They spent most of their time in the cottage exploring one another and on occasions leisurely walking around the neighborhood. The way Connor was attentive to her wants and needs made her feel less vulnerable yet it opened the door for her to be more giving of herself. There still was a piece of her that tip-toed around him. She began training her thoughts in hopes of not voicing her opinions at the wrong moment. Making herself busy, Taiwo searched the cottage for a rubber tub to wash the linen. She hadn’t hand laundered sheets since her early teens, but after she discovered a clothes line in the tiny backyard, she marched on with her duty. Tossing the large white rubber tub on the lawn, she traveled back gathering the sheets from her room and quietly dug out the used linen from Connor’s room.
He was still in deep sleep, limbs hanging over the foot of the bed. Leaving him in peace she marched through the living room and outside sinking into the earth barefoot. Blades of grass poked between her toes and the earth beneath her felt like home. Smiling she tossed the sheets in the tub and poured boiling water she’d previously heated onto the sheets with equal part cold water and a cup of detergent. Dipping a finger in the water, the temperature was just water to begin washing. Stepping inside, she began marching in place to work the soap into tiny bubbles. Hiking her sundress up by her thighs, water began to splash into the grass. She continued stomping and marching until she was satisfied with the results. Dumping the water she rinsed the linen with cold water from the outside hose. Wringing out the excess water, she threw the sheets on the line successfully. Connor hunted the whole cottage for Taiwo only to find her in the backyard stomping an Irish jig all over his sheets. Backtracking to the kitchen, fishing for the box of clothes pin he’d stored under the sink, he met her outside.
“There’s a place not too far from here we could have taken to launder the linens.”
“It’s alright. When I was a kid, my siblings and I washed clothes this way. This gives me a chance to relive some fun times I had at home. Besides, there’s nothing like sun dried sheets.”
“Would it make you happy to do this everyday?”
“The linen?” she lifted an eyebrow in confusion.
He chuckled. “Domestic life.”
“Should I be worried about where I think you’re taking this?”
“It was just a question Tai.”
“I like my life the way it is.”
“I see.” So much for training her thoughts. Her mouth just had a mind of its own. “Do you want help hanging the linen? I brought a box of pins.”
“Uh, sure, if you don’t mind.” They filled the sagging line with the remaining sheets and pinned them in silence. “I’m pretty good with cooking, do you want breakfast?”
“I’ll be heading out soon.”
“Where are you going?”
“To pick up some things.”
“Don’t you think if you’re going to be running errands you should eat something first?”
“I can grab something on the way.”
“Okay then.” There was no point pushing so she dropped the subject. Awkward silence fell between them as they stood staring at each other. “I guess I’ll go inside.”
Scooping up the tub, she walked past him and into the cottage letting the screen door slap close. Retreating to her room, closing the door behind her, she plopped on the naked bed and thought how it was that she’d acquired another fear. Her former boss Amanda never struck fear in her heart though she’d been vicious at times. With Connor, she had this new found fear she was going to lose him because she couldn’t control her mouth. There was only so many times he was going to be understanding.
Minutes later, the front door opened and closed. Leaving the room, she found the note he left informing her he’d come back soon. Now that she was alone, she had no other choice but to clean the house spotless. Taiwo knocked out the plate of dishes from their late night snacking. She found a broom and began sweeping and discarding remnants into the waste bin. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. Connor must have forgotten something but when she opened the door, there stood the palest woman she had even seen. Both looked startled to see one another.
“I know this is the right house.” she mumbled to herself.
“Hi, who are you looking for?”
“He said he was going to pick something up. What’s your name by the way?”
“I’ll let Connor know you stopped by.” Before Taiwo could secure the door, Caroline held a hand firmly against the door.
“What’s your name?”
“I didn’t know Connor had anyone accompanying. Perhaps, do you work for him?”
“I work beside him, yes.”
“I see. Have you just arrived?”
“No. Connor and I arrived together.”
“Do you mind if I come in? My family asked me to bring over a few things for him.”
“No, come in.” Stepping inside, Caroline settled the bags on the table and looked around. “You must be the one who provided groceries the last time.”
“Would you like to have a seat while I put away the groceries?” As she grabbed for the bags, Caroline jerked them away.
