§ § § - August 16, 2006
At roughly the same time, Miranda, who hadn't seen her brother all morning, was just finishing her own lunch, picking desultorily at a plate of fruit Julie had set out and watching Rory splashing in the pool with a few children of some of the B&B guests. After a while Julie came out to retrieve the plate and paused to peer at her sister-in-law. "You okay?"
Miranda looked up, squinting in the sun, and asked a question that surprised even her. "What happened to Rogan?"
Julie let out a laugh and glanced away to her left. "Gosh, haven't you figured out that guy by now? He spends so much time in the greenhouse, I'm constantly teasing him about taking root in there. He's not exactly antisocial, he just prefers the company of plants, I guess. If you don't mind the humidity level in there, feel free to go in and beard him in his den. I'm about done, I'll stay out here and watch the kids."
Miranda smiled, thanked her, and waited till she had come back out without the plate before pushing herself to her feet and strolling toward the greenhouse with more assurance than she felt. She and Rogan hadn't spoken since their unfortunate argument in the kitchen the previous morning, and Miranda had gone so far as to eat at the pond restaurant before returning to the B&B. Then she'd dawdled much too long before coming to breakfast today and finding herself the only one at the table. Julie usually didn't provide lunch for B&B guests, feeding herself, Rogan and Rory as a general rule. Miranda, as family, had been included in this group, but she had been quite surprised when Rory had come out of the greenhouse bearing what amounted to a lunch order from Rogan. Julie had grumbled, but had prepared the food he'd asked for and sent Rory back with it.
Well, Miranda mused, Julie was probably right, it was past time Rogan came out of his cocoon. She'd been thinking for many hours now about her talks with Leslie and Roarke the previous afternoon, and had come to the conclusion that Roarke was right and she and Rogan needed to have a long and serious talk. Even if it didn't result in their seeing eye-to-eye about their father, maybe at least they could finally feel at ease with each other and become friends.
She entered the greenhouse and meandered through the rows of exotic plants, many of which she had never seen before, pausing often to examine and sniff a particularly enticing bloom, before at last fetching up against a wall in which was set a door that bore the following sign: Knock Before Entering! Unannounced Visitors Will Be Composted. The message made her grin in spite of herself before she lifted her fist and rapped on the wood a few times. She was rewarded with a muffled, "Who's there?"
"It's Miranda," she called.
There was a moment's silence, leaving her uneasy enough to wonder if she had damaged her relationship with her brother beyond repair; then she heard footsteps, and the door opened enough for Rogan to poke his head through and regard her. "Hello."
"Hi," she said uncomfortably. "I…I hoped we could talk a bit."
Rogan shrugged. "If ye like," he said, pulling the door back enough to admit her and then closing it after her.
She swept her eyes across the three long tables crammed with plants far stranger than those in the main greenhouse, but less colorful and attractive, then turned and offered, "I like your sign."
For a second Rogan looked blank, then his face cleared and he grinned. "Works on everybody but Julie and Rory. So what brings ye here, then?"
Miranda glanced around for a place to sit, came up short and leaned awkwardly against one of the tables. "Well…I was talking with Leslie yesterday, and she explained to me exactly what happened when Daddy died. So…so I know the truth of things. But it was Mr. Roarke who convinced me to come and talk to you. He said it's not me you resent, so much as the way Daddy treated you versus the way he treated me, and that's what colors our respective memories of him. I was hoping that…well, that before we start to talk, for now we might agree to disagree."
Rogan regarded her without moving for a few seconds, then nodded and cracked another smile, gentler this time. "All right, I'll take ye up on that. So what exactly do ye want to talk about? Da, or his attitudes, or what?"
"Well…I know you remember him as brusque and resentful and disagreeable, and I remember him as loving and caring. I suppose it's got into my head to wonder why we saw two such opposite sides of him, when we're probably the only two children he had."
Rogan nodded, then dragged two wooden stools away from a wall behind some tall plant that looked to Miranda like a brilliant scarlet-and-purple weeping willow with arrow-shaped leaves. "I think we'll need these." They seated themselves and made themselves as comfortable as they could; Miranda noticed her stool's legs were slightly uneven and shared a laugh with Rogan over the wobbly nature of the thing before they looked at each other. Then Rogan said, "Tell me what you remember of Da's finding you."
