Rory looked at his phone screen, once again checking in on his yacht. The cleaning lady hadn’t arrived yet, but the company he’d hired had said she would be there either today or tomorrow.
He was anxious to get back to the boat, and had paid extra for her to do a thorough cleaning, although he knew it wouldn’t really need it. It was his bachelor pad, yes, but he wasn’t a slob. A good vacuum of the bedrooms and their minuscule patches of carpet, a mopping of the rest, and wiping down the surfaces that might have a slight layer of dust on them would be all the 45-foot cruising yacht would need.
He still had business to attend to in London but would be watching the yacht from afar. He had the two security cameras that looked at the bow and towards the stern, which was all he needed. If someone disappeared below the camera pointed at the stern he’d know they were inside, and if they were inside and they weren’t his new cleaning lady, then they weren’t supposed to be there and he would call the authorities.
But for now he needed to finish up the publicity tour for the last season of the show he had a role in, and then he’d be able to go home--to the yacht, to the water, to his small corner of the world where he could hole up and not worry about anything. Be it people, work, politics, whatever life threw at him--he could avoid them all there.
And maybe soon he’d go out on the water and stay gone for two or three weeks. It sounded good, being out there, out of range of communication, where no one could bother him.
Yes, it sounded damned good.
Everything that happened after the plane landed in Edinburgh went by in a blur. Grace collected her suitcase and guitar from the baggage carousel, checked her map for the bus station, and set out on the beginning of her adventure in a foreign country.
Scotland was in many ways very similar to England, but also very different. Merely catching snippets of conversation from passing locals was enough to prove that to her, as quite often she didn’t understand what they were saying. Their accents could be much thicker than that of Londoners, and she suspected they might even be speaking a different language. It would take time, but she hoped to develop the ability to understand. She was certain it would help her get along with others as she passed the time in this beautiful country.
The bus station wasn’t far from the airport, and the drive to Troon began. Grace spent the entire ride staring out the window, feeling much less like the grown woman she was and more like a child, perhaps Thomas’s age--seeing new sights, itching to go explore, and to experience all that Scotland had to offer. Thomas was indeed excited for her, as he had stated in their Skype call last week. He made her promise to send photos of her doing every little thing she could think of--from walking into her apartment for the first time, cooking her first meal, walking to her job, and the sea--he wanted to see if the sea on the Western coast of Scotland was the same as the sea on the Eastern coast of England, where they would sometimes travel on the weekends.
His excitement was encouraged by Jillian and Scott, who were as excited as Grace was to have an opportunity to reconnect. Grace swore on her first vacation she was heading straight for London, and they assured her--Jillian with a tearful smile on the laptop’s screen--that she would always have a bed waiting for her in their home.
The apartment superintendent was there when she arrived, only having to walk two blocks from the bus station with her suitcase and guitar in tow. It hadn’t been the most pleasant walk, with several broken down vehicles on the street and yards that were unkempt. Grace thought back to the description of the neighborhood and wondered at its accuracy--”Up and coming neighborhood close to a school with a community park and shopping center within walking distance.”
Grace thought it should have read, “Borderline slum but the people are nice.”
The man greeting her looked nice enough--younger than she had expected him to be, probably just several years older than her. And he was an American, by the sound of his accent when he called out a greeting as he waited by the open door for her to come up the short walkway.
Grace smiled and held out her hand, which he shook gently.
“Hello, I’m Grace Harris, from California. It’s nice to meet you!”
“Evan Woods, from Washington,” he said warmly, as though they shared an inside joke. “Pleased to meet you.”
His voice was kind and his smile wide, and he sported short cropped brown hair and a fit physique. Grace chuckled at how his introduction mirrored her own.
“An American--what brings you here? I expected a Scotsman, this being Scotland and all.”
Evan laughed as he took her suitcase from her and followed her into the older building, a bit more ramshackle than what the photos had shown.
Grace decided not to mention it for the time being, surprised that the website had been so misleading. Evan seemed like a nice, honest person, so she followed him up the scuffed wood stairwell to the second floor.
“I came with my girlfriend years ago and here I am, no girlfriend but a country I fell in love with.” His smile was easy as he glanced back at her. “I couldn’t leave, not after growing so fond of it.”
“Is it really that easy?” she asked, happy to be speaking to someone from America but who loved Scotland enough to tell her about it.
“Oh, aye,” he replied, smiling widely when they came to a door at the end of the hallway. He took out a ring with two keys on it and unlocked the door, turning to her before he opened it. “Everything about this country is great--the people, the scenery, the culture, the food. There’s nothing I don’t love about it, especially when I meet other Americans who love it just as much as I do.”
He pushed open the door and Grace smiled. She stepped past him into the apartment and looked around.
“I’m sure I will be one of those Americans,” she murmured, turning to take it all in.
Much like the building and the neighborhood, the apartment itself didn’t live up to her expectations. The website said it was a clean, furnished apartment, complete with some living room furniture and a dining table. It would be up to her to find a bed and dresser, and anything else she might need.
