Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Breandan scanned the faces and signs at the barrier as he exited the Arrivals Area of Logan Airport. It didn’t take long. The driver was someone his Father had arranged, just as he’d arranged everything else. The man stepped forward to take over the cart with Breandan’s luggage. He’d purposely packed heavy this time. Of course, he could buy what he needed, but the grade of clothing here in the U.S. was different. Breandan’s cover was a young man straight over from Ireland, and clothes helped to sell that kind of story. What he didn’t have on the cart was his instrument case. The news that the boyfriend was in an Irish band suggested the perfect way to introduce himself, and so Breandan brought his own fiddle from home.
Breandan stood to the side, allowing the driver to walk past him with the cart, but as he did, the driver handed the Fae a large clasped envelope. Breandan tucked it under his arm. He would examine the contents once he was in the back of the vehicle. “Nice trip?” the driver asked. He had a slight Irish accent and Breandan looked at him more closely.
“It was fine,” he answered. Breandan pressed him. There weren’t many Fae in the United States. It wasn’t that the place was hostile to their kind, just that it had its own spirits and traditions. There had been more than a few Fae living here during a certain time. They followed the migrations from Ireland, but as their believers and lovers died, succumbing to age, the Fae returned to their own kind.
The driver’s eyes became slightly glassy, and Breandan was satisfied he was in no way supernatural. Releasing him, Breandan followed up with, “Not here long yourself, then?”
“Over a year,” the man grinned. “College, and hoping to find a job that will keep me here. Fine city.”
Breandan returned the nod and then turned his attention inward. He was not tired. Flying in this direction rarely tired him. It was the journey back against the time zones that was fatiguing. Following the driver, they made their way to the waiting area where limos could sit while their drivers, like this one, fetched and carried for their fancy passengers. The evening was still fine, but there was a hint of colder nights to come. “You’ll be staying here long?” the driver asked. Breandan flicked his eyes toward the young man. Breandan had already changed his appearance to that of someone much younger. His new passport showed his younger face and placed his age at twenty-four, but the hair in the picture was much shorter. Breandan knew it wasn’t much done anymore, but he decided to retain his actual look, including long, straight hair that hung over his shoulders. At the moment, it was tied up in a way that was earning him appreciative looks, but it also seemed to be inviting too much familiarity from the driver.
“I haven’t decided,” Breandan said, then immediately, “I understand you have my itinerary. I’m tired, so how many stops are planned?”
They were at the limo and the driver flicked the remote to open the trunk. “Only two,” he said, understanding they were back to business. “There’s an office downtown. I’m supposed to circle the car and wait for you, and then there’s the apartment.”
“Good,” and Breandan opened the door, not waiting for the driver. He sat down inside, shut the door, and settled back. Keeping his eyes trained outside, Breandan waited until they were moving before opening the envelope. Inside there were keys, credit cards, and several photographs. The photos showed the woman he knew was his target. These were clearer than the one his Father had shown him. She looked much younger, and although it was possible she was Adele, Breandan doubted it. There was something about being immortal, even though your features were young, you wore the face of an ancient. This woman looked tired, she looked stressed, but she didn’t look immortal. There was another picture toward the end that showed her walking beside another woman, helping her into a medical transport. ‘A relative,’ Breandan thought. He was sure from the way the other woman looked that she was the one who needed medical help.
They pulled up to the iconic bank building in the financial district. The card Breandan found in the envelope directed him to a name, suite number, and time. Walking into the building, Breandan checked through Security and headed for the fifteenth floor. He found himself fretting about his fiddle, left in the back seat of the limo. While he didn’t carry it often, he found he was uneasy when it wasn’t somewhere he knew to be safe. His music was a part of him, much as it had been a part of his Mother. She had given him this fiddle herself and he felt its music was a little more inspired because of its tie to her.
When he walked up to the glass double doors of the suite number listed on his card, a discrete buzzer sounded and he walked through. “The second door on the left,” a sleek receptionist informed him, her eyes barely flicking up. Breandan turned in the direction she motioned and found himself in a small conference room. There was a tall, blond man standing at the dark window and Breandan immediately recognized him as one of the Unseelie, a Fae, but not like him.
