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The Paper Boy

Chapter Text

Jamie Fraser had been running his paper route for nearly six months. He was good at it. He knew the streets, knew the shortcuts to take on his second-hand bike and thanks to all the peddling, his calves were coming along quite nicely thank you very much.

He’d grown up in the area, and knew it like the back of his hand. So when he’d asked for a job from Murtagh Fitzgibbons, the grumpy old man that ran the newsagency, he knew he’d get the job. It probably helped that Murtagh was also his godfather but who was counting nepotism on a simple paper route.

It wasn’t a busy route. Only a few older residents of Broch Mordha liked their paper delivered by hand rather than reading the news online like the rest of the modern world. Things always did move slower in this village. “Tradition” they called it. “Because if they didn’t follow the towns traditions, then who would?” That’s what they always said. Jamie figured it was about time for some new traditions but he didn’t dare say that out loud to anyone. He was only 16. He wasn’t meant to have an opinion yet. Not one that would be listened to anyway.

Everyone always knew each other’s business in his village. He often wondered if that was part of the tradition of the town- knowing everyone else’s news. It seemed like the adults only told each other everyone else’s news, nobody ever had news of their own.

“Did you hear that McNully’ tractor broke last week?”

“I heard that Daniel Abels’ was selling the back half of his lot. Canna keep up with the maintenance.”

“Sally Finley got into a bit of strife last week, word is she’s been seeing Arnold Erwin and Johnathon Lackie on the side. Old Arnold was’na to pleased when he got home that night, I can tell ye.”

It was a wonder they even needed the newspaper with the amount of gossip that went on in the town.

Though, it gave Jamie a job and “some responsibility, which was sorely needed” as his older sister Jenny told him, not to mention it was nice to have a little change in his pocket at the end of the day.

“Ye shorted me a paper this morning,” Jamie said as he entered the rundown newsagents to see his godfather reading the paper behind the counter. “I did’na have Walter Stuart’s paper. Now I have to go all the way back out.”

“Ye dinna need to be delivering the paper to Walter’s house anymore,” Murtagh replied gruffly as Jamie picked up a fresh copy ready to deliver.

“Did he cancel?” He asked as he dropped it back onto the pile.

“Somethin’ like that. He died yesterday morn.”

Murtagh didn’t meant to be brusque, it was just how everything came out. Murtagh’s general opinion on life was “if it can be said in five words, say it in one”. Jamie found it endearing, other people called it rude.

“He died?” Jamie repeated in surprise

“Aye. Heart attack.”

“Jesus,” Jamie said under his breath before clearing his throat at the look at he his godfather was giving him. “Well, that’s a shame. He lived alone didn’t he?”

“Aye,” Murtagh grunted- never one to get involved in anyone else’s business.

“Wonder what will happen to his place now.”

“Probably go on the market.” Murtagh shrugged before raising the paper and continuing to read, a clear indication that the conversation was closed.

Jamie bid his godfather farewell picked up his bike and rode home, his mind firmly set on what would become of Walter Stuart’s house.

It wasn’t on his route anymore but Jamie couldn’t help riding past Walter Stuart’s house, just to see what would become of it.

The town has been abuzz with the news of his death and a funeral was promptly organised. The older women of the village, like squawking hens, immediately came together to theorise about old Walters death.

“Heard he died in the bath, imagine that, paramedics coming to rescue ye in the altogether.”

“I heard he choked on a chicken bone, was blue in the face when they finally got to him.”

“He had a heart attack,” the wise voice of Douglas McKenzie said over all the chatter, “he was nearing 90, it’s no’ a surprise.”

One day a “For Sale” sign went up as Jamie rode past the house. Who would ever choose to move to his small town, Jamie couldn’t think, but a little over a week later a bright red “SOLD” sign was pasted across the front.

Probably another old hen coming for retirement, or an old man looking for a peaceful village in which he could live out his remaining years in solitude- like Walter.

Two weeks after the “SOLD” sign appeared, so did two large moving vans. Jamie stayed to watch a while as the removalists carried in various pieces of furniture. Eventually one of them yelled at Jamie to either “help out or scram” and he peddled away quickly.

Jamie didn’t see any movement in Walter Stuart’s house for another month after the removalists has left. He thought it was strange that someone would move all their possessions into a house, and then not turn up to live there.

Of course, the village gossip’s were having a field day guessing what it could mean.

“Who moves all their furniture but does’na live there?”

“I heard it was some rich philanthropist that wanted a house in the country. He’ll probably only be here once a week.”

“Where did you hear that Dottie? Why would someone buy a house out here? A house that someone died in no less?”

“That’s just what I heard,” Dottie replied defensively.

Four months after Walters funeral, the moving trucks had arrived and left and the house sat vacant with no sign of life coming or going, a light was turned on in the hallway, followed by one in the kitchen and then what everyone assumed was the lounge room. It seemed that Walter Stuart’s house had at last received its tenants.

Nobody saw them arrive, there were no new cars on the street, it was as if they had suddenly appeared.

Jamie was well into his job as the paperboy now. A few more houses had been added to his route and the village gossip’s (mostly older women) loved to stall him when he delivered his papers to find out any information about their neighbours, especially about those that had moved into Walter Stuart’s house.

No one had seen hide nor hair of them since they had moved in. The lights went on and off and there was the sound of laughter occasionally through an open window, but still nobody in Broch Mordha knew what the new tenants looked like.

Jamie had been just as curious as everyone else and stopping by the house on his morning drop off has become second nature to him. It wasn’t that he was trying to see through the curtains, or spy on them for the benefit of the villagers; it was simply curiosity.

He was sure that he had heard a young girls laughter at some point as he rode past and he was curious to know who it belonged to.

“Laoghaire, get back inside and make yer bed.” The shrill voice of Mrs MacKenzie sounded from inside the house as Jamie stopped to dig the paper from his satchel.

“Hi Jamie,” the shy high-pitched voice of Laoghaire made him look up in surprise as she bobbed up from behind her fence.

“Alright Laoghaire.”

He saw her blush a deep red as he said hello and he handed her a newspaper. Girls were confusing, she was two years his junior and seemed to be out front every morning ready to take the paper from him.

“Have ye had a busy mornin’?” She asked eagerly.

“I suppose. As busy as any other,” he replied as he steadied his bike again. “See ye later then.”

“Bye Jamie,” she called sweetly as he rode off, he turned to look to see that she was blushing again as she waved him off.

Girls were weird, Jamie thought as he heard Laoghaire’s mother call out her name again, with more impatience.

—-

Once again Jamie stopped by Walter Stuart’s house. His paper route now completed. His satchel empty. It was a habit now; to park across the street, under the shade of a huge tree and watch the house for a minute or two. Jamie dismounted from his bike and took the time to stretch out his arms and legs. It wasn’t backbreaking work but it’s wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either. His body had become accustomed to the ride, and even with the new routes he’d picked up it wasn’t difficult so much as slightly tiring. Some days more than others.

As he bent to try and (unsuccessfully) touch his toes he heard the front door open of Walter Stuart’s house and a young feminine voice call out to someone inside.

“I’ll be back soon, Lamb, I just need to get out of the house for a while.”

Jamie jolted upright so quickly in his surprise that someone was coming out of the house that he lost his balance and fell backward onto his bike with an almighty crash.

The air was forced from Jamie’s lungs as he fell and his shin was throbbing something fierce as he tried to disentangle himself from his bike and bag.

“Are you alright?” A voice from somewhere beside him asked, it was soft, gentle and oh so very, very English.

“I’m...” Jamie turned to look at whoever had asked the question and felt his words catch in his throat.

She was gorgeous, stunning, like the sun had come out from behind the clouds on a rainy day and everything was brighter than before.

“You’ve cut your leg. Hold on a moment.” The girl turned away from him and pulled something out of a bag Jamie didn’t realise she was holding.

Jamie couldn’t look away from her. He still was lying awkwardly on the body of his bike, the pedal digging painfully into his lower back, his satchel somehow twisted around his feet but he couldn’t move. He’d never really thought of any girl as beautiful before.

Sure they were hot and there were a few that did funny things to his insides and one particular part of his anatomy. (A lesson his father had given him at the age of twelve that they had both blushed furiously through and then promptly never spoken of again.)

But this girl was something else. Jamie didn’t even know her name but he was convinced he was in love with her.

“This is it lad. You’ll marry this lass one day.” It was a stupid thought but it was the only clear thing that was running through his head at that moment.

That was of course until she applied pressure to his shin and he yelped in pain.

“Sorry,” she said sounding not even remotely sorry at all. “It’s bleeding quite a lot. Though, shins have a tendency to do that. Much like head wounds. Always bleed much worse than the actual injury. Stay still. I need to check how bad it is.”

She spoke rapidly and Jamie found it was all he could to listen to her talk, study the way that her mouth sounded out the words and the way her curly hair fluttered in the breeze.

“Not nearly as bad as I thought. No stitches needed but you did give yourself a bloody good scrape. Any other injuries, or is it just the leg?”

She looked up at him then and Jamie felt like he’d received another punch to his gut as he looked into her eyes. The colour of whiskey; intelligence of a hawk, and the cunningness of a panther, her eyes were the windows to her mind and he could see that hers were moving quickly over his face.

“Just the leg I think, though the longer I lie on my bike like this, the more I think my ars- my back may need tending to,” Jamie replied, thrilled that he had managed to string together a full sentence and annoyed at himself that he’d nearly asked her to inspect his arse.

“Right yes, of course. I’m Claire by the way,” she said nimbly stepping backwards from him, giving him room to extract himself from his bike and bag.

“Jamie,” he answered as he righted himself. His shin was still bleeding fairly profusely and he could feel the trickle of liquid make its way down into his socks.

“You’d better come inside. Get a plaster on that.” Claire didn’t wait for his response and turned on her heel and headed back towards Walter Stuart’s house.

“I’m back,” Claire called out to the seemingly empty house as Jamie followed her through nervously.

Walter Stuart’s house. He’d never been in Walter Stuart’s house. He looked into the living room and felt a shudder as it ran through him, wondering if that was where the old man had died.

“That was quick, Bumblebee.” An older man appeared from the kitchen, a pink flowery apron tied around his waist. “And you’ve brought back someone.”

“Lamb this is Jamie. Jamie this is Lamb,” Claire introduced quickly. “Are there plasters in the bathroom?” Without waiting for an answer Claire bounded off leaving Jamie standing somewhat awkwardly in front of the man Claire had just introduced.

“Jamie is it?” Lamb clarified as Jamie nodded shyly. “Well come in and have a seat. Nasty gash you’ve given yourself there.” Lamb looked down at his leg briefly and without waiting for Jamie to respond, he turned and went back to the kitchen assuming Jamie would follow- which he did.

“So Jamie. You’re a local then?” Lamb asked as he went back to whatever he was stirring, which seemed to be a rather large vessel of concrete.

“Ay- Yes sir I am,” Jamie replied politely, now holding the handkerchief that Claire had given him against his leg, trying to staunch the bleeding from his shin as he sat in a chair near a very small dining table.

“No need to call me sir, son. Professor Beauchamp will be just fine.”

“Oh,” Jamie mumbled awkwardly, “so-sorry I didn’t know.”

“I’m joking lad, Lamb is fine. So Jamie, how did you sustain such a ghastly injury?” Lamb said all this very quickly with an odd chuckle that make Jamie question how much of what he had said was actually a joke and what was so funny about it.

“Oh,” Jamie shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. He couldn’t very well say that it was the shock of someone actually exiting Walter Stuart’s house that made him fall over in surprise. More-so he then couldn’t say that it was Lamb’s very attractive daughter that had made him lose all sense of rational thought as she sat by him and helped him with his leg.

“I run the paper route in the town and I’d just stopped to take a break and... fell over,” he finished somewhat lamely as Lamb looked over and studied him carefully.

“A paper route? Fascinating.” Lamb looked back to whatever he was stirring and Jamie swallowed heavily. Fascinating wasn’t exactly something that Jamie would use to describe his paper route... or anything in the village for that matter.

“I...err, suppose so,” Jamie replied awkwardly. If any of the old women in town heard that Jamie had met the mysterious residents of Walter Stuart’s house, and furthermore been inside and heaven-forbid have a conversation with them, well Jamie would be the talk of the town.

Lamb seemed to lose himself in whatever he was creating in his kitchen and Jamie couldn’t think of anything further to say to engage the man in conversation, so he sat quietly waiting for Claire, the girl that he had just met (and promptly fallen in love with) to return.

“Well I think that this is just about ready,” Lamb announced in triumph, turning away from the concrete looking substance and donning two industrial strength gloves from the bench beside him. “Be a lad and open that door for me?” Lamb indicated the door leading to the back garden and Jamie jumped up (wincing at the pressure on his shin as he moved) and opened the door as Lamb carried the mysterious concoction outside.

Jamie stood watching as Lamb poured, what he was now sure was concrete, into a perfectly squared off area of the garden with a heaving grunt.

“Found them!” Claire’s voice from behind Jamie made him swing around in surprise. She had tied her hair back now, though there were some loose curls already springing forth around her face.

“Honestly, he leaves things in the oddest places sometimes. You’d think that they would be a bathroom cupboard. But no. They were in his sock drawer. Because where else would you look for a plaster but your sock drawer?” Claire spoke quickly and Jamie found himself nodding dumbly at her.

Christ. She was gorgeous. Jamie felt his cock twitch as she turned away from him and beckoned him to sit down in the chair he had just vacated to help Lamb with the door.

Jamie followed obediently and sat where she indicated.

“I also brought some disinfectant, not bleach, medical stuff. Just to clean it out. It might sting,” Claire explained as she swiped the gash with some brown antiseptic liquid. It stung but Jamie made sure to school his features so that he didn’t flinch.

Claire gave a knowing smile as she cleaned the gash, as if she had seen his thigh clench with the sting but she didn’t say anything.

“Hmm,” She hummed as she applied pressure to his still bleeding shin.

“What’s wrong?” Jamie asked, purposefully avoiding looking where her nimble fingers were touching his calf.

“Well I have a plaster here, which is fine, it’s just that... well, your leg is quite hairy isn’t it?”

Jamie glanced down to see the blonde hairs on his legs, some coated and pasted down with his blood.

“Aye, I suppose,” he tried to shrug nonchalantly.

“It’s just that the adhesive will hurt quite a bit when you have to take the plaster off again. A waxing of sorts,” Claire explained, before biting her bottom lip as she thought.

“Ye want to shave my leg?” Jamie asked in surprise. “Chris- we’ve just met and ye want to shave ma leg?”

“I was just thinking about when you have to pull the plaster off. It will hurt a hell of a lot more,” Claire said patiently.

“Ye are not shavin’ my leg, Sassenach,” Jamie replied stubbornly.

“Sassenach?” Claire quirked an eyebrow at him, “never been called that before.”

“There’s a first for everything,” Jamie grimaced as Claire lifted the cotton ball with the stinging antiseptic from his leg. “And tha’ does’na include shaving ma leg. Just put the plaster on and be done with it. I’ll deal with ripping it off later”

“Stubborn, aren’t you?” Claire snorted with laughter as she applied the large bandage to his shin. Jamie could feel the adhesive already pulling at the hair but he nodded anyway, as if wasn’t a bother.

“Aye- Yes. My sister says my head is harder than rocks; either stubborn or being hit over the head, I’m the same.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Claire smiled as she cleaned up the rubbish.

“Thank ye for yer help. I appreciate it.”

“It’s not a bother. I’ve seen you riding around the streets a few times. You deliver the papers?” Claire asked as she washed her hands and moved to the open door where they could hear Lamb humming to himself.

“I’m going out again,” she called out the door, and without waiting for a response led Jamie back out of the house.

“So the paper. You deliver it?” She asked again as they walked back to Jamie abandoned bike.

“Aye, I mean yes. Just a small route, mind, few of the elderly folk that dinna like to go out too much.”

“Do you have anyone on our street?” Claire asked with her hands on her hips as Jamie picked up his bike and slung his bag across his body.

“Not here, no, but Mrs Duncan round the corner, the Mackenzie’s back a street, the Wakefield’s and Mohr’s,” Jamie pointed back the way he’d come. “Oh and the Randall’s, but they’re a few streets away from here I suppose.”

“But none on this street?” She clarified as Jamie started to wheel his bike in the direction of his own house, Claire keeping pace with him.

“No, not on this street.”

“Hmmph.” Claire made an unimpressed sound and crossed her arms across her chest.

“What?” Jamie asked in confusion.

“So why do you come onto our street, stop under that tree and stare at my house?” Claire asked forcefully.

Jamie felt himself blush as he shook his head. “I just stop to take a break after peddling round all morning. The tree’s got good shade and I canna help it if yer house is across from it.”

Claire didn’t say anything further and Jamie found himself babbling to her to fill the silence.

“It gets hot most mornings. It’s a good place to stop a’fore I have to ride back home and start my chores. I did’na even realise that someone lived in the house till ye came out of it.”

“Is that so?” Claire asked, clearly disbelieving him.

“Aye, why? What did ye think? That I was stalking ye?” Jamie’s voice sounded rough and he knew it was because it was a half truth. He wasn’t stalking perhaps. He was just curious about the residents of Walter Stuart’s house.

“Not exactly no. But you do stop there an awful lot and stare at the house,” Claire said somewhat sheepishly.

“Maybe I should be worried about you stalking me, watching me come and go like that,” Jamie said sarcastically, hoping to lighten the mood.

“Well there’s only so much you can do from within the house without going insane, so you start looking out,” Claire answered quietly, almost in embarrassment.

“Why did’na ye go out before?”

“Reasons.” Claire answered shortly, promptly shutting down Jamie’s line of questions.

“Fair enough,” he conceded. “So where were ye headed to before ye came to patch me up?”

“Nowhere really. Just wanted to get out of the house. Explore the area that I’m supposed to be living in,” Claire said with a shrug.

“Do ye want a tour?” Jamie asked a little too enthusiastically. Anything to spend more time with Claire- he would do it. They would probably attend the same school when the break was over, but the more he could get to know her now, the better.

“Is there even enough to look at for a tour?” Claire asked skeptically.

“When ye ken where to go,” Jamie answered smugly and turned left down the next street without waiting to see if she followed- which she did.

Chapter Text

“Yer late,” Murtagh’s gruff voice sounded from somewhere behind the counter as Jamie entered the shop with a yawn to pick up the papers to be delivered.

“Overslept,” he mumbled as he started to fill his satchel.

“Ye have a late night?” Murtagh quirked an eyebrow at him and Jamie could see a twitch in his beard, a sign that Murtagh might actually be smiling.

“Something like that,” Jamie said through another yawn as he heaved his bag across his body.

“Wouldn’t have to do with the new lass in town, would it?” Murtagh asked, openly teasing Jamie now. Jamie rolled his eyes. He should have known that word would have gotten round by now about the new Broch Mordha residents.

“No,” Jamie replied too quickly, resulting in something that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle from Murtagh. “I’m late,” he said as he stormed out of the small shop and jumped onto his bike, pedaling away quickly from his godfather who was still laughing in the doorway as he watched him go.

--

He hadn’t meant to have a late night.

He’d taken Claire down to the small stream close to his house. She’d become immediately fascinated by some plant down by the water and had made him stop so that she could take a closer look at it. Jamie used the opportunity of her distraction to simply look at her… well watch her would be a more accurate description. He was completely enamoured with her and he’d only just met her.

She spoke quickly, as if there wasn’t enough time for her to speak all of the thoughts that she was having.

“Do you think that’s Myrtle?” She asked as she made her way to the water. “You know I think it is. Look at how wild it’s grown here. No one must know what it is.” She pulled a leaf and crushed it between her fingers, smelling it. “It’s myrtle I’m sure of it,” she said more to herself than to Jamie, as she started to collect a few stalks. “You can use this if you have a fever, you know. I’ve also heard that you can use it to cure ulcers, but I don’t think that’s scientifically supported. If you boil it in some water, you can use it like a tea…”

Jamie nodded along as Claire spoke, but he hardly understood half of what she was saying. Using a plant if he had a fever? Usually his father gave him an advil and told him to lie down with the curtains drawn. Why use a plant when there were such things as paracetamol?

Claire spoke with her hands, waving the plant around as she spoke, a trail of soil following the path. Her pale skin shone in the morning sun and she looked positively ethereal.

Jamie had never thought of a lass as “ethereal” before, but he had read the word in a few fantasy books as they described fairies and he thought that the word described Claire quite well. There was a faint blush of excitement on her cheeks as she continued to talk about the plant. A cloud passed in front of the sun briefly and when it came back out, the sun highlighted a multitude of different colours in Claire curls.

Brown, auburn, even a streak of gold when she turned her head a certain way. Jamie had never really noticed a lasses hair before. It was just hair; what was there to be interested in? But when the breeze picked up and lifted the curls from around Claire’s face as she continued to talk about the plant she was holding, Jamie wondered why he had never noticed how bonnie as lasses hairs could look before.

“See the waxy texture of the leaves?” Claire was right next to him now, and holding out the plant to him. “When you boil the leaves all of that comes off. You can scoop it off and make candle wax. It smells lemony, see, smell it,” She continued holding the plant out for Jamie to smell.

It looked like any other pond plant that Jamie had seen, but for Claire he thought it might do just about anything, so he smelled it. She was right, it did smell lemony. He looked up to see Claire grinning triumphantly at him.

“I told you,” she said not waiting for any kind of response from him. “I think I should get some more, take some home and see what I can make with it.” She abruptly turned and left him with nothing but whiff of her shampoo.

That was when he saw her bend over, her arse high in the air as she pulled up some more of the plant. Jamie stepped back in surprise as his cock hardened and he quickly turned away from her to hide it better in his shorts. Good Lord. Had lasses arse’s always looked so bonnie? Claire’s was round and firm and Jamie was alarmed to realise that he wanted a handful of it. Just the thought of having her sit on his lap made his cock harden even further. Christ, the awkward conversation he’d had with his Da was coming back in full force and Jamie felt the heat of embarrassment rise from his navel to and flood his cheeks..

“Jamie? Are you alright?” Claire’s voice called out from behind him, completely oblivious to his male anatomy betraying his attraction to her.

“I’m fine,” Jamie’s voice broke embarrassingly on the second word and he cleared his throat before repeating, “fine.”

“I think that this is more than enough. Where to next, tour guide?” Claire was suddenly at his shoulder looking up at him, grinning with excitement.

Jamie picked up his bike where he had dropped it (discreetly rearranging himself as he did so) and led them to their next destination.

--

It wasn’t that he had spent a late night with Claire, it was that Claire had spent a late night with him. He had returned her back to her house around lunch time, Mr Beauchamp - Lamb, standing at the front door smiling at them both as they waved goodbye with promises to meet up again another time.

Jamie had come home (quite late) endured a scolding from both his father and his sister for not returning home after his route, and promptly thrown himself into his chores. But even as he was mucking out the horse stable, his mind couldn’t stop returning to the bonnie Sassenach that now lived in Walter Stuarts house.

The way she spoke, at a million miles an hour, without waiting for a response before jumping into the next thought put a smile on his face as he fed the horses.

The way that she laughed when he’d finally managed to get a word in, had him grinning like an idiot as he fed the cows.

The way that she had bent over to collect more plants, her arse high in the air, tempting Jamie like a pie on a windowsill had him once again adjusting himself, so as not to give himself away to his father and sister.

It was only at dinner later that night, that Jamie finally told him why he had been delayed.

“We should ask them around for dinner,” Jenny immediately suggested. “They’re new to the area, there’s been a lot of gossip in the town about the two of them, we should reach out a friendly hand.”

“Dinna be listenin’ to the auld hens in town, Jen,” Brian Fraser reprimanded his eldest.

“I’m no’, I’m just sayin’, we should ask them round.” Jenny shook her head emphatically at her father.

“Aye, I ken… Jamie, next time ye see the lass, ask her and her father for a meal.”

--

Jamie put himself to bed early that night, hoping to get a good night's sleep before his paper run in the morning, and hopefully seeing Claire Beauchamp again; they had, after all, made plans to see each other again. But sleep had evaded Jamie and instead his thoughts were replaced Claire Beauchamp.

Reviewing every detail of their morning together; her interest in the plants by the creek, and then in the field; the way that she spoke, so prim and proper with the occasional curse word; the way that she moved, or floated Jamie thought. She didn’t walk like a normal person, she bounced on the balls of her feet when she was excited about something, she constantly stopped to inspect things, a plant, a bug, a stone, which would inevitably end up in her bag as part of her collection. Claire laughed loudly, not worried about seeming crass or uncultured. Jamie thought about how the girls in his class laughed. Always for show, laughing too hard at something a boy said that they fancied, but Claire laughed just for the joy of laughing.

Christ. He’d only known her for a day and he was already making assumptions about her. He was fairly sure that he was in love with her. The thought of her arse bent over, picking up the blasted Myrtle or whatever it was, caused an ache in Jamie’s lower half that had him rolling onto his stomach and trying to think of other things to make it go away.

Jamie looked at his watch, seeing that it had passed 1am and he was nowhere near tired. He was aching and stiff, but he was not tired. Creeping out of his room he ran to the bathroom and ran a very cold shower. He almost yelped as he jumped under the icy flow and all stiffness of his manhood promptly disappeared with the shock. Jamie quickly shut off the water, dried himself and ran back to his room. His father and his sister didn’t need to know what he was doing, and he would be mortified if they did.

Shivering, Jamie jumped back into his bed and pulled the covers over his head, trying to think of anything but Claire Beauchamp and the possibility of seeing her again in the morning.

--

Jamie yawned through the first three houses as he threw the paper into the residents yards, aiming for front doors and coming up short every time. By the time his bag was half empty he was decidedly more awake, his muscles warmed up and his aim markedly improved.

Jamie sped around the corner and refrained from rolling his eyes as the Mackenzies house came into view. It wasn’t even 7am and Laoghaire was waiting by her gate waving eagerly at him.

“Mornin’ Jamie,” she called as he rode towards her house.

Mornin’ Laoghaire,” Jamie greeted wearily as he pulled to a stop.

“Ma asked if ye wanted to come in for breakfast, as we’re the last house on your route,” Laoghaire blushed at him, learning forward on the gate, and fluttering her eyelashes at him. Did she have something in her eye?

“Oh, ah, I canna. I have a few more houses to go. Thank her for the invitation though,” Jamie mumbled, hiding his nearly empty bag from her eager eyes.

“I thought that we were the last house? We are always the last house,” Laoghaire persisted.

“Aye, a few more houses signed up with Murtagh.”

“Oh, well, yer welcome to come back ‘round when yer done,” Laoghaire pressed.

“I canna. Chores,” Jamie answered shortly, adjusting himself on his bike ready to push off again. “I’d better be off, still got houses to get to.”

“Aye, aye, well, I’ll see ye around then, when yer finished yer chores. School does’na start for another week. We should, ye ken, do somethin’...”

“Aye, perhaps. See ye later.” Jamie quickly peddled off before Laoghaire could ask him anything else.

He supposed she was good-looking. She had long blonde hair and bright blue eyes that Jamie was sure the lads at school noticed. She certainly had drawn the eye of a couple of Jamie’s mates, but she was two years their junior and no one was game enough to ask her out. She certainly hung around his group of friends a lot, so he supposed the age difference wasn’t so bad. But the more that he tried to think about Laoghaire, the more his thoughts shifted toward the brown-haired lass that had captured his attention. Her whiskey eyes, curly hair and infectious laugh.

Jamie was so busy thinking about Claire that he had to loop the next street twice to remember to throw the Duncan’s paper to them.

Finally the papers were delivered and Jamie reported back to Murtagh.

“Yer ok with the extra houses?” Murtagh asked as Mrs McIntosh left the small shop with a bottle of milk and her weekly lottery ticket.

“Aye, I’m keepin’ pace. Why? Have ye got more?” Jamie asked he straightened the gum packets on the counter.

“Maybe, I dinna ken yet,” Murtagh grunted back, “Ye’d better get back home. Ye Da told me about ye going MIA.”

“When?” Jamie looked up at his Godfather in confusion. How fast did word in this town spread?

“He called me when ye finally did get home an’ started yer chores. Said ye’d met the new lass.”

“I showed her around, it was nothin’.” Jamie tried to shrug casually but he could feel his cheeks heating up.

“Aye, well, dinna be late again.” Murtagh could have been smiling at Jamie but it was lost under his beard.

“Aye, I’ll see ye tonight for dinner?” Jamie asked with a sigh, pushing himself away from the counter. “Jen’s makin’ a roast. She said it’s tradition now.”

“Sunday roast, aye?”

Jamie shrugged again in response and Murtagh scoffed.

“I’ll see ye tonight.”

--

Jamie couldn’t help it. It was part of his routine now. Admittedly he usually looked at the house before he went back to check in with Murtagh, so it was a bit out of his way to be going back to Walter Stuarts- well, Claire and Lamb Beauchamp’s house, but Jenny had said that they should ask them over for dinner, and there was no time like the present.

Jamie rolled to a stop at their front gate and carefully parked his bike, leaning it against the fence. Running his hands through his hair with nerves he carefully made his way to their front door and knocked.

There was an abrupt halt in conversation before heavy footsteps sounded towards the door.

“Jamie!” Lambert Beauchamp greeted cheerfully, almost too cheerfully for the early hour of the morning.

“Good Mornin’,” Jamie smiled awkwardly at the older man.

“I’m afraid Claire can’t come out just now.”

“Oh, no, I was erm… I was talkin’ to my Da and my sister last night, and my Da, Brian, that’s his name, was wonderin’ if ye want to come around for dinner? We’ll be having roast tonight, my sister, Jenny, makes it and it’s pretty good. Just if yer free and ye… wanted to meet a few more of the locals. Ye dinna have to say yes, it does’na have to be tonight. Just if ye and Claire were free… we wanted to welcome ye to the neighbourhood.” Jamie spoke very quickly, feeling awkward under the intensity of Lamb’s eyes as he studied him.

“That’s very kind of Jamie, very kind indeed. I will ask Claire and see if she… if we are free to come tonight.”

Jamie could hear movement behind Lamb and was sure that it was Claire moving through the house. He briefly wondered why she didn’t answer the door herself and if he had done something to upset her yesterday. He was sure that he hadn’t. They had parted ways with a “see you later” and that meant that, later… Jamie would see her. Didn’t it?

“Well I wrote my Da’s number down,” Jamie said finishing the crumpled piece of paper from his back pocket, sat on after many hours of delivering the paper. “Just give him a call if ye wanted to stop by. It’s got our address on it as well.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you. I will call your father… Brian,” Lamb read, squinting at the paper, “this afternoon.”

“Right… ok… bye then.” Jamie stood awkwardly at the door as Lamb smiled at him before turning away quickly. He looked over his shoulder as he left to see Claire in her pajamas rubbing her eyes and sniffiling as Lamb shut the door.

--

“Have ye heard anything from them yet, Da?” Jamie asked as he stomped his muddy boots by the back kitchen door.

“Nothin’ yet, it’s only been ten minutes since ye last asked me,” an exasperated Brian Fraser replied to his son.

“Maybe I did’na write down the number correctly…” Jamie wondered as he got a glass of water. “Maybe it was’na neat enough, should I go by their place and see?”

“No, for goodness sake, Jamie. They will call when they call. It’s only midday,” Jenny said from the kitchen doorway, holding a basket full of eggs.

“She’s right lad, calm down, they’ll call when they call.” Brian smiled at his youngest as he sat at the kitchen table and started to peel potatoes.

At that very moment the phone began to ring and Jamie raced through the house to answer it.

“Fraser residence, this is Jamie,” he answered on what must have been only the second ring.

