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Author's note: I hope that people take from this story that you need to treasure all the time that you have with people who are special to you.
I hate potatoes. Yet what am I peeling right now, and will I have to eat for supper, and every other meal? And tomorrow will be awful. I’ll have to eat Ma’s Sunday potato dish and go to church all in the same day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a good Catholic lass at heart; however, Father Machonnaghy puts me to sleep, and while Da finally allowed me to sit with my friend Rose, all we can do is giggle at the ugly lads. There is absolutely no way that I’m marrying one of those clods.
“Stop staring into space and start peeling!” Ma has spoken. Well, I guess its back to my potatoes.
Peel, Peel, Peel. It seems like that’s all that I do around here. Of course my sister can’t do it. “You’re younger that me, you should do it. Besides, peeling potatoes would ruin my hands. Let me look at yours… see, this proves my point. At least one of us should have perfect hands and be able to get married. Guess who it is Maureen… ME. Ta-ta ugly, I’m off to do some embroidery. You see, boys are impressed by girls that have perfect skin and can do embroidery. Not girls with tanned skin and ripped dresses. Oh wait; I just described you, didn’t I?” I can just see her doing that, hands on hips, her nasally voice making fun of me while her long nose is pointed up in the air. Actually I can imagine it so well because she just came in the kitchen and said that exact thing to me five minutes ago. Ugly indeed. I am not vain like she is, but I know that I am not ugly. If anyone in this house is ugly it would be her. She has a long pointy nose, carrot-red hair, and freckles all over her face. I on the other hand am tall and slender, have auburn hair, and zero freckles. Not to sound conceited, but that is what I look like, and many people in town have called me pretty. Besides, at least I can sing alright. We are both are in the choir, and while I can at least blend in and carry a tune, she couldn’t carry a tune if it was in a bucket with a lid on it. I guess a career in performance is out for her. As for the tanned skin and ripped dresses bit, I’d rather be a tomboy than a pale priss who can’t even wash dishes. I just now noticed that I’m finished all but for one potato. I guess venting my anger helps me to peel faster. I’ll have to keep that in mind for next time.
Time for the Sunday torture chamber, courtesy of the ugly village clods and Father Machonnaghy. I’m attired in my best Sunday dress. It is green and trimmed with cream lace around the neck and sleeves. It is so long that without my tall shoes I trip over it, although Ma says that that it the current style and that it becomes my tall frame. I’m just glad that it’s long enough for me. The only thing that I like about this dress is its color. It matches the color of my eyes perfectly, and Rose says that the color makes me look stately. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I think the dress looks good with my eyes and red hair. I piled my auburn hair on top of my head in an effort to make it not look like a rats nest, but it does anyway. Oh well, who will care if I’m having a bad hair day. I’m wearing a hat.
Out the door goes our family; Da straight and tall in his Sunday coat, Ma looking beautiful in her maroon dress, Maggie looking extremely smug in her choir frock pulled over her cream dress. Little Patrick, or Patch as I call him, follows her, proud to be dressed exactly like Da. Then me, the last in the procession, holding my choir robe in my arms as to not wrinkle my dress as I close the door behind me.
When we reached the church I took my seat next to Rose, who promptly said, “Have you seen the new family? They have a son about 15. Our age! He’s extremely cute. I think that he’s perfect for you. I’d be interested if Riley hadn’t already coming to see me for over a year. Look at him, he’s right over…” Before she could point at him, I held up my hand in a silent reminder to be quiet for a minute and let me think. Ok, he must really be cute, I thought. I could tell because Rose always talked in really short sentences when she was excited about something. I motioned for her to point to him and followed her pointing finger with my eyes. I gasped when I saw who she was pointing at; he was beautiful.
He had hair the shining color of my Ma’s. Her hair was a dark red, almost brown. His had the same hair, the kind that I had admired and stroked for its softness. I longed to do the same thing to his. It was messy, but just the kind of messy that looked as if he had arranged it to be that way. He cut a stunning figure, taller than me, but not gangly. I wondered if his face was as beautiful as the rest of him. Rose, oblivious to my shocked face, yammered on.
