Chapter 1: Glasgow
He dreamt of her again.
It wasn’t quite like seeing things through her eyes, as though he was her, but like a silent bystander, a faithful shadow. For the past six months he had seen her in his dreams, always the same face.
Jamie had read somewhere that the strangers in your dreams were people you had seen at some point in your life. He wondered if he passed by her every day and had just never noticed.
But truth was, he would have noticed her.
In the weird, dreamlike state, he watched her make a cup of tea, her hand shaking ever so slightly as she poured sugar in and stirred. He could almost hear the clinking of crockery against the spoon. She closed her eyes as she sipped and the warm drink seemed to steady her.
She was afraid.
She walked out of the kitchen, into a small den, where she turned on the TV to BBC News. Jamie still stood next to her, unable to sit or go anywhere else in the house. A dream where he knew he was dreaming, but powerless to steer. He looked at the screen for a few minutes, and recognized the news presenter.
They were in London.
Before he could react, he heard a slamming door down a corridor and a man hurry into the den, straightening his tie.
“Is there any for me?” The man waited next to the woman, next to Jamie, who shrugged and waved her own cup towards the kitchen.
With a huff and a roll of his eyes, the man disappeared only to make his presence felt by the banging of cupboard doors and rattling cutlery.
The woman closed her eyes, screwing them tightly as though wishing the man away.
Jamie could hear mutterings, something about keeping things organized, taking the time, going back to work… Apparently, it made the woman angry, for she set her cup down (narrowly avoiding smashing it), picked up a purse hanging on a coatrack, and grabbing a set of keys from a bowl by the front door.
As soon as the door shut behind her, Jamie woke up, in his own bed in Glasgow. Dim morning light suffused his bedroom, as he lay and pondered over his dream. He had never seen the man before, only her – shopping for groceries, going for walks in a park, in her apartment. But only in this dream had he noticed where she lived, and the ring on her finger.
He watched the light creep steadily across the duvet, until the alarm on his phone beeped time to get up. He reached over to turn it off quickly, but she woke up anyway.
His girlfriend Laoghaire stretched an arm across his chest, holding him with a murmured good morning.
Chapter 2: London
I took off my ring and put it in my purse for safekeeping, stashing everything inside my locker. Changing into blue scrubs, I pulled my unruly curls into submission with a hair tie, slipped my trainers on and my white lab coat, and was out the door in no time, eager for work.
This was what Frank would never understand: the thrill of correct diagnoses, the rush of saving lives, the gratitude in a patient’s eyes. Not staying at home, being a perfect Stepford wife, attending and hosting his dinner parties, like he clearly wanted.
Our marriage had lost its luster; it felt like it was now covered by a thin veneer of civility, and that getting thinner by the day. I sighed – perhaps some time away together, a holiday, a second honeymoon, might help regain lost territory.
Or marriage counseling. The fact that I was relieved about having a shift where I didn’t have to go home for another 36 hours was telling; the relief was balanced out in equal shares with guilt.
After a simple scheduled tonsillectomy, the day flew by attending other cases, none of them very serious. When we hit a lull at one in the morning, I checked in at the nurses’ station with Mrs. Duncan, the head of staff.
“I think I’m off for a rest, Mrs. Duncan, I’ll be in the on-call room if I’m needed.”
“That’s alright, dearie. Mary’s doing a few rounds as well. Take a nap.” She waved me off with a smile.
I took off my trainers and white coat. Sliding onto one of the cots provided for doctors and interns working all-nighters, I pulled a thin hospital-issue blanket over me and was asleep in seconds.
And the red-haired man was there.
I had had my share of recurring dreams in my life; the typical school dreams, flying, and recurring nightmares featuring dinosaurs for some odd reason.
But him – this was different from other dreams. I was standing in the middle of a bookshop, next to a tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in a simple jeans and a grey shirt. Muted streetlight filtered through the display windows, as he bent down and used a box cutter to slice through a taped package.
I looked around. This setting was new. I couldn’t go anywhere in these dreams, it seemed, except wherever the man went.
Before, I’d accompanied him on early-morning runs through cobbled streets, watched him sip coffee at a kitchen table, and seen him contemplate sunrise on a lush, hilly farm that minded me of Ireland or Scotland. The bright mop of coppery cinnamon hair made him Celtic at least.
I glanced down and saw he was unpacking books from the box. I wondered if he worked here or owned the shop. I leaned around him and took a good look at the box. The shipping label for the recipient read D’un Monde A L’autre – Booksellers. Glasgow.
The books he was stacking on a counter were new Ken Folletts. I’d been dying to read the latest release, but didn’t know if I’d have time, between the hospital and catering to Frank’s social demands.
I followed him behind the counter while he proceeded to scan the barcode on all the books. I observed his hands, competent and strong, handle box after box. The serenity in his striking blue eyes, the love and respect all the books in the shop seemed to command.
I’d lost track of time – but then you always do, in dream worlds. Several boxes later, there was a brief tap at the glass door. A blonde woman stood there, waving at the man. I’d never managed to catch his name, if he had one.
“Hey.” The blonde woman gave him a quick peck on the lips as she walked in. “Pub’s finally closed. Ready to go?” I noticed her attire and deduced she worked as a server. Her name tag read Laoghaire. Lah-ogh… leg-hair? A strange name to dream of.
“In a minute.” His voice, which I had never heard before, sent a quiver of reconnaissance through me. Deep, self-assured, calm, like warm honey on cake.
It took more than a minute – more like fifteen. She stood by, tapping her foot impatiently while she waited, but never once offered to help. He finished stocking the new books, shut down the computer, and flicked off the lights in the shop.
It went dark, but I couldn’t follow. I stood rooted to the bookshop floor and watched them walk away until they turned a corner.
I woke up, wishing it were a world where he was real.
Chapter 3: Glasgow
Jamie stood in a hospital hallway, watching her walk purposefully down the corridor. She was wearing a white doctor’s coat, and another mystery was solved. She worked in a hospital. He felt a small thrill of acknowledgement, as he filled another gap in the dream memories he had of her.
She was about to turn the corner, and he followed her, powerless to stop himself. Waving or calling out a goodbye here and there, she seemed to be going off duty. Jamie caught sight of a wall clock above a nurses’ station, which read 3 AM. It made sense; he was sleeping soundly in his bed, and she was just leaving her shift.
She walked through a door and it swung behind them; they were in a sort of locker changing room. Jamie stood in the corner while she took off her coat, and saw that the breast pocket was embroidered with her name. He stepped closer and read Claire E. Randall, MD and below that General Surgery.
Claire. She had a name, this dream girl of his. It meant ‘light’. A doctor, which explained why she was awake while he dreamed of her. And he wondered if perhaps she dreamt of him too.
Suddenly he realized she was taking off more than her white coat and was swiftly removing her blue scrubs as she stripped down to her underwear. He felt his face flame red (was it only in his sleep?) and he turned hastily to face the corner, cheeks burning.
Jamie waited until he heard the soft click of shoes on the linoleum and peeked over his shoulder. Fully dressed now, Claire yanked at a hair tie and her spiralling tresses fell free to her shoulders.
The mad collieshangie of her hair made him want to touch it, to bury his hands in the dark curls and watch then spill over his fingers. Wasn’t that inappropriate – but he didn’t control his subconscious. So different from Laoghaire’s pin-straight blonde locks, he thought.
Unwittingly, he paced closer, stretching a hand out to tap Claire on the shoulder, half-wishing she would feel it and turn, and half-fearing the implications if she did.
Jamie’s eyes opened in the gloom. His arm was extended across the empty space next to him on the bed, reaching to touch someone who wasn’t there. He let his body sag into the mattress, inexplicable disappointment flooding through him.
But it was just a dream, nothing more than his imagination galloping wild into the night as he slept. He rolled over in the bed to face the opposite side. On the nightstand, his phone lay charging until he picked it up and checked the time.
Jamie paused for a beat, then opened his phone’s internet browser.
What if he found her?
Chapter 4: London
*** Possible trigger warning ***
I flung the door away from me, not caring that Frank was right behind me.
He caught it with his palms outstretched, and the glass in the frame rattled with the force of the blow. “What were you thinking, Claire?”
“I couldn’t not respond, not when your so-called colleague is a misogynistic ass!”
* * *
We had arrived on time to another of Frank’s endless schmoozing university social functions. I was immediately whisked to the ladies’ side of the evening, and Frank went with the men. I was given a drink and found myself in a circle of women, all university wives. I watched with a bemused smile as they all held their martini, wine, and champagne glasses in the same way (left hand held aloft, right hand cupping elbow, arm across their stomachs). I listened with increasing anxiety as they discussed how difficult it was to find good household help.
Until I could take it no more.
I drifted away to find Frank, and ask how much longer we had to endure this failed social experiment. He turned to smile distractedly at me and put a hand on the small of my back. One of the men in the group moved so I could seemingly join them.
“… and of course, the female professors arguing about the whole pay-gap thing is just preposterous!” A rumble of appreciative laughter. “Men and women are simply not equal and never will be. A woman is better off at home.”
I could feel heat rising in my face as several of the men in the group eyed me warily as they tittered at the comments.
“It was a sad day when women took up the reins of government – what a muck-up that has been!”
“I beg your pardon—”
Frank cut me off as he squeezed my waist and touched my arm firmly. “Dean Jackson, this is my wife, Claire. She’s a physician at St. Mary’s.”
“A doctor? Indeed. Where did you complete your studies?” A hint of a sneer as he sipped his drink.
“Cambridge,” I replied through gritted teeth. “However, I don’t think—”
“Pah. I’m an Oxford man myself, always have been.” Dean Jackson raised his glass in a toast and a few others did as well. “And tell me, Dr. Randall, as a physician, do you believe in this whole vaccination thing?”
The hand holding the glass trembled, while the other was tightly clenched in rage. I managed to swallow and Frank continued to pat me on the back as though I were a skittish horse.
“I think you’ll find, Dean Jackson, there is vast scientific evidence supporting vaccination. Recently, there was an article published in The Economist about an outbreak of measles, a disease that had practically been eradicated—”
“The Economist? A medical article?” Dean Jackson sipped again and turned his back on us. As he walked away, he called over his shoulder, “Professor Randall, you should pay closer attention to your wife’s reading habits. No wonder few women succeed as physicians.”
