Amanda dreamed dreadful dreams. Colin was there, his sweet, well-loved face crushed with sorrow. Mandy, he said. He never called her anything but Mandy. His Mandy, my Mandy, darling Mandy. But there'd been no smile in his voice, no laugh in his eyes.
Mandy, we can't stop it. I wish we could. Mandy, my Mandy, I miss you so. But I never thought you'd have to come so soon after me. Our little girl, it's so hard for her. And it'll get harder. You have to tell her, you know
He smiled then, but it was sad, so sad, and his body, his face, that had seemed so solid, so close that she'd reached out in sleep to touch him, began to fade and shimmer away.
You have to tell her, he repeated. We always knew you would. She needs to know where she comes from. Who she is. But tell her, Mandy, tell her never to forget that I loved her. I loved my little girl
Oh, don't go, Colin. She moaned in her sleep, pining for him. Stay with me. I love you, Colin. My sweet Colin. I love you for all you are.
But she couldn't bring him back. And couldn't stop the dream.
Oh, how lovely to see Ireland again, she thought, drifting like mist over the green hills she remembered from so long ago. See the river gleam, like a ribbon all silver and bright around a gift without price.
And there was Tommy, darling Tommy, waiting for her. Turning to smile at her, to welcome her.
Why was there such grief here, when she was back and felt so young, so vibrant, so in love?
I thought I'd never see you again. Her voice was breathless, with a laugh on the edges of it. Tommy, I've come back to you.
He seemed to stare at her. No matter how she tried, she could get no closer than an arm span away from him. But she could hear his voice, as clear and sweet as ever.
I love you, Amanda. Always. Never has a day passed that I haven't thought of you, and remembered what we found here.
He turned in her dream to look out over the river where the banks were green and soft and the water quiet.
You named her for the river, for the memory of the days we had.
She's so beautiful, Tommy. So bright, so strong. You'd be proud.
I am proud. And how I wish... But it couldn't be. We knew it. You knew it. He sighed, turned back. You did well for her, Amanda. Never forget that. But you're leaving her now. The pain of that, and what you've held inside all these years, makes it so hard. You have to tell her, give her her birthright. And let her know, somehow let her know that I loved her. And would have shown her if I could.
I can't do it alone, she thought, struggling out of sleep as his image faded away. Oh, dear God, don't make me do it alone.
"Mom." Gently, though her hands shook, Shannon stroked her mother's sweaty face. "Mom, wake up. It's a dream. A bad dream." She understood what it was to be tortured by dreams, and knew how to fear waking-as she woke every morning now afraid her mother would be gone. There was desperation in her voice. Not now, she prayed. Not yet. "You need to wake up."
"Shannon. They're gone. They're both of them gone. Taken from me."
"Ssh. Don't cry. Please, don't cry. Open your eyes now, and look at me."
Amanda's lids fluttered open. Her eyes swam with grief. "I'm sorry. So sorry. I did only what I thought right for you."
"I know. Of course you did." She wondered frantically if the delirium meant the cancer was spreading to the brain. Wasn't it enough that it had her mother's bones? She cursed the greedy disease, and cursed God, but her voice was soothing when she spoke. "It's all right now. I'm here. I'm with you."
With an effort Amanda drew a long, steadying breath. Visions swam in her head-Colin, Tommy, her darling girl. How anguished Shannon's eyes were-how shattered they had been when she'd first come back to Columbus.
"It's all right now." Amanda would have done anything to erase that dread in her daughter's eyes. "Of course you're here. I'm so glad you're here." And so sorry, darling, so sorry I have to leave you. "I've frightened you. I'm sorry I frightened you."
It was true-the fear was a metallic taste in the back of her throat, but Shannon shook her head to deny it. She was almost used to fear now; it had ridden on her back since she'd picked up the phone in her office in New York and been told her mother was dying. "Are you in pain?"
"No, no, don't worry." Amanda sighed again. Though there was pain, hideous pain, she felt stronger. Needed to, with what she was about to face. In the few short weeks Shannon had been back with her, she'd kept the secret buried, as she had all of her daughter's life. But she would have to open it now. There wasn't much time. "Could I have some water, darling?"
