The aftertaste of the whisky was still in my mouth. I had consumed a lot of Bryan's bottle. Indulged in his generosity. But not too drunk to find my way home. Luckily, North Berwick's station was close to the house: less than a five-minute walk, along the short path that led down Abbey Road to where it met Westgate. A big old stone house, home to the Axams since the early sixties. I made my way to the kitchen and removed a glass bottle from the refrigerator, unscrewed the cap and brought the cold, clear liquid to my lips.
Not drinking alcohol again. I made sure to keep my fridge fully stocked with mineral water. If I was thirsty, this would be my beverage of choice. As it was, drinking was too easy for me here. As it was in Chŏnju. But I wasn't going to drink like I did in Ottawa, after the accident.
"Get up." My sisters words from more than a year and a half ago still rang in my ears. But now another voice could be heard. Another voice from my past.
"Roland, move forward. You have to live your life to the fullest so that we will be remembered." The voice was clear. It was one I hadn't heard in a long time. It was Kristen's. "Remember we said we can't wait for Laura Elizabeth to get a little older? Maybe when she turned five? We'd show her the world. You have to see the world for us, Roland. You have to be our eyes."
I looked at the bottle in my hand to make sure I was, indeed, drinking water. The label read Perrier. I must have had too much at Siobhan's. The jet lag from moving from Korea to Canada, and now to Scotland, was getting to me. I could almost see Kristen standing near the sink, her red hair styled as it had been on our wedding day, the same glow in her green eyes. She was dressed casually, in jeans and her signature leisure orange blouse, the same clothes she wore on weekends, the same clothes she wore on her last day. I knew Kristen wasn't standing there but I wanted us to have this imagined moment together.
"I've missed you," I said, the words coming more emotional that I intended, my words choked. "I've seen so much and I've always wanted to share it with you."
"The Great Wall," she said, referring to my trip last September, to China, "beautiful. I'm so glad you realized a dream in going."
"Even though I was with another woman?"
"I'm gone, Roland, and I know you still love me. But you need to be happy, you need to move forward. Be with whoever gives you that happiness."
"I know. I'm getting there. I still wish you were along the journey."
"I am," said Kristen. "I'm there, in your heart. Wherever you go, I'll be there with you. Even when you were standing on that wall, looking at the beautiful countryside, I was in your thoughts. You weren't getting emotional and thinking of sharing the moment with Tanya. You were thinking of me. I love you, Roland. I want to be with you, in your thoughts, when you enjoy new discoveries and take in the sights."
"The weather's supposed to be nice tomorrow," I said. "Fancy a stroll to the top of The Law?" Kristen never liked walking up to the summit of Berwick Law, only did it the first time I brought her to my home town. Afterwards, she'd remain in town while I performed what became a morning ritual. She always said she'd wave from the comfort of the bedroom window. "You're in my head, and this time you're coming with!"