Read Shannon's Daughter Online

Authors: Karen Welch

Shannon's Daughter (9 page)

BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
2.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Ah,
well that’s good to know.
 
Now how about
that nap?
 
You’ve earned it.”

“Will
you sit with me?
 
Just
for a little while?”
 

He eyed
the chair with disdain.
 
“Why not?”

He
thought she might fall sleep immediately when her eyes closed and she sighed
deeply, but instead, she started talking.
 
“Your mother doesn’t want you to stay here with us, does she?”

“Why do
you say that?”
 

“I
could see her talking to you in the kitchen.
 
You can tell a lot from a person’s body language, you know, the way
their turn their head and use their hands.
 
She wasn’t happy with you.”

“My
mother is often unhappy with me.
 
It had
nothing to do with you.”

“You’re
lying.”

“Peg!
 
You really are a brat!
 
Why would I lie about a thing like that?”

She
grinned, her eyes still closed.
 
“I like
it when you call me a brat.
 
Isn’t that
funny?”

“It’s
merely the truth.”
 
He was relieved she’d
abandoned the subjects of his mother and his honesty.

She was
silent for a good two minutes and his hope rose again that she’d fallen
asleep.
 
“Yesterday, you called me
‘sweetheart.’
 
Twice.”

“Did
I?”

“Um-hmm.
 
You thought I couldn’t hear.
 
But
even when I passed out, I knew what was happening.
 
It was funny, like I was floating up above
us, and I could hear what everyone was saying.”

“I
see.
 
You weren’t just pretending to
faint, were you, actress that you are?”

“No.
 
That was real.
 
Still, I heard you.
 
You called me sweetheart.”
 
In spite of herself, she was drifting off,
her voice soft and slurred.
 
“I liked
that.
 
It was nice.
 
Not like when old people do it, more sincere,
like you really cared.”

He
watched her relax, her hand sliding onto the coverlet and her head sagging to
one side.
 
“Brat,” he whispered.
 
Perceptive brat.
 
Peg Shannon possessed some sort of radar, a
sixth sense which gave her insights no one her age should be privy to.
 
He’d have to watch himself, or she’d begin to
read something into his concern for her which, at least for now, he’d prefer
she
not suspect.
 
How
she’d managed to soothe his soul and at the same time claim a sizeable piece of
his heart, he had no desire to examine too closely.
 
There was one thing he was sure of, meeting
Peg, allowing himself to care for her, seemed to have set him on the path back
to living.

 
 
 

New
York City—1952

 
 

Chapter Eight

 

In the
years before they met again, Kendall frequently wondered about the girl who’d
made his first encounter with the Shannons so memorable.
 
He received reports of course, from his
mother, from Adelaide and Maeve and even Agnes.
 
Now residing in London, the McGill ladies were a larger part of his
social life than he’d have chosen if asked.
 
That said, he’d become accustomed to playing escort when required and
learned to ignore much of what annoyed him about each of the girls, specifically
Maeve’s unceasing discussion of her romantic escapades and Agnes’s constant
censuring of the same.
 
If those two were
really sisters, offspring of the same parents, he had difficulty understanding
how they could be such polar opposites.
 
Maeve,
he worried, would end up in serious trouble if she kept up her pursuit of men,
in particular those of dubious reputation, and Agnes would quite possibly
become a nun.
 

His
only direct contact with Peg was a card each December, an engraved Christmas
card—probably one of hundreds designed for Michael’s annual social and business
mailing list—on which she had hand-written “Happy Birthday, too!
 
Peg.”
 
He hadn’t responded.
 
After his
return from Ireland, Peg was so much on his mind he became concerned for his
mental stability.
 
Leaving her proved to
be a gut-wrenching experience.
 
He
worried about her trip back to the states, fretted that her father would not
take proper care of her once they were home again, lost sleep countless nights
fantasizing about sailing to New York to rescue her from some unknown but awful
state of affairs.
 
Only when he returned
to Oxford did he begin to shake off the effects of his encounter with Peg.
 
He’d thrown himself single-mindedly, even a
little desperately, into his studies and eventually found some relief.
 

Gradually,
the image of her intelligent eyes and impudent smile faded.
 
He ceased to hear the echo of her voice in
his mind and the worry stilled to mild concern.
 
She was not his responsibility, and he held no influence over any aspect
of her life, he reminded himself regularly.
 
What happened during those days in Ireland—he still wasn’t sure how to
label it—had little to do with his
real
life.
 
