The ride up the coast to Gordon McKnight’s manor house went by quickly, mostly due to Meredith’s endless high-speed stream of information about the area, what’d they be doing, and really, pretty much any other subject that happened to come up. Every once in a while she’d use a word or phrase that Cara was unfamiliar with, and coupled with Meredith’s rapid-fire way of speaking and accent, it wasn’t always easy to follow. However, it seemed that the Professor’s rules were fairly simple and easy to follow: Take good care in your work and responsibilities, be back in the house by 10 during the week, no drinking or drugs, and pick up after yourself. There were a few other rules for when they were out at the dig sites, but more or less that was the gist of things. Easy enough, and actually, a lot less restrictive than the rules she had back home. Since Cara was still a minor, Meredith would serve as a chaperone/guardian when they were out or Professor McKnight wasn’t around.
The Professor’s house in Gairloch was actually quite impressive, and had been used for many years as a bed and breakfast before it went up for sale and was purchased by Gordon McKnight. Now he used it as a base of operations during his field work in the Highlands, or as a holiday home when he was lecturing and teaching at the University in Glasgow. It wasn’t the most ideally situated home base for what he was doing, but according to Meredith, he’d fallen in love with the western coast line years before, and this was the best property to come available when he was looking to buy.
All of the front rooms along the two-story façade looked out on the water of Gair Loch, and the coastline of the Isle of Skye further out along the horizon. At the back of the house, the view was of rolling hills and green as far as the eye could see, dotted here and there with small shapes that could be herds of sheep. Cara would have her own room on the second floor, with a private bath and tiny balcony, and Meredith would be across the hall. Gordon kept a suite of rooms at the other end of the house. The downstairs consisted of a common room, a small rec room, the dining room, a library, and the kitchen & wash rooms. Cara and Meredith were responsible for cleaning their own rooms and laundry, but the professor had a domestic come in during the week to straighten up and help prepare mid-day meals. For dinner, the three of them would have to fend for themselves and share the cooking responsibilities.
When they finally turned up the stone drive, Cara could not believe it. The house wasn’t enormous, but it was much bigger than she’d expected, and way larger than the flat she shared with her parents in Galway. There were neatly manicured hedges lining the drive and defining the white-washed front of the manor. Meredith eased the vehicle around the side of the house towards a carriage house, and Cara could see a small enclosed garden behind another set of hedges. It was ridiculous. Her surprise must have registered plainly on her face, causing Meredith to give a short laugh – “Yeah, I know, right? It’s like something out of a movie. I swear, sometimes I can’t believe I get paid to live like this.” She maneuvered the lorry behind the house and shut the engine off. “The downside is when we’re stuck out in the middle of a mudpit, miles from anywhere, in the driving rain, leaking tents and single digit temperatures. Then it really sucks.” She turned and gave Cara a crazy grin, topped off with a wink. “But don’t worry, it’s been two whole weeks since the last time that’s happened. Cara could only stare at her, green eyes wide, and nod. Sounded great…
Meredith threw open the back doors and went to pull out the trunk, grunting when it wouldn’t move. “The hell?” She turned to Cara, “I saw Romeo put this back here himself. It can’t be that heavy…”
Cara winced in response – “No, it really is that heavy – He’s just a lot stronger than he looks. And, his name’s Gregory.”
“Well,” Meredith shot back, rubbing her forehead before stepping back from the van and crossing her arms. “I don’t care what you call him, but we should’ve dragged him back here with us if he’s the only one who can move this thing.” She nodded her head towards the trunk. “Go on, open it up. We’ll have to unpack it out here and carry everything up to your room that way. Man, you’re so lucky I’m nice.”
Cara briefly considered the scrap of paper in her pocket – the one with Gregory’s number scrawled across it. She bet if she called him, he’d come give them a hand… No. As much as she’d love to see him again – and she really did – that’d be a terrible abuse of his kindness. Besides, it probably wouldn’t take too many trips to empty the trunk enough to move it. She’d call him as soon as they were done.
Three hours later Cara and Meredith collapsed, exhausted, on top of the now-empty trunk shoved against one wall of her room. Cara’s legs burned from several dozen trips up and down the twisting back staircase that went from the kitchen up to the end of the hall where her room was. Of course, she was also completely unpacked, so there was that. Meredith was staring at the ceiling, sweat plastering her blonde hair down to her forehead as she rolled her eyes over to Cara.
“Girl, the next time we head to Inverness, you are buying some normal freakin’ luggage. I still don’t know how we got this thing up the stairs, but we may have knocked out part of the wall. I’m afraid to check.” Meredith stood up, slowly. “Gordon’ll be back pretty soon. I’m going to get some dinner going- finish making yourself at home and come down when you’re ready.”
Cara sat where she was for a minute, catching her breath and pushing her own, sweat-soaked hair back from her face. On the corner of the desk lay her phone, now plugged in and happily charging itself back to life. He’d asked her to call sometime, right? And this was, technically, sometime.
Just as her pulse had finally started to slow after all her exertions, it picked right up again, this time in anticipation. It took her two tries to dial his number, and as she lifted the phone to her ear and heard it ring on the other end of the line, she was seized with panic. Dear god – what do I say if he picks up the phone? Worse, what if he doesn’t pick up? Do I leave a message? What should the message say?? What if he wasn’t answering her call because he realized how crazy it was to pick up a girl fresh off the ferry? She’d been in Scotland less than four hours and here she was calling some fellow she’d just met…
Before she knew what she was doing, Cara stabbed at the angry red ‘end call’ button. The ringing on the other end of the line cut out immediately. She sat there, clutching the phone in her hand, staring at it, trying to calm her furious, pounding heart.
Not today. She put the phone back on the desk, then covered it with a magazine so she wouldn't have to see it. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe....