Sail Away

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Ass

The Isle of Mull sits like a jewel in the waters of the Inner Hebrides. A magnet for tourists and white settlers alike; and for eight months of the year, a fantastic place to find seasonal work. I was completely taken with it and knew shortly after starting work there, that there was a great possibility that I would be returning the following year.

I was presented quite early on in the season with the opportunity of spending my days off from my work as a chef, to sail around the small islands that formed the Inner Hebrides alongside Mull with our local milkman Jeremy who doubled as a tour guide for the people that just used Mull as a base for their holidays. The lure of the sea was great and I leapt at the chance to spend some time out on the water; spending most of my working week looking forward to my precious days off.

The changeable spring tides soon gave way to sun-filled summer days where the gentle swell of the sea carried us on its back from sunrise till sunset. While Jeremy navigated, I acted as a general dogsbody/ tour guide for the small parties of tourists who booked days out. I never tired of seeing the massive basalt columns of Fingal’s cave soaring majestically above us as we left the relative safety of the boat in favour of a small dinghy, allowing us to go right into the cave itself. Stunning in its beauty, I loved to see people’s first reaction upon seeing it up close.

The return trip from the small island of Staffa took us past the slightly larger island of Lunga, home to a massive colony of puffins; clowns of the ocean, comical little birds that would allow a person to come within arms length. Sometimes, we would catch sight of the black rabbits; each sighting considered a lucky omen of good things to come.

The busiest part of the tourist season was drawing to a close, the parties that we took out were growing smaller; but this meant that we were able to spend more time looking out for sharks and whales than before when the majority of the tourists had been just hungry to island hop. Nature never disappoints; small pods of dolphins made their presence known on more than one occasion, treating us to displays that you simply wouldn’t see in any man-made aquarium. They rode alongside our bow, catching our eyes, watching us while we watched them; never leaving even when we took the chance to stop and get in the water along with them.

On the last Sunday of August the sun seemed to shine brighter than ever; the water was flat calm and the gulls wheeled lazily above us. The early morning heat had me stripping down to my khaki shorts and a loose t-shirt shortly after we left the small harbour where the boat moored during its working months. The small party of four Americans that had booked with Jeremy that morning were seemingly content just to scan the horizon for dolphins and feeding whales, sipping water from their bottles of water. Jeremy himself was in the wheelhouse dressed only in a pair of raggedy shorts. His deeply tanned and weathered skin a sharp contrast to the salt and pepper grey of his shaggy hair; a broad smile curved his mouth and a twinkle in his eye. He was never happier than when he was out on the water.

I treasured days like these, they provided a real escape from cooking; the hungry tourists seemed to be a whole world away and I was surely in no rush to return. Unfortunately on that particular day I was so taken up with looking out for the wildlife that the sun caught me unawares; too late with applying the sun block, my skin was beginning to tighten painfully across my cheekbones. Better late than never I thought to myself as I applied a thick layer of sunscreen anyway. A large portion of the day was spent following alongside a minke whale, smiling as the tourists marvelled at the sheer size of it compared to the boat we were in. All too soon though it grew tired of our company and lunged deep one last time and was quickly lost from sight.

A quick stop off at the Isle of Coll gave us the chance to stretch our legs, some time also for the tourists to wander about and be free of us. We left the tourists to their own devices and made our way to the pub, commandeering a table in the garden where we could watch the comings and goings in the pretty little village.

The first few minutes were spent in companionable silence; save for the occasional screech of a gull in the distance; I was content to rest back under the shade of a large garden umbrella.

“Will you be heading back to the city again when the season ends then Kate?” Jeremy’s gruff voice startled me slightly, making me realise that I had been on the point of nodding off.

“I have no idea Jeremy, to be honest I was putting off making any decision. On days like these there’s no place I’d rather be than here; who wants to have their lungs choked with exhaust fumes when they can be filled with the fresh sea air.” I breathed deeply and let out a sigh of pure pleasure shortly after and wriggled a little further down in my seat.

“That’s true enough pet, but when all the tourists are gone bahis firmaları its a very quiet place to be, surely a young thing like yourself would rather be surrounded by the bright lights of the big town.”

