“How is she?”
My voice came a bit too loud, my breath too short. Before I had time to walk into the room, Jamie rushed to me and crushed me against his chest in a smothering hug. We had hung up less than ten minutes ago but I wanted to make sure that nothing had changed while I was trying to find my way to the waiting room.
“So? Do we have any news?” I asked again with the little breath I had left, wiggling in his arms so I could see him. His auburn locks were falling haphazardly on his forehead and the lack of sleep was evident in his eyes.
He’d come back from Michigan a week ago, determined not to miss Jenny’s delivery, and I joined them during the weekend. We spent the majority of our time with Jenny and Ian, following Dr Haffer’s orders and taking long walks in the city, but kept the nights to ourselves, locked into the small guest room of Jenny and Ian’s apartment. Time seemed to expand in the little room, like every time we eliminated the space between us. We lived in every second, every minute, drinking in each other – the murmur of our voices not coming through speakers, the caress of breath on bare skin, the feel of our bodies coming together. The feeling of being home.
When Sunday night came and Jenny wasn’t in labour yet, Jamie walked me to the train station because I couldn’t skip Monday’s practical. I saw him raising his hand through the window, mouthing ‘I love you’ and once again, I left a part of my heart with him. The biggest part, if I was to judge by the way my chest was caving in and my irregular breathing. It was always like this when one of us had to go and I supposed if I wasn’t used to it yet, I never would.
However, here I was again, only two days later, after receiving a call from a Jamie in the middle of the night. Hovering between excitement and panic he informed me way too loudly that they were on their way to the hospital. I had taken the first train to Edinburgh.
Jamie was a lot calmer now and he was tracing lines on my shoulder blades to calm me as well.
“Nah,” he smiled and planted a kiss on my forehead. His gaze moved to my lips and a moment later his mouth was on mine. When we broke apart he was smiling. “We’re still waiting, but any time now…”
I couldn’t stop the grin from my face. “You’ll be an uncle,” I finished his sentence.
“Aye,” he beamed. “Jen will have wee lad. Can ye imagine, Sassenach?”
I thought of the thousand speculations we had made with Jenny over the phone during the last seven months. It was ridiculous, really, how the image of the baby changed according to our whim. First, it had Jenny’s blue eyes and Ian’s brown hair, then Ian’s warm eyes and Jenny’s elegant nose, after that Jenny’s black hair and Ian’s cheekbones. Jenny always ended up saying that she only wanted their baby to be healthy. Healthy and happy. I couldn’t wait to see the amazing mum she’d become.
“A little boy,” I murmured, biting the smile on my lips. “It feels like a miracle.”
Jamie grimaced. “Ian told Jenny so, about two hours ago. It didn’t go well.”
I laughed before cringing at the thought of my friend’s ordeal. “That bad?”
“‘What a miraculous pain indeed’, were her exact words.” I chuckled because that did sound like Jenny. “She was almost there once, but nothing. She got a bit disappointed after that. But the doctor said ‘tis normal for a first-time mum to labour for fourteen to twenty hours. We’re still at fifteen.”
“She going to make it and once she holds him in her arms she’ll forget everything else.”
“You think so? She’ll forget all about the pain?” Jamie doubted as he took my hand and lead me to the chairs.
“No,” I said, sitting down. “Science doesn’t back up the claims that women forget the pain of childbirth. It’s a myth. What I meant was that she won’t care anymore.”
“I dinna think she cares for the pain that much now, either. She just wants the baby to be okay.”
“That’s our Jenny.”
It was at that moment when Jenny’s scream pierced the air. Jamie shot out of his chair and started pacing back and forth.
“Babe,” he said in a low voice after a minute or two, coming to a stand in front of me. “I was thinking…” he trailed off. “Now that I know…” He swallowed and ran a hand through his hair. “Ye ken…”
“What?” I stood up, alarmed. “Jamie, what is it?”
