Chapter 1: I want you
I want you - Elvis Costello
Listen to the song here!
“Oh my baby baby
I love you more than I can tell
I don’t think I can live without you
And I know that I never will”
But he did live without her; kind of living, that was.
He was still breathing. That was a fact - every painful day, every empty hour away from her. Oxygen kept filling his lungs, his blood steadily pumping it to the rest of his body. But what he needed was Claire; she was his real oxygen, making his life full.
It wasn’t that Jamie didn’t have any happy moments to speak of.
He wasn’t ungrateful. He had his sister and his best friend and brother-in-law to love and support him. His dream of having his own bookshop had come true and although the business was quite new, it was already profitable. At work or with family, he found small moments of contentment. He was satisfied when a new book arrived to his bookshop, or when he tried to guide his customers to the right choice judging from what he surmised of their character. He laughed with his heart when he was playing “the Indians” or “the cowboys” with his nephew.
These moments though, were too few to chase his emptiness away. On the whole, he felt hollow.
His life was on the right trail, leading to happiness. But he would never be happy without her coming aboard to travel this journey with him.
“Oh my baby baby
I want you so it scares me to death
I can’t say any more than “I love you”
Everything else is a waste of breath”
Jamie met Claire on a cold and rainy Friday afternoon at his bookstore. She came in like the sun in a winter’s day, brightening his life and casting away the darkness. The little bell above the door was still chiming when she smiled at him and said the sweetest “Hello” he had ever heard in a posh English accent. Sitting behind his counter to fill the list of the new arrivals, he felt unable to move and his eyes followed her while she peered around her to find the bookshelf of her interest. He was so hypnotized by her graceful movement that he didn’t even ask her if she needed any help. When she spotted the shelves with the classic literature her furrowed brow relaxed, and she smiled again.
At that point Jamie had already shaken his head three times in an attempt to break the spell the she had cast on him. Nothing. The fairy was still in his bookshop, reading summaries and trailing her ethereal fingers across spines that whispered their mysteries to her.
At last, he moved behind her and asking “Could I be of any assistance, lass?” He wished with all his heart that she would say yes.
He forgot time and place around her. She was holding an old leather-bound edition of “Wuthering Heights” when he’d first reached her. She caressed the cover with a reverence that made his heart melt. A bookworm she was- just like him.
They talked about the Brontë sisters and then moved to Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Robert Stevenson and Jonathan Swift - neither of them realizing that it was already ten o’clock and the bookshop should be closed for a while now.
“Will ye join me for a beer, Claire? To… to continue our conversation.”
“Sure, I reckon it’s going to be a long one if we enlarge the topic on non-British or Irish writers as well!” Claire winked at him.
That night, their first night together, was one of the best in his life. They talked about literature and then about themselves and their lives. She was a doctor, doing her residency in Edinburgh and she loved whisky and art.
“Art is universal, illimitable and free. I have to be so organized and precise when at work that I enjoy roaming unconstrained in fantasy at leisure. How is it that Fitzgerald wrote it? ‘Art isn’t meaningless… It is in itself. It isn’t in that it tries to make life less so.’ Well, I believe literature does that to my life.”
“The Beautiful and Damned” Jamie whispered. Well, if he didn’t fell hard for her already. He would be damned if she wouldn’t be the beautiful art in his life. She made everything meaningful.
They left the pub at two o’clock in the morning. Jamie was tipsy with drink and happiness. For the first time since he was a little boy, he felt that the world might be like a fairy-tale.
Since then, every Friday night Claire came by the bookshop. The saying “thank god it’s Friday” took a new meaning for him. He was living for these days, finishing all his work by noon just to talk to her when she would finally arrive.
She always waited for him to close the shop and then went for drinks together.
“It’s like I knew you all my life, Jamie!” Claire said laughing at their second “date”.
“Aye, this between us – it’s different,” he replied trying to contain all his feelings in his heart and away from his lips. It was too soon yet.
“I want you
You’ve had your fun you don’t get well no more
I want you
Your fingernails go dragging down the wall
Be careful darling you might fall”
The forth Friday in a row, while they were in their second dram, Jamie leaned in and kissed her. He wanted both to be still sober, the weight of their kiss to be based on their feelings and not in alcohol. It was slow and tender at the beginning, but Claire deepened it the moment his tongue touched her lips. Their long-restrained desire took over, erupting into the most passionate kiss he’d ever experienced.
When they broke from the kiss they were both breathing heavily. Claire’s eyes were burning with lust, her rosy cheeks almost the same color with her lips. The sensation was euphoric.
Jamie had everything he wished for, and even more. This absolute bliss, her whisky eyes shining with happiness, was engraved in his heart and on his mind forever.
All it took was a heartbeat and everything turned into a catastrophe. Her soft mouth became a tight line and her face contorted as if in pain.
Claire gasped, the sparkle in her eyes fading away as she whispered “I’m sorry Jamie. I’m so sorry.” Shaking her head, her hands moved from his nape towards her coat and bag.
“Claire, what… Why?” he asked, flabbergasted. His voice was still husky from their kiss and he felt so ecstatic after finally tasting her lips that he couldn’t comprehend her reaction.
She just lowered her head and left him alone, to watch her swaying body as she left the pub. The door closed behind her and Jamie felt his heart shattering in a million tiny fragments, impossible to be found and pieced together again. At least not without her.
“I want you
I woke up and one of us was crying
I want you
You said “Young man I do believe you’re dying”
I want you
If you need a second opinion as you seem to do these days
I want you
You can look in my eyes and you can count the ways”
He dreamed of her every night during the following week. Every morning he woke up sure that her legs were entwined with his and her curls were spread on his chest.
