Though early—Paul wasn't scheduled to pick up Allie until half past twelve—she was too excited to wile away her time lying in bed. She'd thought about doing some writing, sitting with her fingers poised above her laptop's keyboard—she'd never become accustomed to typing on such a tiny surface, but the words were not flowing. Clicking a few buttons she pulled up one of her saved music libraries and chose a hymn, the lively Byzantine Paschal Troparian sung just after the priest or bishop has lit the first candle, sharing it with the congregation as the flame is passed along candle by candle, everyone united, signifying the commencement of Pashca. Pushing the repeat button and turning up the volume as high as it would go, she fished around in her leather satchel for her journal, flipping it open to a page being held by the Glenbogle postcard, she stared at an entry from the evening before, just two words jotted on the page; we kissed.
Knowing Paul at least fancied her, she was dismayed that the gathering that afternoon would probably not be as informal as the one held at the Ghillie's Rest that past Friday. She figured they'd be served drinks from cut crystal glasses in the formal drawing room, have a 10-courseseated dinner around the formal dining room table in those stiff, high-backed chairs whose padding had become nearly petrified, their best china laid out, the cutlery properly polished and placed, leaving no room for relaxing and kicking back, no room for private conversations. The MacDonald's seemed to be salt-of-the-earth kind of people—sharing pints with the locals and including their staff in family celebrations but there was no question that though Glenbogle may have been in shambles, they still considered themselves as part of the gentry class—for that was where Hector's clan had hailed from and judging from what Liz had told her, the life of privilege Molly had also come from as well.
Deciding to shower, Allie gathered her toiletries and headed to the loo.
There was a knock on Molly's bedroom door. "Come in, I'm decent," she trilled.
"Was that really necessary?" Lizzie entered, heading straight to the chaise, plopping down on it heavily.
"Saying that you were decent, I mean."
"Well it is my boudoir. Oh Lizzie, my dearest middle-born child," Molly ran her fingers through her daughter's hair then hugged her around the shoulders, "Lighten up!"
"Lizzie you are caught in some sort of a limbo here, I understand that but life must go on."
"So that's it. That's your advice, that's what you've done, is it? You've gotten on with your life. Forget poor ol' dad, huh? Oh that Hector, he was a dear, but you know."
"Forget Hector? Lizzie I could never forget your father he was a part of me."
"Yet I still see you flirting with Donald and with Golly even."
"Donald? Oh Lizzie, please. Don't talk such nonsense. That was a long time ago."
"Whatwas a long time ago? Did you and Uncle Donald ever have a thing for each other? No on second thought don't tell me, I don't think I want to know the answer."
"Wait a second dear; I'm trying to gauge the look of horror on you face," Molly joshed, "Are you repulsed or happily shocked?" Lizzie tried to protest once again. "Listen, what happens or haspreviouslyhappened in my love life is my personal business. I've not now taken up with Donald or any other chap for that matter. Your uncle and I may tease each other because, at least for me, it brings me back to my youth. Flirting makes me feel young again and wanted."
"Wanted? Mother, you are wanted."
"Yes, Lizzie as a mother and grandmother, counselor, advisor, boss, yes, all true and I dofeel I'm respected and appreciated in those capacities. But as a person sometimes I hope for more. You see, Hector was my more for or over forty years, and now who is there for me?"
Lizzie looked around the room, "Where's the portrait?"
"The one you painted of father."
"Lizzie, you never saw that portrait."
"I know I never saw it mother but you had told me all about it before you started painting it. You said you were nervous about getting it just right. Archie told me you had hung it in a place of honor on the wall by the stair landing but it's not there!"
"No, I had it taken down."
"Lizzie, I don't know," Molly wrung her hands together and paced the floor.
"I want to see it, mother. I want to see the portrait."
"Why? It won't ease the guilt."
"Oh Mother, how could you?"
"I'm sorry, Lizzie. We all felt some sense of remorse on your father's passing. Things left unsaid and all of that. But the truth of the matter is we don't know what's in the cards for each of us. We don't know when our time is up until it's too late. Why had we waited so long to say things to one another? If I'd known that that particular day was going to be the last day I'd ever see my husband again but of course, I didn't and I was so angry at him for dying so foolishly and needlessly and for leaving me before I was ready to let go of him. But I have let go, Lizzie. Understand that. I've come to terms with it and I believe Archie has too and now you have to find your own way." Molly took her daughter's face in her hands. "Martha is prone to fantasy and has the capability of imagining all sorts of fanciful stories, we both know that. But she's also a child and children seem to be more open and accepting of things," Molly searched for the right words, "of things that maybe can't be so easily explained. But I knew Hector's heart, Lizzie. Heis okay with you. Everything's squared. I'm absolutely certain of it."
