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Far From Home
Wynne sat at the top of the verdant hill, looking down at her world, and all that comprised it; her house, the fields her family farmed, the few scattered houses of friends and family members that lived alongside them in the tiny valley they called home. The pond she had swam in as a child glittered in the setting sun, reminding her of the diamonds she had grown accustomed to seeing on the necks of well to do ladies. Her world, and everything in it. And now it seemed so small.
How could she ever explain to them what had happened? How could she tell them all the story of her life away from them?
They could never understand the choices she had made. They could never understand why she had come home.
Her emerald eyes went vague as she remembered her life before, and how everything had changed so quickly.
Wynne ran down the hill, her onyx hair flying out behind her. She tumbled through the door, just in time to see her mother putting the breakfast on the table.
“Wynne Marin Gallagher! Where have you been?”
“Ma, I was just in the stables, like I was supposed to be,” she lied, crossing her fingers behind her back, so that she wouldn’t have to confess to the lie in church that Sunday.
“No, ma, she wasn’t!” said Eireen as she came into the house. “I just went in there, and she wasn’t! She’s lying! She went to the castle again!”
“I did, but Ma, I wasn’t doing anything bad, I promise.”
“Not doing anything bad?! Shirking your chores to wander alone and do nothing isn’t bad?”
“No, ma, I did my chores. I woke up early today, so I got them done and then I just …wanted to go up again.”
“I don’t understand your attraction to that old castle…it seems unnatural for a 17-year-old girl to want to go alone to some ancient wreck.”
“I won’t do it again, Ma, I promise.”
She crossed her fingers for the second time that morning, because she knew it was a lie. She would go back to that castle. She had to. It was the only place where she knew that the world really was bigger than her little valley...and she knew that one day she would leave it, and go seek something bigger and better. A no one would be able to tell her what to do anymore. Not even Ma.
Wynne sat on the hill, running her fingers through the long green grass and imagining what it would be like to live someone else’s life. The life of someone who had adventures-someone who could spend a whole day just thinking. Someone who could sleep till noon without their Ma calling for them.
She lay down in the grass, the bleats of the sheep who she was, technically, in charge of, only white noise to the constant beat of her thoughts. She closed her eyes and imagined what it would have been like to have lived in that castle, to be important, and go to balls every night and dance for hours. As she imagined a beautiful blue dress spinning around her, the real world faded away.
She awoke with a start as she felt someone shake her. The world had gone dark again, and suddenly she knew she had been asleep all this time, dreaming of a life she would never live.
She looked up to see Keelin, her younger sister, staring down frantically into her eyes. “Wynne! Ma’s been shoutin’ for ya! We got a letter from Uncle Collum…somethin’s happened…come on, we gotta go back!”
They both scrambled down the hill, the sheep following behind, excited and frightened by the movement. Keelin struggled to keep up with Wynne’s long legs, and Wynne quickly reached the house and ran through the door. “What happened, Ma?” she panted.
“There’s been an illness…” she replied slowly. “Your Aunt Doreen caught sick last week, and died early this week. O’ course, your poor Uncle’s stuck alone with those 4 children, all of them grievin’. An’ he was wonderin’ whether we could send you or Colleen to help out.”
“Oh, Ma,” she said, sitting down quickly. Then, seeing her chance, she added, almost begging, “Send me, please. I promise I’ll be good, and I’ll help him so much…and I know how to cook everything.”
“I don’t know, Wynne. I just don’t know. It’s a big responsibility for one so young as you. And I don’t know that I can spare you…”
“You can, Ma, you can. You’ve got Colleen and Eireen and Finn…they can all take my chores. Their more than enough help with the the little ones, and Uncle Collum has 4 little ones to watch, and he can’t cook or clean. Please Ma?”
“Well, maybe. We’d have to buy you a ticket. And you’d need a suitcase. And o’course, it wouldn’t be for good. But I think we can spare you for a few weeks.”
She was pushed and shoved along the aisle and finally leapt off of the train with the help of the conductor. Her eyes scanned the crowd for someone matching her remembrance of Uncle Collum-tall and broad-shouldered with big green eyes and hair that was black as pitch. She saw no one. She checked again, hoping that she’s missed him or that he had changed-after all she hadn’t seen him since she was 9-7 years ago. But when she didn’t see anyone remotely like Uncle Collum, she began to get worried. What if he wasn’t there? What could she do? She didn’t know anyone else in Dublin.
“Uncle Collum!” she yelled. No one stepped forward. No one in the crowd even seemed to notice her. She decided that she had to go into the mob. Maybe she’d be able to see better then. She pushed her way in, screaming his name, but hadn’t gone more than a few feet when she was shoved so hard that she lost her balance and began to fall backwards, whirling her arms about in a desperate attempt to stay upright. Suddenly, she felt a hand on her back, steadying her. “You all right?” asked a voice from behind her.