“Ha! Young thing, I quite like the sound of that but I think you’re forgetting that I’m twenty-three, and besides, you’re hardly an old man yourself!” I sent him a slightly suggestive leer, I’d grown used to his gentle teasing; it meant nothing.

“Get that look off your face right now Kate Macleod! Heaven knows what my ever-loving wife would make of it.” A hearty laugh punctuated his words. His wife of thirty years was like a second mother to me and called me his ‘young bit of stuff’, she would find it amusing, I was in no doubt about that.

“Ah alright, if I’m making you uncomfortable I’ll stop.” I winked slowly at him and smiled as my eyes fell shut.

I heard him let out a long held breath, and we relaxed once more.

“I’m meeting someone at the pub when we get back later, he’s interested in going out on a long trip next weekend, he’ll be taking charge of the boat himself, but he needs someone to act as guide, there’s no way I can do it myself. The wife wants to go visiting family and I have to drive her, if I talk to your boss and offer bribes and various incentives would you consider going with him?”

I thought long and hard… for at least a whole ten seconds.

“Well, if he’s genuine and you think I’ll be safe enough with him then sure, why not, I’d rather be out on the water than slaving in the kitchen.” I replied.

“He’s safe enough, a professor at Glasgow University, he’s bound to be an old crusty with nothing more on his mind than books and lectures, his name’s David Ballantyne, means nothing to me, you went to that university didn’t you? Have you heard of him?”

“I seem to recall going there some time in the dim and distant past but I can’t say I remember anyone by that name, maybe he’s new there. No matter though, it’ll be nice to be away overnight and not have to get up in the morning to a rabble of hungry guests demanding cooked breakfasts.”

Just the thought of the drambuie laced porridge doused in cream was enough to make my stomach turn over in disgust as was the image of smoked kippers; I could almost smell them and my nose wrinkled in disgust.

“Just hope my luck holds and he’s a teetotal vegetarian Jeremy!” My last statement fell on deaf ears as Jeremy let out a gentle snore.

The approaching chatter heralded the return of the Americans and we got to our feet to greet them, sharing a light bar meal and ice cold drinks before heading back to the boat. A late afternoon breeze struck up across the still waters as we made our way back home, lifting the long strands of my red-gold hair so that they whipped against my face. Hastily I tied the tangled mass back away from my face in one long plait, which now lay over one shoulder. After tying the boat up we watched the happy tourists make their way back up the jetty and cleaned the boat ready for the next day. The sinking sun starting to cast long shadows was our signal to make our way to the local hotel where I normally worked; we would have a few drinks together in the public side of the bar; a place where few tourists ventured.

A combination of the heat, sea air and activity had rendered me bone weary but I trudged up the slight incline behind Jeremy, cursing him loudly for his endless energy. Luckily the hotel was less than five minutes walk away, any further and it was likely that I’d be making the small walk on my hands and knees.

“C’mon lazy bones, a young thing like you should be full of energy!” His words were slightly mocking, if he was any closer I would have batted him over the head, but my arms felt like they were filled with lead weights.

“I’m not lazy, I’ve been working hard all week, this is my day off, have a heart will you.” I pleaded, suddenly overcome with the need to feel an icy cold glass of coke against the burning heat of my cheeks.

Jeremy reached the door to the bar first, holding it open for me, laughing as I pushed past him into the cool interior. I didn’t have the energy to hoist myself up onto a barstool, instead choosing to lean against the bar wearily, groaning quietly as I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror at the back of the bar.

“Never mind pet, you don’t have to dress up to be in here.” Jeremy’s smile was warm, lighting his eyes.

Mike the regular bar man was busy serving a couple of old men at the other end of the bar, the rest of the room was empty, it was usually this way until later in the evening when the hotel laid on some sort of entertainment and the locals would be standing shoulder to shoulder.

“Well, what vision of loveliness do I see before me then?” Mike’s Irish lilt cut through my thoughts, making me smile. I loved to hear his sing song voice.

“I knew he had a thing for you Jeremy, you lucky man!” I said, laughing as Jeremy choked slightly.

“Silly woman, you know I meant you, although looking kaçak iddaa at you just now we could put you out on the headland and you could act as a beacon for the passing ships! The sun got you good and proper today then.” He gently scolded.

“Well I didn’t have you out there to take care of me did I?” I parried quietly.