Frank had to physically restrain me as the rest of Jackson’s entourage scurried after him; a few cast alarmed glances in my direction. Frank pulled me towards the guest bathroom and past the group of ladies who had been nonchalantly eavesdropping.
“Really, Claire, he’s the head of my department. Dean Jackson—”
“Fuck the dean.”
Several of the women gasped at my uncouth expression. I threw them a murderous glare before we reached the guest bathroom. I pushed the door open and closed it in Frank’s face.
I took deep breaths, running my hands through my hair and making it riot. My cheeks were flushed with anger; I splashed cold water on my face and sat on the lidded toilet seat.
What was the point of all this? Frank did not really approve of my work as a doctor. He resented the long, sometimes unpredictable hours of my shifts and the fact that I was not inclined to change my ways – who I bloody was – to suit him.
I was tired; after a full day of work, to have to argue with an arrogant bastard. All I wanted was to sleep. For a week.
Perchance to dream. Of him.
As though on autopilot, I pulled out my phone from my suit pocket. Found Chrome. Searched for: dun monde a lautre glasgow.
Several results immediately popped up. Mentions in reviews, a Facebook page, and an actual website. I felt prickles up and down my spine. How could it be real? I had only ever dreamt of it—I had never set foot in Scotland.
I tapped on the website address. I saw pictures of the bookshop, the exterior façade as well as shots from inside. I had been there—in dreams.
I was elated and sick all at once. If this bookshop really did exist, it would of course logically follow that he did too.
“Excuse me, miss?”
The soft knocks at the door startled me, and I dropped my phone on the floor with a clatter. I turned off the display and stepped out of the bathroom, apologizing to the elderly woman who had been waiting.
Frank was standing by the door, our coats draped over his arm. His expression was somber as he drove us home. All the while I was thinking, Why would I go to Glasgow at all?
I didn’t even know his name.
* * *
“This is my job we’re talking about!” Frank’s raised voice brought me back from my reverie.
“We talk enough about my job as well, and how much you hate it!” I snapped, incensed.
“He’s my boss! I can’t believe you were so crass and rude—”
“I’ll give you fucking rude.” I pushed past him into the narrow hallway.
Frank grabbed my wrist and pulled, effectively stopping me in my tracks. He swung me around, and flung me against the wall. I collided against a small sturdy wooden table, the few knickknacks laid on it shuddering with the impact. I took a misstep on my high-heeled shoes—worn just for the occasion. I clipped the side of my head against the edge of the table.
As I hit the floor, the wind was knocked out of me, and it was all I could do to breathe. The pain in my head was dull, but intense; I raised my hand shakily to check for blood. None.
I slid backwards on the floor, away from Frank. I wheezed, every breath a stab at my temple. Frank was strangely silent, and when I tried to look up, I could see his eyes start to tear up, remorseful.
“Claire, I didn’t mean to—I’m sorry!” He reached out to help me up, but I slapped his hand away before he could touch me.
“Get the fuck away from me,” I hissed. Frank recoiled at my words. I struggled to rise, grasping the stupid table. Gritting my teeth, I dragged myself down the hall, holding my hand gingerly against my throbbing head.
I shut the door to our room, locking it. I wished I could move the heavy dresser across it. I thought about undressing to put on my pajamas, but I lacked the motivation. I gave up, crawling carefully onto the bed. Forget work tomorrow. I rolled on my back, breathing shallowly. I concentrated on the pain, as it dulled into a deep ache. I drifted in and out of sleep, but no dreams came.
Chapter 5: Glasgow to London
St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington station. St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington station. St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington station.
Jamie repeated this information over and over again, even though he had committed it to memory ever since he had found it. The train clacked along the rails, the panorama whizzing by. Time seemed to move strangely; sometimes in great dollops where 40 minutes had passed without his noticing, and then it slowed down unbearably until he feared he’d never make it to London.
What was he doing on a train to London, anyway? He had told Laoghaire a half-truth: he was scoping out London bookshops for fresh ideas, a meeting with a supplier, merchandise to stock, a trip round Daunt, Hatchard’s and Waterstone’s.
What she didn’t need to know was that he had found Claire. Her name had popped up almost immediately as part of their consultant directory. Seeing her (not quite in the flesh, but a very real picture of a very real person) sent Jamie into a tailspin. Her face was just like he had dreamed.
The matter of why she was in his dreams persisted. He must have seen her somewhere before – perhaps she had a vacation home in Scotland, or she would turn out to be an old family friend.
The call for Paddington station roused him from his thoughts, and he tossed his bag over his shoulder. A couple of days, he had told Laoghaire. I’ll call you, he had said. He felt somewhat guilty, but told himself it was not cheating. He just wanted to see her, maybe talk to her, establish that connection… no more.
Jamie walked out into bright sunshine and followed the signs to the hospital. He walked under an archway bearing the hospital’s name, then wondered where he could find Claire. Did he actually expect to see her right off, like she was waitingfor him? What if it was her day off, or she was away on a holiday and this trip had been for nothing?
He almost turned around. He almost went back to Paddington to buy his return ticket home. He almost missed the entrance to the A&E department, but the doors opened for him automatically with a soft hiss. Jamie paused, and went inside.
There was a reception area, staffed with nurses, and chairs for waiting patients. He stood there, recognizing the place from a previous dream.
“Can I help you, sir?” A kind-looking elderly lady addressed him with a smile. Her name tag read Gillian Duncan. “Are you looking for a patient?”
“Ah, um… I was wondering if Dr. Randall was here. Dr. Claire Randall. Um, yes.” He sounded like an idiot to his own ears, but hoped he didn’t look much like one.
“She is on duty, sir. Is it a consult? Would you like me to page her?” The woman was halfway back to the nurses’ station and reaching for the phone when Jamie reached out to stop her.
“No, no, please. Dinna bother. It’s – it’s nothing serious. I’ll speak to her later.” He backed out of the A&E as Gillian Duncan stared after him, concern etched on her lined face. He couldn’t guess whether the concern was for him or Claire.
Jamie rounded the corner again, leaning against the brick wall. She was tangible. She worked at this hospital. Somewhere behind that wall at his back, Claire walked, breathed, doctored.
What could he say to her that didn’t sound crazy or stupid? Oh excuse me, lass, but I’ve been dreaming about you for months. That would have her ringing for the police right quick. Jamie pushed off the wall and meandered aimlessly away from the hospital. Thoughts of Paddington circled again, but he dismissed them. He had come this far already.
He found a place called Lena’s Café relatively closed and commandeered a table for the better part of the afternoon. He downed cup after cup of coffee that only made him more jittery and nervous, but not brave enough to go find Claire.
At around six he settled up and left the café, bag in hand. He was unsure of where to go. Perhaps he had to admit defeat and just accept that she existed; he in Glasgow, she in London, separated by miles and time and the impossibility of dreams.
Then Claire turned the street corner.
Jamie held his breath as she walked down the opposite sidewalk, a scarf tied loosely around her neck, and a beige-gray coat fitted snugly on her shoulders. Her eyes were downcast, focused solely on the road before her. But the wild curls of her hair fluttered loose in the wind, maddening with the urge to plunge his hands into them and twist them between his fingers. The scent of her hair would permeate his skin and he would know her his.
There was a bruise on her temple.
It stood out in livid contrast with her creamy skin. She made no effort to conceal it with makeup, but there was something about the way she walked, holding her side carefully, that made Jamie think she was injured.
“That motherfucking bastard,” Jamie growled under his breath. He started towards her, then realized several things. One, he felt and probably looked angry enough to startle and upset her. Two, Claire was actually there, in the flesh, and three, how could he just approach her?
He hoped she wasn’t going home, back to that arsehole boyfriend/husband of hers. Come to think of it, she wasn’t wearing a ring, he noticed, observing her carefully. Her shoulders hunched, and she sped up, down the street towards the tube station.
Jamie stepped into the street and was almost sideswiped by an irate cyclist, who gave him the finger and an “Oi! Watch it, mate!” while his heart pounded crazily.
He looked again, and she was gone.
* * *
The Prince Edward pub served a mean steak and ale pie. Jamie ate despondently, sipping from a pint occasionally. He had time to catch a late train home after dinner, and sleep all day tomorrow.
The pub wasn’t terribly busy for a weeknight. Every time the door opened, he looked up and something in his heart squeezed, irrationally hoping that Claire might walk in. His phone rang in his jacket pocket, startling him briefly. He checked the screen – Laoghaire. Swallowing hard, he answered. “Hey.”
Jamie could hear background noise, talking and laughing. A pounding musical beat came through the speaker, telling him Laoghaire was probably at work. He pulled the phone away from his ear, and still noise poured out. “Laoghaire?”
Nothing from her end. Perhaps she had dialed by accident. Shaking his head, Jamie was about to end the call when he heard her laugh and say his name.
“… not home.” Her very identifiable girlish giggle. Pause. Noise. “He’s in London tonight. Come over to my place.” A man’s voice replying in the affirmative and a few choice crude phrases. That was when he pressed End Call.
Pushing his chair back with a groan, he tossed a few quid on the table and stumbled out. The night air had an icy edge to it, cutting through his mental fog for the first time in hours. Jamie had come to London in search of another woman, and Laoghaire had taken advantage of his absence to flirt and bed another man. Clearly, they were ill-suited for each other and the sooner he could end it, the better.
Still staring at his phone, he shook his head and pocketed it again. He stepped off the curb and did not see the cab coming. Dimly he heard the screech of tires and immediately after that he felt blinding pain everywhere as his legs failed under him, he struck the asphalt sideways, and his head cracked on the street.
The last thing he saw was Claire’s face.
Chapter 6: London
“Claire, dear, Dr. Rawlings is off due to a family situation, so he’s asked to have his most recent patient transferred to your care.” Mrs. Duncan’s voice came through the phone distantly as I roused myself from the fog of sleep.
“What is it?” I was already fumbling for my slippers, on my way to the bathroom to freshen up before heading back to the hospital.
“It was an emergency surgery. Ruptured spleen, concussion, a broken finger, bruising and some pretty serious scrapes. Patient was hit by a car.”
“And his condition?”
