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Reflections on Forty

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Jamie Fraser lay staring up at the roof of the tent, his wife having fallen back to sleep in his arms after some rather amorous morning activities. He had awoken at dawn, having completely forgotten that it was his fiftieth birthday until Claire had reminded him a few minutes later. She had told him before about the birthday celebrations in her time, how they were a much bigger event celebrated with large parties or even trips abroad. Especially, she had said, on milestone birthdays such as this one.

Claire had done the best she could under their current circumstances to make him feel special this morning. He smiled thinking of her perched over top of him, the early morning sun filtering through the canvas of the tent to bathe her in a golden glow. She had taken her shift off in front of him many times before - he was, after all, a very lucky man - but never before had she disrobed quite so slowly and deliberately. And the way she had sung to him in that sweet, sultry tone…well, needless to say, the whole experience had been his favorite birthday gift in a very long time.

Thinking back over the last ten years, Jamie surmised this might have been the best decade of his life. Although at the beginning of it he had still been at Helwater, he had at least had the joy of watching his son thrive and grow from a stubborn toddler into a precocious, young boy. Even his frustration at feeling penned in and stifled in his indentured servitude could not outweigh the pride he felt in taking his son for his first ride on one of the Dunsany family’s fine horses, or the privilege he’d had to instill what values he could in Willie’s young, impressionable mind. No, the beginning of his forties had not been so bad after all, now that he looked back on them.

A bit later on in the decade was the matter of his ill-fated and damnable marriage to Laoghaire. Most of the time he preferred to pretend that particular debacle had never taken place, but he found now he could not even wholly regret that decision. The union with Laoghaire had been doomed from the start, but the opportunity to be a father to her two daughters had been a soothing balm to the ache in his heart caused by having to leave Willie. Wee Joanie had been so sweet and trusting of him from the start - a minor miracle considering her lout of a father. He remembered the nightmares she would have during his brief time living with Laoghaire, and how she would come to him as he was usually still awake in the sitting room. On several occasions, he had taken her on his knee and spoken soothing words of Gaelic over her until they’d both fallen asleep in the armchair before the fire.

And then there was Marsali, a strong, independent teenager who hadn’t necessarily needed him, but he hoped he had been able to show her an example of a man who was gentle and kind rather than brutal and demanding as Laoghaire’s previous husbands were rumored to have been. And now he couldn’t imagine life on the Ridge without Marsali, Fergus, and their growing family. Marsali had become indispensable in Claire’s medical practice, and wee Germain and Joanie brought so much joy and laughter into Jamie’s life - Germain especially, witty little rascal that he was. Had he not married Laoghaire, Marsali and Fergus may never have met, so he couldn’t be sorry for that decision either.

Then there was Claire. The light and love of his life had returned to him half-way through his forties, and everything had changed for the better. The long winter that had been clouding his days since his mid-twenties suddenly turned into the most glorious spring. The love he had carried with him, dormant for so long, had blossomed once again into something even stronger and more beautiful than before. Never again would he take a single moment for granted, for he knew what it was to live with half a heart, and he would be forever grateful to live out the rest of his days with the woman who made him whole by his side. Even if every other blessing that had come to him these past ten years had never happened, Claire’s return would have been enough to have made the years without her worth living.

Not only had Claire returned to him, but he had seen and met his daughter for the first time. Had it really only been a few years ago when he had first laid eyes on the precious photographs of Brianna? He remembered how both his and Claire’s hands had shaken in anticipation and excitement as she had passed him the marvelous pieces of shiny paper that allowed him to see his daughter so clearly from birth to adulthood. To see her and know that she was safe had been enough, but then she had come to him as well, following in her mother’s footsteps. He could still recall the moment he had first held her in his arms, solid and real and his. He had watched her sleep so many times, trying to determine which of her features came from him, from Claire, from his own mother. Brianna had only been with him for two years, but she had made the latter part of his forties so much richer.

Finally in his mental list of the highlights of this last decade, just last year he had been at the birth of his very own grandson. Having never been given the chance to attend the birth of one of his own bairns, he had been overjoyed, if not a little nervous, to be at Brianna’s side as she brought wee Jemmy into the world. He would never forget the elated look on Claire’s face as she’d held their screaming, red-faced grandson up for him to see through the happy tears clouding his vision. And then he had been there every step of the way: watching as Brianna encouraged Jemmy to walk, overhearing Claire from the next room as she encouraged the babbling baby to say “Grannie,” and hearing her shocked shrieks as he finally pronounced a clear, “Ran,” his current placeholder for the more complicated, multisyllabic “Grannie.” Yes, becoming a grandsire had completed him in some way, and he couldn’t wait to see what new delights he would enjoy in this role during the years to come.

When Jamie tried to think back to his fortieth birthday, he realized he couldn’t even recall that particular day. It had likely passed by the same as every other day before Claire had returned to him. His days had been slow then yet largely forgettable, just another one in a series that made up the twenty years without her. But this birthday would never be forgotten. Never would he forget Claire’s sleepy smile as she’d wished him a happy birthday. He would recall in great detail the conversation they’d had about "taking stock” as she had called it, and her bawdy sense of humor as they had laughed together. And not least of all, he’d remember what it felt like to come together with her - their own, private celebration of another year of his life, their life, together.

Jamie felt Claire begin to stir beside him, and he knew it must be past time to get up and dressed for his morning duties. He kissed her on the forehead, and she smiled up at him, her whiskey eyes soft and sleepy. As Jamie reluctantly arose from their bed, he knew every birthday to come would be memorable and sweet with Claire by his side, no matter how many years God saw fit to give him.