But his bed was as empty as his heart. Tears found their way to his pillow and all he wanted was to fall asleep again, to find his peaceful oblivion. When awake, the same questions dominated every other thought his mind would form.
Why did she leave? How could her feelings change so much in mere moments?
He was sure of what he saw in her eyes immediately after their kiss. He could even feel her heart beating as he pulled her body flush on his.
She knew that he wanted her more than anything, didn’t she? Why was she gone?
“I want you
Did you mean to tell me but seem to forget
I want you
Since when were you so generous and inarticulate
I want you”
She hadn’t flinched when he kissed her, but she’d moved to find him and be closer to him. He was still sitting on the stand and she was standing between his legs when they moved away from each other.
Jamie knew she felt it as well. There was this connection, this inexplicable link between them. She never said so, but there are times –as rare as they might be – that words were meaningless. The eyes could convey more messages to a person in love than a whole page filled with words.
“I want you
It’s the stupid details that my heart is breaking for
It’s the way your shoulders shake and what they’re shaking for
it’s knowing that he knows you now after only guessing
I want you
It’s the thought of him undressing you or you undressing
I want you
He tossed some tattered compliment your way
I want you
And you were fool enough to love it when he said
‘I want you’”
She never came to see him again.
The first Friday night found him in pure despair. Without her playful “Hello” and her beautiful face entering the bookshop, he felt helpless and forlorn.
Jamie decided to take the matters in hand. Claire had mentioned the hospital she was working at and he had resolved to go and stand by the doors until he could talk to her. He had to try, because he couldn’t go on. Her absence was not only painful, it was unbearable.
Every day, when bookshop was closed, he occupied the same spot outside the hospital, as stubborn as he was hopeless.
On Wednesday he finally saw her. She was in her green scrubs with her hair up in a bun and her ivory skin glowing. He could see though that her eyes were sad and she looked detached, a thick wall separating her from the world around her. He started towards her but stopped shortly when another man reached her, putting his hand on her waist.
On Claire’s waist. Moving her to him. He had to be a friend or a relative. He had to be.
Jamie listened to him calling her “darling” and he kissed her on the lips, the very lips Jamie still felt burning on his own. This kiss destroyed every alternative scenario formed in Jamie’s mind. They were a couple.
She smiled at the man, a smile that never reached her beautiful amber eyes. This was totally different from the smiles Jamie knew. He noticed that she was holding her satchel with both hands, not reaching to hug the much older and cold sober man.
They walked towards the parking lot and the man never took his hand from Claire’s waist. This intimacy between them was driving Jamie crazy. His mind was racing, trying to comprehend how this could be real and how his dreams came to be ashes, burned by the image of her with him.
It was his hand that should be in her waist.
His lips on her mouth, on her body.
His heart beating against hers.
His life shared with her.
Jamie wanted to go there and punch the man in the face. To shout at him that Claire wasn’t – obviously – happy with him. To declare that he knew how the happy Claire looked.
How happy she was when she was with him- every single time she was with him, because she was meant to be with him.
How difficult was that to comprehend?
He wanted to grab her away from the man’s grip and shake some sense back to her; to make her open her eyes and see the mistake.
She was in love with him and Jamie knew it as well as he knew his own heart.
His own, smashed, destroyed heart.
Claire couldn’t be in love with this man.
“I want you
The truth can’t hurt you it’s just like the dark
It scares you witless
But in time you see things clear and stark
I want you
Go on and hurt me then we’ll let it drop
I want you
I’m afraid I won’t know where to stop
I want you
I’m not ashamed to say I cried for you
I want you
I want to know the things you did that we do too
I want you
I want to hear he pleases you more than I do
I want you
I might as well be useless for all it means to you
I want you
Did you call his name out as he held you down
I want you
Oh no my darling not with that clown
I want you
You’ve had your fun you don’t get well no more
I want you
No-one who wants you could want you more
I want you
Every night when I go off to bed and when I wake up
I want you
I want you”
Jamie needed to hold her in his arms and make her see- not just look at him but really see. To make her listen to him and to hear his truth in her heart.
His statement would be plain enough.
“I want you. More than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.”
His lungs were burning, his heart banging in his chest, desperately trying to be heard by her.
I’m here. I came for you.
She didn’t listen to his heart’s frantic beating.
He couldn’t see anymore, the tears fogging his eyes and making everything around blurry. Everything, apart from her figure getting in the man’s car.
She was leaving.
The world became a black shadow covering him in his despair. No stars, no moon around to show him the way.
Drying the tears from his eyes, Jamie looked at her one last time before the car’s engine ignited.
With his heart clenched, beating painfully in his chest, Jamie saw her eyes lost, in a far away land. It was then that he decided there was only one thing he could do. He had to save them both.
He was hers and she had to know.
If she wanted him to stop feeling this way for her, she couldn’t just run away. She had to kill it herself.
Or kill him – at this point there was no real difference.
“I’m going to say it again ‘til I instill it
I know I’m going to feel this way until you kill it
I want you
I want you”
Chapter 2: Comfortably Numb
2. Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
Listen to the song here
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone at home?”
Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp had no home to begin with.
She lost that when she was five years old.
Together with her parents, her careless smile and her belief in fairytales.
She found uncle Lamb and Oliver Twist, a fellow orphan, in return.
She found archeological digs and literature.
Not that these were home, but, at least, they were something.
As years passed by, Claire forgot what home felt like.
When Claire was six, she could close her eyes and feel the warmth of her mother’s hug, cocooning her and protecting her from everything that might be harmful. With her mother’s arms around her little body, all the dragons of the world were imprisoned in dark cells, far away from this little princess.
