The next day, far too early for Colin’s comfort, he found himself on a train, huddled in a seat against the window, trying to get a little extra sleep. The train was almost empty for most of the ride, and Colin would’ve been able to fall asleep if he could find a way to block out the sun. It taunted him, disappearing behind lush green hills, reappearing from behind the trees just as he began to nod off.
He would have moved to the other side of the train, but the window seats in the front of the car were occupied. And the back of the car was filled with some tourists who had to “ooh” and “ah” at every waterfall, scenic hill and valley, and whatever else they found interesting out the window.
After several unsuccessful hours, Colin gave up on his attempted nap. The train slowed to a stop, and the passengers began scurrying for their luggage.
“Oban!” a uniformed man called, giving Colin an expectant look.
It sounded vaguely familiar to him, and he tried to remember where that place was on a map. He gave up.
“Okay,” Colin replied with a shrug. “I’m supposed to be going to Kera.”
The man chuckled. “Kera’s an island, sir,” he said. “This is the closest our train gets to there. It’s just a short walk to the ferry and a ten-minute ferry ride over.”
Colin sighed and pulled the train ticket from his jacket pocket. Sure enough, the destination listed was Oban. With another grumble, he stood up and stretched his sore muscles. His suitcases were the last on the rack, and he pulled them off with too much force. One landed on his big toe.
“Hey, you look kinda familiar,” the uniformed man began slowly.
“My aunt lives in the area,” Colin replied flatly. “It’s probably a family resemblance.”
He hobbled off the train before the man could say anything else. The sun greeted him in full force, and he grimaced.
“Excuse me,” he said, finding the help desk. “I need to take the ferry to Kera.”
“Okay,” the woman replied with a smile. “You just follow that road down to the ferry. It’s only about a forty-minute walk.”
“You can try getting a cab,” the woman offered. “But at this time of day, I’d say most are at lunch or already taken.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Small town,” she said with a shrug. “And it’s really a lovely walk. Especially in this weather.”
She smiled with a pointed look up at the sky. He glanced up. The sun taunted him from a cloudless sky.
“Thanks,” Colin said flatly.
He walked over to the taxi stand. It was empty. He checked his watch and looked around. There had to be cabs somewhere. He just needed one. Colin sighed and sat on top of one of his suitcases. The station was next to a chain coffee shop, and he could see a row of shops on the waterfront down the road. He guessed the more crowded looking buildings were local restaurants. His stomach was too tired to respond to the smell of salt and something fried that drifted through the air.
After ten minutes of waiting, he gave up. He followed the road the woman had pointed out earlier. It didn’t look too promising. From what he could see, it began as a road and then faded into gravel after about fifty meters, leading downhill and away from all of civilization probably.
“This is the way to Kera, right?” he asked a girl who walked past him.
She didn’t respond, but kept walking and swinging a cloth bag as she surveyed the scenery. He looked her over carefully. Her hair was blond (bleached, most likely), but her features were Asian, he was pretty sure. Maybe she didn’t speak English well. Colin cleared his throat and tried again.
“This is the way to Kera, right?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, the ferry’s this way,” the girl replied, looking surprised to see anyone else on the path.
Her voice didn’t have a local accent, but it also didn’t sound uncomfortable speaking in English.
“It’s a little late for a visit, though,” she added, giving him a strange look.
Maybe she thought he was staring at her. He looked away quickly.
“It’s barely afternoon.”
“The island is best in the morning,” she replied. “Then you can visit the old castle, have some tea at the tea garden, and walk all around the island without having to run back for the last ferry.”
“Are you a tour guide?” he asked.
She chuckled in response and glanced at his suitcases.
“The road’s in Kera are a little rough,” she said. “I’m not sure your wheels can take it.”
Her voice raised at the end of the sentence, as the road turned into a gravel path and the wheels began humming and crunching, slipping into the crevices dug by car tires. He tried to steer clear of the muddy puddles nestled in the tire tracks.
“They’ll be fine,” Colin called back, raising his voice over the sound of the gravel. “It’s an expensive brand. Quality.”
Her eyes flickered for a moment, like she was trying to not roll them, and she didn’t respond. They walked silently, or rather without talking, as his suitcases made most of the sound. They were outside of the city now, and it looked like the area around the road was reserved for old hotels and trailer rentals. Around the buildings, large greenery sprouted some wildflowers. No one was in sight, though Colin could see several cars filling the small parking lots. Apparently, this whole countryside-meets-small city vibe was attractive to people.
“Are you staying in Kera then?” Colin asked after a few minutes.
“Yeah,” she replied. “I just came to town to visit the store.”
She lifted her cloth bag like she was showing evidence. He nodded and couldn’t think of a reply. She sighed.
