Once the doors shut behind us, Tom guided the car off campus and onto the main road. "So," I asked, "Where are we going first?"
"It's a surprise." Tom grinned like a child and I couldn't help but smile back. His excitement was infectious, it was one of the many things I loved about him.
I could see that there was no point in pressing the issue; I wasn't going to get him to tell me, so I turned my attention to the view outside my window. We were just leaving Cambridge. The landscape looked vaguely familiar, as I had gone this route from Heathrow when I had come in the cab, but I was so jet lagged that I hadn't gotten to fully enjoy it.
All I could see for miles was flat, grassy fields lined with trees. English countryside at it's finest, I thought. It was a mildly cloudy day, which set everything off in lovely shades of grey and made it look like scenery from a film.
"Beautiful isn't it?" Tom smirked at me from the driver's side.
"Beautiful doesn't even begin to describe it. Do you ever get used to all this?" I pointed out the window, indicating the landscape around us.
"No," he replied, "It still takes my breath away." Tom looked out at the scenery wistfully. "Tell me about America," he said suddenly.
"Tell me about where you're from."
I didn't usually talk about my hometown. It wasn't that I didn't like it there, but things were so much more interesting here. "Well, I'm from Maine. The area is gorgeous, all mountains and rivers. My family used to go on a little trip every weekend to the lake, or on a hike, or a canoe trip. It was nice."
Tom smiled again. "It sounds wonderful."
I laughed, "I'll have to take you there sometime. I think you'd actually enjoy yourself."
"Sounds like a deal."
Actually, the idea of him coming to see where I grew up, to meet my family was horrifying. But I nodded anyway.
"We're almost there by the way."
"And where is 'there', exactly?" I checked my watch. We had been on the road for about and hour and 15 minutes.
"We're in Kent," Tom said, "They have the best fish and chips. Ah, here."
Tom pulled into the parking lot of a small building. The sign on the front said 'Papa's Fish and Chips'. It looked more like a house than a restaurant, with a brick facade and multiple sets of window adorning the street-facing side. I got out and Tom led me to the double French doors, opened them, and followed me inside.
The interior of the restaurant was cozy. Candles burned on the tables and sconces flickered along the walls. The hostess seated us and gave us our menus. Tom handed them right back, saying we would have two orders of the fish and chips. The young woman smiled, nodded, and walked back to place our order.
Tom turned again to face me, and placed his elbows on the table, folding his hands in front of him. "So, what's the verdict so far?"
"It's nice," I said, looking around, "homey."
"Is that Tom Hiddleston?" A sandy-haired old man walked around the bar smiling. Tom stood up and shook his hand with a laugh, then pulled him in for a hug.
"Gabi, this is Alfred. Better known as Papa."
The man shook my hand with a slight bow of the head and gave a squinty-eyed smile. "What brings you to these parts Tom? I haven't seen you around here for ages!"
"I've been at university. Cambridge."
"Ooh, big boy on campus, eh? A Cambridge lad, I can't believe it. But then again, you were always quite brilliant." Alfred turned to me. "Once, I got in a pinch with a customer who couldn't speak English. Tom here helped me out and translated. He speaks every language known to man, this one."
Tom laughed modestly, kindly insisting that he only spoke a few languages, definitely not "all of them". "Well what can I get you Tom? You want something to drink for you and you're lady friend?"
"Sure Alfred, uh....I'll have a Guinness Stout. What do you want darling?"
"I'd like a Stelle Artois please Alfred." I responded.
"Sure thing sweet cheeks, coming up." Alfred walked back around the bar, grabbed two glasses, and began filling.
"You never told me you knew your brews." Tom raised his eyebrows, looking surprised and impressed.
I shrugged. "Picked it up from my dad. He owns a brewery back home. He taught me everything about it; the differences between the malts, what makes a dark different from a light, all of it. By the way, I'm trying some of yours, Guinness Stout is one of my favorites. But I can never drink a whole one without getting a little drunk. It's heavy stuff."
Right then, Alfred returned with our drinks and the waitress came with our food. Tom was right, these fish and chips were the best I had ever had. The fish was perfectly flaky and melted in your mouth like something out of a fairytale, while the chips were perfectly fried and crisp on the outside. There was very little conversation outside of the occasional groan of pleasure while we ate.
After we had both finished, Tom tossed some cash on the table and we got up, said our goodbyes to Alfred (with promises to return soon, of course), and left. "So," I asked once we were back on the road, "Where to next?"
He couldn't have said a more thrilling word then. I had always wanted to visit London, but I hadn't gotten the chance to go with school taking up all of my time. I grinned like a child on the way to Disneyland. We were going to London; the great beating heart of England. I couldn't wait.