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I'm most recently a writer.  In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot.  As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades.  An unwilling transplant from the South,  twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US.  Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect.  When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do.  Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Shannon's Daughter--A Look Inside

After a lot of debate, internal of course, I've made a decision.  You've read about my work on Shannon's Daughter, you've even seen the cover.  How risky is it to show you a sample chapter?  Not terribly, or at least that's my hope.  Just keep in mind that this is still draft, subject to my proofreader's scrutiny and my own revisions before it's ready for primetime.  This bit takes place at the opening of the second chapter in the saga of Kendall Gregg and Peg Shannon, set in 1952 in New York City.  They've already met briefly some years earlier, when Kendall was a student at Oxford and Peg was only twelve.  Related only in the sense that Kendall's widowed mother married Peg's Uncle Patrick, they are part of the same family, but not actual cousins.  While their relationship has thus far been warm, at times intense and even humorous, things are about to escalate to a whole new level.
Cue the lights, and . . .curtain!
Chapter Eight

In the five years before they met again, Kendall would frequently wonder about the little girl who had made his first encounter with the Shannons so memorable.  He had reports of course, from his mother, from Adelaide and Maeve and even Agnes.  Now residing in London, the McGill ladies were a larger part of his social life than he’d have liked, given a choice.  That said, he’d become accustomed to playing escort when required and learned to tune out much of what annoyed him most about each of the girls, specifically Maeve’s unceasing discussion of her romantic escapades and Agnes’s constant censuring of the same.  If those two were actually sisters, offspring of the same parents, he had difficulty understanding how they could be such polar opposites.  Maeve, he worried, would end up in serious trouble if she kept up her pursuit of men, in particular those of dubious reputation, and Agnes would most likely become a nun. 

His only direct contact with Peg had been a card each December, an engraved Christmas card—apparently one of hundreds designed for Michael’s annual social and business mailing list—on which she had hand-written “Happy Birthday, too!  Peg.”  He had not responded.  After his return from Ireland, Peg had been so much on his mind, he’d become concerned for his own mental stability.  Leaving her had been a gut-wrenching experience, one he had taken months to completely recover from.  He had worried about her trip back to the states, fretted that her father would not take proper care of her once they were home again, lost sleep countless nights fantasizing about sailing to New York to rescue her from some unknown but awful state of affairs.  Only when he returned to Oxford did he begin to shake off the effects of his encounter with Peg.  He’d thrown himself single-mindedly, and a little desperately, into his studies and eventually found some relief. 

Gradually, the image of her intelligent eyes and impudent smile had faded.  He ceased to hear the echo of her voice in his mind and the worry stilled to mild concern.  She was not his responsibility, and he had no influence over any aspect of her life, he reminded himself regularly.  What had happened during those days in Ireland—he still wasn’t sure how to label it—had little to do with his real life.  It had, however, spurred him to new hope for that life, for which he was profoundly grateful.

During his remaining two years at university, he discovered something quite encouraging about himself—a renewed desire to become a success.  Ambition seemed to seize him by the throat and force him to strive harder than he’d ever thought he could, with the result that he caught the attention of his teachers and eventually one of the deans, whose connections with the London Philharmonic led to an audition.  He hadn’t been offered a chair, that was too much to hope for so soon, but he believed he’d made an impression, and that had served to further fuel his ambition.  With focus and determination, he began to think he might actually achieve his goals and build a life around his work, if nothing else. 

Patrick Shannon had been wholeheartedly supportive of Kendall’s ambition, that support taking the form of purchasing a very fine violin as a graduation gift and providing a temporary monthly supplement to his meager earnings as first violin with a loosely organized quartet.  That, combined with the small income from a trust fund left him by his father, enabled him to lease a quite decent flat, where he could give lessons by day, and entertain friends by night.  The students, youngsters whose parents at least had a passing interest in music and funds to waste, and the friends, mostly female and rarely the sort he’d ever introduce to his mother, kept him sufficiently occupied to keep his mind off weightier matters.  For the first time in years, he was actually content and felt more his old, optimistic self than he’d ever thought possible. 

He’d discovered that there were a surprising number of independently minded women who admired a musician’s ambitions while respecting his limited means.  He seemed to attract slightly older women, thirtyish, often married to by their account boring barristers or businessmen, who liked his looks, his manners and his skill on the dance floor.  They invited him to clubs and parties and then invited themselves back to his flat where they took advantage of whatever other talents they felt he possessed.  Often, he was no more than a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board or someone to sympathize with the humdrum of their lives.  Other times, he was called upon to provide support of a more intimate nature, which he had learned to do with sensitivity while resisting any emotional involvement.  If he occasionally looked in the mirror and called himself a pathetic gigolo, the taunt was something he felt he could live with in the short term in exchange for the material benefits, the meals, theater tickets and even gifts of clothing and jewelry his grateful friends provided.  It wasn’t as if he had hopes of finding a nice girl to fall in love with and marry.  Perhaps someday he might consider a relationship of a more permanent nature, but only if he had the good fortune to find that rarest of creatures, an undemanding and open-minded woman.
                                                                       **********

In July of 1952 he was called to audition again for the Philharmonic.  Cautiously hopeful, he’d given what he felt was his best performance, had a nice chat with the conductor and the concertmaster, and then, with breakneck determination, finished his packing, wrapped up a final social engagement or two and with his mother and stepfather, boarded a train for Southampton and from there a boat to New York City. 
Michael Shannon had been in poor health for the past two years, and unable to make his annual trip to the British Isles.  While the family gatherings in County Carlow were now a thing of the past, with the farm leased and Adelaide relocated to London, the siblings had continued to meet at least once a year.  Adelaide and her daughters had made the trip to New York earlier in the spring, in time for Peg’s debutante ball, and Patrick had chosen to go in July, planning to meet up with Sean and Maureen, currently on an extended vacation in Canada.  At Patrick’s insistence, and expense, Kendall was included, with the understanding that Michael would introduce him to at least a few of his impressive list of associates in New York’s classical music community.

In the frantic preparations for departure, Kendall had worn himself ragged.  The stress of the audition alone had cost him sleep, and the social commitments had been of a nature to further deprive him of rest.  In fact, on the morning of their departure, he had barely sent his bleary-eyed but immensely grateful companion packing, before the taxi occupied by his mother and Patrick had pulled up to his door. 

“Kendall, you look positively awful, darling!” had been his mother’s chipper, pre-dawn greeting.

“Sorry, Mother.  But I’ve been over-booked this week, trying to get all the lessons in and then there was the little matter of the audition.”

“You look as though you haven’t slept a wink.  You really need to relax a bit on this trip, dear.  You can’t burn the candle at both ends and hope to keep your looks, you know.”

The plausible excuse, which wasn’t quite a lie, came easily to mind.  “I was too excited to sleep last night, first trip to the states and all.  I’m fine, Mum, really.  Don’t fuss.”  He added a fond pat of the hand for good measure. 

“Leave the lad alone, Eloise.  He’s a good-looking single man in London.  Why should he sleep?”  Patrick’s wink left him with the uncomfortable suspicion that his reputation might have sprung a leak. 
                                                                    **********

Despite the fact that he was still not the steadiest of sailors, even on a luxury cruise ship apparently, he had enjoyed the crossing, in particular the lively and eclectic society on board, with the result that he’d lost further sleep.  Upon arrival at Michael’s palatial brownstone, he’d begged off dashing out for a late lunch and when shown to his room, fallen gratefully across the bed.  A two hour nap, a pounding shower and he felt almost human and eager to explore what had looked more like an art gallery than a domicile. 

Michael had said something about Peg and tennis, so Kendall assumed she was expected in later that afternoon.  If the flutter in his stomach wasn’t simply hunger, he admitted he was curious to see what an eighteen-year-old version of that captivating little girl must look like.  Maybe she was still knobby-kneed and freckled, one of those raw-boned, athletic types.  The tennis would suggest as much.  He couldn’t imagine she’d blossomed into a real beauty, given the sharp chin and fly-away brows he remembered.  Still, he was pleasantly anxious to see her again.

He found his way downstairs, studying the art work on the wall step by step.  The three story entry way was hung from top to bottom with an astonishing collection of paintings and drawings.  He wouldn’t have been surprised to find an armed guard stationed at the front door.  At the lower landing, he caught sight of a large portrait, framed in guilt and occupying an obvious place of honor on the wall opposite.  The slender young woman, elegantly posed on a red chaise and wearing a formal gown of white tulle, smiled down with a strangely familiar gleam in her bright blue eyes.  “Peg?” he gasped loudly enough to create an echo in the stairwell.

