They each had breakfast in their own rooms the next morning, but had made plans to meet by the fountain at 9:00. Jane had arrived half an hour early and was soaking in the early morning sun and reading through a US Today newspaper that she had gotten at a corner newsstand. She knew she had a lot of catching up to do when she got back to the states. Not just a few months worth, but a lifetime's worth.
Once her injuries had been well on their way to healing, her doctor had contacted the proper authorities and explained Jane's situation. They ran her fingerprints, but there was no match found. After a lot of strong and sometimes heated discussions, the politicians finally accepted her status as a United States citizen and began the process of re-establishing a legal identity. The red tape was arduous and the amount of paperwork incredible, but finally she was granted a new birth certificate, placing her age at thirty-two, a new social security number and a passport. They informed her that should her memories return and should she be able to prove it, she would be allowed to resume her true identity. They had asked her what name she wanted and although many were suggested, she had gotten used to being called Jane by the people at the hospital. Choosing a last name became a much more difficult task. After all it was something she might have to live with for a very long time. While perusing a list she was given, she came to the names Sims and Simmons. Something about them struck a cord within her hidden memories, but she just couldn't pull out the reason why. She had finally decided to go with the shorter name and Jane Sims was born.
Jane had felt invisible during that time. People were arguing over her and about her like she was a useless, unwanted object instead of a human being with feelings. At night she would fall into bed with her spirit bleeding. She didn't even feel worthy of her own tears. Then one night, during a restless sleep, she heard a voice within her dreams. The gentle voice simply said, "You are not alone." The phrase repeated over and over until it had permeated her lonely soul and she woke up believing it. From that day on the sadness of not knowing exactly who she was still lingered, but the overwhelming despair had been lifted by…what, she didn't know, but she prayed that someday she would find out.
Jane looked up from her paper and her blue eyes kindled with joy as she saw Erin walking toward her-make that limping toward her. She winced in empathy as Erin got closer. The injured woman shrugged a shoulder and sat down with a sigh of relief.
Jane tapped a jean-covered leg with her folded newspaper. "Maybe we should take the day off," she suggested.
The blonde head shook staunchly. "No, no. I refuse to let a little pain stop me." She heard the soft snort beside her. "Okay a lot of pain. But I will persevere. Maybe you could carry me piggy back," she joked, as another small throb passed through her foot.
The dark haired woman grinned as an idea popped into her head. "Instead of a piggy, how about a horse?"
Erin jerked up from her slumped position. "What did you say?"
"We could go horseback riding. I heard about a stable that rents horses for the day and…" Jane noticed the odd expression on her companion's face. "What's wrong? Don't you like horses?"
"No…I mean yes, I love horses. In fact I own a ranch back in California."
Jane's face brightened even more. "Wow, that must be a dream. To have those beautiful animals around all the time and to be able to go riding whenever you want."
Erin's time on the ranch had been a severely mixed bag of emotions, but still…"Yeah it is," she said wistfully. "What is your experience with horses?" she asked after a slight pause.
"It was part of my rehabilitation at the center. They had three of the gentlest horses there and I helped take care of them. Lia said I needed something to spark my interest. All I ever did was read and she said I needed some outside, fun activity, so she introduced me to the man who owned the horses. I took to them right away and them to me. She called me a Doctor Dolittle because I could almost talk to them and understand them."
Erin had been quiet during her explanation, the skin above her nose wrinkled with concern.
"Am I boring you?" Jane asked with an insecure tone.
"No, of course not. It's
just...never mind." Erin pushed the melancholy expression from her face
and smiled. "Actually that sounds like fun. And my feet will be forever
grateful. Let's go." Erin took Jane by the hand, they hopped into a cab
and off they went.
* * * *
The chestnut colored gelding galloped past the black mare and her blonde headed rider. "Come on slow poke," Jane yelled over her shoulder. "Last one back to the stable buys dinner."
"You better check your wallet then, my friend," said Erin as she watched the pair round a curve in the trail ahead. A few clicks of her tongue and a poke of her heels sent the ebony steed racing toward the finish line.
She easily caught up to Jane, who was relishing her place in the saddle and her apparent victory. A cloud of dust was left in their wake as they ran side-by-side, exchanging leads only by a nose. They turned to smile at one another several times before the end of the trail came into sight.
God this is great! Thought Jane. I don't want this trip to end! She turned to her companion one final time and gave her a smug wink.
