A Surprise Guest

The phone was ringing for what Anna thought was a ridiculously long time and all the while she could see Declan getting more irritated by the second.

"I told you we should have just went." he said, "it is pointless calling that house no one ever answers the damn phone."

"No", said Anna, "as I told you I am not turning up at your mother and fathers house uninvited that is not the proper way to do things."

"But you are in Ireland now; you can turn up at someone's house here, anytime, that's just the way it is."

All the while the phone kept ringing and Anna couldn't help but smile, "Don't they have an answer machine," she said as she raised her eyebrows in mock amazement.

Declans brow furrowed in a fierce scowl at Anna's joke yet he couldn't help but smile back as he noticed the mischievous look in her eye that he had come to love so different from the uptight Anna he had first met.

"Were lucky they even have a phone never mind the answer machine if Sinead hadn't put it in they would still be cut off from civilization, damn it they are cut off from civilization because they never answer the bloody thing."

Suddenly Anna heard a click and the phone stopped ringing on the other end and then a muffled female voice.

"Hi Ma, I was wondering what time were you having the dinner at? Ok good. Will there be anyone else there? Oh right. I was just asking because I wanted to bring someone over to meet you and Da. Perfect we will see you around two then."

Well said Anna "what did she say, was that it, you were very short and sweet?"

"Nothing much, she said they were having the dinner at three and Sinead and John would be there with the two girls."

Sinead was Declans oldest sister but as of yet Anna hadn't met any of the family. According to Declan she was supposedly the brains, she had studied law at Trinity where she met John her husband. They moved back to his home place in Cork where they had a small solicitor's office but the two girls took up the most of her time now and it was mainly up to John to run the business. She had been involved in the initial legalities of helping Declan buy the Caragh but had never visited there since; it was what she liked to call according to Declan a smelly old man's pub. Declan kind of implied that his sister was a bit stuck up, not quite unlike how he felt Anna was when he first met her.

"You two should get on famously," he had laughed.

Anna was a bit more nervous of meeting Sinead than Declans mother but what could she do, it was her idea so she turned quickly on her heel and headed for the stairs.

"I had better go get ready what time will we leave?"

She called back to Declan.

"Around one thirty should be ok" said Declan.

Anna was at odds what to wear she didn't want to be too formal or too casual and when she questioned Declan on the subject like most men he was utterly useless in that respect. "I actually prefer you in as little as possible," teased Declan, "but somehow I don't think it would be a good look to meet my parents."

She finally settled on a cream chiffon knee length dress interlaced with delicate floral embroidery around the bodice by Alexander McQueen and a pair of four inch black pumps. She decided to wear her hair down as she knew Declan liked it that way and to keep her makeup simple. She looked stunning and Declan told her so.

As she finished her makeup she shot the question at Declan, "hadn't you better get ready," who taking the hint to wear something respectable pulled out a decent shirt and a pair of slacks to go with the new sports coat Anna had bought for him.

The drive to his parent's house was spectacular, the narrow winding road took them though a long deep valley that was overlooked by rocky mountain crags and according to Declan the road would eventually end at the sea that glinted far in the distance. They passed a beautiful lake whereupon about a half mile farther on they turned onto a wide concrete lane lined with what looked like young ash trees. During the journey Anna had plenty of time to ask questions about the people she was going to meet. Declans father was a farmer and the house the O'Callaghans lived in was built on a high hill called Caraghmore that overlooked the surrounding area and most particularly the wide scenic lake which was alive on that leisurely Sunday afternoon with activity. The farm had been left to Patrick O'Callaghan as a wedding present by a late Uncle and had always been one of the finest farms for miles about. The oul boy as Declan referred to him had spent his life dairy farming and had accumulated more and more land through the intervening years until it had become one of the largest farms in the Dingle peninsula. However neither of the two O'Callaghan boys wanted the farm, Declan or Sean had not the slightest interest in farming much to their fathers chagrin and now that he was older he was unable to keep up with the responsibility even though one of his nephews was now lending a hand. Declans older brother Sean the first born of the family had trained to be a mechanic and opened up a small business in Tralee while he had been working part time as a long distance lorry driver. He now owned and operated his own local haulage company and was getting ready to expand nationwide.

As the little Renault spluttered to a stop in the driveway Anna stepped out to a panoramic view of the lake and the surrounding countryside all the way to the sea in the distance.

Declan heard her let out a little gasp,

"My God this is so beautiful I can't believe you grew up here!"

Declan shrugged and twisted his nose, "it's alright I suppose."

The family home was an old fashioned farmhouse which was on a slight rise at the back of the farm. It stood on its own not a remarkable house by any means but it was solid and pebble dashed an off white, the five windows set in the front where of a size and proportion that more or less pleased the eye around which ivy crept up to the cornices. One welcoming feature though was the huge front door which was painted a bright signal red and in the centre was an old fashioned brass knocker to call the occupants to come hither. However there was one aspect of the house which was simply breathtaking, the gardens, they were immaculate, obviously well cared for, a genuine labor of love on someone's part and the different colors' and ranges of floral that bloomed on display everywhere complimented the old farm house spectacularly. The garden was enclosed by tidy square cut hedges and high firs that were probably there for shelter as much as privacy and the lawn was flat and cropped like a bowling green. Declan saw Anna staring at the garden in obvious appreciation.

