i carry you heart with me(i carry it in my heart)
i am never without it(anywhere i go you go,my dear;
and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear no fate(for you are my fate my sweet)
i want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
- e.e cummings
“Brianna, time for breakfast.”
I set the bowl of sugary cereal down on the table, rolling my eyes even as I did so. Though I was certainly no gourmet cook, I was perfectly capable of preparing eggs and bacon. However, my daughter had recently made the decision that she hated eggs and most meat (save for chicken) and would turn her nose up at anything other than cereal for breakfast.
And, being who she was, that is a Fraser through and through, there was absolutely no reasoning with her.
“Brianna! Hurry up before it gets soggy!”
A groggy ten-year-old slugged her way down the stairs, red curls sticking all out from around her head like she’d just been poking her finger into an electrical outlet.
“I hope you plan on brushing that hair before school,” I commented.
I got only a grunt in response, but despite the lack of manners I smiled, since it sounded so much like that typical Scottish sound that could only be genetic, since she’d never heard it in life. Besides, I wasn’t much one for conversation first thing in the morning, either.
I left her alone after that, and went about getting myself ready for the day. At only ten, Brianna was fiercely independent, so I needn’t worry that she wouldn’t be dressed with a packed lunch in time.
Sure enough, she was waiting by the door a half hour later, and I only needed to smooth down a collar and a few stubborn curls. “Ready?”
“Ready,” she said, hefting her bag around her shoulders.
I enjoyed our morning walk to Brianna’s Elementary school. I was lucky to be able to have it every day with her, with the hospital I worked at being surprisingly flexible. My only sacrifice was getting to see her after school, as her young nanny would be the one walking her home and putting her to bed.
“You have your homework, right?” I asked her.
“Yes, Mama,” she replied, and I glanced down, noting the uncharacteristic monotone of her voice.
“Is everything alright? You’re not normally this quiet.”
She didn’t answer for a while, but I could tell by the way she chewed the inside of her cheek that she was mentally forming what she wanted to say, so I waited.
“Mama…” she began carefully. “What’s a bastard?”
I whipped my head down to her, frowning. “Where did you hear that?”
“Tommy Beasley said that I’m a bastard,” she said, her frown a perfect mirror of mine. “Because I haven’t got a dad. Is that what it means? I’ve heard you call people bastards.”
“I suppose it does,” I said, gritting my teeth. This was hardly the sort of conversation I wanted to have with my young daughter in the short hours of the day I was with her. “Usually people just use it as a mean word to call someone. Technically, it means…well, it means an illegitimate child.”
“And what does that mean?”
I sighed. “Well, you aren’t one. A bastard is someone who is born when their parents aren’t married. And your father and I were.”
“But you aren’t anymore,” she pointed out. “You’re divorced.”
“That still doesn’t make you a bastard.”
She nodded, accepting it as truth, but I could tell something still wasn’t sitting right. “Why doesn’t dad write anymore?”
I sighed again, having expected that this would be coming sooner rather than later.
“Brianna…” I began, then took her hand and led her off the sidewalk, to a bench nestled between two trees.
“We’re going to be late!” she protested.
“It’s alright,” I assured her. “Just sit down.”
She looked up at me, those impossibly blue eyes staring up at me, breaking my heart even as they made it soar…the way her eyes always did.
“Bree,” I said, still holding her hand. “I know you miss Daddy…”
“When you guys got divorced, he promised that it wouldn’t change things for us,” she said, her face grim, though I could see the pain written on it. That was one thing she didn’t inherit from her father but from me…a glass face. “But it’s like he just up and disappeared.”
When I had returned from the stones, Frank had accepted me back, and I’d done my damnedest to make it work, even though my heart was no longer with him, even though he’d forced me to make the impossible promise to let Brianna believe that he was her biological father.
But I just couldn’t continue living a lie with him. It was no more fair to Frank than it was to me or Brianna. So when Bree was five, we agreed to divorce. He didn’t fight me on custody, so long as he was granted visitation whenever he liked, and so long as I continued to allow Brianna to see him as her one and only father. I agreed, for her sake.