“Waitin’ for a call lad?” The gruff voice of his Godfather echoed down the line.

“No, was just walking past when it rang,” Jamie lied slightly crestfallen.

“Aye, just callin’ to let yer Da know that Alistar McKinnon’s cultivator disc has snapped again and he might be wantin’ to borrow his for a few days. Can ye let him know?”

“Aye, why did’na ye just tell us at dinner tonight?” Jamie asked curiously.

“Because ye Da wants a heads-up on these kinds of things and McKinnon will likely be round in the next hour,” Murtagh replied roughly.

“Aye, I’ll tell him. See ye tonight then.”

“Aye, tonight,” Murtagh grunted in response, before the line went dead.

There was no use hanging by a phone that wasn’t going to ring when Jamie had to take the horses out to the east paddock for a run, so he passed on the message to his father and went to finish his chores.

--

Jamie was dirty and sweating by the time he returned home. He’d lost track of the time, adrenaline and excitement running through his body when he’d finally mounted the demon horse- Donas, bareback and not been thrown off.

Well. That wasn’t strictly true. Jamie had fallen off once but that was his own fault. He’d tried to mount the beast too quickly and had spooked him. Jamie was sure he would have a spectacular bruise on his right shoulder tomorrow, but right now he couldn’t feel it- too thrilled with the idea that his training of Donas was moving along quickly. He couldn’t wait to tell his Da.

“I lost track o’ the time but Da, ye’ll never believe it. I got him,” Jamie called through the house as he stomped the muck from his boots. “It took some time, but I got him. Bareback. I dinna think he’s ready for a saddle yet, but I got him.” Jamie started walking through the house looking for his father, knowing that he would be able to hear him, no matter where he was. “He was a bit skittish, but I think havin’ Molly in the same paddock calmed him down. I mounted Molly to show him what was happenin’ and he did’na take a nip like he usually does when I came close. That’s when I kent I could mount him. I fell off once but that was-” Jamie stopped talking abruptly as he entered the living room and saw his father sitting with Lamb and Claire.

Apparently they had called while he was working the horses… and he had well and truly lost track of the time as they were clearly there for the dinner he had invited them too.

“Oh, hi,” Jamie said nervously, accurately aware of the mud up the side of his body from his fall and his messed up hair, that was likely full of grass and hay.

“Jamie lad. Good to see you again,” Lamb greeted brightly. “Thank you for inviting us for dinner. You didn’t mention you lived in a castle.”

“Oh, it’s no’...”

Brian Fraser laughed heartily interrupting Jamie’s response. “It’s hardy a castle Quentin. Truly it’s more work than it’s worth but it’s been in the family all my life.”

Jamie looked between Lamb and his father wondering who on earth Quentin was.

“It’s wonderfully historic,” Lamb said with enthusiasm, looking back to Brian. The two men continued their conversation but Jamie wasn’t paying attention. His focus was on Claire who was looking around the room. Her eyes looked red and puffy, like she had been crying. Did she not want to come to dinner? Had Jamie truly upset her?

He just needed to pull her aside. Talk to her. Apologise for whatever he did to upset her.

“Jamie… Jamie.” His father's impatient voice interrupted his thoughts and he looked up to see his father grinning knowingly at him. “Why don’t ye go wash up for dinner.”

“Aye- Sorry Da, I lost track of the time.”

Brian gave him a stern look but with a small glint of something Jamie hadn’t seen since his mother died and he left the sitting room quickly to take a shower.

Another cold one, Jamie stood on the bathmat shivering. He had scrubbed himself raw, making sure that all the dirt was gone from his fingernails, hair washed and brushed away from his face. He had to look good for Claire.

Jamie looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror assessing himself. He was starting to sprout some blonde hairs on his chest, some darker than the others. He was even starting to get sprouts of whiskers on his chin and jawline.

He was also correct in thinking that the fall from Donas would cause a bruise, as a bluish shape was already starting to form along his shoulder and ribs.

The work on the farm kept him in pretty good shape but the paper route had done wonders for his legs. Used to lifting bales of hay for the horses and the cows, he’d always had a lot of upper body strength but as he got older he noticed that the sinewy muscles of his arms had started to fill out a little more.

Jamie shook his head at his assessment of his own body. Not that Claire would ever see it. He blushed bright red at the thought and scrubbed his face with his towel again. He shouldn’t be thinking things like that.

Jamie looked around the room for the fresh set of clothes he was sure that he had brought with him. Nothing. Just his dirty farming clothes shoves haphazardly into the washing basket. Jamie mentally chastised himself for his forgetfulness in his eagerness to clean himself and get back out to talk to Claire, entirely forgetting his clothing in the process. Come to think of it, he hadn’t even stopped by his room. He was quite sure that he had run straight for the shower without a second thought.

There was no help for it. He would wrap his towel around him and make a run for his bedroom. It was only down the hall and the Beauchamp’s were probably still with his father in the living room. He hadn’t been gone that long. They wouldn’t be touring the house- that would be ridiculous.

Jamie cautiously opened the bathroom door and stuck his head out in the direction of the living room. The general hum of conversation and laughter was a good confirmation and Jamie stepped out of the bathroom.

“How’s your leg?” The voice of Claire Beauchamp from behind him had Jamie jumping out of his skin and nearly dropping the towel in the process.

“Jesus feckin’ Christ, Sassenach. Scared the living daylights out of me,” Jamie panted, holding the towel tighter and praying that she wouldn’t look down and see his reaction to her.

“I was looking at the photos.” Claire answered innocently with a tilt of her head at the hallway which Jamie and Jenny affectionately referred to as the “Fraser hall of fame”. Photos of the Fraser family spanning several generations lined the hallway, including the not so subtle but very embarrassing baby and toddler photos of Jamie.

“Aye- Yes it’s the hall of fame. Generations of Frasers.”

“What did you do to your shoulder?” Claire nodded briefly in acknowledgement before her hawk eyes focussed on the bruise from Donas.

“It’s nothin,” Jamie shrugged. “Trying to train a demon of a horse and I fell.”

“You fell?” Claire repeated, “from a horse?” Before Jamie could move, her hands were on his bare shoulder and ribcage pressing and prodding. He suppressed a shiver as her nimble fingers pressed the outline of the bruise, before he squeaked in surprise at a particular ticklish spot.

“Does that hurt?” Claire asked, her eyebrows furrowed before she was looking back into his eyes.

“Nay, but it’s a wee bit ticklish if ye dinna mind,” Jamie replied gruffly, trying to sound much more macho than he felt.

“Did you hit your head or anything? You’re not dizzy?” Claire continued her assessment of him, her eyes running up and down from his eyes, chest stomach, legs and back again.

“I’m fine. Mostly just winded me.” Jamie stood gripping the towel at his waist, his knuckles slowly turning white. Hey eyes were definitely red rimmed and puffier than the last time he had seen her. She looked like she’d been crying and Jamie panicked that she hadn’t wanted to come to dinner after all and Lamb had forced her into it.

“You should be more careful. Out in the fields by yourself, trying to tame rouge horses. You could have seriously hurt yourself.”

“Why, Sassenach, anyone would think that ye cared about me!” Jamie said jokingly, hoping to make her smile, but mostly to tame the thought that she didn’t want to be at his house- with him.

“You’re my only friend in this… town. Of course I bloody care. I’d have to go make a new friend.” Claire huffed as she rolled her eyes at him.

“Friend am I? Good to know,” Jamie grinned before he noticed that her eyes were becoming watery. “Christ, are ye alright Claire? Was it somethin’ I said? Or did? I’m sorry.”

Claire waved him away but she couldn’t stop the lone tear that fell from her eye. “I’m fine. Really. Some days… are just harder… I’m fine. Sorry.”

“Is there… can I do anything?” Jamie asked awkwardly, wanting to reach out and comfort her, but too terrified to remove his hands from the towel at his waist.

“I’m fine,” Claire repeated taking a deep breath. “I’ll tell you about it another time.” She shook her head and it seemed like a shiver went through her before she looked back up at him with a watery smile. “Is that what you’re wearing to dinner? I wish I’d known there was a dress code, I would have dressed up myself.”

“I ahh, Aye- Well I was going to get dressed but some Sassenach scared the bleedin’ daylights out of me and distracted me.” Jamie smiled kindly at her and was pleased to hear her snort a laugh in return. Not to mention forcing all kinds of imaginative thoughts of Claire Beauchamp in only a towel out of his mind before his body would betray him. “Give me a minute and I’ll be back wi’ ye.”

Jamie stepped carefully around her and walked with his head held high to his room at the end of the hall. As he turned to open the door, he looked back at Claire who was watching him with a curious expression. He smiled at her before he entered his room and closed the door behind him, his towel dropping to the floor and his heart beating out of his chest.

Chapter Text

Jamie exited his room with his heart still pounding heavily in his chest. Claire didn't hate him after all. Friends- it was a good starting point. They could be friends.

Jamie shuddered to think of what his mates would say when they saw her. They often didn’t have the self control that Jamie did and would say whatever was on their minds. If they catcalled her even once, Jamie was sure that he would knock them to the ground. Defend her honour and all that. Though he was sure that Claire could stand up for herself- and maybe she wouldn’t want him standing up for her. Maybe she wanted to fight her own battles… the hypothetical battles that Jamie was imagining for her anyway. But Jamie knew what both Angus and Rupert would say when they saw her. No doubt there would be some comment about the way that she spoke, or the shape of her arse. Christ- if any of the lads at school made a comment about the shape of Claire's arse to Jamie, he wasn’t sure he would be able to hold back hitting them, even if Claire wanted to defend her own honour.

Jamie could hear his father’s deep voice as he moved through the house, no doubt giving Lamb a tour. Jamie moved quietly trying to find where Claire had gone when he heard Jenny’s voice coming from the kitchen.

“We lost our Ma a few years ago and our younger brother, Robert, a year before that,” Jenny said matter-a-factly. Jamie stopped and hid out of sight behind the wall, listening.

“I’m so sorry.” Claire’s voice wobbled as if she was holding back tears. Jamie swallowed heavily, surprised as how she could be so caring for a family she barely knew.

“It was difficult at the time, but you learn to keep living,” Jenny answered. She sounded so detached from the emotion of it and Jamie knew it was because she needed to be.

Jenny had picked up the mantle of mother in the household when Brian been unable to be a father. So overcome with grief over the loss of his son and then his wife, he didn’t move from the couch for almost a month. When Rob died, Brian at least had Ellen to help him and they made it through the grief together. When Ellen passed, Jenny and Jamie were ill-equipped to deal with the heaviness of grief that clouded Brian. Eventually, after weeks of Brian almost comatose on their living room couch, something changed and he started going through the motions again. But Jenny and Jamie knew that something had changed. Brian had lost a part of himself.

Jamie knew that his parents loved each other. He was particularly grossed out by it when he was younger, but he never doubted how much they loved each other. In fact, the kind of love that Ellen and Brian Fraser had terrified Jamie. To love someone so much and then to lose them- was it really worth it? Jamie didn’t know if he would be able to stomach loving someone so much, only to lose them.

Speaking of- Jamie’s stomach clenched at the thought of not seeing Claire again. He’d only known her for two days and he was already attached. Bound to her. Bound to protect her. Bound to- dare he say it- love her. But perhaps it was only a crush. Maybe it would pass the more friendly they became with each other. At least, that’s what Jamie told himself anyway.

“She taught me to cook, so ye can thank my Ma for the roast. Taught me all her secrets, ye ken,” Jenny continued jovially, as Claire laughed in response.

“I’m afraid I’m not much of a cook at all. I can boil and egg and or make beans on toast, but that’s about it.”

“It just takes practise and a wee bit of experimenting,” Jenny answered kindly. “The best way to learn is to make mistakes, that’s what Mam always said. Ye should come 'round and I’ll teach ye some of the things she taught me. Is yer Ma a good cook or does yer Da do most of it? My Da could’na cook to save his life when he first met Ma, or at least that what he tells Jamie and me. She said to him “Brian Fraser, I am’na yer mother, I’m yer wife and ye’ll learn to cook or ye’ll be findin’ yerself with a verra cold and lonely bed.” He says it was the best decision he ever made, short of marrying' her. Still Mam did most of the cooking' anyway. I remember one night, Mam had to work late or somethin’ or other, she wrote down recipe- some rice dish. Da says that he followed the recipe word for word, though Mam had hand written the instructions and Da saw the ‘T-S-P’, ye ken- teaspoon, for salt as short-hand for tablespoon. Dinna ken how, but he served it up to Jamie and I, and it was like tryin’ to eat solid grains of sea water.” Jenny snorted with laughter at the memory and Jamie heard Claire chuckle in return. The sound brought a smile to his face while the memory made him shake his head at his clueless father.

“Weel, Jamie and I refused to eat another bite and he threw such a stramash. Tellin’ us we were spoilt and that we would eat what he provided for us, then he took a bite. I’ll never forget the look on his face. Christ. Still bring tears to my eyes to think about.” Both Jenny and Claire’s laughter echoed around the kitchen and Jamie felt his body warm further at the sound.

“Still, he’s always been good to us, and he learnt to cook his own meals and no’ have to rely on Ma’s recipes. But she made sure that as soon as I could, I’d be in the kitchen helpin’ her out. Jamie too. He’ll never admit it, but he’s quite a good cook.”

Jamie felt his cheeks and his ears heat up at the compliment from his sister.

“But that was special between my Ma and me, as I’m sure ye ken. Just time between us, we did’na even need to chat most of the time. Jus' happy to be doin' something' together.”

There was silence in the kitchen for a moment as Jenny continued her meal preparation, before she turned back to Claire.

“Christ- Claire, are ye alright?” Jenny asked in alarm and Jamie nearly ran into the kitchen to see what was wrong. “Did ye hurt yerself? No? Did I say something?”

Claire was crying. Jamie was sure of it as he heard a sniffle and Jenny saying words of comfort. He was about to leave his spot behind the wall to go and comfort her himself when a large hand clapped him on the shoulder making him flinch in surprise.

“What are ye doin’, lad?” His godfather asked steering him toward the living room.

“I was just goin’ to see if Jen needed any help,” Jamie lied as Murtagh led him further away from the kitchen.

“Aye, sure ye were. Let them be for a moment,” Murtagh said carefully.

“When did ye get here?” Jamie asked curiously.

“‘Bout half an hour ago. Been chatting with Quentin,” Murtagh answered gruffly.

“Who’s Quentin?” Jamie asked. Was someone else coming to dinner? Were they already here?

“Claire’s uncle.”

“Who?”

“Quentin,” Murtagh repeated gruffly.

“Quentin who? Why is Claire’s uncle here?”

“Ye invited him to dinner,” Murtagh replied, rolling his eyes.

“No I did’na.”

“Aye ye did,” Murtagh answered stubbornly. “Else who is sitting in the living room, talking with yer Da?”

“Claire’s father.”

“Uncle.” Murtagh corrected.

“Who’s uncle?”

“Claire’s uncle, ye dafty.”

“Claire’s uncle?” Jamie repeated. “Since when?”

“Since she was born I would think,” Murtagh said curtly.

“But then… where’s her Da?”

“How should I ken?” Murtagh replied with exasperation. “Perhaps ye should ask the lass.”

Jamie nodded, not really listening to what Murtagh was saying as his mind tried to catch up with the knowledge that Claire lived with her uncle (whose name was apparently Quentin and not Lamb) and not, as he had assumed, with her father.

“Why do ye keep calling him Quentin?” Jamie asked, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion as he slowly connected the dots.

“That’s his name, numpty.”

“No, his name is Lamb,” Jamie replied cautiously.

“Lamb?” Murtagh asked in disbelief, “Ye really think a grown man is called ‘Lamb’?”

“That’s what Claire calls him,” Jamie defended. “That’s how she introduced me.”

“And ye dinna think that it could just be a name between the two of them?”

“Aye, but I dinna introduce my Da and ‘Da’, I call him Brian,” Jamie reasoned.

“Well, I dinna know what to tell ye. The man’s name is Quentin,” Murtagh said abruptly ending the argument.

Murtagh left Jamie standing confused in the hallway until Jenny’s voice called loudly from the dining room that dinner was ready.

--

Jamie stood awkwardly at the doorway as people took their seats. Lam- Quentin sat next to Jamie’s father at the head of the table with Murtagh on the other side of Brian. Claire looked quickly between the spot next to her Uncle and Murtagh (with his permanent scowl) and hurried to sit next to her Uncle. Jamie was about to take the seat next to Claire when Jenny blocked him and sat down. His shoulders dropped in disappointment at not being able to sit next to Claire as he had planned, although, by sitting across from her, he did get to look at her all night, so really it wasn’t all bad.

“Shall we say a prayer?” Brian asked and Jamie looked up in surprise at his father. They hadn’t said anything of the sort since Jamie’s mother had died.

“Of course,” Lam- Quentin said excitedly, clapping his hands together.

Eccentric. That was the word to describe Claire’s uncle. The man sounded like he could get excited about just about anything.

“Jamie, would ye mind?” Brian directed his gaze at his son, who felt his cheeks heat up in embarrassment, though he wasn’t sure why.

“Aye- Yes, Da.” Jamie bowed his head and closed his eyes, feeling his heart beating rapidly in his chest and his palms start to sweat. It had been years since he’d said a prayer over his food. How religious was Claire and her Uncle? Would something short and simple be better? What if they expected a well rehearsed blessing over their food, as if the Frasers prayed over every meal? Or worse- what if they expected something completely original. Jamie was unprepared to say the least.

Clearing his throat, he began, “Dear-” Jamie’s voice broke with a terrible sound, somewhere between a crack and a screech and his cheeks flooded with embarrassment. Clearing his throat a second time, with his eyes firmly squeezed shut so as to not look at his guests or the grins that his own family would undoubtedly be throwing him, he began again.

“Dear Lord,” his voice remained in tact, no breaking to be found and Jamie was flooded with relief, now he just had to get through the rest of it. “We thank ye for the meal that we are about to…. Eat. Thank ye to Jen… thank ye for Jen- who cooked it. Thank ye for the… opportunity to welcome Claire-,” Jamie felt his voice waver over Claire’s name and he plowed on, hoping that it wouldn’t break again. “And Lam- Quen… Mr Beauchamp to our neighbourhood. Erm. Thank ye for Murtagh being able to join us for dinner. We ask that ye bless this food, that we are about to eat, that Jen made, and that ye… continue to… bless our lives and this meal that we are about to eat. Amen.” Jamie finished the last bit quickly feeling that he had probably rambled on long enough. He opened his eyes to see Claire staring at him with a hint of a smirk playing at the corner of her mouth.

“Thank ye, Jamie,” Brian said, trying to suppress a laugh.

“Yes, thank you Jamie. That was very… thorough,” Quentin said, openly grinning at Jamie. “Though, please, call me Lamb.”

“Lamb?” Murtagh grunted as Jenny started to dish out the food. “I thought yer name was Quentin.”

“It is,” Quen-Lam-Mr Beacham- Claire’s Uncle replied simply. “Quentin Lambert Beauchamp. Although Quentin is such a god-awful name, that I can never thank my parents enough for, that I have always gone by Lambert. However, when Claire was born, she couldn’t quite get the “Bert” of “Lambert”, could you Bumblebee?” He paused to look at Claire who blushed prettily and shook her head. “So I’ve been Lamb every since.”

Jamie looked at Murtagh with a pointed look that said not to subtly “See I told you”.

“So ye prefer Lamb?” Brian asked as Jenny handed the now overflowing with food plates around the table.

Lamb nodded in response before he looked down at the mountain of food that Jenny had placed in front of him. “Jesus. H. Roosevelt. Christ!” He exclaimed making Jamie snort into his roast potato and everyone else at the table jump in their seats. “Jenny, my dear, you could feed an army with this amount of food. It looks sensational.”

“Uh, thank you Mr Beauchamp,” Jenny answered nervously, obviously unaware of how to handle Lambert’s enthusiasm for anything and everything.

“Lamb, please,” he said kindly before they all started to eat.

The rest of dinner was rather uneventful. Jamie’s father and Murtagh discussed the neighbouring farms, Lamb listening with rapt attention (forgetting about his dinner almost entirely as he asked question after question about farm life and the locals), Jenny and Claire became fast friends and Jamie… well Jamie watched Claire.

She seemed happier than she was before. Perhaps it was finding another friend in Jenny- a female friend or maybe she was starting to relax and enjoy herself.

She had a sharp tongue and quick wit to match Jenny’s no nonsense demeanour- one that Jenny had adopted since their mother had passed away. It was nice for Jamie to see his sister laughing again and talking about things that weren’t so adult, like the bills or groceries.

Jamie and Jenny had both grown up much faster than either of them expected when their mother had died. Brian and Ellen had protected them both as much as they could through the death of their younger brother, Robert, but the death of parent was something for which they were all unprepared.

For a while it felt like a death of both parents as Brian Fraser started to waste away on the couch. Jenny took the responsibility of becoming a second parent to Jamie and he was ashamed to admit that sometimes he resented her for it. She was his sister, not his mother.

He was, of course at the end of the day, thankful to Jenny for being there and for taking care of him. She made sure he got to school on time, ate properly and got a good night's sleep. But he hated when she tried to discipline him. She was not his mother, as much as she tried to be.

It was nice to see her drop some of the parental bravado that she had adopted and simply act like herself again.

Claire.

Claire was the difference in Jenny. Maybe it was just that she was someone new that didn’t know every single detail of their grief, but Jamie could see Jenny relax around her.

Claire glanced across the table at Jamie, smiling as Jenny continued to talk about something- Jamie wasn’t listening. Jamie couldn’t help smiling back at her. She was addictive. It was as if their own conversation was happening between them as they smiled at each other.

“Sorry for my family.”

“No need to apologise.”

“She’s talking yer ear off.”

“I’m happy to make a new friend.”

“I’ll rescue you after dinner.”

“Thank you.”

Of course, that was just what Jamie had imagined was happening between them. In reality Claire smiled at Jamie and looked back to Jenny, nodding along to whatever she was saying. But when she looked back to Jamie a moment later, she smiled again and he was pleased to see a faint blush on her cheeks.

After dinner the men (Brian, Murtagh and Lamb) decided to take a tour around the house and then the stables. Jenny had shut herself in the kitchen, waving away Jamie and Claire as they tried to help her clean up and so it was just Jamie and Claire standing awkwardly in the living room together.

“I’m sorry about my family,” Jamie began, carrying on from his earlier imagined conversation with her. “I ken they can be a wee bit overwhelming.”

“It’s fine,” Claire replied smiling and shaking her head. Jamie watched the curly brown locks jump about and she moved, like they had a life of their own. “It was nice to make another friend.”

“Aye- yeah, but, I dunno,” Jamie shrugged, “they can be a bit full on sometimes.”

“You’ve met Lamb right? He doesn’t half-ass anything. It’s full ass, or nothing,” Claire laughed lightly. “So really, there’s no need to apologise.” Claire smiled up at him shyly and Jamie was sure that his heart actually skipped a beat. Christ. She was so lovely.

“So, err, what did ye want to do?” Jamie asked with another shrug. “I can show ye ‘round the house, or… it’s a wee bit dark to see any of the farm, or we could watch the telly?”

“Whatever you like,” Claire answered with a shrug of her own. “What would you usually be doing if I wasn’t here?”

“Erm, maybe reading,” Jamie blushed as he looked down at his feet. “Or, ye ken, watching a game or something. Sometimes both at the same time.”

“What are you reading?” Claire asked brightly.

“At the moment?” Jamie clarified as he ran his hand through his hair with nerves. “Harry Potter. Well. I’m rereading it. I like the movies. But the books are better.”

Claire looked at him blankly. “Henry Porter? Never heard of it. Is it good?”

Jamie’s jaw fell open in shock. “Harry- Yer jokin’ right? Ye dinna ken Harry Potter? Harry Potter?” He repeated in disbelief.

There was a second when Jamie was sure a pin drop could have been heard, even on the carpeted floors they were standing on before Claire burst out laughing.

“Of course I’ve heard of Harry Potter. I haven’t been living under a rock. You should have seen your face though.” Claire took a deep breath and fanned her face as she continued to chuckle at the face Jamie was making. “Never heard of Harry Potter. What do you take me for?”

“Aye- ye got me. Good one. I was beginnin’ to think that we could’na be friends after all.”

“Really? That’s all it would take?” Claire asked as Jamie led them from the sitting room towards his bedroom.

“Well I dinna ken ye all that well yet,” Jamie explained sarcastically as Claire followed him.

“I see, and not knowing a popular book is all it would take to end it?” She asked with amusement as Jamie pushed open his bedroom door, glad that he had thought to clean it up when he was getting dressed.

“Aye- Yes,” Jamie nodded seriously.

“Well. I’d better be on my best behaviour then, hadn’t I?”

“Aye Sassenach. Yer on thin ice,” Jamie grinned at her as she smiled back at him once more before jumping and landing on his bed.

“Which one are you reading?” Claire sat cross legged on Jamie’s bed and watched him with wide eyes. To have her alone in his room, Christ, she had no idea the effect that she had on him. He glanced back to the doorway, making sure it was wide open so that they couldn’t be accused of any “funny business”. Not that they would partake in that kind of thing- they had only just met after all.

“I’m up to Order of the Phoenix,” Jamie answered turning back to Claire, who had well and truly made herself at home on his bed. “I read the books once a year if I can. I remember,” Jamie huffed a laugh at the memory, “the first time I ever read them, a wee lad, it took me weeks to get through the books. Well, maybe not weeks, but a few days and some allnighters.”

Claire smiled back at him, her own grin widening as he spoke.

“Now, I can read Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets in one sitting.” Jamie shook his head. “Order of the Phoenix though, jesus, I always forget how much I hate Umbridge until I read it again. What about ye? What do you read?” Jamie tentatively joined Claire on his bed as she shuffled over for him.

“A bit of anything really. I love Harry Potter obviously, but I don’t read it every year like some people.” Claire shrugged casually. “I’m reading a lot of Scottish history books at the moment. Trying to prepare for school.”

“Prepare for school? Ye think that their goin’ to quiz ye on Bonnie Prince Charlie on yer first day?” Jamie snorted.

“No.” Claire answered pointedly as she rolled her eyes at him. “I just like to be prepared. I don’t like to be on the back foot of things and this helps me feel at least a little bit more prepared for a brand new school that I know nothing about.”

“What do ye want to know? I’ve lived here all my life. I can answer anything ye need.” Jamie day up a little straighter.

“Well… nothing in particular,” Claire answered slightly taken aback by Jamie’s excitement. “And I guess everything,” she continued with a defeated sigh. “I don’t know… what I’m supposed to know..”

“Isn’t that everyone’s struggle, Sassenach?” Jamie said with a chuckle. “We’re meant to know everything but know nothing at all?”

Claire shrugged half heartedly at him.

“That’s what my Da’s always telling me. ‘Jamie ye should know better than that’, ‘Jamie ye canna be talkin’ like that, yer only 15’.” Jamie lowered his voice to mimic his fathers and Claire snorted in laughter.

“Well, one thing you can clear up…” Claire said as she shook her head at him as Jamie nodded for her to go. “Sass-en-ack? What does that mean?”

“Oh,” Jamie felt his cheeks and his ears heat up with embarrassment. “It’s only… well yer English.” He tried to explain.

“It means I’m English?”

“Well no. Not really. But aye- yes to a point.” Jamie stumbled over his explanation. How on earth he was going to tell (what he thought was the love of his life) Claire that it was derogatory term for an English person, but that he meant it as a term of endearment?

“It doesn’t mean I’m English?” Claire asked in confusion.

“Nay- ye are English. It’s just… it’s a Gaelic word for English,” Jamie finished somewhat poorly.

“Oh, is it an insult?” Claire asked, trying to figure out Jamie’s hesitancies.

“Well, aye, some would use it as an insult. But no’ me-” Jamie said quickly seeing Claire open her mouth to reply. “-I mean it as a… it’s a good thing. Yer… Sassenach. I dinna mean offence by it. I’ll stop callin’ ye it. Sorry. I did’na mean to upset ye.”

“No… it’s erm… it’s alright. I… I sort of like it.” Claire said as her cheeks flushed with colour. “I mean… I like the way that it sounds when you say it.”

“Oh,” Jamie felt his own cheeks heat up. “Well, then… Sassenach it is.”

--

“I play rugby, football, I swim- when it’s warm enough, I do the long distance run at the carnival and….” Jamie paused as he tried to think of the other sports he played at school. “I ride the horses, but that’s not for school or anything.”

“You do all of that, and run a farm?” Claire asked in disbelief.

“Help run a farm. I dinna do it all myself,” Jamie corrected as Claire laid back on his pillows, well and truly making herself comfortable. “What about ye? What’d yer school like look like a’fore ye moved?” Jamie stayed sitting up. The temptation to lie next to her and simply pull her towards him to kiss her was far too strong.

“I studied a lot. Played tennis for a while, but I’m… more of an academic I suppose.” Claire scrunched up her face as she thought about her previous school. “My father wanted me to play the piano, but I couldn’t quite… He loved it a lot and I think it was something that he wanted us to share, but I suppose I didn’t have the discipline… or the patience… or the passion to do it…. And now.... Now I feel like it’s too late and I’m just going to keep letting him down somehow.” Claire paused and Jamie swallowed heavily.

Claire hadn’t spoken about her parents before to Jamie and until dinner that night, he had assumed that Lamb was her father. He was curious about where her parents were, but after the death of his own mother and brother he knew better than to simply blurt it out and ask.

“Which I know is silly,” Claire continued, unaware of Jamie looking at her intently. “I couldn’t let him down if I tried- he always said that. But it just seems like it was something that we were meant to do together, and so now I shouldn’t do it at all.”

“That does’na sound silly, Sassenach. I think we all… I think we always want to live up to some kind of expectation that our parents have for us, and it makes it harder when they aren’t there to ask them just how ye go about doing that. Ye just have to take comfort in knowing that yer doin’ the best that ye can. Even on the days when simply gettin’ out of bed is yer best.”

“Your mum?” Claire’s voice was soft and she reached out and squeezed Jamie’s forearm softly.

“Aye, Jenny told ye?”

Claire nodded in response and Jamie continued. Maybe if he could talk to her about his parents, she might want to open up about her own.

“My Mam was an artist. She loved paintin’. She also loved sculptin’, ye ken- wi’ clay, but she was rubbish at it. But paintin’- she was brilliant. Jen got that from her. She can paint just as well. Mam always was tryin’ to get me into her studio, get me to pick up a paintbrush to see if I was any good. But I just did’na have time for it. I wanted to be with the horses, be with my Da on the tractor- anything that was outdoors.” Jamie paused as he felt an unexpected wave of grief wash over him and he had to swallow a few times to get his voice back. “When she died I would’na go near her studio, fearin’ that she’d be disappointed in me and … I dinna ken, her ghost would saddle me with some unresolved guilt that I should’ha’ spent more time wi’ her when she was alive.” Jamie had never told anyone this- not even Jenny and yet here he was sitting on his bed, next to a lass that he’d known for less than two days, telling her all the secrets of his soul. Secrets he had sworn to himself that he would take to the grave.

He was expecting Claire to laugh at him or roll her eyes. It was a stupid thought- the ghost of his mother, haunting her art studio to make him feel guilty for not wanting to paint. Rather, Claire was looking at him with a soft kindness and there were tears in her whisky eyes, which only made them shine like gold after she blinked away the salty water.

“Anyway,” Jamie said gruffly, feeling his shoulder twitch uncomfortably, “as it turns out, I canna draw or paint to save my life, so maybe it was just my own intuition stopping me from wasting both of our time.” He tried to make a joke of it, tried to laugh it off, but Claire wasn’t laughing.

