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Bound by Sacrament
Connor hated coffee. He hated the smell. He hated the bitter taste that - no matter how much milk or sugar you dumped into the cup - always had the effect of making his stomach flip in disgust. He hated the moist, sour, pungent smell that lingered on a person’s breath for the rest of the day. As much as Connor hated coffee, here he was, shlumped into a back corner table in a local pub outside of Edinburgh, gulping down that sickening, sooty, slop.
What am I even doing here?! The question had been running through his mind since he left JFK. You knew from the start this was going to be a challenge. There’s no turning back now, Idiot. He took another swig of the coffee. He was beginning to wake up, but he didn’t want to be awake. He had wished every moment of his flight to Scotland that this was just a dream. He would wake up any moment.
This wasn’t a dream.
Sitting in the very same pub as the first time he saw her, the memories were so clear. Don’t kid yourself, he thought. You’ve never forgotten that day, and you never will for as long as you live. Though he was a good five years older, he remembered that day like it was this morning.
His flight from New York had landed about an hour ago. He was sitting in the pub, drinking coffee. God, he hated coffee. Rubbing his eyes, he looked up just in time for the waitress to enter his fortress of solitude he had created around him.
“Cad is féidir lion a fháil ar do shon?” she asked him with a smile.
Connor did not speak whatever language she was throwing out at him, not to mention the fact that he had about three hours of sleep under his belt. He did know, however, that this girl was simply one of the most beautiful girls he had ever seen.
She was tall and slender, but not in an awkward way. She had long, thick auburn hair casually pulled into a ponytail which accented her high cheekbones and rosy cheeks. Her large eyes were a goldish-green color, framed with thick, long black eyelashes. Stop!! You are not here to look at pretty girls! His head seemed to be screaming at him. Don’t you remember why you’re even here?!
Connor did remember. After his parents were killed in a car accident sixteen years ago, he was raised in his local Catholic church. Father Patrick, the priest, became his father-figure in life. In his teen years, he had gone through a rough time; got into some trouble. Seeing the look in his Father’s eyes really hit Connor hard. It was not the look of anger, judgment, or even disappointment. Pure sadness - the feeling that he had failed this boy - poured from his eyes like tears. Connor knew then that he did not need to live this way. He eventually came to terms with his mistakes and decided to become a priest like Father Patrick. His trip to Scotland was meant to clear his head before he began the long journey into priesthood. Connor knew that Father didn’t think he would stick with it, but this was something that Connor knew was the right thing to do. He would follow in Father’s footsteps. He would devote himself to God and no other. He had a reason for being here.
There were a few awkward moments before the waitress spoke again, this time in English.
“Hello?” she had a thick brogue, but her words were at least registering in his mind as a common language. “I’m guessin’ ya dinna speak Gaelic then?” Connor shook his head. His speech had seemed to have left him for a little while.
“Och, I am verra sorry ‘bout tha,” she blushed. “I’m so accustomed to the locals that I forget sometimes. Ya would think I wouldna have a problem, a graduate of Oxford and all. Ah, but what do they say? Old habits die hard?” She was rambling. “Anyways, my name’s Maggie. Can I get you anything?”
Connor cleared his throat, “No, thanks, I’m fine,” he almost winced. His New England accent sounded so sharp and… obnoxious, next to this woman’s beautiful brogue. That’s not the only thing beautiful about her, he mused. No! Shut up!
As much as Connor was drawn to Maggie, Maggie was drawn to Connor. He was tall, well-built, with brown hair that was a bit disheveled, but kind of in a sexy way. And those eyes, which had an intense yet ferociously kind look about them, were the brightest shade of green she had ever seen.
“Alright, weel I’ll hafta get you a good Scottish breakfast in the mornin’,” Maggie turned to walk away.
At that moment, Connor’s mouth had finally started working again, “But I’m just passing through!” He called to her.
She turned back and smiled, “You’ll be back,” and with a flip of her hair, she was out of the room.