The Fae of Europe were divided into two great groups. The Seelie, the shining ones, were the group Breandan’s family ruled. All the great Fae, those tall and most attractive belonged to the Seelie. They were social Fae. They lived in groups and enjoyed great gatherings. They resembled humans and enjoyed living among them. It wouldn’t be fair to say that the Seelie were the most learned, or the most accomplished, well, not exactly. The man in front of him, for example, looked as if he might be less crass than some, but while the Seelie might not claim being superior, Breandan was comfortable in his sure knowledge that it was something everyone just knew.
The Unseelie, like this creature, were solitary Fae. They tended to live apart from others. There was usually some aspect of their being that kept them from easily blending with the populations around them. This one, a vampire, could blend a bit, but his need to feed on humans ensured he could never truly be able to walk easily among them. Breandan and Rogan’s allies, the Selkies, were also Unseelie. They were more comfortable at sea in their animal guise than walking the land on two legs. There were others who belonged to the Unseelie: the pookahs, the leprechaun, the banshees. Most were rare now, even in Ireland. The vampires persisted because they had perfected their ability to hide and resisted the need to create enough of their kind to require notice. The Selkies persisted because they stayed far away from humans when they could.
Breandan and his Father had a good idea of the number of the Seelie. They kept in better touch these days, using Internet and other technology. Even the kingdoms left in other parts of Europe were becoming familiar, and it was a comfort to many of them. The Unseelie? No one knew their numbers. Breandan had heard they had their own royalty, their own Courts, but he had never spent enough time with any of them to find out for certain.
That’s not to say they were exactly strangers. They recognized each other on sight. This one, for example, was someone Breandan had met from Ireland.
“Welcome to Boston,” the giant greeted him.
“I take it you’re working for my Father?” Breandan asked.
“I am doing a job for your Father,” the giant corrected, then bowed, “Eric Northman.”
“I know you,” Breandan told him. “You are associated with one of the pubs in Carrack.” The bar was several streets over from his Father’s key hotel. It had a less than savory reputation, but it was popular for the music it offered and the taste of danger it’s clientele preferred.
“I am the owner,” Eric acknowledged.
“How did my Father get you over here?” Breandan asked.
“A debt,” Eric answered. “I am working it off, keeping an eye on the woman you are here to meet.”
“You’ve spoken with her?” Breandan asked.
“No, not exactly,” Eric shook his head. He pushed some paperwork toward Breandan. “She works with this woman, Amelia Carmichael,” and Eric pointed to a picture of a pleasant-looking woman with short, curly brown hair. “I understand this Amelia was your first point of contact. Amelia is the girlfriend of this man,” and the giant pushed forward a second picture. The man looked to be about the same age Breandan was portraying. Black hair, light eyes, and a hint of spoil about the smile. “Sean Callahan. He’s a student, same as the girlfriend. They both attend Boston University. He’s in the MBA program and interns with a money management firm. His family comes from money. They both do. The relationship is solid and she spends nights with him at his apartment. Your apartment will be across the hall. You may have heard, he’s a musician. Your Father has suggested you may be using that.”
“Is he passable?” Breandan smirked. He doubted Eric Northman had that kind of information, but the giant surprised him.
“He is good and he has a local band that plays clubs and bars popular with college students,” and Eric looked at Breandan in a way that told the Fae the vampire knew what he was thinking. It was just that moment, but the smugness of it set Breandan’s teeth on edge. He was about to say something when the vampire cut him off by pushing a third photograph his way and saying, “But the woman is your true target. Sookie Stackhouse. I have listed the name of the restaurant where she works along with the address. Her shift hours are also there. She was a student, but she has withdrawn from her university and now she works full-time.”
“Why?” Breandan studied the maps and copies of bank accounts included with the materials.
“Her mother,” Eric told him. “She’s sick. They are living together, and I believe Sookie is taking care of her. The mother goes to medical appointments and to a cancer center near their apartment. She smells of death.”
