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Authors: Karen Welch

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BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
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“I hope
they understand. . .”
 
He was almost
taken in by the catch in her voice.

“Mother,
please.
 
What do you want me to say?
 
I think Grandfather understands that you have
a new life with Patrick, but you know Gran is hurt that you’re obviously
avoiding them.
 
She’s told you so
herself.
 
I’d rather not be in the
middle, if you don’t mind.”
 

“I just
don’t want them to turn you against me.”

“Mum!
 
Don’t be ridiculous.
 
They would never try to do that.”
 
He took her hand, patting it gently.
 
“For Father’s sake, we have to go on being a
family as best we can.
 
Isn’t that what
you’ve all told me?”

She
nodded silently, her lips set in a trembling line that predicted eminent tears.

“I owe
them a lot.
 
And I love them.
 
Just as I love you.”

“But
you turn to them more often than to me.
 
I know you do.”

“Just
to spare you, Mum.
 
You’ve already been through so much.”

“I
don’t want you to feel I’ve abandoned you, darling.
 
I’ll always be your mother.”

The
conversation having run its predictable course, Kendall bent over and brushed a
kiss to her cheek.
 
“And I’ll always be your
little boy.
 
I know, Mum.”
 
He got to his feet, giving her hand another
pat before laying it on the bed and turning to leave.

As he
expected, she chimed in with the inevitable last word.
 
“I’m proud of you, Kenny, for finding your
place here with the Shannons.
 
Your
future can only benefit from their interest in you.
 
Michael especially, I understand, is an
extremely generous patron of the arts and musicians in particular.
 
Well done, darling.
 
Mother knew you’d make a good
impression.”
 
  
  

He
scowled at the door, grinding his teeth, before murmuring over his shoulder, “Right,
Mum.
 
Try to rest now.
 
I’m sure Patrick will be up shortly.”
 
As he softly closed the door, making sure the
latch clicked, he found himself feeling extremely grateful for Patrick Shannon;
and more than a little sympathetic toward the man who would have the honor of
living with Eloise into old age.
 

 

Chapter Four

 

“Your
mother’s very pretty.
 
You look a lot
like her, you know?”
 
The disembodied
voice startled him from his woolgathering, but there was no need to turn
around.
 
That voice could belong to only one
Shannon.
 
He continued to stare into the
thick night surrounding the farmhouse, shaking off the melancholy of an hour’s
ramble in the not so distant past.
 

“Do you
make it a habit, sneaking up on people?”

She
joined him on the step, her pert profile outlined against the lights from the
house.
 
“I wasn’t sneaking.
 
You seemed to be somewhere far, far away,
though.”

“Not so
far.”
 
He searched for an appropriate
path back to the present.
 
“Just thinking
how fast the time here is going.
 
What
are you doing out here?
 
I thought you
were helping prepare the little ones for bed.”

“Done.
 
They’re not so bad, you know, once you get to know them.
 
I suppose they felt the same about me at
first.
 
I am the only American cousin,
after all.”

They
sat in silence for a time, until from inside the sound of music, a scratchy
phonograph record, broke the mood.
 
Laughter and teasing voices competed with Deanna Durban singing “Begin
the Beguine.”

“Maeve
wanted to practice dancing with Jack.
 
For the party, you know.”
 
Peg’s
opinion of said party, an event planned for the coming Saturday night, was all
too obvious.

“Don’t
you like parties?”

“Sure.
 
I guess.
 
Small dinner parties are okay.
 
But dancing parties, I’m not so wild about.
 
I had to go to cotillion all last winter and
frankly, being pushed around by clumsy boys with sweaty hands was a real
disappointment.
 
Connie’s older sister
Prue made it sound really romantic, but obviously the boys in her class were a
cut above ours.”

“Those
boys will grow up to be far more interesting in a year or so.”

“Don’t
talk to me like some wise old uncle, Kendall.
 
I don’t like it.”

He
thought he heard tears in her voice, and turned to study her face in the
dimness.
 
“I didn’t mean to.
 
