As if she just remembered, Michelle asked Daimhin, “We are having a dinner party for Taylor tonight. Why don’t you come?” She looked at Taylor playfully. “She seems more relaxed when you are around.”
Taylor gasped loudly, and then she choked. The coffee in her mouth sprayed in an arch across the table and barely, miraculously, missed Daimhin. Imagine spraying coffee and spit all over his white t-shirt. The horror could not even be contemplated.
Daimhin laughed as he dodged the coffee. His arm came up reflectively.
Embarrassed Taylor pushed back her chair. “I’ll be back now.” She left the kitchen and walked up to her room.
She changed from the coffee soaked clothes to a dark navy denim and a white t-shirt. She tied a multi-coloured scarf around her neck and pulled a matching beanie over her hair. Daimhin suggested they go for a walk in town and although it was bright and sunny outside, her mother would still insist and she would refuse to let her leave the house, without the correct protection against the elements.
As she got downstairs again, Daimhin and her mother was waiting for her at the door. She reached for her backpack, but he hefted it out of her reach. “You should not be carrying anything this heavy.”
Michelle smiled pleased. He won her over so easily. There was something about him that set her mind at ease.
Taylor rolled her eyes. “It weighs like eight pounds.” She held her hand out for the backpack, but he did not give it back to her.
Taylor opened the door and stepped out of the house, with Daimhin following close behind her.
Michelle stood in the door. “If you get tired, Taylor – rest.”
Taylor looked back across her shoulder. “Yes, Mum. Don’t worry.”
Daimhin smiled back at Michelle. “I’ll look after her.” Turning back to Taylor, he hefted the backpack onto his shoulder and he asked, “What’s in this bag?”
“My medicine. In case I need a pain pill or something,” she replied dismissively.
They started walking. “Is there any specific place you would want to walk to?”
“We could just walk around.” She looked up at him unsure. “If you want to.”
His eyes connected with hers, and she looked across the road, feeling self-conscious.
He suggested, “Let’s go down memory lane. Is that okay?”
“Okay. So have you lived in this house your whole life?” He already knew the answer.
“Which road did you follow to get to school?”
She laughed. “Follow me.”
They tracked down the sidewalk and then crossed the road at the pedestrian crossing. After ten minutes walking side by side in silence, they stopped in front of the walled school building. “This is where I started school, and this is where I spend the happiest days of my life.”
“You went to an all girl’s school?” He looked down at her impressed.
“Yes. It’s a convent.”
“Did you like the nuns?”
She laughed. “They were nice. I learned a lot from them.”
“Pity we cannot go in.”
“It’s all locked up for the summer, and I am not sure I would have wanted to go in anyway. I am not sure I would want to see the pity in their eyes when they looked at me. Let’s rather just go down memory lane, without having to include any people in the experience.”
He took her hand into his as he started walking away. “So where next?”
They walked along the sidewalks of many different roads. They walked up and down hills. They bought soft serve cones, laughing and talking. Taylor enjoyed visiting all the places that brought nice memories back to her.
They got to a colossal church and when Daimhin pulled lightly on her hand to walk up the steps, she hesitated. She had not been here for what felt like forever.
She followed him up the stairs, trepidation filling her heart. She did not really want to go in because it would be too easy to picture her coffin in front of the church.
They walked through the large impressive doors and Taylor immediately noticed the six-bay nave arcades which were supported on octagonal shafts. The space surrounding her was immense. It was bright and light. The tiled floor beneath her was an off-white cream, and the carpeting covering the steps leading up to pulpit was jade green. The stained picture windows looked Gothic and depicted various Christian images.
Slowly she walked a little behind Daimhin, as he led the way toward the front of the church.
Dark shadows filled her mind and she let go of Daimhin’s hand.
He looked back at her unsure.
Quickly she slipped into the wooden bench next to her and sat down.
He walked back to her and sat down next to her. His arm pushed tightly against hers and his thigh rested against hers.
She whispered, “It’s too much. I can imagine all the flowers and cards, as well as my mum pleading me not to go. I can actually hear her voice in my head. It frightens me.”
He reached for her hand and wrapped it in his. “Sometimes goodbye is the only way.”
“I know. I have honestly accepted that this is my fate. It is as if I have known it since I was very little that I am supposed to die early, and although I am not entirely sure what good it will do, I do hope it does something good in the world.” She looked at him sideways. “Is it weird how I have accepted that I am going to die?”
He replied softly, thoughtfully, “No.”
“I have never really done anything impressive in my life, do you think it will count against me when I get to heaven?”
“Of course not. I think when your soul leaves here, it is just the beginning of something even more wonderful. They say it’s always harder to stay than what it is to go, and that is why people who are left behind are so sad at the emptiness your soul leaves behind.”
