Ross and Faith Mac Paidin didn’t expect to die on their way home from the dance.
Saturday evening Faith put on her Sunday finest; a beautiful red and navy chiffon with white collar and cuffs. Slipping into the heels she’d chosen for the occasion and stepping to the mirror, she began to apply the daring crimson lip stick she’d splurged on. It contrasted nicely against her fair Nordic skin and made her blue eyes pop! Running painted fingertips through the golden curls cascading over her shoulders, she gave herself a quick wink of approval. Her sweetheart would be pleased.
Faith had been looking forward to this party for over a month now and wanted to make sure she looked her best. Finally, a reason to dress up for a night on the town. With most days spent playing domestic engineer, it felt like she lived her life in sweat pants and tennis shoes. Poor Ross probably wondered whatever happened to that fashion-conscious girl he fell in love with in college! Dates were a rare luxury these days, having to pay a sitter to care for three small kids. Thankfully, sweet Lizzie Mason invited little Dick, Jack, and Shirley to spend the night at her house, so there would be no worries about staying out late.
Faith had never met Ross’ family so she knew nothing about the dark forces conspiring against them that evening.
Ross, an army man, had served in the military for 7-years, and as he gazed at himself that late June afternoon he thought he was looking pretty darn sharp in his crisp dress-greens. There were lots of shiny medals and colorful ribbons pinned to his chest and he had good reason to feel proud. His thick, mahogany hair was cut above his ears, “high and tight”, and he slicked it back carefully, making sure not a strand was out of place. There wasn’t a hint of stubble on his freshly shaved face as he slapped on some manly-smelling cologne and moved for the closet door. He, too, wanted to make this a night to remember.
Work in the service kept him busy and took him away from Faith and the kids far more than he liked. But he felt it was necessary and important work…protecting this great country. He knew going into it there would be sacrifice. But all that time away made evenings like this one especially sweet! At just twenty-eight years old, both he and Faith had gotten an early start with married life, their first child, Richard (little Dick), having been born when they were only twenty-two. And the other kids were not far behind. It was a happy family and Ross loved filling his role as bread-winner, husband and daddy.
Just inside his wardrobe, on the rack placed there for this purpose, he located a matching flat-top hat with gold braid and brass insignia. Lifting it, with both hands, toward his head, he caught a glimpse of the black and white photo he had hand-stitched there a few months earlier. A picture of the five of them, taken at the last company Christmas party. He put it there so that, no matter where the Army took him, or for how long, he always had a little piece of family close by.
Ten years had passed since leaving his home country of Ireland and Ross swore he’d never look back. After his mother went missing, and it became ever more clear with each passing day that his dad, despite all of his peculiar abilities and eccentricities, would not be able to bring her back, Ross decided enough was more than enough. Maybe Inez and Clara weren’t so wrong to abandon dad in a huff, like they did. After all, they had endured his ridiculous behavior since long before his birth. Could he really blame them for turning their backs on such a bizarre family? Clearly not. But he missed his sisters. Their absence left him feeling isolated and alone…and having to feign interest whenever dad tried to lure him into yet another crazy adventure. Ross yearned for a solid, stable, secure life. He liked the idea of living with both feet planted firmly on the ground. This head in the clouds business was for the birds.
So he made a solemn vow, right there and then, at twelve years of age, that when he turned eighteen, and became a legal adult, he would move to a far-away place where he could start over. Build a new life of his own choosing. And screw “Sir Edward” if he thought his only son was compelled to follow in his freak-show footsteps.
For six long years Ross saved, plotted and planned, saying nothing of his scheme to his father or anyone else. Then, the day after his eighteenth birthday, Ross Mac Paidin boarded a flight to “the land of the free, home of the brave” and he had not one single bone of regret in his now young adult body about doing it. He felt prepared for this journey, having done his research well in advance. He knew that if he swore allegiance to the country’s Constitution, and passed the basic citizenship requirements, their armed services would be more than happy to welcome a well-educated young man, such as himself, into their ranks. Even if he did have a funny accent.
After landing in the USA he rented a small apartment and got after applying for his American citizenship straight away. By the end of the first year he had become an official citizen and was accepted into the United States Army.
