When tragedy strikes Catriona's family, she learns not to take relationships for granted.
|Author's Note: Well, this is my brave attempt to writing realistic fiction. I am pretty satisfied with my descriptions, but I think I need to learn to make my dialogue more believable. It seems a bit wooden to me. Please tell me what you think!
Reconciliation. The dictionary refers to this as either reestablishing a close relationship or friendship, or bringing oneself to accept something not desired. This is my, Catriona Eileen Lloyd’s, story of reconciliation, both of accepting and restoration, which was brought about by the tragic events of the year I turned seventeen . . .
My dark bay mare quivered with anticipation as I signaled her to transition into a swift canter. Though I had since graduated to a rangy steel colored gelding named Windcry for showing, Sorcha was my favorite companion for these daily, pre-dawn rides. The feisty little Connemara had been the first inhabitant of the six stall barn that stood on the fifty acres my family purchased ten years ago, and had been the horse to first teach me how to ride, and then how to jump. We had grown up together, being the same age, and we had developed such a close bond it seemed as if we could almost read each other’s thoughts. It would have been kind of me to sell Sorcha to another young rider so she could continue doing what she loved, but I didn’t have the heart to let go of such a close friend and clear reminder of my mother’s homeland of Ireland. Her family had emigrated here in the early seventies when my mam was thirteen and “The Troubles” were beginning to get out of hand. My grandparents brought their daughter and twin sons to start a new life void of violence and bloodshed among the haunting beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina that reminded them of the land they left behind.
Things must have been pretty bad if Grandda was willing to uproot his family and leave Ireland, having lived in Belfast his whole life, and as an Irish traditional musician, the culture was so much a part of who he was. Grandda was an exceptional fiddler – he had competed in Oireachtas on numerous occasions – and performed in just about every pub or dance hall in the city and surrounding countryside individually or in a band. Fortunately, as a trad musician of his caliber, Grandda was able to take a job at the local university teaching music and assimilate into the prevalent Scots-Irish culture of the Blue Ridge area.
Sorcha’s powerful legs glided effortlessly through the velvety carpet of grass, her ground-eating strides taking us swiftly to our destination. The gentle summer breeze coursed playfully through my hair as we ran, pulling several wavy, auburn strands out from the loose ponytail that draped across my shoulders. I directed Sorcha toward the center of a rotted tree trunk that had fallen across our path, squeezing her sides and lifting myself in two point position as she easily cleared the obstacle. I sat deep in the supple leather of the saddle and gently pulled back on the reins, signaling for Sorcha to slow down to a walk as we reached the crest of the hill that overlooked our small farm. Daylight was just beginning to creep up over the horizon, illuminating our white, two-story farmhouse with its warm orange and vibrant rose colored hues. I sighed contently at the lovely sight. Sorcha pranced playfully as we strode down the well-trod path past the tree-lined paddock and schooling ring that led to the white, tin roofed barn. Shadow, our year old German Shepherd, bounded toward me, barking joyfully as I vaulted off Sorcha’s back and ran up the stirrups.
“Wheesht, Shadow, you’ll wake the whole house up!” I murmured as I gently scratched him behind the ears in a vain effort to quiet him down. Sorcha eyed the playful animal disdainfully as I drew the reins over her head and led her into the softly lit barn, Shadow trailing closely on our heels. He trotted down the aisle ahead of us, seeking out one of the many barn cats to pester.
From one of the stalls farther down the aisle came an off-key rendition of a popular country song. Hearing the clip-clop of Sorcha’s shod hooves against the concrete flooring, Johnny poked his head out of a stall. His sandy colored hair was curling around his ears in the heat of the barn, and his dirt splotched white t-shirt and Wranglers evidenced his exertions.
“Morning, Catriona. Have a good ride this morning?” Johnny asked, leaning against the shovel he was using to clean out the stall.
“Great – Sorcha was raring to go like she was a filly again. You’re out here awful early, aren’t you Johnny?” I remarked as Sorcha knocked me off balance rubbing her head against my shoulder.
“I wanted to get an early start on the work I had to do today. Your mom asked me to clean the tack and I wanted to get to that before it got too hot. Thought I’d start painting the fences, too, if I had the time.”
