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Kathleen was once again standing on the porch anxiously awaiting Erin's arrival. She had known that her granddaughter was bringing a guest with her, even though she hadn't spoken to Erin since the blonde left for Dublin.
As the car made its way up the dirt road, Jane's right leg twitched in anticipation. She wanted to make a good impression on her friend's grandmother, but since she had no background to tell of, she was going to have to rely on Erin to lead her.
The hour-long train ride had given her plenty of time to reflect on the turn her friendship with Erin had taken. She knew she was taking a big risk allowing herself to fall in love with someone who was still grieving such a loss. But risk or not, it was a chance she had to take. Time was all she had to give and in the coming weeks and months…even years, Jane was certain that Erin would come to love her, even if it wasn't exactly how she wanted.
Fifteen minutes after meeting Erin, Jane knew that she could trust her with her soul, probably even her life. Maybe it was because they shared the emotional traumas of having had life threatening injuries. Maybe it was because she was just so alone and needed someone, anyone to make her feel. Or maybe it was because Erin was just very special and could wrap you up in warmth and comfort with just the sound of her voice and a trusting smile. Jane finally came to the conclusion that it was a little bit of the first two and a whole lot of the third. The puzzle pieces of Jane's life had lain scattered about for months and she had no idea where to start assembling them. But after meeting Erin, it finally began to start falling into place. Erin had become her corner stone. She was her friend. She had given her a job and a place to live, but most of all she had given her hope.
Jane saw the diminutive woman waving wildly as they approached the house and it brought a nervous smile to her face. She wasn't sure exactly how Erin was going to introduce her. Yes they were friends, but possibly more. How should she act? What should she say? Even though their level of affection with each other was still low, would she be able to stop herself from automatically grabbing Erin's hand as she longed to do? Jane was afraid of jeopardizing their relationship by causing friction with her relative. It was almost too much to handle, too much to worry about. But one glance at the profile sitting to her right and all of her fears suddenly calmed and the apprehensive smile widened into one of pure adoration.
As the car pulled to a stop, Jane expected her friend to run and greet her grandmother. But instead the author stepped around the front end of the car just as Jane opened her door.
Erin smiled and took the tall woman's hand. "Come on." She led Jane up the cobblestone walk and through the small gate. She momentarily let go of the hand and stepped into the older woman's arms. She then took repossession of the hand in both of hers. "Grandma I want you to meet my friend Jane. We met my second day in Dublin and did the whole tourist thing together. I invited her to stay here until we go back to the states." She gave the older woman a quick wink. "I knew you wouldn't mind."
Kathleen gave a knowing grin. "I've been expectin ya Dear. It's so nice ta meet ya Jane. I can see that my little E bug thinks very highly of ya."
Erin winced at the use of her long lost nickname.
The tall woman caught the expression out of the side of her eye, but held back the smirk she felt coming on. Instead she turned her full attention to the gracious Irish woman. "It's very nice to meet you Mrs. Casey. Thank you for allowing me to stay at your home."
"Aye, yer quite welcome." She wagged a slightly crooked index finger in Jane's direction. "But only if ya call me Kathleen."
Jane gave a small smile. "All right, Kathleen." She turned to her friend. "I'll get the luggage."
"Oh that'll wait," said the white haired woman as she linked her arm with Jane's. "Let me give ya a quick tour. I'll show ya where you'll be stayin and then we'll get to know one another over tea and biscuits."
Jane held a slightly drawn expression as she was led through the door.
Erin caught the look and reminded herself to have a little chat with her grandmother. The well-meaning woman could be a little forceful.
She followed the pair down the narrow hallway and into the spare bedroom. The small room had one window, its dark wood shutters open to the fresh air. The window overlooked an understated, but aromatic garden in the side yard. One full, but small bed covered with a multi-colored quilt sat against the back wall, right under the window. Next to the bed was a cot, already made up with fresh sheets and a soft goose down pillow.
Dark brows drew together. How did she know I was going to be staying here? Erin said she hadn't talked to her grandmother since she left here last week.
Erin just rolled her eyes and shook her head, remembering her motto. Never underestimate Kathleen Rose O'Rourke Casey.
