“Who buys this romance drivel? Why would anyone in their right mind consciously choose to waste money on rubbish like this?!” Tegan snorted, sat up and tossed aside the manuscript she had been reading in disgust. It landed with a loud “plop” on the aged and pitted hardwood floor next to her bed, still stubbornly opened to the pages she’d just read six times without comprehension.
Tegan didn’t know why she was so keyed up but she just couldn’t force her mind to stay focused on the task before her; words floated on the pages in front of her, blending into nonsense and fragmented images as her mind continued to wander taking her once again away from the task at hand.
She was used to proofing literature with substance, manuscripts that made the reader think or that provided factual information in the form of a biography. She liked seeing a well-crafted mystery unfold, but this? This just wasn’t her thing. Romance novels to her weren’t “novels”; they were fluff and fantasy, nothing more than mental comic books for lonely, desperate women. She much preferred that other editors handled these “jobs”, to Tegan they were a huge waste of her skills, time and grey cells. She could almost see each brain cell doing its best impression of the Wicked Witch of the West crying out “we’re melting” each time she had to read another bodice ripping passage.
She ached for the day she could sink her teeth into a manuscript by the next Stephen King, Hemingway, or Anne Rice but once again when her boss and best friend Alex asked her for a favor, Tegan caved and said “sure”, immediately regretting that her mouth, once again, beat her brain to the punch. So here she sat, laboriously trying to work her way through this manuscript, forever losing her place as her mind wandered yet again to another place and time with rolling green hills and purple heather.
In her mind she saw herself astride a huge black horse, running flat-out across a field of pure green, nearly flying. She could hear the tattoo of the horses’ hooves, feel the withers shudder with the impact each time a huge hoof hit the ground and feel the steam rising off the animal as it strained to go faster and faster in desperation. The thick strands of the mane whipping like a cat o nine tails across her face as it lashed at her mercilessly while she pressed herself to its body in an attempt to melt into it, becoming one with the massive beast as they flew across the field. Then the image faded to black as though it was the end of an old movie reel, but the sensations remained as a constant lingering presence.
This wasn’t an unfamiliar scene, she had relived it thousands of times off and on over the years in her dreams, but lately it seemed this particular dream occurred nightly, like it had when she was a child. It was different now though, it was becoming more realistic, more life-like. As a child she never had any sensations in her dream, she just watched the scene unfold like an audience member in a play. Now she was center stage, she experienced it and woke expecting to find herself clutching that black mane in her hand…disappointed when that didn’t happen.
The problem now was that this wasn’t just a dream, it was a distraction. It had become so prevalent lately that it invaded her mind during her waking hours and shattered her concentration, interrupting her work and irritating the hell out of her as it prevented the focus she required to meet deadlines. She thought bringing some work home with her today would help her to relax and concentrate on the manuscript in front of her so she could finally get this one out-of-the-way but she was as distracted as ever. The familiar surroundings just made it that much easier to drift off.
Tegan leapt off the bed and paced around the room trying once again to clear her head. As an editor she had read hundreds, possibly thousands, of books one after the other constantly scanning for errors and gaps in character development and storyline. She was used to it, it was her job and now she’d been handed something that would end up with some air-brushed version of Fabioesque perfection with a half-dressed woman in heat on the cover; it just felt beneath her…it was beneath her! “Why can’t people just live in the real world? What’s so wrong with it anyway?” She said as she shook her head using her mental etch-a-sketch to rid herself of the cover image in her mind. “Ugh, no amount of bleach is going to get that mental stain out!” she mumbled to herself.
Tegan was pragmatic, logical, matter of fact…a realist. She had lived alone for several years now and liked it that way. Her idea of a romantic night was a pint of homemade lavender vanilla ice cream, a glass of chardonnay, a bubble bath and some kick ass tunes. Could life really get better than that? Living alone was just fine with her. Well, she was as alone as her fifty-pound lap-dog, Sally, would allow her to be. There was no one to answer to, no one to constantly berate her or tell her how inept, useless and stupid she was, no one to pick up after, no one accusing her of things she hadn’t done or to have to tip-toe around, and certainly no one to please but herself.
She had tried the whole “romance” route and married her high school sweetheart shortly after graduation only to have reality totally shred the “happily ever after” illusion pounded into her since childhood. She didn’t relish walking down that path again. She wouldn’t walk down that path again!
Blake, her ex-husband, was the picture of perfection in high-school. Sweet, respectful, charming, good-looking, and built as only a country boy can be built. He was a real pro at selling the “Good Ole Boy” routine. He was someone, who by all accounts, at first glance, could fit perfectly into one of those stupid fairy-tale romance novels. She had no idea at that young age that it was all an act; that his façade would disappear quickly after they moved away from the safety of her family and she found herself isolated from everyone and everything.