She spun to catch sight of a tall young man with fair hair and big blue eyes. “Yes,” she said, flustered,” I guess I am…thanks to you.”
“Oh, it was no problem. Happens all the time in this sort of crowd,” he said earnestly,” I’m Jamie O’Brien, by the way,” he explained, as he stuck out his hand.
“Hi. I’m Wynne Gallagher. Thanks for helping me…”
A silence fell. “Well, I really have to go,” she said, looking around confusedly, hoping to catch sight of her uncle.
“Are you new here?” he asked, seeing the look. “You look a little…lost.”
“Well,” she said hesitantly,” I’m supposed to be meeting my Uncle Collum but I can’t find him. I have his address right-”
Looking down, she saw that the paper was gone, most likely lost when she was falling or even possibly coming off of the train. She immediately dropped to the ground searching for the paper and trying not to get her hands stepped on at the same time.
“I lost the address! I lost it! And if he’s not here then I have no idea what I’ll do!”
“Well, your not gonna find it in this crowd. By now it’s probably torn to bits.”
She slowly got to her feet, realizing that he was right. The paper was gone, Uncle Collum wasn’t here, and now she had nowhere to go.
“What’ll I do now?”
“Calm down, for starters. Look, I’ll go on into the crowd myself, see if I can find this uncle of yours. What does he look like?”
“He’s tall, sort of big, he has black hair and green eyes.”
“And what’s his full name?”
“Ok, you just go sit over there with your bags and wait; I’ll see what I can do.”
She watched as he disappeared into the crowd. Now she felt even more lost than before. And more alone.
She retreated to the place he had pointed to, setting her bags down and sitting on one. She let her head rest on her hand. She felt suddenly exhausted.
A tap on her shoulder startled her back into alertness. Expecting Jamie, she relaxed and turned around, ready to see her uncle and let this whole nightmare be over. She was shocked to find that it was a boy. “Need any help with your luggage, miss?” he asked subserviently, black eyes gleaming.
“No, that’s alright. I’m just waiting for my friend.”
“Are you sure miss? I could watch your luggage while you go to find your friend.”
“Well…” she said, thinking quickly. If this boy watched her bags, she could go and find Jamie and Uncle Collum all at once. “I…I have nothing to pay.”
“As long as your quick about it, miss, that’s no problem.”
“Alright. Thank you. I should be back quickly.”
Perhaps she could get Jamie or Uncle Collum to lend her a shilling to pay him later. For now she needed to focus on just finding them. If she didn’t she didn’t know what she would do.
After prowling around the edge of the swarming crowd, she gave up and dove right in, shoving through and yelling for Jamie. Finally, after being pushed and shoved for what felt like an hour, but could hardly have been more than a few minutes, she spotted Jamie’s gold hair through the crowd. She lunged forward and grabbed the back of his shirt, making him turn. “Jamie,” she said, breathing a sigh of relief.” Have you found Uncle Collum?”
“No. Sorry. I think now the thing to do is just to go back and sit down. Maybe when the crowd clears, you’ll see him. Wait…where’s your bags?”
“I left them over there…you know where you showed me? Some boy is watching them.”
“What?! We have to get over there quick,” he said, grabbing her hand and pulling her through the crowd. She got through much quicker with Jamie’s help, but she couldn’t help but wonder why he was so mad.
However, when they got there, she understood. Everything was gone.
“Quick, describe the boy to me,” said Jamie, looking around angrily.
“Well…he had dark hair…and…uh…dark eyes, and he was….short, I think.”
“Excuse me, sir,” said Jamie to a man nearby.” Did you see a boy near here? He was probably carrying 2 bags? Maybe walking quickly?”
“There was one boy. I think he went that way.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Jamie, already beginning to run.
“No thanks required. I’ve seen this too many times.”
“Wynne!” shouted Jamie over his shoulder.” Come on!”
She started to follow him, still a little puzzled. The boy had seemed nice. He had seemed like he wanted to help.
“Look, here you can’t just trust any person you see. Some of the time…well, most of the time, their not good people,” explained Jamie.
They wound through a labyrinth of streets, called all kinds of odd names-“The Strand” and “Cuckhold’s Row.” Eventually, Jamie stopped and turned towards her.” I know this may not seem like a good idea to you,” he said, refusing to look her in the eyes,” but…maybe…well, I have longer legs than you…and I know the streets better. And,” he said, finally looking up,” this is my brother’s house, so if anything happens, you can knock on the door, and explain who you are and he will help you. So, I’ll leave you here…and I’ll come back. I promise.”