Oh that does it, Erin said to herself. "Yah! Yah!" she yelled aloud. Several flourished kicks sent four hooves pounding the dirt and flying past the over confident brunette.
Erin cruised into the huge corral followed closely by the losing horse and rider. She pulled her steed around and flashed a triumphant glare. They walked the horses around for a few more minutes before ending up side by side, facing each other.
Erin reached out a hand. "No hard feelings."
Jane accepted the hand and bit back a grin. "No, no hard feelings."
Erin continued to watch as Jane tried very hard to keep from laughing. They both dismounted and led the horses back to the barn. But Erin stopped suddenly and grabbed Jane's arm. "Did you just let me win?" she asked.
The taller woman looked down with innocence. "Absolutely not. You beat me fair and square."
There was a pause as Erin stared into the sparkling blue eyes. "Right."
Back at the barn they offered to unsaddle and brush down the horses themselves. The big, brown horse, named Duffy, became restless, pawing at the ground and snorting as his saddle was removed. Jane gave a stern tug on the leather halter than began to hum lightly.
Erin finished with her smaller horse and just watched in fascination as the other animal began to calm down. At one point Jane leaned forward and whispered something into the sable ear. The horse bobbed its head in response and whinnied loudly.
Erin laughed silently and walked over to a basket in the corner. She returned to offer both horses a couple of small, sweet apples. They munched on the treats as Jane finished the grooming and tossed the brush into the tack box.
"Well Doctor D, you certainly do have a way with them," Erin said with a smile.
Jane gave the horse one final
pat on the neck. "Thanks. So where can I take you to dinner?"
Since Erin's feet had started to feel better, she decided that a couple of hours shopping was in order. She bought souvenirs of crystal, clothing, collectables and toys. Every member of her family was covered with a present…or two…or three.
Jane watched Erin's eyes flicker with excitement as they walked into one shop after another. From bookstores to fine linens to craft shops, they hit them all. The pleasant merchants were always helpful, finding just what Erin wanted and every time the small woman debated over which item to purchase, she always ended up getting both. She walked out of one place with four handmade teddy bears. She was going to give one to her niece Caitlin, but just couldn't leave behind the other adorable creatures. She held two in the crook of each arm as they walked down the sidewalk, approaching yet another shop.
Jane reached out and ruffled the tan fuzz atop one of the comical bears. "Do you collect these?"
"No I don't." Erin considered it for a moment. "But that is a great idea."
"Yeah, if you are going to do a lot of traveling, you could get one from every country."
A trace of sadness quickly flashed over Erin's features. She had intended to see the world…with Jamie. "If someone had suggested that a few months ago," she said. "I would have turned the idea down cold…but now, now it doesn't sound so bad." She looked up at the clear blue eyes. "Thanks."
There was a pause. "Just
Once Erin and her personnel beast of burden had unloaded the packages at the hotel, Jane had made good on their bet and escorted the victor to the Chapter One Restaurant. She thought it quite appropriate since its décor honored famous Irish writers.
After a superb meal, they slipped down the street to a small pub for a Guinness and some local entertainment. They sat in a booth near the far wall and gave the barmaid their order. Because of her pain medication, Jane had decided to stay with a non-alcoholic beverage, but Erin was adventurous and decided to try the local ale.
At eight o'clock, three people stepped up onto the makeshift stage in the corner and readied their instruments. A tall, slender woman slid the guitar strap over her head and adjusted the microphone. "Good evenin ta everyone and welcome to our new friends visitin us tonight. I am Shannon. The handsome fella to my right is my husband Ryan." She waved her hand over her right shoulder. "And back there somewhere is my sister Katie. We have ta hide her back there or else she spends all of her time flirtin with all the good lookin lads. Collectively we are…"
"Tilley Dawn," several of the house regulars shouted in unison.
The singer, with the Irish head of flaming red, laughed along with the crowd. "All right wise guys. Shane," she said to the bartender, "ya best be cuttin off their supply of pints for the night." More laughter filled the small room and a few mugs were clinked in celebration, which for an Irishman could be anything from a new job to a haircut.
Shannon always considered their audience each time they played. She knew most of the regulars and was pretty good at spying the tourists. When the small crowd was mostly visitors they added a lot of Irish standards along with some contemporary selections and one or two original works. She pushed the dark guitar around to her back and picked up a small, black flute. Ryan had stepped to the front and started out with 'Danny Boy', which was the unofficial anthem of the Isles.
