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Chapter 1 : An Annotation
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- Also, I mean no offence to any Scotsmen out there. I am only part Scot, thus this accent is merely an attempt to create an illusion of Scottish. I apologize beforehand on any mistakes on my part. It is meant as flattery and a way to remember my grandad and his black teas and strong, Scottish accent. Look at the bottom for glossary, if needed.
It’s like the saying goes, a cat has nine lives.
Such a waste, she thinks on those quiet nights when the rain paints the window a sea of blue. Nine lives for one little cat, and then just one for everyone else.
It’s the early dawn before the New Year, and she sits, watching the last sunrise of the year, feeling more than a little nostalgic. She watches the minutes as they leave, ticketing into the lake as the rays of shine dip deep into indigo blue.
Somehow, familiarity has sneaked in with the sunrays. His laughter is beating like a hollow echo against the walls between the pelts of rain, and she feels old again – ancient in her heaving sighs to this silent room. It’s like searching for the proper words, figuring out how to mention his name.
In a silent act of bravery, she scribbles his name across the foggy window. Minutes pass, and after beats of breath, she watches warmth erase him once more. His name is stillborn, lodged in her throat.
You don’t get over Dougal McGregor, not when he was never really yours.
(Don't board the train)
They always meet again.
The pub is scrummy with worn down wooden panels and a mud brown orange painted hazardless on the walls, missing dents and bumps along the way. She smoothes a hand down her pencil skirt, self-conscious for a minute, before stepping inside, escaping the bitter winds of London.
The bells clings, lonely in its ring as it announces her entrance. The silence that follows seems to cling to her body, drenching her in unease. Sweat pools at the back of her neck. She runs a hand through her hair, cursing the fact that she’s let it hang loose, suddenly overcome by nervousness.
He always loved her hair hanging loose.
Such inane, irrational thoughts drive her in these weak, brittle moments when his tender words corrupt her. It’s useless, like many human things. As if by realizing these mortal weaknesses, it shall somehow stop them from corrupting her. It won't help.
He’s sitting, facing her. Their eyes meet as soon as she steps into the pub. She feels like a young schoolgirl, stepping forward in too large shoes and twisted hair in a feeble attempt to make him feel something. Maybe regret. Maybe even love.
Perhaps then, they shall be joined in something again, even if it is despair.
His navy eyes hold hers, revealing nothing, giving nothing away. He’s always been very guarded and she sees that this has, in fact, not changed one bit. She sinks. He’s wearing half a grin, a lager in his hand, his cap low on the head. He looks like his dad.
He takes the hat off when she steps closer, rising from his seat. They stand there for some time in front of each other, halted in a moment of reconnection.
You fall in love, you fall out of love. It should be as simple as that.
He clears his throat. "Minerva."
There could be an ode here, she thinks. To quiet nights and open land with the star-speckled sky reaching beyond borders, bridging the large gap between two young people. You don’t feel it here, not in London’s crammed streets, but there is a land beyond the hills, where the flowers bloom and a young lad, a wee lad, thrives.
It’s a simple life, it’s a life she’s condemned all her life, yet as this man stands before her – aged in weariness, her heart sings out to him like the wind beneath the trees upon those high hills and mountains. Her own breath allows the Highlands to pass through her, into her. And it doesn’t seem as foreign and alien as she often makes it. Instead, all it seems to do is reverberate home.
They awkwardly exchange “hellos”, before commencing on a conversation that’s stilted, yet heartfelt to the extent that is allowed when meeting a long lost stranger again.
“How’s it goin’, lass? Saved the world yet?”
He’s smiling, despite it all. She must admit that his gentleness awes her. She can still recall his touch, the humming smile he used to offer her. Even after two years, she sometimes finds herself tripping over the what ifs, listening for the sound of the train again and him calling her name, desperately.
It had been the same kind of day then. The skies heavy with rain, grieving perhaps in accordance to them and this destiny that has befallen them. At times, though, she fears she is being punished for her ambition. That the culpable one is only her, the grief resting heavy hands upon her shoulders.
She keeps on glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, still unsure how to look at him straight on. She’s reverted to nervous mannerisms, twirling locks of hair and touching her neck in a nervous pattern like she’s thirteen again, meeting the neighbour’s son for the first time.
“It’s a work in process. Rome wasn't built in one day, as they say.”
"It wasn't, no." His mouth twists.
She brings the cup to her mouth in a vain attempt to hide her mouth. The liquid scolds her tongue, the taste sour. She coughs, setting down the cup.
“I see they serve their tea the Scottish way here.”
“Aye. The only true way.” There’s a warmth on his face that she hadn’t realized was missing until now.