"That's just it, I don't. I was a baby. Mr. Roarke's looking into my true origins, but he doesn't seem to have turned up anything yet. I'd rather hear your story. I know only that your mother died and left you with Daddy."
He nodded again. "My mother was Caitriona Callaghan, and it's possible she might have been some relation to Julie's family, but we don't know for certain. And she didn't exactly leave me with Da. I had to find me own way to him."
"I don't understand," Miranda said, blinking in confusion.
Rogan slowly raked a hand through his hair, his eyes sliding out of focus as he cast back into his memory. "Well, now, let's see…I was fourteen, a scrap of a boy, too small for me age. I was Mum's only child, and it was my understanding that when her family discovered she was expectin' me, they cast her out to fend for herself and disowned her. The only reason I survived was that she took shelter in an abandoned cabin and gave birth to me there, and then took to the roads again, looking for family that might take her in. My first memories are of travelin'. She hunted up one side of Ireland and down t'other afore she realized at last that no one was takin' us. We were truly on our own, and Mum was already sick as it was. She eventually took us to Dublin and we became street beggars."
"Oh," breathed Miranda.
"Mind ye, this was in days long, long past, long afore there were such things as electric lights and running water. I take after Da's side of the family for longevity. By an' by, a rich citizen took some pity on her and hired her on as scullery wench in his mansion, and gave us a room we shared. I slept in a trundle beside her bed, and I eventually got assigned to garbage detail—collectin' the refuse in every room in th'place and takin' it out. But even with this job, we still never got enough to eat. The servants had evolved a caste system of sorts, and those who'd been there longest were at the top of the totem pole. We were the newest, thus treated the worst, and that translated into food rations. The tenured servants ate the best, and we got what little was left over, which wasna very much.
"Mum had what they called 'consumption' in those days—they call it tuberculosis now. It was a slow progression with her. She used to take some kind of secret medicine to ward it off and try to stay healthy. It worked till I was about twelve or thirteen, and then she began to decline and her tonic couldn't keep up with it. She knew what was comin', and took to tellin' me about me da and his family. She told me over an' over again, when she was gone, I was to go lookin' for them. She described Da to me in such detail, there was no way I could have missed him when I saw him. It occurred to me at some point that from the way she talked about him, she must have loved him very much, and when I asked, she said it was true. I couldn't understand why she left him if that was the case, and she explained that she hadn't wanted to burden Da with the fact of her illness, so she'd slipped away from him.
"So when she finally died soon after I turned fourteen, the master of the house went so far as to give her a decent burial, but then he said I was too small and scrawny to take on her job, and kicked me out. I asked him if he knew of folk named Roarke, but he said he'd never heard of them and gave me a shove to press his point. I got the message all right, and set off walkin'. I was figurin' up one coast and down t'other, just as Mum had to do when I was a tot, but I was lucky for once. I'd barely got a hundred paces down the road out o' Dublin when I met up with a family member—this island's Mr. Roarke, Da's cousin. When he heard me story, he bade me travel wi' him, and took me into some secluded part o' the country where the clan was livin'. There were a lot o' us at that time. I described Da to him as Mum had told me, and he took me right to him.
"Da was shocked when I told him me story, an' right off he was furious. I didn't understand why he was railin' so much, and now that so much time has passed, I can't remember most of what he said." Rogan paused a moment, frowning with the effort to recall his father's words. After a long time, during which Miranda began to notice how hard the wooden stool was beneath her rear end, Rogan mused slowly, "Y'know, now that I think about it, I think he was angry because I came alone, without Mum. I think maybe he would've taken her back gladly, even if I came with the package…but since it was just me, he was upset. I seem to recall a lot of 'Why didn't she trust me? Why did she leave me?' It seems to me," he concluded, peering at Miranda with surprise glinting in his irises, "that he musta felt cheated somehow. That Mum had kept me to herself, and instead of bringin' me to him personally so she could see him one last time, she simply died in isolation and sent me off to find me own way." He sighed gently. "I look quite a bit like me mum, so I'm sure he was reminded o' her every time he looked at me. I stayed with him till I was eighteen, and the day after me birthday, I took off for less hostile environs." He shook his head. "Let me tell ye, little sister mine, it was a damned tryin' four years."