Johnny McCarthy had been helping out at the farm for four years-- cleaning the barn, doing repair work, helping mom teach lessons and train horses—in exchange for a place to keep his rangy chestnut gelding, Rob Roy. Johnny had aspirations of becoming a horse trainer, so the situation was ideal for him and us. He got to work under the expert tutelage of my mother, and we got extra help around the barn. He was eighteen, a year younger than my next eldest brother, Callum, and was around so much that he was almost like a fourth brother to me. Almost. I blushed self-consciously at the thought of viewing the ever-smiling, easy going boy as decidedly more than a friend, but with all the training I did for three-day eventing, I barely had time to keep up with the few friends I had, let alone a boyfriend.
I busied myself by snapping the cross-ties to the royal blue nylon halter I had slipped over Sorcha’s head. Johnny quickly unbuckled the girth with deft fingers and took Sorcha’s saddle and bridle to the tack room, returning with a plastic bucket of grooming tools.
“Thanks for your help,” I called as he tossed me a rubber curry comb, and we both got to work rubbing the sweat and dirt out of Sorcha’s dark coat.
“Hey, I enjoyed your singing as I came in, Johnny,” I ribbed good naturedly. “I think Grandda may even let you perform in the ceili this evening.”
Grandda had tried to instill his love of Irish traditional music in his daughter and sons by commissioning several of his trad musician friends to teach his children their signature instruments from an early age. Each of them took to their instruments – Mam the fiddle and harp, Donal the bodhran and guitar, and Christopher the uilleann and tin whistle, and have been playing gigs with one another since they were teenagers. Now that they were married with families of their own, they only played the occasional gig and meet at our house every couple of weeks to practice. Once my brothers, cousins and I heard how good they were, we demanded to listen in, and soon enough these practice sessions became full-blown ceilis, with friends and family members from miles around gathering at our house to enjoy the playing, singing, and dancing.
Johnny smirked and threw a piece of hay in my direction. “Triona, you’re crazy if you think Declan would even let me near one of those ceili whatsits the way I sing. You know I can’t hold a tune in a bucket to save my life!”
“Oh, well, we can’t all be successful at everything,” I jabbed playfully.
“Like your mother? She’s a regular renaissance woman.”
I nodded in accord. Mam had a knack for riding and training even the most skittish of horses, as well as singing and playing the fiddle. It wasn’t necessarily that my mother had been blessed with many natural talents, but that she had the drive and hard working demeanor to become successful in nearly everything she put her mind to. It was one of the things I most admired about her and strove to emulate in my own life.
“Seriously, though, you know you’re welcome to come tonight. You’re practically family as it is,” I coaxed.
“I know, Triona,” Johnny said with a grin. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Your uncle Christy has been promising to teach me how to play those elbow pipe things for weeks now.”
“The uilleann, you mean?”
“That’s the one,” Johnny remarked, dropping his curry comb in the bucket and exchanging it for a soft body brush. “You think he’ll make good with that promise?”
I laughed, going along with his joke. “I’ll make sure of it. I happen to know for a fact that he’s been itching to teach someone ever since Rory turned him down. That brother of mine has too much energy and not enough patience to play an instrument that difficult to master. Uncle Donal has him on the bodhran, though. Suits him well -- he’s picked it up pretty fast,” I said, bending down to pick out Sorcha’s hooves.
“We’ll have to be pretty insistent tonight with your uncle, then. I can’t have the kid outshining me, now can I?”
“Course not,” I shot back, grinning to myself. I knew that Johnny didn’t really have the desire to learn the uilleann, and probably had no more patience for the instrument than my thirteen year old brother. I unhooked the cross ties from Sorcha’s halter and lead the now clean mare back to her stall.
“What time do the festivities start?” Johnny questioned.
“About seven, though you can stop by earlier for dinner, if you want,” I called back to him from Sorcha’s stall, planting a kiss on her velvety nose before rolling the stall door closed.
“You know I’m never one to turn down a free meal,” Johnny quipped, leaning down to roughhouse with Shadow, who had returned from his excursions.
“You gonna help me clean tack today, or am I gonna have to do it by myself?” Johnny called after me as I walked past him on my way to leave the barn.
I paused at the entrance to the barn, my heart beating a little faster at the prospect of spending the day with Johnny McCarthy over a pile of dirty tack and saddle soap.
“I’ll see if I can fit it in,” I remarked casually. “Let me get a shower and get changed first.”
“See you later, then,” Johnny called after me as I strode across the lawn in the direction of the house.