Máiréad absentmindedly picked up a cup of tea from the tray and sipped at it. Thinking about what would need to happen before she left. Cataloging the things she would have to settle, the bill with the village store, who would take care of the homestead, how to donate her clothes without causing suspicion. “Well” she declared, “I’m going to have to make up a reason to go back to the city and then I can disappear with as little fuss as possible.” Máiréad nodded to herself and then looked up, almost surprised to see Liam and the Cailleach there in front of her. She glanced down at the cup of tea in her hand and shook her head, as if clearing out the cobwebs, and laughed ruefully. I won’t get much tea where I’m going, she thought to herself. She decided she needed to stop thinking so hard and have faith that things would work out the way they were meant to.
Liam was staring off into the distance and she wondered what he was thinking. She realized she had come to rely on Liam to talk to and think things through with. Máiréad would be sad to lose that connection. She looked at the Cailleach, who was looking back at her, and saw the trace of a knowing smile. Máiréad opened her mouth to question her, but the Cailleach spoke first. She said, slightly mysteriously, “You’ll find it again some day.” And went to the door. She said she would come every month and make sure the sheet was still on the line and let Maeve know what had happened when she realized the house was empty and came to find the Cailleach to figure out what had happened. With that she swirled her cape around her and, almost in the same moment, popped out the door without a goodbye. Máiréad blinked, wondering if she would ever get used to knowing the village witch. Liam looked back at the sound of the door closing and the latch catching and looked around as if acclimating himself to the room. He met Máiréad’s eyes and smiled a little to show her he supported her choice. At least, that was what she hoped it meant. If her only friend was upset with her, she didn’t think she could bear it.
Máiréad cleared her throat, considering how to tell Liam what his friendship meant to her, but before she could say anything Liam said, “I know, it’s ok.” Máiréad gasped. “Why did you say that?”, she asked. Liam looked as surprised as she felt. “I…I don’t…I don’t know?”, he stammered. He sounded like he was half stating and half asking. He looked confused. Máiréad felt bad for getting him involved in this and went to say so, but held her tongue. She couldn’t apologize for something she would do again. Instead, she asked if he wanted his tea warmed and poured some hot tea into his cup. They sat in front of the fire companionably. Neither one saying anything but both thinking furiously as the afternoon shadows got longer, and the sun dropped towards the horizon.
When Liam shook himself out of the silence, he knew he had to get home to take care of his chores. He stretched and shifted in his seat, making ready to go. Máiréad looked over at him as he moved and realized the time. She scurried to get up, but Liam reached out and caught her arm, stopping her. As she stood there Liam got up and she looked into his eyes and blushed. She surprised herself; she hadn’t thought she would get embarrassed by standing close to Liam. Máiréad was mortified that her face was, she was sure, bright red and burning. She twisted out of his grasp and busied herself picking up the cups and nearly running to put them in the sink. From the other side of the table, she turned and saw Liam standing there watching her with a bemused look on his face. She wasn’t sure what he was thinking, but clearly her closeness hadn’t hit him like his closeness had hit her. He wasn’t red faced and embarrassed about it. She wondered why for a second and then firmly put that thought out of her head. It didn’t matter; she had made her decision, and she was going to go back to the ocean to find her parents and their Selkie Kingdom. She was going to find her family and the place she belonged. Without a doubt, she would find a world more accommodating than the one she had been living on land. No more hiding who she was, no more living in fear that someone would see her as she swam out into the waves, no more fear that someone would find out and hurt her because she was different. All of those problems would be gone. With a slightly wistful sigh, which Liam heard, she thought about missing Liam and the Cailleach and not being here to see the baby hedgehogs in the spring like she and the Seanmháthair always had. She would miss cosy fireside chats and the feeling of contentment that she experienced when she was with Liam. She looked at him again, this time painting a bright smile on her face and wishing him a hearty, if forced, goodnight and told him she would see him tomorrow and they could talk about her trip then. Liam looked unconvinced by her near instantaneous change of affect but he wished her well and shrugged into his coat, wrapping the scarf around his face, leaving only his blue eyes looking at her knowingly. She forced a smile even as she gulped, feeling like she had the time she had lied to the Seanmháthair about having candy from the village store. She had known the old woman knew she was lying, just as she knew Liam was aware that she wasn’t telling the truth. But he didn’t push her, and internally she felt relief. She didn’t know what had made her feel so uncomfortable, but she knew she had felt an attraction to her friend and that confused her. Máiréad needed time to think. She needed Liam to leave so he would stop looking at her with those all-seeing eyes. She swore he could see right into her mind.
Liam shoved his hands into big mittens and tugged the door open, letting in a swirl of cold air. “I’ll see you tomorrow”, he said. She nodded, glad she had the night to think about what had happened, and waved as he closed the door. When she heard the latch drop home, she collapsed into the chair nearest to her and put her head in her hands. She wanted the Seanmháthair to be here to talk to. She had always known what to say to help Máiréad through things, whether it was big or little, the Seanmháthair always had the right advice. Now Máiréad was sitting here alone, no Seanmháthair, no Cailleach, and no Liam. The only people in the world who knew her were all out of reach, and she was at a loss. She decided that, for tonight at least, she needed rest. She went to the Seanmháthair’s room and snuggled into her soft bed and smelled her talc and comforted herself with her memories, falling asleep in the big warm bed and feeling calm and relaxed for the first time in days.
As Máiréad slept, she moved around on the bed, her dreams causing her to twist and turn until the sheets were wound around her. In her dream, she was trapped again, like she had been in the fishermen’s nets. Máiréad felt herself reliving the day she’d come so close to death and Liam had found out about her. This time though, when he rescued her they met in the ocean. She knew it was a dream because Liam would never go swimming in the ocean. The thought that a place so important to her was a place he would not go saddened her. In her dream he reached out to her and wiped the tears from her face, telling her it was all going to work out and that he would be there waiting when she came back. He seemed so sure she was coming back that she believed it too. She heard herself saying she would be back. Then Liam put his hand behind her neck and pulled her closer. As he got close enough that she could see the droplets of water spiking his long lashes together, she blushed again. Máiréad knew he wanted to kiss her. She wanted him to. She could feel herself waking up as she twisted one too many times, and the sheets caught her in such an uncomfortable position she had to wake up to free herself. Máiréad tried to stay in the sleepy dream space just a little longer. She wanted to know what it would feel like to kiss him. That thought made her eyes open wide. Máiréad sat up, fully awake, in the old woman’s bed. Her dress and the sheets tangled around her legs and body like the net she had been dreaming about being caught in. She didn’t need to touch her face, she could feel the heat from her thoughts about Liam. What was she thinking? She asked herself. Liam was her friend. Although in the dream he hadn’t looked at her like she was a friend. He looked at her the way she’d seen courting couples look at each other. She shook her head, trying to drive out the memory of the dream. She untangled herself and got out of the bed, walking to her own room, determined to stop thinking about Liam and focus on her trip.