“He’s in recovery, sedated. We just need you to supervise and be here when the family comes in.”
“On my way, Mrs. Duncan.” I tossed my phone into my purse and grabbed my keys to lock up. I paused briefly, glancing at Frank’s suitcases and bags piled up near the entrance. He would be here to pick them up later. I was relieved I probably wouldn’t see him when he did.
Knowing our relationship irrevocably damaged, Frank had offered to leave. I had been the one to stuff his clothes and books into his monogrammed luggage pieces, but Frank was staying at a hotel. Nothing he could say would ever make it right between us again. I had contacted a solicitor, Ned Gowan, and filed a petition for divorce.
It was over.
Muttering to myself about the pending paperwork I had to send over to Mr. Gowan, I walked into the hospital and beelined for the doctors’ changing rooms. Once I was in scrubs again—having left the hospital mere hours ago—I located Mrs. Duncan at the nurses’ station.
“Hello, Mrs. Duncan. Do you have the patient’s information?”
“Right here, dearie. He’s been wheeled to room 307. A family member should be in soon.”
“Thank you.” I took the proffered clipboard and made my way to the elevator bank. It was a man named James Fraser, aged 35, who had been hit by a cab relatively nearby, and transported to the nearest hospital. He had been lucky, to have been operated upon so soon before the ruptured spleen could bleed too much internally.
I opened the door to 307 softly, even though Mr. Fraser was likely still under sedation. The harsh lighting over the bed lit up the strands of his fiery red hair, and I gasped, dropping the chart with a clatter.
It was him. James Fraser was the man of my dreams.
Under the snowy bandages wrapped around his head, the telltale copper hair peeked out, and the knife-like edge of his nose sported a cut across the bridge. He had a bruise on his left temple. I raised my hand and briefly touched the purplish mark on my own face. We match, I thought ruefully.
I took in the rest of him, stretched under the thin hospital blankets. His large frame barely fit on the bed, his long toes pushed against the foot of the bed. One arm was hooked up to an IV drip of antibiotics and painkillers; the other was in a splint. I could see the broken pinkie finger was taped to the adjacent intact finger. Dr. Rawlings had done a neat job.
Bending over to pick up the chart, I stepped quietly towards the bed; I dragged one of those uncomfortable visitors’ chairs close to the monitor. My eyes roved over James Fraser’s face, taking it in. I knew his eyes would be a startling blue once he opened them. I could identify the timbre of his voice without having heard it in real life. I had seen his hands lift heavy boxed of books effortlessly, and also pat a dog’s head with infinite care and affection.
Why was he here? He was meant to be in Glasgow. I reached a hand, hesitant, before I traced a finger softly over the back of his uninjured hand. His own hand gave a slight twitch, and a peaceful smile touched his face briefly.
I laid my hand fully over his, and settled in for the rest of the night. I fell asleep myself still watching his face, the full brows and the wide mouth with sweet lips… the face of my dreams.
* * *
“Jamie!” The screech startled me awake and I flew to my feet, heart pounding. I looked around me and remembered the hospital, the accident, James Fraser.
In the doorway stood a woman— Leog-what’s-her-name. I also remembered her blonde hair and impatient huffs from the bookstore dream. With a doctor’s instinct, I reached for the clipboard and quickly read James’ vitals. Laoghaire approached the bed, hovering and getting in my way as I read the monitor and checked the IV. She took his hand, the one in the splint.
“Don’t! He’s injured!” I batted her hand away, suddenly livid. Couldn’t she see he was hurt?
“Who are ye?” she asked, furious, hands on her hips. The white coat, the scrubs, the stethoscope, honestly?
“Um, I’m Dr. Randall, his attending physician. And you?” I refrained from extending my hand.
“I’m Laoghaire.” Lee-ree, she pronounced it, with a thick Scottish brogue. “What happened to Jamie?” Jamie suited him better, I decided—but I had no right to call him that.
The lightest of touches crept up my arm, and I turned to see James’ hand moving. His eyes were open, groggy, a striking azure.
“Laoghaire?” His voice was cracked and whispery from the drugs and disuse.
“I’m here, Jamie, I’m here!” She traipsed to the opposite side of the bed, trying to clutch at his injured hand again. She desisted after I threw her a murderous glare, and settled for touching his shoulder.
“Mr. Fraser, you’re in St. Mary’s hospital, London. You’ve had an accident and emergency surgery.” He attempted to move and sit up before I put my hand on his other shoulder and settled him back. His eyes lit up in wonder, and then crinkled at the corners.
“Oh, I’m dreaming again.” He stopped struggling, and reached a wavering hand to touch my face.
As soon as his fingers made contact with my skin, Jamie recoiled, eyes widening in shock. “Ye’re here! Ye’re real!”
I smiled. “So are you.” I fussed with his blankets so my expression wouldn’t betray my thoughts. Here? Real?
Laoghaire intervened, pushing my hands aside while she tucked the blankets around him again. ”I thought ye were deid! The hospital called and—”
“Claire.” The word stopped Laoghaire in her tracks, and a blush suffused my cheeks.
“How do you know my name?” I whispered.
Jamie’s eyes seemed to clear for a second, then he smiled back before grimacing in pain at the injuries on his face. “It’s on yer white coat.”
Oh. I tugged at the embroidery with my name and smiled again, tight-lipped. While I was distracted, Laoghaire poked at the splint on Jamie’s hand and he yelped, jerking his hand away.
“Oh, darling, are ye in pain? Give him something, put him to sleep!” Laoghaire screeched, oblivious to the confines of the small room.
“I’m sorry, what is your relationship to Mr. Fraser?” I said harshly. “I am not allowed to disclose personal or medical information to strangers.”
She stuck out her chin defiantly, hand on hip again. “I’m his fiancée.”
“What?” I nearly choked in disbelief.
“Ye heard me, ye witch, I’m his fiancée, and if ye don’t—”
“No ye’re not.” Jamie’s tired but firm voice cut through our little tiff and we both turned to him. He was pale and covered in a sheen of sweat from the effects of the anesthetic and the effort of speaking. “Ye called last night.”
“No I didn’t! Jamie, what are ye on about?” Her voice tilted higher at the end.
“I heard ye. Yer mobile called me by accident.” With each word, Laoghaire’s confidence deflated further, and the tips of her ears flamed scarlet. “Did ye go back to yer place? Was he any good?”
“Jamie, I swear to ye—” Laoghaire’s eyes swam in tears. “He meant nothing!”
“Don’t swear, lass. It’s no use.” Jamie turned to me, exhausted but determined. “She’s naught to me.”
Ignoring the girl’s pleading and sobbing, I struggled a bit to lead her to the door, resisting as she was. “If you’re not related, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.” I shut the door in her face, leaving her wailing as she ran away down the hall. I considered calling security on her, but decided to be generous.
I went back to Jamie, snapping on a fresh pair of latex gloves to check on his bandages. His eyes followed my movements, a small smile playing on the corners of his mouth. He winced when I poked a bit around the stitches on his left flank.
“I’m sorry. It’s a bit tender, and will be for the next few weeks.” I changed the dressings myself, taking care with the other wounds and swabbing them swiftly to minimize his discomfort. “Is there anyone else I can call? Any next of kin?”
Jamie relaxed as I finished prodding his injuries. “My sister, Jenny. She lives on a farm in Scotland, so she may be awhile in her travels.” He dictated a mobile number which I jotted on the side of the chart. I resisted including a note to ban a certain blonde from the ward.
“I’ll call her straight away, Mr. Fraser.”
“Jamie, please.” He smiled heartbreakingly, still perspiring. The effort of talking and Laoghaire’s visit had worn him out.
“Jamie, then. You’re in need of rest, so I’ll adjust the medication to help you sleep some more.” I fiddled with the IV until his eyes were drifting closed of their own accord.
“I’ll be here when you wake, Jamie.” I stepped through the door and closed it softly behind me, but not before I heard him reply.
“Ye’ll be in my dreams as well, mo nighean donn.”
Chapter 7: London Hospital
Muffled voices surrounded him, lulling him gently towards more sleep. But then honey-warm eyes, like whiskey, prodded his memory and pulled him back into consciousness. She had promised she would be there when he woke up.
He coaxed his lids open, a soft throbbing in his head and sharper tugs of pain in his hand. Yes, she was there as promised, at the foot of his bed, her back turned as she conferred in low whispers with a shadow in the hallway.
“Claire,” he croaked. She immediately turned around and gave him a brief smile, and stepped aside to reveal the figure in the doorway.
“It’s lucky that ye’ve got such a thick skull in that heid!” Jenny stood with her hands on her hips; her words were harsh but the relief was evident in her voice.
Jamie grinned, and Jenny walked into the room to take the chair next to his bed. Claire wrote on his chart, and slipped out with a simple, “I’ll leave you to it.” He felt his heart sink a bit; she wasn’t staying. But then, why would she? His sister was here to visit.
“Hey, Jenny. How’s Lallybroch? Was it alright for ye to leave Ian?”
“Aye, he’s fine, dinna fash. Some time with the bairns is what he needs,” Jenny said, plumping up the pillow behind Jamie before taking a seat. “How did this happen, though?”
“Careless, puir carelessness.” Jamie’s Scottish lilt always thickened when he was with his sister. “Didna look both ways when crossing. Idiot.”
“Willna argue there. I was surprised to see Claire here, though.”
Jamie almost fell off the bed. He struggled to sit up and Jenny pushed him back with a single hand. “Knock it off, ye’ll break something else. What is it?”
“How do ye ken Claire?” Jamie gasped. Maybe this was the explanation, an old school friend of hers. But odd, though, how the Claire of his dreams was an adult, not a child he could have remembered.
“Ye knew Claire too, once,” Jenny frowned. “Henry and Julia, her parents, were friends with Mam and Da.”
“Before…” Jamie swallowed.
How that one word could encompass everything. Before their Mam had died from childbirth complications at the Broch Morda clinic. Before Da had suffered a massive stroke a few years later while working in the fields. Before.
“I dinna remember her.” Except in dreams.
“Ye were verra young. No more than four, I think.” Jenny smiled. “Ye used to run around Lallybroch, scare the coos, and raise hell, generally.”
Jamie ransacked his brains, but didn’t come up with much besides the shadowy figures of his childhood. How could he not remember? Maybe it was the concussion.
