Suddenly Anna was as nervous as she had ever been in her life. This is ridiculous she thought to herself as she followed Declan to the dining room 'you entertained some of the wealthiest and most prominent citizens of Boston over the years and at some of the parties you attended with Jeremy you had conversed easily with the elite of America'. Yet here in Ireland everything was different it was a strange land with strange customs and she was a foreigner an outsider, for the first time since returning to Declan she was totally unsure of herself was she really ever going to be able to understand these people let alone fit in with them. She had that same terrible feeling in the pit her stomach that she had as a small child many years ago when their home had been repossessed, it was Christmas Eve and while her Mother and Father argued manically downstairs she sat in her room crying her worldly possessions packed in boxes around her not knowing where she was to go or what she was to do. As she walked along the hall those same feelings of uncertainty began to suffocate and enclose her so much that she wanted to wrench open the front door and run. Just then Declan turned around and smiled straight at her his eyes sparkling with happiness and immediately almost instinctively her hand felt for his. As his strong fingers enclosed hers the panic subsided and she felt an aura of warmth emanate from his touch as if by magic it flowed up her body to still her racing heart. Declan gave Anna a cheeky wink and let her lead the way into the dining room with its waiting guests.
The dining room of the O'Callaghan home was an extension that had been built onto the rear of farmhouse. It was something of a cross between a dining room and a conservatory where the huge dining table was surrounded on three sides by picture windows that encapsulated the panoramic views of the distant lake. The room was bathed in a natural light that complemented the fine blue Denby china and sterling silver cutlery that sparkled on the lavish table, while the pastel colors and bold accents of the room highlighted the obviously feminine soft furnishings. Anna was enthralled with the room it was obvious that Declan's Mum had impeccable taste and an eye for detail it would have been impossible she felt to have done a better job herself. Suddenly Anna was aware of Maggie standing behind her, "This is a fabulous room Maggie". "Well Anna it wasn't always like this" said a smiling Maggie "especially not when the children were growing up, it was a bit more, rough and ready but now we only really use it on a Sunday if we have company". Her arm glided around Anna's waist and directed her to a chair beside John. ""John darling", said Maggie "I am going to be put Anna beside you as I know you will have lots to talk about." In the kitchen the back door banged open and a strong male voice shouted, "Maggie is the dinner ready I am half starved that damn cow wouldn't calve, thank god it's over with though I thought I was going to lose them both, the only problem is that hoor of a vet wants to charge me double for coming out on a Sunday." In the dining room the talking stopped as Maggie raised her eyebrows to the surrounding company in silent apology and excused herself to confront her errant husband.
Patrick O'Callaghan stood in the middle of the kitchen floor six foot three inches tall in his stockinged feet the sleeves of his checked shirt rolled up and his blue overalls rolled down to his waist. As Maggie walked into the kitchen he scowled "is that Declan's car in the yard now many times have I told him not to park there he's blocking the whole place. Dinner not ready yet then?" as he looked at the unset kitchen table." "We have company for dinner Patrick so we will be in the dining room and please go upstairs and put on a clean shirt." The hairs on Patrick's arms practically bristled, "what is so damn important that I have to get dressed up at my own table." Maggie was beginning to get irritated, "Declan has brought someone to meet us and I will not have you upsetting things you have five minutes now upstairs quickly I laid out a clean shirt for you on the bed." Suitably chastised her husband stomped upstairs muttering to himself about the poor state of affairs in his own home. In the dining room it had been impossible to help but overhear the conversation and Anna blushed at being the supposed center of attraction and the reason for Patrick O'Callaghan's discomfort. As Maggie brought the soup into the room her husband stepped in behind her and took his seat at the head of the table he was wearing a baby blue shirt that his broad shoulders and chest seemed ready to burst out of. As Patrick sat down he looked directly at Anna the piercing blue eyes as inquisitive as those of his daughters soaked up every detail of Anna's face. Quickly Anna kicked Declan from below the table who looked up startled, he had been talking to his nieces and had been oblivious of his father coming in. As he met Anna's gaze it suddenly dawned on him to introduce her, "Dad this is Anna Brady a friend of mine from America." Anna cringed at the remark friend is that all he could think of friend? Patrick O'Callaghan smiled and his eyes glinted the same way Declan's did when there was mischief in his mind, "A friend you say she seems to pretty to be just a friend." Anna blushed. "If I am not mistaken Brady would be a Cavan name would it not Anna." To be honest Anna didn't really know, all she really knew was that her great grandfather had emigrated from Ireland but where they actually came from she couldn't say, not even that she could say where Cavan was anyway. "I think that is correct Mr. O'Callaghan." "The name is Patrick and welcome to you Anna, Cavan woman or not." All the while they had been sitting at the table Sinead had been silent, in her mind she had been intensely aware of the coming encounter between her father and Anna and she was not a little aggrieved by her father's instant congeniality towards Anna. But then a pretty face always had an untoward effect on the male psyche and Anna was indeed pretty. With her red hair and pale skin she was the picture that afternoon of a perfect Irish rose while her blushes due to Patrick O'Callaghans compliments, only made more acute her exquisite beauty. While Maggie was clearing the soup course John had opened the wine and was pouring for everyone and as usual left out Patrick who wasn't really much of a drinker. "Are you not going to pour me a drop John," said Patrick in mock horror. "I thought I would celebrate our two new additions to the family." Sinead spoke first as she looked up in shock, "what two new additions would that be Daddy?" Her eyes immediately darted to Anna who looked demurely down at her wine glass. Sinead's mind was racing with apprehension my god she's pregnant and Daddy knows but how does he know. Patrick O'Callaghan had a mischievous look on his face as Maggie came back, "what nonsense is your father talking now," she said half laughing. "I was just about to toast the two latest additions to the O'Callaghan's, Anna and my new calve," he quipped. John burst out laughing as he raised his glass, "that certainly deserves a drink here's to you Anna definitely the better addition of the two." Anna laughed as well,"I suppose it's an easy comparison to live up to John." "Well to be honest now Anna you are in Kerry and I would be hard pressed to say what Kerry men love more their women or their cattle but I suppose the cows are easier handled, the Kerry women can be a bit feisty from my experience," as John secretly nodded his head toward Sinead who stuck her elbow into his ribs. The food was delicious the majority of it provided by the farm, lamb from the spring flock, vegetables from the garden and dessert was a home baked apple pie with fresh cream from the dairy. Patrick sat back in his chair contented, he had addressed most of his remarks toward Anna during dinner, "As you see Anna we are pretty much self-sufficient here the farm nearly provides all we need accept someone to take over from me." Anna was acutely aware of Declan shifting uncomfortably in his seat as the last remark was obviously aimed at him. "Took me a lifetime to build all you see here and it would seem that it was all for nothing." "Dad how many times do we have to go over this I am not interested in farming," said Declan. "But you will serve beer and whisky to all those drunkards in Dingle," countered Patrick. "We do more than serve alcohol I have a nice restaurant and I love to cook what's so wrong with that." "There's nothing wrong with it son apart from the fact you are up to your eyes in debt and if hadn't been for the village bailing you out you would be on the street." Declan's face turned crimson and his eyes dropped to the table in embarrassment. Maggie quickly interjected her husband before he could continue "Hardly for nothing, shame on you Patrick O'Callaghan I won't tolerate that type of talk at this table be grateful for what we have, a fine healthy family, beautiful grandchildren and a good roof over our heads. These children have their own lives to lead their own families to raise, but rest assured they will survive with or without us and this farm." Sinead reached over and squeezed her mother's hand it was an old story one that always came up at every family gathering and never failed to damper the good humor. John cleared his throat and excused himself "I am going to step out for a cigarette Pat will you join me." John was the only one who called him Pat and Patrick suitably abashed at spoiling the moment gratefully accepted the invitation. "Capital idea John." Sinead helped her mother clear the table. Anna spoke quietly to Declan," your Dad is a very nice man so different from mine." Declan lifted his head as if he had just snapped out of a trance and gave Anna a half smile. "Yeah I suppose he has his moments." Maggie popped her head back in to the room, "I think we will take our tea in the front room I will just go down and light the fire."
Out on the patio Patrick and John were talking over their cigarettes, "Did Declan really nearly lose the bar Pat?" "Yes so I'm told, I don't know how much longer he can go on the way he is," Patrick was exasperated he was turning 60 at the end of the year and the scare with his heart six months prior had made him re-evaluate his dynasty. As he looked around the vast expanse of his land he said quietly to himself, "and what am I to do with all this?" John looked up thinking the remark was for him, "no use asking me Pat I wouldn't know a bull from a heifer if they both stood up in divorce court together." Patrick laughed at the analogy, "ok I'm going in I suppose I will have to make up for my outburst," suddenly he stopped, "who is that young girl with Declan anyway?" "I don't really know much about her this is my first time meeting her but I will tell you this for nothing American or not I never saw anyone more Irish in my life."
