When I woke up on the second morning of the music festival in Dublin, it was with a heavy heart and a belly full of dread. For the longest time, I just laid on my side in my sleeping bag, watching Johnny sleep beside me. I studied every inch of his beautiful face, taking in every freckle and scar, and the way his thick, dark lashes fanned his cheekbones when he slept.
Memories of yesterday filled my mind and I smiled to myself, thinking about Johnny and Gibsie as they jumped around like a pair of lunatics to The Saw Doctor’s N17. With their arms wrapped around each other, they had chanted the words back to the band and leaped around like two crazed idiots. It was hilarious. They had both been extremely drunk and enjoying each other’s company, uncaring of what they looked like in the moment, as they belly bashed one another and tried to out-jump the other. N17 had rolled into Joyce Country Ceili Band and then I Useta Love Her and they had danced along together, singing the words to each other like an old married couple.
Even though I was incredibly excited to take on the day and see all the other amazing bands and artists on offer, I didn’t want to leave the tent this morning. Because tomorrow, we would have to go home. Because tomorrow, he would have to give them an answer. I didn’t know what he was going to do. His father had told him to take a few days to mull it over and decide when we came home from Dublin, and that’s exactly what Johnny was doing. We hadn’t spoken about it since that day at the beach, and I was fairly sure neither of us wanted to bring it back up until we really had to. But the thought of him leaving permanently made my heart squeeze so tight in my chest, it was hard to breathe. Putting on a brave face, I danced, sang, and laughed my way through our day yesterday, but I was lonesome now. I was missing him before he even left.
‘You’re staring,’ he whispered, eyes still closed.
I smiled. ‘You’re supposed to be sleeping.’
‘Because I can feel your eyes on me.’ Smiling, he cracked an eyelid open. ‘Hi, Shannon.’
Stretching out his long limbs, he reached over and pulled me onto his chest. ‘We need to get a tent for home.’
He nodded and kissed my hair. ‘With a padlock on the opening to keep your brothers and my Ma out.’
Sighing in contentment, I nuzzled my cheek against his bare chest. ‘You always make me warm.’
‘You always make me hard.’
I rolled my eyes and smiled to myself. ‘It’s been raining all night.’
‘Are you wet?’
‘Stop,’ I laughed, slapping his chest. ‘You’re being terrible.’
‘I’m only messing,’ he chuckled, snatching my hand up to entwine with his. ‘It’s only a bit of summer rain, Shan. The sun will be out soon.’ Pressing a kiss to my knuckles, he said, ‘I love this.’
‘You love what?’
‘You,’ he replied. ‘This.’ He shrugged. ‘Being here now.’
Twisting onto my stomach, I looked up at him. ‘I love this, too.’
‘Do you want to stay forever?’ he offered lightly, but I could see the pain in his eyes. ‘We can hide in this tent and never come out?’
‘I think Gibsie would have something to say about that,’ I replied, giving him a smile.
‘Yeah.’ Johnny sighed heavily. ‘Should have left the fucker at home. He was demented yesterday.’
‘He’s fun,’ I laughed.
‘He’s insane,’ Johnny corrected.
‘Come on, you know you love him,’ I teased.
‘Yeah,’ he grumbled. ‘I’m fond of the little bollox.’
‘We’ll be okay, won’t we?’
‘Yeah.’ He cupped my cheek in his hand. ‘We will.’
‘No matter what?’ I whispered, leaning into his touch.
‘No matter what,’ he replied gruffly.
The roof of the tent started to shake rapidly then, and Gibsie’s voice filled my ears. ‘Hey, Cap? Are you getting your hole – I mean, are you making sweet love, or can I come in?’
‘Yes, I am,’ Johnny growled. ‘Now fuck off.’
The zip lowered on our tent opening and his blond head popped through. ‘Morning, family.’
‘I said I was making sweet love, asshole,’ Johnny snapped, sitting straight up.
‘I know,’ Gibsie laughed, crawling inside. ‘That’s how I knew you weren’t.’
‘I could have been,’ Johnny argued.
‘Nope,’ Gibsie shot back. ‘The tent wasn’t shaking.’
‘Morning,’ Claire chirped as she crawled in after him, with a full face of makeup and her clothes on point. ‘How are my favorite lovebirds? Ready for another amazing day?’
‘Do you have batteries I can take out?’ Johnny asked her. ‘Your optimism is endless.’
‘I’m a sunny-side up kind of girl,’ she told him.
‘We’re hungry,’ Gibsie admitted with a sheepish grin. ‘We ran out of snacks in our tent.’
‘Because you didn’t bring any,’ Johnny grumbled, flopping back down and taking me with him. ‘Like I told you to.’
‘Ooh, you have gummy bears?’ Claire asked, rummaging around in our bags. ‘Wow, I thought you didn’t eat junk food, Johnny.’