“It was nice to see her again. I’ve asked if we could meet for a coffee, catch up. Maybe even ask her for a visit north.” Jenny could not see what a riot these words had started in his heart, but she would hear it in a few seconds. His index finger was hooked up to a monitor with a clip; Jamie discreetly pulled it off, but did not expect the subsequent alarm that went off when it didn’t register any cardiac activity.
Claire burst into the room, a nurse in tow, her face in a panic. “What happened?”
Jenny had jumped up at the sound of the monitor’s blaring, trying to figure out what had gone wrong with him. Jamie felt embarrassment flaming in his cheeks as he held up the monitor clip. The women all breathed a collective sigh of relief as the nurse briskly reattached it and adjusted the readings on the screen with small harrumphs of impatience.
“Please don’t do that. It interferes with the records and your recovery.” Claire offered a lopsided smile as she brought a hand up to her chest, as though calming her own heart.
“I’m terribly sorry, Claire—I mean, Dr. Randall. I didn’t realize. It won’t happen again.” Jamie returned his own embarrassed grin.
She stepped closer to the bed, smoothing the sheets covering him, and her eyes traced the bandages on his head and the bruises on his skin. He could feel her gaze tingling, leaving warmth in its wake. Jenny stood silently, her own eyes intent upon them with an expression Jamie couldn’t decipher.
“You scared me,” Claire said quietly. “I thought we’d lost you. The alarm—”
“Dinna fash, lass,” Jamie interrupted softly. His good hand came up to touch her briefly. “Ye willna lose me. Ever.”
Chapter 8: London
Janet Fraser had asked for Jamie’s attending doctor as soon as she arrived, and when I introduced myself as Claire Beauchamp (eschewing Frank’s name for my own) her eyes had widened and she had clutched at my outstretched hand.
“Claire! Imagine seeing ye here!” Janet had dropped my hand and embraced me instead. I was left gingerly holding onto Jamie’s medical file and my arms held stiffly at my sides.
I gave her a small smile as she let me go. “I’m sorry, do we know each other?”
“I’m Jenny! Yer parents, Henry and Julia…” she trailed off. “They were good friends with my own parents. Ye used to come visit the farm.” Jenny’s eyes searched my own carefully.
A shock went through me. So we had known each other, in the past! I felt I was barely touching the edge of the mystery behind Jamie’s appearances in my dreams.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that… I don’t remember my parents all too well,” I faltered. “Before the accident.” Henry and Julia Beauchamp had died in a car crash not long after my seventh birthday. I had been raised by an eccentric uncle who traveled all over the world as an archaeologist – I hadn’t had a proper residence until I started university.
“Oh, no, Claire, ‘tis I who’s sorry,” Jenny apologized. “I just thought… and with Jamie here, and you his doctor…” She smiled. “I also recognized yer curly hair.”
I coughed, embarrassed. “Well, would you like to see Jamie? He’s alright, in recovery. He’ll be sent home in a few days, but will take four to six additional weeks to fully recover from the splenectomy. The concussion was not very severe, but he does have some cuts and bruises, as well as a fracture. I’ll give you a care-of-patient sheet when he’s discharged with instructions on how to proceed at home.” It was easier to talk about mundane things, ordinary things.
Jenny looked at me oddly, but nodded. “Alright, take me to Jamie then, please.”
We walked down the corridors and stopped just outside Jamie’s room. As I went to knock and turn the knob, Jenny placed her hand on mine. “Claire, I’d like to have coffee with ye, whenever ye’re free. Just to catch up. I realize ye don’t remember much, but I’d like to maybe fill in some blanks for ye, if ye like. About yer parents, yer childhood, whatever. I dinna ken if that’s something ye want, but if it was me, I’d like the opportunity.” Her tone was sincere.
I hesitated. Of course I had missed my parents; of course I’d like to hear more of my time spent with Jamie as a child, and everything I couldn’t seem to recall. But why? What strange hold did this man’s presence have on me? On my dreams?
“Alright,” I agreed, surprising myself. “I have your number from the records. I’ll call you when I figure out my schedule, yes?” I opened the door slowly and backed into the room.
“Absolutely. Thank ye.” Jenny beamed and peered around me inside the room.
“Don’t be alarmed by the bandages or the monitor. We’re really just taking precautions. He will make a full recovery,” I reassured her.
“Claire!” Jamie’s sleepy rasp made me whirl, and I gave him a brief smile. Though I would like nothing more to sit beside him and talk to him about the time when we knew each other and what he remembered, I had other patients to see.
“I’ll leave you to it,” I said, and closed the door.
* * *
I slept fitfully, turning and tangling my legs in the sheets. I dreamt of rolling Scottish hills, chasing sheep, and iron skies. I was young, or at least not very tall yet in this dream; the fencing for the animals came up to my forehead.
I remember you.
I felt his hand in mine; small, soft, and pudgy. We were only children. He wore jeans and a blue sweater that brought out the intense sapphire of his eyes. His bright red hair was short and curly, waving in the strong wind. Together, we ran across the glen near a farmhouse – Lallybroch, a voice whispered in my mind.
We ran after great big shaggy beasts with long horns, scattering them and making them bellow. Eventually, as darkness fell, we heard cries summoning us home.
Still holding hands, we rushed towards the sound of our parents’ voices. A woman with hair just like Jamie’s ushered us in, and she knelt by the stove wiping smudges of dirt from his face as he laughed and tried to wriggle away. His father held him in his lap, tickling him, while the dwindling sunlight glowed in the kitchen.
I was scooped up by strong arms, my face pressed against my father’s shoulder. My mother appeared behind him, stroking my own wild curls into submission. Her touch, long forgotten, made me weep, and so I woke up in my cold bed. Real tears streamed down my temples, dampening my hair.
I finally let myself break down – for the loss of my parents, for the dissolution of my marriage, for Jamie’s accident, for me.
Because I didn’t know what to do with these precious memories, and didn’t know how Jamie would fit into my heart.
Chapter 9: London Hospital
“I’ll manage, Jamie, dinna worry!”
“I’ll give ye the password to the e-mail account just in case, and check up on that order—”
“Fine! Please rest!” She leaned in to give him a quick kiss on the forehead. “I’d like you to take a few weeks off. Come back to Lallybroch?”
“I’ll consider it, Janet.” Jamie raised an eyebrow at her bossy tone, but smiled. “I’ll be out in a day or two.”
“Perhaps I’ll put up a sign, ye ken? Closed until further notice?”
“Aye, that would be grand. Hadna thought of it.”
Jamie was sitting up now, albeit gingerly due to the stitches in his side. His head hurt less, and his finger was on the mend. The rest were just bruises – a minor inconvenience. He would be discharged soon. Jenny would take care of D’un Monde A L’autre on her way back.
And life would go on as usual.
Jenny put on her coat. “I’ll be meeting Claire fer a coffee later on. Hope ye don’t mind.”
“Why would I mind?” His voice went higher-pitched for some reason. His hospital-issued blankets were suddenly fascinating.
“I dinna ken. Ye seem… odd around her. Do ye like her?” Jenny turned away, so she couldn’t see how much her innocently phrased question altered him.
“She’s alright, I guess.” Jenny gave him a look over her shoulder. “Ye say we knew each other as bairns, but I dinna remember her at all.”
“Nae worries. She’s a nice lass. Well, I’d best be off. I’ll call ye tomorrow. Is yer mobile working?”
“I dinna ken. They took it with my personal effects when I was admitted. It may have cracked a bit,” I said, wincing.
“Like yer heid. Wee idiot.” She pinched his toes at the foot of the bed while he laughed out loud. His first real laugh in ages.
A brief knock sounded before Claire’s curly head poked in. Jamie was glad the nurses had removed the heart monitor.
“Hi there! I just wanted to check up on you before I head home. Is everything alright?”
“Sure. I was just wondering… Will I be leaving tomorrow?” Jamie scratched his nose, careful to mind the healing scabs.
“You might,” Claire smiled. “There’s some things I’d like to brief you on, for after care, and because of your spleen removal. And you’ll need the cast and splint removed in about five weeks.”
“Oh.” Jamie lifted his left arm gingerly. “Hadna really thought of it. Guess I’ll have to write crookedly for awhile.” Claire frowned. “I’m cack-handed, ye see.” He waved his arm around.
“Cack—you mean, left-handed?” Understanding dawned, followed by a rueful smile. “Part of the lucky ten percent, huh?”
Jenny looked between them, like at a tennis match. She gave Jamie a mysterious smile before blowing him a final kiss. “I’ll be off now. Claire, I’ll see ye later, yeah?”
“Of course! Bye, Jenny!” Claire slipped further into the room, and Jenny swept past her, closing the door behind her. She leaned against it, fingers tapping lightly at her side.
“What is it?” Jamie felt self-conscious; he knew his hair was probably as unruly as hers, but the bandage wasn’t helping. The healing bruises on his face, the hospital gown… he must look a fright.
“I wondered if I could talk to you about something.” Claire blushed. “I don’t know if you’ll believe me or not, but I have to tell someone.” She stepped forward, gesturing towards the uncomfortable plastic chair. “May I?”
“Please.” Jamie tried to raise the pillow behind his back so he could face her, but she beat him to it, plumping it and helping him lean back gently.
“Okay. Here goes.” She sat down gingerly on the edge of the chair, hand wringing in her lap. “I had this dream last night—no.”
“No, you didn’t have a dream last night?” Jamie asked confusedly.
“No. I mean, yes, I had a dream. You were in it.” She smiled briefly, but shook her head. “It’s just that… I’ve been dreaming, for a while now. Of you. You’re in my dreams. Constantly. I didn’t know who you were. It was always these mundane things, nothing strange like flying or monsters. Just dreams.”
Jamie’s heart began to pound, his palms tingling. Fear, awe, nerves… recognition. She had also dreamt of him.
“Mundane things, ye say? Such as?” he swallowed.
“You manage this bookstore. In Glasgow?” Claire ventured. Jamie just nodded. “French name. Beautiful. You go for a run at this park, and sometimes you’re in the country, with dark green hills all around you.” Her voice dipped lower. “I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me, but I find it incredible. I saw you in my dreams before I ever met you.”
