A Circle of Crows – Kelsey Kingsley

I am literally living the dream right now,” I said into the phone, tipping my head back to gaze up at a dark, gloomy, Scottish sky. I had to say it. It was the type of statement a woman in my position was supposed to say, except this wasn’t the dream. It wasn’t even close. The dream was to traipse this countryside with my husband, to make love on the bank of a remote lake, and kiss in the dark corners of every pub Scotland has to offer, the way newlyweds do. The dream was never to do it alone, or to find my fiancé’s dick buried between the legs of his best man’s wife. A lot of dreams were shattered that day. “See?” Rosie said, using a voice too heavily coated with encouragement and positivity. “Didn’t I tell you that you’d still have a good time?” “Yeah, you did.” She had said I would, very insistently, in fact, and I had eventually believed it. But now that I was here, in the adorably quaint little town of Fort Crow, Scotland, I couldn’t confidently say that I was having a good time at all. Even though I could now say I had done everything I had always wanted to do, and seen everything I had always wanted to see, I was still never supposed to do or see any of it alone. “But?” I sighed, dropping my gaze to the cobblestone road beneath my feet. “I wish you could’ve come,” I said, repeating the same sentiment I’d had on a loop before embarking on what should have been the adventure of a lifetime. “I know, Gracie, and if I didn’t have to do this mom thing, I would’ve.

” I sniffed a small, sorrowful laugh. “We could’ve gotten a ticket for TJ, too, you know.” Rosie scoffed. “Uh, excuse me. There is no way I’d ever go to Scotland while being saddled with my sixteen-year-old pain in the ass.” “Come on,” I groaned, rolling my eyes, as I turned a corner toward a busier part of town. “It would have been good for him.” “Oh, absolutely! But you know who it wouldn’t have been good for?” “Who?” I asked, feeling my smile building and knowing exactly what she was going to say. “Me!” she exclaimed. “How the hell could I find some hot, kilted guy to have a one-night stand with, if I also had my kid to worry about?” My laugh rang loud and clear above the bustling street of restaurants, shops, and pubs. Flickering lanterns lit my way toward the corner, where I’d find the inn I had called home for the past week and a half, and I could hardly wait for my head to hit the pillow. It had been a long, exhausting trip, full of tour groups, a seemingly never-ending amount of walking, and a little more shopping than my credit card could afford. Now, with my flight scheduled for bright and early the next morning, I was more than ready for a good night’s sleep. “That’s true,” I agreed. “He definitely would’ve cock-blocked you.

” “Yeah, no kidding. I swear he isn’t happy unless he knows I’m miserable.” I smiled fondly at the thought of my only nephew, who recently turned sixteen and wore it well. His attitude filled even the biggest room, and he was slowly driving us all toward insanity with his disinterest in everything other than girls and video games. Yet I adored that boy, hormones and all, and I couldn’t wait to see him again. “You know that’s not true,” I insisted, still laughing and shaking my head. “Well, then you go ahead and tell him that his mom needs to get laid, okay? Because if he ruins another one of my dates, I’m gonna have to kill him.” “Oh, stop. It’s not that bad.” “Gracie,” Rosie drawled dryly. “It’s been five years, and that was with Tommy.” My lips turned downward with sympathy at the mention of her ex-husband. It had been an amicable divorce, but TJ hadn’t taken it well, as was expected. Even after all these years had passed and his dad had gotten remarried, TJ was still guarding his mother with teenaged threats and murderous glares at any man who dared to look her way. “I’m gonna buy you a dildo for your birthday,” I teased, before clapping a hand over my mouth at the shocked expressions I received from a few wandering locals.

“You really think I don’t have one already?” “Oh, God,” I groaned, laughing. “Because I do. Like, I’m talking about a whole arsenal.” “I’m so happy for you,” I muttered, tittering with giggles as I wandered past the large, front window of a dimly lit pub. “Don’t be! I need flesh, not rubber!” There was a witty quip dangling at the tip of my tongue, as I caught a smoldering gaze burning a hole through the glass. A pair of emerald green eyes shouldn’t have been allowed to look so seductive, and no man should have been permitted to look so dangerously good. “Gracie? You there?” I hadn’t realized that I’d been stopped in my tracks until my sister’s voice sliced through the miles separating us. “What? Sorry,” I muttered absentmindedly, smiling at the stranger in the pub window. “I was just saying that toys can’t replace—” “Rosalynn,” I hissed, cutting her off with her full name. “I wish you could see this guy right now. He’s maybe the hottest thing I’ve ever seen in person.” “Oh, shit! Is he wearing a kilt?” “How am I supposed to know? I can’t even see the lower half of his body,” I whispered loudly, blushing as I offered him a little wave. He waved back, grinning broadly and showing off a set of perfectly straight teeth. “Oh, my God, I bet he smells so good.” “Go find out! Where is he?” “In this pub.

