A/N: (09/2012) Going through and doing some minor revisions, cleaning things up a bit. Nothing major (meaning the storyline is all the same) has changed, although I have made a few small edits in various places throughout the story. Most of the changes probably won't be noticed, even if you've read this a time or two before, but hopefully a few funky spots I noticed when rereading this will flow better now. I'll be posting the edited chapters a few at a time, notated with the date, so you all can keep track as you're reading.
Part One: Never
"You may not love me today, tomorrow, or ever, but I will love you until it kills me, and, even then, you'll be in my heart."
April 27, 2012
Nola O'Donnell fell in love with Gideon Martin when she was only ten years old. He was a tall, skinny boy back then, with almost-black hair, light brown eyes, and the beginnings of his first real mustache. When she slipped on the ice during his sister, Bridget's, skating rink birthday party, he was the first person to notice something was amiss. Leaving his group of friends, he glided calmly over to where Nola sat hunched over in pain. Going to his knees beside her, he asked her what was wrong, and she told him that she couldn't move her wrist. Like some sort of fourteen-year-old White Knight, he helped her to her feet, guiding her safely off the ice to find his parents.
Gideon didn't move from Nola's side while his dad—whom she called Mr. Q—took care of calling Nola's parents and Mama J, his mother, bustled off to get ice from the concession stand for her probably-broken wrist. He helped his sister get Nola's skates off, taking care of tying her tennis shoes himself. Nola insisted her best friend go back on the ice with the rest of their friends, and after she disappeared, Gideon brushed aside Nola's tears and told her everything would be okay.
Looking into his eyes, which she suddenly realized looked more golden than brown, she made the immediate decision that they were the absolutely most beautiful eyes on the planet.
"I love you, Gideon," she whispered solemnly.
"Ah, hell." He blushed, his eyes flicking around to make sure none of his friends were nearby to overhear, and then reached out to ruffle her curly blonde hair. "Love you, too, kid."
Nola lost her heart to her best friend's older brother that day, and in the twelve years since, she'd never gotten it back.
There were times when she deeply regretted that fact. Like just now, when Gideon was sitting in a booth across the bar from her, sucking face and giggling with another woman. Granted, the woman was doing all the giggling; Gideon just had the stupid dimple-revealing grin, the one Nola hated to love, plastered on his face. And they weren't actually sucking face, but they did look horribly cozy in that little corner booth, bodies snuggled together, faces nuzzling into necks.
It was the third time Gideon had been into O'Donnell's—Nola's pub—with the short blonde, which meant he'd be getting laid at the end of the night. The thought made Nola's insides positively curdle with jealousy, which was silly considering...
"Nola? Are you listening to a word I'm saying?"
"Hmm?" The deep voice dragged her roughly from her thoughts and she simply blinked a few times at the middle-aged version of Gideon sitting in front of her. He was a bit heavier than his son—his waist having thickened a tad—but he was still exceptionally handsome, especially with the distinguished way his hair was going gray at his temples. Gideon didn't have to worry about getting older—nope, not one bit. "Sorry, Pop. What were you saying?"
Mr. Q chuckled. "I asked how the planning for Jayne's party is going," he repeated. Jayne was Mama J, and she'd be turning fifty in a couple months. They were holding a huge surprise party at the pub for her. "Oh, and before I forget, since Bridget's out of the country again, Gideon's offered to help you with the planning."
Nola nearly choked at his words. "I'd appreciate it," she told the man who, after her dad killed himself when she was eighteen, was now like a father to her. "Liam will be out of school soon, so I'll have my hands full."
Liam was her ten-year-old brother. With their mother having predeceased their father by two years, Nola had received custody of him after their father's death. She'd been young, but she'd been taking care of her little brother since he was a toddler; Nola loved him as much as she would've her own child and had fought hard to keep him. Mr. Q and Mama J had fought with her, and the couple had become pretty fantastic surrogate parents to her and little Liam once Nola was awarded custody.
"That boy is a rascal," Mr. Q agreed and finished his Guinness. "I oughta be going. Don't want Jayne to get suspicious."
Nola stood up from the bar along with the man. "Sure don't," she said, smiling. "Not quite yet, at any rate."
"You're a good girl, Nola O'Donnell," he said as he wrapped her in a big bear hug, nearly tight enough to crack a rib. "I'll talk to you soon."
