|Maureen and Beckett|
Still grasping Patrick's hand in his, Beckett continued, "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir. Maureen has told me so much about you."
Patrick broke off the contact, pursing his lips as he did so. "Well then, you have the advantage, Sheriff...as I only learned of your existence two hours ago." He motioned toward the empty chair next to Maureen. "Please...have a seat."
Beckett slid into the chair next to Maureen, and leaned back, putting a possessive arm around the back of her chair. Beside him, he felt her stiffen, and he rubbed his thumb across the bare skin of her back, working at keeping the grin off his face as she sucked in her breath.
The waiter came by to take drink orders, and to offer refills. Joining the other men, Ted requested a shot of Jameson neat, while Maureen continued to play with her still full glass of chardonnay. The tension around the table was as thick as ocean fog, and so noticeable, that even the waiter seemed glad to escape. When he was safely out of ear shot, Patrick leaned on the table, hands under his chin, and directed his glare at Maureen's beau.
"So Beckett, just how long have you been carrying on with my baby sister?"
Maureen looked down at her folded hands, and Kevin took shelter behind his menu. But the Sheriff seemed perfectly at ease. He turned toward Maureen and spoke, forcing her to look at him rather than the hands in her lap. "When was it we started dating, darlin'? Early part of February, wasn't it?" Maureen could only nod, her green eyes wide like saucers. He knew she must be worried about what he might tell her brother, but there was a sense of trust in her face that was ever endearing. "Of course, we owe it all to Kevin here. If it wasn't for him, we'd never had met.
Kevin dropped the menu down with a jerk, his face held in full check. It was obvious he was also wondering what Beckett would say to his eldest brother, and his eyes did not hold the same level of trust as his sister's. That was understandable. He and the priest had gone toe to toe on several occasions, but Kevin had always been a straight up guy, and Ted respected that. In addition, it was clear that he adored his little sister, and for that reason alone, they shared a bond.
Patrick grunted, and looked at Kevin. "You introduced these two, Kev?"
Before Kevin could answer, Beckett jumped in. "Actually, Mr. O'Kenney, I stopped in at the rectory to see Fr. Kevin, and to my surprise, there was your sister. She so charmingly invited me to stay for breakfast, and I have to say, I was smitten right then and there."
Next to him, both Maureen and Kevin blinked in surprise, but for two completely different reasons. With Maureen, it was because it was the first time Ted had acknowledged the same thing she had felt the moment she laid eyes on him. And with Kevin, it was because he knew damn well that at that time in history, the Sheriff was supposedly in love, and promised in marriage, to another woman. Inside their churning minds, both O'Kenney siblings wondered how much of what Beckett had said was true, and how much was simply for Patrick's benefit.
The waiter returned with their drinks, and Patrick offered a toast. "To family. Nothing should come before that."
The others raised their glasses, answering his sentiments. Beckett lifted his glass and added, "Slainte chuig na fir, agus go mair fidh na mna deo." ("Health to the men, and may the women live forever)
Draining his glass, Patrick sat the glass back on the table with a thump. "Ah yes...the women. Living forever while they damn well suck the life out of the males they claim to care for. " It was a morose and bitter comment, one that left the table uncomfortable and silent. He motioned for the return of the waiter, and ordered yet another shot of whiskey. Then turning his attention back to Beckett, he asked the question out of the blue. "Sheriff... may I ask just how old you are?"
Kevin appeared shocked at the rudeness of his brother, and Maureen turned a deep shade of pink. She leaned toward Patrick, speaking in a low whisper. "Patrick, stop. Please. I'm begging you."
But Beckett himself seemed nonplussed by the blatant interrogation. He shifted his arm so it was undeniably wrapped around Maureen's shoulders, and smiled. "I was 34 last November, Mr. O'Kenney. Why do you ask?"
"Well, my friend, it's just that my sister is... so much younger. Can't understand the appeal of a mere slip of a girl for a man so much more...sophisticated." His last few words came out as more of a slur, a tribute to the preceding shots of Jameson.
Ted ran his fingers over Maureen's bare shoulder, ignoring the glares from both of her brothers. "I do appreciate your concern, sir. If I were in your place, I might feel the same way. But the fact is, Maureen is an intelligent, mature woman, and most assuredly capable of making her own decisions regarding her...personal relationships. Truth be told, I consider myself a very lucky man, Mr. O'Kenney."
Sitting beside him, Maureen flushed, but it was unclear whether it was Ted's words giving her that reaction, or the small circles he was making on the skin of her arm. Further discussion was shelved with the reappearance of the waiter desiring to take their dinner orders. As she opened her menu to make her selection, Ted slipped it out of her hands, and she looked at him curiously.
"Allow me, sweetheart?" He put his hand over hers, and gave it a squeeze.
She assumed he meant to select her dinner for her, and although it seemed weird, and rather old fashioned, there was no may she could refuse him. Definitely not in front of her brothers. And certainly not with the way he was looking at her at that moment. Maureen smiled, suddenly much too warm. "Sure Ted. Go ahead."
Next to her, Kevin gave his sister an odd look, and Patrick shook the ice in his glass. "Alright Beckett, who is that next to you, and what did you do with Maureen?" He swallowed the remaining mouthful, smacking his lips as he did so. "Seriously, brother...what are you trying to pull here?"
"Pull? Not sure what you mean, sir." The smile was firmly etched on Beckett's face, but someone observing closer would have noticed the tightening of his jaw, and the slight arch of the left eyebrow.
"Gentlemen...I do believe the waiter would like us to order." Forcing a break in the storm, Kevin opened his menu, and turned to the young man standing awkwardly to the side. "I think I'll try the Rib Eye. How 'bout you, Pat?"
If Kevin thought that the decision about dinner would change the direction of Patrick's conversation, he was dead wrong. The waiter had only moved steps away before Patrick continued his deposition like grilling of Maureen's guest. "Don't get me wrong, Sheriff. You seem like a normal enough guy. But when it comes to our sister, we are a might particular. I hope you can understand my concern."
"I most certainly do, Mr. O'Kenney. Wouldn't have it any other way."
"Good to hear, Sheriff. And since we're working on getting to know one another, why don't you go ahead and call me Patrick. You're making me feel damn ancient with all this title shit."
"That's very... friendly of you...Patrick. And I hope you'll call me Ted."
"Fair enough...Ted. So, tell me a little about yourself."
"Honestly, there's not much to tell. I'm Sheriff here in Dollyville. Have been for nearly two years now. Love the town. Think the people are great. Enjoy my work."
Patrick narrowed his eyes, and looked shrewdly at Beckett's smiling form. "Oh come now, Ted. Surely there must be more. Have you lived here all your life?"
"No. I'm originally from Bridgeport, Conneticut. Went to school in Michigan, and then did my graduate studies here in Massachusetts. Loved the area, and decided to make it my permanent home."
"Is that right? What school?"
"I have my law degree from Harvard."
There was no denying Patrick's surprise. He stopped in mid sip, the glass held an inch from his lips. "You? From Harvard? Did you pass the bar?"
"As a matter of fact, I did. On the first try."
It took Patrick several seconds to process this information, before he bluntly asked, "Then why the hell aren't you practicing law, Beckett? How can you be satisfied being Sheriff in some tiny back woods town after studying at Harvard? Frankly, it seems a total waste to me."
Appearing to give his answer some thought, Beckett leaned closer to the table, and out of the view of her brothers, moved his left hand up Maureen's thigh. Beside him, she gave no indication of the action going on below the safety of the tablecloth, other than a flutter of her eyelids, as she turned her head to look at him, and await his answer.
For the first time since his arrival, Beckett seemed somber. "I couldn't see myself as a lawyer, no matter how hard I tried. It bored me to tears. All of it. So, not sure of what I wanted to do, I went into the military. Served in the Army, and eventually was recruited by Special Forces, where I saw three tours of duty in Afghanistan. When I got home, criminal justice just seemed the obvious alternative. Initially, I accepted a position here as Deputy, but when the Sheriff chose to retire about two years ago, I decided to run for the office. And the rest, as they say, was history."
There was little Patrick could say to that without looking like a complete ass. He certainly couldn't disparage a man's service to his country, nor could he knock a law degree from one of the country's most prestigious institutions. But he had no intention of giving up that easily. He grunted what was meant as approval, and added, "That's very admirable, Ted. A man's gotta do what makes him happy. But I suspect after the demands of Special Forces, you must find life here a tad dull. Not to mention financially challenging for a man with a taste for Armani."
Having been on her best behavior the entire evening, Maureen could hold it in no longer. Thinking she was helping him out, she professed, "But Patrick, that's not a problem at all. You see, Ted's fa..." She felt a sharp pinch to the soft, fleshy skin on the inside of her thigh, and was forced to use every ounce of self control not to let out a yelp.
"Ted's what, Red? Finish your sentence, please."
It was now painfully obvious to her that Ted did not want her spilling the beans about his family connections. Why, she wasn't sure? There was no doubt in her mind that her older brother would be duly impressed to know that her new boyfriend was a member of one of the richest families on the East Coast. And for once in her life, she wanted Patrick to be proud of her, if for nothing else then the idea that someone like Ted Beckett would find her special. But if telling all meant that Ted would be upset with her, it wasn't worth it. If he wanted his secret kept, than keep it she would. "Oh...um...I was going to say that...um...Ted's... father bought him the suit. As a gift." She looked at Ted, begging for help in any way he could offer.