His hand is lying on the table, upturned and open. She eyes the rough palms, remembering the way her fingers fit between his so intimately. It’s those delicate memories that wash over her in the presence of her past.
He’s still got the same two wrinkles by his eyes when he smiles. She stares at them, somewhat transfixed.
“It tastes appalling.”
“I see the capital got to ye, then. Made a right Southerner out o’ ye.” There’s a stand here, his mouth defiantly set as he reaches for his lager again, like a bad habit of controlling his anger.
See, they’re both returning to old habits.
And she can see it now. His cap on the ground behind him, his running feet flying higher than ever, running after her train. Hollering her name. Merlin, he could run like the wind, he could, faster and faster. And her outstretched hand on the window, her ring finger suddenly feeling ever so light. And then the rain had come, drowning out his voice as the train turned the corner. It’s funny, she finds, how quickly you come to depend on idle things.
The last image she has of him, is of him standing on the platform in the pouring rain.
“Doug.” Her voice is soft enough so that it blends into the room. He looks away from her, eyeing the buzzing street outside.
She takes the moment, just to watch him. His long, beacon nose, wide set blue eyes and those dark locks of hair. His pale skin only marred by freckles spotted along his cheekbones. He’s so Scottish that it almost hurts her eyes, the sorrow twisting deep in her stomach.
It’s like a brand of brotherhood, those dark-haired beauties from up North. The same piercing blue eyes like the sea, the fairness of skin. The stubbornness. Those broad cheekbones and solid jaws. Her father looks the same, and so do her brothers, all graceful enormity with blunted fingers and stubborn chins.
“Is it your first visit to London?” She asks, trying hard not to dwell on his frown. “You should go see the Cathedral, you’d like that. Shame ‘bout the rain, though.”
“It isna me first visit to London, lass. I’d rather ye’d no’ think o’ me so ignorant.”
“I don’t. Honestly.”
“Mpmhf.” His frown deepens.
Quiet descends for a moment, the half empty pub playing background to their defiance. It starts raining. People are leaving the streets, seeking shelter in the downpour. Yet it seems nothing like the storm raging inside this room.
His name slips from her lips as she folds her hand across his. He flashes her a half-smile, retracting his hand slowly. It takes her a second, blinking twice before she pulls her own hand back, the sting of his refusal burned across her skin. It crawls up her arm in an ice-cold chill as it settles inside her bones. Unwanted.
“I’m… I heard about your dad. I’m so sorry.”
He draws a long breath, his eyes bright indigo. “So that’s why ye summoned me? To give yer condolences? Lass, ye could’ve done that through a greeting card. I havena got time fer this. I’ve a business to tend to now.”
She keeps on forgetting about the years.
They seem insignificant to her, like a wave coming to land. Quick and gone in a moment. Leaving nothing behind but wet sand in its wake. That’s how quickly time seems to pass now. Living it, though, was quite a different experience. So many years have come to stand between them, heavy in faces passed by windows and names she’s learnt and forgotten. Accomplishments annotated to her name. In the end, all she wanted to be annotated to was him.
She had forgotten about the world that drifts between them. There was a time she used to believe nothing like that mattered. She doesn’t remember the bad times anymore. She does remember songs around campfires and jumping into the lake with his hand in hers. She remembers his laughter, his stupid jokes and his clear voice singing Highland hymns on open land. She remembers all those promises they vowed to keep, but didn’t.
“No. Dougal, no.”
Dougal sighs, leaning back in his chair. The light from the window pierces his eyes as he blinks at her, slowly.
“Weel, he was an old chap, lass. Dinna take it bad. It wasna anybody’s fault, ye ken. That’s just what happens to people. They die. T’is as natural as breathin’.”
They come to stand.
She’s forgotten how tall he is, but remembers it with stark clarity as she has to crane her neck to meet his soft gaze. There’s something indefinable in there, hidden from view. She should be uncertain, yet his warmth is a better constant than any she’s ever experienced. It’s like he knows how to root her.
Her fingers brush across his jaw tenderly. “How are you?”
Her name surprises her. She lets her hand drop. She feels him exhale, heavy against her face. Sea salt and headiness.
They exit the pub in silence. The rain has eased to mist, cooling against her burning skin. Dougal sighs beside her. They‘ve somehow aged into traditions once again. It’s dangerous, how easily you come to forget. A vow. Ambitions. Perspectives.
“I am sorry, you know.”
He looks at her, the dim city lights cutting shades off his face. There’s this moment, and she gathers they’re no longer talking about his deceased father.
Dougal smiles. “Ah, the truth at last. Ye ken, dinna worry ‘bout it, lass. I’m not a man to hold grudges.”
“Oh, I know.” She nods and her throat feels kind of funny, kind of heavy and tight. “You’re about as good as they get, Doug.”
It isn’t easy to say that. She has about ten different versions of how this talk should go, yet sorry is never quite as easy as it sounds, is it?
Her hand finds his. His fingers clench hers with a strength that both frightens and assures her, expressing those things left unsaid in the void between them. For once, he doesn’t let go. And it means the world to her.
His eyes are very wide.
“It’s never just simple wi’ ye, is it?” he asks gruffly and she feels the icing stab of the words.
It’s not a question. Minerva shrugs.
“It’s been two years. Two years.”
He makes a sound, a deep guttural sound, and he presses his thumb and finger against his eyelids. “Ye’re being mighty unfair, Lass.”
She steps closer, tentatively. He remains standing, eyeing her form as she inches closer, a hand outstretched. His skin is warm and soft to touch and his shoulders sag the moment she slides her hand through his hair.
“I’ve missed you.” Her whisper is hot against the side of his neck as she presses her face into the hollow of his shoulder. She can feel his body relaxing into hers, hip to hip.
His answering hand presses into the curve of her back, fitting into the space that seems to have been made for him. He breathes out heavily.
“Aye, I’ve missed ye, too. But. Ye don’t… Get to come here and tell me… all these things and act like nothin’ happened. Ye left me, Minerva. Standing on a train station wi’ no clue as to why ye left me.”
“I know. I know. It’s…” She stands back to look at him. “I loved you. I still… love you. But… We’re not… You know how some people have all the luck in the world, finding the perfect match?”
Her eyes are wet. “We’re not it.”
His hand comes up to frame her face, wiping away her tears. “If it wasna me hand in marriage, what were ye hoping fer?”
“I… I was hoping to be your friend.”
His smile is warmer than the sunniest day. “Ye already are. That never changed.”
They stand there for quite some time, wrapped together tightly before she pulls back.
“I have a train to catch,” she says quietly, her voice reluctant.
He stares at her for a long time, somehow seeing through her. It feels like being hit with a thousand spells, a thousand tingling spells that all warm her up.
But Dougal doesn’t know that.
He doesn’t know half of her. All that magic that’s brimming over the top of everything she is, threatening this feeble thing between them. Driving the train off its rails, feeding the burning carnage of them. There are a thousand anecdotes in the space between them, yet none of this matters anymore. There are faded photographs of their laughter and records beholding their love and it still doesn’t matter. She can think of a sea of metaphors and he still won’t be hers.
In the end, the train will leave the platform. She’ll board the train and commit herself to this. In the end, all she’ll ever be is this – no matter what she does and how she bends and breaks. She’ll always be this.
He walks her to the station, their steps slow with the silence shared between them. She turns to him as they enter the platform.
"I - I took a position in Scotland. At a school. I -" She stops herself, wide-eyed.
"That sounds nice." He flashes her half a smile.
"Can I... Can I come visit you? Sometimes, maybe?" She asks in a tentative whisper, the words nearly lost to the wind.
He pulls her against him, his fingers pressing into the nape of her neck, a hand tangled in her hair. His lips move against her forehead, hot and wet.
"Ye're verra welcome to visit, Minnie. Always."
They stand on the platform, wrought tightly together, breathing together as she tries to remember her reasoning.
The train comes.
They pull apart, and she stares into his eyes, her smile tightlipped. She wants to say something, to tuck him inside her chest and keep him sheltered, with her at all times. He laughs then, his laugh abrupt and choppy as he gazes down at her.
“Ay, lassie. Ye’d no be worrit. Ye’ll save the world.”
He tucks his hand underneath her chin, brushing a thumb across her lips, smiling. She stares at his fingers, wrapped in hers. Two years is enough to know that this is real.
"I sent ye letters, ye ken."
"I know." She swallows thickly. "I saved them all."
She really did. In a cardboard box underneath her bed in which she hides all her fears. Each letter wrinkled and soft from fingertips tracing the o's and e's. They're tucked neatly into the corner beside a small blue box she's never looked at again. She supposes we all hide our fears in dark corners.
It still feels unreal, him standing here, the train calling her name.
Dougal presses a kiss to her temple. She closes her eyes for the moment, memorizing the scenery, his smell and the sound of his voice, the train hooting in the background.
“Tara.” His voice is soft.
“Tara.” She smiles.
In the end, the train will still leave the platform. In the end she’ll still board that train.
It has always come down to this.
Ye - you
Ken - know
verra - very
isna - isn't
canna - can't
wasna - wasn't
dinna - don't
worrit - worry
weel - Well
fer - for
Lass/Lassie - girl
Tara - goodbye
Aye - yes
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