When Claire was ten, she lay in her bed gripping the pillow and shutting her eyes tight, trying to bring the memory of her mother’s flesh and bones back. She kept focusing on that until she’d end up with a headache and a slight memory of her mother’s touch.
When Claire was twenty, the feeling of her mother became a vague notion, a soft touch similar to this of a light breeze, caressing her face while pushing back her curls. Her mother used to do that when she tucked her in bed, fingers trailing along Claire’s bloomy red cheeks before warm lips were kissing her goodnight. Claire didn’t remember any of these details, but the light breeze against her face always made her close her eyes and smile.
So the breeze became her home.
“Come on now
I hear you’re feeling down
Well I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again”
Claire was always a soul wandering.
Not quite lost, but not quite found either.
People offered to help, so she’d get over her misfortunes. After all, she would eventually have to conform.
Enough rebelling, they said.
Frank came in Claire’s life offering structure and stability.
Offering a chance for her to be normal, whatever normal was.
I’ll need some information first
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts?”
Frank listened to Claire’s story, trying to find what she should change.
You overreacted here, you took it too far there, this was not proper behavior for a girl your age.
Frank thought that this was the way to heal her.
He was enough, right? Claire should be proud that she found a man like him.
Girls dreamed of such a future, and she had it, lying in front of her feet.
It was only that she should try a bit more.
Frank was a patient man. He didn’t get angry, he just kept repeating what she was supposed to do, what the society expected from her. She had to become one of them.
Claire thought that was fine, and fine was enough.
Fine would never knock her off her feet, but it would never smash her down either.
Her uncle told her once that she was shielding herself against love.
But he did the same, didn’t he?
Claire simply answered that she would be just fine, as he was.
Claire had finally found a man to share her life with, a house to place the blue vase she always wanted to buy.
She might even get to feel this house as her home one day, even though she hadn’t managed that just yet.
It wasn’t a compromise, she thought, that she never burned for Frank. It didn’t matter that her knees never wobbled when she saw him, that her heart kept her regular beating when he kissed her.
Great passions and great expectations were for novels and films.
She left all the intense feelings to emerge during the hours she lost herself in fantastic universes, living the lives of others. And she did that a lot.
That should suffice.
After all, she had what everybody else wanted.
A normal, boring life.
“There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying”
Claire never told Frank that there was nothing for him to mend inside her, because she never showed him her broken parts.
Instead, she stood next to him, composed and behaving, the fiancé everyone would want.
Apart from the times she let herself be. These days that she ached to be herself, millions of miles away from everything, alone and free.
These were the days that Frank complained about Claire being withdrawn.
“This is not the way you should feel. You should be glad that Professor MacAllister and his wife are coming for dinner.”
Why should she be glad, Claire would never understand. She was tired of Frank’s Professors and their comme il faut wives.
If Claire would let herself feel anything at all, these would be the moments she’d be angry.
But she didn’t. She wore her imaginary armor, the one with the perfect, white, fake smile and the stupid nods.
While Frank and his colleagues were discussing history and the wives were talking about fashion, Claire saved herself from the Kingdom of Boredom by performing imaginal surgeries in her head.
Expose the tissue…
Precise movements, hand stable and deliberate inserting the blade in the tissue…
“What do you think about it, my dear?” Mrs Something would ask her in a piercing voice that would ruin her perfect cut.
“Umm, yes. I agree with you.” Claire would reply. It was always good to agree, or so Frank had said.
And then back to the OR.
The hospital was her home. Her real home, not the house she was living in.
Her job, that was what she loved - the shiny part of her day. Removing tumors from the body, healing, giving more time to people.
More time to do things. To kiss beloved ones. To laugh their hearts out. To dance in the candlelight.
If Claire let herself feel, these would be the moments that she would think of her parents.
What if her parents had more time? Would they dance in the candlelight when they would be old and grey, making Claire’s smiley lips taste tears of happiness?
Who would Claire be, raised up in the home her parents dreamed of?
“When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I’ve got that feeling once again
I can’t explain you would not understand
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb”
Woke up every day, kissed Frank’s cheek goodbye, went to the hospital.
When Louise told her that she shouldn’t trust Frank, that he didn’t see as an equal, Claire just said “Okay.”
The truth was that Claire didn’t care. Frank was who he was. And he could never hurt her, as he could never help her.
He would just be there.
When Frank proposed, Claire said yes. They were together for almost eight years and they practically lived together. It was the normal way life goes on.
Frank loved Claire. In his own way, but he did. She didn’t need more.
Each one of us is all alone in this life, anyway.
If it wouldn’t be Frank, it would be someone else.
She had her job and she was good at it. She had a person that loved his routine more than her and that would keep their relationship unchanged for ever and ever.
It would be boring, but too much adrenaline isn’t good for the heart, is it?
Claire was going on with a cold shield around her, securing herself against anything that could matter. Anything that could see into her soul and find out who she really was.
With her heart so deep inside, nothing could reach it anymore. No surface accessible for anyone to stab.
Just a little pinprick
There’ll be no more, ah
But you may feel a little sick
Can you stand up?
I do believe it’s working, good
That’ll keep you going through the show
Come on it’s time to go”
In the OR nobody tried to help Claire. They knew nothing about her and they respected her. In there, she was the person she always wanted to be.
Every time she left that room, she locked herself inside, together with the peaceful humming of the machines and the immaculately clean surfaces.
It wasn’t that Claire didn’t smile.
She did, it just didn’t reach her eyes. Even better, she’d get no wrinkles with the years.
She did the right. What Frank believed was right; which, of course, was the right kind of right.
That made him happy and their life uneventful. The older professor had mended the young girl’s heart.
Her rebel, forsaken heart.
“There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying”
Claire never told Frank that sometimes she sang to herself not to listen to his bullshit.