It had, however, spurred him to
new hope for that life, for which he was profoundly grateful.

During
his remaining time at university, he discovered something quite encouraging
about himself—a genuine desire to become a success.
 
Ambition seemed to seize him by the collar
and force him to strive harder than he’d ever believed he could, with the
result that he caught the attention one of the dons, whose connections with the
London Philharmonic led to an audition.
 
He hadn’t been offered a chair, that was too much to hope for so soon,
but he knew he’d made an impression, and that served to further fuel his
ambition.
 
With focus and determination,
he began to think he might build a life around his work, if nothing else.
 

Patrick
Shannon had been wholeheartedly supportive of Kendall’s ambition, that support
taking the form of purchasing a very fine violin as a graduation gift and
providing a temporary monthly supplement to the income from private lessons and
his meager earnings with a loosely organized quartet.
 
That, combined with the small income from a trust
fund left him by his father enabled him to lease a quite decent flat, where he
could give lessons by day and entertain friends by night.
 
The students, youngsters whose parents had at
least a passing interest in music and funds to waste, and the friends, mostly
female and rarely the sort he’d ever introduce to his mother, kept him sufficiently
occupied to take his mind off weightier matters.
 
For the first time in years, he was content
and felt more his old, optimistic self than he’d ever dreamed possible.
 

He
discovered there were a surprising number of women who admired a musician’s
ambitions while respecting his limited means.
 
He seemed to attract slightly older women, thirtyish—often married to by
their account boring barristers or businessmen—who liked his looks, his manners
and his skill on the dance floor.
 
They
invited him to clubs and parties and then invited themselves back to his flat
where they took advantage of whatever other talents they felt he
possessed.
 
Many nights, he was no more
than a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board or someone to sympathize with the
humdrum of their lives.
 
Other times, he
was called upon to provide support of a more intimate nature, which he’d learned
to do with sensitivity while resisting emotional involvement.
 
If he occasionally looked in the mirror and
called himself a pathetic gigolo, the taunt was something he could live with in
the short term in light of the material benefits, the meals, theater tickets
and even gifts of clothing and jewelry his grateful friends provided.
 
It wasn’t as if he had hopes of meeting a nice
girl to fall in love with and marry.
 
Perhaps someday he might consider a more permanent arrangement, but only
if he had the good fortune to find that rarest of creatures, an undemanding and
open-minded woman.

 

In July
of 1952 he was called to audition again for the Philharmonic.
 
Cautiously hopeful, he’d given what he felt
was his best performance, had a nice chat with the conductor and the first
violinist, and then, with breakneck determination, finished his packing,
wrapped up a final social commitment or two, and with his mother and stepfather
boarded a train for Southampton and from there a boat to New York City.
 

Michael
Shannon had been in poor health for the past two years, advised by his
physician against traveling overseas.
 
While the family gatherings in County Carlow were now a thing of the
past, with the farm leased and Adelaide relocated to London, the siblings
continued to meet at least once a year.
 
Adelaide
and her daughters made the trip to New York earlier that spring, in time for
Peg’s debutante ball, and Patrick chose to go in July, planning to meet up with
Sean and Maureen, currently on an extended vacation in Canada.
 
At Patrick’s insistence and expense, Kendall
was included, with the understanding that Michael intended to introduce him to
at least a few of his impressive list of acquaintances in New York’s classical
music community.

In the
frantic preparations for departure, Kendall had worn himself ragged.
 
The stress of the audition alone cost him
sleep, and his social commitments further deprived him of rest.
 
In fact, on the morning of their departure,
he’d barely sent his bleary-eyed but immensely grateful companion packing,
before the taxi occupied by his mother and Patrick pulled up to his door.
 

“Kendall,
you look positively awful, darling!” was his mother’s chipper, pre-dawn
greeting.

“Sorry,
Mum.
 
But I’ve been over-booked this
week, trying to get all the lessons in and then there was the little matter of
the audition.”

“You
look as though you haven’t slept a wink.
 
You really need to relax a bit on this trip, dear.
 
You can’t burn the candle at both ends and
hope to keep your looks, you know.”

The
plausible excuse, which wasn’t quite a lie, came easily to mind.
 
“I was too excited to sleep last night, first
trip to the states and all.
 
I’m fine,
Mum, really.
 
Don’t fuss.”
 
He added a fond pat of the hand for good
measure.
 

“Leave
the lad alone, Eloise.
 