She sat up from the bed quickly and put her arm around his shoulders and pulled him against her. She was hugging him and Jamie felt the tension in his body leave in a huff. It felt good to be in her arms. Not in the way of male anatomy betrayal on the horizon (though surely that wouldn’t be far off), it was comforting, it was warm- it was something that he had missed since his mother had died.

“Thank you for telling me that Jamie. Really. Thank you for trusting me.”

“Yer welcome, Sassenach. After all, we’re friends, aren’t we?”

Chapter Text

One more week until school started again. One more week of waking up late...r than normal (Jamie still had chores and a paper route to attend to). One more week of avoiding Laoghaire MacKenzie’s house as she insisted that they should “hang out” before they were trapped back in classrooms. One more week to show Claire around the town that he grew up in and really cement their friendship before she would go to his school and the other girls would surround her like a pack of wolves.

It had been three days since the dinner at Jamie’s house and the smile hadn’t been wiped from his face since.

--

“Thank you for telling me that, Jamie. Really. Thank you for trusting me.”

“Yer welcome, Sassenach. After all, we’re friends, aren’t we?”

“You’re the only person I know in this town, I don’t know if that’s fair.”

“Yer sayin’ that there might be better options?” Jamie asked in mock horror. “After I shared my house- my dinner with ye?”

“Well, it’s your father’s house,” Claire grinned at him, “and your sister did cook.”

“They’re better options than me?”

“My options are limited, what can I say?”

Claire pretended to think for a moment. Her arms were still around Jamie, as if she hadn’t noticed that she was still comforting him. Jamie didn’t mind. He wasn’t ashamed to admit that he liked it. Not that he would ever say that out loud to Claire.

“Well I suppose-” Claire began before she was abruptly cut off by her uncle calling her name.

“Claire? Time to go.”

Claire and Jamie sprang apart… like… well… teenagers caught in a compromising position as the heavy sound of footsteps came down the hall.

“Jamie?” Brian Frasers voice followed.

“Thank you for dinner Jamie… for… you know… Thank you.” Claire stood up from the bed quickly and Jamie felt his cheeks heat up in embarrassment, though he didn’t know why.

“Thank ye for comin’, after… after ye had a hard day.” Jamie still hadn’t quite figured out what was wrong with Claire. He hadn’t really discovered that much more about her. She lived with her uncle, though he didn’t know why. Her father wanted her to play the piano, but she wouldn't. She was upset about something, though what that something was- Jamie was still at a loss. Perhaps Jenny knew more about her after their chat in the kitchen before dinner. Jamie made a mental note to try and talk to his sister about it.

“Yes well… every day is hard for some people. Why should that stop them from enjoying something nice?”

“And this was?” Jamie asked, “Nice, I mean?”

“Yes, it was quite,” Claire answered with a hint of a smile at her lips.

Jamie couldn’t help the smile that came to his face as Claire’s uncle and Jamie’s father finally came through the doorway.

“There you are, Bumblebee,” Lamb said in relief. “Couldn’t find you for a while there. Thought you’d been taken by the fairies.”

“No, Lamb. Just reading with Jamie.”

“Reading?” Lamb brightened at the mention of books. He looked around the room quickly, as if there was a mountain of books for him to start climbing.

“Lamb?” Claire called her uncle's attention back to her. “Were we going?”

“Ah, yes, sorry.” Lamb shook his head briefly, as if he remembered where he was.

And then they were gone.

--

It wasn’t a paper delivery day, but Jamie found himself making excuses to finish his chores as quickly as he could and jumping on his bike heading to town to run a few errands for his father and his sister.

Jamie pulled up in front of Claire and Lamb’s house- previously Walter Stuarts- and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Perhaps Claire would like to join him and she could see a bit more of the town.

Jamie wiped his hands nervously on his shorts before he knocked on the door. There was a clatter and then the heavy sound of footsteps coming towards the door.

Claire pulled the door open, her wild curls pulled away from her face and covered by a scarf.

“Jamie!” she greeted brightly, opening the door wider to him. “What are you doing here?”

“Sorry to drop by unannounced, Sassenach. I needed to run into town to get some things for Jen and my Da. I was wonderin’ if ye wanted to join me?”

“Oh, yes… sure, why not.” Claire stood back for Jamie to enter. “Let me just finish what I was doing and I’ll join you.”

Jamie ducked his head with a smile as he passed her. He caught a whiff of her perfume and thought that he might just go light headed with it. Floral with a hint of something earthy that reminded him of the freshly turned earth after a rainstorm. It was intoxicating and Jamie wondered why he had never noticed it before. (Of course he didn’t make it a habit to smell Claire whenever they were together.)

“I did’na mean to interrupt ye,” Jamie said as he followed Claire through her house.

“Oh, you aren’t. Not really. I was just doing some gardening.” Claire continued out to her backyard where Lamb was kneeling in the dirt and planting a rather flourishing tomato plant.

“Jamie, Lad. How are you son?” He asked looking up. He was wearing the flowering apron again and what Jamie assumed to be a woman’s wide brimmed hat, though he didn’t seem to be bothered by it.

“Well, thank ye,” Jamie answered as Claire knelt in the dirt patch again. “Can I help at all?”

“Oh, no, it’s fine,” Claire answered at the same time as her Uncle, saying “Yes, actually.”

“Lamb, Jamie doesn’t need to help.” Claire shook her head at her Uncle, who was obliviously looking up at Jamie and pointing to a rather large bag of soil that was sitting by the back door.

“Yes he does, he wants to, isn’t that right, Lad?” Lamb said, ignoring his niece and continuing against her protestations. “There’s a large bag by the door that my old muscles can’t lift. Could you bring it over?”

Jamie nodded, thrilled at the chance to help out, and even more thrilled at the chance that he might be able to show off to Claire.

“You really don’t need to,” Claire called out as Jamie bent to pick up the bag.

“It’s fine, Sassenach,” Jamie turned waving her away. It was a larger bag than he was used to, and Jamie briefly wondered how Lamb and Claire had managed to get it even to the back door. Still, he was used to this kind of work and it couldn’t be heavier than the bales of hay he was used to carrying around the farm.

Jamie bent his knees and hoisted the bag of soil onto his shoulder with a very heavy grunt. Christ it was heavy. Jamie thought it weighed about the same as a decent draft horse. Still, he was showing off to Claire and once it was in the right position on his shoulder it wasn’t so difficult. With another grunt Jamie stood up slowly and made his way over to their garden bed. Lamb had turned back to turning the soil, but Claire was watching him with a curious sort of expression. Jamie dumped the bag unceremoniously by them, trying not to show how much effort it had actually taken to move the bag.

“Excellent, lad. Thank you kindly. Now there’s about four more bags, at the side of the house, if you think you could manage?” Lamb said as he cut the bag open and started to grab handfuls of the soils and spread it around his freshly planted tomato vine.

“Four more?” Jamie repeated.

“You really don’t have to-” Claire began as Jamie held up his hand to stop her.

“It’s not a bother. I’m happy to help,” Jamie said, turning away to fetch the other four bags of soil.

--

Jamie considered lifting two bags at once, to really show off his strength, but that idea was quickly abandoned as the next bag felt about four times heavier than the first. Another grunt and another lift and Jamie was walking (half stumbling) back out to Claire and her uncle. Their heads were bent together and Claire seemed to be speaking very quickly, her hands gesticulating wildly as she spoke.

She abruptly stopped as Jamie dropped the second bag of soil by her and Lamb and Jamie swore that her cheeks were flushed as she turned away from him. Trying to shake off the feeling that Claire very much did not want Jamie’s help, he left to get the other bags.

--

Once the fourth bag had been delivered, Jamie helped Lamb spread the soil across the freshly turned garden. Jamie could feel Claire’s eyes on him as he worked with her uncle, but each time he turned to look at her, she was carefully absorbed in the next vegetable she was planting.

Finally they were done, and Jamie was wiping sweat from his forehead. Not quite the afternoon he had thought he would be spending with Claire, but any time to simply be with her was worth it.

Claire slowly relaxed and started to tell him about the things she was planting and the books she had read to help them grow in the best conditions, and the correct organic fertiliser to ensure maximum fruition. Similar to her Uncle, once Claire started talking about something she was passionate about, her eyes lit up and it was difficult to get a word in. Jamie didn’t mind. He thought he could listen to Claire talk about just about anything.

“So the tomatoes, I know it’s late in the season, but I think that they will be alright. Everything that I have read about them says that they should be surrounded by other vegetables, which is why I have the pumpkins here. Because they should spread out and while the tomatoes go up, you know? If it all goes to plan of course- though it should. I’ve done everything that should help them to grow properly. See I chose this spot because of the sun.” Claire paused to take a breath, looking up at the midday sun. “Yes, I think that this is ideal. Now, across this line here is going to be the herbs.” Claire focussed on the garden in front of her once more. Taking Jamie’s hand she pulled him to where she was talking about.

Jamie felt a thrill go through him at her touch, but he tried not to react.

“Along here I am going to plant some chamomile, garlic, ginger, maybe some ginseng if I can get it.” Claire pointed out the various spots she would plant her herbs before she looked back up at Jamie, smiling happily. “And then when they are nice and healthy, I can use them for- what?” Claire stopped speaking abruptly as she looked up at Jamie.

“What?” He repeated in confusion.

“What are you looking at? I’m covered in dirt aren’t I? I’ll go wash quickly and we can go into town.”

Before Jamie could say another word, Claire was leaving him stranded in the garden, wondering what she was talking about. He was just listening to her talk about the herb garden that she wanted to plant.

“You like her then?” Lamb’s voice came from behind Jamie, making him jump. Lamb had left them a while ago, mumbling something about a book he needed in doors.

“Sorry?” Jamie asked turning around to face the older man, and wiping his dirty hands on his shorts.

“Claire, you like her?” Lamb repeated. The flowery apron was now gone, as was the floppy sun hat. It was the first time that Jamie had really looked at Claire’s uncle. All other times he had been focused on Claire and her Uncle was just another face in the room.

“I suppose so,” Jamie tried to shrug casually and Lamb smiled at him with a knowing look that was slightly unsettling.

Lamb must have only been in his late thirties or forties, but years in the sun had weathered his skin to a tanned leather. Claire had told Jamie that her uncle was an archeologist and that he had spent the last thirteen years in Egypt with the University of Oxford. His hair was lighter than Claire’s though still brown, probably lightened from his time in the sun. His eyes were bright green in contrast to Claire’s golden whisky and Jamie briefly wondered if she got her eyes from her mother.

“I mean, son, that you like her.” Lamb emphasised the word and Jamie fought the flush on his cheeks.

“Well, I-” Jamie didn’t actually know what he was going to say and shoved his hands deep into his pockets, looking down at the ground. He couldn’t look Lamb in the eye with this conversation. He’d only known Claire for a week. It was a bit too soon to be talking her uncle about his feelings (no matter how much Lamb was right on the money).

“She’s a very attractive young woman, and I don’t know what she’s told you, but she’s been through a lot in the last few months.” Lamb continued, unaware of Jamie’s discomfort. “You’re father told me a bit about your own loss, your mother, your brother.” Lamb’s voice was careful and measured; a much different tone than the enthusiasm that Jamie had become accustomed.

Jamie looked up quickly to see Lamb looking uncharacteristically seriously at him.

“I wouldn’t want to betray her trust by telling you things before she is ready, nor yours by telling her.”

Jamie nodded in agreement, though not quite understanding what Lamb saying.

“I just want you to be careful. For you both to be careful,” Lamb said gently. “You are both very young.”

“I just… we are just going into town,” Jamie replied hesitantly.

“Oh, I know,” Lamb chuckled lightly and his face was transformed, back to the relaxed jovial features that Jamie recognised. “I’m glad she has a friend, Jamie.”

Jamie heard the back door open as Claire exited the house before calling out to them both.

“Aye so am I.”

“Jamie? Are you ready? Lamb we are going into town. Do you need anything?”

“No thank you, Bumblebee. See you when you get back.”

Lamb nodded seriously at Jamie, who found himself swallowing heavily before following Claire back through the house to pick up his abandoned bike on the footpath.

--

“So, the herbs?” Jamie asked as they walked together. Jamie pushing his bike and Claire strolling along side him. Occasionally stopping to study a weed growing between pavers, or pick up an interesting pebble. “The ones you want to plant.”

“What about them?” Claire asked, standing up and putting another pebble into her bag.

“Why those in particular? The vegetables, I understand, but the herbs… well, they are’na exactly… I dunno…”

“They’re medicinal,” Claire answered promptly. “They are useful. All food and herbs are useful, of course. But those one in particular. Chamomile is useful for relaxation, headaches, anxiety. Garlic is useful for blood pressure and cholesterol-”

“‘Tis good with pasta as well. Garlic bread.” Jamie helpfully added as Claire chuckled in response.

“Yes, it is also good for garlic bread. Ginger,” she continued, “is good for a cold and flu, nausea, it can be used as an anti-inflammatory. Ginseng is similar to ginger, but a bit more potent I think.”

“How do ye know all this?” Jamie interrupted, “and why wouldn’t ye just use normal medicine, rather than growin’ yer own?”

“Why not?” Claire shrugged in response. “It’s natural, comes from the earth-”

“Aye, so does paracetamol if ye think about it,” Jamie interrupted.

“I suppose so.” Claire shrugged again as her forehead wrinkled as she thought. “I didn’t have a garden before,” She said slowly, as if she was testing Jamie’s response to her. He tried to look ahead as they walked together, but he couldn’t help glancing over at her, just to watch her think.

“We didn’t have room. When Lamb and I moved out here, I saw the garden and I don’t know. I suppose I just felt like I needed to do something with it. I’ve always been interested in plants and natural medicines- stop for a second.”

Jamie halted as Claire stopped to pick up a smooth pebble. She ran her fingers over the surface gently before smiling softly and adding it to her bag.

“So,” she continued as if she had never stopped, “Lamb and I decided to set up the garden. Sure I could use paracetamol or cold and flu tablets when I need to, and I’m sure I probably will, but why not try for something natural, something that I’ve grown myself?”

Jamie shrugged in response. He didn’t really have an answer.

“Why do you farm?” Claire asked suddenly, as they rounded the corner and the main street came into view.

“Because it’s been in my family for generations and it’s Da’s work. It’s how we live. Weel, we farm and he does a bit of Accountin’ here and there when he needs to,” Jamie answered as he found a bar to tie his bike against.

“And what will you do?” Claire asked. “When you finish school I mean?”

“I suppose I’ll work on the farm.” Jamie shifted uncomfortably. Claire noticed.

“Is that what you want to do?”

“I guess so. I haven’t really thought about it.” Jamie shook his head as they continued down the street towards the general store.

“That’s a lie,” Claire stated abruptly. “I can see it on your face. You have thought about it, and farming isn’t it.”

“And ye ken me so well, do ye?” Jamie asked uncomfortably.

“Not really, no,” she answered honestly. “But you aren’t passionate about it. I can tell that.”

“And what are you passionate about, Claire Beauchamp?” Jamie asked as he held the door open for her, hearing the welcoming bell tinkle in response.

“Many things,” Claire said simply as she walked past him, the smell of her shampoo wafting past him and leaving him dumbstruck for a moment.

Jamie collected a basket from the stack by the door and pulled the list from Jenny from his pocket.

“We won’t be long. Just a few things for Jen.”

Claire nodded in response and studiously followed him down the isles, occasionally stopping to pick up and item, study it carefully before putting it back.

Jamie was done quickly, knowing the store as well as he did and Claire had picked up a few things of her own.

“Hobnobs?” Jamie asked as she put her purchases on the counter.

She smiled and shrugged in response as Mr MacWilliam finished Jamie’s transaction.

“I just need to go to the hardware store for my Da and then we can go,” Jamie said as Claire immediately opened the packet of biscuits before offering him one.

“Never really liked Hobnobs, myself,” he said as he took one. “They always remind me of my Auntie Jocasta. It’s the only biscuits she ever has at her place. Weel, it’s the only ones she puts on offer. I’m sure she keeps the good stuff hidden somewhere else.”

“Hobnobs are good,” Claire defended with her mouth full of the wafery biscuit. “They’re sweet and crumbly. Good size.” She held up a biscuit to show him. “They’ve got it all.”

“They’re crumbly,” Jamie said shaking his head. “Ye canna dip them into a cup of tea without them disintegrating.”

“Why would you ruin two good things?” Claire asked aghast. “A cup of tea and a good biscuit. That’s barbaric.”

“Yer tellin’ me ye never dunk yer biscuits in a cup of tea, not even a glass o’ milk?” Jamie asked in shock as they approached the hardware store.

“I’m not an animal. So no.” Claire held her head high in defiance and Jamie snorted with laughter.

“Yer saying I’m an animal?”

“Barbaric!” Claire exclaimed with a smile.

“Ye hav’na lived, Claire Beauchamp. Lucky ye met me when ye did.”

“You’re going to show me the ways of the world, are you?”

“If yer lucky.”

—-

Backpack full and about a million questions about what various farming tools in the hardware shop did later, Jamie and Claire exited the shop together.

“That’s all my errands done,” Jamie said, watching Claire’s face fall from her previous excitement and laughter. “But I dinna have to get these back straight away. I can show ye round the shops if ye like?”

Claire immediately brightened and nodded enthusiastically.

“Only if you have time.”

“For ye, Sassenach, I have all the time in the world.”

Claire blushed prettily at that and Jamie felt as though molten lava was travelling from his throat to his manhood. She was so pretty and she had no idea of the effect she had on him.

“Shall we?” He asked as he slung on his backpack, looking anywhere but at Claire. “There’s a few clothing stores down that way, a sweets place round the corner, erm, a bookstore…”

“Shall we just wander?” Claire asked as she rolled the plastic of her Hobnobs to cover the extra biscuits. “Can I ask a favour though?”

“What’s that?” Jamie asked as headed towards the clothing stores. Girls liked clothing stores didn’t they? He had memories of Jenny dragging him around to various stores before he was allowed to go into town by himself.

“Can you hold my Hobnobs? They won’t fit into my bag.”

Jamie grinned widely at her. “They’re your biscuits.”

“Which I tried to share with you.”

“What’s wrong with your bag?”

“It’s full.”

“Of rocks and weeds,” Jamie snorted with laughter as he held out his hand to take the packet from her.

“Of pebbles,” Claire corrected him. “And plants,” she said as she handed him the half empty packet.

“What if ye want to buy somethin’ in one of these shops?” Jamie asked as they stopped outside the first store. There was heavily thumping music coming from behind the glass door and Jamie took a deep breath. He’d been shopping with Jenny before, he knew how long this could take, but as long as he was spending time with Claire he didn’t really care all that much.

“I’ll hand it to you.” Claire laughed lightly and Jamie felt his heart stutter in his chest at the sound.

“Aye, regular pack horse, I am.”.

Shopping with Claire, specifically clothes shopping with Claire, was… well odd was the first thought that came to Jamie’s mind.

Jamie’s memory of shopping with his sister and even his mother went for what seemed like hours as they entered each and every store, digging through each rack and and stand, trying on forty thousand items, to then only purchase one or two.

Claire didn’t enter most shops, barely breezing past the window before moving onto the next. It was Jamie that was left behind, looking at a pair of shoes, or a t-shirt before Claire was calling out to him.

“Keep up then,” she laughed as Jamie looked around wildly for her and flinched in surprise as he realised that she was already at the window of the next shop.

“How do ye move so fast?”

“What do you mean?”

“My sister will spend three hours looking’ over a display and rootin’ through stacks of clothes and ye dinna even enter the shop.”

“Ah,” Claire grinned as he caught up to her. “Clothes shopping doesn’t particularly thrill me. But I do have a theory when I am forced to do it.”

Forced to do it? Was Jamie forcing her to do something she hated? He’d just assumed that she would want to look at the clothing shops. It seemed like it was all the other girls in his year wanted to do. He should have known Claire wouldn’t be like any other girl.

“There’s a bookshop just up further, if ye wanted to go there?” Jamie asked hesitantly. Here he was, dying to spend time with her, only to do something she hated.

“Oh, yes, that would be marvellous,” Claire said excitedly, almost skipping a step.

Jamie relaxed and they rounded the corner, both looking up to the sound of his name being called.

Laoghaire.

Jamie should have known they’d run into her eventually. She had been trying to see if Jamie was going into town all week, wanting to meet up with him.

She was waving at him enthusiastically, almost skipping toward him. Jamie saw on her face the exact moment that she saw Claire beside him. A mixture of confusion (and was it anger?), before she schooled her features and plastered a smile on her face.

“Hi Jamie. I was wonderin’ when ye’d be in town,” she said brightly. She had stopped when they’d come face to face (as much as Jamie thought that she might go straight through him at the speed she was walking towards them). She was standing very, very close to Jamie. He found himself taking a step backwards and closer to Claire. For protection? Maybe.

“Today I suppose,” he tried to say politely, but he knew that he sounded gruff with her. “This is Claire. Claire this is Laoghaire. Laoghaire’s a few years younger than us.”

“Nice to meet you,” Claire smiled brightly at Laoghaire. Jamie could feel his neck flushing at her smile. Was there anything about Claire Beauchamp that wouldn’t make him blush like an idiot.

“Ye as well,” Laoghaire smiled politely. “Ye just moved here then?”

“Yes, a few weeks ago. Jamie’s been kind enough to show me about.”

“Aye, he’s always been a bit of a gentleman. Even when we were bairns playing house.”

Claire looked between Jamie and Laoghaire grinning.

“Aye- yes, weel, that was quite a while ago Laoghaire. Dinna do so much of that any more.” Jamie ran his hands through his hair, pushing it out of his eyes in agitation.

“Now ye canna even find time for me to hang out in the village.” Laoghaire pouted and Jamie found himself taking a half step back toward Claire again.

He didn’t understand why girls pouted like that. What was he supposed to do when they did? Jenny never pouted at him when she was upset with him. She usually just yelled at him. Or tried to whack him with a wooden spoon.

He hadn’t seen Claire pout like that yet and he was entirely sure he ever would. Claire seemed much more similar to Jenny and would either yell at him if she was upset or try and whack him with whatever was closest. But the thought of her bottom lip popped and a wee wrinkle on her forehead… Lord even the thought of it was attractive to him.

“We should get going,” Jamie said to Claire ignoring Laoghaire’s plea for attention.

Claire nodded. She was looking at him with an expression that Jamie didn’t quite understand. Her eyebrows twitched slightly. Claire, for the most part, was usually quite easy to read. Jamie may not know her very well, but she usually wore most of her thoughts on her face. Right now though, Jamie couldn’t understand what she was thinking.

“It was nice to meet you, Laoghaire. I’m sure I will see you again at school,” Claire said politely and smiling at Laoghaire.

“Aye, I’m sure you will.” Laoghaire smiled back but Jamie wasn’t sure how genuine it actually was.

“Bye, Laoghaire,” Jamie said taking a step to move past her.

“I don’t get a hug goodbye?” Laoghaire asked sweetly.

“We’ve only just met, I didn’t think it was appropriate,” Claire answered for Jamie, who snorted with laughter in response before he suppressed a sigh and pulled Laoghaire into a one armed hug briefly.

—-

There was an awkward pause between Claire and Jamie as they continued down the street. Jamie wondered what was going through Claire’s mind. Was she curious about Laoghaire? It might help her to know someone else in town, even if Laoghaire wasn’t in there year. Did she think that Laoghaire and Jamie were a thing? He was about to explain that he and Laoghaire’s families had grown up together and that they were just friends when Claire spoke.

“So, did you want my theory then?” Claire asked as the bookshop came into view.

Jamie swallowed heavily unsure of what she was going to say. Theory about Jamie and Laoghaire? Theory about growing up in a small town, where everyone knew each other?

“Always.” Jamie didn’t really mind what Claire wanted to talk about, as long as it was him that she was talking with.

“I figure that they put the best clothes on display. So I can look in the window and if there’s nothing that takes my fancy, I can move on,” Claire said seriously as Jamie looked in her confusion. “Because why would they hide the good things? And if I don’t like anything on display, the odds of me liking something that is buried deep in the shadows of the store is, statistically speaking, quite slim.”

“I’m sorry,” Jamie apologised in confusion. “What are we talking about?”

“My theory about shopping,” Claire answered matter-of-factory. “You wanted to know why I skim past the stores.”

“Right,” Jamie agreed. “I did.”

“So there you have it. What’s meant to be is meant to be. If I didn’t see it when I first looked, I clearly wasn’t meant to have it.”

Jamie hummed in response as he opened the door to the bookstore for her, wondering if she was only talking about clothing.

In complete contrast to how Claire shopped for clothing, it seems like she could have spent hours in the bookshop. Jamie was quietly proud of the little bookshop in the village. Shelves overflowing with classics, second hand and new, every subject you could imagine was available. Not only could Claire spend hours in the shop, so could he.

Claire walked up and down each aisle carefully, her fingertips running lightly over the spines of various books before she let out an excited squeal as she came across the gardening section.

“Jamie!”

She didn’t need to call loudly as Jamie trailed her from a respectful distance. Not wanting to be separated from her, not wanting to crowd her, fascinated by her facial expressions as she looked at each book.

“Aye?” He said casually as he rounded the corner with a book of his own.

“Look!” Claire held out a book to him excitedly, as she rocked back and forth on her feet.

Jamie snapped his book shut as he took her offering. It was a book of natural medicinal herbs and remedies from what looked like the 17th century.

“Medicinal Herbs and Natural Remedies, Dr. C. E.B.R. Mackenzie.” Jamie read from the front page.

“It’s perfect. I’m going to get it.” Claire was literally bouncing on her tiptoes and Jamie couldn’t help but smile at her.

The walk back to Claire’s house would later be regarded by Jamie as the moment he was sure that he was in love with Claire. That it wasn’t just a crush. He was well and truly head over heels for her.

It wasn’t that glimpses of her body, her porcelain skin, wild curls and full lips that wreaked havoc on his body. It was just simply Claire.

The more that Jamie learned about her, the more he wanted to know.

She was smart. He already knew that. But as they walked together and she relaxed, telling him more about her life, and he for the first time truly realised how intelligent she was. He was immediately afraid that she might be put a year ahead of him at school and they wouldn’t have the same classes despite being the same age. But she put that thought to rest as she explained how happy she was that she already had a friend and her first day wouldn’t be so daunting. Jamie promised that he would stay by her side, introduce her to some more people and that he wouldn’t abandon her.

She was funny. She was quick witted and almost brought tears to Jamie’s eyes as he laughed at her explanation of her fury regarding traffic jams.

She was impatient. Claire spoke quickly jumping from one thought to the next, particularly if it was something she was passionate about. However she had a skill in making Jamie feel like she wasn’t talking at him. She spoke over him often before apologising for her rudeness. Jamie didn’t care. She was saying what he was thinking anyway- like she was plucking the thought straight from his mind and putting it in her own words.

She had a deep sadness about her. But she hid it well. Only certain topics, specifically family, caused her to retract into herself and let Jamie direct the conversation.

Lamb’s words about her being through a lot in the last couple of months echoed in Jamie’s memory. He longed to ask her about what haunted her, to let her know that he was a shoulder that she could lean on but it wasn’t the right time. As curious as Jamie was about her past, about her family, about Claire, he somehow knew that Claire needed to be the one to make the first move and open up to him.

She was kind and Jamie wasn’t sure she recognised that about herself. She smiled at people as they passed, saying hi to Jamie and looking at her curiously. She stopped Jamie to look at an orange and black ladybug before helping the insect off the pathway and onto a nearby leaf.

They took their time walking back to Claire’s so that it was late afternoon by the time they returned. Jamie would more than likely be in trouble for taking so long on his errands but he couldn’t find it in himself to care.

As he waved goodbye to Claire at her gate, watching her as she unlocked the front door, waved once more, blushing prettily before shutting the door behind her and calling out to her uncle, Jamie was sure of one thing. He was in love.

Chapter Text

School. It was back. Summer was over and it was back to the daily grind of homework, teachers and chores. Truth be told, the chores hadn’t really stopped over the break, but now there was more of a routine to the rest of Jamie’s day. The only thing that made him spring out of bed on the first day of school was the one and only Claire Beauchamp. 

Jamie had promised to walk with her to school, introduce her to a few more people, and that he wouldn’t leave her side. She laughed at that and asked if she could at least have some privacy in the bathroom. He had conceded that yes, that was probably for the best.

School. Sixth-year. His final year. The year that he was supposed to make decisions about his future (as if they hadn’t already been made for him). His father and his sister wanted him to buckle down, make good grades, no distractions- academia, this was his year. 

His mates wanted to have a good time. They wanted to have a laugh, play as many sports as possible, make a mess, get in trouble, flirt with pretty girls; live while they were young. 

Claire. Jamie wasn’t sure what Claire wanted. She wanted a friend- of that Jamie was sure and he was only too willing to fill that role in her life, if not something more.

He rushed through his morning chores, feeding the horses and chickens by throwing handfuls of feed in their general direction before sprinting over to the pigs to lob last nights scraps into the pen. Jamie scoffed down a piece of toast in the shower- which was not a good idea for both taste and practicality- but it did save time. Jamie swung his heavy backpack over his shoulder, the second hand books thumping him across the back as he called goodbye to his father and sister. Both of whom were sitting together at the kitchen table, grinning at each other at Jamie’s apparent eagerness to start the new school year, though Jamie didn’t see it. He had somewhere to be. 

Jamie rode his bike to Claire’s house as fast as his legs would carry him. He was running late. Or at least, late by Jamie’s standards. He’d wanted to get their early and have a relaxing ride so he didn’t turn up red-faced and sweaty. Instead the early morning sun beat down on the back of his neck and he could feel the sweat gathering at his hairline. 

He finally made it to Claire’s house and took some time wiping his face on his school uniform and digging the can of deodorant out of his bag and dousing himself to disguise his nerves and the effort of the bike ride. 

Jamie brushed his hair out of his face (his sister said he needed a haircut, but he quite liked it long) and carefully parked his bike inside Claire fence. He took a deep breath and was about to go to the front door and knock when a voice called his name. 

Dottie Ables, the sixty-something town gossip was calling out to Jamie. 

“Morning Mrs Ables,” Jamie greeted as she made her way over to him. 

“Jamie, lad. How are ye this morning?” Dottie asked sweetly, although she wasn’t looking at Jamie. She was looking at the house behind him. 

“Well, thank you.” Jamie shifted uncomfortably on his toes. Dottie was one of the worst gossips in the town; she always had something to talk about- which was saying something in a town where hardly anything happened. 

“Yer ready for school then? Yer first day, is it no’?” Dotties eyes flickered over to Jamie briefly but it was clear that her interest was much more directed to the house behind him. 

“It is,” Jamie answered. He didn’t want to say anything that would make the rounds through the town, twisting and turning until it wasn’t even remotely close to the truth. Saying nothing was better. Let them think he was shy or stupid. 

“Ye lookin’ forward to it? New school mates and so on?” Dottie wasn’t even bothering to look at Jamie now. In fact, she took a step to the side to see the Beauchamp’s house better. 

“Aye, summer has to end at some time.” Jamie shifted slightly so that he was standing directly in front of her again, forcing her to look up at him. 

“Ohh aye, ye ken I used to be young once-” Dottie stopped mid sentence as the front door behind Jamie opened. 

Lamb standing in a tweed fluffy dressing gown, slippers on his feet and a steaming cup of (what Jamie assumed to be) coffee in his hands. 

“Jamie lad, I thought I heard you pull up. Fancy some breakfast?”

Jamie couldn’t help the smile that came to his face at seeing Lamb. Jamie had always thought that Lamb’s hair was perfectly straight in contrast to his niece, but looking at him now assured Jamie that was not the case. 

