Sparks in Scotland
My entire body ached as I stretched each limb and popped my back, trying to shake off the effects of the long, long trip. Cleveland to New York to London to here—I still couldn’t believe we’d left home yesterday afternoon and had just arrived in Edinburgh’s airport a couple of hours ago.
But as I stared out our hotel window overlooking Princes Street, with Scotland’s rolling greens and ancient buildings staring back at me, the stiffness in my body faded away. I was really here. And it was breathtaking so far. I couldn’t wait to see what other sights Scotland held.
There was a lovely park area in front of our hotel with rich green grasses and trees, and beyond the park there were rows of ancient-looking buildings lined along the street, pressed side by
side with pubs, shops, and churches. This whole city was steeped in history. I was crazy excited to explore.
My mom stepped behind me and gave a soft sigh. “It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?”
I nodded my agreement. “Well worth being cramped in an airplane for this.” I’d spent hours last week scouring online to find pictures, videos, anything to help get me ready for our two-week vacation to Scotland. But nothing could have prepared me for the image before me.
Downtown Edinburgh bustled with people below, and music and noise filtered up to us from the packed streets. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched. Excitement swelled, and I was suddenly itching to get out there and walk. I wanted to touch the warm bricks with my fingers, smell the pub food and flowers, and hear the noises up close and personal.
“Ava,” my dad said from behind me, “I printed you a copy of our itinerary. There’s also a backup on your bedside table.”
Mom chuckled, and we turned and faced my dad. He didn’t show any signs of fatigue, since he’d slept like a log on our flight from New York to London last night. I, on the other hand, had gotten intermittent sleep, due to the snoring man on my right who apparently couldn’t snooze unless his head was tilted my way.
Mom and I sat down on my bed, and we dutifully took our copies of the papers while Dad recited an overall rundown of how the trip would go. First we would spend a few days in Edinburgh and the surrounding cities, and Dad would spend some of that
time doing research on our family heritage. Then we were taking a weeklong bus trip through Oban, Inverness, and St. Andrews so we could explore the Scottish Highlands.
The more he talked, the more excited he got, his eyes flashing bright.
“And if we stick to this schedule, we’ll have plenty of time to fit in almost everything the experts agree we need to see,” he concluded with a flourish. “We’ll experience a good portion of what Scotland has to offer.”
“This sounds like a pretty thorough sightseeing plan you’ve crafted. But do we get to sleep anytime in there?” Mom asked, her lips quirking with quiet amusement. “And maybe have a dinner or two as well?”
He rolled his eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course we do. I scheduled an hour for each meal—it’s listed clearly under each day.”
An hour? Yeah, right. Mom was the slowest eater in the world. Apparently, he’d forgotten about this little fact. “Good luck policing Mom’s eating speed,” I told him with a hearty chuckle.
She shot me a mock glare, then grabbed her phone. Her fingers flew over the screen as she typed. “Laugh it up, smarty-pants. I just believe in savoring my meals. Anyway, I’m sending Mollie a text to let her know we’ve arrived. I’m so excited to see her. It’s been far too many years since she and I have hung out.”
During our travels here, Mom had given me some information about this family we were hanging out with in Scotland.
Apparently, Mom and Mollie had been best friends in high school. After they’d graduated and moved on to college, Mollie had spent a semester in Scotland her senior year. She’d fallen head over heels in love—both with the land and with a handsome guy she’d met on campus. The decision to stay here had been hard, but she hadn’t looked back.
Mollie’s family still lived in the Cleveland area, and Mom said she had coffee with her parents every once in a while. But Mollie herself hadn’t been back to visit in years.
The way Mom talked about Mollie reminded me of my friendship with Corinne. Lasting and strong, no matter what happened in life. We’d known each other for years and had grown into best friends fast. Before I’d left for this vacation, she’d demanded I send her lots of pictures of my trip and keep her up to date on all the cute guys I saw. If only she could have come with me to experience Scotland too. She would love what I’d seen so far; the old buildings and rolling greens would appeal to her artistic nature. Talk about inspiration.
“So, Dad, where are you going to start your research?” I asked. He’d joined an ancestry website last year to begin building our family tree, and it was cool to see the old scanned birth certificates, pictures, and other artifacts regarding our ancestors.
