He was a sick, sad, old man. Here he was sitting on the far side of the ruined blackhouse next to his sister's stone cottage just listening for that American lass. Sitting? Hiding more like. He didn't want her to know that he was here. He was sure if she kent anyone was listening then the singing would stop. He felt like a voyeur at one of those peepshows only he wasn't peeping at her body, he was peeping at her soul. Some days that seemed so much worse.
He really should go talk to her, she seemed so lonely spending days on end by herself. But for all she was an American and young and couldn't even start her own fire, she was so petite and pretty and self-assured that she left him feeling like some big lumbering idiot. He knew if he tried to talk to her he'd get tongue-tied and probably step on her foot or something.
The first time he'd stopped to listen had been a few days ago. He was bone tired and his back ached from bending over crutching and trimming hooves most of the day. After driving the flock back up to the north pasture on the far side of Eileen's land, he'd stopped to rest. If he was honest, he'd admit that he'd stopped to rest there in hopes of catching a glimpse of the lass. Instead he had heard her singing again.
A warm front had blown in and made the island quite balmy this week. She'd opened the glass door on the ocean side of the house. He had no idea what she was doing in there, but she like to sing while she did it. She sang all sorts of songs; old songs, like the one she'd sung while washing the dishes on the first day, and some new songs that he didn't know.
Whatever she chose to sing, the sound of her voice made him stop and listen. He didn't care what else he had to do that day, or where else he needed to be. There was magic in her voice that seemed to bewitch him and kept pulling him back to that spot on the old black stones like a siren song. He'd find whatever excuse he could to sneak away in the direction of the little cottage His flock on the north pasture was fast becoming the best tended flock of sheep on the island.
He heard the soft rumble of the glass door sliding open and held his breath. He was terrified of what would happen if she caught him listening. She'd probably call the police about the mad old man stalking about her cottage. It would serve him right.
A few seconds passed and then he heard the low strains of a song. It was an American song he thought, by the airy twang in her voice like the country and western singers he heard sometimes on the radio. It was about a wife asking her husband if he'd grown tired of her, if he thought that life's worries had made her old and unlovable.
It put him in mind of something Yvonne had said to him shortly before she died. They were in the hospital, and she was near the end. She was naught but skin and bones. Her cheeks were sunken and her eyes looked so tired from the pain. But she'd held his hand and said in a voice that was little more than a whisper. "I know I wasn't your first choice, Lachlan. But I hope that our years together have been as happy for you as they have for me."
He hadn't been able to answer her, not because he hadn't wanted to, but because he couldn't speak past the lump in his throat. He'd closed his eyes and held her hand to his cheek and nodded trying his best not to fall apart.
She hadn't been his first choice. That much was true, but marrying Yvonne MacInnes had been the best choice he'd ever made. From the first day she'd moved into the wee croft they'd rented, she'd made his life brighter, easier, more comfortable. She'd given him a fine son and been a near perfect mother. She'd smoothed over all of his rough edges, and made him a better father, a better man.
Even after Derek had gone off to university, they'd been happy. He would get up before dawn and start his work for the day. By the time he came back to the house, she'd have breakfast ready and they would share the meal. Then he'd go back to work, and she would go about her day tending the house or helping at the church in the village. In the evenings, they'd play chess or read, sometimes he'd watch football on the television while she'd knit beside him.
It was a quiet life, one he was sure most people would find boring, but after Yvonne had been sick the first time, he'd learned to appreciate those quiet evenings. Derrick had still been in school on the island when she'd found the first lump. They'd very quietly gone about her treatment and followed all the doctor’s orders. Lachlan had held her hair and cleaned up after the chemotherapy made her sick. He hadn't minded, and it had worked.
Then about a year later, Lachlan had come home as usual, but Yvonne hadn't been in the kitchen. He'd found her weeping silently on the floor of their bedroom with her shirt off. The heartbreak in her eyes told him all he needed to know. She'd found another lump. That time the growth started deep and spread fast. By the time she found it, it was too late.
