Well that was… unexpected.
A fun, alcohol-filled night out with Geillis was never boring, but she was not prepared for… that.
Claire closed her eyes and let her mind wander back to the night before.
The sound of his voice lingered in her ears-the soft lilt that grew stronger as he fumbled over his words. The memory made her giggle; he wasn’t the debonair ladies’ man she had imagined him to be. She saw that table of girls, and the way they looked at him. She wasn’t naïve enough to imagine he had not dated one of them… or perhaps more than one. But outside, with her, in the stillness of the spring night- he was different, unprotected, and vulnerable.
The sound of her phone buzzing snapped her from her daze. She shook her head in an effort to clear it; she was embarrassed for just how much time she had spent replaying the night before in her head.
She looked down, expecting to see Geillis’s name- undoubtedly to tell of her conquest. She saw how he had eyed Geillis; she knew her friend. They undoubtedly had left together. She scoffed at herself, thinking back to what she thought was bravery entering her number in his mobile. It wasn’t brave, it was stupid.
She was right, it was Geillis. Her finger swiped the screen as the message popped into view.
- Well last night was a bust. Red headed Viking doesn’t know what he missed.
Geillis was rarely denied by anyone- if she set her eyes on someone, they were as good as hers. -What had happened last night? S he tapped the keys in response.
- Must have gone home with the blonde, sorry lady- maybe they do have more fun? ;)
She had just enough time to glance down at the chart and read the last sentence of her notations before her phone pinged again.
-No lass- he left ALONE. Dinna give ANYONE a chance at him.
He went home… alone?
He must have had something to do this morning, or there was no one he fancied at the bar, or… someone was already waiting for him at home.
Her brain swirled with a thousand possibilities to explain it. But still, she couldn’t help but hear her breathing hitch and she felt a tinge of hope flutter in the back of her mind. It was impossible, to be sure. They had only shared a few quiet moments together; he could not possibly have been interested in her. She was not his type.
Her phone buzzed again but this time she looked down at it in annoyance. Okay Geillis, I get it. Enough.
Her brows creased as an unknown number flashed across the screen.
-Hope ye dinna get lost on the way home last night, Sassenach.
She stared at the text. A deep rush of heat filled her cheeks and her heart pounded in her chest.
He went home alone.
He just texted me.
Her fingers shook slightly as they hovered over the keyboard- waiting. What should I say?
She thought for a moment, smiled, and let her finger swipe across the screen.
He held his breath, waiting.
Last night he had counted the moments until his set was done, packed his guitar in one swift motion, and exited out the back door. Sleep had come quickly; his last thoughts were of whisky amber eyes and a smile that warmed him to his backbone. He woke up this morning more clear-eyed than he had in a while.
And his bed? It was empty.
No pang of regret, no awkward shuffle out the door after an awkward goodbye. He stretched his limbs to the four corners of the mattress, testing out the expanse of space without some unknown face next to him. It was an odd feeling- and for some reason it was not all that unpleasant.
He rotated his phone in his hand, fingers fidgeting with the case as he waited. She’s just one lass, why do I care so much?
He nearly dropped his phone as it buzzed in his hand.
-Was that a dig to my sensibilities or the fact that I’m a… what was that word? ‘Outlander’?
So she was a witty one, too.
He chuckled at her response, shifting his position in bed slightly as he considered his reply. He smiled as his fingers tapped the screen.
-I see ye havena lost yer Gaelic since I last saw ye.
He wondered what other words she would know. He smiled as a list of words he wanted to teach her formed in his mind.
-I can feel your concern from here, it’s quite charming.
Another quiet laugh, his eyes focused on each word of her text.
-Aye, it was either that or ask if my singin’ scared ye off.
He didn’t know this woman, yet he felt a connection to her- a closeness he hadn’t felt with anyone in… a long time.
She was practically a stranger, and yet at the same time, so familiar. He chewed on his bottom lip, waiting.
He saw the text before his phone even made a sound.
-Close, but not quite ;)
A wink. That was a good sign. He felt a bit braver.
-Might need ye to give me some singin’ tips then.
Three bubble populated, and he waited.
-Bars aren’t usually my scene- they let anyone on stage these days.
That wasn’t a NO. He tapped one finger against his leg as he considered his options. Time to ask. Keep it simple- nothing serious.
-Perhaps over coffee, then?
Three bubbles populated on his screen almost instantaneously- and then disappeared, and he felt his stomach drop. This was supposed to be casual, why am I so nervous?
He needed to know more about this Sassenach. He wasn’t satisfied with one night, just a few fleeting moments with her. His phone vibrated again, interrupting his thoughts, and his eyes darted to the screen.
-Not much of a coffee fan...
His smile faded as his heart sank. Did she just turn him down? Another ping sent his heart into overdrive.
-…How about tea?
His smile returned in full force, spreading wide across his lips. He rested his head back against the pillow, allowing for a deep intake of air. He wasn’t used to putting in effort to get a date, but it wasn’t just that- it was her. She was different. He allowed himself one more moment of exhilaration, coupled with relief, before responding- his smile still firmly fixed on his face.
She checked her phone again- 2:15pm. He was late.
Was I being stood up? Was he playing me for a fool? Damn you Jamie.
She shook her head as a series of four-letter words rattled in her mind. They had agreed on her favorite café around the corner from the hospital. He had asked to meet that day but she had the sterile smell of the hospital in her hair and the fatigue of a long shift aching in her bones, so they agreed on two o’clock the following day.
Her tea had cooled and she stared at the remaining liquid in her mug. She was considering abandoning the remnants just as the door kicked open and she felt a gust of air hit her back, a few stray curls fluttering around her face. Before she could blink, a large figure rushed by her and took up residence in the chair facing her.
“I’m late, I ken.” He was breathing deeply, trying to catch his breath.
“Yes, you are.” Her tone was flat and she moved to push her seat from the table.
“Please, dinna leave-”His eyes widened as he raised one hand in gesture to stop her. He stuttered, his words coming fast, “I’m sorry, Claire.”
She paused, frozen by his words and the sound of her name off his tongue. She watched him for a moment, seeing his chest rise and fall; she could hear his breath as it shook, as well as his attempt to steady it. She shifted back into her seat but kept her eyes trained on him, eyebrows raised as she waited for an explanation.
“I’m sae sorry, I… to say that is… I was ju-“his accent was thick again as he tried to speak. His mouth opened and closed more than once before he shook his head as he ran one large hand through his auburn curls. “Christ… I dinna ken what it is, but ye seem to… knock me off kilter.”
She fought to keep a straight face but failed, letting an earnest laugh erupt from her chest.
“Are ye laughin’ at me?” His voice was a mix of exasperation and curiosity as he cocked his head to the side.
Between breaths she nodded with a smile, “Yes I believe… I am.”
He met her gaze, laughing softly with her as well. He faltered slightly as she brushed a stray curl from her face. He cleared his throat, his eyes glancing at her mug. “Can I buy ye another cup of tea?”
She eyed him for a moment, seeing the faint glimmer of sweat on his forehead and twitch of his fingers against the table. A slight smile pulled at her lips as she nodded, “Oolong, please.”
His shoulders visibly relaxed and he let out a small sigh. He returned the smile as he stood up and headed towards the counter. Her eyes lingered on his form and she watched the barista’s reaction to him. She smiled to herself, letting herself feel a pride in being here with him.
He returned quickly, a fresh mug held out for her and a cup of coffee in his other hand. She reached for her tea and their fingers touched; she felt a warm current course through her, and she wasn’t sure if it was the heat from the mug or the touch of his fingertip. If he had felt it, he didn’t let on as he settled into his seat across from her, taking a long sip before he spoke.
“So, how long have ye been in town?”
“Just a few weeks. I transferred to the surgical program.” She grew quiet, eyes focused on a droplet of tea running down the side of her mug. “Seemed like a good time for a change.”
She felt his eyes on her as she took another sip, feeling the warmth of the tea trickle down her throat.
“How about you?” she asked, shifting the focus and trying for a lighter topic. “You’re from the Highlands, right?”
“Oh aye- a Highlander, born and raised. Havena lived in Edinburgh too long myself.” His finger traced the rim of his mug.
Their conversation flowed easily, but he was particular in steering clear of anything too personal, no mention of a partner or other ties. She didn’t ask, but she wondered just what he was deflecting- and why.
She spoke about the hospital and her work- the excitement of surgery paired with the exhaustion of late nights and long shifts. He listened attentively, waiting for a pause or for her to sip her tea before asking a question.
“… and finally Geillis told me we were going out to get plastered, and that’s how we ended up at the pub that night.” She shook her head remembering that night, and she paused at the memory of his eyes meeting hers for the first time. She sipped the last of her tea and carefully placed the mug back down on the table.
His voice was quiet but he spoke with conviction as he kept his eyes hooded, “Remind me some day to thank her, aye?”
He eyed her mug, tilting his own to see it empty. He glanced up just long enough to see her eyeing him and he smiled.
“I don’t do this often,” his voice was steady but she thought she caught a hint of wonder.
She winked as she smiled and asked, “What’s that- drink coffee?”
“No.” A faint smile formed but shook his head, “Go on dates.”
“Oh, you think this was a date?” Her voice was teasing but she felt her heart beat against her rib cage as she enjoyed the illusion of thinking it was. She sat back and waited, expecting a flirty response or even a new Gaelic word she would need to learn. He raised one eyebrow as she felt her breath pause.
“I was just hoping.” He said simply, looking at her with an openness that caught her off guard.
She stared at him for a moment, unsure of how to respond. Each time she expected a cocky attitude, he disarmed her with vulnerability. “… And if it was?”
He smiled, “Just wait and see what I have in store for date number two.”
He tried, and failed at a wink and she laughed again, feeling her heart flutter as his blue eyes pierced through her.