Kaleb got out of the Land Cruiser and put his hood up against the rain. It showed little sign of being the short shower he'd hoped it would be; he might have to take a long lunch.
Instead of heading to The Bothy or The Lock Inn when he crossed the canal bridge, he ran to the Canalside Fish and Chip Shop that faced The Clansman Centre: a tourist attraction where some guy dressed in a kilt played with Claymore swords and other Braveheart props.
It was greasy food, and he knew it was far from good to eat every day, but it was tasty, and heated the belly after a few hours out on the lakeshore with the wind whipping across the water. It was also quick and handy compared to sitting for an hour in The Boathouse restaurant next door. Besides, it was an anthropological investigation into the eating habits of the British Isles. Battered Mars Bars—now there was a marvel as confounding to Kaleb as the weather.
Immediately he pushed the glass door open and lifted back his hood, he did a double-take at the girl behind the counter. Instead of the big-bosomed, matronly woman who'd served him his fish and chips before, Kaleb found a new girl behind the counter.
Not only was she young, but she was pretty—very pretty—with glowing cheeks that looked like they dimpled when she smiled, and a heart-shaped face with a cute little pointed chin. Her long, wavy, black hair was tied in a ponytail that had not quite captured all the wisps of wayward ringlets.
A part of him wondered whether she shouldn't be wearing a hair net or something in a food preparation establishment, and another part told that first part—in a Scottish accent, inexplicably—to shut up talking shite and concentrate on the pertinent facts: one, she was a "bonnie lassie" indeed; and two, her hair was wonderful. And that second part of him was right. If Kaleb had seen her in an Inverness pub three weeks ago, he'd have downed a couple of pints in record time for even a seasoned American in Scotland to get up his Dutch courage, and screw the memory of Becky and all the bullshit baggage she'd left him. But this was not a pub, and he had to speak to her right now. He took a breath and smiled broadly, hoping he didn't look like an idiot.
She seemed to double-take him, too, when she looked up from putting lots of just-cooked fries into the little paper bags. Kaleb supposed that she had noticed he was new, too, though he would have assumed that a tourist destination would have strangers coming in and out all the time, and, when he thought about it, she was new, so every customer was new to her. But she was about to talk to him and he concentrated to ensure he understood her with the accent.
"Hello. What can I get you?" she asked.
Kaleb saw that her cheeks did indeed dimple when she smiled.
"Hi," he replied, thinking that her accent was, at last, a beautiful, lilting, musical thing like he'd hoped the Scottish accent would be but had, until then, seemed to him only an amazingly rapid series of guttural grunts that made it hard to understand everyone around him. "I'd like a bag of chips and fish, please."
"Fish and chips? Okay." She nodded, her smile deepening as she heard his own accent, no doubt, and his inability to say the stock British phrase "fish ‘n' chips" properly. "Just be a minute."
She went back to her work, jiggling a fryer full of the thick French fries he was quickly becoming addicted to, and picking up a wet battered fillet of fish: it was supposed to be cod, but he'd have said it was probably whiting.
Kaleb felt a sharp pang in his chest watching her, as if he'd been pierced with a porcupine quill. "You're new," he said.
She looked up with a quizzical expression. "No." She shook her head. "I'm old."
"I don't think so. I mean, I haven't seen you in here before."
"Oh, aye, no. I'm just back."
"Oh. From where?"
"Awesome. I've been there. I'm Kaleb. What's your name?"
"Oh nice. That's cool. Appropriate name."
She frowned. "How's that, then?"
"Well," he said, feeling a little stupid for even thinking it, but also aware he couldn't just say it was nothing, to forget about it, now. A stupid conversation was better than no conversation—wasn't it? Perhaps not, but he was moving forward on this one already, there was no going back. "It's, like, Jess from Loch Ness..