“I don’t know why I didn’t think to stop at a grocery store on the way,” Mandy said later, as she tapped at her own cellphone.
Jamie had offered to catch us a rabbit or such, but Jayme’s reaction to that had been equivalent to if Jamie had suggested we eat her .
“Oh, don’t be a priss,” Mandy teased. “You like meat, right?”
“Yeah, but I don’t have to see the process of how it gets to my plate.”
“Do people here no’ hunt?” Jamie asked.
“Only for sport, really,” Mandy answered. “It isn’t necessary, anymore.”
“Sport,” Jamie snorted. “Killin’ for food or protection is one thing. There’s no’ honor in killin’ animals for sport.”
I looked at him. “The Mackenzies had a boar hunt,” I pointed out. “That was sport, was it not?”
He smiled back at me. “And did I go on that hunt, Sassenach?”
I had to think back a moment, remembering, then realized no, he hadn’t.
“There is exactly one pizza place in deliverable distance,” Mandy declared.
“I don’t think I’ve had pizza since before the war.”
“What war?” Jay asked.
“World War II,” Mandy said. “Granny was a combat nurse.”
“For real?” Jayme asked, eyebrows raised. “Cool! This is like, before women could be soldiers, right?”
“Women can be soldiers? ” Jamie asked. “Ye dinna mean they see battle?”
Mandy leaned forward on the sofa where she sat. “Women here do everything men do, Grandda,” she said, grinning. “They can be generals, politicians, you name it,” she gestured at me. “You already know they can be doctors.”
“Of course they can ,” Jamie said, but trailed off, no doubt sensing he’d only dig himself in further if he continued. Smart man.
“What do you do,” Mandy?” I asked her.
She smiled. “ Actually , I took a page out of your book. I’m a nurse.”
I grinned back at her, a curious warmth blooming in my chest.
She looked over at Jamie. “Now my brother? He is all you . I think my Dad might have liked him to turn out a bit more like him, but he was always just a mini Jamie Fraser.”
I cut my eyes over to Jamie, seeing the wistfulness in his. I knew, at that heart of it, the sex of our child didn’t matter to him. He wanted to be a father, plain and simple. But like any man, he of course longed for a son. Mandy had been fairly open with her family history, and had made no mention of us having another child, so I had to assume that the one I carried may be our last chance to raise one together.
After a time, there was a knock on the front door, and Mandy opened it to a wide-eyed delivery boy.
“Never been out here, b’fore!” he explained while Mandy exchanged her money for the flat boxes.
“What is it?” Jamie asked, though he almost looked like a dog, sniffing the air.
“Oh, my guy,” Jay said. “We’re about to rock your world, man.”
“Aye,” Jamie said, with that same tone of voice he always used with me when I said something he didn’t understand, but didn’t want to sound “daft” by asking about it.
It was better than I remembered, but I carefully watched for Jamie’s reaction to his first bite of the pepperoni pie.
“ Ah Dhia ,” he breathed, eyes going round before promptly stuffing the entire slice into his mouth.
“Might should have sprung for three,” Mandy murmured before talking more clearly to Jamie. “Take it easy. You’re not used to this kind of food...I don’t want you to get sick.”
I huffed. “If the man can eat grass, he can probably handle pizza.”
“I think I’m havin’ a heart attack, Sassenach.”
Mandy told us that we could take the master bedroom, and had started to lead the way but Jamie had simply gone on, knowing these halls like the back of his hand, no matter how much they’d changed.
The laird’s bedroom was less changed than the rest of the house. The bed wasn’t the same, but it was of a similar style, and the general decor, or what was left of it, was clearly meant to reflect the original.
I busied myself with putting fresh linens on the bed while Jamie made the task difficult by wallowing on it in agony.
“You have indigestion, Jamie,” I said, trying to shove him out of the way. “We told you not to eat so much.”
“But it was delicious.”
“Is that any reason to make a glutton out of yourself?”
The pout he gave me was positively childish, and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. No sense encouraging him.
“Here,” I told him, handing him the calcium tablets Mandy had given me. “Eat these.”
He did, then sat up, staring over at the window. “I feel like I’m home...but I don’t.”
“I know what you mean,” I told him. “It isn’t the same without the family here.”
“But we do have family here,” he said, smiling wistfully.
I gave him a strained smile back, then shooed him off the bed so I could finish making it.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t like Mandy and Jay. On the contrary, I found myself becoming quite fond of them. But to me, they were friends. Every time Mandy called me Granny it felt like a punch to my stomach, a reminder that to everyone else, Jamie included, we were connected far more strongly than by simple friendship.
The question in my mind was why did it bother me so? Had I not always longed for a family to call my own? Those months living at Lallybroch with Jamie and Jenny and the rest were some of the happiest of my life.
Perhaps I just didn’t feel like I’d earned this one, yet.
“Strange how unchanged this room is, compared tae th’ others,” Jamie said, echoing my earlier thoughts.
My smile this time was more genuine. “Other than the en-suite washroom, you mean?”
He chuckled. “Aye,” he reached his hand down under the bed, where he and his father before him had always kept a blade. “There willn’a be a…” his eyes widened suddenly, and with a start, withdrew an ornate dagger.
It wasn’t Jamie’s father’s Viking sword, and this was hardly the original bed frame, so that only meant…
“Who put that there?” I wondered.
Jamie smiled. “It must ha’ been her.”
“Her…” I touched my stomach, unsure if the fluttering there was anxiety or sign of life.
“We’ll meet her,” Jamie said softly. It wasn’t a question.
