His face was – odd – he wasn't ugly, but he wasn't good looking, either. She glanced across the path, surreptitiously examining him more closely.
She reckoned him to be somewhere in his mid- to late-twenties, about her own age. His features were regular, but a little strange. He reminded her of one of those police photo-fit pictures. All the right pieces were there, but, somehow, not quite fitting together properly. His hair was a nondescript mid-brown and his eyes were brown, too. He was remarkably unremarkable.
Janey Scott continued to peer over the top of her newspaper at this tantalisingly familiar face in the crowd. The man was tall, slim and gangling, standing a couple of inches over six feet. Princes Street Gardens were busy; people headed towards Waverley Station at the end of their working day. He, however, wasn't moving. He was scanning the crowds anxiously, looking over the tops of most heads; he was waiting for someone.
The man was, like her, sitting on a park bench. Unlike her, he was unable to stay seated; every few seconds he stood and looked around – first one way, then the other. He would stare down the path towards the fountain, then he'd turn towards Scott Monument; finally, his head would twitch and he'd gaze desperately up towards Princes Street. It was this constant motion which had first attracted her attention.
He was waiting for a girl, she guessed. She continued to stare, trying to put a name to this half-remembered face. Perhaps it was simply a false familiarity brought about by his ordinariness. Did she really know him? There was certainly something – but what?
She folded up her newspaper, drained the dregs of her coffee from the paper cup, and re-examined the man who had captured her gaze. His over-large feet were encased in rather tattered baseball boots. He wore faded blue jeans and a thick green Aran pullover. She knew him – the more she looked, the more she was convinced of this. Something about him reminded her of home, of Kirkcudbright.
A sombre family walked slowly past her; lanky boy, scrawny girl, silent mother, and surly father. That was enough to spark a long-forgotten memory; she stood up from her own park bench, dropped her empty coffee cup in the litter bin, and walked across to the object of her attention.
'Are ye called Mark Moon?' she asked him curiously. He was startled. She watched with amusement as his expression slipped from surprise, through confusion, into curiosity. He was Mark Moon, but he didn't recognise her, and he was desperately trying to decide whether or not he knew her. He examined her carefully and appraisingly before he spoke.
'You seem to know me,' he said. 'But I don't remember you, I'm sorry.'
'Jane Scott, Mark; most folk called me Janey when ye knew me.' She ended his confusion. 'Ye went to school in Kirkcudbright with me, afore ye went off to some fancy school in the Highlands. I only saw ye a few times over the summer holidays after that.' Her reply was greeted by slack-jawed astonishment and dawning recognition.
'Kirr-KOO-bree,' he said, pronouncing their hometown's name slowly and correctly, revelling in rolling the initial "R". He'd lost most of his accent, she noticed; his west coast brogue had been replaced by Edinburgh posh. 'I remember you now, Janey Scott. I'm sorry that I didn't recognise you.'
'So, how are you, Mark Moon? You look well. How's life in the big city? Do you work here? Live here?' Janey fired her questions at him rapidly. Mark's eyes widened and he swayed sideways, as if he were trying to physically dodge her enquiries. He'd always been a quiet and secretive boy and there had been a lot of gossip about his family, especially after his mother had left home. She'd asked him too much, so she changed tack.
'I've just got a new job, here in Edinburgh,' she told him. 'I've only been here a month, and I'm still a wee bit lost. I was married at nineteen, divorced at twenty-five – he was a pig – no kids, thank goodness. So here I am, two years later, young-ish, free and single.' And lonely, and desperate to find some friends in the big city she thought to herself. 'What about you?'
'I work for the Sheriff's Office,' he said. 'I've been there since I left school; pretty much, anyway. I started here, got a promotion and moved to England for a year – Yorkshire. Then I got another promotion – at Christmas just gone – and moved back. Fortunately, I'd kept my flat on.'
'The Sheriff's Office?' she asked.
'Aye, we work with the Procurator Fiscal, criminal investigation stuff, but I'm no' a poliss,' he told her. She smiled as she noticed his posh accent slipping.
'Good for you, Mark; I'm a clerk in the Parliament, so we're both civil servants, eh?'
Mark nodded. 'I suppose so.'
'So how's the family? That sister of yours must be – what – twenty-two or twenty-three; is she married?'
'She was killed when she was seventeen.' His voice was flat and factual. 'Murdered!' He turned his head away from Janey and looked up at the granite cliff behind him, up to walls of Edinburgh Castle.
'I'm sorry,' she said, placing a consoling hand on his arm. 'Oh, Mark, I'm really sorry. I was always an interfering busybody, always putting my foot in it.'
'It's okay, you couldnae ha' known,' he said. His eyes, however, told her that this was a wound still unhealed. From his forcedly blank expression, Janey knew that it would be foolish to broach that topic again and, unusually, she was lost for words. She shared a few moment of silent sadness with him before she felt able to speak.
