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We only do this for Fergus!

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Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

 

 

Berlin, Französische Straße
Friday, 25 July 2025, at 8.50 a.m.

         Five minutes earlier, Claire Elisabeth Beauchamp had entered the large, light gray house, built in the neo-Renaissance style that dominated the whole Forum Fridericianum. In the lobby, which was dominated by marble and dark wood, Claire was greeted by a receptionist. She was asked to sit down for a moment in one of the dark leather armchairs, of which four were grouped around an elegant round table. As she waited, her eyes wandered up the high walls of the entrance hall. A few steps of a staircase led out of the hall through a large glass door that ended in a round arch at the top, reminiscent of a gate entrance. Above it was a large ornament of dark stones inlaid in the light marble. The ornament showed a circle, which, as it seemed, was formed from a belt. The words “Je suis prest” could be read in the curve of the circle and in the center of the ornament was the head of a stately stag, which looked directly at the observer.

“Französische Straße Berlin” by Jörg Zägel / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

“Französische Straße Berlin”

by Jörg Zägel / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

 

         Claire knew that the French motto meant “I am ready!”, but just as she was wondering what the sign meant, an older lady approached her. She introduced herself as Mrs. Fitz-Gibbons. This employee, whose blue costume gave the impression of a uniform, led Claire down various small staircases and long corridors to the room where she was now sitting. Wherever they had gone in this house, it had been extremely quiet. The heavy, dark red carpets that covered all the stairs and hallways, had swallowed every sound of their footsteps. Now she sat in a room whose furnishings were characterized by dark wood and light brass and whose dimensions were more like those of a hall. But it was the antechamber of the CEO’s office of “Fraser & Son International” and behind the large double-winged door that Claire was now looking at was the study of Dr. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, one of the country’s leading business owners.

         Until two weeks ago, Claire did not know the man’s name or that of his company. She didn’t care about the gossip press, which also reported on the local “high society” in Berlin. But then Geillis Duncan, her best friend, came by one evening and showed her a job ad from the “Wirtschaftswoche” newspaper. At first, Claire was completely surprised. How did Geillis, who loved to read the gossip press, come to show her an ad from Germany’s leading weekly magazine for managers?

         “Dave left it on the kitchen table, and since I didn’t have anything else at hand, I looked into it while having breakfast. But now take a look at this job ad!”

         Geillis had emphatically pointed to an ad that featured the same ornament as the one she had seen in the lobby.

         Claire had started reading. A pedagogically trained caregiver was needed for an almost seven-year-old child. The woman should speak fluent German, English, and French. Further foreign language skills were welcome but not required. Furthermore, extensive general education and an impeccable curriculum vitae (i.e. no entries in the Federal Central Crime Register) were expected. Special emphasis was placed on the knowledge and practice of the literature written by Adolph Freiherr Knigge. Three times the current monthly salary was offered, 30 days paid vacation, free lodging, and private health insurance 1st class.

         “Just imagine Claire!” the girlfriend had exclaimed enthusiastically, “If you got this job and worked there for a few years, all your problems would be solved!”

         Geillis was right, well, almost. Surely not all her problems would be solved. But the financial problems she had to deal with could at least be significantly reduced by this job. She had to acknowledge that and so Claire, Geillis, and her friend Dave met that very evening to write a letter of application. Dave, who worked for a large media company at Potsdamer Platz, immediately agreed to help her with his knowledge. The next day, Claire had sent off the application. Then she had bought an updated edition of "The Knigge” and started reading it. Shortly after, Geillis came and brought her a large pile of current newspaper clippings so Claire could learn all she needed to know about the person of James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser and the family business he ran.

         She learned a lot about the company from various business magazines, but the person of James Fraser seemed almost like a phantom. It seemed to her that this man also didn’t care about the so-called “high society” and obviously he didn’t deliver any headlines to the gossip press. There was neither an article about him nor a photo of him on the company’s homepage. Even a Wikipedia article with his name only gave the basic data (birthday, place of birth, family, studies) and otherwise dealt more with the globally active company. “Fraser & Son International” was one of the few family-owned companies that to this day had no shareholders and, having invested in a wide range of economic sectors, not only survived the financial crisis of 2008 well but had even emerged from it stronger. In this Wikipedia article, however, there was a photo by James Fraser. It showed him with a group of business leaders at a national conference. However, this picture was over eight years old and also very pixelated. At some point, everything turned in Claire’s head and she hoped that she had not learned all this information for nothing. If she would at least be invited for a job interview.

         Ten days later, she hadn’t dared to hope that she would ever hear of Fraser & Son International, and to her surprise, her smartphone rang just before the lunch break began. A Dr. Ned Gowan called on behalf of the company, explained that he was the lawyer for “Fraser & Son International” and asked if she could come for an interview at the company’s headquarters two days later at 9:00 am. She told him that she had to ask her department head to give her time off first and would call back. As the summer vacation period was over, it was no problem to get a day off and so she called Dr. Gowan fifteen minutes later and agreed to meet him (and Dr. Fraser!) two days later. Claire had to be extremely restrained not to cheer out loud. This would have immediately drawn the attention of her colleagues in the department, and she definitely did not want to tell them about it. During the lunch break, she left the clinic and sat down on a bench in a nearby park. From there she called Geillis and told her the good news. Right after the end of her shift, the friends met in the parking lot of the clinic to go into town together and pick out a suitable “outfit” for Claire’s job interview. Geillis, who had worked as a freelance fashion consultant for many years before she met “the rich Dave”, dragged her friend directly to the fashion department of the KaDeWe. There, after a while, they found a muted dark green business costume that emphasized Claire’s figure but still looked respectable.

“Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) - Foto by Avi1111 dr. avishai teicher / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

“Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) - Foto by Avi1111 dr. avishai teicher / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

 

         “That’s perfect,” exclaimed Geillis as Claire stepped out of the dressing room.

         “Yes, perfectly too expensive for me. Have you seen the price?”

         “Don’t worry about that,” Geillis replied. Then she whispered:

         “I’ll pay for it. If the job doesn’t work out, we’ll just give it back afterward. And if you get the job and want to keep it, you’ll give me the money back when you get your first salary.”

         They bought the costume and also a matching blouse and shoes. Claire was not allowed to think about the amount of money they had spent within a few hours or she would get sick.

         But that was all forgotten at that moment. Now it was time to concentrate and make a good impression.
Mrs. Fitz-Gibbons had led her into this room and instructed her to use one of the twelve large brown leather armchairs. With the words

         "You will be called in when it is your turn,”

         she had said goodbye.

