St. Patrick’s Day was a holiday designed specifically for alcohol poisoning and poor decisions. Or, since I hated beer and could only manage one shot before getting sick, it was a holiday designed for driving my friends to and from our favorite bar, hopefully before they got themselves sick. Luckily for me, they all lived within five minutes of my apartment.
The pub we’d been to was small, cramped, lively. The bartenders all knew us and our usual drinks, and the regulars asked how us how work was, showed us pictures of their kids, told us stories about their lives. The waitstaff was made up mostly of college kids hoping to keep themselves out of debt and to keep food on the table. Though it was popular, especially tonight, it never lost its family feel. It was, by far, one of my favorite places to go if I was going to be out late drinking, or wanted a hot meal that felt homemade.
We’d left earlier than the rest, just as the holiday rush was really hitting. Sara was draped over her girlfriend Hallie in the backseat of my car, while another one of our friends, Penny, stumbled up to her front door from the passenger seat. I waited to see her get safely inside before pulling away from the curb. “Alright, ladies, almost home, and then you can have wildly inappropriate drunk sex.”
Sara giggled. “I’m too tired.”
“That’s not what you’ll be saying when we’re back,” her girlfriend murmured. I rolled my eyes.
“You’re lucky you live so close to me.” I turned into their apartment complex, stropping directly in front of their building. “Go on, haul each other out of here.”
Sara leaned forward and gave my cheek a sloppy, wet kiss. “Byeeeee Zoeeeee!” She drew both words out as Hallie opened the door and extracted them both from their seat belts.
I watched them stumble down the path to their first floor apartment, again not leaving until their door had closed. Things had moved so quickly for them, from friends to girlfriends to roommates, and Sara was so blissfully happy, my initial envy had died out. Hallie was a pretty, sweet girl, and treated Sara right, so I liked her. Besides, if she wasn’t treating Sara right, I’d have to kick her ass, and then Sara would be mad that I didn’t let her help.
It was only ten when I got home, considerably early for a night at the bar. I had some Jameson for the occasion, given to me by me older brother, and considered taking a couple of shots and maybe hitting up Nick. Then I thought better of trying to be anything but mushy and sleepy whilst drunk, and decided just to have the Jameson and maybe watch Celtic Thunder.
The night was oddly quiet considering how close I lived to the city. The college wasn’t far from my apartment, which meant Main Street was only a twenty minute walk from me. I could see the lights from my windows, sometimes even hear the cars zooming by. Everything was so peaceful. The hush of night had fallen over the city, no sign of the St. Patrick’s Day insanity yet. After locking my door, I strolled across my living room and threw open the window, letting the cool air in.
“There we go,” I murmured to myself, pleased. The breeze filled the room with the songs of the night. Humming, I went about my nightly routine, brushing and braiding my hair, brushing my teeth, washing my face. The night was cool for Florida in March, so I pulled on thick fuzzy pajama pants and a tee shirt that was wildly too large for me. I settled onto the couch with the whiskey and a fuzzy blanket, turned on my movie, and was unconscious within the hour.
My TV had turned itself off when the noises started. I jerked awake at the sounds, waiting to hear more, not entirely sure if they’d been real or not. It was just shy of one, according to the clock on the cable box. Maybe I’d imagined it?
The noises came again, and I rolled my eyes. Someone was shooting off fireworks, and close by. Rude. After detangling myself from the blanket that I’d managed to cocoon myself in, I went to the window and leaned out, hoping to see the bright lights in the sky, but there were none. The noises continued anyway, and I frowned. Perhaps I couldn’t see them on my side of the building. Nonetheless, if I wasn’t going to get a show, there was no reason to listen to the fireworks. I closed my window and went to put away my whiskey and clean my shot glass, too awake now to try going back to sleep
Minutes later, the sirens started. I tensed. There weren’t only cop sirens; the keening whine of ambulances went by as well. They were so close, too close, definitely on Main.
Dread coiled in my stomach. I went back out into the living room, switching on the TV and pulling up the local news station. My hands curled around the remote, so tightly my knuckles were turning white, my fingers aching from the strain.
“Shots fired at local Main Street pup…”
The scene was like something out of a horror movie. Lights swirling, sirens blaring, a pristine reporter strangely out of place. Screaming, so much screaming. The building behind the reporter was so familiar, too familiar, and I felt my stomach lurch. Though the sign was sparking and dark in the background, it was, without a doubt, the pub the girls and I had just left.
The remote dropped from my hand.
I was going to be sick. I knew the staff there. I knew most of the regulars. It was a weekly haunt for the girls and myself, and the only reason we’d left early was to avoid the three am St Patrick’s Day assholes.”I was there,” I whispered, though I didn’t recognize my own voice, like it had come from someone else’s mouth. “We were there.”
My hands shook as I texted Sara, Hallie, and Penny, even though I had seen them get home safely with my own eyes. Their responses were immediate, equally shocked yet comforting, and I relaxed, just the tiniest bit. I pulled Facebook up on my phone, barely calmer, still trembling as I checked myself in as safe. I’d barely hit the button to post when there was a violent, insistent pounding on my door.
