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A Beautiful, Wild Country

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Once the dinner had finished, everyone slowly started to make their way to their rooms as the time ticked on, including the beautiful redhead.

Jimmy? Johnny? Should’ve paid more attention to what he was saying than his mouth, Beauchamp.

It was getting past midnight when Geillis finally nudged me in the ribs and wriggled her eyebrows, making me look at what she was trying to conceal behind her back. A very large bottle of prosecco.

“And just what are you planning on doing with that?” I enquired, a smirk spreading across my lips.

“Me, you, my room. We can say we’re taking it for mimosas in the morning,” she grinned. Making her excuses to the room on her own behalf and mine, we snuck upstairs and into her room before anyone could catch us. We immediately kicked off our shoes and crawled onto the bed before she uncorked the prosecco with a squeal.

My fingers absent-mindedly played with the wire cage as she took a very large swig from the bottle.

“You know, Frank can make these little things into the shape of a turtle.” His name slipped from between my lips as easily as anything and the horrible pangs surfaced in the pit of my stomach. Geillis rolled her eyes.

“No more mention of the cretin, please! Not this weekend. If it makes it easier, I give you full permission to consider this weekend as all about me,” she pouted playfully and I smacked her on the leg. I threw myself back onto the pillows and covered my face with my hands.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I sighed exasperatedly and heard her giggle.

“You just seemed so happy in the beginning. He was intelligent and charming and you seemed genuinely happy around him. And then he just stopped caring and started taking you for granted.” I felt her hand pat my forearm, trying to comfort me. “Besides, we thought you’d just say that we didn’t like him because of how he behaved when we were around. Remember that Hogmanay?”

***

“Who on earth is ringing the doorbell at this time on New Year’s Eve?” Frank grumbled as he brushed his teeth.

“It’s a few minutes past midnight, it’s New Year’s Day now,” I corrected him, which I always secretly took a little too much pleasure in doing.

As I moved through the hallway of Frank’s townhouse, I could see figures huddled behind the door and I tentatively cracked it open, lest it be the grumpy woman from next door complaining about something or other. Whatever she could be complaining about, it couldn’t be the noise. I’d had to practically beg Frank to see in the bells with me and when they came, I received a chaste kiss on the corner of my mouth before he got up and started getting ready for bed.

I opened the door and honestly, my eyes started to fill with tears.

“Surprise!” The three of them screamed at me, eyes and red noses peeking out of hats and scarves wrapped tightly around themselves.

“Let us in, it’s bloody freezing!” Murtagh exclaimed as he, Geillis and Joe all stumbled into the hall and I closed the door behind them.

“You idiots, what are you all doing in London?” As far as I had been aware, Geillis and Murtagh were meant to be in Scotland where they lived and Joe was in Boston visiting his family for the holidays.

As they began to shrug out of their layers, I noticed they all had individual items to hand. Weird items, at that.

“First things first,” Geillis kissed me on the cheek as she pressed a 5p into my hand. Joe proferred a bottle of whisky and a single slice of almost frozen bread. And finally, Murtagh presented me with a very large piece of coal.

“Lang may yer lum reek!” He announced proudly as Frank joined us in the hallway. Geillis couldn’t help but snort at the sight of his pyjamas and as the three of them swayed slightly, I realised they were all pretty drunk.

“Nice to see you all, happy new year and all that. Claire, can I have a word?” Frank’s hand pulled on my upper arm as he guided me into the kitchen and away from our guests. “What on earth are they doing here?”

“Did you not hear them yell ‘surprise’? I have no idea but I’m glad that they are,” I tried my hardest not to stick my chin up in defiance but he rolled his eyes anyway.

“Claire, you’re acting like a child. You always do when those three appear. And why on earth are you holding a lump of coal?”

At that point, the three mischief makers came into the room with us and the look in Geillis’ eye made me cower for Frank’s sake. She fixed a sweet smile to her face and looked him straight.

“They’re traditional first-footing gifts, Frank. Silver coin for prosperity, bread so you never go hungry, whisky so you’re never thirsty and coal so you always have warmth. We brought them to your home to offer good luck in the coming year.”

Frank rolled his eyes again and sighed.

“Thank you for the lesson on Scotland, Geillis but last time I checked, we are very much in England.”

Geillis’ jaw tightened and I shot her a quick glance, pleading her not to start a fight. I placed my hand on Frank’s arm and turned to him, feeling the irritation radiating off of his body.

“Can we just have a quick drink here? Please Frank, they’ve come all this way and I haven’t seen them in months.” He shook his head.

“I have to be at the office in less than seven hours Claire, I need to sleep.”

“Come on man, live a little! It’s Hogmanay!” Murtagh raised the bottle of whisky in the air before taking a long draw and offering it to Frank, trying to be the peace maker as always. Frank’s eyes drifted from the bottle to the man holding it and he smiled. Being the person in the room who knew him best, it wasn’t a nice smile.

“Sorry jock but I’m more of a gin guy.”

The tension in the room immediately doubled and I saw Geillis’ mouth drop open for the slightest of moments. As fiercely protective of her fiancé as he was of her, the derision in Frank’s voice had sent her over the edge.

