“Why’d you yell, lovely?” A deep voice hisses in my ear and an arms clamp tightly onto my shoulders. It’s hard to see in the darkness but there are at least three of them.
“You’re just an American pig aren’t you?” Another sneers. I keep my mouth shut.
“You’re all the same. Got no respect. Think you can just live off our land when you abandoned it in the first place.” The smell of whiskey and ale is heavy, so heavy in the air.
“We’ll have to teach you a lesson you’re sure not to forget,” Their words are slurred, heavily coated in alcohol. I am pushed to the ground. There is mud on my hands, the dress I tried so hard to keep clean. His knees are on my back. My head hits a stray rock. But I do not scream. I do not cry. I will not beg for mercy. I will not let them have the satisfaction. A voice yells ‘Leave her alone,’ and then the fighting starts. There is yelling, but it hardly registers over the din of the pub. My head feels woozy but I can make out the men in a circle, kicking.
“Stop!” I shriek. Finnegan bursts out the back door. The men scatter, but one lies on the ground. Something squeezes my heart until I think it will burst. Henry lies in the mud, ribs heaving.
“Damn,” Finnegan kneels down and helps Henry to his feet. He shakes his head slowly. “Stupid kids.”
“Are you kidding me?” I scream. “It was your customers who did this! Henry was defending me. This is not his fault. Those men should be arrested.”
“Those men,” Finnegan says in a voice reserved for children. “Are the police squad. What do you want me to do about it? This is yours and his fault.”
“It’s not our fault. It’s theirs.”
“If you don’t start treating the customers right-“
“I quit Finnegan, alright? I quit. I can’t deal with your shit anymore.” I put Henry’s arm around my shoulder and hobble down the road, towards my house.
Once we arrive I sit Henry down in a chair in the kitchen. He is semi-conscious but doesn’t seem aware of where he is. I light the lamps and put on water to boil. I start to wash Henry’s battered face. His eye is swollen shut and most of his face is discoloured. I guess he has a few cracked ribs but I don’t think anything is broken. I’m no nurse though. That was my mom. I strip off Henry’s shirt. Sure enough, his ribs are purple and he’s still breathing shallowly.
“Briar,” he struggles to speak.
“Sh, sh,” I put my finger to his lips. “Just don’t talk.” He sits further up in the chair.
“I’m sorry I got you fired,” he says. I tilt my head sideways. He laughs even though it’s painful.
“You always do that you know,” he says. “You always cock your head when your kind of mad but don’t know what to say to me.” I can’t help but grin, but my smile is short-lived.
“Why’d you do that, Henry? You’re so stupid,” I try to shake it off, but I am trembling. I don’t know what would have happened if Henry hadn’t shown up. I shudder just to think of it.
“They were going to… hurt you,” Henry’s voice cracks with emotion. His eyes go wide. “Oh, no,” He breathes, his eyes trained on my face, but not my eyes.
“What?” I ask, allowing my hands to wander up to my forehead. I can feel the dried blood from what must be a gash on my head. “I’m fine,” I insist. “I can’t even feel it.” It occurs to me that this is probably a bad thing. I do have a splitting headache, but I can’t determine where the cut even is. I can’t feel it at all.
“Here, let me help you,” Henry starts to rise,
“Let me help you, dammit!” I yell. He’s stunned at my violent outburst. “You never let me help you. Don’t you see Henry? Just stop taking care of someone else for once.”
“You’re the one who won’t let me help you,” Henry says quietly. We are still face-to-face, and I can feel his breath on my skin. I imagine that this is when people kiss, and I want to. I close my eyes. Henry’s lips press against mine, soft and swollen. My mind is spinning, two kisses in one day. But I feel the thoughts slipping from my mind like the dew this morning slipped from leaf to leaf.
“What the hell?” My Father’s voice is low, gravelly with sleep and whiskey. I realize how bad this looks, Henry with his shirt off, us kissing, covered in mud and sweat.