I ran. Nick’s voice was like nothing I’d ever heard from him before– he never yelled, and he’d never sounded so…god, afraid. He sounded afraid.
The lock was nearly impossible due to the shaking, but I managed to free it, wrench open the door, and saw Nick standing there, visibly shaken. He looked like he’d rolled out of bed and immediately run down the stairs, his hair a tangled disaster, his clothes wrinkled. My heart clenched, painfully. The reality of the situation, of how close a call that had been, swamped me, and I felt myself tear up, my throat closing.
He grabbed me. Wrapped his arms around me and squeezed, as though I might disappear any second. I brought my arms up and squeezed him back, tears rolling down my cheeks, into his shirt.
“I’m okay,” I whispered, for both of us. “I’m alright.”
I started to pull back, and he followed, refusing to let go. He seemed to read my mind and kicked the door shut behind him, and then just stood there, one hand woven into my braid, one gripping my shirt at the small of my back. He was trembling, almost as much as I was. I stroked his back, trying to soothe him, to ground him.
“Nick,” I started again, but he cut me off. His hands framed my face, the kiss so deep, so hard, I forgot what I’d been trying to say. I’d never been kissed like this before, as though nothing mattered but the two of us. It was overwhelming. It was magical.
Whatever had been keeping him so still when he’d come in had vanished. He gripped me like a lifeline, pushing me into my bedroom with an urgency I’d never seen in him. I wrapped my arms around his neck and let him lead, returning the kiss while he fumbled with the doorknob. He finally managed to open the door, not bothering to close it as he maneuvered us to the edge of my bed, then lowered us both to the mattress and settled on top of me. He never let go, never moved his hands from me for longer than a few seconds. He had my pants off in a swift movement, one hand wrapped around my waist to support me as I helped kick them off.
My hands still shook, grasping at his shorts, shoving them down, trying to help him. Nick sat up only long enough to get the shorts down enough to free himself, then lowered himself again, his kisses bordering on desperate now. He held my hips tightly, almost too tightly, pushing his legs between mine. I struggled to keep kissing him as my hand scrambled toward my nightstand drawer.
Nick anticipated me, yanking my arm back to him. I wrapped my arms around his neck again, while he got a condom and ripped the packaging open. His lips moved to my neck, kissing, biting, licking a trail to my ear and sucking on the lobe. I reached down with one hand to help him roll the condom on, my other hand gripping his hair, tugging him closer. I needed the reality of him, the solidity. I needed to know this was real. I was okay, I was safe. I was alive.
His lips returned to mine, sweeter now, slower. Something shifted in the way he touched me as he took my legs and wrapped them around his waist. The urgency was still there, but his hold was gentler, more careful. He touched me almost reverently, almost lovingly, though he moved quickly. I arched as he entered me, breathless.
The slowness faded away as he cradled me in his arms, as I cradled him with my body. He kissed me the entire time, his lips never leaving mine except to kiss my cheeks, my forehead, even the tip of my nose, but always returning to my own lips. Something inside me tripped, fell, shattered, and I went with it, crying out against his lips. Nick’s arms tightened around me, and he came with me.
We both fell there, wrapped in each other, clinging to each other. Nick had dropped his face into my shoulder, his weight on top of me more comforting than anything else could have been in that moment. I stroked his hair, praying he wouldn’t notice me crying and think it had to do with him. The tears had started, and now they wouldn’t stop. I shuddered in a breath, but otherwise remained silent.
For a moment, I’d thought he’d fallen asleep, until I realized my shirt was damp. Turning my head slightly, I realized he was shaking, harder than me. He’d tucked his face so tightly into the crook of my neck that his sobs were muffled by my own body. I squeezed my arms around him, then went back to just petting his hair.
“I thought you were still there.”
He whispered it into me, clutching me even more tightly. I stayed silent, waiting.
“You told me you were going there, with Sara and the others, and I didn’t know if you’d come home, and when I heard the shots–”
“I thought they were fireworks,” I murmured.
“I wanted them to be.” He shuddered, clutching me again, and I switched to stroking his back. “But when I heard the sirens–” he choked for a moment. “When I turned on the TV, and it was– it was you there, screaming, even though it wasn’t really you.”
I nodded. “I understand.”
He shook his head. “I had to check. I had to know. I had to be sure.”
My heart clenched, and I turned to press a kiss wherever I could reach. It ended up being the side of his head. “I’m okay. I’m alive. You didn’t lose me.” When he didn’t say anything further, I kept reassuring him, pressing kisses to his hair, rubbing his back slowly. “I’m safe. I’m here. The others are okay, too. We’re all a little shaken, but we’re all okay.”
He nodded, then rolled, pulling me against him on our sides. I nestled into his embrace, suddenly overwhelmed by everything that had happened. My eyes drooped shut from the exhaustion.
“I don’t want to lose you,” he murmured, so quietly I barely heard him. “I can’t lose you. I love you.”
His words, so soft, barely a breath, seeped into my fogged mind. I didn’t know if I was already asleep, dreaming, but it felt real. Warm, a little cloudy, but real. I squeezed Nick closer.
“I love you, too.”
Before I could find out if he’d heard me, before I could see his reaction, my exhaustion won out. Sleep settled over me like a blanket, and I gave in to it.