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A Beautiful, Wild Country

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I tucked a single curl behind my ear as I turned again to my the cupboards in my new office, trying to get the medical supplies into my preferred order. The illustrious Doctor Beaton had not been an organised man and although I was well aware that he had a particular system for how he kept things, it was not in keeping with my own. When I realised that I had a spare thirty minutes towards the end of my working hours, I had pulled my hair back and tried to turn the haphazard cupboards into some semblance of order.

“Dr Beauchamp, we’ve had someone come in last minute if ye’d be willing to see them?” I turned to recognise the pretty blonde girl that had popped her head around the corner of the door to my office. The opportunity to procrastinate sorting the cupboards was all I needed to shut the doors and turn my back to them. They would keep.

“Yes, that’s fine, Laoghaire. Send them in,” I sighed as I smoothed my hair, trying to grasp for at least a modicum of professionalism at the end of a slow but long Friday at the end of my first week as Broch Mordha’s primary physician. Laoghaire, the younger of the two staff nurses that had been at the surgery for the past few years, was attentive and quick to anticipate my every need. For my first few appointments, she had sat in with me, promptly procuring everything I could’ve needed and I was incredibly thankful for it. She and her colleague, Mrs Graham had both made me feel very welcome which had come as more of a relief than I had thought.

I took my seat in the chair beside my computer as the door widened slightly, Laoghaire disappearing from view as the person made their way inside. I didn’t look up from my desk, quickly opening an email from Joe and minimising it as I heard the patient clear their throat loudly.

“Sorry to drop in w’out makin’ an appointment, Doctor,” the sound of Jenny’s voice made me turn instantly to her as she stood beside the now closed door, her hands dug deep in the pockets of her coat. It was the first time she’d ever looked… well, small to me. Jenny Murray nee Fraser had always stood far beneath her brother’s great height but she had grown up pushing her chin to the skies, trying to make up for the difference. I don’t know at what age she had learned that her fiery personality could well outdo her physical stature but she had honed it, always appearing to me as much the same size as Jamie. Stood in my new surgery office, she looked small and nervous. I immediately got to my feet and ushered her into a chair beside me.

“Jenny, you should know full well that you don’t need an appointment,” I reassured her as she unbuttoned her coat, “I’m always here to help you, any of you. What can I do?”

The worry on her face disappeared as she tried in earnest not to let a smile break onto her face.

“I’m in need of confirmation, Claire. I think I may be pregnant.”

Disbanding all rules of professional behaviour, I leaned towards her and took her worried hands into my own. I realised quickly that she had brought this information to me before anyone else and my heart warmed at her trust.

“What makes you think you’re pregnant?” I asked her, trying so hard to remain professional. She snorted and rolled her eyes at me and then fixed me straight.

“Women know when somethin’ isnae the same in their bodies, Claire. Especially when a bairn is settin’ up shop, surely ye ken that?”

She waited for a response but she received none. I fought the urge to clear the lump from my throat, casting my glance to the floor as her hand found my knee, one crossed on top of the other.

“Actually, I’m not sure that I do,” I tried to keep my voice firm, assured. But Jenny had a way of looking through me, similar to that of her brother. Without doubt, she had seen the secret behind my confession.

“A chuisle,” the soft endearment of her Gaelic almost undid me but I shook my head and took at her straight.

“Don’t do that. Don’t use those words.”

She looked affronted and her spine straightened, “Jamie speaks-“

“I know exactly when James chooses to speak Gaelic to me but that has nothing to do with… this.”

He uses it out of love, out of adoration. Not pity.

Her small hands wrapped themselves around both of my own and I could feel her eyes burning into me as I kept my gaze firmly on the floor.

“Do ye mean that ye cannot hae weans, Claire?”

It was the question that had nipped at my conscience since my body had considered itself able to produce a child. I was capable, certainly. But after meeting Frank, after his lack of commitment to me but his incessant, primal need to secure an heir, I had resigned that my body, my womb, was incapable of harbouring human life.

“Enough about me. Shall we do a test?”

I wasn’t sure how Dr Beaton had guided her through this the first time but I truly believed that the understanding of a woman, in these matters at least, was paramount to the entire situation. Jenny and Ian had experienced a generally calm first pregnancy, labor and all, and I had resigned myself to ensuring that their second would be much the same.

Jenny returned to the room from her brief stint in the bathroom and we waited in silence. I could feel the myriad of emotions that were rolling off of her, excitement and anxiety and a slight air of disbelief. Trying to quiet the noise that was in my head was becoming easier and when the test result began to show, the ache that was in my heart lifted and it was filled with happiness for Jenny and Ian.

“Looks like Wee Jamie is going to be a big brother.”

Jenny let out a huge sigh of relief as she dashed a tear from her cheek with the back of her hand, trying to contain the smile on her face. I moved towards her and hugged her as she stood, feeling the slight hiccups in her chest as she began to cry.

“I cannae wait to tell Ian,” she whispered as I let her go, holding her shoulders with my hands.

“Then go! And we’ll see you tonight,” I smiled at her as she began to wriggle into her thick coat.

“Aye, tonight, 7.30pm ye said?” Her hand was on the doorknob as she turned back to see my affirmative nod. Sadness appeared at the corners of her eyes as she opened the door and looked at me, “I winna tell him. That’s yer information to share, no’ mine. But for all that it’s worth, Claire, I’ve never seen Jamie love anyone as much as he loves ye. Dinna think that it will change what he feels for ye.”

I coughed loudly and crossed my arms over the front of my body, almost as though I was willing myself not to fall apart.

“Thank you, Jenny.”

***

“Mac na galla!”

I heard Jamie’s cursing coming from the small kitchen in our flat and tried not to laugh as I turned the corner to see him with his finger in his mouth, trying to soothe what I presumed was burning skin.

“All those years of medical school tells me that you should run it under cold water rather than stick it in your mouth,” I chastised him. He turned to face me and removed his finger, wiping it hastily on my cheek as I eagerly squirmed away from it.

“Haud yer wheesht and help me peel those tatties, will ye?” He gestured to the sink and I set to work, peeling the mound of potatoes that he had brought home with him from the farm shop.

We had settled into a comfortable routine in the small time that we’d been living together, like it was the most natural thing in the world that we would always be close to the other. On returning from his early morning run, he would bring me a cup of tea in bed before disappearing into the shower. I was still getting used to the hours of a General Practitioner rather than working all types of shifts in the accident and emergency of one of London’s busiest hospitals. There was, undoubtedly, a slower pace to my work here and if it meant that I got to slip into the shower cubicle with my hot boyfriend before heading off to work in the morning, I was all for it.

We moved around the small kitchen together, Jamie’s music of choice playing softly in the background. Heading to the fridge, he proffered a bottle of white wine that we had opened the night before.

“Just a small one, suppose it is a party,” I accepted but he had already begun to pour one for me, anticipating that I would say yes. I took it from him gratefully and sighed when the alcohol slid down my throat.

“Are ye alright, Sassenach? Ye look like ye’ve somethin’ on yer mind,” his fingers captured one of my curls and he twirled it around before tucking it behind my ear. I sent him a tight smile and I could see him begin to worry.

“I’m fine, really, just a long day. We’ll talk about it but later, yeah? Everyone will be here soon.”

If he was unhappy with my response, he didn’t say anything and we returned to our tasks, letting the music fill the space of the conversation that we weren’t having.

“I like this one,” I said quietly as I recognised a song from the radio, something about digging a thousand holes.

Jamie smiled as he came behind me and wrapped his arms around my hips, his chin coming to rest on my shoulder.

“Mon the Biff,” he whispered, making me laugh as his breath tickled against the skin of my neck.

“I have no idea what that means but sure, Mon the Biff.”

I could feel the smile on his lips as he pressed a kiss against my neck, sighing contentedly as he did so. I turned in his arms as he lips found my own and I let all the worries of the day melt away as he kissed me. His hands gripped my hips tightly, pulling me closer to him so that I could feel that he was already quite hard in his jeans. The power of what I could do to him swept through me as I pushed him backwards against the counter, my hands moving to the fly of his jeans as moved to get to my knees. I watched as his knuckles went white, his strong fingers gripping the edge of the counter as he held his breath, waiting in anticipation.

“Hallo the house!”

Ian’s loud voice came from the hallway as Jamie scrambled to lift me from my knees in front of him before hastily correcting his clothing.

“Christ, why did we say we’d host this?” He growled as he left the kitchen, sending me his very own attempt at a wink as I laughed quietly. Smoothing my hands over my hair and my dress, I went to meet our guests, Wee Jamie barreling into my legs at the first sight of me.

“Auntie Claire, yer house is lovely!” He said with a practiced emphasis on the word ‘lovely’. He looked at Jenny for approval and she gave him a quick nod before presenting me with a bouquet of flowers.

“Thank you, you’re a true gentleman,” I laid a hand on Wee Jamie’s head as I bent to kiss Jenny on the cheek, “And thank you for the flowers, they’re beautiful.”

“Och, dinna fash, Ian’s got the real housewarming present,” Jenny smiled as I turned to see Ian pressing a bottle of whisky into Jamie’s hands. The look on Jamie’s face told me that it was a very nice whisky.

“Dinna be daft, that’s too much,” he said with awe in his voice as he handled the bottle like a newborn baby. Ian rolled his eyes at his brother in law and slapped a hand to his shoulder.

“We’re celebratin’, are we no’?”

