Author’s Note: I’ve not only added a new chapter, but I’ve updated and increased the length of Chapter 15, so feel free to check that out!
Fin sighed, but his humor remained as he led me down the street.
“Is Ella really your grandmother?” I asked him.
“On my mother’s side,” Fin confirmed with a slight nod. “I would visit her often when in town.”
“And test the limits of her patience,” I teased.
His eyes sparkled. “I was an apt pupil in that study.”
“I’m sure,” I mused as we passed the many rustic and quaint homes. “So what does ‘wanty bolt’ mean?”
“In the old tongue it means ‘go away,’” Fin explained with a bit of a laugh in his words. “Nana often lapses into the old way of speaking when she’s excited.”
“She really didn’t have to go to all that trouble,” I insisted.
He shook his head. “She enjoys a challenge, even small ones, and you won’t find a better seamstress in the whole of the isles.”
The town climbed a gentle slope upward to a short hill. Atop the mound stood a white church with a quaint churchyard. Many of the gravestones were worn smooth by countless years of sea-sprayed winds, but great care had been taken to cut the grass around their bases and pull away the weeds and vines that threatened to extinguish the monuments to memory.
The church itself sported a gabled roof with a single steeple at the front, the peak of which stabbed the sky. A heavy bell hung in the tower with a long, fresh cord that disappeared into the church. The walls were whitewashed to perfection and a few of the windows were adorned with stained glass that glistened in the midmorning light.
We paused before the church as a man in a black cassock and white collar stepped out of the open doors. He was about sixty with white hair and a smile that captured the purity in his eyes and heart. In one hand was the Good Book and in the other he held a sprig of a white flower.
Fin returned the smile with one of his own and held out his hand. “Father MacTaggarts! How have you been?”
The Father tucked the flower against the book and shook Fin’s hand. “Very well, thank you! And I see you are as fit as ever for mischief.”
Fin laughed. “Everyone here as the memory of an elephant.”
“One can hardly forget the lad who stole the wafers before the service and ate them all himself,” MacTaggarts returned before he turned his attention to me. “And who have we here? A beautiful visitor to our fair parts?”
“Father MacTaggarts, this is Elizabeth Conroy,” Fin introduced us.
The good father held out his hand to me. “A pleasure, Miss Conroy.”
“Likewise,” I returned as I gave his hand a shake. I was surprised at the strength in that grip.
The good father’s eyes darted between Fin and me, and there was a mischievous look in them. “Might I say that you two make a beautiful couple.”
My cheeks reddened again and I shook my head. “It’s not like that. I’m just visiting for my vacation and Fin is showing me around.”
I expected some disappointment, but MacTaggarts’ smile only widened a little. “I see. Well then, as a guest to our fair islands I offer you our humblest greetings and a place to rest your feet and soul.” He gestured to the open doors of the church but his gaze fell on Fin. “Should this rapscallion tempt you with his wicked ways.”
“I’ll be sure not to tempt her immortal soul into perdition, Father,” Fin promised.
“See that you don’t,” MacTaggarts replied with a twinkle in his eyes. “But I must be off. The Good Work is not done standing in one place waiting for trouble to come to one’s doorstep.”
“Shall we see you later?” Fin wondered.
MacTaggarts chuckled. “They would be hard-pressed to be without me, but if you will excuse me.” He bowed his head to us and hurried back into the church.
I arched an eyebrow. “What was that about? That they couldn’t do without him?”
“The Good Father is always a welcome guest to the town’s events,” Fin explained as we continued on our way.
I flexed my fingers of the hand I’d shaken with the father. “I hope they don’t want to have an arm wrestling match with him.”
Fin chuckled. “In his younger days he was a bouncer for one of the seediest liquor dens in Glasgow.”
I whipped my head up and blinked at him. “Seriously?”
A little bit of Fin’s humor fled as he nodded. “Yes, and more then that he was quite good at his job.”
“So what made him throw away the brass knuckles for the white collar?” I asked him.
