The morning sun streamed through Declan's bedroom window signalling the start of a new day. He hadn't been able to sleep all that well unsurprisingly, his mind constantly going over the events of the last few days. He shook his head and groaned inwardly. He realised he had a habit of opening cans of worms by doing something dumb. He was thankful it had stopped when it did and that he hadn't woken up this morning with Kayleigh in his bed. He wondered if she was up yet. Yes there was no denying it, they had been getting on really well since they'd met up. And their kiss last night had been wonderful, a real tender moment between them... but a full blown reconciliation? Could he really go there again? He wasn't sure. He'd always believed that once you'd been burned by an individual... well they'd always find a way to hurt you again, if you let them.
Plus, he realised, he was dealing with some pretty strong but conflicted feelings for Anna as well. Which was crazy he knew, I mean she was well and truly settled back into her own life again on the other side of the Atlantic. Far away from him.
His mind briefly took him back to the day they'd said goodbye in the hotel. What if he'd got to tell her how he felt about her before the cardiologist got in there first? How would she have reacted? She'd seemed a bit upset about the prospect of leaving and potentially never seeing him again. But was that just wishful thinking on his part?
A knock on his door broke his reverie. It was Kayleigh wondering if he was awake.
He had to say something in case she just let herself in.
"Ah yeah, I'll be down in a sec, would you stick the kettle on for us?" It's all he could muster as his brain was feeling pretty frazzled.
He knew he had to talk to Kayleigh, and with no airs and graces. If he was still hung up on someone else, even though she'd since disappeared from his life, it was only fair to let Kayleigh know where she stood. It was becoming clear that he couldn't possibly enter into any kind of relationship until he'd gotten over Anna from Boston a hundred percent.
Downstairs Kayleigh had made them both a cup of tea and was sat at one end of the main dining table. Declan walked in and took a long sip - it was heavenly. This lady certainly knew how he liked his morning cuppa. Momentarily he considered whether this kind of familiarity was enough to paper over the cracks of their messy past, and drive Anna out of his head.
It took Declan just a second to realise. No, it isnt..
He sat down opposite Kayleigh. Ok here goes..
"Kayleigh.." He fidgeted with his hands. "Erm Kayleigh.." He was very aware he was starting to sound like a broken Marillion record.
"I'm sorry for what happened last night upstairs. I dunno why I did that. Maybe too much to drink..."
Which upon saying, Declan immediately realised his error - she knew damn well he hadn't drunk anything all night as they'd been working flat out in the bar until the last punters left.
He recognised his blunder and knew he'd just have to come clean instead.
"Ok.. no.. well.." He genuinely didn't know where to begin.
To his surprise Kayleigh moved to sit closer too him and took his hands into hers. "Declan, please don't worry about it. I'm absolutely fine and I won't take it any further, I promise".
Could she really see what was going on in his head? The thought unnerved him.
She continued. "I had an inkling that perhaps you're hung up on someone else anyway".
"Did you?" How did she know this stuff?
"Yeah well Joe mentioned an American girl who came last week looking for a ride to Dublin. He said you'd offered to drive her even though I imagine it was probably the last place you wanted to go." She gave a small laugh. "They all thought you'll kill each other by the time you got there!".
Declan thought of Anna's face when he'd introduced her to his beloved Renault 4, it was a look of sheer distaste and contempt, let's face it. Still the memory made him smile.
"Have you fallen in love with her?" Kayleigh's blunt to the point question nearly winded him. What?!
He pondered this for a second or two. Had he?
Even if he had it couldn't be real love could it? He'd already established that he and Anna were as different as night and day.
But Kayleigh had taken charge by now. What the hell had changed in her since last night?
"Declan... I really do love you... so much, you mean the world to me.. And I'm SO sorry for hurting you, I wish I could take back the terrible things I did to you.." Kayleigh looked as if she was going to cry again. Oh sweetheart, please don't..
"But if you've found someone else that deserves you more than me then I'm sorry pal you need to jolly well do something about it.. If we're not going to be together then I'm gonna need it to be for a very good reason indeed!" Kayleigh was acting jovial and with humour but was it all a cover up for how she was really feeling, Declan wondered.
If he was confused before then he was messed up beyond comprehension now. It was all very well Kayleigh saying these things and being lovely and understanding - essentially he'd been let off the hook which was a huge relief. But was he ever going to see Anna again? Unlikely. So what was the point?
Thankfully the rest of Declan's morning passed by without so much of a thought of his ex or his "lost love". A group of English backpackers had descended onto Dingle so the Caragh had been frantic from mid morning.
Anna looked around at the signs hanging from the ceiling of the arrivals hall at Dublin Airport. She had retrieved Louis already and was looking for a taxi or transfer service. She had no idea how long a cab would actually take to get to Dingle as the last time she arrived it had been via a dodgy boatsman on his fishing trawler. She giggled inwardly at the memory of having to trudge across the beach in her Jimmy Choos.
At least she'd had the sensibility to wear flats this time.
It was mid afternoon by the time she drew up to a familiar painted brick building. It had seemed like the longest drive.. Had she indulged in a nap on the ride? Maybe. She stepped out of the taxi, grabbed Louis and made her way up to the entrance of The Caragh.
Anna steeled herself. "So.. its now or never Brady"
Slowly she opened the door to the public house. It was so busy. Much busier than she'd remembered but, then, what did she know? She'd only been here for one day before, perhaps it was usually like this.
She quickly scanned the room for any familiar faces - no Joe or Seamus and there was definitely no sign of Declan. That was ok though, she had a plan. Well she would.
A staff member who she didn't recognise was manning the bar. Anna placed her order and sat down.
