(Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of
Mary Pat Hyland’s The Cyber Miracles.
© 2008 Mary Pat Hyland. This may not be reproduced,
in whole or in part, without permission of the author.)
Faith can be a North Star for some people, guiding them steadfastly throughout their lives. Others, well… they just plain wing it. Then there are the people who believe they can plan every detail, every turn in their lives. Such bold expectations tempt misfortune, however, and Maeve Kenny never saw it coming.
Something was wrong, she thought as she checked her answering machine. No messages. Why hadn’t she heard from Ciaran? His flight home from Toronto should have landed an hour ago. He could have at least called to say he had arrived safely.
Maeve was a bit concerned that her boyfriend seemed distracted lately, but she figured it was the late hours he’d been keeping on the set of the soap opera, The Blessed and The Damned. His character was featured in a complicated international plot that included scenes shot in both Toronto and the Bahamas. The network was promoting the story line heavily, and with such high visibility, Maeve and Ciaran both hoped he’d snag a lucrative film role offer. They were confident to the point of expecting it would happen.
It was something they discussed that crisp night in October, when they lingered over a bottle of Pinot Grigio at their favorite café in Little Italy. There in the candlelight, they shared their ambitions with each other. At the moment anything seemed possible. Their lives already seemed to be following charmed paths. Why shouldn’t they expect to get everything they dreamed for?
As she tidied her cozy apartment in Queens while waiting for Ciaran’s call, Maeve found the journal she started senior year in college. On the first page was written a list of goals she wanted to accomplish before turning thirty:
1. Move to New York City.
2. Get a good job
3. Get my own apartment
4. Start saving for retirement
5. Travel abroad
6. Meet my soul mate7. Get married
Maeve smiled. Nine years later, all except the last one could be crossed off. Would she be crossing it off soon? Tomorrow was Valentine’s Day, and Maeve had a feeling that Ciaran might propose to her during their dinner date at the elegant restaurant Belle Jour.
Maeve sat down on the couch, journal open on her lap and envisioned their future together. The wedding of course would be at Emmerdale, the estate in the Hamptons where they met two years ago. The Manhattan public relations firm she worked for arranged a Scottish-themed fiftieth birthday party there for Canadian Internet tycoon Ian MacKechnie. Ciaran Burns was a guest – his parents were Ian’s schoolmates.
Minutes before the guests were to arrive, she was on a ladder, hot gluing the MacKechnie crest back onto his clan’s tartan over the ballroom entrance. Her high heel slipped and she fell backwards into Ciaran’s arms. Maeve was mortified that one of the guests had seen her uncompleted preparations. She thanked him profusely for rescuing her, then backed away slowly, blushing while trying to disappear among the arriving guests.
Later that evening, she saw Ciaran speaking with her boss, Ty Conneely. They looked at her and Ty shook his head. Uh-oh, she thought, he must be telling him how my work was unfinished when he arrived. She packed up her gear to leave discreetly when she felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Care to take another spin on the dance floor with me, Miss Kenny?” Ciaran asked, as he extended his arm. She looked around for Ty but didn’t see him. Maeve couldn’t resist Ciaran’s charm and fell for him a second time.
Maeve pictured a late summer wedding in the formal garden of Emmerdale. She’d wear a sleeveless dress with classic lines, simple yet elegant. Her bouquet of blue hydrangeas would be wrapped with thick satin ribbon. Instead of a veil, she’d wear a white beaded headband to pull her thickly curled chestnut hair off her face. On the lawn, whisper-light tulle draped over the pergola would billow from ocean breezes, dancing before them as her father led her to handsome Ciaran.
An icy wind rattled the metal sashes of her apartment window and broke the spell of Maeve’s wedding dream. I hope his flight wasn’t delayed by bad weather, she thought as she pulled the Aran-stitch throw her mother made around her shoulders.
Her eyes drifted across a collection of elegant picture frames on top of the bookcase. Each photo represented different chapters in her life. There was the photo of her mother Eileen holding her up in the air when she was one-year-old, nose to nose, both of them laughing gleefully. In another photo, she was standing next to her father Martin on the steps of St. Brendan’s Church back home in Binghamton, squinting into the morning sun on her First Communion day. She never forgot what her father said to her after that photo was taken. “No matter what difficulties lie before you in life, Maeve, God will never abandon you.”
There was a large horizontal frame containing a group photo of Maeve’s cousins from Connemara, Ireland. They came to visit the family upstate one summer when she was in high school. Those Flaherty boys were wild, and could certainly hold their pints. Maeve hoped her father hadn’t noticed the steady stream of Guinness cans that disappeared from his cooler in the garage. Or the mysterious disappearance of his Jameson’s.