“The National Archives of Scotland.” He dug through his suitcase and produced a battered notebook. As he flipped through the pages, I saw his signature scrawl filling at least the first half of the notebook. Dad was nothing if not thorough and methodical.
“It’ll get me a good start on which town we should narrow our focus down to. And someone online mentioned I can check out local churches as well, since they keep meticulous birth and death records.”
After interviewing a number of family members and confirming the information online, Dad had traced our family line back to Scotland. When he’d casually brought up the idea of continuing his research in person, Mom and I had begged him for a family trip there until he’d caved. We’d all figuratively tightened our belts and cut back on spending to make sure we could afford it, with no complaints.
Yeah, I was willing to follow any goofy, overplanned agenda Dad set if it meant experiencing this. Even our hotel felt cool and different and older than anything I’d seen in America. This country breathed history, and I was full of anticipation to take pictures and draw it.
“Will we be able to find out our family tartan?” I asked him. It would be so cool to get a kilt made in it. Corinne would die of jealousy if I wore it to visit her—and probably tease me a little too.
He shrugged. “If we have one, I don’t see why not. I don’t think all Scottish families do, but maybe we’ll be lucky.”
My stomach growled, and I clapped my hands over it with a chagrined laugh. “Sorry.”
Mom quirked her crooked smile and put her phone away. “Someone’s hungry, it seems.”
“Well, it has been a few hours since we ate lunch,” I protested.
And even that had been a little lackluster—a plain sandwich and chips. I wanted a real dinner.
Dad scrunched up his mouth as he thought. “Well, we’re not actually scheduled to start exploring Edinburgh until tomorrow, but I suppose we could get a taste of its foods right now and maybe do a little shopping—”
“Yes!” Mom and I said together, then laughed. We jumped off the bed and stood in front of Dad with pleading eyes.
He gave a heavy, resigned sigh. “Okay, fine. Put on your jackets, and let’s go grab a meal. There’s a place on High Street that was recommended by a number of people. We’ll get some authentic Scottish cuisine there.”
I slipped on my dark-blue fleece jacket and checked myself out in the mirror. My blond bob was a bit worse for wear but not horribly so, and a quick run-through of my brush smoothed the strays. I had on jeans and a T-shirt. Not my foxiest outfit ever, but it would do for now.
“You look lovely, Ava,” Mom said as she walked by me, giving my upper arm a small squeeze.
We left the room and made our way down the hall, down the stairs, and into the large wood-trimmed lobby. A variety of people hustled and bustled around us, checking in as they dragged suitcases to the front desk, talking, laughing. Their energy was infectious, and I found my spirits lifted even higher.
Wow, I was in Scotland—I was really here! And this was going to be an awesome two weeks.
“Oh, just to remind you,” Mom said to me when we stepped outside into the mild summer air. “Mollie and Steaphan have a son around your age. Graham. He’ll be hanging out with us too,” she added with a broad smile.
My good mood slipped a touch, and a hint of wariness filled me. Wonderful. Mom’s attempts at vacation matchmaking weren’t very subtle.
We crossed Princes Street and headed down the sidewalk toward High Street, weaving through the crowds of people. The air carried the rich scents of food and the sounds of drummers off in the distance. Sunlight peeked through intermittent clouds and warmed the air, which hovered around the midsixties. When we’d left Cleveland yesterday, it had been in the nineties and scorching hot for days. This was far, far more comfortable.
“I’m sure Graham is a nice guy,” I finally said to Mom. My stomach growled again. I focused on my hunger in an attempt to change the subject. “So, I can’t wait to try this restaurant. Do you think you’ll try haggis while we’re here? I don’t know if I’m brave enough to eat it.”
Mom ignored my food ramblings and continued, “You should give him a chance, Ava. I’ve seen Graham’s pictures, and he’s quite handsome. A clean-cut boy with a friendly smile.”
“I’m sure he is.” I knew the grin on my face was super fake, but I flashed it anyway. A mother’s idea of handsome was quite different from a daughter’s. Plus, I tended to like guys who were a little less prim and proper. David’s short, scruffy black hair and
dark-brown eyes came to mind, and I shoved the memory right back out again. At least that old sting in my heart didn’t flare up at the thought of him, the way it had for so long after our breakup earlier this year.
Dad, who was already in tourist mode, had his camera at the ready and was busy snapping shots of the large brick and stone buildings lining the street. I took out my phone and snapped a few shots so I could send them to Corinne.