Lamb’s hair was spiked, wavy and very much all over the place. It looked like the man had just rolled out of bed and Jamie wasn’t entirely sure that he hadn’t. 

Dottie, who was blocked from Lamb’s view by Jamie suddenly cleared her throat and Jamie jumped in surprise, forgetting that she was there. 

“Mornin’” she called loudly, wanting to be seen with no room to not be heard. 

Lamb yawned widely as Dottie moved into view. Rubbing a hand over his face and smiling brightly Lamb called out a “good morning” before promptly turning around and going back inside. 

Jamie could hear that it wasn’t at all an acceptable response by Dotties’ standards as she huffed as Jamie took a step toward the house. 

“Does’na even greet his neighbours. How do ye like tha’?” Dottie grumbled as Jamie headed towards the open front door. He was sure that Lambert Beauchamp was going to be the hot topic at the next coffee catch up with the locals.

“Claire will be down in a moment. She’s just getting dressed,” Lamb said as he tried and failed to flip a pancake with the pan. “Should stick to the spatula,” he grumbled, binning the sloppy half cooked mess before pouring more batter into the pan. 

“Do ye always cook pancakes in the mornin’,” Jamie asked curiously, watching Lamb move about the kitchen, pulling various condiments and spreads (jam, chocolate spread, maple syrup, and for some reason- mustard) from the cupboards and refrigerator. 

“Goodness no,” Lamb laughed as he placed a bottle of brown sauce in front of Jamie. “Only on special occasions. First day of a new school warrants a special occasion, wouldn’t you think?”

Jamie wasn’t sure if the question was rhetorical but nodded in response anyway. 

There was an awkward pause between them as Lamb continued to cook and Jamie sat at the table waiting for Claire. Jamie was never really sure what to say to Claire’s Uncle. It seemed like sometimes Lamb was more than willing to launch into a conversation with rapt attention, no matter the subject. And others, Lamb was vague and unresponsive, as if he was somewhere else entirely. Jamie watched him flip pancakes and tried to see if he could figure out what mood Lamb was in. 

Footsteps thumping down the staircase brought Jamie out of his inspection of Lamb and he turned to see Claire enter the kitchen.  

Jamie could honestly say that he didn’t care for school uniforms. He knew that some of the lads in his class spoke about how the girls looked in it, in the white blouses and the black skirts. Especially the girls that rolled their skirts so that they were shorter than what was strictly allowed. He’d never really understood what the lads saw in the girls that were purposefully flirting and trying to change their uniforms to be more appealing. To Jamie, it was just another article of clothing to put on. It was what he wore to school. He wore his jersey when playing rugby. He wore his farm clothes when he was doing his chores. 

He never understood the fantasy some of the lads with the school girl uniforms. They’d shown Jamie some pictures of girls with their tits bursting out of their tops and skirts that were little more than a scrap of cloth, and all Jamie had thought was how impractical it was and how uncomfortable it must be. It was hot, of course, the pictures were designed to be provocative, but aside from Jamie's natural hormonal reaction, he didn't understand the fantasy of it all.

That was, until, Claire Beauchamp walked into the kitchen. She was struggling with the black and red tie, her hair was in looser ringlets than usual and her crisp white shirt and perfectly ironed black skirt fit her to perfection. Jamie felt his mouth run dry and he was sure he had made some kind of strangled choking noise before swiftly turning to hide his lower body under the table, lest he shame himself and Claire this early in the morning. Good lord. Early in the morning. That’s what he told himself. It was just because it was early in the morning. 

“Lamb, I can’t work out this tie.”

Jamie could hear the frustration in Claire’s voice but he didn’t dare turn around. 

“Have a seat, Bumblebee. I’m sure Jamie can help.”

Unsexy thoughts. Unsexy thoughts. Auntie Jocasta’s knees. Cold Rugby practises. Jamie took a deep breath trying to calm his racing heart. Claire had no idea of the effect that she had on him. Mucking out the stables.

“Morning,” Claire said brightly as she sat next to him. “Can you help?”

Jamie finally turned to smile at her and felt his heart skip a beat. Her cheeks were flushed with her frustrations and the tie was hanging limply around her neck as she waited for his assistance. 

“First time with a tie?” Jamie asked, loosening his own. 

“My last school didn’t have ones you had to tie yourself. It used to clip on.”

“Clip on?” Jamie made a disgusted sound and Claire giggled. “Hand it over and I’ll tie it.”

Claire slipped the material from around her neck and handed it to Jamie with a sigh. 

Jamie put it around his neck and tied it quickly before handing it back to Claire. 

“Do it again. I need to learn how to do it,” Claire said with a huff pushing the blasted material back to him. 

Jamie grinned and undid his work before slowly retying the tie several times as Claire watched him

Claire tried and the tail came out about four inches longer than the front and she groaned in frustration before trying again. 

“There, how's that?” She asked, straightening it and holding out her arms in triumph. It wasn’t the best work that Jamie’d ever seen but she certainly had tied it.

“Perfect,” he said as Lamb set down a mountainous stack of pancakes in front of them. 

“You look smashing, Bumblebee,” he said as he took a seat opposite them and immediately started eating. 

Claire rolled her eyes before picking up a pancake of her own and smothering it in maple syrup. 

Jamie found himself quite enjoying breakfast with Lamb and Claire (and it wasn’t just because Claire looked bonnie in her uniform). 

Once breakfast had started, Lamb launched into a few stories from his archeology digs and it seemed as though he had a tale for every occasion. A natural born storyteller, he could have been a Scot. Claire ate her breakfast in relative silence only speaking to amend or add details to Lamb’s story. 

“Lamb, we have to go,” Claire said from the sink as she and Jamie washed the dishes, interrupting Lamb’s extremely interesting story of excavating an Indian Tomb back in the nineties. 

“Yes of course. You have everything? Your books? Your lunch? Have I forgotten anything?” Lamb immediately jumped into action, lifting different condiments on the table, half expecting Claire’s textbook to be hiding underneath. 

“No I have it all,” Claire answered as she dried her hands on Jamie’s teatowel. “But we really need to be going.”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you? I’m more than happy to,” he offered holding a bottle of maple syrup in one hand and a bottle of lemon juice in the other. He quickly put the bottles down on the table and wiped his hands on his dressing gown. He looked lost and Jamie had a vague memory of his mother and father looking at him the same way when it was his first day of school.

“It’s five minutes down the road. I’m sure that we can manage. Jamie can show me the way.”

Lamb looked over to Jamie who nodded enthusiastically in return, “Aye sir, Lamb. I’ll make sure we get there safely.”

“Alright then.” Lamb seemed appeased and clapped his hand enthusiastically. “Well, have a great first day, Claire. Come home if you need to… and I suppose… I suppose I will see you this afternoon when you get home.”

“Thanks, Uncle Lamb. I’m sure it will be fine.” Claire smiled briefly at her Uncle before picking up her school bag, swinging it across her back and looking back at Jamie expectantly. “Ready then?”

“Aye,” Jamie nodded and together they left the house.

--

It was mayhem. The younger kids were in tears, the slightly older kids were trying to escape their overprotective parents and the seniors were causing general disruptions wherever they could. Jamie could feel Claire tense up beside him as they approached the gates. Somewhere along the walk she had tied her hair out of her face and her hands automatically fluffed over her hair, trying to flatten it. 

“Don’t worry, Sassenach. I will’na let ye out of my sight,” Jamie said as his name was called over the general shouts, laughter and sounds of the other children.

“I know, I know,” Claire reassured him, though her voice wobbled with nerves. “It’s just… it’s a lot of people.”

“Come,” Jamie said holding out his hand to her, “I’ll introduce ye to some of my mates.”

Claire looked between Jamie’s hand and his face nervously. Whatever she had seen there seemed to fortify her and she took his hand. Jamie could feel her shaking and vibrating with nerves but all he could really concentrate on was the fact that she was holding his hand and that she trusted him. He was sure that he was blushing, but right at that moment, he didn’t particularly care.

--

“Aye, who’s this then?” Angus Mohr called out as Jamie and Claire approached. “Ye’ve got yerself a wee girlfriend then lad? No wonder ye’ve been ignoring us all summer.”

“I have’na been ignorin’ ye,” Jamie shook his head, still very much aware that Claire was gripping his hand tightly.

“Ye just did’na want to see us then? Is that it?” Ruper interrupted, taking a step closer to Claire. “Rupert MacKenzie, Jamie’s better looking cousin. Pleasure to meet ye.”

“Claire Beauchamp.” Claire’s voice was soft and it felt like Jamie’s fingers were about to fall off with the pressure she was exerting on them- he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“This is Angus, all round eejit and attention hoor,” Rupert continued as Angus wiggled his eyebrows suggestively at her.

“Pleasure.”

“So, ye had to go all the way to England to get a lass to fancy ye then, Jamie Lad?” Rupert laughed with gusto. “Ye’ve never fancied any of the lasses in our year so ye had to travel abroad. Angus thought ye might be swingin’ the other way.”

“Claire just moved here. Walter Sturart’s house. I’ve been showin’ her round.” Jamie ignored the second part of Rupert's ribbing. 

Both Angus and Rupert crossed their hearts at the mention of Walter Stuart and Jamie felt Claire relax slightly.

“Weel, yer in better company than just a Jamie here now, lass,” Rupert went on after a respectful pause for the deceased Walter Stuart. “Havin’ no one but Jamie to show ye ‘round all summer. Must have been a bore.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” Claire answered. 

Jamie could hear a slight warble in her voice as she spoke but at least she wasn’t trying to crush his fingers any more. 

“Here comes Geillis and Mary,” Angus hissed from behind Rupert and Jamie noticed Rupert stand a little straighter and puff out his chest. 

“So Rupert did fancy Geillis, then,” Jamie grinned to himself. Seeing Rupert's cheeks flame as the two girls approached as he called out in greeting, Jamie wondered if that’s what he looked like when he looked at Claire.

“Who this then?” Geillis asked as they approached and Claire took a nervous step behind Jamie, trying to hide herself. 

“Claire, she’s just moved here over the summer,” Jamie introduced Claire as she seemed to shrink back into herself. 

“I’m Geillis, this is Mary,” Gellis introduced happily, seemingly unaware of Claire’s nerves. “So I guess we ken where Jamie’s been hidin’ all summer then. Had to go all the way to England to find a lass that will put up wi' ye then?” She laughed at her own joke and Rupert joined in as if it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard, despite making the exact same joke seconds before the girls had arrived. 

“As I was just sayin’ to the lads, I was’na hidin’. I was workin’,” Jamie defended again, although why he was giving them any kind of excuse, he didn’t know. 

“Aye, aye, yer paper route,” Geillis waved away his comment with her hand. “I’m sure that kept ye up till all hours.”

“Ye ken I live on a farm, aye?” Jamie asked sarcastically. He could feel Claire relaxing again, though she was still partially hidden behind him. 

Geillis scoffed and rolled her eyes as Angus interrupted whatever her retort was going to be. 

“Aye ye do, and I’ve a bone to pick wi’ ye. We usually have the best parties in yer back field and I waited all summer for an invitation that never came.”

“Sorry to inconvenience ye,” Jamie laughed as he pushed Angus’s shoulder playfully. “Good to ken I’m only yer friend for the parties.”

“It’s about time ye apologised,” Angus shoved him back before the bell rang, signalling the start of the new school year. 

“Do you know which homeroom you’re in, Claire?” Mary asked in such a soft voice that Jamie barely heard her. 

“Oh um,” Claire jolted slightly at being addressed by someone. She dropped Jamie’s hand to pull her school schedule from her bag and Jamie flexed his hand in response. (First- to get the feeling back into his fingers and second- from the feeling of having Claire so casually hold his hand, linked together, a feeling he hoped to repeat several more times.

“Mrs Fox,” Claire read from the trembling paper in her hands. 

“Same as us,” Rupert said swinging his backpack onto his shoulders. “Come on then.”

Claire looked up at Jamie with wild panic in her eyes. 

“Same as me as well, Sassenach,” he said, seeing her visibly relax. “Ye alright?”

Claire nodded quickly, a few curls coming loose from her hair and it was all Jamie could do, to not gently sweep the hair from her eyes. Eyes that were slightly panicked and running over his face quickly. 

“Y’ll be fine. Come on.” Jamie held out his hand again and to his satisfaction, Claire eagerly grabbed it once more. 

The halls were busy with students pushing past each other, trying to get to class, or stopping and greeting each other and holding up the flow of students. It was mostly thanks to Jamie’s size that he and Claire made it to their homeroom together. Jamie more or less parted the sea of students and Claire followed behind him, gripping the back of his shirt to not lose him in the throng of people. 

“Where do I put my bag?” Claire asked as Jamie stopped. 

Jamie was pulling his own bag from his shoulders and tossing it carelessly onto the bag racks outside of the room as she asked and she watched him with curiosity before nodding to herself and following suit. 

“Do I need anything? Pens, paper?” She asked eagerly as Jamie walked into the room without anything. 

“It’s homeroom, Sassenach. Mrs Fox is’na likely to start handin’ out homework.” Jamie smiled at her and a faint blush appeared on her cheeks. “Come on,” he indicated with his head and she followed him nervously. 

The desks were set in pairs and Angus, Rupert, Geillis and Mary were sitting in the back left corner waving over to Jamie and Claire. Jamie wove through the desks to pull up his usual space- third from the back, next to the window, spare seat beside him. It hadn’t always been spare. John Grey had sat next to Jamie for most of Jamie’s schooling life until he had transferred back to England after his father passed away. Since he’d gone though, Jamie had mostly sat by himself. His friends would rotate with him if someone was away sick or fighting (not that it happened very often).

He no longer sat alone. 

Claire’s fingers were tapping nervously on the desk in front of her and he could feel her knee bouncing and shaking the desk. Jamie turned to face Rupert sitting directly behind him. It was best to leave Claire for a moment to calm her nerves without forcing her into a conversation. 

“Do ye think Mr Langford will be such a hard ass this year?” Rupert asked. 

Mr Langford- the physical education teacher, was notoriously firm with students. He was also Jamie’s rugby coach. 

“He’s not that bad. It’s only ‘cause ye muck about in class that ye get detention,” Jamie answered as Angus scoffed. 

“Perfect Jamie. O’ course ye’d say that. Never got a detention in yer life. Not to mention that ye’re his favourite.”

“I’m not his favourite,” Jamie laughed, shaking his head. “I’m just not a complete eedjit.”

Angus was about to retort when Mrs Fox called for the class's attention. 

“Good morning everyone. I hope you had a good summer break. I see a new face in our class. Welcome. Now, lets take the roll shall we? See who could’na roll out of bed this morning!.” Mrs Fox said all of this very quickly, nodding over to Claire and causing half the students to turn in their chairs to look at her.

As Mrs Fox read out the list of names, each student responding in turn when their names were called, Claire lent closer to Jamie. 

“She’s not going to make me introduce myself to the class, is she?” She whispered, flinching as Angus hollered “PRESENT” from behind her.

“Nah. Homeroom is just for announcements and roll call. I doubt any of the teachers will make ye stand up and introduce yerself. It is’na primary,” Jamie replied shaking his head and seeing her sigh in relief. “Do ye ken yer first class?”

“Yes. It’s English I think.” Claire nodded eagerly. “What about you?”

“English as well I think. Who’s yer teacher?”

“Oh. I don’t know. How many English teachers are there?”

“Weel, there’s different levels of English, dependin’ on yer results from last year,” Jamie explained under his breath as Mrs Fox put away the roll call and started to go through morning announcements. 

“Oh.”

“I’m in Higher English wi’ Mr Randall, as are Rupert, Angus, Mary and Geillis and I’m in Advanced Higher Maths with Geillis, but Rupert and Angus are in level 5,” Jamie continued as the speakers crackled to life and the Principal (Mr Worthing) interrupted Mrs Fox and welcomed the students to a new year. 

“Oh,” Claire repeated looking downtrodden. 

“It’s alright, we’ll look at yer schedule and figure out where yer goin’. Chances are ye’ll have at least one class with one of us.”

“I didn’t even think about different levels, Jamie. I just… Lamb just transferred across my credits and I picked some classes. I didn’t even look at the levels,” Claire said unhappily. 

“Most of the time, ye dinna need to,” Jamie tried to reassure her. “The teachers usually look at yer marks and will place ye in the class that suits ye.”

“But what if,” Claire paused and bit her lip. What Jamie wouldn’t give to gently tug it loose from her teeth and kiss her. He shook the thought from his mind as Claire started to speak again. “What if I’m in… one of the lower classes.”

“Lower classes?” Jamie asked in confusion. 

“You’re clearly in all the advanced classes. What if I’m in one of the dumb ones?”

Jamie snorted with laughter and Mrs Fox looked up from her list of announcements and frowned at him. 

“What?” Claire asked sounding thoroughly put out by Jamie’s reaction. 

“Sassenach,” Jamie said shaking his head and smiling at her, “yer one of the smartest lasses I’ve ever met, ye read encyclopaedias in yer spare time- ye’ll be fine.”

Claire blushed prettily before she sat up straighter and squared her shoulders. “I do not read encyclopaedias.”

—-

Jamie was right (of course). When homeroom was excused he and Claire rushed to her bag to check her schedule. 

Claire Beauchamp Monday

Period 1 - English (Higher) - Mr Randall

Period 2 - English (Higher) - Mr Randall

Period 3 - Maths (Adv Higher) - Mr Sandringham

Period 4 - Biology (Higher) - Mrs Miller

Period 5 - History (Higher) - Mr Randall

Period 6 - History (Higher) - Mr Randall

“Weel, yer certainly not in any of the easy classes,” Jamie said as he looked over the sheet of paper. “They’re all Higher or Advanced Higher classes.”

“Is that a good thing?” Claire asked nervously as Jamie started to steer them towards their first class. 

“Weel, if it helps. English and Math are both with me. I think Gellis is in Biology but I dinna ken who’s in History with ye.”

“You’re not in History?” Claire asked as they arrived at their English class. 

“Nah,” Jamie shook his head. “I reckon my Da taught me enough about my families own history. I dinna think I can stomach any more.”

“You’re family history is convoluted then?” Claire asked somewhat sarcastically, though she definitely also sounded eager to hear more. 

“Oh, aye. Very much so. Fought in risings. Locked in jails. Outlaws, landowners, prisoners, laird's- There is’na much the Fraser’s have’na done.” Jamie collected his books and pens from his bag and watched as Claire eagerly followed suit. 

“Sounds fascinating.”

“I’ll tell ye about it someday. Not now though. Randall’s a right grump when yer late to class. Come on.” He smiled at Claire reassuringly and she returned the smile, following him into the classroom and taking the seat next to Jamie. 

--

“Good Morning Everyone.” Mr Randall stood in front of the class, his dark brown eyes running across the faces looking back at him, lingering for a moment over Jamie and Claire before flicking back across the room. “I trust you all had a good summer. Anyone read anything interesting over the break? No? Well, rest assured this year will solve that issue for you. We will be starting the year with 1984 by George Orwell. Read it before? No?” Mr Randall spoke at such a rapid speed that he gave the class no chance to respond before he was moving onto the next point. “Published in 1949,” Mr Randall turned to face the whiteboard and began making bullet points as he spoke. “The year is 1984, as the title suggests, civilisation damaged by war, conflict, revolution. Three super-states rule the world. The world is run by the “Party” with a leader, cult-like status, Big Brother. The book is about conformity, surveillance, and propaganda.”

Jamie had read the book about two years ago. His father was a keen literary and made sure that both Jamie and Jenny had read the “classics”. Jamie glanced over to Claire who was carefully making notes in her book as Mr Randall continued his monologue.

“Have you read it before?” Jamie wrote the words in the top corner of his notebook and slid the page across to Claire. He saw her hand pause briefly from the notes she was taking before she pulled Jamie’s book closer and wrote her reply.

“About a year ago. I did an assignment on it.”

Claire’s writing was clean but angular; each letter on a significant slant.

“Same- read it a while ago too. Maybe you can recycle the assignment.” Jamie wrote back, casually sliding the book back the Claire. He saw her smile and shrug her shoulders slightly before she put went back to taking notes from Mr Randall.

--

“I want you to finish reading the book in the next two weeks. It shouldn’t take long. Don’t fall behind, we will be discussing the themes of each chapter in the coming classes, and it won’t do you any good to not know what the rest of the class is talking about.” Mr Randall had to raise his voice over the sounds of students packing up their belongings as the bell rang.

“Claire, do you mind staying a moment? I’d like a word.”

Jamie stopped as Mr Randall called Claire’s name.

“I’ll wait for ye outside.” Jamie saw Claire tense before she nodded tight lipped and made her way to the front of the room.

--

Jamie packed away his books and paced outside the classroom, waiting for Claire. 

Whatever Mr Randall had wanted to say to Claire didn’t take long and she was soon back with Jamie as they walked slowly on their break between classes. Jamie was eating an apple as Claire dug a cheese stick out of her bag.

“What was tha’ about?” Jamie asked through a mouthful of apple.

“Oh, he just wanted to welcome me to the school. Said he knew my Uncle Lamb at Oxford, they went to the same university,” Claire shrugged casually but Jamie could see that there was something else.

“And?” He prompted when Claire didn’t say anything further.

Claire smirked up at him and Jamie felt his heart beat irregularly in his chest. The things that she did to him.

“He also wants to introduce his son to me, Frank. He said that I should look out for him next class and say hi.”

“Ah, Frank,” Jamie said with a sigh.

“What’s wrong with Frank?” Claire asked curiously as Jamie stopped on a bench outside a classroom and took a seat.

“Nothin’ at all,” Jamie shook his head. “I dinna ken him too well to be honest wi’ ye. Seems a bit up-tight sometimes, but I’m sure it is’na easy havin’ yer Da as one of yer teachers."

“I can imagine, I don’t know how I would be if Lamb came to teach history.”

“He keeps to himself mostly, but I can introduce ye if ye like.”

“It’s fine,” Claire waved away the offer. “I’m sure we’ll have a class together somewhere along the line. I don’t need to meet the entire school on the first day.”

“Nah, I suppose not.” 

Jamie smiled at Claire.

Claire smiled at Jamie.

She looked so pretty in her school uniform, her earlier nervousness now somewhat dissipated.

“Thank you, for taking me under your wing Jamie. I really do appreciate it,” Claire said softly. “I don’t know how I would have done this morning or any of today without you.”

Jamie shrugged and swallowed heavily before clearing his throat. “It’s no bother, really. I’m glad I could be of assistance. We’re friends aren’t we?”

“Friends,” Claire repeated the word with a soft hum. “Yes, yes we are. I was thinking that-”

Though what she was thinking, Jamie never found out, as Jamie’s name was shouted to him from across the yard and they both looked up to see Laoghaire and her friends making their way towards them.

--

Chapter Text

Jamie shifted uncomfortably next to Claire. He was bound to run into Laoghaire eventually. The school wasn’t that big. 

“Hi Jamie,” Laoghaire greeted airily. She’d tucked up her skirt to a length Jamie was sure was going to get her in trouble. Her tie was loose around her neck and her shirt- she’d definitely filled out over the summer and Jamie could see some of the buttons on her blouse being held together by a breath. 

“Alright, Laoghaire, Megan, Liz.” Jamie nodded at the three girls. He saw Laoghaire’s friends look over at Claire with curiosity. 

“How’s yer first day of school going, Claire?” Laoghaire asked, but Jamie noticed that she was still looking at him as the words left her mouth. 

“Very well, thank you Laoghaire. Jamie’s been a big help.”

“Aye, told ye he was a gentleman, did I not?”

“You did.” 

Jamie smiled at Claire. It was only brief but Jamie saw Claire’s eyebrow twitch as she spoke to Laoghaire. It could have been nothing. Just a muscle moving in her forehead as she spoke but Jamie had a very clear memory of his own mother’s eyebrows doing the exact same thing when she was annoyed with his father. Jenny told Jamie that he did the same twitch when he wanted to thump her and that’s when she knew to get away from him when he was a bairn. 

Curious that he should see it on Claire now but perhaps he was reading into things and it was just a perfectly natural facial movement. Still Jamie couldn’t get the image of his mothers eyes narrowing the exact same way. 

“Jamie?” Laoghaire repeated his name impatiently and he looked back up at her. 

“Sorry, what?”

“I was askin’ if ye are goin’ to eat lunch in the usual spot,” Laoghaire repeated what Jamie had missed when he was stuck in his thoughts of his mother. 

“I hadn’t thought about it. Probably,” He shrugged nonchalantly. 

“I might stop by on the way to dance- If I have time.”

“Sure,” Jamie shrugged again, he didn’t care. Laoghaire could have lunch wherever she liked. 

“Dance?” Claire asked curiously. “You have dance here?”

Megan and Liz both snorted in laughter as Claire spoke and Jamie frowned at them as Laoghaire nudged them with an elbow while smiling. 

“Aye, we have tryouts first day of school. There’s competitions throughout the summer. Do ye dance, Claire?” Laoghaire explained and it was then that Jamie realised what had made Liz and Megan laugh as Laoghaire exaggerated the word “dance”.

“Oh, no, not at all. I’m far too clumsy.” Claire immediately started blushing and shifted (unconsciously) closer to Jamie. 

Laoghaire saw the shift that brought Claire closer to Jamie and she grimaced. 

“Ye should come and have a try. Ye dinna need to have experience.”

“I don’t think so, but thank you for the invitation,” Claire answered politely. 

“Nay bother.” Laoghaire was watching Claire carefully now and Jamie couldn’t help but feel like there was something sinister there. He cleared his throat as the bell rang. 

“Weel, I suppose I’ll see ye at lunch, Jamie.” Laoghaire’s tone immediately changed as Jamie stood up from the bench, pulling Claire up with him. He grunted in response, turning his back on the gaggle of girls to fetch his things from his bag. “It’s a date, then,” Laoghaire continued, taking his reply as acceptance. 

Jamie didn’t turn back around until he was sure that Laoghaire and her friends were gone. Claire was silent beside him as she took out her own books. 

Jamie wasn’t sure what it was he was feeling, he just knew that he didn’t like the way that Laoghaire was looking at Claire. It was brief and he could be reading into things, but something just didn’t feel right. He wasn’t sure that Claire had picked up on it and he wasn’t about to tell her about what he was thinking. 

He felt protective over Claire. She was new to the school, to the town, to Scotland and the last thing she needed was a silly school girl with a chip on her shoulder. Jamie would need to say something to Laoghaire about how she acted around him and Claire. 

Him and Claire. Not that they were a “thing”. But they were friends and Jamie always stood up for his friends. He would do the same for Rupert. Or at least - that’s what he told himself. 

Jamie let Claire take the lead into the classroom. She seemed unsure of where she should sit and looked back at him for help. Jamie smiled at her and swept his arm over the many empty desks in a “wherever you like” action and she laughed before rolling her eyes at him and plonking herself down at the set of desks directly in the middle of the room. Not the seat that Jamie would have chosen, but he sat next to her anyway. He would have sat next to her if she had chosen the teachers desk if he was honest. 

“I wasn’t sure if you had a specific spot you liked to sit,” Claire explained as the rest of the class started to file in. 

“Aye, next to you,” Jamie said before his brain caught up with him and he spluttered as Claire’s eyebrows rose into her hairline. “I mean, that I, I mean, I said I would’na leave ye, if I could help it. Just keepin’ my promise, to ye. That’s what I meant.”

Claire hummed as she grinned at him- there was a faint blush on her cheeks and Jamie was sure that his were bright red. Thankfully Mr Sandringham walked in at that moment and started the class and Jamie didn’t have another chance to stick his foot in his mouth. 

It was only a single period class, mostly introductions to the new year and what they were going to be learning over the coming term. Claire took studicious notes while Jamie doodled in the margins of his page. He wasn’t sure what Claire was writing about- Sandringham wasn’t really saying anything of substance. 

Mr Sandringham was an older teacher, but new to the school. He’d arrived in the last term of Jamie’s previous year when Miss Wellington had taken maternity leave. The town gossips had had a field day with that one. The supposedly single math teacher with a sudden pregnancy. Accusations were flying left, right and centre of who could possibly be the father. Miss Wellington had taken a leave of absence before anyone could find the answer and her small cottage had been on the market the week after she’d gone. 

Jamie was absentmindedly fiddling with his pen, thinking about the circumstances of Mr Sandringham coming to the school, wondering if he thought that it would be a temporary assignment, only to then move permanently into the town, when Claire knocked his elbow and looked pointedly at her page. 

Jame sat up quickly sat up straighter and read the note in the top right corner. 

“Why aren’t you taking any notes?”

Jamie grinned as he pulled her book toward him and scrawled a response. 

“What notes are there to take?”

Pushing the book back to his desk-mate, he stifled a laugh as she rolled her eyes when she read his reply. 

“He’s giving us the course outline.” - the paper pushed back over to his side of the desk as her fingers tapped impatiently on the desk. 

“Then I suppose I’ll take some notes when we’re learning something.”

He heard Claire sniff as she read as he wrote his response. 

Sandringham turned towards the whiteboard and started to write dates of upcoming exams (not due for at least two months). Claire feverishly grabbed back her book and copied down everything that he wrote.

Jamie stifled another laugh before looking back at his book and also copying the dates. 

The bell rang and Claire quickly packed up her desk. 

“Ye like to take a lot of notes then?” Jamie asked as led her toward her next class. 

“I don’t like missing details or not knowing things,” Claire answered quickly. 

“Aye, so ye’ve said.”

“When?”

“Last week. When ye were worried about school. Ye said that ye dinna like to be behind.”

“Oh,” Claire breathed, “well, yes. I like to be on top of things.”

“Did ye learn anythin’ from yer obsessive note taking?” Jamie asked as they arrived outside her next classroom. 

“I learned when our exams are and what the syllabus is going to include,” she answered as she removed her backpack and started to get out her books. 

“Aye, so did I, but I still have an empty book,” Jamie laughed- laughing harder as her eyebrows narrowed at him. 

“Well,” Claire huffed with annoyance, “what are you going to do when you forget and need to know what we’re studying next or when an exam is?”

“I’ll ask ye, Sassenach,” Jamie smirked at her. He could see the annoyance building behind her eyes before it broke and she laughed at him. 

“Good luck with that. I’m not sharing my notes with you for anything.”

“Ye cut me!” Jamie exclaimed dramatically clutching his heart. “Here I thought that we were friends.”

“Hmm, friends.” Claire arched a single eyebrow at him and Jamie couldn’t help but smile at her. 

“Truly, though, I appreciate yer work ethic. I think ye’ll be a good influence on me,” Jamie said seriously. “At least that’s what my Da and Jen will say if I start taking notes the way ye do."

“He thinks I’ll rub off on you?” Claire asked as she grinned at him and Jamie tried to ignore the fact that her saying “rub off” made his body have a physical reaction to her. 

“Somethin’ like that,” he grunted as he shifted away from her. 

“Who’re ye rubbing off on?” The loud voice of Gellis sounded from behind Jamie as she threw her bag next to Claire’s. 

“No one,” Jamie answered quickly as Claire looked between them with a sort of curious amusement. “And this is where I leave ye, in the safe hands of Gellis for Biology.”

“What?” The amusement immediately fell from Claire’s face and Jamie saw her grip her textbook a little tighter. 

“Aye, I have Physics now. But ye’ll be with Gellis, so not totally alone,” he explained as he adjusted his bag straps. 

“You’re not in Biology?” Claire repeated faintly. 

“Not smart enough,” Geillis inputted helpfully as Jamie made a face at her. 

“Because Physics is so easy.”

“Shoo,” Geillis laughed turning away from him. “Leave us to learn.”

