One of the little girls, the one Dani pointed out as Isabella, slowly peeked out from behind her mother, her blue eyes shining with curiosity. She stared up at me with interest while still keeping a good grip on Dani's jacket. I was shocked to see that she had the same eye color as I did.
My mouth opened to say something, but I couldn't form any coherent words. I longed for somebody to fill in the silence, and that somebody turned out to be Murphy.
"Well…these wee ones are even prettier than ya described 'em, Danielle." My brother's voice became gruff with disbelief as I turned my head to look at him.
"Murph…how do ya know…?" My thoughts processed the answer surely enough. These little girls couldn't have been more than six years old and that was how long it had been since I had last seen my Danielle.
She's not yours anymore, ya fuckin' idiot. Still, she and your brother owe ya a huge explanation.
"Connor, please…" Dani put each of her arms around the girls, holding them to her sides. "Just let me explain…"
"Conn…Dani and I exchanged letters back and forth throughout the years. She only wanted to tell me about the babies as they were growin' up." Murphy looked between the little girls, who had stepped out from behind their mother and were staring up at me with a mixture of confusion and awe. "But, I'm sure she can give ya a better summary of it than I can." He turned away from me and went to sit on one of the barstools at the counter.
I nodded to myself, looking back to my former love. The other little girl, Delilah, stared at the stuffed deer her sister was holding tightly to her chest. "Mommy… is that man our daddy?" I felt my heart flutter at her small sweet voice questioning her mother. "He kinda talks funny." She giggled, reaching up to wrap her arms around Dani's waist.
"Dee, that's rude!" Isabella turned to look at me again, only she let go of her mother and began to walk toward where I was standing. For a split second, I saw Danielle's arm twitch forward, as if she wanted to pull her child away from me. A mother's protective instincts, I suppose… The blue-eyed waif craned her neck up to get a good look at me. "Hi…my name is Izzy." She waved her small hand in a greeting gesture.
Very slowly, I knelt down closer to the floor so that I was near eye-level with the child. "Aye, and that's a very pretty name, as well." I held out my hand to her so she could shake it. She positioned the stuffed reindeer under her arm and held out her hand slowly. I took my fingers and gently shook her tiny hand with them.
The little girl looked shyly down at the floor before raising her eyes back up to our hands still touching. "You have very warm hands." She smiled widely, with a grin that somewhat resembled mine. "What's that word on your hand?" She held up my hand so she could try to spell out the inked letters on my index finger. "V...E-R...I-T...A-S. What kinda word is that?" Isabella asked, her dark brows arched up, which reminded me of how Dani would look whenever she was skeptical about something.
I couldn't help but chuckle to her. "I believe your mother asked me a question very much like that one, years ago."
"Mommy…I'm sleepy." Delilah yawned and leaned against her mother's side.
"We'll go home in a minute, baby. Why don't you go upstairs and get your toys, okay?" Dani gently pushed her daughter forward to the stairs of the pub. "Izzy, why don't you go help your sister."
Isabella turned away from me and frowned. "Okay, mama." She held back her own yawn before turning back to me. "Are…are you really my daddy?" She whispered, her blue eyes widening.
"Yea…I guess I am yer Da." I smiled at her, still kneeling down to her height. "It was lovely to meet ya, lil' Izzy." I looked behind her to see Delilah making her way up the steps to the storage room of the pub.
"Dee's a scaredy-cat. She doesn't like strangers." Isabella wrinkled her nose, turning to glance back at her sister. Before she walked away from me, she turned back and wrapped her tiny arms around my neck. I felt my body freeze up, but my insides melted with the warm sensation of being embraced by a little girl.
My little girl…
"I'm happy you're home, Daddy." She whispered against my shoulder. Very gently, I placed my hands onto her small back, surprised at how miniature and fragile she felt in my arms.
I was at a loss for words as she pulled away from our embrace and ran to the stairs to join her sister. From the corner of my eye, I saw Romeo chatting with Doc, and Murphy staring between me and Dani with astonishment.
"Well, it might take the girls a bit to get their stuff together. Would you like to come outside with me, Connor? I'll explain everything to you, I promise." Dani suggested.
Murphy cleared his throat discreetly. "I…think I left some things in Rome's car." He slid off his stool and made his way to the men's bathroom instead, removing his lighter from his jeans pocket.
"Aye, that sounds about right." I answered her proposal, taking a pack of Marlboros out of my pea-coat pocket. She led the way outside through the side exit of the pub as we entered the cool night air. I heard her shiver with the wind, her long hair blowing around her face.
Dani sat down on the curb of sidewalk, motioning for me to sit down and join her. I nodded silently, lighting up a cigarette. I sat myself a couple feet away from her, remembering that she was uncomfortable around smoke. We both refused to look directly at one another, our gazes focused on the asphalt of the street. "Connor…there's a lot I need to tell you. But, I'm not sure where to start."
