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A Long Way From Home (California I'm So Low)

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Belle French wandered the Saturday morning green market like a seasoned pro. She turned over peaches and pears and inspected flats of strawberries and bunches of grapes in all shades from light, bright green to inky, midnight purple, choosing to buy only the best and freshest looking specimens. She delighted over the scents and colors of handmade goat’s milk soaps and lotions, and picked over recycled milk crates filled with old vinyl records for her boyfriend, Gary’s collection.

Belle bit her lip, a little pang of disappointment bursting through her. She’d asked him to come with her this morning, a few quiet moments of togetherness of the sort she enjoyed, but as usual he’d refused, rolling over and grunting something about needing sleep after DJing late into the night. She huffed to herself, they’d been together so long it was old habit now, but it always seemed like she was the one being let down these days.

She flicked through a few more records, grabbing a couple of good-looking Britpop standards, Arctic Monkeys and Oasis, along with a Paul Weller album she’d never seen amongst Gary’s collection. She wanted to be mad at him, but truthfully it just made her melancholy. She paid for the albums, slipping them into her canvas tote, careful to put them in a separate compartment from the gorgeous piece of salmon she had picked up at the fishmonger’s.

If she was honest with herself, she was actually a bit relieved that he wasn’t here. If Gary were here, he’d be grumpy and taciturn, looking for coffee every fifteen minutes, and constantly asking her when they could leave. This way she could actually wander the stalls in peace, browsing and enjoying herself. The thought made her sad.

Belle’s mouth curved into a smile when she saw who was manning the Robinson Farms stand, though. Their organic produce was some of her very favorite, their harvest always fresh and ripe, everything bursting with flavor. Of course, it didn’t hurt that most Saturdays a certain long-haired Scotsman she’d become acquainted with tended the booth. He always greeted her with a bit of cheeky flirtatiousness that made her heart beat just a little faster and her cheeks feel warm.

She subconsciously straightened her blouse and tucked back her flyaway hair under her hat before feigning an air of practiced nonchalance. She began examining a vine of tomatoes that the little chalkboard sign declared as Just Peachy in an elegant script along with a clever little drawing of two tomatoes. She watched him from the corner of her eye as he finished up with another patron, taking the woman’s money and tucking it into a small lockbox and counting back change with a toothy smile and an exchange of pleasantries.

He wore a paisley shirt in white and brown, untucked, over loose jeans and suede moccasins. Straight, sandy-brown hair fell around his face, sun-bleached ends curling up around his shoulders. His features were sharp, cheekbones high, but he had warm, amber eyes and a full lower lip that took the edge off. A chain of thick silver links encircled his slim, tanned wrist. She’d never seen him without it. Unlike her boyfriend, who was rather a hulking presence, this man was slightly built, and just a few inches taller than her own petite, five-foot-two frame, and slender to gauntness. It made her feel comfortable and safe in his presence.

He didn’t see her right away, tucked as she was amongst the produce, and she spent a quiet moment just watching him concentrate, his brow furrowing as he marked down the last sale and noted the price. He had a hunted, haunted look about him, dark circles beneath his shaded eyes, and for every ready, toothy smile he had for his custom, she knew there was a faraway look and a sadness behind his eyes.

“Hey, Lachlan,” she ventured after a moment or two, her pulse quickening just a touch when he looked up and his face blossomed into a crooked smile that Belle found utterly charming.

“Hey, Belle! How are you doing?” His smile was genuine, his accent a soft Scottish lilt, barely dulled by however long he’d been here in the States. “What can we find for you today?”

“I’m… okay,” Belle nodded. “What do you have that looks good and goes with a super fresh filet of salmon?”

“Oh! Take a look at these tomatoes, they’re absolutely peachy.” And the way he said to-MAH-toes and tossed his head to flip his hair back made Belle’s insides feel funny in way she hadn’t felt in a rather long time.

“So I see,” she laughed. “Cute sign.” She felt hyper aware of herself, nodding and touching her hair, smiling and batting her lashes coquettishly. She couldn’t seem to stop it, and she saw Lachlan respond, leaning in to whisper, like they shared a secret, a glint of mischief in his eyes behind the dark lenses. “How much for four, oh and this zucchini, as well?”

“Thank you.” Lachlan grinned. “For you, two dollars.”

“Really? That doesn’t seem like enough.”

“Really.”

“Well, OK.” Belle fished in her bag, pulling out the albums to look for her wallet. Lachlan leaned over and scanned them.

“Paul Weller?” Belle paused in her search and looked up at him, nodding. There was a wistful sort of look on his face, a little sad and a little far away. “ I wouldn’t have taken you for a British New Wave fan.”

“Oh! I mean, I like it well enough, but these are for my boyfriend, Gary.” Belle pulled out the two dollars and handed them over. Lachlan sighed, looking a little crestfallen. He was flirting with her, and the mention of her boyfriend had taken the wind out of his sails. The lines on his tanned face, the grey at his temples, and the scattered silver strands that glinted through his hair made her think he must be in his mid-forties, and she wondered again what brought him here so far away from home, all the way from Scotland, to work on a farm.

“Ah, I see.” He rallied, giving her a tiny smile, and shook his wrist, letting the shiny silver bracelet rattle and clink as it caught the sunlight. “Paul Weller gave me this bracelet.”

She looked at him curiously. “He did? This Paul Weller?” She lifted the album and pointed to the man on the front. He nodded, taking it from her and running his fingers over it almost reverently. “Wow. That’s pretty cool.”

“Yeah. It was a lifetime ago. I was the guitarist in a band called The Cranks. Your, ah, boyfriend might know that name.” He shrugged, his eyes fixed on the jacket of the album in his hands.

“The Cranks?” She asked, surprised that she knew the name. Gary never shut up about The Cranks whenever they were listening to 90’s Britpop. It explained something about Lachlan, she thought, the clothes, the hair. She still wondered why he always looked so melancholy if she stole a glance when he wasn’t looking. She supposed giving up, or losing, a life as an A-lister must come with some sense of isolation and loss. He obviously still held a connection to it, always keeping that little memento on his person. “Yeah, I’ve heard that album about a million times, what’s it called?”

Bank Street Waltz ,” Lachlan breathed, raising his eyebrows. “You’ve heard it?”

“It’s Gary’s favorite.” Belle nodded, packing away the albums and the produce in her bag. “Does all your other jewelry have such interesting stories?” She noted a braided leather bracelet twice wrapped around his slim wrist, and a thick silver ring on his pinky finger. He looked startled for a moment, his face falling a bit, and reached down to twist the ring on his finger, the muscles of his forearm twitching beneath smooth, tanned skin.

“Nah. There’s nothing interesting about me.” His mouth twisted.

“You were in a pretty big deal band,” Belle pointed out. “That’s pretty interesting.”

He looked at her for a moment, eyebrows knit. “I was the guitar player in a big deal band. My brother, he was the big deal. He was the artist. It’s ancient history, now, anyway.” He summoned up one of those disarming smiles. “But enough about me. You take those beautiful tomatoes and let me know how that fish turns out.”

Belle nodded. He ran his hands over the Paul Weller album one last time, handing it back to her with a grin. She tucked it back inside with the others, and gave him a wave as she bounded off to the next stall. He returned the wave and turned away.

She turned to glance at him a few more times while she finished her circuit of the farmer’s market. If he wasn’t with a customer, she noted, he was standing with his fists down on the table, the long strands of his hair hiding his face. Hiding him from the world.

#

Days on the farm were long, starting well before daylight and ending well after the sun had set. Lachlan wouldn’t complain. Physical labor and the sweat of one’s brow cleansed the mind, at least while you were doing it, and if your body was tired enough at the end of it all, sleep might eventually come, if you were lucky.

He couldn’t honestly say he didn’t enjoy the work either. There was something about digging your hands in the soil, the sun baking the back of your shoulders, that appealed to the creative energy in him. In a few short weeks, the green shoots would emerge sprouting from the cracked brown earth, life brought into the world by his own two hands. Eventually, with care and attention, the harvest would be made. Plump, ripe tomatoes and ears of sweet corn with rows of fat, yellow kernels that burst with sugary juice when you finally bit into them, slathered with melted butter that dripped down your chin and a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt. The crazy chickens laid brown speckled eggs that tasted like he remembered eggs tasting when he was a kid on his family’s farm in Scotland.

He didn’t miss the sheep, though. They were cute when they were little, but the large herds of the MacAldonich farm in the Clyde River Valley near Glasgow weren’t all fun and games. Sheep were a lot of work, work he resented as a rebellious teen. Shearing and herding, the oils of the lanolin permeating the air and feeling like he could never get the smell off his body no matter how much he showered. No, he definitely preferred the bright blue skies of Los Angeles and the deep red dirt that eventually scrubbed from beneath one’s fingernails with enough willpower and soap.

Lachlan stood up, brushing down his jeans, and surveying the irrigation lines that he and Warren Robinson had just finished laying with the help of Warren’s teenage son, Julien. It was a feeling of accomplishment when he twisted the rusted tap and water sprayed from the lines in perfect arcs, covering the fallow field in a fine mist. They were ready to plant. He nodded to the two men and made his way back to the row of small, white, clapboard shacks that made up the housing for the farm workers. They were neat and well kept, but drab and firmly utilitarian in size and design. He’d long since stopped worrying about the fact that in his mid-forties he was living in a one bedroom row house with nothing to his name but a beat-up pickup truck, a couple of well-played guitars, and all of twelve hundred dollars in the bank. Having money had never made him any happier than when he didn’t have money.

Lachlan spent a good long while under the hot spray of the shower, and if the face of the girl he kept flirting with at the market swam through his mind, he welcomed it. Belle . She made his blood pump faster, her beautiful blue eyes and her charming Aussie accent. He knew she’d never really look twice at him, but she always had a kind word and a radiant smile. He finished his shower, dressing in a dark button down and his ubiquitous blue jeans, making himself a ham sandwich from what he found in the fridge and heading for the local bar. That was the place he felt like he could really lose himself, turn off his mind, and forget, well, everything. 

