As with every morning, Connor awoke near dawn when the sun shone brightly into his boat, reflecting from the calm ocean. He had a fishing boat, like all the others at the docks, but had converted it into his own personal apartment. This worked greatly for traveling back and forth between the university and his small-town home in Co. Connemara.
Rolling over, the sunlight caught his eyes and he rolled back the other way. For a few more moments he lay still, feeling the collection of beer in both his head and his bladder. Finally he managed to get off the bed and make his way to the bathroom. He took his time cleaning up, still a bit dizzy from the previous night, but managed to look presentable.
Afterwards, he put on a light jacket and left for town in the morning mist. Connor ate breakfast at the small bakery where he usually ate and told the owner goodbye. It was his plan to go back to his parents' farm where he could gather his thoughts and perhaps help his father out for a while until he could get a job for himself. The owner of the bakery fed him breakfast on the house and wished him well.
Connor then made his way towards the grocery store. As he was walking, he began to think on the previous night. He remembered speaking with someone, and he remembered finding this person very attractive but, for some odd reason, whenever he tried to figure out who it was, his mind kept drifting to the pillar. What he didn't notice was the individual getting up from her place at the cafe, purposefully, and walking casually his way.
Two can play at this game! she thought. She made her way towards the man she'd tried to speak with the previous night, trying her best to look as if she were just casually walking his way. He was very attractive and he looked even better now that he wasn't tired, dirty, and covered in Guinness.
He stood about five inches taller than she was with a fairly built physique. He had blue-green eyes and pale skin that was well complimented by his shoulder-length chocolate* hair. She smiled as she thought of him as half Irish, half Selke. He was nearing her so she prepared herself, trying to hold back her grin and trying not to look at him.
"Good morning Mr. Macloed," she gave a cordial nod as she passed him, still trying to hold back a grin.
Connor gave a confused look to the woman as she passed him nodding cordially and... Was she trying not to grin? Mr. Macloed? Who did she think he...oh yeah...
Connor winced a minute as memories of the night preceding coursed back into his mind and he caught glimpse of the woman's eyes. She walked casually past as Connor took a few steps towards the grocery store, a little too embarrassed to speak with her. He reached for the door but stopped himself and shook his head.
"Naimh may watch too many American movies," he muttered, "But I watch too much American television."
With that he turned around and hastened toward the woman who seemed to enjoy peaking his interest. Upon reaching her, he stretched his hand out to meet her shoulder and turned her around.
"Can I help you," she asked, facing him and cocking an eyebrow.
Connor stared for a few moments at those wondrous blue eyes. He could've gotten lost in them when he was drunk and now that he was only hung over they were ten times as mesmerizing.
"Yes," Connor shook himself out of it. "I...look...I'm sorry if I said anything rude or offensive to you last night at the pub."
"You were drunk," her smile was a bit sly but her eyes and the rest of her expression were forgiving. "I didn't think twice about it. I was a bit disappointed, sure, but I honestly found it sort of funny. Highlander is one of my favorite television shows."
It was Connor's turn to cock an eyebrow. He hadn't expected that. A part of him tried to remember what exactly her response had been but it was all too hazy.
"Really?" was about the only response he could manage.
"Certainly," she nodded. "Unfortunately I don't get to watch a whole lot of it whilst I'm over here."
"Ah," Connor nodded. He wasn't sure exactly what to say, not that he had ever been good at talking to a girl anyway. His mind tried to race but the hangover from the night before slowed his thoughts and he wasn't exactly certain what he could say to her anyway.
"So," he finally managed when she looked as if she would leave. "You're American..."
That was smooth.
"It's the accent," she laughed.
"Yeah," he was disappointed in himself and his voice sang it loud and clear. "Well...I own all six seasons. I'd challenge you to a 'best episodes' trivia marathon but I'm leaving town today and I doubt I'll be back."
It was official. He was a purebred idiot. He looked to her, still showing more emotion than he realized, and saw she looked a bit sad. However, her face was also sympathetic and placing a hand gently on his chest she moved closer to him.
"Let me make this easy for the both of us," she looked him over a bit and then leaned up and gently kissed his cheek. "It never would have worked out between us anyway."
As she said this last part, her snowflake-eyes stayed locked in his and a sad smile stretched lightly across her face. Part of him, in the back of his mind, was screaming for him to reach up and take her hand, tell her he didn't have to leave right away, and stay for a few more days, but he simply remained silent. After a few moments, she nodded and floated away.