At that instant, the front door burst open and he turned toward the arrival, so quickly that he was momentarily dizzied looking down the remaining flight of stairs.  His initial impression was one of long brown legs and arms, a swish of very short skirt and twin sapphire lights flashing in his general direction.  He repeated his question in the same breathless tone. 

She came toward him, hand extended, eyes sparkling, much as she had at their first meeting in Carlow Town five years earlier.  But this Peg, unlike that first version, came much closer to matching the warm, throaty voice calling his name as she bounded up the stairs.  “Kendall!  You’re here!  I was afraid Dad had whisked you away before I could get a look at you!”

He took her hand with the odd thought that she should become a politician with a handshake like that, reassuringly firm and insinuating familiarity while leaving an indelible impression on his palm. 

“Peg?”  He winched at the catch in his voice.  “Good heavens, look at you!”

“Have I changed?  You haven’t.  Well, maybe a little, but I’d have known you anywhere.  How was your crossing?”

“Fine, although I must admit I’m glad to be on dry land again.  Who knew there was so much ocean out there?”

She laughed, a trifle nervously he thought, and glanced around the entry.  “Has everyone abandoned you?”

“They went to lunch.  I was frankly too exhausted to join them.”  He wondered if she was disappointed, as she turned to bounce back down the stairs.  For the first time, he noticed her hair.  The braids at least were still there, now regally wound into a crown at the back of her head.

“Would you mind following me to the kitchen?  I’m dying to catch up, but I’m also dying for a cold drink.  We were on that tennis court for two hours.  I’m parched!”  She spun toward the back of the house, and he sped down the stairs before she could get out of sight.  It occurred to him that any normal man’s response to her invitation would have been that he’d follow her anywhere.  That thought set off an alarm bell in his brain which competed with the pounding pulse in his ears.  Nothing could have prepared him for this version of Peg Shannon, but it wouldn’t do to let her see the effect she’d had on him. 

The kitchen was dim and cool, a cavernous space with a huge bay window overlooking the garden.  Peg pointed to the table in the bay.  “If you’re hungry, I could find you something to eat.  I still don’t cook, but there’s always food in the fridge.”

“No, thank you.  I’m fine.”  He took a seat, determined to regulate his breathing before he said much more.

She poured a bottle of ginger ale over ice.  “Drink, then?  If you don’t want ginger ale, there’s coke or beer.”

“The ginger ale would be fine, thanks.”  He felt awkward, watching her moving about the room, his eyes insisting on raking her graceful frame.  How had she grown into such a vision of feminine perfection?  That shapeless little girl, all elbows and knees, had developed curves in precisely the proper places, stretched them to just the right height and filled them to exquisitely slender proportion.  His hands involuntarily spread over the table cloth, as though performing an exploration spurred by his wretched imagination. 

“There you go.  Sure you’re not hungry?”  She sat down across from him, sipping her drink. 

“No.  Thank you.”  Now that he could look into her face, with those legs safely hidden beneath the table, he felt a little calmer.  “So, how have you been?” 

“Fine.  Busy.  You know I graduated, from high school, that is.  I start Columbia in September.  And I did the whole debutante thing.  That’s almost over, thank God.”

“I got a full report from Maeve.  Frankly, I think she was a bit jealous.  Agnes, of course, had nothing to say other than to chastise Maeve for trying to steal your spotlight.”

Peg chuckled softly.  “They’re funny.  I’m afraid I was so busy I didn’t have much time to spend with them.  Do you see a lot of them in London?”

“Quite a lot, as a matter of fact.  I’ve been designated the official escort for the two of them.  If Maeve would find herself a suitable chap, I’d be happy to give up the job.  So far, she’s managed to cause Aunt Adelaide to go prematurely gray and Agnes to swear off men forever.”  Her chuckle turned to delighted laughter.  “So tell me what else you’ve been up to.”

“Let’s see.  Oh, I turned eighteen last week.  You just missed my birthday.”  She made a face, much like that funny nose-scrunching thing the former Peg had favored.

“Did you have a party?”

“Oh, yes.”  She rolled her eyes to the ceiling.  “I told Dad, what with all the parties we’d endured already, the deb thing, you know, that I just wanted him to take me somewhere nice for dinner.  Well, he did, but then when we came home, there were at least a hundred people here, all shouting ‘surprise’ and blowing noise makers.  It was awful, but I should have known Dad would do something like that.”