“Before you say anything, just let me say this. When I saw you here, after your surgery… your face. Your red hair. I finally knew your name. And it was like something falling into place.” Claire’s cheeks burned red. “Last night’s dream was a reminder of how we met. Our parents were friends—did Jenny tell you?”
He nodded again, right fist clenching the blankets. “We knew each other as bairns. Played together. So she says. But I haven’t had a dream like that.” Claire stilled, tensing all over.
“I meant, not a dream of us as children.” Jamie cleared his throat. “But I have dreamt of ye too, Claire.”
Her head shot up, her hand halfway towards the bed where his hand lay. “You—you have been dreaming of me?”
Jamie hesitated. “There’s… a wood carved pipe? In yer living room.” Jamie had noticed it, an odd ornament to have in a relatively modern apartment. “With a black mouthpiece.”
Claire shook her head in wonder. “It belonged to my Uncle Lamb. He raised me after my parents died. We traveled a lot; he was an archaeologist. I kept it after he passed away.”
“I’ve seen ye in this hospital. At Sainsbury’s too, I think. Making tea with yer husband.” Jamie almost got stuck on that last word. His eyes traveled up her face to the bruise on her temple, already turning yellow-green. She caught his gaze and touched her fingers to it.
“He’s not—well, he was. But I’ve left him.” She hesitated. “It was the first time he ever… it will be the last.” Claire pursed her lips. “I’ve filed for divorce.”
Despite the confirmation of his suspicions and the anger that welled inside at the thought of anyone harming Claire, something else loosened in Jamie’s chest. Relief, he thought. Hope, his heart whispered.
“Our relationship had been fracturing for some time now. There were… pieces of me, that he didn’t know what do with.” Claire gestured with her hands at the room around them. “Things about me that he didn’t understand, or that maybe frightened him.” She glanced at Jamie. “But not you.”
Jamie smiled in reassurance. “Nothing about ye could frighten me, Sassenach.”
Claire smiled. “What does it mean, sassenach?”
“Oh, ‘tis Gaidligh for ‘outlander’, or an English person. I dinna intend it as an offense,” Jamie clarified.
“None taken. I like it.” Claire glanced at her watch and stood. “I appreciate you listening to me, Jamie. And I’m glad you understand about—about the dreams. I still don’t know what it means, that we’re in each other’s heads. Since we were children together, I suppose that’s related but… I’d like to find out.”
“So would I.” A minor stab of pain coursed through his side, and he flinched visibly, much to his embarrassment. She was at his side in an instant.
“Jamie, although you are recovering you must still take care. Does it still hurt?” Claire snapped on latex gloves from a box next to his bed and prodded at the stitches in his flank.
“Occasionally. I guess I’ve been lounging in this position for too long.” Jamie allowed Claire to ease him onto his back, fussing and tucking the blankets around him. Truth be told, he didn’t mind being taken care of. By her.
“You will have to have yearly vaccinations, since your spleen is gone. It compromises your immune system a bit, but other than that, you’ll live a full, normal life.”
I’d like to spend it wi’ ye.
Jamie hoped his thoughts were not betrayed by his expression. He merely smiled and settled into the bed. “Are ye off to meet Jenny for a coffee?”
“In a bit, yes. I’m hoping she can fill in some of the details from my childhood. And you.” Her smile was luminous. She patted him on the shoulder before heading out.
“We have coos!” Jamie burst out incoherently.
“I beg your pardon?” Claire turned to him, bewildered.
“At the farm. Lallybroch it’s called. Coos? Um, Highland cows.” Jamie took a deep breath. “They’re huge and shaggy and noble. Would you like… maybe… to visit it sometime? Wi’ me?”
“Well, us—the family. Jenny and her husband Ian manage the estate. She’s the eldest, so she inherited everything after… Mum and Da passed.”
Claire’s eyes softened; she too knew the loss of beloved parents. She reached out to his uninjured right hand and squeezed it briefly. “I would love that.”
“When?” He could barely contain the hopeful tone in his voice.
She grinned. “Soon, perhaps.”
“I’ll be holding ye to that.” Before she could take her hand away and he lost his courage, he lifted it to his lips and pressed a gentle kiss to the back of her hand.
Claire blushed prettily. Mumbling excuses about being late to meet Jenny, she said her goodbyes and left, nearly crashing into the door on her way out. Jamie grinned, pleased with himself and the progress he felt he’d made. He had almost extracted a promise from her to visit Lallybroch. With him. Together.
One could dream.
Chapter 10: London
“We left each other. Long before he decided to actually leave the flat, that is.” I wrapped my hands around the warm cup of tea.
“How long were you married?” Jenny sipped a mug of coffee while we both picked at a slice of lemon-poppy seed sponge cake.
“Five years. At first, it was fine; romantic, honeymoonish, normal. But then, my career started interfering with… his idea of what he wanted in a wife, I suppose.”
“He should have been proud of ye,” Jenny said, her hand grasping mine suddenly.
I swallowed hard, past a lump in my throat. “Frank pushed me, that last argument we had. I had been rude to some of his work colleagues at an event, I said some harsh things, and then he shoved me against a table. I… I didn’t let him stay long enough to see if he would do it again.”
Jenny’s hand still enveloped mine, her eyes brimming with sympathy. Not pity. “At Broch Morda, the village nearest Lallybroch, there’s these tenants. Mary and her husband Ronald MacNab. She sports black eyes on the regular, bruises on her arms, the occasional scratch or bloody lip.”
“Do they have children?” I gripped my own cup tighter.
“A boy, called Rabbie. Bright enough, but also mistreated by that brute of a father. I have him over as often as I can, to play with my own brood.” She leaned forward, eyes intense in their ferocity as she stared into mine. “I’ve said it to Mary, and now I say it to ye: it doesn’t matter what ye did or didn’t do—he had no right to lay a hand on ye.”
A brief tear slid down my cheek, which I wiped away surreptitiously. I touched my fingers lightly to my temple, where the bruise had finally started to fade. The pain inside, though—it might take a little longer. Falling out of love with Frank had helped; it had happened so gradually that the part about ending our marriage had been easy. The idea that I had let him hurt, diminish, and ridicule me was not.
“Ye’re well shot of him, lass,” Jenny said softly with a soft squeeze of her hand. She let go to drain her mug of coffee with a small smile. “I ken we only just met—or met again, if ye will. But I’m here if ye ever want to talk.”
I nodded gratefully. Besides a few female acquaintances at the hospital, I didn’t really have close friends. Jenny’s friendship felt familiar in a way I couldn’t describe. Maybe she could clear a few things up for me.
“You mentioned knowing my parents when Jamie and I were children. That they visited your family’s farm and that our parents were friends. How did they meet?”
“My father, Brian, and yours studied at Cambridge. They were friends all through their university years and remained relatively close afterwards. Henry and Julia would come up to visit—I remember them well. Ye look like yer mam.”
I had heard that before, from my uncle Lamb. I briefly recounted to Jenny how I had lost my parents in a car crash when I was 8. My years spent wandering around the world with my archaeologist uncle until I decided to become a doctor.
Jenny told me of what it was like to become responsible for Jamie when she was only 19, when her father had died. Barely five years older than her brother, their wealthy uncles helped them out until she married and Jamie went on to study, finally of age. She filled in the gaps of some of the visits we had made to Lallybroch when both our parents had been alive.
“Yer parents would visit every six months or so, with ye. You and Jamie would play, get muddy. Ye’re only a couple of years apart, so ye managed well. “ She smiled. “Once you got into a heap o’ trouble for entering the broch.”
“The leaning tower that gives Lallybroch its name. But ye left the perimeter of the farm without telling anyone. We searched for ye both for hours, well into the night… and then found ye asleep cuddled in each other’s arms.”
* * *
I dreamt of him again.
My eyes opened briefly to notice I lay on cool, crisp linens, in a strange bedroom. The curtains were open, but all I could see was darkness outside.
Lips were on mine, distracting me from my thoughts, forcing my eyes closed. Hands encircled my wrists like shackles, fingers twining. Everything was pure sensation.
My legs tangled in the sheets as I kicked them away, trying to get closer to him. Heat rose along my skin, everywhere he touched, naked. His mouth trailed down my neck, the heady scent of him surrounding my senses. I wanted more, more, more.
Then his hands were in my hair, on my breasts, between my legs. His husky moans and my own whimpers of pleasure cleaved the silence of the room, a temple for worship.
I felt him nestle between my thighs, hip to hip, belly to belly; I placed my legs around his back, pulling him against the most sensitive part of me. I was slippery with arousal, and I knew he could feel it as he teased me with slight motions of his body. Almost there, but not quite. I squirmed beneath him, wanting friction, needing him inside, to claw his back in the frenzy of our joining.
Still silent, with my hands urging at his backside, he pushed against my entrance, so much slow exquisite torture. I threw my head back against the pillow, biting my lip as the tightness of me yielded to him, full and hot.
He leaned his forehead against mine, breath mingling, and blue met brown as we held each other’s gaze. He began to move, thrusting in and out with marked gentleness. We gasped and panted at the feeling. He showed no sign of speeding up, so I clasped my legs tightly and flipped us over, my hands braced on his chest.
The gleam of surprise in his eyes turned to delight, as I offered him a wicked smile, the fit so much deeper as I began moving my hips. I wanted this to last longer, to last forever. He reached up to grasp my waist, urging me towards completion. I leaned forward, increasing the pressure between our bodies. He met me halfway, reaching up to take my breast in his mouth; a few seconds later I came, crying out as he called my name in the dark.
I woke up abruptly, heart pounding, release still coursing through my body. A dream, no more. Perspiration beaded at my temple, the loose shirt I wore to sleep clinging to my skin. I shut my eyes tightly, and reached out tentatively to the other side of the bed—hoping, wishing, wanting.
I was alone.
Chapter 11: London Hospital to Glasgow
Jamie woke up with a gasp, his hands clutching at empty air where Claire’s waist had been moments ago. It took him a moment to get his bearings and realize where he was. His hand in the splint ached.
A dream. It hadn’t been the present—was it the future?
There was a certain situation going on below his navel that he would have liked to take care of, but there was little privacy in a hospital. Silently, he willed his body into submission before a nurse could come in to help him bathe (a tad embarrassing) and dress before he left the hospital.