And oh, Lord, he has the most beautiful green eyes I’ve ever seen. But, fucking hell, my flight is in the morning and I— “ “Oh, no, no. Gracie. You need this. You deserve it. Go have a drink with a hot Scot, maybe make out a little, and then, go back to the hotel. You gotta do something to forget you ever knew Matt.” The mention of his name was enough to pummel my gut with nausea, and images of him screwing Alison clouded the view of the unreasonably attractive man in the window. No one would describe me as a daring woman. I never took risks and I didn’t kiss strangers. But that was before the man I had loved, the man who I had promised my heart and soul to, stole away my chance of comfort and security, when he and his best friend’s wife decided to destroy both of their relationships. He wasn’t sad about it. He hadn’t cried or yelled when I kicked him out of our house. So, why was I now wasting a trip on my grief? I was free, and I was going home tomorrow. Those green eyes were full of promises for a good time, and why shouldn’t I jump at the chance to be happy? “I’m going in,” I told my sister in a rush, holding up a finger to the stranger.

He grinned in reply and patted the seat beside him. “I’ll call tomorrow morning before I get on the plane.” “Yes!” Rose cheered. “Go get some Scottish dick.” Snorting, I reached for the handle of the door and swung it open to be hit with the cacophony of laughter and drunken singing. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” I shouted over the racket, making my way toward the table by the window, where I found my green-eyed stranger waiting with a smile so warm and welcoming, it almost made risk taking seem worth it. “See you soon!” Rosie replied. “And be safe!” “Don’t worry,” I said, sliding onto the chair beside him to find that he did, in fact, smell good. Like scotch and leather. “I will.” CHAPTER ONE ROSIE When God invented teenagers, He clearly did so with the intent of them being a test of patience and wills for the adults forced to deal with them. So, at the very moment I pulled out of the driveway to go and pick up my own test of patience from his father’s house, I said a silent prayer to the Almighty, that my son would be in one of his good moods today. Just the thought of sitting in a car with him for an hour to the airport, while he complained and reminded me of everything I did wrong in my life, was almost enough to make me call my sister and tell her to find someone else to give her a ride home. Drumming my fingers on the steering wheel to the tune of Collective Soul’s “December,” I reminisced on the days when my son actually liked me, days when I could more easily tolerate him. It felt like an eternity ago, while simultaneously feeling like it was just yesterday.

What hurt the most though, was how I could never think of exactly where Tom and I had gone wrong. We had always been great parents, even when we weren’t a great couple. We were fair and honest, always respecting him and his freedom to be an individual. We were also cool, or at least I thought we were. But now, I wondered if there really was such thing as a cool parent, or if that’s just a mythical creature we all strive to become, all while secretly knowing it can never be. Simply because it just doesn’t exist. Like unicorns and men who don’t lie. Even TJ was already lying. Every little white lie he told was another weed, and before I know it, our entire lives will be full of their parasitic overgrowth and all the flowers that I’ve so meticulously planted with love and care will die. “Wow, that’s grim,” I muttered aloud, shaking my head and taking a deep breath. My mood was foul. I needed to cheer up before I was the one to sour the car ride to the airport. But it wouldn’t be easy. Not when I had just gotten into an argument with him over the phone, but I had to try. For both of us.

Pulling up to the house, I found TJ standing on the porch, his head bowed and covered with a hood. His arms were crossed, his stance was wide, and there was something about it that clearly read intimidation and standoffishness. I couldn’t help but feel like Tom and I were to blame for him being so mean. “TJ!” I heard Tom call from the driveway, where he was busy washing his car. “Mom is here!” “Yeah, thanks, Dad. I’m not blind,” my son muttered, as I got out of the car and approached my ex-husband. As I came to stand beside him, he kissed my cheek. “How’s it going, Rosie?” “I should be asking you that,” I said, bumping my hip against his. “Are we dealing with Jekyll or Hyde today?” “Oh, definitely Hyde,” he replied with sarcastic cheer. “I don’t envy you, driving to the airport with him right now …” Tom blew out a whistle, shaking his head. “You’re a Saint, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.” “Well, I’m just hoping that he’ll perk up when we get Gracie. He’s never in a bad mood for her,” I muttered, completely unashamed of the envy toward my little sister. “She’s always had a way with him,” Tom offered gently. “Yeah, I really can’t be too mad about it.

They’re cute together,” I said, before wrapping an arm around his waist in a quick side hug. “I’ll see you in a few days.” “Okay. Give Grace a hug for me.” TJ was already in the car as I headed back down the driveway to the curb. His big, noise cancelling headphones were already fixed over his ears, and while I should’ve been hurt that he would rather listen to his music than spend time with me, I wasn’t. Not even in the slightest. “Well, at least we won’t be fighting,” I muttered, and got in. *** “TJ, it’s not my fault you didn’t charge your phone before we left.” “It’s your fault that you don’t keep a charger in your car,” he fired back angrily. “Like a normal person.” “It doesn’t make me abnormal to not keep one in the car,” I retorted, while wondering if maybe he was right. As I pulled up to a red light, I glanced at my phone for the fiftieth time since embarking on our journey. Still no text from Gracie. Throwing it back into the center console, I thrust a hand into my hair and sighed, turning my head to look out the window.