B & B, Glenbogle Village
Allie was ready. It was 12:05 and she was all ready to go. She'd been ready since 11:30 but had waited until noon to start taking furtive glances out the window of her B & B room which overlooked the front walkway.
She checked her Movado, the tiny gold arms set on the blank black face, a 30-something-odd birthday gift from her favorite Aunt, indicating it was roughly 12:10. Allie broke into a huge smile. She'd often heard that opposites attract, if one wanted to find the perfect mate one should look for the yang that completed one's yin. But what did they know. As she watched the blue Glenbogle pick-up truck pull up out front, she was tickled pink that Paul was twenty minutes early or—right on time.
Allie was able to greet Paul at the door without any interruptions as Liz had gone out for the day. Making sure to lock the door securely behind her, Allie made her way to the truck. Watching him walk around to the driver's side after shutting her door, Allie realized that she'd never really seen him without his leather jacket on. Even in the Ghillie's Rest he'd worn an anorak over his clothing. She was impressed with his outfit, a deep blue shirt worn with the shirttails out over a nice pair of jeans, an ensemble accentuating his long, lean and muscular frame.
"I half expected to find you in a kilt."
"Oh and why's that?" Paul held his head up, looking down his nose at her, his eyebrows raised.
"Am I not being invited to a special MacDonald family dinner? Or do I and your cousin's boyfriend not rate highly enough to be treated to a bagpipe serenade and other fanfare?"
"Well," Paul had to think quickly. Allie had no idea that they were going to be sitting outside under a tent. Or that they were going to set up the food buffet-style at Jimmy's knowledgeable request, just like at a real ethnic picnic, Paul had recalled him saying.
"Aw, I'm kidding," Allie had come to the rescue. "I was just hoping to catch a glimpse of your knobby knees or anything else that might be revealed with the help of a strong breeze!" Paul laughed out loud, the comment catching him off-guard.
And this is how their banter went, back and forth for most of the ride. As they began to approach the long drive to the estate, an area Allie was starting to become very familiar with, a questioning look slipped across her face. She began sniffing the air, rolling down the window.
"Are you okay?" Paul asked, afraid she was getting car sick.
"I am 100% sure that I smell roasting lamb."
"Lamb, nope, I'm quite sure that lamb wasn't on Ewan's menu for today. I think there may be some Crofter's Stew and maybe some poached salmon, definitely haggis…"
Allie was falling in love.
Paul guided Allie through the wrought-iron gate to the loch-side of the house, the very same area Duncan had brought her to when she'd met Molly early on the Saturday morning the week before. The area had been completely transformed with a huge white tent, tables set with festive touches and flowers from the garden.
"Welcome, Allie!" Molly shouted in her direction while the others waved.
Lizzie approached her with Martha in tow and someone else whom Allie assumed was her boyfriend. "Allie, I'd like you to meet my friend, Dhimitri Katsopoulos."
Jimmy stepped forward, "As I'm sure you've already guessed," he laughed, "I'm Greek and I'm Orthodox too. And you can call me…"
"Jimmy?" Allie said.
"Yes, figured you'd know that! Enjoy the festivities."
Underneath a huge tent which faced the loch was a long table set with all kinds of traditional Easter fare including big pieces of spinach pie, feta cheese, and a traditional egg salad made with Easter eggs—Allie could see faint traces of the red dye on the white parts—oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. Projected on a higher section of the tent's flap just behind the table were Molly's pictures from her trip to Greece playing in a continuous loop. Allie was glad to see that someone had helped Molly with this project and wondered whether or not it had been her son. Archie had never warmed up to her, he'd been polite enough but still, she refused to think it was she who'd done something to offend him, for she'd felt his cold shoulder from the very beginning. But she also thought it very arrogant of her to assume, though it was entirely possible, that whatever marital problems or otherwise he'd been experiencing were spilling over into other areas of his life, and thus choosing Allie as his target for of all of his bad feelings, it wasn't really her that he'd a problem with after all. Allie also enjoyed watching how Archie's cousin interacted with everyone there. Paul's manner was pleasant and genuine, tenderly asking Molly if she was in need of anything, paling around with Lizzie's boyfriend, and even teasing Martha mercilessly.
Paul approached Allie, "Well, what do you think?"
"I think this is the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me."
"Aw," Paul reacted modestly, "Lizzie played a big part in the planning seeing as Jimmy was going to be away from his family too and then Molly was really up for the idea of course."
"Paul," he looked at Allie straight on, "Thank you."