         Claire had taken a seat and scanned the room as inconspicuously as possible. Seven other women sat in leather armchairs of the same type, which were set up on three sidewalls of the room, each separated by a small table. On the tables were glasses and bottles of mineral water, but none of the other women had made use of them. Claire had not intended to drink anything either. She was far too excited to drink, and she was afraid that she might have to go to the bathroom in the middle of her upcoming job interview. Slowly, her gaze wandered across the light-colored carpet to that large, two-winged mahogany wooden door. On each of the wings was a coat of arms, divided into four sections. On the upper left and the lower right quarter were three white flowers on a blue background. The upper right and the lower left quarter each showed three red, pointed crowns on a white background. Behind this door, Claire assumed, must be the director’s room. What would she expect there? She did not know. Why had she only gotten involved in this thing that Geillis Duncan had suggested to her? Out of desperation? She wasn’t sure. Only one thing was sure: she had never thought that she would have to have another job interview at the age of almost 30. But that was her life. Much of what had happened in her life had not been planned, nor had she ever expected her life to be like that.

         Claire Elisabeth Beauchamp, almost divorced Randall, had lost her parents in a car accident when she was five years old. For the next fifteen years, she was raised in the loving care of her uncle ‘Lamb’. Dr. Quentin Lambert Beauchamp, an archaeologist, and Egyptologist whose research focus was on the Old Kingdom of Egypt and who was highly revered by his students came to Berlin in 2015, where he taught at Humboldt University in the last years before his retirement. There Claire had also met her future husband, Dr. Frank Randall. He had been assigned to her uncle as a research assistant. Randall had courted her like no man before and they had already married in May 2016. The first four years of their marriage had gone in a way that Claire would still describe as happy today. Although, she was no longer quite so sure. What did happiness actually mean? Was there a definition for this term? And even if there was a definition for the term “happiness”, was it really valid for all people? In any case, the first four years of her marriage had not been very negative. Together they had made regular trips to Paris, Madrid, Prague, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Palermo, Venice, Turin, Marseille, Amsterdam, Florence, Milan, Barcelona, and Bruges.

“Palermo/Sizilien” by  nataliaaggiato

“Palermo/Sizilien” by  nataliaaggiato 

 

         Claire enjoyed getting to know these cities and experiencing their cultural particularities. When Lambert Beauchamp died unexpectedly in February 2019 as a result of a stroke, Frank had been kind and, in her opinion, very sensitive to her needs. But in the spring of 2020, a strange development had set in with him. At first, Claire had blamed it on the effects of the corona pandemic. After the start of the lockdown, Frank was mainly at home, giving lectures via Zoom and otherwise writing a new book on the history of the Scottish Jacobite uprising in 1745. Claire, on the other hand, was working as a nurse in the children’s clinic of Berlin’s Charité hospital, as she had been before the crisis. Frank had insisted that Claire should give up her job. The possibility that she could become infected with the virus seemed too high for him. But Claire could not bring it over her heart to leave her fellow nurses alone, especially in such a severe time, and thanks to the strictly observed precautions she got through this difficult time without any problems. While she could be happy about the successes in her profession, the problems in her marriage with Frank seemed to become bigger and bigger. At some point, she felt that Frank was becoming more and more monosyllabic and that they were drifting apart rapidly. But even then she thought this was a temporary phase that would end after the pandemic at the latest. At least she hoped so. When a vaccine against the virus was finally found in July 2021 and became available in December 2021, Claire breathed a sigh of relief. She and Frank would get vaccinated and then they could travel again. This would change Frank’s mind and make her marriage blossom again. But it all turned out differently. Once they were vaccinated, Frank suddenly didn’t feel like traveling anymore. Again and again, he put off his work. Regularly he worked until late at night at the university and sometimes he spent whole nights there. It was always about important analyses, which he published in specialist publications and for which there were tight deadlines. Even on evenings when Claire was off, he was rarely at home, and whenever she tried to initiate a little marital tenderness, he was too tired for that. In the spring of 2022, they had slept together for the last time. A few months later, Frank had stopped kissing her goodbye, as he usually did when he left the house.
         What happened then had the potential to throw her completely off track. By the fall of 2022, a hunch that Claire had suppressed again and again had been confirmed. Frank had a mistress. When she returned from her work at the children’s hospital one evening in October, she saw Frank saying goodbye to a slender blonde at the door of their shared house, kissing her intensely. She stood there frozen. Everything inside her urged her to turn around and run away. But then the anger that built up within her gained the upper hand. Like a burning ray that shot out of her stomach through her whole body, he took a breath. She ran to the front door, unlocked it, and found Frank standing at the sink in the kitchen, where he was just rinsing out two wine glasses. He turned to her in surprise, but before he could say a word, Claire’s purse hit him in the left half of his face with full force. Frank had lost his balance and had fallen over. His glasses had come off his head and had broken when he hit the kitchen floor. Claire no longer knew what insults she had used to call him. Frank had picked himself up and collected the parts of his glasses. He had not even set out to explain the situation or apologize. Claire would not have listened to him either. She had turned on her foot and had run into the shared bedroom. When she arrived there, she had taken Frank’s bed linen, run back downstairs with it, and threw it all into his study. Then she ran back into the bedroom again and locked herself inside. She did not know how long she had cried angrily. But before she had fallen asleep, she had made a plan. The next morning she went on the morning shift. During a break, she called a lawyer and that same afternoon she went to see her to discuss the formalities of a divorce.

https://64.media.tumblr.com/7fb2162c04e097cd4c7a9ca893e1c296/df150f75c53cc741-bf/s1280x1920/f037cbfd1ad40121700afc02c59372a58b8bea45.jpg

“Brille” by  jottbe

 

         Frank had had the injuries Claire had inflicted on him treated, but had not reported them to the police. It was only later that he let it show that he had orchestrated the whole situation. He had simply been too cowardly to have a conversation with her about divorce, as two adults normally do. He probably wanted to make her feel guilty, too. Claire was convinced of that, at least. Frank had always been against her going back to work. When she accepted the job at the children’s hospital a year after their wedding, he had expressed himself very negatively about it. What kind of impression would it leave on his colleagues if the wife of a prospective professor went to work? And in the last year of their marriage, he had not missed any opportunity to tell her how much he felt neglected.
It took three months before Claire was able to move into a small room in one of the Charité nurses’ homes. During these three months, she did everything she could to avoid Frank as much as possible. Anything she couldn’t take with her to the nurses’ home, she stored in her friend Geillis Duncan’s basement. Claire hoped that the divorce would be finalized in October 2023 after the obligatory year of separation and that she could finally start a new life. But this time, too, everything turned out differently than she had hoped.
         It was a rainy autumn day in September 2023 and it was to be the last day in the life of Dr. Frank Randall. On a country road near Lübeck, where he had attended a conference for historians, Frank’s car skidded for some unknown reason. The car broke through the barrier and then came to a halt in a field. There it was discovered the next morning by a farmer. When the police arrived at the scene of the accident, Dr. Frank Randall was strapped in the seat belt and sat in the driver’s seat as if nothing had happened. He was uninjured and even still wearing his hat. But Frank Randall was dead. An autopsy performed later revealed that Frank had had a heart attack that caused him to lose control of the car, causing it to veer off the road. It was, as the police later said, very lucky that no other car had been hit. Claire was shaken.