"Now Dear if ya would like to freshen up a bit, I'll be seeing to those refreshments."
The Irish woman scurried out of the room and down the hall, leaving the couple to themselves.
"I'm sorry," said Erin as she brushed her hand over the taller woman's arm. "I did warn you about her. But I'll ask her nicely to back off just a little."
Jane rubbed the back of her neck, which had stiffened up with the long train and car rides. "No. Don't do that. She's fine." She studied the blonde for a few seconds then smiled. "I can see a lot of her in you actually. You both just jump right over the walls and storm the heart." Jane grabbed the soft hand and rubbed her thumb over the back. "I have a feeling that is exactly what you are going to be like in fifty years."
Erin let out a small chuckle. "Think you'll be able to stand me?" The comment startled both of them, but nothing was said. They quietly joined Kathleen in the cozy living room.
* * * *
Later that night, the two took turns in the bathroom changing for bed. When Erin returned, she saw her friend swallowing one of her pain pills.
The taller woman sat on the side of the low cot. She gave a slow stretch then adjusted the fluffy pillow. Erin thought she looked too cute in her oversized, white t-shirt that had, printed on the front, in exaggerated, green lettering, 'Too tall to be a leprechaun'.
Erin scooted in between the two pieces of furniture and sat on the bed. Their legs touched and their eyes met. "You can't sleep on that uncomfortable thing," she said. "It will be hell on your back."
"I don't have much of a choice. The floor would be just as bad." She reached beside her and patted the white sheet. "Besides there must be three or four quilts under here. It's not that bad." Jane turned to find the blonde head cocked to one side, sporting raised eyebrows.
Erin slipped under the covers and scooted off to the far side. She held up one side of the colorful bedding. "Come on, get in."
Jane's jaw twitched twice before she finally asked, "Are you sure? Cause I'll be just fine right here."
Erin tapped the soft, but sturdy mattress with her palm. "But you'll be even better here."
Maybe too good, thought Jane as she stuck her long legs under the quilt and loosely tucked it around her waist. Her bare arms settled across her mid section, fingertips meeting at her navel. She had to restrain her digits from tapping out a nervous tune on her belly as sleep was eluding her. She wasn't nervous about being in the same bed with Erin. Okay that wasn't totally true. Being that close to that beautiful body definitely made her tingle from head to toe. But she was more afraid of doing something to change the tentative relationship they may be forming. Their friendship was solid, of that she had no doubt, but she found herself craving more. Not just sex, but the intimacy that was shared by two people in love.
"Just look at those stars," said the awed blonde.
The dark headed woman craned her neck sideways to share Erin's view. "Yeah, they're beautiful. I would assume that being way out here, so far from the city lights, that you have a perfect view for all the night sky productions."
"It's that way back home too, on the ranch I mean." Erin felt the bed shift as Jane turned on her side.
She held the woman with a soft gaze. "Sounds wonderful."
Erin hummed an agreement, her eyes never leaving the sky. "I can't tell you how many times I have just laid there studying each spot of light." Her head gave a little shake. "I don't know what I was looking for."
"Maybe you were trying to figure out which one is Jamie." A moment passed in stillness, but then the blonde head flipped to face her.
"Why would you say that?"
Jane was taken back by the slight forcefulness of the question and her face showed the panic. "I…I didn't mean any disrespect to her…I…"
Erin's eyes fell shut. "No! No that's not what I meant." She opened her eyes, smiled softly and brushed a hand down Jane's arm. "I just meant, what made you say it that way?"
"I…I read it…in a book. I borrowed it from a nurse at the center. After long hours of therapy, I would try to relax by reading. I could only get in a few pages at night before I got too drowsy, but it helped take my mind off the pain until the medication took effect."
Erin turned to her side to fully face the tall woman. "I'm sorry you had to go through all that alone." Jane just shrugged a shoulder. "Do you remember the name of that book?"
Jane gave it some consideration. "I think there was a Bible reference in the title. It was a great story."
"The Noah Factor?"
"Yeah that was it. Have you read it too?"
Erin gave her an ironic, half smile. "I wrote it."
