Read Far Away (Gypsy Fairy Tale Book Two) Online
Authors: Dana Michelle Burnett
It should’ve bothered me how quickly my life went back to a resemblance normal. If I was paying attention, it might have worried me, but as it was I was just trying to exist.
Somehow, without me even noticing, my life became a constant of predictability. Every day was the same. I woke up in the morning and I went to sleep at night. Anytime in between those two things was spent just trying to survive the loneliness.
I wasn’t aware of anything, not the passage of time and not the change of the seasons. All of a sudden I blinked and leaves were gone from the trees and there was a chill in the air. When did that happen?
I turned from the window as Alec limped in from the back room with a stack of ten pound bags of birdseed in his arms. He stepped around me and set them down in the corner near the corn and sunflower seed.
“So what are your plans for tomorrow?” He asked as he straightened and rubbed the small of his back.
I shrugged at him and looked back out at the gloomy day, “I guess just working why?”
“Are you serious?” He asked in a weird patient sort of voice. “It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow.”
That can’t be right...
I looked up on the calendar on the wall, but the page was still turned to September.
That’s not right either... Halloween was just what...
Two or three weeks ago...
Flipping through the pages of the calendar, I looked at the one for November. That would mean that tomorrow would be... Thanksgiving.
That’s not good... A person is not supposed to lose time like that...How could I lose track of an entire month?
I felt like I was losing my mind. Normal people were aware of the changing seasons and had a general idea of what month it was. I tried not to let it show how badly I was shaken by the realization.
“I guess I’m doing nothing then,” I said as calmly as possible.
Keep it together...Don’t act like a crazy person...It was just a slip...I have to do better that’s all...
He looked at me with that sympathetic look people gave to those they pitied. If it was anyone else, it would’ve angered me, but since it was Alec I just wish he’d look away. It was that same look people used when they saw a crying child or an old dog, like he wanted to do something, but didn’t know what.
Alec shook his head, “I hate to think about you alone.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said as I pretended to thumb through the receipt book. I did everything I could not to look up. I didn’t want to look at him and see that expression again.
“Don’t be silly,” he said as he limped over to me. “I owe at least that much to your grandmother after all she did for me. She was the only person willing to give me a job after the accident. How can I let you starve?”
“I’m not starving.”
“When was last time you had a decent meal?”
With him standing so close, it was harder not to look directly at him. I shrugged and shifted a little more to the left, “I eat at the diner a few times a week.”
“Not good enough,” he said with a laugh. He moved again so there was no way that I could avoid looking directly at him. “I’ll come by and get you around eleven tomorrow and you can have dinner with me and my grandpa.”
“Do you really think your grandpa would be okay with that? I mean, after everything that happened in all.” I couldn’t help but think about the bodies of Alec’s relatives probably rotting nearby under the new fallen leaves.
“It’ll be fine,” he said with a wave of his hand. “He doesn’t suspect anything. As far as he knows, they’re just hiding out somewhere and he’ll hear from them soon.”
“And you’re okay with letting him believe that?” I asked. “Doesn’t it bother you to lie to him?”
Alec lowered his head, “Of course it does.”
Alec leaned over the counter, bending down so that he could look me in the eye.
“Listen to me,” he said as if he could hear my self-condemning thoughts. “You have nothing to feel guilty about.”
I nodded without a word. If I spoke again, I just knew that my voice was going to crack and I would start crying. I didn’t want to cry in front of him.
“So, I’ll come by for you around eleven?”
I nodded again, feeling the knot in my throat tightening.
He stepped around me, “All right then, and remember, you have nothing to feel guilty about.”
As he walked away, I felt the tears on my cheeks and wished that I could believe him.
* * * *
The next day I got dressed in the only nice sweater I owned, an oversized cream-colored knit, and the only pair of jeans I had without holes. My hair had not been trimmed in months so I just ran a brush through it and pulled back into a ponytail.
Well...That’s as good as it’s going to get...
I felt completely underdressed when I sat down in the living room chair to wait for Alec. What was I doing? I looked like I was going to go to work in the feed store, not like I was going to a Thanksgiving dinner.
The more I worried about it, the more I had to wonder why it mattered what I looked like?
I was trying to talk myself into forgetting the entire thing, when there was a knock at the front door.
Well... Too late to back out now...Why did I ever agree to this?
I opened the door and there stood Alec cleaned up and looking like his all American high school soft. Looking at him like that, it was easy to remember the way all the girls used to write his name on their notebooks and try their best to get him to notice them when we were all back in high school together.