She didn’t care enough to tell him.
She didn’t care enough to fight.
She didn’t care enough to reveal the whispers at the back of her mind.
“When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb”
Claire had become comfortably numb.
She would be comfortably numb until she would die.
Only she wouldn’t.
A Friday afternoon she walked into Jamie’s bookstore and risked bringing her heart on the surface.
Oh God, the risk of feeling again.
She couldn’t stay away from him, like a butterfly attracted to light.
When she felt his lips on hers, her heart was banging in her chest so hard that it scared her.
It was real and so powerful that it shook her whole being, cracking her shield.
His taste reminded her of a home lost and that terrified her.
Claire ran away, knowing that she couldn’t lose yet another home.
Better never find one at all.
Frank was the lukewarm coffee one forgets on his desk because it’s not that good anymore - providing accessible caffeine, though, if you become desperate. Jamie was burning hot and all she wanted to do was to drink from him there and then.
But Claire knew blisters were damn painful.
Better be comfortably numb.
Catherine and Heathcliff didn’t have a perfect ending, after all.
What Claire forgot, was the uncontrollable chirping of hearts. Of all hearts, hers included.
At night, when everything was silent, her heart started cheeping.
At night, the stars were whispering dreams of red hair mingling with her brown curls on the same pillow. The whisky in his breath was caressing her soft ivory skin and the strength of his arms supported her as she was pushed against a wall, his thrusts filling her forcefully.
Every night after the Friday they kissed, Claire woke up quivering and wet, wanting nothing else but to run to him. Wishing his flame to consume her.
But Jamie was too dangerous for her quiet life and her shattered heart.
Chapter 3: Creep
Creep - Radiohead
Listen to the song here
“When you were here before, couldn’t look you in the eye
You’re just like an angel, your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather, in a beautiful world
And I wish I was special, you’re so fuckin’ special”
Jamie knew she was special.
It wasn’t magic that had happened, it was just her.
The way she smiled, the spark in the whisky eyes framed by her black glasses, the way she moved around, like a fairy in his bookstore.
He’d known she was the one from that second time she walked in, the little bell above the door chiming as if it was waiting for her. He knew it, when his heart skipped a few beats and then went on twice as fast, as if it was calling for hers. It seemed so stupid when his da told him that he’d know the one for him when he’d meet her. But this wasn’t stupid. It felt natural.
He was in love.
And love made Jamie forget some very important things about fairies. He forgot that J.M. Barrie had very well informed him that he wasn’t supposed to see a fairy. Fairies live away from humans. They’re hiding from them.
And yet, he had seen one. But his fairy - true in her nature - disappeared.
No one can go back to his previous life when he’s seen a fairy. Even less when he’s kissed her.
The steps that took him to the hospital that first time were hurried, impatient ones. The ones after seeing her, seeing them, were nothing but a labored process, a strain of muscles carrying an impossible weight that crashed heavy against the sidewalk. Broken bones. A broken heart.
His resolution to meet her and talk to her faded away with every step. As the hospital disappeared from view, he started doubting himself.
What if he had imagined it all. What if he kept misinterpreting her interest in him, thinking they had something more than a friendship when in fact they didn’t.
But she did kiss him back. She kissed him back.
His doubt mingled with that kiss creating a shadow that hovered over him, eating him alive.
He couldn’t think, he couldn’t read, he could hardly make the necessary orders for the bookstore. Claire’s laugh haunted his days. Her touch haunted his nights. Every single thought that flew in his head had the scent of her ivory skin. Pear and almond. She was there. Τhe bouncy curls, untamed like her spirit. The elektron eyes beaming light into his soul, the tears spent for the death of Helios’ son, now his to drink. The red lips that he begged to feel against his own again, full of life and longing.
Lips that he saw kissing the other man. But that was a soulless, disembodied kiss. Shared emptiness. Nothing like the way she’d kissed him.
He could still feel her teeth on his bottom lip. It was the fandom of a sensation now, so many weeks later, but her hunger and lust were still suspended over him, making his whole body seek to find her.
He tried to fight it, not to go back, not to fulfill the promise he made to himself that day. Not to tell her his heart.
His bleeding, aching heart.
He didn’t go back the first week after seeing her, but a moth had taken residence inside him, walking on his soul while searching for her light.
He blamed the moth when he started going to the hospital again. He needed to do something. He needed to talk to her and free that desperate feeling, free the emotions that were taking his breath away.
It wasn’t a choice. It was survival. It was his only way not to suffocate.
With a black coffee in hand, he was sitting at a remote bench every morning before opening the bookstore. Waiting for a flash of brown curls, for her green scrubs hiding the long legs, for that big tote bag that could fit a small person inside. He left only for the hours he had to be at the bookstore, and went back at the evening, staying until his eyelids fell heavy, his muscles and bones complaining of misuse.
He was exhausted and he could hardly function, making Murtagh mad at least ten times per day. Wrong orders. Bad customer service. Empty stares fixed on the door.
He couldn’t explain to the grump man that nothing else mattered, apart from finding Claire again. How it became the most important thing in the world to let her know, to make her see.
He was obsessed.
It took him four days to finally see her walking on the path that led to the A&E. His heart stopped and he froze in place, panicking.
What was he supposed to say?
Hello Claire, I like hanging out at hospitals and what a nice surprise to see you here?
Or… Ηi, thank God I finally found you, I’m stalking you for days?
“But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.”
He was thinking everything and nothing, all at once. His breath became labored, his feet ready to take him to her and yet rooted in the soil. He kept watching her from afar, her gaze lost on her phone’s screen and all he could feel was despair, a single question expanding in his brain, threatening to leave his lips in a desperate cry.
Who is he to you?