And he had come back. For some reason he couldn’t explain, Connor just kept coming back, and Maggie was always there. At first she was a language tutor, teaching him a few common words the locals would use. Then she was his tour guide, showing him the coast, the brewery, the church. She came to be a best friend. In the two weeks Connor had known Maggie, he grew to feel as if he had known her forever. He told her about his troubled past and his dreams to redeem himself to God in priesthood. She confided in her dreams to be a professional ballerina before she blew her ACL when she was seventeen. Five years later, she had just graduated from Oxford with an English degree, though she didn’t quite know what to do with it. Once when Connor asked her about it, she replied,
“How should I know?” She laughed and threw her hands up in the air, “Why do we always have to have long term plans? I had a plan. From the time I was eight years old, I was going to be a ballet star. I had dance troupes lined up, scouts had already visited me, scholarships were knocking on my door! And with one sickled foot and a slippery floor, all my dreams crashed to the ground, literally!”
How she could laugh about her dreams being crushed, Connor had no idea, but it was sort of inspiring in a way.
“What I mean to say, Connor, is tha’ the future is the future. You dinna see it comin’, and when it’s past, it’s gone! Yes, I have an English degree. God knows what I’ll do with it! All I know is that I love to write. Like dancing, how I would feel the music slowly enter my bones and encourage my body to move along with it. Words come from my mind, and I can’t rest until they are written down.”
“But aren’t you afraid of not being prepared for what will happen next?” Connor asked her, grabbing her hands.
Maggie’s kind and relaxed eyes looked into Connor’s. Though cheerful on the surface, she could see the inner turmoil going on with himself. She hadn’t known him long, but she had grown to know him well, and Connor was not a man who needed solidarity and God’s will to save him. He needed someone to love. Maggie could see Connor’s capability of love, and it was huge. If he could only see that.
“I focus on what is happening right now. This moment.” She leaned in to hold Connor’s gaze. “And if I want to do something, I sure as hell better do it before the moment’s gone.”
Connor kissed her, then. It had been built up inside of him since the day he met her. He knew he had other plans. He knew this wasn’t right. He also knew that Maggie was right. Connor didn’t live for the moment. But he was about to tonight.
After leaving the pub, Connor got into his rental car and started for Glenn Cottage, another place he wished was just made up in his head. Driving down the roads brought back so many memories. He had only been here for two and a half months, but they were the best days of his life. The apple trees lining the road, starting to wilt now, had been in full bloom at the time. He remembered her standing beneath the tree, with fallen light pink blossoms tangled in her auburn hair. He remembered playfully tossing a rotten apple at her, and she threw it back a little too hard, hitting him in the head. She had kissed him to make it better, then threw a pile of flowers in his face and ran off laughing.
He drove past another pub and thought of their nights there with her friends. He remembered eating fish and chips, and arguing with all of them how stupid the name was. He remembered Maggie having a little too much to drink and standing on the bar table, barefoot, singing Danny Boy, and he sang along with her. Then again - Maybe it was the other way around. Those nights in Scotland were the easiest nights of Connor’s life. For a while he would forget all about the priesthood, until he was laying in bed, trying to contemplate what in God’s name he was going to do now.
Connor recognized the cottage instantly. The gray, stone walls were a bit colder looking than they used to be, and the ivy may be a bit more grown, but it was basically the same. Well, almost. Connor stared at this cottage and thought about the first night he came here, the night he kissed Maggie. That was a magical night. He thought back on the night Maggie lay beside him on the sofa near the fireplace. They had been talking on and off, just enjoying each other, when Maggie quietly sighed a contented sigh.
“I love you, Connor. I just wanted you to know that.”
He could also remember the last week he spent in that cottage.
Connor had received a phone call that week. Father Patrick had died of a heart attack. Connor was torn to pieces. He couldn’t eat or sleep for days. At the end of the week, he received another phone call. It was his church, offering him a position as a deacon before eventually becoming the priest in Father Patrick’s place. He had grown to look up to this man for the past sixteen years of his life. Now he was dead. Connor had to make it up to him somehow.
In the end, he had decided to go back. He felt so strongly about his choice. He had made the right choice. It was time he put if life into God’s hands. But then again, there was Maggie. Connor loved Maggie, and he knew she loved him. He thought back on the past three months; they were the most amazing days he could ever remember having. He couldn’t get Maggie face out of his mind, how beautiful, caring, and passionate it was. How would he ever tell her? He had to.
“What?” Maggie blankly stared at Connor for a good long while.