He looked so different from what I was used to that I wasn’t sure how to act around him. I made sure to keep plenty of distance between us and I tried not to stare.
“Are you sure this is going to be okay?” I asked, keeping my pace slow to match his limping gait.
“Of course it’s okay,” Alex said with a slight smile. “It’s just going to be grandpa and some of his friends. I need someone to talk to.”
I relaxed enough to smile over at him as we stepped up on the porch of his grandfather’s house. Alec looked down at me as if he were about to say something, but then seem to think better of it and just opened the front door.
The house was a lot like my own home, just a modest cottage built at the last turn-of-the-century. The rooms were small, but when I walked in it seemed like half the town was packed within its walls. Everywhere I turned there were small groups of people laughing and talking.
“All of these people are your grandpa’s friends?” I asked.
Alec nodded, “He meets some at the park and others in town, and if he hears that their kids won’t be by or if they don’t have any family to speak of, he invites them here.”
I looked across the room to the dining room table. It was covered in mismatched dishes and serving bowls, making me think that perhaps everyone contributed something to the meal, and there I was empty handed.
Alec’s grandpa was suddenly standing right in front of me.
“Harmony,” he said with a welcoming smile. “I’m so glad you could join us.”
Despite everything Alec said the day before; I felt the guilt weighing down on my shoulders.
I can’t do this...I can’t do this...
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, embarrassed as I let him give me a quick hug. “I didn’t bring anything.”
“You didn’t need to bring anything,” he said as he pushed me and Alec toward the table. “Just yourself, that is enough for us.”
I took a seat next to Alec at the small table, crowded in with everyone else. Alec’s grandpa stood up and smiled at all of us, asking us to join hands for grace.
“Heavenly Father,” he began. “We thank you for this feast before us, the return of old friends, the blessing of new friends, and ask that you watch over those that are not with us today.”
Oh my God...Oh my God...
I listened as he asked God to guide all the families back together, trying not to scream. I felt the guilt even more, pulling at my throat and making the chest right. Under the table, Alec squeezed my hand.
All it took was that simple gesture to ease my conscience. It was like he was telling me again that I had nothing to feel guilty about and it was time for the old wars to just fade away. I smiled over at him as the prayer ended.
At that moment, for just a split second, I felt normal, more normal than I had in months. I didn’t know how long the feeling would last and I didn’t want to ask.
A week later, I was fighting to stay awake on a Friday afternoon. There were only minutes left until closing, but I was miserably drowsy from the slow afternoon and steady hum of the furnace was lulling me to sleep with its toasty heat.
I heard Alec come in through the back, slamming the door shut. It was only seconds later I heard him cry out, followed by a loud crash.
Almost falling off my wooden stool, I rushed to the stockroom. I was terrified of what I would find. A rat? A snake? A member of a secret Irish group come to kill me?
Alec lay in the floor, clutching his foot with one hand and untying his shoe with the other.
“I stepped on a nail,” he hissed as he pulled his sneaker off.
I knelt down beside him as he pulled his leg up to look at the bottom of his sock. A small red dot was spreading across the ball of his foot.
“How bad is it?” I asked, cringing at the thought.
Alec peeled off his sock and looked at the tiny mark, “It’s nothing. I’m just going to bleed like a stuck pig.”
I didn’t really hear him; I was staring at the shiny white scars covering his foot and ankle. I never saw the damage from the car accident and the surgeries that followed. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
“Does it still hurt?” I asked, pointing to the withered limb.
“Your leg,” I said. “From the car accident.”
He wiped the blood away and shrugged as he put his sock back on, “Not anymore.”
“It looks like it would still hurt.”
“It’s like everything else in life,” he said pointedly. “After a while, you heal and the hurt just goes away.”
“Is it really that simple?”
“It can be.”
I got the feeling that he was talking about so much more than just his leg and maybe I was too. Suddenly, everything seemed awkward. I got up off the floor, dusted off the seat of my jeans, and went back out front.
“So what are you doing tonight?” He asked as he followed me out of the back room.
I yawned and stretched, “Probably just going home and going to bed.”
He shook his head, “Does being that boring come natural to you or do you have to work at it?”
“What exactly do you mean by that?”
“You act like you’re eighty years old or something.”
I rubbed my eyes, “I feel that way most the time anymore.”
Alex clapped his hands down on the counter, making me jump again.
“Well, it’s time for you to start acting your age,” he declared.