“The father won’t speak of the story himself, but I had heard that an incident with a gentleman he ruffed up too much was the reason he changed his profession,” Fin revealed as a little bit of his humor slipped off his lips. “After the incident he decided to devote himself to helping others find God instead of the pavement.”
I looked over my shoulder at the little white church with its cute bell tower. “Strange how life works, isn’t it? You never know what’ll change it.”
Something in Fin’s voice made me look up, and his intense gaze was squarely on me. I blushed and looked away. “S-so where are we going next? Is there a bartender who was once a vestal virgin?”
Fin chuckled. “Not that I know of, but many a patron will accuse one particular tender of being a witch in disguise.”
“Dealing in waters wines and beers?” I guessed.
He nodded. “That, and adding extra salt to the free peanuts to increase their appetite.”
We passed one of the lovely little cottages and a long bed of flowers caught my attention. “What was that flower that Father MacTaggarts was holding?”
“That was the heather flower,” Fin told me as he, too, glanced at the bed. “It’s considered good luck to have a sprig around the house.”
“Anything that pretty has to bring good luck,” I mused. Fin’s eyes shone with a peculiar light and he grasped my hand. My face lit up like a roman candle as I looked from his hand to his face. “W-what are you doing?”
We took a sharp leftward turn up the gentle hill and passed through two haphazard blocks of quaint cottages to crest the nob. I froze at the crest and gazed in awe at the beauty spread out before me. A field of fragrant heather stretched for miles in every direction, interrupted only by a single narrow dirt road that disappeared over the horizon.
“What do you think?” Fin asked me.
“It’s beautiful,” I breathed.
Fin led me down the border of the field and onto the road. The fragrant blooms tickled my nose with their hints of moss that reminded me of the sea at our backs. I stopped a few yards down the road and knelt before a large bunch of the flowers.
“Can I pick them?” I asked my native guide.
“As many as you like,” Fin replied.
Together we gathered up an armful and I returned to town with my heady bouquet cradled in my arms. More than one person smiled at me and gave a polite incline of the head to my companion, who returned the compliment.
“I think Nana might have your dress done by now, and we can borrow a vase from her for the flowers,” Fin mused.
We turned our steps back to Nana’s home and found the woman herself rocking furiously in a chair on the porch. Draped over the empty chair at her side was the dress, trimmed a little to fit my body.
A sly smile appeared on Fin’s face and he swept the flowers out of my hands. “You won’t be needing these for a moment.”
At our coming Nana shot to her feet with the speed of someone half her age and snatched the dress off the chair. “Come along now!” she shouted at us so that everyone in the neighborhood could hear. “Let’s see if this fits.”
Fin leaned down and lowered his voice to a whisper. “It will.”
I stepped up to the porch and Nana shoved the dress into my arms and wrapped her other arm around my lower back to guide me to the door. “Hurry along now! We don’t have all day!”
Fin glanced up at the sky. “We have two hours before the event.”
“You’ll be wanted before then,” Nana insisted as she dragged me inside. “And you’ll need some new shoes, too.”
“Will these do?” Mary spoke up as she appeared at the top of the stairs with a pair of short white heels in hand.
“Yes, but they must be cleaned!” Nana advised her as she whisked us past her helper and to the first door on the left. She opened the door and pushed me inside. “Now hurry!”
I stumbled into the room, a cozy bedroom with a simple bed and dresser, and caught myself before I crashed to the rug-covered floor. Nana shut the door behind me, but I could still hear the muffled voices in the hall.
“Nana, she’s not a rag doll,” Fin scolded his grandmother.
“She’s tough than she looks, but she’s fragile, too,” Nana returned, and I could just imagine her wagging one of her withered fingers at him. “Now don’t you go scaring her away now or I’ll spank you from here to Glasgow!”
Fin laughed, but there was a strain in his voice that I’d never before heard. “We’ll see, Nana.”
Their footsteps proceeded downstairs. Nana’s command rang in my ears as I hurried out of my clothes and into the dress. The simple but elegant attire fit me perfectly, and even accentuated my natural curves. A full-length mirror stood near the bed, and I admired myself for a few moments. Light streamed in through the lace curtains and reflected off parts of my dress. I rubbed my fingers over the speckles and felt some rock-like substance stitched into the lining.