“I don’t mean to be rude, it’s just that there is homemade food I made for him in here. I don’t want any of the dishes to get broken.”
“It isn’t difficult to store a few containers.”
“I’m sorry,” Caroline blew out a frustrated breath, “but who are you?”
“My name’s Taiwo. Connor calls me Tai.”
“Tai…are you two…?”
“Do I have to spell it out!?” she snapped.
“What Connor and I are or are not is no concern of yours. I’ll tell him you stopped.” Walking over to the door, she opened it for Caroline to depart but instead she didn’t budge.
“You can’t put me out.”
“And why can’t I?”
“I guess Connor never told you.”
“Told me what?”
“That this was supposed to be our cottage. We were supposed to get married. The way I see it, you’re the intruder here, not me.”
“Well, you’re not married nor will you be marrying Connor as long as I have him.”
“I don’t know who you think you are, but I was his first love.”
“The key word you’re ignoring is ‘was’. I’m his current and he’s going back home with me. Now get off the premises!” Before blood was drawn, the front door opened, Connor standing looking back and forth at fuming women.
“What are you doing here Caroline?”
“She was just leaving, that’s what.”
“Put a muzzle on your mutt Connor.”
“Who needs teeth when I can rip your throat out with my nails?” she added sweetly.
“Now!” Defiantly crossing her hands over her chest, she held her chin high. She was known for her stubborn personality but that didn’t phase Connor one bit. Taking two steps, he grabbed her by the arm, pulling her on the porch, closing the door behind her. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Why is that women in our cottage?”
“Caroline…we are over, you gotta know that.”
“You left, I didn’t. I haven’t forgotten about you, not for a second.”
“I’m in a relationship with Tai, you need to respect that.”
“I don’t have to respect anything.”
“You know I’m not staying in Ireland. I’m going back home.”
“Home?” she recoiled. “Your home is and always will be Ireland. I’m here. How can you turn your back on me, my family?”
“I’ve not turned on anyone. I was honest with you from the beginning. I told you I was leaving.”
“You were supposed to come back.”
“On whose orders?”
“What am I suppose to do, or tell my parents?”
“Move on. I’m sure your folks have been waiting on you to do so.”
“You’re my first love Connor.” she whined.
“Caroline, don’t make trouble for me. And for the record don’t speak of Tai in an ill manner.”
“You think I don’t want to see you happy? I do, just not with her.”
“That’s not your choice. Go home.”
Opening the door, he stepped through leaving her blue eyes fuming at his back. Taiwo was nowhere in sight and the house was eerily quiet. He’d more than his fair share of movies where extremely upset shot out of the blue with an axe, hacking apart their lovers. He hoped this wasn’t one of those times. “Tai?” he called from the kitchen. She reappeared from her room and met him with suspicion in her eyes.
“You going to eat that? That woman brought it from you.” she pointed to the breakfast table.
“Uh, should I?” Never in life had he been caught in between two women and wasn’t sure what he should say. This could backfire on him at an second.
“You can’t throw it away.”
“So I should eat it then.”
“Do you want to?”
“Do whatever you want.”
“I don’t want to fight.”
“I’m not picking a fight.”
“Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
“You’re really trying to wiggle your way out of this.”
“I am.” A smile formed over her face. Taking the dishes out of the sack, she placed them on the table and pushed them toward him.
“Let’s have whatever this stuff is for dinner.”
“Okay..” he added warily.
“What did you go pick up while you were out?
“Huh? Oh, just a few scarves that I left in the car. They’re for you.”
“Really? Thank you. Go bring them in.”
Exiting the cottage gave him time to breathe a thanks to the heavens for getting him out of a potential disaster. Tracking back inside, handing her the scarves, she unfolded them checking the length.
“They are beautiful.”
“I hoped you’d like them.”
“You’ve done well, again. Can I ask you something?”
“Why didn’t you tell me this place was your ex’s?”
“I guess I thanked the heavens too early. Tai, I didn’t think about it. Caroline was the last thing on my mind. I can’t rent a room at a hotel if it makes you feel better.”
“Did you sleep with her in either of those beds?”
“Well there’s no need to waste money on a room.”
