I would like it known, for the record, that I am a good traveler. I grew up trotting the globe with Uncle Lamb on his various archaeological and academic pursuits. I had traveled by train, boat, car, aeroplane, horse, and rickshaw. I never got air, sea, or otherwise motion sick.
I had always thought I was a good traveler.
Until my first marriage went to pot, however, I had never been on a bus. Not the kind of bus that travels up and down the coast, rather than from one block of town to another.
I had to leave Boston, and so I’d sent out my CV across the states and back to England and Scotland and France. I had accepted a position at the hospital in Wilmington, North Carolina, and now I needed to take my battered heart down there.
The plane was going to be very expensive considering the extra expense that my trunks would be. The train would accept my trunks, but the American train system is terrible. The bus had seemed an economical option until I’d arrived.
At first it had seemed fine: the bus had been half-empty and I’d had a row of seats to myself and it seemed we would be off on time. Then, two minutes before we were supposed to leave Boston, a whole crowd made as if to board the bus, making us late and losing me my extra seat to a young, dark-haired man.
Behind me, where once there had been no one, a young boy and the man who appeared to be his father settled in, the boy behind me.
He was a squirmer and kicked my seat repeatedly as he shifted and got himself comfortable. He stopped, finally and I settled back to watch out the window once we pulled out of the bus depot.
We hadn’t been on the road a quarter hour, however, when the boy started kicking my seat again with a monotonous regularity that comes of having an active boy sitting still for any length of time. I did sympathize with the lad, but the more damage that he did to my kidneys, the less I felt I could forgive him.
I began to mutter in French, this being an excellent language for cursing, and spoken by nearly no one in the United States, it gave me a vent for my frustration that would not offend my neighbors. After a few minutes, however, a voice piped up from behind me, young and English, to my surprise.
“Fergus, what does conneries mean?” it asked, pulling the expletive from my last muttered rush of French invective.
The young man beside me turned to face the lad at my back. “It means… bollocks, mon frère. More or less,” he said with a clear Parisian accent that made my heart stop.
I turned to see the lad glaring at me. “That’s not very polite,” he said, accusingly.
“It’s not very polite to kick the seat in front of you,” I rejoined.
“Willie, what did I tell you about sitting still?” a Scottish-accented voice said.
I wondered at this polyglot and looked at the man sitting beside the lad and blinked. I could swear I was seeing double, but as though in a carnival mirror. The lad was a small version of the man seated beside him, though he hadn’t his father’s height yet, and his father’s vivid red hair was tempered to chestnut in the younger version.
The father looked at me, apology in a pair of dark blue eyes set in a strikingly handsome face.
“I’m sorry miss. I’ll trade places with him. He can kick wee Fergus as much as he likes. I promise I willna do damage to your backside myself.”
There was humour in his eyes, more so than I might have had for a stranger teaching my child filthy French phrases (even if by accident) and with some squirming and a few more jabs at my backside, he and his son had traded places.
“My name is Jamie,” the father said, smiling at me. “That’s Fergus, beside you, and this is Willie, my son. We’ve been at the hospital in Boston seeing to Fergus’ hand.”
I looked at the young man to find that his right hand was missing, replaced by a hook.
“They are working on a prosthetic for me,” the young man explained, seeing my surprise. “For now, this is doing me well enough.”
“Was it Boston General? I used to work there, and they have an excellent prosthesis group.”
“Aye,” Jamie said from behind. “That’s where we were. Why do you not work there now, if you dinna mind my asking?”
“Oh,” I said, flushing slightly. “That’s a very long story.”
Jamie shrugged and glanced at his sons. “It’s a long ride.”