"How about ya start with answerin' me this. Did ya know you were pregnant when we left fer Ireland?" I blew out a puff of smoke, feeling my eyes water with the chill of cold air.
"Yes, I did. I found out after you executed Yakavetta in that courthouse. That's why I was so tired and sick all the time." She whispered, her tone implying that she was ashamed.
"Then, why the fuck is it that Murphy knew, and kept it from me all these years?" I laughed a bit at the end of my question, an evident sound of betrayal and defiance.
"Because he was the only one with me when I actually took the pregnancy test. I was feeling ill and helpless; so Murphy was only doing what he could to make sure that I had everything I needed after you had to leave America."
"Aye…that's understandable. I can't believe I didn't figure out that was why you were so exhausted and barfin' constantly." I shook my head to myself, taking another drag of my cigarette. "I just can't believe ya didn't fuckin' tell me, Danielle."
"Well, guess what? It wasn't exactly a cakewalk keeping it from you, Connor." Her voice was low with buried anger that was reaching the surface after many years. "I couldn't risk word getting out that one of the Saints fathered children. Anybody from the Mafia could come after them. If Father McKinney's murder pulled you out of hiding, then I'm sure coming after the girls would be the first priority on their list should anyone know who fathered them. I even refused to have a paternity test at the doctor's appointments. And before you even ask, I never considered giving them up, not in any way. I knew they were yours and that meant I'd have part of you with me. Especially Izzy. She has your eyes and your same color hair, obviously. And every time she smiles, it reminds me...of the good times we had."
I couldn't find words to respond back to her confession. My heart reached out to her as she paused to take a breath. How badly I wanted to console her and praise her efforts for displaying such strength and ambition to be a good parent when I left her at the tender age of nineteen, when she had blossomed into a beautiful woman during our dangerous courtship. And staring at her right then, sitting only mere feet from me on the curb, she looked even more radiant than ever...
"I didn't want to lose contact with you completely, so Murphy and I wrote weekly letters to each other so I could tell him how the babies were doing. Sometimes, I wondered if you ever tried to move on after me…but I never found out except through your brother's letters." She paused to pull a Red Sox cap out of her jacket pocket and place it on her head, pulling her ponytail through the hole in the back of the hat. "He told me that you were drinking a lot more than usual after you arrived back to Ireland. If you were so depressed, why didn't you write to me? Weren't you even wondering if I'd moved on at all?"
"I was mostly hopin' that ya did move on." I growled in a low voice as the irritation returned. "But I guess I stole yer youth be gettin' ya pregnant."
She glared up at me this time, her green eyes burning in the light of the nearby streetlamps. I returned the gesture, instantly regretting what I had just said to Dani. Her eyes glanced down at my hand, then back up to my face.
"I see you're not wearing a ring, either. None of those Irish lasses good enough for you?" Dani turned away from me stare at the empty street in front of us.
"No, none o' them exactly caught me eye." I nearly chuckled at what I was about to say. "Except, there was this one lass. But, oy, she was a fiery one, with green eyes, and long flowin' brunette locks a man could run his fingers through." She stared at me as the description of my ideal dream woman sank in. "Only thing was…she was American, and I ended up breakin' her heart in the end."
"Connor…please." She stood up and tightened her jacket around her shoulders. "I know you didn't come all this way just to woo me back. If I get my hopes up, the past is just gonna repeat itself. I only want you to get to know your daughters while you're here."
"Danielle, ya know I didn't mean what I just said about gettin' ya pregnant." I stood up with her, stomping out the cigarette with my boot. "And a day has never gone by without me thinkin' about ya." I reached out and gently placed my hand on her arm, rubbing it up and down to calm her shivers. "Hell, I even called ya on yer house phone in December the year we left. I was so plastered I could barely walk straight, but I just wanted to hear yer voice, to know that you were well. Ya picked up…but I couldn't respond to ya. I only stood there like an asshole with the payphone in me hand as I heard ya repeat 'hello'."
Dani refused to look into my eyes, keeping her gaze on the wet concrete. I waited for several seconds, anticipating what she was about to tell me. "Connor…you should know that…I went into labor with the girls right after I hung up the phone on you. I know it sounds strange, but it was as if they were getting impatient and knew that it was you on the other end of that line. It wasn't anything to worry about, though. I was due in about a week anyway. And despite the physical pain, all I really remember was wanting you there by me when they were born…" She whispered that last part, so softly I could barely hear her. Before I could say anything, she sighed out a puff of air in exasperation. "But, that's all in the past and I've learned that there's nothing I can do to change it." She pulled away from me and walked to the door. I followed her suit, feeling my heartbeat increase its rate. "Look, while you guys are here, I'm going to do the right thing and offer you a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in at my house. Its really the last place the cops should find you." She kept her eyes on the ground as we stood inches apart in the doorway.
