Previously posted on July 20, 2018 as a Guest Author post hosted by author Jackie Keswick at http://www.jackiekeswick.co.uk
Happy July Friends! I’m LE Franks, and I’m in the middle of a trip to Europe for Euro Pride Con, sitting in a kitchen in Waterford, Ireland, looking out over the back garden with its flock of fat and happy chickens while I write.
Anyone who knows me, knows I’m travel mad. Given the opportunity I stretched what should have been just a pleasantly long weekend in Amsterdam, to sixteen days of wandering between friends, researching a number of projects in both England and Ireland.
I’m thirteen days into my travels and this blog post featuring 6 Days to Get Lucky from my backlist, comes at a uniquely opportune time for me. The 6 Days series [6 Days To Get Valentine, 6 Days To Get Lucky, 6 Days to Get Away (pending) ] follows the same couple (Nick & FatBoy) from meeting, through the development of their relationship, using holidays as markers to show the passage of time throughout a single year. Seems like a simple concept, yet to get the story elements just right, takes time.
6 Days to Get Lucky picks up the story four weeks after Valentine, when the relationship is still brand new and they’re feeling their way forward. Nick is impatient, FatBoy is taking his sweet time and they’re both getting frustrated by circumstances as their bar is invaded by a flirty captain and his Irish Hurling team.
Researching hurling from my living room in California was efficient. I watched ‘how to’ videos, matches replayed via YouTube, contacted the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) about the All Ireland Senior Championship, read up on the history of hurling in America. All solid work. And in a romantic comedy set in a bar rather than a book of sports fiction, it was enough to get the point across.
As if I knew anything.
Luckily the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final being held at Semple stadium in Thurles yesterday set me right.
Can I swear here? OMFG! What a wild ride, carried along with 25,000 hurling fans who were on the edge of their seats to see which team would finally advance to the All Ireland round after the first game ended in a tie.
Hurling is a beautiful, brutal sport. It’s played fast and hard, on the ground and in the air, the ball (the size of a tennis ball called a sliotar) can be slapped, picked up and thrown, or carried by hand, or with the flat of the hurley, or hit in the air, or on the ground, until a team can get it through the goal post or in the net. It’s madness. It is a sport without restraint, the adrenaline of the pounding charge of polo without the horse.
And it’s brilliant.
Sitting amongst the burgundy of Gallway, mixing freely with the yellow stripes of Kilkenny, was enlightening, especially as the game was played when the frenzied nationalism of the World Cup was on full display. But in hurling, the fans don’t show their passion for their given team by tearing down the opposition. Oh no. Where would be the sport in that? Instead as the game rolled on the the scores were nearly tied, the stadium rocked with the challenge and response–one set of fans trying to out do the other with the volume and vigor of their roaring approval. I can still feel the echo of that energy vibrating in my bones.
And in the end, when Galway walked away with the win, and the fans flooded out of the stadium en masse–they shared another passion, getting to their car parks and train platforms as quickly as possible with a lot of laughter and good natured ribbing along the way. – LE Franks
Excerpt from 6 Days To Get Lucky by LE Franks
A little taste from the first scene when the hurling team arrives at the bar.
They’d been going at it for about an hour. Liam and Rory spilling endless facts about their beloved game and Corwyn interjecting with a word, or to cut through the miasma growing in the wake of their lecture. It was confusing. It sounded like someone had taken every sport I’d ever heard of, dumped them into a burlap sack, and shook it to hell. The first five sports that tumbled out won.
I tried my theory out on them.
I should have taken my break instead.
“So… it’s like a cross between field hockey and lacrosse… You have those hockey stick thingies…”
“A Hurley,” Corwyn provided helpfully. He reached under his barstool to drag out something that looked like a canoe paddle with a large bite out of the blade end. Sort of.
“Ya get hit with one of these, it’ll give ya a dead leg for sure,” added one of the fullbacks whose name escaped me in this sea of Irish swamping my bar.
“Dead leg?” I asked, working through my third rack of pint glasses. My second bartender had shown up, so I only had to pull draughts for the pack of hurlers arrayed before me. I was starting to enjoy myself.
“S’no big—wack it wi’ your fist a couple a times and you’re good ta go,” Rory nodded, and I got the impression it was like having your leg fall asleep.
“But you can carry the ball like in lacrosse…” I was trying to get this straight in my head.
“Sliotar,” Liam replied, working his way through a fourth Guinness.
“Which is like a baseball that you throw or carry but only a few steps like basketball?”
Corwyn snorted. “Now you’re makin’ fun. But you’re not far off. You can carry the sliotar for four steps in yer hand, but beyond that, you need to be bouncing it on the face of your hurley. That little point on the end—” Corwyn pointed to the edge with the bite missing. “Ya use that to scoop the sliotar off the turf, onto the face.”
“Then what?” I asked.
“Ya run like the wind and pass to your forward if you can—if you can’t, you toss the sliotar in the air with the hurley, then smack the hell out of it downfield toward the goal.” Liam was becoming more pleasant with each sip.
