P.S. Thanks for reading.
Mom invited Liam over two weeks later. She told us he was coming over to cook dinner. Scout was thrilled.
“Fun! I like Leem.”
“What’s he cooking?” I asked.
“Hmm, I don’t even know,” Mom mused. “He said he’s bringing everything over with him at four.”
“We’re eating at four?” I asked, incredulous.
“No,” Mom said, slowly. “I thought he’d come over. We’d all hang out for a while, and then he could cook dinner. OK?” she asked, eyeing me.
At exactly four, there was a knock on the door. Scout went tearing out into the kitchen to open it. “Leem’s here!”
I stayed on the couch in the family room while Mom walked out to the kitchen. I heard Mom say hello and heard Liam’s annoying accent. Scout was already in full tilt I was sure, smiling and batting her eyes. Gross.
Liam walked into the family room behind Mom with Scout attached to his hip practically.
“Hey there, Sara,” he said and sat down next to me.
God, he was big. His knees were almost up to his chin sitting on our couch. His thigh was wider than my whole body. He looked awkward.
“Hey,” I said finally.
Scout skipped over and perched herself on Liam’s right knee.
“Scout,” I started. “Get off Liam’s knee. He doesn’t want you drooling all over him.”
She stuck her tongue out at me. “Leem doesn’t care,” she said firmly. Liam shifted in his seat and laughed uncomfortably.
Mom sat in her rocking chair and shook her head. “Girls, knock it off, already.”
“Why don’t you guys go out on the porch and hang out and I’ll get us something to drink?” Mom said encouragingly.
“Great,” Liam said.
Oh God, I thought. This was just the worst.
We all walked outside, and Liam and Scout sat on the porch swing while I sat on the railing across from them.
“So, Sara,” Liam started. What is it that you do in that booth of yours when you come visit your Mom?”
“Nothing really,” I said flatly.
“That’s not true,” Scout said. “She draws pictures and writes stories about all the people in the diner.” I gave her the meanest look I could. She’d get a wicked pinch later under the dinner table.
“Is that so?” Liam asked, interested.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said lamely.
I’d like to see some of your drawings or stories sometime, if that’s OK,” he said.
Who did he think he was anyway?
“Leem,” Scout said, bored because she no longer had his undivided attention. “You wanna play?” She tossed him my soccer ball that was sitting under their swing.
“Is this yours, Scout?” he asked as he caught the ball.
“It’s mine,” I said clearly.
“Do you play football, Sara?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Girls don’t play football at my school. They’re not allowed.”
“Oh,” Liam said and laughed. “I’m mixed up. In Ireland, we call soccer ‘football.’ That’s what I meant. Do you play soccer?”
I had scored three goals just the other day against Jennifer Ellerbee, the toughest goalie in the county. I prayed that Scout would, for once, stay quiet.
“Sara won the game…” she started to blab.
“Yeah, I play,” I interrupted.
“Shall we have a kick around then, before I start dinner?” Liam asked.
“Sure,” I said.
Now he was in for it.
We walked down to the grass and started kicking the ball between us as Scout sat on the porch steps, mesmerized by this big lunk. I started kicking the ball a little harder each time, trying to get him to miss. He never did. He trapped each of my kicks quickly and neatly with his huge boots. It was hard to believe those giant feet could be gentle enough to control my hardest kicks. I started getting frustrated.
“Can I try to dribble past you and score?” I asked.
“Sure.” He passed the ball back to me.
This was it, I thought. Now I’d show him. I’d fake him out, leave him in the dust. I started dribbling slowly at first, taking my time to jog over to where Liam stood. I controlled the ball perfectly with my left foot, then, tap, tap with my right. I was in my groove. I came within two feet of him and started teasing him with the ball, kicking it back to myself if his foot ventured out too far. This would be easy, I thought.
I faked to my right and then cut quickly to the left to get around him. To my surprise, he moved right along with me, so I couldn’t get past him. I turned my back to strike the ball hard, another fake, but Liam didn’t flinch. He stood there, looking right into my eyes.
I felt my face flush as I backed up and tried again. This time, I lunged left with my body and nudged the ball to my right. He was right on me. He didn’t steal the ball, but I knew I couldn’t get past him this way.
I was angry and decided to push my way past him. I backed into his chest with a thud that made me catch my breath.
“God!” I said. “How much do you weigh, anyway?”
He didn’t say a word.
I leaned against him with every ounce of strength I had in me. He was a rock, unmovable.
I had no other choice, so I drew my foot back and kicked soundly into his left shin.
“Shiiiite!” he yelled and crumpled to the ground. “Jesus Mary Mother of God,” he groaned and grabbed his shin. I stood above him, motionless, eyes wide. Scout ran over to where Liam lay on the grass, moaning and rolling from side to side.
“Jeeze, Leem, you alright?” she said, concerned.
“Fine,” he squeaked. “Just brilliant.” He sat up, rubbing his shin and wincing.
Mom suddenly appeared at the top of the porch steps. “What’s happening out here?” she asked.
I felt my face get hot. Suddenly I felt sick.
“Your Sara,” Liam started. I held my breath. “She’s quite a footballer. Quite a scrapper.”
“Yeah,” Mom said, looking at me suspiciously. “She’s something alright. Are you in any shape to cook dinner?”
“Of course,” Liam said and stood up slowly. “And Sara here, even volunteered to help me while you and Scout relax.”
He looked down at me and winked. I smiled my fakest smile.
I walked slowly behind him up the porch steps and followed him into the kitchen, defeated.
“Do you know how to peel potatoes?” Liam asked as he put on Mom’s apron and washed his hands.
“Of course,” I said.
“Great, you do that then.” He handed me the peeler and a bag of potatoes.
I rolled up my sleeves, washed my hands and started peeling.
Liam started the fire under a large black skillet and began unloading the grocery bags he had brought with him. He placed a carton of eggs, bacon, cheese, onions, peppers, and sausage on the kitchen table.
“You’re making breakfast?” I asked sarcastically.
“It is the most important meal of the day,” he said in an announcer’s voice. He smiled.
I laughed. “Yeah, right.”
“I heard you and your sister were big sausage and pepper fans, so I’m going to make you the best omelette and fried potatoes you’ve ever had.”
“Scout’s allergic to eggs, you know,” I said seriously.
“Oh God, really?” he said sadly.
I looked at him out of the corner of my eye.
“No, not really.” I smiled.
Liam laughed. “I see how it is with you, Scrapper.”
“So how did you learn to cook?” I asked, actually interested.
“My Ma taught me. I used to stand on a chair next to her while she fried bacon, boiled potatoes, baked cakes. I paid attention.”
“Does your Dad cook, too?” I asked.
“Don’t know, really. He never lived with us, so I just couldn’t tell you.”
We were silent for a while. I watched the thin, wet strips of potato skins pile up while Liam began cracking eggs into a light blue bowl. He grabbed the whisk from the drawer and began beating the eggs. I watched as his right hand blurred together with the whisk as the eggs went from clear goo to light, yellow froth. Huge hands, I thought.
Liam looked over at me. “You’re doing a fine job with the potatoes.” He leaned over to inspect my work. “Just brilliant.”
“Thanks,” I said, blushing and feeling dumb for blushing.
“Sorry if I hurt you before,” I said quietly, without looking at him.
Liam put out his massive, ruddy hand to shake mine.
I put down my peeler and shook his hand, the largest, cleanest hand I had ever seen.