Hello! I’m just posting another snippet from my middle-grade novel, The Rain Catcher, which I hope to publish sometime this century! It’s about an American teenager, Katie, visiting her estranged mother in Scotland for the summer. The day after she arrives, her mom and aunt whisk her away on a bizarre road trip to the Highlands… If you’d like to catch up on the previous snippets, just click on The Rain Catcher under “Categories” in the right-hand column. Thanks!
I must have fallen asleep because when I opened my eyes, we were parking in front of a building with a bright orange sign that read, “Have a Cuppa!” Then in smaller letters: “Hot filled rolls, white coffee, tea, and biscuits!”
“What time is it?” I stretched and tried to swallow, but my mouth felt like sawdust.
“Time for a cup of tea,” Aunt Claire said, opening her door. The wind blasted the car, and she nearly fell back into her seat. “Bloody hell!”
Mom was already out of the car and into the cafe by the time my aunt and I shuffled through the doors. She’d found us a table, and we sat down, suddenly boiling hot. I undid my layers and wiped the sweat off my forehead.
“They have the heat a bit high!” Aunt Claire exclaimed. “It’s like a sauna in here!”
A lady in a yellow cardigan appeared at our table. “Hullo,” she wheezed, obviously a heavy smoker. “What would you like today?”
Aunt Claire ordered a “fried egg roll,” Mom got a “sausage roll,” and I stared at the little menu, not sure what any of it meant.
“Uh… what’s a ‘toastie’? Is that like a grilled cheese?”
The waitress stared at me.
“She’s American,” Mom said, scrunching her nose in my direction.
The waitress raised her eyebrows. “Ooh. That explains it.” She leaned down, speaking loudly in case my ears didn’t work properly: “It’s toasted bread with cheese melted on the inside.” She motioned with her hands, laying one on top of the other, apparently showing me how sandwiches work.
“Yes, I figured that–”
“OR…” She didn’t like being interrupted. “You can get cheese and tomaaahtoes…” She winked at Mom, as if to say, “See these Americans? You’ve got to watch them like hawks.” Mom nodded and smiled sagely.
“I’ll just take a sausage roll,” I mumbled. “And a water.”
“A water? You mean, like, Perrier?” The waitress sneered at me. “Would you like ice cubes in that as well, Madame?”
I sensed that I was supposed to say no, that apparently ordering plain iced water in a Scottish café was not done. “Um…on second thought, just bring me a Coke, please.”
The waitress rolled her eyes and shuffled off to fill our order. Aunt Claire stared at the “No smoking” sign on the wall. At least, I think she was – she still had her sunglasses on. She kept them on throughout our tea break, almost as if she didn’t want anyone to recognize her. Mom kept twiddling her thumbs and glancing out the window behind her.
As soon as I’d taken my last bite, we were back on the road; wasn’t this supposed to be a relaxing sightseeing trip?
Aunt Claire lit up a cigarette and cracked her window.
“Oh, don’t, Claire,” Mom said, waving her hand in front of her face. “It’s cancergenic.”
“I need a ciggie for my nerves,” Aunt Claire hissed.
“What’s wrong?” I piped up from the back. “Why are you nervous?”
Aunt Claire didn’t reply, just heaved on her cigarette and held the smoke in for longer than was safe for any human being. Then she hissed it out between a tiny hole in her teeth, as though savoring the burning smoke feeling.
“Really, Claire!” Mom tutted and coughed. “I don’t know how you can concentrate with all that smoke!”
“Well, who’s driving? Me or you?”
We passed a sign for Dumbarton, and I zonked out again. When I woke up, we were driving past a lake, which sparkled bright blue when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds.
“Where are we?” I asked. Mom had her eyes closed but wasn’t asleep; she was humming to herself, sort of like she was in a trance.
“Loch Lomond,” Aunt Claire called over her shoulder. She looked more awake now, and was actually smiling, glancing every now and then at the lake. “Gorgeous, isn’t it? You can see why they wrote a song about it.”
