Sunlight leaked in from outside the frosty, slightly soiled window pane. While having not been wholly obscured by any sort of curtain or blind with the exception of the dirt, the faint rays of light managed to bypass the somewhat clear barrier and fell upon a nearby face-- a face belonging to Naushe Kearney, resting against a deflated pillow with expression content in its slumber. His freckled nose twitched, indicating that he was waking from his sleep, and he wrinkled up his previously calm facade. A moment escaped him, where his eyelids soon parted to reveal a pair of light, tawny irises surrounded by a squint. His pupils shrunk beneath the section of light that lingered upon his gaze.
He sluggishly rolled over to turn toward Mariah that lied beside him. She hadn’t been stirred from her slumber just yet, but he seized the opportunity to look upon her quiet beauty. His lips quirked upward in a subtle fashion, stare warm with somber appreciation. It was not long before she, too, opened her eyes, gaze meeting his.
She furrowed her brow skeptically when she eventually realized what he was doing. “What,” she stated plainly, rather than using an inquiring tone.
He exhaled through his nose in a sigh and shook his crimson-haired head, drawing a hand through the unruly mess of thick, shoulder-length locks. “Not’in’. Yah just look so peaceful when yer sleepin’, ‘tis all.” He mirrored her thick, Irish accent with his own. “But yer awake now-- so much fer t’at, yeah?”
His impish grin, though believable, was feigned. It was as if their relationship was a forced one, much like the faux emotion put into his smile. Mariah paused, but rolled over to face him by response, propping her head up with her right arm crooked at the elbow. She didn’t seem to be in the same humor as her husband and she lowered her gaze to steal a peek at her wedding ring. Her brow fell once more in contemplation. “Roight yah are,” she breathed, looking to him again. “What toime are yah leavin’ fer yer sister’s?”
He hesitated, much like she had, but shot her a sidelong glance. “Here in ta’ next few minutes. Oi’ll… Ah… Go and wake ta’ little ones, loike,” he replied and hefted his torso up into a seated position, causing the sheets to fall from his upper body. After cupping his face with his hands to wipe them down his youthful features, he slung his legs about to the side of the bed, feet resting upon the floorboards. He wriggled his toes before standing.
The woman averted her stare. She wasn’t embarrassed, just strangely disinterested.
Once he was clothed enough to be presentable, Naushe gave her a quick nod and vague grin, then departed from the room. Mariah returned to a lying position, resting now on her back, and pulled the sheets upward to cloak her torso far enough to cover her collarbone. She appeared somewhat apprehensive, her eyes locked upon the cracked ceiling overhead. Time passed and when what seemed like ages eluded her, her redhaired husband returned with two new present. Mackenzie, a young boy nearing his fifth birthday, gripped at his father’s fingers, his spare thumb jammed into his mouth; whereas Yariel, the seven-year-old daughter, remained behind her dad with arms folded. They both appeared tired and Yariel seemed considerably cranky.
“Whoiy we got ta’ get up so early, mum?” the girl asked, still sulking. Mack nodded sheepishly with his sister’s question, but he wasn’t too bothered by the premature arousal.
Mariah closed her eyes with a trace of a frown, responding: “Oi’ve got ta’ go out o’ town today fer groceries and yer dad’s got ta’ work. Can’t be lettin’ eit’er o’ yah stay here boiy yer lonesome.” She didn’t seem in the mood for joking, so she left it at that. Naushe found his wife’s disposition off, but he refrained from bringing attention to the oddity, merely giving a look of concerned suspicion.
“And… Uh,” he began, stumbling over his thoughts due to the uncharacteristic behavior. “And we also can’t be lettin’ yah go wit’ Mum. Mack’ll eat all ta’ food before yah get it home.” Naushe hoped it would lighten the mood. The small boy let loose a shy chuckle, even with the soggy thumb lodged between his lips; however, Yariel was unamused. Mariah remained silent, which called for another worried glance from her husband.
Naushe cleared his throat, eager to vacate the strange environment with a change of his stance. “Well… Ah… Yah be safe travelin’, buttercup; Oi’ll-- uh… We’ll be seein’ yah later tonoight, loike.” He gave a wave with his unburdened hand, his other caught in an unintentional death grip from his son, and then ushered the two children out with him. In mid-step, he glanced briefly over his shoulder to take one last look at his wife, still slightly troubled. Mariah slowly sat upright and gave him a pained nod accompanied by a forced smile.
“Mhm,” was all she was able to say.
After a moderately forlorn sigh from the father, the trio of Kearneys trudged their way down the aged staircase, Naushe being solely responsible for all the creaks. Mack refused to remove the thumb from his lips, even though it could very well be a hazard during their descent, and it resulted in a somewhat reproachful frown from his father. Despite the child’s reluctance to give up his thumb-sucking, the three of them made it outside without incident.
“Ain’t yah a bit old fer t’at, Mack?” the tallest asked, nodding downward toward the child’s sodden digit. Before Mack could answer, struggling to remove the thumb from his mouth, Naushe patted at his own chest. He came to the realization that he didn’t slip his claw necklace over his head this morning and peeked backward for the front door. His thick brows knitted, but he decided against retrieving it straight away, opting to escort his children to his sister’s before returning.