“He is cute, isn’t he? Oh, the sermon is starting, it is about being nice to people this week. I heard it from the preacher. We had better get our robes on and go to the choir bench. Oh, and Maureen, you should probably close your mouth.”
I spent most of church looking at the new boy. I was probably the worst soprano in the bunch today because I was paying no attention to the song that I was supposed to be singing. If I hadn’t been in shock, I probably would have tried to sing my best to impress him. Other that the text I caught nothing of the sermon except that it was about being the nice to others and giving complements. Now that I think of it, I don’t remember the text either. I noticed that Father Machonnaghy gave me a pointed look when he was speaking about being nice to siblings. I managed to keep an innocent, straight look on my face for about two seconds. Then I was forced to fake coughs while I laughed into my choir robe. After the sermon, I looked for the guy that had my attention through out the entire time. Just as I was about to give up my search, he appeared. He was a bit taller than me, and was even more handsome up close than far away.
“Hello, my name is Sean Reilly,” he said in a low honey voice, “what is yours?”
I faltered for a moment before replying “My name is Maureen O’ Malley. I’ve never seen you here before, are you new?” Stupid question, I thought, mentally smacking myself. If he wasn’t new we wouldn’t be introducing ourselves.
“Nice to meet you.” he said. "Since the sermon was about being nice, and part of being nice is giving complements, lets trade compliments. I'll start. You have beautiful eyes," he said. 'Tis true that my eyes are the green of grass, but no one had ever called them beautiful before.
“So do you" I said. Oh Lord, it's true! Those eyes were hypnotic; one could stare 1,000 miles into them and never reach the end.
“Let’s do another round of this,” he suggested. “I heard you in the choir today. You sounded amazing.” That was a shocker, because I had personally thought that I sounded bad today.
So I sweetly said, “Another part of being nice is saying nice things about other people. I’ll say something nice about my sister. She sings like a banshee.” After that, Sean looked a bit shocked, while I couldn’t keep a straight face.
I burst out laughing, but stopped when he said “How is that something nice?”
I then replied “Did you hear that screeching in the background of our song?” Then it was his turn to laugh. He had a very deep, yet musical laugh, one that made me laugh too.
“I thought that some animal was dying behind the church,” he said through his laughter.
“If I didn’t know that it was my sister, I would have thought so too,” I admitted. “I’m sorry if I’m rude, but are you very religious?” I asked. If I was going to continue any further with this, then I needed to know.
He replied “Not really, I just wanted an excuse to talk to you. Oh-my family is leaving, I’d better go. I guess I’ll see you next week…” he trailed off.
“Were you going to ask me something?” I asked.
“How could you tell?” Sean replied.
“It was in your eyes, they’re pretty easy to read.”
“Yes, I was going to ask you if you would meet me in the square Saturday at noon. Maybe we could stroll around for a while.”
“I’ll be there if I’m allowed; I’ll send word to you if I can come.” I said. “Before I go, one last thing; I love you hair. It was what made me first notice you.”
As I walked out of the church with my family I was on air.
When I had asked Da if I could go he said, “He seems like a nice lad. You may go if you are careful.” I hugged him tight and followed him out. When I went to sleep that night the last thought in my head was if he liked my hair today, even with my bad hair day, how should I do it on Saturday?
The week passed by really slowly. It seemed that Saturday would never come. And when it did, I panicked. I ran around the house like a mad woman. I peeled the dreaded potatoes, swept the floor, and did chores frantically until the house was sparkling clean and there was nothing left to do. Then I got dressed, choosing my only other dress that was green. Since he had complimented my eyes, I decided to play them up. Rather than purposely making my hair look bad (although the idea did occur to me) I opted to do it in a simple bun. When I passed by the grandfather clock I saw that I was running really late. I held up my skirt and started on a mad dash for town. I heard my sister tell me that I looked like a weed on my way past her. I narrowly resisted the urge to go back and say something back, deciding to get her back later. Maybe while she was sleeping. Heh-heh.
Once I reached the town square I looked around. Was he here? Then I spotted him out of the corner of my eye, perched on the edge of the fountain. He looked even better than he had last Sunday; he made me have to catch my breath for a few seconds.
"Hello again," he said. Just the sound of his voice set my heart on fire.
"Where do you want to go first?" I asked him.
"Um, have you eaten lunch yet? Because if you hadn't I would take you the bakery, but if you already have, that's alright too..." he trailed off, apparently somewhat disappointed in himself. He was babbling too.
“Stop beating yourself up, I can tell that you are by your eyes. I haven't had lunch yet, and I would love to. Thank you." I offered up a smile. It was funny the way he talked when he was flustered. It was actually sort of attractive. He offered me his arm and I took it cautiously, wondering if he would go any further than that. I'm not sure that it would make me mad if he did, it's just that Da would most likely not let me see him anymore. If he did that I would consider my life to be over. As we walked into the bakery we attracted smiles and kind looks. They were probably for me; no boy in our village had ever shown interest in me before, so everyone was probably pleased. I was sort of the dear of the village. It seemed like everyone approved of my choice. Once we got our food we went back outside and perched on the fountain once again. We chatted casually about this and that, I don’t really remember most of it; I was too much in dreamland. After finishing our lunch we wandered around the shops. In one I saw a beautiful ring. It was sterling silver with a Celtic knot on it, inlaid with diamonds. After we left the shop, he rushed back in, saying that he had forgotten his hat. He game out a couple of minutes later looking very pleased with himself. I was a bit puzzled, but let the matter drop from my mind. It was time for me to go home by then. I was about to turn to leave, but returned as Sean said
“I had a great time today. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow. Would you please meet me after mass?” I could see in his eyes that he hoped desperately that I would, so I answered with a yes.
“May I escort you home, dear lady?” he said with a grin.
That night I had the oddest dream. Sean was with me on the coast. It was one of the usual foggy days, but it didn’t seem misty or cold. I was wearing my Sunday dress for some odd reason that even I couldn't comprehend. I rushed, crying into his arms and sagged into his shoulder, the air racked with sobs. I could hear myself calling out "Why him God? Why him? Why ME?!" What was my problem? I had no clue. In the dream I could tell that Sean and I were in love by the way that he held he, and also by the way that I was so comfortable in his arms. When I tore myself away from his arms I sank to the ground sobbing and howling like a banshee. It pained him to see me torn like this, and just watching myself I wondered if this would ever really happen to me. I was also trying to tell my dream self to get a grip. Was this just a crazy dream, or some sort of foreboding to the future? With that thought, I woke up.
As I got out of bed I wondered why I couldn't have normal dreams like everyone else. You know, the kind of dreams where you fly, or are naked in front of a crowd of strangers, of even those ones where you think you fell off of a cliff but really just fell out of bed instead. I tried to shake the dream out of my head and get dressed. But then I heard an unearthly yowl. I ran into the kitchen and asked my mother what was wrong. She pointed silently towards my sister, and I saw what the issue was. Da had set a trap for the mouse in our kitchen that wouldn't go away. It had a bit of cheese on it for bait, and had been placed in the shadowy corner. Maggie had stepped on it and gotten her foot caught. I felt her pain, but just barely. I also felt for an instant of sympathy for her predicament; then I burst out laughing. Ma gave me an only half reproachful smile, and Da and Patch (who were in the kitchen previously) started laughing with me. My sister freed herself from the trap and gave us all a look that could kill before stomping off to her room. It was extremely lucky that all of us had our own rooms; otherwise I would have to share with my sister. I retreated to my own room, thanking God that it was mine and mine alone, even though it was small.
As we walked to church my sister was still miffed that we had laughed at her. However, it had wiped some off the smug look that she always wore. When I met up with Rose, she asked me "Why is your sister not looking her usual stuck up self?" to which I replied with the story. We would have broken into a giggle fit if it hadn't been time for the choir to sing. I found Sean on my way to the choir bench and smiled at him. He graced me with a warm, meaningful glance that set my heart ablaze. Rose glanced at me with raised brows before I told her about our afternoon. She said "It's about time for you to start going with someone. It doesn't surprise me in the least. You two are perfect for each other." The look on her face and in her eyes told me that she meant it; I was grateful for that. Now all that I had to worry about was not making a complete fool of myself when meeting him after church.