“Right. Like baseball.”
Liam scoffed at me and delivered a freshly signed sliotar into my hand. I hoped he didn’t expect me to apply it to his tab.
For all that they were protesting, its resemblance to an American baseball was actually fairly accurate—close in both size and weight, just falling short of both measurements.
“You can also hit it with your open hand to pass.” Someone reached for the sliotar to demonstrate their technique, but I jerked it back to safety.
I looked at it again, considering. “So like handball.”
“No. You can kick it, as well as strike it on the ground—you just want to get it into the net for a goal for three, or through the uprights for a single point.”
Liam had pulled out his phone to show me a diagram of the field. And it looked like a damn soccer field to me, except the net was tucked underneath what looked like a typical NFL goalpost. When I pointed that out, Liam corrected me.
“Pardon?” I watched him tuck away his phone and drain his glass with a gesture that screamed disappointment in an errant child.
“Its proper name is ‘football’—” The old Liam seemed primed to make a spectacular comeback.
“I donna why you Yanks insist on calling it soccer. You’re the only ones in the whole wide world who does…” Rory interrupted, color high. He hadn’t moved far and had drained more than his first pint, wedged silently next to Corwyn until now.
“And then you replace it with a game for poofs!” Rory spat.
His comment eliciting a sharp slap to the back of his head, rocking him forward so his nose kissed the oak.
His yelp rang through the chatter. “I was just going to— ”
I glanced up from topping off the latest pitcher and caught Corwyn’s hand tangling in Rory’s red locks, dragging him close enough so that I could hear them over the rumbling of the bar.
“Mind yer tongue, boy-o. Yer lucky we don’t send you home to yer mam. Now go have your drink somewhere else, and let the men talk.”
Pushing the boy away, Corwyn turned back to me. “I’m sorry, he’s just a little—”
“Fuck, Corwyn.” Rory shoved back. “We’re not on the field. You’re not captain here. Keep your feckin’ hands to yourself. Shite, I was just trying to say that American football is a game for siss—”
“Mouth.” Corwyn’s tone was hard and flat. “And you better believe that until you’re back home, tied to your mother’s apron strings, I’m your Captain everywhere! You’re representin’ your team, your sport, and your country—and I won’t have a homophobic little shite like you cause trouble first day.”
He called over his shoulder. “Mickey, come get your brother before I put him out meself—for good!”
Apparently Rory didn’t get his wounds from being an innocent bystander. As soon as Corwyn turned away, he
lunged, grabbing the front of his captain’s shirt as another mass of muscle shoved his way through the crowd.
I startled at the sight.
If the brothers were balloons, they’d be identical in nearly every aspect except one: Mickey looked like they’d forgotten to fill him completely with air.
Everything about him was just a little smaller than Rory: his build a little slimmer, his face a tad narrower… even his hair was a paler shade of red when compared to the thick mess his very big little brother was sporting. Though none of that hid the danger Mickey telegraphed as he laid a gentle hand over the top of Rory’s fingers, untangling them from their grip on Corwyn.
“What’s the problem, Cor?” Mickey’s voice was like dragging old pipe over a gravel road.
One of my regulars caught my eye, and I reluctantly left my post. By the time I’d returned from pouring him a shot of tequila, the pleasantries were over and the shouting between the brothers was underway.
“—don’t try! You’re not my brother here, we’re equal.” Rory was a sea of red, his fury pulsing along with the cords in his neck.
“Ya shite. Ma’d be sooo proud if she could see ya now, Rore. I told you to shut yer gob and keep your opinions to yerself!”
“Fuck you, Mick! You have no righ—”
“I have every right! The minute you start mouthin’ off, you prove everyone correct.”
“That’s shite and you know it, Mick. You don’t say any different at home, I—”
I lost track of the argument, despite my best efforts. Frankly, the English disappeared beneath heated Irish brogues sprinkled with Gaelic and whatever internal familial shorthand they had.
Corwyn jumped in to separate the brothers, grabbing Rory’s shoulder. Fast as a snake strike from the underbrush, Mickey turned his ire on him, yanking the hand away from his little brother.
“Fuck you, Corwyn,” Mickey growled. “This farce of an exhibition tour isn’t a real team and yer not my captain. You’re just playin’ at it for the big bosses, and yer doing a shite job!”
The last was emphasized with a hard shove that sent Corwyn backward into the bar, his elbow knocking over an empty pint glass. I made a grab for it, catching it just as it tumbled over the edge, and as I looked up, I saw Corwyn’s face go from stern to furious and the blue of his eyes turn arctic as he lunged to his feet.
“Mick—” Liam warned, matching growl for growl. He stood, towering over them, his brow dark with anger. The other men circling loosely around the four, egging them on—I was quickly losing control of my bar.
“Hey, Corwyn? Mickey? Chill. No one cares about a little smack talk—you just need to cool…” I trailed off and felt the danger spike as they ignored me. For the first time, I wished Corwyn’s eyes were on me so I could at least get him to disengage.