What a fun summer that was. Many nights, even though it was beastly hot, the relatives crowded around the Kennys’ kitchen table to tell jokes, dance reels to Uncle Jimmy Joe’s button accordion music and listen breathlessly as Aunt Kate told ghost stories of her native Connemara. Maeve learned that despite the fact her father was third generation Irish-American, he was just as Irish as his native-born wife. And thanks to a few choice Irish phrases the Flaherty boys taught her (that came in handy on many occasions), she was able to flaunt her Irish roots, too.
The next photo was of Maeve with her parents on her graduation day from Syracuse University. Her mother had put on Maeve’s graduation gown, her father was wearing her cap at a rakish angle and she was holding her diploma upside down as they mugged for the camera.
On the end on the bookcase was a heart-shaped Waterford crystal frame that Ciaran gave her for Christmas. Inside was a photo she had a stranger take of them kissing in Central Park last fall under a canopy of crimson foliage. Ciaran recited William Butler Yeats’ poem The Wild Swans At Coole to her that day as they walked around the lake. “The trees are in their autumn beauty,” Maeve whispered as she gazed at their photo. How she loved it when Ciaran quoted poets like Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh at significant moments during their relationship. Was there any man more romantic and wonderful than her beloved Ciaran?
Next thing she knew, her alarm clock was beeping. Maeve rose from the couch and saw the message light blinking on her answering machine.
“I’m back. You must be asleep. Sorry, the flight was delayed and … well, I guess I’ll call you at work tomorrow.” Something about Ciaran’s voice sounded tentative, as if he were guarding his words from someone in the room with him. Maeve shrugged it off. He was probably dead tired and would have an early set call today.
“How do I look Brídgeen?” Maeve said later that day at work. She glanced in the mirror to check her lipstick.
“Brilliant.” Brídgeen plucked a piece of lint off Maeve’s cashmere turtleneck dress.
“I think this is it. I really think Ciaran is going to propose tonight.” Maeve wrapped herself in a heavy Donegal tweed ruana and slung her pocketbook over her shoulder.
“Do you believe in premonitions, Maeve? “Brídgeen asked.
“Well, a strange thing happened yesterday. There I was sitting in my office when all of a sudden I envisioned Ciaran pointing at a diamond ring in the window of a jewelry store. The owner smiled at him and said, ‘Excellent choice.’ Then I saw Ciaran tuck a small gold box with a green satin ribbon into his pocket and walk away. It had to be for you.”
“Whatever you say, Miss Cleo,” Maeve laughed.
“What’ll you do if he hands you that box in the restaurant?”
“I’ll scream ‘YES!’ grab it, then run to your apartment as quickly as I can.”
“Give me a hug, cailín,” Brídgeen said. “Let’s hope my vision comes true tonight. You deserve it.”
“Imagine. Next time you see me I won’t be just a public relations account rep. I’ll be a soap star’s fiancée.” They shrieked in unison.
“And soon he’ll be spotted by Hollywood agents,” Brídgeen waxed dramatically while escorting her down the hallway. “He’ll be cast in the next Bond movie, his career will soar and before you know it you’ll be walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards with him.”
“Maeve!” Fiona, the new secretary from Dublin, stopped her on her way to the elevator. “It’s yer man on the phone.”
Maeve took the receiver.
“You cancelled the reservation at Belle Jour? Why…? No, my schedule isn’t too busy today. The big restaurant opening is tomorrow. Why do you want to cancel? The service isn’t that slow. What do you mean you have a scene to tape later tonight? I thought all the street scenes were finished in Toronto. Meet where instead? Ben Bulben’s? The pub on Third Ave.? No. I don’t mind. It’s just … you know, Valentine’s Day.”
Brídgeen looked at Fiona and rolled her eyes.
Maeve hung up.
“He wants to go to a pub instead. I’m all dressed up and he wants to go to a pub. This is weird. I thought for sure tonight was the night.”
“Maybe he’s got a surprise planned and this is just part of it,” Fiona said.
“Of course. He’s too dramatic to do the expected proposal in the romantic French restaurant. Let’s set the stage in a seedy pub with beer-sticky floors and whiskey-breath whispers instead.” Maeve frowned. “Is it too much to want a perfect proposal? Followed, of course, by the perfect wedding, house, car, baby and border collie puppy…”
Brídgeen laughed and put her arm around Maeve. “Hey, be careful when you drink your Guinness. Maybe he’ll toss the ring into your perfect pint.”