I had absolutely no clue what mass was about, nor did I care. I met Sean afterwards and blurted out “I missed seeing you.” Immediately I could feel my cheeks go red and I was hoping that he wouldn’t think that I was crazy. “I missed you too actually. I was going to say so at first, but thought that you would think that I was nuts.” “ That’s exactly what I was thinking!” I said. I saw Ma frantically signaling for me to go to her. “Just one minute,” I said, “I think that my mom wants me.” that was the understatement of the decade. I heard a “Hurry back” as I walked away. I rushed over to Ma, who said, “Is that the young man that you spent yesterday afternoon with?” she asked. “Yes”, I replied hesitantly. “ Invite him for dinner, your Da and I would like to meet him.” Ma replied crisply. I thanked her and almost skipped back to join him again. Being near him once again was like being reunited with the other, unrealized, half of me. Then and there, I realized that Sean Reilly was my one and only true love.
“Do you have anything else to do this evening?” I asked him, breathless. “No, but why do you ask?” he asks, puzzled, but with a glint of mischief in his eyes. “Would you like to join our family for dinner? My parents are interested in meeting you, although I am not sure whether that is a good sign or a bad one.” “Let me go ask my Ma” he said halfheartedly, which prompted me to ask him, shoulders sagging, “You don’t want to go, do you. It’s alright that you don’t, but I thought that…” “Sorry to make worry you. I’d love to go, I just wasn’t too happy about leaving you to ask my Ma.” “ I think that I might have an answer to your problem. I could just go with you when you ask her. "That’s an excellent idea, especially because my mother has expressed interest in meeting you." "How does she know about me?" I asked him. "Well, I kind of have been talking about you lot---- good things, of course." "Don't tell me that you've built me up in the eyes of your family so much that I'm not going to be able to live up to it." "No, of course not, they just know how beautiful, smart, and funny you are; and of course how much that I love you." At that, I almost fell over. Looking at my shocked expression, he did his beat-yourself-up routine again. “That was so stupid. I knew that I shouldn’t have let it slip out like that. You probably don’t even feel the same way. I’m really dumb.” I sighed, exasperated, “Of course I feel the same. I realized that you were my true love about five minutes ago. I think that you are funny, smart, handsome, and everything that I could ever wish for. I wouldn’t be surprised if you sprouted angel wings.” “I’m not as great as you make me seem Maureen. You’re really the angel. You’ve lit up my life in just the short time that I have known you.” “I’m not that great either. I’ve never met anyone like you. You’re unique. That’s what I love about you. So are we going to ask your Ma if you can come or not? I mean, not that it’s boring to confess undying love, but I’d really like for you to come.” Let’s go!” he said.
Walking towards his mother, I began to have qualms. Although she looked like a nice jolly woman, with dimples in her cheeks and a smile on her face, I was afraid that she would be one of those people that looks nice but is evil. Or that she wouldn’t like me. When we were within five feet of her, she started talking to Sean and me. “So this is the girl that I’ve heard so much about. Sean was right, you are beautiful. Come here and let me give you a hug.” All of my worries about her instantly vanished. When I finally got around to asking her if Sean could come for dinner, she replied “Of course he can! What a wonderful idea. We should invite you for dinner next Sunday.” With a smile at her and one at me, Sean led me back to our former position by the choir bench. “It wasn’t that bad.” I said. “Mother liked you very much. She usually doesn’t give people hugs upon first meeting. Oh-I see your family leaving. May I escort you to your house?” I giggled and said “Of course, kind sir.” He held out his arm and I took it as we walked happily out of the church. I had a sudden vision of the two of us walking out of the church, he in a suit and I in a long white dress. We looked so happy together as we left the church. Everyone was throwing rice, and the looks on our faces were radiant. My heart ached when I realized that it wasn't real. Maybe it could happen sometime, too bad that it couldn’t be now.