But Frank’s visits had grown fewer and fewer in recent years, at no fault of my own, as had his phone calls and letters. Surely he knew that it wouldn’t go unnoticed.
“Is it because of his new wife?” she asked, ever perceptive, my daughter.
I’d always found it impossible to lie to Brianna. I supposed it was because I made her live in the biggest lie of all.
“It may have something to do with it,” I admitted sadly. “But Brianna, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t still love you. Maybe he just…maybe he just wants us all to move on with our lives.”
“Without him?” she snapped. “Like what…we’re just supposed to forget he exists? Like he’s forgotten I exist, I guess.”
What could I say? I couldn’t just sit here and defend Frank. Because he was in the wrong. But neither could I sit and tell my ten-year-old what I really did think.”
“If I can assure you of nothing else,” I said. “I can assure you that Daddy hasn’t forgotten that you exist, or that he’s stopped loving you,” I wrapped my arm around her shoulder, squeezing her tight. “And I can also assure you with upmost certainty, that you’ll always have me.”
“I know,” she whispered, leaning into me.
We sat that way for a time, until the sun rose high and I could no longer ignore that we were both going to be very late if we didn’t get a move on.
“Did I tell you that I have Saturday off?” I asked, standing and pulling her along with me.
“No!” she exclaimed. “Can we do something?!”
I leaned down to meet her eyes. “You think of something you’d like to do, hm? And we’ll do it.”
Her eyes went round. “Whatever I want?!”
I smiled, then winked. “Within reason. Now let’s get you to school.”
I gritted my teeth against the sound of that high pitched, almost childish voice. “May I speak to Frank, please?”
“May I ask who’s calling, please?”
I sighed. “Candy, you know fine well who this is. It’s Claire. Now may I speak to Frank?”
“It’s Sandy,” she hissed. “Hold on.”
I smiled to myself. Calling her that always sped things along.
“Frank,” I said as cordially as I could. “You’ve been awfully hard to get ahold of lately.”
“It’s a busy time of year,” he said irritably. “I have a thousand papers to grade. Now what is it? Is Brianna alright?”
“She’s about as fine as can be expected,” I said, stepping farther back behind the nurse’s station to avoid detection. Private calls at work were frowned upon if not outright forbidden, but I didn’t need a busybody nurse listening in. “She hasn’t heard from you since her birthday, Frank. That was three months ago.”
There was a deep sigh on the other end, and a rustling sound that was probably him rubbing his face.
“I have a lot on my plate right now, Claire,” he said.
“Fine,” I said. “I don’t care, Frank. But Brianna does. I’m not going to let you string her along, make her always wonder when you’re going to waltz back into her life. We made a deal. You haven’t upheld your end.”
“Is that some sort of threat?” he asked.
I huffed. “I’m only saying that maybe knowing that her father loved her more than life before he died would be better than a father who doesn’t even bother to write.”
“You think you’re so much better? You don’t think I know that you let nannies do your job while you’re off trying to prove yourself to the world?”
“I didn’t call to get into a pissing match with you, Frank,” I snapped. “Call your daughter.”
I hung up then, grimacing against the bad taste in my mouth that I got after a conversation with Frank of late. For the most part, we’d remained civil, even though he’d cheated on me for months with Sandy. But I felt badly for what had happened between us, at no real fault of Frank’s. And then he’d taken me back without hesitation. And he’d stepped up and loved a child who was not his, as if she were. How could I not love him for that, at least?
But he resented my decision to pursue a career as a doctor, and of course he could never let go of the fact that I’d gone and fallen in love with someone else.
He could hate me for the rest of his life, and I really wouldn’t blame him. And he could have turned his back on both me and Brianna five years ago, and I wouldn’t have even resented him for that. But no, he’d made the choice to be a part of her life, and damn it he was going to follow through with that promise, if I had to make him.