He couldn’t let her see him in such distress. She would think he was insane - not that he wasn’t. This behavior was absolutely neurotic and he very well knew it.
And yet, he didn’t stop.
She was everything he’d ever wanted. She was more than he could wish for. He couldn’t lose her over saying something stupid, now that he saw her again. He had to think rationally.
Jamie turned around and placed a hand on the blank, white wall to steady himself. When he was sure she’d entered the building, he moved towards the subway, cursing himself.
He had stood there for four days waiting to see her, all the while failing to think what he’d tell her, as if just by looking at him she would magically run to his arms.
With his whole body aching from sleep deprivation, the vessels in his eyes pointing red roads for the tears to travel, Jamie went to the bookstore, deflated and disappointed in himself.
With the second cup of coffee in hand, Jamie stood in front of her favorite section. The Classics. He touched the books lightly, timidly, his fingers traveling along the spines as if it was her spine he was touching, his eyes lingering on the titles she worshiped.
He should find an excuse, something good enough, to see her again. Anything that wouldn’t scare her away.
The hours passed quickly but all he could think of were irrational, absurd scenarios.
How difficult it would be to break a leg?
She would come to him, her strides fast and steady through the sterile corridors, her eye eerie under the cool white fluorescent light. She would touch him again, and he would shudder under the long fingers, craving for more.
It would be the same fingers that had ran through his hair when he closed his eyes to feel her lips. They were bringing him closer to her, asking for more.
And he would finally tell her that he wanted to give her more. That he wanted to give her everything.
It was nine o’clock when Jamie locked the bookstore, still in perfect health. There would be no excuse, no rational reason behind his visit.
Jamie sat on the bench waiting for hours. His determination started shaking under the night’s darkness, the light from the lamp posts insufficient to make him find his boldness again. He shouldn’t be there. This wasn’t normal. Nothing was normal, since the day he heard her laugh.
But Jamie was never ‘normal’. His sister used to call him her weirdo while they were at school, and most of his classmates called him a geek even though his muscles made it hard to see him as one. Most girls found his glasses sophisticated, thought his love for literature romantic. But he was neither sophisticated, nor romantic. He was just different. And that little gap between him and the others kept growing, isolating him, until he finally accepted that he would never fit in.
And then, he met Claire. He couldn’t believe how easy their conversation was, how effortlessly she understood him. He wasn’t the weirdo who stood out anymore, he was just himself.
And now that he’d finally found where he belonged, she was taking that away.
“I don’t care if it hurts, I want to have control
I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul
I want you to notice, When I’m not around
You’re so fuckin’ special, I wish I was special”
It was two o’clock at night when the automatic doors opened, revealing Claire. Tiredness had circled her eyes with as bold black highlighter, a few curls flying around her face, carried by the wind. She moved slowly, dragging her feet and stretching her neck, and he could almost hear the little cracks, releasing the tension.
With deliberate steps he moved towards her, each stride bringing him closer and making his heart want to leap out of his chest.
“Claire,” he breathed, coming to a stop in front of her and feeling her soft weight bumping on his chest. He hadn’t noticed that her eyes were closed, her feet knowing the path all too well to need visual support.
“Jamie?” She asked with a frown. The sound of his name leaving her lips made him shiver. “What… What are you doing here?”
He wanted to swallow each question, each ‘whot’ that hanged between them in that British accent. He gulped in the air that filled the space between them, decreasing the available oxygen, making her as breathless as he was. With effort, he kept his hands kept in tight fists not to touch her, not to bring her to him.
“For you,” he said and realized that he made no sense. “I came for you.”
Claire shook her head, her amber eyes fixed on the grass. “No,” she uttered, “You shouldn’t be here. I -”
“I know. Ye’re wi’ him.” All air left his chest and he felt that he would die there and then, in the open. He hadn’t dared to speak the words out loud before and now that he did, he knew that the only thing keeping him alive was Claire, standing in front of him.
“How? How would you know?” She asked, her eyes wide, terrified.
“I saw ye. The other day.”
“But how…” She trailed off and shook her head as if the details weren’t important. It was a long pause before she spoke again. “It doesn’t matter.” Another pause. “I should have never kissed you.” A whisper, her eyes miles away. “I’m sorry, Jamie.”
“Are ye?” He asked, and gently brought her eyes back on him with his index finger on her stubborn chin. “Truly?”
Her chin trembled under his touch and she took a deep breath before talking again. “I have to leave.” She announced with her jaw set, her heart retreating in the farthest side of her chest.
Away from him.
“Do you love him?” Jamie asked, gripping her hand, keeping her close.
“We’ll get married in a few months.” She said matter-of-factly, with a fake smile plastered on her face.
“Claire,” Jamie took a tentative step towards her, his voice calm. “This doesna answer my question.”
“We’re together for eight years. This is how things are supposed to be.”
She had build a wall around her, to be protected, to be alone.
He smiled bitterly when he looked at her again. “It didna mean a thing for ye then. All the nights we spent together were nothing for ye.”
He didn’t know why he was saying that. To make her feel guilt, to hurt her. To make her see they where more than nothing.
“They were…” She ran her hands on her face like a child trying to find a good excuse to justify the missing chocolate bar. “Wrong,” she breathed, as if she was afraid to say it aloud.
“Nay, Claire. They weren’t wrong. Twas how things are supposed to be.”
“Jamie, I -”
But she wouldn’t stop him now. Not now, that he’d seen how she looked at him, how each of her inhales came after an exhale of his own in a desperate attempt to breathe in the same air. “I’ve never felt that way before. Ye changed my life, Claire. For a whole month, I was waking up every day wishing it was Friday. Wishing that a day would come that I wouldn’t have to wait for Friday to see ye, because I’d wake up next to ye.”