Mom nudged me with her shoulder and gave me a wistful smile. She was such a romantic. “I know what you’re thinking, Ava, but who knows? Graham might turn out to be your Scottish vacation romance. After all, Mollie hadn’t planned on falling in love, but here she is, almost twenty years later and still happy as a lark.”
I gave her a casual shrug. Yeah, it would be awesome to find someone I liked that much, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I’d liked David too, a lot, and that had turned out terribly. No one else knew what had happened between us to make us break up, not even Corinne, and I wanted to keep it that way. The truth was far too mortifying. “We’ll see,” I replied with a broad smile. “I’m looking forward to meeting them all.” That much was accurate, at least.
We turned the corner and headed down High Street. I couldn’t stop staring, absorbing the sights of Old Town Edinburgh. The buildings were packed side by side with adorable storefronts in brilliant colors. Rich Scottish accents poured from young and old guys sitting at pub tables as they talked faster than I could
understand, pints in hand. Everywhere I looked I saw tartan patterns on clothing and even a few men in kilts. Their bare calves were strong and sturdy, covered with hair.
A couple of blocks down, Dad led us into a small restaurant with huge glass windows. A waitress with wildly curly gray hair and a warm face seated us and gave us menus. I scoured mine a little hesitantly at first but realized I recognized a lot of the food available and felt a strong sense of relief. An embarrassed flush crept up my cheeks. If my mom could read my thoughts right now, she’d make a pointed comment about me always making assumptions.
Mom and Dad ordered, and I got the sausage-and-mash bake—couldn’t go wrong with potatoes and sausage. My parents talked about tomorrow’s plans with Mollie and Steaphan, and I let my gaze wander around the room. The top half was blue wallpaper, while the bottom was wood-trimmed with neat tables lined up along the walls. It was cozy and lovely.
And the air smelled heavenly. I couldn’t wait to eat.
“—excited to find out where we’re really from,” Dad was saying. “I should be able to search all the way back to our home village, even.” He suspected our heritage could be traced way back to the medieval ages, based on something he’d found online, and was hoping to confirm it with in-person research.
Our meals were delivered fast, and the food was every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. I polished off my whole plate in record time. My parents got fish and fries—uh, chips, as our waitress called them.
We paid our bill and left the restaurant, then spent a couple of hours strolling along High Street to window-shop a bit. I was tempted to buy a bunch of stuff, but I didn’t want to spend all my money on the first day.
The temperature had dropped a few degrees, and I zipped my fleece up a touch. Crazy how much hotter Ohio was than Scotland. Good thing Mom and I had done our research beforehand and had packed appropriate clothing.
As the sun began to sink into the horizon, we made our way back to our hotel. My eyes were gritty and I was a bit sluggish. Mom was walking slower too, and even Dad’s enthusiasm was starting to fade. Fatigue definitely hit us hard after that big meal.
Still, I wasn’t quite ready to go to sleep yet. When we got inside, I begged to explore the hotel a bit. Mom and Dad reluctantly agreed. I grabbed a room key and took off before they could change their mind.
The building was old, and all its little details mesmerized me as I walked up and down the halls, trailing my fingers along the walls. Spindly metal wall sconces glowed with golden lamplight. Ornate wallpaper covered the halls in subtle patterns I could feel under my fingertips, and the carpeted halls were worn but soft. I was tempted to kick off my shoes and dig my toes in the plush brown nap.
There were a few modern, updated rooms in the hotel’s first floor as well, for business conferences, I assumed, bearing massive slabs of tables and sleek chairs. The dining hall was a large,
blue-carpeted room with dark wooden tables in intimate clusters and small candles in the center of each smooth surface. The space invited people to come in and linger for a while. I needed to ask Mom and Dad if we could eat there tomorrow. Even though I was full, the rich scents of cooking food from the nearby kitchen tempted me to eat more.
When I got back to the lobby, I noticed a group of guys standing together. There was a mix of accents tangling—Irish, English, even German. One English guy had a shock of blond hair and stood a good foot taller than the rest. Super handsome. It was so tempting to take a quick picture to send to Corinne, but I didn’t want to look too obvious. I made a mental note to tell her about it.
I headed upstairs, tiptoed into the room—my folks were already asleep—got ready for bed, then conked out almost before my head hit the pillow.