Warren was already well into his second beer when Lachlan eased into the seat next to him, motioning to the bartender to pour him two shots of whisky. Brian stocked the Old Glen just for him, his favorite from home. Lachlan drained the first in one go, humming to himself as the rich, amber liquid traced a line of liquid fire straight to his belly. He tossed back the second, raising two fingers to Brian and earning a disapproving glare from Warren. Lachlan shrugged, and Warren simply shook his head, taking another sip of his own drink.

They made small talk about the farm, the community, and Warren’s family for another hour, before Warren stood and stretched, slipping on his denim jacket. He clapped Lachlan on the shoulder.

“Don’t forget it’s an early morning tomorrow.”

“Aye, s’no gonnae be a problem,” Lachlan assured him. “Gonnae go back and record a quick show, and then off tae bed. I promise.” The other man gave him a concerned look, but Lachlan was pretty adept at holding his drink, and Warren eventually gave him a curt nod and headed home to his own family.

Lachlan flagged down Brian and signalled for two more shots.

#

When Lachlan came to, he was in the tank, surrounded by the glares of petty criminals and the stench of piss and bodily odor. He wrinkled his nose and tried hard to remember what had happened, how he had got here. Hazy memories of flashing blue lights and the bitter taste of bile in his throat reminded him that he’d been utterly stupid after Warren left. He’d tried desperately to drown out the voices of his past, and now, as then, it brought him nothing but trouble. It was another hour and he’d lost track of the number of shots he’d drunk before Lachlan had practically crawled from the bar and into his battered pickup.

The officers that pulled him over had stumbled over his name and heritage as he’d stumbled trying to walk a straight line.

“How we doing tonight, sir?” The officer had asked, the flashlight bright and harsh in Lachlan’s eyes, the officer’s mocking politeness making Lachlan’s skin prickle.

“Fuck a duck,” he’d answered like a complete imbecile.

“Where are you headed?”

“Home.”

“Where are you coming from?”

Lachlan had tried to work out whether it was a trick question before answering, but his befuddled mind wasn’t up to the task.

“A bar.”

Photographed, fingerprinted, and booked before he’d even lost the buzz that made everything easier to bear had worn off, the officers unimpressed by his cheeky banter.

Are you Irish? Are you fucking Irish? He slammed his hand on the bench and everyone jumped. He was no fucking Irish. He was Glaswegian born and bred. Hearty Scots stock that could hold his drink with the fortitude of his forebears. He settled down when the glares turned ugly, wrapping his arms across his scrawny chest and remembering that he was no real fighter. Scrappy and wiry he may be, but the sheer size of some of these blokes made him think twice before making another noise or any further sudden movements.

#

Warren dropped a crate of corn on the pallet with a loud crack and Lachlan started at the sudden sharp noise, squinting through his dark sunglasses at Warren’s even darker look. His head was pounding, and he wished the whole nightmare of the last night would fade into memory, as had so many of his escapades. But reality in the form of his boss was staring him in the face and refusing to let it go.

“Four months suspended license?” Warren snapped, throwing down another crate, and sorting through the ears of corn. He peeled back a bit of each husk to examine the kernels. “For one DUI? What a crock.”

“I’m sorry, Warren. I tell you what, back in the UK, they’d have dumped me on the front step and rang the bell.” Lachlan sorted through bunches of dark, green kale, picking out any leaves with dark spots or holes and bundling the best ones with twist-ties. He stood up, wiping his hands on his jeans. His mouth was dry and his headache splitting, but he had to suck it up. This was his own damn fault.

“Well, maybe when I was a kid,” he conceded, when Julien snorted at him, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Yeah, here, too.” Warren grabbed another crate of corn to sort. “That’s bullshit. Now, what am I gonna do about Saturday?” He tossed an underripe ear into a pile on the side. “Well, shit. Goddamn DUI.”

Lachlan continued sorting, his cheeks flushed. He felt guilty for inconveniencing Warren. His personal troubles shouldn’t affect his boss and their business plans. Warren threw another crate off to the side, giving the pallet a kick with his boot.

“What the hell, man,” he groused. “I thought you were smarter than that.” The older man stomped off, leaving Julien and Lachlan to finish the sorting and bundling.

Part of his job was the green market. He hauled everything up to town, set it up to best advantage, and used his own devilish charm to sell as much of it as humanly possible on Saturday mornings. Not being allowed to drive for four months was going to put a serious crimp in someone’s style, and he didn’t blame Warren for being irritated.

“He’ll be fine,” Julien offered, stacking empty crates off to the side. “I’ll drive you up there, and help out. He’ll forget about it in a minute.”

“Cheers, Julien.” Lachlan smiled and clapped the seventeen year old on the shoulder. “You’re a good lad. Ta very much.”