A Welcome Distraction
Could there be a way for Charlotte to attain the life she wanted – with or without the piper on the beach?
There was a man on the beach. He was wearing a kilt. Charlotte rubbed her eyes and put on her glasses. Surely, she must be still dreaming? But no. There he was.
As she watched in disbelief, he began playing bagpipes. The music drifted over to her balcony. It was both haunting and stirring. It made her want to race across the sand, run through the waves.
Then a jarring false note.
Silence. Before he began again.
After watching several renditions of Ed Sheeran’s Perfection, she padded out to the kitchen to make coffee. Returning with binoculars in her spare hand, only to find the beach was now empty.
It was six o’clock on Sunday morning. Day One of her holiday.
Did I dream him? she wondered, sipping her coffee. Tall, athletic and, from this distance, very easy on the eyes. He could’ve come straight from a video clip or a movie trailer.
After breakfast she headed to the beach. For a walk, she told herself. But of course it was in quest of the mystery man in the kilt.
On the beach there was a retired couple, a young mother with twin boys whose football kept going into the ocean, and a man who looked around Charlotte’s age. He wasn’t wearing a kilt.
She smiled to herself as she walked along the shoreline. Was I being optimistic, she thought, or just crazy? There was a cliff up ahead. She’d walk to the rocks at its base and sit as far out as she dared, watching the ocean. She’d come to this beach to re-think her life, not look for temptation.
The rocks proved to be quite slippery, covered in something green. She nearly lost her footing several times. But she kept going, wanting to feel almost as though she was part of the ocean. Balancing herself, she sat down on the flattest-looking rock. It felt hard and bony and she wished she’d brought a cushion.
But as she breathed in the refreshing salty spray, the strong breeze against her face, the cobwebs of insecurity disappeared, leaving her feeling energised and very awake.
“I might lose my job to a robot,” she called out to a seagull flying overhead. “Are you OK?”
At the sound of his voice, she started violently, sliding from the rock. Two strong arms lifted her and helped her back into a sitting position, just as a rogue wave washed over their legs.
“A fisherman was washed off these rocks last week,” he said. “So I was just coming to warn you. And –” He stopped, unsure how to proceed. “And you found a woman talking to seagulls,” she finished for him.
His face relaxed into a smile. Hehaskindeyes, she thought. They were blue with grey flecks. Ocean eyes. “Yes,” he said. “Mind if I join you?” “Even though it’s a dangerous place to sit?” she couldn’t help saying.
“You might need rescuing,” he said, sitting down on an adjacent rock. “Or maybe it’ll be me who needs rescuing.”
She hadn’t expected him to say that. Was he flirting?
“You don’t look like someone who needs rescuing,” she said. “Not very often anyway.”
He sighed. “Don’t you believe it.” As she turned to face him, the breeze blew her hair across her face.
“What’s the problem?” she asked. “My brother’s asked me to play bagpipes at his wedding next Saturday. Even worse, he’s asked me to –”
“To wear a kilt,” she finished for him.
She tried not to laugh at his expression of surprise at her apparent intuition.
“It’s going to be a beach wedding,” he explained. “At sunrise. So that’s why –” He trailed off.
“Hmm. That’s going to be a challenge for you,” she agreed. “But I think losing my job to a robot would be worse.”
“I’d love nothing better than for a robot to fill in for me,” he said. “Can they play bagpipes and wear a kilt?”
She laughed. “It wouldn’t surprise me.” At the sight of a huge roll of water, he grabbed her hand.
“We need to get out of here before that wave crashes over us,” he said.
Her adrenalin skyrocketing, Charlotte let herself be led back across the rocks. Life suddenly felt surreal.
“I didn’t realise how treacherous it was out there,” she said as they reached the sand. Several huge waves had now crashed over the flat, bony rock where she’d been sitting. So quiet and then tumultuous. Just like her life.
“You wouldn’t be the first to be lost out there,” he said. “I shouldn’t have dawdled when I knew the danger.”
A seagull landed on the wet sand at the water’s edge. It regarded them quizzically.
She grasped his hand in hers.
“Thanks for rescuing me,” she said. “I’m Charlotte.”
He pressed their hands together.
“And I’m Alistair.”
Before he could say anything else, his phone rang. He walked to the water’s edge to take the call, leaving Charlotte wishing it had been a male voice and not a female one that she’d overheard.
