Status: Finished.

More Than Just Baser Instincts.

The Grand Tour

The small inn was nice, far nicer than my apartment back in Illinois. I had actually been tempted to lie in bed all day, to dream about that field of asters, but hunger had pulled me away too soon. Room service was far from my budget, so an impromptu trip into town forced me to leave my new haven.

As I walked through the country-styled halls, I could not help but appreciate the homey feel of this place. It was a wonderful change of pace from city life. I could easily picture myself here.

Of course, I'd have to find my way around town first.

I stopped by the front desk to ask the inn-keeper for suggestions on a light lunch.

He was a man who appeared to be in his forties, and he had heavy lines around his mouth that became overly exaggerated when he smiled. His nose was crooked, his golden hair trim and tidy, and his eyes a deep brown that reminded me of roasted chestnuts. When he spoke, his voice brought me back to a childhood spent chatting happily by the warm fire during a cold summer.

“You didn't look like you were from around here,” he admitted, looking away from his book to cast me a warming smile. He rose from his seat, towering over me and causing my mouth to drop open. I was not short in the least, but this man made me feel like a toddler! “What is your name?”

I took the strong hand that he offered, and his handshake was incredibly firm.

“I'm Elaine Porter,” I told him, finding his smile contagious. “I'm from Illinois, actually.”

He cocked his head. “Really? I would have guessed that you were from Northern Sector. That hair of yours all but screams it.” I grabbed a curl of my platinum-blond hair and examined it absently. “Anyway, if you're looking for a tour of the village, I'm sure my daughter would be more than happy to show you around. She's the girl sitting by the window over there, her nose in a book. Her name is Anne.”

I thanked him for his time, though I was a bit uncomfortable asking a perfect stranger to show me around her home. Regardless, my feet carried me to her in but a few lengthy strides. She seemed to sense my presence, snapping upright and throwing her bronze eyes to me in that second.

Anne Burgess was a girl who appeared to be in her mid-twenties, which meant we were certainly close to being the same age. Her nose was much smaller than her father's, and it wrinkled when she smiled. The hair on her head tumbled down her shoulders like a waterfall made of cascading honey, framing her heart-shaped face and adding to her approachability. Her skin was tanned perfectly without a line in sight, and her eyes were wide, giving her a very youthful look.

“Can I help you?” she asked with a voice of soft sugar and the same smile that I had just witnessed on her father's face.

“Are you Anne?” She nodded swiftly. “I'm Elaine; I'm staying here. I was just wondering if you wouldn't mind showing me around, actually. If my job interview goes well, then I would definitely consider living here.”

Her brow furrowed. “Here? I'm shocked to even see one of you down here in the first place! You're going to move away from home?”

I nodded hesitantly. Just what was it that screamed “outsider”? Sure, my hair was outlandish for anywhere, but I had never been told I belonged in northern Oregon before! Did a lot of nearly-white-haired people live there or something?

“That's great, though!” She stood suddenly, revealing that she had a very slim build. She was only a little shorter than myself. “I would be delighted to show you around. Things have been rather slow anyway; we don't have a lot of visitors, what with the people around here not too keen on leaving home for a second.”

She ushered me out of the inn after calling a farewell to her father. The town, she explained, was generally just explored via walking. There was only one road in the entire area, and it was just a simple two-lane path. A dense treeline surrounded the perimeter and the road, effectively hiding it from view. The fact that I had even been able to find the inn must have been a miracle (and thanks to a taxi driver who obviously deserved a bigger tip)!

Apparently, Anne was born and raised in the nameless town (everyone just called it “Home,” or the “Central Sector”) and had no intention of ever leaving, which would explain why my wish to travel here had been so unfathomable to her. There was this charm about her, a charm that suggested I could get lost in the world with her and feel perfectly comfortable. It was almost like a sense of...instinctive camaraderie, and I was glad to have found her.

“A lot of the diners here are family-owned,” she was saying, gesturing about the quaint log-cabin buildings that were scattered around us, “so expect a lot of friendly faces and people gawking at you. You are an unfamiliar face, after all, and it certainly set me back.”

“If no one ever visits here, why do you own an inn?”

“It's really just a restaurant with a few extra rooms for people who need them,” Anne explained, showing me that warm smile of hers yet again.

She was certainly right about people staring; everyone we passed seemed to do a double-take before passing by us, but it was strange that I didn't feel put-off by it. I just smiled to the strangers, and they smiled back before continuing in their initial direction. Maybe someday I would be one of these residents, knowing every face that passed me.

“My personal favourite is Gina's Parlor. She really knows how to grill a steak.”

