Path of a Highlander – Katy Baker

Sienna Campbell pulled the buckle on the metal brace one notch tighter and then looked down at her patient. “There. That should do it. Ready to try again?” Miles Turner nodded, his curly locks falling around his face, and gave her his bravest smile. “Aye. Ready.” Sienna smiled at him and patted the nine-year-old on the shoulder. “Good lad. Take hold of the bars just like I showed you. That’s it. Now, slowly pull yourself up.” As the boy did as she asked, Sienna supported him on one side, his anxious mother on the other, until he was in an upright position, bracing himself between the parallel bars. “Well done,” Sienna said encouragingly. “Your mom and I are going to step back now and you’re going to stand on your own. Okay?” Miles nodded, biting his lip worriedly.

“Ready? One, two, three.” Sienna stepped back, nodded at Miles’ mother to do the same, and the two women moved away a few paces so that Miles was standing on his own, albeit with the aid of the parallel bars. To her relief, the leg brace seemed to be doing its job. Progress. Miles’ mother clapped her hands. “Would ye look at that? It’s amazing!” Sienna permitted herself a small smile of triumph, although she knew this was just the first step in a long road to rehabilitation for Miles. He’d been hit by a car whilst riding his bike several months ago and had required extensive surgery to repair his shattered leg. Now he was out of his cast and the pins had been removed it was up to Sienna to teach him how to walk again. She moved around to stand in front of him within the frame of the parallel bars, ready to catch him if he stumbled. “You’re doing really well.

Let’s see if you can take some steps, shall we?” “My leg’s aching,” Miles complained. “Can I have a rest?” “Tell you what, I’ll make you a deal,” Sienna said. “You make it to the end of the parallel bars and not only can you have a rest, but I’ll get you a great big slab of chocolate cake from the canteen. How does that sound?” Miles’ eyes lit up. “Deal.” “Excellent. Now, let’s take this steady. One step at a time. Make sure to place each foot carefully and brace your arms on the bars like I showed you. Ready? Let’s go.

” Slowly, Miles took his first step. Then another. And another. Inch by slow inch, he made his way down the length of the parallel bars until finally he reached the end. His leg was wobbling by this time and he looked a little pale. His mother brought his wheelchair over and Miles collapsed gratefully into it. Sienna knelt in front of him and held up her hand. “That was great! And I think it deserves a high five!” Miles grinned and slapped her upheld palm. “Can I have that chocolate cake now?” Sienna laughed, feeling a flush of satisfaction. She loved this part of her job.

Being a physiotherapist meant she got to help people put their lives back together after illness or accident, she got to give them hope and a chance at a better future. What more could she ask than that? “Sure, a deal’s a deal. I’ll get one of the nurses to take you back to your room and I’ll bring it to you there. Make sure you rest for the remainder of the day. You’ve got another session tomorrow.” “With ye?” Miles asked eagerly. S Sienna’s smile faltered. “No, not with me. Janet Strong is taking over your therapy. She’s an excellent therapist.

You’ll like her.” “But I want ye!” Miles cried, crossing his arms indignantly. “Why can’t I have ye?” Sienna knelt in front of the little boy. “I’m afraid it’s my last day today, Miles. I told you, remember? I’m leaving Scotland. I’m going home.” Home, she thought. What does that even mean? This place has felt more like home than anywhere since granddad died. The thought of returning to the US, to the big empty house full of memories, made her stomach contract. She wished she could stay here but her placement had only been for a year and like all good things, was coming to an end.

Miles didn’t look mollified at all. Sienna straightened, ruffled his hair, and then indicated for one of the nurses to take him back to his room. “Thank ye for all ye’ve done for him,” Miles’ mother said, squeezing Sienna’s arm. “We couldnae have come this far without ye.” “It’s been a pleasure, Mrs. Turner. He’s a wonderful little boy and I’m sure he’ll be running around and kicking footballs before long.” Mrs. Turner smiled, then followed as one of the nurses wheeled her son out of the therapy room. Sienna sighed.

So this was it. Miles had been her last appointment of the day. Her last appointment here in Scotland. She gazed out of the hospital window to where the skyline of Glasgow reached into the distance. The sun was starting to set, turning the roofs to red and gold. In just a few short days she would be on a plane, leaving all of this behind. She tried to ignore the stab of anguish that went through her at the thought. Come on, Sienna, she told herself. You have chocolate cake to find. She left the therapy room and made her way down the corridor to the canteen.

