It was him. The man from the plane sat on the bed, staring at a drawing pad on his lap. The spiky red hair, the smattering of freckles, and the creased eyes triggered a series of flashbacks that ran through my mind: the lack of spatial awareness, the soda down my leg, and the stolen dinner roll.
I pulled the covers over my head, my heart racing and the pit in my stomach digging into my pelvis like a concrete boulder. I dragged the duvet below my eyes and squinted, trying not to be obvious. Am I dreaming? Ha! Maybe I’m having a nightmare. The same red hair, now tousled from sleep, rested against the wall. I pushed the blanket down to my shoulders and said, “Hello, again.”
He looked up from his drawing pad and tilted his head to the left, tapping his pencil against his scruffy chin. “I remember you. From the plane.”
I tried to smile, but my lips refused to rise. I pushed my body against the back wall and pulled the sheet closer to my armpits. “What are you doing here, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I could ask you the same thing. I live here.”
My eyes bulged and I scrambled to a seated position. “You can’t live here. You’re a guy. This is an apartment with women. Foreign exchange students. A bunch of Americans.” I spoke slowly, as if that would make him understand.
Jaime chuckled and looked down again. “Yes, I am aware, but this is my apartment now. I forgot to renew my housing paperwork last semester, and they gave my room away. This was all that was left. They told me I was living with Rory, Zoey, and Marissa. I take it you’re Rory?”
“I thought you were an Irish lad.”
I swallowed loudly, the saliva crawling down the back of my throat. Reaching across my bed to my nightstand, I downed a bottle of water. Cloudiness from the alcohol still in my system slowed down my brain’s processing ability, and I struggled to understand his words. “You can’t live here,” I said again.
“I wish I didn’t. Living with a bunch of Americans during my last year of college is the last thing I want to do, but it’s that or be homeless so I’ll suck it up.” He returned to his drawing and spoke to his paper. “Nice to meet you, Rory.” His amber eyes looked over, scanning my top half. “Fun time last night?”
My brain beat against my forehead, and I massaged my temples. “Yeah. Sorry if I woke you.”
“No worries. I spent the night with my old flatmates. They live downstairs, and I came up here to crash. I didn’t even hear you come in.”
I grabbed the hooded sweatshirt sitting at the end of my bed, and pulled it over my body. “Are you sure they said there was nowhere else? I mean, I don’t know, Jaime. You’re a guy, a stranger, really, and I have a boyfriend. I don’t think he will be too excited when I tell him my roommate’s an Irish guy.”
His liquid gold eyes looked me up and down. “I asked to be moved and they put me on a waiting list if some other American no-shows, but I want my old flat and my old flatmates. Unless they can squeeze me back in there, I’m staying here. So, there it is. An Irish bloke and an American lass living together. That’ll make a good story for the grandkids. Promise, you won’t even know I’m here.”
Connor cleared his throat. “Barmbrack is something my mammy made and was my favorite Halloween food when I was a kid.”
Looking at the brown bread with light and dark raisins almost reminded me of a fruitcake my grandmother made for Christmas. I had never liked it, and used to dissect the insides until a mountain of jelly candies sat on my napkin before throwing it away.
Deirdre placed her hand on Connor’s. “I rarely bake this, but tonight’s a special night. Barm comes from a brewery, and we use it as yeast. We bake it with raisins and little surprises. Little trinkets. Each trinket symbolizes something for the coming year.”
Jaime cut a thin slice and spread butter across the side. “Ma, what’s in the bread?”
I expected a list of ingredients; instead, Deirdre rattled off objects. “A stick, a ring, a coin, a rag, a pea, and a thimble.”
I widened my eyes and then looked at the slice of bread Jaime had placed in front of me. “That’s in here?” I pointed to the flat slice on my plate.
“Yes and no. I hid charms representing all those items and wrapped them in parchment paper so the cake is still safe to eat. I think we all should dig through and see what we find.”
The four of us ripped our barmbrack into tiny pieces, searching for parchment paper and charms. More than half the bread remained uncut.
“I got one,” Jaime said, revealing a coin.
I leaned over to get a better look. “What does that mean?”
“Good fortune,” Connor said. He held up a tiny metal thimble pendant. “Looks like I’ll be a spinster for life.” Leaning across the table, he kissed his wife, and Deirdre chuckled.
“You aren’t so lucky,” she said, and I smiled at their cuteness.
I continued digging. “Ooh!” I pulled out a bag and removed the charm. “A ring.”
Deirdre’s eyes widened, and her eyebrows rose to the top of her head. “Ooh, that means you will find love.” Willie Daly’s prediction of finding love within the next six months poked me in the heart. She winked at Jaime and smiled at me. “That’s a great one to have.” After a moment of silence, she said, “It appears the others are still in the loaf. Guess my life won’t be changing this year, aye?”
After dinner, Jaime and I cozied on the couch in front of the telly. My belly was full of comfort food, and my soul was full of love. With the help of Jaime, Deirdre, and Connor, I was falling in love with Ireland. I had never imagined being so welcomed into a family and couldn’t imagine my own parents treating Jaime with the same level of hospitality.
“Jaime,” I whispered.
He looked down at me and stroked my hair.
“Thank you. For showing me what it’s like to be from Ireland. As much as I don’t want to be a trash bag for Halloween, I’m happy I’ll get to spend the night with you.” I gazed into his eyes and counted the freckles sprinkled across his cheeks.
“No, no, if you hate it, you don’t have to wear it.” My body tingled with every touch and I closed my eyes, memorizing the way he made me feel.
“A bet is a bet, and I lost fair and square.”
He smiled and gazed at my face. “Would it make you feel better if I wore a bin bag, too?”
A grin erupted at the thought of Jaime wearing a trash bag with nothing underneath, and I nodded quickly. “Yeah.”