Part 1: Edinburgh
“That’s precisely what’ll happen. An American doing a study abroad so he can go back and tell his friends how odd the Scots are. Or worse, he’ll call us British.”
“Tommy, their dormitory burned down. Almost four hundred students have no place to live. Perhaps one hundred are American.”
“The university can sort it out. They don’t need us. And we need quiet. I’ve got major projects due this term. And you’ve got a thesis, if I recall.”
Michael grinned. “You know you’re going to give in.”
The fire had occurred right as the new term was starting, and the chancellor had made a plea for help with temporary housing. Friends since childhood, Michael and Tommy shared a room in a senior dorm. Tommy McFarland, five foot ten with curly, red hair, had a swimmer’s build, while Michael Kent, five foot eleven, had black hair and the build of a cyclist—slender but with distinctively muscled calves. To each other, they were “Tomahawk” and “English.”
The room was large, in one of the university’s recently renovated dormitories. Designed as a three-person flat with its own bath, the rooms were whitewashed plaster and stone with paneled wainscoting and door frames. They could easily accommodate a third roommate.
The chancellor’s plea had been posted on walls and notice boards, slipped under doors, and e-mailed to student accounts.
“Or we’ll get one of those people who like to cook their meals in their room, and dogs and cats start disappearing, and everything smells like some foreign spice.”
Michael laughed. “You’re a case. I’m telling the housemaster that we’ll take one on.”
“You don’t see if I’m right. You’ll regret this, English. Trust me.”
The next morning, Michael caught up with Tommy at ExpressoYourself, the Scot-owned coffee shop Tommy insisted was better than Starbucks. Michael preferred Starbucks because, he pointed out with ample justification, the coffee tasted better.
“We have a roommate,” Michael said.
“Yes, he’s American. Starting his third year. And he’s in a study-abroad program. The housemaster told me a few minutes ago.”
“I knew it,” Tommy groaned, putting his head in his hands. “We’ll get nothing but complaints about the weather and that there are only four choices for television.” His head shot up. “Come on. He’s likely to have already moved his things into my area.” He hurried to the door.
“He’s not likely to have many things to move in, Tomahawk,” Michael called in his wake. “They burned up, remember?”
After the fire, what David Hughes possessed was exactly one backpack, a laptop, and books for three of his five classes. Sandy haired, standing about five foot nine, he looked like an American, or at least how Europeans expected Americans to look. Both Michael and Tommy could see the apprehension in his eyes.
“It’s great of you guys to take me in. I know this is a big hassle.”
“We’re glad we had the room, David,” Michael said.
“You don’t cook, do you?” said Tommy.
“No,” David said. “Is that important?”
“Only to a Neanderthal like the Tomahawk here,” Michael said. “Don’t worry about it. And we call him Tomahawk because it describes his personality perfectly.”
Tommy glared at Michael. “And we call him English because that’s where he came from, and you never trust anyone from down there.”
“First, some introductions,” Michael said. “I’m Michael Kent. Fifth and final year theology. University Cycling Team.”
“He’s omitted a point or two,” said Tommy, “like all of his fatal character flaws, of which there are a considerable number—it’s genetic with the English. And that he’s training right now in the hopes he gets a shot at the British Olympic Cycling Team for the Games next summer, which is doubtful given how parochial and narrow minded the English are.”
“And that,” Michael said, pointing to Tommy, “is one Thomas McFarland, professional cretin. Fifth and final year architecture. Swim team. Engaged to one Ellen Grant, senior in education, with official plans to marry after graduation in May. She’s incredibly decent and remarkably good-looking, and we’ve no idea what she possibly sees in the Tomahawk here.”
“She knows Scot quality,” Tommy snorted, “and she knows you never trust the English.”
“You guys seem to have known each other a long time,” David said.
“We grew up together,” Michael said.
“I came to his rescue when he was being bullied in grammar school,” Tommy added.
“Some rescue,” Michael said. “We both ended up with black eyes. But we’ve been best friends ever since, much to my occasional amusement and perpetual embarrassment. Tommy’s right, I must have a fatal character flaw to have put up with him for so long. So, David, how did you end up at Edinburgh?”
“David Hughes,” he said. “Native of Denver, Colorado. Now living in California. University of California at Los Angeles. Brother to a twin sister with an older brother who’s just finished his medical residency in Denver. Major is British history, specifically eighteenth century Scotland. My sister, Sarah, is here, too, although I’m not quite sure why. She’s an art major. She wants to be an artist, maybe do something with art direction in movies. She also attends UCLA. I’d been planning this since last year, and she threw her application in at the last minute. We both got accepted.”
“First, California,” said Tommy, “there is no British history. There is, however, a history of English tyranny, which to Scotland’s great shame continues up to the present moment.”
“Tomahawk here is a Scot nationalist, which I’m sure is a huge surprise,” Michael said. “And he swims better than most fish. So, David, what are you doing for clothes?”
“Wearing what I have on,” he answered. “Everything burned in the fire. When the fire alarms sounded, I threw on some clothes, grabbed my backpack, and ran. I’ve got classes this afternoon and a dinner with my sister and a faculty member tonight. Do you know where I can find a clothing store?”
“Here,” Tommy said, walking to his closet. “You’re about my size. You can wear one of my shirts.”
“We’ll help you find a shop tomorrow,” Michael said. “And help yourself to my ties. Although you might prefer to look at Tomahawk’s tie collection. He’s known for being something of a fashion dandy.”
“Which,” said Tommy, “is infinitely preferable to the spandex and polyester that comprise some ninety-four percent of English’s wardrobe and which he tends to wear twenty-four hours a day, including as pajamas? He claims it’s because of the cycling team, but I suspect there’s something perverted going on.”