"There's another pub across the way," the publican said. "You might try them, but I expect you'll find the same."
Dave and Phil left the first pub and headed toward the second, where indeed the food story was much the same: no shepherd's pie, no bangers and mash. This second place was dark like the first, but had more mirrors and a larger crowd. Phil scanned the gathering and decided he liked the ambience here. It seemed warmer, the rumble of conversations slightly livelier. It was then he saw her. She was with a group of people across the room. She had long golden hair and a very fair complexion, almost alabaster. This was made more obvious by the simple white cotton dress that seemed a part of her. Phil couldn't help but notice.
"Here or the other one?" Dave asked. "Makes no diff to me."
"No, here," Phil had said. "Definitely here."
And so they'd stayed at the second place. He thought back to it as they now slowly plodded their way out of town on the road that would eventually take them to Spaen Bridge.
"Why do you think she loves you?" Dave asked, a smirk on his face.
"It really did happen. Just the way I told you."
"If you say so."
"How can I make you believe me?" Phil pleaded.
"Let's just say I'm skeptical. But tell me again how it allegedly went down."
And so Phil related the tale one more time, trying not to leave out any important details.
"Remember how I said I wanted to stay there? It was because of her. Our eyes met, that kind of magical twinkle thing like in old Monkees episodes, where Davy and some girl would fall in love."
"Bad example. But when our eyes met, I felt that sort of electrical charge. It was awkward. She smiled and turned away quickly. I did too."
"The fabled love at first sight, is that what you're saying? Lightning bolts, choirs of heavenly angels singing Monkee songs?"
"I don't know. But every time I tried to steal a peek, to look at her through the mirrors or whatever, she was doing the same thing, trying to look at me. We caught each other about three times."
"And where was I during all this?" Dave asked.
"Oh, you were oblivious. Probably going into the crowd. Think you were doing that coin thing where the 10p piece turns gigantic."
"A crowd pleasing novelty and a great ice breaker, Phil. Didn't realize I was helping you out."
"You were. Because as things turned out, you wound up at their table."
"The whole place only had three large tables. The odds were fairly good."
"You were sitting down, working the crowd masterfully. They were eating it up, loving every second."
"Hey, that's why they call it magic."
"And the guy she was with was sitting to your right. She was to the right of him," Phil noted. "And then I was to her right."
"So she was there with a guy. We know this?"
"Yes, we know this."
"Do we know who he is?"
"This we don't know. But he's there watching your card tricks as if his life depended on it. She takes this opportunity to rub her leg against mine underneath the table. "
"She's playing footsie?"
"Definite footsie action. And legsy too, if one can call it such."
"Legsy? And I'm setting the pick?"
"You are. Totally unaware you're the needed distraction to make this event happen. And I am in shock, in total disbelief. Nothing like this has ever happened to me. Above the table, she's playing it stone-faced, paying rapt attention to you. Beneath the table, it's something completely different. "
"Or so you'd have me believe."
"Dave, I'm not making this up. She is running her hand up my thigh before she even turns to say hello."
"So she's a shy girl. Boy, I wish I'd known this was happening. Quite amusing."
"You were busy entertaining."
"Sounds like you were too. What's her name?"
"Mairie. She has this great accent. A beautiful lilting voice."
"They all do, Phil. This is Scotland."
"Well it's the sound of love coming from her. She turns to me and honest, first thing out of her mouth, asks if I'm traveling with any woman, a wife or a girlfriend?"
"She asked that?"
"She was very direct. It sort of floored me. She told me how much she dreamed of going to America someday."
A small lorry approached in the distance. They extended their thumbs and the vehicle slowed. The older man inside it slid across the seat and rolled down the window.
"Sorry, lads, just turning by the farm up here. Fact is, mornings you'll not likely find many heading up this way. Looks like you're on your own."
He accelerated a bit and true to his word turned into the lane directly ahead. They resumed their walk up the country road. The wind began to bite.
