It was something Lionel had been thinking about a lot recently but had been afraid to put into words.
He knew he loved Karen with all his heart and his soul, with his toenails and with the little dinge on the side of his left knee, and he knew Karen felt the same. But was he rushing things? Was this a step too far?
His mind went back to their first meeting at a strange football ground in Cabra. Shels had been playing Cork in a pre-season friendly and she had turned away from the game suddenly with something in her eye. It turned out it was a football. Lionel had stopped hurling abuse at O’Callaghan and come over with the corner of a handkerchief (he had no idea where the rest of it was) and gently dabbed her eye until she told him it was the wrong one.
It was the eyes, thought Lionel. The eyes very definitely have it. He had never seen red and white eyes before and as he gazed into them he found his manly football supporter’s aura starting to dissolve. She had asked him if he thought that James Chambers was more effective when he came inside and he found himself nodding in agreement and was nonplussed when she insisted he had more space on the wing.
In reply, he had nervously asked her if she was going up to Letterkenny and his heart fell when she shook her head. “I’m having my legs waxed,” she had whispered. “Do you think Shelsweb will have updates?”
He had turned, hot, flushed, angry at himself for forcing the issue, bitter at the rejection. But as he turned, she heard her soft lilting voice “See you at Inchicore?”
In Donegal, he had barely concentrated on the games. He kept imagining Karen and imagining himself smearing wax over those long slender legs. Would she be at Inchicore?
He need have had no worries. She was there, waiting, her scarf on her head and her red and white bobble hat around her neck. She had saved him a seat, she said, though looking around, there had been perhaps no need. They had laughed at the ground improvements and Pats’ fine and he had told her all about the fine victory in Letterkenny, and she hung on his every word.
Back at Beggsboro, they had both marvelled at Alan Mucahy’s tactical nous and when Bisto’s free kick came back off the bar and Peter McGlynn tapped it home, they had jumped up and hugged each other in a joyful embrace. In that moment, Lionel knew he was in love. He smelt her warm soft air and instinctively his lips met hers. “Hello,” they said. “Nice bit of weather we’re having, isn’t it?”
For the rest of the game, they sat and held hands and giggled and did all the annoying things new lovers do, while the rest of the crowd eyed them in revulsion. At the full time whistle, he walked her to the bus stop, (which puzzled her slightly as she had brought her car,) and they made arrangements for Dalymount.
There was a nervous tension in the Phibsboro ground. Lionel could sense that their relationship was moving forward but didn’t want to force things. She feared the goalscoring prowess of Jason Byrne. When the equalising goal deflected into the Bohs’ net , they simply squeezed each other’s hands nervously. “Let’s hope we can hold out,” he grimaced. She gulped and nodded.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he asked as they exited the ground. She seemed not to hear. “It’s great to see Sparky back,” she said hurriedly. “Of course, I’ve only read about him but to see him in the flesh…”
She stopped and he turned towards her. He could see her white eye beginning to mist up. He sensed her panic and held her tightly.
“I think perhaps we should go to the Dundalk match,” he said simply. She gulped. Her words seemed small and frightened.
“I’ve never been to a League game before,” she said finally, gazing donwards. Then she nodded as if she’d come to a momentous decision. “Will you promise to be gentle with me?”
He kissed her tenderly on the nose. “Darling,” he replied, “I will be as gentle as a lamb. And of couse I’ll respect you in the morning.”