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Annie's St. Patrick's Day - A Short Story
Annie is a sweet, young Irish-American woman who's not so lucky when it comes to love. Will the tide turn?
“So, Annie, what do you do?” If one more first date asked her that, she was gonna flip.
It was always the same interchange - a polite inquiry as to her career, and then a masked response like “oh...interesting” when she told them she was a flight attendant.
These were not the drunken stockbrokers downtown or the trust fund kids on the Upper East Side, who just wanted to get laid - no, these were the men Annie met though “Upscale Online”, the dating service that offered top-of-the line men and women. Or so they claimed.
Annie O’Keene was an auburn-haired girl-next-door type (that’s what everyone had always told her). She knew she was pretty - more so when she put some effort in - but lately Annie didn’t see the point. She’d get all dolled up for a stranger, then meet him and be disappointed.
From the moment she’d met Zach, on a blustery New York City evening in November at a restaurant in Little Italy, Annie could see how fascinating he was.
He played clarinet in a classical music orchestra and in his spare time volunteered at the local homeless shelter. He’d gone to Yale, and already owned his own 2-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village. He was nice and funny and Annie so dreaded the inevitable question. When it came, she braced herself.
“...I...I’m a flight attendant,” she stammered.
“Okay...so what would you like to order, Annie?”
She wasn’t sure what to make of it. He hadn’t said anything stupid or patronizing - he hadn’t said anything. Oh well, she was just being ridiculous - looking for trouble, her father would say.
“Annie, my dear garl, ya nawt gonna foind a mahn wid an attitude like you got, luv!” His Irish brogue hadn’t faded in the 45 years he’d lived in the US. She always smiled, kissed him, and tried to explain that she didn’t want to settle. Annie knew he was from a different time, that he thought being happy was just not thinking too much about things. But Annie couldn’t do that.
Over the next several weeks, Annie realized how wrong she’d been to worry - Zach was incredible. He never made an issue of her job, had no problem with it. His life was so glamorous and exciting and he was so sweet to her. Whenever he couldn’t see her because of an orchestra rehearsal, or she was landing late in the evening, he would send a beautiful bouquet of pink roses. He was sensual and brilliant and she could feel herself starting to fall for him.
As the winter went by, Annie thought of St Patrick’s day in a few months and how it had always been a big deal to her family. Her parents knew Zach wasn’t Irish - he was your basic wasp - but they said they didn’t mind. Annie was relieved. She was also relieved to see Zach’s reaction to her invitation to meet them on a Friday night in December.
“Excellent! the orchestra plays in San Francisco that day, so I’ll just come straight from the airport.”
“Great!” She gave him the directions.
Over the next few weeks, Annie could barely contain her excitement. She got her first facial, went for a manicure, and even treated herself to department store makeup. She just had a feeling that this was it, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been this happy.
Her father was predictable that Friday when Annie walked in fully made up. “Annie! Waddya doin’ to ya face, now? Ya don’t need any of that sorkus paint ta be beautiful!”
Annie laughed. “Daddy, this stuff cost me a small fortune.” They hugged, and then her mom came in and started telling Gaelic jokes. The three of them were hysterical an hour and a half later when Annie looked up at the grandfather clock and noticed that it was 7:20. Zach was supposed to be there at 7. He wasn’t usually late; she figured it must have been a flight delay.
A half hour later Annie started worrying - a little. She knew how flights were. For goodness sake, she worked in the industry. It just would have been nice for Zach to call.
At 8:15 she called and checked the status of the flight. “On time,” the bored agent told her.
“No, I mean the flight from San Francisco to New York.”
“I heard you, ma’am, and yes, the plane landed at 6:07PM”.
Annie felt sick.
“Soo tha flight’s delayed, then?” Annie’s mom called out from the living room.
Annie’s dad spoke as she walked back in.
“Then where tha hail is the lahd?”
“Don’t worry, Daddy, I’m sure there’s a reason.”
The pink roses came a little while later. Annie got up from playing cards with her parents and tipped the delivery boy.
Then she read the card.
My Darling Annie:
I am so sorry. I’m married. Please understand.