The blue eyes went very wide. "Really! That's incredible. I know you said you were an author, but of all the books in the world, I find that one. That's a pretty big coincidence huh?"
They stared into each other's eyes as Erin silently agreed. "Goodnight Jane."
* * * *
Erin tied the belt on her robe as she stepped into the kitchen. Kathleen was just reaching down to pull a pan of her granddaughter's favorite biscuits from the oven. The small room was filled with the enticing aromas of a big Irish breakfast. Erin cautiously hugged her, being careful of the hot dish. "Good morning Grandma."
"Good mornirn to you. Did ya sleep well Dear?"
"Better than I have in a long time."
"And yer friend?"
"I'm not sure," Erin said as she snatched a golden pastry. "She was in the shower when I woke up."
"Since I'm the only other she in the house," said Jane as she stepped through the door. "I guess you must be talking about me."
Erin looked up with a grin on her face. The smile faded and her breath hitched as she got a glimpse of her friend, whose short, dark hair was slicked back from the shower. There were still a few shimmering droplets of water clinging to her temple. It made her look…sexy…very sexy. Erin pulled her gaze away and cut a slab of butter for her sweet confection. She was a bit surprised by her intense reaction. But she soon confessed to herself that it was a nice surprise.
"Have a seat Jane, Dear," said Kathleen as she placed the rest of the meal on the table. "And how did you sleep?"
Jane settled into the wooden chair and poured herself a cup of the aromatic tea. "Wonderfully. That bed is very comfortable."
Kathleen smiled as her back was to the table.
Four shocked eyes met. "Jane has a bad back Grandma. I let her share
the bed so she
could be more comfortable."
The older woman took her seat. "Of course Dear. That was very generous of you."
The three engaged in a light conversation over the meal. Jane paid Kathleen several compliments on her cooking. The woman accepted them graciously, but quickly turned the tables and raved about her granddaughter's culinary skills.
"Well Grandma, I did learn a lot of that from you. Which reminds me, you did mention something about teaching me to make these," Erin said, biting off a fluffy piece of biscuit.
"That I did dear. I've scheduled that lesson fer Friday afternoon. You will be quite busy till then."
"I will. Doing what?"
Kathleen pulled a piece of paper from the pocket of her yellow apron. "I have yer itinerary right here. Ya must show Jane some of the best Kerry has ta offer." She read off a list of the places they were going to visit and sights they were going to see. "In fact ya best get ta move on if ya are goin ta get to the castle before mid mornin. Ya know this time of year tis a busy one." Kathleen stood form her chair and put the teakettle back on the stove.
"What castle?" asked Jane.
The small woman turned and brought both hands to her hips. "Why, Blarney of course," she stated indignantly.
"Of course. Sorry." Jane turned back to Erin and shrugged.
Kathleen began putting the dirty dishes in the sink "When ya return I thought ya might like ta go up the road ta the village for a little while. They have a lovely little shop where they sell the most beautiful capes, made no less, from the wool of this very flock. And then ya can have a nice late evenin meal out in the back and enjoy the stars. I have a meetin ta go to at church, but I'll prepare somthin nice for ya to warm up in the stove."
She turned back to find Erin and Jane still in their seats, sharing dumbfounded expressions. "Well, what are ya waitin for, scoot. I've got chores ta get to."
"You're not coming with us?" asked Erin.
"No Dear, too much ta do. But give her a kiss for me." Kathleen flashed a quick wink in the dark haired woman's direction.
It took a minute to sink in, but Jane finally realized that the older woman was referring to the Blarney Stone. She looked over at the beautiful blonde. But I'm quickly learning that with Kathleen Casey, you never know.
* * * *
Blarney Castle was about sixty miles away, in neighboring County Cork. With driving directions in hand, they hopped into Erin's rented car and headed off, straight into the morning sun. Along the way they listened to a CD by the famous Irish artist Enya. The flowing, sometimes haunting melodies, became a soothing background as each of them took the time to contemplate…things. As the last song faded away Erin removed the disk and was about to slip in another one.
"That was nice," said Jane as she rolled down the side window.
