As Brad and Milly drove toward the town of Strathpeffer they kept a sharp eye on the road. Driving through the mountains for the first time gave Milly her first real case of white-knuckle driving. You could be on the road and the skies would be blue. All you had to do was turn a corner and the environment could change instantly. Clouds had the nasty habit of appearing from nowhere.
Brad tried to help with the navigating as the GPS system was still acting up. It didn’t help when a motorist who knew the roads passed Milly at 100 KPH or 60 MPH. Brad decided to be quiet and let Milly concentrate. About half an hour later and a few nerves later they passed the boundary stone that marked the beginning to the town. But it wasn’t long before the discovered the true meaning of traffic jam, just as Jamie and Jessica had forecast. More sheep than Milly had seen in her entire life suddenly appeared in the cloud/mist. Most were spray painted with a blue number. The car went from 100 KPH to a slow crawl to a dead stop.
“I don’t believe this. There are thousands of sheep everywhere! Everywhere you look you see sheep. So that what those two meant! They’re so cute but there are so many.” she said wide-eyed her brain finding what she was seeing incomprehensible.
Brad rifled through some papers. “If you all talking about all those four-legged dinners running around you’re in for a bit of a surprise Kitten. According to those info packs the dragon lady gave us there are just over 5.5 million people in all of Scotland. And 6.6 million sheep. There are apparently over fourteen thousand farms that deal exclusively with sheep so I think we can count on seeing a great many more. And since we’re here for two months it might be a good idea that we both get used to the aroma”.
“Well I don’t know about you but I glad someone -I mean something has been busier than we have. Jeepers!”
As they drove into town Brad asked for directions to Dr. MacTaggert’s house. The response was far from what they expected. A woman leaned down and gave Milly some instructions on driving to the house.
“The MacTaggert house you say? So that’s what the old boy is calling it now. Just stay on this road. The MacTaggert Estate is at the end of the road and at the very top.” The woman stood up and simply walked off.
“They didn’t sound too friendly as soon as I mentioned Dr. MacTaggert. I don’t think Dr. Fergus MacTaggert has particularly endeared himself to the local population.” Brad said quietly to Milly.
They drove slowly along the road. Some people gestured at them in a cryptic manner, while some made gestures that were understood easily understood in any language. “What in heavens name have we done to be treated this way!. We haven’t been here an hour” asked Milly.
Brad was far from pleased. “If I had known about this kind of reception I think I would have turned down the offer to come here.”
Milly suddenly looked at Brad. “Does that include what I think it does?”.
Brad collected his thoughts before he responded.
“When I proposed to you it was the best day of my life. I love you more than you will ever know. I feel we’ve known each other for a very long time yet I know it has been a whirlwind romance. I want you to become part of my life so we can have a life together. Besides Dr. Brad Foster only puts on a kilt for one very special woman, one very sexy Kitten.” Brad didn’t know it but Milly had been holding her breath.
“Phew…am I glad you said, Kitten. For a second there I thought you were talking…” Milly’s voice trailed off when she caught sight of their destination.
“Holy Highland Fuzzbucket! We’re staying in a friggin’ castle!”
Brad rolled down the car door window and looked at the MacTaggert estate. The house had ivy crawling up the exterior and a large tower with four spires. Milly had purchased a small digital camera and took a photo of the estate for her parents. While Milly snapped away in total awe of the MacTaggert estate she saw Jessica come running from the house.
“I see you, Dr. Milly Shine! Present fingers!” yelled Jessica. She ran down the road “I want to see that ring.”
As Jessica ran towards the car Milly started to cringe. Dreading it she turned to Brad. She touched his hand.
“Oh, crud. She must have seen me,” said Milly not looking forward to what was about to happen. She turned to Brad and held his hand.
“I guess this is confession time hon. During my entire life, I’ve never really understood why women go all to pieces when they see another woman’s engagement for the first time. Sure I’m happy for them but I have never understood the need to all to go berserk.”
As Jessica neared the shrieking started and Milly got out of the car. She steadied her hand while Jessica oohed and awed. Then Milly noticed a ring on Jessica’s ring finger. Milly grabbed hold of it and after examining it intensely she told her it was gorgeous. She hugged Jessica.
“Brad and I wish you and Jamie all the happiness. When did he ask you?”
“Yesterday. May I have permission to give your man a great big kiss?”