While it was true that the apartment was clean, everything looked like it came out of the 1970s. The carpet was orange . The countertop was olive green, and the fridge, oven, and microwave were all yellow and looked stained with age. The windows were small and looked original from when the building was built.
Probably in the 70s , she thought wryly.
Setting her guitar down in the small living room, Grace spun in a circle to take it all in, dismayed at the dark panelling on the walls. It had looked more of a natural oak color in the photos, but she could see the stain on it was more dark walnut, as though someone had mixed black paint in with the stain. The effect caused dark gray wood that looked as depressing as the winter solstice at the North Pole. Disheartened, she hated it immediately.
But to Evan she turned and smiled, determined not to let this set her back. This was going to be her home for no more than six months, she was sure of it. When that lease was up she would already have a new place lined up, and in the meantime, well… she could buy lamps because she didn’t pay for electricity.
“It’s… cozy,” she said to him, and Evan nodded, looking around as though he was proud of the apartment.
“The building is sound, and this neighborhood might not look like much but it’s been here a long time.”
He left off at that reply and set the key ring on the counter.
“You have my number in case you need anything, and the phone is there on the wall--” he pointed to the black, corded landline phone, “--but you’ll have to call the phone company to get it turned on. Any questions?”
Grace clasped her hands in front of her, doing her best to stay optimistic. This apartment was making it difficult.
“Actually, I’d like to go to the post office to pick up my things in the morning. Could you tell me how to find it?”
Evan replied, keeping that same kind smile plastered to his face.
“I’ll draw you a map.” And out of his pocket he pulled a little notebook and a pen.
From his directions it didn’t sound hard to find the place, about twenty blocks away. But Grace knew she’d have to take a cab, so she also had him show her where a sister bank of her own branch was.
Before he left he stuck his hand out and Grace shook it, but breathed a sigh of relief when he abruptly turned his back and strode for the door, feeling with every step that her life was on a big turntable and it was slowly turning while she remained still. Evan turned, helping her to not spiral out of control into thoughts that said she was over her head. His smile widened.
“It’s good to meet you, Grace Harris.”
“You too, Evan,” but she was glad when she could close and lock the door.
After he left she took out the few snacks she had packed into her suitcase and set them on the counter, belatedly realizing she had no food for either dinner or breakfast in the morning. Maybe she could Google a convenience store somewhere close to walk to in the morning. Then she got to work, unpacking the meager belongings she’d brought except for her clothes, which would have to remain in her suitcase until she found a dresser.
It was actually quicker than she expected to search for, find, and contact a local furniture store about delivering some furniture to her, and she put a twin sized bed and a dresser from their website on her only credit card, to be delivered the next day. They were the two purchases she wanted immediately, but decided anything else could take time so she could find things she really liked.
When she was done she sat down with her laptop at the chair by the window and looked outside, noting the view was simply of the building across the street. She pulled the sheer curtain closed and set about researching the area, including finding out there was a gas station and convenience store about five blocks away in the opposite direction from the harbor.
She would walk there in the morning for breakfast and see what they had, before Evan came to get her. And with that plan in mind she turned off the computer and set it aside.
It had been days since she’d taken out her guitar, and when she did so now she found her fingers were itching to get back on those strings. Singing had always soothed her, and strumming a soft tune was exactly what she was going to need to relax herself so she could get some sleep on the hard couch. Her first night in the new country in her new apartment, and she was already getting antsy about her plans for her future.
Had this been the right decision? She really didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, since Becca was all for her taking the job, she and her parents weren’t close enough to discuss personal things like that, and Jillian and Scott had their little family and likely their own issues to deal with.
Although Jillian would probably sit and talk to her for an hour, Grace didn’t want to bother the busy mom. So she set the guitar on her lap, set her fingers to the strings, and pinched the pick between her fingers.
She had strummed the first chord of To Make You Feel My Love when suddenly there was a thumping on the floor below her. Unaccustomed to living in a building so old, she waited a moment and strummed again. The banging came louder, and she heard the distinct sound of someone yelling something.
She realized her mistake and set the guitar aside. Thin walls, probably lacking in insulation, likely meant her neighbors both beside and below her would be able to hear anything she did.
Not wanting to alienate neighbors she hadn’t even met yet, Grace despondently set the guitar back in the open case and drew her knees up to her chin. That she couldn’t even play her guitar suddenly made her very sad and very homesick. This was supposed to be a happy time, but not everything was turning out the way it was supposed to.
Now disheartened, she rose and readied for bed, pulling on her nightshirt and taking down her hair. She pulled it over her shoulder and brushed it, though it wouldn’t need it--she had brushed it before putting it in the bun she usually wore. Still, she ran the brush from the crown of her head down to the front of her hip and through the ends of her hair, then wove it into a thick braid that she tossed behind her shoulder.