“The Mother?” Breandan confirmed, and then looked at a birth certificate. “Sookie? It’s an unusual name.” When the man across the table didn’t add anything, Breandan asked, “Is she Fae?”
“Sookie? Yes, in part, but I don’t think she’s aware of it,” Eric answered.
“And the mother?” Breandan followed up.
“No, the mother is human. The disease she has is wasting her,” and Eric waited again.
“Typical if the father was Fae and left her,” Breandan observed. The man made a sound and Breandan found himself looking up at Eric Northman. It was curious. The Unseelie as a rule didn’t like humans any more than his own people. The Seelie did, and yet, he could sense a certain disapproval. “Is Sookie aware of you?” he asked directly.
“No,” Eric said quickly, then “No,” again. “She sees me, though.”
“That’s odd,” Breandan nodded, and then making his dismissal clear, said, “Well, thank you. How much longer are you expected to stay here and watch her?”
“Until your Father is satisfied you have the situation well in hand,” It was a bold answer and Breandan looked sharply at the man who merely smiled and shrugged.
“I see,” Breandan answered. “And I suppose my Father will be the judge of that.”
“As you say,” the giant answered. He didn’t look at all apologetic, but that was the Unseelie. They gave themselves airs and thought nothing of tweaking their betters.
“Fine,” Breandan picked up the papers, “Then I expect I’ll see you from time to time,” and he turned to leave.
“What are you going to do about her?” Eric Northman asked. It was an impertinent question, but there was something in the man’s voice.
“Why do you care?” Breandan asked.
“She’s nice,” Eric told him. “Kind. I’m not sure why your Father is interested in her, or you, but she is not like others.”
“I suggest you remember you have a debt to pay off,” Breandan said shortly. “You should stick to your job and I’ll stick to mine,” and Breandan turned and walked away, refusing to look behind him to see if the giant followed.
Breandan found himself thinking about the vampire’s words. ‘Not like others.’ By the time they reached the apartment building on Commonwealth Avenue though, Breandan had half-convinced himself that Eric Northman said it just to cause mischief. After all, that was the way of the Unseelie, the solitary ones. They sowed discord and reveled in trouble. One could barely recognize them as Fae at all. This one had all the markings of a bloodsucker. Of course, he could appear in day if he needed to, but only if it was overcast. Eric Northman would have a hard time in bright sunlight. There was a rumor it was lethal to his kind, and it was, but only after a prolonged period of exposure. Vampires didn’t spontaneously combust or transform into some blue light. No, a vampire exposed to direct sunlight writhed and suffered. It went on for a long time before they finally died. Breandan had seen it more than once over the many years of his existence, and it bolstered what everyone knew; it was never easy to kill a Fae.
Breandan texted his driver from the bank lobby and he promptly received the answering text. The car was at the sidewalk and soon Breandan was riding the elevator to the top of the four-floor brownstone and standing in front of the door of the apartment that would be his while he stayed here in the city.
The apartment was what Breandan expected. It was too upscale for a young man, even a young man of means, and Breandan began to make mental notes about the changes he would need to make. For now, he could use the cover that the apartment really belonged to his Father. The doorman left his suitcases in the hallway and Breandan propped the door open, shuffling things inside.
A quick survey showed the kitchen was already provisioned and there were fresh towels hung in the bathroom. The large bed in the single bedroom was made and the windows looked out over the city street and the green median park. Sean Callahan, the man Breandan would need to meet, had the apartment directly across from his. His view would be the less favorable one, but one needed mad money to live well in Boston these days, and Breandan’s family had that.
Another annoyance was that the closets and drawers were full. Breandan started the job of pulling things out, looking at them, and deciding what he would keep and what he would throw down the garbage chute. The fact that the labels cost more than some families made in a week didn’t bother Breandan at all. He was Fae. He worked to have something to do, not because he needed to. If he ran short, he could petition his Father, and Rogan would pull cash from the seemingly inexhaustible vault that fueled his family.
