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A Beautiful, Wild Country

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“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, where is this bloody place?”

Momentarily, I thought about opening my window, detaching my satnav from its cradle and chucking the bloody thing out of the window, fat lot of good it was. When I’d been sent the postcode for the venue of my best friend’s wedding, I hadn’t really thought about how I’d actually be getting there. Where I came from, in London, single track roads (sometimes with sheep friends that needed some polite encouragement to get out of the way) weren’t really a thing. And now I was driving through Cairngorm National Park trying to find Mar Lodge and wishing that I’d been slightly more prepared, maybe even packed a blanket and some food in case I had to camp out in some lay-by.

Although, looking out the window at the beautiful surroundings, I wasn’t so sure that that would be a bad thing. There were definitely worse places in the world to get lost in, I had to admit. The turning of summer into autumn had given the vast trees an orange glow and the sun was sitting low in the sky as I navigated my car through the twists and turns that had been carved through the mountains for thousands of years. Having never visited Scotland before, I had concoctions of little fishing villages and some cows in a field. But as I’d made the slow drive up here, I started to notice the beauty and mysticism that everyone had told me I would find. The history that these landscapes could tell.

No, not history. Anything but the mention of the topic of history this weekend, please.

My stomach gave an awkward lurch as the ghost of Frank’s face involuntarily passed through my mind.

“He’s over, Beauchamp, we’re done with him. Let it go,” I muttered under my breath with a thimble-full of conviction. Christ, I couldn’t even convince myself. My eyes glanced up to meet my own in my wing mirror and I fixed her with a glance. “I am a 28 year old, single woman who is going to see her best friend in the world marry the love of her life and I will not be made to feel bad for showing up to a wedding without my planned plus one.”

***

My left hand was digging around in my handbag that was swinging at my side, trying to understand how such a large iPhone could always become so lost in the myriad of junk that always accumulated in every bag I had ever owned when my right hand pressed against the dark wooden panel of Frank’s office door.

“Darling, we’re going to be late for dinner if we don’t-“

“Oh God, Claire, no. Wait!”

I removed my hand and let the door slowly close as my eyes shut, trying to forget what I’d seen. His mouth on the neck of one of his PhD students. The joy emanating from her body, her mouth paused in a delicate ‘oh’ shape as she clearly enjoyed what Frank was doing to her. His hands… God, his hands in her-

Stop it, Beauchamp.

I took a deep breath in, let a single tear slide down my cheek and spun on my heel, quickly stomping down the corridor as I heard Frank call after me and her anguished voice call after him. Before he could decide which woman to comfort, I was out of the door and into the brilliant sunshine.

***

Squealing with delight as I drummed my fingertips on my steering wheel, I saw the vast Mar Lodge Estate come into view.

“Nice one, Geillis!” I remarked to myself, proud of the tiny wee redhead’s achievement at bagging a fairly wealthy fiancé who just so happened to also be charming, considerate, funny and most importantly, not banging someone at work. As I drove down the driveway, I saw just the man pop out of the front door of the main house and beeped my horn in a very excited greeting. Once he clocked that I wasn’t yet another overly enthusiastic wedding vendor, a smile broke onto his face and he began to laugh. I barrelled out of my car and he crushed me with a bear hug.

“Christ Murtagh, I can’t be a guest at your wedding if you’ve put me in hospital with broken ribs!” I gasped and felt his body rumble with laughter.

“Och lass, I’m no’ squeezing you that hard. But can ye blame me? It’s been months since I’ve clapped eyes on ye!” He held me at arms length, hands on my shoulders as his eyes lit up.

“Excuse me Mr Fitzgibbons but I’m the doctor round here, I think I’d know.”

“Aye, so ye are. Well come ben, Geillie’s been gan aff her heid all morning knowing that you were on your way, she’ll be fair chuffed to see ye!” Murtagh put his arms around my shoulders and lead me into the main building, promising that someone would park my car with the rest of them around the back.

To be quite honest, it took my breath away. The dark wood, the massive staircase leading up from the central hall. The portraits of old families, wildlife and landscapes that captured the beauty of the surrounding area. As we moved up the stairs I felt my heart begin to thaw for the first time in the past few months.