Claire gasped. He cursed himself.
Had he gone too far?
Before taking time to consider the damage, he asked her again. “D’ye love him?”
Her lips were pressed into a thin line, denying the release of the single word that would change everything.
Please, say no.
She shook her head, fidgeting with a button on her jacket for a few moments before her eyes found his again. “It’s too late. I can’t do that.” It was a sigh, a hopeless release. “It’s too late.” She repeated, and bounced on the balls of her feet, preparing herself to leave. “Goodbye, Jamie.”
“She’s running out again,
She’s running out
She run run run run”
Jamie watched her leaving, as if she was in a parallel dimension and he couldn’t stop her. Her harsh words had batted his knees until the bones cracked, keeping him in place.
An urgent, sly breeze brought her scent to him, and he closed his eyes for a moment, taking her in. Taking her with him.
She was close to the gates when he opened his eyes again, and he noticed how slow her steps were, as if it took a tremendous amount of strength to move away from him.
“Claire!” He shouted and his lungs hurt from the strain. “Tis never too late.” She stopped in her tracks but she didn’t turn to see him. He waited, his gaze fixed on her, calling her to him, but she didn’t turn around. “Ye know where to find me!” Jamie added, running his hands in his hair, praying for strength not to run to her.
“Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want”
He’d trusted his heart to her, wishing she’d keep it close to hers to beat together. And now, he had to let her go, to be the person she wanted to be.
“You’re so fuckin’ special
I wish I was special.”
Chapter 4: My Backwards Walk
4. My Backwards Walk - Frightened Rabbit
Listen to the song here
“I’m working on my backwards walk
Walking with no shoes or socks
And the time rewinds to the end of May
I wish we’d never met, then met today”
Claire turned her head to look back at her apartment, her hand gripping the door handle.
Looking at it for the last time.
White, clean, spotless. The throw pillows laid at the right spots of the sofa - not too right or too left, just fluffy and perfect. The kitchen counter shone under the last sun rays - stainless steel appliances standing stark against the black granite. The fruit ball at the middle of the table held perfectly stacked apples - three green, three red, all scentless from the chemicals used to make them pretty. The smooth, diffused light filled in the space, stray flecks of dust floating around before they settled on the furniture, waiting for their end under a cleaning cloth.
Everything was in order. Right, precise, proper.
Claire swallowed with difficulty, the thought of Jamie’s apartment like a sharp inhale filling her chest with an unexpected gush of air. It wasn’t the synthetic flower scent Frank preferred in their floor cleaner. It was something earthy, like old books, and musky, like Jamie.
Claire bent and lifted her suitcase from the floor. Some clothes, three of her favorite books and a few pictures. Her mom looking at her, still a baby safely enclosed in slender arms, dark curls flowing all around her face - dark curls like Claire’s. Her dad, walking home with a broad grin, carrying her favorite plush monkey and her bicycle. Her uncle, at her favorite dig in Egypt, with a dusted artifact in hand. A picture of herself, the day she’d gotten her medical degree. Moments she needed to remember.
It was all that she needed with her as she left, to find the Claire she once was. The rebel, the vagabond. The girl who wasn’t numb, who felt her skin burning and her heart beating fast against her rib cage. The one who wanted to live before she’d die.
She had decided to free that girl, after years of imprisonment in a golden cage, in a sterile life. Get her hands in the dirt, feel the soil under her fingernails. Run until her lungs hurt, her breath burning in her throat. Laugh, until tears would blur her vision.
She left a letter to Frank, explaining as best she could. She left the ring, his ring, on top of the white, folded note, a diamond paperweight, holding down her words. She could picture him reading it, calm, his fast breath the only thing revealing his distress. This was one thing she was sure of. Even if she’d stay to talk to him face to face, Frank would keep his composure. He always did. He’d suggest she should take her time to think, because her behavior was irrational. She’d say that she wants to be irrational for once and that their relationship is not what she wants for her whole life, and he’d look at her with pity, shaking his head at the big mistake she’d made.
She didn’t need his judgement, or his help. Not this time. A letter would have to do.
Claire was working on her backwards walk.
She was leaving Frank, leaving that smooth, polished life she thought hers. She headed for the rocks, trembling and unsteady, trying not to fall off the cliff, but unable to keep her eyes on the trail instead of the breathtaking view before her.
She was walking towards Jamie, barefoot and weak - and yet she’d never felt so strong in her life.
“I’m working on my faults and cracks
Filling in the blanks and gaps
And when I write them out they don’t make sense
I need you to pencil in the rest”
Claire closed the door behind her, a soft ‘clack’ that caught in her throat, together with all her suppositions and alternatives. She had done nothing else for a whole week - just contemplating every possible scenario.
Her life. Jamie. Frank.
It wasn’t his fault, what had happened to them - to her. He’d never lied, had never pretended to be something he wasn’t. It was her choice to stay with him, to change herself, to conform. To be acceptable to him. And now it was her choice to leave, because she realized that to be acceptable was not important. What was important was to be accepted.
In their eight years together, she hid from the world, from herself. She’d been convinced, somehow, that she had everything she ever needed. She cherished the invisibility she’d gained over the years; it gave her time and space with herself. She’d been… okay. She had even been happy once in a while.
Claire had learned not to ask for much. Simple things. Few needs, fewer demands. Nothing to disappoint, nor steal her sleep at night. And yet, sometimes she wondered how her voice would sound if she laughed out loud, laughed until she gasped for air. How it would feel to suffocate from happiness.
And then, one evening, she laughed so hard that her facial muscles hurt. It was a stupid joke he’d made, a joke she later learned was him. Jamie. Jamie’s slanted eyes shining with mirth.