I’m just suggesting you give the opposite sex
a chance to prove itself to you.
 
Girls
mature more rapidly than boys, or so I’ve been told.”

She was
either considering what he’d said, or nursing some wound, he wasn’t sure
which.
 
“Would you dance with me?” was
the last thing he expected to hear her say, given her prickly mood.

“Out
here, you mean?”
 
He nodded toward the
enclosed garden beyond the kitchen door.

“Why
not?”

He
decided it wouldn’t hurt to humor her.
 
Getting to his feet, he held out his hand.
 
“Miss Shannon, may I have the pleasure of
this dance?”

The
music had changed to a waltz, and when she came into the frame of his arms, she
began to count under her breath.
 
Between
beats, she whispered, “I’m not very good.
 
Are you?”

“Passing.
 
Just relax and listen to the music.
 
Let yourself move
with
me, not
quite so independently.”
 
He felt her
draw a deep breath and exhale.
 
“That’s
it.
 
Don’t think about where we’re
going.
 
Just follow me.”

They
circled the narrow lawn several times, in and out of the halo of light.
 
“How old were you when your father
died?”
 
He was startled by the question,
even more so by the tremor in her voice.

“Twelve.
 
He’d been ill for years.
 
We were prepared, or as prepared as one can
be for that kind of thing.”

She
tensed slightly beneath his grasp.
 
“I
was just a baby, not even a year old when my mother was killed.
 
I don’t remember her at all.”

“I’m
sorry.
 
That must be very hard.”
 
He saw tears shimmering in her eyes as they
passed through the light again.
 
“Peg,
please.
. . can I help?”

Now in
complete darkness, she stopped moving.
 
After
an awkward moment, he gathered her closer, placing a tentative hand on her
hair.
 
She seemed suddenly alone and in
need, someone he instinctively understood.
 
“I’m sorry.
 
I know I’m being silly,” she whispered.
 
“It was watching the little kids, the way their mothers were fussing
over them, putting on their pajamas and tucking them into bed.
 
It made me wish. . .”
 
A soft sob took her final words.

“Shh.
 
I understand.
 
And it’s not at all silly.
 
It’s
normal.
 
I cried myself to sleep for
months after my father died, and me a great hulking school boy.”
 

Sniffing,
she raised her head and he could just make out a crooked little smile.
 
“You were never hulking, I’m sure.”
 
Stepping away from him, she wiped at her
face.
 
“I’m fine now.
 
I don’t usually do that where anybody can
see.”
 
Rather than turning back toward
the stoop, she took a few paces into the darkness.
 

“There’s
nothing wrong with crying, you know.
 
Especially over something like that.”

“Promise
me you won’t tell anyone?
 
Dad would
worry if he knew.”

“If you
like, but surely he would understand.”

“Probably,
but we almost never talk about her.
 
It
hurts him too much.
 
And I never knew
her, so it shouldn’t bother me.
 
You
can’t miss someone you never knew.”
 
Her
voice tapered off, and she fell silent.
 
Kendall wondered if she wasn’t talking to herself anyway.
 

The
noise inside the house rose as a more raucous tune began to play.
 
When Peg turned toward him again, he was
struck by the remoteness of her expression, as if she’d intentionally closed
that vulnerable girl deep within herself.
 
“Tell me about your father.
 
Dad
said he was a musician, too.”

Oddly,
he was relieved.
 
His father was a
subject he seldom had the opportunity to discuss, not because it was painful, but
because once dead, everyone seemed to believe Kendall had lost interest in
him.
 
“He played the cello.
 
His professional career was cut short by poor
health, but I remember him practicing at home when I was very small.
 
Bach, for hours on end.
 
He had rheumatic fever as a child, and his
heart was always weak.
 
By the time he
was in his early thirties, he was an invalid, confined to bed or on good days,
a chair.
 
That’s how I remember him
best.
 
He was quite good-natured about it
all.
 
It was my mother who fretted.
 
Father would say, ‘Now, Eloise, it could be
worse.
 
At least I’m not healthy enough
to chase other women or go out gambling every night.’
 
