But when Eva meets Gil, a local bartender, she figures a little innocent flirting won't hurt her relationship with Tony, her ever-faithful boyfriend back home. But just when things turn less innocent with Gil, the trip starts throwing curveballs at not only her but her friends too. By the end of the trip, they've all fallen in love, sometimes with the wrong people - and with consequences that may tear their friendship apart forever...
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The Chrysomelia Stories
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2. Underworld's Daughter
3. Immortal's Spring
The Goblins of Bellwater
All the Better Part of Me
Lava Red Feather Blue
Sage and King
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What Scotland Taught Me
By Molly Ringle
ireadiwrite PublishingCopyright © 2010 Molly Ringle
All rights reserved.
Somewhere Over Greenland
Amber slid a note onto my knee, jarring me out of my obsessive thoughts. As the plane's engines droned in my ears like wasps, I wiped my sweaty palms and picked up the quarter-sheet of notebook paper, torn neatly along the edges. The reading light over my head cast a circle of brightness onto the words. "Three things you want to do in Scotland," my cousin Shannon's tidy handwriting said across the top. She had underlined it, and left the rest of the page blank.
Okay. Good. A distraction from middle-of-the-night musings on how this plane might crash into a glacier in Greenland. Or how I already missed my parents and my dog, back in Oregon. Or the small detail that none of us had ever been to Scotland before, and we ought to be starting college right now, not jetting off to the UK, so what the hell were we thinking?
And then there was the whole issue about my boyfriend Tony ...
My three best friends were in this lifeboat (or 747) with me, I reminded myself. Friends helped.
I looked to my left and found Amber studying a note similar to mine, her sparkly blue thumbnail tapping her lips.
Shannon handed me another note across Amber's chest. "Here. Pass it to Laurence."
I turned to my right, expecting Laurence to be asleep. A while back he had thrown his long brown coat over himself, coughing and snorting, and tried to curl his tall frame into the seat. But now his arm emerged, plucked the paper from me, and descended back into his cocoon. All I could see was his reddish-blond hair, rumpled from his attempts to get comfortable with the dinky airline pillow.
"Little late for a pop quiz," I told Shannon.
She was already filling out her own answers with her clear-cased blue pen. "We weren't sleeping anyway."
We should have been, as it was somewhere around two A.M. in this time zone. But Shannon herself looked awake and perky. My favorite cousin shared many of my Scandinavia-descended genes, but unlike me, she had received most of the ones coded for "hot." The fuzz on her periwinkle sweater hadn't matted yet, and her lemonade-blonde curls kept their gloss even in the soullessly dry air of the airplane cabin.
I didn't have to touch my head to know that my own hair was doing its "straight yet frizzy" trick. It diffused light at the edge of my vision, as if I were living inside a cloud of smog the color of dead grass.
Shannon glanced at me. "Go on, Eva. Fill it out."
"I don't have a--" I started to say, but Laurence cut me off by handing me a ballpoint pen. He sniffled, holding a tissue against his nostrils.
"Gosh. The creature awakens." I held the pen at a distance between thumb and forefinger. "Got any antiseptic wipes?"
"I'm. Not. Contagious," he told me from behind the tissue. "It's a sinus infection."
I rubbed the pen along my jeans. "So you claim. If you get us all sick before we even land, I'm going to maim you."
With the mechanical pencil he always kept in his pocket, Laurence pretended to jot something down on his note and said, "Task Number One to accomplish in Edinburgh: murder Eva. Make it look like an accident."
"Give it a rest, you guys." Amber yawned, scrawling her own answers with a purple felt-tip pen. She paused to lean across me and pat Laurence's knee. "I'm sorry you don't feel good, Laurence. Eva is too. She's just suffering from instant-message withdrawal."
"I'm not--" I bit off the denial and hunched down in my seat, clutching my pop quiz.
We'd been assigned to that hellish middle set of seats on the plane where nobody gets a window seat and hardly anyone gets an aisle seat. I was only 5'2" and I still didn't have enough leg room. No wonder Laurence, a full foot taller than me, felt crabby.