“I’m summoned,” he said, giving her a lopsided smile on his return.
She simply nodded. As he walked up the path to the top of the cliffs, she practised her breathing exercises. Doing her best not to follow him with her eyes. And failing.
“I was just coming to warn you. And–” “And you found a woman talking to seagulls,” she said
When she went to bed that night, she set her alarm for half past five. Foranearlywalkalongthebeach, she told herself. Smiling at the hopeless
self-deception. Of course, she wanted to see him again. Despite there being a female who could summon him. After all, he wasn’t wearing a ring, was he?
Fifteen minutes later as she sat on her balcony sipping coffee, she heard the bagpipes. She could just make out the figure heading in her direction across the sand. Was he wearing the kilt? She couldn’t see clearly enough to be sure. But she’d remembered to have her binoculars handy this time.
Yes, he was wearing the green kilt. I could get used to that, she thought. And he was on his own again.
Slipping into denim shorts and a tight black sweater, she headed to the beach.
I’m on holidays, she told herself. Trying to quieten that inner voice that felt embarrassed by the binoculars, she waved as he approached.
“You did a better job of it today,” she told him cheerfully.
That lopsided grin.
“Playing the bagpipes? Or do you mean wearing the kilt?”
It was her turn to smile.
“Both.” It was the truth.
He settled himself on the sand near her, theatrically covering his knees with the kilt. She couldn’t help laughing.
“What do you do when you’re not serenading seagulls?” she asked.
“My alter ego owns a bookshop called The Avid Reader.” He pointed towards the top of the cliffs. “There’s a whole row of shops and cafes up there, making the most of that view. You can just about make them out from down here. The bookshop is the last one on the right.” “I’m envious.”
“Why? What do you do?”
“I read audiobooks for a publisher,” she said. “But they’re considering using an AI voice instead of me.” He shuddered. “That’s crazy.”
“What will you do if you lose your job?” he asked.
“That’s what I’m trying to work out.I always think better at the beach.”
“So, you’re on holiday?”
“Two weeks to sort out my life.”
“That would make a pretty good book title,” he said reflectively. “I reckon I could sell a book like that.”
“Maybe I should write one? If I actually manage to sort things out.”
His eyes met hers, suddenly serious. “Don’t underestimate yourself,” he said. “Maybe this is your chance to rethink things? To work out what you really want in life.”
She watched another seagull land on the firm, wet sand in front of them. Soon it was joined by several more.
“I can’t afford what I really want. Or I’d be living here, not holidaying.”
“Is it out of the question?”
“On my budget, it is.”
He groaned as his phone alarm sounded. “Time to open my bookshop.”
For the following two days, she didn’t see him. It gave her time to remind herself that there was a woman who could summon him.
On Thursday morning when he still hadn’t appeared, she decided to check out that row of shops on top of the cliffs. Just like any other tourist, she told herself. Knowing the real reason.
The first was an outdoor café. She couldn’t walk past the alluring aroma of coffee. And it gave her a chance to collect her thoughts.
She was admiring the stretch of beach when she noticed the figure on the sand. Would she gulp her coffee and head down to the beach?
As she watched him, undecided, a young woman came into view with two youngsters who threw themselves at him.
Charlotte’s heart dipped. It was time to face facts. Then the younger, a little girl of around three years old, insisted on sitting on his shoulders.
It was a reality check Charlotte couldn’t ignore.
As she sipped her coffee thoughtfully, she noticed someone had left a local newspaper on an adjoining table. Retrieving and opening it, she found the employment ads. Nothing for an actress who read audio books.
But she did find something interesting. A grammar school in a nearby town was advertising a live-in position for a drama teacher. It was a thirty-five-minute drive from here.
She felt tempted to apply. Not because of Alistair, but because she couldn’t live under the constant threat of losing her job to a robot. And she’d always pined to live nearer the ocean.
She spent the afternoon preparing a convincing application, and sent it off.
On Friday she decided to check out the town where the grammar school was located. As she drove along the lanes, the hillsides dotted with cows, farmhouses nestled among the fields, she could picture herself feeling happy living here. Her apartment overlooking a busy road seemed dull by comparison.
Her job with the publisher didn’t have a future. And she felt ready for a complete change of scene. There was really nothing to hold her back except for her own inertia.
Saturday morning dawned and she settled on her balcony with coffee and toast. The first light cast an apricot sheen on the ocean and the sky.