“Ye’ll be fine, Claire. I’ll be right here waiting for ye when the bell rings again.” Jamie almost reached out to her- nearly squeezed her hand in comfort or brushed the curl off her cheek, but he could feel Geillis studying him so he didn’t dare. 

“Mr Fraser.” The voice if Mrs Loboscar sounded from behind him. “I dinnae remember seein’ yer name on ma roll call.”

“Aye, Miss. I’ll be on my way.” Jamie nodded once more to Claire before he was off and running to his class. 

Jamie arrived to his class, panting and throwing his bag on the racks. It was only a single period, then he would run back to Claire to make sure she made it through biology. At least she had Gellis in the class with her. She had a double of history that afternoon and Jamie couldn’t think of any of his friends that were in that class. Not close friends anyway. He was sure that Rachel and Denzel Hunter were in it, but he didn’t know them well. There was Frank Randall, of course, but again, Jamie didn’t really know much about the lad. 

Jamie tried to shake the worry from his mind as Mr MacWeather started to speak to the class about the coming term. Claire would be fine. It wasn’t like she’d never been to school before. 

Mr MacWeather didn’t believe in taking things easy. He didn’t believe in a slow warm up and introduction into the year. 

“Physics.” He said before he repeated the word several times. “Let’s get to it.” And then his back was turned to the class and he was sprouting off information and writing things on the whiteboard and Jamie was barely keeping up. 

As soon as the bell rang for lunch, Jamie was up and out of his seat, grabbing his bag and tearing across the grounds back to where he had left Claire. 

He arrived just as Claire was packing her bag. She was listening to something Geillis was saying and laughing as Geillis shook her head. Jamie tried to stand casually, dropping his bag at his feet, as if he hadn’t just sprinted across half the school to wait for her. He saw the moment that she noticed him and her shoulders seemed to relax slightly as her face broke into a wider smile. Jamie also saw Geillis look quickly between them before grinning smugly, but he chose to ignore that. 

“Hi,” Claire said somewhat breathlessly as she approached and Jamie picked up his bag again. 

“How did it go?” He asked as Geillis fell into step with them. 

“Fine,” Geillis answered before Claire had the chance. 

“How was physics?” Claire asked quietly. 

“Physiciky,” Jamie answered with a shrug. “I took notes, ye’ll be proud of me.”

Claire snorted with laughter as they saw Mary, Rupert and Angus waving at them over. 

“Did ye bring lunch?” Jamie asked, sensing a fresh wave of nerves run through Claire. 

“Yes, I just erm…”

“Go ahead, Geillis. We’ll be there in a sec.” Jamie stopped as Geillis waved her hand in acknowledgement before yelling something absurd to Angus. 

“Are ye alright?” Jamie asked quietly, stooping slightly to meet her eyes. 

“I’m fine. I’m just… I just got very anxious all of a sudden. I’m not normally an anxious person,” Claire said quickly. 

“It’s the first day of school, makin’ new friends and all new lessons. It would be overwhelmin’ for anyone. It’s no’ so strange to be a bit worried.”

“I know. I know.” Claire nodded. He could see her fingers wringing together as her gaze shifted around the quad quickly. “It’s just that. It’s my first day of my last year of high school and you just… you have in your mind how it’s going to go…”

“Is it no’ goin’ how ye thought?” Jamie asked. He’d tried to make it as easy as possible on her. He couldn’t help that they had different classes. “Did something happen’ in Bio?”

“No, not at all. It’s fine. I’m fine. Truly. I’m alright.”

Claire suddenly stood up straighter, squared her shoulders and strode away from Jamie, leaving him confused. He watched her walk toward his group of friends, trying to figure out what could have suddenly upset her, only for her to shake it off so quickly. Jamie didn’t understand what was going on, but as Rupert called out his name Jamie decided that it was a worry for another day. 

True to her word, Laoghaire and her friends stopped by Jamie on their way to dance auditions (was her skirt shorter?) to say hello- that was all they really said. 

Laoghaire said hello. Claire wished her good luck. Laoghaire smiled at her. Megan looked at Rupert. Liz looked at Jamie and Claire. And then they were gone. It didn’t really seem worth the trouble, auditions were over the other side of the school. 

“What class do you have after lunch?” Claire asked as she tossed her rubbish in the nearby bin. 

“PE,” Jamie answered through a mouthful of his lunch. “What about you?” He asked after swallowing several times (though he already knew the answer). 

“History,” Claire seemed to huff. Dare he hope that she was disappointed that they didn’t have another class together? “I thought that they made you stop doing PE after ninth year.”

“Aye, this is Advanced Physical Education.” Jamie wiped the crumbs from his mouth as Angus picked up his soccer ball. “It’s more ‘an just runnin’ laps- It’s sports physiology.”

“Isn’t that biology?” Claire asked as Jamie stood up from the grass and brushed himself off. 

“Biology is plants and things. This is about the human body and movement. Sporting injuries, cardio, muscular training- stuff like that,” Jamie said as Angus and Ruper spread out on the field to start kicking the call. 

“Do you still run laps?” Claire asked as she picked some grass absentmindedly. 

“Aye, more often than no’, we do,” Jamie grinned before he ran out into the field with his friends. 

A few other lads came out onto the field to kick the ball with them and soon they had an impromptu game of football. Jamie looked back to Claire constantly and was pleased to see her chatting with Geillis and Mary. Louise de La Tour had joined the trio after a while and had engaged Claire in a conversation that seemed to centre around the boys on the field. Jamie didn’t know Louise that well, only that she had drama with Geillis and Mary. 

Claire was looking over at Jamie and smiling shyly at him. He waved in acknowledgement before he tore after the ball, stealing it from Angus and tripping Adam McLean in the process. Jamie ran down the field (jogged was more accurate. Jamie was very fit but this was just a fun scrimmage) and quickly scored against the other team. Rupert thumped him on the back, breathing heavily as Angus swore loudly at Adam for getting in his way. 

Jamie jogged off the field to wear the girls were sitting. 

“Show off.” Geillis was grinning as she glanced up at him from her phone. 

“Canna help it that Adam was’na looking where he was goin’,” Jamie grinned as he dug through his bag looking for his water bottle. 

“You’re very quick,” Claire commented as Jamie took a long drink. 

“Jamie here is on the track, rugby, football and swim team. There is’nae much he canna do,” Geillis answered before Jamie could reply. 

“So I’ve heard,” Claire said quietly and Jamie looked at her curiously. They’d spoke about the sports Jamie was in, he was sure that they had, still he was curious to know what she had heard about him. 

“Jamie!” Ruperts voice called from across the field and Jamie pushed the second puzzling thing about Claire Beauchamp of that day to the back of his mind as he ran back into the field. 

They didn’t have much longer to play. The bell was about to ring, Jamie knew it- but he also couldn’t help it. He just wanted to impress Claire. Show that he could score another goal, or at least assist on one. 

The ball was high in the air, right in front of the goals. He could head it in. Impressive alright- he’d have to jump for it. Unfortunately for Jamie, Simon Gibbons had the except idea, except to defend the ball from the goals. 

Jamie jumped. Simon jumped. Jamie hit the ball. It soared into the goal. Rupert cheered. Simon had jumped late. Jamie was landing. Simon was arching forward. Simons forehead connected with Jamie’s right eye, throwing him off balance. Jamie landed on his back- hard- and the air was forced from his lungs in a powerful whoosh. Jamie was winded and coughed, trying to catch his breath. 

He might have had a rock solid head, burn holy cow, that had hurt. Simon has stumbled with the collision but Jamie could see that he was still standing. Jamie rolled onto his side, trying to catch his breath and feeling a pulsing ache radiating from above his eyebrow. 

“Ouch,” he breathed as he tried to sit up, before strong bony fingers were forcing him back to lying down. 

“Stay down,” the voice of Claire Beauchamp commanded. “You might be concussed.”

“Where’d ye come from?” Jamie asked stupidly, his eyes blinking from the blinding of the midday sun above them, before it was blocked out by the face of Claire. She looked like an angel, or at least what Jamie assumed angels looked like. The sun was casting a halo around her wild curls. Although, Jamie assumed that angels looked far less concerned in heaven, and Claire’s forehead was wrinkled as she studied him. 

“I ran over when you both cracked skulls. I swear the sound echoed around the school. Are you alright?” Claire was checking his pulse, though Jamie had no idea why. One of her hands was on his cheek and she was directing his eyes to look at her own. 

Whisky. She had whisky eyes. Caramel but lighter. And swimming with life. Like molten lava, swirling depths that someone (Jamie) could get lost in. 

“I’m fine, Sassenach. I’ve had worse. Can I sit up?”

Claire reluctantly sat back and let Jamie sit up slowly. The initial pain was subsiding, all that was left was a throbbing where he was sure a bump was forming. 

“Are you okay?” The concern in Claire’s voice was evident and he hoped that none of the lads surrounding them would pick up on it.

“Aye- Just a bump. Is Simon alright?” Jamie asked, looking around.

“Aye Jamie, I’mnae hurt, ye went down like a sack o’ tatties though,” Simon replied from beside him.

“Yer head’s like a pound o’ rocks, no surprise I went down. Can ye no’ aim for the ball next time?” Jamie laughed as he stood up, Claire’s hawk eyes watching him carefully.

“Yer head’s sae round, ye cannae blame me for the mix up.”

“'Haud yer wheesht,” Jamie shook his head at Simon as the bell rang and the crowd that had surrounded Jamie when he fell started to disperse.

“I have no idea what both of you just said to each other,” Claire said as they left the field together to collect their bags.

“Och, it was nothin’, just banter.”

“It was like you were speaking another language,” Claire grinned as she swung her bag over her shoulders.

“Aye- Scottish. Ye’ll have to get used to it around here, given yer proximity to the Scottish… in Scotland.”

--

Jamie dropped Claire to her history class, (he could see her getting more and more nervous as they approached) before he left for his double PE Class.

He’d located the Hunter Twins and introduced Claire to them before he’d left, so hopefully they would help her out and introduce her to a few more students.

Mr Langford, similar to the other teachers, had written the course outline on the whiteboard and was waiting for his students to take their seats.

The first of the double period was spent outlining the coming term (sports injuries) as well as deciding on the sport they would play for the physical aspect of their class (football). As always, their double period would be split between theoretical and physical. The first period being the theoretical. Jamie felt on edge, maybe it was getting hit in the head or maybe it was being away from Claire but as soon as the bell rang for the last period of the day, Jamie was up and out of his chair ready to let loose on the field.

He chuckled to himself as Mr Langford had them run two laps of the oval as a warm up- Claire’s voice echoed in his head about PE being just about running laps. Jamie still had more nervous energy bubbling in his system, the warm-up hardly making a dent in his pent up adrenaline and so when they actually started some training drills, Jamie threw his all into it.

He was lucky. He certainly had good genes that helped him with a lot of his sport, but working on a farm and having a paper route afforded Jamie the ability to keep in extremely good shape. Many of the other students in the class couldn’t keep up with him, except for one lad who had clearly been training over the summer - Tom Christie.

Jamie and Tom had grown up together and there was a sort of friendly rivalry between them. Both very intelligent and also skilled sportsmen, they should have been best friends, the only major difference between them came down to money. Jamie’s family weren’t exactly rolling around in wealth, but they were comfortable. Sure there had been occasions where Jamie had had a smaller birthday or Christmas than he would have liked, but he was never wanting for anything.

Tom however, came from extreme wealth. Jamie was sure that he had never “wanted” for anything in his life, though he seemed to “want” everything. He always came to school with the newest, most expensive shoes that one could buy. He spent his weekends either at his family’s elite horse riding club, or flaunting his exorbitant wealth. Jamie was sure that Tom wasn’t aware that he had a lot of money. One of the perks of growing up around a lot of money was that people that did never really recognised that they had it. Things that Tom took for granted (a lunch from the school canteen, new clothes) Jamie saved and scrounged to have (home packed lunches of leftovers from the night before and sometimes his father’s hand-me-downs). Where Tom trained in his family’s private gym and rode only the most expensive pure-bred horses from a championship race winner, Jamie hauled bales of hay on the farm and jumped on the back of demon horses to try and train them. Both were effective methods of getting fit and training, there was no question, however arguably one was significantly better than the other.

Jamie didn’t begrudge Tom for having money, that was none of Jamie’s business, it was just that Tom was so obtusely unaware of how privileged he was. They got along fine, but Jamie knew that they would never be friends. They were friendly enough with each other, but no, they would never be friends.

It was because they were so evenly matched that Mr Langford always put them on opposing teams. Jamie was competitive- he liked to win, but there was something so satisfying in winning against Tom. For all of Tom’s money, he couldn’t buy Jamie’s talent. Yes, Tom was quick on the field, and he could maneuver the ball without much trouble but Tom had really only been intensely training for the past few years. Jamie had been in training since he could walk and hold a pitchfork. There was something to be said about someone's agility being built over the fear of being kicked by a horse rather than strategically jumping over cones.

Mr Langford blew the whistle and Angus kicked the ball backward to Jamie who tore down the field before passing it back to Angus. Tom stood back at centre staring dumbly at the place Jamie had been a moment ago before he shook his head and ran after the ball.

--

Jamie had been running constantly for the past 20 minutes, trying to pass the ball to as many of his players as possible. The other issue with Tom, that Jamie had studied over the years, was that he liked to do things himself- often to his own detriment. Tom assumed that Jamie was the same way and continually came at him for attack, only to be caught off guard when Jamie would pass the ball to one of his team mates. It didn’t always work out in his favour- the ball would be stolen by the other team and Jamie would have to work hard to get possession of the ball back to his team, but there was no denying that Jamie’s team had dominated Tom’s.

Jamie could see the frustration rising in Tom as Angus stole the ball, passed it to Phillip Wylie, who missed it entirely, to then be picked up by Jamie and passed back to Phillip. No one expected Phillip to score a goal, but with Jamie and Angus’s help, he did and Phillip nearly collapsed with relief. Mr Langford called the game to a halt and gathered his students.

“Alright. Ye certainly ken how to play well enough. I’m seein’ a lot of good things oot there, but ye are’na playin’ as a team.” Mr Langford looked directly at Tom as he spoke and Jamie couldn’t help but smirk as Angus nudged him in his ribs. “Right, we’re gonna finish off the day with some drills. Jamie, be a lad and run these cones out for me.”

--

After a painful session of drills (of which the competition between Tom and Jamie seemed to intensify) Jamie was well and truly pooped. He collected the cones and balls for Mr Langford with Rupert and Angus in tow, dumping the gear in the equipment sheds as the bell rang, signalling the end of their first day.

Jamie picked up his school bag and swung it onto his back as Rupert and Angus gave a play by play of the competition between Jamie and Tom.

“And then when ye overtook him at the final cones, I thought he was goin’ tae explode. Ye should’ha seen the face he gave ye,” Angus laughed loudly.

“I’m goin’ tae ask tae be on yer team next time we play. Tom does’na pass the ball tae anyone, it’s infuriatin’. Ye ken I would’ha scored if he passed it to me before Langford blew the whistle,” Rupert complained.

“Competition is certainly on between the two of ye- I thought it might’a died down after last year,” Angus hummed in contemplation as the trio walked together.

“‘Cause I’m so much older and wiser?” Jamie laughed as they rounded the corner.

“Yer aff yer heid if ye think that they will’na try tae kill each other in e’ery class,” Rupert snorted as he shook his head.

“Ah umnae tryin’ to kill the lad, truly. It’s just pure dead brillian’ seein’ him lose at somethin’ he thinks he ought tae win,” Jamie replied, his voice softening at the end as he saw Claire walking toward him.

“Och, it’s his girlfrien’, best leave him be,” Rupert commented seeing the reason for Jamie’s sudden change in tone.

“She is’na my girlfriend,” Jamie bit back, smacking Rupert over the back of the head as Angus started to sing ‘Claire and Jamie, Sitting in a Tree’. “Haud yer wheesht!” Jamie yelled as Angus ducked out of the way of Jamie’s fists, cackling with laughter with Rupert as they left him alone to face Claire.

“Hi,” Claire greeted happily as Jamie saw both Rupert and Angus make kissing faces at him behind Claire’s back.

“How was history?” Jamie asked as they fell into stride with each other and out of the school gates.

“Rachel and Denzel were nice, they sat with each other, which was fine. I sat next to a girl, Emma I think her name was. She didn’t say much. Mr Randall was the teacher again, he recognised me from English, but didn’t make me introduce myself to the class, which was good. You’re right, I didn’t really have anything to be nervous about. You know when you were a kid and they made you introduce yourself to the class and it would be like, say your name and something about yourself starting with the first letter of your name. I always hated that game. Thank goodness we’ve moved on from doing things like that. Anyway, I also met Frank Randall, the guy you told me about, his Dad is Mr Randall. Imagine having your father as your teacher. I can’t imagine anything worse.” Claire spoke quickly and happily. 

Jamie relaxed. When they had hung out (however briefly it was) over the summer, Jamie had noticed that when Claire was particularly excited over something she spoke rapidly. It brought Jamie a sense of comfort that her first day at a new school hadn’t been a total train wreck. 

“I could see you in your PE class out of the windows,” she continued on, not waiting for Jamie’s acknowledgement. “You did laps,” she said smugly. 

“Aye, for warm up.” Jamie grinned. 

“You’re very fast out there. I saw you running. Of course I was a fair way away, but it looked fast. Who was the blonde guy that was trailing you?”

“The blonde guy?” Jamie repeated feeling his heart thump heavily in his chest, though he wasn’t sure why. “Oh, that’s Tom.”

“He was right on your heels the whole time. Even in some of the… you know the things you were doing at the end. The back and forth thing,” Claire said using her hands to try and illustrate her point. 

“The drills? Aye, we keep on top of each other most of the time.”

“Are you friends? Do you train together?”

Jamie let out a chuckle as he shook his head. “No, I would’na say that we were particularly close. There’s always been a bit of competition between us. We just like to get the best of one another as much as we can.”

“Oh,” Claire hummed, “why?”

Jamie paused as he thought it over. It was just what they had always done, for as long as he could remember. “I dinnae ken to be honest wi’ ye,” he said as he rubbed the back of his neck. “We just always have.”

“Is there a definitive winner?”

“No’ always. I’m a faster runner than Tom, but he’s got better footwork for football. He just needs to learn to share the ball. We’re pretty evenly matched in the pool, I think. It’s been a while since we’ve raced,” Jamie shrugged trying to think if there was something that truly separated them in their skills. 

“Do you get along at all?” Claire asked curiously. 

“Och aye, we’re fine. It’s all in good sport,” Jamie smiled over at her. “It’s just something we’ve always done since we were wee bairns.”

“It sounds exhausting.”

“It’s truly all in good fun, we all have our strengths and weaknesses.”

“What’s yours then?” Claire asked as she stopped and made Jamie face her. 

“What’s my weakness?” Jamie clarified as Claire nodded. “You” he nearly answered before he stopped himself. “If I told ye that lass, I’d have to kill ye.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Claire laughed before she started walking again. 

“So the first day of school was’na too bad then?” Jamie asked as they approached her front gate. 

“Not nearly as terrifying as I thought it would be. I think I can thank my guide for that,” Claire answered as she made her way to her front door. 

“Yer welcome, Sassenach. Happy to be at yer service.”

“My service, hey? Could you come in and make me some dinner while I relax in a bath?” Claire joked as she unlocked the front door. 

Jamie tried to ignore the immediate visual that came to his mind of Claire slippery and covered in bubbles as she had a bath and he cleared his throat to try and stop the inevitable break that would come when he tried to use his voice to reply. 

“Unfortunately this is where my services stop. I have to get home and finish my chores.”

“Didn’t you have chores this morning?” Claire asked in surprise. 

“Aye, that’s the joy of livin’ on a farm. The work ne’er stops. I’ll be here tomorrow mornin’ same time to pick ye up,” Jamie said as he picked up his bike from where he had parked it that morning. 

“Oh, okay then. I will see you tomorrow.” Claire sounded slightly disappointed and Jamie couldn’t help the smile that came to his face. 

“Bye Claire.” Jamie wheeled his bike back out of the front gate and started pedaling away, sure that he had heard a faint “bye Jamie” in return from Claire. 

Chapter Text

Saturday. The first week of school was finally complete. Claire had made it through with the help of Jamie and his friends, making a few of her own (the Hunter twins, Louise de La Tour, Frank Randall, and to Jamie's dismay- Tom Christie). She seemed to be fitting in well and as soon as his friends had had their fun with her posh accent, they had accepted her as one of their own.

Homework had piled up despite it being only the first week back and after Jamie finished his Saturday paper run and his morning chores (and a quick visit to the Demon Horse Donas) Jamie was spread out at the kitchen table with his Physics homework. Jenny was making jars of plum, raspberry and blackberry jams, occasionally singing along to the soft music of Fleetwood Mac playing in the background. Jamie studied his current question, twirling his pen in his fingers as he thought it over.

Problem 2.19
Jules Verne in 1865 suggested sending people to the Moon by firing a space capsule from a 200-m-long cannon with a launch speed of 10.97 km/s. What would have been the unrealistically large acceleration experienced by the space travelers during launch? Compare your answer with the free-fall acceleration 9.80 m/s2.

“What’s the question?” Jenny asked looking over at Jamie as the various jams bubbled away on the active top.

“It’s physics, acceleration patterns,” Jamie mumbled before he started to write some rough notes.

“Ye look like yer brain’s about to explode,” Jenny laughed as she turned back to the stove.

“Aye, I think I got it,” Jamie replied absentmindedly before scribbling out his previous answer and correcting his math.

They both worked in companionable silence as the music continued to flow through the kitchen. Jamie paused, looking up at Jenny as she sang along (Rhianna). It had been so long since they had simply enjoyed each other’s company and Jamie realised how much he missed it. They’d both been so busy with the farm and their own lives, that they had lost the joy of just being with each other. It didn’t matter that each were doing their own thing- simply being in each other’s company was a pastime sorely missed by Jamie. A time when Jenny wasn’t trying to parent Jamie and Jamie wasn’t trying to rebel against his sister.

“What’s wrong?” Jenny asked with her back to him, no doubt feeling his eyes on her.

“Nothin’,” Jamie grinned as he looked back down at his notebook.

“What are ye starin’ at?” Jenny asked as she turned around and Jamie could hear the amusement in her voice.

“It’s nothin’, we just have’na spent time like this together in a while. It’s good,” he mumbled somewhat embarrassed as Jenny made a satisfied grunt in acknowledgement.

“Aye, I ken.”

They both looked up at the sound of a knock on the front door, before looking at each other in confusion. Not many people came in through the front door; not many people who knew the Frasers anyway. More often than not people announced themselves as they walked in through the kitchen door.

“I’ll get it,” Jamie said as he stepped away from the table rubbing a hand tiredly over his face. “Could use the break anyway.”

Jenny nodded in acknowledgement before taking one her jams off the stove to cool.

--

Jamie opened the front door and was surprised to see Claire standing in front of him.

“Sassenach,” he greeted in surprise as Claire smiled at him.

“Jamie, I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” she said blushing slightly. Jamie was wearing his ratty house clothes after a busy morning and he adjusted the hem of his old rugby jersey nervously.

“Not at all, I was just doin’ some homework. Come in.” Jamie stepped to the side as Claire passed him into the house. She smelt like… green- was the first word that came to Jamie’s mind- as if she had just risen out of freshly turned earth.

“I was in the kitchen with Jen,” Jamie said from behind her as he closed the door.

“If you’re busy I can go. Sorry, I didn’t mean to turn up unannounced, even though that’s exactly what I’ve just done. It’s just that I don’t have your phone number and I thought you might have finished with your chores and you might want to hang out, but if you’re busy I can go. I mean I have your house number, but not your mobile. Do you have a mobile? I was just sitting at home and I was bored and I thought that you might be bored as well so I walked over here. I should get a bike because it was much farther than I thought it was, but it’s a nice day out so it wasn’t so bad. But if you are busy I can go.” Claire spoke quickly, hardly taking a breath between one thought and the next, and barely letting Jamie respond as she made her way to the kitchen when Jenny turned around.

“Claire!” Jenny greeted happily as she wiped her hands on a tea towel before trotting over to hug Claire who looked slightly taken aback by the welcome but hugged her back nonetheless.

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything.” Claire’s voice was much softer than when she had been speaking to (at) Jamie and Jamie put it down to nerves at seeing Jenny again.

“Not at all. Jamie was just finishing up his homework, weren’t ye?” Jenny answered as she raised a meaningful eyebrow at Jamie.

“Aye, physics has had enough of my time for a Saturday,” Jamie nodded as he flipped his unfinished homework closed.

“Ye should take Claire around the property, show her the farm, she has’na seen it in daylight,” Jenny encouraged as she turned her back to the pair, clearly having decided their activity for them.

“Unless ye wanted to go somewhere else or do somethin’ else?” Jamie asked as he rubbed the back of his neck nervously.

“That sounds perfect,” Claire answered with a slight blush to her cheeks.

Jamie ran quickly to his room to change into something a little more… well, a little more presentable. He didn’t care what his family saw him in, but he did care what Claire thought. She was wearing denim shorts and Jamie briefly worried about her pearlescent skin burning in the hot summer sun. Long slender legs with shorts that accentuated her small waist and shapely arse.

Upon returning to Claire who was waiting patiently for him in the hallway, he offered her some sun protection lotion and she took it gratefully explaining again, that the walk was much longer than she had thought- and the sun much hotter.

He tried not to look at her as she rubbed the lotion on her skin, he knew that there was nothing even remotely provocative about the way she was massaging the sun protection onto her body however, there was something so inherently sexy that Jamie could feel his cheeks flushing as he watched her. He felt indecent and immediately turned away from her to rub some onto his face. Perhaps try and disguise the red of his cheeks as rubbing his skin rather than from his indecent thoughts.

Thank the lord that Claire couldn’t read his mind. He was ashamed of the improper thoughts about her and would be mortified if she ever knew how often his body reacted to her.

When his father had given him “the talk” (a paralysingly horrendous ordeal for the pair of them) he had said that Jamie’s body would react to what he was attracted to, and sometimes without him even realising it. Sometimes when Jamie was least expecting it, or even a simple thought that usually he wouldn’t have even considered to be remotely sexual- his body had other ideas. That brought him some comfort at least. While he was largely in charge of his body, limbs and reactions, thanks to teenage hormones, there was also a lot of which he wasn’t in control.

His Da had also told him that when he met the right woman “he would know”. Jamie was sure that when his father had spoken with him, Brian meant years and years and years into the future. He didn’t mean right now. And so, although Jamie thought that he might be in love with Claire Beauchamp, he had certainly never been in love before, so how was he to know? Yes, she did things to his body, but love had to be more than that.

Other girls had given him a physical reaction of course. There was that one time that Laoghaire had worn a swimsuit- a two piece, that barely covered her body. Jamie had immediately looked away but not before he’d received an eyeful and his body reacted faster than his mind. The cold water that he had jumped in to avoid embarrassment had rapidly taken care of that issue.

Claire though, there was something about Claire. Just being around her gave him a hard-on, which was extremely unsettling when she was doing nothing beyond existing.

“Ready?” Claire asked as Jamie turned to face her. She was smiling at him brightly and he couldn’t help the swell of affection he felt for her. She still had some of the sunblock on her cheek, not quite rubbed into her skin.

“Aye, ye just have a bit of-” Jamie didn’t even think about it, he didn’t even hesitate, his hand was moving of its own accord. He gently cupped her chin while his thumb brushed lightly over her cheek.

Like pearl, satin, marble. Claire’s skin was smooth and Jamie found himself moving closer to her, his thumb making the same motion across her skin, though the mark had more than disappeared.

Her cheeks flushed as she met his eyes and his mouth dropped open, if nothing else to get some oxygen to his brain. Dhia, she was so beautiful, whisky swimming in her eyes, he was mesmerised. He could kiss her. He should kiss her. He wanted to kiss her. He needed to kiss her. Was time slowing down? What was that thumping noise in Jamie’s ears? His own heartbeat?

A cupboard slammed from the kitchen and Jamie could hear Jenny moving around and suddenly the room came back into focus with sudden clarity and Jamie stopped what he was doing. What was he doing? He couldn’t kiss her without her permission. He didn’t even know how she felt about him. She thought that they were friends, which they were, but still, you didn’t snog your friends.

“Lotion,” Jamie finished, “on yer cheek. I got it.” Taking a deep breath he took a rather large and somewhat unsteady step away from her and opened the door before striding purposefully out and readjusting himself surreptitiously.

She could never know the extreme effect she had on him.

—-

“Over there are the chickens,” Jamie pointed out as they walked casually through the back garden. “Ma had a wee vegetable patch over there. The horses are down on the back paddock at the moment, we could go see them?” He suggested without meeting Claire’s eyes. He couldn’t look at her after knowing the thoughts that went through his mind when she was putting on sun protection.

Claire nodded as she followed Jamie to the shed that housed most of the farming equipment.

“It’s a bit of a trek. We could take the bike,” Jamie said over his shoulder.

“I don’t have a bike,” Claire said with uncertainty as she followed Jamie.

“I dinna mean a push bike.” Jamie grunted as he heaved the roller door up to show his dirt bike. “This will be faster.”

“I can’t ride that!” Claire exclaimed as she saw what he meant, “I don’t know how.”

“Aye, but I do, all ye need to do is hang on.” Jamie smiled at her in what he hoped was a reassuring manner as he wheeled the heavy bike out of the shed.

“I… I’ve never been on a motorbike before,” Claire stammered as Jamie kicked the stand so that the bike was standing upright on its own.

“Weel, there’s a first for everything. This is just used for gettin’ about on the farm. I’ve been riding since a’fore I can remember. Ye’ll be safe with me- I promise. Jenny rides on the back all the time.”

“Do we… should we be wearing helmets? Or jackets?” Claire asked nervously as she took a step closer to the bike and reached out to touch it with a shaking hand, as if to reassure herself that it was real and wouldn’t jump start to life on its own and bite her hand off.

“Nah, not for riding around the farm. Trust me. I would’na let anything bad happen to ye.”

Claire looked between the bike and Jamie several times before she seemed to nod to herself and squared her shoulders bravely.

“Alright then.”

Jamie kicked the bike to life and he saw Claire flinch at the roaring sound.

“I promise ye- I will’na let harm come to ye,” he repeated, raising his voice over the rumbling of the bike.

Claire seemed to huff out a sigh before she gripped his shoulder tightly and swung her leg over the bike, sliding forward until she was pressed against him. He could feel the tension in her arms as she looped them around his middle and clung to him.

“And when you’re not there?” She asked with her breath on his neck as he fought not to shiver at the sensation.

Rather than give a response he released the clutch slowly, applied a little pressure on the accelerator and they were off with a high pitched squeal from Claire.

If Jamie had thought that seeing Claire apply lotion to her skin was enough to give him a hard-on it was nothing- absolutely nothing - in comparison to the feeling of her arms around him and her body pressed up against his back, vibrating with the bike. He didn’t go fast, or at least, he tried not to go fast. It usually took him a few minutes on the bike to get to the back paddock with the horses, but with Claire almost squeezing the breath out of him at every bump it took much longer. He didn’t mind. Every second spent with her body pressed against him, her breath on his neck, was a memory that would be burned into his brain forever.

She squealed (in delight or fear, he didn’t know) as they went over a small mound, the wind whipping through both of their hair. She laughed as he rounded the corner and she lent the complete opposite way, trying to counter the tilt and it took a little wobble for him to right themselves.

As they arrived at the back paddock fence two of the horses came trotting over at the sound of the bike. The sound of the bike meant one thing - food.

Jamie shut off the bike and Claire stayed holding onto him.

“Err, Sassenach,” Jamie cleared his throat. “Ye can let go of me now, we’re here.”

Claire scrambled off the bike (off Jamie) and stumbled slightly as she tried to stand.

“Are ye alright?” He asked as he stood the bike up.

Her hair was well and truly windswept, curls flying in every direction, her cheeks were pink with excitement and her smile was positively luminous.

“That was wonderful!” She said happily before she cautiously made her way to the fence between her and the two large horses.

“Aye, we can go faster on the way back if ye like,” Jamie offered, turning back to grab the bag of grain that was hanging off the front.

Claire beamed at him before taking another tentative step toward the horses.

“This is Molly and Shelby,” Jamie introduced as he pulled out a handful of pellets and offered it to the horses. “Molly has been wi’ us for about five years, Shelby we got last winter from a rescue shelter. She used to be real skittish around people but now she canna get enough. Can ye Shel?” Jamie patted the chestnut neck of Shelby while Molly sniffed around for more food.

“How many horses do you have?” Claire asked, standing slightly behind Jamie.

“Seven at the moment, but we’re just housing two of them for the shelter- Manny and Marcus. Shelby, Molly, Thistle, Percy and Donas are ours.”

“Donas?” Claire repeated looking thoughtful. “He’s the demon horse?”

Jamie grinned back at her. “Aye, tryin’ to train him at the moment. He could be great, he just needs a bit o’ discipline. It’s good to have him around the other horses. Someone must’ha done a number on him. Nearly took my arm off the first time I tried to pat him. He was all skin and bones then.”

“Do you rescue a lot of horses?” Claire asked as she bravely took a step towards Molly who immediately started searching for treats on Claire with great huffs from her nostrils.

“No’ a lot. We like to help out where we can. Da says he’d like to start trainin’ up horses to sell, but I think he gets too attached to let them go once they are. Thistle and Percy were Ma’s, they’re gettin’ on a bit now but I dinna think Da can bear putting’ them down. Still probably got a few more years in them yet.”

A screeching neigh came from across the field and a black blur started galloping towards them.

“That’ll be Donas,” Jamie sighed as blur picked up speed, heading toward them.

“He will stop, won’t he?” Claire asked nervously as Donas moved with no intent of slowing down.

“Aye, he just wants to show off.”

Donas did eventually stop after emitting a high pitched squeal from Claire as he ran directly at the fence before turning briskly and running a few laps back and forth. Molly and Shelby, to their credit, hardly flinched as he ran past them, snorting at them and throwing in a few bucks, trying to spook them. Claire had taken a few scrambling steps back from the fence and was somewhat hidden behind Jamie when Donas finally stopped.

“He seems very…” Claire paused as she thought over the word.

“Insane?” Jamie suggested as Donas stopped in front of him and started nuzzling Shelby and Molly out of the way.

“Spirited,” Claire laughed as Jamie held out some grains for Donas, who gobbled them up greedily.

“Aye, that’s certainly one way of looking at it,” Jamie agreed as he slapped Donas’s neck heavily.

“Where are the other horses?” Claire inched closer back to the fence, away from Donas, but closer to Molly.

“Probably right down the back. They won’t come up to the fence till around sunset. The rescue horses did’na have much space to run around, so they spend most of the time just stretching their legs, ‘cause they can. Percy and Thistle like to keep an eye on ‘em.”

“So, I assume you’ve been riding all your life?”

“Aye, since I could sit up straight. Used to sit in front of my Da and he’d ride us around the property. I thought I was so important, ridin’ round, checking on the farm. It seemed a lot more fun as a kid, but when ye can actually help out, everything becomes a chore. What about ye? Have ye ridden before?” Jamie pulled his hand away from Donas quickly as Claire gasped. The horse had gone for a wee nip when he realised that Jamie wasn’t offering any more food. “It’s fine,” Jamie shook off the question before Claire could ask it. “Ye learn to read the horses, and especially this beast. I ken well enough when he’s about to turn on me. So, riding?” He asked again.

“I err, once, a long time ago, with my parents. I was shockingly awful at it and have refused to get back onto another horse since,” Claire answered before tentatively reaching out and stroking Molly’s nose.

“Ye did’na like it?” Jamie asked in surprise, though his brain was spinning with the first time that Claire had voluntarily spoken about her parents.

“I didn’t feel like I was in control,” Claire answered shortly with a shrug.

“Aye, ye dinna like things being out of yer control. Ye’ve said,” Jamie nodded sagely as Molly huffed and Claire’s hands snapped back away from the horse.

“I was only seven at the time,” Claire defended. “If the horse wanted to kick me off, there wasn’t a lot I could do about it, except fly through the air and land.”

“Did it kick ye off?” Jamie asked with a smirk. There was something wildly entertaining about seeing Claire self-righteously angry.

“No, but it could have.”

“When yer riding a horse, ye need to show that ye are in control. That’s why I’m havin’ problems with Donas. He keeps thinkin’ that he’s the one that’s callin’ the shots, but he is’na. I’m the one tha’ put the saddle on him. I’m the one that can take it back off.”

“I was seven,” Claire repeated. “How’s a seven year old, that’s never ridden a horse before, know how to control it!” She exclaimed in exasperation as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Confidence. Fake it till ye make it, ken?” Jamie answered her rhetorical question happily. “I’ve been ridin’ by myself since I was four, trainin’ properly on them since I was six. It’s always been the same. If I believe I can do it, so does the horse. If I have doubts, so do they.”

Claire huffed and rolled her eyes at him.

“I’m serious. It’s why I’ve fallen off Donas so many times. If I doubt myself and what I’m doin’ with him, he’ll boot me as soon as he can. But I just have to pick maself back up and try again, he canna know that he got the best of me.”

Claire reached out to stroke Molly’s nose again and Molly huffed once more. This time Claire didn’t withdraw her hand.

“Bloody intelligent beasts,” Jamie continued as he rubbed Thistle’s neck (Donas having realised that there was no more food had wandered away to eat some grass at the edge of the fence). “And they’re loyal- trusting, once ye show them that ye can be too.”

“Are you?” Claire asked and Jamie saw her swallow heavily.

“Am I what? Loyal?” Jamie asked, turning away from her to look at Thistle. The conversation had taken a much deeper tone than Jamie was expecting and he felt that he shouldn’t look at Claire just now. Rather he should direct his attention to the horses in front of them, as if he was talking to Thistle rather than Claire.

“Can I trust you?” Claire asked softly and it took most of his willpower not to look over at her and read her thoughts from her face.

“Aye, Sassenach. I’d like to think so.”

--

Claire was quiet as they walked around the property. She stopped occasionally to study a plant, making small humming sounds as she thought things over before following Jamie again. It reminded him of when he had first taken her to the town and she had packed her bag full of various weeds on the way, wanting to study them again later. She seemed to be thinking over something carefully but wasn’t quite ready to talk about it. Jamie was more than happy just to be in her company and watch her as her eyes lit up over the wildflowers.

“How’s your paper route going?” She asked suddenly, appearing by his side as he leant against a tree, waiting for her to catch up.

“It’s fine. Keeps me busy, puts a little extra money in my pocket,” Jamie answered, pushing away from the tree. Claire had stopped to look at some mushrooms at the base and he paused waiting for her.

“Did your father want you to get a job, or did you want it?” She asked. Her hands had stilled over the plant, as if she wanted to look busy, but she was waiting on his response.

“Nah, he worried that I wouldn’a get my chores done as well as the route. But I wanted the extra money, and it does’na take long.”

“Why don’t you use the motorbike? Wouldn’t it be quicker?”

“Aye, it would, but it’s a farm bike. I’m not licenced to drive it on roads, strictly speaking.”

It didn’t look like Claire was going to move from the base of the tree, and as she looked back at him curiously, Jamie made up his mind to simply plant himself next to her and just ask her what she was thinking about.

As he plopped himself down and started pulling up chunks of grass, she sat down properly to face him. Though it seemed that he didn’t need to ask her what was on her mind because as soon as she made herself comfortable, words started streaming out of her.

“My parents never wanted me to get a job while at school. They said that studying is the most important thing and that they would worry about the money. Lamb says the same thing, but I don’t even know where I could even get a job in this town. I could run a competing paper route, I suppose, but I don’t think that your Uncle would be too thrilled about that?”

“Murtagh is’na my uncle,” Jamie inputted when Claire paused to take a breath. “He’s my godfather.”

“Lamb is mine. My godfather I mean. He’s also my uncle, but he’s my godfather. That’s why I’m with him now. Would you and Jenny go to Murtagh if something happened to your Father?”

Jamie shook his head, “No, Jen’s old enough to take care of the both of us now. Maybe a few years ago we would have, but no, not now.”

“I didn’t really see much of Lamb until I turned four-no-fifteen. He was always away. He decided that he was going to write a book so he came back to settle in Oxford with us. He hasn’t written the book yet, but I’ve seen a few drafts. It’s not bad.”

Claire was pulling individual blades of grass from the ground and wasn’t meeting Jamie’s eyes. Was this when he was finally going to find out where her parents were? He always wondered, but he didn’t want to push it- especially if something terrible had happened to them. He was about to ask when Claire continued.

“Moving here, to Scotland… it was supposed to be a fresh start… for both of us. He could start writing his book again and I… and I…” Jamie heard Claire’s voice thicken and he glanced up at her to see that there were tears brimming in her eyes.

“Claire,” Jamie said softly, dropping his handful of grass and taking her smaller, delicate hand in his own. “Yer safe wi’ me. Ye dinna need to tell me anythin’ ye dinna want to.”

Claire nodded, biting her lip before shaking her head, as if to shake away the tears. She didn’t let go of his hand.

“The psych- the doctors said that it would get better, that it would get easier. But… I’m so terrified that the moment that it starts getting easier- that I’ll start to forget them.”

“Tell me about them,” Jamie prompted. He surmised that her parents were no longer around, that much was clear, but the way that Claire was talking made Jamie wonder how long they had been gone.

“My mum,” Claire paused to sniff and her grip on Jamie’s hand increased for a moment, “she loves… she loved to laugh, and she has this… this ridiculous laugh that you can’t help but laugh along with her. She snorts a lot, which always makes me laugh more. She’s kind- to everyone- loves animals. It was her idea to take me horse riding. She’s smart, really smart and I’m worried that I’m not going to be as smart as she is- as she wants me to be. Julia. Her name is… was Julia.” Claire took a few moments to swallow and catch her breath before she continued.

“Dad was strict when I was a child. I don’t have a lot of memories of us together, but mum always told me that it was because he was working so hard for us. It wasn’t until I turned eight or nine that I really started understanding my dad. The first time he laughed in front of me, I couldn’t even join in. I was so amazed that he was laughing at something.” Claire sniffed and Jamie nodded along, though she wasn’t looking at him.

“He started… it was like he started to enjoy life and he finally let me see it. He’s stubborn, Lamb says that I get that from him. He expects great things from me, like the piano, school, everything and I don’t want to let him down. Though, I guess I can’t really do that now. Not much left to let down.”

Jamie cleared his throat quietly. “What happened to them?”

Claire shook her head as she bit her lip.

“Ye dinna have to say if ye dinna want to,” Jamie offered quickly. “We can talk about something else.”

“It’s fine. It’s just… They’re dead. People say pass away, but they didn’t pass anywhere. They died.” Claire’s voice shifted and was unnervingly devoid of emotions. It reminded him of how Jenny spoke about their mother sometimes.

“I’m sorry,” Jamie said softly, she was still gripping his hand tightly and Jamie found he couldn’t have let go of her even if he wanted.

“People always say that they are sorry, and… I don’t know, it just feels weird, doesn’t it?”

“I always thought that, at my mam’s funeral. All these people sayin’ “sorry for yer loss” and I remember thinkin’ ‘why are ye apologising? Ye didn’t kill her.’”

Claire laughed quickly and unexpectedly at that, a short, sharp shout that had her grinning and nodding at him. “I used to think the same thing. I think people just need something to say, so they say sorry.”

“Yer probably right.”

They both settled into their own thoughts for a moment, listening to the trees rustle in the wind, birds fluttering from tree to tree, calling out to each other, insects buzzing through the longer grass.

“Mum died first,” Claire said suddenly. “She was at work and collapsed. They thought she’d just fainted… but she had a brain aneurysm. It was so sudden and no one… there were no signs. Dad… Dad was home with me, when he got the call that she was on life support. He left me at home to go, said that he would call me when he got an update. He didn’t make it to the hospital. He pulled out of our street and… and he got hit, drivers side door. No drunk driver. Nothing. Just pulling out onto the street, just unlucky. I didn’t even know until the police sirens.” Claire sniffed and tears started to run steadily down her cheeks. “Both, in one night, separate accidents. What are the chances of that?”

“Claire,” Jamie gasped, “I’m so sorry.”

“The police came to the house to tell my mum that dad was in an accident. Instead they got me. I told them that it was a mistake, that my mum was in the hospital and dad was already on the way. I thought they’d just got their wires crossed. I’ll never forget when they realised what had actually happened. I could actually see the colour drain from their faces.” Claire shook her head and Jamie wished he had a packet of tissues or something to help dry her eyes. “One of them left to get on the radio and I knew that something was wrong.” Claire shook her head, as if she was trying to shake off the memory. Jamie couldn’t blame her.

“Lamb turned up the next day and I’ve been with him ever since.”

“How… how long ago?” Jamie struggled to speak around the lump in his throat.

“It will be 18 months on Wednesday.”

“Claire, I… I dinna ken what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything. Bad things happen all the time.” Claire tried to shrug but Jamie could see her trembling, her eyes glassy, and without thinking about it, he gathered her into his arms. It was like a dam breaking and she clung to him as she sobbed.

Jamie’s mind was racing. Both parents in one night. How could someone ever cope with that? Jamie couldn’t imagine. He could feel the tears from Claire soaking into his shirt but he couldn’t care less. He was gripping her tightly, tighter than he otherwise would have, as if holding her so close would hold her together. He could feel his own eyes welling with tears. They were sitting uncomfortably, Claire almost sitting in Jamie’s lap and his legs starting to go to sleep, but he wouldn’t have moved for anything in the world.

His mother's sickness had been long and drawn out and as much as Jamie hated himself for it, in the end he wanted her to slip away just so that she wouldn’t be in pain anymore. He had months to grieve while she was still alive. He got to say goodbye. Claire wasn’t given that luxury. It was all still so fresh to her. When she spoke about her parents, she spoke like they were still here. Jamie remembered doing that with his mother as well. It took many corrections from Jenny for him to finally switch into past tense about his mum.

Slowly Claire’s sobbing turned into shallow hiccups and then she was breathing deeply- her eyes dry. Jamie couldn’t find it in himself to let her go. They’d shared something so deeply personal, thatto let her out of his arms would feel like a tether between them, and he wasn’t ready for that.

“I dinna think ye’ll forget them,” he said softly into her hair. She was trembling. “I have’na forgotten my ma, I worry that I will, but there’s so much of her in Jen and in me that it’s impossible.” Jamie paused as a shudder ran through Claire and she sniffed. “I never met yer ma or yer da, but I daresay there’s a lot more of them in ye then ye give yerself, or them, credit for.”

Claire laughed, surprising Jamie and she slowly sat up, though she held onto his hand again. Jamie felt the separation from her immediately and wished that he could have held her for just a little while longer.

“Lamb says the same thing. I have the short temper of my father, but the same laugh as my mother.” Claire sniffed again and quickly wiped her eyes. “I look atrocious, don’t I?”

Jamie shook his head quickly. Her eyes were red and puffy, yes, but the golden flecks in her brown eyes shone brighter than he’d ever seen them. Yes, her nose was bright red and her lips puffy but he’d never wanted to kiss her more in his life.

“Ye look bonnie, Sassenach. Jus’ bonnie.”

Claire huffed out a laugh and shook her head, disagreeing with him. “You’re much too kind to me.”

“I’m just honest with ye, is all.”

Claire shook her head again, but at least she was smiling now. “Thank you. For letting me talk about that. I haven’t really… I mean, I talk to Lamb, but it was his brother, so it’s hard. But I… I needed to talk about it with someone that didn’t know them.”

“I would have liked to… know them I mean,” Jamie said truthfully.

“Me too.”

An easy quiet settled over the both of them as they wandered around the edge of the property. The kind of ease that can only be achieved by sharing something personal that allows you to actually be vulnerable in front of another person. Jamie felt like he understood Claire a little bit better now, though he still had a long way to go. Now he understood why she withdrew into herself and into her own thoughts.

He understood why the first day of school was particularly difficult for her. He understood why sometimes she wouldn’t want to hang out on the weekends. He finally understood what Lamb was talking about when he said that he wanted them to be careful and that she had been through a lot in the past few months. Claire had gone through more in the past year than most people faced in their lives.

Claire still stopped to look at various plants and weeds. Jamie was happy to wait for her as she plucked and picked various plants. She looked relaxed- more relaxed than he had ever seen her.

“I don’t... I don’t want the people at school to know- About my mum and dad,” she said over her shoulder as she picked a flower and smelled it. “I don’t want them to pity me or see me any different. If that’s ok.”

“Yer secrets safe wi’ me, Sassenach. I will’na say anything.”

Claire nodded in satisfaction before she was bent back down looking at other plants. She looked lighter than before, like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

Jamie remembered the first time he had really broken down and told someone how much he missed his mother. Murtagh had been helping with the horses and suddenly it was all too much for Jamie. There were too many memories of his mother in the stables for him to escape. He hadn’t spoken to anyone about his mother’s death since they had buried her. He thought that he had to be strong for his Da and for Jenny. He thought that it meant shoving everything he was feeling deep down and getting on with things. It was a terrible idea and one random day when he was filling a bucket with more food for the horses in the stables with Murtagh was the day that Jamie fell apart.

He could just picture his mother stroking the horses necks and speaking to them softly in Gaelic. Murtagh had been brushing one of the rescue horses and suddenly Jamie was huddled on the mucky straw filled floor sobbing and struggling to breathe.

He was sure that Murtagh had been thoroughly confused. One second Jamie had been refilling the food, the next he was gone.

A panic attack- that’s what Murtagh told him it was. All Jamie knew was that he suddenly couldn’t breathe, like a stone was sitting on his chest and he couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. Then he was crying and when Murtagh finally located him and asked him what was wrong, Jamie could barely speak. At first he’d thought he was having a heart attack, or maybe a seizure, but Murtagh had sat patiently with him until Jamie had calmed down and could breathe normally again.

They’d spoken about his mum then; about how she loved the horses, how the house felt empty without her, how much Jamie missed her, about how guilty Jamie felt for wishing she would just pass away because he couldn’t stand to see her in so much pain and now it was his fault that she was gone. Murtagh had listened carefully, injected his own stories about Ellen Fraser, but more than anything he let Jamie sit in his grief for a moment. He didn’t try to tell him that there was nothing for Jamie to be upset about. He didn’t try to fix any of Jamie’s guilt or pain. He simply let Jamie exist and work through everything he had been pushing down for months.

Once Jamie had exhausted himself, feeling lighter than he had in months, Murtagh stood up, held out his hand for Jamie and pulled him up from the grubby floor. He clapped Jamie on the shoulder, told him that he was proud of him and then promptly went back to his chores as though nothing had happened.

From that day, Murtagh had cemented himself as a confidant to Jamie. Whenever Jamie needed to voice his worries or his anxiety, Murtagh was always there, ready to listen. He hardly ever gave advice, he mostly just listened as Jamie came to the conclusion by himself.

Jamie wondered if Claire had that with her Uncle. Could she go to him when she needed to voice her fears? Perhaps not, as it felt like she had been shouldering the weight of her parents' deaths for a long time and after finally telling Jamie what had happened, she looked much happier.

Grief shared is grief managed- or something like that.

“Are ye ready to head back?” Jamie asked as the horse's paddock came back into view.

“I suppose, if you’re ready,” Claire answered shyly. Her hands were full of various plants she had collected from around the property- meticulously extracted from the ground to keep as much of the roots intact as possible.

“Weel, ye’ll be wanting to get them in water I suppose,” Jamie indicated the plants.

“Yes, of course… I just… how…” Claire stuttered as she looked between the bike and her plants.

“What’s wrong?”

“I need both hands to hold on so that I don’t fly off the back. I just… how do I get these back?” Her forehead creased in a frown as she tried to figure out how to hold the plants and Jamie at the same time.

Jamie laughed, he couldn’t help it. It was the look on her face. A mix of disappointment and confusing thoughts. “Ye can throw them in the bag with the feed. I’m sure the horses will’na mind a bit of dirt with their food.”

An embarrassed sort of smile appeared on Claire's face as she mumbled “oh of course”.

Jamie helped her with her plants, got her situated on the back of the bike, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist once more and with another squeal from Claire, they were off.

Chapter Text

“I think I’ve changed my mind about the bike,” Claire said breathlessly as Jamie parked the dirt bike back in the shed.

“Oh?” Jamie asked as he pulled the roller door shut.

Claire nodded excitedly and Jamie snorted with laughter.

He had done a few extra laps around the farm, increasing the speed from their first trip. They would have been back to the main house much sooner, but Jamie loved the feeling of Claire holding him tightly and her squeals as they rounded corners or bumped over the small mounds of the farm.

Her cheeks were pink and flushed and she had tied her wild curls away from her face. Claire’s eyes were still puffy from crying, but she looked lighter than she did before. Jamie handed her the various plants from the feed bag and she happily made her way back to the kitchen for a jar for the plants.

Jamie watched her walk away from him, feeling his heart thump irregularly in his chest. He had been trying to convince himself that he wasn’t in love with her, that he didn’t know what love really was, but watching her walk away from him, a slight skip in her step, Jamie didn’t think he could deny it anymore. He didn’t know if it was love, but it sure was something.

Perhaps it was lust, the way that his body reacted to her- and boy did it react to her. But there was something else about how Claire made him feel. Something deeper. Like she really saw him and Jamie hadn’t really felt seen by anyone since his mother had died, except for Murtagh. Even then, this was entirely different to how Jamie felt about Murtagh.

“Are you coming?” Claire called from the doorway before heading inside and Jamie shook his head briefly, realising that he hadn’t moved from watching her walk away. Hopefully she didn’t notice that.

---

Jenny had long since finished making jam in the kitchen and was sitting in the living room reading when Claire and Jamie returned. She happily fetched Claire an empty jar for her various plants before giving Jamie a knowing look and returning to her original position on the couch with her book.

“Did ye have a good time?” Jenny asked Claire, though Jamie felt it was more aimed at him. He hated the way his cheeks blushed and Jenny grinned at him before looking back to Claire.

“Absolutely. We went on the bike,” Claire explained as she sat opposite Jenny.

“Aye, I heard ye squealing yer way around the paddock,” Jenny teased and Claire’s face turned pink.

“That was me,” Jamie said as he leant against the doorframe. “Claire was holdin’ onto me so tight, I could barely breathe.”

Jenny rolled her eyes before engaging Claire in a conversation about something or other. Jamie wasn’t really paying attention. He was currently trying to figure out where he should sit.

Next to Jenny… he never sat next to Jenny if he could help it. Besides, she was reading and maybe she didn’t want him to sit next to her.

Next to Claire, well, there was definitely space on the couch, but she was on the two seater and Jenny was on the three. There was more room with Jenny, but again… he never sat next to her if he could help it. Maybe Claire wanted him to sit next to her, although he didn’t know what they were going to do next. Maybe he should turn on the television and watch a movie? Or perhaps a board game? Did Claire like board games? Jamie was a fair hand at chess, and he and his Da played almost every night, but perhaps Claire didn’t like chess. His dilemma of where to sit and what to do was interrupted (thankfully) by the phone ringing. Using it as a good excuse to stall his decision, he went to answer it.

“Lad, ye and Jen need to get to the Doctor’s as quick as ye can,” Murtagh’s voice spoke roughly through the phone.

“What’s wrong?” Jamie asked, his stomach dropping somewhere to his feet.

“Ye Da’s hurt himself at McNully’s farm. It’s no’ bad, but ye’ll need to go pick him up.”

“Da?” Jamie repeated stupidly as his mind hurried to catch up. “He’s alright?”

“Aye, just get there as soon as ye can,” Murtagh said gruffly before ending the call abruptly.

“Jen!” Jamie called through the house, trying to get his sisters attention. “Da’s been hurt, we have to go pick him up from the Doctor, Murtagh just rang.” Jamie heard the scrambling of two people before Claire and Jenny joined him in the hallway, both looking slightly panicked.

“Is he alright?” Jenny asked, picking up her handbag and searching for her car keys.

“Aye, Murtagh said it was’na bad, just that we need to go pick him up.”

“Right. Where are my feckin’ keys?” Jenny said hurriedly as she tipped the bag upside down in her search for them.

“On the kitchen counter,” Jamie replied, opening the front door for Claire. Her face was pale and she looked like she was about to be sick. “Claire, are ye ok?” Jamie asked in concern when she didn’t move.

“Your father… he’s… is he….” She stuttered and her eyes welled with water. Jamie could have kicked himself. She’d just spent the afternoon telling him about losing her parents and then Murtagh calls them with something about his Da with little to no explanation, only that he was hurt.

“Aye, he’ll be fine. Probably just sprained an ankle and canna drive himself home.” When Claire didn’t look at all appeased by his response, Jamie continued. “Truly, he will be alright. It’s farming. People get hurt all the time.”

“I should go… I should get home… I-”

“I found them,” Jenny interrupted as she rounded the corner holding her keys triumphantly in her hand. “Come on, Claire. We’ll drop ye home on the way.”

Jenny strode past them without a backward glance, while Claire and Jamie stood somewhat awkwardly in the hallway together.

“He’ll be fine, trust me,” Jamie said, holding his hand out to her. Just like the first day of school, everything always seemed to be easier when they were touching. Claire nodded stiffly before taking Jamie’s hand and squeezing it tightly.

“Dinna forget yer weeds,” Jamie reminded before they walked out the door and Claire huffed out a ghost of a laugh.

“They’re not weeds.”

--

Brian Fraser had indeed done something to his ankle- he’d broken it. Jumping off McNully’s tractor and into a rabbit hole, his foot had landed awkwardly and then his body followed.

“I’m alright,” Brian groaned as Jenny positioned him on the couch, propping his ankle up by almost every pillow and cushion they owned. “Stop yer fussin’.”

“Aye, weel, if ye looked down before ye jumped, ye might no’ be in this position, so ye can just let me fuss,” Jenny grumbled back as she handed him a cup of tea.

“No chance ye could add a little bit of flavour?” Brian asked hopefully, eyeing the whiskey on the cart nearby.

“No,” Jenny answered shortly before she left the room, grumbling something about men and their uselessness.

“Are ye alright, Da?” Jamie asked as he watched his sister go, the consequent sound of banging of pots and pans being handled a little rougher than necessary in the kitchen following her. Whenever Jenny was annoyed, angry, or needed a bit of peace from the men of the house - she baked. This was clearly one of those times.

“Aye, I’m fine. Should have known about the rabbit hole. McNully’s farm is full of the blasted creatures. I got his tractor workin’ though,” Brian replied before taking a tentative sip of the tea Jenny had made him. “No chance ye could add some flavour here, son?” He asked, his blue eyes twinkling.

“If ye think I’ll cross Jen for ye when she’s in a mood, ye have another thing comin’,” Jamie shook his head as his father rolled his eyes at him.

“Yer mother would have given me whiskey,” Brian sighed dramatically as Jamie snorted with laughter.

“She would have given ye a scaplin’ for getting yerself hurt,” Jamie disagreed as Brian smiled happily.

“Aye, yer right.”

The two men sat in silence for a moment, Brian sipping his “flavourless” tea and Jamie wondering how to tell his father what was on his mind without either dying of embarrassment or chickening out half way through.

“What are ye thinkin’ about?” Brian asked, seeing the worried look on his son's forehead. “Ye look like yer fit to burst.”

“It’s nothin, Da,” Jamie shrugged awkwardly. They’d always had quite a good relationship. They were both stubborn as mules and when they each got their danders up, well, explosive was a bit of an understatement. Add into that Jenny and sometimes it was lucky that their house was still standing. Jamie supposed that he was quite like his father in a lot of ways. He always wanted to be just like him when he was growing up, following him around the farm, watching him work. They’d always spoken relatively easily with each other, Jamie felt like he could go to his father if he needed advice or a second opinion- that was until Jamie’s mother had died. A wall went up around Brian and he was less approachable than before. He tried, Jamie knew that he tried to be the same man that he was before, but losing someone- losing a piece of your heart was a hard place to come back from. It was why Jamie would prefer to confide in Murtagh. He was separate from most situations but understood Jamie in a way that his father used to.

“I was thinkin’ of getting a phone,” Jamie said quickly and Brian’s eyes flashed over to his son.

“What for?”

“Playin’ games and lookin’ at naked ladies,” Jamie replied sarcastically. “I’m 16 now, I think it’s time that I had somethin’ like that. All the lads at school have one, and with me doin’ the paper route and school, I think it would help.”

“Aye, and who’ll be payin’ for this phone of yers?” Brian asked as he eyed his son suspiciously.

“I would,” Jamie answered.

“And this does’na have anythin’ to do with the new lass in town?” Brian asked as his mouth twitched in the beginning of a grin.

“It has to do with the fact that I’m growin’ up and it will be a lot easier to keep track of me, if ye can call me.”

“Aye,” Brian agreed, smiling at his son now. “Sounds like a braw idea.”

Jamie sat back on the couch happily. He would need to ask Jenny to drive him into the larger town to actually purchase said phone, but it was one more step toward his independence. Now he just needed to talk to his Da about the thing he was the most nervous about, though he had a suspicion that he already knew.

“That Claire lass seems nice,” Brian continued on, snapping Jamie out of his thoughts. “Her Uncle’s a wee odd, but seems like a good bloke.”

“Aye, she is, they are, both of them - nice, I mean,” Jamie answered. His fingers found a loose thread on the shirt that he was wearing and he started to fiddle with it.

“Jen said that Claire was around earlier,” Brian tried again. He wasn’t looking at Jamie, rather he was staring at the wall, as if he had suddenly seen the most interesting thing and was addressing that, rather than Jamie.

“Aye, took her around to see the horses, and a wee bit of the farm.”

Brian grunted in acknowledgement but didn’t say anything further. He left the space open for Jamie to tell him what was on his mind, Jamie just needed to swallow the lump in his throat first.

“Did… ah… did Lamb tell ye about her parents?” Jamie asked quietly.

“Aye,” Brian murmured in response. “Awful thing to happen.”

Jamie nodded, “Claire… she only told me about them today. I did’na ken before.”

“The lass has been through a lot. I’m glad yer makin’ her feel welcome. It must be hard movin’ to a new place after somethin’ like that. Lord knows what would happen if the ol’ hens in town would say if they found out.”

“I dinna plan on tellin’ anyone else, Da,” Jamie replied defensively.

“I did’na say ye would.” Brian shook his head thoughtfully. “I just want ye to… well… ye ken what it’s like to lose a parent, and a brother. Word travels quick in town and ye remember what it was like to have people in the street tell ye how sorry they are.”

Jamie nodded uncomfortably at the memory; weeks of people approaching him on the street, the old women trying to hug him, the men clapping him firmly on the back. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Everyone knew Ellen Fraser and Jamie wondered if it would be different for Claire because nobody had met her parents. Still he remembered the pity in everyone’s eyes as they watched him go about his life and it used to drive him mad. He didn’t want that for Claire. Speaking of Claire… he didn’t know how to approach the subject with his Da. Though in all honesty, Brian Fraser seemed far too eager to keep bringing her up. Maybe it wouldn’t be as awkward as Jamie was making it out to be. He was wrong.