He was like that, always joking about what
was really a dire situation.”

“Was
your father a Methodist?”

“What?
 
How did we get off on religion?”
 
It was a subject he’d been carefully skirting
as the only Protestant in this gathering of Catholics.

“Agnes
told me your mother is Catholic, but you’re a Methodist.
 
I just wondered how that happened.
 
Not that I think there’s anything wrong with
Methodists.
 

He
cleared his throat, fighting a smile at her wide-eyed earnestness.
 
“My father
was
Methodist, as are his parents.
 
My parents took me to both churches when I was a child, but they left it
to me to choose when I was old enough.”

“And
you chose to be a Methodist.”
 
She seemed
to ponder that statement for a moment.
 
“Why, if you don’t mind my asking?’

“I
don’t mind, although I’m not sure I have an answer.
 
I always liked going to church with
Father.
 
When I was very young, we most
often went with my grandparents.
 
We’d
take the train up to their home in Hertford on Saturday afternoon, spend the
night and after church have lunch with them.
 
Those are some of my fondest memories of him, with his family in his
childhood home.
 
The church was smaller,
the service
simpler.
. .and in English, of course.
 
I suppose I chose his religion to try to hold
on to that part of him.
 
Not that I’m all
that religious.
 
He’d probably be a bit
disappointed in me in that respect.”

“He
sounds nice.
 
I bet you’re a lot like him.
 
Is that what you plan to do, become a
professional musician, too?”

He smiled
down at her.
 
“You ask a lot of
questions, don’t you?”

“How
else am I going to learn the things I want to know?
 
People don’t tell kids things, you know,
unless they’re preaching or just bending your ear about the good old days.
 
And while they still see me as a kid, I’ll
keep asking questions.
 
Why did you
change the subject?”

He let
out a sigh.
 
“Because I’m not sure of
that answer, either, I suppose.
 
That’s
what I thought I
wanted
, but whether
I’m good enough, or I’ll get the right opportunities, it’s too early to
say.
 
My current teacher is very
encouraging, but he never fails to point out that there are far too many good
violinists.
 
You have to be ambitious,
push your way to the front, to become a professional.
 
And then you don’t make any real money, so
you have to be willing to sacrifice, too.”

Peg nodded
knowingly.
 
“A lot of my father’s friends
are musicians.
 
Dad says it takes an enormous
ego and a very small appetite to be a success.
 
My mother was a singer, you know.
 
Or maybe you don’t.
 
She’d worked
her way from singing in bars to the Broadway stage, a very small role, when Dad
met her.
 
He said once she was the
hungriest woman he’d ever taken to dinner.”
 

“That
sounds about right.
 
Not that I’m in
danger of starving.
 
My grandparents are
paying my way through university.
 
I
think they hope I’ll decide to teach at least.
 
They’re proud of me, I know, because they were of my father, but they also
know how hard the life would be.”

“What
does your mother say?”

He
chuckled.
 
“My mother believes I’ll be
the most famous violinist in the world someday.
 
She’s a dreamer, my mum.
 
Of
course dreaming has worked for her.
 
She’s a Shannon now, after all.”

“Maybe
you
will
become famous.
 
What’s to stop you?”

“I’m
good, but I’ll never be great.
 
I’m
afraid I lack that spark, that thing that makes people take notice.
 
But good might be enough to get me a chair
with a respectable orchestra someday.”

They
settled on the stoop again.
 
Inside the
music and laughter went on, but Kendall tuned it out.
 
Talking with Peg was an experience unlike any
he’d known, one he found gratifying and at the same time slightly mystifying.
 
Obviously they had things in common, the loss
of a parent, a sense of not quite belonging here.
 
But there must be something more for him to
feel such a kinship with a girl he’d met only a few days earlier.
 
When she leaned closer and said under the
burst of laughter inside, “Do you think they’ll
noticed
we disappeared?” he caught her scent, sweet, warm and slightly earthy.
 
Stunned by his visceral response, he leapt to
his feet.

BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
11.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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