Inner City Dublin, Ireland. 2006
Waiting for a flower bud to open was one of my favourite things.
It started out like a closed little pistachio. The next day its petals moved. The following day they spread. The day after that they spread a little bit more, and then finally the flower blossomed to its full potential.
I was waiting for the buds on my pink hibiscus to open, but they still had a few days to go. I poured a little water into the pot with a plastic bottle then screwed the cap back on. I was just about to place it on the shelf when someone hammered on my door.
It was a panicked knock, one that demanded attention. In this neighbourhood, it didn’t always bode well to open the door to knocking like that. I squinted through the peephole and recognised a boy I went to school with. His name was Dylan O’Dea, or was it O’Toole? Anyway, I was pretty sure he lived one or two floors below me here at St Mary’s Villas.
Don’t let the ‘Villas’ part fool you. There was nothing villa-like about this place. St Mary’s War Bunker would’ve been more apt. Everything was grey. The windows gave the barest minimum of light, and every single flat smelled vaguely of mildew no matter how much you cleaned or aired the place.
Dylan looked sweaty and desperate, and there was something about his panicked gaze that had me unlocking my door for him. Before I even had the chance to say a word, he barrelled in and slammed the door shut behind him.
“What the hell!” I exclaimed, at once regretting my decision. I lived with my aunt Yvonne, but she was at work and wouldn’t be home for hours.
Dylan stared me dead in the eye, his chest heaving, and raised a finger to his mouth in the universal gesture of ‘be quiet.’ I didn’t make a peep and a second later noise sounded from outside. People banged on doors the same way Dylan had been banging on mine. Our eyes met again, and he must’ve sensed I was going to say something because he came at me. He backed me up against the wall until his frame surrounded mine and his hand went to my mouth. I instantly struggled, but then he whispered in my ear.
“Please don’t make any noise. Some people are after me. I just need to hide here for a few minutes and then I’ll leave. I promise.”
I glared at him and lifted my foot to stomp on his ankle. He swore under his breath but didn’t loosen his hold.
“Fuck you,” I mumbled past his fingers. “Get out!” It sounded more like, “Fup Ooo. Et oot.”
“Please, Evelyn. I need your help.”
My heart hammered. He knew my name. Although it wasn’t so strange since most people knew each other’s names around here. It just felt odd for him to address me so familiarly, because we’d never spoken.
The sincerity in his dark blue eyes made me pause in my struggle. We stared at each other for another long moment, and goosebumps claimed my skin. His chest was wide and solid, and he smelled like cloves.
“If I lower my hand, do you promise not to scream?” he asked very quietly.
I nodded slowly, and his hand left my mouth. “Who’s after you?” I whispered, worried he’d brought trouble to my door.
“A few lads from the McCarthy gang. They’ve been trying to recruit me. I told Tommy McCarthy to go fuck off and now they want to give me a hiding.”
“Shite,” I breathed.
The knocking came closer. Whoever it was reached the flat next to mine and banged on the door. I held still, barely breathing. My eyes traced Dylan’s face, his stunning eyes, masculine jaw, and gruff expression. He wore grey jeans, black boots, and a navy padded jacket. His sandy hair was somewhere between blond and brown, and it had a slight curl to it. It was clipped short, so the curl didn’t have much room to . . . be curly.
He was very attractive, but that didn’t take away from the fact that he’d basically broken into my home. When my neighbour came out and started talking to the lads who were looking for Dylan, I whispered, “Why did you come here to hide?”
He made a thoughtful expression, his brow furrowing in a way that made him look like a grumpy bear. “What?”
“You could’ve gone into any flat, why this one?”
There was a beat of silence, then finally he whispered back, “Because you’re the only person on this row who wouldn’t feed me to the wolves.”
I arched a brow. “You don’t know that.”
You don’t know me.
Before he had a chance to reply, the banging started on my door. My chest seized, clutched by fear, because I knew the type of blokes who were out there.
Poor. Hard. Brutal.
Suddenly, Dylan was on me again, his hand on my mouth, his body holding mine in place. This time I didn’t struggle, instead I held still and stayed quiet. A shiver trickled down my spine at his closeness. I wasn’t often this close to people I hardly knew.
“Answer the bleedin’ door,” a male voice shouted, “or I’ll knock it the fuck down.”
“Maybe I should answer and tell them you’re not here,” I whispered against his fingers.
He glanced down at me, probably because my lips were on his skin. He tilted his head, like he found it in some way interesting, then said, “No, they’ll come in and ransack the place.”
I let out an anxious breath. He was right. And I couldn’t do that to Yvonne. I couldn’t have her come home from her shift at the bar to a wrecked flat.
More banging ensued. I startled when a head appeared at the window, though thankfully Yvonne’s net curtains shielded us from view.
“He’s not in there,” someone said. “He probably ran down to the Willows.”
The Willows was a dilapidated block of flats about five minutes away. It was where people went to drink and do drugs. If you were homeless, it was where you went to sleep.
“Come on,” the same person said, and the guy peering in the window disappeared. Dylan let go of me, took three strides across the room and looked out through the curtains.
“They’re gone,” he said and exhaled, his shoulders slumping in relief.
“Yes, now you should go, too,” I said, on guard again. I felt on edge having a strange boy in my flat who I’d never spoken to before. Though ‘boy’ wasn’t exactly the right term. Dylan was probably about a year older than me, eighteen maybe, but he was built like a man. Soon his shoulders would get even broader, his features more defined. He’d be a sight to be reckoned with then, I was sure.