'I'll just leave ye to wait for yer girlfriend, shall I?' Janey suggested, squeezing his arm consolingly before releasing it.
'Girlfriend?' He sounded surprised.
'Jesus, it's no' a boyfriend yer waiting for, is it?' she teased. 'Hell, there I go again, always putting my foot in it. "Ye're hopeless, Janey Scott!" My Ma still tells me that. She says that I should always remember to engage ma brain afore I open ma gob.'
'It's a girl, but she's not my girlfriend.' Mark finally told her what she had wanted to know. 'She's just a friend who's female. We meet up several times a week and have a meal and a drink; maybe go to the pictures, or the theatre, or a concert.'
'That sounds good.' Janey smiled. But you want to be more than friends with her, don't you, Mark? she thought.
'Maybe we could do that sometime, too. Catch up on old times; what do you think?' she continued. 'I dinnae have many friends here. So, could we arrange to meet for a drink sometime? Best do it afore yer other woman gets here, though.'
'The other woman, is that what I am?' a voice asked acidly. 'I didn't know that you went for fat girls, Mark.'
Mark jumped and blushed.
Fat, I'll give ye fat, ye wee scrap o' nowt, Janey thought as she examined the new arrival.
Janey had noticed the woman approaching from behind Mark, but had instantly dismissed the possibility that she was the girl Mark was waiting for. The newcomer was much too elegant and good looking for the scruffy and rather weird-looking Mark.
The girl was curvy, attractive, very well dressed, and a lot shorter than Mark. Exactly how much shorter was difficult to determine, although even in her expensive red stilettos she didn't reach his shoulder. The girl's pretty, oval face was surrounded by a mass of brown curls and her eyes were an unusually violet blue.
The aggressive newcomer was assessing Janey, too. Janey immediately realised that her store-bought raincoat and well worn pinstripe trouser suit looked positively shabby next to the violet-eyed woman's expensive-looking red leather jacket.
The girl's jacket was buttoned up to the neck against the chill March wind. It was a short jacket, barely covering her well-rounded backside, and a mere three inches of black skirt protruded from beneath it. Several male passers-by were staring at the woman's black-stockinged legs. Good looking, and she knows it, thought Janey.
From the few words she had spoken, Janey realised that the woman was English.
'You'll be the girl that's no' Mark's girlfriend.' Janey began her counter-attack. 'If he says ye're no' his girlfriend, then ye're no'. So why're ye fashin' yersel aboot him talking te me?'
'Fashing? What?' the girl queried.
'It means bother, or annoy,' interjected Mark, trying to keep the peace. 'Lavender, this is Janey Scott; I went to school with her until I was eleven. Janey, this is my … friend … Lavender Brown.'
'Hello, wee Lavender, who's no his girlfriend,' said Janey vindictively.
'What do you mean, I'm not his girlfriend?' Lavender asked.
'Ach, ye're one o' those lassies, are ye?' Janey asked Lavender. Lavender? What sort of name was Lavender? 'This lanky lump telt me that ye meet regular, but that ye're no' goin' oot wi' each other. That'll be your idea, I've nae doubt. Ye're keeping the lad danglin' and waitin' te see if ye get a better offer. An' wi' a skirt that short, I'll bet that ye get a lot of offers.' Janey turned dismissively from Lavender and looked up at her now nervous former schoolfriend.
'Ye can dae better for yersel' than this wee hussy, Mark.' She fumbled for her purse, pulled out a business card, and handed it to him. 'Here's ma work number; if ye fancy a drink and a bit o' craic aboot the old days, gi' me a ring. Bye, Mark, it was nice te see ye after all these years.'
With that, Janey Scott turned on her heels and strode away.
'What a cow,' Lavender said loudly.
'Teks one te know one, ya bas,' Janey shouted back over her shoulder, revelling in the childishness of her response.
People were beginning to stop and stare. Satisfied with herself, Janey Scott continued on her way. Poor Mark. She wondered if she would be able to track him down through the Scottish Office mail system. There couldn't be many Mark Moons in the world. He'd been a nice lad, quiet and reliable. And after her ex-husband, "quiet" and "reliable" were traits she valued in a man.
Dinnae get yer hopes up, Janey she thought. The wee Sassenach lassie's got him wrapped around her little finger.
As she strode away without a backward glance she wondered how the conversation between Mark and his not-girlfriend was going.
Author's Note: Hopefully most of the dialect in this chapter will not be completely impenetrable. "Ye" instead of "you," and "aye" instead of "yes" are common dialect words in the north of England and Scotland. "Craic" (sometimes spelt and pronounced "crack") means chat or gossip.