-- by Anne (11.15.10)
A sweet little story for St. Andrew’s Day, the Scottish national holiday celebrated on November 30th, loosely based on the four colors that make up the official tartan of the State of Maine. Each section is comprised of exactly 300 words (as counted by Apple Pages).
Azure Blue is for the Sky ...
Pausing in front of the door of Jessica’s room, George Sutherland checked his cufflinks one last time, adjusted his tie, and knocked.
“Jess?” he called. “May I come in?”
“Yes,” came the reply, “come on in.”
George opened the door and caught his breath as he stepped into the bedroom. Jessica stood in front of the full-length mirror, affixing a pair of gold earrings to her ears, wearing an elegant sheathe of black velvet with long sleeves that followed her every curve right down to her ankles. Her only other accessory was a finely woven tartan shawl of blues and greens and a hint of red, fastened at the shoulder with a gold pin. It was not a pattern that George immediately recognized, despite the fact that he knew most of Scotland’s clan tartans by sight.
“What tartan is that?” he asked.
“The State of Maine’s,” she answered. “It was a gift from Seth.”
A gift from Seth? George thought to himself. Well played, Doctor. It was exactly the sort of gift he himself would have given her, but carried the added message of subtly reminding her of where she belonged. Whether Jessica was aware of these subtexts was an unanswered question; given her persistent blind spot in the matter of Seth’s affections for her, she probably wasn’t. But the message was there all the same.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “It matches your eyes.” It also hid the deep scoop neck he knew this particular dress featured, which was a pity.
Jessica finished adjusting her shawl, stepped over to him, and ran her hands down the lapels of his tuxedo jacket. “You look very handsome yourself,” she said, smiling. “Are you ready to go?”
“Aye,” he said as he bent his head to hers to softly kiss her lips.
Deep Blue is for the Sea ...
The November wind rattled the windows of the foyer of Sutherland Castle as George helped Jessica into her coat.
“That sounds ominous,” she said.
“Just a little wind,” George said confidently as he buttoned his own overcoat. “I’m not worried. The weather forecast said that the storm isn’t due to hit until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest.”
He opened one of the massive front doors of the castle, only to be pushed back by an inrushing gust of wind and a swirling drift of snow. He threw his weight against the door and slammed it shut again.
“Of course, forecasts have been known to be wrong,” he said with a sigh.
George hung up the phone with a sad shake of his head. “Well, that is that,” he said. “All the events in town have been cancelled or postponed - the formal dinner and dance, the concert and, obviously, the fireworks.” He reached across his desk and took Jessica’s hands in his. “Jess, I’m sorry.”
“Whatever for?” she asked. “George, you are a remarkably accomplished man of immense talent, but even you can’t control the weather.”
“Aye, I know, but I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. A chap can’t help but be disappointed - and I didn’t even fly across the Atlantic Ocean to be here for it.”
“Never mind that,” Jessica told him. “I flew across the Atlantic to be with you. How we spend our time together is beside the point.”
George smiled, gave her hands a gentle squeeze, and released them. “Some St. Andrew’s Day this has turned out to be.” He smoothed out the pleats of his kilt absently. “All dressed up, with no place to go.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Jessica said thoughtfully. “What do you suppose Mrs. Gower has in the refrigerator?”
Green is for the Forests ...
“Let’s see,” George said thoughtfully as he opened the refrigerator. “We’ve got green leeks, potatoes, cream and ... ah! We have haddock! We can make Cullen Skink.”
Jessica found one of Mrs. Gower’s aprons and tied it on. “I don’t think I’ve had that before. What is it?”
“A traditional Scottish fish stew,” he said, passing her the ingredients. “Being from Maine, you’ll like it. What else do we have? Leftover vanilla rice pudding - we can make something of that for dessert, if we have some fruit.”
Jessica pushed up the sleeves of her dress. “Where should I start?”
“If you wouldn’t mind getting a pan of vegetable oil heating, and chopping up the leek and potatoes, I’ll rummage around and find some fish stock,” George said.
He soon located Mrs. Gower’s stash of bullion cubes and had one steeping in a bowl of water while Jessica set a skillet on the stove, drizzled in some oil, and set the flame to medium heat. When the oil was hot she added her vegetables, black pepper, and a bay leaf, while George skillfully boned the haddock fillet. Once the fish and stock were added they covered the skillet to let the soup simmer.
“The cream gets added at the end,” George said.
“Did you find any fruit?” Jessica asked, wiping her hands on a dish towel.
“Aye. Apples, pears, and a couple of plums. There’s a recipe for spiced winter fruit that goes perfectly with rice pudding - the only other ingredients we need are sugar, vanilla, and a stick of cinnamon. The recipe calls for brambles, but we can get by without those.”
Jessica looked confused. “Brambles? Like ... thorns?”
“No,” he said, laughing. “Brambles are blackberries. We Scots are a tough people, but not so tough that we eat thorns for dessert.”
... and Red is the Bloodline of the People of Maine
Dinner was marvelous. Cullen Skink served with slices of brown bread made a perfect entree, with the spiced fruit and pudding providing a sweet finish to the meal.
Afterwards George and Jessica settled on the sofa in front of the drawing room fire, contentedly sipping glasses of aged port.
“How long will Mrs. Gower be away?”
“A fortnight,” George said. “She’s on holiday with her niece. And Forbes is off until next week; he’s gone to see his family in Glasgow. We have the place all to ourselves.”
Outside precipitation continued to beat against the windows, hitting the panes with an icy ticking sound. Jessica shivered. “Sounds like the snow has turned to sleet,” she said.
George drew her closer to his side. “It can turn to hail for all I care.” His disappointment at the cancellation of the festivities in Wick was a distant memory, driven far away by Jessica’s immediate, intoxicating nearness. The pressure of her hip against his; the sight of her long, elegant leg revealed by the slit in her skirt; the feel of her heart beating beneath soft, supple flesh swathed in velvet; and her eyes, dark and deep ... His pulse began to race.
He set aside his wine glass and relieved Jessica, unresisting, of hers. He wanted both hands free to caress, to stroke, to feel the luxurious velvet clinging to her body in prelude to removing it.
As he moved in to meld his mouth to her own in a kiss, George slipped the tartan shawl from around Jessica’s shoulders with a smooth, fluid movement and dropped it behind the sofa, out of sight. He didn’t need it in Jessica’s field of vision, where it would only serve as a distraction. Tonight, at least, the only place where she belonged was right here.