I laughed at that. “You like steak?”

She grinned. “Oh, I love it! Don't you?”

I shrugged. “I live on a fixed income, so good steak is a luxury.”

“This one is on me. You cannot come here and not try Gina's cooking.”

Gina's Parlor was certainly everything I had been missing in downtown living. The atmosphere was light, the conversations were friendly, and the waitresses were more than willing to offer their advice on the menu.

As we waited for our two steaks, I decided to ask Anne about herself.

Her eyes lit up, as if she had been waiting for the opportunity all day. “It had been a bit slow for a while; sure, life at a restaurant is so glamourous.” She paused to groan teasingly. “But then I met Bryce. He has to be the sweetest man alive, and I knew from the start that he was the one. We gave ourselves to each other three years ago. You'll just have to meet him and my baby boy, Cameron. He'll steal your heart and never give it back.”

I'm sure my jaw was hanging. “You have a son?”

“The light of my life. And don't tell Bryce, but I think number two is on the way.” Her eyes drifted to her belly as she patted it with a gentle hand. “Sometimes, a girl just knows.”

There wasn't a ring on her finger, so what exactly did she mean by saying that they had given themselves to each other? I decided not to dig, instead congratulating her on the news.

The steak was honestly the best thing I had ever eaten! My new friend nudged me in the side and giggled, telling me that she hadn't been “puffing smoke” when she said it was wonderful. I was almost convinced I wouldn't be hungry for a week after such a delectable meal.

“So where are you going to work?” Anne asked as we walked back to the inn.

“There is a nearby school that sounds so amazing,” I sighed, biting my lip. “I'm really nervous, actually. It sounds perfect, so not getting the job would be almost devastating.”

“If it's perfect, I'm sure you'll get it. So what school?”

“Fieldside Preparatory. It's just a few miles east of here, isn't it?”

“You know... There is someone here who works there—one of Bryce's friends.”

“Really?” You are a godsend, Anne! “I would love to talk with this friend of yours! I mean, if it's not a bother.”

She shook her head. “No, no. It's nothing. Of course I'll introduce you. How is the day after tomorrow?”

“That sounds perfect, Anne. I cannot thank you enough for this!”

Before I could even think about stopping myself, my arms had thrown themselves around her. Thankfully, she laughed and embraced me in return.

“Hey, Elaine, if I can do something to make sure you stay here, I'll be damned if I don't do it.”

When we returned to the inn, Bryce and Cameron were waiting for Anne. Bryce greeted her with a warm embrace and a soft kiss before asking her about me. Anne had certainly done well for herself: Bryce Alan was a very handsome man! His features were soft and round, and his chestnut eyes were warm and inviting. He even had dimples when he grinned so widely that I thought his face would split in half. Anne mumbled an "I love you," and Bryce ruffled his buzzed blond hair as his cheeks reddened and he muttered a response. Anne introduced me as her new friend, and then she let me hold Cameron.

I had never been too fond of children back in Illinois, but Cameron was the sweetest little boy I had ever met. He cooed nonsense up at me and actually tried to steal my nose at one point. Why was this baby so different? I had to give him back to his mother before I thought to steal him.

The night was spent looking at my resume for only two minutes rather than the usual two hours, and the rest of my time whittled away while I stared out the window. This place was so beautiful, almost untouched by the disgusting industrialization that had all but taken over the rest of the world.

But this place made me think about things I had never really considered before: for one, a family. I had recently broken up with a perfectly nice guy because he had proposed. Something just hadn't felt right. I had thought that maybe I just wasn't a one-guy kind of girl.

Family, though... My family had been a strange one, not your average Brady Bunch in the least. I never knew my father, and my only memories of my mother were hazy childhood incidents. My mother, Christine, had passed away when I was too young to truly know her. She had left me with my Godmother, Lucille, who told me all I knew about my true parents. My mother had died of an illness (the specifics were not quite clear, for Lucille did not like to tell me about the passing of her best friend). While Lucille enjoyed telling me about what a sweet and gentle woman my mother was, she absolutely hated my father. She never met him, but my mother had apparently run from the man to save the both of us from such a monster. I didn't care to ever know about him, not that Lucille ever wanted to talk about him.

A family of my own seemed so far-fetched; I mean, I had spent the greater half of my life trying to awkwardly squirm my way out of any meaningful relationships I could have had. But Anne and Bryce seemed so happy, and it almost made me yearn for that. A husband and a child, the giddy joy of trying to find the right moment to tell that husband of the new child to be added to the family soon...

My purposefully-empty apartment in Chicago suddenly seemed so pointless.