She was in luck. A single piece of chocolate cake remained on the cake stand. “Phew! That was lucky,” she said with a smile. “Last piece! Otherwise my patient might have had to make do with a scone.” Marcus, the server, smiled. “Canna have that, can we? I’ll just put it in a box for ye.” He disappeared out the back. “Looks tasty, doesnae it?” said a voice behind her. “Although I reckon mayhap I should stay away. I’m trying to watch my figure.

” Sienna turned to find a short, round old woman standing behind her. She had hair the color of slate pulled back into a severe bun and a chubby-cheeked face lined with wrinkles. She smiled up at Sienna with a wide, cherubic grin. “Oh, it’s not for me,” Sienna said. “It’s for a patient. You might say it’s a chocolate emergency.” The old woman nodded knowingly. “Ah, one of those, is it? A most serious situation.” Sienna smiled. “Sure is.

” She began to turn away but paused when the old woman said suddenly, “Yer patients are lucky to have ye, Sienna Campbell.” She turned back, puzzled. “How do you know my name?” She’d left her name badge in the therapy room, so there was no way the old woman could have read her name from that. “Of course I know yer name,” the old woman replied with a puzzled look, as though surprised that Sienna would ask. “How can ye expect to find someone ye have been looking for if ye dinna know their name? I’m Irene, by the way, Irene MacAskill. It is mighty good to meet ye after all this time.” She stuck out her hand and Sienna shook it, a little nonplussed. “You’ve been looking for me?” “Aye, through all the layers of time and history. Ye were a difficult one to find, my dear. Ye have been tossed a long way from where ye are meant to be by the winds of time.

” Sienna blinked. None of that had made any sense. What on earth was the old woman talking about? “Er…are you a patient here?” she asked. “I’ve not seen your name on my lists. Maybe you’ve been transferred to another therapist—” “I’m not a patient, lass.” “So you’re visiting someone?” “Aye, I’ve come a long way to see her too. Ye, lass. I’ve come to see ye.” Sienna was rapidly losing the thread of this conversation. The old woman seemed a little…confused.

Perhaps she’d wandered down here from the geriatric wards on the floors above. “Look, maybe you should take a seat whilst I go and find out where you’re supposed to be.” But Irene didn’t move. She gazed up at Sienna with a faint look of amusement on her face. Her eyes, Sienna noticed, were so dark as to seem almost black, with no irises around them at all. “There isnae any need for that, lass,” Irene said. “I’m exactly where I need to be. Unlike ye.” Okay. Whatever.

“Wait here,” Sienna said. “I’ll be right back with a nurse.” She began to walk away, but Irene’s hand shot out to grip her wrist. Despite her advancing age and diminutive stature, the woman had a grip like a set of steel pincers. “Would ye dismiss yer chance so easily?” she asked. Sienna blinked. “Chance? What chance?” “The chance to fulfill yer destiny, lass. To find yer true path, the one ye were meant to walk, and the soul who was meant to walk it by yer side.” The old woman’s words were low and intense, and all the merriment had vanished from her eyes. Instead, they seemed like dark caverns holding vast secrets.

A shiver slid down Sophie’s spine and she felt uneasy. She was suddenly very sure that this woman was no geriatric patient. She was something else entirely. “What do you want with me?” she asked, her voice a little unsteady. “Ah! We get to it at last!” Irene said, her smile returning. “I want yer help, lass. I need yer help to restore the balance of the world, which even as we speak is being thrown far out of kilter. If it isnae redressed, then all of time and history will pay the price.” For a reason she could not explain, Irene’s words stirred something in Sienna. Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on, a memory, a feeling she couldn’t quite grasp.