Connor watched her walk away from him for the second time in his life, wishing he would just crawl out of his shell but remaining bitter about losing his job. Turning back towards the grocery store, he walked in a trance with the gentle cool of the kiss still lingering on his cheek. That was what struck him the most: that the kiss felt cool and not warm. Her touch had felt cool as well. It wasn't like an overly chilled touch like someone putting their hands on your neck in winter. No. It was more natural than that, as if her touch were meant to be cold.
Groceries were expensive and seeing as the owner of the grocery store didn't like Connor very much, getting the groceries was hardly comfortable. Connor wasn't entirely certain why this was, but he figured it had something to do with the time he and Seamus had gotten drunk and painted his new truck purple with house paint. Since then, the grocery store owner had avoided all contact with the two of them if he could.
It had taken Connor only 3 hours to do what he needed in town and another half hour to get his boat secured and out to sea. Connor loved the sea. He had grown up on a small farm in Fanad, Co. Donegal, where it was a mix of forest and seaport. The town he had come from was quite small and most who lived there still spoke Gaelic. When he had first come to teach at the University, Connor often found himself starting up a lecture in Gaelic and forgetting that the majority of Ireland now spoke English as their main language.
Seamus had always made fun of him, saying that he really was stuck in the old ways. Connor had also had a few other peculiar habits when he first arrived at the university. It had been a long time, however, since he dropped them and a very long time since he had been home. Things had never been the same and he wasn't sure that he should visit Mary. She was probably angry that he hadn't come to visit her for sixteen years.
And so it was decided... Connor made his way to the payphone at the end of the docks before he left.
Seamus entered his office, weary and lugging a horrible migraine with him. His message light was flashing with one new message and he made himself settled before pressing the button. Connor's voice came through the other end and left a message, simple and plain.
"Hey," he said. "It's Connor. I just wanted to let you know I'll be home in time for dinner."
Seamus sighed heavily and looked a bit sad.
"'Tis a great loss," he shook his head. Then he leaned back in his chair looking at a picture of Connor and him at McGinty's. Seamus knew that he was going to miss Connor greatly. He would come back to visit, surely, but Seamus had a twinge of dread lingering in a hidden spot. Connor might not come back at all.
The ocean sparkled with the light of the newly risen sun as Connor made his way from port out to the open sea. The air around him was cool and disorderly. It twirled about him as he made his way up the coast slowly. It would be a couple of days before he reached home, but he would be home in time to have dinner with his family that night.
Connor found he was actually looking forward to it. This was something he hadn't done in a very long time. His family had always been there for him and for sixteen years he had pushed everyone away, especially Mary. It was high time he got back to his hometown and made his peace with her.
It was a lot warmer in his hometown than it was in Galway, but this had been so for some time. Since the incident. Connor was a bit baffled by it, seeing as his hometown was so much farther north, but he dismissed it when he docked.
There was still a space open for his boat and the town's fisherman all went about their business. The salt air here was considerably fresher than back in Co. Galway. The fishermen here were poorer as well, but Connor felt they looked more realistic than the commercialized bastards he'd lived with.
Despite the fact that Connor was in his hometown finally, he still had a ways to go to get to his parents' farm. The only things stopping him from going at this very moment were the need for a car and the need for someone to watch his boat. Connor made sure that everything was secure in his boat before setting off to find his childhood friend Tadhg.
This was probably the easiest thing he'd have to do today. Tadhg was sitting at the local pub, drinking an afternoon pint and speaking with Roan, the owner. When she saw him she gave a sly grin and exchanged glances with Tadhg.
<Look out all,> she cried. <Here comes the conquering academic back to visit the lowlifes in Fanad!>
The regulars who knew Connor all gave a raise of the glass and a cheer to Roan as she smiled warmly at him. Connor just glanced at them all nervously as he gave Roan a hug and sat down next to Tadhg.
<I'd hold back on the cheering for a while Roan,> Connor sighed.
Roan waited a moment for him to tell her what had happened but Connor's silence said enough. She nodded with a sympathetic smile and wiped off the counter in front of Connor.
<Well we can't all be conquerors,> she patted his shoulder. <The British saw to that. Now, I'll leave you two boys be and Tadhg why don't you buy your good friend Connor Quinlan a pint?>
<Have you gotten laid?> There was no hesitation in Tadhg's question and Roan used the awkward silence that followed to back away slowly and attend to her other guests.
<What?> Connor turned slightly to face him.
<You heard me,> Tadhg took a large sip of his own pint as if to taunt Connor. <I want to know if you have made sweet, sweet love to a woman.>
Connor laughed nervously and raised an eyebrow, staring at his friend in disbelief. These past few days were doing horrible things to his self-esteem. He wanted to remain silent long enough for Tadhg to give up, but his friend was relentless in his staring. Connor never could win these contests.