I searched the room vainly, hoping to catch a glimpse of FatBoy—if he was anywhere close, he’d be appearing to calm the room. Much more of this and Blake would be drawn from his office like Dracula rising from the dead. Nobody needed his ham-fisted efforts playing peacemaker, certainly not before the sunset.
Their friendly jocularity was turning into something more intense—sides were being taken, and it felt like the cracks between old rivalries were breaking through the loosely plastered façade of national team unity. A choppy wave of physical jostling started around the edges, and the men pressed closer to be heard over the din. At the heart was Corwyn and Rory’s brother Mickey.
Rory was nipping at both their heels like a terrier, frantically trying to intimidate anything larger than himself.
It was seconds from going ass over teakettle.
I needed FatBoy.
Glancing at my watch, I realized without me along for the drive he had no reason to hurry back, and the fact that he hadn’t anyway twisted something in my gut.
I tried again, this time yelling to be heard above the din. “Settle down!!!”
I’d been a bartender a lot longer than I’d known FatBoy, and in much seedier places than Frisson: places that kept sawdust on the floor to help soak up the blood, vomit, and spilled beer left in the wake of a typical weekend.
When I was bartending at twenty-one, I was smaller, less muscled than the clientele. It was harder to intimidate the drunks with my physical presence, and the places I worked didn’t employ beefy bouncers to keep the peace, so I developed numerous strategies to head off the worst of the altercations. Having the sheriff close you down at midnight just when the wallets had finally been pried wide open was akin to flushing half a week’s wages away, so I adapted.
Bar defense is a skill set, not unlike proverbial bicycle riding, which you just don’t forget. So when I hopped up on my bar and hosed down a bunch of angry Irishmen with water, it felt like just another rowdy Saturday night on the outskirts of town.
And just like that, silence fell.
Thirty faces stared at me in shock, and in the void, you could hear wet gasps and the sound of water making fat splats as it hit the floor.
Rory stood shuddering in front of me. He was soaked, looking like a large wet rat with his hair plastered to his head, making the point of his nose and chin more pronounced. While still wet, Corwyn had managed to avoid the same full body drenching as Rory—either he was lucky or he had the reflexes of a Formula One driver and had used Liam as a shield to avoid the bulk of the deluge. Fortunately for them, all the high-tech athletic gear they were wearing already seemed to be doing its job, wicking away most of the liquid. They’d dry fast.
Maybe I’d send them outside to run laps around the parking lot.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Juan standing in wait, a mop in his left hand and Louisville slugger in his right. I guess Juan had worked in the same kind of bars I had.
Our chef Marco had joined him, standing at his shoulder, arms crossed over a nine-inch omelet pan. I wasn’t sure if he had plans on feeding the rabble to death or using their carcasses in the night’s specials, but he seemed particularly amused by the proceedings.
I glared, the water nozzle still clutched in my hand, and addressed them.
“Are you all done being assholes, or do you need to be run through the rinse cycle one more time? I’m assuming this isn’t what y’all meant by an exhibition, but maybe I’m wrong and this is how you normally behave at home…”
Juan moved in with the mop and a large stack of clean bar towels, tossing them to the men who dispersed to tables and stools, drying themselves off out of the line of fire as I waited for my apology. It looked like I might get one from each and every one of them. With their sheepish shuffling and lowered eyes, they resembled a group of chastised children rather than the aggressive angry men they’d been channeling a minute before.
As cute as some of them were, they either needed to settle down and go back to drinking peaceably or get the hell out of my bar. I wasn’t paid enough to babysit.
Corwyn alone was willing to look me in the eye, or at least in the direction of them as I stood above him actively ignoring the water droplets clinging to his bangs and dripping onto his cheeks and how they made me think of showers and naked wet skin…
“Ah, deepest apologies, Nick. We didn’t mean to disrespect your place here. Forgive us. Here… let me help ya down…”
His dimple was back, and when he reached up to me, it seemed safe enough to risk. Corwyn put his hands on my hips after guiding mine onto his shoulders and stepped back, muscling me off the bar and against the safety of his body.
He leaned back far enough to give me room to slide slowly down the front of his wet torso, avoiding barstools and hurlers alike.
I felt a shiver as I stuttered to a halt, eye to eye with the man. His were warm and liquid—full of invitation, the look hot enough to quick dry the bar itself. I swallowed, unable to look away. For a split-second, I didn’t move, frozen like a bunny cornered by a cobra.
I blame his wet shirt and my damp apron for causing the friction that prevented me from slipping easily away from danger, but like everything else in my life lately, I seemed in need of perpetual damage control.
I felt someone large move up behind me, hot breath teasing my ear as the drawl I’d been dying to hear just moments before was now making my balls shrivel at being caught hung up like this.
“I didn’t realize you started having Wet T-shirt Tuesdays, Nicky. I can’t wait to see what you plan on givin’ the winner.”
Excerpt from 6 Days To Get Lucky by LE Franks
The 6 Days Series can be found exclusively on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited