The sugar-high Nick Morrison felt as he walked through the mall with Deb Holcroft began crashing just before he rounded the corner into the entrance of the Tudor Arms. The tiny acorn in his memory that was the knowledge that Jason, J.R, Bill, Ian, Dave, and Dave went to the Arms, every Saturday to get illegal beers from Garedog Murphy exploded in an instant into his conscious mind like a towering century-old oak.
It stopped him short in the wide entrance to the mall’s pub. I’m an idiot, he thought. Deb hadn’t noticed he’d stopped. She was running to the table where Dave O’Finnegan beckoned to her. Nick noticed two empty glasses in front of O’Finnegan. Double rye and gingers no doubt. The rest had steins of beer. He gritted his teeth and followed Deb in.
“There he is!” O’Finnegan, as per usual, was far louder than he needed to be. Why did everything the guy said have to be burdened with eight layers of meaning — seven of them (or more) being insults of one form or another. Nick forced a smile. Then he saw Dave move over in the bench and pat the seat as an invitation for Deb to sit down. NO! Nick’s mind lurched. Grabbing Deb’s hand he pulled her back from taking the sit. Every eye at the table, Deb’s included, were on Nick hand holding Deb’s.
Realizing his emotions had, yet again, gotten out in front of his thoughts, Nick froze. Deb’s eyes were wide with surprise — what the Hell has gotten into Nick? Remembering she still held the new employee information from Denim Nexus in her hand, her quick mind sprung into action.
“For some reason, Dostoyevsky here wants me to read his hobbit essay,” She shook her papers to sell the deception and, reversing the grip Nick had on her, she yanked him away from his friends toward a table for two.
Nick was awestruck, as much by his serial stupidity today, as he was by Deb’s quick thinking.
She lunged for the drink menu before Nick had even settled into his seat. “What the Hell is up with you?” she whispered while pretending to read the menu and casting a careful glance at the table from which they had just escaped. She was relieved to see that any interest in them had already passed.
“I don’t know?” Nick was genuinely confused. He didn’t know how to think his way through how he was suddenly feeling about Deb. “The guys are just on my nerves lately.”
“You really aren’t yourself,” Deb reached over and took Nick’s hands in hers. The embarrassment of before was gone. The banshee’s message that Nick would die had returned to her thoughts. In this moment it didn’t even matter that Andy had said it was just a dream.
“I have a lot going on, Deb. School, hockey, my parents –,” he started looking for Garedog, he wanted a beer. Then, not really knowing why, he added, ” — all the bullshit with the Crowley’s.” Deb let go of his hands and crossed her arms to hug herself. She looked down and Nick immediately regretted bringing up Andy’s parents. He should have known it would make her sad.
“Morison!” Garedog Murphy had appeared. His perpetually smiling face and blazing rosy cheeks were a welcome relief in that dark moment. Under the friendly face an enormous muscled frame strained against last year’s Quinte Saints Rugby jersey. Nick always thought he looked the part of medieval tavern owner with no patience for tomfoolery — the kind who had no need of hired muscle to keep patrons in line. Nick pictured him with robust inn-keeper lamb chops — a far cry from Garedog’s pencil-thin teenage attempt at a moustache.
“Two steins of Canadian coming right up. Nick is paying or you don’t get ’em. Isn’t that right, Deb?” Somehow his smile grew even more for her. The smile she gave him back melted Nick’s heart.
How had I not seen it before? But he caught himself then. Would he unnerve her if too much came too fast? They had been friends forever. His reason caught up and overtook with his passion for perhaps the first time that day. Time to cool it down and back it off.
“Ruby has too much going on. My parents are worried about her.” Andy was the last thing Nick wanted to talk about but he had brought up the Crowley’s and needed to follow through.
“If anyone has their shit together though, it’s her,” Deb said. She had always looked up to Ruby. Nick had too. “And Andy think about how Andy quit drinking and smoking. He reads more than anyone I know — ” she paused. “It’s almost like his dad and mom leaving them was… good for him.”
How had Andy come up? Nick was fuming. He needed to change the topic
Nick? She was genuinely curious.
Would it be cool if I came with you and your friends to Club Cedars on Friday?
Deb’s head snapped back. Her eyes were wide. Friday was Aetherwield night?
“Here’s your beers!” Garedog’s massive cudgel hands effortlessly tossed the steins on to the table without spilling a drop. He locked his eyes on Nick’s — they had the secret communication powers unique to teammates who have won a football championship together. The barkeep snapped his head sideways toward the wide pub entrance. “And please let me know if Sweetie Pie over there gives anyone a hard time.” — Sweetie Pie was the name they had for a shared adversary. Scott Pierre darkened the entrance way. He did not look himself. Was Nick seeing things or were the creep’s narrow eyes glowing an amber hue?
“You know we can’t do this here, Prince Twain!” Every eye in the Tudor Arms turned then to the source of the booming, otherworldly voice. Dave O’Finnegan had stood to his full height and strode with valorous purpose toward Scott St. Pierre. There was no mistaking that O’Finnegan’s eyes roared with flaming amethyst light. Though none their knew this was the light of Limbo, realm between realms.
“No. Not now, Banjoman,” the whisper came from Scott St. Pierre, but it was not his voice it was a strange mix of a proper Queen’s English accent and a Midwestern American twang, and it had an echosome, metallic tinge.
Then, “WOAH, WOAH, WOAH,” drowned out both the imposing alien voices.
It was Andy Crowley. His shoelaces — as was typical — flew every which way as he skidded around the corner into the pub.