He’s a
good-looking single man in London.
 
Why
should he sleep?”
 
Patrick’s wink left
him with the uncomfortable suspicion that his reputation might have sprung a
leak.
 

Despite
the fact that he was still not the steadiest of sailors, even on a luxury
cruise ship, he enjoyed the crossing, in particular the lively and eclectic
society on board, with the result that he lost further sleep.
 
Upon arrival at Michael’s palatial brownstone,
he begged off dashing out for a late lunch and when shown to his room, fell
gratefully across the bed.
 
A two-hour
nap, a pounding shower and he felt almost human and eager to explore what at
first glimpse had looked more like an art gallery than a domicile.
 

Michael
had said something about Peg and tennis, so Kendall assumed she was expected in
later that afternoon.
 
If the flutter in
his stomach wasn’t simply hunger, he admitted he was curious to see what an
eighteen-year-old version of that captivating girl must look like.
 
Maybe she was still knobby-kneed and
freckled, one of those raw-boned, athletic types.
 
The tennis would suggest as much.
 
He couldn’t imagine she’d blossomed into a
real beauty, given the sharp chin and fly-away brows he remembered.
 
Still, he was pleasantly anxious to see her
again.

He
found his way downstairs, studying the art work on the wall step by step.
 
The three-story entry way was hung from top
to bottom with an astonishing collection of paintings and drawings.
 
He wouldn’t have been surprised to find an
armed guard stationed by the front door.
 
At the lower landing, he caught sight of a large portrait framed in gilt
occupying an obvious place of honor on the wall opposite.
 
The slender young woman, elegantly posed on a
red chaise and wearing a formal gown of white tulle, smiled down with an oddly
familiar gleam in her bright blue eyes.
 
“Peg?” he gasped loudly enough to create an echo in the stairwell.

At that
instant, the front door burst open and he turned toward the arrival so quickly he
was momentarily dizzied looking down the remaining flight of stairs.
 
His initial impression was one of long brown
legs and arms, a swish of very short skirt and twin sapphire lights flashing in
his general direction.
 
Grasping the
banister, he repeated his question in the same breathless tone.
 

She
came toward him, hand extended, eyes sparkling, much as she had at their first
meeting in Carlow Town three years earlier.
 
But this Peg, unlike that first version, came much closer to matching
the warm, throaty voice calling his name as she bounded up the stairs.
 
“Kendall!
 
You’re here!
 
I was afraid Dad had
whisked you away before I could get a look at you!”

He took
her hand with the thought that she should become a politician with a handshake
like that, reassuringly firm and insinuating familiarity while leaving an
indelible impression on his palm.
 

“Peg?”
 
He winced at the catch in his voice.
 
“Good
heavens,
look
at you!”

“Have I
changed?
 
You haven’t.
 
Well, maybe a little, but I’d have known you anywhere.
 
How was your crossing?”

“Fine,
although I must admit I’m glad to be on dry land again.
 
Who knew there was so
much
ocean
out there?”

She
laughed, a trifle nervously he thought, and glanced around the entry.
 
“Has everyone abandoned you?”

“They
went to lunch.
 
I was frankly too
exhausted to join them.”
 
He wondered if
she was disappointed, as she turned to bounce back down the stairs.
 
For the first time, he noticed her hair.
 
The braids at least were still there, now wound
into a regal crown at the back of her head.

“Would
you mind following me to the kitchen?
 
I’m dying to catch up, but I’m also dying for a cold drink.
 
We were on the courts for hours.
 
I’m parched!”
 
She spun toward the back of the house, and he sped down the stairs
thinking any normal man’s response to her invitation would be that he’d follow
her anywhere.
 
That thought set off an
alarm bell in his brain which competed with the racing pulse in his ears.
 
Nothing could have prepared him for this
version of Peg Shannon, but it occurred to him that it wouldn’t do to let her
see the effect she had on him.
 

The
kitchen was dim and cool, a cavernous space with a huge bay window overlooking
the garden.
 
Peg pointed to the table in
the bay.
 
“If you’re hungry, I could find
you something to eat.
 
I still don’t
cook, but there’s always food in the fridge.”

BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
2.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Girl Who Wasn't There by Karen McCombie
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
Love Blooms in Winter by Lori Copeland
Candelo by Georgia Blain
El libro negro by Giovanni Papini
The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig
Variable Star by Robert A HeinLein & Spider Robinson
The Trouble with Love by Cathy Cole