"Of course." Shannon picked up the insulated pitcher near the bed, filled a plastic glass, then offered the straw to her mother.
Carefully she adjusted the back of the hospital-style bed to make Amanda more comfortable. The living room in the lovely house in Columbus had been modified for hospice care. It had been Amanda's wish, and Shannon's, that she come home for the end.
There was music playing on the stereo, softly. The book Shannon had brought into the room with her to read aloud had fallen where she'd dropped it in panic. She bent to retrieve it, fighting to hold on.
When she was alone, she told herself there was improvement, that she could see it every day. But she had only to look at her mother, see the graying skin, the lines of pain, the gradual wasting, to know better.
There was nothing to do now but make her mother comfortable, to depend, bitterly, on the morphine to dull the pain that was never completely vanquished.
She needed a minute, Shannon realized as panic began to bubble in her throat. Just a minute alone to pull her weary courage together. "I'm going to get a nice cool cloth for your face."
"Thank you." And that, Amanda thought as Shannon hurried away, would give her enough time, please God, to choose the right words.
Amanda had been preparing for this moment for years, knowing it would come, wishing it wouldn't. What was fair and right to one of the men she loved was an injustice to the other, whichever way she chose.
But it was neither of them she could concern herself with now. Nor could she brood over her own shame.
There was only Shannon to think of. Shannon to hurt for.
Her beautiful, brilliant daughter who had never been anything but a joy to her. A pride to her. The pain rippled through her like a poisoned stream, but she gritted her teeth. There would be hurt now, for what would happen soon, from what had happened all those years
ago in Ireland. With all her heart she wished she could find some way to dull it.
She watched her daughter come back in, the quick, graceful movements, the nervous energy beneath. Moves like her father, Amanda thought. Not Colin. Dear, sweet Colin had lumbered, clumsy as an overgrown pup.
But Tommy had been light on his feet.
Shannon had Tommy's eyes, too. The vivid moss green, clear as a lake in the sun. The rich chestnut hair that swung silkily to her chin was another legacy from Ireland. Still, Amanda liked to think that the shape of her daughter's face, the creamy skin, and the soft full mouth had been her own gifts.
But it was Colin, bless him, who had given her determination, ambition, and a steady sense of self.
She smiled as Shannon bathed her clammy face. "I haven't told you enough how proud you make me, Shannon."
"Of course you have."
"No, I let you see I was disappointed you didn't choose to paint. That was selfish of me. I know better than most that a woman's path must be her own."
"You never tried to talk me out of going to New York or moving into commercial art. And I do paint still," she added with a bolstering smile. "I've nearly finished a still life I think you'll like."
Why hadn't she brought the canvas with h
er? Damn it, why hadn't she thought to pack up some paints, even a sketchbook so that she could have sat with her mother and given her the pleasure of watching?
"That's one of my favorites there." Amanda gestured to the portrait on the parlor wall. "The one of your father, sleeping in the chaise in the garden."
"Gearing himself up to mow the lawn," Shannon said with a chuckle. Setting the cloth aside, she took the seat beside the bed. "And every time we said why didn't he hire a lawn boy, he'd claim that he enjoyed the exercise, and go out and fall asleep."
"He never failed to make me laugh. I miss that." She brushed a hand over Shannon's wrist. "I know you miss him, too."
"I still think he's going to come busting in the front door. 'Mandy, Shannon,' he'd say, 'get on your best dresses, I've just made my client ten thousand on the market, and we're going out to dinner.' "
"He did love to make money," Amanda mused. "It was such a game to him. Never dollars and cents, never greed or selfishness there. Just the fun of it. Like the fun he had moving from place to place every couple of years. 'Let's shake this town, Mandy. What do you say we try Colorado? Or Memphis?' "
She shook her head on a laugh. Oh, it was good to laugh, to pretend for just a little while they were only talking as they always had. "Finally when we moved here, I told him I'd played gypsy long enough. This was home. He settled down as if he'd only been waiting for the right time and place."
