This is the first chapter of my very first attempt at Nanowrimo. Since it’s only a few weeks until Nanowrimo 2010 begins, I thought I’d share my freshman effort with you…
Part I: In Edinburgh
Chapter One — Home Is Where I Want to Be…
Jessica never thought the day would come when she’d long for Philadelphia again, especially when she was in a city as beautiful and haunting as Edinburgh. But the last eight days the sky never seemed to brighten and the cold rain that fell dampened her spirits and her shoes. It didn’t help that a permanent chill seemed to have settled over her student rooms, no matter how many hours she left the electric fire lit.
Her roommate, a hearty Scottish girl from Aberdeen named Gillian, didn’t seem to notice the cold. Most days she wore thick wool sweaters in jewel tones that Jessica envied and tight cigarette jeans with thick rag socks. The only outward sign that the chill affected Gillian was the ruddiness of her cheeks which, when asked, she attributed to her being fit from all the hikes up Arthur’s Seat that she and her boyfriend Peter took whenever they had a free moment. Complaining about the weather or the damp or the cold brought no tuts of sympathy from Gillian. If Jessica dared utter anything resembling a complaint about Edinburgh’s unpredictable weather, Gillian rolled her eyes with all the melodrama of a stage actress and said in her lilting Scottish accent, “Jesus, then why did you come here if you can’t stand a little bad weather?”
Why did she come, indeed?
It wasn’t as though she’d dreamed of coming to Scotland, though now that she was here she loved the architecture and the people she’d met. Coming to Scotland was a bit of a lark. She’d overheard a girl in her 300-level literature seminar talking about the pros and cons of studying at a foreign university for a year and decided without really thinking it through that she’d apply for Temple University’s Year Abroad program. The student advisor had warned her that most of the spots in English-speaking countries filled quickly, but after the Twin Towers attack one-third of the students who’d signed up for various programs dropped out and Jessica was able to take her choice of programs. She chose the University of Edinburgh based on that overheard conversation and, though she’d yet to be asked along to a pub by any of the attractive Scotsmen in her seminars, she figured it was a little more exciting than sitting in the cinderblock high-rise administration buildings at Temple, listening to sorority girls who were more interested in an Mrs. Degree than an MA or even a BA try to bullshit their professors who weren’t even paying attention anyway.
Now after three months, as much as she appreciated the opportunity to spend a year abroad, she was homesick enough to chuck it all in and buy a one-way ticket back to Philadelphia.
“Sorry!” The young man at her elbow reached behind the counter and grabbed a dishrag before the bartender could react. He wiped ineffectually at the spreading puddle of beer before finally managing to sop up enough so that she could sit down again. “God! I’m really sorry about that!”
“It’s okay,” she said and brushed a few stray droplets of beer from her sleeve and pants. “Everything I’m wearing is machine washable so it’s no big deal.”
“You’re American?” He was grinning at her now, a wide grin that lit up his handsome face. He waved at the bartender then returned the sodden dish rag to him with an apologetic shrug. Then he ordered another pint of beer for Jessica to replace the beer he’d spilled.
She nodded. “From the sound of it, you are too.”
“Where’re you from?”
“Small world, so am I,” he said with a laugh.
She smiled at him. He was the first American she’d met so far. At the orientation in August, she’d seen the girl from her literature seminar but she’d disappeared before Jessica had a chance to talk to her. All she knew was that her name was Melanie Jamison, and that they were supposed to be living in the same residence hall.
“So why are you here?” he asked. “Let me guess—some rugby-playing Scotsman lured you here for love and adventure…”
This time she laughed. “Ha! I wish …” but she didn’t, not really. Besides, she’d never dated a white man before despite going to predominantly white schools all her life. And even if there’d been some attractive Scotsman whose interest she’d peaked, she was so wary of all the baggage that came with dating someone of another race she probably would’ve turned him down or pretended not to notice. “I didn’t come to Scotland for love. I’m here studying literature. What about you?”
“Well, I studied photography at University of the Arts, so now I’m here working as an assistant to an established photographer.”
“Anyone I might have heard of?”
He mentioned the photographer’s name. Jessica raised her eyebrows in surprise. She’d seen an exhibit of the photographer’s work one summer at the Institute for Contemporary Arts on University of Pennsylvania’s campus. The photographer specialized in black and white nude studies, most of which looked more like exotic landscapes than human bodies.
“Very impressive,” she said and smiled. He returned her smile. He was standing close enough to her that she could feel the heat of his body warming her arm. Maybe it was because she was so cold but she wanted to inch closer to him and let his warmth surround her. What am I thinking, she thought and shifted a little away from him. I don’t even know him!
“I don’t do much more than fetch cigarettes for him and lug his equipment between his studio and wherever he’s got a shoot going on.”
“Still, it must be more exciting than being back home.”
“It has its moments.”
They both fell silent. Around them the pub was filling up with after-work patrons and students finally escaping from their late afternoon seminars. Jessica broke their stare, pretending to search for Gillian as a diversion. She didn’t need to, though. She could hear Gillian’s machine gun laugh above the rock music pulsing through the speakers. When she glanced again at the man standing beside her, he was raking his fingers through his dark brown hair. It curled nicely at his neck and she imagined stroking him there. She glanced away again and gulped down some of her beer. It wasn’t the same type of beer she’d had earlier. This one had a slightly bitter aftertaste, but it smoothed going down. Swallowing it down quickly kept her from thinking too much about how attractive the stranger beside her truly was.
He stole a glance at his wristwatch. “I have to go. My boss is having a vernissage tonight at Colgan Gallery, and I have to be there.”
Disappointed, she nodded. It had been nice talking to someone from home, even just for a few minutes. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah, maybe.” He shrugged into his coat. Then he wound a cozy-looking wool scarf around his neck. She waited for him to go but he scrunched up his eyebrows and then said, “Come with me.”
“You don’t even know my name.”
“So tell it to me now then. My name’s Chris, nice to meet you, and you are?”
Laughing, she replied, “Jessica, Jessica Lawson.”
“Great! So Jessica…what do you say? Come with me?”
She pretended to think about it. She’d already decided that if he asked her to leave with him, she would. Gillian had already forgotten about Jessica now that her boyfriend and his rugby friends had arrived, and it was Friday night—no need to rush back to her rooms. Nodding, she put on her coat and grabbed her bag from the stool beside her.
“Why not?” she said smiling.
Why not, indeed!