Still smiling, she watched him weave his way through the bar towards his son's table. Although he said hello to the woman Gideon was with, he didn't bother to be overly friendly with her. There was no point; she'd be gone soon. None of Gideon's girlfriends lasted more than a couple months, at best, though the average was only about three weeks.
Nola knew, because Nola kept track. It made her feel a little stalker-ish, but one day she was going to get the courage to confess to Gideon her feelings. When that day came, she'd prefer Gideon to be single, so she paid attention to how long he dated his various women, looking for signs of him getting bored. Once she'd spotted them—the wandering eyes, the vacant expression, the aloof posture—she would start psyching herself up to tell him. Invariably, long before she'd worked up her nerve, he'd moved on to the next girl.
It was a frustrating cycle, but most of the time Nola thought it was for the best. Gideon was a heart breaker, no doubt. When a woman said she'd fallen in love with him, that was his cue to walk away without a second glance.
Unfortunately, that couldn't happen when the person in love with you was your little sister's best friend, and it was made even harder when they were practically a member of the family. So if, when—she was realistic enough to correct herself—Gideon rejected her, things were bound to get awkward. Especially considering everyone thought Nola had moved past her silly girlhood crush years ago.
Nola had done her damnedest to perpetuate that particular myth, dating multiple guys throughout high school and college, although none had lasted very long. As much as she tried to, she'd never been able to fall in love with the guys she dated. None of them had been able to capture her heart or stir her blood the way Gideon did without trying.
She supposed, in her own way, she was a little like him. The only difference was that she tried to fall in love with her boyfriends. And as soon as she realized it wasn't going to happen, she broke things off as quickly, not to mention as cleanly, as possible.
Gideon on the other hand... Well, he was usually less than sympathetic when a woman got in too deep. It wasn't as if he was some cruel, calculating womanizer. When he had a girlfriend, for however long they were together, he treated her well. Maybe a little too well, which was perhaps the problem. He never tried to prevent a woman from falling in love with him, and yet he was always disappointed when one did.
Nola knew he wasn't quite as heartless as most people assumed he was. He loved his family, which included Liam, deeply. And he loved Nola, too, though she knew it was strictly platonic, and he hadn't actually said the words since that long ago afternoon when she was ten. He'd do anything for his best friend, Javier Castillo, and even though they now lived in different states, they were as tight as they'd ever been. So, no, Gideon wasn't heartless.
He worked hard, paid his taxes, and was an all-around good guy whom everybody liked.
Everyone except the women who foolishly fell in love with him and were promptly dumped. Nola was pretty sure there was an I-hate-Gideon-Martin anti-fan club out there somewhere with a membership that was probably more than a hundred-strong by now; she wouldn't have been at all surprised to learn it had its own Facebook page. The thought tickled, and she couldn't help her eyes from drifting back to the object of her affections as Mr. Q exited the pub.
Across the bar, Gideon felt eyes on him, and gladly diverted his attention from the woman he was with to find out who was staring at him. Hopefully it would be someone more interesting than the twittering girl sitting in front of him. Upon finding the person boring a hole into his head, he was extremely pleased.
It was Nola, his little sister's best friend. Someone who'd been a constant source of amusement for him growing up. He'd always found her little crush endearing, and had been rather sad to see it go. That said, he much preferred her company now that she could look at him without stammering and blushing ten shades of red.
She didn't seem to react to being caught staring, and he figured if he were to cross the crowded pub to talk to her, he would find her blue-green eyes were blank as she drifted in some daydream.
The idea planted itself in his head, firmly taking root, and he excused himself to go speak with her. His date, Molly, didn't look too happy that he was running off to talk to another girl, but he had the handy reason of his mother's party, and she didn't fuss much as he climbed to his feet.
When he came over a moment ago, his father had told him that Nola needed help planning his mother's fiftieth—not that Nola would ever admit to needing assistance. His father explained to Gideon that he'd already lied and told Nola that Gideon had made the offer himself since Bridget was out of town, and Gideon didn't mind going along with that little fib, did he? He didn't, and in fact, would've felt rather guilty if neither of his mother's actual children helped to plan her big party.