Aunt Claire stared at me in the rear view mirror as though I was a complete idiot. “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond, of course! Don’t they teach you anything in those American schools?”
I smirked. “Okay, what’s our national anthem?”
“The Star Spangled Banner. Any dunce knows that!”
Maybe my aunt was right about the education system in North Carolina!
The two-lane highway surrounded by trees reminded me of being on the Blue Ridge Parkway with Dad. He has a friend, Jeb, who lives across the border in Virginia, and every so often we’ll visit him. Jeb lets us feed the cows and fish in his pond. He has a mad cocker spaniel who nips the cows’ ankles and yaps at anything that moves.
Suddenly, a truck zipped around the bend in front of us, making the car shake.
“Bloody hell!” Aunt Claire swerved left, too close to the rocky roadside, and there was a horrible scraping sound.
“What was that?” Mom jerked out of her trance.
“Hopefully nothing,” my aunt replied. But now the road felt lumpy, and it was obvious we had a flat tire. We poked along until Aunt Claire spotted a gravel pull-off and parked in a cloud of dust.
Aunt Claire jumped out and ran to the back of the car to inspect the damage. She gave a wail and kicked the tire with her boot. Then Mom and I got out. The wheel was flatter than an iron skillet, and the hubcab was twisted like a crushed Coke can.
“Wow! I’ve never seen a tire so flat,” I said, shaking my head. “You have a spare?”
“Of course I have a spare! I’m not a complete idiot!” Aunt Claire spat.
“We’ll handle it, Katy. Why don’t you go over there?” Mom pointed across the road at some cows.
“And do what?”
“And look at the beautiful Scottish wildlife!” Aunt Claire yelled. “Now, get out of here so we can fix this tire!”
“But do you know how to change a tire? Dad showed me—”
“Go on, Katy.” Mom waved her hands at me as though I was a wasp buzzing around her head..
I backed up. “Fine. I guess you don’t need my help.” Never mind that Dad had showed me how to change not only tires but also the oil in his truck. I was pretty sure my mom and aunt had never changed a tire in their lives.
I crossed the street and stood in front of the wire fence, watching orange shaggy cows with gigantic horns and pink wet noses. They were kind of cute, I had to admit. I pulled a handful of grass out of the earth and held it up for the cows. A smallish one trotted over and sniffed it before huffing and sauntering away again. I laughed.
“Sorry, I don’t have any treats!”
I turned around to see Mom and Aunt Claire leaning over the trunk of the car with their “bums” sticking up in the air, trying to pull out the spare tire. Did they even know what a jack was? They could figure it out for themselves.
Raindrops began to fall, hitting the back of my neck and making me shiver. Just what I needed. I pulled my jacket collar up and folded my arms for warmth. The cows huddled together. Luckily for them, they had their thick coats!
Finally, after what seemed like an hour, Mom shouted, “Okay, you can come back now.”
“Gee, thanks!” My knees were stiff with the cold, and I couldn’t stop shivering.
Back in the car, Mom waved a smoking leaf-thing around.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Sage. That dead cat in the boot is a bit pongy.” Aunt Claire started the engine.
“You still didn’t bury it?” I couldn’t believe we’d been stranded for an hour in the countryside and they hadn’t buried the dead cat.
“When was I supposed to bury it, smarty pants?” My aunt spat. “Before or after we struggled with nuts and bolts and a rusty jack? Before or after I ruined my nails?”
“Not my fault,” I said. “You didn’t want my help.”
“You know how to change a tire?” Mom asked, turning around in her seat to look at me properly.
“Of course. Dad showed me how. I tried to tell you before you shooed me across the road to look at cows for an hour.”
Mom and Aunt Claire looked at each other.
“Let’s just get out of here.” My aunt pushed up her sleeves and slammed on the gas, spinning the tires in the gravel as we hurtled back onto the road.
“Don’t get another flat,” I warned her.
Aunt Claire glared at me, and Mom covered her mouth with her hand to hide the smile.