New York.”
“That article was written a long time ago,” I barely manage to say, though I can feel the lies shattering all around me.
“And I thought that could be the case,” she says. “So I went to look at your Facebook and your Instagram. But they were both private.” Thank god for something. “Then I thought of looking of looking ye up on Twitter. That wasn’t private.”
“You hadn’t tweeted anything recently but the last tweet you made was in December and it had to do with ye being laid off at your company. It was geo-tagged to Philadelphia. And every other tweet you made before that also had you geo-tagged, usually to New York City. So tell me, Valerie Stephens, how is that possible that you can tweet from New York and say you’ve been living in Ireland with Padraig?”
She has me.
She’s caught us.
I can’t argue my way out of that.
I can’t do anything except shove my pride aside and plead my heart out.
I swallow, putting my hands together for mercy. “Please, Gail. Look. I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot and I’m sorry for all the things I said and I’m sorry I called you a hoor.”
“When did you call me a hoor?”
“In my head, just now,” I admit quietly.
She rolls her eyes. “You know they have the right know. This lie is only going to hurt them. You should be fecking ashamed of yourself for what you’ve done.”
“I know,” I tell her. “And I am. But it’s also not a lie. Padraig and I are together and we really are in love. We just wanted to make his father happy, so he could have some peace about his son, that’s the only reason we lied about being engaged,” I gesture to the door. “You’ve seen how much happier he’s been?”
“Oh, don’t kid yourself, he’s not happy about anything. He’s dying. And you don’t know anything at all. You can’t have even known Padraig for long. When did you really meet him?”
“New Years Eve,” I admit, looking away.
“New Years? That was only four weeks ago!” she cries out. “You see, everything ye say is a lie. How can ye even love someone that fast.”
“Because it’s Padraig,” I tell her, pressing my hands into my chest. “Because how can I not love him?”
Just then the door to the kitchen opens and Agnes is sticking her head in. “What the devil is going on in here? Where’s the food?”
I turn back to look at Gail and plead with her silently.
Please, please, don’t tell them. Don’t do this.
“Come on Val, go sit down, I’ll help Gail,” Agnes says, pushing me out into the dining room.
I stand there, staring at the table, wondering if this is the last time I’ll see everyone like this.
There’s Colin at the front. He’s in a wheelchair now, pushed up to the table. He looks better than he has recently and though it seems to take effort, he’s drinking out of a wine glass, unaided. Beside him is his nurse, Margaret, a prim and proper young woman with immaculate posture, then the Major in his navy blue checkered 70’s suit, and of course Padraig.
My big, beautiful man with a heart of Irish gold.
He’s wearing a Henley, black, and it goes so well with the darkness of his hair and the depths of his eyes, while showing off his ropey forearms. He’s staring at me curiously, resting his chin on his knuckles, probably wondering what I was doing in there for so long.
And then his face slowly falls as he sees what’s in my eyes.
That something is wrong.
“Valerie, sit for heaven’s sake,” Agnes says as she and Gail come out of the kitchen with the food.
I slowly move and take my seat beside Padraig.
He leans in and whispers, “Are you okay?”
I shake my head, too afraid to look at him anymore, at anyone.
But I do look.
When she’s done serving, I look over at Gail and I don’t see any compassion in her face at all. She’s smug. She looks like the cat that ate the canary and is just holding that canary in her mouth, waiting for the right moment to take the first bite.
The bite that kills.
She’s going to tell.
I lean into Padraig and whisper into ear as close I can. “Gail knows about us.” He stiffens. “I think she’s going to say something. She has proof and she wants to expose us to them.”
He looks over at Gail and she’s frowning at us, probably not expecting me to say something to him already.
But I had to say something.
And the way that Padraig is reaching under the table to grab a hold of my hand and squeeze it tight, he thinks we have to say something too.
Better us than her.
Padraig gets up and I get up with him, holding hands as we stand before the table.
“What ye standing up for?” Agnes says, spearing her salad. “Sit down and eat.”