The mid morning temperature was a comfortable sixty-one degrees, but the sun streaming through the front glass considerably warmed the air inside the vehicle. Erin followed her lead, creating a refreshing cross breeze. "I've got several more at home, in California. You are welcomed to use them any time. Just remind me when we get back."
"Thanks, I will."
Erin studied the passing countryside in silence until she heard a soft chuckle from her passenger. "What?" she asked.
"I was just thinking about your grandmother. She is really something."
"That she is. I love all of my family, but she and I have a special connection. We share certain personality traits, not the least of which is a fair amount of stubbornness and curiosity."
Jane turned in her seat and watched Erin as she spoke. The corner of her lips curled as she saw the breeze ruffle shaggy blonde bangs as those bright green orbs watched the road from behind wire-rimmed glasses. The blue eyes followed the hairline down to the well-defined shoulder, displayed nicely in the black sleeveless shirt. And yet farther down the outstretched arm where delicate hands loosely gripped the steering wheel, telling of her comfort level, even under the unusual driving conditions. She also noticed a very faint tan line where a watch would have rested. A flash of light struck her eye and the smile wavered. The ring on Erin's left hand finger quickly reminded her of the blonde's reluctance to deepen their relationship. I know I shouldn't be jealous of Jamie. The woman died a horrible death and that's very sad. But did she leave enough of Erin's heart behind? I know I can't make her forget, but can she make a place for me in her broken heart?
Erin was well aware of the intense blue-eyed gaze and she felt her face flush under the slightly lustful scrutiny. But the only way she could handle her own feelings, not to mention the racing vehicle under her control, was to go right on with her story and not give her tingling body too much thought. "She lived in the states for a long time after my grandfather died," she continued. "My sister Bridgett used to get so embarrassed when Grandma would interrogate her dates when she was in high school."
"I can just imagine." Jane paused as the first buildings came into view. "Even though I've only known her a day, I know I'll miss her when we leave."
Erin smiled over at her friend. "I'll just have to convince her to come visit us in California."
Us, thought Jane. What a wonderful word.
* * * *
Once arriving at their destination, they took their time exploring Blarney House, a grand Scottish mansion that shared the same grounds as the castle. They also took a tour of the arboretum and lush gardens before heading off to the main attraction.
Little remained of the 15th century castle that housed the Blarney Stone. The battered, weather worn rocks of the keep and nearby towers spoke not only of its age, but the strife it had been a witness to in its prime. They took a few minutes to examine a druidic circle of stones and a sacrificial alter just outside the main structure. Erin declined to visit Blarney's dungeon, but Jane took a quick trip into the dark, dank area.
She returned just a few minutes later, looking a little on the pale side.
As Erin and Jane started the six-story climb to the top, they thought a lot about the people that had lived there and the kind of lives they had led. Their trip to the museum back in Dublin had helped with their perceptions.
Erin stopped to look out a window in the caste wall. The floor to ceiling opening was less than a foot wide and served a strategic purpose in its time. An archer could shoot with great accuracy to the ground below, but it was an almost impossible task to return fire through such a small space. Erin quickly got lost in thought as she could almost hear the sounds of clanking swords desperate for freedom. The tang of a blood soaked ground would not have been far behind as warriors fell beneath the unending assaults. She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to see a horse and rider dashing across the nearby field. The white stead kicked up chunks of earth as it carried the dark haired hero off to a victorious celebration. She blinked twice, but the vision remained. A soft touch fell upon Erin's shoulder and she looked around.
"Are you ready to head on up?" asked Jane.
Erin turned back to the window, but there was no sight of the ghostly rider. She shook her head of the spooky feeling "Yeah. Let's go."
Their soft-soled shoes scuffed against the stone steps as they ascended the steep, spiral staircase to the battlements at the very top.
"This place is kind of intense, isn't it?" Jane asked in a hushed tone.
Erin gave a nervous laugh. "Especially if you have an overactive imagination."
Jane was left to wonder just what had held the author's rapt attention back at the window and just what had she seen in the eerie, black space beneath the castle floor.
Reaching the top, they held back, waiting for another group of visitors to finish. When it came their turn, they bantered momentarily, each insisting that the other go first. Jane finally won and watched as the small woman lay on her back and was then suspended backward over the two-foot gap under the stone parapet.