She sat back in her seat and considered what Mr O'Callaghan was going to make of her unexpected arrival. She hadn't imagined it, there definitely had been a spark between them and a brief moment of "what if?" in the hotel shortly before Jeremy had caught up with her. Oh how she hoped Declan was going to react positively to what she had to say.
The chicken pie she'd ordered arrived and, as expected, it was absolutely delicious. Exactly what she needed after flying 3000 miles. It was almost too tempting to just throw off her little plan and devour the lot but she knew she had to get his attention. However less than a minute later she discovered she didn't need to, for the door to the kitchen opened and out walked the man himself. It took him all of a nanosecond to spot her and he stopped dead in his tracks, staring open-mouthed at her. Anna suddenly felt hugely reassured, he obviously was affected by her too. She stood up and began to walk towards him.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he asked.
"Typical" she replied but in no way offended. "Rude as ever". And so damn gorgeous..
"Well, Declan O'Callaghan.. I'm here to tell you that I've flown all the way from Boston to check in with you, see how my Transatlantic friends are..". He raised an eyebrow. Her sarcasm has gone through the roof since she'd met him. Well it wasn't exactly a lie.
However seconds later a woman passed through the kitchen door and hovered behind Declan. Anna thought she looked vaguely familiar but couldn't pinpoint how or why. And then the terrible realisation dawned... It was the blonde from the photo she'd found in the wardrobe, Declan's ex-fiancée... what's her name, Kayleigh?
For the second time in two days Anna found herself at the centre of a hellish reality in which she just wanted to be swallowed up by the ground beneath her. Her breathing quickened and she suddenly realised that she might start crying uncontrollably right there in front of the whole pub. She surveyed the evidence, looking from Kayleigh to Declan and the enormity of the situation became clear. He'd obviously gone to see Kayleigh whilst in Dublin to get his mother's ring back - like Anna had urged him too - and now it seemed they had reconciled. She closed her eyes for a beat. She'd unwittingly brought the two of them back together. Her fault. It was too much. She needed to get out of there and fast.
Declan watched Anna turn on her heels and run out of the pub. "Anna, wait..!" What was all that about?
And as he turned and clocked Kayleigh standing a couple of feet away it dawned on him. Anna must have seen them together and jumped to the wrong conclusion. Well who could blame her - they really did look like the landlord and his wife standing there behind the bar.
Oh Jesus! He had to find her and explain. He was not losing her for a second time . He turned and ran back through the kitchen, taking the stairs two at a time to reach his bedroom. He collected the precious item from his top drawer and slipped it into his jeans pocket before heading back down.
"Kayleigh can you hold the fort please?" He paused for a second to take her in. Yes, he concluded, she was still beautiful. Inside and out. He'd seen a whole vulnerable side to her in the last week and knew he would have a friend for life in her. But that's all. He wondered if she was hurting inside. He genuinely hoped not.
But she wasn't the priority any more, Anna was.
He walked up to Kayleigh and gave her a kiss on the cheek "Im sorry.."
But she gave him a weak smile and batted his hand away "Don't be you eejit.. Just go and get her Decco".
Anna stood on the edge of the cliff looking at the waves crashing against the rocks down below. She looked around at the scenery that surrounded her - this place was truly stunning.
Yet she was in a dark dark place.
How on Earth had she got this so wrong? She acknowledged that losing Declan to someone else left her feeling more broken hearted than finding out rat-boy Jeremy had only wanted her for an apartment. How could Declan just disregard the past and take back the woman who'd betrayed him in the worst way possible? It didn't make sense.
She moved closer to the edge and peered down. It was a sheer drop. There was one way to stop all of this pain..
But she couldn't go through with that, she knew. Declan would have it on his conscience for the rest of his life and that wasn't on. See she was still thinking only of him, when all was said and done, everything came down to Declan at the end of the day. The one that got away..
Anna wondered briefly what she was going to do, obviously she would book on to the next flight back and consider her options back home. Perhaps a move closer to her mom in Seattle.
A familiar voice distracted her thoughts. "Mrs O'Brady Callaghan, where the HELL are you going?
What was he doing here? Why had he followed her?
She turned to see Declan standing before her, his hair blowing gently in the afternoon breeze. Why is this guy so goddamn hot?
"Declan.. What are you doing... Where is your girlfriend? ...Or is the engagement all back on again?"
He gave her a sympathetic look. His conclusion had been correct, she had got the wrong end of the stick.
He took a deep breath
"Anna... me and Kayleigh aren't back together and we never will be. We've just been looking out for each other lately, that's all". He paused. "We both needed a friend..." He looked thoughtful for a second. "And despite what she did in the past, she's turned out to be a very decent friend actually"
But she wasn't Anna.
He knew he'd tell Anna about his close encounter with Kayleigh in the pub one day but that wasn't for here or now. There was something else he needed to do. He produced the ring from his pocket and held it out in the palm of his hand. "I wouldn't be holding this ring if it wasn't for you, so thank you"
He slowly sank down on to one knee and held the ring up between his thumb and index finger. He looked deep into her eyes.
"Miss Anna Brady from Boston, would you do me the honour of being my wife? He looked down at his positioning, his knee on the wet ground. "And I'd appreciate an answer soonish if you don't mind as it's already a bit damp down here"
Anna was on the brink of bursting with sheer unadulterated joy and happiness. This was probably the easiest question she'd ever have to answer.
"Yes, of course I'll marry you. You eejit. I love you Declan, so much"
He stood up and swept her up in his arms, lifting her off the ground. And as they kissed in the bask of the evening sunset Declan realised he finally had everything he ever wanted AND needed.
"Not as much as I love you... Bob"