Authors: Shana McGuinn
Copyright © 2012 by Shana McGuinn
All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
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he force with which he suddenly pulled her toward him and kissed her frightened her at first, but only for a moment. It answered the question that had troubled her for so long. This was no momentary impulse, no mere mix of circumstances: a girl in a dark room after an evening of drinking. There was nothing tentative or impersonal about the passion in his touch. His feelings for her ran as strong as those she held for him.
Lightheaded with long-dormant desire, her arms went around him and she pressed herself into his body, reveling in the rock-like hardness of his chest and the strength of the arms that held her so tightly, but so tenderly. She responded heatedly to his lips, to the hands that stroked her body, ignoring the small, strident voice in the back of her head that said this was wrong, that she was an unmarried girl and what she was doing was immoral. It felt like they were all alone in the world, the last two people left on the planet, with no others and no rules. She pressed against him hungrily, wanting only to fill the excruciating, exhilarating need that he had awakened in her. Nothing else mattered.
“I tried to stay away,” he murmured. She thrilled to his words. “I knew what was between us, although I tried to tell myself you didn’t feel the same. Don’t you see how I tried to stay away?” He swung her around and up against a wall, covering her body with his own. She arched her neck and leaned upward, blindly seeking out his lips. Her hands traveled over his broad back, drawing him ever closer to her. She felt him trembling with desire and sensed that he was trying to control himself, to pull away from her even as—
The door swung open. On the threshold stood Delores, just returned from her brother’s house. Shocked, she looked from Reece to Tara and then back again at Reece. Her tone, when she finally spoke, was low and furious.
“I understand congratulations are in order, Reece. You’ve set your wedding date. I’m sure you and Miriam Sedgewell will be very happy together.”
Reece leaned heavily against the wall, looking miserable.
ara’s voice soared out over the fields as she filled her bucket with ripe blackberries from the dense briars that choked the ditches. So intent was she on picking carefully—watching for the small holes in the stem base that meant the snails who also loved the dark, juicy berries had been there first—that she scarcely noticed she was singing. It was as natural as breathing to her, as much a part of the late-summer sounds as the calls of the swallows wheeling in the warm sunshine overhead.
Her bucket nearly full, Tara cupped her hand and took a drink of water from the spring trickling alongside the ditch. She splashed cool droplets on her face and held her wet hands to her neck, then sat back on a low stone wall, letting her bare feet dangle in the dirt. It felt so good to be free of the long black woolen stockings, gray flannel petticoats and heavy tweed skirts that trapped her body like a prisoner throughout the winter. The simple shift she wore today was light and comfortable.
She closed her eyes and turned her face toward the sun. A mild breeze wafted the intoxicating scent of woodbine toward her. She wished that she could suspend time. She would like to capture this day in a glass paperweight that she could put up in the timber rafters of her room and take down whenever she wanted to gaze back on it, this perfect day. In her little glass world small rabbits would stand motionless, just up from their burrows. Buttercups and bluebells would always have their colorful faces turned toward the sun. Her father would forever be in his fields, just over the slope, her mother and wee brother in the farmhouse beyond. And she would always be twelve years old, carefree and spirited, with a bucket full of blackberries beside her and only the barest recollection of the damp, bone-chilling winter months she’d so recently left behind.
“Tara!” Her father’s voice broke the afternoon’s dreamy spell. “Tara!”
She grabbed the handle of her bucket and ran to find him. She was tall for her age, and slender, with long legs that carried her quickly through the fields. Nimbly, she leaped over a stone wall, losing some of the precious blackberries in the process. She stopped for just a moment to pick a handful of the wild fuchsia that swayed over the hedges. Her mother would find an empty jar for them and put the flowers in a corner of the little house that needed brightening.
She found her father among his crops. The worried furrow in his brow vanished when he saw her. Her height she got from her father, along with her eyes—a deep blue color that he’d once told her was sapphire. From her mother she’d inherited her delicate, sculptured features and a thick mane of chestnut hair that shimmered with auburn highlights in the sun.
“Your mother was lookin’ for you, darlin’,” he said. “She’s after havin’ some visitors over today. Your Aunt Bridey has brought the little ones, and I think your Ma wants your help keepin’ them from gettin’ underfoot.”
“Are you sure I can’t help you here? In the fields?”
Her father laughed heartily. “Sure and your cousins are a handful, but it would be a help to your mother.”
Tara sighed. Her Aunt Bridey was a sweet, vague woman who had the misfortune of being saddled with a brood of young hellions. Six children she had, and all but the nine-month-old baby were wonders at getting into mischief. Her soft-spoken aunt looked on helplessly during these visits as her “babas” shook the butter churn, swung wildly on the garden gate (it was still broken from their last visit), ran rampant among the cows and chickens and upended everything in the house that wasn’t nailed down.
Tara loved children. Wasn’t her own wee brother Padraig an angel? Her cousins, however, were enough to give pause to a saint.