"Do you mean that you and Daddy never got along?" Miranda asked.
Rogan made a barking sound that she supposed was meant to pass as a laugh. "Aye, there's a colossal understatement for ye. We just never saw eye-to-eye on anythin'. Every time I could, I got away, mostly to Da's cousin. Uncle was a wanderer by nature, I think, but he musta sensed I needed a more stable father figure than Da was willin' to be, and stuck with the clan enclave till I was old enough to leave. An' he it was who taught me about the powers I inherited from his side of the family, and some about how to use them. He fed me a trawler-load of plant lore when he noticed where my interests lay, and gave me the secrets of many a plant most humans think is either extinct or just plain fictional. He taught me enough about amakarna to be able to grow the stuff, insofar as it allows itself to be grown by anyone." He smiled wryly at that and indicated the three tables Miranda had first seen when he'd let her in. "That's it right there. It took me a year to outsmart the stuff, but by St. Paddy, when I did, I wasted no time puttin' it to good use. I get good money for the sale of this stuff. Christian's nieces, the daughters of his late brother the last king, are the last members of his family to need it; but they were put on it by the king, so I cut 'em a break an' give 'em a nice little discount. Anyone else who uses it, uses it by choice, and there aren't too many customers for it overall; so those who have the choice, I charge handsomely. I'm not goin' uncompensated for th' effort it takes ta grow that beast."
Miranda had to laugh, and admitted, "I don't blame you. So that's how Prince Christian was freed from his arranged marriage, and was able to come here to marry Leslie."
"Aye, that's how. I'd had a few run-ins with the current count LiSciola, when his da was still alive and dealin' honestly and aboveboard with Christian's ancestors, and I knew that when the count's da passed and he took over, it was gonna be bad for them. I only wish the stubborn stuff hadn't resisted me efforts for so long. It took me ten months just to get it to grow without wiltin' and dyin' on me; and then another two months to grind the spice and have it treated so that it'd be palatable. I had to threaten Julie with a spell or two that year to keep quiet. She wanted like nothin' imaginable to tell Leslie what was goin' on, but I was afraid of jinxin' the whole operation, so I insisted she keep her mouth shut."
"Julie does like to talk," Miranda agreed with a grin. "Not that that's such a bad thing. I like your wife very much. She's too sweet and guileless to resent, even when she's talking enough for six people."
Rogan snickered. "There's a habit Rory's picked up from her, but that's not all he's got. He has both her family's powers and ours, so he's a force to be reckoned with. After he ran amok in his kindergarten class last year, uncle laid down the law that Julie an' I had to teach him basic manners afore he'd consent to coachin' Rory in the use of his magic."
Laughing with him, Miranda shook her head and resettled herself on the stool, then eyed him thoughtfully. "You know, I think you might have something there, about the reason for Daddy's attitude toward you. Having heard the story, I seem to remember that once, when I was little…maybe five or six…he mentioned someone named Caitriona that he had loved deeply, a long time ago. I remember asking what had happened to her, and he said gruffly that she was long dead and it was water well under the bridge. He never spoke of her again after that, and I wondered for a while, then forgot about it. Till now, anyhow."
Rogan tilted his head a little to one side and peered at her with interest. "How did he look when he talked about Mum, then?"
Miranda recognized a wistful, longing undertone in his voice and smiled. "He didn't change expression much, but I saw his eyes. For just a few seconds, there were tears in them. It was the only time I ever saw Daddy even come close to crying."
They looked at each other for a minute, then Rogan cleared his throat. "I suppose he really did always love Mum, Ariel or not."
Miranda snorted. "Oh, Ariel. Now that I've heard the background, I have a feeling your mother was the reason Daddy was always running hot and cold with Ariel. Sometimes he treated her as the love of his life, other times he acted as if she was his sister. Ariel always showed patience, but sometimes I wonder if she didn't have temper tantrums over him in private."
"Temper tantrums!" Rogan burst out and started to laugh. "I always thought that woman would seem more real if just once, she threw a nice big fit." At that Miranda broke into giggles too, and her heart felt like it was filled with helium, sharing laughter with the older brother she had never really known very well.
