Another one outa the park!
Sometimes it’s hard to scratch scenes like this, yanking words that you spend time and energy to create, but if it doesn’t work in the story – it needs to go.
Currently writing the new scene to take its place. I hope its better! 🙂
* * * *
He opted for the couch, pulling the coffee table closer to set his mug on an old newspaper. Only bullshit morning shows on, so he dug through Del’s DVDs until he found an old New Zealand versus Ireland Rugby League video. There was always something to learn about rugby, even if it wasn’t the same code as Union, the League players had their own style—and speed, lots of it.
The Irish players were unknown to him, the sport nowhere near as big as Union in Ireland. Concentrating on the forward pack movements, he didn’t hear Del come down the stairs.
Padraig jerked around to look behind him, spilling hot tea on his shorts.
Del perched himself on the arm of the couch. “Sorry, mate, didn’t mean to startle ya.”
Fuck, his nerves were shot. “What’s the story, Del?”
“Yeah, good mate. Had a great time at the races. You should’ve come with us. Staying here the long weekend must have been boring as bat shit.”
Del’s voice was full of gravel. It sounded like he’d had a good weekend. Padraig had barely slept, tossing and turning without Gillian there to ease him from his agitation so he’d heard when the boys had come in late, whispering in the loud way lads did when they tried to be quiet, but only made it worse.
“What did ya get up to?”
His time with Gillian was private, so he didn’t indulge. “Not much. Did you win big money?”
“In fact, mate, I did. Got that lucky Maori thing going for me after I approached the spirits.”
Padraig couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. Even after a month, Del was a conundrum, happy-go-lucky one minute, contemplative and moody the next. “Fuck off. How much?”
“Twenty big ones.”
“Yep, honest truth.”
“Nice. How about Rory?”
“That’s another story. Poor kid lost most of his savings, I reckon. He talked about getting a job when we got back.”
“Probably be good for him anyway. Too much time on his hands outside the rugby. He’s obsessed and needs to live a little. Ya know, get more out of his time here.”
“Nothing wrong with being focused.”
Del raised an eyebrow at him. “Sometimes there is. Sometimes, if you can only see one thing in life, you don’t see any of the rest. And there’s a big world out there.”
Padraig nodded. It was as if Del spoke of Padraig and not the young Scottish player. He’d been the same as Rory so it was hard for him to argue. Had been or was? He’d lived and breathed rugby for as long as he could remember. There was no other option for him in life. That was it. Some of the other lads on the Munster squad did university on the side, gaining qualifications in this and that, preparing themselves for the one day when they no longer donned their boots for a paycheck. Padraig hadn’t bothered. It was rugby or nothing. And that’s why the cut had hurt all the more. It wasn’t just about the stupid pills, nor about his dream dying right in front of his eyes. He hadn’t a clue what he was going to do with his life from that point. And it was that fear that had caused him the most sleepless nights.
The film ran in his head constantly, and even though he knew how the memory ended, he couldn’t help but watch.
Del slapped his thigh hard and broke Padraig of his reverie. “Gonna get me a cup of coffee. You want another one, Irish?”
“Yeah, that would be good.” He handed his mug over to the Kiwi.
“Sweet, be back in a mo.”
As Del made his way into the kitchen, Padraig spoke up. “I didn’t peg you for a League liker.”
Del paused at the doorway. “A good mate of mine played for the Kiwi International squad.”
“But it’s nowhere near as popular as Union, is it?” Padraig shouted to Del, immediately regretting it when he remembered Rory still slept.
Del stepped back into the living room, two mugs of steaming coffee in his hands. Handing one to Padraig, he moved to the telly. “My mate is number six, the big fella…there,” he said pointing out a bald, dark man. The close-up shot revealed tattoos the length of both of his arms, up the one side of his neck in a weaving tribal pattern to end just below his ear.
“You guys sure like your ink, eh?” Padraig asked him.
“We loved the ink before it was popular to like tattoos. For the Maori, it’s called Ta Moko and it’s part of who we are, not a fad. We wear ancestral and tribal messages on our bodies. Like this one here.” Del pulled up his shirt sleeve up past his armpit. The sea turtle represents fertility and long life.”
“I’m thinking of getting another one.”
“Yeah? You should. What of?”
Something for Gillian, but he wasn’t about to say.
When Padraig hesitated, Del asked, “Are you up for a run?”
“I could do with one. But are you up for it?”
“Irish, I’ve gotta sweat out some of the alcohol my cells soaked up this past weekend.”
And Padraig needed to get his mind off the pain killers and run off the pent up aggression the withdrawal was causing. Padraig raised his mug. “Let me finish this, get some gear on, and I’ll be ready.”
“Cool, cool.” The antipodean grew quiet as he focused on the game, so Padraig slipped upstairs to grab his running shorts and shoes. By the time he’d returned, Del was in the same position on the couch, but had already donned his own shoes, a water bottle hanging fisted in his large hand.
Padraig was happy to let Del lead, following as he ran them out of the cul-de-sac and headed for the lake. When they met the road that ran the shoreline, Del barely hesitated before stepping off the curb and dodging through traffic. While honks sounded, Padraig waved apologies for both of them.
When they reached the other side, Padraig punched Del in the shoulder. “You got a death wish or what?”
The Kiwi stopped long enough to take a long drink of his water and pull off his shirt. He tucked it into the back of his shorts and nodded at Padraig as if asking if he wanted to do the same. When he hesitated, Del gestured with his bottle. “C’mon, mate, we’ve got to give the ladies something to look at.”
