It was the best sleep I’d had in months, but I was sure that had a lot to do with the warm, comfortable bed and the husband snoring away beside me. Safe, sound, and here with me.
I smiled down at him, not thinking I’d ever seen him sleeping quite so deeply, at least not without being very drunk the night before.
There was a soft knock at the door, and I was reminded where we were...and who it likely was. I slipped my shift on, wishing I had something cleaner, made sure Jamie was fully covered with the quilt, and opened the door.
“Morning,” Jayme chirped, although her cheerfulness seemed a little forced. I supposed that she and her mother’d had that talk the night before.
“Mom and I went out this morning and bought you and Jamie some clothes,” she said, then chuckled. “Didn’t figure you’d wanna go running around in your...uh...costumes…”
I smiled taking the plastic bags from her. “Thank you, Jayme.”
“Call me Jay,” she said. “Might be easier than trying to keep track of two Jamies in conversation. If you guys want, they’re serving breakfast downstairs.”
“I know,” I said without thinking.
Jayme raised a brow. “Yeah?”
“I um...I’ve been here before. Long ago. With my...erm...previous husband.”
Jayme’s mouth went wide as she said, “Ohhh. Frank, right? I’ve seen pictures of him, in Nana’s albums.”
“What?” I said, more sharply than I meant.
She blinked. “Nana’s dad...well...her stepdad, I guess? Looks like an old timey gangster in some of the pics.”
I’d understood that our daughter had gone to the 20th (21st?) century so that her husband could receive medical attention. How in their history had Frank become the stepfather of my and Jamie’s child? I wasn’t sure I even wanted to know.
“Sorry,” Jayme said, no doubt seeing my discomfort. “Mom and I will be downstairs whenever you guys are ready.”
With that, she fled, and I shut the door behind her.
“Was that th’ lass?” Jamie asked, sitting up. “Everything alright, Sassenach?”
“Yes,” I lied, but there was no sense in upsetting him with this right now. He was oddly happy about being here with our...granddaughters. Though I was still having a hell of a time wrapping my mind around it. “Jay brought us some clothes.”
Jamie poked through the bags curiously, (after poking the bag itself curiously.) “Canna tell what’s supposed tae be mine, or yours.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “The sizes aren’t tipping you off?”
For Jamie, Mandy and Jayme had picked out a pair of blue jeans, and a pair of cotton pants (either to sleep in, or perhaps in case the jeans didn’t fit,) along with a button down shirt and a couple of white undershirts, and a heavy brown leather jacket. Not at all unlike what I was used to seeing men wear in the 1940s, if a little more casual than usual.
For me, a pair of buttery soft leggings, a long cable-knit sweater, and a gray coat. They’d included everything else we could need as well; underwear, toothbrushes, combs, antiperspirant, razors, and more.
“Leave it to a mother to think of everything,” I said wryly.
Jamie held up the simple but rather skimpy flesh-colored brassiere between his finger and thumb. “What the devil…”
“That’s definitely for me,” I said, laughing as I snatched it away before gratefully shedding my grubby shift in favor of the soft undergarments.”
“Is that a corset ?” He asked, watching me dress in total fascination.
“Of a fashion,” I said laughingly. “Only considerably more comfortable. And this is astonishingly more comfortable than even I remember.”
The bra had none of the wire and shape I expected, but that meant that Mandy and Jayme hadn’t needed my exact size. It was a little big, but certainly did the trick for the moment.
Once I had the leggings and sweater on, Jamie continued to stare, but then frowned when I was done, looking around at the scattered clothing. “Is that it?”
“Other than the coat, yes. My own boots will be fine.”
He shook his head slowly. “Ye canna go out in public looking like that Sassenach. Th’ shirt…” he stood up, going to stand behind me. “It barely covers your arse! And those stockings show every curve of your legs! Ye might as well be naked! It isn’a decent!”
“ Honestly , Jamie!” I laughed. “How is this any different from what Mandy and Jay were wearing yesterday?”
“Jayme is scarcely more’n a bairn, no’ a marrit woman, like yourself.” he reasoned. “And Mandy was at least covered completely.”
“You want to stay in this time period?” I asked him. “Then you are just going to have to overcome your prudish sensibilities, Mr. Fraser.”
Jamie grumbled, but didn’t argue further, and I sat down to take my turn at watching him dress.
“Wear the shorts,” I told him, opening the package and tossing him the pair of “boxer briefs” when he made to put the jeans on without them.
“Why?” He asked.
“One, those look like they might be a little tight, so it might be more comfortable for you. Two, I want to see you wearing them. Only them, for a moment, if you don’t mind.”
Shaking his head, Jamie obliged me, pulling on the underwear before standing before me with his hands on his hips. “Happy?”
“Very,” I said, smirking. “Now go on, they’re waiting for us.”
