PART ONE: MOLLY
"Oh, I've been waiting so long for this." Aunt Honora fixed her brown windblown bun, and straightened her worn gray pea coat. "Finally, we get to meet our family."
"Aunt Honora, for the millionth time – I'm your family. Why can't that just be enough for you?" At this point, why Molly even bothered to plead with her aunt, she didn't know; and quite frankly, she was feeling more and more miffed with each passing second by the woman's insistence that they were lacking kin before now. Of course, up until this point, Molly really didn't believe that she would actually go through with this crazy idea.
"Don't be so dramatic, Molly. It's like I said before: two people do not a family make. It's, certainly, neither right nor fair that we should be left in this cruel, cruel world with only one another for company. We deserve more. Besides, don't you want to know who your relatives are?" She shook her head in a display of exasperation, and knocked sharply at the large red door before them.
Molly blinked at what, for Aunt Honora, was a rather long speech, before she managed to reply with, "I just don't think seventh or eighth cousins really count. The only thing you have in common with them is your last name. And I don't even share that."
"They are our relatives, Molly," Aunt Honora said, "Family relations are always important to have – and to maintain. And just because you're some McGillpatrick with little or no traceable history on your father's side, that doesn't mean your mother's people can't mean something to you. So, stop with your slouching, and put a smile on your face. I don't want our cousins knowing that you're such a depressing little thing."
Was Molly a 'depressing little thing'? Well, maybe; but if she was, then she had a good reason for it. And if Aunt Honora thought of herself as the only sufferer in regards to their lack of family, she was wrong. But the answer wasn't to go and track down strangers who were related to strangers, who were related to strangers, who were related to strangers somewhere on your family tree in order to create relatives where there weren't any before. Of course, try rationalizing that with Aunt Honora. So, Molly said nothing more. She just straightened her spine and attempted to smile through her awkwardness.
In a way, she really did understand her aunt. Well, sort of. They were, in fact, dealt a bad hand in life, and the woman only wanted to fix it. However, this solution seemed like a strange way to go about it.
Their family had been on the sparse side to begin with. Molly was the only child James and Anna McGillpatrick ever had; and they made up the majority of a very small clan. In fact, the only other living relative they knew of by Molly's seventh Birthday was her mother's elder sister, Honora.
Molly always thought that they were happy in the intimacy of their smallness . . . except that Aunt Honora seemed rather glum and aloof. That was just in her nature, though. The older woman acted habitually cantankerous, and tended to expect the worst out of life. She had what Molly's father called a "'woe is me' attitude"; and she seemed bound and determined that the world was out to cause her misery and make her suffer.
Molly's mother once tried to console her dear sister by explaining to her that the world wasn't out to get her. It was just that it didn't care enough to make her happy. The universe didn't strive to disappoint her. Its only fault was that it tended to neglect her. Well, Aunt Honora didn't like hearing such sense from her much younger (and very happily married) sister, especially when such logic made it seem as though her frequent plights were less hapless, and rather more self-conceived.
In fact, Molly recalled that conversation to have occurred around the time that Aunt Honora started visiting less. Yes, that was right. Instead, the woman spent all of her time working. She put in as many hours as she could as a cashier at the supermarket on the other side of town.
One day, when she did allow time for a social call, Aunt Honora told her sister that she had a goal, and it was to go to Ireland and to find their relations, the O'Kelly's.
"I want so badly for us to have a bigger family," she'd said.
Molly had heard her mother reply to her sister that "love doesn't have to be collected in small degrees from many people. It can be found in enormous amounts by the few who you count yourself lucky enough to have in your life."
Well, suffice to say, Aunt Honora wasn't happy with that advice, either.
Molly frowned at the memory, because it wasn't long after that, that Aunt Honora had felt that the world had it out for her yet again; and, this time, it had it out for Molly as well. Instead of increasing their relations like her aunt had hoped, the family was made smaller by two.
Aunt Honora had hardly said a word about her new responsibility. She grieved for the loss of her sister and brother-in-law, and then carried on. The only complaint that Molly ever heard cross her aunt's lips – and it was only mentioned once – was that she'd nearly saved enough money for her much anticipated trip to Ireland, had done all the necessary research on the O'Kelly family in order to track them down, and now she had to take on the cost of a dependent.
The woman never went into detail about the added expenses; but try as she might not to be a burden, Molly knew that she was another mouth to feed and person to clothe. Her aunt was still determined to make the trip, however, even with the pricey cost of a second airline ticket. It took four more years before she could do it, and it required her life savings to pay for it, but with her niece in tow, Aunt Honora boarded that plane.
So, a fourteen-year-old Molly, and a much overworked and underappreciated (except by Molly, herself) Aunt Honora had made their way to "the old country", only the latter feeling the high hopes of increasing their family once more.
And here they were, waiting for a large red door on a blue plastered house on the outskirts of Midleton in County Cork to open up and welcome them in as the long lost family that Aunt Honora knew them to be. That door did open after a few long seconds, but only just enough to allow a plump lady with short frizzy hair to poke her head out of it and peer at her visitors. "Yes?" she inquired.
"Good afternoon. My name is Honora O'Kelly, and this is my niece Molly." Aunt Honora said. She could barely keep the speed of her words in check as her excitement lit up her face to a degree that Molly had never before seen on her aunt.