“I can’t believe she hasn’t texted me yet,” I muttered mostly to myself. “Aunt GiGi can handle herself,” TJ replied, without even a hint of sass. He was completely sincere, and completely right. But while my little sister was very capable of handling herself, she was also not the type to leave you hanging when she said she’d be in touch. “She told me last night she’d call in the morning,” I said to him, before quickly doing the math in my head. “That should’ve been like, six and a half hours ago.” “She’s a big girl, Mom,” he groaned, rolling his eyes and leaning his head against the window. “Stop being such a fucking psycho.” “Don’t you—” I caught myself before I engaged. He had thrown that bait out into the water, wanting me to bite, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. So, we drove the rest of the way without another word spoken, while my music played and my son scowled out the window. He would never admit to it, but as Vampire Weekend’s “Harmony Hall” played loudly through the speakers, he tapped his fingers soundlessly against the window ledge. It made me smile a little, to know he didn’t completely despise something I loved, and that feeling felt wonderfully close to hope. After paying for a spot in the airport’s parking lot, we entered the terminal. I had hoped to see Gracie there, waiting for us with an explanation for her lack of communication.

But the place was nearly empty and my heart sank, weighed down by another bout of worry. “Excuse me?” I asked the first person I spotted who looked like they might know what they were talking about. “Yes?” the security guard replied, regarding both my son and me with a nod. “Has the flight from Scotland arrived yet?” I asked, pulling out my phone to find the exact number of my sister’s flight, only to discover it wasn’t necessary. He pointed to a sign listing the flights and arrival times. “The next incoming flight from Scotland was delayed. I heard they had some pretty nasty storms over there earlier. But the plane should be arriving in about an hour or so.” Breathing a sigh of relief, I nodded and tucked my phone away. “Thank you so much.” “Anything else I can do for you?” “No,” I replied, smiling gratefully. “We’re fine, thank you.” I reached up to place a hand against TJ’s shoulder and steered him toward a row of seats. He huffed an aggravated sigh, as he dropped heavily into one of the plastic chairs and crossed his arms. “Do you want to use my phone?” I asked, offering it to him.

“You can play some games or—” “No,” he grumbled. “If you wanted to listen to your music, I—” “I said, no,” he repeated loudly, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. “I’m taking a nap. Wake me up when it’s time to go home.” I sighed, missing so much the days of playing I Spy and talking about nothing at all, as I said, “Okay. Sure.” *** “TJ.” I shook him again, unable to believe the kid could sleep this heavily in a loud, crowded airport. “TJ!” He swatted me away and turned his face in the other direction. “God, go away!” “Thomas, wake up,” I hissed, gripping his forearm in my hand. “I need you to help me look for GiGi.” Finally opening his eyes to slits, he peered at me with a blend of curiosity and irritation. “What? Why do you need me?” “Because I don’t see her,” I stated, not meaning to sound so panicked and concerned. But I couldn’t help it. The plane had landed forty minutes ago, and I had watched the spill of passengers flowing into the terminal.

But Gracie was nowhere in sight. “So, look harder,” he grumbled obnoxiously, as he closed his eyes again, but I wouldn’t give him the chance to dismiss me. Not this time. “I am not in the mood to put up with your attitude right now,” I hissed angrily, tightening my hold on his arm. “Get up right now and help me.” He groaned and forcefully pulled himself from my grasp. “Fine,” he shouted, standing up abruptly and walking off in a huff to help find his aunt. There was nothing satisfactory in the victory, but I was glad to have another set of eyes, as I got up to continue the search. But after another forty minutes of scouring the terminal, bathrooms, and parking lot, I was convinced she wasn’t there. “Something isn’t right.” I hadn’t meant to speak the words aloud, not wanting to worry TJ just yet. But I couldn’t take them back once they were said and as he looked down at me from his six-foot-two perch. I felt relief in seeing a similar concern in his eyes. “She’s fine,” he said, even though his tone and gaze didn’t agree. “She probably just missed her flight.

” “Yeah, maybe.” I pulled my phone out and dialed her number for the third time since entering the airport. It was sent to voicemail. Again. “Gracie, I’m at the airport. Where the hell are you? Call me when you get this.” Hanging up, I stuffed the phone back into my pocket and turned in a slow circle, sweeping my gaze over the sea of travelers one last time. I watched as they collected their luggage and greeted their loved ones with smiles and kisses. I envied them for knowing where their person was, while simultaneously insisting that she was fine, because she had to be, and I pulled out my phone to call her again.


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Updated: 15 July 2021 — 22:51

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