“I ken we’ve never talked about that and I’m getting ahead of myself. I dinna think that’s the place where we should talk about it for the first time either… ‘Tis hardly romantic. But… Seeing Jenny… I dinna want ye to go through this pain, mo chridhe.”
“What do you mean?” I took a step back, frowning.
“Jenny is a tough one and yet ye heard how she just screamed… I dinna think I’ve ever heard her screaming, apart from when she attacked Ian and me like a wee banshee at Lallybroch when we were children.”
“Screaming is good,” I tried to reassure him. “It releases tension.”
“Aye, maybe. But ye, going through this? I dinna think I can bear your pain, Sassenach. It will tear right through me.”
“What are you saying, James Fraser?” I said, my tone ominous and my hands on my hips. “You mean to say that your sister is tougher than I am? That I couldn’t handle giving birth? What is that supposed to mean?”
Jamie’s eyes got wide, then wider, black eating up the blue. “No, I didna mean… I hardly thought of comparing…”
“All I meant to say is that I don’t know what I would do if it were you screaming in there. I wish I could protect ye from this pain but I won’t. I can do nothing about it. So I was thinking…”
“Jamie,” I interrupted him. “You could be in there, with me. Like Ian is with Jenny. You could hold my hand. You could brush my hair off my forehead or wipe off my sweat or whatever else husbands do when their wives are in labour. You could be by my side. You could be there.” I cupped his face, forcing him to look down at me. “I don’t care about the pain as long as I can crush your hand with every contraction.” I paused, thinking, then added, “And as long as you won’t say that you know what I’m going through.”
He laughed. “Aye, I can do that.”
His smile was sweet as I pressed my lips on his. Our kiss was tender, a promise for a future resembling a vague painting – the colours intermingling, the figures taking every form we could imagine.
“So I take it that you want children?”
“Aye,” he said and the light blush on his cheeks turned him to an insecure teenager, uncertain if he’d said the right thing to his first love. “You?”
“Yes,” I smiled and kissed him again. “Just not yet, okay? We have our degrees to get and, you know… Live on the same continent.”
He laughed and shook his head. “We have all the time in the world. I just want you to know that that you don’t need to go through this if ye don’t want to. If we want children we can adopt…”
I ran my fingers against the stubble on his cheek, the smooth cheekbone, marvelling into the man he was becoming. “We could have children and also adopt one. To give them a home and the love they deserve.”
Jamie beamed and leaned into me to kiss me again when an awkward cough broke us apart. I turned reluctantly around to see Brian carrying three cups of coffee.
“Welcome back lass,” he said with a nod as he handed me a cup.
“How are you?” I asked as I took two coffees from him, giving one to Jamie.
“Impatient.” His eyes twinkled with mirth. “Any news from our girl?”
“Apart from a scream, no. Nothing yet.” Jamie’s countenance changed again, his concern coming forward as his eyebrows almost touched above his nose. He was adorable.
“Dinna fash, lad. ‘Tis normal. Yer Ma was in labour for eighteen hours before Jenny came to the world.”
The mention of Jamie’s mother remained suspended in the air, vibrating with anguish and loss.
She should be here, I thought. The tall woman who read The Cricket on the Hearth to her children and smelled like almonds.
I saw the pain on Jamie’s face before he retreated further into himself, as he usually did when guilt attacked his common sense over the loss of his mother and brother. I grabbed his hand and squeezed tight, in a desperate move to bring him back to the present. I wanted him to know that he wasn’t alone. He should stop punishing himself for what wasn’t his fault. He gifted me with a sad smile that wasn’t enough but was better than nothing.
I kept his hand in mine, trying not to sigh. Once, at Lallybroch, I had vowed to Ellen to take care of her red-headed lad. I breathed in deeply and renewed my promise, extending it to encompass all the Fraser family. To love them more, for her.
“Jamie, lad,” Brian said in a soothing voice as he moved closer to his son. “We’re here together and your Ma and Rob are with us because we carry them in our hearts every day, aye?”