“Lübeck”  by scholty1970

“Lübeck”  by scholty1970 

 

         But an even greater shock struck her on the day of the reading of the will. On that day, the notary told her that she would not inherit any money, only debts from Frank. Her still-husband had bought a condominium for his mistress for 250,000 euros, which he had signed over to her. For this gift, Frank had gone into debt, and Claire, who was still married to him by law, inherited his debts. It was one big nightmare. Although Claire had also inherited the rights to Frank’s books, these reference books sold only in very manageable numbers and brought in little money. With her salary as a pediatric nurse, it would take her decades to pay off Frank’s debts. Meanwhile, Sandy Travers, this bleached …., was sitting in her apartment, probably enjoying herself with her next lover. Once again the anger about Frank rose in Claire’s heart, but before she could think about him any further, a familiar voice tore her from these thoughts.

Chapter Text

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

 

         “Once again the anger about Frank rose in Claire’s heart, but before she could think about him any further, a familiar voice tore it from her thoughts.

         It was the voice of Dr. Ned Gowan. The company’s lawyer stood between the open wings of the large door and invited her to come in. Claire stood up in surprise. She was the last of the women who had arrived and now she was the first to be invited in. The other women also looked at her in irritation.

         Then she entered an elongated rectangular room whose furnishings also bore all the hallmarks of the neo-Renaissance style. In front of a large wall of shelves with countless books, stood a massive desk made of dark wood. On it were several telephones and monitors, a keyboard, files, books and - to Claire’s surprise - a large, dark red orchid. A high grown, muscular man with bright red hair that turned into curls at the neck and at his temples sat at this desk and signed some papers. When she came a little closer, the man stood up, came up to her, and held out his hand.

         "Welcome to ‘Fraser & Son International’, Mrs. Beauchamp. I’m James Fraser,” said the giant, who reminded Claire more of a Viking warrior fallen out of time than of the CEO of a thriving international company. She knew that he was 37 years old and estimated that he measured at least 1.90 meters (if not more).

         Fraser’s handshake was firm and warm, but not hard or uncomfortable. His voice sounded soft and melodic. He spoke quietly. Claire needed a moment before she could answer, so much was she surprised by the discrepancy between the man’s height and his appearance. Later, she would describe her first impression of James Fraser as that of a gentle giant.

         “Claire … Elisabeth Beauchamp. Pleased to meet you, Dr. Fraser,” she replied, looking into his bright blue eyes. Now she also saw that she had a 3-day beard around his mouth and cheeks. The color of the beard seemed a little lighter to her than the color of his hair.

         Fraser pointed to the left:

         “Please follow me.”

         Directly to the right of the office was a somewhat smaller room, which was entered through a door in the style of a Japanese Shoji. Opposite the entrance, a wall-high panoramic window attracted Claire’s interest. Through this window, one could see directly onto the Gendarmenmarkt and the French Cathedral. In the light-flooded room, two white leather sofas faced each other, separated only by a coffee table. Fraser asked Claire to sit on one of the sofas, he and the lawyer sat down on the other.

         Dr. Gowan spoke first:

         “Mrs. Beauchamp, before we discuss your possible employment, we must ask you to sign this document.”

         He handed her a piece of paper with several narrow lines written on it. Claire took it and began to read. It was a confidentiality agreement. Under threat of a 250,000 Euro fine, the signatory, obviously meaning her, agreed to keep quiet about everything that was discussed between her, James Fraser, and his lawyer.

         Claire looked at Dr. Gowan in surprise.

         “You must understand, Mrs. Beauchamp,” said the lawyer, “that Mr. Fraser is not just anyone, but the CEO of an international company.

         "I understand,” she replied quietly, then took the pen that Dr. Gowan handed her and signed the paper.

         “Thank you, Mrs. Beauchamp,” the lawyer said, “this copy is for you.”

         Claire saw how Fraser pressed a button on his smartphone. Shortly afterward, Mrs. Fitz-Gibbons appeared and brought tea and cookies. When she had left the room again and everyone had been provided with tea, James Fraser sat back and explained to Claire which job he was offering her. He told her that he had a foster son named Fergus and that he was looking for someone who could permanently take care of him. For twenty minutes, the businessman talked about his son and the qualifications that a caregiver would need. With each of these minutes, Claire became more aware that she had the best chance of getting this job. But did she really want it? The salary was fantastic and Fraser seemed a serious, friendly person. But what if the child did not like her? And did she really want to take care of just one child for years? Did she really want to spend all her time in that man’s house for years? These thoughts frightened her a little, but then there was the prospect of significantly reducing her financial burden of this job. Claire decided inwardly to at least try. And if things didn’t go well, well, the German healthcare system was constantly looking for new employees. Just recently, the German Minister of Health returned from a trip to Mexico, where he had recruited nurses and male nurses. She would find a new job at any time. She was sure of that. So she had a safety net and wouldn’t fall into a bottomless pit if she had to give up her job with Fraser. Claire knew that and that reassured her a bit.

         Fraser had finished his explanations and asked her directly:

         "What do you think, Mrs. Beauchamp? Would you be willing to take that position?”

         “In principle, yes…”

         “But?” asked Fraser in surprise.

         “Well, it’s not my decision alone. What if your son doesn’t like me?”

         “We might as well test that. Would you like to come to our house to get to know Fergus? You could have lunch with us afterward?”

         “Y-e-s, … of course.”

         "Right,” said Fraser, again pressing a button on his smartphone. When Mrs. Fitz-Gibbons appeared, to Claire’s great surprise, he ordered her to send the other waiting women home. They would be contacted if the company still needed them. She was also to call his housekeeper and tell her that he would bring two guests for lunch. Claire became almost dizzy from the speed at which this conversation developed. But now she could no longer escape the pull that the whole thing was exerting on her.

“Mercedes Maybach S 600 Pullman” Photo: BMK Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1130176

“Mercedes Maybach S 600 Pullman” Photo: BMK Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1130176

 

         Together with Dr. Gowan, they left the room through another door and then entered a secure elevator that took them directly to an underground parking garage. There Fraser’s chauffeur was already waiting next to a black Mercedes Maybach S 600 Pullman and opened the doors of the limousine for the arriving guests. The lawyer and Claire sat down in the back, Fraser took a seat next to the driver. Shortly afterward they found themselves in the thick traffic of the German capital. The drive went through Charlottenburg, then along the river Havel. Afterward they drove through Steglitz-Zehlendorf, along the Western Düppelner Forst and over the Glienicke Bridge, which became famous worldwide through Steven Spielberg’s film “Bridge of Spies”. With this, they had reached the city of Potsdam and ten minutes later they stopped in front of a clinkered multi-apartment building. Claire estimated that it had been built around the beginning of the 1930s. Fraser went ahead and led them into the house. A lady, who Claire estimated to be in her mid-forties, approached them in the entrance hall. Fraser introduced her as Mrs. Curtius and explained that she, along with her husband, was responsible for the management of the house.