“Knowing me, I’d choke on it.”Maeve took a long breath, blessed herself and entered the elevator. “Wish me luck.”
“Break a finger, isn’t that what you say instead?” Brídgeen laughed. Once the elevator doors closed, she frowned at Fiona. “If he breaks her heart, I’ll break more than his fingers.”
When Maeve entered Ben Bulben’s pub it took a few minutes for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. The glare from a Guinness is Good for You neon sign illuminated the row of young men sitting at the back of the bar. Pints were lined up next to the tap, waiting for their creamy heads to settle. From the doorway, she scanned the booths that slowly became visible along the side. Ciaran was nowhere in sight.
A guy with a shaved head wearing a Key West T-shirt brushed past her on the way to the jukebox. She could hear the whirring, then flap, flap, as he scanned the CD covers. He rested one arm holding his pint on top of the machine and leaned in close to read the titles. From where she stood, Maeve could see a tattoo on the inside of his raised arm – a Celtic cross above the words in Irish Grá mo chroí (love of my heart). He put three dollar bills in and selected several tunes. Van Morrison began singing “Have I told you lately that I love you?…”
“That’s for you luv,” he winked as he walked back to the bar. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Don’t frighten the customers, Fintan,” said a sturdy woman behind the bar. “Are ye Maeve, dear?”
“A fella left something for you back here. Fine lookin’. Like one of them movie stars. Is he famous or something?”
Maeve smiled. “Yes, Ciaran Burns.” The name didn’t seem to register with the barmaid. “He plays Blackie MacDara on The Blessed and The Damned.”“That’s him – you’re right! I knew he must have been someone. His hair was so perfect. And his hands were all nicely manicured. Of course it was easy for him to stand out among the likes of these ones.” The young men groaned at her.
“He plays the cop in love with the daughter of the woman who sells stolen diamonds from South Africa,” Maeve said.
“Yes, Serenity Thornton. She’s the daughter. But what’s the mother’s name?”
“Marcella Thornton. She’s played by Arabella Diavolo.”
“Yes, that’s the one. I tell ye, I think Blackie’s really in love with her. The way their eyes linger.”
“No. I don’t think so. Blackie is definitely supposed to be in love with her daughter, Serenity.”
“Well maybe that’s what yer man says, but I say the script is different. I can tell they’re having an affair. Work in a pub 35 years, luv, you’ll learn a lot about relationships.”
Maeve laughed nervously and looked around the bar for Ciaran. Help me out here buddy, she thought. C’mon, where are you hiding?
“Well here you go now, miss,” the barmaid said as she handed Maeve a bouquet of red roses. A card was attached to the florist paper.
“Where is he? Is he coming back?” Maeve turned around.
“Don’t know, luv. Did seem in a bit of a hurry.” Maeve felt the stares of the young men at the bar watching her.
“Go on girl, read the card,” Fintan urged, laughing with the others.
Maeve sat down at the first booth. That Ciaran, she thought. This is his most dramatic entrance yet. Always overboard. As she opened the envelope, the barmaid came over to her.
“Sorry luv, I almost forgot.” Maeve’s jaw dropped as the woman handed her a little gold box with a green bow. Was Brídgeen’s vision coming true?
Maeve looked all around her like a person caught on Candid Camera looking for Allen Funt.“Where is he?” she giggled. “Where are you hiding him?”
“He’s not here,” the barmaid said, curious at Maeve’s reaction. “I told you, he left. And I’m the sadder for his departure.”
Maeve’s hands shook as she read the note.
“My darling Maeve. Please forgive me. These things just happen.”
Huh? What’s with the odd note? She opened the fancy gold box hoping it would explain the mystery.
Inside was a black ring box. It held a Claddagh ring, the one she had given Ciaran for Christmas. Her face flushed and the sound in the room became distant and hollow. Tears must have been streaming down her face but she didn’t realize it until the barmaid rushed over with a Kleenex.
“Dump you, he did? Nothin’ but a hoor master, that one. My mother told me to never trust a pretty man. That’s what he is, all right, a pretty man. Can I get you a shot of whiskey, luv? Some Paddy’s or Jameson’s? On the house.”
Maeve stood up and put the box in her purse. “No thank you. You’ve been very kind. I have to go.”Fintan came over.
“Anything I can do for you, luv?”
Maeve tossed the roses at him and rushed out the door. Fintan turned toward his friends and waved the bouquet.
“Look lads, I bought flowers for the missus.”
“Aw shut yer gob, Fintan, ye eejit,” the barmaid said. She picked up the note on the table and read it.
“Pretty men, never trust ’em,” she muttered, crumbling the paper in her hands.