I placed my fingers under her chin, tilting her face up so I could look into her lovely green eyes. "Thank ye, Danielle. "
"But…" She pulled her chin out from the tips of my fingers. "If you're going to be staying at my house, there has to be a rule to follow. Nobody is allowed into my bedroom, unless you happen to be a small girl at five-years-old. Does that sound complicated to you, Connor MacManus?"
"No, ma'am. Not at all." I smirked at her, trying to keep my confident composure.
"Well, its already late, so I better get the girls home and in bed." She opened the door for both of us as I followed her inside. Isabella and Delilah were sitting on one of the barstools next to Murphy
My brother reached out and pretended to grab little Delilah's nose. She gasped and put one of her small hands to her face.
"I got yer wee lil' nose." Murph smiled at her as Isabella giggled at her sister's unhappy expression.
"No, you don't. That's just your thumb in your hand." Delilah pointed to my brother's hand, clenched into a fist.
"Well, I guess ya got me, lass. You've got yer ma's brains, no doubt o' that." He looked up to Dani, who smiled at him.
"Come on, girls. Its way past your bedtime." Isabella rubbed her eyes as Delilah jumped down from the barstool.
"Mommy, can they come stay at our house? We can all have a sleepover." The tiny brunette child asked her mother, grasping onto her hand. I was surprised at Delilah's request. I had figured she was scared of me.
"Why are ya askin', lil' one?" I questioned her as she met my eyes for the first time.
"'Cause you should be with Mommy again." Her green eyes grew wide at her own words. "And I don't like it when Mommy's sad."
"Girls, I think we've bothered these men enough tonight. Come on, lets get to the car." Dani kept her eyes on the girls, gently ushering them to the front door of the bar. Before she let herself outside, she turned back to me and Murphy. "You guys stay here for tonight. Tomorrow, I'll set up the living room where you can stay. Good night, guys."
With that, she walked out of my sight. Once again, silence filled the room except for the sound of car doors opening and closing, then the start of a car engine. A few seconds later, the car revved up and drove away from the pub.
"Well, shit, you guys. I had no idea your woman had kids. That's awesome! And that Danielle of yours is way hotter than you described her, Connor." Romeo chuckled as I glared at him.
"Watch it, Rome. She doesn't have time to cavort with us. And I won't have ya disrespectin' her, either." I placed my pack of cigarettes and lighter back into my pocket. "I don't know about you, but I'm starvin' and I could really do for some shots."
"Is it too late for a couple o' shots, Doc?" Murphy asked the elderly man.
"Oh, the Lord told me ya were comin'. 'Doc', He said. 'They'd be comin''. And I was to have everything ready. So, I have everything r-re-…It's all set."
Romeo cleared his throat loudly to show that he wanted to be introduced.
"Oh, this is our Mexican." Murphy pointed to him standing behind Doc.
Our old friend shook our comrade's hand. "Nice to meet ya, lad. They call me, FUCK! ASS!"
Romeo's eyes went to the wall as if he was confused. "How're you doing, Fuck Ass? I'm Romeo."
Doc turned his cane forward and walked to the stairs that led to the upper storage room. "The…the girls usually play in this room when their mother works at night. It keeps them occupied. T-this room used to be a speakeasy…in-in the forties. I mainly use it for storage now."
He opened the door to the room and led us inside. "Holy shit." Murph and I both said in unison. There sat a pool table, an art easel, and a few chairs covered with sheets.
"This is so fucking cool!" Romeo exclaimed, sounding like a kid who discovered a new clubhouse.
"Nobody knows its up here. You'll be safe. A-and ye can get out on the fire escape." Doc explained to us through his stutters.
"You know what this is? This is a hideout. We got a fucking hideout, man!" Rome kept on his fascination with the dark room.
"What are ya, fuckin' five years old?" I leaned my arms against the pool table after I slipped off my pea-coat. I felt a pang of guilt saying those words that apparently described Isabella and Delilah. Those two angelic girls loved playing in this room also.
"Ya know, Rome. We got sticks and blankets. Ya can make yerself a fort." Murphy picked up a pool stick and blew some dust off of it, grinning mischievously at Romeo.
"Ha, fuck the both of you. Man this is sweet; we even got pinball machines…" Romeo argued with my brother as our night of drinking and celebrating began.
I couldn't believe the fact that I was now a father, or that I had been for six years without even knowing it. Now that I had met them, I longed to get to know them better.
For the first time in three days, I was grateful that we were back in America. And now that I was reunited with my love and two beautiful children, I was not going to leave again…
Now that Isabella and Delilah had entered my life, I now had two more reasons to be a Saint.
And I couldn't help but smile at the thought of seeing them again…