Note: On a recent trip to the British Isles, I began learning about Celtic traditions and music. While reading about Celtic beliefs one night in Killarney, I discovered the concept of the anam cara and immediately knew a story had to be based around it. (Isn't it amazing where and when the muses will visit?) I've tried to represent the people, beauty, and culture accurately. Any errors are purely my own and unintentional.
Many, many thanks to Hazel for her thoughtful insights and suggestions for making this story "more Irish." I truly appreciate your time and efforts. My words, especially the conversations, wouldn't be nearly as authentic without your wise advice.
A round of applause also to wonderful Wendy and devoted Danae for beta reading both parts. Your input was so valuable to me. Thanks!
A Friendship Blessing
May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to your self.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where there is great love, warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and affinity of belonging. May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them; may they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated; but may you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam cara.
Let's face it. The past twelve months or so have definitely been the worst year of my life. I've started thinking of it as the year from hell. Maybe even the year from hell and beyond. First, I get my ego all out of whack after reading part of Sandburg's dissertation about me and my fear response. Didn't even take the time to analyze myself enough to realize the kid was right on the money. Just got angry and took it all out on him. Talk about your fear response. It required an angel named Gabe to get me to listen to my own heart and work things out with Blair. Don't get me wrong, I'm not totally convinced it was a heavenly intervention, but I'm thankful for it just the same.
Next came the disaster with Alex Barnes. Oh, God... my worst nightmare come true. Even after all this time, all the agonizing, I still don't understand what drove me to kick my best friend out of the loft and almost get him killed. Strike that... I did get him killed. It was a miracle, pure and simple, that I got him back. No doubt about the heavenly intervention there.
Blair says my behavior was instinctual, that I knew another sentinel was in my territory, that I smelled her scent on him, that I couldn't think rationally and couldn't control my reactions. Part of me knows that's all true, all part of the equation. But it's more complicated than that. This small fraction of my soul knows that it was all my fault. That I turned on Blair for no good reason, except my own selfishness, my own egotism. I try to convince myself that some part of me was instinctively striving to protect him, to get him away from me before I destroyed him, after the dreams of killing the wolf, of killing him. Whatever the reason, I almost destroyed it all... the friendship... the partnership... Blair's life.
"This, I say, is what is broken by no chances, what no interval of time or space can sever or destroy, and what even death itself cannot part." John Cassian
True to form, that's me.
Then I went and did it again. Naomi released his dissertation, and the press descended on us like vultures feeding on the dying. And we were dying, both of us, at least inside. What did I do? Blamed Sandburg. Turned my back on him once again. Wounded him to the core. Anybody else would have packed his bags, told me off once and for all, and hit the road for a new and better life.
Not Blair. What does he do? He sacrifices everything he's worked his entire life to build, his career in anthropology, to give me back my life, my privacy. To give us back a chance at our friendship. And I let him do it. The best I could do to make it up to him was work it out, along with Simon, for him to enter the academy and become my official partner.
What an honor. Instead of graduating magna cum laude, he'll graduate from the academy and be partnered with a selfish bastard like me.
So, he starts the academy the next session. Sandburg says he's okay with the U-turn his life has suddenly taken, this complete change of direction. He tells me that his whole career wasn't about teaching or publishing. It was about finding a sentinel. And that's me. That's us. He says he can be my guide, my teacher, and my shaman just as well as my cop partner as my observer partner. Maybe even better.
At first, I had my doubts. I knew Blair seemed happy enough with the decision, but I still wasn't totally sure that he didn't harbor regrets about what he had done. Until I overheard a phone conversation with his mom, and he practically forced me to read the first few pages of the dissertation. Now I believe.
So why do I still feel this lingering guilt? Because I cannot for the life of me understand Sandburg's dedication to me. To us. He's not some wimpy doormat without the courage to stand up for himself. I've seen him take too many unpopular stands to ever believe that. Blair Sandburg's definitely not one to let other people, even me, walk all over him. So why does he stay? It can't be just the sentinel thing. He's had four years to study that phenomenon... me. That isn't all holding him here, after the hell I've put him through. So the nagging voice inside me continues to whisper, "Why is he still here? When will he leave?"
"Great friendship is never without anxiety." Marquise de Sevigne
I walk into the kitchen for a beer and some chips, then head out to the balcony for some air. Being stuck inside with your thoughts has its limits. I settle down on one of the chairs to watch the sunset over Cascade and clear my mind.
The loft door opens, and I hear Sandburg come in. Since he no longer has his position at the university, he's been coming to the station with me most days. He begged off today for some reason. I didn't press him; heaven knows he deserves some down time after all he's been through lately. By the time I've had another swallow of beer and a handful of nachos, the doors to the balcony open, and Blair joins me. He pulls up the second chair, and I offer him the bag of chips. He shakes his head and stares out at the city before us.