She dropped the card, willing her body not to shake. And she was successful until her mom walked over and asked what was wrong.
“Mom, you don’t understand, he was...I thought...” Annie sobbed.
“Oy know, dear,” her mom held her close as the sobs overtook her. Annie looked over at her father, coming over to hug her as well, thinly masking his Irish temper.
Annie sat in her boss’s office, playing with the corner of her flight request form. Never before had she been so eager to use this particular perk. “Ok, Annie, off to Dublin you go - I’ve got a seat for you in 2 days, and I want you to take your time getting back. You have plenty of days, and I think you need to take them.” Mona was as intuitive as she was efficient. “Thank you so much, Mona,” and Annie went home to pack.
From the moment she began approaching Dublin, Annie had the strange sense that she’d been there before. She felt as if all her ancestors were looking out through her eyes at the green fields rushing toward her. The hysterical crying she’d done in the last 48 hours seemed suddenly distant; the devastation seemed suddenly absurd. She packed up her carry-on bag and clutched it to her chest, rocking excitedly in her seat. Her eyes hungrily searched out the window for any more of Ireland as the jet taxied down the runway.
Three weeks later, Annie hung up with her airline after having extended her stay for the third time. She loved it here. The people were incredibly down-to-earth, the culture rich, and the scenery more glorious than anything Annie had ever seen. She’d loved spending Christmas and New Year’s here; this had been just what she needed, and she didn’t even mind being alone - mostly.
One afternoon she sat in a pub she had discovered, a ratty old place with tons of character. She felt nothing like she did in the bars at home, where all anyone did was try to get a man. She could be herself here, and she liked talking to the staff.
“A point of Guinness, then? The usual, me lass?” It was Sean, her favorite bartender.
“Yes, please, Sean.” She grinned.
“Oy’ll take care a that, Sean”, a voice announced behind her.
“You’ll what?” I don’t know you,” Annie said, turning around on her stool, and stopped: the man was gorgeous. His black hair was messy, her friends back home would say, but she loved it. His eyes were ocean blue and pierced right through her.
“So Oy’ll get ta know ya, then,” he said. His hands were dirty. “Sean reloyze on me ta fix his boiler, don’t ya, Sean?” he laughed coarsely when he noticed Annie looking. Sean smiled and nodded as he went to tend to another customer.
Annie eyed the stranger warily. Everything had been going so well without the whole guy thing messing it up - did she really want to ruin this idyllic trip? The man spoke again, pulling up a stool a respectful few inches away from her. “Look, it’s no big deal, ya pretty, and Oy’ve noticed ya in hair before, and Oy thought we could have a tahk and maybe a lahf if ya fancy. If not, ya got a free point out of it.”
Annie burst out laughing. This was the most un-pickup line she’d ever heard. No pretense, no flashy outfit, no BS - just one person speaking to another. She nodded at him and held out her hand. “Annie,” she said. “Michael,” he replied.
Michael was a handyman, who loved music and reading and even wrote poetry. Annie thought him rare - a truly happy person. He had no desire to impress anyone, no agenda. And he was actually interested in Annie's job. Not in a patronizing way, but in a real way.
When Annie finally came back to New York, it was already March - almost St Patrick’s day. She’d wanted to spend it in Ireland, but didn’t want to spend such an important holiday without her parents and brothers. She went back to work, giggling at her secret whenever she was alone. It seemed like St. Patrick’s Day would never come.
Finally, the day arrived, and Annie got ready to see her family - in a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. She brushed her nose with a bit of powder and dotted some lipstick on, and never felt more beautiful. Her heart pounded as she knocked on the huge oak door. It swung open and the looks on her parents’ faces were a priceless mix of shock and joy. She gently led Michael into the house and made the introductions.
The following year on St. Patrick’s day, in a tiny town outside Dublin, Annie was serene and sure. The red in her hair shone defiantly as it flew out behind her doll-like face. Even with all the attention on her, she walked slowly and deliberately. Proudly. Her hands did not shake as she placed the ring on Michael's hand. Nor as he put it on hers. She was home.