Excerpt: Dream Chasers
The sharp autumn wind blew from the north right down the back of Owain O’Neill’s neck. He hunched his shoulders inside the navy-blue down vest he wore and moved beneath the shelter of a golden-leaved maple tree to avoid the first spatterings of sleet.
There was warmth in the rental car he had left by the side of the road, also a good heater and a thermos of coffee. But neither interested him now. His eyes were riveted on a group of young children dashing across the playground.
There were five of them, all about five to seven years of age judging from the size of them about the same as Dougal’s Annie their gender indistinguishable in their jeans and bright-colored parkas. Not that it mattered, he thought as he shoved his fists deeper into the pockets of his fawn-colored needlecord jeans. He had no idea if he was looking for a boy or a girl.
Why was he looking at all? What did it matter? And why would he do if he saw him? Or her? The questions battered him. Be he had come too far to turn back now. So he forced himself to ignore the questions, walking instead across the playground, angling toward the white shingled house on the edge of the park, so he could watch the children without seeming conspicuous. Two of the children sprinted toward a wood-framed swing set, and his gaze followed them wondering if either was the Williams child.
His ears were frozen and his stomach growled. The child he was seeking might not even be here, for heaven’s sake. It was insane really. If he had told his friend Dougal or anyone else what he was doing they would have thought he was crazy.
“Owain’s gone round the bend,” they would have said, laughing. “Write us a song about it, Owain. Can’t you write us a song?”
But the music wasn’t in him any longer, hadn’t been for several months. Now there was only this crazy dream an obsession almost that had come upon him ever since he had found out what had happened to Meg.
One of the children on the swings had lost her cap. She had golden hair, tangled and curly. The same color as Meg’s? He squinted, trying to mesh reality and memory, but he couldn’t. In some ways, he realized with growing self-recrimination, he could scarcely remember Meg. Blonde? Yes, of course. With a thin face and wide eyes that had trusted too much and seen too little. He compressed his lips in a thin line, dredging up his few remaining images of her. Then his eyes flickered back to the girl on the swing, and he sighed.
How would he ever know?
The door to the shingled house opened and a woman wearing a coat came out. She glanced over at him, her gaze resting on him long enough to let him know that she realized he was a stranger and wondered what he was doing in the park on such a miserable day. Then she whistled shrilly, and three of the five children looked up and ran over to her. The golden-haired girl was among them. Was she the one?
Owain rested his palm against the rough bark of the tree and watched as the woman waved to someone standing in the doorway, then herded the children into the car and drove away.
“Is that it then, old man?” he asked himself under his breath. “Have you found what you were looking for?”
He meant the question to be self-mocking. In his more rational moments he deplored his present quixotic behavior. He had done some impetuous and foolish things in his life, but this was undoubtedly one of the worst. But and his mouth twisted wryly at the realization all the deploring in the world didn’t seem to be able to stop him. Drawing in a deep breath of cold air and shaking the accumulation of sleet off his hair, he was turning to head back toward the car when a small body came crashing headlong into his legs.
“Hey!” He stumbled, losing his balance against the tree, his hands going down to catch and steady the child. “Watch it! Are you all right?”
Flashing brown eyes and wind-reddened cheeks turned up to meet his gaze. “Oh! Sorry! I didn’t see you. Hugh’s chasing me,” the girl added by way of explanation. Then she took off again, scattering the leaves in her wake as she darted across the park.
Owain stared after her, frowning, his memory pricked by a pair of smoky brown eyes. He watched as the boy called Hugh raced after her, tackling her beneath the swings, the two of them rolling over and over in a tangle of arms and legs, red and blue jackets. The girl’s hair was as dark as his own.
He felt a quickening inside him, a tingle of awareness. This girl had none of Meg’s fair hair or light hazel eyes. But did she have to? Of course not. “Elementary genetics, O’Neill,” he muttered, his eyes never leaving the child, studying with whole0minded intensity her every move.
She scrambled to her feet and took off again, Hugh chasing her, whooping at the top of his lungs. Owain followed them, drawn by a pull stronger than gravity. His frozen limbs, his gnawing hunger were forgotten as he crossed the playground when they did, shadowing them, entranced.
“Bronny! Hugh! Time to come in!”
Bronny> Owain went white.
The children turned and raced back past him without a second glance as they headed for the same shingled house, two voices chirping, “Coming, Mom!” to the tall, slender woman silhouetted in the doorway. Before he knew it, they had vanished inside.
“Bronny?” He whispered, his voice whipped away by the sleet-bearing wind the pierced him, body and soul. Bronny?
For a full minute he didn’t move, turning the name over and over in his mind, seeing the child’s lustrous brown eyes, thinking of another pair just like them. And another name the same as hers.
Then he scuffed his way slowly, mindlessly, through the fallen leaves toward the car he had left on the verge of the road.
He got in, started it up, listened to the hum of the heater and the gentle purr of the engine turning over. He rested his hands limply on the steering wheel, but beyond that he didn’t move. Instead he stared at the white house across the park, its lighted windows a welcome beacon in the waning Wisconsin afternoon.
Now what, O’Neill?” he asked himself hoarsely. “Walk away from that if you can.”