Something's definitely wrong. Sandburg's an open book emotionally. It might take some effort to drag out exactly what's wrong with him, but it's always obvious when something's bothering him. And this is one of those times.
"You okay, buddy?" I ask carefully. It never pays to push Sandburg into talking. Funny thing, he can't stand it when I clam up on him. Always wants me to open up... to talk to him. Admittedly, we'd probably have had a whole lot fewer problems if I did that. But when it's Blair who has the problem, well, he can be just as tight a clam as I can be. Sometimes even worse.
He studies the skyline for a moment, then turns to face me. "Not really okay, Jim," he replies softly. "I got a letter today with some bad news." He reaches into the pocket of his jacket and hands me an envelope.
I note the postmark. Ireland. Now who the hell does Sandburg know in Ireland? Opening the brief, one page letter, I begin to read.
When I'm done, I see Sandburg once again studying the lights appearing across Cascade. I carefully fold the letter and put it back into the envelope and hand it to him. "So, who was Liam O'Brien? And why did he ask you to return his ashes to Ireland after he died? I swear, Sandburg, you have the most unusual life... " I smile and shake my head in wonderment.
Blair grins, and my heart warms instantly at the sight. Without a doubt, a Sandburg smile could outshine the brightest star in the heavens.
"Liam was probably the most stable influence I had in my life there for awhile, Jim. He was a farmer in Massachusetts. His land was next to a community where Naomi and I stayed for a couple of years. Kind of a record for her, I guess. Almost two years in one place, I mean."
I lean back in my chair; my eyes never leaving Sandburg. By 'community,' I figure he means 'commune.' His early years fascinate me. Maybe it's the detective in me, but it's intriguing trying to put together the pieces to the puzzle that is my partner. Maybe if I understand enough about what makes Blair... well, what makes him Blair, then I can comprehend our own relationship better. Wouldn't Carolyn have loved this? Me, Mr. Insensitive, trying to figure out how to make a relationship work. How times have changed. How I have changed...
"Anyway, Naomi may have liked it there, but I sure didn't. Hated it, in fact. Making friends was never easy for me, but in that place... " He stops and studies the label on his beer, working at peeling off the corner. "Anyway, I started wandering the fields around the area, and that's when I met Liam."
I encourage him to continue, "And the two of you became friends?"
A small smile finds its way onto his face at the memory. "Yeah. He must have been in his late sixties then, but he'd come over from Ireland in his twenties. His wife had died a few years before. No kids. I guess he was as lonely as I was. He taught me a lot... "
"About what, Chief?" I keep my voice soft. As much as Blair and I talk, joke around, and tease each other, it's pretty rare for him to open up like this about his past. I don't want to blow it now.
"He'd tell me Irish stories and sing folk songs. I even learned few tunes on his fiddle," he adds, grinning at the memory. "We'd walk his fields, and Liam would explain the basics of farming to me. Mostly, though, I guess he just listened. Listened to this lonely kid's dreams about traveling the world, studying other people... other places... "
I feel my heart constrict once again with guilt. Naturally, Blair senses my sudden change in mood.
"Of course, I hadn't yet discovered sentinels, Jim, so I couldn't share that dream with him. You know that's the only one that ever really mattered to me, right?" His blue eyes search mine for understanding.
I nod and force a smile. "Right, Chief. Thanks. Go on, finish telling me about Liam."
"That's about it, I guess. He just gave me a place to go, somewhere to be when I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere at all. Then Naomi was ready to move on, and I never saw him again. He was my friend, Jim, at a time when I really needed one."
What do I say to that? I know Sandburg's life has been a lonely one much of the time. I say an inner prayer of thanks to a man I never met for being there for my partner before I could be there for him myself. "And the letter?" I ask.
Blair looks at the envelope in his hands. "What you read is all I know. Says he died a few weeks ago and was cremated. His will left me a gold watch that'll be sent later. Seems that was all he had left of any value. Apparently the nursing home bills took everything else. It also requested that I take him back to Ireland, if I possibly could. He has a younger sister there, and he wanted to have his ashes scattered back home. I guess he has no one else. Kinda sad, when you think about it. I hadn't seen Liam in almost eighteen years, I guess. We'd written off and on through the years. Christmas cards, birthday notes, things like that, you know. I can't believe he'd ask me to do something this important for him, after all this time. Doesn't really matter, though. I sure can't afford to go to Ireland, not even to return a favor for an old friend." Sandburg stands up and leans over the balcony railing. I follow and stand close beside him.
I don't answer him for several minutes as I consider the decision I'm making. At last I tell him, "We can go, Sandburg."
