I liked Saturday mornings in the library the best. It was quiet, beautiful, and it made me feel like the concept of time disappeared and clocks lost their power in this place. With so few people around, I always imagined that the books were snuggling into their warm leather covers, peacefully asleep.
I opened the Word document on my laptop and blinked at the cursor that was blinking back at me. Having started a few days ago, I was four pages in and had hardly covered one-third of the subject.
Way to go, Claire.
I checked my notes again, looking for the paper mentioning the case of a forty-two-year-old man with infective endocarditis and proceeded with writing down the modified Duke criteria used to establish a diagnosis of the infection.
Positive blood culture with typical IE microorganism, defined as one of the following:
Typical microorganism consistent with IE from two separate blood cultures (Viridans-group streptococci, or Streptococcus bovis including nutritional variant strains, or HACEK group, or
Staphylococcus aureus, or Community-acquired enterococci, in the absence of a primary focus)
Microorganisms consistent with IE from persistently positive blood cultures (two positive cultures of blood samples drawn >12 hours apart, or three or a majority of ≥four separate blood cultures with first and last sample drawn at least one hour apart, Coxiella burnetii detected by at least one positive blood culture, or IgG antibody titer for Q fever phase 1 antigen >1:800)
My phone buzzed against the heavy wooden table.
Scot: Where are you, Sassenach?
I blinked at the message, double-checking the time. It was nine o’clock in the morning. Which meant that it was four at night in Michigan and as far as I knew, Jamie had gone to bed early last night.
Sassenach: Why aren’t you sleeping?
Scot: Why aren’t you in your dorm?
What? I stupidly looked around as though Jamie would pop from between the imposing shelves. How the hell did he know?
Seeing as no red-headed towering Scot was to be spotted, I stared back at my phone in confusion.
Scot: Go back to your room.
Sassenach: And why would I do that?
Scot: Because Mary stopped talking to me and just stares at her hands.
My heart leapt into my throat and I banged my knee on the table leg while jumping from my seat.
Scot: I think she’ll die of embarrassment because we’re less than two feet apart and when she opened the door she almost attacked me with the table lamp.
I swallowed my chuckle out of respect for the books that surrounded me.
Sassenach: YOU’RE HERE?
Scot: Where are you?
Sassenach: The Bodleian Library.
I took a few deep breaths while smiling like a loon and sat down again, trying to focus on the essay.
What was I doing? Right. The major criteria.
Evidence of endocardial involvement with positive echocardiogram defined as…
I was still smiling. And thinking of Jamie instead of infective endocarditis.
I shook my head and tried to focus on the words I was typing.
Oscillating intracardiac mass on valve or supporting structures…
I was sure that oscillating intracardiac mass was bound to mean something, something different than the constant chanting in my mind that went like: Jamie is here, Jamie is here, he is here, here, here. Jamie is hereee.
Continuing was a lost cause. I packed my notes and my laptop and left the empty library with a wide grin, belatedly realising that Jamie was coming to me and I shouldn’t leave the place.
Well, I knew the way back home. I would meet him halfway.
I forced my feet not to break into a run. Or a dance. It was two months since I’d last touched him, since I was engulfed by his arms, since I bit that bottom lip of his just to hear the groan that always followed.
Maybe not a run, but a trot was surely acceptable. I took my phone from my pocket and called him.
“Making calls from the library?” he asked as soon as he picked up.
“I’m not in the library anymore.”
“Sassenach,” he grunted. “I’m heading to the library.”
“Well, it’s eighteen minutes away and I thought we could split the distance.”
“Yeah, eighteen minutes because you couldn’t just go to the LMH library which is next to your place.”
“It doesn’t feel the same,” I explained and heard him sighing.
“Aye, I ken. Ye’ve said so about one million times.”
I laughed. My love for the Bodleian library was certainly no secret. “I missed you, Jamie.”
“Not for much longer,” he said and I could hear the impatience in his voice.
“You’re crazy, by the way. What are you doing here?”
“Coach gave me a week.”
“And I couldn’t spend it in Michigan, away from ye. Do I take Parks Road or Banbury Road?”