“Everyone,” Padraig announces in his booming voice. “Valerie and I have something to share with ye. It’s going to be difficult to hear but it has to be said now. We’ve kept it a secret for far too long and it’s not fair to keep it that way.”
“She’s pregnant!” the Major cries out triumphantly with a wave of his fist.
I cringe and Padraig gives him a polite look. “No, Major. It’s not that.”
“Well what is it then?” Colin says tiredly.
Padraig looks at him and squeezes my hand even harder.
I know we wanted to keep this from his dad.
That this was all for him.
But if it’s going to come out anyway, especially if it’s going to come out from someone who will paint it as maliciously as possible, the best thing to do is to tell him ourselves.
God, this is going to suck.
“First of all,” he says. “I love Valerie very much. More than I can say and in some ways, more than I can bear. And she loves me too. Only the good Lord knows why and we can all agree upon that. But the truth is, even though we love each other now, it wasn’t always that way. In fact …” he trails off and takes in a deep breath, looking everyone in the eyes, including Gail who knows what’s coming, “we only met each other on New Year’s Eve.”
Silence. So much silence.
“What?” yells the Major.
“New Year’s Eve last year?” Agnes asks, frowning. She’s put her fork down.
“No.” He swallows thickly. “New Year’s Eve this year. Four weeks ago.”
More silence, this time heavier, so heavy it’s almost unbearable.
Colin exchanges a glance with Agnes, who isn’t blinking.
“You said you got engaged over Christmas,” his father says roughly, his brows knitting together in confusion.
“It was a lie,” Padraig says.
And there the truth is, laid out on the table in all its ugliness.
“A lie?” repeats his nan. She’s shaking her head. “I don’t understand.” She looks to his father. “Colin, what’s going on, what the devil are they talking about?”
Colin is pressing his mouth together until it’s a thin white slash. He looks angry. I mean, really angry.
Fuck. Maybe we shouldn’t have spoken up, maybe she wouldn’t have said anything at all.
“It’s true,” Gail speaks up.
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
“How do you know this?” Agnes says, shocked. If she was wearing her best pearls, she would be clutching them.
“Because I didn’t believe them, didn’t for a minute believe they were engaged or had been together for a year. They sure didn’t act it. I thought there was something suspicious about it all and I was right. I did a Google search on Valerie, perhaps something ye all should have done, and found out she was engaged to another man in New York City, as of December last year.”
Agnes lets out an audible gasp and stares at me with such betrayal that it makes me hate myself. “Valerie. Dear, tell me this isn’t true.”
I try to smile but can’t. “It’s not like that,” I say.
“You were engaged to Cole Masters, a start-up genius,” Gail says, and I flinch at the word genius because that’s being a little generous. “Then ye get fired from your job and ye come over to Ireland for who knows what or how long and ye meet Padraig and then what, he ropes you into this scheme of lying to his family? Or perhaps it was all your idea. You’re single and broke now and so ye thought ye could land yourself one of the most eligible bachelors in the country.” She pauses and lifts her chin. “Just another hoor in the end.”
“Hey!” Padraig snaps at her, jabbing the air with his finger, his jaw clenched. “You don’t know anything and if ye say anything more, I’m going to personally toss your arse out of this room, is that clear?”
“Padraig!” his father croaks, trying to stand up but the nurse is at him, already pushing him back down. “Don’t ye speak to anyone that way in this house of mine. Let Gail have her say and then tell us the fucking truth about what the hell is going on here!”
Gail folds her arms. “I’m done with what I have to say. I’m only looking out for ye, Colin. You’re as dear to me as my own father is. When I found out that they were lying to ye, I couldn’t stand it. You deserved to know the truth about your own son, especially with what time ye have left.”
What a fucking bitch, I think, shaking my head at her, gripping Padraig’s hand so tight that I my nails are leaving marks. If she really cared, she wouldn’t have said anything. Poor Colin looks like he’s about to have a heart attack for real.