He turns around, looking at me in disbelief. "What do you mean, we can go? I don't have that kind of money, Jim."
"Well, I do. I haven't had a real vacation in years, you know. Since long before I met you. I'd like to see Ireland, maybe even go to England, too. So how about it, Junior? You want to head to the Emerald Isle?" I wait for his response.
I didn't have to wait long. Sometimes Sandburg reminds me of a kaleidoscope, changing expression, emotions, at the slightest turns of life. It can be mesmerizing to watch. That's what happens now... his face shifts from the sorrow and disappointment of a few minutes ago, to disbelief at my offer, to pure joy. That's my partner... a living, breathing kaleidoscope... all color, and movement, and light.
"Ah, Jim, that's so cool! I mean, you really want to do this, right? It's gonna cost a lot, you know, are you sure you can afford it? I really appreciate the offer, man, but... "
I laugh and hold up my hand to stop the tidal wave of words spewing from my partner's mouth. "Whoa, there, Chief! Slow down just a little, would you? Yes, I want to do this. Yes, I can afford it. So, if you want to go... "
Suddenly, there's a blue jeaned clad blur throwing itself at me and holding on tightly. I wrap my arms around him and return the hug, with what I know must be a silly grin plastered all over my face. "Of course, I want to go. Are you kidding me? I can repay Liam for all he did for me, meet his family... Ah, thanks, Jim. I can't believe you're doing this!"
I tighten my arms around him as he talks on about the trip, grateful that I have been able to bring some joy to his life at last after all the pain I've caused him. It's the least I can do, Sandburg, the very least...
"The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel." Shakespeare
It takes time to make the arrangements for our departure, but finally, we find ourselves on the jet headed for Dublin. Our plans are to spend a week in Ireland, then take the ferry across the Irish Sea to England and a week there. Naturally, I've taken far too much ribbing from Simon about my driving skills being a national menace in our own country, let alone in a place where they drive on the opposite side of the road. I think Sandburg must be truly grateful for this trip; he's managed to keep his mouth shut about that entire concept. A national menace indeed...
The flight into Dublin International is smooth, but long. Not so bad for Sandburg with his shorter legs, but these coach seats are torture for me. At least I can dial back the discomfort.
We spend the first night and the next day in the heart of the city, along the River Liffey. The first sight Blair wants to see is the Book of Kells at Trinity College. We get there early in the morning to avoid the crowds. When Sandburg first told me we were going to look at an 8th Century copy of the Bible, I have to admit, I wasn't thrilled. But the reality was an entirely different experience. As we walk through the preliminary exhibits, he explains the concept of illuminated manuscripts to me. One thing's for sure, Blair's a great teacher. I visualize the ancient monks, sitting in their scriptorium with their candles, drawing unbelievably intricate letters and pictures using dyes from plants and minerals... Amazing.
But even Blair's vivid descriptions couldn't prepare me for the real thing. As we walk around the glass case enclosing pages from the Book of Kells, I'm fascinated. The variety of pictures and decorations is astonishing, and the colors are brilliant, even after so many centuries. The repetitive patterns of swirls and interlocking circles woven together with detailed figures and linear patterns captivates me. It truly is the most beautiful book in the world. I focus my sight on the intricate Celtic designs and the vivid hues and feel myself being drawn deeper and deeper into the page before me. Such color... such detail... Reality fades into a splendid new world of pattern and color and texture.
"Jim... Jim, come on, man. Come back to me. C'mon, Jim... " I become aware of Sandburg's insistent whisper close beside me.
I shake my head to clear it, focusing on Blair's worried face. "Yeah, I'm here. Sorry, Chief."
Blair grins up at me and whispers, "I can't believe it, man. Zoning on the Book of Kells. Amazing! I'll have to talk to you later about what all this looked like to you. Never thought before about how you see works of art. The brush strokes... the depth of colors... " Sandburg's eyes have that familiar, excited fire he gets only when he makes a new insight about his sentinel... about me.
While I'm always glad to see that light in his eyes, this isn't exactly the place. I cut him off with a gentle cuff to the head. "Okay, Darwin, okay. Later, all right? Let's finish the rest of the exhibit."
With a blazing smile back over his shoulder, Blair says, "I'm holding you to that, buddy. Art tests when we get back to Cascade. And what about music? That could be a whole new area... " Blair moves on, mumbling something about frequencies, pitch, and volume. I grin at him and follow my guide as he leads the way to the next exhibit.
The following two days find us traveling across the countryside to our destination of county Kerry along the southwestern coast of Ireland. It's a relaxing time for both Sandburg and me. The countryside here is beautiful; the colors are unbelievable. I never thought there could be so many shades of green. Naturally, Blair's all excited about running tests to determine my ability to distinguish between varying shades of color. He seems so happy, so relaxed and content, that I don't even bother to gripe about the tests. After all he's been through, I can sit for a few tests.