Milly was about to give her permission when curiosity struck. She just had to know what Brad had to do with the proposal.
“Now you have me stumped. What does Brad have to do with Jamie asking you to marry you?”
Jessica took a breath then started with the explanation.
“When Jamie was helping Dr. Foster get dressed Jamie let it slip he was thinking of asking me, but he added that his father wanted to marry within the clan. Jamie made it clear that he wanted to ask me but was afraid to do so because of his father. Then your man reminded Jamie that he if he loved me and if he asked me to be his wife then he’s going to married to me and not his father. That’s when Jamie realized his father would simply have to accept the marriage or risk losing a son, a daughter-in-law, and any wee bairns that happen along.”
Milly turned to Brad and looked into his eyes. “Did you really say that?”
Brad to brush off the significance. “It was just guy talk. Nothing special.” Milly stood still, looked at Brad then said: “Sometimes you know just what to say.” Then Milly hugged Brad. But she soon turned her attention back to Jessica.
Milly then shook Jessica. “Well, what did Fergus say?”
Jessica was silent for a while. “He hasn’t said anything. He said he’ll give us his answer at dinner tonight. He’s been sitting in his study like quiet as a sphinx. But let’s get your bags out.” Just then Jamie appeared in the doorway with a steel reinforced cart with a small note attached “Milly’s Trolley”.
Milly put her hands in her pockets and walked over to him. “Something tells me you’re never going to forgive me are you?” she said rocking on her feet.
“Och lass, how could I hold a grudge agin you? Permission to kiss the bride-to-be?” Jamie looked at Brad who closed his eyes and nodded quickly. Jessica surprised Brad with a kiss. Her particular brand of lipstick left lipstick on his cheeks. Milly quickly took some Kleenex from her pocket and rubbed it off. She turned around, faced Jessica and said: “This one’s taken and he’s all mine.”
After Jamie showed them to their room he informed Brad and Milly about tonight. “Tonight is a full-dress dinner. Brad is to wear a kilt. Milly, you’re being asked to wear best evening frock you’ve got. My father is going to give us his answer tonight. Jess and I are terrified he’s going to be stubborn as a mule. After you’ve unpacked Jess and I want to give you a tour of the estate.”
Twenty minutes later as Milly and Brad walked down the hall they were joined by Jessica who was already wearing her kilt. She couldn’t help but give Brad a little grief. “And where is your kilt, Dr. Foster? I hope you don’t need a refresher course on how to get dressed?” Milly stifled a laugh and sniffed a bit. “And you young lady. Why are you not dressed for dinner? Jamie and I need your support tonight more than ever.” Brad couldn’t help but chuckle at the dressing down Milly was getting. “And you young man. You would be wise to stop chortling and puffing like a steam engine.” Brad saluted. “Yes, Miss McCloud.” Milly gave Brad a light tap in the ribs with her elbow. When Jessica was a few paces in front of them Milly whispered painfully quietly to Brad. “I think she means business. Maybe it might be wise to get dressed now. I know dinner isn’t for another two hours but this isn’t your ordinary Sunday dinner. At least two lives will be profoundly changed by what happens tonight. We don’t know what Fergus is going to say.” Milly and Brad took a rain check on the tour and retreated to their room to change.
Brad put his “highland monkey suit” over a wooden chair to get the creases out. Milly changed into a copy of the evening gown she wore Brad proposed. By the time she was fully dressed Brad started moaning.
“Nuts. Now she’ll have my guts for garters. It’s still got too many creases.” Milly rolled her eyes. “You men. What would you do without us? Put the kilt in the bathroom. Make sure it’s hanging straight down. Then turn on the hot water in the tub and in the shower. In fifteen minutes it should be as right as rain. A little steam will smooth things out.”
As the steam smoothed out the creases Brad got dressed exactly as Jamie showed him. Then he made a fatal mistake. Milly was standing closest to the wounded sporran when Brad asked her to pass the sporran to him. She noticed that it weighed a great deal more than it should.
“Why does this thing weigh so much?”
Brad eyed the ceiling and took a deep breath.
“That’s because it contains your very first wedding gift.”
Milly opened it in a flash. She looked in and saw a small smooth stone.
“Are you saying someone gave me a rock?” she asked.
Then Brad explained the rock was for. Milly started snickering which quickly grew into hysterics.