Ross believed that severing ties with his father, moving half-way around the world, and blending into American society was his best chance for a normal life. And he felt sure he’d achieved his objective. He’d heard nothing but silence from “across the pond” for years now, and though his dad initially used all of the vast resources available at his disposal to track him down and try to convince him to go back, Ross’ refusal to communicate or interact in any way seemed to have finally done the trick.
All of this happened years before he met Faith, and he was glad about that. By the time he and she started dating he had already predetermined that it would be in his future wife’s best interest to “bend the truth” about his past. Telling her his parents had passed away and that he had no living relatives was technically only a white lie, anyhow. His dad was verifiably wack-a-doo, his mother was missing, if not dead, and he had no clue where his sisters were or if they were even alive. Deceiving Faith felt wrong, but he knew that keeping family secrets from her was the only way to shield her from any potential harm that might come as a result of interaction with that world.
Yet, a lingering fear simmered just beneath the surface. Even after all the precautions he’d taken, he still couldn’t be completely sure his dad wasn’t having Arthur keep an eye on him,”from a distance.” There had been moments over the years when he wondered if he sensed a familiar “presence” in the room…
And so he remained cautious.
Mr. And Mrs. John Kleimann, Ross’ First Sergeant and his wife, arrived at 7:00 pm to pick them up. They had planned to ride together and grab some dinner at Kells downtown, “on The Waterfront”, before the dance. Serg always wanted to eat traditional Irish food when the four of them dined out. It had become “a thing” they did. After five years of friendship, John continued to express fascination with Ross’ background and unusual childhood in that far-away land. So Ross had come to expect John to do his very best to pry stories out of him over bowls of lamb stew and plates of soda bread. He had to carefully edit what he shared, of course, and sometimes he wondered if John might not suspect Ross was holding back.
First Sergeant Kleimann was a “lifer” when it came to his military service. That’s what they call guys who’ve devoted their entire career to the Army. So, he had plenty of tall-tales of his own to tell about tours of duty in foreign lands like Germany and Vietnam. It was a good trade-off. The girls always listened intently at first, but eventually they would lose interest and scoot in close to one another, chit-chatting about shopping, kids, and whatever else it is that women talk about.
The dance was held at a local Grange and when they arrived there were lots of people in uniform mingling about with spouses on their arms or seated next to them. A live band was playing on stage and in the far right corner, at the back of the room, a well-stocked bar was staffed with tenders busily filling glasses. Army people love to drink and smoke cigarettes. It’s just part of the culture. So the air was thick with tobacco and loud, boisterous laughter as they made their way through the crowd to find a spot at the far end of a long banquet table. These four, however, didn’t partake of such vices. They simply planned to cut-a-rug until they were ready to drop from exhaustion! They laughed and twirled and bounced and swayed all across the dance floor. And Ross held Faith’s hand, pulling her close, during the slow songs. He loved that she wore her hair long and when he bent his head down close to hers he could smell a faint hint of citrus and honeysuckle, which was intoxicating enough for him.
It was after midnight when they finally dragged themselves out of the building and moved toward Serg’s 4-door Honda Accord to head home. The weather was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky, and about a million stars were shining brightly above them as they walked. Ross mentioned, out loud, that he hoped it stayed this nice for the fireworks display next week and that he knew Jack and Shirley, especially, would giggle with delight at the brilliant colors. It had been a wonderful evening, everything they’d hoped for. And the foursome shared lazy conversation as they climbed into their seats and got situated.
The streets of Portland were mostly vacant at that hour of the morning as they drove through the city center. All of the shops were dark now, except for the brightly lit signage on the exterior of the buildings. Passing a department store window Ross noticed the shadowy form of a mannequin standing inside and thought to himself that she looked almost ghostly, in her artificial world. Faith nuzzled up to him, resting her head on his shoulder and closing her eyes. She felt content. John expressed how happy he was that this red light was the first they had encountered during their entire trip through town, an uncommon occurrence, to be sure. As he put his foot on the gas pedal and began to roll his shiny automobile into the intersection it hit them, suddenly and with incredible force. The other vehicle, a big, green garbage truck, smashed into their auto and just kept going. It hit the car broadside, at high-speed, sending it spinning and careening across the street, finally coming to a stop as it slammed into a telephone pole.
All four occupants of the vehicle were pronounced dead on site when the authorities arrived.
Jack, Shirley, and Dick were completely unaware of the dramatic change about to take place in their little lives.
Copyright ©2017 Tracy Partridge-Johnson. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.