“Da,” Jamie began nervously. “About Claire… well about Mam.”

Brian hummed in acknowledgement.

“Ye always told me and Jen and that as soon as ye saw Mam, ye kent that ye wanted to marry her…” Jamie twisted and pulled at the thread of his t-shirt. He couldn’t look at his father right now, but he could feel his face flaming bright red. “How did ye ken?”

Brian hummed again, but it was a happy sound, like he was remembering the first time he saw Ellen McKenzie. He seemed to get lost in the memory for a moment before he shook himself slightly and answered Jamie’s question.

“Honestly son, I dinna ken. I saw her and it was like… everything made sense. Asides, yer mother was a fine lass, so every lad that saw her thought that she was beautiful. It wasn’t just love at first sight though, as much as I tell ye both that. It was when she spoke, the first time I heard her voice, it was like… I canna explain it to ye, Jamie. It was like everything clicked. I told Murtagh that I would marry her one day and Murtagh did’na believe me. Every lad thought that when they saw yer Ma. Murtagh included. But I kent it. From the moment she opened her mouth and called me out for staring at her, to the first date when she kissed me goodnight. I kent that I would marry her.”

That didn’t answer Jamie in the slightest and he huffed in frustration which made Brian chuckle.

“I truly canna explain it to ye, lad. I just kent that she was the lass I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”

“But did ye… a’fore Ma, did ye date anyone else?”

“Aye, a few lasses, and they were fine, thought for a while that I might marry Loita McKenzie-”

“Loita McKenzie?” Jamie interrupted. “Laoghaire’s mother?”

“Aye, we dated throughout highschool,” Brian chuckled at the memory as he shook his head.

“So what was… how did ye…. What was different between her and Ma?” Jamie pressed. His father had just admitted for the first time that he had loved someone other than his Mother. Brian Fraser had always made it seem like it was Ellen and no one else.

“I loved yer Ma, I did’na love Loita,” Brian said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, and Jamie thought he might very well hit his father.

“But ye said ye thought that ye were going to marry her,” Jamie argued.

“Aye, but I did’na ken what love truly was until yer mother.”

“That… I… what does any of that mean,” Jamie said in exasperation. It was like talking to the Riddler from the Batman movies Jamie used to watch as a young lad and he was getting annoyed. He just wanted a straight answer.

“The other lasses I dated, not that there were many mind ye, they… I liked them sure enough, was attracted to them, kissed ‘em and… ye ken.”

Jamie felt his face heat up with embarrassment as his father continued.

“But there was somethin’ missin’. I asked myself if I could see myself growin’ old with any of them and the answer was always ‘no’. When I first met yer mother and she cursed me out for starin’, when we went on our first date and she blushed when I pulled out her chair for her, I saw it all. I saw all of our lives in a second. I saw us married, with bairns, I saw us fightin’ and makin’ up. I could see every second of our lives, I could see every moment of my life, what was comin’ and she was there for every second of it.”

Jamie was silent for a moment, trying to figure out how this related to how he felt about Claire. The absolute truth of it was, and as terrifying as it was, when Jamie looked at Claire, he could see the same thing. He may be only young, but his life was mapped out for him. He grew up on a farm and would more than likely take it over from his father. When Jamie tried to imagine what the future would look like for him, Claire stood right there with him, a flourishing vegetable garden beside the both of them.

When he thought about university, the option to go to Edinburgh, study literature like he’d always thought of, there was Claire. Right by his side, wearing scrubs - she would study medicine, of course she would.

When he tried to think of his wedding day, he knew he'd be standing at the front of a church, wearing his father’s kilt and a new jacket. The woman that walked toward him had a wild head of brown curls that would simply not be tamed and she would be blushing something fierce while clutching the arm of her Uncle. It was Claire. It would always be Claire.

But he was only 16. He wasn’t meant to feel things that were this deep yet. He wasn’t supposed to be able to picture his future. Hell, he was sure that other lads his age weren’t thinking about their weddings.

“Ye were 18 when ye met Ma, aye?” Jamie asked carefully.

“Aye, just turned it.”

“Didn’t… weren’t ye… ye were pretty young,” Jamie said bluntly.

“Aye, but that’s the beauty of the Fraser stubbornness, ye ken,” Brian laughed. “When we ken what we want, we dinna let anythin’ stop us.”

Jamie smiled as he shook his head.

“But nah, yer Granny and Grandda, on both sides, were’na keen on the idea of us being wed so young. But that did’na stop us. We kent what we wanted and couldn’t really see the point in puttin’ it off.”

Jamie bit his lip as he tried to decide how much he wanted to tell his father about how he felt about Claire. They were still just friends after all. Sure he might be feeling something for her, but he had no idea if she felt anything for him, beyond their friendship. He wasn’t willing to risk the friendship that they had built because he couldn’t get his feelings for her in order.

“Gettin’ old is a blessin’ and curse sometimes, lad,” Brian Fraser said through a yawn. “Ye meet the love of yer life and ye get plenty of good years wi’ her. Ye raise yer bairns and ye love them wi’ all yer heart. Ye think that yer heart canna get any fuller, and the vision ye had when ye were just a lad is all comin’ true. But then ye lose her, and ye dinna ken how ye’ll ever be alright again. Ye grow old wi’out her and sometimes, wakin’ up… well, it’s hard to do. But I tell ye Jamie, I wouldn’t have traded anythin’ in the world for the life I got to live with yer Ma, no matter how brief.”

Jamie swallowed thickly and was about to reply when a soft snore escaped his father’s lips as he fell asleep on the couch.

While he felt like he knew his father a little better than he did before, he was still nowhere near closer to understanding the depth of feelings he had for one Sassenach that had turned his life on its head.

--

By the time Jamie arrived at Claire’s house on Monday morning to walk to school with her, he was in the possession of a brand new Iphone, and there was only one number that he really cared about getting. He knew that he was more than likely going to get a ribbing from the lads at school about finally getting a phone. They’d all received theirs from their parents when they’d turned 13, something about their parents wanting to keep and eye on them. Brian and Ellen had talked about it of course, but it was just that Jamie was so trustworthy. He always was home when he said he would be, they knew all of his friends' parents, having grown up with most of them themselves and there wasn’t anyone in town that wouldn’t lend Jamie their phone if he’d asked for it. They just didn’t see the point of it, and Jamie couldn’t either.

Anything that the lads wanted to tell him, surely couldn’t be so important that it couldn’t wait until the following day at school. They called him ‘mental’, showed him the games they played on their phones, the pictures they could look up online without their parents' knowledge, but still Jamie couldn’t see the point. Until, that was, Claire had asked him if he had a phone and for the first time, he was disappointed that he didn’t.

Now the weight of it was in his pocket and he couldn’t wait to show her, to program her number into it and begin texting her things that couldn’t wait until the following day at school and that needed to be shared in that very moment.

“Jamie,” Lamb answered the door brightly, a healthy five o’clock shadow growing on his face. “And how are you this fine morning?”

“Well, thank ye, sir,” Jamie answered as he dropped his bag by the front door and made his way to the kitchen to wait for Claire.

“You don’t need to call me sir,” Lamb reminded him. “It makes me feel old.”

“Aye, sorry.” Jamie smiled as he sat at the small kitchen table. He was expecting Lamb to wander off in the house, like he did on the other mornings that Jamie was early and had to wait for Claire. After the first morning that Jamie had picked Claire up for school (had it really only been a week ago?), Lamb had let Jamie direct himself to the kitchen and then went about whatever he was doing before Jamie arrived. Usually making a coffee or a tea, reading the news on his laptop, on Thursday he heard Lamb singing to himself in the lounge room. This morning Lamb followed Jamie into the kitchen and sat opposite, his hands clasped in front of him, an uncharacteristically serious look on his face.

“So,” he said carefully, scratching at the new stubble on his cheek. “Claire told me about Saturday.”

Jamie nodded and swallowed heavily, it felt like he was about to have “the talk” with Claire’s Uncle, which was something Jamie was entirely unprepared for at 7.30 in the morning.

“Is your father well?” Lamb asked in concern and Jamie felt a flush of relief flood through him.

“Oh, aye. He broke his ankle and will’na be walking wi’out crutches for the next six weeks, but aye, he’s fine.”

“Good, good. Claire was very worried on Saturday night,” Lamb said absentmindedly.

“It’s not the worst thing that’s happened to a Fraser on a farm,” Jamie assured Lamb. “I canna count the times he’s broken a finger or a toe over somethin’ silly. I’ve had my fair share of bumps and bruises myself. Part of livin’ on a farm.”

“She also said that you went to see your horses,” Lamb continued as if he hadn’t really heard Jamie’s response.

“Aye, we did,” Jamie answered cautiously.

“That’s good. Her father wanted her to ride, but she screamed her head off the entire time. She did love the animals from a distance, but as soon as Henry put her on top of one she completely lost it. A fair set of lungs on her, Claire has.” Lamb smiled at the memory and Jamie swallowed heavily again. If Claire told him about the horses, would she have told him about her-

“You know about her parents then?” Lamb asked, not waiting for a response before continuing. “How she lost them both in one night? Yes? She’s been through a terrible amount of grief in such a short amount of time. The move out here… she’s getting better, she’s beginning to look like herself again and I… Jamie,” Lamb’s eyes focused clearly on Jamie’s face now. Jamie tried to look back seriously but there was something unnerving about how intensely Lamb was looking at him. “I will not see her get her heart broken, do you understand me? I will not see her go through that… through the pain and grief like she has, again. She trusts you, she likes you and I can see that you bring out good things in her. From what I’ve seen you’re… well you seem alright to me. Do not make me question my judgement.”

Jamie nodded earnestly. “I wouldn’t… I would never do anything to hurt her.” He tried to shrug his shoulders nonchalantly, “She’s my friend.”

Lamb huffed a chuckle at that and shook his head. “I suppose so. Good talk!” he said, suddenly jumping to his feet and making Jamie start at the sudden movement. Lamb busied himself with the kettle while Jamie heard Claire’s heavy footsteps on the stairs.

“One week and I’ve nailed it. Da… Da... Da... Daaaa,” Claire sang as she rounded the corner. “I can do the tie by myself,” she announced, spreading her arms wide for Jamie and Lamb to see. It was a little uneven and the tail was too long but Jamie was so happy to her smiling brightly at him that it didn’t really matter in the end.

“Looks perfect!” Lamb declared as the kettle started to boil. “Best in all the land.”

“I know,” Claire agreed sarcastically. “I should take it up as a career. Professional Tie-Tie-er. I hear it’s a competitive field.”

“As have I, they only take the best my dear. The Best! Are you sure you’re up for it?” Lamb continued.

“When you have my raw talent,” Claire said, “it would be rude if I didn’t.”

“Hear, hear,” Lamb echod as he started to make a cup of tea.

“Ready to go?” Claire asked addressing Jamie who was smiling widely at the pair of them. It was moments like these that had Jamie falling more and more in… something with Claire. Her casual sarcastic humour, the way she spoke with her Uncle, the way her eyes seemed to sparkle when she was joking around. It reminded him of how his mother would laugh with his father and Jamie felt a not-totally-unpleasant heaviness in his stomach at the thought. He really did have very strong feelings for Claire.

--

“I have some news,” Jamie said as they walked to school together.

“Oh?” Claire asked as she shifted the bag straps on her shoulders.

“Aye. Ye asked me on Saturday... ye said that ye would have called me but ye did’na have my phone number,” Jamie reminded her as Claire nodded along in understanding. “Well, that was perhaps because as of yesterday, I did’na have a phone,” he continued.

“You didn’t have a phone? At all?” Claire asked in surprise.

“We have a landline at home, but no, I did’na.”

To Jamie’s surprise Claire started to laugh before she realised that Jamie was not laughing with her and pursed her lips to stop herself. “Sorry. I don’t mean to laugh. I’m just surprised. I mean… how?”

“I just did’na see the need for it,” Jamie shrugged uncomfortably.

“But you do now?” Claire asked as she raised her eyebrows at him.

“Aye,” he answered gruffly, far too embarrassed by the direction the conversation was taking.

“Let’s see it then,” Claire smiled, stopping and holding out her hand.

“What?”

“Let’s see this brand-spanking-new phone of yours. You’re going to need at least one number in it that isn’t your family, after all,” she said practically while Jamie pulled the phone out of his pocket. “No case,” she tutted as Jamie handed her the phone. “You’ll need a case, these break easily.”

“I dinna ken. I’ve never had one before,” Jamie answered as she clicked the screen to life.

“I have, and you’ll need a case. No passcode either. You should put a passcode on it. Stop people from getting into it when you don’t want them too. Seeing all your stuff.” She continued to critique all the things that he hadn’t done as she typed around on the screen. “No photos either.”

“I only got it yesterday,” Jamie defended himself as Claire held up the phone to face them.

“Come on, let’s take one.”

“Take one what?”

“A photo, obviously,” Claire answered in exasperation. “Come on.”

Jamie ducked down slightly, though she held the phone high in the air, angled down toward them. He’d seen a few of the girls at school take photos the same way. He jumped in surprise as he felt Claire’s curls tickle the side of his face as she moved closer to be in the photo with him with a slight huff. He heard the shutter go off, but he was looking at Claire, at how close she was, at the small crinkles at the sides of her eyes when she smiled.

“Look at the camera, you dork,” Claire laughed as she snapped another one.

“Aye sorry,” Jamie mumbled before smiling at the camera and hearing the shutter go off once again.

“Much better,” Claire said as she handed him back the phone and they continued on their way to school. “Now you have my number and some photos. You’re on your way to being a phone aficionado in no time.”

“Aye,” Jamie grinned, “Do you think there’s a career in that?”

“Oh definitely. You can join me in my Tie-tie-ing business. We’ll be millionaires before we even graduate,” Claire agreed happily as they approached the school gates.

“I canna wait,” Jamie said as he followed her into the school grounds.

--

“What’s this, what’s this, what’s this?” Rupert announced loud enough for people three kilometers away to hear. “Who’s phone you holdin’ there?” He asked pointing accusingly at the phone Jamie was about to pocket.

“It’s mine,” Jamie answered gruffly trying to stuff the phone into the pocket of his trousers.

“You!” Angus joined in, “You have a phone? Since when?”

“Since Sunday,” Jamie answered defensively. Claire wasn’t paying attention to them, having spotted Geillis and Mary was making her way over to greet them.

“What happened to “I don’t need one” and “what’s the point”?” Angus asked, with a terrible impersonation of Jamie. Rupert looked between Jamie and Claire, Claire and Jamie before he looked back, grinning widely.

“Lay off, it’s no’ a big deal,” Jamie grimaced as Rupert wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

“Aye, ‘tis,” Angus disagreed, completely unaware of the unspoken conversation that was happening between Rupert and Jamie. “Yer finally becomin’ a man. We’re all sae proud.” He pretended to wipe a tear from his eye and Jamie punched him in the shoulder.

“Well, give it here then,” Rupert laughed, holding out his hand expectantly. “Ye’ll be wanting yer best friends phone number in there.”

“I thought was yer best friend,” Angus said momentarily distracted as Jamie handed over his phone with a sigh.

“Aye, second best,” Rupert mumbled before clicking around on the screen. “Ye dinna have a passcode. Ye should have a passcode.”

“Aye, so I’ve been told,” Jamie said under his breath as Rupert passed the phone to Angus.

The phone went around the circle, each of his friends programming their number and giving Jamie a good ribbing for finally joining the current century. He thought that it was done and people would stop giving him shit for it, about to get his phone back from Mary when a female hand intercepted him.

“Is this yours, Jamie?” Laoghaire’s voice asked from his shoulder, making him flinch in surprise.

“Aye,” Jamie could feel himself blushing and he didn’t know why. He certainly wasn’t embarrassed, but he could feel Claire’s eyes on him and he just wanted her to look away for some reason.

“I did’na ken ye had a phone,” she said in surprise as she looked at it. “Ye’ll be wantin’ my number then?”

She phrased it like a question, Jamie was sure it was meant to be a question, but he wasn’t exactly sure how he was supposed to say no, because after all, it didn’t much sound like a question.

He shrugged in response, he supposed it was the safest answer and she almost squealed in delight as she programmed her number. She then rang her own phone explaining that then they would both have each other's numbers. Jamie nodded along dumbly, wondering if his phone alerted her if he deleted her number. The bell rang for the start of school and Laoghaire gave him back his phone, saying something about how he should have more photos and he pocketed it as he and Claire made their way to homeroom together.

“I didn’t realise that you having a phone would be the gossip of the school,” Claire smiled as they sat next to each other.

“Aye, I put it off for so long, the lads were bound to give me shite for it when I finally got one.”

“Not just the lads,” Claire said so quietly Jamie wasn’t sure he was supposed to hear her.

“Good morning all,” Mrs Fox said loudly as she called the class to attention. “Welcome to yer second week back, I trust the first went well.”

As she went through the roll call, Jamie could feel his phone buzzing in his pocket with new message notifications and he couldn’t fathom who would be texting him. His Da and sister both knew that he was at school and wouldn’t message him unless it was an emergency, and everyone else who had his number was currently sitting in the classroom with him. He couldn’t imagine anything had happened in the fifteen minutes since they had taken their seats was so urgent that they would need to text him. He looked covertly around the room. Angus and Rupert were both close to nodding off already. Claire was sitting next to him doodling on a piece of paper. Mary and Geillis were both giggling over something in Geillis’ diary. Louise was staring out the window, clearly not paying attention to anything that Mrs Fox was saying.

“And even though it’s only the second week, the Social Committee have already got their plans in place for the first dance of the year. A welcome back, as it were.”

Jamie noticed all the girls in the class sit up and pay a little more attention to Mrs Fox and he thought that he probably should as well.

“Ye all ken the rules, and I expect ye to be well behaved.” Her eyes narrowed at Rupert and Angus and she continued, “The dance is in two Saturday’s time. It should give you more than enough time to find a suitable outfit, and what does that mean? Weel, let me explain.”

Jamie let his mind drift off again as Mrs Fox explained what should and shouldn’t be worn at a school dance. He’d attended a few dances over the years. His first had been mortifyingly awkward and he didn’t move from the side of the school hall for 90 percent of the night. It was also when his father decided that having the “talk” was necessary so that added a whole other part of it. As he’d gotten older he’d lost more of his inhibitions and as long as he was with his friends, the dances could be more fun.

He’d taken Geillis once, as a date. They were friends though, nothing more, and it was one of the more fun dances that he’d been too. Geillis was hilarious and she was definitely the best person to ask at the time.

Jamie looked at Claire from the corner of his eye, she was still doodling on the side of her page, but she did look like she was paying more attention to what Mrs Fox was saying than before. Should Jamie ask her? Would that be appropriate?

Every cell of Jamie’s body wanted to ask her out, but he didn’t know if that was the right thing to do. He was still trying to figure out what he felt for her beyond friendship…. And the things that she did to his body whilst being painfully oblivious. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to ask her to the dance, maybe it would confuse him even more. But god, did he want to. He wanted to dance with her. To a slow song. They could make it their song. They could share a romantic song together and then they would play it at their wedding, for their first dance. Jamie stopped whatever the hell that train of thought was right in its tracks, and brought himself back into the room.

They were friends, and Claire was still very new to the school, it was only her second week. Of course he should ask her, even if it was just as friends. They could be there for each other, and Jamie could let his imagination run away with him some other time.

The bell rang suddenly and Jamie wondered how in the hell homeroom was over already. The girls immediately congregated by their bags and began gossiping about the dance and what they would wear. Jamie shouldered his bag, preparing to walk Claire to her first class when he was slapped on the back by Rupert.

“Got anyone in mind that yer goin’ to take?” He asked conspiratorially, directing Jamie away from Claire.

“Maybe,” Jamie shrugged casually as Rupert burst into laughter. “Maybe ye should ask Geillis,” Jamie suggested which seemed to shut Rupert up immediately.

“Aye,” he mumbled in embarrassment.

“Thought you’d left without me!” Claire’s breathless voice from behind Rupert and Jamie made them spring apart quickly, as if they had just been caught doing something that they shouldn’t.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Jamie said, feeling his cheeks heat up.

“It’s that your legs are so bloody long, one step for you is about fourteen for me.”

“Sorry, Sassenach.” Jamie slowed slightly as he smiled at her. “So… the dance,” he tried to bring up casually. “Ye think ye might go?”

“I don’t see why not. It seems to be the only thing that all the girls are going to talk about for the next two weeks,” Claire answered nonchalantly with a shrug of her shoulders. “Can’t say I’ve been to many dances before though, do you all do the… what’s it called, the Highland Fling?”

“Och, aye, ye canna go to a school dance wi’out first learnin’ the Highland Fling. Ye’d be laughed out of school,” Jamie said, strengthening his accent and making her smile.

“I might rethink my decision to go if that’s the case. I’ve never “Highland Flung” anything in my life.”

Jamie chuckled as he shook his head. “Nah, it’s pretty normal. The guys stand on one side of the hall, the lasses on the other. At some point one o’ the teachers start dancin’ and then because they look so ridiculous, everyone else joins in eventually.”

They arrived at their first class and began to take out their books, and Jamie felt his phone vibrate in his pocket once more.

“Christ almighty- I’ve only had this thing fer less than day and already it’s going to vibrate my leg off,” he said as he pulled it out to check who had been incessantly messaging him. Claire smiled as she carried her books inside the classroom and Jamie unlocked his phone.

8 new messages - Laoghaire McKenzie with a love heart emoji in the middle of her two names. Jamie rolled his eyes before they ran over the numerous messages.

- Hi Jamie! -

- It’s Laoghaire -

- But of course you already know that! -

- So glad you finally got a phone. -

- Now we can talk whenever we want! -

- Homeroom is boring -

- What are you doing at lunch? -

Jamie swallowed heavily at the latest message.

- A School Dance! I can’t wait! -

Chapter Text

Jamie sat in his usual seat beside Claire and set out his books. The teacher began speaking and Claire immediately started taking notes but Jamie’s mind was far beyond the classroom. He’d never really put much thought into a school dance before. He’d never really put much thought into asking someone. He wondered if Claire expected him to ask her. Did she think that it was unspoken that they would go together? They were friends after all. It wouldn’t be out of the ballpark for them to go together. Should he still ask her though? If she was expecting it, would she want him to ask her? It was more than likely that she would. He remembered dances past and hearing Geillis and Mary chatter away about the boy they hoped would ask them, and the others that had already asked and were now “off the market”. He should ask her. Clarify that it was just “as friends”. It didn’t need to be anything more than that. 

 

Jamie glanced beside him. A curl had already escaped the confines of her hair tie and she was tucking it behind her ear in frustration before she felt Jamie’s eyes on her and she turned her head. Jamie looked away quickly and tried to focus on what the teacher was writing on the board, but he was distracted as Claire nudged his arm and looked pointedly at the corner of her book.

 

Are you alright?  

 

The words were written in her clean handwriting and Jamie felt a swell of affection bloom in his chest and explode down his spine for her. She would never know the depth of his feelings for her- Jamie barely understood them himself- and why simply reading her words, asking if he was alright would have such an effect on him. He nodded briefly before he focused back on the whiteboard at the front of the room, and started to copy down some of the notes that he had in no way-shape or form been paying attention to. 

 

Claire nudged him again and he looked back at her book.

 

What’s wrong?

 

She’d crossed out the words above and underlined these ones, looking at him with her eyes narrowed. Jamie fought the urge to roll his eyes at her persistence as he pulled her book toward him and hastily scribbled back a reply.

 

Nothing, just zoned out for a second .

 

He watched as Claire’s hawk eyes scanned the words quickly before narrowing on him again.

 

Tell me about it after class

 

She made sure that Jamie saw her reply before she pulled her book back and began taking rapid notes again. Jamie couldn’t help the smile that tugged at the corner of his mouth as he watched her. Not much got past Claire when it came to Jamie, apparently. Except perhaps the way that he truly felt towards her.

 

He would ask her to the dance, he decided- and not just as friends.

 

 

The morning seemed to fly by and before Jamie knew what was happening, he and Claire were walking side by side to her Biology class. 

 

There was somewhat of an awkward quiet between them. Claire was evidently waiting for Jamie to say something and Jamie was very deliberately avoiding her eyes. 

 

“Are you nervous about the dance?” Claire asked, breaking the silence and nudging Jamie with her shoulder.

 

Jamie chuckled and shook his head. No, it wasn’t the actual dance he was worried about. It was the asking of a date- asking a friend, that had his stomach in knots. 

 

“You seem off,” Claire pressed, unwilling to let it go. “Was it the messages you were getting? Did something happen to your father? Is everything alright? Did you forget to do your homework? Did morning tea upset your stomach?” Claire started throwing rapid fire questions at Jamie and he had to speak over her to stop her from talking. 

 

“No, no, Claire, shh, no.” Jamie fought the urge to roll his eyes at her as she gave up with a huff. “The messages were from Laoghaire. She’s excited that I have a phone I guess,” Jamie said with an uncomfortable half shrug. “Excited about the dance as well,” he added as an afterthought. 

 

“Oh. I see. Yes. Well. Yes, of course.” Claire shook her head, as though she was trying to clear it, but Jamie didn’t see that. He was avoiding looking at Claire and instead watching as Frank Randall walked in a direct beline toward them. 

 

“Hi Claire, James,” he greeted them both happily, his cheeks flushed lightly. 

 

Jamie nodded in response with a tight lipped smile. Mr Randall insisted on calling Jamie “James” no matter how many of the other teachers called him Jamie and no matter how many times Jamie asked him not to. It seemed that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. 

 

“Hi Frank,” Claire replied happily, completely missing Jamie’s discomfort. Or perhaps she was ignoring it. For how impressively Claire managed to pick up on Jamie’s moods, she seemed to be particularly obtuse about his current disposition. 

 

“Interesting about the dance. They don’t usually do one so close to school starting, do they?” Frank fell into step with them as they continued across the courtyard to Claire’s classroom. 

 

“Oh? How many dances do you usually have? Is it a constant thing? Every month or something?” Claire asked curiously.

 

Jamie opened his mouth to answer her but Frank beat him to it. 

 

“Well, there’s usually the welcome back to school dance, but that’s, what... normally a month after we’re back. Not two weeks. And then there’s the Samhain dance- you know Halloween. That’s not really a dance. It’s more like… a gathering of sorts. Christmas obviously. And then nothing again until the Seniors have their farewell towards the end of the school year. But there’s also the fete that happens on the weekend, usually in May. Raises money for the school, with games and rides and things.”

 

“Quite a lot of activity then,” Claire commented. Jamie could feel her eyes on him, but he just shrugged and continued to look forward. 

 

“I suppose so. Keeps everyone quite busy through the year,” Frank continued, calling Claire’s attention back to him. “Seems that they are blending a few of the class years together for this one. They usually stagger it out so that they don’t have so many students all at once. But it looks like they are doing it in sections this time- the Juniors and then the Seniors. More options for the grades to mix I suppose.”

 

Jamie groaned internally. Perfect. That meant that Laoghaires’ year would be attending the dance with his- no wonder she was so excited. Jamie felt his phone buzz in his pocket again. So far he was not completely enjoying having a mobile phone. Though the one person that he did want to text was walking right beside him, so maybe he would reserve judgment for the time being. Jamie’s mind drifted as they walked to Claire's class and as they arrived at the room he focused back to whatever Frank was prattling on about. 

 

“- expect that there will be a lot of fuss over finding dates for this particular one.”

 

Jamie’s eyes narrowed as Claire put down her bag. 

 

“What with the years mixing I mean. Which leads me to ask…”

 

“I didn’t realise you had Bio with Claire,” Jamie stated, well aware of the fact that Frank did not in fact have Biography with her. Frank started to answer but Jamie interrupted him again. “I’ll see you after class, Claire. “I’ll be right here waiting for you.” 

 

There were several reasons why Jamie did what he did next. 

 

1- The fact that Frank Randall was surely about to ask Claire out to the dance. 

2- That he’d been wanting to reach out and tuck that stray curl back behind Claire’s ear since it had escaped her ponytail during class.  

3- He wanted Frank Randall to see that there was something between Jamie and Claire even if Jamie didn’t know what it was. 

 

However, if you asked Jamie directly why he did what he did, he would very honestly say that he had no idea what made him do it. 

 

Carefully Jamie reached out and gently brushed the curl from Claire’s cheek, feeling his fingers tremble as they feathered against the soft skin of her face. Time seemed to slow down as he tucked the curl, Claire’s eyes met his and it was like molten gold churning and bubbling away and the urge to kiss her had never been stronger. Carefully Jamie dropped his hand to her shoulder and squeezed it briefly. 

 

“Right here.” He repeated before he adjusted his own backpack and stalked off to class. His hand tingled, feeling like he had just received an electric shot. He chanced a quick glance back to where Frank and Clare were standing. Claire looked shell shocked at the intimate gesture and Frank was looking frantically between the two of them, trying to get Claire’s attention back. 

 

 

Jamie was exactly where Claire had left him, breathing a little heavier than normal after sprinting across the courtyard to be there as she left her class. He noticed that her cheeks pinked slightly when she saw him but she grinned nonetheless. 

 

“Everyone won’t stop talking about this bloody dance,” she said casually as they walked toward the field to have their lunch. “Geillis was a steady stream of consciousness throughout Bio about who had already asked who, what she was going to wear, what I was going to wear. It was ridiculous.”

 

“Aye, the lasses seem to get excited by it,” Jamie agreed as they walked to their lunch time spot together.

 

“What about the lads?” Claire asked as she tried to mimic Jamie’s accent. “Do they enjoy it as much?”

 

“Ye’d have to ask them. I’m sure Rupert and Angus dinna mind it so much... if they’re able to snag a date that is,” Jamie answered as he dropped his bag into the ground. 

 

“Will they get dates? Is that a thing here? Everyone has to have a date?” Claire asked as she delicately placed her own bag on the ground and sat next to it, removing her lunch. 

 

“They dinna have to,” Jamie said as Angus called out his name from the field. “Ye can go stag if ye wish.”

 

Claire hummed in reply as Louise, Mary and Geillis plopped themselves next to her, immediately calling her attention to their own conversation. 

 

Jamie looked down at the group of girls as Angus called his name again, waiting for Jamie to go and kick the ball with the other lads. 

 

No, you didn’t need a date, but that didn’t mean that Jamie didn’t want one. 

 

 

Jamie realised that he hadn’t actually eaten anything by the time the bell rang, signalling the end of lunch. He shook his head as he grabbed an apple from his bag and hastily stuffed it into his mouth. 

 

“Don’t choke,” Claire called as she was pulled away from him by Geillis. Jamie smiled back at her, his mouth full of the fruit with juice dribbling down his chin, making her laugh in response. 

 

“See you after class,” she waved as Geillis shook her head at the both of them. 

 

—-

 

It seemed that Tom had a personal vendetta against Jamie in that afternoon's PE class. He pushed himself harder, ran faster and played more aggressively than Jamie had ever seen him, and Jamie had no idea why. He raised his hand for every question in the class and threw specific looks at Jamie when he was picked.

 

Jamie didn’t particularly care that Tom was hogging the spotlight, Jamie’s mind was far too preoccupied wondering how he was going to ask Claire to the dance- well, that and he hadn’t had anything apart from his apple for lunch and he was starving. 

 

As soon as class was over he dug around in his bag for his forgotten lunch, disappointed to realise that in his haste to get to Claire’s in the morning and show her his new phone he had actually forgotten to pack said lunch. He finally pulled out a long forgotten muesli bar and inhaled it. 

 

“Fraser!” Jamie turned to the sound of Tom calling out to him. “Wait up.”