When we got to the house I went immediately into the kitchen, leaving Sean in the parlor. I put on my apron sighing, and Ma said "What are you doing in the kitchen? You should be entertaining your young man. You are hereby banished from the kitchen for tonight." I thanked my Ma and gave her a giant hug. Then I all but skipped into the parlor. Sean was in there with my Da. I could only hope that he wasn't telling him about the time that I dumped a pail of milk over Maggie's head. "My Da said "I was just telling your young man here that I was looking for some help around the farm, seeing that Patch isn't quite old enough." Da gave Sean a look that I couldn’t quite decipher. He looked as though he was closing a deal, or maybe more than one. Sean said to me, smiling warmly "I don't have a job, so when your father offered me the job, I accepted. I will be able to see you every day by working here." I was amazed, and said to Da "Can I talk to you for a minute?" When Da followed me outside I thanked him profusely and hugged him. He said "How could I not? I can see that you two care for each other bye the way you look at each other. All that I have to say about it is that it's about time.” “About time for what Da?” “About time for you to be thinking about something besides work all the time. You need to be a young lady instead of a 30-year old.” “Thanks Da. Glad to have your approval.” I said, slightly sarcastic. We reentered the parlor. Sean gave us a look of puzzlement, and I signaled that I would tell him later. While he and Da continued their small talk, I looked around our parlor.
Da had inherited a substantial amount of money from his father and our clothes and house reflected accordingly. We all have our own rooms, although they are a little bit on the small side. We also have a very nice parlor in our completely self-owned house. It has beautiful cherry wood tables and chairs. The chairs are very soft, and our wallpaper it light yellow with roses and green stripes running up and down the height of the room. I'm always afraid to clean this place for fear that I will trip and break something. The only other reason that I venture in here (other than to clean) is to read. We keep all of our books here, and I read constantly. My sister on the other hand, believes that it ruins the eyes to read, and so does not. I would say something as to her ignorance, but today I have decided to take the high road. Besides, I finally got her back for the weed comment. Since Ma banished me from the kitchen, she has to peel the potatoes for today. So much for perfect hands now, huh Maggie. The next thing that I hear is Ma calling that dinner is ready. Now the real test begins. Da approves of Sean; however, Ma might be the tougher one to convince.
When we sat down to dinner we were seated as follows: Da at the head, ma at the foot, Maggie and Patch on one side and Sean and I on the other. We resisted the urge to hold hands under the table, thinking that it would not reflect well on Ma's opinion of Sean. Dinner was served without any major mishaps, we then bent our heads to pray. Da asked Sean to give the blessing, and to his credit, he gave a beautiful one. He said "Bless us O Lord for these thy gifts, witch we are about to receive, from thy bounty through Christ our Lord Amen. Thank you for allowing me to be here today to spend time with Maureen and her wonderful family. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen." The beautiful prayer combined with his honey-toned voice was mesmerizing. When she saw the look that I gave him, Maggie sneered at me and made a gagging motion. Neither Ma nor Da saw her, otherwise she would have caught it for sure. I glared at her and just barely kept myself from stomping on her foot. As Ma questioned Sean, I listened for any major turnoffs. There were none. (No surprise.) Ma looked surprised to find that his answers were exactly what she was hoping that they would be. Even Patch liked Sean, and he’s 5. That fact confirmed my love for him. Sean talked to him like he would to someone his own age, and that made Patch feel good. Everyone was pleased with Sean except for Maggie, and that probably had something to do with the fact that we didn’t like each other. All in all, the dinner was a big success. When Sean was getting ready to leave, he motioned me over. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you.” “As I do you. I can’t wait until tomorrow.” He said “The only way that I can stand to leave you is knowing that I will be able to see your beautiful face tomorrow.” I smiled at him and said “The same goes for me. As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, Good night, good night, parting is such sweet sorrow. But I shall say good night, ‘til it be morrow.” He said “Let’s just hope that our love story turns our better than theirs.” He began to lean in as if to kiss me, but than stopped midway to my lips. “What’s wrong?” I asked, wishing fervently that he would kiss me. “I was wondering if you’ve ever been kissed before, and if I was your first love. Because this would be my first kiss, with my first love.” “Me too” I replied softly, thinking that this was just like in the novels that I like to read, with both of us speaking low and close. He leaned is and put the gentlest of pressures on my lips. I could feel all the tenderness of his love in the kiss, and replied in turn. It seemed all too soon when he pulled away and smiled gently. With a last clasp in my hand he said “You will fill my dreams tonight.” “As you will mine,” I whispered only loud enough so that he could hear me. I hugged myself before I went back into the house. I ran back to my room to be lost in my dreams. I can’t believe that I had just received my first kiss. I also couldn’t believe that I had been speaking as if in a novel.
