“I’m so sorry, dad,” Padraig says to him, pleading with so much shame in his eyes. “I just wanted ye to think that I had it all together. I wanted ye to know I was doing well, that I had all the things that mam wanted for me. I thought if I brought a girl home and told ye we were getting married, maybe ye could be proud of me or happy or something. Anything, dad, I would take anything from ye.”
This is so fucking heartbreaking to watch.
His father shakes his head slightly, his fingers curling around the edge of his table cloth. “You lied to me. You lied to me on my deathbed.” He looks at me. “Both of ye did. You wanted the fucking ring and I gave it to you and you … you …” He takes in a shuddering breath, eyes wide.
“Colin,” the nurse says, still standing beside him, her hands on his shoulders. “Colin, please take it easy. Deep breaths.” She looks over his head at Agnes. “We should probably take him to his bed.”
“I’m not going anywhere!” he barks with a surprising amount of strength and slams his fist on the table, making the silverware jump. “How dare ye do this? How dare ye come into my home and lie to us. To take her ring. You …” he points at us wildly, “you proposed to her there, ye said things over that ring that weren’t true. That’s blasphemy. You’ll be cursed for that!”
“They were true. Everything I said was true,” Padraig pleads. “I love Valerie, I do with all my heart.”
“That’s a bucket of shite! How am I supposed to believe that when ye have lied about everything else? How am I supposed to believe that you can even love someone else when ye never showed any love toward your own father!”
“Because my own father never loved me!” Padraig yells back. “You never showed me any love, you just pushed me away and suffered for your loss, but guess what, I lost, too! I lost my mam and my sister and then I lost you. You might be dying now but I feel like I lost you a long time ago!”
“Ach, away with ye,” Colin says, looking disgusted. He glances up at his nurse and points to the backdoor. “Take me away from here. I don’t want to have to listen to any of this.” She starts to pull out the wheelchair and he glances at Padraig, pain in his eyes. “You made me the fool, son. You played with my heart and my feelings so that you could feel better about yourself.” He pauses, practically spits on the floor. “You are my life’s biggest disappointment.”
Padraig drops my hand. I’m afraid he might just fall over in general, so I put my arm around his waist to support him. We both stare, speechless, as the nurse opens the door and wheels Colin out into the back yard.
“Well, I think I’ve lost my appetite,” Agnes says quietly, throwing her napkin on the salad. She gets to her feet so she’s standing across from us.
She doesn’t say anything.
But I know everything she’s feeling.
How hurt and disappointed she is in us, too.
She clears her throat. “I’m going to go lie down for a while. I don’t wish to be disturbed.” Then she turns and heads to the stairs.
Gail is already gone. She must have left during the yelling match.
Leaving only Major who is digging into his salad.
Padraig seems like he’s in a trance. I can feel the pain radiating off of him, the sadness and the fear and the guilt. Everything we tried so hard to avoid is now out and it’s hurt everyone we know.
“He’ll come around, ye know,” the Major says through a mouthful of food, surprising us.
We turn to look at him.
“What?” Padraig’s asks, his voice broken.
The Major nods at the door and swallows. “Your father. Colin. He’ll come around. He’s just a little hurt, that’s all, and he’s always had an explosive temper, just like you Padraig, but in time he’ll understand that ye did it to help him. I can see that.” He nods at me. “And I can see you two truly do love each other.”
A tepid smile tugs at my lips. “So you heard all that?”
He frowns at me. “What?”
“Nevermind,” I tell him. “Enjoy your dinner.”
I just give him a wave and lead Padraig away from the table and over to his room.
“I’ve lost him,” Padraig says, stunned, as he sits down on his bed. He looks up at me with tears in his eyes. “Even before he’s gone I’ve lost him. I’m his life’s biggest disappointment.”
I swallow the own tears in my throat. “At least it’s all out in the open now.”
He gives me an acidic smile that chills me. “There is no silver lining here, Valerie. So don’t go looking for one.”
The next morning it’s like winter has settled inside the house.
It’s cold, not just temperature wise, but seems devoid of any love and any life. Sterile and unforgiving.