“You mean somebody gave you a rock to control your rocks?”. Brad then said he was instructed to give it to Milly on their honeymoon. He also said it came from Jamie and Jessica and that she shouldn’t breathe a word of its existence to anyone until they’re married.
When they were properly attired they waited in the library. Fergus appeared and greeted Brad and Milly. His accent was thick and difficult to follow at times. He was a bit stocky but there was very little fat on his bones. Jessica remarked that Fergus looked very much like “wee Jamie.” A butler named Mason carried in various bottles of spirits as well as a generous supply of scotch. He put the liquor on a side table. He then distributed Champagne flutes to everyone. After that, he filled the glasses with French Champagne. Mason executed his duties, took two steps back and stood a few inches in front of the library wall.
Fergus tapped the side of his Champagne flute and everyone slowly stopped talking. When he started talking Jamie and Jessica held hands hoping he would deal with the matter that concerned them.
“I’m more than aware that you’d all like to me to say something particular about the beautiful Jessica McCloud and my son Jamie. But I’m goin’ to ask you to be a little more patient. I’d like to welcome our guests from across the Atlantic. I’d like you to welcome Dr. Brad Foster and his bride-to-be Dr. Milly Shine.”
There was an applause, but it sounded louder than it should have.
“When I suggested this temporary trade with the administrator of our sister hospital I had no idea we were about to be graced with such beauty. So with no more beatin’ around the bush may I also present Dr. Druk Macbeth. Which brings me to the conclusion of this speech-”
There was a great deal of clapping and some whistling. Fergus continued talking.
“When I learned Dr. Foster and Dr. Shine had become engaged something twigged in my memory. A long time ago, a very long time ago, when paper was still used I went to med school with a very wise man. He always knew just what to say and how to say it. In fact, he came second in my class at med school. I came third. For some time now I’ve suspected him of some…certain shenanigans shall we say with regards to who really came second and really came third. Milly, when I found it was you who were comin’ I checked my med school yearbook. And sure enough, the man who bested me at med school was your father!”
Milly looked shell-shocked. She had no idea her father went to med school with her soon to be albeit temporary boss.
Fergus picked up where he left off.
“I wanted to know more about you so I contacted your mother and father. And they graciously accepted my invitation to this little get-together. So it gives me immense pleasure to introduce my lifelong friend Dr. Tyler Shine and his lovely wife Tilly.”
Dr. Shine and his wife and his stepped out of the shadows and were handed Champagne flutes by Mason. Brad studied Tyler. And Tyler glowered at him. Tyler motioned he wanted to talk with Brad. When the applause started to die down Fergus resumed talking.
“Alright, before anybody starts hoping that I’ll run out of air it has come to my attention that I must say something about the beautiful Jessica and my wee Jamie. Yes, it’s true I wanted wee Jamie, no let me correct that, my son Jamie to marry within the clan MacTaggert. But my son is no longer “wee Jamie”. He’s a grown man, and more than able to make his own decisions. So with the help of Tyler and Tilly, I discussed the situation. No has ever said that I’m stubborn, at least not to my face. But I can be extremely narrow-minded at times. With Tilly’s able assistance I remembered when I proposed to Jamie’s mother. I was as nervous as can be, and very concerned about how my own father would react. He too wanted his sons to marry within the clan. But I was stubborn. I wanted a woman from outside the clan. With the help of Tyler and Tilly I learned, I could keep Jessica and Jamie nearby by accepting the engagement, or I could be a stubborn old fool and not accept the engagement.”
Fergus directed his gaze at Jessica and Jamie. “This next part I say to Jamie and Jessica. Jamie, please forgive your father. I canna lose you too. So, if you feel even a tenth of what I felt for your mother you have my permission and my blessing. And to the beautiful Jessica. Knowing what you what you feel for my son it would be a crime if you two didn’t get married. But…I do have one request”
Milly was dabbing her eyes with Kleenex while Brad searched his sporran for a handkerchief to replace the Kleenex. “I knew it. A condition” cursed Milly.
“If you are blessed with a son please do not name him Fergus after me. I hate that name and could only feel pity for the wee bairn. But if you like the name I’m sure there’s a McCloud named Fergus. Now, let’s go to dinner. I’m starving.”