Erin had turned to watch the musicians and after several notes her eyes had slipped shut and she was immersed in the song. The tenor had the perfect voice to croon the soulful words of the Irish classic. Of course Erin had heard the song many times throughout her lifetime, but it never failed to touch her sensitive soul.
With the last note, Shannon resumed the lead vocals for the next three songs. One was a lively, spirited tune and had there been more room in the place, Erin was sure that quite a few listeners would have gotten up and danced a jig. She might have even been coaxed into joining, because she was in such a good mood. Erin watched as dark haired Ryan beat out a perfect melody on the bodhran, a small hand held drum. The instrument could be played quite loudly and she cringed thinking how her sister was going to react when she discovered that Erin had gotten one for her nephew Conner.
When the latest round of
applause died down, Shannon introduced the next song. "I think ya might
recognize this one from their international fame. And although we don't
claim ta be near as good as the Coors, they are one of our favorites."
The guitar started in with the smooth introduction and after several seconds
the drum came in with a steady beat. A violin then joined in with the trio
And you're on your own
And you need a friend
Just to be around
I will comfort you
I will take your hand
And I'll pull you through
I will understand
Listening to those few words,
a sudden feeling cascaded over Erin, touching a place deep in her soul,
a place that had been dead for months. She pulled her shoulders back, took
a few deep breaths and reveled in the feelings of…joy and hope. The simple
joy of friendship and the hope to regain something of what she had lost,
even if just a small part. Having someone to share all the little things
with. Having someone to laugh with and to listen. And having someone to
listen to. That is what she could have. And it is what she wanted. She
turned to meet the intense blue gaze. The look in those eyes told Erin
she was no longer alone. The chorus continued.
I'll be at your side
There's no need to worry
Together we'll survive
Through the haste and hurry
I'll be at your side
When you feel like you're alone
Or you've no where to turn
I'll be at your side
This is what Jane wanted. Just one person, one friend who could help her face the fear of the emptiness in her head, someone who could help her to build a new life. Someone who would care about her…would care if she lived or died. Because of Erin, Jane no longer dreaded another day of loneliness. She had a friend.
Erin reached across to touch the long fingers that tapped a beat on the worn tabletop. Jane turned her hand over and lightly squeezed the smaller one, as the words spoke what they both were feeling.
If life's standing still
And your soul's confused
And you cannot find
What road to choose
If you make mistakes
You won't let me down
I will still believe
I won't turn around
I'll be at your side
There's no need to worry
Together we'll survive
Through the haste and hurry
I'll be at your side
When you feel like you're alone
And there's no where to turn
I'll be at your side
Both women eased into a shared
smile that slowly grew into a joyous grin, as they absorbed the love of
Once the group had finished their set, Erin and Jane settled into a conversation about the ranch back in California. Erin nursed the dark brew, enjoying the malty flavor, but it was quite a bit stronger than she usually liked. The grimace that had followed the first few sips had attested to that fact.
From her vantage point, Jane had noticed that the woman who had been singing kept staring curiously at Erin, from her place at the end of the bar. Her red head kept leaning over to get a better view. Of course Jane knew that Erin was a beautiful woman and she did garner admiring glances everywhere they went, but the singer's leering was stirring up a protective streak within Jane that she had yet to encounter. After fifteen minutes of the rude behavior, she was about to go butch and march over there and tell the skinny songbird to keep her eyes to herself. But she glued her butt to the seat, deciding that it wasn't really her place to interfere. And she certainly didn't want to embarrass Erin.
She returned her attention to the conversation and answered the blonde's question. "That sounds like a great idea. I'm sure the symphony here is wonderful. If there is one thing I have discovered about myself is that I love music of all kinds." Jane clinked the melting ice cubes around in her glass as an unbearable thought entered her head. "That'll be your last night here, won't it?"
Erin heard the sadness in her voice and shared it. "Yeah." She raised the tall glass to her lips and let another strong sip slide down her throat. A small cough followed and she looked up to find her dark haired friend smirking. She held her drink out. "Why don't you try it and see for yourself smarty pants."
