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It Was Always You

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"How do I look?" I asked my best friend Geillis. I spun around and subconsciously pushed a stray piece of hair out of my face. I'd made more of an effort than I had in years, and I hoped the fruits of my labor were worth it.

"Ye look gorgeous," she answered. "What are ye so worried about? It's no' like it matters what these people even think. Remind me why we're going tae this again?"

"I don't know," I replied. "Isn't going to your 20th reunion just a thing people do, whether they want to or not? Do you like these earrings? Or these?"

"The silver. Yer skin always looks better with silver."

I put my earrings on and turned once again to the full length mirror. Geillis stood beside me as we gave ourselves a final assessment. She was beautiful as always, long red hair and striking green eyes enhanced by the green dress she was wearing. Her skin shone and was still as flawless as it had been twenty years ago.

I also looked mostly the same, which wasn't saying much. My curly hair was now tamed by a straightening iron every morning, but it was still the same boring brown it had always been. My body wasn't too bad, I thought. Some stretch marks and cellulite, and of course gravity had caused some things to shift , but overall not too shabby. I was developing crow's feet in the corner of my eyes and had used no small amount of concealer to cover the dark circles that never seemed to go away no matter how much sleep I got. Still, while I didn't hold a candle to Geillis, I figured I would look better than at least fifty percent of the rest of the women there.

"Are you ready?" I asked.

"Claire," Geillis said, looking at me inquisitively, "Are ye hoping to run into a certain someone tonight?"

"Who would I be hoping to run into?" I asked, throwing a lipstick in my purse and draping it over my shoulder.

"I dinna ken. A certain, Jamie Fraser, perhaps?"

If I'd been drinking at that moment, I would have spit the liquid across the room in shock. "Jamie Fraser? Geil, you can't be serious? He completely fell off the face of the earth twenty years ago."

"Still, ye have tae wonder…" she said, picking up her own purse and grabbing her car keys. 

"There's nothing to wonder, Geillis. He's gone, probably dead for all I know. Do you know how hard I tried to find him at first?"

"I ken, I ken. Would make for an interesting night though, don't ye think?" She winked at me as we left our hotel room.

"To see someone raised from the dead? I should think so."

***

We arrived at the reunion fashionably late. Geillis and I grabbed our name tags and headed toward the ballroom of the hotel. Laoghaire MacKenzie, one of our old classmates who I had never liked, stopped us at the door. She handed us both small slips of paper and those tiny pencils that they give you at a mini golf course. "We're doing a vote for King and Queen, just like at prom! After ye've mingled a bit, make sure tae cast yer vote!"

Geillis crumpled the paper up and tossed it into a nearby trash can. "Of all the stupid ideas. Who came up with this one?"

Laoghaire's face fell. "It was my idea. I'm head of the reunion committee."

"Oh, well, great job with the decorations," Geillis responded, pulling me away and giggling. As soon as Laoghaire was out of earshot she whispered, "That woman will never grow up. She'll be a lass until she's in her nineties."

I laughed and walked with Geillis into the ballroom. Drinks were obviously the first priority, but once we had them in hand -- a martini for me, a gin and tonic for her -- we roamed the large room looking for people we recognized.

"Oh, there's Mary Hawkins," Geillis pointed out. "She was such a shy wee thing. Looks like she managed to get herself a nice husband though."

"That's Alex Randall! I never would have put those two together, but I suppose they were both quiet and bookish." I smiled. "A key for every lock, I suppose. Oh, look, there's Rupert and Angus!"

Geillis groaned. "Those two were the biggest pains in the arse. Why would ye want tae say hi tae them?"

"Well we should say hi to somebody , shouldn't we?"

Geillis shrugged. "I dinna see why. I'm having plenty of fun drinking and gossiping with you."

"That's what we do every time we get together."

"Aye," she replied, "But this time we're gossiping about different people. Variety is the spice of life." She held up her glass and I clicked mine against hers, laughing. 

Geillis and I had grown up together in Inverness. Inseparable all through school, we'd gone to college together. We were separated for four years at different med schools but then both landed residencies at Gartnaval General Hospital in Glasgow, then both stayed on as surgeons after our residencies ended. 

"Look at that," Geillis said, suddenly sounding very interested in mingling. "Dougal MacKenzie showed up."

I rolled my eyes. "Seriously Geillis? He was such an asshole."

"Such a lovely cock, though."

"Well it looks like he's married now." I pointed to the short, homely woman standing next to him.

"Well, he certainly didn't trade up," she responded, sipping her drink.

"You're terrible!" I said, trying not to laugh.