<No,> Connor sighed at last, swinging back to face the bar and hitting his knee in the process.
<Then no,> Tadhg replied. <You're not a man yet and I'll not buy a pint for a child.>
Connor rubbed his knee gently as he rolled his eyes and wished that he didn't have to pay for his own pint. Tadhg then gave him a kind pat on the shoulder and waved for the waitress to bring a pint for Connor. For a few moments they were silent before Tadhg finally asked the question Connor was dreading.
<So what happened,> he turned to face him.
Connor dodged his gaze as he wasn't exactly sure how to handle the situation, let alone tell people about it. Tadhg had known Connor since they were children, since before Mary. On Sundays passed, Connor and Tadhg used to terrorize the church patrons. One time in particular they had let six chickens loose in the midst of the sermon. When the time came to admit to blame, Tadhg had taken all the credit because he knew that Connor's grandfather would give him a good thrashing and Connor had gotten beat up at school only two days earlier.
Tadhg always looked out for Connor. He helped him clean up after bullies tortured him, covered for his cuts and bruises, and pulled him through many rough times. Connor owed him so much.
<Budgets came up,> Connor took a swig of his pint and set it down, <and they were more than happy to cut mine.>
Tadhg nodded, not pressing the matter further. For a few more moments he and Connor were silent. Tadhg just watched Connor, wishing there were something he could do and knowing that it was because of Connor's promise to Mary that he had so much trouble keeping his job.
<I need someone to watch my boat for a while,> Connor sighed after a while. <I think I'm going to help Father on the farm for a little while.>
<Only if you go visit her,> Tadhg wasted no time in requesting this of his friend.
Connor let out a grumbling sigh and set his pint harshly back on the bar. His eyes danced around the room, not focusing on anything and wishing that he could just give Tadhg some money. Visiting Mary wasn't exactly the most comfortable thing he could do after a blow like this.
<Connor,> Tadhg was equally flustered now, <She's your sister and it's been years! That's probably the reason you're so damned unhappy all of the time. Go. Tie up that one loose end and you can move on with your life.>
Connor didn't look at him but hunched over his pint. Tadhg waited a few moments before he sighed and headed for the door.
Connor watched him for a few moments then hurried after him.
<I'll go see Mary,> Connor agreed as he caught up with Tadhg.
<Good,> Tadhg put a hand on his shoulder as they continued walking.
After Connor had helped Tadhg fix his boat and given him the keys to his, Connor found himself slowly wandering towards town once more. He had forgotten to ask Tadhg if he could borrow his car.
It felt strange to wander the streets of his hometown once again. Connor had finished the twelfth grade and hurried out. Even when he had gone to school here he hadn't been the same since Mary.
Soon Connor took his first step up towards St. Agnes' church. It had been sixteen years since Connor had even set foot in here. The whole ordeal had been too much for him and Connor had since stopped attending church at all.
Once inside the chapel, Connor saw Father Padraig taking care of some candles at the altar. Connor dragged his feet a little as he had when he was a child and hesitated to speak. When Father Padraig turned to see him, a look that told Connor he was long overdue for this spread over his face.
<I think I should be seein' a ghost in here before I'm seein' your face, > Father Padraig told him.
Hesitation controlled Connor's legs as he made his way down the aisle to Father Padraig. The gray-haired old man who seemed to have spent too many hours in dusty libraries filled Connor with a boyish sense of guilt. Nevertheless his hidden smile was warm and welcoming in a sorrowful way.
<When I left, > the hesitation moved to Connor's mouth, <I vowed that I would never come back here. Not to this place anyway. >
Father Padraig nodded to Connor who felt a sudden surge of reassurance that he was doing the right thing.
<And now you've finally come to make peace have you? > Father Padraig took two long strides to meet him.
<Or something of the sort, > Connor's voice shook with insecurity.
Father Padraig gave him a questioning look and waited to hear what else he had to say. In all honesty, Connor didn't want to be here at all. He didn't want to face Father Padraig, his parents and especially not Mary. If he could have, he would have bolted for the door. That was his problem though: he had nowhere to run. Nothing else to do with himself and nobody to pull him up from the muck he'd fallen into.
<In all truthfulness, > Connor sighed, keeping his eyes to the ground and shuffling his feet a little as he leaned against the old oak pew, <I think I'm just here so a friend will take care of my boat. >
Father Padraig looked as if he didn't know whether to laugh or smack Connor. It took him a moment but soon the realization of the purpose of Connor's sudden return was clear to him. <You lost your job. >
<I lost my job, > Connor wondered how many times more he would have to repeat that.