It was a sweet thing to say, but when I looked into Brian Fraser’s eyes I realised that he believed it. Each word. He’d never lived a day without Ellen because he carried her with him. Because he saw her in their children. He was living proof of love, of devotion.
We sat in silence, the two Frasers lost in memories of a past forever gone and I, trying to introduce a new subject to discuss and failing miserably.
“He’s here! He’s here!” Ian burst into the room, laughing, and crying, and hugging us all before we had time to react to his announcement. “Ten fingers and ten toes, with a tuft of black hair and a wee numb for a nose.” Tears were streaming down his cheeks but he didn’t seem to notice. “He’s the bonniest lad ye’ve ever seen. A bit on the red side and covered with –” he stopped, shaking his head. “And Jenny,” he said, turning to Jamie. “Man, if I dinna find myself the bravest lass. She’s so fearless it sometimes scares me.”
“Can we see them?” Brian asked, eyes darting from Ian to the door, as though he would run down the corridor to his daughter and grandson the moment he got confirmation that he was allowed to.
“Aye, in a bit. They haven’t finished yet.”
We were all standing, grinning like fools as we bounced on our feet, having nowhere to go but being too hyped to sit down again.
Ian’s announcement had broken the heavy silence that hung above our heads a minute ago, planting its cracks with a bright, pulsating feeling of anticipation. Life always surprised me in those moments; the moments that show us that nothing ever ends, that we are as complicated as we are simple. No matter what we are facing, we keep finding reasons to go on, to see the beauty, to honour our chance in this world.
“I’m going back to her,” Ian said and a moment later he disappeared, leaving us alone in that waiting limbo.
“He has Jenny’s hair,” Brian said, still gazing at the door.
“Yer hair, Da,” Jamie added before he hugged the older man, whose black head was now featuring a few grey hairs as well.
I looked at them, observing how same they were, how different. Wondering if Jenny’s little man will have the Fraser charm as well.
“Congratulations,” I said to both of them when they turned to look at me. Brian thanked me as Jamie walked to me, wove an arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer.
“Congratulations to ye too, Sassenach,” he whispered in my ear. “Ye’ll be his auntie, ye ken. His fairy auntie Claire.”
I laughed at that and kissed him on his cheekbone. “Auntie Claire,” I murmured, claiming a role in the little baby’s life as well. I looked forward to corrupting the little lad with treats and gifts and love.
When we finally got to see Jenny and the baby, we were like children opening gifts on a Christmas day. Jenny looked exhausted, but when her eyes met ours the sweetest smile curled up her lips. She was glowing. It was like I could feel her wonder at her little human, her happiness.
“Come see him,” she bid us and her gaze trailed back on the little bundle she was holding.
Brian moved first, unable to take his eyes away from his daughter and grandson. Jamie took my hand and I felt my feet following him towards the bed.
“He’s like a miracle, Da,” Jenny repeated Ian’s words that had vexed her with teary eyes, looking up to her father.
“Aye, my wee lass. Like the miracle ye were, for me and yer Ma. And now ye’re giving me yet another gift.” The voice wavered but his gaze didn’t move an inch away from his daughter’s face. I squeezed Jamie’s hand and he squeezed mine back.
Sometimes, I loved these silent conversations more than our audible ones; this secret code kept only for the two of us.
Jenny pulled her father down to kiss him. “Thank you, Da.”
“She would be very proud of you, Janet Flora Arabella.”
Jamie and Ian barked out similar laughs that almost covered Jenny’s exclamation, “Da!”
“And now that we come to names…” Ian started but stopped, waiting for Jenny to continue for him.
She nodded. “His name is James Robert Brian,” Jenny said with a grin. “Continuing this ridiculous family tradition and all.”
Jamie swallowed so hard I could hear it.
“Jen…” he whispered, looking at his sister through wide eyes.