Eventually Rogan regained some composure. "Ah, Miranda, lass, 'tis truly sorry I am that we were never closer. I suspect Da and I can share the blame equally. But I've the feelin' that he felt protective of you, to the point that it took his passin' for us to finally learn the truth about ourselves and each other, so that we could really become siblings."
"Then, maybe, Daddy's death wasn't meaningless after all," Miranda said hopefully.
Rogan smiled at her. "No, I don't think so. An' if he has any sense, and any way of knowin' what's happenin' in this realm while Mephistopheles is havin' his fun wi' him, he'll be glad his two offspring finally connected."
"I hope so. I think so," Miranda murmured, just before Rogan slipped off his stool, pulled her off hers and hugged her. She hugged him back, for the first time feeling truly as if he were a part of her family.
§ § § - August 23, 2006
Leslie went to meet the plane just after lunch, taking along Christian, who was expecting a shipment of CD-ROM programs from his Sundborg office. While Christian gathered his box and signed for it, Leslie greeted a few celebrities who were arriving for an extended vacation, and then nodded to an uncertain-looking man who seemed close to her own age, whom she had never seen. "Welcome, can I help you with anything?" she asked.
He stopped and blinked at her as if he hadn't seen her there. "Yes, if you don't mind," he said, clearing his throat. He struck her as being extremely nervous. "I'm looking for my wife. Miranda Collingwood. I'm Josh Collingwood, her husband."
So this was the guy who had walked out on Miranda when he found she couldn't have kids. Leslie had to work at maintaining a professional demeanor. "I see," she said. "She's here on the island, staying at her sister-in-law's bed-and-breakfast inn. Unfortunately the inn's fully booked, so we'll have to take you to the hotel."
Josh nodded a little jerkily, his eyes darting all over the place as if searching out his quarry. "I understand, that's all right. I…I just hope Miranda will be…might be willing to see me. I didn't realize how much…" He stopped, cleared his throat again and finally met her gaze. "Oh, man, I'm sorry. I didn't really realize who you were…Princess Leslie."
Leslie had to crack a reluctant smile at that, noticing simultaneously in her peripheral that Christian was looking on, his expression highly amused. "Not really here on the island, Mr. Collingwood. Just Leslie will do. Rogan and Miranda are my second cousins, so maybe the best thing for you to do would be to get settled in a hotel room, then come to the main house and talk with my father."
"Sure, okay," Josh agreed, too quickly. "Thanks." She pointed out the waiting jeep that would take him to the hotel, and he snatched up his suitcase and darted toward it, as if he had bloodhounds nipping at his heels.
From beside her Christian chuckled sympathetically. "Poor man, you could read it all over his face. He's dying to reconcile with Miranda."
Leslie, who had been watching Josh flee, snorted. "Well, good, at least he feels some remorse and knows he's going to really have to make it up to her."
Christian dropped a kiss onto her cheek. "A little tolerance, my Rose. He's here and he's willing, so give him the benefit of the doubt, would you? Come on, I've got to get these back to my office."
Somewhat less than an hour later, Josh Collingwood returned, looking less rumpled but just as nervous and worried as when he'd first arrived. Leslie let him in and gestured wordlessly to the desk, where Roarke was scheduling fantasies through the rest of the year. He looked up and paused when Josh slowly approached the desk. "Yes?"
Josh introduced himself in a halting voice, then cleared his throat when it cracked in the middle of a word and more or less fell into the nearest chair. Leslie took over. "He's Miranda's husband, Father. Just got here. I don't know whether she'd be willing to see him, so I told him to get a hotel room and then come over here."
"I see," said Roarke. "Very well, then, if you'll make a run to the post office for me, I'll speak with Mr. Collingwood." She nodded and left, and he turned to the fidgeting young man in the chair. "So you wish to see Miranda, do you?"
Josh actually squirmed; Roarke thought he'd never seen anyone more nervous. Over the week Miranda had been here so far, Roarke had grown as fond of her as he was of her brother, as his cousin's children whom he called niece and nephew for simplicity. As a result he felt protective of her, and wasn't about to let the young man off lightly. He was, however, more than willing to give some leeway in the face of the fact that Josh seemed to want to make amends with Miranda. After a fair amount of hemming and hawing, punctuated with myriad fleeting glances that barely met Roarke's stern, steady gaze, Josh finally nodded his head in a gesture that made it look more like a severe shiver. "Y-y-yesssssir."