"I see," the lady replied and opened the door a little further. Aunt Honora took that as a sign that she realized there might be some implication behind their shared last name, but Molly noticed that the lady's expression appeared a little cross.
When she failed to say anything further, Aunt Honora went on. "Ah, yes, well, I came here because I've done quite a bit of research into our family tree and have discovered that," she paused for effect, and clasped her hands together in delight, "you and I are cousins. Oh, and my niece here, as well. I mean she's your cousin. A little further down the line."
Molly watched closely as the lady reacted to the news by spreading her lips into what might have been a smile if it were not for the annoyed squint in her eyes. "Good heavens, not another one." She turned her head and shouted into the house, "Michael, it looks like we're taking our tea in the parlor today." She faced Aunt Honora, again, and let no small amount of derision seep into her words, "We have visitors."
The parlor felt warm and moldy with age, and a ticking clock on the mantle made up the only sound in the room. Aunt Honora and Molly sat side by side on the edge of a flowery patterned sofa, the aunt rigid with excitement and the niece stiff with apprehension.
Moira O'Kelly (as the lady finally introduced herself upon halfheartedly shuffling them into the house) went into the kitchen in order to prepare a pot of hot tea for her guests. When she returned with the tray, an equally chubby man followed her into the room. Aunt Honora and Molly stood up to greet him.
"Michael O'Kelly," he grumbled flatly, by way of introducing himself without conveying too much interest in his visitors.
The man stretched out his hand, and Aunt Honora reached over the teapot to accept it in a handshake, but he bypassed her and swept a few biscuits from a plate that sat on the tray. Molly noticed her aunt turn red, mortified that she had misinterpreted Michael's intention.
"V-very p-pleased to meet you," she stammered out, trying to regain her composure, and casting her eyes towards Molly to indicate that she should say the same. The girl only looked on with a feeling of disgust, while the fat man stuffed a cookie in his mouth and let crumbs tumble over his shirt and onto the rug.
They seated themselves, and Moira passed around the tea and some biscuits. Not a word or a glance was passed between them, though, for a full two minutes.
"Delicious tea, Moira," Aunt Honora broke the silence. "You have a lovely home here. And just look at all the pictures on the wall. Aren't those family photos lovely, Molly? It looks like such a large, happy family, doesn't it?"
Molly smiled, a bit embarrassed for her aunt's unrelenting enthusiasm in the face of two people who seemed so indifferent to their presence.
"We're really looking forward to meeting the whole clan," Aunt Honora continued when no one else spoke.
"Oh, I see." Moira replied. "Meeting the clan." She cleared her throat, tossed Michael a look, and appeared as though she was putting careful thought into her next words. "Well now, I don't know if that's a good idea."
"Oh?" Was Aunt Honora finally catching on to the disinclination of her distant relations?
"You see, Miss Honora," Moira tried to display a look of gentleness on her face, but failed miserably, "there are really rather a lot of O'Kelly's in the world, and quite a few of them – mostly from America, that is – have come to see us, claiming a relation. And while I'm sure we are connected somewhere along the family tree – "
"Ah, we're related by two brothers, Sean and William, seven generations back," Aunt Honora tried to explain.
"Yes, well," Moira continued with barely any acknowledgement towards the fact, "my list of relations is a rather long one, so I hope you won't be offended if we don't end up sending you a Christmas card."
Aunt Honora never flinched, but her mouth twitched once, and Molly knew that she got the hint. Moira and Michael O'Kelly had no desire to pursue family relations.
Aunt Honora seemed to be walking without purpose, so Molly took the initiative. Putting her arm around the poor woman's shoulder (she was already nearly as tall as her auntie), she guided her in the direction from which they came, down the narrow lane that led back into town.
Whether or not she had been alive long enough to form a healthy understanding of the infinite characters one does find amongst the world's population, Molly had developed a keen enough knowledge of her own aunt's disposition. She knew how to read it; and she felt it her duty to alleviate such parts of it that left a damper on their own two lives. It didn't take a great deal of internal deliberation to decide that, in this case, linked arms and silence would be the best medicine for her current ailment; and so, that was how they remained during their entire trudge into Midleton. While it didn't make the journey any easier or faster, it did see them through it.
Of course, that was not the only thing that saw them through it. Once again, Molly's short life might be at fault for her want of perception towards the world around her, and, indeed, in this instant, she did lack awareness of her surroundings. Not that there should be any concern that she was heading in the wrong direction, because she did have enough sense to know which way she was going; but she did not know that she was being watched, and had been being watched since they'd left Kilkenny the day before. She couldn't be entirely blamed for her ignorance, because her watcher stayed well hidden within the shadows, just outside of her line of vision – a talent he inherited from his people – where he could linger close enough to see her every action and reaction.
First, it was the shade of her eyes and the color of her hair that captured his attention. Then, it was the brilliance of her smile, the sparkle behind her eyes, the flush in her cheeks, the manner of her walk and the way she expressed herself with her hands during the rare moments that she spoke. And when he did hear her speak, oh, how the sound of another's voice vibrated in his ears and echoed in his memory.
The resemblance to her ancestor was unmistakable, and the timing of her return to the homeland of her clan, undeniable. Something from the past was stirring, and the child's arrival could be nothing short of destiny.
There was no doubt about it. He knew she was a McGillpatrick.