“What did you have in mind?”
Pulling on his coat, he motioned with his head toward the door. “Let’s go to light up Corydon.”
I shook my head, “Be serious.”
“What about your foot?”
“It’s fine,” he said with a shrug. “Come on, we’ll have fun.”
I shook my head and stretched again, “I’d rather just go home.”
Alec crossed his arms, “What’s a matter? Afraid I’ll have you out past your bedtime?”
I had to smile back at his teasing expression. What
I rushing home to? The silence of an empty house? What would one night out really hurt?
Alec must have sensed that I was wavering because he slapped playfully at my arm.
“Come on granny,” he teased. “Go grab your coat.”
I hesitated only a moment more until he winked at me and then my mind was made up. I took off my apron and hung it on the nail beside his, catching a glimpse of my reflection in the window.
What was that expression on my face? Was that happiness?
I rushed into the back room to get my coat. Shoving my arms into the sleeves, I felt the flutter of excitement ran through me. What was I doing?
I’m living for a change...That’s what I’m doing...
We walked along the sidewalks toward the town square, moving from the darkness and the light as we passed under streetlight we stayed side by side. We were close enough that I could feel the slight warmth radiating from him and through the thin air to me, but I stayed a step behind and to the side so there was no chance that we might actually touch.
Why is this so strange...It’s just Alec...
I didn’t know what to say or what I should do with my hands. Alec seemed just as uncomfortable, watching my every reaction closely.
The square was already lit up when we walked up. Thousands of white lights covered the old capitol building, the trees, the gazebo, and the split rail fence that surrounded the lawn. Everything looked so normal during the day, but now it truly looked magical and festive.
“It’s beautiful,” I blurted out.
Thankfully Alec didn’t point out my awkwardness, he just guided me toward the gingerbread and hot cocoa the shop owners were selling in front of their gaily decorated storefronts and then we stood back and watched little kids getting their pictures taken with Santa.
I couldn’t help but remember my own grandmother bringing me to the festival, placing me in the lap of perhaps that very same Santa, and taking my picture.
“You know,” I said as I wrapped my freezing fingers around my cup of hot chocolate. “For as long as I can remember, my grandmother never missed taking this.”
“I remember,” he said softly. “That’s why I thought you would enjoy it.”
He was smiling when I looked up at him, the open smile of a person not expecting anything in return for his thoughtfulness. Was it possible that there was still a person in the world that still did nice things for other people just because he could?
I looked away, “Thanks for making me come out tonight.”
“You’re welcome,” Alex said with an embarrassed shrug. “I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do or not, but I thought it was worth the chance to cheer you up.”
“Tonight is the more fun than I’ve had in a long time,” I confessed.
Alec took my hand and pulled me across the snow-covered grass and back to the sidewalk where horse-drawn carriages waited to take people for a ride around the square.
“The night doesn’t have to be over yet,” he said with a mischievous smile.
“Are you serious?”
“It’s freezing,” I argued as he pulled me toward the horses.
“Come on,” he pleaded. “Just once around the square.”
I let them help me up into the back of the carriage. He tucked one of the plaid blankets around me, careful to make sure he didn’t actually touch me. After he was sure that I was cozy, he climbed up beside me and took his seat as the driver clicked the reigns. The horses trotted away from the curb, making the bells on the harnesses jingle loudly.
The sounds of the festivities faded away as we rode down street, leaving just the sound of the bells and the clop of the horses’ hooves. Something about that sound and the warm smell of the horses bodies, made me think of Kieran and his beloved horses Smoky and Caesar. At the thought of Kieran, my chest felt heavy and tight.
Don’t do this...Not now...Don’t spoil it...
Alec immediately noticed the change in my mood. He leaned forward and peered into my face.
“Now you look sad,” he said. “Did I do something wrong?”
I shook my head to clear away the painful memories, “It’s nothing. It’s just such an amazing night; I can’t thank you enough for talking me into coming out tonight.”
Alec shifted in the seat beside me, “It’s just nice to see you smiling for a change.”
“Have I really been that bad?”
“Yes,” he teased. “But now I know all I have to do is freeze my butt off looking at Christmas lights with you to make you smile.”
I laughed, honestly laughed, and relaxed a little more. Why was I torturing myself? What was I trying to prove? Did I love Kieran more if I made myself miserable?
I made myself relax even more and gave myself permission to have fun. I didn’t even pull away when our shoulders accidentally touched and when I went to bed that night I didn’t even glance at Kieran’s letter.