“You’re welcome anytime,” Padraig says, offering his hand to my dad when he’s done with me, but my dad brings him into a big bear hug which makes Padraig laugh.

I laugh too.

How can I not? How can I be anything but happy right now?

“Have a safe flight,” my mother says to me waving, as they get back into their car. I watch as they drive off, knowing that I will actually miss them this time. But it’s a good feeling to have, knowing you have family out there that loves you, even if it took a long time to come to that realization. Even if they can be shitty sometimes, that love is still there.

“Well, shall we?” Padraig asks. “A new adventure awaits.”

I grin and reach up to kiss him on the cheek. “You know I can’t say no to those.”

Hand in hand we walk through the airport, hearts full, heads high. We’ve got a flight to catch, heading across the Atlantic and back to Ireland.

Back to my life in Shambles.

Epilogue

PADRAIG

One Year and Four Months Later

“May your joys be as bright as the morning, and your sorrows merely shadows that fade in the sunlight of love,” the minister reads to us in his commanding voice that holds hostage the attention of the guests. “May you have enough happiness to keep you sweet, enough trials to keep you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to keep you happy, enough failure to keep you humble, enough success to keep you eager, enough friends to give you comfort, enough faith and courage in yourself to banish sadness, enough wealth to meet your needs, and one thing more,” He pauses, looking at me, then looking at Valerie. “Enough determination to make each day a more wonderful day than the one before.”

He looks out to the crowd. “May these two have a love that never ends, lots of money, and lots of friends.” He smiles back at us. “Health be yours, whatever you do, and may God send many blessings to you.”

Valerie squeezes my hands even harder than she’s been doing the whole time that we’ve been up here on the altar. I squeeze hers right back, glad that I have no tremors today except for the one in my heart.

It’s our wedding day.

Something I’ve been waiting for, pretty much from the moment I first laid eyes on her. I knew she was something special and I knew I’d be stupid if I let her go. Every night I thank God that she came up to me and took a chance, even if I was the eejit who turned her down, that she came to Ireland with nothing but hope in her heart and the resolve to say yes to new adventures.

Little did I know just what an adventure we’d partake together. How much she’d turn my life upside down, banish the cobwebs of my soul, and bring light into my world. I didn’t know how much I would end up needing her. Not just in terms of my affliction, but in terms of my heart. I don’t even think mine was fully beating before she came into my life.

But now she’s here. Now she’s going to be my wife. And there’s nothing else I could ask for more.

Except for having my father here. My mother. My wee sister.

I miss them with every fibre of my being, wishing they were here with everyone, wishing they could share this joy. But even though that black hole inside me still exists and always will, I also know they’re here in spirit. After all, it’s an Irish wedding and that’s always kind of a magical thing.

This wedding, however, is pretty simple, even though there are a load of guests. It’s like the whole town showed up and there are rows of standing room only at the back.

There’s my nan and the Major in the front row, surrounded by various aunts and uncles and cousins. Yes, the Major is wearing a rather loud suit, clover green with faint yellow checks, but I think it brings some extra life to the event.

On the other side are Valerie’s parents and family, including her aunt with MS who looks like she’s doing amazingly well.

Beside me is my best man, Hemi, and then Alistair, looking quite fine in their tuxedos, albeit a little rough since they were up drinking through all hours of the night.

On the other side of Valerie are Sandra and Angie, who won’t stop sniffling into their tissues and dabbing their eyes.

The ceremony is in the walled garden at the back of the B&B, decorated beautifully and alive with June’s flowers.

Of course, I had to have the wedding in Shambles.

It’s where we live now.

I run the B&B while Valerie works on the book she’s writing.

The Major still lives with us. So does Nan, who insists on doing the cooking even though we’ve hired Roy, this young cook to help out with breakfasts for the guests. He’s a nice young guy but my nan keeps insisting on helping with everything. At first I thought she was stubborn (we bought a dryer for the place and she still hangs her washing outside to dry). But Valerie says it’s because my nan just likes to flirt and ogle him. She’s probably right about that. Whatever keeps her young.

The other good thing about Roy is that he’s kind of turned into my personal chef, which is something I’ve desperately needed, especially as I’m so busy all the time.