“Do you really think death is the beginning of something great?”
“I do. I think your soul goes on to do great things after you die here. Some people believe in reincarnation, which in Latin literally means entering the flesh again. The Greek word when roughly translated means transmigration of the soul. It basically means the continuity of the soul, not the body.”
Taylor looked up at him sceptically.
“Some religions even believe in a form of repeated existence, where a soul is born, lives, dies and then is reborn, based on its karmic inheritance. The Buddhist concept of reincarnation differs from others in that there is no eternal soul, but only a stream of consciousness that links life with life. According to the Hindu belief system the world we live in is like a dream, it is fleeting and illusive, so to be trapped in a cycle of birth and death is the result of ignorance of the true nature of our existence. It is this ignorance that leads to a perpetual chain of reincarnation and it is intricately linked to karma.”
Taylor interrupted him. “You keep talking about karma. What is it supposed to mean?”
“Philosophers and scientists say that every action has a reaction. Some people who believe in reincarnation say that this is the force which determines a soul’s next incarnation.”
“But why would people believe in reincarnation. Don’t you think it is only because they are scared of the unknown and that they have an inherent determination for self-preservation, so they would rather believe that a soul is reborn?”
“It is said that after many, many births every soul becomes dissatisfied and then begins to seek higher forms of happiness through spiritual experience. When all other physical desires have vanished the cycle of rebirth comes to an end and a soul is said to have attained deliverance and freedom. So, is this not the purpose of life, to become a better person and this is maybe why some religions and people believe in reincarnation.”
“But I am sure it says somewhere in the Bible that man dies once, and after that comes judgement.”
“It does. In Hebrews nine, verse twenty-seven, but it also says in the same Bible, in one Corinthians that the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
“That has nothing to do with reincarnation.” Taylor smiled proudly.
“Not?” His eyes glittered mischievously as they connected with hers. “Then, what about John eleven verse twenty-five, where Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live?”
Taylor put her hand in front of her mouth before her chuckle echoed through the quiet reverent stillness of the church. “That is too vague to prove anything.”
He stood up quickly and looked at her with mock reproach. “Really? Blasphemy in church?”
Taylor could hardly contain her laughter, and when they stormed out of the wide doors onto the sidewalks, she almost collapsed as she started laughing.
He waited for her to calm down, looking at her annoyed. “What’s so funny?”
“You. You are funny, quoting scripture and all.”
He started to walk away from her and mumbled. “I can’t see the funny side at all.”
She ran after him and grabbed onto his arm. He turned toward her abruptly and she stopped against him. He pulled her into him and for a long silent moment he stared down at her face.
Then she said softly, “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have laughed and you’re right, it wasn’t even funny. It just felt so overwhelming. I really do want to believe that somewhere, somehow I will continue living, but I am afraid of the disappointment if it does not happen.”
He looked down at her, and for a brief moment his eyes rested on her lips. He wanted to touch his lips to them. He wanted to make her feel loved and he wanted to take away all her fears and worries. There was a glimmer in her eyes and he thought he saw a look of fear. He felt her heart pounding against his chest. Pulling away from her gently, he wrapped her hand in his. “You must be tired from all this walking. Let me take you home.”
Not long after, the happy carefree feeling that had surrounded them the whole day returned and by the time he said goodbye to her at her front door, Taylor felt relieved that the incident in the church was out of his mind.
Dusk had fallen by the time Daimhin knocked at her front door.
The lengthening shadows of the late afternoon stretched across the pavements outside and across his features. The expression on his face squeezed her heart even tighter. He looked like a little boy and there was a look of longing and yearning clear on his face. He heard the noise from inside drift out the door toward him. “How are you feeling?”
Taylor smiled shyly. “Rested. I had a quick nap.” She stepped aside. “Welcome to my rowdy home. What is home like for you, I am sure it cannot be as chaotic as this.”
“No home. Not like this, anyway.” He pushed the door open wider and walked into the hallway.
Her uncle’s rowdy laughter burst through the house and embarrassed Taylor said, “You don’t have to stay.”
“I don’t mind.”
“Don’t feel as if you have to be here.”
He turned to Taylor. “You don’t want me here?”
“No. I’m glad you’re here. I am just not sure you’ll be comfortable.”
“I don’t know when last I have felt as comfortable as I do.”
“Okay, then. Come, let me introduce you to everybody.” Taylor introduced Daimhin to her aunts and uncles. He offered handshakes to everyone, even her ten-year-old cousin.
As Michelle gave him an affectionate hug, Daimhin looked startled, but he smiled as he drew away from her. “The fresh air seems to have been good for Taylor,” he said as he glanced in Taylor’s direction. “Her cheeks are positively rosy.”
