Thankfully the petrol station was fairly recognizable to me. But I watched Jamie carefully, seeing him pale at the sight of the garish lights and vibrant colors. And in fact, it did seem displeasing to the eye after so long of being surrounded mostly by natural beauty. At least the vibrance of Versailles had its own brand of beauty. This, this was just blinding.
“Y’all hungry?” Jayme asked.
I was starving , but quite aware that Jamie and I had no money. At least, no money that they were likely to accept. The 18th century coins in Jamie’s sporran were no doubt considerably more valuable now than they were then, but I wouldn’t figure that the shop owner here would care.
“It’s cool,” Jayme said more softly when we hesitated. “It’s on me!”
“We can’t go in there dressed like this,” I pointed out.
Jayme shrugged. “What do they care?”
She had a point, so I took Jamie’s hand again and led him inside. “Christ,” he muttered, squinting in the glaring white light.
Sure enough, the man behind the counter took one look at us, then looked back down at his phone , not caring in the least. Interesting. In the corner, I could see a sign for the washroom, and sighed in relief. “I’ll be right back,” I said.
Jamie tightened his grip on my hand, looking at me in panic.
“It’s alright,” I whispered. “Just look around a moment, try to blend in. Don’t draw attention to yourself and don’t under any circumstances draw your sword.”
Jamie didn’t look as though he’d follow that last instruction if he felt it necessary, but nodded and turned to wander down the small aisles, looking very large and comically out of place among the candy bars and bags of crisps.
Jayme followed me into the washroom, and I grimaced at the size of the stalls. “Wonderful, I suppose I didn’t think about how I would manage my...costume.”
“When my cousin got married, she had to like, face the back of the toilet you know? To keep her dress out of the way.”
I could hear Jayme giggling while I was in the stall, cursing and muttering while I went about my business. But her advice did the trick, and it was still easier than a chamber pot. And thank the Lord, a toilet that flushed !
“Are you okay?” She asked when I finally came out seeming hesitant. “You can tell me, you know, if you’re in trouble or something. Your husband, he’s…”
“We’re fine,” I assured her. “We’re in a rather...strange situation that would be hard to explain, but I promise you that Jamie is a very good man. He’s just a bit out of his depth right now.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I mean he seems nice but the sword is a little weird. And you just never know these days.”
“That’s for sure,” I mumbled as we exited the washroom.
I found Jamie perusing the snacks like a curious child, and smiled at the sight.
“Sassenach, what th’ devil is this ?”
“A snack cake,” I told him. “They’re good.”
“Isn’t Sassenach an insult?” Jayme asked.
I smiled at her. “Trust me, he means it with nothing but love.”
We left the shop with several snacks and bottles of pop just as a car pulled up where a young man stuck his head out the window and asked for Jayme MacKenzie, making me start once again at the uncanniness of her name.
She checked something on her phone, then motioned to us. “Come on, this is our ride.”
“Like a carriage,” I whispered to Jamie while I opened the door to the back seat, while Jayme hopped into the front.
Like the man in the petrol station, the driver didn’t seem to notice or care about my and Jamie’s unusual attire. Did people in this time...whatever time it was...often dress unusually?
Jayme was wearing a dress not at all unlike something I would have worn in the 1940s. And the men I’d seen so far had all been in jeans and T-shirts. Nothing remotely similar to corsets, gowns, and kilts. So did people just generally not care?
I patted Jamie’s knee, encouraging him to look at the distant trees, knowing he would likely soon get carsick.
“So fast,” he whispered.
“Faster than I even remember,” I whispered back.
The car radio was quietly playing music, but I couldn’t hear it well enough to know if I recognized it or not. In the place where a car radio should be though, was a bright screen like that of Jayme’s telephone. There were several series’ of numbers, that at first didn’t make sense. Until they did.
The breath caught in my throat suddenly, and I stared in disbelief.
The screen was displaying the date.
April 26, 2020.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”
“Wow,” Jayme chuckled, twisting to look at me. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone but my mom say that. Is it a Scottish thing?”
“I...I’m not sure,” I said, taking a sip of my Coca-Cola, wishing it was whisky.
“Claire?” Jamie murmured, looking at me in concern.
“Two thousand-twenty,” I whispered, trusting the roar of the engine to keep the driver and Jayme from hearing me. “The year, Jamie. Two thousand and twenty.”
“How?” He whispered back.
“I have no idea.”
It didn’t take long to reach Inverness, and it was a surprise and a relief to find it hadn’t changed that much since the 1940s. But it was another world entirely from the 1740s.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and mutter “of course” when the car pulled up outside Mrs. Baird’s Bed and Breakfast.
At Jamie’s look I shook my head, silently telling him not to ask.
We stepped into the foyer, finally receiving an alarmed look from the B&B’s current “Mrs. Baird,” but she made no comment other than asking if she could help us.
“Mom,” Jayme called before we had to answer, getting engulfed in a crushing hug by a tall, attractive older woman with matching curly hair, only in black streaked in gray instead of dark brown.
“I can’t believe you did this,” Jayme’s mother said. “What is wrong with you?! You’re sixteen years old, for Christ’s sake! And you only met him yesterday!”
“I’m sorry, okay?” Jayme said impatiently, her face reddening as she broke away. “It was a mistake. He seemed nice.”
The woman snorted. “They always do.”