"My Ma's passion that is, she spends hours out here says it relaxes her especially when me Da's driving her mad."

Declan walked round to the side of the house.

"Are we not going in," said Anna puzzled as to why Declan was not knocking at the front door. She had the luxury that she hadn't quite learned the Irish culture yet, that the front door of an Irish home was for special guests and new acquaintances and that family and close friends always entered by the kitchen. It seemed though that Declan was forgetting his manners and force of habit led him to the side door into the kitchen where he was going to introduce his bride to be too a part of the house his mother was unlikely to want her guest to see just yet. As Anna followed him into a small ante room she was met by the sight of wellingtons and work boots lined up inside the door covered with what she could only imagine to be dried cow poo. From behind another door she could hear the heavy Irish brogue of loud male voices, there was an argument going on about some football match that had been played the Sunday before with the occasional swears thrown in for good measure.

"Hello all," said Declan as he opened the door and stepped in. Anna could see past Declan that they were in the kitchen and on one side of the room was a large wooden table with three heavy set young men in overalls eating dinner.

Donal was the first to speak,

"Declan boyo it's not too often we see you up here through the pish and the shit what are you up to lad."

Anna heard a feminine voice retort, "Donal O'Neill there is absolutely no need for that filthy language at my table if you cannot hold your tongue you can finish your dinner out in the yard."

Donal suitably chastised could only mumble, "sorry Mrs. O'Callaghan."

"Ma there is someone here I would like you to meet," said Declan with a big smile on his face and as he stepped aside Anna got her first glimpse of Maggie O'Callaghan standing beside the stove with a pot of spuds in her hands. She was in her early sixties, small with strawberry blonde hair tied up in a bun with a round kindly face and the same green eyes as her son. Over her house dress she was wearing a checked work apron and she was about to put another serving of potatoes out for the farm laborers. Suddenly the talk ceased as the three men caught sight of Anna and Jim Quigley sitting at the low end of the table let out a low whistle as he saw Anna standing in the doorway only to be followed by an expletive as Maggies hand clattered off the side of his head.

Maggie O'Callaghan turned to her son and Anna recognized that same fierce look she sometimes saw in Declans eyes when he wasn't happy about something, "Declan O'Callaghan did I teach you no manners at all why on Gods earth would you bring this young girl in here among these hooligans, out out out around to the front door with you," as she pushed him back out the way he came.

"Bloody hell Ma what gives."

"How could you embarrass me like this and this lovely young girl get round to that door and knock like a civilized human being."

Outside in the yard Anna could see that Declan was fuming she didn't know whether to laugh or sympathize at his predicament so she decided to say nothing,

"Jesus Christ," he muttered to himself as he kicked at a pebble in the yard, "all right lets go round to the front door and get this over with."

Declan took her by the hand and stomped around to the front of the house and knocked a little too hard on the door for Anna's liking. It seemed like an age until the door opened and finally there was Maggie O'Callaghan a wide smile on her face her hair combed smooth the checked apron gone and her green eyes twinkling with surprise as if the last five minutes had never happened. Anna was still amazed by the way that the Irish could switch on and off their emotions as the situation suited; Declan had told her it was something to do with their Celtic blood.

" Come in, come in and welcome so."

The hallway led down to the front room where Anna was introduced formally by Declan to his mother.

"Ma this is Anna Brady from Boston." said Declan quietly.

Anna reached out her hand to Maggie, "nice to meet you Mrs O'Callaghan Declan has told me so much about you that I feel as if I know you already."

Declan shot Anna a sideways glance of horror trying to recollect what he had told Anna.

Declans mother stepped inside Annas outstretched hand and gave Anna a brief hug, "That doesn't sound like my son," said Maggie, "but it is very nice of you to say so my dear. It is a pleasure to meet you Anna welcome to our home. Have a seat make yourself comfortable I will just get us some tea."

As Maggie retreated to the kitchen Declan let out a huge sigh of relief and plopped down onto a nearby love seat;

"Thank God that's over with."

"Your mother is lovely," said Anna smiling at Declan, who could only shake his head in amazement at how the female mind worked. As Anna sat on the couch she noticed the family pictures and portraits everywhere of christenings, first communions and weddings that adorned the pastel shaded walls of the front room a visual history of the last thirty something years of the O'Callaghan clan. This was Maggie's room a place where she introduced new acquaintances to the family it was all so much more personal than the formal parties Anna had hosted for Jeremy's parents and work colleagues in Boston the homely feel of the O'Callaghan house dispelled all of Anna's nerves and fears about her initial encounter with Declan's family.

"How many young women have you had sitting on this couch over the years," said Anna quizzically to Declan.

"You are actually only the second funnily enough the first time didn't end too well."