We started to move and mingle amongst the groups of people, reminiscing about the past and catching each other up on the years in between. I was laughing riotously at something my old friend Louise said when Geillis grabbed my arm. "Claire. Claire, look."

I turned around and felt the color drain from my face. Grabbing onto Geillis to keep me steady, I mumbled, "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ."

Geillis took a gulp of her drink and said wryly, "The family picnic tomorrow just got infinitely more interesting."

I flashed her a look and grabbed her arm, yanking her away into a dark corner. "Brianna isn't coming tomorrow. And don't you dare bring her up."

"I ken. It was just a wee joke. Are ye going tae talk to him, though?"

"What would I even say? Long time no see? Glad you're not dead?"

"Claire-" Geillis attempted to interrupt me, but I went on.

"’How's life been treating you?’ Yes, Geillis, I'm just going to walk up -"

"Sassenach?"

His voice was so familiar, even after twenty years. My heart jumped into my throat, so when I turned around I was unable to speak. He grabbed my hand and brought my knuckles to his lips. "Christ, it's good tae see you again."

I smiled at him, feeling the heat rise in my cheeks. My brain could not form a coherent thought; my mouth could not remember how to make words.

"Well," Geillis finally said. "I see you two have a lot to catch up on. I'll just...right…" She quietly slipped away, leaving me alone with Jamie.

"Are ye alright, lass?" he asked.

I nodded and cleared my throat. "Yes," I croaked. "Yes I'm alright. I'm just shocked to see you. Christ, Jamie, it's been twenty years."

"Aye, and ye havena changed a bit."

"You have, but only a little. What happened to your nose?"

What happened to your nose? Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, Beauchamp.

His hand shot up instinctually, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Wee mishap. Nothing tae fash about. Would ye like tae sit?" He gestured to a hightop table nearby.

I nodded and Jamie led me there, absent-mindedly placing his hand on the small of my back as he did. I hopped up into the chair as Jamie asked, "Would ye like me tae get ye another drink?

"Yes please," I replied. "Whisky. Neat."

His eyes wrinkled at the corners as he grinned at me mischievously. "Aye. I'll be right back. Dinna go anywhere!"

Geillis (20:13) : I suppose I shouldn't expect you to be back at our room tonight….

Jamie returned with our drinks and I quickly put the phone away in my purse. He sat down in the tall chair, barely needing to lift himself to get in it. "Sassenach," he said in that way that had always made me weak in the knees. It was a nickname he had given me years ago, being one of the only British students in our high school. "Ye havena said much."

I picked up my whisky and took a hard swallow. Setting it down, I responded, "I just never expected to see you again. It's quite a shock."

He smiled cheerily. "Aye. I never expected to see ye again either."

"It's been a long time. Where have you been? You basically fell off the face of the earth."

"Have ye been looking for me, Sassenach?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at me.

"Well, I'd be lying if I said I haven't done a few internet searches over the years," I replied, my face flushing.

"Well, here I am."

"Here you are."

We locked eyes and I couldn't look away.

Oh shit, I'm in trouble.

Forcing myself to look away, I actually giggled ( dear god, what is wrong with me?) and then said, "You're trying to distract me. Where have you been all this time?"

"South America mostly," he said casually. 

"You don't look very tan," I replied, eyeing the large bicep that overflowed from his short sleeve polo shirt.

"Well, I've been back for about a month now, so I've lost most of it" He leaned forward on the table and examined me closely. "Yer still as fair skinned as ever." His hand reached across the table and caressed my shoulder lightly. "Yer skin has always been like ivory."

I shuddered at his touch. Oh please don't let him notice.

"Well, that happens when you live in Scotland."

"Have ye been here all this time?" he asked, slowly dropping his hand and bringing it back to his drink. He took a large swallow before setting it back down.

"Well, yes. Not in Inverness, though. I live in Glasgow now."

"And what have ye been doing with yerself all these years?’

I shifted in my seat, the spell between us broken. "I'm a surgeon now. And I was married for quite a long time."

He sat back in his seat and gave a wry smile. "Was married?"

"Yes," I answered. "But my husband died about a year ago.

He made a low grumbling noise in the back of his throat, impossible to interpret. "Ye always wanted to be a surgeon." I nodded. "Do ye have any bairns, Sassenach?"

I took a deep breath, unprepared to tell him about Brianna just yet, but unable to change the subject without looking like I was trying to hide something.  "Yes, I have one daughter. Brianna."

"Bree ahnuh," he said, putting his own Scottish twist on her name. "Lovely. I'm happy for ye, Claire."

"How about you?" I asked. "Did you marry? Have children?"

"I never married," he answered. "But I do have a son. Willie. He's eight years old." He pulled out his phone and swiped to a picture of a boy with dark curly hair. He had caramel skin and the same cat-like blue eyes as his father. 