         “I would now like to show you the apartment that we are providing. If you’ll follow me, please.”

         Claire nodded, and Fraser led her to an elevator that took her up to the top floor in a few moments. A few more steps brought them to a small hallway and from there to a kitchen-living room. Another living area followed, separated from the first by a large panoramic window. Claire was magically drawn to the view.

         “Oh! You can see all the way across the Jungfernsee!”


“View above river Havel/ lake Jungfernsee to the Saviour’s Church at the port of Sacrow“ by  Lienhard Schulz  CC BY-SA 3.0,  via WikiMediaCommons https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=358200

“View above river Havel/ lake Jungfernsee to the Saviour’s Church at the port of Sacrow“ by  Lienhard Schulz  CC BY-SA 3.0,  via WikiMediaCommons https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=358200

 

         Fraser smiled. Then he led her a few steps further. They now came into another small hallway and from there they went right into the bathroom and left into the bedroom. All rooms were modern and bright.

         “Do you like it? Could you imagine living here?”

         When Claire didn’t answer right away, Fraser added:

         “Of course, you could furnish the apartment to your liking. You can bring your own furniture, or we can have it redecorate it for you.”

         “Thank you. I like it very much. But I think we should wait and see how your son reacts to me first.”

         “Yes, of course,” Fraser relented, “then I want you to meet him right away.”

         They went back to the first floor, where Fraser led Claire through the living room into the conservatory and from there to the large terrace facing east. A spiral staircase led into the garden from its left side:

         “I had the garden redecorated several years ago. Potsdam has a long wine-growing tradition and so there are still many terraced areas here”.

         They walked across a lawn and then came to a circled flowerbed that was full of different types of roses. Claire estimated its diameter to be several meters. There were two paths around the circle, one to the south and one to the north. Fraser and Claire entered the second path, which in turn led them to a larger lawn and from there to a tree-lined corner of the garden. There was a small pavilion with several sunbeds and a table. Behind the pavilion, one could see a swimming pool that was covered with wooden boarding. On one of the sunbeds, which reminded Claire more of couches, lay a small boy with dark, curly hair, completely absorbed in a book.

         “Fergus!” Fraser shouted and the boy was slightly startled.

         “Papa!”

         The book almost flew to one side, the boy jumped up and ran towards Fraser. He welcomed him with open arms, picked him up from the ground, and pressed him warmly to himself.

         “Papa,” the boy asked, while Fraser carried him back to the sunbeds, “why are you home so early?

         "Because I want you to meet someone.”

         Fraser sat down on one of the beds with Fergus and told Claire to sit down, too. Warmly he pressed Fergus once more to him, then he pointed at Claire and said:

         “We talked about hiring someone to help you when you start school now. Someone to be here with you while I have to work or when I have to go on a business trip.”

         The little curly head nodded.

         "I want you to meet Mrs. Beauchamp. She speaks German, English, and - you will be especially pleased to hear that - French as well.”

         The boy’s face began to radiate.

         “Mrs. Beauchamp has come here today so that you can talk to each other. And if you wish, and if Mrs. Beauchamp wishes, she could start working for us.”

         Fraser gave Fergus a light nudge on the back.

         The boy stood up, walked over to Claire, and politely reached out his hand to her.

         “Good day, Mrs. Beauchamp.”

         “Good day, Fergus. Would you like to sit next to me?”

         The boy nodded, then sat down.

         Fraser watched with delight how Fergus looked at Claire. Obviously, his son was as impressed by the young woman’s natural beauty as he was.

         “Well, I’ll leave you to it, then. Is there anything else you want me to have brought? Tea for you Claire and hot chocolate for you, Fergus?”

         Both nodded. Fraser rose and slowly walked back to the house. All he could think of was that all he wanted was for Claire and Fergus to get along well and for her to take the job. But why shouldn’t that happen? The morning had already made a small miracle come true. Claire had shown up for the interview and she had shown her willingness to take the job. Why shouldn’t another small miracle happen? From the moment he first saw Claire’s photo on her application, he could only think of other things with difficulty. In every spare minute, she had dominated his thoughts. He had made all sorts of inquiries about her and there was nothing he wanted more than to get to know her better.

         Back at the house, he asked Mrs. Curtius to bring tea and hot chocolate to the pavilion. When the housekeeper returned half an hour later, she had to tell him how she had found Claire and Fergus.

         “They sit next to each other on the chaise longue and talk intensively - in French. I did not understand much of it. Fergus seems enthusiastic. He talks without interruption and gestures while doing so, just like when he talks to you. He almost knocked over the cup of hot chocolate.”

         “Thank you.”

         Fraser smiled. Then he went into the dining room where Ned Gowan was waiting for him.

“Potsdam - Shingle House” by Giorgio Michele - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3492265

“Potsdam - Shingle House” by Giorgio Michele - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3492265

         An hour later Mrs. Curtius came and began setting the dining table. Fraser got up and wanted to go to the pavilion to get Claire and Fergus. But as he stepped out onto the terrace, he heard Fergus scream with enthusiasm. Then he saw the reason for it. Together with Claire, who had obviously taken off her shoes and was now walking around in stockings, the boy chased after a ball and shot it into an imaginary goal by the garden fence. As if from one mouth, they shouted “Gooooal!” and hopped around each other. Fraser could hardly stop laughing, and Ned Gowan, who had followed him onto the terrace, also began to laugh.

         “You were right, Jamie. She’s the one for Fergus.”

         Shortly afterward, the two soccer players, Claire now back in shoes, also entered the terrace.

         “Papa, Claire can play soccer and knows the rules,” the boy reported enthusiastically.

         “Fergus! Would you please say 'Mrs. Beauchamp'. Please! Behave!” Fraser admonished his son.

         “No, no, I allowed him to call me Claire. That’s all right.”

         Claire smiled. Fergus and she had obviously found a connection.  

         “Well,” said Fraser, and the surprise was clearly audible in his tone, “then we can have lunch.”

         After lunch, Fraser took Fergus to bed for a nap. Claire had to accompany them at Fergus’ insistence. She was happy to do so. Instead of his father, the boy asked her to read to him from the "Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Primeval Animals”. While she did so, she let her eyes wander through the room again and again. She was surprised at how lovingly it was furnished. Fergus’ bed was made in the style of a pirate’s bunk, the walls decorated with pictures of pirates and dinosaurs. Everything was bright and friendly, only the carpet was in a deep dark blue.

