Strabane—July 15, 2012

Ric had difficulty keeping his hands and arms chastely around her waist. She felt so good and he could remember so much from just a few days ago. "Avelina," he said, "would you want to leave after your party so we can spend one last night together?"

She seemed to have suddenly been lit from within, as she asked, "Really? We can do that? They won't be upset?"

"I think since they know you now and how much I love you that they wouldn't mind. I'll talk to Dad about it."

Ross listened patiently and with a straight face, as his middle son told him as tastefully as he could about his burning desire for his girlfriend, who had de-flowered him just a few days earlier, and their wish for a reprise of that night, after his mother threw a party for said girlfriend.

"It'll never be enough, Roric," he said wisely. "Even if you stay together tonight, on the way to the airport, you'll both think 'one last time' and even if you do that, at the airport, you'll think 'one last time.' The two of you can't be satisfied right now and it will only be worse after tomorrow, when she's back in America."

Ric slapped his hands against either side of his head and sat down heavily in the chair across from the desk in his father's home office. "At least I won't be able to smell her or watch her walk or just look at her. I've been losing my mind the last couple of days with her so close and not being able…"

"I get the idea," Ross said, holding up his hand to stop Ric's declaration. "You should be careful what you say though. If Avi were to hear you, it might sound to her like you wish she hadn't come."

"What? No, I…"

"I know—sweet torture. I won't think you a bad son if you leave with her tonight after the party."

"And Mam…"

"…is more of a romantic than you think and she loves Avi. After what has happened to the dear girl, if you can make her happy and restore her faith in men in general…well, let's just say I'm very proud of what you and your brother did in Cork."

"I love her," Roric said simply, "I'd do anything for her."

Ross rose from his chair and walked around the desk to place his hands on his son's shoulders, "Now all you have to do is figure out what that means."

Strabane—October 25, 2012

Brian's not anymore pissed at me right now than I am with him. Who does he think he is, yelling at me like that?

Ang scurries past me on her way to the kitchen, glancing up at me with a worried face. I wink to reassure her. This might be her first look at the Finnegan temper, but I've grown up with it.

I stand in front of him in the hallway, staring him down. "What?" I ask in a short, hard voice, trying to emphasize that I'm a couple inches taller than him.

"What the hell did you think you were doing?" he demands, pushing out the words like shotgun shells.

"Kissin' my girlfriend," I answer loudly. "It's none of your business or anyone else's."

He glares but before he can respond, Dad comes in. "In my office," he snaps, pointing to a door under the staircase.

We go through, down the steps to his basement retreat. He's run his locksmith business from there since we were kids, so he's got file cabinets and a computer and copier/printer sitting on a table on the back wall. His desk is on the other side of the room, under the window where a little natural light can come in. He has florescent tubes in the ceiling. Just like when we were kids, we stand there until he takes his seat behind his desk, then we sit in the two stiff chairs in front of it. "Now what's this all about?"

Brian sits forward. "How am I supposed to help this fool if he doesn't help himself?"

"I never asked for your help," I point out. "You're the one goin' for extra credit at school."

He throws up his hands and looks toward Dad. "He doesn't get it. Ric," he says, turning to me, "If we don't figure out who killed Maebry, you're goin' to trial for it."

I stare in shock. "But Connor—"

"—He wouldn't have felt safe in goin' to see Avi if the cops were really still workin' on the case. They're not because they think you killed Maebry and are just waiting for you to make a mistake so they can arrest you. Nobody thinks Connor had anything to do with the murder. Why would he?"

"Because he's the same kind of sick bastard. Look what he tried to do to her!"

Brian shares a look with Dad and Dad says, "Avi's a very pretty girl, Roric, and she'll be eighteen in a few months. She's at the age of consent. You can't say a man's a pervert just because he's attracted to her."

There it is again: that reminder that I have more to worry about than just lads our age. It's okay for anybody to want her. I don't answer, just look down, so Dad speaks to Brian.

"What were you yelling about when you came in?" he asks, leaning back in his chair.

"He's so careless," Brian answers, talking about me like a kid again. "The Press is all over the house and he's gettin' the shift in the garage. I open the door to try to get Ang in without a lot of exposure and there they are, his hands all over her. And the cameras went crazy."

Dad sits up. "How did you the garage door open? It wouldn't when we came home. We had to walk Avi through all that."

Brian waves his hand to brush that off. "Who knows? Maybe the reporters did something to it before. But that's not the point."

Dad nods his head. "He's right, Roric. You need to be more careful, more gentlemanly where Avi's concerned."

