MAKE NO mistake: Aaron was crystal clear regarding the fact that this was very much his own fault.

The thing was, though, the opportunity had been so enticing. Leave from work through mid-January, a sort of mea culpa for the two weeks’ worth of weather delays on the East Coast keeping him grounded abroad after his conference in Aberdeen, particularly leaving him stranded over Christmas. An unbeatable deal to switch to the first of January and fill a seat on a too-empty transatlantic flight, checked bags included—which was important, given the change was on his Bank of America card and not the company account.

Though perhaps most importantly, in making the decision for him, was the quick and ardent love he’d developed for a country he had never set foot in before but heard stories about all his life: the mother country. His great-grandfather’s land. His grandmother’s extended-honeymoon home when his grandfather was stationed abroad. Milk and honey, or, well.

Thistle and unicorns and whisky-without-an-e.

He had given his card number with near-to-no hesitation, rationalizing that the travel points he was getting outweighed the price of the hotel for a few more nights—outlandishly high, compared to what he’d originally booked for, but he chalked that up to the fact that it was last minute and the holidays. The woman at the front desk had smiled at him in relief when she’d extended his stay, enthusing that she was shocked there were any rooms left—and so signed on to an extra three days in Scotland. Not long, not nearly long enough, but he’d fallen in love with the cities, the villages, the brief glimpses of still-persistent green out train windows and the good humor of the people. Even just a few extra days felt like a windfall.

The weather was mild, particularly compared to his native Boston, and he had barely scratched the surface of what Edinburgh had to offer in the days since he’d arrived in the city for his original flight back home. Maybe he would try climbing up to Arthur’s Seat. He’d heard it’d caught fire earlier in the year, and hell, who knew what would still be standing “later” anywhere in the world, these days. He also probably owed his parents a few more cheesy souvenirs than the handful he’d already collected, given how much they’d sat reminiscing of bonnie Scotland far longer than he ever had, but yet had never made the trip themselves. He’d already made a side-trip to his grandfather’s old base and taken more pictures than was strictly necessary and a stop at the graveyard where his great-great-great-uncle was buried.

He’d sent a few of the photos ahead of himself from his phone, and his grandparents’ Facebook pages hadn’t been quiet since, so he figured their gifts were mostly taken care of, at least.

But that was how Aaron found himself, on the 30th of December, wrapped in a too-long scarf and a too-formal wool coat that brushed the backs of his knees awkwardly as he climbed toward the Royal Mile. He had admittedly expected the tourist shops to be a bit less packed than they were, Christmas having come and gone, but maybe New Year was a big deal? He was in the capital of the country, after all. But they’d offered him the deal on his flight on the first because it was too empty, so….

Whatever. He was in Scotland. He wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.