A nurse did come in shortly to help him get ready. She handed him the backpack he’d carried for the trip, and a manila envelope with his personal effects. It contained his wallet, wristwatch, and slightly cracked mobile, the battery long since dead. “Doctor will be along presently,” she said when his toilette was done.
As Jamie sat on the bed, pondering about the upcoming return trip home, Claire walked in. Their eyes met and her cheeks flushed a divinest rosy red. Or was it his imagination? He wondered if they had dreamed in tandem, that dream. He felt the tips of his own ears burn.
“I have some after care instructions for you, Mr. Fraser.” She sat across from him on the stiff plastic chair. “There are some recommendations to minimize your discomfort while your body finishes healing.” Claire gave him print-outs detailing all points of care he should take to heal. A referral for removing his cast in Glasgow in a few weeks, so he would be spared the trip back to London—though he wouldn’t have minded, he thought regretfully.
“And don’t forget to cover the splint when you shower—”
“Claire.” Jamie willed her to look at him. She only stared down at the papers between them.
“A plastic bag will do just fine.” Claire made to stand up, but Jamie reached out and caught her hand.
“I have a question fer ye.”
“Yes?” she replied, immediately falling into her most professional demeanor. He would take a chance; he had to know, even though it made both of them clearly uneasy.
Jamie squeezed her hand briefly. “Last night, I dreamt of ye.” Her eyes closed, and that telltale flush crept up her neck again. “I think ye did too, and I wanted to tell ye—I dinna understand either, what this is between us. I ken ye just ended yer marriage, and likely want nothing to do wi’ men, not fer a while anyway.”
Claire shrugged, but did not let go of his hand. Cautiously, he continued.
“Whatever this is, I’d like to know ye. Be yer friend. The offer still stands—come to Lallybroch soon, visit Jenny. Maybe it’ll spark some happy memories. And, really, with no further agenda, Claire—I’d like fer ye to be happy.”
Even if it isna wi’ me.
Their hands still together, Claire took a deep breath. “What is between us… I don’t know. We don’t know,” she admitted. “But I would be willing to go to Scotland. Jenny told me things she remembers, about my parents, and about us as children.” She smiled. “I can’t make promises as to when, but I’ll visit. Maybe stop off in Glasgow beforehand, and see that bookstore of yours.”
Jamie couldn’t help the smile that broke over his features; he knew he was grinning like a loon. “It’s a tentative date, then.”
Claire laughed. “I suppose so.” They stood up as one, and she helped him sign the discharge papers and put everything together inside the manila envelope. “I have time right now. Let me walk you to the train station, so you can be on your way.”
Paddington’s was not that far off. Even though Jamie walked more slowly due to his injuries, they arrived in no time, making only light conversation. At the booth, he extracted a credit card to pay for his ticket home, his movements slow and deliberate.
This was it. He was leaving her with no more than a vague promise that they would see each other again—and there was nothing he could really do about it. He wouldn’t, couldn’t push her on this. She had to come to him on her own.
Once he had the ticket, they walked slowly to the platforms. Claire laid her hand on his arm, and patted him. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Jamie, even though it was under these circumstances. I hope you’ll take care. I don’t want to see you at the hospital again!”
Jamie swallowed hard.
“I mean—” she backpedaled hastily. “I don’t want to see you hurt again. But I would like… I think I would very much like to see you again. Sometime.” Claire smiled shakily, and patted his arm again.
“So would I, lass,” Jamie said. He hesitated only briefly, before he leaned in and gave her a light peck on the cheek. He took a moment to breathe her scent in; orange blossom, he thought, lemon, greenery, just her. It brought last night’s dream into his recollection.
“You’d better get on.” Claire’s voice was quiet, her eyes downcast once more. He felt helpless before this onslaught of feelings for her, the wish that he could sweep her into his arms and know that this separation would be brief. He didn’t want to regret this parting kiss, however innocent.
“Goodbye Claire. I… wish ye well.” Jamie stepped away from her, and turned towards the train. He took deep breaths as he found the car and climbed on slowly with the pain in his side and in his chest. He found his seat. He did not look back.
If he had, he would have seen Claire stand there for a minute, a statue. He would have seen her shake her head and walk after him. He would have seen her mount the steps and look around for him. He would have seen her before he felt a tap on his shoulder.
Jamie turned in his seat and saw Claire beside him. He looked up at her, confused, before she bent down herself and planted a kiss on his surprised mouth.
She straightened up, a flash of determination in her eyes; all the while, he sat there, gaping. Claire nodded to herself, and smiled before she left.
“I’ll see you soon, Jamie.”
Chapter 12: Glasgow
I reached out to tap him on the shoulder. “Hello, Jamie.”
He whirled, startled, and dropped a heavy collectors’ edition of The Silmarillion squarely on my foot. I jumped back, swearing, and an elderly lady at the checkout counter gave me an evil stare.
“Sassenach!” Jamie quickly retrieved the tome and laid it on a pile of Tolkiens, before sweeping me into his arms in a giant bear hug. “Are ye alright? Whatever are ye doin’ here?”
I buried my face into his neck, savoring the warmth and scent of him. “I did say soon, no?”
I had plenty of time accrued for a holiday. I hadn’t wanted to take any time off before—not to spend it with Frank in our increasingly colder flat. I had ignored any lingering feelings of guilt regarding my soon-to-be ex-husband, and bought a plane ticket to Glasgow. An Uber and Google Maps took me to a quaint neighborhood where I had stared at the façade of D’un Monde A L’autre – Booksellers in awe. It really existed.
When he finally set me down, I couldn’t help but hold on, touching his face, his hair, taking in his wide delighted smile. I had fallen asleep every night since I had last seen him reliving that kiss. I hadn’t dreamt of him, but the touch of my lips on his had sustained me through the divorce proceedings. And now…
“I’m not dreaming, am I, Claire?”
“Not at all. This is real.”
Jamie briefly touched his nose to mine, his hands hot on my waist while we forgot about the store and the books and the customers around us and this time, he kissed me.
* * *
The pub around us was loud and buzzing with a Friday night crowd. The Òran Mór prided itself on its lively scene, drinks, and food. After helping Jamie close up the book shop, we had traipsed a few blocks away to grab a bite before…
Before—I didn’t even know what came after. Conversation flowed smoothly between us, and Jamie had made his expectations (or lack thereof) clear when we had last seen each other in London. Now I was here, in his city, mostly free, and afraid.
“It will be finalized in thirty days,” I prattled on, as I swallowed deeply from my pint. “Something about a decree nisi, decree absolute, not entirely sure. My lawyer, Ned Gowan, is handling everything for me. I claimed unreasonable behavior, and both parts agreed, so that makes things simpler.”
“Unreasonable, ye say?” Jamie touched a finger every so gently to the spot on my temple where the bruise had been. I didn’t feel the need to flinch or be self-conscious about it. “I could kill him for what he did.”
His touch made it easier to bear. I took his hand in mine and held it tightly, fear be damned. Jamie’s gaze was intense; even though we were surrounded by people, he made me feel like I was the only one in the room.
“Do you remember in London… at the hospital. You asked me if we could be friends. You told me that you had dreamt of me. And I told you that I didn’t know what it was between us. What is, I mean, I—God, I’m not usually this flustered.” I laughed sheepishly.
“I understand, Sassenach. I think ye also ken how I feel about ye. Friend or no, I canna stop thinking about ye. Ever since that first dream, ye’ve been in my heid. And now maybe…”
“You’re in my head too, Jamie. All the time.” I took a deep breath. “I still don’t know or understand why we dreamed of each other, but… I don’t care if it’s too soon. Life is too short to waste on being scared of what others might think.”
“Think about what, Claire?”
“Us, I suppose. Our… relationship, for lack of a better word. That you’re my friend. A friend whom I kiss on occasion.” I poked my elbow into his ribs when he grinned. “So soon after the divorce, I mean.”
Jamie said soberly, “Others—whoever they are—can think what they like. ‘Tis only what you and I think that matters, wouldn’t ye say?”
I hadn’t realized how much I was worried about Jamie’s opinion of my attraction to him until he spoke those words; a weight lifted off my shoulders. I stroked the back of his hand with my thumb, then gripped it tighter.
“Jamie, I’d like to go to Lallybroch with you. See the estate, and see Jenny and her brood. If the offer still stands.”
His eyes brightened. “Of course it does. Perhaps we can stir up some more memories. I ken how much that would mean to ye.”
“When can we go?”
“We can leave tomorrow, if ye like. One of the benefits of having yer own shop is closing it whenever ye want.”
“Oh no, Jamie, I wouldn’t want you to lose any important business on my account,” I said, chagrined.
“Ye can make it up to me afterwards. Maybe work a few shifts shelving books,” Jamie laughed.
“It’s a deal.” I checked my watch. “If we’re leaving early, it might be time to call it a night.” I gestured for the check, but Jamie waved me off, laying a few quid on the table. A server stopped by to clear up quickly.
“Oh, sir, dinna forget yer wife’s coat!” She pulled it off the chair and held it out to Jamie, who took it nonchalantly and thanked her before helping me put it on. I could feel the tips of my ears turning red. I was about to stop being Frank’s wife, but being mistaken for Jamie’s stirred up something strange inside.
As we walked out of the pub, I knew he could tell I was a bit disconcerted. Jamie linked his fingers with mine and leaned in to whisper, “It may not be wife, but I’m not sure there’s a word fer what ye are to me.”
The gravel crunched under the tires of Jamie’s small car as they approached the manor house. Claire’s face was pressed against the window in awe and he chuckled. “This is it. Ring any bells?”
“Not yet,” she replied, flashing him a quick smile. He squeezed her hand gently over the stick shift as they unbuckled seatbelts and stepped out of the car. Jamie stretched before grabbing their bags from the boot; Claire, after reassurance from him that he didn’t need any help, headed for the worn kitchen door by the side of the house almost hidden by thick heather bushes.
“Uh, Claire? What are ye doing?” He leaned against the car casually.
She turned to him, confused. “Are we not… I’m sorry, do I presume too much?” She stepped back from the stone steps.