It was a good thing I restrained myself from tearing Jamie’s clothes off once he’d put them on, because I was starving for something more substantial than petrol station snacks. I understood Jamie’s feelings about my leggings, though, because the thought of other women getting a look at Jamie Fraser in a pair of tight jeans was uncomfortable, to say the least.
It was difficult to even reconcile the Highland warrior I’d known for three years with this thoroughly modern man. His long hair and short beard weren’t even out of place here, judging by the other young men I’d seen.
I’d convinced him to leave his sword in the room, insisting it wasn’t needed here, but his hand twitched over the area of his hip nervously as we descended the stairs.
Sure enough, heads turned as we entered the dining room, drawn to Jamie like always, but I could see the way the women (and a few of the men) eyed him from top to bottom.
“Nice,” Jayme said when we approached their table, although the way she said it made it sound more like “noice.”
Mandy was shaking her head, gesturing toward the empty chairs. “It’s so strange, seeing you dressed that way.”
“You’re telling me,” Jamie muttered, narrowing his eyes at me.
“Jamie doesn’t approve of leggings,” I explained.
Jayme grinned. “Yeah, that’s why I picked them. Wanted to see what Mr. 18th Century would think. Mom talked me out of the miniskirt.”
“It’s too cold,” Mandy said. “Besides, I’m not prepared to see my grandmother in a miniskirt.”
“So you did tell her,” I said to Mandy, opting to ignore the rest of that. “She seems to be taking it well.”
Mandy stared at her daughter. “I’m not sure she thinks it’s real.”
Jayme held up her hands. “Hey, if I can believe that our president is real, that flamingos are real, and that Zendaya is real, I can believe that my family is all time-hopping Whovians. I mean, this is the kind of secret that people Naruto-ran to Area 51 for.”
Jamie and I looked from Jayme to Mandy, who only shrugged. “Relax, I didn’t get most of that either.”
“So what now?” I asked, smiling as Jayme slid over a plate on pancakes. Jamie had bacon and eggs, but he was eyeing my pancakes so covetously I swapped our plates.
“Well,” Mandy began. “This was just a stop on our way. Jay and I were going to head out this morning. There are some important things we need to discuss, but I suppose it can wait until we get there.”
“Get where?” Jamie asked.
Mandy smiled at him. “Home, Grandda. Lallybroch.”
I knew that Jamie didn’t relish the prospect of another car ride, but he was alive with interest at seeing Lallybroch, some 300 years after the time he’d lived there.
I wondered if he realized what we were getting ourselves into. I didn’t know if he was prepared to see his home either in ruins or perhaps torn down entirely and replaced with something else.
This time, instead of an “Uber,” Mandy had rented a car that morning while she and Jay were out shopping. She admitted though that she’d never had cause to drive in Europe, and so was accustomed to driving on the other side of the road.
A part of me wanted to offer to drive myself, wondering what it was like driving one of these new automobiles that went so quickly yet so smoothly, but I was too nervous.
We collected our belongings, Mandy informing us that we wouldn’t need to return to the hotel, and Jamie stared forlornly at the shower until I told him that hotels weren’t the only places that that had them.
The ride to Lallybroch wasn’t long compared to how long it would have taken on horseback, and Jamie’s motion sickness didn’t seem to be as effected by the smoothly rolling car, especially when Mandy invited him to sit in the front seat, apparently well aware of his issue.
Meanwhile, I sat beside Jayme, watching her with bemused interest.
Music was playing from her phone, and she was holding up to her face, mouthing along with the words.
It was a catchy tune, but strange to my ears, and I leaned over, wondering what Jayme was looking at.
In response, Jayme tilted the phone toward me and I was shocked to find myself staring into a mirror image of myself.
“How did you make it do that?” I asked, startled.
Jayme laughed, then pressed a button, which replayed the entire interaction.
“You can film motion pictures with that?!” I exclaimed.
Jayme laughed again. “We call them videos, but yeah. Come on, move your mouth along to the song.”
“I don’t know that song.”
She shrugged. “Okay, what’s a song you know?”
I eyed her skeptically. “Nothing I’m sure you could play on that.”
She eyed me back. “Try me.”
“Fine, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
Jayme’s thumbs made a minuscule keyboard appear on the screen, then they flew across it lightning fast and before I knew it, the familiar trumpet tune started clearer than I’d ever heard it before.
“Okay, now lip sync,” Jayme ordered. “Mouth along to it.”
I shook my head, uncomfortable with seeing myself recorded like that, but she pleaded and weedled until I gave in, getting vivid flashbacks of my very short stint as a stage performer. I thought perhaps I ought to tell her of it sometime; she would probably enjoy that story.
It was only a line, ‘he’s in the army now, blowing reveille, he’s the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B ,” but that was all she needed before she was cackling merrily and replaying it. “Mom, guess what?” She said into the front seat. “I just got Claire to make a Tik Tok.”
Jamie twisted around in his seat, looking back at us with his brow furrowed. “Ye’re making clocks back there?”
That, evidentially, was positively uproarious to Jayme, who likely would have fallen out of her seat laughing had she not been strapped into it.
“I got that too! Oh, this is everything.”
“Jay,” Mandy said, her voice low and authoritative, eyeing her daughter through the rear view mirror. “Don’t go sharing those with people.”
“Why?” Jayme asked. “I just sent it to my friends, I didn’t make it public. And I just said that they were an aunt and uncle.”
Mandy scowled. “Jayme, no more. Claire and Jamie have no existence here, and we can’t afford to have anyone asking questions.”
Jayme rolled her eyes. “Mom, my friends are not going to ask questions…” she trailed off, looking at her phone. “Okay, well, Leanne has one. “Since when do you have the hottest aunt and uncle in history?”
“Hottest?” Jamie asked, bemused.
“That means she finds you attractive,” Mandy explained laughingly.
“Mmhm,” Jayme continued. “She says she thinks “Uncle Ginger” would treat her right but “Aunt God Yes” is free to murder her at any given time.”
“Jayme!” Mandy admonished.
“I didn’t say it!”
I looked back and forth between them. “What in God’s name are you talking about?!”
Mandy shook her head. “I promise, it’s much better not to look that closely into it. You’ll only upset yourself.”
Jayme was content fiddling with her phone the rest of the drive, and I kept my eyes firmly away from it, a little afraid to accidentally get sight of whatever her friend was saying (because apparently you could type to people as well as call them,) or get pulled into another “video.”
I saw Jamie sit up straighter once we neared Lallybroch. The area wasn’t nearly as secluded as it once was, with houses and farms and businesses everywhere. But once we reached the familiar pathway, now paved over, it was just countryside again.
The archway was still as it always had been, and, astonishingly...so was the estate.
“It’s almost like we never left,” I said in awe.
“The inside will be different,” Mandy said. “My parents renovated it when I was little, and it's where we lived until I was four and we went back home.”
“Who has owned it since then?” Jamie asked, his laird eyes going over the estate appraisingly as he stepped out of the car.
“Mom left it to a family friend when we left,” Mandy said. “I don’t think she knew for sure whether or not if we would ever come back, but there was plenty of money in the estate that he was able to keep the place going right up until he died. His kids didn’t know what to do with it after that, so it just sat until my parents and I came back. Since they’d never actually had to put any money into it, and since our families were so close, they had no problem signing back over to Mom.”
“So Nana owns all of this ?” Jay asked breathily. “How come she lives in a condo in Florida?”
Mandy chuckled. “That’s where the doctors were, sweetheart. Trust me, neither your Nana or your Pop were thrilled about it, initially.”
I listened to them talk, but I looked at the stoop where I’d spent so much time, what felt like a lifetime ago. Rocking Jenny’s children, peeling potatoes, waiting for Jamie to come home.
I half expected wee Jamie or Rabby to come careening around the corner, perhaps with Fergus in tow. For Ian to shout at them to behave themselves, and for Jenny to call everyone inside for supper.
It was so quiet without all that, without the dogs and chickens and goats and horses and family. It seemed cold without the smell of cooking fires and drying herbs. Just a building, not a home.
And I knew that Jamie felt it too, so much more acutely than I. I slid my hand into his, intertwining our fingers.
“D’ye ken anything at all?” Jamie asked, voice gruff with emotion. “About those who were here before?”
“What do you want to know?” Mandy asked.
“Fergus,” I said, when Jamie didn’t immediately answer. “Do you know anything of him? Do you know if he made it to Lallybroch safely?”
Mandy chuckled. “You mean my favorite uncle? He was brought up here, married a girl from town, but settled in...well, with you.”
I surprised myself by letting out a sob, not having realized that I’d
started to cry, but that worry had been in the back of my mind ever since I watched the little boy ride away, and I’d thought that I’d perhaps never know if he made it. Jamie put his arm around my shoulder, pulling me tighter to him.
“And Jenny and Ian?” He asked. “Their bairns?”
Mandy winced, and my stomach plummeted. “Look, I don’t know if I should…”
“Mandy, please, lass,” Jamie said.
“Last I knew, Aunt Jenny was alive and kicking. But that of course was eighteen years ago for us. I’m afraid I never got the chance to meet Uncle Ian. Mom talked about him a lot, though. So did you.”
Jamie sighed. It was devastating to hear of Ian’s death, but we had to remind ourselves that at this point, they were all gone.
“You left the estate to their oldest, James,” Mandy continued, and Jamie nodded. He’d done that only a couple of days ago. “And it stayed in the Murray family for generations until it sort of fell by the wayside. Then Mom and Dad bought it when we came back when I was a baby.”