When Valerie moved to Shambles and we really started tackling the treatment for my MS, she kept on mentioning on how her aunt had improved on a certain diet. So we tried it here, basically low-fat, high intake of fruits and vegetables, cucumber or celery juice in the morning, lots of teas and hot water with lemon and a fuckload of supplements. Giving up booze and coffee too, which was the hardest, I think.

Now, Roy makes all my meals for me and ensures I stay on track.

I was a skeptic at first but I have to say, the pay-off has been incredible.

I’m not cured.

There is no cure for MS.

But my symptoms have stopped progressing. There was a while there when I bought a cane just to use on some days when I felt too weak but it’s rare that I ever use it. Maybe the end of last summer when the heat got to me and made things worse, but other than that, I’m completely able-bodied. I can even go for light jogs on cool mornings and I’ve never stopped lifting weights. I’m a lot leaner than I used to be but luckily my muscles are sticking around. We’ve transformed one of the large sheds out back into a gym and when I’m not working or with Valerie, that’s where I tend to spend a lot of my time.

I do miss the game, though. I think I always will. I mourn that on some days like I mourn the loss of my father. Rugby was always part of who I was, from the very beginning. Sometimes Hemi comes by and stays a few nights with us and then he’ll join me, Alistair and other locals in a pick-up game in the field. Major likes to be the ref and he’s actually good at it—probably because he doesn’t hear us if we argue with him over a play.

The loss of the game though brings other opportunities and I’m smart enough to know that I’m very, very lucky. I’ve become a spokesperson for MS here in Ireland and I help out with the organization when I can. I have endorsement deals still (except Porsche, they dropped me when they found out I can’t drive), and I’m honestly happy just living here in this house and running the day-to-day operations. It’s a humble living but it brings me a lot of joy to see guests happy (even if some leave one-star reviews because we served blood pudding for breakfast).

And then of course, there’s Valerie.

The pulse of my heart.

She’s standing before me in her wedding gown, a halter neck that shows off her gorgeous tits and creamy skin. Her dark red hair is piled high on her head and her freckles are numerous from the early summer sunshine. Even though she’s American, she looks the vision of an Irish beauty, a sprite or a fairy that troubadours sang songs about.

I’m getting choked up just looking at her, just holding her hand.

I want to be her husband more than anything.

I glance at the minister, wondering why this bloody ceremony is so long.

Let’s get on with it.

He gives me a knowing smile, as if he knows I’m getting impatient.

“May we have the rings,” the minister says.

That’s our cue.

I turn to Hemi who presents me a large, thick white glove. I slip it on and then look down the aisle to the end where one of my ex-teammates, Liam, is with Hooter McGavin on his arm.

I nod at Liam and hold out my gloved arm.

Hooter takes flight with a few majestic flaps of his wings, soaring down the middle of the aisle while all the guests stare up in amazement, gasping in delight as they frantically try to take pictures.

Hooter lands on my arm softly and looks me in eye.

He’s saying, where the hell is my treat?

I clear my throat and look behind me at Hemi who is watching the owl with awe. He then realizes I’m waiting for him, so he hurriedly reaches into his pocket and pulls out a piece of chicken, giving it to me so I can place it on the glove. Hooter immediately gobbles it up.

“I wish I’d known this before I signed up for best man duties,” Hemi grumbles and everyone laughs.

I then reach down for Hooter’s legs where a satin pouch has been tied on with blue ribbons that match Valerie’s bouquet.

I give the pouch to the minister and then coax Hooter to take flight again. He soars back down the aisle and onto Liam’s arm. A few people clap.

“I know that was quite the show,” the minister says with a laugh. “But wait until they say I do.”

He takes the rings out of the pouch, while Hemi takes the glove back from me.

“Valerie,” the minister says to her. “Will you take Padraig to be your husband, love, honor and cherish him now and forevermore. Do you promise to always stay by his side, in sickness and in health, and keep saying yes to new adventures?”

She giggles, surprised at that addition to the vows that I had the minister slip in there earlier today. Her smile is wide and beaming and her beauty takes my breath away.

This is it.

“I do,” she says, radiating so much happiness and love that I think everyone in the garden can feel it.

“Repeat after me,” he says to her, handing her the ring. “With this ring, I thee wed.”

She slips the ring on my finger and we both take a second to admire it. Silver, with Celtic scrolls, it suits me to a tee. “With this ring, I thee wed,” she repeats.

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