Diana stared at her reflection, her mind taking in the beauty and simplicity of her rooms. She'd be staying in them for the next month. She foolishly thought they would bring her back to life. But so far, they yielded nothing but continued heartache. Standing up she turned from the little vanity she had been sitting at and faced the space, as if it were her audience.
“I'm sorry. I’m so sorry for putting such pressure on you.” She realized how foolish she was being, but it didn't matter, sometimes just voicing her thoughts helped her release them. “I promise, for the next…” she turned around to check the small wall calendar by the vanity and glanced at the B & B’s small wall safe where just two days earlier she had stored her few precious pieces of jewelry and her boarding tickets.
“I promise that for the next twenty-eight days, I will NOT try to make this room my hiding place. I will not blame my lack of enjoyment on the confines of this small space. I will not continue with thoughts of my past, nor try to figure out what will happen in my future. From this day on, I will simply… live.” At that declaration Diana turned to check her reflection one last time.
This time she made a point not to see the faint circles under her eyes from months of crying. She ignored the paleness of her skin, from shutting herself away for the past year. And she almost felt pretty in her new spring dress. At that last glance she noticed the gold cross hanging from her neck. The same necklace she had worn a year ago.
He had given it to her for one of their anniversaries. She caressed it, felt the texture, the warmth that it had absorbed from her body and then she yanked it off. Today she would forget. If only for a few hours, she'd forget. After tossing the necklace on the vanity, Diana spun around, grabbed her purse and headed out the door of what had been her cave for the past two days, but no more.
Today she had made plans to visit the ruins of an old castle and take the tour of the neighboring church. This was, after all, the reason she had come to England. She had always wanted to visit and continue work on her family tree. But in the past the funds were never available and the desire not strong enough. Truth was the desire still wasn't really there, but after weeks of phone calls and emails from her family, she knew it was time to get away. And what better way to leave her past behind, then to study the past of others.
The castle and church remains were just a mile away, so rather than risks her life and the other drivers, Diana decided to walk. The day was beautiful but chilly, so she pulled out her light sweater she had neatly folded in her purse. She smiled to herself when she saw locals wearing t-shirts and shorts, so typical. Here she was sporting a sweater while they enjoyed the warm weather.
She couldn't help but giggle out loud when she thought of all the tourists who walked into her small bookstore sweating and fanning themselves, while she was comfortable and loving the cooler weather. Here she was, no longer the local, but instead the tourist adjusting to a different climate.
She continued smiling as she walked down the cobblestone street and saw the small cars zoom past. How different it was here to home. In Texas the smallest vehicles belonged to the teenagers, and those were sports cars with engines that made too much noise and blared loud music. At that moment a small tour van past her. There we go, she thought, that’s more like it. The van carried about eight people; all with maps and cameras in hand. In Texas, that would be a SUV loaded down with so many gadgets and thing recently purchased, and one person.
Before she went on too long with her comparative thoughts she did think of the distance. How far was her local market, her church, her family and friends? Back home a small car would be overworked and needing repair in no time. “Enough!” she whispered to herself. “Enough thinking of home; have fun, relax, think of today, and nothing else.”
She took a deep breath, straightened her sweater and purse and continued down the sidewalk. As her thoughts drifted to the local sites she passed in front of a pub and her stomach growled. How long had it been since she last ate? Was it last night, or the morning before? How is it that she had forgotten? She peeked through the large windowpane of the pub. It looked nice and clean, kind of dark, but from the smells drifting from the doorway they had food, and it smelt divine.
“Okay, you wanted to experience life. So let’s start with food.” She pushed the heavy oak door open and was immediately hit with a dozen smells. All wonderful, ranging from old masonry, hardwood flooring, pungent yeast smells from the old beer and what must be handmade bread, some spices she couldn't put a finger on and in the faint distance she could smell something clean, like bleach perhaps. Whatever it was the smell was welcoming.
Diana took a second to adjust her eyes to the darker light and when she could finally focus a man greeted her. And not just any man, but that man, the one at Ian's pub who one minute was stalking towards her and the next leaving without so much as a word.
He was staring and she felt uncomfortable. Perhaps he was sizing her up. Did she look American, did he figure out she was a tourist because of her sweater and over sized purse. Surely he’d seen enough tourists in this small town to know when one walked in his establishment.
Diana composed herself and asked if they were serving lunch. The man continued to stare at her, but this time his focus was her mouth. What, she thought, is my Texas drawl not understandable? The owner of the B & B had giggled at her overuse of y’all, but she hadn't said y’all, so what was it? She turned her head to see if someone else could help her, but only saw the bartender and he was busy dusting off bottles. She turned her attention back on to the man in front of her and asked if they had a smoking or non-smoking section.
At this he smiled and asked her to follow. She was still feeling uneasy, but at least she was now looking at his back and not his penetrating eyes. Diana caught her breath and nearly stumbled. Penetrating? Why would I think that? With his back towards her she couldn't even conjure up what he looked like. She couldn't even manage a decent description of his eyes. What color were they again? Green, pale green, that's right. But why did she think them penetrating?
At that moment the waiter pulled out a chair and told her it was the best seat in the house. There was sarcasm in his tone, but she chose to ignore it. She asked for a menu or if they had any specials. He focused on her mouth as she spoke and said, “We have a special. I'll bring it out.” And he walked away. Before Diana could call out to him he was behind the bar whispering something to the bartender.
If this kind of service continued she wouldn't be coming back. As she complained under her breath she noticed the table she sat at was in a quiet corner by the large paned window facing the street. She had an excellent view of the church and the small stores that lined the street. The lighting was dim enough that she wasn't showcased in the window, which allowed her to look around without really being notice. Hmmm, maybe he really did give her the best seat in the house.