Some loves come on you all sudden like a lightning bolt. They electrify you, make your hair stand on end. He'd known that kind of love once, and when it had been taken away he'd been devastated. Still, he'd gotten over it faster than he thought possible. Some loves, the ones that endure, come on you by degrees. Like roots they grow a little each day, and sink in deep. Lachlan wondered if there was a way to get over losing that kind of love. He certainly hadn't found it yet.
Ashleigh treadled in time to the song. Her eyes were focused on her hands as the fibers slipped and twisted. Her grandmother had loved the Carter Family. "Are You Tired of Me, My Darling?" had been one of her favorite songs. Of course, when Granny taught it to her, she hadn't suspected how well it could later be applied to her life. But she had certainly made Wade tired of her.
Oh, she didn't think she had "grown cold hearted" like the song said. Instead she had locked her heart away because she was afraid of how Wade would react if she let all the pain and anger she felt spill out. She probably had seemed cold to him, but she hadn't seen a way to be anything else and keep living her life.
She had just shut down emotionally. She had gotten so caught up in putting one foot in front of the other and getting on with her life that she hadn't stopped to let herself feel. She hadn't stopped to hear how he felt. Eventually, it had been too much or rather too little for him.
She had been packing for another business trip, when he walked into their bedroom. "You're leaving again?"
"I'm afraid so. Problems with one of our mills in Mexico." She said as she carried some clothes from the closet and started folding them to put in the suitcase on the bed.
"How long will you be gone?"
"That depends on how long it takes to sort things out, probably about four days."
He had paused there in the middle of the bedroom while she bustled around him gathering her things. She didn't know how much time passed with him standing there before he said, "Ashleigh...I can't do this anymore."
She stopped. "I know I've been travelling a lot lately. That should slow down pretty soon."
"You said that last month and the month before that." He turned to follow her as she went to the bathroom to gather up her makeup and toothbrush. "It's not about the travel. Even you're here, you're not really with me. You keep yourself so busy there's never any time for us to spend together."
"I'm trying to build a career, Wade. Since it looks like I won't be a mother." It had sounded tough at the time, but saying those words had hurt.
Wade's shoulders slumped and he let out a sigh. "It was my baby too, you know."
"SHE was your baby too." Ashleigh ground out through her teeth.
"You see?" He burst out in frustration. "I can't win with you. Either you don't want to talk about HER at all, or you want to fight about it. We're supposed to be on the same side here. Why can't you fight for us?"
It was too much for her. She let a little of what she'd been feeling inside come out. "Because I'm too busy fighting to get out of bed every morning, fighting to take my next breath, fighting the urge to scream in rage at every person I see. I'm sorry, Wade. I've got nothing left to fight with."
Wade had just looked at her with that same pitying look that she hated so much. He walked out of the room nodding his head silently as if confirming something to himself. When she'd gotten back from Mexico he'd moved out. And just like the song said, he could "make another wife". She wondered how long it had taken him to move in with Melanie.
She was nearly through singing the last chorus when a black and white dog came bounding past her back door. The dog disappeared behind the long pile of stones that the locals called a blackhouse. She'd seen others around the island, long low buildings with thatched roofs, but the hone next to her cottage was uncovered and caved in. Still, she enjoyed looking at it and thinking of how long people had been living on this spot with its view of the sea.
The dog came back out from behind the stones and seemed to dance, looking back at the ruin expectantly. Ashleigh watched it for a minute. It would go back behind the stones, then return to view and look back as if it was waiting for someone. She stopped treadling and draped the wool she'd been spinning over the flyer on her wheel. She got up and stepped out on the patio to see what the dog was after.
It was at that moment that Lachlan Shaw stepped out from behind the blackhouse and followed the dog toward the beach. She thought from, his posture that he looked tired and figured he had stopped to rest there. It was his family's land after all. She wondered how long he'd been sitting over there and if he’d been listening.
As he neared the top of the hill that led down to the beach he turned, and looked back at the cottage. If he'd been listening to her singing, Ashleigh half expected to see a look of pity. But that isn't what she saw at all. As their eyes met she saw something, a bleakness, a deep pain that seemed an answer to her own.