He came in her life, a bolt of lightning breaking the silence of her world. Bringing a storm of laughter and feelings. Pouring hard and blowing the dust away, clearing the air, making her see. And suddenly, it all made sense. The novels she read, the movies she thought fake became real in the pounding of her heart at the sight of him. The cool voice she put on when she was talking to him, pretending that her knees didn’t wobble.
Jamie flooded her soul. He filled her world up to the rim, scaring her, overwhelming her, challenging her. He made her feel strong again.
Strong, outside the OR. She’d never expected that. But it wasn’t the same.
In the hospital she knew what she was doing; every little move of her hand had been practiced time and time again. With Jamie, she was losing control. Every time she met him she was losing another layer of her armor, letting her frail skin show, and it frightened her how her hands itched to shed all layers and just be with him. It frightened her even more that he’d seen her and he accepted her as she was. She could see it in the way his eyes shone every time she appeared at the door; she could feel it in the way his touch penetrated her skin. Timid and shy, but he was there, showing more than she could bear to see.
She avoided passing by his bookstore or their bar after the kiss. She didn’t trust herself enough, not when he was always on her mind, haunting her in her dreams. Not when she closed her eyes and she could see him, calm and smiling with that lopsided smile, with that stubble on his chin begging to grind against her skin.
“I’m working on drawing a straight line
And I’ll draw until I get one right
It’s bold and dark girl, can’t you see
I done drawn a line between you and me”
She hadn’t trusted herself when he came to find her at the hospital either. She’d panicked when she’d opened her eyes to find his, red rimmed and pained. She’d quickly donned her armor - breastplate and backplate, helmet and pauldrons - to protect her heart, to protected them both. Nothing could change, nothing would. Fear’s claws were coming for her, dark and monstrous, grabbing her feet, dragging her away from that new world he’d offered her. Undiscovered, unexplored, full of awaiting dangers. The mountains she’d have to climb only to get lost in their fog; the rivers she’d have to cross only to drown in their depths.
She wore her armor so tight, that it was difficult to walk. To walk away from him. To draw a line between them.
She’d been crying silently, every night, for a week. Looking for him around the hospital without knowing why. Trying to bury the hope that sprang up in her heart every day, like wildflowers in the middle of a neatly plowed field.
She couldn’t keep going like this. She had to forget him, to erase him from her memory. Or, at least, to try.
“I’m working on erasing you
Just don’t have the proper tools
I get hammered, forget that you exist
There’s no way I’m forgetting this”
And try she did. She’d tried harder than she’d ever had, to silence his voice in her head, to peel off the layer of her heart where his words had been carved. She’d bit her lips to distract her from the memory of his kiss burning her.
She’d focused on work. Taking double shifts, going back home only to sleep, longing for that dreamless slumber where Jamie would leave her alone.
She’d been angry with him. If she’d never met him, she’d never know. No decision would have to be made, no weights to be balanced, no risk of doing the wrong thing.
She’d been angry with herself. Weak and cowardly, that was what she’d been. A doctor with trembling hands, insufficient to grasp life.
She hadn’t needed to dream of Jamie. He’d been there, in every moment of silence, during the long minutes when the hospital was quiet. Every time she could hear her thoughts, he had been there. The one person who really got her, reading her as if she was an open book, waiting for him to bookmark his favorite passages.
The more she’d tried to delete Jamie from her memory, the more he’d come back to her. He had dark circles under his eyes and unkempt hair, sticking out like he’d run his hand through the red locks a million times. And he had the same questions, every time. Always, these burning questions that demanded answers in a way no one had ever demanded an answer from her before.
As if his life depended on it.
Claire had soon realized that there was no way she was forgetting him. His stare, his questions, his kiss. His heart. She couldn’t go on pretending that nothing had happened, because something had happened. Jamie.
A week later, she felt each step bringing her closer to him, the soft soles of her shoes silent against the tarmac, pushing her forward, pushing her to him. To give him the answers he was looking for.
She repeated the last words she’d heard from him in her head, like a prayer, hoping it wouldn’t be too late. His words had been strained and harsh, and they’d nestled in her arteries, coming alive with each pumping of her heart.
You know where to find me.
She stood in front of the bookshop’s window, for the first time indifferent to the new arrivals.
She wasn’t afraid. She was terrified. She was walking away from her whole world. Away from safety, armed with nothing but honesty and his promise, the promise that felt sweet on her tongue. It’s never too late.
Jamie had opened his heart to her; he challenged her. His words had brought pain with them. But they had brought choice, as well, with a duty to follow a path and deal with the consequences.
They’d brought hope and will, where she had only obligation.
Jamie had pushed her to open her eyes, to see, to choose. And Claire chose.
“I’m working hard on walking out
Shoes keep sticking to the ground
My clothes won’t let me close the door
These trousers seem to love your floor”
“Jamie.” Air took her voice as the door closed behind her, a wave, lifting the single word up and carrying it to him.
Jamie’s head shot up from the papers he was reading and he gaped at her, blue eyes wide as if he was seeing a ghost.
“Hi,” she tried again, hoping to elicit a response.
“It’s Friday,” she said with a small smile, wishing it would be contagious and would infect him, like a virus attacking its host.
Jamie didn’t laugh, and his brow furrowed with lines deep enough she thought she could never erase. Her breathing became labored and her gaze ran away from him, wanting to find peace between the books on the shelves, squeezed safe between words that were anything but reality.
His chair scraped against the floor and she inadvertently looked at him again. Now standing, he fixed his eyes on her, but he didn’t speak.
Claire shook her head, curls bouncing with the movement. She put on a tight smile, the best she could under the circumstances, and whispered, so low that he could hardly hear her, “Maybe this was wrong.” The whisper settled in her head, and she turned to leave.
