by P.K. Lauren

They left Edinburgh airport in a Mercedes taxicab. The charcoal pearl finish spattered with percussive rain as they made their way closer to the city center, up Princes, under the looming Castle hill, all the way to 2 Cambridge Street and the B&B. The harsh burn of airport lights gradually faded, and her eyes lavished in the dark architecture that evening only hinted at. Landing at night was fitting for this city.

Rob talked to the cabbie along the route and his brogue went from long-time expat to full-blown lowland Scot, his skin from fishbelly to porcelain, his grey temples from aging to virile. Bond-ish even. She rode in the backseat with her hand high on his denim thigh. In this cold dank city, this ancient kilted city, her first impressions were of steam. Something hot running in the gutters. Rob shifted his leg out from under her palm. A sting went from her fingertips higher. He paid the fare and she forced herself to watch. Even gifts were not free. He whisked paper pounds out of his leather wallet, the sound cutting the silence.

A plaque engraved the gate of 2 Cambridge Street. Latin, she guessed. Her knowledge of romantic offshoots allowed her to make a hasty albeit false translation: The joy which is nobler than an envelope is old effective figs made of paper. She grinned and laughed, a murmur that went unheard under the beat of Rob’s hand on the lacquered black entrée. The door swung open. The proprietors, Erlend and Hélène Clouston, were exactly what one might expect from their doorstep. Witty at first sight, easy smiles on both their faces. His posture rebelled against the age in his white hair. Her French accent was audacious, a thick refusal of assimilation. His hand rested on the small of her back, softly.

Erlend showed them both to their room. At that very moment, a mixture of jetlag and lingering lust threatened to tip over the fulcrum as she looked at the bed. She assessed the lush mound rounded with feathers: down mattress, down duvet, down oversized pillows, a velvet throw in bloodtones. Sleep would win tonight—it usually did. Fire was unnecessary.

Erlend brought china cups into the parlor, three of them steaming with jasmine and green for midnight teatime and obligatory politesse.  The fourth was missing. She could hear Hélène tinkering in the kitchen. For a few moments, long enough for the liquid to cool to drinking temperature, Rob and Erlend chattered without her. She stared into the vapor of her cup as it rose, vaguely hearing their conversation, smiling in their direction to fake attention.

How did you and Hélène meet?  Rob’s question disrupted her mimicry. She listened.

Erlend paused, angling his head towards the doorway nearest the kitchen. His features took on an expression that she had never seen on Rob’s face. It was a tenderness and a passion, something warmer than the cool tilt to which she was accustomed. The contrast was so acute in that instant that she barely heard Erlend talking. Her ears and eyes were full of wet. Moisture muffling sound.

I was very young and travelling in Argentina. By chance, I boarded a freighter bound for the tip of Tierra del Fuego with an open deck for passengers. The first night, there was dancing. I saw this lovely French girl. She didn’t smile much, but there was something about her just the same. Crew members took up accordions and violins and bass guitars and drummed with their heels. I asked her to dance, and she said no, rather impolitely. I resigned myself to the fact that she wanted nothing to do with me. But before I slunk away in rejection, the single women all took off one shoe and placed them in the middle of the dance floor. As the custom went, single men then grabbed a shoe at random and danced with the girl it belonged to. Fate cut in. I picked her shoe. Hélène was clearly not happy about it, but she wasn’t rude enough to refuse the dance.

By the end of the song she was smiling.

In their room as they went to bed, she found herself staring at the outline of her shoes on the parquet as Rob’s breathing slowed and deepened. He slept without touching her. The shadow of the headboard was the shadow of the buildings lining the street; her cheeks were the gutters beneath, wet and dark.

P.K. Lauren is a writer/painter/hiker/climber/lover/fighter. She hates zucchini. She loves vintage lace tablecloths. Her professional writing background includes publications of all genres in publications including: Clapboard House, The Noise, Prick of the Spindle, Casserole, Dark Matter, and others. Lauren received an MA in Creative Writing from Northern Arizona University and a BA in Linguistics from the University of Arizona. Bookending both her degrees, she spent over a year and a half living in France, in Paris and the Deux-Sèvres. When she’s not adventuring on a mountain or other rocky formation, Lauren spends her time otherwise soaking in good creative fodder: digging in the garden, knitting legwarmers, working as a volunteer firefighter, and baking sans-gluten pâtisserie treats. Lauren currently lives in Bishop, California, and touts a day-job of “adjunct professor” … though she likes to think of it as 30 hours of character study with a sprinkle of academic cheerleading and a dash of counterculture rabble-rousing.