“No, it’s fine, it’s just that ye didn’t head for the main entrance, as a guest normally would. The kitchen door is mostly—”
“For family.” Claire looked at the ground. “I had this dream where we were children, with our parents. We went into the kitchen, through that door.” She raised her head to look at him. “From my dreams, it’s something I know and recognize.”
“Aye, I understand.” Jamie pushed away from the car and walked towards Claire. “I ken you’ll remember much more.”
He led her through the kitchen door, which was always open during daylight hours. Inside, it was warm with the scent of fresh-baked bread and a roast in the oven. The house seemed silent, but he knew it was a matter of time before Jenny and Ian’s children livened things up. Jamie pushed the swivel door that separated kitchen from dining room and called out, “Hallo the house!”
It took about three seconds before thundering footsteps were heard descending from the bedrooms. The first to appear was Young Ian, who shrieked, “Nunkie!” and hurtled himself at Jamie’s middle. With a deep oomph Jamie was backed into the kitchen as Claire inspected the heavy worn table used for preparing food.
“Where’s yer brothers and sisters?”
“Up. Mam is patching up Michael. Everrabody’s watching.” The boy spotted Claire and hid bashfully behind his uncle.
“What happened?” Jamie knelt, knees popping, eye-level with Young Ian.
“Michael was fixin’ up a fence, he got splinterrrs.” The boy’s brow furrowed as he made out the word.
“Perhaps I could help?” Claire came around the table and knelt alongside Jamie, offering a hand to Young Ian. “I’m Claire. I’m a doctor.”
He hesitated briefly before taking her hand, at Jamie’s brief nod. “Can ye come up?”
“Happy to. Lead the way,” she said, gesturing towards the door. Young Ian tugged at her shirt while Claire glanced back at Jamie, a pleased smile on her face. Jamie’s own heart flared in response at the boy’s acceptance. He followed both of them to the main part of the house, chuckling at Young Ian’s prattling of Nunkie and sheep and gross bloody wounds.
* * *
Dinner was a raucous, lively affair. A freshly bandaged, grateful Michael demanded to sit next to Claire, relegating Jamie to his old childhood spot next to Jenny. Ian warmly welcomed Claire to the farm, pulled out her chair before Jamie himself could get to it, and Jenny piled Claire’s plate high with potatoes and meat and greens.
Claire’s smile throughout was joyous.
She briefly explained to the children (with new additions William, Maggie, and Ellen) that she had no siblings, and was immediately bombarded with questions about what that was like. Jamie nearly choked on his bannock when wee Maggie asked, “Nunkie, is she to be yer wife?”
Everyone turned to stare at red Jamie as he answered with a firm no. Not yet. Maggie finished them all with, “Well, think on it. She’s lovely, and it’s high time ye were marrit.” Jenny shushed her with more potatoes and a rebuke, to which Ellen piped up: “But Mam, ye say so all the time!”
Jamie caught Claire’s gaze, at once solemn and laughing.
* * *
“Jenny’s given ye the guest bedroom. Tis one of the biggest.” Jamie pushed the heavy oak door and propped it open with a large granite-shot stone precisely for that purpose. He dropped her bag on a chair near the fire, which was burning merrily and cast the room in a golden glow.
Claire stood under the lintel, staring at the bed. She was blushing.
“Sassenach, is something amiss?” Jamie turned to the bed himself, and a flash of memory took him.
Rumpled linens, writhing bodies, their scents intertwined.
Oh. Oh. This had been the room in their shared dream. Jamie flushed. A dream, or prophecy? He shook his head, snapping back to the moment at hand.
“Claire, if ye’d like to switch rooms, ye’re welcome to—”
“No—no, it’s not necessary. Thank you. It’s fine. Jenny’s gone to the trouble already.” She finally walked in, fingers trailing lightly over the wool blanket spread on the bed.
Jamie swallowed. “Is there anything else I can do for ye? Anything ye’d like or need?”
“Your family, for one. Jamie, you’re so lucky to have them; sister, in-law, nieces and nephews. I’m not too proud to admit that I’m incredibly jealous and I plan on stealing them away from you at the earliest opportunity.”
Jamie shook his head, grinning bashfully. “Ye’re welcome to them, Claire. They’re as taken with ye as ye are wi’ them, I can assure ye.” He slid his hands into his pockets, shoulders shrugging. “Ye ken, I figure wee Maggie could fit in the trunk of the car. Would that suit?”
Her laugh was pure, shimmering light. “Perfect. It’s a plan.” She walked over to retrieve her bag and peered over her shoulder at him. “What should I wear tomorrow?”
Jamie cleared his throat. “Something warm. Mornings can bite in the Highlands. Something comfortable. We’ll be walking a fair amount.”
“Got it.” Claire fiddled with the bag strap. Silence. He then realized she was waiting for him to excuse himself so she could change for bed.
“Oh, sorry, lass. I’ll leave ye now. Sleep well.” Jamie closed the door as he stumbled out, his hand lingering for a beat longer on the doorknob.
His heart, he’d left behind with her.
* * *
“This is the reason it’s called Lallybroch –the north facing tower.”
“But… it’s round. How can any side face—”
“The door faces north.”
“Ah.” Claire laughed again, cheeks bright red with cold. “Can we go in?”
“Part of it has caved in some, so be careful, aye?”
Jamie and Claire stepped inside, mindful of the broken rafters and stone that lay about. There had been some sort of wooden stepladder and upper platform, but that had fallen into heavy disrepair.
Jamie heard a faint buzzing around the place. He thought it might be a bee hive around, and told Claire so in order to avoid being stung. She slipped her mittened hand into his, almost without thinking, as they wandered around the ruins.
“I think…” Claire’s voice trailed off as she tipped her head close to the stone wall. “No, it can’t be.”
“What is it, Sassenach?”
She shook her head as though to clear it. “I hear that buzzing you mentioned, but it seems it’s coming from the stones.” She turned to look at him, to gauge his reaction at her unreasonable comment.
Jamie tilted his own ear closer to the spot she indicated, and damn if the buzzing did not grow louder in his head. “I hear it too.” There was relief etched in her features at being believed, at not being told she was being silly or imagining things as her former husband might have done.
“Is it coming from the soil too? Is it making the stones vibrate or something?” Claire asked, stamping her booted foot on the packed earth.
“I dinna think so. Here, let me—” Jamie’s hand brushed against the wall and a shock went through him, as strong as though he had stuck a fork into an electrical outlet. “Ifrinn!”
“Are you alright?” Claire yanked his hand back and inspected it, but there was no mark, nothing. They gazed at each other, the intense humming filling the space of their silence. Together, as if in a trance, they raised their joined hands and pressed them against the stones.
“What’s that noise?” Claire’s voice piped up through the gloom, bounding along the wooden walkway—barely more than a shelf—to investigate. Jamie was below, searching for his ancient lucky coin. His godfather Murtagh had gifted it to him, a memento of the battle of Culloden, a coin stamped 1746. It would not do to lose it so soon.
“I dinna ken. Come, help me look!” Jamie glanced up, exasperated, hay clinging to his red curls. “Be careful down the steps—”
A crash and a yelp was the response he obtained at his warning, and he leapt back as Claire came crashing down onto a bale of hay. Without it breaking her fall, she could have been killed. Jamie’s heart was in his throat as he waded through the mess towards her.
“Claire! Claire! Are you alright? Say you’re not deid!” Jamie took his friend’s hand as she lay on the yellow straw, stunned. She seemed to have had the wind knocked from her.
“I—I’m fine,” she managed to gasp, finally. “It’s only my ankle. I might have sprained it.”
Jamie let go of her hand to inspect her foot. It was not jutting out at a strange angle, unlike Jenny’s leg had been that time she fell off her bike that time. He sighed in relief as he prodded at her ankle. “Do ye think ye might walk back to the house?”
“Let me rest for a few minutes, then you can help me back?” Claire shifted and Jamie hoisted her down, mindful of her pain. They both lay down on a soft pile of hay, facing each other, and their hands entwined.
“We leave tomorrow.” Claire broke through the preternatural quiet, interrupted by the brief patter of rain on the old shingles of the tower. “I don’t want to go.”
“Will ye be back next summer? The coos will have their new calves, ye must be here to see them!” Jamie gripped her hand fiercely, like he hoped to make her stay thus.
Claire’s face was as solemn as his own. “I’ll be back. I’ll come back to Lallybroch, to the coos, to you.”
“Promise?” he insisted
“I promise.” She snuggled into the hay, into Jamie’s warmth; tired from the day’s adventures, they fell asleep.
But she hadn’t come back. Jamie recalled his Mam crying, his Da comforting her at the news of Claire’s parents’ death. She had gone to an old uncle, and had forgotten each other and any promise made. Perhaps that was another gift given to them—oblivion, from the pain of losing each other.
Jamie then remembered, as he pulled back their hands with a jolt, like dreaming you were falling and jerking awake in bed. Their hands were still tightly gripped as when he had extracted the promise from her.
Claire stepped away from the stone, and closer to Jamie. “I remember now,” she breathed, a tear glimmering on her cheek. She touched her forehead to his chest, and their arms wound about each other. Jamie held her, in the dark of the tower. The stones had stopped their whispering.
“I want to keep that promise.”
Here's a bit of a long one for you. Thank you readers for sticking with me.
Chapter 14: London and Glasgow
* * *
“Did ye get it?” Jamie asked eagerly.
“I did. Thank you, you knew how much I wanted to read it.” I thumbed through my very own copy of Crazy Rich Asians, hand-delivered by Jamie’s friend John, who had business in London. I tucked the phone more firmly against my shoulder, juggling my purse and the book while attempting to open my locker.
“I realize ye could just as easily purchase it there, or get an e-reader version, but—”
“Jamie, I love that you thought of me, and I really appreciate printed books. What kind of girlfriend would I be if I didn’t, you owning a bookshop and all?” I laughed, toeing off my shoes to change.
“I do admit traveling to Glasgow just to buy a book isnae practical at all and…” he trailed off. “Girlfriend?”
I paused, half-dressed. “What? Aren’t we… I thought, when I left—”
“No, no,” he said hurriedly. “It’s just that… this feels like more. Ye ken, us.”
“Weel,” I replied, in imitation of his Scottish burr. “I don’t think more even begins to cover it.”
