Echoes of Scotland Street

Page 29


It didn’t affect him at all!
Thankfully for the first half of Thursday I got a break from Cole. I hoofed it to Old Town in the morning with my sketch pad and set myself up in the back room of the Elephant House Café. With the great view of the castle outside the window, my music playing through my headphones, and my sketch pad and pencil in hand, I drowned out the world for a while.
Until my phone vibrated in my pocket.
Meet me outside the Gallery of Modern Art at 10:30. Cole.
From that point on I was a jittery mess.
And it wasn’t even a date.
*   *   *
Dressing for the nondate with Cole turned out to be a heck of a lot harder than I thought it would be. Over the last few weeks I’d managed to pick up some bargain buys, so my wardrobe wasn’t nearly as pathetic as it used to be, but still . . . how did a girl dress when said girl wanted to look her best without seeming to have tried to look her best?
I finally decided on dark blue skinny jeans tucked into brown suede ankle boots that had a little heel just to give me some height. I wore an oversized yellow sweater because I’d once been told that yellow was one of my best colors. I was hoping that hadn’t been a crock of crap from a well-meaning friend.
The gallery was in Stockbridge, so I jumped on a bus. When I approached the gallery my gaze immediately zeroed in on Cole. He stood near the entrance, laughing into his phone. Watching as he talked with a mystery person, I felt this wild fluttering starting in my chest and a lump forming in the back of my throat. He was wearing a dark blue knit sweater with a shawl collar, faded dark jeans, and worn black engineer boots.
He was seriously tall, which I already knew, but as I looked at him it dawned on me that he was seriously tall and very broad-shouldered. He struck quite an imposing figure.
I was going to look small and silly next to him. I wasn’t going to look like I fit at his side at all.
I stumbled at that thought, feeling my blood heat.
That wasn’t my voice in my head. That was someone else’s and he did not get to win like that.
So, throwing my shoulders back, I strode toward Cole with more confidence than I was feeling, a confidence that grew when his eyes lit up at the sight of me.
He smiled. “I’ve got Hannah on the phone. She wants to know if you fancy coming over for dinner tonight.”
Somewhat stunned at the kind but abrupt offer, I gave a jerky nod. As Cole relayed my “yes” back to his best friend, my mind whirled. Dinner with his best friend and her family? Wasn’t that something you took your girlfriend rather than your friend to?
This whole “thing” was perplexing.
Cole got off the phone. “After you.” He held out an arm, gesturing for me to lead the way inside. Admission was free, so there was none of that awkward nondate fighting over which one of us paid.
Despite my nervousness, I realized as we walked into the exhibit together that there wasn’t an uncomfortable awkwardness. There was awareness (on my part anyway), but that was entirely different.
We stopped in front of the first piece of art.
After a few seconds of looking at it, Cole stared down at me. “Do you like it?”
“No,” I said honestly.
Surprised that he seemed genuinely interested in my opinion, I turned my attention back to the photograph. It was taken from somewhere on Loch Fyne (as detailed in the title) and the artist had used recyclable material to build a cityscape over the loch. “It doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said before. Many times. And in far more creative and meaningful ways. It’s . . .”
“Amateur,” Cole finished. “Agreed.” He shook his head in consternation. “I’ll grant you the construction of the cityscape is well-done, but art in this landscape”—he gestured around the gallery—“should always say something new or at least say something old in an original way.”
We moved on and I was quickly caught up in our shared passion. A lot of the times we agreed, but even when we didn’t Cole listened to why I thought differently and accepted it as though it was my right. Thoughts of Ollie’s bullying opinions intruded, but I forcefully pushed him out of my head.
An hour later we wandered out into the cool day and Cole smiled thoughtfully at me. “I didn’t realize you were so into art. Do you draw, paint, sculpt?”
Still not ready to share that part of me with anyone just yet, I successfully avoided the question by pointing out a café across the street. “I’ve always wanted to eat there. Fancy brunch?”
Cole apparently didn’t think anything of my change of subject and soon we were seated in the café, having coffee and scones brought to us.
“Have you always been into art?” I said.
Cole chewed and swallowed his bite of scone and brushed off his crumb-covered fingers. “Yeah. It used to be mostly comics and cartoons as a kid, but as I got older I got more and more into my art classes. I was influenced a lot by my brother-in-law, Cameron. He’s a graphic designer and he spent a lot of time encouraging me and my art.”
“What about your sister? Your parents?”
Cole smirked, but there was a sadness in the look. “Jo, definitely. She’s supported me since the moment I came screaming into the world. As for my parents, I don’t remember my dad and he’s been out of my life since I was a baby. I wasn’t close to my mum.” He looked down at his scone. “She passed away when I was nineteen.”
Feeling awful for bringing it up, I whispered, “I’m sorry.”
The muscle in his jaw ticked. “Don’t be.”
At the cryptic and quiet, emotion-fueled response, I decided it might be better to change the subject. “Do your tattoos mean anything?”
Cole’s whole body relaxed and when he looked at me it was with a grateful smile. His fingers brushed the tattoo on his neck. “J and C. Jo and me. Jo and Cam. The three of us. Cam has the same tattoo.”
“You guys must be really close.”
“Jo’s the best sister anyone could ever ask for. I’m really proud of her. And Cam . . . I owe him a lot.”
I was pleased for him that he had that in his life. Smiling, I gestured to his wrist. “And the tattoo there? I’ve been trying to read the script for weeks now.”
He laughed and turned his hand over, pulling the sleeve up so I could see the tattoo on the underside of his wrist. He held it up and I leaned across the table to read it, just stopping myself from touching him. As I took in the words, I felt a little dizzy with the rush of familiarity and rightness that rushed over me.