“Aye but a bottle of 18 year old Macallan is a wee bit much for Burns’ Night, do ye no’ think?” Jamie countered. A wry smile crept over Ian’s face as he looked at his wife, her hands subconsciously cradling the budding life that was growing inside her belly. Jamie looked between the two of them and his eyebrows furrowed.

“I winna be partaking in the drink tonight, mo brathair. Sees how yer gonna be an uncle again.”

Jamie closed the gap between himself and his sister in two long strides as he crushed her in a hug that would’ve taken the breath out of someone who wasn’t as used to it as Jenny Murray. She laughed as he swung her around before putting her down quickly and setting her right on her feet.

“Christ, sorry Jenny, I’m just sae excited for ye. For the both of ye.”

“And me!” Wee Jamie piped up causing Jamie to grab him by the waist and effortlessly swing him upside down, much to his nephew’s delight.

“Ach ye weel rascal, ye’ll be the best brother!” Jamie tickled his namesake mercilessly as Wee Jamie squealed with laughter. Ian moved to put his arm around Jenny and watched their youngest with his uncle, both of them smiling. They looked every bit the family unit and not for the first time, I couldn’t believe that I was lucky to be a part of it.

***

“Fair fa’ yer honest sonsie face, great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race!” Ian was stood at the head of the table, a large knife in his hand which he held above his head. We were all cramped around the table that was much too small for five people but as Ian began his address to the haggis in front of him, our close quarters just made everything feel more cosy. All eyes were on him as he continued with the poem written by Robert Burns that I’d heard in passing before but never in full. Some words were a complete mystery to me but the Scots around the table laughed and smiled as they understood much more than I did. At one point they quickly applauded as Ian brought the knife down to the haggis and cut it open, steam rising from the now split casing.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind yer care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies.
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

Everyone around the table applauded loudly, Wee Jamie most of all as Ian finished his poem. The food was dished out and we all began to eat, conversation flowing easily as the night went on. After a little while, Wee Jamie began to fidget in his seat and his dad bent to speak quietly to him, nodding with encouragement as the little boy got to his feet on his chair.

“A toast to the lassies!” He proclaimed loudly as his uncle cheered and found my hand under the table, squeezing it as the boy straightened up, his nerves gone with the approval of his uncle. “Thank ye tae Auntie Claire for letting us come for dinner and thank ye for takin’ Uncle Jamie out of our hoose, we couldnae deal wi’ the smell much longer!”

We all laughed as Jamie’s mouth dropped open in an over exaggerated gasp, earning a giggle from his nephew.

“And thank ye tae my mam for geein’ me a wee brother or sister to play with soon. Ye are as bonnie as the… uh-“ Wee Jamie’s rehearsed speech trailed off as he forgot the words that he had learnt but Ian was beside him, reassuring him with a gentle nudge.

“Flower banks-“

“Oh aye, the flowery banks o’ bonnie Doon!”

Jenny cheered and clapped her son as I retrieved my hand from Jamie’s and joined in, Wee Jamie bowing and plopping himself back down next to his father who pressed a kiss to the top of the little boy’s head.

“Well, it might no’ be traditional to have a Sassenach do it but do ye fancy giving the Reply?” Jamie looked at me expectantly and I scoffed at him as I took a drink from my glass.

“Considering I have no idea what you’re on about, I rather think not.”

Jenny chuckled at my side as she pushed herself to her feet and raised her glass of water to her son.

“Thank ye, mo chridhe for yer brilliant toast. And yer wee nod to Rabbie as well, of course,” she said easily, inclining her head to her son and her husband, “The lassies are grateful that we are aw thegither and have had a brilliant Burns Night.”

Wee Jamie applauded his mum and we all relaxed into our chairs, the performative aspect of the evening being over. Or so I’d thought.

When their son’s head starting lolling against the back fo the sofa, Jenny and Ian had made their goodbyes and headed home, leaving Jamie and I to relax on the sofa, me bundled under the tartan blanket as he brought me a glass of whisky.

“You know, I never really liked whisky before you,” I noted as I took a deep inhale of the amber liquid. He made a decisively Scottish noise in the back of his throat as he sat down beside me.

“Ah ken that fine, Sassenach, mind the wedding? But this isnae just any whisky, this is a near £300 bottle,” he closed his eyes as he tilted his head backwards, savouring the flavours that danced along his tongue.

“It is delicious,” I nodded as his free hand found the skin at the back of my neck, his fingers rubbing lazy circles there.

“So how was yer first Burns Night then, ye Sassenach?”

“Surprisingly not as much Robert Burns as I thought there’d be,” I laughed as the whisky warmed my chest.

“Well then, let’s see, shall we? What can we conjure up from the Bard that’s hidden itself away in my brain, I wonder…” he trailed off as he began to think and I leaned into his side, curling up in my favourite place in the word. When he began to speak, his voice was low, reverent and full of love.

Oh my luve is like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June;
O my luve is like the melodie,
That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile.