Junior felt a little self-conscious when he parked his bike outside the Fidleir. Had he chosen the right place for what was a first date with a young woman he had taken an instant liking to earlier this morning, what would she think of him still (or again rather, because he had taken a shower prior to setting off to their meeting place) in his father’s pink shirt under the biker’s leather jacket which would come off as soon as he stepped inside the pub. He hadn’t been able to think of a different place. Mariella was bound to pass a comment about him returning here so soon after his first visit. He was out of practice when it came to arranging a date, that was obvious.
If the circumstances hadn’t been so spontaneous, he could have planned things out a bit better, researched the gastronomy, suggested a place that would have been more likely to impress, a good restaurant maybe. As it was, he didn’t even have clothes with him that would have suited a different setting. Fiona had sounded happy enough though when he called her on her mobile after his lunch with Henry and John and if there had been any disappointment at his suggestion to meet up in the An Fidleir Dubh, her voice had given nothing away. She had proposed to meet there early, around half six, which would give them some quiet time there and an opportunity to have a conversation before the pub would fill up with surfers and get too noisy and crammed.
He removed his helmet and ran his fingers through his straight shoulder length black hair, still moist from the shower he had taken before he left the house. Once inside, his nerves didn’t take long to steady. Mariella beamed at him from behind the bar and shouted a cheerful “Ciao, Junior” and Fiona was already there looking very much at ease sitting at the bar and chatting away to Mariella. She was wearing casual clothes, a pair of baggy worker’s jeans and a black cotton shirt against which her red curls stood out in lively contrast. Not a bad start.
“Nice to see you’re on your way to becoming a regular here, and good to see you again so soon,” Mariella said, “Fiona comes here once or twice a week and we speak in Italian. I’ve just told her that my brother Mario is staying with us for a few weeks, poverino, with his broken heart and he will not leave the house much because his English, it is no good and he is too shy to try.”
“I was thinking of calling around to your place tomorrow or Friday afternoon to ask if he’d like to come surfing with me. That’s if the weather holds. Do you think he’d like that? We could rent surf boards and wet suits and spend a few hours in Strandhill. Might give him a chance to make a few friends and overcome his shyness, maybe forget about his broken heart for a while, too.”
“That sounds like a great idea, Junior. I will say it to Mario.”
“Can I come along, too?” Fiona asked, “I have taken a few days holidays and I was thinking of going surfing myself.”
“That’d be even better. I’ll ask my dad to give me a lend of the jeep and then I can give both of you a lift. Let’s try for tomorrow. How does 2 o’clock sound? I’m helping dad out in the clinic in the morning, his secretary has been out sick and I’m not sure if she’ll be back tomorrow, so the afternoon would work best. How come you speak Italian?”
“Fiona’s papa is Italian,” Mariella chipped in and winked at him.
“Yes, he is, he runs an Italian restaurant in Dublin. My mother is Irish,” Fiona ran a hand through her unruly red curls, “I guess my hair comes from somewhere in her genes even though she doesn’t have red hair herself, hers is quite dark.”
They decided to move to a table before the pub would fill up some more and ended up sitting at the same table by the window at which Junior had sat earlier in the day with his father and John. He found her easy company and soon he found himself telling her about the mysterious woman who had caused quite an upset at his father’s clinic the previous morning prior to his arrival from Dublin. He pulled out his phone and googled Catherine White to show Fiona Luce’s blog post and the photograph of Cath.
Fiona stared at the picture with an expression of surprise. “I saw her yesterday. She came to the village shop and bought a few things, bread, cheese, milk, and a tin of dog food. I didn’t think much of it at the time but when I found the dog tied up not far from the shop and the empty dog tin beside him I thought that she must have either left him tied up there herself or maybe he was already there, that someone else had abandoned him there, and she took pity on him and bought some food for him to keep him going.”
“Yesterday morning, are you sure it was her?”
“Yes, positive, it was her, I’m sure. I found the dog on my way to the car after I’d finished work. He’d been left there, tied to a post with a length of old rope. There was no collar on him. He was wagging his tail at me and whined, so I took him home.”
“That’s very strange. She was meant to be somewhere else. I wonder where she went.”
© Ash N. Finn, 2016