Newburgh—July 3, 2012
"I see Ric tonight on the computer and in two days, I see him in person," Avi said to herself, her excitement mounting. She would be on her way to Ireland with Theater Kids International the next morning, but that was her secret.
Ric had finished helping his neighbor with indoor painting, then gone home to take a nap so he could be fresh and alert when he talked to Avi later. He took the precaution of sleeping in a half-reclining position so he wouldn't become too active in his dreams. He slept with a pleasant smile, as he proudly introduced Avi to his extended family and friends and walked hand-in-hand with her to his favorite local spots. He didn't know about TKI, but did know from Craig that Avi planned to come to Ireland.
Avi had a last dinner with her parents, then ran upstairs for her skype preparations. She applied just a little make-up and slipped into a little light pink gown. She changed the sheets on her bed for something that looked plush and sensuous.
Ric awoke to his alarm about 20 minutes before the scheduled time, showered and brushed his teeth and put on a blue t-shirt to bring out his eyes.
They smiled brightly when they saw each other.
"You look like you've been spending time outdoors," Avi said. "I've never seen you with a tan. What have you been doing this week?"
"Yeah, I've been workin' outside with some neighbors," he confirmed.
"Is only your face tanned?"
He grinned, "No."
"I don't believe you," she taunted him with a tempting smile. "I bet your chest is chalky white."
He returned the smile. "Not as much as it was last week."
"Prove it," Avi challenged him.
He pulled the shirt over his head to reveal his sun-kissed torso.
She beamed. "Very nice. I've missed seeing you," she added, stretching out and laying her head on her arm.
Roric absorbed the sight. "I miss everything," he said wistfully, "not just seeing you, but being with you, watching you with other people. I miss the Avi experience."
County Cork—October 24, 2012
"I'm so excited that I get to meet Morgan," Avi says, smiling from the passenger seat of the RV after we leave the castle.
Since I couldn't get him on the phone, we're going to the pub to talk to him. I grin at her. "More important, he gets to meet you, see what I've been braggin' about all this time, and I get to watch you with him."
"I like watchin' you with people; I like showin' you off."
She sighs. "You're so easy to love, Roric."
I actually feel my heart when she says that. "Other way about," I tell her, getting a little chocked up.
The pub's quieter than usual. Guess the storm from earlier kept people other than the regulars at home. Morgan isn't at the bar or one of the twenty or so tables scattered around the taproom. Avi's coughing. She's not used to such a smoky place, so I leave her at the table closest to the door and go to look for Grace, the waitress that Morgan's been seeing the last few weeks.
She's in the back getting a keg, but says she'll have a break soon and will come talk to us then. In just that short amount of time that I was away from her, the men have discovered Avelina.
There are three or four gathered around the table. I can't see her through them, but I can hear her. "No, you can't sit there. That's for my boyfriend."
It reminds me of our first day in the cafeteria at school, when she tried to save a seat for me and all the guys stood around her. I thought then that it was because they knew her already, so of course they wanted her. I thought I was the only one drawn to her after just one look. But I was wrong. My girl's a man magnet, no matter where she is, even wearing the sweats I gave her to put on.
I walk up to the table and wink as I hand her a glass of water. "Everything all right here?"
"It is now that you're here," she says with a smile only for me. She licks her lips and leans over the table for a kiss. She gets it. Avelina's always liked PDA and I'm just so happy that she's here to kiss.
Her admirers melt away and I sit in a chair right next to her. "Irresistible," I say. "I'll always be tearin' you away from a swarm, won't I?"
"Ri-ight," she says, leaning close enough to rub her face against mine, "As if every girl I've seen in Europe hasn't wanted the middle Finnegan brother."
"Ahem," says the woman on the other side of the table. I smile at her.
"Avelina, this is Grace. Grace, you've heard about Avi."
She sits in the chair. Morgan has a thing for "pleasingly plump," like my mam would say. Grace is a least a C cup, with long, blonde hair, a nice smile and dimples.
"Hello, Avi, it's nice to meet the girl that Rory won't shut up about."
She giggles in answer. "I love hearing that. It's good to meet you too."
"So, Grace, where's Morgan?" I ask.
Now she frowns. "I haven't seen 'im since the bastard died. Haven't talked to 'im either."
That's a little surprising. I thought he really liked her, but if he's not here, I just need to find out as much as I can. "Morgan never told me why he hated him as bad as I did. What do you know about it?"
She drops her light brown eyes. "He told me it was a secret. I shouldn't say."
"But he's gone," Avi points out.
Grace crosses her arms. "So he's gone. That doesn't mean I'm supposed to betray his trust."
Avelina shakes her head. "No, that's not what I mean. If he's gone and it has to do with Ti...the bastard, maybe it's because of the secret that he had to leave. And maybe if it isn't a secret, he'd be able to come back."
She's gorgeous and smart.
Grace looks at her for a minute, thinking, then she says, "Morgan had a sister."
That makes sense. I remember how upset he got when I mentioned my little sister, Celia. "Had?"
She breathes out heavy. "She died earlier this year...in child birth...she and the baby."
"Oh, no," Avi says softly. She has such a tender heart. I hold her hand on the table and ask Grace a real hard question.
"How was Morgan sure it was the bastard's?"
She squints her eyes at me. "She never had a boyfriend. She wanted to be a nun."
Avi sighs and shakes her head. "Poor thing. How did she get involved with Tim?"
Grace stares at her. "Did you know him?"
I squeeze her hand, as she answers with a nod.
Then Grace looks at me. "That's why you hated him."
"Yeah, that's why."
She shrugs. "I don't know. Morgan got so upset when he told me the first part, that he never could tell me how he met her." She takes a swallow of the ale she brought with her and pushes back her hair. "You don't think he..."
I don't answer right away. Can I really say there's no way he didn't kill Tim, when I thought about doing it myself?
"Of course not," says Avi. "He wouldn't have told you about his sister and put you in such a horrible position if he planned to kill him."
Grace looks so relieved. Avi can make anybody feel better. "I've got to get back to work," she says, standing up.
"Let me give you my number," Avelina says. "You can call us if you hear from Morgan or think of anything else. To tell you the truth, I could use somebody to talk to."
She has me and she brought her three best friends with her, but Grace doesn't know that. She smiles and she and Avi exchange numbers. We both hug Grace then leave.
"Damn," I say. "That was a waste of time."
"It was not," Avelina says, as we get back in the RV. "You know why Morgan wanted to get Tim so badly and we made a connection with his girlfriend."
"Why would we need to talk to her again? Morgan's gone. He's the only one who can tell us how he knew Tim got his sister or tell us about that painting."
"Oh, I'd be willing to bet that Maria and Craig can figure something out about the painting. And as for what Grace knows, we've just scratched the surface."
I look over at her. "How do you know that?"
Avi covers my hand on the stick shift with her own. "She's protecting the man she loves; I know exactly how she feels."
That face, that voice, what she says and the way she thinks—talk about easy to love.