“Fuck, you’re old.”
Finn holds up his hands in surrender. “Not that I mean any disrespect, Seamus.”
It’s what someone who means disrespect always says after he says it.
“Hey,” Miss Brenda, a.k.a. the seamstress taking my measurements, snaps. “You want to fight, take that shit outside. I run a classy place around here.”
I settle down for Miss Brenda’s sake, not that my little brother couldn’t wipe the floor with me. I’m tougher than hell, but as a current UFC champion, Finnie could wipe the floor with most anyone.
I don’t realize I’ve lunged forward until I catch sight of our roughly ninety-pound mother glaring at us from the entryway leading out to the bridal showroom, or whatever the place with all the dresses is called.
Now Ma, she could wipe the floor with Finn. That glare is one of her many superpowers and no matter how old we get, it freezes us in place until we calm our shit.
Yeah, yeah, I know I shouldn’t start anything here. But that’s what me and my brothers always do. We fight about sports, politics, and pretty much anything that pisses us off, whether we think we’ll win the round. The fighting Irish? I think they had the O’Briens in mind when they came up with that saying.
When Ma thinks we’re ready to behave ourselves, she eases out of the doorway to check on Wren. My little sister is closer to losing her shit than we are.
Wren wanted a small wedding. She should’ve known she was screwed from the start. There are seven of us to begin with, six boys, plus Wren and Ma, who with a lot of determination and probably more than a little whiskey, kept us in line growing up.
Small wedding? Yeah, right. Wren doesn’t have enough friends to match up with the rest of us groomsmen. But she has close to five hundred cousins to fill the pews at the largest Catholic Church in Philly.
“Turn around,” Miss Brenda orders. “Jesus. What did your mom feed you when you were little? Steroids? Youz all are going to have to go a size larger to accommodate your freakish chests and long limbs.”
“What about our outrageously good looks?” I ask. “Do we have to go up a size for that, Miss Brenda?”
Ms. Brenda ignores me, studying the lower half of my evidently superb specimen of a body. “The pants, we need to go down a size.”
“Now, I don’t know about that,” Finn answers her truthfully. “Not to brag, Miss Brenda, but most of us are freakishly big in other ways, too. If you know what I mean, ma’am.”
I try not to laugh when Finn’s face turns almost as red as his hair. He’ll lie to your face about eating the last donut, staying out too late, and betting on the wrong team. But important things, like size of our manhoods, he’ll tell you the truth even it means embarrassing himself in front of a battle axe like Miss Brenda.
She grips her tape measure like some kind of weapon. We’ve been here less than an hour and we’ve already managed to piss her off at least four times. She’s eyeing us like she’s ready to take that tape measure and choke the ever-living shit out of us.
“I’ll make sure to leave plenty of room in the crotch,” she growls.
“Thank you, uh, ma’am,” Finn offers.
“Brenda’s Bridals” isn’t exactly the classiest place a bride-to-be and company will ever frequent. It’s not in the best part of Philly. Like most shops around here, when Brenda’s closes, the metal gates come down to protect the windows, doors, and the goods inside. And like most of the shop owners, Miss Brenda walks out to the cracked asphalt parking lot packing heat.
Why would we come to a place like this with all the places to choose from in a city this big? ‘Cause Brenda’s is local. Her family has been around as long as mine. People like the O’Briens and Ms. Brendas of the city, we take care of our own. No fancy reality TV show is ever going to film around here. That’s okay. It’s where Philly families will continue to go long after that show is cancelled.
Sure, there’s a good chance your wallet will get lifted if you stand too long looking at the dresses in the front window. But if you’re ballsy enough to drive here and dare to go inside, take a look at what Miss Brenda offers. No matter what goes wrong, Miss Brenda and crew will make sure you look your best on your big day. Your tux, dress, or whatever, will fit like it was made for you, and everybody who sees you walking down the aisle will know you opted for quality and a fair price rather than glitz.
“When did that shit happen?” Finn asks, pointing at my chest when Miss Brenda swaps out the shirt I’m wearing for a different one, ironed sharp enough to cut me.
I looked down my sternum to the hairs gathered between my pecs. I have definition in my chest, arms, and stomach. I may be a carpenter, but I keep in fighting shape. “When did what happen?” I ask.
“That gray shit.” Finn shudders as if it physically pains him to see the hairs that have sprouted.
There are a few grays on my temples, too, but for some reason the chest hair seems to bother him more. “I don’t know. A few years ago. It’s what the ladies call dignified.” They really don’t. More to the point, they say things like, “Ride me, cowboy” or “faster, my probation officer will be here soon.”