He cringed at the hurt on her face. Those eyes - usually brimming with cheerfulness and a mischievous look like she had a really good joke to tell but was waiting for the right moment to tell it - were now brimming with tears and an ancient sadness well beyond her twenty-two years.
“Mags, I need to go back. It’s the right thing to do, the only thing.” He was more arguing with himself, trying to pound why he had to do this into his head.
“Ya dinna think this was probably something you should have told me sooner?” Her accent was getting thick behind her tears.
Connor knew that the easiest way to leave her was to make her think he didn’t care for her, which was the polar opposite from the truth, but he had to let her go.
“Maggie, It never occurred to me that we’d get this close.”
Connor felt the blow like he had punched her himself. “It never occurred to you?!” she sputtered. “It never occurred that I would fall in love with you? Because I have, Connor! As strange as that may be, I have!” She was crying now. “Why, Connor? This isn’t your only option! You can stay here, with me and…” She looked as if she was about to say something more, a secret she was keeping, but then changed her mind. “…we can be perfectly happy! Don’t you see?” She was becoming desperate. She reached for him, but he stepped back.
“ Dammit, Maggie! This is the only option! I’m sorry, but this is who I am.”
Connor walked out of the door that day, and didn’t look back, afraid that if he did, he would run right back into that cottage. He didn’t see her fall to the floor in anguish, he tried not to hear her raking sobs, and he didn’t see her cradling the barely-there bump near her abdomen for comfort.
Connor had gone back to the church, but in the end, couldn’t stick with it. He just couldn’t get her face out of his mind. He ended up going to law school, a place where he could put his arguing to good use. Once he graduated and had some time to clear his head, he couldn’t wait anymore. He needed to find Maggie. He had wanted to find her the, moment he stepped off of the plane back in New York, but was too ashamed of all of the pain he had caused her to go back. Just when he had begun to search for her, he received a phone call. Connor instantly recognized the Scottish accent. Could he really have been that lucky? No. His dreams, once again, instantly crashed to the ground, like a sickeled foot on a slippery floor.
There had been an accident. Margaret Sinclair had been driving home from a late night at the pub when a drunk driver ran a red light. It was Maggie’s sister on the phone. Maggie was hit head on and died a day later.
Something in Connor snapped. It was his fault no one was there to help her. He had left. He felt his soul blacken and shrivel. He felt a weight in his chest like no other before. His heart was cold, and no amount of wishing, praying, or screaming would bring this beautiful woman back to him. He had lost everybody: his parents, Father Patrick, and now his sweet, beautiful Maggie.
But he soon learned that he hadn’t lost everybody, and here was a reason why Connor was here now, in this rental car, outside of her home. He had thought of Maggie every single day since he first met her in that pub and will continue to think about her until the day that he dies, but there is now someone else to think about as well. That thought gave Connor the courage to get out of the car and walk up the driveway. He knocked on the door to Glenn Cottage, a place where the sun seemed to have forgotten to shine now that Maggie wasn’t around to make it brighter. The door opened and a little head of thick auburn hair poked out with piercing green eyes.
“Hello,” Connor smiled as he knelt down beside the little girl. “You must be Aiyla?” She nodded, looking down, while absentmindedly playing with her jumper.
“Well, Aiyla, I’m Connor. I knew your mommy very well. I’m sorry I haven’t been here before, but I had to go away for a little while. I’m back now. Is that okay with you?” She looked up, and though it took a few moments, she nodded and began to smile.
“Aunty is in the kitchen. You can come inside.” Little Aiyla took Connor’s hand and led him into the cottage. Though her hand was so small in his, he felt something in his heart mend - not completely - but that would take time.
As they passed the living room, Connor noticed a single picture among many of Aiyla and her mother. It was of Maggie and him. She was wrapped in his arms, hair a bit disheveled, cheeks red, and makeup running from laughing. She was beautiful. One of her friends must have taken it one of the days they were together.
Aiyla pointed to the picture and looked up at Connor.
“That’s you,” she said, rather matter-of-factly. Connor just nodded, tears blurring his vision.
Right as she pulled him away from the picture and led him on to the next room, Connor her his daughter say, “Mommy always said you’d come back.”