One taste shouldn't hurt. Their fingers brushed as Jane took it and she defiantly held the author's gaze as she tossed back a healthy swallow. Her throat spasmed as she fought back the tickling sensation. But after two seconds she exhaled then drew in a wheezing breath, followed by several coughs. The tears that came to her eyes were a combination of the alcohol and the laughter.
"Are you okay?" asked a wide-eyed Erin.
She nodded and smiled through the small convulsions, drinking down the last of her sparkling water. As her breathing returned to normal, out the corner of her eye, Jane saw that the singer was now joined by her sister and they were both staring at Erin and whispering to each other. Jane tried to flash them an intimidating glare, but they didn't seem to notice her at all.
Erin set the ale aside and put in an order for two more glasses of water as Jane excused herself for a quick trip to the restroom.
She returned a few minutes later, turning the corner just as the two sisters were approaching an unsuspecting Erin. She quickened her steps and scooted back into the booth just a few seconds before them.
"Erin?" said the tall woman.
The author looked up at the sound of her name.
"Erin Casey," the singer clarified.
"Yes, I'm Erin Casey."
The red head just stood there smiling and waiting.
The dark blonde brows drew together as Erin studied the grinning pair. She felt that she knew them and her brain went through its mental files searching for an answer. Her green eyes flew wide open as the light bulb ignited. "Oh, my God! Shannon, Katie." Her eyes bounced back and forth between the two and she jumped up and hugged them. "It's so great to see you! Why didn't I make the connection?"
Jane watched the spectacle with great confusion.
Their exuberant greeting was drawing the attention of the other patrons, but they didn't care. "Well," said Shannon. "it has been twenty years since we last saw each other at Grandfather's funeral. You were only eight and I was ten." She threw an arm around her sister's shoulder. "And Katie here was just a tot."
Erin caught sight of her quiet friend sitting far back in the seat. "I'm sorry," she said. Erin scooted in next to her friend and ushered her family into the other side of the booth as she made the introductions. "This is my friend Jane. Jane these are my cousins, Shannon and Katie."
"Nice to meet you," said Jane. Her face held a smile, but inside she was mentally scolding herself for the previous thoughts she had of Erin's family members.
"You as well. That's why we were starin earlier," Shannon explained. "We just wanted ta be sure it was her."
Jane nodded as Katie piped in. "Actually, the only reason that we recognized ya at all was from the picture on the back of your book. Grandma saw to it that it made the rounds among the family over here."
"She was as proud as a newly crowned Rose of Tralee. And so were we," said the older sister.
Erin gave a flicker of an embarrassed grin. "Well, look at you, up there singing your hearts out. Where is your handsome husband by the way?"
"He left already, had ta pick up our little one from the sitter. As far as the singin goes, we love it and it's a way ta make a livin, but we don't aspire ta be anything but a pub band."
"But we also do our share of weddings and special events around the country," said Katie proudly.
Their conversation went on and on. Jane knew it wasn't on purpose, but she was feeling left out, although she did learn more about Erin's family.
Shannon was the mother of a five-year old named Sean. Katie was still unwed, but at only twenty-two she wasn't in any hurry to change that fact. Their older brother, Ronan had gone to college in the states, where he decided to stay when he met and married his wife.
Erin's father, Timothy Casey, had two younger sisters. Shannon and Katie's mother, Caroline, was the middle sibling. She had married a local man and had never moved from the homeland. The younger sister was Kelly. She had married and moved to Florida years before, where she still resided with her husband and two sons. The Casey family extended to many points around the world, but the emerald isle was always their home base.
* * * *
A quick glance at her watch told Erin that an hour had gone by as she had been jabbering on about her side of the family.
Their little, unexpected reunion could have gone on even further, but the owner of the place had signaled to Shannon that he wanted to close up.
"I guess we should call it a night," said the red head as her sister hid a yawn behind her hand.
Katie gave a sheepish grin and agreed. "I guess I stayed on the phone a little late last night."
"Aye, I'm surprised Da hasn't invested in Telecom."
"Well, you just seem to forget what it's like ta be this age," teased Katie. "It has been so long."
Shannon waged a finger at her. "Watch yer mouth baby sister."
Erin certainly recognized that relationship. She had a quick flash of regret at the loss of closeness with Bridgett over the past six months. But that was one relationship she could definitely get back.
They all got up and had another round of hugs. "I'm so glad we came in here tonight," said Erin. "I wish we had more time to talk."
"So do I, but we have ta be in Wicklow tomorrow."
