A short story of love, holding on, and letting go
Roisin Sinclair was beautiful, breathtakingly so, undeniably so. That is why the rumors began to spread. The tales of her unfortunate association with the sailor boy, Thomas Murphy, unchaperoned as it were, and his inevitable parting prior to any sort of ceremony or matrimony of any kind. Fair as she was, no opportunity to dissect her tragic fall from respectable society—and to tarnish her reputation—could be disregarded by the other young ladies of marrying age. The topic of her imminent spinsterhood was quite popular among high society.
It was in this state that Martin Harris realized Roisin Sinclair was not so unattainable as he'd always imagined. He was the last of four sons, and consequently of little interest to any lady of high standing. As it was though, Roisin Sinclair was no longer of high standing. Where she had once stood unattainable, she had become undesirable.
"But," Martin told his brother, "she is still desirable to me."
Liam chuckled at his little brother's naiveté. "She will not marry you."
"I cannot think of a reason she would not."
"I can think of one," Liam said. "She’s run ‘round with the Murphy boy since you all were knee high. Her name might as well be Rose Murphy. Her father’s threats could not keep them away from each other as children; I doubt the ocean will have more success.”
“Thomas might already be dead. Seven weeks without word. He may never return. She will never have a chance of marrying—not with anyone other than me.”
“She still will not marry you. You could be the last man alive and she would not marry you,” Liam baited, his voice light to cover his sincere observation in teasing. “You have to have a lot of money to marry a Sinclair,” Liam told him. “You don’t have any money.”
Martin lunged at his brother, but Liam was too quick for him, shuffling to the side just as Martin barreled past him. Liam laughed, enjoying the comically severe expression of Martin's face. “You haven’t even asked her yet,” he pointed out.
“I’m going to. Today.” He spoke with such finality that his brother did not speak again on the subject.
Anxious to speak with her, Martin raced through his work. He rushed to the Sinclair estate, twisting the thin silver band in his pocket between his fingers. To his dismay Roisin was not home. She was, he was informed by her maid, where she always was, “that damn river.”
He set off into the woods. The trees seemed to watch him as he walked, stalking the intruder among them as he moved carelessly through their depths. As he walked he could not help but think of the last time he’d ventured so far into the woods, the last day he had spent with Roisin before social class and, he conceded bitterly, Thomas Murphy, had pulled them apart.
Martin reached out, tugging one of the pale gold braids roughly.
"Stop it, Martin," Roisin whined, holding her tender head.
"I didn't mean to," he defended, crossing his arms. When she didn’t respond he spoke again. "Are you angry? I didn't mean to.”
"I can make it up to you," he promised when she still did not reply. "I know you wanted someone to take you to the river. I'll take you."
She wasn’t allowed in the woods alone; she had a habit of wandering off. The year prior she’d disappeared for three days before James Murphy found her hiding out in his barn. His youngest son had been taking her food and bringing her water from the river. The whole town had been looking for her.
"Really?” She asked hopefully.
He nodded. She smiled brilliantly; all traces of her earlier annoyance disappeared from her face.
He took her hand and led her towards the trees. Martin didn’t care for the woods. With Roisin he didn’t mind it so much. He followed her lead, trusting her to guide them through and back again. It wasn’t long before they reached the end of the trees, the empty land between the forest and the river. She dropped his hand, looking up and down the water. She was searching for something.
“What are you look—”
“Shh!” She placed her hand over his mouth and pointed. “Look!”
In the distance, a delicate, little boat carved of kindling, adorned with leaves, sailed steadily down the wide river. Her smile returned, more brilliant than the sun on the water. The two stood in silence as the boat approached, Roisin watching the boat, Martin watching her.
Roisin knelt down and reached her hand out as the boat neared. The wind blew, knocking it off course to the middle of the river, beyond her reach. “Oh, no!” Roisin cried.
“It’s okay,” Martin assured her, patting her shoulder. “I’ll make you a boat if you want.”
She stood, ignoring his words. She navigated the rocky shore quickly, chasing after the boat.
“Roisin, wait! It’s slippery!” Martin warned. He started after her but lost his footing. “Ro!” He did not call out for her again, he knew she was too far away to hear him now. He stood slowly, testing his weight on his hurt foot. He winced at the pain as he began to limp after her.
When he found her, she was crouched by the water, hunched over herself.
"Roisin! Are you hurt?" She didn't hear him. He limped over to her and grabbed her shoulder. She let out a squeal before she realized it was him.
"You scared me!" She cried. Her eyes were wide with surprise. Now that she was facing him, he could see the small boat cradled gently in her arms.
“Are you okay?”
"You can't do that," he scolded.
“What’s so important about it anyway? It’s just a toy.”
“It’s special,” she said, looking down at it. “See?” she said, pointing to a small carving on the starboard side. The art was clumsy and childish, but the intention was clear, a blooming rose.
Martin leaned in close to get a better look at the craft. "Look!" He said excitedly, reaching for the boat. Roisin pulled back, as though she didn’t want him to touch it. He persisted though, taking it from her arms.
"'R', and 'M.'" He said, tracing the letters carved beneath the rose, "Roisin and Martin!"
She took it from him gently, smiling softly. For a moment he thought she was going to say something but then she just looked back down at the boat, tracing the letters.
When he broke through the trees, he found her much like he had that day they'd found the boat, crouched over the water, leaning forward over the current, arms wrapped around herself.
He approached slowly, reviewing what he wanted to say to her one last time. "Roisin," he called, his voice abrasive in the subtle music of the forest.
She turned, startled. "Martin? What are you doing here?"
"I've come to speak to you," he told her. "To ask you to marry me.” He could tell by the expression on her face that she was shocked. "Now is the part where you say 'yes.’”
"I'm afraid it’s not," she said.
“I don’t understand.”
"I will not marry you. I cannot marry you."
“I understand," he began. "You do not want to tarnish my reputation with your own. Rest assured, I know of it and I am here anyway. My love is more than any sin you have committed."
"I do not care about your reputation, Martin. Or my own."
"Then what’s the problem?"
"I love Thomas Murphy," she declared.
"Thomas is gone.”
"He’ll be back."
"You don’t know that. He hasn’t written you, not in seven weeks—the whole town knows what has gone on in your house these last weeks. He’s lost. Or he found someone else, Ro—”
"I love him."
"You cannot love him." Martin objected. “He left you.”
"I have loved that boy since I first saw his face. He hasn’t left me, he has loved me—something you do not understand, nor can you hope to," she replied. "If he is lost, I love him still. I love him always. I will wait for him as long as it takes for him to make his way back to me. Seven weeks, seven months, seven years. I will wait.”
“You will be waiting forever.”
She nodded slightly. Martin noticed, for the first time, her tired eyes, her hollow cheeks, the redness of her face. In her state she resembled a weeping corpse more than a living woman. He realized that she was aware of the likelihood of Thomas’ return. No amount of logic would change her mind; she was beyond reason. Perhaps, he thought, she always has been.
“It was never me, was it? Liam was right. You’ve always been Rose Murphy, you always will be Rose Murphy. It was never me.”
“It was never you.”
(This piece has been previously published on Teen Ink)
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