 

Rupert and Angus both paused as well, not sure if they should hang back and wait for Jamie. He waved them away with a slight shrug. Since when did Tom want to talk to him about anything?

 

“Ye were’na keeping up today,” Tom said as he fell into step with Jamie. 

 

“Missed lunch,” Jamie shrugged back. Did Tom just want to rub in that he’d got the best of him?

 

“Heard yer taking Laoghaire to the dance as well,” Tom continued as if Jamie hadn’t spoken. 

 

Jamie inhaled sharply and an oat from the muesli bar he had just demolished wedged itself in the back of his throat and he spluttered helplessly. 

 

“Ye did’na want people to find out?” Tom guessed. There was something about the way he was looking at Jamie that made him all the more uncomfortable but after coughing and spluttering and finally clearing his throat, with his eyes streaming with tears Jamie could actually respond. 

 

“Who the hell told ye that?”

 

“Laoghaire’s been spoutin’ off ta everyone that ye’ll be going together. Thought ye’d already asked her.”

 

“I’mnae takin’ Laoghaire to the dance,” Jamie disagreed vehemently. 

 

“Oh,” Tom replied in genuine surprise. “I just thought… that… everyone thinks that there’s something going on with the both of ye.”

 

“Who- What- who thinks that? Why?” Jamie stuttered. He would kill Laoghaire for making things up about the two of them. Especially if word got back to Claire. 

 

“She’s always around ye, and ye canna deny the way that ye look at her.”

 

“I look at her?” Jamie repeated incredulously. “Christ, she’s a child. There is nothin’ goin’ on with me and Laoghaire.”

 

“Oh right, it’s just that… Nah, never mind eh. I’ll see ye tomorrow.”

 

“It’s what? What, Tom!” Jamie tried to stop him from leaving and to spit out whatever he’d been about to say but he was cut off feeling a tap on his shoulder. Lord help him if it was Laoghaire, he didn’t know what he was going to do. 

 

“You alright?” Claire stood beside him, her eyebrows furrowed as she watched the retreating figure of Tom Christie. 

 

“Aye,” Jamie answered absentmindedly before shaking his head clear and focusing on Claire. “Aye, just wanted to have a word after a class.”

 

“Yes, he seemed to run circles around you this afternoon. In fact, at one point I think he literally was running circles around you,” Claire laughed as they headed out of the school front gates together. 

 

“I thought ye were supposed to be payin’ attention in class,” Jamie scoffed as he nudged her with his shoulder. 

 

“I was. But it’s awfully distracting when you hear the whistle being blown out on the field and a lot of yelling.”

 

“Sorry to distract ye from yer class then,” Jamie scoffed with laughter. “What were ye learning about?”

 

“I don’t know honestly. Frank kept trying to get my attention and between that and you playing out on the field I have no idea what Mr Randall was talking about.”

 

“What did Frank want?” Jamie asked cautiously, not really sure he wanted to hear the answer. 

 

“Who knows,” Claire sighed heavily as she pulled her hair free of its tie. “Mr Randall got fed up with him and sent him outside for a bit. Imagine having your own father as your teacher and him sending you outside for playing up. Definitely can’t call favouritism there, can you?”

 

“No, I suppose not,” Jamie said, letting out a brief sigh of relief that Frank hadn’t beaten Jamie to the punch in asking Claire to the dance before Jamie had the chance. 

 

“I think I’d ask to be in a different class if it were me. Not that my dad was a teacher. Even Lamb though. Imagine the pressure if you got something wrong. There’s no break in your day. You wake up and there’s your dad. You go to school and there he is again. You get home, boom- Homework on the table with the one and only. It would be exhausting.” 

 

Jamie merely grunted response as Claire continued. 

 

“Imagine if he gave you detention. I can’t imagine dinner would be great after that. I wonder if Frank feels that kind of expectation? That he has to be perfect for his father? I bet he does. I would. If it were me. Or maybe that would make me act out? I don’t know,” Claire continued as they walked to her house. “I guess it depends on the kind of person your parent is. I think my mother would have let more things slide than my father. She could have been a teacher. What did your mum do? You’ve never told me.”

 

Jamie shook his head trying to trace how Claire had landed there in her musings. 

 

“She was an artist- a painter,” he answered eventually as Claire’s house came into view with Lamb on the front lawn. “She ran the household of course and helped Da on the farm, but if ye asked her, she’d say she was a painter.”

 

“Oh, the art in your house?”

 

“Aye, some of it’s hers. The uhh… the paintin’ of Jen and me that’s in the living room. She did that one.” 

 

Claire’s eyebrows furrowed and she squinted her eyes as if she was trying to see something very far away. “Oh, as children,” she said in understanding, “I remember. She’s very good.”

 

“Aye,” Jamie said through a sigh. “She was.”

 

Lamb was waving at them as they edged closer to Claire’s house. He looked excited by something. Jamie couldn’t help but be a little frustrated that Lamb was clearly waiting for them. He’d wanted to ask Claire to the dance but he didn’t want to do it in front of her uncle. How awkward that would be!

 

“Claire. Thank goodness you're home!” He said excitedly as Claire opened her front gate. 

 

“Is everything alright?” Claire asked cautiously, perhaps with a tinge of fear in her voice. Jamie was sure that Lamb hardly noticed, such was his excitement, but Jamie could hear it. 

 

“Marvellous, bumblebee. Marvellous. Come inside.” He said in a rush before he walked, no, skipped back indoors. 

 

Jamie looked after Lamb in curiosity as Claire rolled her eyes. “I’d better go in. He might combust.”

 

“Aye,” Jamie agreed half heartedly. He couldn’t ask her now.  It would be rushed, and he hadn’t at all planned what he was actually going to say. 

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow then?” Claire asked expectantly. There was something else that flashed across her face but Jamie couldn’t quite tell what it was. One second it was there and then it was gone. Maybe she did want him to ask her to the dance?

 

“Aye,” he repeated. “I’ll be here.”

 

Claire looked at him for a moment longer than was strictly necessary for saying goodbye to someone and Jamie took a deep breath. He may as well just ask her. 

 

“Claire!” Lamb yelled from inside the house impatiently and Claire threw Jamie an apologetic look before she replied that she was coming. 

 

“See you!” She said brightly before she turned and headed inside the house, closing the front door carefully behind her. 

 

Jamie felt his phone buzz in his pocket with a new message. He didn’t have to guess who it would be, he already knew. 

 

 

Jamie was late. 

 

Jamie was never late. 

 

Jamie woke up with the crow of the rooster. 

 

Jamie was never late. 

 

This morning- Jamie was late. 

 

Either the bloody rooster hadn’t crowed or a night of fitful sleeping dreaming of all the ways to ask Claire to the dance, only for her to turn around and tell him that she was going with Frank Randall, had exhausted him so much that he didn’t hear the stupid rooster. 

 

He sent Claire a message from his phone at the time that he would usually be turning onto her street.

 

-Running late. Meet you at school.-

 

He’d actually spent too long thinking about how to word his first actual text message to Claire Beauchamp and had wasted more time that he didn’t have. 

 

Claire responded almost immediately and Jamie felt an unwarranted thrill go through him as he read her response. Short as it was. 

 

-No worries. See you there.-

 

And then a moment later another message from her. A sleepy face emoji. 

 

-Something like that.- Jamie responded as he grabbed a piece of toast from Jenny’s outstretched hand, grunting in thanks. 

 

“Better pedal hard, braither,” Jenny shook her head, grinning at him as he shoved the bread into his mouth, chewing furiously. 

 

“Aye, thank ye Jen,” he mumbled around a full mouth as he ran for his bike. 

 

It was days like these, not that there were many, that he wished he already had his licence and could take his motorbike. He knew that his Da would have a heart attack if he took the dirt bike out on the road but it would certainly be better than having to pedal furiously to school. 

 

 

Jamie locked his bike up on the racks as the first bell rang. He would make it just in time. He hoped that Claire had saved him a seat in Homeroom. 

 

 

Breathlessly Jamie arrived at the back of the line of students as they were heading into class. He could see the back of Claire’s head as she walked through the doorway and Jamie tried to slow his breathing. She was talking with someone, Geillis more than likely, and laughing at whatever the other person was saying. Jamie wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers, still trying to calm his breathing as he followed the line into the classroom. 

 

Perhaps it was worth being late just to see Claire’s face as he walked in. Jamie was sure that he looked a dreadful sight. He’d ridden his bike as fast as he could, he hadn’t had time to brush his hair or his teeth. He could almost guarantee that his cheeks would be red and flushed with sweat brimming along his hairline. 

 

In contrast, Claire sat at their usual desk, her hair was in two braids, taming the riotous curls. She smiled at him as he entered the room, her cheeks pinking slightly as he smiled back. Her skin looked particularly glowing, pale as she was, and when she smiled at him, Jamie felt his heart stutter in his chest. He didn’t know that hearts did that. 

 

“Mr Fraser. If ye’d like to take yer seat,” an impatient voice said from behind him and Jamie looked to see the thoroughly unimpressed Mrs Fox waiting for him to move from the front of the room. 

 

“Aye, sorry,” he mumbled, ducking his head and moving to the spare seat next to Claire. The sounds of the other students laughing at his embarrassment was unheard by Jamie as he slipped into the chair next to Claire and she whispered a quiet hello to him. 

 

Jamie tried to pay attention to the morning announcements from Mrs Fox but he could help stealing furtive glances at Claire sitting next to him. She seemed to be doing the same thing and a few times they accidentally caught each other’s eyes. Blushes from both of them quickly followed whenever that happened. 

 

The bell finally rang and Jamie wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers. Perhaps he could ask her to the dance on the way to their first classes. 

 

Just as he picked up his bag he was accosted by Rupert and Angus. 

 

“Ye wake up late, ye numpty?”

 

“It’s not like ye to sleep in.”

 

“Maybe he finally figured out what that phone was for?”

 

“Kept him up all night?? Found a few choice websites??”

 

“He does’na look dehydrated to ye, does he Rupe?”

 

“Nah lad, but his eyes are bloodshot. Must’na’ha slept a wink.”

 

“Shove off,” Jamie groaned at their adolescent banter.

 

“So did ye use any of the sites I sent ye? Messy Bessy?” Angus continued despite the withering glare that Jamie was giving him. “I remember my first phone and unmonitored internet privileges.”

 

“Aye, ye could’na write for a week,” Rupert laughed loudly as Angus shoved him. 

 

“Will ye two give it a rest!” Jamie growled as Claire walked half a pace in front of them with Mary. So much for asking her to the dance in the walk between classes. 

 

“But ye’re never late Jamie,” Rupert said in mock outrage. “Especially since that lass has come along,” he continued tiling his head pointedly at Claire. 

 

“Aye, well I was this mornin’, so ye can shut her mouths about it.”

 

“Seems a bit grumpy to ye, doesn’t he, Rupert,” Angus asked innocently. 

 

“Aye, I’d say he woke up on the wrong side of the bed, Angus,” Rupert replied casually. 

 

“Ah, but ye’re assuming he got any sleep at all.” With that Angus and Rupert lost themselves in laughter, dodging away from Jamie’s fists with an infuriating practised ease. 

 

Claire turned around to see what the boys were laughing at and she raised her eyebrows, waiting for Jamie to explain. He shook his head quickly but could feel the stupid flush coming to his cheeks as she looked at him. She smiled back before turning to Mary and engaging her in conversation again. 

 

— 

 

He didn’t really get a chance to talk to Claire again until their break and even then he barely managed to get a word in as Geillis and Louise monopolised her time. Jamie wasn’t sure what they were talking about but Louise kept giggling and Claire was blushing, so maybe he was glad that he wasn’t privy to that particular discussion. 

 

Jamie earned a few hard nudges from Rupert who was trying to talk to him about something and Jamie was very clearly not listening. 

 

However when the word “dance” caught in Jamie’s mind, he stopped watching the girls and turned to hear whatever Rupert was saying. 

 

“I’m going to ask her at lunch,” he finished and Jamie shook his head at his friend as he tried to catch up. 

 

“Yer sure she’ll say yes?” Angus asked doubtfully, his eyes darting over to the group of girls quickly and back. “What about Jamie?”

 

“What about me? Who are ye askin’?” Jamie asked quickly, his heart skipping a beat as he hoped it wasn’t Claire. 

 

“I thought he was taking Laoghaire? ‘Asides, Jamie, ye did go wi’ her a’fore. I didn’t think if ye’d want to again,” Rupert answered nervously. 

 

“Go with her again?” Jamie repeated. “Oh Geillis!” He suddenly realised. “Nah I was’na gonna ask her to the dance. Yer welcome to.”

 

The bell rang, indicating the end to their break and Rupert looked cheery again. 

 

“So ye’r not taking Laoghaire?”

 

“No!” Jamie shook his head violently. “I need to have a word with the lass. I dinna ken why she’s telling everyone and their mother that I’ve asked her.”

 

“Aye, I was curious about it. I assumed ye’d be takin’ the lass,” Rupert answered, inclining his head towards Claire and the other girls.

 

“Aye,” Jamie mumbled in response. “I suppose so.”

 

“Ye dinna want to ask her?” Rupert asked in astonishment as they headed to the classrooms.

 

“Aye, I do. I just… I dinna ken how.” Jamie shook his head. He hadn’t had any trouble asking Geillis to the last dance they went to. But Claire was different. He also didn’t really know if Claire actually wanted him to ask her. Maybe she didn’t want to have a date at all.

 

Rupert grunted in agreement, though his eyes were firmly on the back on Geillis’ redhead and he fiddled with his tie uselessly.

 

--

 

Jamie didn’t love Tuesday’s. While Claire headed to Biology, Jamie had Physics. They did have Math together in the afternoon, but the middle double period on Tuesday’s in their separate classes, seemed like the longest part of the week to Jamie. 

 

They hadn’t even been back at school that long, even more, with Claire at his school, and already he was very attached to having the same classes as her. As a studious note-taker in all of their classes, she encouraged him to be a better student. He could have used her influence in Physics if he was honest. It was one of the hardest classes he’d ever taken, he wondered if it was even worth it. 

 

The other issue was that Tom had Biology with Claire. That’s where they had first met and struck up a friendship. Jamie could see Tom now, walking beside her to the classroom, making her laugh at something. That should be Jamie walking with her to class, making her laugh- asking her to the dance- Not Tom.

 

Tom looked back as if he could head Jamie’s thoughts and Jamie thought that he saw him smirk, but it could have been nothing. Jamie shook the look off with a sigh as he dropped his bag to the ground and entered his classroom. If he wasn’t in such a huff, he would have seen Claire look at him as well, a look of longing on her face.

 

---

 

Sometimes Physics just didn’t make any sense. Jamie looked at notes written on his page about the module they were concentrating on. 

 

Analyse the motion of projectiles by resolving the motion into horizontal and vertical components, making the following assumptions; a constant vertical acceleration due to gravity, and zero air resistance.”

 

Jamie looked at the words. Sure, they made sense, and he knew in theory what he was meant to be working out, but it was like his brain was full of sludge, struggling to connect the dots and work out what it was he was actually meant to be solving. Jamie shook his head, continuing to copy down the notes the teacher was making on the whiteboard, but he still wasn’t any clearer in what he was actually meant to be doing. Truth be told, his mind wasn’t really in the Physics classroom, it was a few doors down, where Claire was in the Biology lab.

 

Was she sitting with Tom? Was she worrying about the dance like Jamie was? Had she heard the stupid rumour that Jamie was apparently taking Laoghiare to the dance? Was Biology a hell of a lot easier than Physics? Should Jamie have chosen that instead of trying to test himself with a Science that he didn’t think that he would ever use in his real life?

 

Finally the bell rang, signalling the start of lunch and Jamie nearly groaned with relief. The teacher was calling something out about the upcoming assignment, but their voice was drowned out by the scraping of chairs and general chatter of the other students. 

 

Jamie knew he had to just buck up and ask Claire to the dance. What was the worst that could happen? She could say no. He’d feel like a bit of an idiot, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Hopefully she hadn’t heard the rumour that Laoghaire had started and hadn’t said yes to someone else before Jamie could ask her.

 

Jamie absentmindedly picked up his bag and made his way to their usual lunch spot, near the sporting sheds and the soccer field. He would pull her aside or something, see if she wanted to go for a walk with him and then he would ask her. 

 

Jamie dug his lunch out of his bag, but barely noticed what he was eating. Each swallow seemed difficult as he tried to get the food down around the lump of nerves that had currently wedged themselves in his throat. Then he saw her walking the field towards him. Geillis was howling with laughter at something, Louise was beaming and Claire was blushing profusely. Even at a distance, Jamie could see that. He tried to swallow his mouthful of food, but coughed and gagged at the half chewed sandwich. Jamie watched as Rupert jogged up to the group of girls, separating Geillis from the other two. Louise and Claire exchanged a look before they continued on to where Jamie was sitting.

 

“I think Rupert is asking Geillis to the dance,” Louise said as she sat delicately on the grass. “He said that he wanted to speak to her privately .” She glanced back at the pair, both of whom looked incredibly awkward with each other.

 

“I think she’ll say yes,” Claire said, studying them for a moment before meeting Jamie’s eyes briefly and then looking down quickly at her lunch. “She said that she wanted to go with him in Bio.”

 

“Do ye sit next to each other?” Jamie asked, his voice trembling a little bit. He hoped Claire didn’t notice.

 

“No,” Louise answered for her. “Claire sits with Tom, I sit with Geillis. But she was saying when we sat down. I think she was going to ask him at the end of the day if he didn’t do anything.”

 

Jamie nodded along, but the sandwich he had just eaten felt like a block of cement in his stomach. Claire and Tom sat next to each other. Not that that really meant anything in particular, but Jamie didn’t like it all the same. Claire also wouldn’t meet Jamie’s eyes now, so he wasn’t entirely sure how he was meant to ask her to the dance, especially with Louise so close.

 

“They’ll be good together. I’m glad he asked her,” Claire said quietly. Jamie tried to study her face, tried to read what she was thinking but she refused to look at him. Was that a hint? Did she want Jamie to ask her.

 

Jamie opened his mouth to get her attention but was interrupted by the arrival of Angus and Mary.

 

“Rupert just asked Geillis to the dance,” Angus announced loudly. “Pretty sure she said yes, they’ve gone for a walk together, so might have to wait a bit to kick the ball around.”

 

Jamie nodded carefully, not quite trusting his voice. 

 

“We were just talking about that,” Louise continued on with the latest gossip. “She was going to ask him at the end of the day, if he didn’t ask her. Oh, and Frank asked Claire.”

 

Jamie looked up at Claire quickly to see her cheeks flaming red.

 

“Frank? Frank Randall?” Angus scoffed loudly. “When did that happen? What did ye say?”

 

“He asked me this morning; before homeroom,” Claire answered quietly, purposefully avoiding Jamie’s eyes.

 

“What did ye say?” Angus pushed, his eyes lighting up with mischievousness.

 

“I said no,” Claire responded haughtily, clearly uncomfortable to have the entire conversation now focused on her.

 

Jamie almost sighed in relief.

 

“I didn’t think… that was before I found out…. Never mind. I said no. I thought we are better as friends.”

 

Jamie was itching to know what she had found out. He needed to ask if she wanted to go for a walk with him.

 

“I wish I could’ha seen his face,” Angus laughed joyously. “Perfect Frank Randall having someone say no to him. Ah, it’s better than my wildest dreams.”

 

“It wasn’t like that,” Claire shook her head. “He’s a nice guy, just… misunderstood. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.”

 

Claire still hadn’t looked at Jamie and he couldn’t figure out why.

 

“Ah,” Angus laughed again, “Could’na happened to a better lad.”

 

“Hush yer gob,” Jamie said under his breath. Jamie knew that Angus and Rupert didn’t like Frank Randall, but he was sure that was just because his father Mr Randall was such a twat of a teacher that they were more than a little prejudiced. 

 

“Come on, let’s go kick the ball,” Angus said, still grinning. Jamie nodded but paused before he stood up. “Claire, can I borrow ye for a moment?”

 

“I’m just finishing my lunch, can it wait until after?” She replied, still not looking at him. 

 

Christie sat next to her in Biology, what had he told her about him?

 

“Aye, it’s uhhh… yeah, never mind.” Shaking his head, trying to clear it, Jamie followed Angus out onto the field.

 

--

 

She had said “no” to Frank, did that mean that she was waiting for Jamie to ask her? Jamie ran after the ball after a misplaced wide kick from Angus, trying to get rid of the nagging feeling that something had happened in Biology that Jamie was unaware of. As far as he knew, no one else had asked Claire, but that didn’t mean that someone else wouldn’t. It could be Angus, or Adam McLean, Simon O’Hara, or heaven forbid, Tom Christie. There was almost a line of lads in the school that would be more than willing to take her to the dance. Jamie needed to ask her before it was too late.

 

Jamie booted the ball back to Angus, pleased to see that Rupert had finished his discussion with Geillis and was now running onto the field. Geillis was grinning from ear to ear as she joined the other girls. Jamie’s eyes automatically went to Claire, expecting her to be caught up in the gossip of Geillis and Rupert going to the dance together. Instead she was watching Jamie carefully. She looked away as soon as she realised that he was looking back. There was something in the way she was looking at him. He was too far away to actually see her facial expression, but it felt like it was more than just curiosity, more than just watching them kick the ball around to each other.

 

He needed to talk to her.

 

But how? How was he supposed to get her on his own? Maybe when they were walking home together, though he did ride his bike today. That wouldn’t matter, he would push it beside him, and then he would ask her. He just needed to get through the afternoon. He also needed to get to her before any other lad in the school could try.

 

--

 

The bell rang and Jamie was glad. Now that he had decided that he would ask her after school, on their walk home, he more than anything just wanted the school day to end.

 

They did have a double Math class together, so at least Jamie knew that he would be with her, and no one else would be able to ask her before he had a chance. Even if it was just as friends, that would be fine with him. He wasn’t totally sure if she had any feelings for him, beyond their friendship, but a lad could dream couldn’t he?

 

So caught up in his thoughts about asking Claire to the dance after school, he almost missed the way she packed up her bag and was walking to class without him. She’d never done that before. Sure she’d only been there a couple of weeks, and yes she knew her way around the school now, but they had class together. Why didn’t she wait for him?

 

Jamie quickly ran to collect his bag and catch up with their retreating figures.

 

“Now I just need to figure out what to wear,” Geillis said to Claire. 

 

“Do people usually get dressed up for these kinds of things?” Claire asked curiously.

 

“Somewhat. Not as much as when we graduate, ye ken, but still, it’s a nice chance to show off,” Geillis answered. Jamie followed behind them, listening eagerly.

 

“I suppose so. I don’t think I actually have anything that I could wear to a dance. It’s not a jeans and t-shirt type of affair, is it.”

 

Geillis scoffed with laughter at Claire’s response. “I suppose I’ll have to take ye shopping with me. Not one of the ones in the main street. I’ll get my Ma to take us to one of the major centres. What about Saturday?”

 

“Oh,” Claire answered in surprise. Jamie could imagine her blushing, though he couldn’t see her face. “Shopping, yes, of course. Would your Mum mind? Do you need to ask her?”

 

“Nah, she ken’s it’s comin’ up, so she’ll be expectin’ it. We can ask Mary and Louise too, make a girls day of it.”

 

“A girl’s day,” Claire repeated. “Sure. Why not.” She giggled nervously as they arrived at the classroom.

 

“Have ye told Jamie yet?” Geillis asked, her voice dropping dramatically in volume. Jamie almost missed it as Simon O’Hara bumped into him.

 

“I don’t see why I have to,” Claire answered her question pointedly.

 

“Weel, Rupert seems to think that he was going to ask ye.”

 

“How many dates does he need?” Claire replied and Jamie could almost see her rolling her eyes. How many dates did he need? Just the one he had thought, preferably Claire. Unless… Laoghaire. The rumour had spread. Well, that was fine, right? All he needed to do was explain that he wasn’t taking Laoghaire. No harm done!

 

“Ye might want to check with him, Rupert seemed pretty certain,” Geillis said nervously. Whatever Claire’s response was it was lost to Jamie as the teacher arrived and everyone started to enter the classroom.

 

--

 

Thankfully the seat beside Claire was still empty. She hadn’t decided to sit next to Geillis, though Geillis did give him a pointed look as he sat down.

 

“I did’na get a chance to talk to you properly at lunch,” Jamie said breathlessly. “And ye left before I had a chance to catch ye up.”

 

“Sorry, I guess I was just caught up with Geillis,” Claire said, not even sounding remotely sorry. She didn’t look at him either, rather she sat stiffly, facing the front of the room while the other student took their seats.

 

“Aye, weel, I was wondering if I could talk to ye after school,” Jamie continued, aware that the voices around them were hushing and Mr Sandringham had started writing the day’s lesson outline on the whiteboard.

 

Claire nodded stiffly before she started to copy the same thing into her notebook.

 

“After school then,” Jamie mumbled as he opened his own book.

 

--

 

A double period of math had never felt both so long and like the time was flying by. Jamie could barely concentrate, all too aware of the girl sitting beside him. Every shift in her chair, every sigh from her mouth, even when she answered questions, sticking her hand up in the air, Jamie barely felt like he could breathe. It felt like he had done something grossly offensive to her, but he had no idea what. It was the first time that he had truly felt very awkward around her. When he looked up at the clock, barely ten minutes had passed. Then he planned out what he would say to her. How he would explain that he wasn’t going to the dance with Laoghaire, that he really wanted to go with her, and that it was all a big misunderstanding, and the feeling of concrete would come back to his stomach, and then he would look up at the clock and see that almost forty-five minutes had passed.

 

It was lucky that the maths class was easier than his physics class. He couldn’t imagine how he would be able to concentrate if Claire was in that one with him. The final ten minutes of the school day dragged by. Claire was tapping her fingers on the desk, no longer taking notes as Mr Sandringham droned on. 

 

Eight minutes left and he could explain things to her and they could work out whatever this weird energy was between them.

 

Five minutes left and he had to remember to pick up his bike from the racks before he left with Claire.

 

Three minutes left and he hoped that Claire would actually wait for him to pick up his bike and then walk home with her.

 

Two minutes left and the lump of concrete made its way back to Jamie’s gut. What if she laughed in his face? What if she didn’t believe him about Laoghaire? What if she said yes?

 

One minute left and Claire was packing up her things. She never packed up her things before the bell. She was traditionally one of the last students to leave the room. Jamie had teased her about it on Friday and she had rolled her eyes at-

 

The bell rang and Claire shut her textbook with a snap.

 

“I have to get my bike,” Jamie said quickly, quickly closing his own books, trying to match her speed. She nodded in response and Jamie quickly rose out of his chair. He would sprint to the bike rack if he needed to. Just so long as she didn’t leave without him.

 

--

 

He was puffed and breathing heavily as he waited by the front gates for her. She was walking slowly, talking to Tom Christie. Damn it, Tom Christie. Would the two minutes that it took Jamie to get his bike be enough time for Tom to ask her to the dance? Who was he kidding, of course that would be more than enough time for Tom.

 

Claire was smiling at something Tom was saying and Jamie felt an unfamiliar stab of jealousy in his wame.

 

“See you later,” Claire waved before she looked up to see Jamie waiting for her. She was still smiling, but it seemed a little bit forced now.

 

“Ready?” She asked, and without waiting for a response, exited the school grounds.

 

--

 

Well- It was awkward. It was awkward walking back to Claire’s house. Jamie had it all planned out in his head but now that it was actually time to open his mouth, he felt like it had been glued shut.

 

“What was the news yer Uncle was so excited about yesterday?” Jamie asked finally.

 

“Oh,” Claire said, sounding surprised, “he uh, he’s been writing a book and he got a call back from a potential publisher. He needs to go down to Edinburgh in a few weeks to meet with them.”

 

“That’s amazing!” Jamie exclaimed. “I had no idea!”

 

“Well, he’s been working on it for a long time. I had no idea that he’d even sent anything off to anyone. So it was a bit out of the blue.”

 

“What’s the book about?”

 

--

 

Things seemed easier after that. Claire spoke about her Uncle and then her garden most of the way home. Jamie barely could get a word in and that suited him just fine. It was when they rounded the final corner onto her street that his palms really started to sweat.

 

“So,” he began, trying to take a deep breath and instead coughing slightly on his own saliva. “There’s a rumour going around that I’m takin’ Laoghaire to the dance.”

 

Claire made a noise of acknowledgement, but didn’t say anything further.

 

“Which, to be clear- I am’na taking her to the dance. I have’na asked her, I will’na ask her, and I dinna ken where she got the ridiculous notion to begin wi’,” Jamie continued, feeling himself getting angrier. “I barely even speak to the lass and she’s got all these ideas in her head. I dinna ken what to do about it.”

 

“Are you asking for my advice?” Claire asked quietly. She sounded shy and Jamie wondered if it was because she knew what was coming- That he was going to ask her.

 

“No, not so much, I’ll… I’ll ah, deal with the lass myself. But it, uh, I was wonderin’ if ye’d thought about the dance.”

 

“It’s hard not to think about it when it’s all anyone talks about 24/7,” Claire answered, barely stopping herself from rolling her eyes.

 

“Aye, people do get excited by it. What I meant was, have ye thought about going with anyone?”

 

“I… erm have thought about it, yes.” Claire said. Their walking had slowed down now, as if they each didn’t want to arrive at her house. As if they were both trying to prolong the moment, to give Jamie the chance to actually finally ask her out.

 

“Weel, I was wonderin’ it maybe, perhaps, ye would like to go to the dance wi’ me?” Jamie asked nervously. He felt like he was going to vomit. He may as well go the full hog, lay it all out on the line, put their friendship out there and properly ask her for a date. “Ye ken, as my date.”

 

“Oh… Jamie… I erm,” Claire stumbled over her words and Jamie felt his heart drop somewhere to his feet, or maybe he had left it a few steps back.

 

“It does’na have to be a date, if ye dinna want it to. We can just go as friends,” he backtracked quickly. He felt so stupid. Of course she didn’t feel that way about him. She was just being nice, as nice as she was to anyone else at school and he’s misread the entire thing. He felt like such an idiot.

 

“No, no, it’s not that. It’s just that… Tom said that you were taking Laoghaire and he seemed very certain of it, and then he asked me this morning in Biology and I… well, as you were taking Laoghaire… I said… I told him that I would go with him.”

 

Jamie felt his jaw drop open. Tom Fucking Christie. That worthless little shitbag, bod ceann of a human. Yesterday he had confirmed the rumour with Jamie wasn’t true and then turned around the next morning and jumped at the chance to ask Claire.

 

“No problems,” Jamie said automatically, his left fist gripped the handlebar needlessly roughly. “That’s fine. Just ah… ye’ll save me a dance then? There’s always next time.” The words were coming out of his mouth, but Jamie didn’t at all believe that he was the one that was saying it.

 

Claire seemed to sigh in relief as she nodded enthusiastically. “Yes of course, I’m so sorry, I should have checked with you first. But as you hadn’t asked me yet and so many people were saying that you and Laoghaire-”

 

“It’s fine, Claire, really,” Jamie interrupted her. “Don’t put yerself out.”

 

“It’s just that-” Claire tried again before Jamie cut her off once more.

 

“Truly. I’ll ahh, I’ll see ye tomorrow then.”

 

“Oh, ok.” Claire nodded but Jamie didn’t see. He swung his leg over his bike. He had to get away from her. He could feel his eyes stinging and while he didn’t think that he was going to cry, (why would he cry over something so stupid) he couldn’t be sure and he sure as hell didn’t want Claire to see that.

 

Claire turned around to wave goodbye, as she always did when she reached her front door, but Jamie was already gone.