<Don't you think there is a reason for that, > Father Padraig's tone was thoughtful and not insensitive.
Connor let his eyes dance around the room for a few more moments. Everything still looked the same. Christian icons with hidden pagan designs loomed in every corner. At one point in his life, he had been fascinated by the idea that the pagans of old had hidden their beliefs from the Christians in their own art. Even when the entire village had finally converted to Christianity, the locals still held true to some of the folklore. For instance: when little mischievous things were done, they blamed the Fair Folk.
The Fair Folk were responsible for getting Connor into this mess. It was because of one stupid promise he had made a long time ago and now he could not back down from it. He had taken it too far.
<I lost my job, > Connor's remark echoed his bitterness, <Because the entire academic community in Ireland thinks I'm a raving lunatic! >
<Then you're not doing your job well enough, > Father Padraig sighed and fiddled through his key ring to find a large skeleton key. <I'll let you down to see her. But what happens from there is up to the two of you. Though I doubt she'll be very happy with you right now. >
<Haven't I done everything she asked of me? > Connor growled as he followed Father Padraig over to a stairwell leading downward.
Father Padraig shrugged and opened the large wooden door at the bottom of the stairs. Connor sighed as he passed him and gave him a grateful look. Father Padraig nodded with a hint of a sad smile and closed the door as he left.
Down another small curved set of stairs, Connor finally reached a place he had wished never to return to. Dust floated up with his steps and cobwebs hung from everywhere but the corners. A sweet and sickening smell filled Connor with a sense of dread as he stepped forward to his destination. For a few moments Connor just stared as he read it:
Oct. 5th 1983-
Nov. 4th 1990
After staring for what seemed like hours, Connor glanced around nervously. There was an old barrel of sorts sitting nearby. Connor pulled it over and sat to face his sister. It had been only a little over sixteen years since her funeral. He hated her funeral, not that he could remember anything about it. That was odd, considering it was the time of his life he hated the most. Well that was even more odd. How could he hate her funeral if he hadn't even attended it? He had to have come. His family wouldn't have let him do otherwise. Besides that, Mary was much more important that a simple sister.
Connor sighed as he stared at her grave and knew that he must look at a loss for words. He had never wanted to accept that his sister was dead. At her funeral, Connor hadn't even gotten up the courage to cry. Not that men like him were supposed to cry. Oh what did being a man have to do with it? It was insensitive that he hadn't cried for his sister who had loved him so and who had played such a major role in his life all these years.
Letting his eyes wander a little bit, Connor leaned forward and placed his elbows on his knees. Dust floated gently in the light of the nearby stained-glass window. Mary's cover-stone was poorly illuminated and dull. It had an aching sense to it. It was dreary and sorrowful.
Connor couldn't cry. He could not bring himself to feel the sort of sorrow he knew he was supposed to feel. Something was terribly wrong with this whole situation. Thinking back, there hadn't really been a conclusive explanation for Mary's death. There had been no warning that this was coming. No illness, no injury, or anything else was ever brought forth to tell them that soon they would be without her.
In the back of his mind, Connor felt a small twinge of fear. The feeling was not new to him. For years he had felt this same fear whenever he thought about Mary. That was the reason he never came to make his peace. Once the fear started to grow, it spread through him like a virus and plagued him until he immersed himself in something new. Now it was coming back to him.
He was falling, into darkness in front of him. It was warm, very warm. Connor found that his temperature was rising with his fear.
Suddenly a cool, gentle touch tore him back into reality. Connor turned quickly to face a warm, welcoming, motherly smile.
<Mum,> Connor blinked at her. <How did you know...>
He trailed off there half turned towards her.
<Father Padraig called me and said I should come pick you up to bring you home.> She looked at him sympathetically and glanced up at Mary's tomb.
<She's been waiting for you,> Her golden hair glimmered in the dim light and illuminated her pale face. Those inherited blue eyes shone with a compassion Connor felt he could never obtain as she welled up a bit.
<I know,> Connor looked back to his sister a moment.
His mother watched him and finally sighed. <Come home for dinner now. Your father is waiting.>
Connor never minded hearing these words. His father was a very understanding man. Whenever Connor had gotten in trouble or needed help with something, his father was ready to oblige. It was his grandfather that he was more worried about. Still, his father did have a commanding presence and Connor's nerves tightened.
Smiling, Connor got to his feet and set the barrel aside.
<Goodbye Mary,> he said at the bottom of the stairs. <I'll be back another day. >
This was true. He would make sure that he came back to her another day after he had worked a few things out. After he had been able to find out what it was that plagued him so about his sister's death and what it was that scared him.