“Okay.” Connor hadn’t noticed his heart rate had kicked up a notch until he was finally in the clear. “On the way back, I heard there’s a little party that’ll be happening this evening. Wanna go?”
“I’d like that.”
She almost regretted her decision. She’d never in all her years witnessed the kind of dancing the Irish prescribed to. As serious as Connor could be, he looked like a fool freeing his inhibitions dancing a jib that looked like a hoedown. Soon they were swinging together laughing out loud. She’d come to appreciate his world better, though some things were strange to her. She thought she’d pass out when he pointed to something called Haggis. She exclaimed she would rather eat beets though she loathed that as well. He chuckled, wrapping a protective arm around her waist. They stopped at an empty spot away from much of the crowd, under hanging light bulbs. They embraced each other, slowly swaying to the distant music. Connor suddenly felt a tap on his back and turned around to see who it was.
“Heard you was in town. How’ve you been?”
“I’m doing well. How’s the family?”
“Bonnie and I are still going strong. Can’t ask for anything better than that. It’s been a long time since you’ve been home.”
“Yeah, work has kept me away, but I always come back.”
“You’re a true Irishman through and through. And who do we have with ya?”
“Oh, this is Taiwo. She’s my woman.”
“I see. And I’m just now meeting her! You’re a selfish man Connor.” he joked.
“Hey now, I need to keep all the good things that come my way.”
“I’m sure Bonnie would love to meet ya Ms. Taiwo. Bonnie, Bonnie! Come ‘ere. Connor has blackmailed a young woman to pose as his girlfriend.” His wife tracked over with a smile beaming from ear to ear.
“Connor, it’s good to see ya.”
“Likewise Mrs. O’Malley.”
“So you’ve been blackmailed I hear.”
“No ma’am, not at all.” she chuckled.
“So how long has it been for you two?”
“Not long I suppose.”
“Young love, ah, to be there again.”
“Ack, too many problem for a budding relationship if ya ask me.”
“Well, no one was askin’ Ennis O’Malley.” his wife bubbled in.
“See, we handle our problems easy peasy.” Taiwo laughed until her blue-eyed enemy chimed in.
“Well isn’t everyone here a happy family.”
“Caroline, you said you’d be staying home tonight.”
“I changed my mind dad. I needed some fresh air.” The tension was so thick there was no way it could be ignored.
“How about we get some drinks.”
“I’m not thirsty.”
“Now Caroline, let’s not make a scene.”
“Don’t worry mama, I know how to be cordial. How’ve you been Connor?”
“Fine. Mr., Mrs. O’Malley, we’ll be leaving. It was nice to see you both again.”
“There’s no need to rush away, unless you’re guilty of something.”
“Caroline!” her mother chided. “What’s gotten into you?”
“I’m just fine mother.” She ground out. “He’s the one in the wrong.”
“I’m so sorry Connor, we’ll take care of this.”
“Sit and be quiet Caroline.” Her father’s voice boomed but didn’t deter his defiant daughter.
“I’m a grown woman.”
“Best ya start acting like one.”
“How can you side against your own daughter? Connor left me, and had a nerve to bring back a nagur.”
“I don’t understand a bit of Irish, but did she call me what I think she called me?”
“That’s enough from you Caroline. Go home!”
“I think not.”
“We’ve been more than patient with ya over the years since the departure of Connor, but you’ve taken things to far. You’ve insulted his woman and have embarrassed your parents. Apologize right now.”
“Oh I won’t be apologizing, not in this life or the next.” Storming off they all stood staring at one another.
“I’m sorry Connor, Ms. Taiwo, we didn’t raise our daughter to use such language. Please look past her ignorance.”
“I’ve been called out of my name, but never in another language.”
“I apologize on my daughter’s behalf.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
The ride back to the cottage was a quiet one. The midnight air was cool against her skin and the surroundings she’d previous rode past looked different at night. Though the evening ended on a poor note, Ireland held something quite magical, as did the music Connor put on to cut the silence. Connor stole glances as he drove; she was nodding along to The Wolfe Tones’ Óró Sé Do Bheatha Abhaile and Paddy Reilly’s The Fields of Athenry. Her humming along brought a smile to his face. She’d be grinning from ear to ear when she finds out what his next plans were.
*The next chapter can be found here, By Design (9)