When she noticed a small group of people gathering on the beach, she realised with surprise that she’d almost forgotten about the kilted piper.
Would she walk down to the beach to watch the wedding ceremony? A few early risers had gathered as onlookers. There was something magnetic about a beach wedding.
But no, pride told her to stay where she was. Just to enjoy the spectacle from a distance. His rendition of Ed Sheeran’s song was flawless – as was his wearing of the kilt. Yes, the binoculars came in handy. Week one of her holiday had certainly been memorable.
When the party on the beach had finally dispersed, she set off to walk to the cliff top café and found a seat in the outside area. On the way, she bought the newspaper.
She was immersed in reading the job vacancies when a voice interrupted her. “Mind if I join you?”
What was Alistair doing here? Shouldn’t he still be at the wedding reception? She looked up. He was wearing the kilt.
“I thought you were at the wedding?” she said. “Shouldn’t you be making a speech or dancing a waltz?”
He shook his head. There was that lopsided smile again.
“The happy couple are already on their way to the airport.”
“Really? Where are they going for their honeymoon?”
“Lucky them.” She’d always longed to have a holiday in Italy.
“I guess we make our own luck?” he said, raising an eyebrow.
She sipped her coffee silently. He was right, of course.
He noticed her newspaper.
“Found any jobs worth applying for?” “Just the one so far. It’s for a live-in drama teacher.”
“There are all kinds of live-in positions,” he said. “Maybe broaden your search? If you’re really serious about moving to the beach, it might be worth compromising. Thinking outside the box, you know.”
“A friend of mine has three jobs,” he continued. “He’s a research assistant to an academic one day a week, collects specimens for a laboratory on two other days, and helps out in the bookshop for me on weekends.”
Her eyes met his. “I hadn’t thought about getting several part-time jobs. That’s not a bad idea.”
“Speaking of work, I’ll have to head off. I’ve lined up an author event this afternoon at the shop. It’s at two o’clock. If you’re still around, you might find it interesting.”
She watched him leave before ordering a second coffee. Half an hour later, she’d circled five adverts for part-time jobs including one as a live-in companion for an elderly lady who lived on the beach front.
Waves, sailing boats, cottages hugging the coast line. She’ d love to call this place home
Alistair was right. If she set her sights impossibly high, looking for an ideal job, then moving to the beach would continue to elude her.
Would she go to listen to the author talk? Yes, it’d be interesting. And she loved exploring bookshops.
Beyond the café, the view stretched in both directions. The waves breaking at the water’s edge, sailing boats, cottages hugging the coastline, rocky outcrops. She’d love to call this place home.
Not because of a lovely man in a kilt who was quite probably not available. He’d been the icing on the cake this week, piquing her interest and encouraging her to take her own needs more seriously. Helping her see her present situation in a new perspective.
She stayed at the café absorbing the views, eating a Caesar salad, and checking online for other job opportunities locally.
Two o’clock saw her at The Avid Reader. By a nice coincidence, she knew of the author, having recorded one of her earlier novels in the studio.
She stayed behind to introduce herself once the last copy had been signed for customers.
“You read audiobooks?” the novelist said. “Do you freelance? I’ve got some writer friends who self-publish and want to go down that route.”
Charlotte passed on her contact details, her mind buzzing with possibilities. Maybe this change really could happen sooner rather than later? She felt a momentum developing, one thing leading seamlessly to the next.
She looked around for Alistair, to let him know. He was in the children’s area, sitting on a huge blue beanbag with the little girl from the beach. She looked adorable in her puffy cream satin flower girl dress, a headband of flowers in her long blonde hair. As Charlotte approached, they both looked up.
His arms were around her and she was nestling against him. Charlotte could enjoy the sight. Moving here was about something much more basic than admiring a man in a kilt. It was about pursuing what she wanted in life.
Alistair’s friendship was something she knew she’d value, and that would be one of the positives of living here. But it was primarily for herself that she needed to make these changes.
“What are you two reading?” she asked cheerfully.
The little girl held up TheTaleof SquirrelNutkin.
“Uncle Ali is reading me my favourite story,” she said.
At her words, Charlotte’s heart inexplicably soared. Maybe something more than friendship was on the horizon?
“I’m minding Ava and her brother for the next fortnight,” he explained.
“You know what? That’s one of my favourite stories too,” Charlotte said, smiling. “Is there any room on that beanbag for me?”