‘I don’t,’ Johnny yawned. Rolling onto his side, he draped an arm around me. ‘They’re for Shan.’
‘Aww,’ she swooned. ‘You’re so considerate.’
‘Could you be – and leave?’ Johnny muttered under his breath.
‘Don’t be cranky,’ I scolded, pinching his nipple.
‘Do it again,’ he purred. ‘Lower.’
I blushed. ‘Johnny –’
‘She can pull on your dick later,’ Gibsie announced. ‘Right now, we have places to be and drunk to get.’
‘Drunk to get?’ Johnny shook his head. ‘Lad, you really need to start listening in class.’
‘Get out of the sleeping bag and come have fun with me,’ he ordered. ‘Or I’m going to fart on your girlfriend. And trust me, it’s going to be a ripe one. I was on the cider all day yesterday.’
‘He’s telling the truth,’ Claire added, gagging. ‘His farts are chronic, guys. I thought he was going to blow us up last night.’
‘You were farting, too,’ he shot back. ‘Like a ripper.’
‘I know,’ she replied, not missing a beat. ‘I had to try and drown out yours, didn’t I?’
‘God, the two of you are beyond fucked up,’ Johnny chuckled.
‘Get up, or I’m releasing the beast,’ Gibsie warned. ‘Do it now or I might slip a salmon out while I’m at it.’
‘Ew, Gerard,’ Claire snickered. ‘That’s so wrong.’
I arched a brow. ‘A salmon?’
‘He’s talking about taking a shite,’ Johnny confirmed, jerking out of his sleeping bag quicker than a cat. ‘I’m coming, so go take your salmon and swim it down a river somewhere else.’
Gibsie grinned. ‘Like your girlfr–’
‘Say it and I’ll kill you.’
‘Oh look, Gibs,’ Johnny roared above the noise of the crowd as Green Day took to the stage and started playing Basket Case. ‘It’s your anthem.’
Laughing, Gibsie gave him the middle finger and continued to bounce around like a demented jack-in-the-box, bare-chested, with Claire on his shoulders. She didn’t look scared– quite the opposite. She had every faith in him not dropping her head-first into the masses. I found that strange considering the boy had already lost both of her wellies and her t-shirt in the crowd. It didn’t seem to faze Claire one bit, though. She had her hands in the air, laughing and singing along with the band and the sixty thousand or so people surrounding us.
‘Come on, Shannon like the river,’ Johnny said, crouching down in front of me. ‘Get your ass up here.’
He grinned. ‘Climb on.’
‘But I –’
He pulled me onto his shoulders as the band began to play the achingly familiar guitar rift. Scrambling for friction, I dug my fingers into his scalp as Johnny stood back up, towering over the people around us, and giving me a perfect view of the band on stage. ‘Oh my god!’ I screamed through fits of nervous laughter as he clamped his hands down on my thighs and began to jump around. ‘Johnny – ah!’ Cowering, I hunched forward, wrapping my arms around his neck, clinging to him. ‘Please don’t drop me.’
‘Never,’ Johnny called back. He was shirtless, with his t-shirt hanging out of the back of his shorts, and had a baseball cap slung on backwards, as he chanted the lyrics back at the band with me on his shoulders. I knew he was getting plenty of looks from everyone around us – especially the girls. People recognize him, I realized. It was obvious in the way they sneakily tried to snap pictures of him on the sly. Johnny didn’t seem to notice, though. Either that, or he just didn’t care.
Feeling incredibly free, I threw my hands up in the air and laughed.
‘Shannon!’ Claire laugh/screamed my name and I reached out to grab her hand, laughing as all four of us screamed out the words of the song.
Cameras were flashing all around us, but for once I didn’t care.
We were young and free and together.
Tomorrow would come, bringing with it all of the terror that came with an unknown future, but for now, I was happy. I was content. I was at the best music festival in the world with the only boy I would ever give my heart to.
When Jimmy Eat World took to the stage, I almost had a panic attack. I lost my mind even more when they started to play The Middle. It was at that exact moment that I knew I was going to be okay. That I could do this. I could live this life with him. No matter what he decided, I would find a way to cope, because sitting on Johnny Kavanagh’s shoulders, with his arm wrapped around my legs and his hand on my thigh, I knew there was no other place I wanted to be. I belonged with this boy and he belonged with me.
For their final song of their set, the band started to play Hear You Me. I glanced over to Gibsie and Claire who were completely focused on one another. Gibsie had one arm hooked loosely across the front of her legs, while he held a plastic cup of whatever the hell he was drinking in the other hand. A cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth as he slowly rocked from side to side amongst the crowd.
I didn’t miss the way that every few minutes, Gibsie smoothed his hand from her calf to her ankle. I also didn’t miss the way that Claire rewarded this move by tightening her thighs around his neck and dropping a hand to stroke the side of his jaw.