Although Padraig was in shape, he was no Del. Built and tatted like The Rock, he turned most heads wherever he went. With more urging, Padraig ripped his off too, doing the same and tucking it into the back of his shorts like a duck tail. Never had he ran out in public without a shirt. It was unheard of. Not only would the rest of the team have given him grief for years, but the media would have had a field day. Here, they were nobodies.
And bloody hell, did they get attention. Tourists making their way to the beaches gawked and side-stepped from the sidewalk as Del and him barreled down the pavement that followed the curve of the waterfront. Padraig was the taller of the two, but Del was built like a brick shithouse, to use the Yankee turn of phrase. Next to Del, Padraig looked paler than a white beluga whale, his fair Irish skin in complete contrast to Del’s Maori blood. They even got some beeps and shouts out from girls that passed in cars. Del loved it, waving at each one of them, calling out to them, air-kissing back to their hoots and calls.
A set of steps ran up to a posh hotel on the water that Del took two at a time and did a Rocky celebration dance, then skipped back down again by the time Padraig met him at the other end. He laughed hard, because it was funny as hell and offered Del a high-five. And that simple gesture was the world to him, for he had little to feel good about the last six months. Much too long.
When they got as far as the Grand Traverse Yacht Club, Del slowed and took them around the front to a grassy area by the water. He stopped and Padraig did the same, heaving to catch his breath. No words, only the sound of the lap of the water against the hulls of the boats. The water sparkled from the midday sun, popping in and out of the waves.
It was strange not to have the taste of salt on his tongue or clinging to his skin. Every time he looked at Lake Michigan, it seemed to him a sea, not a lake at all. The first time he swam in it was even stranger, the buoyancy of the ocean missing,
“You ready to head back?” Del asked.
“Can I ask you something?” Padraig couldn’t meet Del’s eyes, so kept his gaze on a sailboat that had tacked about 100 yards away and headed back out again. “Why are you here?”
“Didn’t we already go over this?”
Padraig nodded. He remembered their drinks at the pub after his first practice. “I don’t buy it. Why, really?”
Del moved closer and slapped Padraig on the back. “That’s a story for another day.”
Unlike women, men knew when to let it go. If a person wasn’t going to answer, no prying would convince them otherwise. Or if a woman somehow dug her claws deep enough, she was only going to get an answer she didn’t want to hear.
“The more important question is why are you here? It’s obvious you don’t want to be. And you’re the lucky bastard that has a passport and everything.”
“My dad is American, but he won’t admit to anything but Irish now. He was born and raised in Boston where he met my mum when she was over on a J1 visa.”
Padraig could have lied, could have made up some half-arse story how he ended up in Michigan playing for the Blues, but he was done with it. With everything. The same as purging the pain killers from his body, he needed for someone on the team to know the truth. Like Gillian had shown him, the boys deserved better than what he’d given.
“I had some trouble with my club back home.”
He chanced a glance at Del, but nothing showed on his face. No judgment. No expression. “Or I should say I was the trouble at my club. Munster. Have you heard of it?”
“Fuck, yeah, mate. All Kiwi rugby players don’t have their heads up their asses.” He laughed to show Padraig that it was okay. Whatever he had to say was okay.
“About a year ago, I got a serious back injury during a big match against Leinster for the European Cup. I’d had a protruding disc for ages, but I kept playing. Then, after that last game, the disc herniated. I went in for a Medrol dose pack, but it didn’t work and I ended up having surgery. At the time, I was at the top of my game. Played for the Irish team, was a starting player every game. But I couldn’t play through my recovery, the pain started to peripheralize so I went to see my family doctor, an old guy who only saw a few clients, but a friend of my ma’s who I’d seen since I was a kid. I convinced him to write me a script for OxyContin.”
“That’s the same as oxycodone, right?”
“OxyContin is just the brand name, like Tylenol for paracetemol. What do they call it here? Acetaminophen.”
“You could say that. But you see, the old man would have done anything for me. Everyone was so proud of how far I’d gone, and you know how big rugby is in Ireland.”
“Not as big as in New Zealand, mate.”
“No, nothing can compare to you zealots down under.”
“So I started taking the meds before matches and my performance came back up. Then I started to take them for training until I was popping them every day, often two or three times a day.”
Del was silent so Padraig continued. “I got busted during a random drug screening after a match against Leinster for the Pro12.”
“Do they normally test for pain meds?”
“Not usually, or maybe not previously, but there’s this whole new push for clubs to test for pain killers as a boosting agent for performance.”
“Yeah, they already do it back home.”
“Well, I got sanctioned, my club dropped me, coach for the international team wouldn’t even return my calls, and no other European club would touch me.”
“You can say that.”
“So you still on the Oxycodone?”
Padraig drew a deep breath and slowly let it out through rounded cheeks. “I’m off now.”
“Any help from a certain lovely lady we all know?”
Padraig pinched a smile and acknowledged the wise Del with a nod. The man seemed to know everything. No wonder he was a good leader for the Blues. It was almost as if he sensed emotion off others. Or maybe his skills of observation were comparative to a touch judge, but the Kiwi was never blatant about it. Somehow he was able to remain best mates with all the guys on the team, but still command the respect that was needed in a captain.
“So how are you doing now?”
“Not sure, but…my happiness is slowly creeping back.”
“Yeah, that’s good. That’s real good, Irish. Haven’t I heard that line before?”
Padraig laughed with Del. “Powderfinger. They’re an Aussie band I got hooked on when I was down watching the World Cup in 2003.”
“Ah yeah, I know the song.”
“When you don’t have your own, might as well borrow from someone else, eh?”
“No worries, bro.” Del had started walking back toward the yacht club to cut through the parking lot to the sidewalk. “C’mon, I’ll race you back.” And without waiting for a reply, he was off.
What the feck? The Maori was crazy.