"Gorgeous," I said.

"He doesna live here though," he went on, his voice strained. "He's staying wi' friends in Brazil, and I havena seen him since I've been back. It's verra complicated."

"Were you in a relationship with his mother?"

"No. She died in childbirth. He lives with friends of mine right now. I'm hoping to get him back soon." His fist was clenched hard and his forehead was etched with pain.

I reached over and placed a hand over his. "What is he like, your son?" I asked.

His face relaxed and he smiled. "He's spoiled. Stubborn. Ill-mannered. Loud, wi' a wicked temper. And braw, bonny, canty and strong."

"And yours," I said, absent-mindedly caressing his hand.

"Mine." He nodded and flipped our hands around so he was holding mine in his. We both sat like that for a moment, his thumb gently caressing my knuckles. Finally he said, "I kent when I came here in hopes of finding ye, that ye would have had a life." He paused, considering his next question carefully. "Were ye happy with yer husband?"

I took a deep breath before answering. "I was happy raising my daughter with him. He was a good father to her."

"And you?" he asked, picking up on what I wasn't saying.

"It was not a very happy marriage, but he loved Brianna, so we made it work."

He nodded and we both sat together in silence until our preoccupation was broken by a voice coming over the loudspeaker. "Welcome back to Inverness High School everybody. Now, it wouldna be a celebration here wi'out picking a King and Queen."

I rolled my eyes and whispered to Jamie, "Of all the ridiculous things."

"The votes are in, and...well this should come as no surprise. I feel like I'm back at prom again."

Fuck. No. No. No.

"The King and Queen of the reunion are…Claire Beauchamp Randall and Jamie Fraser!"

My heart sank into my stomach, pounding and twisting my innards. I didn't need a mirror to know that I was flushed beet red. 

"Come on up and collect your crowns." 

I looked at Jamie for help, but he had a crooked smile on his face and I could see the amusement in his eyes. He stood and held my hand firmly, gently pulling me from the chair. I hit the ground and my legs started shaking. Jamie took a firm hold around my waist and walked me to where the DJ was set up. 

Everything around me was a blur. My old classmates parted to make an aisle for Jamie and I to walk down, but I couldn't make out any of their faces as the lights from the DJ's set up swirled around me.

Somehow I made it. I realized the announcer was our old friend Angus and I gave him a weak smile. He placed a ridiculous plastic tiara on my head and then Jamie bent down to have a similarly absurd crown placed on his head. Angus turned us around and everybody clapped. My eyes finally focused when I saw Geillis's face clapping and laughing at the same time. I'm glad she's enjoying herself, I thought, wanting to die inside.

"All right," Angus went on. "It wouldna be a proper coronation wi'out a dance between the King and Queen." He nodded at the DJ.

I shook my head in protest, but Jamie was already turning me toward him and moving us to the center of the crowd. I took a deep breath and let him take the lead, thankful for his height and broad chest so that I didn’t have to see everybody watching us. 

I looked up at Jamie and he smiled at me. "Do ye hear what song they're playing?" he asked.

I hadn't heard, actually. My ears had been ringing, but when I focused I realized it was the same song we'd danced to when we'd been crowned all those years ago, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing. My heart was pounding in my chest as the memories of the boy I had loved mixed together with the reality of the man before me. 

There was no denying that the connection we had all those years ago had never been severed. Hadn't it hung like a dark cloud over my marriage for fifteen years? Had I ever really stopped loving him, hoping for him to walk through the door as he finally did that night? No.

I looked up into his eyes and saw my expression reflected in his. Was the feeling mutual? Did he still love me too? I couldn't be sure, but it sure felt that way. He held me close, his hand gently rubbing the small of my back. His arms felt strong and safe.

He moved his face closer to mine and I gasped. He pulled back slightly and whispered. "I would verra much like tae kiss ye now. May I?" I swallowed and nodded. 

His lips met mine tentatively at first. I responded, slowly at first and then with more confidence. Suddenly we were the only two people in the room and his lips on mine were the only thing I could feel, all my other senses had gone numb. I didn't even realize I had tears rolling down my cheeks until he pulled away and wiped them away with his thumb. My eyes coming into focus, I saw that his cheeks were stained as well and I placed both my hands on them and brushed the salty trails away.

"The song's over," Jamie said as I leaned my head on his chest. 

"Mmmmm," I answered.

He lifted my chin with his hand, pulling my eyes up to meet his. "Ye'll come upstairs wi' me?" He asked, his eyes dancing with excitement. "If ye dinna think it too scandalous."

I smiled at him and whispered hoarsely, "Yes."