“It’s such a beautiful venue, Murtagh, I hope Geillis hasn’t bankrupted you both renting it for the wedding,” I teased, sending him a quick wink so he’d know not to take offence. He and I both knew very well that he’d keep Geillis as happy as she could be for the rest of their lives and it had nothing to do with money and everything to do with the love that the couple had found together.

Murtagh was older than Geillis by a few years but they had grown up in the same small town in the Highlands and were as intwined in each other’s lives as they could be. They had skirted around the issue for a long time before finally realising that they felt the same way about each other and within the year, Murtagh had asked Geillis Duncan if she’d do him the honour of becoming Mrs Geillis Fitzgibbons.

“Did Geillie not tell ye Claire? My family has run this estate since back in the Clan times. It was owned by the Mackenzies of Leoch but Frasers have been taking care of this land for hundreds of years, still do. God knows my da took enough hunting parties through here over the years, made them a good amount of money. Least they could do is lend it to us for the weekend so I can finally get married,” he grinned.

Murtagh had inherited his business from his father and his father before him. There was a lot of money in visitors coming from all over the world to the Highlands of Scotland to hunt, fish, hike and generally just experience the outdoors in a way that was unique to Scotland. You might get four seasons in one day but at least there would always be a peat fire burning to warm your boots and a dram of amber liquid in a crystal cut glass to warm your heart.

We stopped outside of a wooden door and Murtagh gave me a kiss on the forehead.

“It’s great to see ye lass, ye look well. All things considered.” The corners of his eyes crinkled and I bit my tongue to stop myself from getting overwhelmed.

“Thanks, Murtagh. It’s good to see you too. I can’t wait to share tomorrow with you both, you deserve it.”

He crossed himself and kissed his fingers before knocking on the door and disappearing down the hallway with the walk of a man who was fully content with life.

The door burst open and I was immediately being dragged into a hug that rivalled her own fiancé’s strength.

“You’re finally here! Oh my God, I’ve been absolutely beside myself all day waiting for you! What took you so long?” Geillis Duncan, my little redheaded nightmare spoke at the speed of a bullet train and the pitch of a boiling tea kettle.

“Well, you didn’t exactly tell me I’d be driving to the middle of nowhere. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ Geillis, let me breathe!” I squeaked as her grip lessened but not my much. “You’re as bad as Murtagh.”

“You’ve seen him today then? Did he help you in with your bags? Where are you bags?” A thousand questions on that ever inquisitive mind of hers. Some people found Geillis too intense and who could blame them with hair like fire and green eyes that fixed you where you stood? But not me. Not since I’d found her on our second day of our student placement, in a cupboard of one of England's busiest hospitals, crying those beautiful green eyes out. She had straightened up as soon as I’d stumbled upon her, desperate not to be seen as weak or lacking in ability. But once I’d told her that I was trying to find somewhere to cry too so she could either keep it up or leave me the hell alone, a wry smile broke over her face and we collapsed onto the floor together, her head immediately finding my shoulder in solace as though we’d been doing it for years. And we’d barely left each other’s sides ever since.

Still clasping my hands between hers, she sat us both down on the edge of the bed and moved her hands to my face.

“Beautiful Beauchamp, I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you here. I’m marrying the love of my life and I get to do it with you standing up there with me. I didn’t know I could feel this happy,” she breathed quietly, the tears starting to well up in her eyes.

“Nope, no no no, you’re not allowed to cry because then I’ll start and we’ll never make it to tomorrow cos we’ll have lost our entire body’s worth of liquid,” I started firmly as she began to smirk.

“For a doctor, that’s a terrible lack of understanding in how the human body works, Claire.” I playfully slapped her arm and we both began to laugh. The tiny part of my heart that had begun to thaw received another burst of heat and the ice began to melt. “Come on, let’s go and get you settled in your room, it’s only a few doors down. We have the run of the house and the outbuildings too for extra guests staying over. And just wait until you see where we’re having the ceilidh!”

“The what?”