         “He wanted such a carpet. This is supposed to be the sea his ship sails on,” Fraser explained to her when they later returned to the second floor. They sat down with Ned Gowan, who had been waiting for them in the dining room. There were a number of documents on the dining table and Claire was aware that she had to make a decision. But after meeting Fergus and being taken to his heart by him, the decision was easy.

         "Are you ready to accept the position I am offering you?“

         "Yes, I am. I look forward to taking care of Fergus.”

         "I’m glad you do,“ replied Fraser, and Claire was surprised to discover that the businessman seemed genuinely relieved.

         Together with her, the company’s lawyer then went through the employment contract. Everything seemed to comply with the legal requirements, which she knew from her previous contracts. But then they came to a point that startled Claire:

         "But … I can’t … start on Monday! I have to give notice at the Charité and I have a four weeks period to do so!”

         "Don’t worry about that,” said Fraser, in the calm manner she was already used to from him, “I know the director of your clinic well, he will certainly agree to your change. I will call him tonight and discuss everything with him.”

         “If that’s possible…”

         Claire was amazed but assumed that a man with as much influence as Fraser could correctly assess the situation.

         “We would then send a moving service tomorrow to move your furniture.”

         “It’s all very quick…”

         Claire sighed.

         “Is it going too fast?”

         Fraser looked at her somewhat anxiously.

         “It’s all really happening very quickly, but… now that I’ve met Fergus, I’m looking forward to being there for him.”

         Claire didn’t mention that during the conversation with Fergus she had sensed how much the boy longed for someone who would be there for him during the many hours his father was absent. He had told her that Mr. and Mrs. Curtius were very friendly, but that they had little time for him since they had other duties to perform. Much of what Fergus had told her had reminded her of her own time as an orphan. Uncle Lambert had brought her up with a lot of love and spent every spare minute with her. And yet, somehow she had always been missing something. A mother? She was not sure. She didn’t think she could be a mother substitute for Fergus. And given that her time in this household was certainly limited, she didn’t want to take on that role either. But the boy had touched her heart, and if she could give him a sense of security by being a good, trusted friend to him, then that would make her happy. She was sure of that.

         Claire picked up the pen that Ned Gowan had handed her with the employment contract and signed it.

         Fraser smiled, then pressed a button on his smartphone. Claire thought that she would get used to that. Shortly afterward, Mrs. Curtius appeared with a trolley carrying three champagne bowls and an ice bucket with a bottle of “Moet et Chandon”.

“Champagner” by  Myriams-Fotos

“Champagner” by  Myriams-Fotos

 

         “Let’s toast to a good future together,” said Fraser as he filled the glasses and handed them over to Claire and the lawyer. They toasted and drank. Claire had assumed that the meeting was now over, but to her surprise Fraser then said

         “Mrs. Beauchamp, we have another … very … delicate matter to talk about.”

         “And what is that?” she asked in surprise.

         Now Dr. Gowan intervened again:

         “As Mr. Fraser explained to you, Fergus is his foster son. A year ago, Mr. Fraser visited his Uncle Jared in Paris and when he went for a walk one evening, he found the child asleep near a bridge. No one knows what happened to his parents. It is known that both were drug addicts. They disappeared years ago. The authorities assume that they are either in Asia or dead. The child grew up in the care of his grandmother and when she died he was taken to an orphanage. But the boy could not stand it there. He fled from the place and began to make a living by begging and … well, petty theft … Mr. Fraser found him and promised him that he would give him a good home. He was lucky in the courts in Paris and was able to win guardianship. But he wants to adopt Fergus as his son. But that is almost impossible for a single man in this country, even if he has as much money and influence as Mr. Fraser”.

         Gowan had stressed the word “single” and a dark premonition was rising in Claire’s mind.

         “And…what…does…this…have…to do with…me?” she asked cautiously.

         “We would like to offer you another, very well-paid job.”

         Claire looked at Fraser and Gowan, but remained silent, so the lawyer continued:

         “We are asking you to become, for three years, only pro forma the … how shall I put it, Mr. Fraser’s girlfriend or fiancée. Only pro forma. For each of these years, we will pay you 250,000 Euros plus a final payment of another 250,000 Euros. We will transfer the amounts to an account at a bank of your choice - wherever you want”.  

         “And … what do you expect me to do for it?” asked Claire, shocked and completely out of breath.

         Once again, the lawyer took the floor:

         “First of all, of course, we expect you to abide by our confidentiality agreement. Then we ask you to accompany Mr. Fraser to official occasions and that you behave like a girlfriend or fiancée to outsiders … well …”.

         “But … am I not making myself liable to prosecution?” Claire asked uncertainly.

         “We’re not asking you to say anything untrue. Something completely different would be a fictitious marriage. And as for money, who can stop Mr. Fraser from giving money to his girlfriend or fiancée? You should pay the gift tax, though.”

         Again, Claire was silent. Then she saw Fraser reach into the right pocket of his jacket and pull out a small box covered with black velvet. He opened it and pushed it over to Claire. Visible was a ring of white gold formed from chased thistles. The flowers of these thistles were made of cut amethysts. Carefully Claire took the ring out of its packaging to look at it.

         “It is beautiful,” she then whispered.

         “The thistle is the national flower of Scotland, the country of origin of my family,” Fraser explained. Then he was silent for a moment.

         “Would you wear this ring for three years, Mrs. Beauchamp? You would be a great help to Fergus and me.”

         A thousand thoughts went through Claire’s mind. But then she decided immediately. She handed the ring to Fraser and then held out her left hand to him. Fraser smiled, put the ring on her finger, and pulled her hand toward him. He ended the ceremony with a kiss on the hand that came as a complete surprise to her.

         “Thank you, Mrs. Beauchamp, when this is all over, Fergus and I will be forever in your debt.”

         Claire blushed.

         "I still can’t believe all this,” she then said softly.

         Even Ned Gowan had to smile.

         “Believe me, Mrs. Beauchamp, we are no different. This morning you came to the company hoping to get a job. Within …,” Gowan looked at his watch, “six hours you have seen your new apartment, got to know the subject of your future work, signed your employment contract, and got engaged. And in three years, Mrs. Beauchamp, you will walk out of the door of this house a twofold millionaire.”

         Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Fraser shouted:

         "Yes, please.”

         and Mrs. Curtius came in.

         “May I serve the tea?”

         “Yes, thank you. Is Fergus up yet?”

         “Yes, he’s in the kitchen, painting.

         "Please send him in,” Fraser asked.