My sister found her opportunity to tease me soon after I returned to the kitchen. I could see her out of the corner of my eye, making kissing faces in an imitation of me, apparently to amuse Patrick. Thinking about it, it was an excellent imitation actually. However, that didn't make me any less inclined to bash her head in. From my years of helping Da in the potato fields because there was no son to help him I have an arm of steel. One time one of the boys in the village called me a weed, and his nose was never the same again. I was seriously considering doing the same to her. I swiveled on my heel and clenched my fist, ready for battle. "Stop" I told her. I said it in a steely calm voice, one that would show her that I meant business. "Who is going to make me?" she simpered. Although her tone suggested otherwise, I could see the fear in her eyes. "Just because you’re older doesn't make you better than me. Just because you’re older doesn't mean that I should do the things that you should. Just because you've never been in love before doesn't give you the right to ruin it for someone else. Being older doesn't make you wiser. I'm tired of you treating me like your servant. So just leave me and Sean alone." I was red in the face and shouting by this point, and was pulling my arm back to punch her when I heard Da behind me. "What is wrong with you two?" he asked. We told him. After he had heard our tale, he stroked his beard and said "Maggie, your sister will turn sixteen tomorrow. Maureen was right in what she said, although the punch she almost gave you was unneeded. You will leave her and Sean alone." I thought that he was done with us; however, I was mistaken. "Maureen, I would like to speak to you in private for a moment." He lead me away and outside to the yard. "What you did was needed daughter, and I am proud of you." That was a major shocker. I thought that I would get in trouble for fighting. I hadn’t even thought about it being my birthday, especially after meeting Sean. Thoughts of him, and of being 16 were in my mind for the rest of the day
My first conscious thought when I woke up was “I’m sixteen today. I wonder if Sean will come for my birthday.” Then something hit me. Ma hadn’t gotten married until she was sixteen, and she told Maggie and me that neither of us was getting even engaged until we turned sixteen. I wondered if Sean knew about this, and if he might ask Da for my hand today. I’m not really sure what everyone would think, or if they would say that I was rushing into marriage. I mean, it is kind of early, but we are so in love with each other. I went into the kitchen to find out what my family had gotten me for my birthday.
When I entered the kitchen, everyone shouted “Happy Birthday Maureen!” I looked around the room and saw my whole family, plus one. My heart fluttered when I realized that Sean had come after all. I got an ivory comb from Ma and Da, a necklace from Maggie, and a picture drawn by Patch in a frame handmade by Da. It was of the two of us standing on the coast. We were dressed in our Sunday best, and we were laughing. Patch is a great artist for his five years, and I could almost feel the sea air and the spray from his penciled ocean. I kissed his cheek and ruffled his hair. Sean’s grin grew ever wider as I opened my presents. I noticed the same sort of grin on Ma and Da’s faces. It was getting sort of wierd. They looked like I was going to get the greatest surprise of my life. Little did I know, they were right. I thought that nothing could top this part of my birthday. I was wrong. I watched in amazement as Sean got on his knees before me, holding a box. Mouth agape, I brought my hands to my cheeks in amazement. He really did love me. He was really going to do it. He opened the box. Inside was the ring that I had admired in the shop. It was my engagement ring. He said, "Maureen, when you came into my life I knew that you were my missing puzzle piece. The first time I saw you I knew that you were the one for me. I promise to love you forever. Maureen, will you marry me?" I gazed into his eyes and saw the truth there. He meant everything that he said. I had been hoping for something as great as him to happen in my life, and he was my dream come true, my knight in shining armor. "Yes," I said breathlessly, and he slipped the ring onto my finger. He rose to his feet and kissed me in the middle of my kitchen, in front of my whole family. I normally would have been mortified, but not right then. Right then I didn't care. I ran to my parents and hugged them, crying tears of joy. When I finally tore myself away, I asked Sean, "When are we to have the wedding?" "If you are agreeable, both of our parents and I would like us to be married in two month's time. We are continuing on to America, and can start our new lives together there." I nodded and then rushed into his arms once more. I hereby dubbed this the best birthday ever.