“Why did they come back?” I asked.
“Me,” she answered. “I was sick as a baby, and Mom said that you weren’t able to help, so they had to bring me.”
“But then you returned again?”
She nodded. “When I was four. There was a whole situation where my brother was thought to be kidnapped, but wasn’t, and Dad went back to find him so then the rest of us had to follow...I don’t really remember all of it, but we all wanted to be with you anyway. You were our family. So that time we stayed, until Dad’s health didn’t allow for it. We would have moved back here, but the best doctors were in the states.”
“So Jamie, you used to live here?” Jay asked, squinting up at the house.
“Aye,” he replied quietly. “I was laird here, once.”
We entered the house, where it was as Mandy said, the real differences began. Stone floors were covered in carpeting, that in itself needed replacing. The walls were covered in well-insulated drywall instead of tapestries. A flick of Mandy’s finger turned on electric lights that made Jamie flinch in surprise even though he’d dealt with them already at the hotel.
“So, you remember a completely different reality than what has happened to us,” I said, looking up at where part of the original stone wall was left untouched, a slash running through it, as if from a sword. I looked back at Mandy. “I should have gone through the stones without Jamie, shouldn’t I have?”
“Don’t say that,” Jamie said, blanching when Mandy answered.
“You went back to your own time,” she confirmed, hesitantly. “Gave birth to my mother, and lived your life for twenty years, all the while believing that Jamie died in Culloden.”
The phrase, ‘felt like someone walked over my grave’ had, up until that moment, only been just that. A figure of speech. But right then, I felt the sudden chill roll over me, the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, the distinct feeling that something had changed. What exactly had changed, I had no idea, but if felt bigger than me somehow. Otherworldly. I thought perhaps I had felt that way before...but when?
And then I remembered, it was the night before I went through the stones, when the power had gone out at Mrs. Baird’s and I was hurrying to light candles. I said it was to surprise Frank but something in the pit of my stomach hadn’t wanted to be in the dark. It wasn’t fear, exactly, just that otherworldly sense of differentness. And then I thought perhaps I’d had that feeling many times in my life, I just hadn’t given it a concrete thought before.
“And...after twenty years?” Jamie asked, his voice tight.
“She went back to you,” Mandy said, smiling. “Mama and Dad followed not long after, had my brother and myself.”
“So this uncle that I’ve never met,” Jayme broke in suddenly. “You always said he lived in Scotland. I always assumed you just weren’t that close since he never even Skyped or anything. You’re saying he actually lives in 18th century Scotland?”
“He lives in North Carolina,” Mandy corrected. “And it’s the 19th century there now.”
I walked over to where Jamie was staring up at the same slash in the wall that I’d been looking at. “Are you alright?” I asked him.
“No,” he answered bluntly. “Are you?”
“No,” I agreed. “We’d all but decided that we can’t change history, but now we’ve gone and done it without even trying. What does this mean?”
“It’s means we’ve been given a second chance,” Jamie said, turning to me and putting his hands on my arms.
“Have we?” I asked. “Or have we just messed everything up? Nothing will happen the way Mandy remembers, therefor nothing will turn out the same. Perhaps Mandy and Jayme won’t even exist.”
“But they do exist,” Jamie said. “They canna just cease to exist.”
Jamie made a face, then looked back up at the wall. “Are ye saying ye wish to go back? And then return through the stones wi’out me? Put things to right?”
“No!” I exclaimed, then growled in frustration. “None of this makes any goddamned sense.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Mandy said, coming up behind me. “But we’ll work it out, you’ll see. One thing we know, is the time and place that the stones send you has to do with who is on the other side.”
“What d’ye mean?” Jamie asked.
“The first time Granny traveled, was to reach you, Grandda,” she continued. “Whether she knew it at the time or not. When she returned, it was because you sent her back to Frank to protect my mother. Mom went through to find Granny, and Dad to find Mom. I think, this time, you were called through, for Jayme. Maybe you can’t change the past, because it happened, and it happened the way it was supposed to. I can’t explain what’s happened here, but I have to believe that it was for a reason.”
“Then what do we do next?” I asked.
Mandy raised her shoulders, then let them drop. “I really don’t know. But, I know someone who might, and she’ll be here tomorrow.”
“Nana?” Jayme asked, perking up.
I swallowed, feeling nauseated, while Jamie appeared delighted. Meeting Mandy and Jayme were one thing, but meeting the daughter currently growing in my stomach didn’t feel right. And Mandy had said that you can’t travel to a place where you already exist. How did that work with unborn children?
There was also a niggling part of me that just didn’t want to see her. I wanted to see my baby . I wanted to watch her grow. I didn’t know how I felt about seeing a version of her old enough to be my own grandmother. Would it affect how I saw her when she was born? Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, I hadn’t even considered a name for her yet.
I guess I was about to find out, though.