“I believe you,” she said as she sat down on the stoop, watching as he sprinted away from her. Once she couldn’t see him anymore, she stared down at her cerulean skirt, her best, though still clearly mended. She saw herself through Jamie’s eyes-disheveled, naive, clearly a country girl. Maybe she didn’t belong here, after all. She wasn’t used to these feelings of fear. Of insecurity.
She looked up suddenly, feeling eyes on her. At first, she didn’t see anyone. Then, next to the stoop, she saw a dirty man, who she’s thought was a pile of rags. “Hello, pretty girl,” he said, coming out of the shadows.
She started scooting backwards on her step, reaching for the door, but he grabbed her arm before she could knock. She screamed, but it was cut short when he put his other hand over her mouth. He climbed on top of her as she tried to kick at him, but he legs felt suddenly weak. “ Shh…” he said, pressing down harder,” New to town? Well, let me show you more about the men in this town.”
She felt so helpless. She watched, as if from up above, as he began to tug at her clothes. Then she saw that his hand was in her mouth, so she bit down as hard as she could. “ Ow! You little b****!” he screamed, pulling his hand away.
“Help!” she screamed as loudly as she could.
That was the last thing she remembered before everything went black.
She saw his face again, swimming in darkness, then watched as it morphed into that of the boy who stole her bags, and then back. She twisted and turned, trying to escape from him, but there was nothing she could do. He was too strong. Suddenly, she felt her strength growing and she shoved him off, knocking him backwards and watching as he disappeared. She stood up, completely fine.
Suddenly, her eyes shot open, and light flooded in. Her head felt like it was full of cement and her arms felt like they’d been hit with bricks. She was on a couch, and a comfortable one at that. All around her were the trappings of a modest home. “Where am I?” she asked blearily, seeing her surroundings and sitting up.
“You’re in Sean O’Brien’s house. You know, Jamie’s brother?” said a concerned looking older woman, with shiny blonde hair.
“Oh,” she said as all of the occurrences of that day came back to her.
“How do you feel?”
“Everything hurts a little. Did…well, did…anything…happen?” she asked, cringing.
“No, no…Sean heard you scream and ran out. Well, of course that terrible man ran off and when Sean saw that you had fainted, he picked you up and carried you in. You’ve been unconscious for an hour or two.”
“Oh,” she said again, lying back on the comfortable pillows behind her.
“Don’t wear yourself out, dear. Obviously, this has been a big shock, and I think you hit your head pretty hard when you fainted.”
“I think I’m alright. Thanks to you and your…husband?”
“No, not husband….my husband died years ago. Sean is my son.”
“You’re Jamie’s mother?” she asked, delightedly.
“Yes…dear boy,” she said fondly.” You know, he was so worried when he came back and you were gone that he banged in here yelling your name so loudly I thought I would go deaf! And when he saw you, he couldn’t even talk, he was so afraid-and, as you must know by now, that’s a big accomplishment for Jamie-but once I explained to him what had happened, he was so mad, I vow he would have run after that man if I’d’ve let him. Why, he’s been sitting here next to you since he came. He only just left to tell his boss he wouldn’t be coming in the rest of the day. But he should be back soon, and happy to see you up,” she explained, smiling cheerfully (Wynne could see where Jamie got his tendency to ramble).
“Yes, I’ll be happy to see him. He’s helped me a lot today. I’m new here, and he helped me with-well, did he ever find my bags?”
“No, dear, I don’t think he did. You’ll have to make do with what you have for now, I’m afraid. And, of course, you may borrow any of my dresses.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t do that. How could I return them?”
“Well, by giving them to me. Jamie explained your situation to me, and I’d love to have you here while you look for your uncle.”
“No, I couldn’t…”
“Yes, you could. And you will! Where else do you have?”
“Of course we can’t just turn you out on the street. No, I insist.”
“OK. But only till I find my Uncle Collum.”
“Yes, of course.”
As soon as Wynne hear a key in the door, she sat straight up, excited to see Jamie again. As soon as he saw her up, he stopped.” You’re alright then? I mean…” he said awkwardly.
“Yes I’m fine…” she said, feeling the blood rush to her cheeks. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mrs. O’Brien leaving the room, muttering something about supper.
“So…no luck with the bag…” he said apologetically.
“Oh, that’s alright. You and your family have already done more than enough for me.”
“We’re happy to help,” he said, bending to look into her eyes.
“Well…” she said, unsure what to say. For some reason, that last sentence had more meaning than it should.” I’ll be getting a job. I won’t let you all starve for me. And soon I’ll find my Uncle Collum and he’ll pay you back.”
The moment was suddenly gone. She could see the disappointment in his eyes.
“I’m sure you don’t need to,” he said, straightening up.
“No. I will,” she said affirmatively.
“Alright…well, I suppose I’d better help Ma with supper…”
As he walked away, she sat up straighter, then pulled herself to her feet, stumbling a little.