I dragged myself into the house, tiredly kicking off my shoes and paying no mind to where they landed.
“Hi, Ms. Beauchamp!” Emily called from the living room, already packing up her schoolbooks. I’d hired my young neighbor three years prior, and was eternally grateful to the high schooler for giving up her evenings, even her Friday nights and some weekends to care for Brianna. Granted, I paid her a generous salary that she was setting aside for college, provided her with all the food she could eat, and even turned a blind eye to the occasional visits from her sweet boyfriend whom Brianna adored so long as my daughter could report to me that nothing inappropriate ever happened within her ear or eyeshot. I thought again that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when she went away to NYU next year.
“When am I going to convince you to call me Claire?” I asked her for possibly the hundredth time.
She giggled, ignoring my question. “Bree is in bed, but she asked for you to go to her when you got home. She was as excited as could be! Mr. Randall called tonight.”
“Oh good,” I said levelly. How kind of him to remember after receiving such a reminder earlier in the day. “I’ll go right up. Thank you, Emily.”
After seeing the teenager out, I made my way upstairs to Brianna’s room. It was dark, save for the nightlight that projected little ballerinas onto the wall, a relic of the solitary week that Brianna had taken ballet lessons before promptly deciding that the tutus were dumb.
“Mama?” she said as soon as I opened the door, sitting up with alert eyes.
“You should be asleep,” I told her, sitting on the side of her bed.
“Daddy called!” she said excitedly.
“So I heard. That’s wonderful, Bree. Did you two have a lot to talk about?”
She shrugged one shoulder. “Not really, he couldn’t talk long,” she perked up then, eyes sparkling. “But he said I could go visit him soon!”
“Did he?” I said coolly. Frank and I had certainly not discussed any such visit, and I wasn’t happy with him bringing it up to her without clearing it with me first. “Well, we’ll have to talk about that hm? Can’t have you missing school.”
“It’ll be summer soon,” she reasoned.
I smiled, smoothing the hair off her face. “We’ll talk about it later. Go to sleep, sweetheart.”
As she always did when anxious to get her way, she obeyed immediately, squeezing her eyes tight.
I hummed softly to her for a time, running my fingers through her soft, red hair. Eventually her breath evened out, her face grew slack, and I swallowed the lump in my throat at how much like him she looked when she was asleep.
The papers came not a week later. Apparently, Frank had made up his mind to take his chances and fight for full custody of Brianna.
“Bullshit,” my best friend, Joe said, tossing the papers carelessly onto his desk where I was sitting. “No court is going to take a little girl from her mother.”
“I’m inclined to agree, but it looks like Frank is willing to pull out all the stops. With the right judge, he might just convince him that Bree would be better off with a father and a stay-at-home mother than with a single, professional mother.”
Joe grimaced, acknowledging that I was right. It was still heavily frowned upon for a woman, especially a mother, to have a career, and being unmarried…well that was just the last nail in the coffin.
“But you’re a good mother,” Joe argued. “And Bree wouldn’t want to go off and live in England with Frank. For fuck’s sake, she barely knows him anymore.”
“I wish I could be so sure of that,” I said. “Bree was always such a daddy’s girl. Besides, she’s just a child. They won’t exactly listen to her opinion either way,” I slammed my hand on the desk. “Son of a bitch.”
“Well you gotta have some leverage,” Joe said. “You and I both know that he didn’t wait until you were divorced before shacking up with whatsherface. Most courts don’t look too kindly on adulterers.”
“I always swore to myself that I wouldn’t try to use that against him,” I said quietly. “It would just hurt Bree,” I looked up at him, shoulders slumping tiredly. “But truth is…Bree isn’t Frank’s. And that, at least, is easy enough to prove.”
Joe blinked at me for a moment. “Well then. Guess I wasn’t expecting that. If Bree isn’t Frank’s…”
“Frank and I…” I took a deep breath. “We…well fine, I’ll come right out and say it. I was unfaithful. It wasn’t entirely by choice. Circumstances were…unusual. But Frank and I were separated for three years, and I only returned to Frank when…when…Bree’s father…was killed. Frank accepted Bree as his own, but made me promise not to tell her.”