Leaning in close to each other, Allie slid her hand across Paul's knee. Placing an arm around her waist he slowly pulled her towards him. She could feel his energy, sense his longing to touch her. "Your eyes are the shade of amber honey," he whispered softly in her ear, nuzzling her neck with his nose. He kissed her delicately on her cheek and lightly on her rosy lips. Allie breathed deeply, taking in his sweet, musky scent, she could feel herself getting warm and blushing, raising her parted lips to his. Then the music started playing.
"Opa!" Jimmy had started the first line dance, pulling Allie with him onto the section of parquet flooring set up specifically for this purpose. Ewan had thrown him a white cloth napkin which he swung adeptly in his right hand, holding it high above his head. Allie, her left arm held behind her back as she formed the end of this very short line, kept right up with the beat of the ethnic music, swooshing forward and back with intricate steps, never once looking down at her feet. By the third song, nearly all were up dancing, attempting the steps, swaying and making mistakes, moving forward when the line was heading back and all the while laughing uncontrollably.
By the time dessert was offered everyone was completely knackered. Jimmy and Lizzie had taken Martha down to the loch, Lexie had gone inside with Hazel and Archie and Molly had sought out cups of coffee.
Allie wandered off to the side. Realizing she'd left the area, Paul followed after her.
"Hi," Paul sat beside her on a boulder, placing his body slightly behind hers to shield her from the cool wind. "What's happened to your smile?"
"I was just thinking," Allie looked out over the loch.
"About?" Paul fluttered his fingers over Allie's hand and a portion of her arm—normally something she loved, it was too distracting now.
Taking his hand in hers, she looked up at him, "I'm eventually going to have to return home, back to the US."
"I don't really want to think about that right now, Allie."
"I don't either but I mean is thatsomething we should be thinking about?" He pushed a stray lock of hair away from her face.
"Golly!" They heard Molly scream. A loud clatter had erupted by the house.
"I'm sorry, Allie, I need to see what's going on." Paul took off across the sand, quickly scaling the short bank to the grassy area. Up ahead he could see Archie trying to pull Golly away from something or someone and then he realized it was his father. Golly had Donald by the collar, pushing his thumbs into Donald's windpipe, making it hard for him to breath.
"Golly, what on earth do you think you're doing? Stop it this instance," Molly implored of the ghillie.
Archie managed to separate the two men, pulling Golly back.
"Tell her," Donald choked, his face bright red and splotchy. Golly, hyped up on liquor and feeling quite ashamed, remained silent. "Damn you, man! Tell her!" Donald spit out the words fiercely again. "It's you Molly! It's always been you," Donald gasped, turning his head toward the house, stumbling slightly.
"Dad, dad, stop," Paul chased after his father, "Are you all right?"
Stopping briefly, trying to sooth his chafed neck, Donald realized how his son had finally addressed him, "Yes, son, yes I'll be fine."
Dr. Morgan's Office, Glenbogle Village
Nearly a week later and things all around still hadn't been sorted out. Donald, feeling a bit more tired than usual decided to make an appointment to see Dr. Morgan for a physical. No cause for alarm he'd try to assure himself, just a general poking and prodding to make sure everything was in good working order.
"So Donald, we should have all of your test results by the end of the week. I'll ring you up and we can arrange for another appointment."
"Grand! I have to keep myself in tip-top shape. My son's been seeing this lovely creature from the states. I can't have him upstaging me, now can I?"
"Your son, you say?"
"Yes. Oh believe me, when I found out I was just as shocked as you appear to be. But we're slowly getting used to the idea, getting to know one another more and more each day. He's living at Glenbogle, too."
"How was it discovered that you were his father?"
"He searched for me, came to the highlands to find me. All the way from Yorkshire he came, with just a rucksack on his back. Can you imagine that?"
"Did he have any proof that he was your son?"
"Proof? Well, no I mean we didn't exactly have any hard scientific evidence, no."
"So you've never taken a paternity test then?"
"No we've never had a paternity test done, but I had no reason to doubt him. It was a bit of a sticky tale really, in the end however it had all made sense, the timing, the situation, everything. She, the lad's mother was a one-night-stand for me really—but I don't like to think about it in those terms."
Dr. Morgan went to a file cabinet, a pensive look overshadowing his face, wrinkling his forehead. He waded through the drawer of densely-packed manila folders until he came to the one he wanted. Tugging it free from the others, he rested it open across the drawer and then, licking his index finger, began thumbing through the pages, quickly scanning the contents, saying, ah-ha when he'd reached what he'd apparently been looking for.
"I'm afraid to tell you this—and I've just verified it by looking back in your records—but Donald you're sub-fertile."
"I'm sorry? I'm sub-what?"
"You're sub-fertile or infertile, Donald. Um, let me see if I can put this into layman's terms for you. You're shooting blanks. I regret to say, Donald, but short of some sort of miracle there's no way this man could be your son."