Roarke regarded him. "Tell me why."
That succeeded in stilling Josh for all of five seconds, before a hand crept up to fiddle with the knot of his tie in fluttering, skittish motions. "B-because I want her back," the young man finally said simply. "I-I-I was wrong and I-I made a m-mistake. A b-b-big one." Once more he cleared his throat, then spoke slowly and very carefully. "I just w-want to make it up to her."
Roarke nodded, his expression never changing. "Do you think it's possible?"
Josh shot him a startled look, then seemed resigned. "Guess y-you already h-heard all about what I d-did, huh? Y-yeah, well, ok-kay, th-that's fine. All I'm a-asking is th-that you give me th-the chance to t-talk to her, t-to make her understand that I want…want another chance, that I l-love her and c-can't live w-without her."
Utter surprise saturated the young man's face when Roarke smiled broadly at him; it was enough of an answer for Fantasy Island's enigmatic—and romantic—proprietor that no further explanation was needed. "Very well." He picked up the phone and dialed Julie's B&B, then asked for Miranda; it took but a few words to arrange to have her come to the main house. Miranda had lately begun calling him "uncle", just as Rogan and Julie did, and it had made Roarke feel as though he had extended family for the first time in what must be centuries. Most of the clan was gone now; it was good to have Miranda in the fold.
Josh's stutter had finally fallen away, Roarke noticed when he spoke again. "You mean you're actually letting me see her?"
"Of course," said Roarke, as if surprised he even had to ask. Then he narrowed his eyes at his visitor. "You are, of course, quite serious about winning Miranda back? Because I must remind you, you hurt her very badly, and I daresay it will take some devoted and sincere persuasion on your part to regain her trust."
Josh sat up straight, indignation chasing the last of his nervousness away. "I'm gonna tell you something right now, Mr. Roarke. I love Miranda. I loved her from the first second I saw her, and I thought, I'm marrying that woman and she's gonna be the mother of my kids. And I didn't let anything stop me. I still love her, and there's still nothing that's gonna stop me from making her see how much."
Roarke eyed him. "I seem to recall that the issue of children is what caused the rift between you to begin with."
"Yeah, it was," Josh admitted, turning red. "I thought it mattered to me, but I had enough time to think about it and realize it's really Miranda who matters most."
"Hmm," Roarke mused. "Well, that's very good…I hope you can convince her."
Josh suddenly looked worried; but before he could say anything, Miranda appeared on the terrace, framed by the open French doors. "Josh," she gasped.
Josh stood up, and Roarke smiled at her. "Why don't you two sit on the terrace there and talk," he suggested. "I have some urgent work to do here, so the patio will give all of us the privacy we need."
"Th-thanks, Mr. Roarke," Josh said and headed for the door; Roarke noticed his hand trembling again as he crossed the room, and stifled a smile before resuming his task. It was all up to Miranda now.
"Well," she said as they took seats on one of the iron benches on the terrace. She sat as close to the end as the armrest would allow. "So what brings you all the way here?"
"Remorse," Josh said frankly. "I-I was an-an idiot, Miranda. Y-you know h-how I always wanted k-kids, and I guess I m-made that out as w-way more important than it sh-should've been. I d-don't care if we h-have k-kids or not. I j-just want you back. I w-want you to come back h-home."
"You're the one who walked out," Miranda pointed out.
He reddened. "Yeah, I know, b-but…w-well, you know what I m-mean." He slapped the wrought iron between them, his eyes glinting with exasperation. "C-come on, Miranda, you can't t-tell me you d-don't believe me."
She started to grin. Josh always stuttered when he was really nervous. He had stuttered the first time he'd asked her out, when he'd proposed, and when she had suggested he meet her father (which, as it turned out, had sadly never happened). She had learned to tell by the stutter when he was so terrified that he had to be sincere. Otherwise he was just as cool, calm and collected as anyone she'd ever met. Right now, he was practically falling apart from shaking so hard. "No, you have me there," she admitted willingly. She sobered once more, recalling yesterday's results from the specialist at the island hospital, and gave him a sharp stare. "Even in spite of everything, you still want me back?"