The latter only happened once, okay twice, but in my defense, it was with the same broad.
“Damn, Seamus,” Finnie says, snagging my attention. “It’s like I’m watching you age right in front of me. If you don’t get a handle on it, I may be rolling you out of here in a wheelchair and stopping by the nearest drugstore to pick up a cane.”
“Da hell, Finn? I’m only thirty-six.”
“Thirty-seven,” Wren and Ma call from the next room.
“See, that’s what I’m telling you,” Finnie says. “You’re old. Old people always forget how old they are.”
He hops down from the box when the seamstress, who’s been eyeing him like she wants to bite her way up his leg, slides the tape measure off his neck. If Finn notices, he doesn’t give it away. He’s madly in love with his woman, Sol. They’re getting married right before Wren.
“Who cares how old I am?” It’s what I say, but it’s really screwing with my head that I lost a year without even knowing it. I’m going to be forty in less than three years. That can’t be right.
Brenda finishes working her magic and leaves, grabbing her youngest daughter by the hair and hauling her out to the showroom. Like me, Brenda didn’t miss how she was two seconds away from straddling Finn.
We ignore their rather audible screeching and keep talking. The hair pullin’ and all that yelling they’re doing, that’s good parenting according to how we were raised. “I’m twenty-six,” Finn tells me. “I have a woman I’m marrying, and probably seven kids to pop out before I get to be your age.” He shrugs. “Sol has good childbearing hips, I think she could do it.” He shakes his head. “But you, you’re running out of time.”
He circles me, taking his time. Good. I might be able to punch him in the back of the head before he has time to react. It’ll be a good punch, too. One that might send him stumbling into that rack of pink hats. “I think you’ve got two, maybe three good years left before your balls shrivel up and drop like stones on the floor.” He slaps me on the back. “Don’t let your balls down like that, man. You’re better than that. So are they.”
I think twice about punching him in the face. I have to say, it takes some doing. I only resist, because I like Sol and she’ll lose it on me if I mess up his face.
“Me little Finnie is right,” Ma says from the door, her Irish accent as thick as the day Grammie popped her out in a potato field.
“He’s the baby and already getting married. Promising me grandbabies like a good boy.”
He points at her, making a clicking sound. “You know I’ve got you, Ma.”
That did it. The moment Ma leaves, we’re throwing down.
Ma shakes her head like people do when all is lost and there’s nothing that can be done. “Look at you, Seamus. All strapping male with the strength and charm of an Irish prince.” She walks in, her steps slow and steady. It’s the same way she walked in when we were kids and we knew we were fucked.
“I just have one question,” she says, her voice light as it often is before she strikes. “Are you trying to kill your mother?”
Jesus. Here we go.
She holds up her hand. “Oh, me handsome son. It’s a simple question really. Do you want me to die?”
“You want Ma to die?” Wren yells from the other room. She shuffles in with enough white fabric trailing behind her to sail across the Atlantic. Brenda’s other daughters, the not so slutty ones, charge after Wren, lifting the eighty feet of material high in the air.
Wren points an irate finger at me. “If you give Ma the big one, you’re going to really piss me off. No one—not even me—ever thought this shit would happen,” she adds, motioning to layers of dress.
Brenda’s daughters, Finnie, and Ma nod their heads in unison. My sister is beautiful. I can say that because it’s true, even though right now she looks like a Barbie doll shoved into a giant cupcake. Like me, Wren has black hair, blue eyes, and light skin. If you cut us, we’d bleed Leprechauns that would dance a jig the moment their little feet hit the floor. We’re that Irish.
Wren’s problem is she has a mouth most sailors would run screaming from and an attitude that’s even less polite. Let’s face it, none of us ever thought Wren would meet a man strong enough to tame her.
I’m happy for her and everything, but right now it sucks balls.
Wren was my safety-net because of her mouth. Finnie was too, because he was the youngest and always in trouble. As far as I was concerned, I had years, no, decades before I had to worry about settling down. But life can be a real bitch and here she is waving two giant middle fingers at me now that Finn and Wren are getting hitched.
“So what if I’m not married? So what if I haven’t popped out a few kids?” I hold out my arms. “Plenty of women have had the absolute pleasure of sampling the merchandise—”
I wince when Ma slaps me upside the head. She might be five foot nothing, but she has the agility of a cobra and possibly the ability to fly. I’m almost 6 foot 2. How the hell can she can reach me?
