Protective, stubborn, moody, soft beneath a hard shell.
The day started badly but that didn't surprise her. Nessa's horoscope for the whole week had been the sort she hated, full of warnings about people being uncooperative, minor mishaps and things not going to plan. It was one of those horoscopes that made her check the signs either side of Cancer just to see if things would have been better if she'd been born a month earlier or later.
Gemini's were in for an exciting week, it seemed. Leos would see some new events taking hold -- good for Adam, at least. But the predictions for Cancerians were dull and vague. Not like last month when she'd read about an unexpected windfall and had won five hundred euros on the Lottery the very next day. She'd scoured the pages of The Year Ahead for Cancerians for other potential money wins after that but hadn't come up with anything even vaguely promising. The next few weeks looked incredibly boring as far as she could see, filled with advice to focus on her resources and take time before making important decisions. She'd checked a few magazine horoscopes too on the off chance that they'd throw a better light on things but they'd been equally vague. The only thing for it, Nessa decided, was to try and make the week more interesting herself.
Because things hadn't started promisingly first thing (the alarm hadn't gone off and there'd been a big rush to get both her uncooperative husband and her equally uncooperative daughter out of bed) she hoped that they'd improve by tonight. She really didn't want minor mishaps to upset the assorted family gathering she'd planned for this evening. I don't know why I let myself in for things like this, she muttered, as she watched eight-year-old Jill eat breakfast by stuffing an entire warm croissant into her mouth. It's more trouble than it's worth.
But it always gave her a warm glow to have the people she cared about around her and to bask in their appreciation of an enjoyable evening. Typically Cancerian, her mother Miriam would say fondly, and Nessa knew that she was right. But she couldn't help herself. She liked filling her home with the people closest to her, and her parents' visit to Dublin from their home in Galway was a good excuse to have everyone around for the first time in ages. Miriam and Louis had moved back to their home county when Louis had retired the previous year. Nessa still hadn't got used to the fact that her mother was no longer a five-minute drive away. It wasn't as if she needed to call on Miriam that often, but it had been nice to know that she was there in a crisis. Not that there were too many real crises in Nessa's life. How could there be when Adam and Jill were part of it (even if they made it difficult in the mornings by refusing to get out of bed)?
And then she heard the crunch. She stood in the kitchen, coffee cup midway to her lips, while she processed the sound. She didn't really need to process the sound, she knew exactly what it was, she'd heard it often enough before.
"Oh, Mum!" Jill's blue eyes were wide with the knowledge too. "Dad's pranged the car again, hasn't he?"
"Sounds like it." Nessa put her cup on the breakfast counter. "Let's go and see."
They walked together into the front room and looked out of the bay window. Adam was getting out of the car, his face red and his eyes blazing with fury. Nessa could see clearly what had happened. In reversing the car out of the driveway, Adam had managed to clip the front wing of another car which was parked at the curb.
Shit, she thought, as she watched her husband stand and seethe. It was probably because he was eating the croissant as he drove. I should never have given it to him just to save time because he was late for a meeting. He can't drive and do something else at the same time. I should know that by now. I don't need a horoscope to tell me a mishap would result.
Of course, if he hadn't been a terrible driver, if he hadn't had trouble with, as he called it, spatial awareness, she might never have got to know him at all. They'd have passed each other by ten years ago instead of exchanging phone numbers in the less than romantic setting of the underground car park at Blackrock Shopping Centre. Parking was tight in the carpark at the best of times but, two days before Christmas, it was manic. Finding a space was difficult enough, parking in it wasn't easy what with all the other impatient drivers around, and getting out of it was even more difficult because spaces that had been a tight fit on the way in suddenly seemed to shrink on the way out.
But parking in difficult spaces held no fears for Nessa. Louis, a tanker driver, had taught his three daughters to drive and had taught them well. Unlike most relatives as teachers, Louis was good at instructing, good at staying calm and good at instilling confidence. Nessa, Cate and Bree Driscoll had all passed their test at the first attempt.
But, easy as it was for Nessa, Adam Riley was having terrible trouble. He'd just spent the past two hours in the shopping center, at least half of which had been spent trying to find somewhere to park in the first place; he was tired and bad-tempered and had spent much, much more than he'd meant to because he'd bought the first thing he saw for everyone and then, as he'd walked around a little more, had seen much more appropriate gifts and bought them too. He didn't mind spending money -- in fact he enjoyed it immensely -- but both his credit cards were up to their limits and his checking account was overdrawn. So he knew that as a result of today he'd be spending the next few weeks on some kind of drastic economy drive. And he hated economy drives.