“Damn,” Joe breathed, grimacing. “And…this other guy...”
I smiled, softly, knowing that Joe was worried that Bree’s father had been more of an attacker, than a lover.
“He was the love of my life,” I told him. “He made me promise that if anything ever happened to him, that I would return to Frank. So I did.”
“Sounds like there’s a story there,” Joe said. “What was this guy’s name?”
The breath caught in my throat. In over ten years, I had not once spoken his name. I’d scarcely even allowed myself to think it.
“Jamie,” I said. “His name was Jamie.”
I made the decision right then and there to tell Brianna the truth. She was old enough to understand, and if it came to a court battle with Frank, she deserved to know everything, and I wanted her to hear it from me.
She’d decided that on my day off, she wanted to go to the Science Museum. So I would take her there, and then to get dinner and ice cream, and after, I’d tell her. Perhaps I wouldn’t tell her everything, not yet. The whole truth would be too much to burden a child with. But she would know who she was. Who her father was.
It was around 3:30 that afternoon when one of the nurses flagged me down as I passed on my way to see one of my patients who’d had surgery the day before.
“Dr. Beauchamp?” the round-faced nurse said. “A call for you. Says it’s urgent.”
There were precious few people in the world who would call me with any sort of urgent news, and all of it would revolve around my child. So heart in my throat, I all but shoved the poor nurse out of the way to get to the phone, answering it with a panicked “hello?!”
“Ms. Beauchamp!” Emily’s voice sounded on the other end, sounding frazzled, but not upset, and I calmed down ever so slightly.
“Emily, what is it?” I asked. “Is everything okay?”
“That’s what I wanted to ask you,” she said. “I went to pick Bree up from school but she never came out. So I went to the front office, and they said that she was picked up early.”
“What?!” I cried, bile rising in my throat. “What do you mean? Only you and I are authorized to pick her up!”
“That’s what I said!” she exclaimed. “But they said she was picked up by her father.”
I nearly dropped the phone. In fact, for a moment I thought I might just faint. But I sucked in a deep breath, calling on the same determined energy that drove me to find Jamie when he was taken by the redcoats.
“Don’t worry, Emily,” I said. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Okay. But please call me when you find her.”
I thanked the worried girl, grateful for her concern, and hung up.
Frank thought he could take my child. Well, he was about to find that he was sorely mistaken.
I went straight home and found that Brianna’s suitcase, and some of her clothes and belongings were missing. Her bunny, her most prized possession since she was a baby, was lying in the foyer, apparently having been dropped. Only then, seeing the stuffed animal there on the floor, did tears come, and I scooped it up, cradling it to my chest.
Police were called, and Joe along with his wife, Gale, came over to comfort me as they filed a report.
When they’d packed Brianna’s bag, they’d also ransacked my bedroom, and found her passport. It was of little surprise to me that they’d chosen to take her to England. All that meant was there were more authorities to talk to. Magistrates and judges. All I was allowed to know was that Brianna was safe. Frank wouldn’t even let me talk to her.
“I’m going to get her,” I told Joe one night as he sat with me in my den, watching as I nearly drank myself into a stupor. “The police are doing nothing. If I want my child back, I have to go to her.”
“I agree,” Joe said softly. “I can come with you, if you need.”
“No,” I said. “We can’t both leave the hospital, and I have honestly no idea how long I’ll be gone. Fact is, I’m not coming back without her, Joe.”
He smiled, though it was tired, like I was. “I know. I don’t expect you to, Lady Jane. But you’ve got to tell them that she isn’t his.”
“I tried,” I told him. “But Frank has covered his tracks well. He even paid people off to cover up the fact that he’s sterile. The best I can do is go to Scotland and find the newspapers from when I was missing.”
Joe stared at me a moment. “Wait. Missing? You never said you were missing. Where the hell were you for three damn years?”