"He loved this house," Shannon murmured. "So did I. I never minded the moving around. He always made it an adventure. But I remember, about a week after we'd settled in, sitting up in my room and thinking that I wanted to stay this time." She smiled over at her mother. "I guess we all felt the same way."
"He'd have moved mountains for you, fought tigers." Amanda's voice trembled before she steadied it. "Do you know, Shannon, really know how much he loved you?"
"Yes." She lifted her mother's hand, pressed it to her cheek. "I do know."
"Remember it. Always remember it. I've things to tell you, Shannon, that may hurt you, make you angry and confused. I'm sorry for it." She drew a breath.
There'd been more in the dream than the love and the grief. There had been urgency. Amanda knew she wouldn't have even the stingy three weeks the doctor had promised her.
"Mom, I understand. But there's still hope. There's always hope."
"It's nothing to do with this," she said, lifting a hand to encompass the temporary sickroom. "It's from before, darling, long before. When I went with a friend to visit Ireland and stayed in County Clare."
"I never knew you'd been to Ireland." It struck Shannon as odd to think of it. "All the traveling we did, I always wondered why we never went there, with you and Dad both having Irish roots. And I've always felt this- connection, this odd sort of pull."
"Have you?" Amanda said softly.
"It's hard to explain," Shannon murmured. Feeling foolish, for she wasn't a woman to speak of dreams, she smiled. "I've always told myself, if I ever took time for a long vacation, that's where I'd go. But with the promotion and the new account-" She shrugged off the idea of an indulgence. "Anyway, I remember, whenever I brought up going to Ireland, you'd shake your head and say there were so many other places to see."
"I couldn't bear to go back, and your father understood." Amanda pressed her lips together, studying her daughter's face. "Will you stay here beside me and listen? And oh, please, please, try to understand?"
There was a new and fresh frisson of fear creeping up Shannon's spine. What could be worse than death? she wondered. And why was she so afraid to hear it?
But she sat, keeping her mother's hand in hers. "You're upset," she began. "You know how important it is for you to keep calm."
"And use productive imagery," Amanda said with a hint of smile.
"It can work. Mind over matter. So much of what I've been reading-"
"I know." Even the wisp of a smile was gone now. "When I was a few years older than you, I traveled with a good friend-her name was Kathleen Reilly-to Ireland. It was a grand adventure for us. We were grown women, but we had both come from strict families. So strict, so sure, that I was more than thirty before I had the gumption to make such a move."
She turned her head so that she could watch Shannon's face as she spoke. "You wouldn't understand that. You've always been sure of yourself, and brave. But when I was your age, I hadn't even begun to struggle my way out of cowardice."
"You've never been a coward."
"Oh, but I was," Amanda said softly. "I was. My parents were lace-curtain Irish, righteous as three popes. Their biggest disappointment-more for reasons of prestige than religion-was that none of their children had the calling."
"But you were an only child," Shannon interrupted.
"One of the truths I broke. I told you I had no family, let you believe there was no one. But I had two brothers and a sister, and not a word has there been between us since before you were born."
"But why-" Shannon caught herself. "I'm sorry. Go on."
"You were always a good listener. Your father taught you that." She paused a moment, thinking of Colin, praying that what she was about to do was right for all of them. "We weren't a close family, Shannon. There was a... a stiffness in our house, a rigidness of rules and manners. It was over fierce objections that I left home to travel to Ireland with Kate. But we went, as excited as schoolgirls on a picnic. To Dublin first. Then on, following our maps and our noses. I felt free for the first time in my life."
It was so easy to bring it all back, Amanda realized. Even after all these years that she'd suppressed those memories, they could swim back now, as clear and pure as water. Kate's giggling laugh, the cough of the tiny car they'd rented, the wrong turns and the right ones they'd made.
And her first awed look of the sweep of hills, the spear of cliffs of the west. The sense of coming home she'd never expected, and had never felt again.