“Listen you two, I don’t mean to butt in or anything but do you think we could get a couple of drinks, it’s been a long day.”

“Sorry Jeremy, the usual is it?”

A pint of Guinness for him and a coke for myself. I scuffed the toe of one of my boots against the bar while I waited, inspecting the slight burn that coloured the length of my legs, luckily it wasn’t too bad, the shorts I was wearing reached mid thigh and the t-shirt had protected all but my forearms. My face glowed with a life of its own though, making my green eyes appear glass-like. Hardly the vision of loveliness. Mike had grown used to my less than neat appearance over the last few months we had been working together at the hotel. I was brought out of my reverie by Jeremy lifting me off my feet, plonking me down heavily onto a bar stool, the air whooshed out of my lungs with the sudden impact of my ass on the seat.

“Sit down before you fall down pet.”

I grasped the bottle of coke in one hand and saluted Jeremy, thanking him silently before resting the length against a cheek, the coldness sending a shiver right through me. I gulped the drink quickly with my eyes shut, savouring each long swallow. My eyes were still shut as I heard the bar door open and close quickly, I was in no rush to see who it was, but I was in danger of dozing where I sat, of this much I was certain. It took me long seconds to force my eyelids open, I could feel someone standing beside me, a new person, the smell of a tangy aftershave filled my nose, he smelled expensive. Keeping my eyes downcast I stole a glance sideways and was greeted by the sight of a slightly tanned arm, dusted with dark coloured hairs, further down I could see his long tapered fingers resting on the bar, fingernails neatly trimmed and clean. Hands fascinated me, work roughened, dirty, short fat and stubby fingers, manicured fingers, a lot could be gained about a person just by looking at their hands.

These hands were certainly not those of a manual labourer, there were no calluses, not a speck of dirt. I dropped my head lower and checked out what he was wearing on his bottom half; similarly attired to myself his legs were partially encased within a pair of three quarter length shorts, the navy colour suiting the golden tan on his legs. My tongue darted out to wet my lips and I wondered briefly if my luck would hold if I took the chance to look upwards.

“Are you ok down there Kate?” Mike’s voice reached into my thoughts, dragging my head up sharply.

“Yes, of course, I’m fine, just dozing a little I think, been a long day out there.” I looked up at Mike, beaming a thousand-watt smile in his direction; he raised an eyebrow in question and laughed before turning his attention to the newcomer.

“What can I get for you then?” Mike asked him, treating the stranger to the full power of his Irish accent.

“Just a long glass of iced water with a wedge of lemon thanks.” The rich timbre of his Scots accent wasn’t lost on me and I looked up quickly, my eyes catching those of the stranger in the bar mirror. We seemed to be locked like that for minutes when in actual fact it was probably only seconds. My mind didn’t know what to make of him; there was much to take in. On hearing just his voice I would not have connected it with the person I saw in the mirror. He was tall, much, much taller than myself, his broad chest covered in a body hugging tie-dyed t-shirt, his shoulders looked slightly muscled and I itched to run my fingers along them; I shoved my hands underneath my thighs with haste, lest the urge overtook me. His eyes were the colour of melted chocolate, framed by long dark lashes, and his hair… well there was none, he was as bald as a coot. My mind raced off and I had to sit down harder on my hands, he smiled briefly at me and I answered with a grin that Alice’s Cheshire cat would have been proud of.

“Are you alright Kate?” Jeremy’s voice sounded concerned and I felt the weight of his hand on my shoulder.

“Just fine Jeremy, never better, I think I must be getting my second wind or something, I don’t feel quite so sleepy now!” I covered the hand he had on my shoulder with one of my own, reassuring him gently.

“Excuse me, I think you must be the same Jeremy I’m supposed to be meeting here.” The strangers’ voice cut in.

“Old cru…” I started to say.

“Yes, I’m Jeremy; you must be David Ballantyne.” He said quickly, just managing to save me from sure embarrassment.

Both men shook hands firmly and Jeremy drew David away from the bar to a table in the furthest corner of the room, I watched them retreat with a little sigh of regret.

“Now Kate don’t go setting your heart on one of the hotel guests.” Mike was scolding kaçak bahis me gently as his fingers tucked some hair that had come loose from its binding behind one of my ears.