Sorting and putting away took close to an hour, and Breandan loaded the extra clothes and shoes into large plastic bags and headed out to the hall. He ran into a couple walking toward them. The woman held a guitar case. He watched them as they stopped at the door across from his and knocked. When the door opened, Breandan could hear the sound of a mandolin and his lips curved.
It was all too easy. Breandan knocked and introduced himself as the new neighbor. Sean remarked on his accent. Breandan expressed interest in their playing music and asked if he could sit in. Within an hour they were playing together, Breandan easily slipping into the songs that tourists all over the world seemed to enjoy.
There was another man there who also played fiddle. It was immediately apparent that Breandan was far better than him and the man became testy and critical. “Don’t worry, Greg!” Sean scolded his friend. “Breandan’s my new neighbor. He’s not looking to take your place in the band! We’re friends, Greg! Breandan’s just new here.”
Breandan toned down his playing, and Greg stopped his carping. It was after midnight when the door opened and the woman with the brown hair Breandan knew to be Amelia let herself in. She was wearing a waitress uniform, and she was greeted by everyone there. It was obvious she was a regular resident.
“This is my new neighbor, Breandan O’Hara,” Sean told Amelia. “He just moved in across the hall, and he’s a wizard with a fiddle,” a remark that earned Breandan another poisonous look from Greg.
Amelia settled herself in Sean’s lap, making him set aside his mandolin, and she leaned across to shake Breandan’s hand. “Wow! Beautiful!” she announced.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Breandan purred in his best brogue.
“And a panty-melter! Tell me you’re not taken!” and Amelia fanned herself.
“But you are!” Sean tickled her and she wiggled in that way human females thought was cute.
“I am here to take a look around before I go into the family business full-time,” Breandan told her. “Sowing oats, I suppose you’d say, but, no, no girlfriends.”
“Boyfriends?” Amelia asked boldly.
“No, none of those either,” Breandan smiled and he winked.
“Oh, I have got to get you out and about,” Amelia stated. She turned to Sean, “When are you guys playing again? We should invite Breandan. I’ll aim him at every skank female who even looks your way and it will be game over. You will be mine, all mine!”
“I am yours, already, Crazy Lady,” Sean announced, and he kissed her openly in front of all his friends. Breandan noticed they didn’t seem to see anything strange or embarrassing about the couple’s behavior, even when Sean placed his hand on Amelia’s knee and inched it up under her dress. For her part, Amelia acted as if she didn’t notice, leaning forward to grab snacks from the table and taking a swig from Sean’s beer.
“It is time to wrap this up,” Sean announced, and the others in the room started to gather their things.
Sean stood, too, tumbling Amelia onto the floor, and then helping her to stand in the same motion. “It was great meeting you, Breandan,” he was saying. “You around tomorrow? We do this every night.”
“I am between things for a bit,” Breandan told his host. “I don’t have anything official to do for at least a week, and I was wondering how I’d keep myself busy.” He looked at Amelia, “Perhaps you and Amelia could offer some suggestions.” For an instant, Breandan considered what having the couple in bed might be like. They were attractive enough, but he just as quickly dismissed the idea. Breandan had a mission and sleeping with the woman’s friends could create problems later.
“Classes tomorrow,” Sean shrugged, and added, “Amelia, too, but we’re usually back here right after lunch. We could take you on a walk around.”
“That would be grand!” Breandan announced, and he took Amelia’s hand and leaned over it, brushing her knuckles with his lips. “Until then,” he flirted up at her, and then smiled just as broadly at Sean.
As was expected, he called his Father that night. Rogan was pleased with his progress, “And what did you think of Northman?” he asked.
“Was I supposed to think about him?” Breandan easily answered. “He had information. He seems amenable enough. What exactly is he being paid to do?”
“Watch her,” his Father replied. “She’s renting. She could leave and it would waste time to try and find her again. She could change jobs. He keeps tabs.”
“How exactly is he doing that?” Breandan asked again. “I can’t see some young woman not being suspicious of a tall, blond man lingering around outside her home.