         It didn’t take a minute, and Fergus came in, holding a large sheet of Din-A-4 in one hand.

         “This is for you, Claire,” he said, beaming with joy, and handed her the picture of a dangerously green-looking Tyrannosaurus Rex.

         “Oh, thanks, Fergus!”

         She pulled the boy towards her and gave him a hearty hug.

         “Fergus, will you come and see me for a moment?” Fraser asked.

         The boy climbed onto Fraser’s lap.

         “I have some very good news for you,” Fraser began but didn’t get any further.

         “Mrs. Claire is staying with us?”

         Fraser could only say “Yes,” and then the boy was already on his way back to Claire. He climbed onto her lap and pressed little kisses on both her cheeks.

         “Fergus!”

         “It’s all right,” Claire repulsed. She pressed the boy warmly against her and had to control herself immensely to keep from crying. How long had it been since she last met a person with such honest love? At that moment, Claire was sure she had made the right decision.

“Dinner” by JillWellington

“Dinner” by JillWellington

 

         They had dinner together, then Ned Gowan said goodbye. Fraser and Claire put Fergus to bed and of course, Claire had to read from the “Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals” again. When the boy had fallen asleep, they sneaked quietly out of his room. Then they took the elevator that brought them to the garage where the driver with the limousine was already waiting for them. Fraser sat with Claire in the back seat and on the way to her apartment at the nursing home they reflected on the day.

         “Tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. the moving company will come and take care of everything. I look forward to welcoming you then, Mrs. Beauchamp,” Fraser said as they arrived in front of the Charité nursing home.

         “Claire, please call me Claire,” she replied.

         “All right, Claire. I’m James, to my friends, Jamie,” Fraser said, reaching out his hand to her. She took his hand, but somehow it seemed quite natural for them to hug briefly.

         “Good night, Jamie.”

         “Good night, Claire.”

         While a completely irritated (bothered) Claire walked down the path to her apartment and wondered if she had made the biggest mistake of her life, a very cheerful James Fraser had himself driven in his limousine towards the Pfingstberg in Potsdam - feeling very lucky, very blessed.

Chapter Text

“Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz“ by  tap5a

“Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz“ by  tap5a

 

         When Claire had closed the door to her room, she let herself fall onto her bed. She looked at her left hand and at the engagement ring that Fraser, Jamie! had put on her. He was an impressive man, both externally and in terms of character. Suddenly a thought went through her mind. What if it wasn't just a fake engagement? What if 'fake' became 'real' after all? And what would Geillis say?

         "Geillis!" exclaimed Claire and jumped out of bed.

         Only now did she realize that she had completely forgotten her friend. Claire ran to her handbag and took out her smartphone. Shortly after she turned it on, it kept on announcing incoming messages. Twenty-two times (!) Geillis had written to her! Claire selected Geili's name from her contact list and called.

         "My $§&?&, Claire! What's wrong with you?"

         "Geillis, sorry, I just... I just got home."

         "What?! Just now?! What have you been doing all this time?! You went there over 12 hours ago!”

         "I met the boy they're hiring a caregiver for.”

         "Claire, I hardly have time. I'm packing my bags. Dave and I are flying to New Zealand tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m. Dave's father has had a stroke, and we're going to visit him. We'll stay for at least a month. Just tell me now: ‘Did you get the job?!’"

         "Yeah, I got it. Thank you so much."

         "Great! I have to go now, Claire. I'll talk to you later. Bye!"

         "Bye, Geillis. Have a safe flight..."

         She wanted to add: "And all the best for Dave's father..." But Geillis had already hung up and the only thing Claire heard was a monotonous hoot. Claire went back to her bed and fell on it again. She was sorry that Dave's father was ill, but on the other hand, she was thankful that Geillis didn't have time. As Claire knew her friend, she would have pestered her with so many questions that a Swiss cheese would be green with envy (as the Germans said). And as she knew herself, she could hardly have kept anything from her. She hoped that she would succeed with a month's gap.

         Tired, Claire dragged herself into the small bathroom and changed her clothes. While she was brushing her teeth, her smartphone reported the arrival of another text message:

 

“Message” by geralt

“Message” by geralt

 

         "Claire, I just spoke to your director, Professor F. Everything is fine. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Good night, J."

         Claire breathed deeply and shook her head slightly. Was there anything that James Fraser couldn't handle with his money and influence? But then she paused. There was one thing that Fraser apparently could not influence with his money or his reputation: He had no wife. He needed a fake fiancee. Why was that? The more she thought about it, the less she understood. Eventually, she fell asleep.

         Over the next two days, Claire moved. Or rather, she was moved. As Fraser had promised, a moving company came. The employees packed up everything that was in her small apartment and put it in a large moving van. They then drove with Claire to Geillis' apartment, where they got Claire's boxes from the basement and took them with them. When they arrived at Fraser's villa, they brought all the boxes to Claire's apartment and also set up her furniture there.
In between, Mrs. Curtius served sandwiches and drinks. By early afternoon, everything was done and Claire only had to clear out the boxes. Fergus would have loved to help, but the adults had banished him to the sitting area of Mrs. Curtius' kitchen. There he sat and painted, played on his tablet, or read a book. At the same time, he was compensated for his "kitchen custody" by Mrs. Curtius with cake and cocoa. First, he had rebelled, but then Fergus had submitted to his "fate". His enthusiasm was all the greater when he finally was able to greet Claire over tea. And of course, she got a new painting from him. This time it was a dangerously brown-looking Velociraptor, which she was presented with. Afterwards he was allowed to help Claire unpack her boxes. But his help was mainly limited to looking at the things Claire unpacked and asking what they were, what she needed them for etc. etc. pp. For her part, Claire watched with interest how carefully Fergus handled her things.

         "What a special child he is," she thought to herself, "no wonder Fraser is so committed to him.”

         After dinner, the ritual from the night before was repeated. Together they put Fergus to bed and Claire had to read aloud again. Secretly, she wondered which dinosaur she would get the next portrait of.

         After they closed the door behind them, Fraser asked her if he could help her a bit, but Claire declined with thanks. After all that had happened in the past 48 hours, she just needed some time and rest for herself.

         On Sunday, she only saw Fraser and Fergus at mealtimes. In the evening, she learned that father and son had slept late in the morning and then played many rounds with their electrical railway. After lunch, they had taken a trip to the jungle landscape of the Biosphäre Potsdam. Fergus enthusiastically told her that there were over 20,000 magnificent tropical plants and around 140 different species of animals there, which of course they had not all been able to see. The child vividly described how he and “Papa” had hiked from a waterfall along winding paths to the butterfly house and then to an elevated path that stretched 14 meters high to the crowns of the trees. Fraser Junior, as Claire had secretly named her protégé, concluded his report with a clear statement that they would have to go there again, and then Claire would have to come along. That evening she also read Fergus from the "Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals" and it seemed to her that not only the boy but also his father liked it.