“You’re already there?”
“Are you running?”
“Well, not now that we’re talking.”
Crazy, stupid Scot.
“I love you. Take Parks. I’ll meet you halfway.” I ended the call and started walking even faster.
Two months wasn’t that long, considering that we lived in different continents, but my heart was thumping loud and cheerful in my chest at the thought that I would soon kiss him again.
After our epic breakup when Jamie convinced himself that being apart would hurt less than going through years of a long-distance relationship, he’d realised – the ugly way – that nothing could be worse than losing each other and coming back asking for one more chance.
I gave it to him and never regretted it. Day after day, call after call, text after text, Jamie took the pain of those twenty-six days of our separation away and made me believe in him again. He gained my trust with every little gesture, with every big surprise.
He was there, always. In the good days, in the bad days. In the days I found my purpose, in the days I lost my courage. In the days I was so exhausted I thought reading one more page would make my brain explode. In the days I felt I had chosen the only profession that could make me fulfil my dreams. Jamie was there to listen, to commiserate, to encourage, to love.
And I hoped I was there for him, too. Life wasn’t perfect but our love was enough.
We’d found a routine when we stopped being freshmen intimidated by expectations and we made sure to manage our schedules so that we had time for each other. Not that everything always worked out and we never fought or screamed at each other through our phones when reality and distance crushed us. But there was no fight we couldn’t overcome, no obstacle in our path big enough to break us.
And when I saw him on Parks Road running towards me, I knew that we had chosen each other, each day, each moment.
“Sassenach,” he breathed close to my ear and took me in his arms, spinning me around as though I weighed nothing. “Oh, babe, I missed ye so much.”
His lips were soft on mine, his tongue tempting as it traced my mouth to make me open to him. One hand found its way down to my arse, and he squeezed in a possessive strike.
“That plump arse will be the death of me,” he murmured against my lips.
“Not plump,” I corrected even though I knew he kept saying that to tease me.
“Plump, and perfect, and mine.”
“Mine,” I corrected.
“Ye’re mine, Sassenach,” he growled and a bicycle bell rang from the road next to us, to celebrate or reprimand the inappropriateness of our actions, I wasn’t sure.
“Jamie…” I tried, and failed, to stop him.
“Ah Dhia,” he groaned. “Mary in the room, people here. I need to get ye somewhere and have ye all to myself.”
“Where are you staying?”
“I booked an airbnb.”
Before I could reply his mouth was on mine and he was kissing me like a thirsty man who just found an oasis full of springs in the desert. With a hand still on my arse and the other lost in my curls, he pulled me closer until I melted into him, his chest hard, and solid, and warm, and there. Close. Tangible.
“Let’s go,” he said and withdrew with eyes closed and a pained expression on his face. “God, it hurts not to touch ye.”
“Is it too early for check-in?” I asked and he nodded his assent. “Then you have to be patient,” I murmured. “Coffee?”
He held my hand in his as though it was a lifeline and we started walking down the street towards my favourite cafe.
“Why didn’t you say you were coming?” I asked with a frown.
“I wanted to wake you up and surprise you, Sassenach, but you made it impossible.”
“Sorry,” I replied, not looking remorseful at all.
“It doesna matter.” He grinned and pulled me closer, planting a kiss on my head. “Ye ken, Sassenach,” he started in a hesitating voice.
“Mhmm. I’ve heard.”
“And tomorrow it’s Sunday.”
“Aren’t you just brilliant?” I replied with a mocking grin and he made a silly face.
“And the room I booked?”
“The one you’re supposed to check-in later?”
“Aye, that one.”
“What about that?”
“I booked it for Monday.”
That stopped me in my tracks. “What?” I asked stupefied. “Why?”
“I was thinking… Well, I thought…”
“Aye, aye. ‘Tis the weekend and ye dinna have classes, so I thought I could kidnap ye and take ye for a trip to Edinburgh. What do ye say, Sassenach? Jenny keeps nagging that it’s been ages since she last saw both of us.”
“Aye. I ken ye have the essay ye’re working on, but I thought it’d be nice to go back.”
Edinburgh. It wasn’t a bad idea. In fact, it was a really, really good idea.
“Okay,” I said with a smile.
“Aye, you insufferable Scot. Let’s go to Edinburgh. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Jenny kicking your arse.”
He looked at me with wide eyes, feigning surprise. “And here I thought ye like my arse!”
We went back to my dorm where I quickly packed my toothbrush and a change of clothes and ran to the train station. It was a six-hours trip that I was never excited to make, but having Jamie sitting next to me changed everything. The destination didn’t matter anymore – it was the journey and the time we would spend together that was important.
The train rolled on the rails and Jamie wrapped his arm around me, pulling me impossibly close. I laid my head on his chest and closed my eyes, the scent of his cologne permeated my senses. We fell in a comfortable silence thick with love and contentment, two ships finding haven in a deserted island.
When I opened my eyes I was greeted by the British landscape and a small tilt of my head revealed that Jamie had fallen asleep. Locks of auburn hair had fallen on his forehead and a soft smile was curving up his lips.
It was happiness that filled my lungs with my next breath. So simple, so pure.
It seemed that I fell asleep as well and we both woke up because of the commotion when we reached Sheffield. With the confusion granted by awakenings, we looked out the window for a moment until Jamie yawned and hugged me tighter.
“I’d forgotten how long this trip is,” he said in a gruff, sleepy voice.
“At least we were sleeping during the first half of it.”
“Aye. I was exhausted. Didna manage to sleep enough on the plane.”
“Mmm, you never do.”
“In contrast to other people, I’m not mentioning any names mind you, who sleep in airports and almost miss their flights!”
“I happened only once, okay?”
“Are ye sure? Because I remember you running to your gate –”
“Hey!” I interrupted, elbowing his stomach. Not that he would feel anything with the six-pack he’d made for himself through training. “The other two times –”
I huffed in indignation. “Three times,” I consented, narrowing my eyes at him, “These times I wasn’t sleeping. I was just distracted!”
“Still. It counts.”
“Ye were reading yer books and got so engrossed in them that you almost lost yer connecting flight. It counts.”
“Fuck you,” I whispered in his ear because there was a mother with a sweet little boy at the seats in front of ours, but I was smiling and he must have heard it.
“Only with you. And I canna wait.” He placed an opened mouth kiss on my neck and I bit back a moan.
“I hate you, Jamie Fraser,” I keened, unable to imbue my voice with the strength the sentiment owed to have.
Jamie, his eyes on my heaving chest, murmured back, “I’m looking forward to ye hating me a bit more.”
“I’ll punish you for that,” I vowed and ran my hand up his tight, stopping exactly where he didn’t want me to.
His groan made a shiver ran down my spine.
To distract ourselves from images of savouring each other, we bought salt and vinegar crisps, jaffa cakes and hobnobs. Jamie devoured half of them before I had even finished my handful of crisps.
“I thought you professionals had to watch your diet,” I mumbled, still chewing.
Jamie looked semi-embarrassed for a moment, then shrugged. “Cheat day.”
“Okay, if that’s the label you put on your sins…”
“These are totally healthy Sassenach,” he said with a crooked smile. “Vegetables.” He raised the package of crisps and shook it between us. “These have oats and oats are verra nutritious,” he said with a nudge at the hobnobs and these…” he hesitated for a moment.
“Have orange jam so it’s like eating fruits?” I suggested.
“See?” He grinned. “You get me.”
I laughed and took one of the jaffa cakes before they all disappeared into the giant’s mouth.
I hoped we didn’t smell like oranges when we arrived in Edinburgh.
“I hope we won’t smell like oranges when we arrive in Edinburgh,” Jamie echoed my thought and I turned to look at him, wide-eyed and incredulous.
“Why?” I asked before he had enough time to think what he just said.
“Because Jenny –” he stopped abruptly. “Shite.”
“Oh my god.”
“You know too?”
We gaped at each other, unsure how to proceed.
“Jenny hates oranges as of late,” I stated.
“Do you know why?”
“Yes,” I confessed feeling a smile curving up the corners of my mouth.
“I will kill her!” Jamie exclaimed and started typing furiously on his phone before he asked me to pose for an angry selfie.
“She says she wanted to check how long we would keep it from each other!” he exclaimed in frustration a moment later. “That evil…”
I barked a laugh, shaking my head. “This sister of yours is unbelievable.”
“Aye, she reminds me of yer best friend,” he retorted.
“So this was why you wanted to go to Edinburgh?” I asked and saw his eyes soften and his lips mirror mine in a grin.
“I will be an uncle, Sassenach!”
“I know! It was the best news! Although, now that I think about it, it was bound to happen, sooner or later.”
“She said it wasna exactly planned, but they were so happy when we talked. Ian has even started building a crib because he wants something special for the baby.”
“Ian is the sweetest,” I said and the screen of Jamie’s phone lit up with a new message from Jenny. It was a picture of her and Ian laughing and below it wrote, ‘We love you! All three of us!”
“Do they know we’re on the way?”
Jamie smiled mischievously and shook his head.
“Suits them right.”
We finished eating while speculating about the baby’s sex, Jenny and Ian’s wedding and the possibility of Ian failing in his endeavour to build a crib on his own.
In eight months, Jenny would be a mum. It felt surreal and yet so right.
The future wasn’t that far away, it seemed.
“I was talking to Maisri the other day. About you.”
“Aye?” His voice was low but I felt the question vibrating through his body.
“About your dream of getting your own swimming pool and teaching children with intellectual disabilities. When you told me that John wanted to be your partner and invest in your plan once you both come back to the UK, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Maisri wants to be a psychiatrist, you know. She said it’s a brilliant idea. She’d read a review published a few years ago that claimed that hydrotherapy shows potential as a treatment method for social interactions and behaviours in children with autism spectrum disorders. And we were thinking that muscle building will also help with balance and mobility.”
“‘Tis still a dream, ye ken that, aye?”
“I know. I’m just reminding you that it’s a great dream.”
Jamie chuckled and gently tucked an errant curl behind my ear. “Thank ye, mo ghraidh.” A soft kiss on my temple. “But first, I have one more year in the US and I want to make it to the Senior Gold Squad of the Scottish Swimming National Squad Selections.”
“Mmm,” I agreed with a kiss on his chest. “I’m sure you will. You’re one of the top competitive swimmers in your uni and you’ve already won medals. They’ll be fools not to have you.”
“And then I will be an hour away, Sassenach. An hour away,” he repeated. “Can you imagine?”
“An hour by plane. Six hours by car.”
“Even so. I will be able to come to see you at weekends. Every. Single. Weekend.”
It was that moment when it hit me.
“I have to find a place,” I said, frowning.
Jamie mirrored my expression. “Ye dinna want to?”
I was silent, thinking about it, considering my options and the budget I could afford, but apparently Jamie perceived my silence as a denial. “I guess I can book a room when I’m in Oxford if you want to stay with Mary.” There was a bitterness in his voice that he didn’t manage to conceal.
“No, I don’t. It’s not that. “ He didn’t seem convinced. He turned slightly and gazed out the window. “Jamie…”
“‘Tis fine,” he said in a low voice.
“No, it’s not. Look at me.” When he didn’t, I cupped his face with both hands until his eyes were on mine. “Will you stop jumping into conclusions? I didn’t reply immediately because I hadn’t considered finding a place of my own before. I’ll talk to uncle Lamb.”
“Ye don’t have to if ye dinna want it, Sassenach.”
I could almost taste his disappointment and I wanted to kiss him until he knew that I didn’t have any second thoughts about that.
“Who said I don’t want it?” When he didn’t reply I pulled his head down so that his lips were on mine. “A place of my own?” I whispered on his mouth. “To be with my stubborn Scot every weekend?” I licked his lips and they opened for me. “Hell yes,” I said and kissed him until we were gasping for breath.
When we broke apart, we were both smiling. The future wasn’t that far away anymore.