“I’m assuming he’s taking animal shape. They do, you know, vampires. They aren’t as flexible as Weres, but they can assume certain animals. Bats, for example.” Breandan started laughing. It was comical, thinking of the tall man becoming a small, furry flying thing. “What I do know is his reports are adequate and she’s still where you can find her,” his Father concluded.
That night, Breandan stood at the windows overlooking the quiet city street. It was quite late, but he relied on the soundproofing in the walls to keep his neighbors from complaining. He pulled out his fiddle and played a quiet song from his youth, thinking about what was needed. This Sookie was probably young. She was caring for an ailing parent and had dropped out of school. That would cause her to be vulnerable, something he could exploit. There had been no sign of a boyfriend, but with her current schedule and cares, it would be difficult for her to meet anyone, let alone maintain a relationship. She had a warm heart, enough so that she’d impressed a vampire, and that said a lot.
Breandan rolled to a faster tune. She would have to consent to coming to Ireland. She would have to want to be there, and the easiest way would be for her to want to be with him. That part sounded easy. It would need to be more than just glamour, she would have to really want him, but again, he was Fae. Humans were naturally attracted to him. Pushing the woman to something a little bit more wouldn’t be hard. The complicated part was, with an ailing parent, she would be reluctant to leave, and sick people didn’t travel long distances without some compelling reason. Breandan briefly considered helping her mother find the death the vampire mentioned smelling on her, but then decided to wait until he’d had time to study the situation. Forming attachments took time. Bouncing from an appreciative lover to a needy parent could create a catalyst for what Breandan wanted.
Instead, Breandan’s thoughts turned to Greg, the sniveling, under-par fiddler in Sean’s band. Far better to manufacture an unfortunate accident that would remove that pile of shit and then step into the hole it created. He could see himself standing in as a band member, the woman’s face never suspecting she was the reason he was here. She would assume that of all the women who stared, she was the one he wanted. It would be tempting for any human, appealing to their natural insecurities.
Breandan set down his fiddle and closed his eyes. He recalled Greg’s face and summoned an ill wish. It wasn’t something he did often. Bringing bad things around you had a way of lingering, but the risk was worth it. With a quick purse of his lips, Breandan blew the ill wish on its way. He could almost see it, like oil in the air, moving with increasing speed under the streetlights of the city.
“I can’t believe you got Pat to give us both the night off,” Sookie said for the fifth time.
“Pat’s a great guy,” Amelia shrugged, “and he and Fran really like you. When I told him how much you like Irish music, he offered to pay our cover charge, I swear!”
“I’m really grateful,” Sookie smiled, “It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything just for myself, and this is, well, I appreciate it.” Sookie couldn’t help feeling a little guilty. Her Mother was better, largely recovered from the last round of chemo, but she was weak and had trouble doing as much as walking up and down the stairs. She offered to stay home several times, but each time her Mother laughed, telling her to not stay out all night and to remember to lock all the doors when she got back.
“Oh, shit!” Amelia pushed her shoulder. “You’re going to make me tear up like a baby. Believe me, this is entirely selfish. I want Sean to fix you up before he figures out you’re a better choice than me, and this place is one target-rich environment.”
“You really like him, don’t you?” Sookie asked.
“A lot,” Amelia nodded, “Well, a lot for not knowing him as well as I should,” and Amelia did the one-shoulder shrug she gave when she felt she’d been caught out. “He’s cute, though, and talented and he kisses like a champ, and what he does in bed…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sookie blushed, “I get the idea. Jeez, you give everyone the idea every time he comes into the diner!”
“Somehow I get the feeling you could use a few more of those ideas! You live your life like you’re some nun. It’s not natural. A girl needs to get some action! You don’t want to be growing cobwebs up there!” Amelia joked, and they stepped off the T into Kenmore Square in Cambridge. It was a short walk from the station to Flaherty’s. From the street, it didn’t look like much, but there was a line out front. Amelia pulled Sookie past the front door, and then down a short alley to a second door where she knocked twice. The door swung open, “We’re with the band,” Amelia told the man at the door.