I nodded, unsure what to say. I knew he was excited. I didn’t want to damper that at all.
“You don’t want to,” he said, able to read me, as always.
“Of course I do,” I said. “But I want to meet her ,” I touched my belly again.
“This is a gift, Sassenach,” he said, taking my hand, kissing my fingers. “A look into our future.”
I nodded again, unwilling to voice my thoughts.
Jamie sighed, then stood up, running a hand over his face. “I need a shave,” he said. “Think I can find a razor around?”
“Mandy included some in the things she bought us,” I told him, going to the plastic bags in the corner.
“ That ?” Jamie asked, wrinkling his nose when I showed him the package of plastic blue razors.
I chuckled and waved him in the direction of the washroom. “Go on, I’ll help.”
I pushed Jamie to sit on the closed toilet lid, startling him when I dispensed some shaving cream into my hand.
“Relax,” I murmured with a smile, running the surprisingly lightweight razor across his cheek. I’d shaved him before, with a straight edge of course, but his reaction now was the same; slanted cat-like eyes squinted to slits as he watched me, breathing deep in a way that I knew was him smelling me, enjoying my closeness.
“Women in these times seem to keep everything shaved, like in my own,” I informed him, tilting his face in the direction I wanted it.
Jamie huffed. “Pointless, if ye ask me.”
“Why? You like to keep your face smooth. Women here tend to show off a lot of body parts. Why shouldn’t they like to keep them smooth as well?”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “Because in my opinion, those parts are for their husbands’ eyes, no’ the world.”
“Why?” I asked again. “You show your legs in a kilt. Men never hesitate to shed their shirts. Why is it any different?”
“I...because…” as I knew he wouldn’t, Jamie didn’t have an answer, and I chuckled, letting him off the hook for the moment.
“You’re taking everything remarkably well, you know,” I said. “I would expect a man from the 18th century to be a bit more thrown for a loop by all of this. I wouldn’t even blame you for being frightened.”
His smile was sweet and loving as he put his hands on my hips, pulling me a little closer. “Because you’re wi’ me, Sassenach. What have I tae be afraid of, when we’re together?”
“Nana texted during the night,” I overheard Jay saying to her mother the next morning. “She was just checking in, saying she was waiting for her next flight.”
“Oh, good,” Mandy said as I snuck past the sitting room and into the kitchen. “I’ll need to leave around noon to pick her up from the airport.”
“Have you told her yet? About...you know.”
I paused in the doorway to the kitchen, listening.
“No,” Mandy sighed. “I just wasn’t sure what to say. I told her that we had a bit of a situation to figure out, but that’s all. I thought maybe it’d be better to explain on the car ride here.”
“Yeah,” Jay agreed. “No easy way to tell your mom that her dead parents are here.”
Shuddering, I escaped out the back door, anxious to leave their conversation behind.
I’d left Jamie asleep, glad about the amount of rest he was managing to get. It was long overdue.
But I was hardly able to rest at all, and so not to risk disturbing him, I thought perhaps I would look at the garden, and see what sort of shape it was in.
It was obviously very overgrown, but I could tell that it had been well taken care of in the not-too distant past.
Had it been her? I knelt in what must have been an herb garden once, as it was still alive with the fragrance of rosemary and sage.
There was little point in it; Jamie and I couldn’t very well stay here, but it was comforting, putting my hands in the dirt and making a start at bringing the herb garden back to its former glory.
The time slipped by, absorbed as I was in the plants and weeds. The sun rose higher, warm enough to make sweat break out on my brow that was quickly whisked away by the cool breeze.
“You look just like your grandmother you know, sitting there.”
My entire body froze, even as the world turned on its axis. It was a feeling remarkably like that of when I went through the stones, like the ground was pulled out from under me like a rug, and my skin prickled and tingled like I’d stuck my finger into an electrical socket.
A sense of wrongness. A sense of rightness. All warring within me like a storm.
“Mandy?” the voice said again, tinged with concern.
I stood up, slowly, petrified of turning around, though at the same time I was pulled to, as if I were attached to a string, tugging me toward her.
When I turned, I kept my eyes down, seeing first a pair of feet in a pair of sensible black shoes. Those shoes took a sudden step back, and there was an intake of breath, and I looked up.
She was beautiful .
Tall and stately, with a natural youthfulness at odds with the lines on her angular face. That face was framed with soft, close-cropped curls in a light blonde of the sort that one could tell was once a vibrant red.
When I finally managed to meet her eyes, I found that if you took every one of the most beautiful physical aspects of Jamie and put them on a woman, that would create the person before me.
Those familiar cat-like eyes, however, were widened in horror and disbelief before they squeezed shut, and she shook her head, as if expecting me to disappear when she opened them next.
When I was still standing there when she opened her eyes, she took another step back. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ…” she whispered. “I’ve finally lost it.”
“Not quite,” I said, and she jumped at the sound of my voice. “No more than I have, at least.”
For a long moment, she only stared at me like I was a unicorn. A unicorn that was about to launch an attack at any second. Or perhaps like a parent that had already died.
“How…” she began. “ How?”
I raised my shoulders, and let them drop. “I don’t know. We came through the stones, and found Mandy and Jay. None of us have any clue what’s happened.”
“You’re real?” she whispered, turning her head and looking at me from the corner of her eye, like Jamie did sometimes.
I nodded, not sure what else to say.
I wasn’t even aware of her moving closer until I was in her strong arms, feeling her tears against my neck.
“Mama,” she whimpered, sounding so like a little girl and not the mature woman she was that my heart absolutely shattered, and my own arms came around her at once, cradling her head in my hand.
My baby .