I didn’t think either one realized they were openly petting each other. They just seemed to be completely in sync with one another on both a physical and emotional level.
Turning my attention back to the band, I listened to the lyrics, feeling that familiar surge of sadness swell up inside of me at the thought of my mother. A tear fell onto my cheek as I sang softly to myself. The feel of Johnny’s hand squeezing my thigh drew my attention back to him. ‘I love you,’ he mouthed, craning his neck to look up at me.
Sniffling, I mouthed, ‘I love you, too.’
Keeping his eyes on mine, he continued to mouth the words of the song, swaying us gently to the music.
Stroking his cheek, I leaned down and pressed my lips to his, not an easy feat given that I was sitting on his shoulders, but I had to kiss him. I just had to. The hand Johnny had on my thigh moved to cup the back of my head as he kissed me back, right there in the middle of a field, surrounded by sixty thousand people and Jimmy Eat World singing to us.
‘You tired, Shan?’ Johnny asked later that night. It was pitch dark, and I was sitting on some railing or other I had found to rest on. Johnny was standing right behind me, keeping a protective arm wrapped around my stomach, while we waited for Claire and Gibsie, who were queuing up at the mobile chipper.
Johnny was still shirtless, having given me his t-shirt to wear when the sun went down and the chill set in. Resting my head against his warm chest, I released a sigh of contentment. ‘Hmm.’
‘Hmm?’ Resting his chin on my shoulder, he swayed absentmindedly to the music still playing in the distance. ‘What’s hmm?’
‘I’m just taking it all in,’ I told him.
‘Johnny Kavanagh?’ someone called out then, causing us both to turn in the direction of a group of much older girls.
‘Oh my god, it is him,’ one of them screamed. ‘I told you!’
‘Hey,’ Johnny replied, words slightly slurring from the beer he and Gibsie had been necking all day, but tone as polite and professional as always.
‘Oh my god, you were amazing against Fiji,’ another girl told him – one with the biggest breasts I’d ever seen in real life. ‘So amazing.’
‘Can we get a picture?’ another asked.
Johnny hesitated, tightening his arm around my stomach.
‘It’s okay,’ I said with a small nod, encouraging him to take the picture so we could get back to us.
Smothering a frustrated sigh, he slapped on a professional smile and walked over to the girls.
‘Can you take it please?’ one of them asked, holding her digital camera out for me to take.
Nodding, I hopped down off the railing and took the camera from her. ‘Okay, I have the flash on so it should work. Smile.’
Johnny looked extremely uncomfortable, but he smiled as the group of six girls all draped themselves around him.
I snapped four pictures of them and then held the camera out for the girl to take back.
‘Thanks so much,’ she gushed, staring up at my boyfriend like he held the moon. ‘He’s amazing.’
‘Yeah.’ I forced a smile. ‘He is.’ And he’s mine.
‘I’m sorry about that,’ Johnny said, tone low, as he waved them off and hurried back to me. ‘That was fucking embarrassing.’
‘Don’t be sorry for people loving you,’ I told him.
He shook his head and helped me back onto the railing. ‘They don’t love me, Shan.’
‘They adore you,’ I corrected, pulling him closer to stand between my legs. ‘And that’s okay.’
‘Maybe,’ he conceded, clamping his hands down on my hips. ‘But they don’t love me.’
‘Oh?’ I arched a brow. ‘How are you so sure?’
‘Because I know what it feels like when someone loves me.’ He tipped my nose with his finger. ‘And that’s not it.’
Heat crept up my neck. ‘Johnny –’
‘I know what I’m going to do, Shan,’ he whispered. ‘About the contract? I’ve made a decision.’
My heart hammered wildly in my chest. ‘Really?’
He nodded slowly. ‘I have to do this for me,’ he whispered. ‘I need to. It’s what’s right for me, you know?’
‘I understand,’ I breathed, feeling the weight of the world settle down on my shoulders.
‘You’ll love me no matter what?’ A shudder rolled through him and he clenched his eyes shut. ‘No matter how hard it gets?’
‘No matter what,’ I forced the words out of my throat, knowing that I was agreeing to break my own heart in the process. ‘You sign and you shine.’
‘And you’ll be okay?’ he pushed. ‘No matter what?’
I forced a smile. ‘I’ll be fine.’
‘I’ll marry you,’ he said then. ‘When we’re older and everything settles down.’ Taking my hands in his, he placed them around his neck and leaned in close. ‘Just stand by me,’ he said in a voice thick with emotion. ‘Stay with me.’ His hand squeezed mine. ‘And I’ll make you proud. I’ll do right by you.’
My breath came out in a pained rush. ‘Johnny…’
‘We’ll have a family,’ he continued to say. ‘One of our own, and I’ll stand by you right back. In whatever you choose to do. No matter what.’
‘This won’t break us,’ I croaked, touching my brow to his.
‘Nothing can break us,’ he whispered. ‘I promise.’
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