We take turns driving the narrow back roads, stopping in the small towns for pub lunches or just to look around. Blair's in his element here, talking to the local people, listening to their stories, making new friends wherever he goes. Me, I mostly hang back, smile, and watch my friend. It is enough just to watch his happiness. He never meets a stranger, and people seem to have this way of gravitating to him. The two days pass quickly.
The closer we get to the town of Killarney, the quieter Blair becomes. It is near this town that Liam O'Brien's sister, Fiora, lives. I know my friend's thoughts have turned from the pleasures of this trip to memories of the man who had been his friend so long ago. I drive in silence, to give him time with his thoughts.
After checking into our small, comfortable hotel, I go down to the desk to ask directions to Fiora O'Brien's home. On the way back to our room with the carefully marked map, I pick up a brochure on the local fishing. Salmon... Yeah, we should have time for a little recreation here, shouldn't we?
When I enter the room, Sandburg's lying on his bed, his arms crossed over his eyes. I study him for a moment, trying to get a read on his emotions. "Everything okay, Chief?" I ask at last.
"Yeah, Jim," he answers, "I was just thinking. You know, here I am, a total stranger, about to show up at this lady's door with her brother's ashes. I'm not real sure I'm ready for this, man." He uncovers his eyes and looks to me for help... for the right words to get him through this mission that he wanted so much, but now dreads.
I sit down on the edge of the bed and pat his leg, leaving my hand on his knee. "Blair, you wrote to her weeks ago. She's expecting us. You were her brother's friend, maybe his only real friend, if you're the one he chose to bring him back here. I'm sure she'll welcome you. Don't worry, Chief, you'll do great. I know it." I squeeze his knee gently.
Blair smiles a little, his eyes warming. "You're right, Jim. I'm sure it'll be fine. Just a little nervous, that's all. Did you get the directions?"
I hand him the map with our route highlighted. "Shouldn't take over twenty minutes or so to drive out. Looks like pretty scenery, too." I hand him the fishing brochure. "Say, Chief... What would you think about wetting a hook or two while we're here?"
Now the smile spreads to Sandburg's entire face, and I can't help but grin back. "Should have known you'd find a way to get some fishing in, Jim. Sure, why not? We can stop by and pick up the permits and the gear at a place right here in town. Here's the address."
Glad to see my guide back in good spirits, I reach out and tug gently on a curl. "Well, what are we waiting around here for? Let's hit the road, Chief. We've got people to visit and fish to catch."
We reach the address given for Fiora O'Brien by mid-afternoon. Her tidy white cottage sits on the crest of a small hill, only steps away from a beautiful river. Probably loaded with fish. I take it as a good omen.
Blair meets me at the front of the rental car, and we stand still, absorbing the scene before us. The cottage is small, but brimming with color. Flowers are planted in window boxes, in beds surrounding the cottage, and along the walk leading to it. Their vibrant colors contrast with the clean white of the home itself and the yellow of its recently thatched roof. Sandburg looks at me and grins, "Like something out of a fairy tale, isn't it?"
Before I can answer, the cottage door opens, and a small figure emerges. She hurries to greet us, moving with surprising speed for a woman of her years. The woman before us must be in her eighties. She is small and plump, her gray hair neatly pulled into a bun at the back of her head. Her bright green eyes peer at us over the top of her glasses, and her smile makes us feel welcome before a single word has been spoken.
"Ah, you must be the boys from America! I am Fiora O'Brien, and I bid ye welcome! Welcome!" She takes Blair's hand and squeezes it warmly. I smile and say hello from behind my partner.
"Come on in, please. I've a pot of tea ready, and some of me own fresh brown bread with homemade raspberry jam. Or would you rather have some barm brack? Me dear niece made that delicious fruitcake in her own kitchen, so she did. Come in, come in!"
An hour later, we feel like old friends. After solemnly presenting Liam's sister with the urn bearing his ashes, Blair has won Fiora's heart, but it was definitely one of his easier conquests. The elderly woman has taken us in as family. As she phrased it to me, "Your Blair was a friend to my Liam, even when he was only a wee child. That makes him family. And seein' as the two of you are family, that makes you my family, too, James Ellison!"
Blair and me... family? I see Blair glance at me uncertainly. I consider the idea briefly, and it feels right. Very right. I flash him a smile, and his face lights up immediately. Family... But how did she figure it out so fast?