Kendall started to relax, relieved to see that inside the vision, the old Peg seemed to be alive and well.  “So you’re all grown up now?”

“Oh, yes.  Legal and everything.  We had champagne at dinner, and again here at the party.  I’m afraid I don’t have much of a head for that sort of thing.  Now tell me about yourself.  I hear your career is taking off.”

“I don’t know about taking off.  I’ve auditioned for a real job, but I doubt I’ll get it.”

“The London Philharmonic, very impressive.  Uncle Patrick keeps us informed.  He’s really proud of you, you know.  He’s asked Dad to introduce you to Bernie Silverman while you’re here.  Maybe you could audition for him.  Wouldn’t you like to come to New York?”

“Bernard Silverman?  Good lord, your father’s friends with Silverman?”  His pulse stepped up a beat, in part due to the mention of such a famous name, and also, he realized, because watching her eyes as she talked, he’d been drawn into by their glittering blue depths.  There was something dangerously hypnotic about her eyes, something he’d have to watch out for.

“Oh, yes.  Bernie’s a cool guy, very driven, of course.  Did you know he’s the youngest conductor of a major orchestra in the entire world?  And he can’t even keep his suits pressed half the time.  He showed up to dinner last week looking like he’d slept in his clothes.”  She laughed again, a softly polite but very honest laugh, yet another means of captivating a man’s attention and causing him to lose his focus, Kendall noted.

Getting up to pour her ice in the sink, her expression turned serious.  “I have a huge favor to ask, but if you don’t want to, I’ll understand.”

He swallowed the instant response that no favor would be too great.  Maybe he hadn’t had enough sleep after all.  His brain seemed to have turned to bizarre thoughts of poetry and flowers.  “What sort of favor?”

“There’s a little party tonight at the O’Halloran’s.  Connie’s going away to college and this is sort of an early farewell before we all split up.  Nothing too formal.  If you brought a dinner jacket, that would be great, or just a suit will do.  I sort of told her I’d bring you, if you were willing.  They’re all dying to meet you.”

“Really.  Dying?”  He grinned at her wide-eyed explanation, again seeing the old Peg in her eagerness.

“Of course.  I told them all about you.”  She looked away, blushing slightly.  “Thank goodness you haven’t changed much.  After all I said about how good-looking you were, I got worried that you might have gotten fat, or started losing your hair.”

He tossed back his head, laughing out loud.  Thank goodness, here was the girl he’d known after all.  He’d have to get passed her incredible outward transformation, but there was hope now that he wouldn’t be reduced to panting and drooling after her for the next two weeks.  “I’d be happy to go with you if you’re sure I won’t embarrass you, old geezer that I am.”

Her smile was practically blinding, full lips spread over perfect teeth, blue eyes shimmering with pleasure.  “That’s super!  We’ll leave around seven-thirty.  There’ll be lots of finger food and stuff, and then there’ll be a buffet at midnight.  You might want to eat before we go, though, in case you want to drink.  There’ll be plenty of that too, I’m sure.  Connie’s brother Bill runs a real bar at all their parties.  He’s kind of a show-off, playing bar-tender with his cocktail shakers and all.  There’ll be dancing, too.”  She bounced on her toes like an excited child.  “Oh, Kendall, I’m so glad you’re here!”

“I’m glad you’re glad.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I thought you might have fallen in love with some college man and. . .well, not have time for your old cousin anymore.”

“Don’t be silly.  I’m not going to fall in love with anybody.  Ever.  And I’d always have time for you anyway.”  The smile turned affectionate, complete with scrunched nose.  “Now I’m going to shower.  I’m rank!  See you later!”

She was gone, leaving a draft of energy and a slightly earthy aroma in her wake.  He sat at the table for a while, staring out at the manicured garden and trying to superimpose one image of Peg over the other.  She was only eighteen, he cautioned, although she’d always been mature beyond her years.  Just because she looked like the Hollywood-bred, All American fantasy of burgeoning sexuality did not change the facts of their relationship.  If any other male showed signs of sharing his primal response to her, he’d be forced to take him by the collar and toss him to the nearest gutter.  A place he would have to throw himself if he couldn’t keep his mind from wandering up those legs of hers.

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