Michelle looked up at him thankfully, before she said, “You can all take a seat at the table. I am on my way with the gravy, just give me two seconds.”
Daimhin followed Taylor to the dining room.
When they reached the table, she leaned closer to him and he brought his head down to her face. She whispered, “Are you ready to run for the hills yet?”
“They seem like nice people.”
The corners of her mouth turned up. “Uncle John has not brought out his dancing shoes yet.”
Daimhin laughed. The sound carried to the far end of the table where her Uncle Dermot sat with his wife. “You should not be telling Daimhin those dirty jokes, Taylor.”
Taylor blushed as laughter rippled through the room.
They sat down next to each other, joining everybody else already seated around the table. Her mother had set out the good china and they passed around roasted chicken, brussel sprouts with bacon, roast potatoes and thick brown gravy. Daimhin spoke to everybody at the table.
Taylor was surprised that he was so easy going with people, people he did not even know. He could talk to anybody and it was as if he knew exactly what would interest them. Was it his good judge of character talent that he used so skilfully?
Despite their acceptance, Daimhin knew he was not really a part of this warm, noisy family. His presence here was only temporary. Once Taylor died, they would be gone just as she would be. He ignored the ache that centred in his chest at the thought. Without conscious thought, Daimhin reached for Taylor’s hand, folding his fingers around hers under the table. She looked up at him curiously. He could not put into words why he needed to touch her so desperately at that moment.
Taylor must have seen something in his eyes, because she asked softly, “What?”
He shook his head slowly and returned his hand to his own lap where it belonged.
His attention strayed to Michelle across the table. She was looking at him, her expression sad and thoughtful. She could not have seen him take Taylor’s hand. She could not read his thoughts, yet she knew how he felt about Taylor.
Again and again, his gaze drifted to Taylor seated next to him as if he was assuring himself she was still there. Each glance they shared set off a radiance in her, filled her with a gladness that she had met him.
When her cousin said something comical, Daimhin glanced at Taylor, smiling amused. Taylor looked back at him and a connection shot between them. Only for an instant, until she quickly averted her eyes.
She caught her mother watching her. Michelle raised one eyebrow in query and Taylor shook her head, concentrating intently on slicing through her brussel sprout.
After dinner, came clean-up. Everybody helped to clear the dinner table and then they washed the dishes, dried and packed them away.
Daimhin glanced at Taylor and her happy radiant face filled him with an unfamiliar feeling of contentment.
Eventually everyone started filtering out through the front door.
Daimhin was in the kitchen with Michelle while Taylor was saying goodbye to her Uncle John and his wife.
“Do you want a cup of coffee, Daimhin? I think there’s still one more cup in the pot.”
She poured the dark coffee into a mug and then passed him the mug. The milk and the sugar were already standing on the kitchen counter, so he helped himself, as she sat down at the small oak table.
She glanced at him across her mug. “What’s going on between you and Taylor?”
Quickly he said, “Nothing.”
“I saw the way you looked at each other at dinner. Are you two …?”
“No!” He felt his face heat up. It crossed his mind briefly to tell her it was none of her business, but he doubted it would have gotten a good response from the protective Mrs. Fergusson. “We’re just friends.”
“There is more than friendship between the two of you. You have a bond with each other.” She spelled out what he refused to contemplate. Although he tried, had always tried, to keep the relationship between him and Taylor professional, from when she was only a few days old, the reality was very different. Even if he never touched Taylor again, never kissed her, they were connected in the most intimate way. He was her escort the moment she exhaled her last breath. He was completely unprepared for her next statement. “She loves you, although she just does not know it yet.” He staggered as she continued, “It does not matter though. Her head might have convinced her she could handle this, but it will break her heart. There is only one way to change things, and that is for you to stop seeing her.”
“It wouldn’t change anything.”
“Maybe not. Do you love her, Daimhin? Really love her?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I do and I am afraid she’ll be the one breaking my heart.”
Taylor walked into the room laughing. “That was such a fun evening. I even forgot all about …” She stopped talking when she saw the look on her mother’s and on Daimhin’s faces. “Why are you so serious?” She turned around and rushed out of the room. “You are talking about me and when I go to hospital. Why can’t we forget for just one day?”
Hurriedly Daimhin followed her. He caught her by her elbow. Her heart hammered in her ears as he turned her to face him, his expression was serious.
She looked up at him hurt. “What were you and my mum talking about?”
“We were talking about us.”
“There is no us,” she insisted obstinately.
She looked up at him stubbornly.
The words on his lips escaped him. How could he tell her that being without her just does not feel right? When she died he might also die inside. Would she understand that when he held her, he wanted so much more? “Let’s stay up all night and watch movies,” he suggested.