"So how do I know you didn't just imagine this?" Dave asked.
"Because the Jack of Hearts doesn't lie. She wanted to know if we'd be back there tonight."
"She said she'd be back? Minus the guy?"
"No— but I think that's what was implied. She couldn't talk much once the guy sensed what was going on."
"He knew what was going on?"
"Well not details. But he could see she and I had this chemistry going. That was obvious to everyone."
"Not me, though."
"Except you. She kept asking if they could stay and listen to me play some songs."
"And he wasn't a music fan?"
"Not last night he wasn't. He was being a big baby about it. Practically dragged her out of there. They were with another couple too. They left just as I was beginning to play. Which kind of sucks, considering as I was playing for her."
"Defeats the purpose, her leaving. But look on the bright side. Her friend could have wrapped the guitar around your head."
"I know. He was a big guy. Ugly mug too. You remember?"
"Vaguely. I wasn't really paying close attention. It's not like I had any idea I'd be quizzed on it later."
"You do remember her, though, right?"
"I guess. Don't hate me if I don't, though. I'm sure she's nice and very attractive."
"She is," he sighed. "Sweet Mairie. What I hate is leaving this place thinking she'll be here tonight. Looking for me."
"And what if she isn't? You don't know where she is, or even who she is— and we have limited time and money. Besides which, there is nothing to do here. One more day and we both might die of boredom. So we have to move on, Romeo. Sorry, but believe me, it's for the best."
"You're probably right. But if she's the one, it'll be on your head."
"There'll be others. I practically guarantee it. But one favor — don't use me as a means of distraction. That's low."
"It was unintentional."
Just then, both of them noticed a diminutive white car approaching in the opposite direction. An Opel of some sort, Phil thought. It slowed a bit when it went beyond where the boys were walking, then swung over to the side of road and stopped.
She opened the door and started running across the road. Phil put his pack and guitar down and ran to meet her. She greeted him with a full body hug, followed by a very long kiss on the lips. It was the kind of greeting usually reserved for people who hadn't seen each other in a very long time. As she went about the kiss like a robin feeding her young, Phil could feel Dave's eyes upon them. In a minute or so, she let go and stepped back.
"So you're leaving? I was hoping you'd stay another night."
Phil looked at Dave pleadingly, but Dave shook his head.
"Can't. We have to keep going. Heading up to the Isle of Skye. Then eventually making our way across to Edinburgh."
"So there's a chance you might stop back on your way across to Edinburgh?"
That accent of hers devastated him.
"Sure. There's a chance of that."
"Great. Let me find some paper."
Mairie riffled around in her bag and came up with a small pencil and a torn off piece of paper. She scribbled something and handed it to Phil.
"Been thinking about you. A lot. I hope you make it back here. Please ring me up when you do."
Once again, she grabbed him in a passion-filled embrace. One might think he was a soldier leaving his long-time gal for a trip to the front, perhaps never to return. She wasn't holding back. Phil closed his eyes and tried hard to savor this moment. He wanted to remember this, the feel, the smells, the taste.
"I'm not very good at good-byes," she said.
"That man you were with last night. Who was he? Is that your boyfriend?"
She looked at him and laughed.
"No, that's me husband," she said. "Goodbye, lovely Phillip. Ring me."
He watched her turn and get back into the little Opel. She started the ignition and put it into gear, swinging it back onto the road, waving and blowing kisses. As she sped off, Phil noticed the small child sitting in the back of the car. He stood frozen on the spot until the car was out of sight.
"Okay, Phil, I guess I believe you," Dave confessed.
"Does that make any sense to you?" he asked his friend. "A husband and a kid and then this?" He gestured toward the name and number he now held in his hand.
"You're her ticket out, buddy."
"You think?" It was all too much for him.
"Pick up your stuff and let's get out of here."
He did as instructed, making sure to put the phone number carefully into his wallet. He moved on, up the long stretch of road, his own eternity.
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