A knock on the door made me jump, and Mary’s voice came through the wood. “Miss Conroy? I have your shoes.” I stumbled over my own shoes as I made my way to the door and opened the entrance. Mary stood on the threshold with the heels in hand and held them out to me. “I hope they fit.”
“Let me see,” I suggested. I leaned my shoulder against the door frame and slipped on first one and then the other. A perfect fit. “They’re very comfortable,” I complimented as I wiggled my toes.
“Miss Ella always did like to be comfortable,” Mary mused.
I looked up and blinked at her. “These are hers?”
Mary nodded. “Yes. She wore them for-”
“Mary!” Nana shouted from downstairs. “Is she dressed yet?”
“She’s coming!” Mary yelled back. She looked back to me and gave me a rue smile. “Ready?”
I brushed some of the wrinkles from the front and grinned. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
We walked downstairs and found Nana seated once more in her old chair. At her side on a small table was a vase filled with our flowers. She beckoned to me. “Come here.” I hurried to obey and Nana looked me over before she spun me around. “Not bad. You have almost as good a figure as I once had.”
“It’s quite good,” Fin spoke up.
I blushed under his compliment, but I noticed Nana studying the seams. “What’s the metal in the dress? It makes it shine like a starry sky.”
“Clam shells from the island polished until they shine as bright as the stars,” Nana explained as she brushed her wizened old fingers over the seams. “They are our pearls, and when the world was tougher they were our salvation from starving.”
“I don’t know if I can accept this dress,” I mused as I looked down at all the countless pieces of clams sown into the fabric.
“Nonsense,” Nana scolded me as she grasped my hands in hers and looked me square in the eyes. “You honor this dress with such a pretty face, and I wouldn’t give it up to you if I thought you weren’t worthy of wearing it.”
I smiled and leaned down to peck a light kiss on her forehead. “Thank you, Nana.”
Nana’s eyes widened, but she tamped down the upward twitch at the corners of her lips. “Now that’s enough of that. You two need to off and enjoying yourselves.”
“We will,” Fin promised as he offered me his arm.
“Thank you again,” I told her as I accepted his arm.
Nana waved her hand at me. “That’s enough of that. Now off you go.”
Fin guided me out of the room and Mary let us out the front door. She stepped out onto the porch and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Thank you.”
I blinked at her. “For what?”
“For giving her something to look forward to,” Mary explained as she glanced over her shoulder at the ajar door. “She didn’t want to see anyone because she was down, but now she’s perked up very well, and it’s all because of you.”
“Tell Nana I’ll save a dance for her at the party,” Fin spoke up.
Mary smiled and nodded. “I will.”
Fin led me down the few steps and across the flagstone path to the quaint arch. I paused and looked back over my shoulder. Nana stood at the window, and at my stopping she gave us a shooing motion. I waved and let Fin guide me down the street. A number of other people were headed in the same direction, and more than a few pairs of eyes settled on us.
“So what is this party we’re going to?” I asked my guide.
“Just a little gathering,” Fin told me.
I glanced around as the smattering of people turned into a steady flow. “Just a little gathering, huh?”
“Not more than a hundred people,” he teased.
We turned at the end of the block and walked toward a large, two floor home that stood proud and white among the smaller cottages. The creaking Victorian architecture had been painted to perfection and all the windows that out over the sea were decked in white curtains that billowed softly in a gentle breeze. A short picket fence surrounded the large lawn, and the steady flow of people walked under a large arch and around to the back of the house. The women were dressed in elegant clothes, but the men were the real eye-turners. They wore kilts under their jackets and some wore the berets.
We followed the crowd and turned the corner at the rear of the home. My jaw dropped as I recognized the tell-tale signing book, bouquets of white flowers atop pedestals strategically placed to trip up even the most nimble of folk, and Father MacTaggarts himself standing at the end of a long aisle and beneath an arch with the Good Book in hand.
We were at a wedding.