They were shown to a table near the back of the pub, but near dead center with the stage. There were others sitting there, and Amelia took no time in greeting the friends she knew and figuring out what every other person’s relationship was to each of the band members. Sookie found out that the guitar player’s sister never missed a performance, and the drummer, Jimmy, was married and his wife always came. There were other people, too, friends of the guitar player, Kiernan, and a couple women who were here for the new fiddle player. Some of those at the table had Irish accents that sounded straight off the boat, and others not so much. No one said they were there for Sean and Sookie noticed Amelia’s look of relief.
Amelia shot up in her too-animated way and sashayed over to the bar to get them both beers. As she was returning, Sean walked out from a hallway beside the stage and bee-lined over to them. “You made it,” he said, looking only at Amelia, and he took the mugs from her hand, set them on the table, and snaked his arms around her. He kissed her in front of everyone. It was a strangely intimate moment and Sookie averted her eyes. “And you came!” Sean whispered in Sookie’s ear, making her jump.
“Thanks for inviting me,” Sookie stammered, hoping her manners covered the burn she felt in her cheeks.
“Well, we’ll see if you’re thanking me later,” Sean joked. “I’ve made bets with Jimmy, my drummer,” and Sean winked at the woman Sookie now knew was Jimmy’s wife. “There are two men about town in the band and both could use a lady love, so we have a bet running over which of my knuckle-headed bandmates makes the first move on you.”
“I’m not really looking for a boyfriend!” Sookie stammered. She saw the nasty looks several of the women at the table shot her way. “I just came out for tonight. I…really… I wish you wouldn’t!”
“Don’t tell us who you bet on!” Amelia was laughing. “If you tell me, I’m going to have to side with you, and that just wouldn’t be fair! Let Breandan and Kiernan figure it out on their own, and may the best romancer win!”
“You’re a cold woman!” Sean teased her and taking a last kiss, headed back toward the stage as the lights flashed twice.
Sookie leaned over to Amelia who was busy finger-waving and bouncing in that way she had. “I don’t think this is a good idea!” she hissed. “I am not interested in getting involved right now. I don’t care how nice the guy is. You know my situation. I don’t have time to start a relationship!”
“Who’s talking about a relationship?” Amelia was laughing, making it obvious she wasn’t going to take Sookie’s protests seriously. She looked over Sookie’s shoulder to see one of the women who had mentioned Breandan earlier glaring venom, “You can just shove off!” she leaned forward. “I know he doesn’t even know your name and if you want to keep it that way, you can just stay there and keep looking your dagger eyes!” The woman glared at her friend, then together they rose and walked over to the bar.
“That’s what I mean,” Sookie sighed. “I don’t need a lot of drama right now. I get enough of that just walking to my front door every night. I just wanted to come out and have a nice time with my friend listening to music.”
Amelia settled and turned to Sookie, “It won’t be like that,” she assured her friend. “I know Kiernan well. This is his sister,” and Amelia made sure the two women shook hands. “Your brother is a gentleman, right?” she asked the woman.
“Unless you ask him not to be,” the woman winked. “Amelia tells me you’re a peach. If you do decide to take pity on him, I’d be happy. He could use a nice girl in his life. His taste so far has been crappy!”
“The guy who wins Sookie is getting a real prize!” Amelia gushed, causing Sookie to cringe. “She’s quiet, hard-working, and puts her family first. She’s just about the nicest person I know. Even when I’m a total bitch, she’s nice as can be, but she doesn’t let folks walk on her either! I had some real assholes at the restaurant the other day and she walked over and basically threatened them. You should have seen her! They were twice our size, but she put them in their place, and sent them packing!”
“It wasn’t like that!” Sookie protested.
“I was there!” Amelia laughed. “You were a one-woman superhero squad!” Sookie let the two women laugh and covered her embarrassment by looking away. “But, if I were to put my money down,” Amelia continued, “I’d say you’ll fall for Breandan O’Hara. Tall, long hair, dreamy eyes. Straight off the boat with an accent you could spoon off him! And gorgeous? I hate to say it, but Greg’s accident was our gain.”
“Poor guy,” Kiernan’s sister said. “I heard he fell off his bike?”