In these cramped quarters I did long for the escape of my cell phone and its glimpses into the vast world of the Internet. I ached to drown my mind in stupidly funny websites and emails. But you weren't allowed to use cells on planes, and even if you were, our American phones wouldn't work in the UK. (You should have heard Laurence's technical explanation as to why. It lulled me to sleep within a minute.)
We'd be getting new phones in Edinburgh, and I felt tempted to write that down as the first thing I wanted to do. Pathetic, really. I wasn't one of those teenagers who texted her friends during class and went two thousand minutes over her plan every month. But leaving home in a major way for the first time was precisely when you needed a lifeline like a cell phone, and it felt unsettling not to have one.
"Are you guys done?" asked Shannon, almost bouncing in her seat with excitement.
Come to think of it, her pop quizzes usually arrived via text or email. Felt sort of retro to see one on notebook paper.
"Yep," said Amber.
"Just about." Laurence coughed.
"Give me a sec," I mumbled. I set pen to paper, on my knee, and let my instincts dictate my answers.
1. Do my college applications.
2. Make friends with an actual Scottish person.
3. Decide whether to stay with Tony.
I wrote the third item with heart and hand jittering. My friends liked Tony, on the whole. They'd be startled to hear I might dump him. But I had to work out the dilemma, and bouncing the problem off them ought to churn up some perspective for me.
As to the other answers, well, the college one was a no-brainer. Deadlines were fast approaching for the following year, and I had a big decision to make. My second item required no soul-searching either. Scottish accents! Oooh! From Sean Connery to Ewan McGregor, I'd never heard one that didn't activate my drool glands. And if my proposed new Scottish friend was male ... hmm, then I'd definitely have to achieve point number three on my list.
"Hand them to your right," Shannon said.
Great. Laurence would be seeing my answers first. I handed my note over as he shuttled his down to Shannon. Amber's answers landed in my lap. I tried to focus on those, but Laurence's voice invaded my concentration.
"Whoa, Eve! You kilt-chasing little heartbreaker." My friends sometimes called me "Eve" instead of "Eva" to save a syllable--for instance, when they were rushing to insult me.
Shannon and Amber snapped their heads up.
"Let's read them all first," I muttered.
"Okay," he chuckled, launching himself into a coughing fit. Served him right.
Scowling, I pulled my attention to Amber's answers. Her first two priorities were no surprise:
1. Try Scotch.
2. See Scottish ghosts.
At parties where someone got hold of alcohol, Shannon, Laurence, and I hesitantly sipped watery beer while Amber gleefully accepted shots of tequila until she needed to be pulled away from the arms and sloppy mouth of some guy she just met--usually our job. Her eagerness to imbibe Scotch whisky, therefore, fit right into her usual pursuits. At least in Scotland we were, at eighteen, of legal drinking age.
And ghosts were the whole reason we were going--originally, anyway. Amber had seen ghosts all her life, or so she claimed. I believed her, though in over ten years of sneaking out with her to cemeteries or abandoned houses, I had never seen a ghost myself, not even when she pointed and insisted in a trembling voice that it was right there.
Last year while channel surfing she caught a documentary about haunted places in Scotland. It hooked her within minutes. Apparently Edinburgh's ghosts were world-famous and she simply had to see them. A little pushing, prodding, and eyelash-batting on her part and the rest of us climbed on board too.
But her third item did surprise me:
3. Find my dad.
Amber's father had left when she was a baby. She had never met him. Since her mom didn't like to speak of him, all Amber had to go on was a couple of photos from the eighties. We had all studied them and speculated about him. He looked like Amber, with panther-black hair and dark good looks that would have been attributed to "gypsy blood" in old novels. Maybe he was a daredevil, like her. Maybe a womanizer. Who knew? To my knowledge, she had no idea where he was these days, and in any case had come to resent him as she grew up. So I looked aside at her in surprise to find that wish on her list.
She regarded me with a cool glance, and shrugged. The pop quiz rules dictated we didn't open the discussion till we had all read everyone else's answers. She settled back in the seat, tucking a lock of her long hair into the rainbow-hued gauzy scarf she wore in lieu of a headband.