I don't have time to think about that question; Fiora has turned the conversation to the memorial service for her brother. The priest will come the next day to conduct the ceremony. Apparently Liam had requested that his remains be scattered in the river flowing beside the cottage, so the service will be held by the river banks. Fiora asks us to return for the ceremony and for Blair to say a few words. I can tell the idea makes him a bit uneasy, but he agrees.
By now, the afternoon is slipping past, and I know we need to begin the trip back to Killarney. "Hey, Chief, Mrs. O'Brien probably has a lot to do to get ready for tomorrow. You about ready to head into town?"
The reaction from the small woman is immediate. "Not at all! You'll stay for awhile yet! Sure I've got a good Irish supper prepared for you both. I'll not hear of your not eating it. I believe I spotted some fine fishing gear in the back seat of your car, did I not? Well, then, why don't the two of you go and try your luck? Come back in a couple of hours or so, and the supper will be on the table. Now away ye go!"
Grinning from ear to ear, Blair looks at me and winks. I smile back, unexpectedly pleased that our plans for dinner at a local pub have been changed by this small, outgoing woman. We both know there will be no arguing with Fiora O'Brien. Fishing and supper it is.
An hour later, we are standing on the banks of the river Laune trying our luck. The air is cool and fresh, the grass on the rolling hills is a patchwork of shades of green, and the water clean and pure. Blair is beside me, smiling contentedly, and there are plenty of salmon in the river. We've already caught several, saving the best for Fiora and releasing the rest. Does life get any better than this? Not to my way of thinking, it doesn't.
"Hey, Jim," Blair says, "What do you think of Fiora?"
I cast again and look over at him. "Don't think I've ever met anyone quite like her, Chief. Welcomes us into her home, prepares dinner for us... If Liam was anything like his sister, I can see why you two hit it off."
Blair smiles, remembering. "She reminds me a lot of Liam. I kept thinking that while we were at the table. Not just how open they are, but... " He stops and looks at me quizzically.
I reel in my line, pausing to study him before casting again. "What, Sandburg? You were about to say something else."
"I don't know, Jim. It's just that Liam always had this way of knowing about me. He seemed to be able to tell how I was feeling, what I was thinking, the moment he saw me. And today, his sister called us family. I mean, I told her in the letter that you're my friend, but how'd she figure... ?" Blair stops and waits for my reply.
I shrug and tell him, "Not sure, Chief. Some people just seem to have a sense about such things, I guess. They're good at sizing people up, figuring out the dynamics at work in relationships. Or maybe she took a good guess. Does it really matter?"
"No, it doesn't. Just wondering if we're that transparent, that's all. I know I can be an open book sometimes, but you... I mean you're the original ice man, Jim."
I try not to let the laughter on the inside reach my face. "Just what do you mean by that, Sandburg?" I haven't given Blair a hard time yet on this trip, trying to take it easy on him, considering the circumstances of why we're here. But he started this...
I see the wheels turning in his head now, trying to figure how to obfuscate his way out of this one. I press on. "You saying I'm cold, Chief?"
"No... no way, Jim. You're definitely not cold, man. A tad cool, sometimes, maybe... " Blair's line is reeled in now, and he begins to cautiously back away from me. I calmly continue reeling.
"Funny thing, Sandburg." I finish bringing in my own line and lay the rod down on the ground beside me.
Blair backs a few more feet away, eying me cautiously. "What, Jim? What's funny?"
I can no longer hide the gleam of mischief in my eyes, and Blair makes a hasty retreat of a few more steps backward. "I think the only thing cold around here is the water in this river, Chief. What say we let you find out?"
Blair's rod hits the ground at the same time my hands reach out for him. He turns with a small yelp and dashes along the river bank. I chase after him, trying to match his dodges and darts. I have the longer legs, but Sandburg's definitely got the moves.
"C'mon, Jim!" he yells back at me. "We're guests here! What's Fiora gonna think, huh? Behave yourself!"
"She's just gonna figure we're having a little family fun here, Chief. Don't worry. You don't think I'm behaving, buddy? Why don't you stop and explain yourself, Sandburg?" I grab for his shirt, catching only air as he darts to the right.
Laughing, Blair shouts over his shoulder, "No way, man! Not and end up in that river! C'mon, Jim! I'm sorry, all right? You're not cold, definitely not cold. You're the warmest guy ever. Please... " He cuts hard to the left, and I lose my footing on the grass, sliding down face first. I hear Blair's laughter nearby, but I lie very still.
"Hey, Jim! What's the matter, grass slick there? I hear you tend to lose your balance more as you age, man." He laughs some more, then I hear cautious footsteps coming closer. I hold perfectly still. "Jim? Hey, man... You okay? Jim?"
Sandburg mutters, "If you're messing with my head, man, I will be like, so mad. C'mon, Jim... Jim?"