Skirting past the familiar little tables filling up the space between the long cherry wood bar with its gleaming brass rails and the cozy leather booths lining the front of the building, he made his way to where Nola sat perched on a stool at the back of the pub.
He'd been right; her blue-green eyes were unfocused when he reached her and there was a small grin playing at the corners of her pink lips. She really does have pretty eyes, he thought to himself. Too pale to be compared to a tropical sea, but he knew that, as soon as he spoke, they would clear and resemble glittering aquamarines.
That was what his sister always called them: aquamarine. He decided it was an apt description. And remembering his sister, Gideon also remembered he had come over here for a reason, but first...
"What are you grinning about over here?" Gideon's voice suddenly broke into Nola thoughts, and she jumped about a foot into the air. "My date's about as interesting as drying paint, so please, share."
Recovering quickly, Nola's grin calmed to just a faint quirk of her lips as she considered him, her blue-green eyes narrowed. "I don't know, Gid," she drawled, glancing towards his table, where his date was simultaneously scowling over at them and trying to look uninterested in what they were doing. "She already doesn't look too pleased that you're over here talking to me."
He leaned against the bar. "And you think I give a fuck, why exactly?" he inquired, one dark eyebrow raising in curiosity. He made a dismissive noise. "I'm not too concerned. If she decides not to put out because she's in a snit over me talking to another woman, that's fine by me."
"You mean you might actually go to bed alone tonight?" she asked, sounding shocked. Leaning forward, she glanced out the closest window. "Are pigs flying?"
He awarded her joke a droll smile. "Funny," he said. "And I always go to bed alone, Nola."
"Don't you ever get tired of that?" she asked boldly, frowning slightly. "I know I do."
He laid his hand over hers, and she had to fight the urge not to turn it over and link their fingers together. "That, my dear, is because you're not like me," he told her and then squeezed her hand. "Not deep down. I'll stop by tomorrow and we'll go over plans for the party, okay?"
She nodded and gave him a bright smile. "Sure. Thanks for helping."
"She is my mother, you know," he reminded her dryly. He leaned over and kissed her cheek, something he didn't usually do, and if Nola thought he did it now only to piss off his date, she was right. "Have a good rest of the night."
With the memory of his kiss, even if it was only on her cheek, lingering on her skin and in her brain, she most assuredly would.
And she did, until about an hour before closing, when a young man who hadn't gotten the popped-collars-are-out memo decided to slap her ass as she walked by his table. Since such things were a definite hazard of waitressing in a bar, Nola would've left it at a deadly glare for that first offense. Unfortunately, a regular standing at the pool table a few feet away, having known Nola all her life, took offense to it, and began yelling at the drunken Frat boy. The situation escalated from there, and O'Donnell's sixty-six day streak without a fistfight—one for the record books—was broken.
The fight was split up rather quickly, but not before Nola took an elbow to the nose in the melee. Her head waitress, Jen, sent a bleeding Nola to the bathroom while she, her second waitress Amanda, and the bartender, Marcus, took care of getting the place straightened out. Another patron, a doctor, came to find Nola, and after taking a quick look at her profusely bleeding nose, assured her the break wasn't serious.
"It's not crooked?" Nola inquired fretfully.
He smiled and peeled off his latex gloves. "Nope, just ice it—fifteen on, fifteen off—tonight and first thing tomorrow, and sleep propped up the next few nights to keep it from swelling up any worse," he advised. "It wouldn't hurt to go see your regular doctor on Monday, either, just in case."
"Thanks, doc," she said, her voice muffled by the towels catching the blood, and followed him awkwardly out of the bathroom, trying to keep her head tilted forward. "When should it stop bleeding?"
"Soon. If it hasn't in twenty or so minutes, you'll want to go to the hospital," he told her. He rattled off a whole list of things that, if they happened, should send her immediately to the ER. "Now, go home and take it easy."
Nodding, she thanked him again and disappeared into her office. As her home was the apartment upstairs, she figured it didn't make much difference if she actually went up there or not. She stuck her head out through her office's second door, which opened up behind the bar, and asked Marcus for some ice. He grimaced when he saw her, and she imagined, since she hadn't actually looked when she was in the bathroom, that she looked an absolute fright.
She was supposed to be spending time alone with Gideon tomorrow. Of course she was going to look like something that belonged a horror film. She figured it was just her luck.