 

“Potsdam Biosphäre” by A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace)

“Potsdam Biosphäre” by A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace)

 

         On Monday everything changed. After breakfast, Fraser and Claire took Fergus to the private school where the child had been enrolled a few months earlier. Although the school was less than a kilometer from their home, Fraser insisted that Fergus was not be allowed to go to school or back home alone. Claire understood Fraser's concerns. Many children of known or wealthy parents had been abducted. There was no way she wanted anything like this to happen to Fergus. Upon arrival at school, Fraser introduced Claire as "his fiancée" to the principal and Fergus' future class teacher. It sounded strange to her ears. Then they attended an introductory session for parents and children. Afterwards there was a program for the children to get to know each other better, while the parents were given a champagne reception with the same goal. Eventually, Claire stopped counting to how many people Fraser had introduced her as "my fiancée". Slowly but surely she got used to it, too.

         The next morning, Claire took Fergus to school and picked him up again at noon. When she felt like going for a walk, she walked, when she didn't have time, she asked Mr. Curtius to drive her. Slowly a certain routine developed: they had lunch together and then discussed what Fergus had experienced at school. After a short lunch break, they did homework together. As long as it wasn't too cold outside, they spent the afternoons in the garden or made short trips to the surrounding area

         On Friday of their first week on the job, Fraser explained that they would have to attend a press appointment at the hospital on Sunday afternoon. On Sunday morning, a tailor and a hairdresser arrived to prepare Claire for this appointment. Claire chose a costume that matched Fraser's dark blue suit from the clothes the tailor had brought. After all, as Fraser had said, it was to be a business appointment. They drove to the University Hospital and were led into a corridor unknown to her, where they met the hospital director, who greeted them warmly. And of course, Fraser introduced Claire as "my fiancée" again. It still sounded unusual, but since she had never had any personal dealings with the director, she didn't give it much thought. Shortly afterward, a number of press photographers appeared and took pictures of Claire and Fraser handing a symbolic check to the director. Questions were not allowed; instead, the spokesman for ”Fraser & Son International” distributed copies of a statement to the journalists.

         An hour later they were already back in the car and driving back to Potsdam. Fraser thanked Clair for her help and assured her that he would make sure that the time would be credited to her. But that was not Claire's most pressing question at the moment. Rather, she was thinking about whether her former colleagues would find out about this and what they would think? Finally, she repressed the thought. Arriving in Potsdam, she enjoyed having a few more hours to herself. Then the usual evening ritual followed.

 

“News” by fernandozhiminaicela

“News” by fernandozhiminaicela

         The shock did not hit Claire until the next morning. Together with Mr. Curtius, she had brought Fergus to school. On the way back, she had asked to be dropped off at a café. The mornings belonged to her and today she simply felt like having a latte macchiato here, reading the newspaper, and watching people. Curtius would be back in time and together they would pick up Fergus after school. She calmly strolled to one of the small bistro tables in front of a bench, took one of the laid out newspapers while walking, and sat down. Shortly afterward, the waitress came and Claire placed her order. She began to look through the newspaper and then she saw it. Under the heading "People Today" was the picture. It showed Claire, Fraser, and the hospital director when they handed over the check. Above it was the headline: "Happiness of love and willingness to donate: 'Fraser & Son International' donate 100,000 Euros for children's clinic. At the same time, the CEO announced his engagement". Claire became dizzy. Without consciously realizing it, she sank behind the big pages of the newspaper. When she had recovered somewhat from her initial shock, she called Mr. Curtius and asked him to pick her up. She put on her sunglasses, which fortunately were still in her handbag, paid her bill, and left the café as quickly as possible. Ten minutes later, when she was finally sitting in the car with Mr. Curtius, she asked him to drive to a kiosk. She gave him money so he could buy a copy of all the daily newspapers printed in Berlin and Potsdam. He did so without asking. Back home, she went to her apartment and looked through all the newspapers. Each one brought the news and the picture. The headlines were different. While some reported quite factually ("Donation / Engagement"), others indulged in the most impossible phrases ("Donation / Love Happiness", "Donation / Potsdam Romance", etc., etc.) A feeling of nausea spread through Claire's stomach. She stretched out on her couch and looked up at the ceiling. She did not like being in the public light like that. But that was probably the price she had to pay for being debt-free within a few years. She closed her eyes and dawned away. Suddenly she was awakened by the ringing of her smartphone. It was the appointment notification that alerted her that she had to pick up Fergus from school in twenty minutes.

         When Fraser came home that evening, Claire waited for him after dinner.

         "Have you seen the newspaper reports?"

         "Yes, of course, I did. I hope you know that FSI is not responsible for this ... kind of language. We have issued a very factual press release."

         "Sure."

         Claire nodded. She had no reason to doubt Fraser's words.

         The CEO, who had already turned to leave, turned to her again.

         "Claire, I really hate this tabloid thing. I know this is unpleasant. But please always remember: We're only doing this for Fergus."

         Fraser's words at least managed to put a little smile on her face.

         "Sure," she replied, "we're doing this for Fergus."

 

“Fotograf” by InWay

“Fotograf” by InWay 

         But contrary to Fraser and Claire's hopes, the situation was to become unpleasant once again. The next day, press photographers ambushed her outside Fergus' school and followed her and the child to Fraser's property. She had hoped that the paparazzi had had enough. But when she and Fergus went out in the afternoon to clean up a little in the garden, she saw two reporters standing on a small ladder with their cameras ready, peering over the hedge into the garden. She immediately called Jamie and he informed Ned Gowan the minute after Claire’s call. The company lawyer set a well-oiled machine in motion and before the evening was over, all the newspaper publishers in the city received a notice in which Dr. Gowan reminded them that "Fraser & Son International" owned shares in them and regularly placed advertisements. The publishers would have to do without both with immediate effect if they were to print unauthorized pictures of
Dr. Fraser, his fiancée, or his son or spread any speculation about the three people. The company lawyer added that in such a case, legal action and claims for damages would of course be considered. This put an end to the haunting and the next weeks in Claire's life were again as peaceful as the days before the photoshoot.

         About a month after Claire began working for him, Fraser explained that there was another social event on Saturday night of that week that they would have to attend together. He assured her that this would be the last event of its kind this year. Once again, a tailor appeared in the afternoon with a selection of dresses, then a hairdresser, and, after Claire had chosen the dress, a jeweler. Claire had long pondered which of the dresses to choose. The one she finally decided on seemed too conspicuous to her. But Fraser's tailor assured her that it was not unsuitable for the occasion. He had also explained to her what kind of event it would be. But she had forgotten it again. She only remembered that it would be the annual ball of some industrial association that was to take place in the Old National Gallery. Shortly after 6 pm, she took the elevator into the hall. When the doors opened, Fraser looked up at her. His surprised expression startled her and she hoped he was not too upset that she had chosen the striking red silk dress for the evening.

