Title: Four-Leaf Clovers
Pairing: Tommy Donnelly/Jenny Reilly
You don’t get a lot of Irish artists. The Irish were good at a lot of things, most of them involving copious amounts of alcohol and a liberal amount of fighting, but art wasn’t high on the list. In fact, when Tommy Donnelly decided to turn his random doodles into something marketable and go to art school, most of his family and friends looked at him like he was crazy.
Jenny Reilly didn’t. She knew that Tommy was something more than a roughneck Irish guy who hustled in bars and got tangled up in union politics. Tommy Donnelly wasn’t like his father or his father’s friends: he wasn’t the guy who worked his ass off running a pub or being a cop or even with his hands in one of the union jobs the bosses handed out like prized plums. No, Tommy was making his own way in the world and to the Irish, who were so focused on togetherness and us against them, it was foreign.
It was raining, the day Jenny knew that Tommy was leaving Hell’s Kitchen and never coming back. Her grandmother had always talked about the “feelings” she got and while Jenny’s mom wrote them off as old Irish senility, Jenny always secretly believed in them. The old storytellers wouldn’t talk so much about the sight and premonitions and superstitions if they hadn’t been rooted in some fact and so, for that reason, Jenny didn’t completely discount the idea of “feelings.”
That sentiment was reinforced when Tommy met her down at the Italian deli on the corner (it was a Starbucks now) two days before they were going to graduate high school. It was raining and Jenny had covered her hair with a newspaper as she ran down the street to catch Tommy before he wrote her off as not coming and left. Time spent with Tommy always seemed to pass by too fast, even when they were together for hours. Jenny wished she could bottle that and reuse it in her geometry class when time dragged on forever, but time didn’t work that way.
She paused in the doorway of the deli, hair dripping and the Italian man behind the counter fussing over her and sponging her off until she wasn’t dripping on the floor any longer. Tommy was bent over a sketchpad, the tips of his fingers dark from charcoal, as dark as the top of his head. Jenny laughed to herself: there was a reason they were the Black
Donnellys, after all, and it wasn’t just their mischievous hearts.
“Yo, Tommy,” she called out, shaking out her hair and trying to get the water from her ears before settling in the chair opposite his at the tiny table. The deli wasn’t particularly accommodating to dine-in customers, but the owner kept a couple rickety tables and chairs for people wanting to get off the streets and in the air conditioning for half an hour or so. Tommy was set up nicely, art supplies strewn across the table as he worked on a still life of a side of beef that was hanging behind the counter.
“You still on that violent kick?” she asked, watching as Tommy smudged the lines of the drawing and turned it from something photorealistic to something else entirely. Jenny never understood the appeal of art. She liked math better, except geometry since it had too much drawing in it, and figured she’d take a correspondence course in bookkeeping or something and help out at one of the neighborhood businesses.
In short, she wasn’t like Tommy. She knew then, when Tommy started smudging the lines of that drawing and turning it into something she’d never seen before, that he was going places. He wasn’t gonna beat around Hell’s Kitchen for the rest of his life picking up behind his brothers while holding the odd job here and there. No, Tommy Donnelly was going up to that art school in Manhattan and someday he was going to be a famous artist.
“Yeah,” he mumbled, looking up and giving her a brilliant smile. Tommy always saved his best smiles for the most inconspicuous of moments, saved them like that couple of cookies you put in the tin and forgot about for a few days and found on accident when you were about to throw something at the wall in sheer frustration over something or other. Tommy was like the cookies in the forgotten tin, something easily overlooked but wonderful.
“Thought maybe I could do a series, ya know?” he said, finishing up the drawing and carefully sliding it into the battered brown portfolio he carried everywhere. Jenny did a few calculations in her head and figured if she put off buying that cheap Volkswagen for a few more weeks, she could get him a nice leather one down at a store in Manhattan. Those admissions guys looked for nice stuff like that, right? Yeah, she’d buy Tommy a portfolio. Call it a graduation present.
“Yeah,” she said, grinning a little at him. “Gritty underbelly in the…okay, yeah, I don’t know anything about art,” she said, blushing. Not that Tommy knew much about artists and their works: he was a little more focused on craft. He’d mentioned that one of the interviews he’d gone on had gone downhill when the professor drilled him on painters in 16th century France. Tommy hadn’t known any and just shrugged, giving him one of his patented “eat shit” grins before catching the train back home and sneaking into MacMillan’s with Jimmy and Kevin.
“I don’t either,” he gently reminded her, rubbing his fingers against the cheap deli tablecloth to rid them of the charcoal. As he did so, they accidentally brushed against Jenny’s and she felt a spark, got this little fleeting moment of panic. Tommy was leaving. It was hard to imagine, especially since most of their class at school were staying home to work for at least the summer, if not permanently, but Tommy was actually getting out.
“Yeah, but you know more than me,” she said half-heartedly, heart pumping double time as the rain fell down outside. She brushed against his fingers again, casting a surreptitious eye over at the guy running the counter before leaning in and kissing Tommy full on the lips. They’d always been friends and yeah, they flirted here and there, but just about all of the Donnelly boys flirted with Jenny. It was a neighborhood institution, trying to catch Jenny Reilly.
“Ain’t never done that before,” Tommy said, grinning deep enough that his eyes crinkled in the corners and a dimple formed on the left side of his mouth. It was infectious and Jenny grinned too, laughing a little and squeezing Tommy’s hand as she contemplated whether or not to kiss him again. It seemed like a good idea, to her heart, but her brain told her it was wrong. She was an oddity, seeing as how most Irish thought with their hearts and not their brains, but that was how it was. She wasn’t going to make another move, really, no matter how much she wanted to.
Instead, she studied Tommy, tried to commit his features to her memory in case a day came that she wouldn’t see him every day in the neighborhood rousing up trouble with his brothers. The more she looked at him, the more she realized that the premonition about him leaving and not coming back and the artist thing were one in the same. Just like Jenny, who thought with her head and not her heart, Tommy was an Irish oddity.
Family above all, yeah, but Tommy had something stronger inside than even that. Tommy thought about the future, planned for more than just the here and now. He was passionate, yeah, but it was restrained passion. It was passion with a brain.
Weren’t they just a couple of four-leaf clovers, two Irish in a sea of humanity that had that spark, that little something different. Jenny didn’t know if that was a blessing or a curse but, as her granny had said, only time would tell.