She looked up at him. “I am serious, Daimhin, there can never be an us. Promise me.”
“We can stay up and watch the sun come up.”
She repeated herself, “Promise me, Daimhin.”
“Fine, whatever,” he said as he walked away from her. In the kitchen, he looked at Michelle and she saw the broken expression on his face.
She walked past him and patted him on the shoulder sympathetically. “Good night, Daimhin.”
When she saw Taylor still standing in the hallway, she touched her arm lightly. “Upstairs. Now, Taylor.”
Taylor did her best to keep the chaos inside of her to herself as she followed her mother up the stairs and into her room. As they entered the room, Michelle closed the door behind them. She asked sympathetically, “Do you think this is wise, Taylor?”
How could she even attempt to explain to her mother how she felt about Daimhin when she herself did not know? Taylor knew that the hope she held in her heart was dangerous. Nothing could ever come from anything between her and Daimhin, even if there was enough time for Daimhin to fall in love with her. She would have to tell him that their ways had to split on Monday because she would rather he remembered her as she was now. It would literally break her heart if she was in her hospital bed and she could see what could have been when she saw him standing next to her hospital bed. No. She must make the most of what she had with him now.
“We’re just friends, Mum.”
“That’s what he said, but I have difficulty believing it either way.”
Taylor felt a stab in her chest. She knew he did not love her, so why was it so painful? “He is just being nice to me and he takes my mind off everything else.”
“I am happy about that. You do not look so sad and sullen anymore, and I am glad you are getting out and you are not stuck in the house before you have to go and spend I don’t know how many days in the hospital.”
“Mum.” Taylor could not formulate the words. She could not crush her mother’s hopes and say that she doubted she would ever be coming home again. She said instead, “We’re going to be watching movies all night long and watch the sunrise in the morning.”
Her mother sighed acceptingly as she leaned into Taylor. She took her face between her palms and kissed her on the forehead. Her lips lingered for a long moment. When Michelle let her go, she said, “Go to sleep when you get too tired. Don’t over exert yourself.”
“Stop worrying, Mum. When I go to the hospital, I’ll have lots of time to rest.”
“Still, Taylor. Look after yourself.”
“Go on, before I take a belt to your cheekiness.”
Quickly Taylor said, “You know I love you, don’t you?”
“As if that will make me forget your cheekiness. Nag-Bear, really?”
Taylor left the room laughing.
When she walked back into the kitchen, Daimhin was leaning against the counter. She stopped as every nerve in her body wanted to gravitate toward him. She had to stop hoping there could be a different end. Taylor asked, “Do you want something to drink before we start watching movies?”
He shook his head, the movement almost unnoticed. He walked to her determinedly and taking her hand in his, he led her into the lounge. He scooped the remote control from the coffee table and switched on the television. As he sat down on the sofa, he pulled her down with him. She half fell on top of him.
She put a hand up to stop him as he leaned closer to her. Her palm landed on his chest and her fingers curled into the material of his t-shirt. She knew it would only take the slightest effort to push him away from her. Her mum was upstairs, all she had to do was protest loudly. His warm palm curved against her cheek, tipping her head back and his mouth lowered to hers.
He gave in to the urge he had ignored since Tuesday and he brushed his lips against hers. Her mouth was even warmer, even softer than he had imagined it would be.
She could not even find the will to whisper no. She could only melt under his touch. It felt as if her body was set on fire with the first touch of his tongue against her lips. She eased back into the chair at his gentle urging.
Then reality arrived. “Daimhin. Don’t,” she whispered as he pulled her closer to him. She wanted to throw herself at Daimhin, tear off his clothes and feel his skin under the palms of her hands. Which would have been horrifying, considering Daimhin’s indifference to her. He told her mother not even an hour ago that they were nothing more than friends.
Daimhin held himself in place only by sheer will as he stroked her cheek with his fingers.
She kept her eyes closed, he half wondered if she had fallen asleep. When she spoke, the trembling in her voice set off an ache inside him, “You have changed everything in my life, Daimhin, but you cannot change this. We shouldn’t.”
He felt moisture under his thumbs on her face. “Taylor?” He asked barely audible.
She turned her face away from him, edging sideways.
The ache inside him sharpened. He had let his actions overpower him. He scrambled for a way to make things right.
She drew in a long breath as she faced him again. “It’s been a long day.” She pressed closer to him, he felt warm against her and she felt strength drain from him into her. She moved from his lap and sat next to him, their arms touching.
Silently they watched the program on the TV and after a while, Taylor asked. “Do you want anything to drink?”
“No. Just stay here.”
Later, as he felt her relax as she fell asleep, he gathered her close to him. Her hair tickled his neck as he nestled her head against him. He whispered softly, “I’ll love you long after you are gone.”