Lachlan was standing by the canned goods when the Rab Chisolm walked in. 'Well, this is it,' He thought, 'She's called the police and he's come to pick me up. Serves me right.'
He had known his cover was blown when Conn had come up to him as he sat behind the black house ruin listening to the American. Bloody dog! When she'd stopped singing and walked out the door, he was well and truly caught. Worse he'd looked back and seen her watching him walking away. She had to know it was him.
He'd spent every waking moment since, and there had been far more waking than sleeping, wondering what would happen next. He'd listened to every car that passed on the road, expecting the police to be knocking on his door any minute. He knew if she were his sister or daughter or...well. He'd want her to call the authorities if she'd found someone lurking behind her house. He just wished that Rab had shown up at his home instead of grabbing him in the village.
For all he'd gone to school with wee Rab Chisolm and he towered over the man even now, he couldn't help but feel intimidated as the Inspector swaggered down the center aisle of Clara Gunn's shop in his uniform with his hat tucked under his arm. Lachlan slumped his shoulders hoping Rab wouldn't notice him. That was unlikely as the racks were no more than five feet tall. He stared hard at the shelf in front of him hoping against hope that he wouldn't get arrested for peeping in the middle Clara's canned goods aisle between the tins of beans and jars of Marmite.
Rab strolled past the cooler and took an Irn Bru before making his way to the counter at the back where Clara waited for him.
"Morning, Rab," She said with her usual welcoming smile. Her brown hair was pulled back with a few loose strands escaping to form a halo around her head. Her jumper looked worn. She'd gone to school with them as well. There weren't many of his childhood friends left on the island, but there were enough that they ran into each other frequently.
"Clara. How are you?" Rab asked pulling his shoulders back in an effort to make himself taller. He'd fancied Clara when they were in school, and acted like he still did never mind that she'd been married for decades to Angus Gunn.
Lachlan turned toward the wall, pretending grave interest in a shelf full of bags of crisps. He continued listening to their conversation.
"You having a quiet spell, now the tourists are gone?" Clara asked.
"Oh, aye. It's nice to have a few week's peace before the winter surfers start coming in."
"They'll be here before you know it."
"Well, I'd better be going," Rab said as his footsteps moved in the direction of the door. Lachlan felt the tension drain out of his shoulders. He risked a glance over his shoulder, and happened to catch the man's eye. Shit.
"Halo, Lachlan." Rab's face looked open and friendly, not at all like Lachlan expected.
He tried his best to act normal, not to let on that he was guilty about anything. He gave a brief nod and mumbled, "Rab."
"Speaking of surfers, will you be having any staying at Eileen's place this winter?"
The tension came back, right between his shoulder blades. "Um...No. Eileen's let to place to an American lass through December. I don't know about after that."
Rab lifted his head and drew in a breath as if he'd just been reminded of something. Lachlan held his breath waiting for the man to remember a report of a crazy old peeping Tom around the cottage. Rab just said, "That's right. I remember hearing something about an American woman staying in the cottage. Is she all by herself, then?"
What was the man getting at? "Aye...alone."
"Best keep an eye on her. Once the surfers get here, they'll be hanging around that beach. Wouldn't want them harassing her." Rab's tone gave away nothing, not a note of irony or suspicion.
"Right. I'll keep an eye out for that. Wouldn't want her feeling uncomfortable."
"Alright, then." Rab tipped his Irn Bru at Lachlan as he put his hat back on.
"Yah." Lachlan gave him another curt nod, and watched him stroll out the door. He couldn't believe it. Was that a warning, or was he just so stressed out after spending the night imagining the worst that he was hearing things. He stood for a few seconds just staring after the man.
She must not have called. There had to be some consequence. Maybe she was saving that for herself. Maybe she'd come to him with her sharp eyes flashing and tell him he was a sad old man and he'd better stay away from the place from now on. Worse, maybe she'd call the leasing agent to complain. Then Eileen would call him in a huff about scaring the poor lass. Christ! He could just imagine that conversation.
But the truth was, he had nothing to say for himself. There was just no excuse for what he'd been doing. Listening to her pour her heart out day after day had been a violation, one she didn't deserve. He felt sick just thinking of it.
He should go and apologize, but that would be acknowledging that he'd been listening. It would be telling her how much of her heart she had unwittingly exposed. He somehow doubted that she would want to know or even think about what he'd heard. Damn.
His knees felt weak when he caught sight of the blackhouse ruin. Since Rab hadn't arrested him, he'd spent the afternoon waiting for the other shoe to drop and dithering over whether he should just knock on the door and apologize or make the rest of his peat deliveries when she wasn't there and pray that he'd never have to face her. Worse, he was afraid that she had just packed up and left for fear of him.
It was that fear and the impatience of not knowing that had him on his feet making his way toward the north pasture. He'd just have a look as he checked on the sheep. He'd only walk by, check for her car. That was when he spotted it.
Nestled on top of a flat stone on the wall of the ruin was a cup, one of the little flowered mugs that Eileen had bought when she'd furnished the house for rent. It was just a little ceramic cup, but after a night and day of worrying, to him it was like the Holy Grail. He stepped closer slowly as if it were some kind of trap. The cup was filled with tea, strong and black, and still steaming.
He couldn't believe it. He crept around the side of the blackhouse to look at the back door of the cottage. It was open just as it had been the day before. He suffered only a moment of hesitation before he picked up the cup and sat just out of sight of the house.
He sipped the tea and waited. After a few minutes, she started to sing. This time it was a modern song that he'd heard on the radio. He didn’t know who sang it. Maybe the lass who was related to that sitar player who was everywhere when he was a lad? He listened to the words about someone hearing a song from "one flight down" and discovering themselves through the music. It was about connection even through distance, about how music can pull us together even when we're strangers.
All the other times he'd listened to her she'd been singing for herself, and it had still touched him. This time, she was singing for him and he felt it like an embrace, like it was her hand he was holding warm in his instead of a mug of tea.
When she finished the song, she sang another and another. He had heard them all before from her, but this time they were new. This time they didn't remind him of Yvonne, or his youth or things and people he'd lost. This time it was only her. Ashleigh. He listened while she ran through her repertoire and the now empty mug grew cold in his hand.