She backed away warily. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about! Let go of me!” Irene released her and stepped calmly back, clasping her hands in front of her and cocking her head at Sienna. “What say ye, Sienna Campbell? Will ye help me restore the balance? Will ye take the chance to walk a different path and heal the awful ache in yer soul? The restlessness that eats at ye?” Sienna stared at her. The woman was crazy. Crazy. There was no other explanation. So why did her words stir something deep inside of her? Why did they bring up memories and emotions she’d tried so desperately to bury? An empty house. A lonely graveside. And the sense that all her life she’d been looking for something, something she couldn’t find. But who was Irene to tell her that? What right did she have to speak as though she knew her? She only met her five minutes ago! “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she snapped.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have patients to see.” Irene didn’t take the hint. Instead, she studied Sienna with a look of sadness on her face. “Are ye sure ye dinna know what I’m talking about, my dear? If ye look deep inside yerself mayhap ye would find yer answer. Ye know ye are walking the wrong path. But it isnae too late to change course. Ye have a choice coming, my dear. A dangerous, desperate choice, but one that may ultimately lead ye to where ye are meant to be. Think about it, my dear.” Then, without another word, Irene turned and walked out of the canteen.

Sienna stared after her, wide-eyed. What had just happened? “Are ye all right?” “Hmm?” Sienna turned to see Marcus emerge from the kitchen with her slice of cake in a box. “I asked if ye are all right. Ye look like ye’ve seen a ghost.” “What? Oh, no, I’m fine. Did you recognize that woman, Marcus?” He looked around. “What woman?” “The woman who left a moment ago. She was walking out just as you came out of the kitchen. You must have seen her.” Marcus gave her a puzzled look.

“Ye are the only customer I’ve had in the last fifteen minutes.” “What? That can’t be right! She was right here, just a moment ago!” Marcus just shook his head in puzzlement, so she took the chocolate cake, bade him goodbye, and hurried out of the canteen. She delivered the cake to Miles, much to his delight, and tried to put her encounter with Irene MacAskill out of her mind. But she couldn’t quite shake the old woman’s words. Restless? she thought as she made her way down the corridor to the staffroom. I’m not restless. I’ve no idea what she was talking about! Really? she answered herself. You know that’s not true. You know that what Irene MacAskill said was spot on. The truth was, ever since the death of her grandfather—the man who’d brought her up and the only family she’d ever had—she’d felt lost.

Adrift. Like she had nothing to anchor her life to. That’s why she’d accepted the year’s placement to Glasgow. At least here she’d had a purpose, a reason to get up every morning. But that’s over now, she thought. Her last shift had finished and in three days’ time she’d be flying home. Just enough time to pack up her meager belongings and then she’d be off. Sadness swept through her. She would miss this place. With a sigh, she pushed the door to the staffroom open.

“Surprise!” She was so intent on her own thoughts that she jumped in shock as the loud shout rang out. Pressing her hand to her suddenly thumping heart, she broke into a grin at the sight that greeted her. Her colleagues had gathered in the tiny staffroom. A banner saying ‘Bon Voyage’ was pinned across the ceiling and the little table was piled high with party food. Her colleagues were all wearing pointed party hats. “What’s all this?” Sienna asked with a laugh. “What’s it look like?” said Janet, her fellow physiotherapist, pressing a glass of non-alcoholic fizz into her hand. “Ye didnae think we’d let ye leave without a send-off, did ye?” “I…I don’t know what to say,” Sienna stammered. “Dinna say anything,” replied Thomas, her boss. The rotund man grinned and pressed a card and a wrapped parcel into her hands.

“Just open yer presents!” Sienna handed her drink to Janet and took the offered gifts. She unwrapped the parcel to reveal a tacky Scottish tartan hat, complete with fake red hair sticking out of the sides. “Lovely!” she laughed. “Just what I’ve always wanted!” Next, she opened the card. Everyone had signed it and the good wishes brought a lump to her throat. A folded up piece of paper had been slipped inside. “We couldnae decide what to get ye as a leaving gift—except for the lovely hat, of course,” Thomas said. “Then we realized that ye’ve been working so hard and covering so many extra shifts that ye’ve hardly seen any of Scotland whilst ye’ve been here. We thought we’d better put that right before ye go home.” Sienna unfolded the piece of paper and scanned the contents.

It was a ticket for a two-day tourist tour of the Scottish Highlands. “I reckon there’s just enough time to get that in before ye go home. Dinna ye think?” Thomas said with a wink. “I reckon you are right,” Sienna replied. “This is amazing! Well, I’d better go home and get packed. Looks like I’m off on an adventure tomorrow!” Janet handed back her drink. “Packing can wait. We need to have a good old Scottish knees-up first!” Sienna laughed and held up her glass. “I’ll drink to that!”

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