That night she curled up on the couch, using a sweater as a pillow and a jacket for a blanket. But sleep eluded her. Tomorrow, she vowed, things would be better. Tomorrow she would get the rest of her things from the post office and turn this apartment into a home. And she would venture down to the harbor and scope out the yacht on which she would be working.
Yes, tomorrow. Tomorrow would be a great day.
Rory felt his phone buzz with a notification and saw that someone had tripped his security camera. The screen lit up with the image of a woman with dark hair pulled high into a bun turning a key in the small hatch that led down into the cabin of his yacht.
So that was Ms. Harris. He had read her resume and approved the hiring, happy that someone with as steady an employment history as her would be the one cleaning his yacht and acting as housekeeper. He felt confident that she would have a measure of pride in her work, having been employed by the same company for twelve years.
Grace Harris. He hadn’t gotten much further in her employee profile after reading about her past work experience, but he liked her name. There was a good chance they would eventually meet, but it wasn’t high on his list of priorities. Right now he needed to see if she would keep to his instructions and text him now that she was on the boat. His instructions had been specific--send him a text letting him know she made it onto the boat without any problems.
After a minute two did come through, although he didn’t reply.
00-1-323-555-9489: Made it to the yacht, thank you for the clear instructions! Took a loo around, I’ll be out of here in about three hours.
She had corrected her spelling. For some reason that struck him as funny.
He appreciated her promptness, and mentally crossed off the one and only test he’d set out for her. She passed with flying colors.
The meeting with his agent went well, and Rory found himself only worrying about the yacht a little bit. He didn’t know Ms. Harris, after all, and she was in there alone with his belongings. But it was his sanctuary, his safe place, and there was a person in there when he was not.
As comfortable as he was with the idea of someone cleaning his yacht and taking care of his personal effects, he was not comfortable with her being in there while he was not there. He had not anticipated this. Having little choice other than to text her and tell her to get out, he shut his phone off and concentrated on the meeting. There were scripts to go over, papers to sign, and a schedule to form for the next year. And right now he needed to focus on convincing his agent he needed at least two months of doing absolutely nothing now that filming for the next season wouldn’t begin for nearly a year.
With his work cut out for him, he pushed all thoughts of the yacht out of his mind and put on his bargaining hat.
Grace set her phone down and took her jacket off. Beside the hatch she found a small closet where she could store her things while she was working.
After hanging her jacket on a hanger in the small space, she moved the bottom of a man’s jacket out of the way so she could put her purse on the raised bottom surface. At the same time she saw how the bottom of her jacket was several inches higher than the bottom of the man’s, and hers fell to her upper thigh on her.
Shutting the door, she wondered at the size of the man. That looked like a normal jacket, only much larger than any she had seen before.
Putting it out of her mind, she got to work. She found the cleaning supplies where he had said they would be, in another closet beside the decently sized bathroom. She decided to start at one end and work her way to the other.
Dusting the light fixtures and upper surfaces, she found cubbies where various boat manuals were stored, some dry food goods over the kitchen, and linens for the bedrooms. She went back through with a wet rag and cleaned anything that needed to be cleaned and some that didn’t, just so she could say she did the most thorough job she could.
She repeated the process with the middle of the boat--the oven top, the sink, the dining table, getting to know the boat since it would be her place of employment for at least the next six months. She found the fridge appallingly low on food, despite knowing the owner wouldn’t be back probably for a few days. The freezer as well was low, and it made her wonder what he ate until she found the loaf of moldy bread in a cabinet with peanut butter.
A confirmed bachelor then, she mused, tossing the bread into the large garbage bag she would keep her soiled paper towels in. She made a mental note to replace the bread with the small stipend he gave her for expenses.
There were two small empty bedrooms on one end of the yacht, though the master bedroom was quite obviously occupied. There were dirty clothes in a pile on the floor, which Grace picked up quickly and deposited in a small hamper resting on a shelf. Then she stripped all the beds and added the sheets to the hamper, folding the blankets to remain on the beds until they could be made again.
Finally she vacuumed the bedrooms and mopped the rest of the floor, dumping the water down the drain in the shower as instructed.
When she was done and it was time to bring the laundry to the laundromat, she instead sat on one of the benches at the dinette and breathed deeply.
It always felt good to look around and know she did a good job. It was one of the things that had been most rewarding while working for the Gebhart’s. She could look at the dinner she had made, she could see the clean floors and organized toys, and the perfect sleeping boy who always took a nap exactly when she told him to. There was pride in her work, yes, but she was humble enough to not brag about it. She knew she was good, and this yacht was no different. Her cleaning had been thorough, and she hoped the owner would be able to tell.
He hadn’t specifically instructed her to wash the laundry but she knew the harbor sported a laundromat just up on the shore, so she took her purse and coat out of the closet, and with the basket on her hip, left the yacht while locking the hatch behind her. Then she headed up towards the big building on the other side of the docks.