“Nope, I’m not going.”
“Oh come on , Claire,” Louise whined. “You have to!”
“On the contrary,” Claire replied quickly, “I really don’t.” She looked over at her friend pleadingly. “I just moved back here today.”
“Exactly! Which means it’s been five full years since the three of us lived in the same city,” Louise reminded her.
“It’s not that I don’t want to,” Claire said before Louise interrupted her.
“Oh my God, Geillis, she said it,” Louise yelled to the other room. Claire rolled her eyes as her other friend walked in to the room.
“Claire, just face the facts, we’re dragging ye out with us tonight,” Geillis said shortly. “Ye can whine all ye want, but ye know ye want to. We even got Joe on board.”
Claire closed her eyes and sighed. “Really? You dragged Joe into this?”
Joe walked into the room as well. “What do you expect me to do, stay here at your new place while you go out and party? Please, I came all this way to help you move. I’m going out to celebrate with you.”
“Your three best friends are on board. I think it’s time you just accepted the invitation,” Louise informed her.
“All my clothes are in boxes and suitcases,” Claire reminded them. “What would I even wear?”
“Throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt,” Geillis said. “We’re not parading ye around the town, we’re just going out for a drink to celebrate ye returning to London.”
Claire took a deep breath. “Oh alright. Fine.”
Her friends clapped at their victory. “Great! It’ll just be us and a few other friends,” Geillis explained.
“What?” Claire asked exasperated. “You just said it was just a drink to celebrate.”
“Well they’re celebrating too,” she said with a shrug.
Claire rolled her eyes as she stalked off to find suitable clothes for the evening.
An hour, and much more protesting, later, the four of them arrived at the pub where they’d be meeting the rest of the group. Geillis cheered to a group of four men as they entered the place. “Hey lads,” she called. She put a hand firmly behind Claire’s back and pushed her forward. “Everyone, this is the reason we’re all here tonight. This is my dear friend, Claire Beauchamp. She finally wised up and left the States!” Louise cheered from behind them. Claire couldn’t help but laugh as she looked back at her friend. Geillis turned and nodded at Louise. “Okay, Claire,” she said, motioning to the three men in front of them, “these lads are Rupert, Willie, Jamie, and Angus.” Claire waved awkwardly at them. “Oh, and this is Claire’s friend, Joe.” With a nod of finality. “Okay, let’s get the first round.”
Claire was chatting happily and drinking her glass of wine when she felt her phone buzz. Looking down, she smiled at her phone as she read the text she received. She felt Louise scooch closer as she angled her head over Claire’s shoulder. “Who are you texting?”
She looked up at her friend. “Frank,” she said as she looked back to her phone.
Louise stared at her for a moment. “Why?”
“Because he texted me…?”
“Why are you even replying to him?” Louise asked bluntly.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Claire wondered.
“Because you broke up.”
Claire’s eyes grew wide as she stared at her friend. “What? No we didn’t. What makes you think we broke up?”
“You didn’t break up?” Louise practically yelled. “Geillis,” she called across to the bar, “did you know?” Geillis shrugged in her confusion, unable to hear her clearly. Louise focused back on Claire. “I thought you broke up.”
“Why would you think that?”
“He didn’t help you move. You’re telling me that your married friend Joe came all the way from Boston to help you move to London but your own boyfriend couldn’t be bothered to help you?” Louise looked livid.
Claire felt like she was getting on the defensive. “He’s really busy right now.”
“He’s a historian. Literally nothing is pressing for them,” Louise argued. “He’s making a statement by not helping you.”
Claire glared at her friend. “Please don’t do this. I know you’re not Frank’s biggest fan.”
“What’s not to love about the human equivalent of the color beige?”
Claire sighed as she rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m going to go get another drink, okay?” Louise raised her hands in surrender and waved Claire toward the bar.
“Having a good time tonight?” Claire looked over to see one of Geillis’s friends staring at her expectantly. He was tall and stout with a friendly face.
“Rupert, right?” He nodded happily. Claire smiled back. “Yes, I am. I was reluctant to come out tonight, but I am glad I did. I suppose Geillis was right. Don’t tell her I said that, of course.”
Rupert laughed heartily. “Oh of course not. We can never let the lass know when she’s right.”
Claire continued on to the bar as Rupert walked back to the little corner their gang was occupying. Another one of Geillis’s friends was standing at the bar as Claire approached. He was tall and had striking red hair. Claire smiled at him before she turned to the bartender to get another glass of wine.
“Geillis said yer name was Claire Beauchamp, right?” Claire looked over and nodded. “This is going to sound strange, but did ye used to live in Scotland, a few hours outside of Edinburgh when ye were a wee lass?”
She grabbed her glass from the bartender before looking over at him critically, trying to figure out what he was asking. He was staring at her almost nervously. Claire was nearly positive this was the one named Jamie. Suddenly a thought clicked in her head. “No way,” she muttered. “You can’t be...Jamie Fraser?” she asked disbelievingly.
He nodded, smiling brightly. “Aye, I am.”
“From Lallybroch?” She asked, double checking.
“Aye, the same.”
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” Claire cried, setting her glass down on the bar before bringing the tall Scot in for a hug. “I can’t believe it! How long’s it been?”
“Goodness, I think 18 years,” he replied, still smiling.
“Wow,” Claire said, unable to believe her eyes. “Well how’ve you been?”
“Uh, alright. How about yerself?”
“Well the last 24 hours have been a bit hectic but other than that, pretty good. So how long have you been living in London?”
Jamie sat down in a seat at the bar. “I moved here near on seven years ago now.”
“That beats my six hours by a long shot,” Claire said with a laugh. “How is your family?”
“Jenny’s doing well. She’s married now with four bairns.”
“Whoa. Four?” Jamie nodded with a laugh. “She is either crazy or really knows how to handle chaos.”
“I think it might be a combination of both,” Jamie laughed.
“How about the rest of your family?”
Jamie’s smile faded slowly. “Well ye left Scotland in the spring and that fall, Willie fell ill and passed.” Claire gaped at him, feeling guilty that she’d brought it up. “My mother passed away when I was 12 and my father when I was 21.”
Claire closed her eyes, sitting down in the chair next to his. She reached out and laid her hand on his. “Jamie, I’m so sorry.”
“Ah, ye needn’t be, lass. It was all a long time ago.” He looked up and met her gaze. “Besides, ye lost yours at the same time.”
Claire dropped her head. It had been a while since she’d thought of the car accident that took both her parents from this world. She nodded to the floor. “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean my loss was worse than yours,” she said, looking back up at him.
“So what brought ye to London?” Jamie asked, seemingly trying to change the subject.
Claire smirked. “Well I’d been living in Boston and Uncle Lamb was here in London working at the British Museum. He got really sick in the last year and I was over here all the time to try and take care of him. I requested a transfer from my hospital in Boston to one here in London and it was approved. I filled out my new employee paperwork three days before he died.”
“Christ,” Jamie muttered. “I’m so sorry.”
Claire shrugged. “It’s alright. In the end, it was him who brought me back to London. Between you and me, I probably could have transferred back to Boston, but I didn’t want to. I loved Boston for a while, but when I started spending more and more time here in London to be with Lamb, it just made me much happier. It was a hard time but being in London helped. We came here in between digs Uncle Lamb went on. When he died, I think everyone expected me to return to Boston. Hell, I think even the people who’d just signed me on here expected me to return to Boston. But I couldn’t picture leaving London again. So I took a couple of months to set Uncle Lamb’s estate straight and to box up my life in Boston and now I’m officially back.”
“And ye’re happy with it?”
Claire nodded, a small smile on her face. “I am. Though I think Geillis and Louise are even happier I returned.”
“Yeah, how do ye know those two?” Jamie asked, looking over at the two of them and back to Claire.
She laughed as she settled back in her chair. “We met at Oxford. We were all in a biology class together in our first year. We formed a study group and the next year were flatmates.”
“Christ,” Jamie laughed. “The three of ye lived in the same flat?”
Claire nodded with a grin. “Yes indeed. It was at times chaotic for sure. But it was also a good time. Then we all went on to different post graduate schools. I went to medical school at Harvard and stayed in Boston for my residency.”
“So ye’re not only bragging about going to Oxford, but also Harvard, and the fact that ye’re a doctor,” Jamie teased.
She covered her face as she laughed. “It could definitely sound like that, couldn’t it?” Jamie nodded with a grin.
“Ye said yer Uncle Lamb went on a lot of digs,” Jamie recalled. “Where was the best place ye went?”
Claire opened her mouth to reply when she felt her phone ringing in her pocket. “Oh one second please. I need to take this.” Jamie nodded. Claire angled away from him as she answered the phone. “Hi there!” she said cheerily.
“Claire? Where are you? It sounds loud,” Frank replied.
“Oh, Geillis and Louise dragged me and Joe out for some drinks.”
“Oh,” he said quietly. “Well I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
“No, Frank, you’re not bothering me!” Claire assured him.
“Well it sounds as if you aren’t free. Doesn’t sound as though you’re missing Boston very much either. Why don’t you call me later when you’re quite finished partying,” Frank said shortly before hanging up the phone. Claire stared at the phone in confusion before putting it back in her pocket.
“Is everything alright?” Jamie asked kindly.
Claire nodded. “Sure. That was just my boyfriend. He doesn’t seem very happy that Geillis dragged me out tonight.”
“Well why doesn’t he come out too?”
“Because he lives in Boston.”
“Oh,” Jamie replied with an awkward expression. “Can I ask why he didn’t come help ye move?”
Claire stiffened. “He was busy with work.”
“Ah. Is he a doctor as well, then?”
“No,” Claire said with a sigh. “He’s a historian.”
Jamie raised his eyebrows. “Aha. I didn’t realize that was such a...demanding profession.”
She laughed loudly. “Well you win the most tactful way to say that!” She shook her head as she continued to laugh. “Geillis called him a cowardly prick and Louise thought we’d broken up and that was why he didn’t come.”
“I dinna ken the man so I canna pass judgment,” Jamie said kindly.
Claire felt very impressed by Jamie’s statement. That certainly wasn’t how most of her friends felt. She didn’t feel like talking about Frank any longer though. Talking about Frank was a minefield of feelings. “I believe before my phone rang you asked me the best place I went with Uncle Lamb.” He nodded with a smile. “I really loved Egypt! It was a really neat place.” She took a sip of her wine. “So did you stay friends with Ian Murray?”
Jamie laughed. “Oh aye. He’s actually married to Jenny.”
Claire gaped at him. “No way. They got married?” Jamie nodded. “He’s the father of her four babies?” He continued nodding. “Your best friend married your sister?”
“Aye,” Jamie said through a laugh. “I coudna quite believe it for a while myself.”
“That’s amazing,” Claire said, taking another drink.
“Aye and they’re both still living at Lallybroch.”
Claire shook her head in awe at the mental image. Soon Claire and Jamie started reminiscing on their shared childhood. Her parents had moved to Scotland for her father’s job when she was four years old. They lived in a house across a field from Lallybroch. Her mother had quickly become friends with Jamie’s mother. Naturally, their children that were the same age spent a significant amount of time together and became quite close friends as well. Claire and Jamie spent most days of the week playing together at one of their houses. Often Ian would join in the madness as well. His family lived in the same village. Jenny, Jamie’s older sister, would join them in their shenanigans when she didn’t deem herself too old for them. The four of them were a tight knit group. Claire’s mother came to rely on the Frasers to watch Claire after school or times when Julia was unable to take Claire with her. Often, Claire was already over at Lallybroch anyway. Jamie had become her best friend and confidant for a good chunk of her childhood. But when Claire’s parents both died in a car accident that somehow spared her, Uncle Lamb took over custody of Claire and she left Scotland, and the Frasers, to go with him.
Before she knew it, she and Jamie had been chatting for quite a while. Louise came over and tapped Claire on the shoulder. “We’re getting ready to go.”
“Oh goodness,” Claire replied, looking at her watch. “Yes, I should too. I’ll come with you.” She turned to pay her tab at the bar. The whole gang seemed to be putting on coats and preparing to leave the pub.
“Well it was so good to see you again, Jamie,” Claire said happily as she turned to him before walking out the door.
“Aye, and you,” Jamie agreed. “If ye’d like, we could grab lunch sometime and catch up more.”
Claire smiled at the offer. “I’d love that! I’ll have to get settled at the hospital first, but that sounds great.”
“Of course. Just let me know when ye have the time. I’m sure Geillis will force us all to go out again as well.”
Claire laughed as she looked over at her friend. “Absolutely she will.”
She bid farewell to the others as she walked away with her friends. “How did I know you’d fall for Jamie?” Louise asked Claire with a grin.
“What? I didn’t fall for Jamie!” Claire exclaimed defensively.
“Please, ye spent all night talking to the lad,” Geillis reminded her. “We all have eyes and can see that he’s handsome. We’re not judging ye for falling for his charm.”
“Well for your information we actually knew each other as kids. We were catching up,” Claire informed them. “And it wouldn’t matter how charming he is because I still have a boyfriend. Remember?”
Louise groaned. “I’d rather forget.”
Claire rolled her eyes as she climbed into a cab with her friends. “I mean it can’t last long, right?” Louise asked. “He didn’t even help you move.”
“He’s a good man,” Claire insisted.
“He may be a good man, Lady Jane,” Joe said, “but there’s a reason I’m here. And it’s because one day you walked into work and said Frank wasn’t helping you move. I have a wife, child, and more demanding job that I left behind to help you move.”
“Is that not concerning to ye’re wife?” Geillis asked.
“Nah,” Joe disagreed. “She told me if I didn’t help Claire she would and she’s pregnant.” Joe shook his head as he laughed. “We love Claire enough to make sacrifices for her.”
“Joe, stop taking their side,” Claire pleaded.
“It’s not your side versus their side. It’s just that Frank may be a good man, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good man for you.”
“Ooh, I’m going to have to remember that line,” Louise cried. “That’s a good one.”
Claire sank into her seat in the cab, wishing to get back to her flat so she could finally sleep. Her first night back in London had been a much longer one than she’d initially anticipated. Though as she thought back on her long conversation with Jamie, she realized that it wasn’t entirely unpleasant.