“And what happened to all these ‘ladies’ who sampled the merchandise?” Ma demands.
“I think one is back in prison,” Finnie offers. He frowns, giving it a lot of thought. “Larceny and Fraud. Right, Seamus?”
“It’s where most of the skanks he dated belong,” Wren agrees. “Remember Kenna O’Sullivan?” We all collectively cross ourselves, including Miss Brenda’s daughters. “They never did find the body.”
“Yeah. She was a nutcase.” My voice trails off. I’m not doing myself any favors. Thank God Finn has my back.
“Hey, Shoshana Greenstone was nice. Oh, and her husband was pretty damn understanding when he found out you were banging her.”
“I didn’t know she was married!” I yell for the hundredth time. “I just, you know, thought she worked odd hours.”
Wren grins. “No, she just had trouble finding a babysitter for her kids.”
“What about the others?” Ma asks. “The girls have liked you since you were a wee lad.”
“I don’t know,” I answer truthfully, my annoyance making my voice sound gruff. “No one’s really ever done it for me.” I look at them. “You want them to do it for me, don’t ya?”
Wren places her hands on her hips. She may look like a lady, all soft and dainty in those clouds of lace, but she’ll never exactly think or talk like one. “You mean besides in the backseat of your truck?” She nods. “Yeah, that would be nice.”
Ma leans in. I know what she’s going to say even before she says it. “I was younger than you when I pushed out your baby brother onto the cold kitchen floor.”
Finn holds out his hand, looking a little green. “Ma, please don’t. Miss Brenda won’t like it if I puke on her stuff before I pay for it.”
“Then you better pay for it,” Wren says, knowing it’s that time again to tell the divine tale of Finn’s birth.
The birth of a child is supposed to be a good thing, a beautiful thing, filled with miracles, stuffed animals, and balloons. Maybe for most families it is, under the right conditions. But my family doesn’t tend to do things the right way. I suppose it’s one of the many things that makes us “us.” Our hearts are usually in the right place. But the right way for birthing babies means a hospital and under sanitary conditions—not in a kitchen barely big enough for a refrigerator and stove.
I remember that day clearly. Ma was making shepherd’s pie, until she wasn’t. Her water broke like an extra-large water balloon thrown on the floor by a very pissed off toddler. She started screaming, then Angus started screaming and Curran almost fainted. Five contractions later, Finnie was coming out and there wasn’t anything we could do to stop him.
Bastard. I missed my baseball game because of him.
It was something out of the Good Earth. Remember that book? It was one me and millions of kids across America were forced to read. I don’t recall all the details. Aside from the concubines that seemed to be everywhere, there’s only one scene that really sticks out in my mind, and I swear to Christ it will haunt me for the rest of my life. The poor Asian lady excuses herself in the middle of tending a field. About an hour later, she comes back with a baby latched onto her tit and a hoe in her hand. She picks up right where she left off, digging holes and planting seeds, beside her husband who doesn’t bother asking what the fuck is wrong with her. To this day, every time I go to a Chinese restaurant, I feel like I should apologize to the Asian women working there on behalf of all asshole men everywhere.
Like the little Asian lady, Ma cleaned herself and Finnie up, slapped him on the boob, and finished making shepherd’s pie so we’d have something to eat. It wasn’t until everyone was settled at the table that she allowed a neighbor to take her to the hospital. Angus and Declan cleaned up the kitchen and Curran’s vomit. As the third in line, I should have done something, too. But somewhere between getting over missing my baseball game and Ma finally leaving for the hospital a thought came to me. That’s going to be me. Not the one giving birth. That shit is fucking traumatic. I mean being a parent. A real one. Not, one who’d leave his pregnant wife and six kids to bang his mistress a few blocks away. Like our father had that day.
Seeing Ma give birth like that changed me. Made me want a family rather than simply be a part of one. If I’m being honest, I thought I’d have one by now. Or at the very least, be married to someone without a rap sheet. I’ve taken it easy for the most part, not even feeling pressured to date. That changed when my older brother and sworn bachelor for life, Declan, met the perfect woman and the youngest O’Briens agreed to forever.
Wren frowns, her smirk gone. “Seamus, what is it?”
I yank at my collar. “Nothing, just hungry.”
Finn steps forward, his expression as solemn as Ma’s. “Are you sure?”
I knock him on the shoulder and laugh. “Yeah. It’s all good.”
It’s what I say, even though it’s not.
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