“Besides, there’s little to be done here now,” her father said, his ruddy face shifting to worry again.
She surveyed the crops with him: wheat stirred into golden ripples by the breeze, creamy yellow oats. The potatoes looked ample enough, as did the barley. In the garden next to the house they grew cabbages and turnips, and there were tart apples to be collected from a small orchard at the far end of the field.
Still, she knew the reason for his worry. Their holdings were pitiably small, though they did own them outright. Her father had purchased the acres from the English landlord after years of backbreaking labor that allowed him to save enough money. He had carted off rock after rock and had managed to coax life out of the stubborn, bog-pitted land, but each season was a tense struggle for survival. The two cows, the chickens, a handful of cattle—these were hedges against a disastrous crop.
“I wonder, sometimes, if I shouldn’t sell the whole lot to Brady,” he mused, almost to himself.
“Da! You wouldn’t!” Tara was indignant. Emmett Brady, their neighbor to the west, had long shown an interest in adding their modest acreage to his more sizable farm. She loved working alongside her father on the farm, setting spuds and drills of potatoes, turnips and cabbages. The thought of it all not being there someday was chilling to her. “And where would we go if you did such a thing?”
Her father chuckled. “I thought we could ride around Ireland in a caravan, like the travelin’ people. Owin’ nothing to no one. Free as birds. And yourself could play a tinwhistle in the streets, so people would toss coins at you.”
Tara chuckled too. “And what would you do, with all this time to yourself?”
Her father squinted one last time at the wheat, then took her small hand in his large, calloused one and started her off toward the house.
“Me? I’d spend me days on the banks of the River Shannon, fishin’ for fat, beautiful salmon and dreamin’ about me daughter’s weddin’.”
Tara nearly stumbled on a rock. Her father, seeing that the blackberries might not make it to the house, took the bucket from her and carried it in his free hand.
“Weddin’?” she demanded. “I’m only twelve years old.”
“True,” he said. “But someday a man’ll come along who’ll gaze into those eyes, deep blue as the sea, and lose all his senses. Sure and he’ll steal you away from me.”
“I won’t go!”
“You’ll scamper away without so much as a backwards glance, you ungrateful child!”
They both burst out laughing at that.
Her father added: “And then I’ll get some peace in me old age.”
• • •
They entered the gate and passed her mother’s narrow flower garden which was now crowded with daffodils. The farmhouse was painted white, and over its thatched roof hung the heavy odor of burning peat. Her mother must be boiling water for tea for the visitors.
When Tara followed her father inside, she was surprised to see that Aunt Bridey and the pack of unruly cousins weren’t the only ones taking tea in the parlor. The thin, red-haired woman sitting with them must be an important visitor indeed. Her mother was using the white lace tablecloth, taken down from a heavy wooden chest up in the rafters, and was serving currant cake along with the tea.
“Tara, you remember Miss Brigid Connelly,” her mother said. “Her brother has a farm just the other side of the village. She’s been to America these five years, and now she’s back for a visit.”
America! Tara studied the woman with interest. Her clothes were grander than anything Tara had ever seen. The enormous hat perched on her head was heaped with artificial roses whose deep red was echoed in the raised rose and gold pattern in her rich brocade dress. It was a resplendent contrast to her mother’s plain white blouse and dark gray linen skirt, and to her own simple shift. Was this the way everyone in America dressed?
Tara and her father made their hellos to Miss Connelly, Aunt Bridey, and to the few cousins who stood still long enough to be civil. Her father then wisely disappeared to the cow barn, claiming that the white-legged Molly might be colicky and needed looking after.
Tara, though, poured herself a cup of tea and pulled up a chair. She fed her two-year-old brother Padraig a biscuit while listening to Brigid Connelly. She tried not to stare at the woman, but it was difficult to keep her excitement bottled up. She wanted to hear all about America!
“An amazing place, New York City,” Brigid was telling Tara’s mother and Aunt Bridey. “Buildings so tall they stretch up to the sky, and streets crowded with people the likes of which you’ve never seen before.”
Aunt Bridey rocked her fussy baby and looked doubtful. “More people than in Dublin?” She’d never been to Dublin, but she’d heard how large it was, with streets crossing every which way and houses right next to each other.
Brigid snorted. “Bah! Dublin is a wee crossroads compared to New York City.”
Tara’s mother broke in eagerly. “And you were after describin’ the house you live in…”
Brigid smiled a superior little smile, and Tara suddenly realized—with a pang of shame—how ignorant, how rustic they must seem to her, after her years spent in a place as grand as New York, America. She found herself disliking this thin-lipped woman holding court in their cramped, shabby parlor. Still, she couldn’t tear herself away. One of the cousins, nine-year-old Sheila, it was, chased six-year-old James through the parlor and into the kitchen. Brigid Connelly didn’t let it distract her.