"And I'm going back to Grandma's on Sunday." Erin thought a moment. "What we need is a family reunion."
Katie's face lit up. "That's a grand idea! How about later in the year? I've been wantin ta visit the states," she hinted to her cousin. "I hear that a California beach is full of tall, tanned, muscle bound men." The dreamy look on her face sent the others into a bout of laughter.
"Well, I wouldn't know about that," said Erin. "but I will definitely work on that reunion."
Shannon offered them a ride back to their hotels. Outside of the Buswell's, Katie met up with a friend and they took off, leaving behind her sister and cousin just shaking their unbelieving heads at the seemingly endless youthful energy. The red head then waited as Erin stepped inside the lobby to say goodnight.
"I'm really sorry Jane. I feel like I was ignoring you the whole night."
"Don't be ridiculous. They're your family."
"Well, so…" Erin hesitated.
Jane smiled. "It's okay. We've still got tomorrow." She pulled the small body in for a hug. "Goodnight Erin. Sleep well."
"You too," said the blonde
as she stood there watching her friend head for the elevator. They waved
one last time as the door slid shut.
Even with the late hour, the cousins were too sad to separate, so Erin invited Shannon up for tea so they could talk some more.
Shannon sat at the small table in the corner of the room, taking a few sips of her steaming drink before asking the question Erin had seemed to avoid all evening. "So Erin, I noticed that ya never mentioned a better half. Do ya have a husband or a boyfriend back home?"
The hot, tan liquid swirled around the silver spoon, in the china cup and Erin watched the tiny whirlpool with a small frown. Talking about her private life with her family was something Erin had almost come to dread. The incident with her father had taught her a good lesson. Coming out to her immediate family had given her mixed emotions and she was having such a good time catching up with her cousin, she didn't want anything to alienate her. "No," she finally said. "No husband, no boyfriend. I…"
The tall, red head had picked up on some signals earlier at the pub. And judging from her cousin's apprehension, she was even more curious. "Yer friend Jane…are you and she…?"
"No! No, Jane and I are just friends. We only met here a few days ago." She paused as the cooling tea met with more disturbance. "But… "
Erin finally made eye contact with the eyes similar to hers. She saw the question there and the tip of the head, urging her to continue. "I am…I was in a relationship last year. Her name was Jamie." When Erin didn't see the shock or revulsion on the pale colored features, she continued the story.
When Erin had finished, a relaxed, understanding smile greeted her. "I'm sorry for yer loss," said Shannon. "I certainly understand the connections of a soul mate. Ryan and I literally bumped into one another at the train station. I was runnin in the rain to catch the early mornin rail and he rounded a corner just as I did. We both fell flat on our bums. The package I was carryin had flown up and smacked him in the face. We both sat there just starin at each other, me with my drenched hair and him with a bloody nose, but all we saw was the person who we knew would make our lives complete."
Erin genuinely smiled at the happy story.
"Every year on our anniversary we take that train to somewhere different and spend the day just enjoyin each other." Shannon pulled from her little fantasy to see her cousin's face. The smile was still there, but there was a lonely wanting in her eyes. "I'm sorry Erin, I shouldn't be goin on about this."
"It's all right Shannon. I will never begrudge anyone his or her happiness. I'm sorry to be such bad company."
"You're not," assured the red head.
"Well, I promise to be much better when you come to visit in the fall. Actually, coming here has helped a lot. As I said, I only met Jane a few days ago, but she has become a very good friend. All of a sudden I'm not so lonely anymore."
"Ya know Erin, I'm not so sure I should say this, I mean it's none of my business, but…"
Erin looked at her expectantly.
"When I was starin at ya back at the pub earlier, yer friend," she stressed. "was givin me the back off look. I've seen my jealous husband flash it often enough to recognize it."
Erin gave several quick shakes of her head. "No. It's just…she was just being protective. Friends do that you know," she stated firmly.
Shannon held up two hands in mock surrender. "All right, all right," she said with a chuckle. "Guess I was wrong." But I really don't think so.
Erin laughed at her over reaction. "Jane is a really good friend though. And I do want her in my life. She's really helped me with my grief. Her companionship has been…very important. And I won't lose it."
Shannon sat there listening to Erin with a hidden smile and a knowing twinkle in her eye.
She finally left around two
in the morning, but sleep was the last thing on Erin's mind.
To be continued…
Return to Main Page