Although Mack’s legs were short and had a tendency to slow down the gait of both his father and his sister, the three of them arrived at the Donoghue home in good time and were all greeted by Nyla personally with an over-enthusiastic hug and smooch to the cheek, Naushe included. She backed up as soon as she was satisfied with each hearty hello and gave her brother a warm, sympathetic look-- she was able to sense that something was off with her elder sibling, but didn’t feel it necessary to pry, at least not with the children in their company.
Nyla forced her gaze down upon her niece and nephew and flashed a broad, toothy grin. “Bit early fer ta’ lot o’ yah ta’ be awake, ain’t it?”
Mack replied silently with a vacant nod, his eyes unfocused and his thoughts likely lost in his own, exhausted mind; however, Yariel offered her own opinion vocally: “Aye. Wasn’t me oidea.” While the young, slightly sour girl didn’t seem all too delighted about the situation, Nyla crouched down just the same and ruffled her hair, which caused the child to wrinkle her freckled nose in disapproval.
“C’mon insoide-- Caoiliann’s upstairs and Oi’m sure she’ll be t’rilled ta’ have someone ta’ play wit’, yeah?” Nyla encouraged, retreating a step to allow the two youths to enter. Mack, despite being excessively tired, waddled inside with vague enthusiasm and his sister reluctantly followed. Their aunt then flicked her aquamarine gaze upward to meet Naushe’s. She paused and took in his appearance before speaking once more. “Yah look loike somet’in’s bot’erin’ yah-- everyt’in’ alroight?”
Her brother blinked twice to break him of his impassive stare. “Ah? Oh-- uh… Oi’m foine. Must just be sleepy, ‘tis all,” he answered, but not in a convincing fashion. He was a terrible liar.
“Oi don’t boiy t’at,” she said rather flatly, continuing after a hesitation. “But… Oi ain’t goin’ ta’ interrogate yah furt’er. No sense at t’is hour, anyway.” She placed a hand upon her hip and drew her free one through her red hair while turning to ensure that the children had scurried upstairs. “T’ough… If yah change yer moind and feel loike talkin’ ta’ someone, yah know where ta’ foind me. Oi won’t keep yah-- know yah got work ta’ get to and all.”
Naushe felt a weak smile tug at the corners of his mouth and he turned it into a believable smile of thanks. “‘Course. T’anks again fer keepin’ an eye on ta’ little ones.” His tone was sincere. He stepped forward, reaching for an embrace in farewell, where Nyla silently obliged. She patted him upon his back before releasing him and taking a half-stride backward. “‘Tis ta’ hoighloight o’ me day, ta’ see me favorite niece and nephew.”
Naushe’s left brow twitched up in mild amusement. “T’ere yer only niece and nephew.”
The two of them exchanged light laughter, swapped goodbyes, and Naushe was soon off. While it took him some time to traverse to his sister’s, it took a fraction of the time to return home without Mack in tow, reaching his own place of residence minutes later. He produced the key from beneath the mat at the foot of his front door, stuffing it inside the lock beneath the handle, and jarred the knob until it yielded to the force pitted against it. The door swung open.
He advanced inside, gently pulling the door shut behind him, then took to climbing the stairs again. His brows furrowed at the muddled footsteps, likely made by his wife, but it wasn’t a cadence that worried him-- it wasn’t until what sounded akin to a stool toppling over, followed by a harsh thud, that he felt inclined to rush up the remainder of the staircase to investigate in a hurry. He threw open the bedroom door, only to freeze on the spot.
A knotted rope hung from the rafters at the center of the room, fashioned up to serve as a noose, and Mariah lied sprawled out across the floor just a few feet from the overturned chair. She appeared dazed, clutching at the back of her head with a hiss of pain slipping through clenched teeth. Her dark eyes quickly rose to find her husband in the doorway and her face paled a few shades.
Naushe shook his head subtly, a gesture that snapped him from his reverie and back to the present. Initially, he stumbled forward, but broke into a run that ended in a sliding crouch at his wife’s side. He didn’t wait for an explanation, merely slipping his hands beneath her armpits to elevate her to the foot of the bed. Mariah’s body then began to tremble. Naushe didn’t say a word.
He took a seat next to her and gingerly, cautiously, guided her in closer to him, tenderly placing a palm against the side of her head to press her cheek to his chest. It was then when he felt the hot tears against his skin, droplets spattering upon his forearm below, and he responded only by snaking said arm about her waist to close the gap between them. The two lingered at the bed’s end in relative quiet, save for the shuddering breaths that Mariah took every so often. It felt as though an eon passed before either of them broke the silence.
“Shh,” Naushe hushed, drawing his left hand up to elevate her chin. She originally resisted, obviously ashamed and terrified; however, her will collapsed and she allowed him to do as he wished. Her timid gaze eventually locked with his. She immediately withered beneath the look he offered, an air of stern, stoic rigidity.
His jaw tensed as his stare darted from her left eye to her right, repeating the process over and over in quick succession. Mariah winced and her lids pulled tight into a wounded expression, but she caved, pressing further forward to bury her face into his chest with a smothered cry. Her husband gently combed his fingers upward through her hair as she leaned into him, his own breath hitching at the very thought of her succeeding if he hadn’t arrived in time. He bowed his own head and planted his lips upon the top of her skull, ultimately dipping lower and resting his left temple against her thick, coarse hair. Naushe closed his eyes with a shudder of his shoulders.
“Yer alroight,” he cooed, voice lower than a whisper.
Listening to: Politics, but it's coming from downstairs