“Do you need help with those?” she asked, pointing to his suitcases. “They look heavy—”
Colin quickly rolled the larger suitcase towards her. She arched a brow and stopped in her tracks.
“What?” he asked. “You offered.”
“This suitcase is as big as me,” she retorted. “I’ll help you with the smaller one.”
“You didn’t specify when you offered.”
“Throwing the larger one at me before I’ve even finished my sentence isn’t polite.”
“But if I gave you the smaller one, you’d accuse me of being sexist for assuming you couldn’t handle the bigger one.”
“No, giving me the bigger one is just a dick move. I’m doing you a favor, so you shouldn’t try to take advantage of it.”
She pushed the suitcase towards him.
“You were just trying to give an empty offer so you could say you were being polite,” he countered. “And then didn’t want to follow through when I took your offer of help.”
“Look, you can pull your head out of your rear and apologize,” she said. “And then maybe I’ll help you with the smaller suitcase. Or you can be a dick and carry them both to the ferry.”
She crossed her arms as if to prove her point. Or her stubbornness, rather. He sighed and grabbed both suitcase handles.
“I’d rather just carry them both,” he retorted. “Better than getting a migraine.”
He could sense that she rolled her eyes, but he refused to glance over at her. He walked ahead, trying to look cool and composed. Sure, he could roll two suitcases on a bumpy road for a half hour or so. Better than squabbling with some loud American with an attitude. At least, he was pretty sure she was an American with that accent.
He could hear her shuffling behind him. If she really were mad at him, she would’ve sped-walked past him, he reasoned. She must have been acting more offended than she actually was. He glanced behind him, playing it off as him flipping some hair from his face. Her phone was out, and it looked like she was taking a picture of the scenery. Maybe the wildflowers, or the sea that poked out behind the bed and breakfast they were passing.
Colin felt a smile play at his lips. He wondered why he didn’t see it sooner. If she wanted scenery pictures, she would have gone ahead of him. No, she was definitely trying to get pictures of him. She must have recognized him and was trying to act cool. Maybe she read a lot of fanfiction and thought that was the kind of behavior guys fell for. He almost felt bad. Soon he’d have to set her straight and make her delete the photos.
She was silent the rest of the walk, and Colin didn’t mind. He only glanced back once in a while to make sure she was still behind him. He even gave a few glances at the scenery so that she could “sneakily” take pictures of his side profile.
They arrived at the dock, and Colin glanced around. There was a parking lot filled with shiny cars, most of them four-door family-sized rentals by the looks of it. The ferry wasn’t at the dock, and Colin guessed it crossed already. He glanced at the timetable and his phone.
“Does it only come once an hour?” he asked, reading the timetable again.
“Yeah,” the girl replied.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said, pointing across the water. “It shouldn’t take an hour! I can literally see the island right there!”
“It’s only a ten minute ferry ride,” the girl replied. “But then they have to load and unload, grab a tea, have a break–.”
“Ridiculous,” he said again with a shake of his head. “We have to wait another thirty minutes?”
“Or you could swim,” she suggested.
He gave a small smile and let go of his suitcases.
“Well, in the meantime,” he said, finding a flat surface to sit on. “I guess we can just hang out here.”
She sat down across from him and set down her bag, glancing across the water.
“If you wanted more pictures, the lighting here is good,” Colin continued.
The girl flushed and glanced at him.
“How’d you know I was taking pictures?” she asked.
“It was obvious,” he replied with a shrug. “There’s nothing wrong with it… but still, I don’t think I can let you keep them.”
“The pictures you took,” he explained. “If word gets out that I’m here… well it’d be chaos.”
“Why, are you some kind of fugitive?” she asked.
“Funny,” he chuckled.
“I don’t think you were even in the pictures, so don’t worry,” she replied.
“You don’t have to play dumb,” he said with a sigh. “You aren’t the first girl to take a bunch of pictures of me, and you won’t be the last, but still—.”
“Why would I take pictures of a stranger?” she interrupted, her voice rising.
Colin gave her a bemused smile. It slowly faltered under her gaze.
“I’m… not a stranger,” he said.
“I don’t know you,” she said slowly. “That’s literally the definition of a stranger.”
“Look, just delete the pictures,” he snapped. “This ignorant American act is starting to get old.”
She pulled out her phone and held it in his face.
“Find your face on my phone,” she said flatly. “I dare you.”
He rolled his eyes and scrolled through her gallery. She had taken dozens of pictures in the last hour alone, but he just saw the hotels and bed and breakfasts he passed. He kept scrolling. There were pictures of flowers, of the ocean, of blurry islands…
“Well, I,” he began lamely, faltering.
“I was taking pictures of the scenery,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Weirdo.”