* * *
They tried to go slow, that first time. Held back by the promise of their bodies that there would be more times when they would lay like this, they savored the initial touches, their hands measured and unhurried. Eventually, the time and distance they had spent apart took its toll and hunger set in.
Their bodies, pressing, wanting, striving to reach an end to the urgency that threatened to consume them. She took his moans in her mouth, and Jamie endured her nails on his back. The red of his hair stood in stark contrast to the ivory of her breasts as he trailed his way down, down, down…
Sliding into her, she cried out in pleasure, spurring him on. Jamie thrust, deeper and deeper as she clenched around him. Soon, the heat and silk of her drove him to his own ending. His arms gave out, and he rested with his head pillowed on her chest.
The candlelight gilded the hollow of Claire’s back as they fell asleep together. It was not the firelight of their shared dream, but close enough that another dream had come true.
* * *
“I don’t think we really considered it. Frank—I wanted to, but I was also focused on my career.” I glanced guiltily into my tea cup, tracing the rim with my finger.
“Do you? Want to, I mean?” Jamie’s hand closed over mine.
“Maybe. Perhaps being a doctor is not ideal for raising children. Time wise.” I raised my eyes and forced myself to look at him.
“I canna deny that I would like children, someday. Preferably with ye.” He smiled gently. “But I also ken I canna force this on you or any woman. We have to both of us agree, and I willna make ye choose between me or your doctoring either. I want ye to be happy.”
“I know I’d be happier with you, children or no. But Jamie…” I hesitated briefly. He deserved to know. “Even with Frank, we were not not-trying, and with no contraception—I never conceived. I mean, neither of us were tested, but I think—” I was babbling.
Jamie was silent. I tried to extricate my hand from his, sure that he wouldn’t want me now, but he held fast.
“Claire,” he said finally, gripping my hand tighter. “I dinna mind. If I just have ye, it is more than enough.”
“More?” I said timidly, raising his hand to my lips.
“It is everything,” he said softly.
* * *
Jamie closed the box. “I found old letters, deeds, and records, Sassenach. My godfather Murtagh also told me about some material he has.” He placed the box back on the shelf in the study.
“So, what is it?”
“Parts of the broch were built in the 12th century, on what was believed to be sacred ground. People would lay offerings on the spot. There are other places considered important, for worship, aye?”
“If they’re anything like what we felt in the tower that day, I can imagine.” Claire’s voice sounded far away. And it was—all the way back in London, while he gazed at the sheep in the fields behind Lallybroch.
“There’s another relatively near, a hill called Craigh na Dun. It’s a wee circle of standing stones.”
“Sounds ominous. Best not go there then, who knows what could happen,” she said playfully.
“Ye should come back to me here to Lallybroch, though, and ye ken well what will happen,” Jamie whispered into the phone, just to hear her laugh.
* * *
“I’m so, so, sorry Jamie, he… tried to kiss me, he just grabbed me and I…”
“What? Who did?” Jamie’s voice sounded rough; I had just woken him up in the small hours of the morning.
“Dr. Bonnet, the internist. He came into the locker room when I was changing, though luckily I was dressed already—”
“Claire.” A voice so calm and deadly.
“I’m sorry, Jamie.” My voice shook
“Why the hell are ye apologizing? Ye did nothing wrong, ye hear me? No, I’m going to kill him, I will get on a train this minute, find him and fucking disembowel him. I will—” Jamie went on while I sniffled and hiccoughed, stopping short of threatening to pillage and burn the hospital with Bonnet in it, his Viking heritage surfacing.
When he began cursing in Gaidhlig, I interrupted. “Jamie, don’t bother, love.”
“What do ye mean don’t bother, he disrespected you! He touched ye without your consent!”
“I know. I kneed him in the balls. It made him throw up.”
* * *
As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.
Jamie glanced at Claire, tucked into his side. Her breathing was regular, warm on his chest. He laid the book on her nightstand carefully, so as not to dislodge and wake her. He cherished these precious moments they had together; they seemed far between.
Claire murmured in her sleep, pressing closer, as though agreeing with his thoughts. He so wanted moments like this, every night, for the rest of his life. But he was afraid to ask, afraid that it might be too soon… afraid enough to not risk losing her. Even with the distance…
Tho' it were ten thousand mile.
* * *
I whirled around; Frank was standing behind me, a slim blonde woman on his arm. I must have gaped a little, because Frank cleared his throat and introduced us.
“Claire, this is Sandy. We, um, work together. Sandy, this is Claire, my… ex-wife.”
“Hello.” Sandy’s voice was prim and tight.
“What are you doing here?” I addressed Frank, trying to ignore Sandy without seeming too rude.
“We are visiting Sandy’s grandmother here at St. Mary’s. She just had a stroke.” Frank fidgeted and scratched his nose. That had always been his tell for whenever he felt awkward or uncomfortable. At the moment, it made three of us. Sandy sniffed and nodded.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I hope she recovers.” My name was called and I groped on the counter for the to-go cup of tea I had ordered. I toyed with the cardboard collar on it, unsure of what to say next.
Sandy saved me from further conversation when she exclaimed suddenly, “Darling, we must be going! Papa is expecting us at Hélène Darroze.”
“It was lovely to see you, Claire. You look well.” Frank leaned in as though to kiss me goodbye. I recoiled, unable to help myself, and caught Frank’s wince as I did so. Sandy tugged on his arm, a smirk on her face as she waved goodbye with fluttering fingers.
I watched as they left, before sprinting back to the hospital. I immersed myself in work, counting the minutes until I could call Jamie and vent. He could always make me feel better, no matter what.
Finally, it was time to leave. I pulled my phone from my bag and dialed his number, plopping down on the bench outside the hospital. I pinched the bridge of my nose, willing myself not to cry. “Pick up, please pick up…” It rang and rang.
“Claire.” His voice was behind me.
I whirled around; Jamie’s arms wrapped around me.
* * *
“I’ve been thinking…” Claire trailed off, dreamily gazing beyond the fencing of the kailyard. Her hands continued digging potatoes, as confident working the land as she was in an operating room.
Jamie pulled out a clump of weeds. “Aye, Sassenach?”
“I think I need a change of air. At work. From work, I mean. The city, I don’t know. Maybe—maybe something closer. To you.”
His hands went still over the soil. They trembled slightly, and so many words rushed up that they choked him silent.
“Jamie?” Her tone was anxious. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to push. I know you we both like having our space, and I just thought we could be a little closer.”
“Stop.” Jamie found his voice. He swallowed hard. “Nothing would make me happier. Have ye thought of where you’d like to work?”
She sighed, relieved. “I thought maybe Edinburgh. Or Glasgow.”
He grinned. “Make it Glasgow. If ye can.”
They kept working, helping Jenny with the outdoor work as much as they could – she was expecting again. Claire said she didn’t mind, spending a rare weekend off doing farm work. It never ceased to amaze Jamie how at home Claire looked at Lallybroch, feeding hens and sheep, planting seeds for the wee herbs to season stews and brew healing concoctions.
The sun was near setting when they finished in the kailyard. Claire held a sack full of potatoes; Jamie took it from her and set it by the gate. “I’ve also been thinking—about remodeling and reinforcing the broch. I dinna want to tear it down, it being such a part of Lallybroch. Will ye come take a look at it wi’ me?”
“Of course.” Claire slipped her hand into his and they made their way to the tower. As they approached, a slight hum thrummed in the air, but not so powerfully as last time. Jamie took a deep breath as he held the wooden door open for her.
Stepping inside, he caught her gasp of surprise. Ian had helped, and the children.
Fairy lights were strewn all around the lower rafters, illuminating the ancient stones with a soft glow. The buzzing call of the stones was still there; it settled in his bones and gave him courage. She turned to him, wonder etched on her face.
“Sassenach—Claire. I think I’ve loved ye since I first saw ye, as bairns. Then ye became the woman of my dreams.” His voice almost broke, and Claire grasped his hands, eyes shining. “I am blessed, mo ghraidh, to have ye in my life, real as can be.”
Tears—happy ones, he hoped—spilled from her whiskey eyes. He knelt before her, a ring in his hands.
“Will ye marry me?”
Chapter 15: Glasgow
Jamie walked barefoot into the kitchen. The sunlight streamed through the window, almost blinding. Claire was there, her back to him. Was he dreaming again? The light seemed too hazy and golden to be real.
She rattled cups around, making tea. Jamie approached, wary, and reached out to put a hand on her shoulder. Be real, please be real…
Claire turned and gasped, a hand clutching at her neck. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, you scared me, James Fraser!”
“I’m sorry, Sassenach.” He sidled closer and placed a hand on her stomach. “We agreed I was to fix breakfast since you have to leave early. Why are ye up?”
“She woke me, kicking incessantly,” she replied, caressing his hand over her swollen belly. “I don’t think she gets that Mama needs her rest now.”
“But are ye well? Does anything hurt?” Jamie asked, concern on his brow.
“No, love, I’m perfectly fine. A little tired and hungry, but nothing some tea won’t cure.” Claire smiled softly, glowing.
After more than two years of trying, here was another of their lives’ miracles, sheltered in his wife’s body, theirs to love and cherish.
“Och, there, a leannan, ye must mind yer Mam,” Jamie said, squatting before Claire to talk to the bairn inside her. “It’s still a few months afore we meet ye.”
Soft padded steps stopped at the kitchen, and Jamie turned to find a small brunette with his eyes, yawning sleepily. He smiled and held out his hand. “Here, Faith. Seems yer sister is awake too. Come say good morning.”
Their two-year-old kissed Claire’s belly and her Da’s cheek. “Parrrrish? Milk?” Faith blinked huge blue eyes at Jamie, knowing full well the effect it had on him.
“Aye, my wee milkweed,” he said, taking their daughter’s hand and leading her to the high chair in the small dining room. He couldn’t resist caressing the curly mop identical to his wife’s. Jamie persuaded Claire to rest with Faith while he made her tea and Faith’s parritch.
Claire ran a hand over his tousled curls, sighing contentedly. She gave him a brief kiss before pulling a chair next to Faith’s booster seat, as their daughter prattled on and on about babies and dolls and books, in a mixture of English and Gaidhlig.
Jamie watched his two greatest loves, and knew the life they were building together was better than anything they could have dreamed.