Shannon glanced along the row. "Rotate."
We shifted the notes to the right again. Now Shannon held mine and I heard her gasp, surely at my disloyal Item Number Three. Rather than look up, I focused on her list.
1. Get involved with local theater.
2. Make enough money to keep my cell phone and still buy groceries.
3. Kiss a local guy.
Again, only the third was even remotely surprising, and then not very. One would hope that in six months abroad in a country rich with sexy accents, a beauty like Shannon would kiss someone. The second item was just silly. Only Shannon would bother writing down something we would all try to do as a matter of course. The first almost went without saying, too. Her passion was textiles--sewing, clothes-making, anything with needles and fabrics--and she especially enjoyed costuming. I'd be surprised if she didn't knock on some theater door and beg to stitch tunics together for their next Euripides production.
"Rotate," she said.
Laurence's list arrived in my hands. Mine reached Amber's, who uttered only a low chuckle. She didn't like Tony as well as the others did. Tony was Catholic, which she, as a free-wheeling, ghost-hunting pagan, couldn't abide. (Shannon and I were Catholic too, but only in that lackadaisical "I go to Mass once in a while and never to confession" kind of way.)
Amber's smug smile made me simmer. I longed to defend Tony, even though I was the one bringing up the idea of dumping him.
"Eve?" said Shannon. "Done reading?"
"Oh. Um ..." I squinted at Laurence's angular handwriting.
1. Get a job unrelated to chemistry (might be my last chance).
2. See the Highlands.
3. Do something I wouldn't do at home.
"Gosh," I said. "Something you wouldn't do at home. Mix chemicals without safety glasses?"
"I think he's deciding which of us to seduce as a one-time fling," Amber said. "Am I right?"
He slipped off his glasses and winked at her, which looked absurd with his eyes all puffy. "A gentleman would never say."
"Vomiting a little here," I said.
"We'll get to your pathologies in a minute," he answered.
"I think we should save Eva's till last," Shannon said, which meant she viewed it as the most serious.
I panicked. "No, no, no. You guys have more important ones. Like this thing Laurence normally wouldn't do, what's that?"
He shrugged. "I haven't decided yet. Next?"
"Well, yours, Shannon." I turned in my seat to face her. "Kissing the local guy. That's exciting. Talk about that."
She gave me one of her soothing but stubborn smiles. "It isn't exciting right now. It might be once it happens."
"Then Amber's." I laid my clammy hand on her arm, feeling a tickle against my palm from the midnight blue sequins winding down her denim jacket sleeve. "Finding your dad. Come on. That's way more important."
"Yeah, let's hear about that," Laurence said.
Amber shrugged. "I found an email from him on my mom's computer. It was just a thingy about the old alimony account closing, but his sig file had all his info. He's a techie of some kind. He lives in Leeds, England. I looked it up. It's only a few hours from Edinburgh, by train."
"Wow," I said.
"Have you emailed him yet?" asked Shannon.
"Nope. Waiting till we get over there."
"And I'm guessing Mama doesn't know," Laurence said.
"Right ho, Jeeves."
"So you don't hate him?" I asked.
"I want to give him a chance, hear his side of things. If he'll speak to me."
"That's big," I said. "Potentially life-changing."
She turned her shrewd hazel eyes to me--amber eyes, actually, in the right light--and narrowed them as she smiled. "Which doesn't mean we've forgotten your answer, girl. So, fed up with Saint Anthony?"
"No! Anthony--Tony--is awesome. I'll miss him the whole time. But six months ..."
"Is an awfully long time to go without the touchy-touchy," Laurence said.
"Shut up. We don't--I mean, we haven't ... ugh. It's not like I want to go screw some Scottish guy."
"You just want to make friends with one." Amber grinned and licked her upper lip.
Shannon nudged her arm, smiling. "Be nice."
"Well, you guys all get to!" I said. "I'm the only one with a significant other back home. It isn't fair. I'll be watching you all flirt with the local hotties, and instead of getting to join you, I'll be the dorky spinster in the corner with my tea."