He sat in his car and looked around him anxiously. The red car beside him was so close that only a couple of millimeters separated them. On the other side, a stone pillar seemed to be effectively blocking any possibility maneuvering. And there was a line of cars waiting to take the space which he should already have vacated.
Nessa was first in the line. She was listening to her Queen tape and singing along happily to "Bohemian Rhapsody" when she realized that the asshole who was trying to reverse out of the space she was waiting for was making a complete mess of it. She watched as he moved backward and forward and backward again without making any progress whatsoever. She was pleased that it was a bloke who was messing things up so badly; but she knew that most of the people in the line behind her would be thinking that some fool woman was making a mess of things.
Adam could feel his palms beginning to sweat. He knew that people were waiting. He knew that they were watching him. Most of the time he loved to have people watching him because he was a natural extrovert and enjoyed admiration but not here, not now.
He jumped as someone rapped on the driver's window.
The girl was tiny -- no more than five feet two. Her dark brown hair curled around her oval face and two gray eyes peered at him from beneath a shaggy fringe.
He wound down the window. "Pardon?"
"We'll be here until New Year if you keep on doing what you're doing," she said. "And I want to get some shopping done. So, if you want to get out of that space, let me do it."
He was going to say no but something in her eyes made him say yes.
She slid into the car, pulled the seat forward as far as it would go and then reversed out of the space with the minimum of fuss. Adam couldn't believe it. The other cars in the line hooted their approval.
"Thanks," he said as she got out of the car again.
"Don't mention it."
"That was fantastic."
"You were doing it all wrong."
"Want to come for a drink?" He surprised himself. He hadn't had the slightest intention of asking the girl for a drink. He had a girlfriend. A tall, leggy girlfriend on whom he'd just spent a small fortune buying some very exotic lingerie.
"I don't think the people behind us would like that very much." She grinned at him. "They want you to move and move now."
"Sometime?" he asked.
"What's your phone number?"
She gave him the number of the surgery where she worked as an office assistant and he gave her his number too. It went out of her head almost as soon as he told her because she wasn't good at remembering numbers. She didn't expect him to remember hers. Besides she wasn't looking for romance. She already had a very suitable boyfriend who worked in a bank and who was crazy about her.
She'd gone home and sat in the living room of the family house in Portmarnock where she read Cate's magazine, ate chocolate-covered raisins and drank the best part of a bottle of red wine. But when she got to the horoscope page of the magazine and read the prediction for Cancer, her eyes had widened in surprise. "You love to help someone in a tight spot. Meeting new people in new places will have a surprising impact on your life. After this week, things will never be the same again."
Things never were the same again. The man in the car, Adam Riley, had phoned the surgery the following day. He'd asked her for a drink again. This time she'd accepted.
He was very much a Leo, Nessa decided as she sat beside him in Davy Byrne's pub on their first date. He was tall, broad-shouldered with a slight tan despite his red-gold hair. He was witty and funny and he could laugh at himself and his parking predicament.
Nessa fell head over heels in love with him.
He dumped the leggy girlfriend although he cursed the three hundred euros worth of lingerie he'd left her with. She broke up with the banker -- a Pisces, they should have been a perfect match. Six months later Adam and Nessa were married.
And in the past ten years, thought Nessa as she opened the front door and joined him in the driveway, he's managed to average at least one car-related mishap every twelve months. Which is kind of endearing but bloody annoying all the same.
"Didn't you see it?" she asked mildly as she surveyed the damage both to Adam's Alfa Romeo (it was a company car, Nessa always felt he should have asked for a Fiat Punto or something even smaller but Adam's sense of style wouldn't let him) and to the blue Mondeo.
"Of course I saw it," snarled Adam. "But I thought I had room."
"Who the hell owns it anyway?" he demanded. "Bloody inconsiderate parking if you ask me."
He was winding up for some more invective when a disheveled looking girl with uncombed hair and mascara smudged eyes rushed out of the house next door.
Adam and Nessa exchanged glances. Their neighbors, John and Susie Ward, were away for a week. Their 22-year-old son, Mitchell, was alone in the house. More or less.
"Oh shit!" cried the girl. "Shit, shit, shit." She pushed her hair out of her eyes and stared at Adam. "You tosser," she said. "You had plenty of room."
"I wasn't expecting someone to park halfway across my driveway," said Adam hotly. "You should've been more considerate."
"You could've driven a truck through that space!" The girl's face was contorted with rage. "That's my dad's car. He'll fucking kill me."
Nessa glanced at her watch. Adam was late and getting later.
"Why don't you take my car," she suggested. "I'll sort things out here."
"Your car?" Adam looked at the little Ka. "But -- "
"You'll make the meeting if you leave now," Nessa told him. "But not if you hang around here debating how well or how badly this girl parked."
"I -- oh, all right." Adam looked at the two of them. "I'll ring you later, Nessa. But I'm not admitting liability. I'm not."
She stifled a grin as he folded his huge frame into the Ka. It wasn't his style of car at all but it would get him where he needed to be.
Jill, who'd followed Nessa out of the house, looked at the other girl with interest. "You're not wearing a bra, are you?" she asked.
"My name is Nessa Riley." Nessa shot Jill a warning look and held out her hand to the girl. "Would you like to come inside for a cup of coffee?"
The girl yawned, her anger suddenly dissipated. "I suppose so. Mitch won't be awake for hours anyway. I heard your hubby bang into Dad's car. I was probably waiting for some kind of disaster to strike." She followed Nessa and Jill into the house. "My name's Portia," she told Nessa.
"Like the car?" asked Jill. "Mum, she's named after a car!"
Portia grinned at Jill. "I don't think that was quite what was in my mother's mind. And, regretfully, I've never owned one."
"Mum would like a Porsche," confided Jill. "But she knows that Dad would want to drive it and Dad always pra -- ouch, Mum!" She looked accusingly at Nessa who'd given her a tiny shove in the small of her back.
"Stop chattering and get your things together," Nessa told her. "As soon as I've finished talking to Portia we have to get you to school."
The only thing that Portia was really worried about was her father's fury. "He thinks I'm a crap driver," she told Nessa as they sipped the coffee which Nessa had poured. "He hates lending me the car. He only did this time because he's even more paranoid about me getting taxis on my own."
"I can understand that," said Nessa.
"Why shouldn't she get a taxi on her own?" asked Jill. "She's grown up, isn't she?"
"Listen, honey," said Portia to Jill, "you're never grown up as far as your dad is concerned."
"Dad told me he couldn't wait to have me grown up and out of the house," she informed Portia.
"That was after you spilt Coke on his keyboard," Nessa said.
"I'll phone your father," said Nessa. "Explain to him what happened."
"Thanks," said Portia. "I know he won't believe me when I tell him a bloke reversed into it. Dad doesn't believe that any man could possibly be a worse driver than a woman."
"If I ever see you again I'll tell you the story of how I met Adam," said Nessa. "In fact, I might tell it to your dad. That'll cure him of that sort of thinking."
"Mum had to unpark Dad's car," said Jill. "He was stuck in a carpark."
"Sounds an excellent basis for a relationship." Portia stood up.
"I'd better get back to Mitch."
"And we'd better get going too," said Nessa. "Otherwise Jill will be late for school."
Normally she walked Jill to the school which was half a mile away but, because they were running late, she drove Adam's car. It wasn't badly damaged at all and neither, it seemed, was the car that belonged to Portia's father which meant (hopefully) that they wouldn't need to claim on insurance or anything like that. Adam would pay for the repairs. He always did.
She drove through the town and along the estuary until she reached the doctor's surgery. She hoped that it wouldn't be a busy morning. But she knew it was a vain hope. Every day was a busy day. She also hoped that Adam would remember that he had to be home early because of the family gathering tonight. It was the kind of thing that, in his sense of injustice over the car incident, he was likely to forget.
Copyright © 2002 by Sheila O?Flanagan
The Snow Garden
But the past does not die so easily, and the intricate webs of deceit that they have spun to protect themselves are slowly twisted into shackles that chain them to their doom. Snowbound and trapped on the campus, the friends find themselves unwilling pawns in the machinations of a malevolent force that has taken hold of Atherton -- and all their oldest fears, veiled passions, and secret nightmares are about to come to life in...The Snow Garden.