“Brother, ye ken that ye mean a lot to me. As you do, Da. And wee Rob… I dinna want him to be forgotten.”
Jamie rushed to her, speechless, and bent over her, planting a tender kiss on his sister’s forehead.
“Thank ye, Jen,” he said, his accent heavier than it usually was. “I… Thank ye,” he repeated lamely, all other words having left him. “Can I hold him?”
Jenny extended the little bundle to his waiting arms. The baby’s head was smaller than his hand and a tiny hand was raised as though to touch him, to feel this new world.
“Hello wee one,” Jamie cooed. “Welcome to the world. Welcome to the family. I promise I’ll always be there to take care of you, even when ye’re a wee rascal and ye make yer Ma and Da mad.”
I chuckled and moved closer, peaking at the baby. He was still reddish, with swollen brown eyes and a tiny nose, just like Ian had said. Without thinking, I reached a forefinger and felt his tiny little fingers against mine. My heart banged in my chest, so full of emotion I thought it would burst.
“And this is auntie Claire,” Jamie introduced me a moment later. “And we love her, just so ye ken.”
“Valuable information,” I mocked, somewhat shy.
“‘Tis.” It was not Jamie, but Jenny that spoke from the bed, looking at as with a sweet smile.
“How do you feel?” I asked, leaving Jamie to have a moment alone with his nephew.
“God, I’m tired. But I canna close my eyes because I want to look at him and I canna do that while being asleep, ken? I dinna think I will draw anything else apart from him in the near future.”
“Nobody is going to take him from ye and ye’ll need yer strength lass,” her father advised. “Life is never going to be the same now.”
“Sleepless nights? Crying?” Ian asked, eyeing the little one who was, for now, calm and quiet.
“Aye,” Brian chuckled. “Lots of laughter too, son. Can I hold my grandson now?”
He’d barely got the baby from Jamie when a nurse dashed into the room, informing us that it was time for the mother to nurse her baby.
“Oh, aye.” Brian reluctantly handed little James back to his mother, clearly lamenting that he hadn’t asked for him before. Jenny took him with tender moves, poked at his nose and started murmuring, asking him if he was hungry.
“We’ll see you later Jenny. You too, Ian!”
They both nodded, barely sparing us a glance before their gaze fell on their son who was blinking at his Ma.
“They’re so sweet together, aren’t they?” I asked once we left the room.
“A real family,” Brian replied, wistful and happy together.
“Are ye happy, Da?”
“Aye, son.” Brian’s voice was mellow and smooth, spreading around us like butter on bread. “You’ll never know how much happiness Jenny and ye have brought into my life until ye have yer own children. Then, ye’ll understand.” He reached out and ruffled Jamie’s hair as though he was a little boy and not a man more than six feet tall.
We left the hospital feeling that the world was a little bit better than an hour ago. In the car, on our way home Jamie leaned into me and whispered in my ear, “So… Two of our own and an adopted one? Let’s say… Two girls and a boy?”
I turned to look at him incredulously but the way he was looking at me made my heart stop and my mind go blank.
“Maybe,” was all I managed to whisper in response before I broke into a wide grin.
“We could name the boy Dalhousie.”
“You must be out of your bloody mind.”
“Fergus?” Jamie gave me one of his lopsided smiles and I rolled my eyes.
“Jesus!” I shook my head in disbelief before I turned forward, only to see Brian through the mirror, smirking.
“I dinna think Jesus is a good name for the lad, Sassenach. Too much weight on his shoulders.”
Brian was now holding back a laugh. These Frasers.
I elbowed Jamie and huffed indignantly. He took my hand in his and squeezed until I turned to look at him again. He kissed my temple then, whispering, “We’ll think about it. We have time.”
I smiled, thinking what Jamie had said in the waiting room. We wouldn’t start a family any time soon, but we had all the time in the world.
Two girls and a boy didn’t sound like a bad combination either.