He leans down, and I feel his breath against my neck. I wait. Timing is everything.
"Jim, come on, buddy, this isn't funny... "
I roll over, grabbing his legs and pulling him down beside me on the soft grass. "Oh, yeah, Sandburg, it is funny. Trust me. And it's gonna get even funnier!" I manage to keep him pinned on the ground with one leg firmly across his body and one arm holding his hands together and out of my way. With my free hand, I begin working my way under his jacket and shirt to his sensitive ribs. His laughter increases as I run my fingers across his sides, and the tears roll down his cheeks.
God, I love to see Blair laugh. Of course, I'd never do this again if he ever told me it really bothered him. But there's still so much kid in him, and I don't think Blair had this kind of friend when he was growing up. A friend he could clown around with, just have fun with. Come to think of it, I don't remember having this much fun when I was a kid either. Too busy trying to measure up --- to please the mighty William Ellison. So maybe we're both reverting a little to childhood when we horse around like this. I'm sure of one thing, I've never before had a friendship like I have with Blair, and I never will again. He's one of a kind.
"You are like nobody since I love you." Pablo Nerud
Just as I'm about to lose my grip on Sandburg ---he can really squirm--a shadow falls across the grass beside us. We both look up, Blair giggling uncontrollably, and me with tears of laughter running down my face, to see Fiora standing above us. Her wrinkled face beams down, shaking her head in mock exasperation. I stop tickling, but my hands and leg continue to hold Sandburg in place. He's breathing hard and still grinning, his blue eyes shining, no longer struggling against me.
"If you two boys are done with yer playing, the supper's on the table," Fiora offers with a smile.
Blair and I lock eyes and both of us burst out laughing. I stand up first, reaching down to help pull Blair to his feet. I offer one arm to Fiora and wrap the other around my partner's shoulders. Then I feel his arm slip around my waist with a gentle squeeze. If there are moments of true happiness in this life, then surely I'm experiencing one of them now. We slowly walk up the hill toward the cottage.
After we eat, I stay in the cottage, helping Fiora with clean up chores. We've already cleaned her fish, and they await tomorrow's dinner in her tiny refrigerator. After that was done, she suggested Blair return to the river for a bit more fishing and to bring in our gear. I encourage him; he'll have a hard day tomorrow with the memorial service. Fiora's kitchen sink overlooks the river, and as I wash the last of the dishes, I keep an eye on Blair. Watching my friend, so relaxed and happy, I smile.
"Two friends, one soul." Euripides
Fiora is standing next to me, drying the dishes as I hand them to her. She glances from me to Blair, her green eyes twinkling. When the dishes are done, we move to the living area. I sit on the small couch next to the fireplace. Fiora eases into what I presume is her favorite chair. Next to it, a lamp rests on a small table with a beautiful set of rosary beads and Fiora's glasses beside it. For a long time, neither of us speaks, but it is a comfortable silence. Then, Fiora looks at me with a knowing smile. "The Celtic tradition has a concept for a friendship like the one you both share. The Gaelic term is anam cara."
I shake my head in confusion. "Sorry, but I don't speak Gaelic, Fiora." A brief memory makes me smile. Since when is McCoy pronounced McKay?
The old woman nods, "Of course you don't, James. You see, in old Gaelic, anam is the word for soul. Cara is the word for friend. So anam cara means your soul friend."
I try the words on my tongue, "Anam cara. What makes you think Blair is my anam cara?" What does she know? How could she know?
Fiora's bright eyes shine with humor and understanding. "Ah, 'tis much in the world we just know without knowing how we know, James. To the Celts, your anam cara was a person who acted as your teacher, your constant companion, possibly even your spiritual guide. It was to them you revealed the deepest secrets of your life, your innermost self, your thoughts, and your heart." She watches my reaction carefully.
I know I'm staring, but I can't stop myself. She seems to sense that her words are cutting straight to my heart. Fiora continues, "A person with an anam cara was considered most fortunate. This friendship cut across all common ideas of what a friend could be. Those who found their anam cara were joined with the true friend of their soul for all eternity." She walks to the small window and looks out at the river where Blair fishes. "Ah, James, the soul knows no cage. It's a pure light from the divine that enters you and your anam cara, your Other, and floods you both with deep joy and peace. Be thankful for such a rare gift... such a light."
She leaves the window and walks slowly over to the couch, sitting beside me. She takes my hand in her dry, wrinkled ones, then she catches my blue eyes with her own green ones. "'It's only when you're with your anam cara that you can be as you truly are, James. Love is the light that allows the dawning of understanding, and that is such a precious thing. For when you are understood, then you have found your home, and you belong at last. Then, James, you are free... free to release your true self, all that you are, into the shelter of your anam cara's soul, knowing it will be safe there... protected. Such a friend is infinitely precious, James. Treasure him always."
I manage to stammer, "But... But how do you know... ? How could you tell so quickly what Blair is to me? What I am to him?"
Laughing her musical laugh, the old woman squeezes my hand and replies, "It doesn't always take a potter, James, to recognize the clay."
I chuckle, a little more at ease now. "You've really lost me now, Fiora."
"Have you not read Plato, James? He doesn't say it in the same words, perhaps, but 'tis how my own blessed mother explained it to me when I was just a wee one. Millions of years ago, the clay lies side by side. As the seasons pass, your one clay divides and separates, turning into distinct forms, each with its own path to follow. Without even knowing what you seek, your clay selves wander through the universe, searching for what you miss, that which you long for... your Other. This longing never fades, James. That's how, in the moment of awakening friendship, two searching souls find each other. Perhaps at the market, at the pub... it could happen at any time, in any place. Suddenly there is an awakening of recognition and ancient knowing. Love opens the door, and you come home at last... to your other half... to your anam cara. The friend of your soul."
"A friend is, as it were, a second self." Cicero
Astounded, I rise and take Fiora's place at the window. I watch Blair as he gathers up the fishing gear to come back to the cottage. He stops to sit under a tall tree beside the river, leaning his head back against the trunk. I see him close his eyes, and a small, contented smile touches his lips. My heart fills with almost painful emotion as I watch him, and I struggle for the words to express it. Fiora waits patiently.
Long minutes pass before I'm able to speak, "Then why... Why do we sometimes seem to be pulled apart, Fiora? Neither of us wants it; it breaks our hearts when it happens... So why... ?"
The old woman sighs. "Your anam cara is the mirror to your soul, James. He allows you to see yourself as you are. Sometimes, such insights are difficult... You and your anam cara, your Blair, while two halves of one soul, are also two unique individuals. You must always honor and preserve these differences. Allow each other space in your togetherness, James. It was your differences that helped draw you together in the first place. Does he not give you what you can't provide for yourself? 'Tis important that you nurture and preserve these differences so they're not lost."
I hear her rise and soon she stands behind me, laying a gnarled hand gently on my shoulder. "Don't fear losing your soul friend, James. 'Tis not possible. He'll be with you always, as you'll be with him. Distance... time... death... nothing can separate you... for you are anam cara, and you have found each other."
"But let there be spaces in your togetherness, let the winds of the heavens dance between you." Kahlil Gibran
Back in our hotel room that evening, Blair lies on his bed, scratching in his notepad with a pencil. I figure he's working on ideas for the memorial service tomorrow, so I don't interrupt. Instead, I sit by the window, watching the sun set at last behind the hills right outside of town. It's amazing how late it stays light here. I glance at my watch; almost 10:20. I know Blair loves it. He's a creature of the sun, soaking up its warmth, basking in its light. I look at him now, picturing him back in the loft in the mornings, standing in the bright sunshine with his coffee, looking out the tall windows and greeting the new day. I think of Fiora's words... my anam cara. Somehow we're constantly finding affirmations of the powerful connection that has developed between us. Different words... same meaning.
Blair's accepted all this from the beginning. That we're two halves of a whole, meant to be together... forever. I'm the one who's had difficulty with the idea. Not because of Sandburg. He's been amazing; without his help, I know I never would have survived after my senses exploded. No, it's goes much deeper than that. I guess I fear abandonment so much, so deeply, that I even have trouble believing that Blair will never leave me, regardless of his words and promises. He thinks the universe has a way of balancing things out, of sending us what we need when we need it. Was I sent the lesson of the anam cara for a purpose? To confirm what I've been learning about myself, about Blair, and about our relationship? Far stranger things have happened to me in the past few years.
Blair feels my gaze and meets my eyes. No words, just a brief smile before returning to his notepad. In time, I go on to bed, leaving Sandburg still writing.
"Friendship needs no words---it is the solitude delivered from the anguish of loneliness." Dag Hammarskjold
We arrive at Fiora's almost an hour before the service is to begin. Sandburg was uncharacteristically quiet on the drive out, but then again, speaking at a memorial service for a friend you haven't seen since you were a kid could make you a bit nervous. When we pull up at Fiora's tidy cottage, there are already quite a few other cars there. Sandburg glances nervously over at me.
"I'm not sure I should be doing this, Jim. I mean, I hadn't seen Liam in eighteen years, man. Maybe I should tell... "
I don't give him the chance to finish. "You were the one he asked to bring him back here, Chief. That says a lot about his opinion of you, don't you think? Now, Fiora's counting on you, right? You don't want to let her down, I know. You'll do just fine, Blair, really." I reach over and ruffle his hair.