He scrolled through more and saw pictures of sheep, of a rocky beach, an old castle, and a few selfies. As if she knew he was looking, she snatched her phone back with a flush. Colin tried to hide a smile. She was almost cute in those pictures, with shining brown eyes that reflected the sun, tucking her hair behind her ear…
“I guess it was a misunderstanding,” he said with a shrug. “I’m sure you can understand why I need to be cautious though.”
“I don’t know you,” she repeated. “What makes you think I’d know why you need to be cautious?”
“I’m Colin Thomson,” he said slowly.
She gave him a blank look.
“And I’m Amy Kang,” she replied in a mocking tone. “Still don’t know why you’re acting like a weirdo.”
“I’m Colin Thomson,” he repeated.
“You just said that.”
“Arthur,” he continued. “From Arthur.”
“Are you Arthur or Colin?”
“I’m Colin, but I play Arthur,” he said with a deep sigh. “As in the award-winning show about King Arthur.”
“Never seen it.”
Colin felt his cheeks grow warm. Amy looked like she was quickly getting bored of their conversation.
“It’s an internationally-recognized show,” he continued with a shake of his head. “Even Americans know about King Arthur.”
“Sorry, Your Highness, but I guess the world doesn’t revolve around you like you thought,” she retorted, standing up and brushing off her jeans.
He glanced over and saw the ferry approaching. Well, at least the conversation was finished, which was a relief to him. He stood up and brushed off his clothes.
“Afternoon!” a cheerful-looking man greeted, hopping out to tie the ferry. “Waiting long?”
“Too long,” Colin heard Amy mutter, setting her blond hair into a loose ponytail and hopping on board.
The man grabbed the suitcases and set them in the ferry with a friendly smile, but Colin noted the smile was hiding behind an untamed beard. He gave a forced smile and nod.
“Three quid for one-way and five for round trip,” the man said, holding out a hand. “Round trip is good for a week, so I’d recommend that one unless you’re swimming back.”
“I’ll be here longer than a week,” Colin replied. “So I’ll need one-way, I guess.”
He pulled his credit card from his wallet, and the man chuckled.
“Do you see a card reader anywhere?” the man asked. “Cash only, please.”
“I don’t carry cash,” Colin replied with a scoff. “Who doesn’t accept a card in this era?”
“It’s like living in the dark ages, isn’t it, Arthur?” she said sarcastically.
She handed the man a tenner and gave Colin a studious look.
“If I pay for your fare, you’re reimbursing me as soon as you can get cash,” she said.
“Does the island have ATMs?” he asked with a raised brow.
“No, but I know someone who you can Venmo money to, and she’d give you cash in return,” Amy replied. “Plus, it’s a small island, so I can track you down to collect.”
“Looking for an excuse to meet up with me?” Colin asked with a wink.
Her eyes narrowed.
“No, I’m just trying to make sure small business owners get paid, and I don’t have to wait here for another hour while you whine about a lack of technology,” she retorted. “Take it or leave it. Three, two,…”
“Okay, okay,” he said, hopping onto the ferry. “I’ll pay you back later.”
For only three pounds though, you shouldn’t make such a big deal just buying it for me, he thought as he found a seat.
Amy sat on the other side of the boat. Soon, the ferry pushed away from the dock and began gliding across the water. Amy sat on the rail of the ferry, looking like she was one rough wave away from falling overboard. She looked happy though, smiling as the wind tore through her hair, like it was trying to rip off her hair tie. Colin shook his head and turned away from her. He’d have to get Aunt Sophie to give her the ferry money as soon as possible so he wouldn’t have to deal with her again.
Aunt Sophie was waiting on the other side, dressed in navy dungarees and a bright yellow top, sticking out like a strange bird perched on the dock. She waved with a bubblegum pink cast to Colin as he disembarked.
“Well, how about this!” she called, running over and giving him a hug. “Jeff said you were coming, but I just couldn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.”
“I couldn’t believe it either,” Colin replied. “He said you were in the hospital.”
“I just had a little broken arm,” Aunt Sophie replied, showing off her cast. “Not the first broken bone I’ve had, and it won’t be the last.”
She glanced over at the ferry. Amy was chatting with the ferryman.
“Have you two met?” she asked, nodding to her.
“Briefly,” Colin replied flatly.
“Amy!” Aunt Sophie called.
“You didn’t need to come over, Sophie,” Amy said, waving goodbye to the ferryman and walking over.
“Well, this is a wonderful coincidence,” Aunt Sophie replied. “I was here to pick up my nephew Colin, but now I can give you both a ride back.”
“Nephew?” Amy repeated.
“You know her?” Colin asked.
“Amy’s helping at the bed and breakfast,” Aunt Sophie replied. “She’s also going to be here all month. Oh, this’ll be fun.”
It sounded like the opposite of fun to Colin.