Valerie wakes up in my bed. I didn’t think we’d get in shite for it from Nan since she looked at us yesterday like we were a pair of strangers to her. Usually she’s feisty and angry and reactive but to get that deep, cold chill from her hurts more than anything else.
Almost as much as what happened with my father.
I knew I should have kept it a secret since we had kept it a secret so long. But with Gail wanting to rat us out, I knew that it was better coming from us than from her.
And so it all came out.
All of it.
Not just the lie but the lies I’ve told myself all these years.
That I was strong.
That I was someone.
But last night exposed me for who I truly am.
Just a scared little boy needing approval from his dad.
And then …
He called me his life’s biggest disappointment.
I don’t think any words have ever cut deeper, right beyond my heart, to that black space inside me. It struck me there, wedging itself in forever.
And he’s right.
That’s all there is to it.
I spent my life trying to be the best that I could be. My dad loved falconry, so I took an interest in falconry. I knew my dad couldn’t continue his dream of playing rugby, so I picked up those dreams and I ran with them. I trained and I played and I fought to be the player I became. I had the money and the fame and the security my father didn’t. But it still didn’t matter. He still wasn’t proud.
I just wasn’t good enough.
It was only over this last month that I began to see him open up, just a little. To see him with Valerie, to catch a glimpse of him watching us together, light in his eyes.
All of that was real. That’s what I wish he could know. That’s what I need to tell him, even if he won’t listen. What he saw, what he witnessed, all of it was real, right down to the way I proposed. I meant all of it when it came to Valerie. The only lies were semantics, they didn’t matter.
The truth was I found the woman I do want to spend the rest of my life with.
She’s in bed with me, looking at me with her soulful blue eyes.
She’s in pain too. She takes things to heart—she has such a beautiful heart—and I know her relationship with my dad and my nan were important to her too.
All evening we stayed up in this room with a bottle of whisky and just talked in hushed voices about how we felt, what we needed to do, how we were going to get through this. It all felt so promising last night but in the cold reality of this morning, it seems harder to crack than ice.
“I think we slept in,” Valerie says quietly, pulling the covers up to her chin.
“Probably for the best.” Lord knows I can sleep forever these days.
We eventually get up and out of bed and get dressed, heading out to the dining room.
It’s been cleared, just as we thought. I think we both slept in so we wouldn’t have to deal with the awkwardness of breakfast.
There’s just the Major, sitting in an armchair in the corner with his tea and the newspaper.
“Ah, morning Major,” I say him in my best Basil Fawlty impression.
He doesn’t hear me and the paper obscures us from his view.
I head on over and stand in front of him. When he lowers the paper to flip the page, he sees me and jumps in his seat.
“Good heavens!” he cries out. “You put my heart crossway, ye did.”
“Sorry, Major,” I say. “Where is everyone today?”
He folds the paper in his lap. “Where is what?”
I lean in closer. “Where. Is. Everyone?”
“Ah, you overslept, ye did.” He winks at Valerie. “Well, let’s see. Your dad is in the cottage with the nurse.”
“Did ye see him at breakfast?”
“Nah, he wasn’t up to it. And your nan went into Shambles for some groceries.”
“Isn’t that Gail’s job?”
“Gail? Yea, well Gail won’t be returning back.”
I exchange a glance with Valerie and back to Major. “What do ye mean she’s not coming back?”
“She came by this morning, right before breakfast mind ye, which made things run a little late but anyway, and she told yer nana that she was done. I guess she doesn’t want to work here anymore, but between you and I, I’m quite okay with that. She was always a bit of a Holy Joe, if ye know what I mean.”
“Does Holy Joe mean the same as hoor?” Valerie mumbles under her breath.
“Ah, no, Holy Joe means she’s real righteous like,” Major says and starts flipping back through the paper. “A hoor means she’s a hoor.”
I look at Val and smile. How he heard that, I have no idea. Something tells me the Major’s hearing is more selective than we thought.
Since breakfast is over, we make some coffee and put it in travel mugs and decide to head outside for a walk. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is out and making the frost shimmer, and our breath is rising in the air, mixing with the steam from the mugs. For a moment it feels like we’re just taking a walk and enjoying the day and that everything is back to normal. Even my balance seems fine and I’m not in any pain.
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