Laurence blew his nose, rendering his voice less stuffy when he spoke. "If you're having such Earl-Grey-tinted phobias, why didn't you break up with Tony before you left?"
"Because he's great. And I'm fine with the idea of staying with him. I just ..."
"Want an open relationship?" said Amber.
"Basically. For now. But he'd never consent to that."
"He does seem the virtuous and monogamous type," Shannon said.
Amber drew her foot up onto the seat and tapped my pop quiz against her knee. "How about asking him to break up temporarily? So you're free to snog a laddie in a kilt?"
"Oh, like he'd take me back after that."
"Do you care?" Amber asked.
"Yes! I don't want to hurt him, or lose him too soon. But I don't want to put all my eggs in his basket either."
An explosive snicker from Laurence launched him into another spasm of coughing. "Eggs," he managed. "All your eggs. Sorry."
I whacked him on the arm before he could improvise any remark about sperm as well.
"It sounds like you don't know what you want." Shannon, at least, sounded sympathetic.
"How can I, when all I know about relationships is that my first one wasn't good, and my second one might only be a rebound?"
"And why are you asking us," Amber added, "when none of us have had relationships as long as either of yours?"
"Totally. Big fat lot of good you guys are."
"Maybe once you do meet someone in Scotland," Shannon said, "you could bring it up with Tony."
"I don't know." Amber scrunched up her nose, fanning herself with my pop quiz. "I say break up with him. Offer the getting back together later, if you want, but make it clean."
"I think you should at least float the open relationship thing with him," said Shannon. "You never know. He might go for it. Then he could date someone, too."
I chewed at a dry patch on my lip. "Possibly."
"Laurence?" said Amber. "Your vote?"
He slid a glance at me from behind his titanium-frame glasses, a smirk lingering on his lips. As I glared back, the amusement in his green eyes shifted to malice. "Wouldn't want to juggle too many guys at once," he said. "Your eggs might get scrambled."
While Amber and Shannon snickered, I whacked him again harder.CHAPTER 2
The four of us grew up together in the little town of Wild Rose, Oregon, and we'd been friends since kindergarten. But life was poising itself to split us up after this transatlantic jaunt.
Laurence had a clutch of expensive, nerdy schools like MIT and Cal Tech lined up to snatch him away. Shannon and I reckoned we'd attend a university or community college in Oregon. Amber, diffident on higher education, claimed she wanted to go straight to some exciting career involving travel, fashion, or the supernatural. (No, I didn't think many people got paid for that last one, but she kept hope alive.)
Chances were, once we settled into our new lifestyles we'd form other attachments, and start losing touch with each other despite our best intentions. This six-month trip was, in short, our final guaranteed adventure as a foursome, and we were determined to create some never-fading memories out of it. Plus, we hoped to make a little money overseas so we wouldn't return home completely broke.
We still hadn't found our Edinburgh jobs, but we'd tackle that issue tomorrow. Settling into our accommodations came first. And I can't speak for my friends, but when I staggered out of the Edinburgh Airport on stiff legs, my shoulders laden with bags, dropping into bed was the only prospect that appealed to me.
A cab brought us into the city and left us on a sidewalk with our luggage. The smell of fresh, cool September rain filled my nose, the same scent here as in rainy Oregon. But the similarities ended there. On a jagged black cliff a few blocks to our left loomed Edinburgh Castle, towering over the treetops. A massive relic from the Middle Ages, there it still stood as the city's centerpiece, skirted by green public gardens and narrow lanes of traffic. It was more sinister and more gorgeous than any building I had ever seen. Staring at it both exhilarated and nauseated me. We were definitely not in Oregon anymore.
I turned away and peered up through the misty rain at the exterior of our youth hostel, a five-story stone building rich in decorative brick with tall windows.
Amber bounced on her heels. "Can you guys believe it? We get to live here!"
"The outside's pretty at least," I admitted.
Excerpted from What Scotland Taught Me by Molly Ringle. Copyright © 2010 Molly Ringle. Excerpted by permission of ireadiwrite Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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