“He’s staying here with us is he then?” My heart leapt.

“Certainly he is, booked him in this morning myself, for the next ten days he’s got us looking after him. By the way you can get that look of hope out of your eyes Kate; I don’t think management have the kind of personal service you have in mind on the list things that the hotel provides for the guests.” He laughed quietly and tugged on my plait, jumping back quickly and heading off to the other end of the bar before I could slap him.

Sitting a little higher on the stool I was able to observe Jeremy with David in the mirror behind the bar; both were deep in an animated conversation, things were looking good it seemed. I watched as Jeremy rose, walking over to where I sat.

“Listen Kate; I’m just going to hunt down Haydn, see if he can give you the whole of next weekend off, he owes me a favour or two so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Who’s covering your days off this weekend?”

“Jane is covering breakfast and lunch shifts and Kerry is doing evening service, thank heaven for the locals.” Both Mike and myself were recruited for the season but still the majority of staff came from the local village.

“Good enough then, at least there will be plenty cover then, just go over and keep David company while I go hunt down your boss.” He winked broadly at me.

I slid off the barstool and nipped round the side of the bar, swiping a bottle of coke from the small bar fridge before making my way over to the corner table. I let my eyes roam appreciatively as he stood up to greet me, swallowing a gasp of shock as I watched his large hand swallow mine up in it’s warm grip. “You’re Kate then.” I nodded briefly and wondered how long he would hold onto my hand, the pad of his thumb was rubbing lightly back and forth on the inside of my wrist, I gulped hard and tugged back a little.

The sensation from his small touch confused me; the small action had me prickling with awareness. If this was all it took to have me aroused around him, how would I survive the two nights we would be alone together; I scooted round to the far side of the table, putting a little distance between us.

“Have you any idea where you want to go next weekend then Mr Ballantyne?” I asked quickly.

“Please call me David, Mr Ballantyne sounds so formal… and old. I was thinking of heading out to the Isle of Coll, there’s a seal colony out there I believe?”

“Yes, we can get quite close to them out there.”

“I’d like to see Staffa, perhaps spend the night on Lunga and the remaining night on the boat itself if the weather holds. I like the idea of just stretching out on the deck, being rocked to sleep by the swell of the sea.” His eyes seemed to spear me where I sat; I was starting to melt. Perhaps if more of the professors at the University had looked like this one I might have attended more lectures.

“Jeremy said you’ll be taking over the boat yourself, he wouldn’t normally entertain the idea.” I knew Jeremy treated the boat with more care than he would have a child of his own.

“Well, I’ve never met him before, but he and my father were great friend’s years ago, they still keep in touch now and again.”

“Ah well that explains it then.” I replied.

The next few minutes were spent in silence, listening to Mike’s easy banter with the couple of local men that were keeping him company at the bar. Jeremy wasn’t long in returning, a broad smile on his face. I gulped hard.

“Well it looks like you’ll be taking to the sea next weekend Kate, Haydn was only too pleased to let you go since it was to accompany one of his guests. You’ll find the service here is very personal David, you won’t be wanting to leave when your stay is over.”

“Of that I am very sure Jeremy.” David’s words were spoken softly; his eyes held mine.

For the next week I worked harder than ever in the hotel kitchen, hoping to tire myself completely so my mind wouldn’t have time to think of David but it was impossible. Mike teased unmercifully as he noticed that I seemed to be taking more care with my appearance, I began to wear light make-up, my chef whites were crisply ironed, normally so long as they were clean I would throw them on regardless of creases. Unfortunately during the week I was able to count the glances I had caught of him on the fingers of one hand. He had been leaving the hotel straight after breakfast to sightsee I assumed, returning late in the evenings to the sanctuary of his room.

By the time Friday morning rolled around I was a mass of nerves and it wasn’t lost on Haydn who usually served breakfasts to the guests; but he just smiled knowingly as I artfully arranged David’s regular bacon and egg order into a happy smiley face. I could see him biting the inside of his cheek in an effort not to laugh as he took the plate through to the dining room and before the swing door of the kitchen came to a rest a loud bark of laughter reached my ears. I was allowed to finish after prepping for the lunchtime crowd, handing the reins over to Jane with heartfelt gratitude.

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