"I lost the button," he said.
"The bear's eye."
She cocked her head in confusion.
"From Nantasket. That time?"
"The stuffed bear? The one from the room?"
"You kept its eye?"
"Well, it was a button, but yeah. I still had it. Never left my pocket."
He could see she had no idea what to do with that information. He said, "That night you came to see me . . ."
She crossed her arms.
"I let you go because . . ."
"Because I was weak," he said.
"And that kept you now, did it, from caring for a friend?" "We're not friends, Nora."
"Then what are we, Danny?" She stood on the sidewalk, her eyes on the pavement, so tense he could see goose bumps in her flesh and the cords in her neck.
Danny said, "Look at me. Please."
She kept her head down.
"Look at me," he said again.
Her eyes found his.
"When we look at each other like this, right now, I don't know what that is, but 'friendship' seems kind of watery, don't you think?"
"Oh, you," she said and shook her head, "you were always the talker now. They'd have called the Blarney Stone the Danny Stone if they could have--"
"Don't," he said. "Don't make it small. It's not small, Nora."
"What are you doing here?" she whispered. "Jesus, Danny. What?
I already have one husband, or haven't you heard? And you've always been a boy in a man's body. You run from thing to thing. You--" "You have a husband?" He chuckled.
"He laughs," she said to the street with a loud sigh.
"I do." He stood. He placed a hand to her chest just below her throat. He kept his fingers there, lightly, and tried to get the smile off his face as he saw her anger rise. "I just . . . Nora, I'm just . . . I mean, the two of us? Trying to be so respectable? Wasn't that our word?"
"After you broke with me"--her face remained a stone, but he could see the light finding her eyes--"I needed stability. I needed . . ."
That brought a roar from him, an explosion he couldn't stop that erupted out of the center of his body and, even as it punched its way along his ribs, felt better than anything he'd felt in a long time. "Stability?"
"Yes." She hit his chest with her fist. "I wanted to be a good American girl, an upstanding citizen."
"Well, that worked out tremendously well."
"Why?" And the laugh finally reached her voice.
"Because, because . . ." He held her shoulders and the waves fi nally passed. He moved his palms down her arms and took her hands in his and this time she let him. "Because all this time you were with Connor, you wanted to be with me."
"Ah, you're a cocky man, you are, Danny Coughlin."
He tugged on her hands and stooped until their faces were at the same level. "And I wanted to be with you. And the two of us lost so much time, Nora, trying to be"--he looked up at the sky in frustration-- "whatever the fuck we were trying to be."
"I don't give a shit. I don't give a shit about anything anymore, Nora, except this. Right here. Right now."
She shook her head. "Your family will disown you just like they disowned me."
"So you love them."
"Yeah. Yeah, I do." Danny shrugged. "But I need you, Nora." He touched her forehead with his own. "I need you." He repeated it in a whisper, his head against hers.
"You'll throw away your whole world," she whispered and her voice was wet.
"I was done with it anyway."
Her laugh came out strangled and damp.
"We can never marry in the Church."
"I'm done with that, too," he said.
They stood there for a long time, and the streets smelled of the early-evening rain.
"You're crying," she said. "I can feel the tears."
He removed his forehead from hers and tried to speak, but he couldn't, so he smiled, and the tears rolled off his chin.
She leaned back and caught one on her finger.
"This is not pain?" she said and put it in her mouth.
"No," Danny said and lowered his forehead to hers again. "This is not pain."
Luther came home after a day at the Coughlin household in which, for the second time since he'd been there, the captain had invited him into his study.
"Take a seat, take a seat," the captain said as he removed his uniform coat and hung it on the coat tree behind his desk.
The captain came around to the front of the desk with two glasses of whiskey and handed one to Luther. "I heard what you did for Aiden. I'd like to thank you for saving my son's life." He clinked his heavy glass off Luther's.
Luther said, "It was nothing, sir."
"Scollay Square. That's where you ran into Aiden, yes?"
"Uh, yes, sir, I did."
"What brought you over there? You've no friends in the West End, do you?"
"And you live in the South End. As we know, you work over here, so . . ."
The captain rolled the glass between his hands and waited.
Luther said, "Well, you know why most men go to Scollay Square, sir." He tried for a conspiratorial smile.
"I do," Captain Coughlin said. "I do, Luther. But even Scollay Square has its racial principles. I'm to assume you were at Mama Hennigan's, then? 'Tis the only place I know in the square that services coloreds."
"Yes, sir," Luther said, although by now he knew he'd walked into a trap.
The captain reached into his humidor. He removed two cigars and snipped the ends and handed one to Luther. He lit it for him and then lit his own.
"I understand my friend Eddie was giving you a bit of a hard time."
Luther said, "Uh, sir, I don't know that I would--"
"Aiden told me," the captain said.
"I've spoken to Eddie on your behalf. I owe you that for saving my son."
"Thank you, sir."
"I promise he'll be a bother to you no longer."
"I really do appreciate that, sir. Thank you again."
The captain raised his glass and Luther did the same and they both took a drink of the fine Irish whiskey.