Josh nodded, the nod that always made him look as if he were standing in the Antarctic with no coat on. "I l-love you more th-than anything, Miranda, anyth-thing in the whole w-world, even having k-kids. Wh-what the heck, w-we can just do what-whatever we want. T-travel and st-stuff like that."
That was all she wanted to hear. She threw herself at him and hugged him hard. "I'd started giving up all hope that I'd hear you say that. I love you too, Josh." She sat up and then smiled at him. "But there's just one small thing. Well, maybe not so small."
"Y-yeah?" Josh prompted, still shaking, but obviously greatly relieved.
Miranda pulled in a breath. "I saw a doctor here. It turns out the specialist who first diagnosed me was wrong. There's nothing wrong with my Fallopian tubes—nothing they can't fix. I'm scheduled for an operational procedure here on the last day of this month to repair the damage, and then I'm told I should be able to have all the children we want."
Josh blinked, then began to laugh. "Of all the ironies. I walked out on you for the lack of a second opinion. Aw, Miranda, honey, I love you so much. Last day of the month, huh? Well, however long it takes before you're up and around again, I'll be right there by your side, okay? I'll be there, no matter what."
"I know you will." Miranda beamed at him and hugged him again. Inside, as they chuckled and clung in their reunion, Roarke cast a quick glance through the French shutters and smiled quietly to himself, then resumed penciling in names.
§ § § - August 31, 2006
"Hey, Aunt Miranda, are you and Uncle Josh really gonna leave again? Before we can tell more stories about Mom?" Rory asked, sounding greatly disappointed.
"More stories?" Miranda echoed. She had had her procedure a few hours before and had awakened about ninety minutes ago to find not only Josh, but Rogan, Julie, Rory, Roarke, Leslie and Christian at her bedside. "What sort of stories?"
"Funny ones," Rory said eagerly.
The others looked at one another, and Roarke chuckled. "We've made it an occasional habit to relate memories of past fantasies I've granted," he explained. "Rory seems to find them quite entertaining, and since he himself has begun to discover that he's old enough that he must work to control his powers and the impulses and temptations that come with them, we have all felt it wise to tell him now and then, so that he understands the great responsibilities that come with powers such as his."
Miranda nodded, grinning. "Oh, I see. Well, my doctor said a while ago that I should really rest for a couple of weeks before Josh and I go back to New York, so if you find the time to have one of these reminiscing sessions within that period, I'd be more than happy to sit in on it. It sounds like fun."
"Think it was anythin' like what Da might've done once?" Rogan asked his sister.
Miranda rolled her eyes. "Something tells me no. It'll be fun to find out, though."
"Aye." Rogan let his gaze slide to Julie. "We've told stories on uncle, Leslie, even Tattoo, uncle's former assistant. But me lass here worked for him for a year so she could save enough cash to open the B&B, an' I'm sure there's no shortage of stories we can tell on her, hm?" He grinned at his amused uncle, making an exaggerated show of ignoring Julie's indignant glare. "I think it's me wife's turn for a little ribbin'."
"And I can remember a good one, too," Leslie put in wickedly.
"Hey, no smart remarks from the peanut gallery!" Julie snapped at her, red-faced, but looking good-natured even in the midst of her seeming annoyance. Everyone laughed; it hurt Miranda to actually laugh, but she grinned widely, already anticipating the occasion.
"So it's a real family get-together, huh?" Josh asked with interest.
"That it is," Rogan said. "As uncle said, we did it ostensibly for Rory's benefit, since the lad so enjoys the tales, but I gotta admit, Christian here and I are just as fascinated as he is. An' I guarantee, you an' me little sister'll have a ball listenin' in."
"When do you get out of the hospital, Aunt Miranda?" Rory broke in excitedly, evoking more laughter. They made arrangements to meet in Roarke's study two evenings later, the day Miranda was scheduled to be discharged, and Miranda found herself looking forward to the gathering—as much for the new sense of family that she now had as for the entertainment value her brother had promised. She met Josh's gaze and he squeezed her hand with a grin. She relaxed onto her pillow, content.
We too will be joining Mr. Roarke and his entire family for the next story night…so stay tuned! I'm not likely to be able to post before September, however, due to extenuating circumstances that will be solved only by the resumption of school for my stepsons. See you then!