By the time the waiter came back; she was smiling one of her silly smiles and thanked him for her meal. And how did he know she wanted hot tea? She started to giggle again. Oh course you dimwit, its England, they drink tea, he expects a tourist would want some. Just like she would expect tourist who visited her shop to ask for the closes dude ranch or were all the cowboys where. She was no different than him. Except she smiled at her customers, and he didn't.
As she looked down at her plate she could see from the corner of her eye that he was walking away. No “Do you have everything that you need?” “Can I get you something else?” Nothing, he just laid the plate down and walked away. Okay, she might have judged him poorly with the seating arrangement, but he was still an unpleasant man.
She looked at her plate, oh my, she thought, how many ways can a place serve up potatoes? She pushed her fork along the plate and started to identify each portion. “Let’s see, mashed potatoes, fried potatoes and is that roasted potatoes? Really, where’s the salad? And what’s that?” As she pushed the portions around she came across a pastry of some sort. She had no clue, but decided food was food and she needed some.
Her first bite was of the mashed potatoes and they were delicious. After that she tried the pastry and found it was filled with mushrooms and rice. How much more starch could a plate hold? But it was all so filling and tasted like it was cooked in someone’s home kitchen. She tried the tea before adding any sweeteners. So familiar with sweet ice tea she didn't really know what to expect. It was strong, but not bitter like she had expected.
After only eating 1/3 of the food, Diana was feeling full, she had thought about asking for a to go bag, but thought better of it. She was on vacation and wanted to try out every restaurant, pub and local market. She pushed her plate away, picked up her cup of tea and started to people watch.
She checked her watch, 30-minutes till the next tour of the church. She decided to wait the time out in the pub. She pulled out her guidebook and started planning the next few days. She knew she'd explore the church and castle ruins today, but what about tomorrow? There were some local gardens, old storefronts and a quaint bookstore she was dying to check out.
With pen and paper in hand Diana started to make out an itinerary and never noticed the waiter hovering over her. “You know a guidebook never shows you the good stuff.” Diana jumped and her pen and paper fell to the floor. Grabbing her chest she glared at him and then bent over to retrieve her things. At the same instant he bent over and their heads missed each other by mere inches.
When their hands met over the pen Diana felt a shock and tilted her head to see if he noticed. When she moved, her cheek brushed the scruff of his. He cocked his head so their lips were almost touching. “ We've many specials on the menu, this isn't one of them. But if you'd like I can add it.” The look in his eyes suggested he wouldn't stop at a simple kiss.
Diana jerked back, grabbed the pen from his hand and retrieved the paper and guidebook. “Thanks, I've had plenty.” She blushed and turned her head, trying to busy herself so he wouldn't notice. “So, you planning on visiting the church and ruins?” His tone was filled with sarcasm. “Nothing much to see of the old castle, just a wall or two.” He took her plate, nodded his head to check that she was done and then moved his eyes over her. She wasn't sure if his nod was approval or disappointment.
She tugged her sweater closer to her body and started to put her things back in her bag.“I’m doing work on my family tree.” When she looked up he was walking off with her plate full of food and the kettle he had left for her earlier. She took this as a sign to pay and leave. Such an unpleasant man and what a shame, the pub was so nice and she had hoped to visit it again. Perhaps the bartender would be more pleasant and she could avoid this guy and come back.
She grabbed her things and headed to the bar. “Excuse me.” The bartender turned around and gave her a smile. “How much was lunch?” At first he just stared at her. What did she have something on her face? Why was everyone staring at her? She tilted her head in question and he seemed to start thinking again, “Oh sorry hun, was just admiring the view.”
Diana blushed. “ I've not been here long, so I've not figured out prices. Will this cover it?” She pulled out some money and he put his hand up.
“No charge. It's nice to see a pretty face in here. Brightens the place up." With that he winked and checked her over with his eyes again.
"The food was excellent. I'd like to pay you."
“Well, no need to pay. Just make sure you come back, and soon. We've not had something as pretty as you in here for ages.”
Her blush deepened. “I can see you and the waiter don’t share the same charm.” She giggled and was rewarded with a wink and smile.
“No, Alex can be a bear. But in truth you saw his charming side. He doesn't usually serve the guest. Guess he took a fancy to you.”
“I have a hard time believing that. He seemed quite put out with me. Not very pleasant for a waiter.” She was ashamed she had said anything. It wasn't like her to voice her negative opinions like that. But the bartender smiled,
“My name's Aiden.” He dried off his hand on his apron and stuck it out for her to shake. As she took it he finished, “The unpleasant man, Alex, well, he’s the owner.”
She pulled her hand back from the handshake and blushed again. Aiden smiled, “Don't worry, he’s not here all the time. He’s usually off managing one of his other businesses. Just stopped in today to check on supplies and see if I needed anything. Come back tonight and we'll talk some more. I've a feeling we'll get along just fine.” At that he winked and turned around to continue his cleaning.
Outside the pub Diana took a second to recoup. Okay so the bartender was nice and very flirty. Which was always fun. And if what he said was true she didn't have to encounter the unpleasant owner again. Yes, she would definitely come back, now off to do the touristy thing. She didn't care what Alex said, ruins or not, she was excited to see the place her ancestors came from.
As she walked along the cobble stoned streets, Diana took in all the sites. The small town had a lot to offer. Every window had a beautiful collection of flowers or old pots. The storefronts were loaded down with local items and the people she passed seemed so pleasant. The day started rocky but she knew it would only get better.