Erin's hands held tight to the iron bars and her eyes closed, not wanting to see the ground so far below. When she felt the cold stone near her face, Erin peaked out and a sense of pride passed over her. She kissed the stone once and then a second time before being helped to her feet by a strong hand. "Just what me or my grandmother need is the gift of gab," she said with a chuckle while dusting off her back end.
"My turn huh?" said Jane with slight trepidation.
Erin smiled and stepped aside.
The tall woman quickly bestowed her single gesture and rose to find a brilliant smile still focused in her direction. She took the author's hand and led her back to the stairs. "Thanks for bringing me here."
"Thanks for being here to share this with me."
* * * *
After stopping along the way for a late lunch, they were back to the
house by four o'clock. Erin found a note in the kitchen reminding them
of there next scheduled activity.
Sleep came quickly to both of them after their busy day. As did dreams that brought smiles to two slumbering faces.
* * * *
Bright and early the next morning they were sent off again on another day's adventure. Today they were touring the Ring of Kerry, a 112 mile route around the Iveragh Peninsula. Kathleen's house was closet to the northern shore, so they chose Caherciveen, the main town on the peninsula, as their starting point. Erin took them three miles northwest of the town to see Leacananbuaile Fort. The round, stone structure with its ten foot thick walls, was excavated in the early forty's. Objects found inside were of iron, bone, bronze, lead and stone suggesting the fort was used in the 9th or 10th century.
From there they headed southeast on to the town of Waterville and then through Caherdaniel, a pretty village on the shores of Derrynane Bay. After taking a few minutes to get out and stretch and watch the boats on the harbor, they were once again driving through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Erin made many stops along the way for pictures to share with her family and to preserve the memories forever.
One of those stops happened as the road climbed through a pass. There they got out to view the fine panorama of the Sneem Valley. The backdrop of mountains stretched as far as the eye could see. In those mountains were scooped out corries, an effect of the ice age.
Jane stayed close as Erin snapped picture after picture from all angles and views. The blonde finally stopped to rest her arms, but her eyes never left the breathtaking scene before her.
"This must be really incredible for you," said Jane. "I mean after being blind for so long."
Erin nodded, overcome with emotion. "It is," she finally managed. "I can't even begin to describe how it really feels."
Jane placed a hand over the smaller one resting on the fence rail. "I think I'll probably be speechless too…if my memory ever returns."
Erin turned and held her with a soft, caring expression.
Jane gave the hand a gentle squeeze. "I want to thank you for allowing me to make these very special new memories." She gave the author a small kiss on the cheek.
Erin smiled. "I'm just glad I'm not making these memories alone." A few seconds later she looked at the camera, then over at the tall woman by her side. She chewed on her bottom lip, contemplating a question.
"What is it?" asked Jane.
Erin nodded toward the instrument in her hand. "Could I? I know you were reluctant to have your picture taken back at the zoo. And it's not that I won't remember our time here forever…but I would really like a picture of you…here."
Jane hesitated just a moment then caught the subtle, pleading, green gaze. She nodded. "For you."
The clouds moved aside at the very moment she snapped the shutter, giving the sky behind Jane a magical glow. A satisfied smile followed the tall woman back to the car and they were off to their next destination, which was just up the road.
The charming town of Sneem greeted them with its brightly painted cottages lining the streets. Sneem was a fishing village proud of its reputation for having the finest salmon in Ireland. They had earlier decided to delay lunch to avoid the mass of tour buses that converge on the towns at mid-day. But a rumbling stomach signaled that a meal was needed. It was only right that they put the reputation to the test.
An hour later they were back on the road, knowing that Sneem's boasting was quite deserved.
They drove straight through Kenmare and headed on northwest through bleak bog land and more high mountainous terrain before being offered more stunning views at Moll's Gap. The sun was dropping as late day approached. They reached Killarney and although the scenic lakes called to her, Erin knew they still had quite a drive to reach home. Besides, she knew they had an all day trip to the lakes scheduled before leaving for the states.
Once home, the exhausted pair bid Kathleen a quick goodnight and they
fell into bed for yet another goodnights sleep.
in Chapter 9
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