“What the fuck do you mean by that then, Frank?” The alcohol made her composure slip. I knew that none of my friends really thought that much of Frank, they all just sort of put up with him for my sake. But Geillis had to try very hard at the best of times to keep her mouth shut when she felt slighted and this, apparently, was not going to be one of those times. “You fucking bastard.”

I immediately told Frank to go to bed while Murtagh put his hands on Geillis’ shoulders to steady her. As Frank left the room, I turned to apologise to my friends.

“You’re not the one who needs to apologise, Claire. Your boyfriend is a fucking prejudiced prick.” Geillis spat, her eyes going glassy from her inebriation.

“Geillie, let’s go, come on.” Joe started to edge the three of them out of the room and they gathered their things to leave.

“I’m so sorry, you guys. I’m sorry and you came all this way-“ Geillis snapped a drunken hand over my mouth to stop me from continuing as tears started to fill her eyes.

“He doesn’t deserve you, Claire. I love you and I will always be your best friend but you deserve more than that man.”

And with that, the three of them left into the cold air as I closed the door and began to cry.

***

“I hate thinking about that night. I’d never seen him be cruel like that before,” I ruminated before bringing the bottle of prosecco to my lips. Geillis and I were now changed into fluffy bathrobes and were tucked up in her bed. She stole the bottle from my hands, yet again.

“Hindsight is 20/20. Anyway, it’s my last night as an unmarried woman and I refuse to spend it talking about your cheating bastard of an ex. Tell me about all the hot dates that you’ve been on recently, as of tomorrow I’m a one-man gal,” she giggled and I faked a gasp, clutching my invisible pearls.

“You mean to tell me that up until now you’ve been spreading your legs every time someone attractive comes past your door? Miss Duncan, what would your fiancé say?” Geillis snorted into her prosecco.

“Bitch, the bubbles went up my nose. Seriously, have you been dating? I know it’s only been a few weeks since Frank but you’re allowed to move on extra quickly when you’re being cheated on.”

“Yes but we lived together, it’s not that easy.”

“Excuse me, he let you stay overnight but you did not live together. He gave you a key for emergencies only for Christ’s sake.” I cringed at her honesty and couldn’t help but mentally smack myself on the forehead. All the red flags that I had dug down were all so obvious when they were coming out of someone else’s mouth, especially someone as blunt as my best friend Geillis. Frank and I had been together for close to two years and every time I raised the idea of me moving in with him, he quickly shut it down. So I’d been existing in the tiny spare bedroom of Joe’s flat, refusing to look at getting my own place with more space on the dwindling hope that Frank would suddenly change his tune.

“Okay, okay, I get your point, no need to rub it in. But no, no dates. I’ve barely left the flat,” I felt myself blush with shame and Geillis shot me a sympathetic look.

“Look, there’s going to be almost a hundred more people coming tomorrow than are already here. I’m sure between the Duncans and the Fitzgibbons, we can find you someone to crush over,” she said, reclining back against her pillows and looking up at the ceiling, clearly swiping through the guest list in her mind.

“Well, now that you mention it…” I trailed off. She immediately sat back up again, her jaw dropping.

“Who? Have you been snooping through our guests? Tell me right now!” She smacked me on the arm making me yelp.

“Stop it, you little savage. Well, I just thought Murtagh’s best man was quite easy on the eyes.” My blush deepened and Geillis nodded appreciatively.

“Jamie, my wee fox cub. He really is quite handsome and a good guy too. You could do a hell of a lot worse, Claire!”

“How does he know Murtagh? I thought I would’ve heard about him before.”

“Well, they’re sort of an unofficial uncle and nephew, really. Murtagh was best friends with Jamie’s dad and when he died, Murtagh sort of stepped in, kept an eye on him.” Geillis smiled, her eyes drifting off to nowhere as she thought of her future husband.

“Oh, that fiancé of yours is a good’un, isn’t he?” I teased and her far away daze broke off. “No really, it’s sweet. Do you, uh, know if he’s seeing anyone?”

“Jamie? Nah, he’s just back from travelling and I think there was a girl he was interested in but I heard she went off with someone else. That’s why he came back home a few months ago,” she explained and a little spark of hope ignited in my chest.

“That’s… interesting,” I said, trying to feign my excitement at hearing he was single. Maybe Geillis was right and it was time for me to move on. And maybe I could do that by getting under Jamie’s-

“Very interesting, you wee vixen,” Geillis teased, “I can see your mind thinking about what those big hands could do to ye.”

Feeling like a teenager, the blush could well have been over my whole body now and I turned around to dig my face into the pillow.

“You’re drunk and you’re getting married in a few hours. I’m drunk and I’ve got to get you ready to get married in a few hours so I suggest we both shut up about hot men and go to sleep,” my words were muffled by the pillow but I felt Geillis dig further down into the bedding.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Beautiful Beauchamp. And I put the fate of tomorrow in your hands as I think I will have a monstrous hangover,” she giggled and with that, we both slowly drifted into the realm of sleep.