I cleared my throat, and the woman remembered suddenly that we were there. “This isn’t over,” she warned her daughter before turning to us, taking in our attire with a frown despite having been told about it over the phone. “Thank you again, Mr. and Mrs…” she trailed off, looking back and forth between my and Jamie’s faces, her own paling. “...Fraser.”
“Mom, this is Claire and Jamie,” Jayme introduced. “Isn’t it funny? Like my name...hey, are you okay?”
“Have we met, Mistress?” Jamie asked, surprising me by speaking, since he’d been almost entirely silent this whole time, but I understood what he was feeling. I felt like I’d met this woman somewhere, but couldn’t place exactly where. Meanwhile, she was staring at us like we were ghosts and it was getting a little unnerving.
“Jesus. H. Roosevelt Christ,” she whispered, and I felt Jamie flinch.
Jayme chuckled, a little awkwardly. “See what I mean?” She asked me.
“Could we talk upstairs?” The woman asked, her voice unsteady. “Jay and I have a suite…”
I looked at Jamie, who made a small gesture to inform me that it was up to me. It wasn’t like we had anywhere to go anyway, and a mother and daughter were unlikely to be much of a threat, so I nodded, and followed them up the steps, fully aware that the last time I did so had been either 3 years ago or 75 years ago, and with a different husband.
We entered a sitting area decorated in the same floral motif that Frank and my room had been all those years ago.
The older woman spun around to us, eyes wild. “My God…” she said. “What are you doing here?!”
“I…” I began, exchanging another confused look with Jamie. “I’m not sure…”
“It’s me ,” she said, looking on the verge of tears. “Don’t you know me?!”
“I’m verra sorry, Mistress,” Jamie said. “We...we don’t know you.”
She looked as if he’d slapped her, and honestly it rather broke my heart, even though I had no idea what was going on. I thought maybe that, for me at least, the reason I felt like I knew her was because she strongly resembled pictures I’d had of my mother, but the look she was giving us was more like a lost child.
“Mama,” Jayme said, touching her mother’s shoulder. “What’s going on? Who are these people?”
Jayme’s mother shook her head, rubbing quickly at her eyes. “I’m sorry, I just...I don’t understand how you’re here.”
“Here…” I hedged, unsure exactly what she knew. “In...Inverness?”
She propped a hand on her hip, seemingly frustrated with my evasiveness. “In the 21st century. The stones brought you here. But from when ?”
“Wow, Mom,” Jayme began. “What are you talking about? Are you drunk?”
She turned to her daughter. “Sweetheart, listen, the reason I brought you here is because there are things about our family that you don’t know. I was waiting for your grandmother to get here...look, I know this is impossible to understand, but if you can just hold on a bit, I swear I’ll explain everything.”
Jayme looked far from convinced, so her mother sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “If you go downstairs right now and stay in the lobby until I call you, you’ll only be grounded for one week…instead of four.”
Jayme appeared to consider that a moment before giving a teasing salute with her fingers. “Later.”
“I’m sorry…” I said after Jayme had left the room. “You know about the stones? Are you from another time like me? Like...us?”
She chuckled, and gave me a simple year, much like the only other traveler I’d ever met had, two years ago. “1806.”
I shook my head, barely able to believe it. “You’re from the past ?”
“I don’t know if I can be considered from any specific time. But yes, even though I spent much of my life in this century, the other will always be home.”
Jamie was shaking his head too, and I wondered if I needed to offer the poor man a chair. “And ye ken us? How? I know that Claire is able tae travel, but she never knew anything about me…”
She crossed her arms. “I think I should have kept my big mouth shut. I don’t know how this happened. Gr...Jamie, you should not be here . You can’t travel, you never could. It’s an inherited trait that you weren’t born with.”
“Well, clearly he can travel because he did,” I pointed out. “How do you know that it’s an inherited trait? I’ve only known one other like me, and she didn’t seem to know anymore than I did about how all this is supposed to work.”
“Geillis,” she said. “Yeah, I know. Look, Claire, if you haven’t figured it out yet, the year is 2020. A lot has happened. My family are all travelers and we’ve learned a lot about how it works and one thing that’s always been constant is that only those with the inherited trait can do it. This doesn’t make sense. Where...I mean... when did you come from?”
I crossed my arms as well, getting an odd look from Jamie for some reason. “Jamie was trying to send me back, because of Culloden.”
Her eyes went round. “Culloden?” She gasped. “Oh no…no, no, no…”
“Mistress…” Jamie said. “I think ye need tae be honest with us now.”
“This didn’t happen…” she continued, starting to sound rather crazed as she paced back and forth. “This isn’t right.”
“Don’t call me that!” She cried, stopping her pacing. “I was a leannan , or lass, or wee Mandy, not Mistress...I…” she trailed off and crumpled, and a strange part of me ached to comfort her. “Oh God, what am I doing? You’re...fuck, you’re not even ten years older than my daughter…”
She sat down hard on the small sofa, putting her head in her hands. After a pause, Jamie approached her slowly, like he would a startled mare, and touched her shoulder. “Lass,” he said. “We kent ye as a child, is that it? What are ye not telling us?”
“I shouldn’t,” she said. “I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you anything. This hasn’t happened before.”
“But it has happened,” I said. “And I think Jamie and I need all the information we can get.”
She looked up at me, eyes red. “You’re pregnant, right?”
I nodded, a sudden chill going through me as I touched my stomach.
She smiled, though it was strained. “My name is Amanda Mackenzie. You’re carrying my mother.”