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Which Will it Be?

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Even after four days of freedom, the concept still feels strange to me.

Looking either way before I cross the road, a bundle of papers in my hand, I half expect to see one of my Mother’s friends to be walking up the same road, calling my full name, and waving me over.

Blinking harshly, I realise the streets here in Edinburgh, Scotland, are much busier than the old, tiny village I’d left behind in Oxfordshire. Not only that, but I’m now hundreds of miles away from my overbearing Mother and her snooty friends.

Thank God.

I’m away.

Free.

In control of my life for the first time in my entire twenty-three years of existence.

Continuing to walk further along the street for another minute or so, I’m only stopped in my tracks when I see my own reflection in a hairdresser’s glass window.

It may have only been four days since I’ve fled home, boarded the next available train, and found myself in the heart of Scotland with nothing but a small, hot pink suitcase to accompany me. But I've decided to change my appearance rather dramatically in those four days, if I do say so myself.

First, and the most striking feature, is the new haircut I'm now sporting. Getting my hair chopped had been the first thing I’d done after stepping out of the train station, before even finding where I was going to lay my head for the night.

My Mother, Julia, had always kept my curly, brunette locks, long. Since I could remember, my Mother had often complained about the tight spiral curls decorating my head, unsure how to deal with them, and comparing my much more unruly hair to her own much sleeker, much shinier, much more easily manageable strands. The ridiculously long length of the hair on the old me, had meant the curls were typically weighed down, less frizzy, less of a nuisance.

But new me didn’t want to keep my hair long just for my Mother’s sake. I hadn’t wanted for a while, and now I'm coming to realize I don't have to.

The hairdresser I had visited on Tuesday was more than happy to chop the inches off, leaving me with a long bob, the longest strands just about brushing my collarbones.

Gazing at myself in the clear reflection, I self-consciously finger the ends. They no longer feel dead, dry and brittle, as if they’ll crack in half at any chance. Instead they feel soft and healthy. The same way my hips had felt as I’d pulled on a worn pair of tailored trousers this morning. As well as keeping a close eye on my diet (banning anything containing too much fat, too much sugar and too much salt), my Mother had forbid me from ever owning a pair of denim jeans, deeming them scandalous, but I would bet they’d fit snugly over my hips now, which have rounded out ever so slightly due to living on nothing but Mrs Baird’s famous beef stew.

I’m strangely proud of the new glow that surrounds me.

Strangely proud of myself.

It dawns on me how peculiar I must look having this epiphany, while looking into the hairdresser’s window. Especially when two heads sitting inside, with silver foils decorating their skulls, swivel to face me.

Smiling to them, enough to showcase my front teeth, I ponder for a second if I dare step inside. The stack of CVs, which I have painstakingly typed out and printed off at the local library yesterday, sit heavy in the palm of my hand.

I need a job, and need one quickly.

One that doesn’t pay too badly, and will help me begin to save up my own money, for my own future. I no longer want to rely on my family’s money to provide for me, to keep me.

But the issue is I can’t say I have a lot of experience… in anything really. I’m not so sure anybody wants to hire a strange English woman, who has just appeared in town out of nowhere, and who has no specialized skills or a trustworthy reference in sight.

Perhaps a hairdresser’s isn’t the best place to start. Surely they need women who know exactly what they are doing, or the basics at least.

No.

Nevermind.

Pulling my eyes away from the pristine salon, and back onto the crowded street ahead of me, I decide to continue on my path. A hairdresser’s won’t do, but for a second there, I had thought it nice to go somewhere to make female friends… or any sort of friends, actually.

---

The Mctavish bar sits alone at the end of the street, opposite a tailor’s shop. The outer façade of the bar is gothic and old fashioned, as is most of the buildings in the heart of Edinburgh, sitting only a walk away from the castle.

Climbing the door front steps, I hesitate before walking back down them, shaking my head to myself. Is this a good idea? Is a bar really the place for me to get my first proper job? I mean, surely they don't need somebody with a lot of experience, I’ve seen a load of young girls be hired at the pubs down home.

No, not home.

Oxfordshire.

I can do this in my sleep no problem; being polite to people, serving a few drinks, maybe even mopping the floors every once in a while… it can't be that difficult, right?

“Would ye mind getting that door for me, lass?” A voice behind me asks, making me jump a foot in the air. I spin, my papers flapping, to face the stranger.

A lanky boy, both of his hands busy holding a large brown box, looks back at me, his face hopeful. He throws his head back slightly, dislodging the floppy fringe that has fallen into his eyes, before he asks again.

“Did ye hear me, lass?” The box jostles in his hands, the items inside clanking together dangerously, as he tips his chin to the dark mahogany door of the bar. “My hands are full, ye wouldn’t mind opening it for me, would ye?”

“Um…” I start. “Y-Yes, of course.”

Tottering back up the steps, I wrap my hand around the metal handle, feeling the cold bite into my palm, and then pulling it wide for the lad to slip through.

“Thank ye kindly, Miss.” He says, winking as he brushes past, the upper bicep of his arm barely touching my hand.

“Y-You’re welcome,” I stutter out, but the boy has already moved on into the bar beyond.

Around the door handle, my fingers twitch.

Should I go in?

Is this my sign?

Did I look more like a nutter for holding the door open an excessive amount of time and letting in the September wind?

Probably.

With a soft shut, I allow the door to close behind me, sealing in my decision.

Straight ahead of me, I can see the long bar, where I guess the majority of the drinks are served. A tall, lone man stands behind it, his face obscured by the lanky delivery boy who stands talking, his box of goods resting on the countertop. A small number of men sit at either end of the bar, pint glass set in front of each of them, with varying degrees of amber liquid inside. Their necks craning upwards to watch the two televisions mounted to the walls. Each pixelated screen appears to be showing the run down medal table of the latest Olympic game day.

Taking a shallow breath, I put my right foot in front of my left. The two alcoves that surround the front of the bar door, peter out as I walk further forward, bringing me under the light, until I notice matching mahogany tables and chairs placed strategically around the bar floor.

“What can I do for ye, lass?” A voice calls out to me for the second time in a matter of minutes. This one sounds deeper, and more mature, than the one of the delivery boy’s. The man behind the bar asks, “Yer no’ lost, are ye?”

Walking right up until the marble edge of the bar digs into my hip bones, I shake my head. I can feel the soft ends of my new haircut swish around my jawline. “No, I’m not lost. I’m--”

“Are ye sure ye’re no’? A Sassenach like yerself? Far away from home, aren’t ye?”

“I-I…” I flounder. “A Sassenach?”

“An outlander,” the delivery boy, who up until this point has stayed silent, explains, “it means somebody not from Scotland.”

“Oh.” I swallow thickly; biting down on my lower lip and tasting the lemonade lip treatment I’d applied there this morning. “Well I’m not far away from home, I live here now.”

The man behind the bar, whose dark brown beard obscures the bottom half of his face, and whose dark brown fringe obscures the top half of his face, makes a surprised noise, sounding at the back of his throat.

“Good for ye then, lass.” His hands come to rest on the marble bar top, upturned in a friendly gesture. “Do ye want a celebratory drink, then?”

“No, actually. I-I'm wondering if you're hiring?” Laying my stack of papers flat on the bar, I mirror his friendly expression. “I need a job, and pretty quickly, so I--”

“Can I take a look?” The man gestures to the first printed out page on my stack. I’ve already handed out a number of those bloody pieces of paper to other retail shops and one café, but the bundle doesn't seem to be dwindling at all.

Nodding, I wait with bated breath as his surprisingly nimble fingers slide the page towards himself. His eyes scan across the page rather quickly, after all, there isn't much to read about, until he glances up at me, one eyebrow raised independently.

“Ye don’t have a lot of experience, lass,” he says, stating the obvious, “and no bar work at all.”

“I know but--” Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the two men at the right hand side of the bar side-eyeing me, becoming more interested as the apples of my cheeks blaze red. A trait about myself that I've always hated. “But I’m a hard worker, and a fast learner and--”

The owner of the bar, at least I suppose he is the owner, stares at me blankly.

“Lass, ye don’t have any experience anywhere,” he repeats.

“You needn’t say it so loudly for everybody to hear,” I hiss, close to stomping my foot.

Once the words are out of my mouth, I know I shouldn’t have said them, but my temper is prone to over spilling.

Another trait my Mother had detested.

“I’m sorry.” I wouldn’t sigh, or slouch further across the bar than my body wants me too. After two days straight, full of walking up and down strange streets, and praying for a miracle to change my life, I’m exhausted right down to my bones. Tired in a way I’ve never felt before. But I won’t show that to these strangers. It would be unladylike, as Julia would say so often.

“It’s just been a long day and--”

“Ye been searching for a job for a while?” The delivery boy, who I've almost forgotten is still standing there, pipes up.

“Mhm.” Two days isn't exactly a while, depending on your measurement of time. But it certainly feels like it when my feet are pounding the streets, breaking down the seams of the only pair of sensible maroon brogues that I had thought to bring. The other pair of shoes are black stilettos… and they aren't exactly made for walking long distances, or at all, really.

“Gan on, Murtaugh.” Aha, now I have a name. “I heard ye complaining the other night aboot how ye were understaffed and--”

“Shut yer mouth.” Murtaugh directs at the boy, who in turn just grins cheekily, not offended in the slightest, before turning his attention back to me. “There’s a little fire somewhere in ye, lass, and I like that.” He pauses for a second. A second that feels like an eternity to me. “When are ye free to come in for a trial run?”

“A t-trial run?” I lick my lips again, leaning over and allowing the bar to support more of my weight. “I’m free…” Did any day sound too eager? Am I supposed to sound eager? “Tomorrow.” Yes, tomorrow sounded perfect, somewhere in the middle.

I can see the bulge of Murtaugh’s tongue in his mouth, pressing up against one of his upper teeth, in thought. “No, I can’t let ye start tomorrow. It’s a Saturday, and no matter what people say in this town, I’m no’ completely ruthless, nor willing to throw ye in the deep end quite so fast.” His hand comes up to smooth down the wiry strands of his beard. “How does Monday sound?”

“Monday? Y-yes, Monday works.”

“Braw.” I watch as Murtaugh folds my pitiful excuse for a CV in half, then in half again and quarters until it resembles a triangle. “I’ll see ye here at 1 o’clock, lass, just after the lunchtime rush.”

“Okay.” I nod, sure my head resembles something akin to those bobble heads I’ve seen in gift shops across the world. “I’ll see you then.”

Collecting the rest of my papers, I turn on my heel, making back towards the door. Perhaps I should have left the rest of the resumes behind; after all, I don't need them now, do I?

I’ve done it!

I’ve secured myself a job… or a trial run, at least!

I feel as if I'm floating on top of the world. Nothing can stop me now. I’m doing it! Taking the first step to build a life for myself, and only me. A life where nobody is there to tell me what not to do.

A flood of confidence, like I’ve never felt before, surrounds me entirely. I can do anything. I can—

Speed Dating!

Unlucky in love and fancying a change? Mctavish’s Bar is proud to host a speed dating event!

When: Friday 7:30pm

Dress Code: Semi Formal (please no turning up in football shirts, ye will be turned away at the door.)

Ask away at the bar to be added to the list. Remember, spaces are limited.

Thank Ye.

The large blue poster, decorated in gaudy writing, catches my attention just as I’m about to open the door and step outside. It’s tacked to the back of the door, so no wonder I hadn’t seen it the first time I’d walked inside. Plus, the old me wouldn’t have dared give it a second glance, let alone be inside a bar to see it in the first place.

But the new me…

“Back so soon, lassie?” Murtaugh asks, as I walk back up to the bar. His hands are busy this time, polishing gin glasses until they sparkle. “Ye’re no’ here to change yer mind, are ye?”

“No. Um--” Murtaugh turns his back for just a second to place the glass onto the shelf behind. It’s enough for me to peer at his back pocket and see my paper CV sticking out of the top of it. Why is he choosing to keep it? To share with the other bar staff, so they can all laugh at me?

“I don’t bite, ye ken,” he says, spinning around to face me again, “ye can ask questions.”

“The speed dating poster.” I spit out, before my constantly second guessing ego can stop me. “I’ve just seen it.”

“And?”

“Are—are there any spaces left?”

I can’t believe you’ve just asked that, Beauchamp.

“I’ll double check.” Throwing his tea towel over his shoulder like they do in films, Murtaugh reaches underneath the bar, until his hand finds what he’s looking for. A clipboard. “Sorry, lass, there’s no—wait.” He turns the page over, eyes flicking quickly from side to side. “We had a cancellation, so there’s one space left. It’s yers if ye want it, Miss Sassenach.”

“Miss Sassenach?”

“Aye, well I dinna ken yer name yet, so…”

“It’s Claire.” I state proudly. “Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.”

“Right, Miss Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp.” Procuring a pencil, Murtaugh scribbles something onto the clipboard. “I’ve wrote yer name down, so I guess I’ll see ye here tonight for the speed dating, and again on Monday for yer trial run.”

“Thank you. I—I’ll see you then.” Brogues slapping loudly against the wooden floor, I actually do make it outside this time, without having to turn back for a third chat. My legs are carrying me back along the way I’ve walked, and onto the next street behind, when my brain catches up with the fact I don't need to.

I’ve succeeded in my mission of getting a job. Well, somewhat, but every step counts.

I no longer need to enter another establishment, hand in a lone, single bit of paper, and have to hear, “I’ll pass this along to the manager.”

Instead, I can now make the journey back to Mrs Baird’s B&B, where I've been laying my head down for the past four evenings.

Checking my watch, as I head in the opposite direction, and down the rather steep hill (the burning in my thigh muscles thank me for that, but my rather weak knees, which are prone to popping out of joint every once in while, do not), I calculate in my mind how long it will take me to get dressed and get back to the bar before half seven.

It’s just gone two in the afternoon now, so I have plenty of time to wolf down some of Mrs Baird’s delicious home cooked food, shower, pick something ‘semi formal’ to wear out of my measly wardrobe, and catch a taxi ride.

While I’m at it, I knew I should probably carve out some time to sit on the edge of my bed, either fully dressed or still in my towel (I’ll decide at the time) and anxiously ponder over the big adult life decisions that I’ve made today.

Oh, and a nap.

Having a nap, in between all of that, sounds pretty good to me right about now.