In the front room Maggie had lit the fire and Sinead had kicked off her long boots and was curled up in one of the corner armchairs like a cat watching her brother and Anna. Declan and Anna were on the couch and Anna had her arm interlocked through his uncomfortably aware of Sinead's stare. Declan lost in thought was still sullen from the encounter with his father, "Oh for God's sake cheer up Declan, Daddy didn't really mean it, he just has a lot on his mind at the moment." said Sinead haughtily. "That doesn't give him the right to piss on my pub though does it," Declan countered angrily. "Well I have to agree with him. I as much as told you so anyway when you first bought the place, don't get me wrong you are a good chef but it takes more to run a business than being good at cooking." Anna could hear the sanctimonious tone in Sinead's voice and she had to bite her lip. "I don't know what you thought you were going to achieve by taking over that place anyway it might have been as well, if you had lost it." Anna couldn't listen any longer, "your wrong Sinead I think you underestimate Declan. He is not just a good chef he is a great chef and the food at the restaurant is exceptional did you know he only uses local produce to ensure everything is as fresh as possible. What's more he plans to renovate the rooms and the restaurant and yes he knows it's a little pub that doesn't make much money but it has huge possibilities and all it really needs is a woman's touch. Not one person has ever supported Declan since the day he bought it but I intend to change that." Declan was speechless in fact so was Sinead he had never heard anyone talk to her like that before and his sister usually full of confidence had no reply to Anna's rebuke. As Declan took Annas hand and kissed it something caught Sineads eye for the first time glinting in the firelight the Claddagh ring on Annas finger reflected the crackling flames. "Is that Mummys ring?" Anna nervously covered one hand over the other frighteningly aware that the secret was out as she looked at Sinead in abject horror. Declan looked at Sinead coldly, "Yes it is Sinead. We are engaged but you are to say nothing not even to John I mean it I want to tell Mum and Dad myself." Anna excused herself knowing Declan needed to talk to his sister," I think I will see if Maggie needs any help." After Anna left Sinead uncurled herself from the seat and leaned closer toward Declan, "But you barely know her." said Sinead. "I know all I need to know; I love her and want to be with her forever." My God thought Sinead he is like a lovesick schoolboy how could he be so stupid the last one took him for a ride and here he was again falling head over heels down the same old road. His sister's face turned a terrible sneer, "just like Kayleigh." Declans body balked like he had been shot, why had Sinead to bring that up, the one name that was guaranteed to ruin his happiness in an instant. An image of her face flooded into his conscious her golden hair, the bright blue eyes and that smile, he would have given his life for Kayleigh and she nearly took it when she left him. "That was a long time ago," said Declan trying to chase the memory of her from his mind. "What did you know about her either," said Sinead with derision, "You always did wear your heart on your sleeve when are you ever going to learn." "Better than being a cold fish like you, you should get your own house in order," responded Declan. "Before you rearrange mine." Declan immediately saw that he had gone too far as the tears welled up in her eyes, "I am sorry Sinead," Sinead had told him about John in confidence a few years ago when he was going through the break up with Kayleigh how John had nearly left her just after they were married. She was an American, John had met her on a business trip to New York and the affair had lasted almost a year off and on. John didn't even know that Declan knew as Sinead had sworn him to secrecy. John was a good father and husband in all aspects apart from that one indiscretion, a good man. Declan liked him a lot but he was a fool and sometimes a fool can be easily persuaded especially when he is far from home and everything he loves. At that moment Patrick walked in, "you two fighting again some things never change." "No we were just talking" said Sinead. "But I think Declan has something to tell you," she quickly added as she got up and walked out. "Bitch," thought Declan "what the hell I'm I going to do now." He had had it all planned out in his head Pat and Maggie him and Anna no one else around over a cup of tea. "Well I supposed I had better get it over with." In the chair Anna had vacated Patrick had put on his glasses and was fiddling with the remote control, "Declan what channel is RTE on this thing there is probably a national league game just started. I will be damned if I know how to work this one I am very rarely in this room your Mother doesn't allow me." Declan looked straight at him, "Da myself and Anna are getting married." Patrick didn't even look up "married you say now who's idea was that?" "Well it was mine said Declan getting exasperated. "When is all this going to happen then?"said Patrick still poking at the control. "Da for Gods sake put that thing down and listen this is important." "Of course it's important and marvelous and exciting," said Maggie as Declan turned to see her at the door and behind her smiling nervously was Anna. "Well son I wish you both the best of luck now change this thing over too RTE One." Declan laughed and shook his head and quickly flipped the channel over as the room filled with the raucous noise of a football match. Maggie hugged Declan and gave Anna a huge kiss on the cheek "this calls for a celebration, "she said "truly welcome to the family Anna."