Nola stayed in her office for the rest of the night, nursing her injury, and quite happily left the cleaning up to her staff. It was nearly four o'clock when she entered the stairwell at the back of the building that led up to the apartment she shared with her little brother. Fortunately, Liam was attending the nearly-weekly sleepover held at his best friend Stevie's, and she didn't have to worry about being quiet. Despite the Tylenol she'd taken down in her office, her face was killing her and she knew she wouldn't be able to fall asleep quite yet.
In her living room, she turned on some music, filling her CD player with soft, slow-paced music, and then stretched out on the couch, laying an ice pack across her aching nose. A few songs had passed when Nola's cell phone rang. Only two people would call this late—Bridget or Clara, Stevie's mom—and Nola really hoped it was Bridget; she didn't want Liam to see her until morning, when, hopefully, the swelling in her face would have gone down some.
"Hello?" she greeted nasally.
"Oh, no. Are you sick?" Bridget's concerned voice inquired. "I hope I didn't wake you."
Nola sat up a little, adjusting her position. "You didn't," she assured her best friend. "There was a fight tonight and I got elbowed in the face."
Bridget made a sympathetic noise. "Your poor face," she said. "Is it broken?"
"Just my nose," Nola said and explained what the Good Samaritan doctor had told her. "Enough about me, though. How's Brussels?"
"Raining," Bridget replied glumly. "I'm holed up in my hotel room, waiting for it to stop, so I can go out and take some shots."
Bridget was a photographer, and she traveled the world freelancing for several travel magazines and websites, in addition to taking her own artsy photographs, which she sold online. After high school, she'd gone to art school in New York City for two years, long enough to make decent contacts, before setting off for Europe. Officially, she lived in the town where she'd been born and raised, but she was only home three or four months out of the year.
"Is that why you called me?" Nola inquired, teasing. "You were bored?"
"Of course. Why else would I call?" Bridget deadpanned, though Nola knew she was kidding. "I was actually calling to see what ideas you were having for Mom's party. I feel bad I won't be able to really help you plan it."
Nola smiled. "That's funny. I just met with Pop about it tonight," she told her. "And apparently Gideon has offered to help. He's coming over later to start planning."
"Well, he'll be good for hard labor, at least," Bridget muttered, making Nola chuckle. The siblings got along extremely well. For at least as long as Gideon's love life was left out of conversation, which was why Nola hadn't told her friend she was still in love with her brother. "Do you have any ideas yet?"
Nola had been pondering that all evening. "I was thinking the theme would be 1962," she replied. "We'll play music that was big that year, maybe have some slide shows with fun facts and trivia playing, show clips from popular TV shows and movies..."
"I guess Gideon will be able to help, after all." Bridget laughed. "Well, I'm glad to know you've got it well in hand."
Nola could tell her friend was a little upset she couldn't do anything more to help. "I'll let you know if we need anything," she said. "And you'll be the official birthday photographer, I hope."
"Of course I will," Bridget told her. "Gideon might be able to do a lot of things, but taking a decent picture is not one of them."
Nola laughed, because wasn't that the truth? Gideon tended to chop off heads whenever he got a camera in hand. She chatted with her dearest friend for a little while longer before saying she needed to go to bed. Liam was due to be home in just a few short hours, and Nola needed to get some sleep before the boy woke her again.
In her relaxing, lavender-and-white bedroom, Nola tugged off her jeans. Afraid of pulling her t-shirt over her head, and more than likely bumping her already mangled nose, she maneuvered her bra off through her sleeve. Reluctantly, she looked in the mirror in the bathroom as she was preparing to brush her teeth. The sight made her groan aloud.
She really did look like a hot mess. Or a raccoon—she wasn't sure which descriptive she preferred. The area around her eyes was purple and puffy, and her nose was ugly and had swollen to—what seemed to her to be—twice its normal size. She didn't know how the doctor could possibly have determined whether it was crooked or not, though she prayed he was right; she'd always liked her nose.
After gently cleaning the blood off her face, she turned out the light and returned to her bedroom. Thankfully, she had lots of throw pillows on her bed, and it wasn't difficult to arrange them such that she wasn't laying flat. Switching off the small lamp on her bedside table, she closed her eyes and gradually fell into a sleep that was almost as deep as the bruises beneath her eyes.