“Broke his hand,” Amelia nodded. “He’s back in school, but he won’t be playing fiddle for a long time.”
“Good thing Breandan moved in then,” the woman replied.
“Go figure,” Amelia shrugged, and then they all turned to the stage as the lights went up.
The first group was a warm-up act of sorts. They didn’t get onstage, but instead gathered at tables and chairs in a circle down in front. Amelia explained to Sookie they were the house band and they played here almost every night, different musicians dropping in and dropping out, depending on who was in the City. There was a fiddle and a mandolin. Someone pulled out a concertina and there were two guitars. The music was lively enough that Sookie’s foot was tapping. After about twenty minutes, a man came out on the stage and announced Sean’s band. There was a lot of clapping and loud hooting. “They are really popular!” Amelia leaned over, yelling at Sookie over the noise of the crowd.
It didn’t take long for Sookie to understand why. The music was traditional, but, unlike the house band, it was accompanied by strong vocals. Sean played mandolin and Kieran, who played guitar, was the front man, but it was the dark-haired fiddler who captured Sookie’s attention. His fingers flew up and down the neck of the instrument. His eyes watched his fellow musicians, and he mimicked and then complimented their musical lines. When the song came to a chorus, he and Sean would step up to microphones, backing Kiernan, their voices blending so cleanly it was hard for Sookie to distinguish any one.
They played songs of longing and songs of protest. When they played ”Come Out You Black & Tan,” the whole bar stood with them, yelling the chorus with such defiance you might have believed they lived in Ireland and understood The Troubles. When they played Stan Rogers’ version of ”Mary Ellen Carter,” Sookie found herself standing along with everyone else, her smile blazing from her face as she sang the words that spoke of strength and overcoming adversity. As the music swung into its last verse, she looked toward the stage and realized the fiddler was staring right at her. His large, dark eyes seemed to see only her and when he tucked his fiddle under his chin, he bowed to her just a bit.
“That didn’t take long,” Amelia whispered.
“What are you talking about?” Sookie asked, swallowing around her suddenly dry throat.
“You know damn well what I’m talking about. I think I’m going to wish I’d put money on this one,” and Amelia nudged her so hard, she almost knocked Sookie off her chair.
Sookie took the deep breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “Is he gorgeous? Yes,” she yelled close to Amelia’s ear, “but looking isn’t buying, and I already told you. I’m not looking for a boyfriend!” Sookie broke eye contact and stood, “I’m going to find the Ladies Room. If you see the waitress, could you get me a glass of ice water?”
The bathroom was toward the back of the place, and it took some fancy turning and many shouted ‘excuse me’s’ to finally reach the door. Sookie headed in, smiled at the woman applying lipstick in the mirror, and stepped into the stall. When she finished, she flushed, opened the door, and almost jumped back. There, standing across from her and leaning against the sinks, was the fiddler from the band.
“Cheese and rice!” Sookie exclaimed. She pressed her hand against her racing heart. “You scared the crap out of me!” and her adrenaline made her feel more angry than anything else.
The fiddler smiled, and Sookie couldn’t help but notice how handsome he was. His cheekbones were high and his eyes were large and warm. His skin was pale, which only seemed to show off his dark features to better advantage. ‘Black Irish,’ Sookie thought. She’d read the term but, until now, hadn’t really understood what it meant.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” the musician smiled, showing strong, even teeth. “Perhaps if I introduced myself?”
“Here?” Sookie looked around, “In the Ladies Room?”
“It’s quiet,” the fiddler shrugged, and holding out his hand, said, “Breandan O’Hara,” and then, “Breandan,” as if he wasn’t sure she’d heard him.
Sookie looked at the outstretched hand and then her own. With a sigh, Sookie brushed past the fiddler and turned on the spigot in the sink to wash her hands. She couldn’t look at him, but the soft Irish accent of his voice was making the hairs on the back of her neck stand up in the most delicious way. When she finished, she reached over and got a paper towel, bit her lip, and then looked him straight in the eye. “So, is this how you meet most girls? Stalk them in bathrooms?”
“No, not most girls,” Breandan O’Hara smiled, “Just you.” When he said the last, he leaned forward, looking into her eyes. Sookie had the impression he was trying to do something, and she felt a slight pressure in her head.
“Well, goodness,” Sookie rolled her eyes and shook her head slightly to get rid of the strange feeling, “I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. There’s something about being told that men think of bathrooms and you in the same sentence that just gives a girl pause,” and then Sookie paused herself. She was flirting! She was standing in a Ladies Room in a crowded bar with a total stranger and she was flirting. It wasn’t something she ever really did, and the fact of it made her look at Breandan again.
“Well, then, you should end the suspense and tell me you’ll be going home with me tonight,” Breandan leaned forward, his smile suddenly too wide and framed with straight, white teeth.
Sookie felt as if cold water had been thrown over her. Her smile fell and she didn’t feel special or mysterious, the kind of girl a man took the time to pursue. Instead, Sookie felt cheap, like the kind of woman men mistook for a bar slut who would open her legs for anyone with the price of a drink and a direct line.
“Well,” Sookie said, her voice tight, “This certainly was an adventure. This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me very often.” She held out her hand now and Breandan O’Hara took it. She shook hands once, twice, and then dropped his hand, “It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. O’Hara. You’re very talented and I enjoyed listening to your music. Maybe I’ll have the pleasure of seeing you perform again some time,” and she straightened her back and walked purposefully past him and out the door. She kept her eyes forward as she headed back to the table, and she refused to look back at the stage after she sat down.
“What happened?” Amelia asked. It was clear her friend had seen the fiddler walking out of the bathroom behind Sookie.
“Nothing much,” Sookie told her. “Just another guy who thinks an awful lot of himself.”
Once the band finished their second set, Sookie made her excuses.
“That’s okay,” Amelia nodded. “I have an early day for classes tomorrow, too.” Together they rode the T, and Amelia gave Sookie a lift back to her house.
“I’m sorry he was such an asshole,” Amelia told her again as Sookie was getting out of the car.
“Not your fault,” Sookie told her. “Guess he figured anyone smiling like I was had something else in mind. My fault, but it’s all settled now.”
“Still,” Amelia squeezed her hand, “I’m going to ask Sean to tell him how wrong he was. If nothing else, maybe it will make him think twice before he hits on the next girl.”
As Amelia pulled away, the black dog walked forward out of the shadows. He was here every night, and he walked up to Sookie and leaned against her leg. “At least I know I can count on you,” she told him, petting his huge head. He stood almost to her waist and it occurred to Sookie she probably should have been afraid of him, but she couldn’t find it in herself. “I’ll bet you’re hungry,” she said, leaning down and curling her fingers into the dog’s large jowls.
In spite of her efforts, she wasn’t able to get the dog to come past the fence that marked the line between sidewalk and house walk. “You just wait here,” she told the animal. “I saved some steak sandwich from today,” and she walked up to the house, glancing at the huge animal waiting for her.
“How was it?” her Mother asked. Sookie smiled. It was wonderful seeing her Mother able to stay up later again.
“It was good,” Sookie replied. “I liked the music.” She pulled the scraps from the refrigerator and put them on the plate.
“That for the dog?” her Mother asked. Sookie flashed her a quick smile, and excused herself. Sookie knew her Mother thought she was crazy. Sookie had tried to point the dog out a couple times but, for whatever reason, her Mother could never see it.
When she was back in the house, the deadbolts locked in place, she sat down across from her Mom. “Think you’ll go back to the club?” her Mother asked.
“I don’t think so,” Sookie replied. “I don’t think I’d want to listen to something like that too often, but it was fun for one night.”
That next night as Sookie walked to work, the memory of Breandan O’Hara’s fiddle music and dark, soulful eyes refused to let her alone. ‘You really are desperate,’ Sookie scolded herself, ‘if you think a lech like that is worth a single second of your thoughts!’ But as the night progressed, Sookie found that Breandan O’Hara had found a foothold in her daydreams, and the foolishness of it left her frustrated.