Ted smiled, and leaning over, kissed Maureen chastely on the cheek, leaving that left hand firmly where it was. "Yes. It was a gift. When I came back from Afghanistan."
Patrick nodded, seemingly appeased. They were saved from further uncomfortable discussion by the arrival of the waiter with their dinner. Hungry, everyone settled into their meals, and the talk centered exclusively on the taste of the food And because one needed both hands to manage the array of silverware spread across the linen, both of Beckett's magically appeared back on the table.
Amazingly, the rest of the evening proceeded without incident. The food was exceptional, and took the focus off of Beckett. The boys spent the reminder of the time discussing their picks for the NCAA Tournament, congenially arguing over who would make the Final Four, while Maureen took delight in quietly observing the important men in her life.
To her left , Kevin leaned back in his chair, smiling and laughing while his brother draw imaginary brackets on the tablecloth with a butter knife. Patrick, his cheeks flushed with several shots of Jameson, was busy extolling the virtues of Louisville's shooting capabilities, while Ted countered with statistics regarding Indiana's defense. The sight of the three of them, finally comfortable with one another, was a joy to behold, and gave her hope, that maybe this time, she might have her heart's desire.
Somehow, with a good deal of male posturing, the check was paid, split between Ted and Kevin, and the group made their way to the Mustang. The four of them in the compact car was a tight fit, but Maureen was grateful to know her brothers would make it safely back to the rectory, as neither was feeling much pain. And once Kevin and Patrick were tucked safely in bed for the night, she and Ted would have the rest of the evening together.
When they arrived at Holy Family, it took several minutes for the two O'Kenney brothers to unfold their six foot frames out of the Mustang's back seat. There was much discussion on when and where they would meet up the following day, and gratuitous handshakes all around. From the front seat, Maureen giggled as she watched Ted try to hold up both of her brothers long enough for them to get to the front door.
Ted returned to the car, a silly grin on his face. "Those two are going to feel really bad tomorrow."
"You don't know us O'Kenneys, Ted. We have this uncanny ability to bounce back."
Laughing, he backed out of the rectory driveway, and turned the car down the street toward the deli. Pulling the car in front of the building, he left it idling, and took Maureen's hands in his own. "Well, baby, we survived dinner with both of your brothers...the saintly and the sarcastic."
"Thank you, Ted. For putting up with the two of them. They mean well, you know. Even Patrick."
"I know, sweetheart. I'm glad they care so much about you." He leaned over the console and kissed her, long and deep enough to make her light headed. "I'll call you tomorrow, okay? We'll make plans for the weekend. Somehow, I don't think I've escaped Patrick's clutches just yet."
She looked at him incredulously. "You're not coming in? Staying?"
"I wasn't really planning on it. You said yourself, only this morning, that it'd be a problem if Patrick knew I was staying here. And after meeting him, I figure you're probably right."
"But...they're both practically comatose, especially Patrick. It'll be fine."
"No, baby. I don't think so. We'll have plenty of time when he leaves. It's for the best."
For a second, she thought about spitting out something sarcastic, and stamping off. Helping him out of that black suit was the only thing she had focused on during that horrible dinner, and now he was attempting to give her the brush off. "Not fair, Ted. Are you going to make me beg?"
He took her hand from on top of the console, and brought it to his lips. "As a matter of fact, baby, I am. Repeatedly."
She felt a shiver run up her back, and a thought came to her about something he had said a few days earlier. "Please come up and stay...Sir."
He smiled, kissed her hand again, and put the car in park. "Now, how could I ever refuse such a sweet request like that, darlin' Especially when you're wearing that dress."
She wasn't sure what woke her up. It was still dark, so it had to be before 6:00 AM. Ted was peacefully snoring next to her, has arm flung across her middle. The apartment itself was quiet, but she thought she heard the sound of heavy engines idling outside, like those belonging to very large trucks.
She glanced around the room through the glass of the screen, listening closely to the noises, which to her ear, seemed to be staying put. It was then she noticed the red flashing lights reflected in the window next to her kitchen. She freed herself from Ted's grasp, and grabbing her robe, went to investigate.
Her movement woke him, and he grumbled, his face buried in the pillow. "Why are you up, Maureen? It's way too early."
"I hear something weird outside. It sounds like trucks. And there seems to be some kind of flashing light by my window."
He sighed, and pulled off the blankets, planning on checking out the situation. Before he could free himself, he heard her gasp.
"Oh, no! Ted, come here quick! There are fire trucks and an ambulance in front of the rectory. Something is terribly wrong! We have to get over there right now!"
Copyright 2013 Victoria T. Rocus
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