“NO!” His voice reached her like water crushing against a rock, louder than she thought it would be. “Claire…” he said then, low, choked, the sea foam slowly vanishing.
Claire turned around to find him close, so close, barely a foot away. She jerked, surprised, and his hand grasped her arm. “Dinna leave,” he pleaded. She nodded, fixed in place, knowing that she couldn’t leave even if she wanted to. “I canna believe ye’re here.” Jamie explained and smiled softly, tenderly tracing her cheekbone with the back of his fingers.
“I’m here,” she repeated, not knowing what else to say.
He didn’t look much better than the last time she’d seen him. Her presence here was unexpected, of that she was sure; he thought she’d closed that door forever. But she was back, and she realized for the first time how clueless she was about his expectations - of her.
NO. She stopped herself short. No more expectations. She’d do as she wished. She’d be who she wished to be.
“Will ye stay?” he asked, bringing her back to the present, and he gestured towards the back of the shop, to a chair close to his desk.
“Yes,” she whispered and it took all her strength. Jamie took her hand, effortlessly, as if his own was where hers belonged. He grabbed the second chair and moved it close to his own. Claire smiled.
“I canna believe ye’re here,” Jamie said again.
“So you’ve said,” she teased, wondering how it felt so easy, with him. To feel scared, and weak, and happy, and fierce.
Jamie blushed, rubbing the nape of his neck. “Aye, I did. I just canna - ”
“Believe I’m here!” They laughed together, a laughter genuine in their awkward situation. Her hand found his, fingers splayed on his thigh, and she weaved hers in the empty spaces. “I’m sorry it took me an eternity.”
“It did,” he said, nodding repeatedly, but avoiding my eyes. “Claire,” he sighed, solemnly looking at her. “Why are ye here?”
“I couldn’t stay away,” she rushed to say, “I couldn’t forget.”
“I been working on my backwards walk
There’s nowhere else for me to go
Except back to you just one last time
Say yes before I change my mind”
Jamie looked at her, a well-adjusted mask on his face hiding all the feelings just a few millimeters under the surface. Close, but untouchable. It scared her, that mask. Losing him.
“It wasn’t easy.” She stated, looking at him straight in the eye, trying to justify her behavior. “The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” She said, the quote coming to her from a forgotten recess of her memory. As if it was waiting for its time to come to the light. The time when she’d be ready to accept its truth.
“Is that - ”
“Fitzgerald? I think so.” She smiled and shrugged, unsure of copyrights at the moment.
“I didna want ye to feel lonely. I just wanted…” his words trailed off, lost in the space between them.
“I know. But there was no other way.” His face dropped and she brought it back with her hand, to look at her. “I’m not lonely now,” she said, brushing two stray locks off his forehead.
A spark. A twig catching fire.
“Because…” he started, leaving it up to her to finish his sentence.
“Because I’m here,” she continued, sure. “I’m not lonely because I’m with you.”
Jamie nodded, his fingers drumming on the desk, his breathing unsteady. “And the man?” he asked. Another question waiting for her answer.
“It’s over,” she said, categorically.
He looked at her for a full minute, without speaking. His voice was low and hoarse when he did. “I never expected ye to disappear. After…”
Claire looked at their hands, fingers still merged together. Skin to skin. Connected. “I never expected to meet someone who’d turn my world upside down. I needed time, Jamie. To be sure, to be fair. To know what I’m doing.”
“And you know now?”
Questions. So many questions, but she couldn’t blame him. She’d left him, as if he meant nothing at all, when he meant everything and something more.
“I know. I knew from the beginning, Jamie, I just couldn’t bring myself to see it. I knew from the first night we stayed in that bar until closing time, talking. I knew, every time I crossed this doorstep. I knew every time I saw you smile at something I’d said. I was in love with you.” Claire stopped and took a deep breath that left her lips mingled with words. “I’m in love with you.
Jamie moved a little closer, his words flying straight into her barely open mouth. “I missed ye, Sassenach.”
Claire looked into his eyes for a long moment before replying, trying to make the words loud enough for him to hear. “I’ve missed you, too.”
“I canna believe ye recited Fitzgerald to apologize,” Jamie said with a grin.
“Hey!” she grinned back. “That wasn’t on purpose!”
Jamie’s eyes crinkled at that, and he shook his head slightly. “Purpose or not, ye hold my heart in her hands, Claire. Ye took it from the beginning, without asking for permission. And now, I dinna care what ye’ll do wi’ it as long as it’ll be yers.” He stopped then, and added, “But I need ye to be certain of it. Are ye?”
Another question, demanding an answer.
“I am,” she said, meaning it. “I don’t want an empty life anymore, Jamie. I want more.” Her voice was earnest, her vision blurred with unshed tears. Jamie nodded but didn’t speak, waiting for more. “I want you. I want more, with you. I’ve never been more afraid in my life, but I’m here.”
It is remarkable how a grin can transform a face. The deep lines Clare had seen on Jamie’s forehead gave way to other, shallow and thin ones around his eyes. Happy ones.
“Claire,” he said and swallowed, bringing his forehead against hers. “May I kiss ye? Without ye running away?”
Claire didn’t answer, but took his bottom lip between her teeth, biting softly. She heard a low growl coming from deep down his throat before she felt his lips against hers, his tongue seeking for her own. Her hand left his and settled over his heart, feeling each loud beat under her palm. Life. Love. Jamie’s hand cupped her head to keep her face on his, his arm coming around her waist to pull her flush to him.
Claire shuddered. She felt the air leaving her lungs. She felt suffocated by happiness.
“You’re the shit and I’m knee-deep in it.”