"Oh I see," said Anna, "then this is quite an honor," as she realized that Declan had ever only brought Kayleigh home to meet his mother but now for the first time she felt a little pang of jealously that someone else had won Declan's affections before her. "I am being silly," she thought to herself "how can I be jealous of someone I don't even know?"

Just then an expensive looking car pulled into the yard and parked near the front door and outside Anna could hear the playful shouts of young children. That must be Declans sister Anna thought to herself with her family once more her nerves began to creep back into the pit of her stomach as she straightened herself in the seat not knowing what to expect. The noise of the initial entrance coming from the kitchen was now subdued only to be replaced by a clatter of footsteps racing down the hallway to the front room as two dark haired young girls burst through the door and threw themselves onto the top of Declan. One was about eight and the other about five as best as Anna could figure.

"Uncle Declan," they shrieked as they smothered his face in kisses. "Whoa now," said Declan, "let a man breathe," but the kissing assault continued until Declan wrapped his arms firmly around their waists and the tickling commenced. The shrieks reached what could only be described as a fever pitch as Declan showed no mercy his long fingers moving from one rib to another as the small hands feebly tried to swat his tickling attacks away. A shout came from the kitchen Aoife and Maggie Curran you had better not have your feet up on Granny's couch. "We surrender," they shouted, "mercy Uncle Declan mercy." Anna smiled, obviously it was a ritual that was performed every time Declans nieces met him and the game over both girls settled down beside him on the seat his long arms still wrapped around them. It was just then that they noticed Anna sitting across from them and they went all shy. Aoife the youngest whispered something in Declan's ear, "She wants to know who you are," said Declan.

"My name is Anna it is nice to meet you both." Aoife looked over at Declan and said, "she talks funny." Declan laughed. "Aoife," said Maggie as she leaned over and pushed her sisters shoulder, "that's not nice she is not from here."

Declan laughed again, "that's right Anna is all the way from America she came here on an airplane to see me." Aoife thought about what he had just said before replying, "My Daddy has been to America he has a very important job and sometimes the people in America need his help because he says they are so stupid over there." "Aoife Curran what did you just say!" came a crisp cold voice from the door as all heads turned to find its source. Aoife buried her head in Declan's shoulder. In the doorway stood Sinead Curran tall and dark like her brother but apart from that none of her other features resembled Declan's in any way. She had the most piercing blue eyes that Anna had ever seen and at that moment they seemed to be looking right through her putting her under close scrutiny.

"Anna I must apologize for my children sometimes their Uncle has a strange effect on them. Oh! Declan don't you look smart," said Sinead as she appeared to notice his attire.

As she walked into the room Anna could see that she was very elegantly dressed long leather boots clad her shapely legs and her black knee length top coat was very stylishly cut, the designer was unmistakable, "that is a beautiful coat Sinead if I am not mistaken it looks like a Valentino."

"Oh I see Declan has mentioned me already. I can only wonder what he has been telling you," as she directed a long look toward Declan who seemed to squirm a bit in his seat. "You are of course correct it is a Valentino, you have a good eye for fashion Anna, John bought it for me the last time we were in the states, 1970's couture I believe."

"Yes and it was bloody expensive too but she had to have it," said a somewhat exasperated but very well spoken male voice from the door. "Hello Declan good to see you and this must be Anna?" John was slightly shorter than Declan with close shaved blond hair and had what Anna could only describe as a very honest face that looked somewhat older than its years. As he walked across the room he offered his hand to her with a warm smile, "Nice to meet you Anna, I hope my brother in law is treating you well."

"Oh yes marvelously." beamed Anna taking an instant like to John's amiable personality.

Just then Maggie came in with the tea, "I am afraid we will have to delay the dinner slightly your father is a bit tied up down at the sheds."

"It's not like Daddy to work on a Sunday." said Sinead. "Well one of the cows is calving and it seems to be not going to well. There now let me get back to the dinner, help yourselves to tea and biscuits and Anna darling don't be shy make yourself right at home."

Sinead helped herself to a cup of black tea and Anna was acutely aware that she was being watched, "So how long have you and Declan known each other?"

"Sinead that is not really a tea question is it," said Declan getting a little irritated by his sister. He realized that she was only doing the over protective big sister thing as she knew how low he had got when Kayleigh up and left him but he didn't want Sinead and Anna to get off on the wrong foot either. He loved his sister but he knew she could be a cold bitch sometimes and Anna once riled was more than a match for her.

"Ok that's fair I suppose maybe you could both tell us then how you met."

So between them Declan and Anna told the whole story leaving out of course the proposal part. Just then a Jeep rumbled into the yard as Maggie came back into the room, "Your father is finally here so if you could all make your way down to the dining room we can eat." Declan and Anna were the last out of the room, "are you sure you want to announce our engagement now," whispered Anna quietly to Declan, "I don't think your sister likes me too much."

"To be honest darling I don't think she likes anyone too much." said Declan as he clasped her hand firmly in his giving her fingers a little squeeze. "Let's go remember I love you and you love me and that is all that matters right now everyone else will just have to deal with it in their own way."