January 3rd, 1989

January 3rd, 1989
Orlando, Florida
Gabriel’s parents’ house

I’m writing this in Gabriel’s bed, which feels a little strange. Wait, that doesn’t sound good! I’m sleeping in Gabriel and Scottie’s old room, and Gabriel is on the sofa in the living room. It’s almost five in the morning, and we’ve been talking quietly (and kissing) out on the sun porch for the past few hours. I feel totally knackered (read as: slightly pissed) and I’m getting ahead of myself here, so I’ll start from this morning.

I cycled to the bank to change more sterling into dollars. It’s an easy bike ride as most of the area around Miriam’s is flat, and wooded, perfect for walking, but nobody ever walks anywhere. Everyone drives, even short distances.

As well as my trip to the bank, I stopped in Winn Dixie’s, to look for the freshly baked cookies with the two pence sized chocolate chips. I scoffed one cycling back, and kept the other one hidden in my bag. I wouldn’t feel comfortable eating them around Carol when she’s trying so hard to lose weight.

In American films, it’s always young kids you see, using the school bus, but Carol’s bus is filled with kids around her age, fifteen or so. Carol told me that she and most of her friends will drive to school, as early as next year, when they get their driving license. I don’t remember anyone ever driving to Secondary (I had to explain to Carol that’s what we call High School.) I told her we either walked, or went on our bikes, like I did, with Lucy and Sarah. Carol was highly amused when I told her I got my driving license just a few months ago, at the ripe old age of twenty-one!

Gabriel rang, and we had a nice chat, then Liza got on the phone and invited me for dinner. Apparently, Miriam and Carol had already planned on going, so I went with them.
I thought it might feel a bit awkward seeing Gabriel again, but it didn’t at all. We smiled at each other across the table during dinner, and played footsie. Around us, there was a lot of chat about Scotland, and Miriam, Liza and Sandra all said the same thing; they miss certain things about their homeland, but they wouldn’t want to live there again. I wasn’t surprised to hear that, given that they’ve each lived here for decades, and built a life with their families.

Liza asked if I miss living in Scotland. I told her when dad broke the news that we were moving to England (when I was 14) I started crying and said I didn’t want to go. I was tied at the hip to my best friend, Linda, from school, who was also my dancing partner in the multitude of competitions we entered. I remember feeling like a fish out of water on the first day at my new school, surrounded by accents very different to mine, but in no time I made friends and things started looking up.

I imagine it was similarly daunting for Miriam, Liza and Sandra when they each made a move here, to be with their husbands. Liza told us that for the first couple of months she lived here, her husband was the only person she knew. I can’t imagine ever being so reliant on anyone. Nor can I say the language is the same either. There are so many phrases that I don’t understand. “Fixin” means getting ready to do something. How confusing is that!

When Gabriel and I were in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner, he asked if I’d like to go out. I replied, “yes, please,” and he started laughing. Gabriel borrowed his dad’s car and we drove for thirty minutes, to a tiny building, sitting by itself, in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. There was a neon Budweiser sign flashing in the window, and I expected Gabriel to keep driving, but he parked the car and shut off the engine!

Walking into the bar, it felt a bit like the movie scene where the saloon doors swing open, and the pianist abruptly stops. Gabriel said he likes bars like that because there’s nothing like it where he lives in California. Apparently, the drinking age here is twenty-one, which means it’s only been legal for Gabriel to drink for a few months. I have a sneaking suspicion he broke that law, perhaps more than once.

Gabriel ordered a beer (yuck) and I caught him snickering when I asked the guy behind the bar for a white wine spritzer. I boldly went in search of the loo, and when I came back, Gabriel was sitting beside the pool table. I sat down, he pushed my drink towards me, and laughed when I clinked my glass to his beer bottle and said “cheers.”

I mistook the drink for juice, took a huge gulp, and was surprised when I got a mouthful of vodka, with just a trace of cranberry juice.
“Phew,” I said, shaking my head.
“They don’t have wine here, so I got you a Cape Codder. Do you like it?”
“I do, actually.”
“It usually comes with a lime, but if I asked the bartender for a slice of lime, he’d have thrown me out on my ass.”
We both looked in the direction of the bar.
“Yeah, you don’t want to mess with grizzly bear,” I said, and we cracked up laughing.

Some of the men in the bar wore cowboy boots and Stetson’s, and for the others it was big hair overload (male and female!) I can honestly say I’ve never been in a bar like it. Total dive.

The pool table was in high demand, and Gabriel asked if I wanted to play. We had to add our names to a list, and wait our turn. Several drinks later, a burly man in a patchwork shirt, with a grey ZZ top beard, passed his cue to me.

Gabriel and I could hardly play for laughing, as I was beyond terrible, and had absolutely no clue what I was doing. Burly man sidled up to me and mumbled something, but I had no idea what he said. Gabriel wasted no time stepping in between us. “We’re good man, we’re good,” he said.

In the next couple of hours, I downed enough Cape Codders (what a strange name!) to get what they call “buzzed” here. I quite like that expression. Seems it’s halfway between being sober and pissed. I told Gabriel we call it “tipsy,” and he said that was a “quaint” word.

A rather motley looking bunch of men started setting up their instruments, and when they played, I was surprised at how good they were. Gabriel asked if I wanted to leave and go somewhere else, but I was really enjoying the music. He was well impressed by my knowledge of Johnny Cash songs. Thanks dad!

We stayed ‘til closing time, and finished the night with a very nice slow dance. Gabriel asked if I had to get back to Miriam’s. I didn’t think she, or Hank, would appreciate being woken up at two in the morning, so we came back to Gabriel’s, and crept out onto the sun porch. He offered me a drink, and laughed when I asked for tea, but said he’s used to that with his mum.

He went into the kitchen, and I expected him to return with a cup of tea, but instead, he came back holding a bottle of tequila.
“That’s not tea,” I whispered.
Gabriel put his finger to his mouth, and swung the bottle slightly. “This is way better,” he said. He poured us each a small glass, and with a big smile on his face, he clinked his glass to mine and said, “cheers.”

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