Jessica rushed into the arms of her soon to be father-in-law. “Fergus. You mean so much to both of us. We won’t name anyone Fergus. And thank you for your blessing.” Jamie shook hands with his father. Their eyes communicated what they could not say verbally.
Tyler and Tilly next spoke with Fergus. “Fergus, you grizzled old codpiece. You gave Tilly and me far too much credit. We did very little. All we did was move the debris of the past out of the way and show you your options. You were the one who made the final decision.”
Milly finally got to meet with her mom and dad. She kissed her mother, hugged her father, and introduced Brad. Her mother approved of the choice immediately. Tyler took his time assessing Brad. “I understand you’re the fellow who’s made my little girl so very happy. What’s your specialty? I think you and I should chew the fat. Get to know one another. After all, from my little girl says we’re going to be related.”
After dinner, Tyler and Brad adjourned to the driveway to “chew the fat”. Brad was visibly nervous as sweat was on his brow. Both of them walked down the length of the gravel driveway without saying a word. As Tyler walked the sound of the gravel crunching and grinding beneath his feet grew louder and louder.
“Why do you want to marry my daughter?” said Tyler as he stuffed tobacco into his pipe.
“Milly completes me. I love her more than you will ever know. I care about her and I want to see her grow into the marvelous diagnostician I know she can and will be. When I first noticed Milly she was gorgeous. I thought that a woman that good looking must surely have a boyfriend. And that I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell with her. We consulted on a few cases, but that was the extent of our medical collaboration. But when she moved into my apartment building I was able to see the woman under the doctor persona. I helped her move into her apartment, and she took an instant liking to my recliner.”
“She was always partial to recliners. I had one in my study when she was a little girl. Whenever it was bedtime my wife or I would almost always find her in my recliner curled up fast asleep. Why do you have one?”
“10-12 hour sessions in the operating room have taken their toll on a disc in my spine. It’s slowly disintegrating.”
“Have you told her what to expect?”
“I’ve tried to Dr. Shine-”
Tyler put his hand up. “We’re going to be related. Try calling me Tyler. I promise I don’t bite or breath fire despite what Milly may have told you.”
“That’s one thing I was hoping we could talk about. Milly has never mentioned your name or your wife’s until I asked her. Up to that point in our relationship you two were always called “mom and dad”. Is there something I should know about?”
“Milly was always fiercely independent. From the time she was a teenager, she was itching to live by herself. As with all teenagers, we butted heads over many an issue. And when I say “by herself” I mean exactly that. No parental strings whatsoever. I can only guess that she found living with only a telephone for company pretty lonely and she sought out companionship. I’m glad she found it. And from what I can tell from our short talk I’m glad she found that companionship in you. But as her father, I’ve got to ask if she knows?”
Brad was puzzled. “What are you talking about Dr….Tyler?
“Have you told her you’re dying?”
Brad stopped dead in his tracks and stared at Tyler. “Why in heavens name would you say that? After my last physical, I was pronounced ship-shape in Bristol fashion. I plan to be around for at least another fifty years!”
Tyler started growling to himself. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a single sheet of paper. He also pulled out a pair of reading glasses.
“I have before me a private investigators report. It says your name is Bradley Jefferson Foster. How am I doing so far?”
Brad laughed so hard he had to undo his vest and bend over to catch his breath.
“Not even close. I was born Brad Foster. Not Bradley, and certainly not Jefferson. I don’t have a clue who this poor bugger is but I assure you it is not me. Just what is this private investigators report all about?”
“This so-called report was my wife’s idea. When Milly phones Tilly usually answers. When the talks started to get all lovey-dovey my wife wanted to know more about you. The traditional method is bringing the beau to meet the girls’ parents. When Milly didn’t do that my wife decided to turn into James Bond. Hence this useless pile of crap. I was against the whole thing but you know how mothers can be.”
Brad scratched his nose and shuffled his feet. “No, I don’t. I lost both my parents and an unborn sibling to a drunk driver when I was ten.” Brad continued and told him his life story. Tyler apologized profusely because he was partly responsible. He reluctantly signed the checks. Brad suggested they go in as it was getting somewhat chilly. “I think a Scotch would warm us up.”
“I’m really starting to like you. Any man who drinks Scotch usually has excellent taste.”
Brad asked for and got the report. He wanted to frame the investigators report. “We may need something to laugh about in a few years.”