Something about the way he says that...I don't like where this is going.

Now Brian nods. "That's right. The Press is lookin' for a story and you don't want it to be yours and Avi's—"

"Alright, I get the idea," I interrupt him. "We'll be more careful."

Now they both shake their heads. "No, Roric," Dad says. "Careful isn't good enough." He looks at me to get the message across.

"But what about him and Ang?"

Dad turns his eyes on Brian.

"Angela wasn't the obsession of a murder victim or homicide detective," Brian says in that big brother voice I hate. "But we'd be willin' to stop seein' each other, if it'll help Avi."

"Oh, big sacrifice," I say with a sneer. "Ang doesn't mean anything to you. You'd be just as happy with Craig!"

Have I just outed my brother to our Dad? No, he isn't shocked.

"That's enough, Roric," he says, real calm. "It's true that you and Brian have very different relationships with Avi and her friends. So you should be even more concerned for her welfare..."

(I almost shoot up from my chair at that. Is he sayin' I'm not concerned?)

"...and appearances. What's happened to her since she's been here..." Dad shakes his head. "This isn't how we promised her parents she'd be looked after when they agreed to let her come."

I look down, a bit ashamed. What's happened to her isn't what I would've wanted either.

"So, for the remainder of her visit, she and Ang will stay here and you'll stay with Brian in his apartment, and the RV will stay in the garage."

My head jerks up in surprise. Now we can't even be in the same place at night? But the look on Dad's face says there's no argument. So I sulk. So does Brian, but I think it's because he isn't any more happy about havin' me as a roommate than I am with havin' to stay with him.

"Well, now that that's settled," Dad says, getting up from his chair, "let's go eat."

I follow behind him. As unhappy as I am about this, I still think that I hope I'm like him when I'm his age. I look a lot like him now. He's still slim and strong. I have his eyes and dark brown hair. I wonder if I'll have that kind of respect from my grown sons, without ever having been too hard on us. He's a hell of a man.

As we get to the dining room, I can hear the clatter of the dishes and conversation and one of the best sounds there is—Avelina's laugh.

"This stirfry is delicious, Margaret," she says, just as I take the seat to her right. Usually I try to give her leg a sneaky squeeze or something, but the way Dad's watchin' way.

Mam's put the extenders in the table to fit all of us. Avelina, me, Celia and Maria are on one side; Ang, Brian, Craig and Seamus are on the other, and Mam and Dad on the ends. The big hanging brass lamp over the table has never cast so many shadows on the walls behind us, like there are twenty of us instead of ten.

Dad gives everyone the "good news" about the new sleeping arrangements.

Avi's politely turned to him and she gives me a look out the corner of her eye. She sees Brian and me scowling at each other across the table. Seamus thinks it's hilarious. I wanna wipe that smirk off of him, and Ang offers the first "but."

"What about our clothes?"

Dad looks a little confused. Oh, he didn't think about that, did he?

"Ross and I will go get them after dinner," Mom says. "It's important for the reporters to see that you two aren't leaving the house and that they (she points to Brian and me) are." It's weird that she says the same thing that Dad did, because I know they haven't talked since we came back upstairs.

I know I sound resentful, but I ask anyway, "Are you gonna make us leave right after dinner?"

Mam smiles. "No. You and your brother can stay here until we get back."

"I hate that we're putting everyone out," Avelina says in an adorable, sweet voice.

Mam pats her on the arm. "Nonsense, honey, this isn't your fault. It's just something that happened that we have to deal with. Judging from my sons' expressions, it's not an ideal solution, but it protects you, like we promised your parents."

My girl—she doesn't do anything to bring these things on. They just happen, usually because she's just so freakin' irresistible.

So when Mam and Dad leave with her and Ang's lists of what to bring back, she's clearing the table and we're the only two in the room, I don't resist. I press myself against her back and my hands slide under and up her shirt. "You gonna miss me, Luz-lips?"

She sighs a little and I can see her face without seeing it. Her eyes closed and lips parted and a beautiful blush just starting in the hollows of her cheeks.

"Ric," she says in that breathy voice that speeds up my blood. "We shouldn't."

"C'mere," I tell her, sitting down in a chair and pulling her onto my lap. This is the longest I've gone without kissing her since she's been here. She tastes the way I always think of her—spicy and sweet, and now a little salty from Mam's cooking.

"Ric," she says again with a half-hearted objection, but I don't want to talk. I just want as much of her as I can get...

"Hey, Ric, get in here. Those of us who did somethin' today are comparin' notes."

...and I want to keep from killin' my brother.