He bats at my hand in mock irritation, then grins. "Thanks, Jim."
"No problem, Chief. Let's go."
We stand beside the river, a small crowd of family and old friends. Most of those here are older, people who remembered Liam before he left this place for the last time. Now they have come to bid him farewell once again. The service begins with a prayer by the priest, Father Patrick. He speaks of Liam, his boyhood growing up in the green meadows of Ireland, his love for his wife, and his dreams of going to America. Liam realized those dreams, the priest reminds us, because he wasn't afraid to try, to reach out for them. He encourages us all to remember our dreams and strive to make them a reality.
Then, Father Patrick looks over at Blair, standing silently beside me, and he asks Blair to say a few words. Before he leaves my side, I gently squeeze his arm in support. His brief smile of gratitude touches my heart.
Blair moves to stand beside Fiora who holds the urn of her brother's ashes. The old woman smiles warmly at my partner, and I silently thank her for her kindness to him.
Reaching into his pocket for his notes and glasses, Blair smiles at the crowd. I can't help thinking how he always looks so much younger, so vulnerable, when he wears those glasses. He tucks a stray curl back behind his ear and begins. "I found a poem a few days ago that I wanted to read to you today. It's by one of Ireland's finest gifts to the world, W. B. Yeats, and it is called "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven."
My friend begins to read in his gentle, soft voice. Yet his words carry over the gathered crowd, on to the river, and across the emerald fields that surround us. The mourners stand entranced, both by the words written so long ago, and by my partner's expressive voice as he recites.
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet;
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Like the others, I look only at him. His blue eyes meet mine, lock, and do not let go until after he utters the final word of the poem. I smile at him through the tears dimming my eyes, and see him return the smile through his own tears. I know the poem reminds him of Liam and his dreams, but I also know it was for me... for us.
I'll tread softly, Chief, I promise.
At last, Blair's eyes break away from mine and scan the people as he speaks. "Father Patrick was right. Liam O'Brien had dreams, mighty dreams. And he possessed the courage to follow them, all the way to America. There he plowed his fields, built his home, and earned the respect of his neighbors. But Liam also remembered the importance of the dreams of others. Especially of a young boy who used to come to visit him whenever the loneliness became too hard to take. Liam O'Brien would take the time to listen to that boy's dreams, to encourage them, to encourage him to make those dreams come true. He never tread too heavily on that child's dreams. He always walked softly. The boy moved away after a few years and never saw Liam again. But he never forgot him. I never forgot him. And I kept my dreams, thanks to Liam. And I made them come true."
Thanks to you, Jim, he whispers in a voice so soft no one else possibly could hear. The tears run freely down my face now.
Blair continues, "So, I want to thank Liam today, and I'm sure he's listening and watching us. Thank him for being my friend at a time when I needed one so badly. Thank him for taking time for a young boy and his dreams. Thank him for treading softly." He takes the urn from Fiora and looks to the sky. "Thanks, Liam. Thanks for everything."
The priest smiles as he takes the urn from Blair to continue the service. Blair returns to me, and I wrap my arm around him, pulling him close to my side. "Thank you," I whisper into his ear. He only smiles and rests his head against my shoulder.
The ceremony continues, but I hear nothing of it. All I'm aware of is the closeness of Blair. I hear his soft breathing, feel his warmth where he is pressed against me and his soft hair as the breeze blows it across my skin. I can think of nothing else but how thankful I am to have this friend, my anam cara, in my life. I concentrate only on the priceless sensations surrounding me, and everything else fades away.
Blair nudges me and whispers, "Jim, come on, man. Are you with me here?" I shake my head to clear it and come back to the world. The sounds of "Amazing Grace," played by the uillean pipes and a flute, fill my ears. I look around to get my bearings. The crowd is beginning to mill about; the ceremony is over. "We're all supposed to go to the cottage now for music and food. Liam left instructions with Fiora that he wanted this day to be a celebration of his life, not a mourning of his death. You feel up to staying for a while, Jim? If you don't, we can go on back... "
I shake my head and smile at his worried blue eyes. "Relax, Chief. I'm fine. Just concentrated a little too hard there for a minute, that's all. We'll stay. There's a story I want Fiora to tell you."
"A story?" he asks, curiosity and excitement lighting his eyes and replacing the concern of a moment before. I'm reminded once again of a kaleidoscope... all light and color and movement and constant changes. That's my friend, my partner.
And I hope he always stays exactly that way.
I pull him close and start walking toward the cottage. Blair leans into me, looking up and listening intently as I explain. "A story, Chief. About finding your anam cara... "
The sweeping lilt of Irish music swirls over and around us, and the sun warms us as we walk up the hill.
We are anam cara, and we have found each other.
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