She’d spent years being beaten down both mentally and physically. To the point that she nearly believed the things he said about her. At times, just a few times, she did begin to wonder if she really was that worthless, stupid, fat and ugly…although somewhere deep inside she knew that wasn’t true.
Blake was Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde depending on the situation or whatever wild hair possessed him at any given time. In public he appeared to be the perfect, adoring, affectionate and doting husband. He had everyone convinced they were the perfect couple and he was the ideal husband. In private the controlling, spiteful, jealous, manipulative, and cruel viper came out and he made her life a living hell.
Tegan always knew what was behind his spontaneous personal flower deliveries to her office at Devane & Sweeny Publishing and she dreaded each and every one of them. She never knew if today she was going to have to walk that tight rope that kept him from going over the edge of verbally accusatory and hateful to physical. Naturally the people she worked with thought he was “so sweet”, “so thoughtful” bringing her flowers “just because”. They had no idea his obsession with her compelled him to personally check up on her and that absolutely nothing he ever did was “just because.”
They were clueless that she paid the price each time he would “surprise” her by showing up at the office, flowers in hand, and find her absent from her office. Never mind the fact that she was just doing her job by attending a meeting. Oh no, that didn’t matter, in his mind she had to have been bumping uglies with the photographer in the graphics department or giving some random guy a blow-job in the stockroom. Oh and God forbid she had a lunch meeting at a local restaurant! That was a whole different level of hell for her. When that happened she always knew by the hair standing up on the back of her neck that if she took just a moment to look around the room she would find him seated at a table or bar nearby, staring lasers straight through her, barely controlling the impulse to get up and embarrass her right then and there. Then later that evening, when she got home, she’d be called slut or whore, or whatever his favorite insult du jour was, and be accused of fucking around yet again. It really didn’t matter who she had lunch with, male or female; the accusations were always the same. No one had any idea what she went through. How could they? She was a pro at hiding it well.
Blake, her one time “Prince Charming” turned toad was now the image she held in her head every time she read a story with a villain in it…”a blonde-haired, blue-eyed spawn of Satan”, as she not so fondly referred to him. It had taken time to finally get away from him and feel somewhat safe, three years in fact, but she had done it and she liked things the way they were now. She still occasionally looked over her shoulder to see if he was somewhere following her, or lurking in a dark corner watching her with those soulless eyes. She still routinely double checked all the doors and windows every night to make sure she was as safe as possible and still carried mace, a stun-gun, and a small bottle of hair spray with a Bic lighter, but lots of women did that right? That was normal.
She had even gone out on a few dates since her divorce. Friends had set her up, meaning to be helpful and occasionally she would accept a kind offer for drinks or dinner. For the most part she liked the company of men, but she always kept them just where she liked them…at a distance. Men were a luxury, a convenience, something she made time for when she wanted some companionship, but not something she wanted in her life permanently. She knew the men in those romance novels didn’t exist. She also knew the only one she could really count on was herself. “No thank you very much! You wouldn’t find me acting like one of these, these…no brain all boob bimbos in these books” she said to Sally who sat at her feet, wagging her tail happily. Tegan reached down and scratched the little black spot on the middle of Sally’s head causing the sturdy black and white dog to grin happily. “I like things just the way they are, just you and me girl!”
“Ok! Enough of this, we need to get out and get some fresh air. How about we go for a run Sally?” Sally barked her agreement and immediately jumped off the bed and ran out the bedroom door returning shortly with her leash, dropping it at Tegan’s feet. “I see you’re anxious to get out of here too” Tegan said as she finished tying her running shoes. “Let’s go have some fun!” She said as she knelt down and latched the leash to Sally’s collar and headed outside.
The cool autumn air felt good on her skin, refreshing and revitalizing. Autumn was her favorite time of year. There was just something comforting about it. The smell of burning wood was in the air and everything was changing into brilliant shades of amber, red, and gold. The crisp air was electric making her feel alive. “Come on girl, take me to the park!” Tegan laughed as Sally eagerly pulled her down the sidewalk.
An hour later Tegan finished the last leg of her run racing Sally back to the house in a full-out sprint working as hard as she could to get exorcise the last bit of her frustration, enjoying the feeling of air rushing past her as she flew. She had always loved running it made her feel free. As she slowed to a stop in her driveway the phone at her hip began playing “find out who your friends are…” she flipped it open and checked her caller I.D.
“Hey chick!” Tegan said, answering the call. “What’s up?” she heard Alex say on the other end. “Not much, just out for a run with Sally.” “Ah, that explains why you’re breathing heavy. Too bad, I was hoping it was because you were happy to hear from me. ” Alex teased. Tegan laughed, “I’m always happy to hear from you Alex, just not happy in the way you mean” she chided. “Are you just calling to chat or hit on me again, or is there something I can do for you?”
“Ah well, can’t blame a gal for trying. I was wondering what you have going on the next few weeks” the voice on the other end said. “I had promised to house-sit for Sheila and her husband but Pops isn’t doing so well and even if he were, well…I still have a ton of work at the office. I just can’t leave right now. Think you might be able to bail me out on this? I promise you won’t regret it.” “The next few weeks?” replied Tegan. “I’m sure I can manage to do that, there’s not much going on around here that I have to take care of. Sure, why not. What’s their address?”
“Well, it’s not quite that simple” Alex said. “The thing is”, she hesitated, “it’s in Scotland. Lauder to be precise, it’s a small town in the Uplands.” “Scotland?!” Tegan yelped. “You didn’t say anything about out-of-town much less out of the country! I don’t think…” “Awe c’mon…please! I really need you to do this for me!” her friend begged. “I promised them that I’d watch their house while they are on vacation, I can’t cancel out on them now they’d never forgive me! Pleeeaaaase! I know you have a passport and you need a vacation anyway, you never use your vacation time.” Alex continued without letting Tegan get a word in. “We both know she won’t mind if you take my place, she’d love to see you. I know she would. You two haven’t seen each other since before she quit and moved over there with her husband; it’ll be good for you. Here’s what I’ll do, I have some paper work here to finish up and a few errands to run after work, I’ll just run by your place when I’m finished and we’ll talk about it. Ok?”“You mean you’ll come by and badger me until I give in.” Tegan said with a heavy sigh. “Ok, fine! I’ll think about it and we can talk about it later.” Alex laughed lightly in relief. “See you in a bit then. You know I love you right?” Tegan sighed, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…you’ll say anything to get your way.” “Damn right I will!”…was the last thing she heard as she hung up the phone.
An hour later Tegan sat on the front porch steps watching the sun sink into the horizon. The vibrant red, orange, purple and amber grew more vibrant in the sky as the sun sent branches of water-color strokes across the clouds as it edged its way into the horizon and the stars began to appear one by one like tiny fire flies dancing in the heavens. The brief time of gloaming always gave her a sense of peace, as though for just a moment each day everything was right with the world.
The distant sound of screeching tires brought Tegan out of her slight reverie and brought a crooked smile to her mouth, she’d know that sound anywhere. “Well, Sally girl…looks like no one’s safe on the roads tonight, Alex is on the prowl. It’s time to duck and cover!” Sally’s all too human chocolate-brown eyes looked up at Tegan and she smiled, baring her teeth in her doggy grin as her tail began a rhythmic “thump, thump, thump” where she leaned against Tegan’s leg.
A few seconds later Alex brought her highly polished cherry red classic 1964 convertible mustang to a screeching halt in Tegan’s driveway, narrowly missing the extremely well used 1966 VW Bug she loved so much. “You know you really shouldn’t have a driver’s license, it’s not safe for the public in general. You almost hit Penelope!” Tegan shouted.
“That old thing?! You’d never notice another scratch on it. I’ve seen taxi cabs in Istanbul with fewer dents on them! How could you possibly notice if I added one extra? I’d have provided a public service if I had hit that old rent-a-wreck. Your insurance probably would have totaled the vehicle and then you’d be forced to get rid of it and buy something actually safe to drive.” Alex gave Tegan her “you know I’m right” wink. Grinning she climbed out of the mustang and held up two bottles of wine with bright red bows triumphantly. Putting her arm around Tegan, Alex said “Ok, let’s go inside, break open this incredibly cheap Chablis and discuss what it’s going to take to get you to Scotland.” “You mean, if I’m going to Scotland.” Tegan insisted. “Oh you’re going all right” Alex replied as she put her hand aside her mouth and whispered “I hear your boss is a real bitch.” Then laughed and said, “Oh, wait! I am your boss and I’m insisting you take some of your vacation time pronto! You have three days to get ready for your trip, after that you won’t be allowed to step foot in the office for two weeks!” Where’s your corkscrew?”
Ninety minutes later and giddy from a bottle and a half of wine Tegan agreed to go on the one condition that she could take her faithful companion, Sally, with her. “It’s a deal!” Alex said. “In fact, I’ll even pay for her airfare!” “What do you mean you’ll even pay for her air fare, you’re paying for both of us.” Tegan replied. Alex smiled, the happy victor once again, “you are the best friend ever! If you ever need anything you know you can count on me!” Four days later Tegan found herself on her way to the airport, passport in hand, ready to head off for a vacation whether she wanted it or not.
If you have read this far, thank you so much!
Chapter 2 – New Surroundings
Will be posted March 1st