         "I hope you..."

         Claire did not get a chance to say more. Fraser took her hand, kissed her, and said:

         "Claire... you look... impressive."

         "I do? I was afraid you ..."

         "You look amazing, and now let's go."

         He put a white mink stole around her shoulders, then offered her his arm on.

 

Part of a picture by WikiImages

Part of a picture by WikiImages

         In the hall of the Old National Gallery, they met many men and women whom Fraser knew. He introduced Claire to them all as "my fiancée, Ms. Beauchamp". While the men looked at her with admiring glances, most of the (married) women remained quite reserved. Claire was only too aware of the reasons for this. It had also not escaped her notice that Fraser felt extremely comfortable in his role as her fiancé. He obviously enjoyed the fact that all these men visibly envied him. Then a gong sounded and called the assembled to dinner. Afterward, they had to endure a few short lectures and award ceremonies. Eventually, Claire noticed Fraser's arm resting on the back of her chair and this reminded her why they were here. She had to behave like a fiancée. While they continued to listen to a boring short talk, she put her right hand on his left and slowly lowered herself against his left side. Fraser looked at her and smiled. Then he let his arm slide from the backrest around her shoulders. Claire closed her eyes. The room was darkened and no one would notice. For a moment, she imagined that what she was experiencing was not fake, but real. She had only been working for Fraser for a month, but a month in his house had been enough to take him and Fergus to her heart. If she was honest with herself, she wanted nothing more than to find a home forever in this house and with these two people. The talk was over and the clapping of the others tore Claire away from her thoughts. She opened her eyes and looked directly into Fraser's. He smiled. She felt him gently stroke her back. Then he whispered:

         "It'll be over soon. I have one or two more conversations to make and then we'll go home."

         "No problem, this kind of talk is just ... Valium for me."

         Fraser smiled.

         "I can understand that."

         Once again she felt him gently stroke her back. She squeezed his hand.

 

“Celebration” by photosforyou

“Celebration” by photosforyou 

         After the dinner was over, small groups gathered all over the hall. Claire apologized and went to a toilet. After she disappeared into the cubicle, she heard other women coming in. But they did not seem to want to use the toilet. They stopped in front of the mirror and renewed their makeup. They giggled as they did so. Once again the door to the toilets opened and a third woman came in. She joined the others and began a conversation:

         "Did you see the woman who came in with James Fraser?"

         The others did not answer but groaned in agreement.

         "I wonder," continued the 'spokeswoman', "what she did, how she got him. My goodness! We know how many women have tried it."

         Again the others only sighed in agreement.

         "I admit it, I tried it too, but he didn't even notice me. My §$%&?§! The one who marries him is really taken care of. Even if she divorces him after a year. I'd love to know what that woman has done! She must be a witch, she put a spell on him!"

         Claire couldn't hold on to herself anymore. If she did nothing now, she would have to laugh out loud. She pressed the water button and opened the cabin door. Then she walked past the shocked women to the sink, washed her hands, and dried them under the hot air fan. She turned around once more, looked at the completely silent women with a smile, and said

         "I wish the ladies a pleasant evening."

         Shortly afterward, she saw Jamie. He was standing together with some men, absorbed in a conversation. As she came closer, she realized that he must have already seen her. He turned to her:

         "Claire, darling, there you are!"

         Fraser stretched out his right arm and Claire let herself slide in. He kissed her lightly on the cheek. At the same time, she put her left arm around him and her right hand on his chest as if she wanted to make it very clear once again who this man belonged to. Fraser could not escape Claire's behavior and he noticed how his whole body reacted. He found it difficult to concentrate on the conversation. But before he could even think about it, he saw a slim, black-haired man coming toward him. It was Dave Gehrmann, whom he had met during a joint media project. Fraser turned to the man to greet him.

         "Dave, good to see you. May I introduce my fiancée Claire?

         Now Claire also saw him: Dave! It wasn't just any Dave, it was "rich Dave", the partner of her best friend Geillis.

         "Claire!" exclaimed Gehrmann.

         "You know each other?" Fraser asked in surprise.

         "Yes, I met Claire some time ago through a mutual friend."

         Claire knew that where Dave was, Geillis couldn't have been far. She was about to ask Dave where Geillis was, but then she saw her. With eyes wide open, she came right up to Claire, Jamie, and Dave. Claire shook her head slightly and Geillis understood immediately. Now was not the time for big conversations.

         "Dave, my darling, here you are," said Geillis and put her arm around him.

         "James, Claire, may I introduce you to my partner Geillis Duncan? Geillis, this is James Fraser, the CEO of Fraser & Son International, and his fiancée, Claire Beauchamp."

         Fraser and Claire shook Geillis' hand, and Geillis, who was playing the game, just said:

         "How wonderful that I should meet you!"

         The next moment, Fraser's smartphone rang.

         "Please excuse us," he said to Geillis and Dave, "but we have to go. It will take us an hour to get home and we have to relieve our babysitter. Dave, we'll talk on the phone in the next few days!"

         They shook hands, and Fraser walked away with Claire towards the dressing room. Claire's head was spinning. She knew Geillis would definitely call her in the next few days and then she would have to explain herself somehow. She barely felt Fraser put the mink stole on her and slowly led her to the gallery exit.

         Still preoccupied with her thoughts, Claire didn't notice the horde of photographers waiting for her and Fraser at the end of the stairs leading from the exit to the street.

 

“Fotografen” by Engin_Akyurt

“Fotografen” by Engin_Akyurt

 

         "Dr. Fraser," cried one of the photographers, "when are you going to introduce your fiancée to us?”

         One female photographer shouted, "Is there a wedding date yet, Dr. Fraser? Will you marry in Berlin?"

         All this had been expected. But then suddenly someone shouted:

         "Dr. Fraser, is this woman really your fiancée, or is all this just a show? One hears so much about you!"

         Claire and Jamie both knew at that moment that they had to do something. Any kind of wild rumor could have thwarted the prospect of approval for adoption. Fraser looked briefly at Claire, who nodded barely visible at him, then kissed her, intensely and persistently. The photographers fell silent, but only seconds later one heard the flashes click. After they separated and smiled at the photographers, Fraser said in a loud voice:

         "I think this should answer your questions."

         But then one of the reporters shouted, "Well, 50 percent!”

         Claire pulled Jamie to her again and this time she initiated a kiss, intense and passionate. Again the photographers fell silent while the flashes clicked. Then Jamie and Claire made their way to Fraser's car, which was already waiting for them. The photographers retreated and unintentionally formed a kind of espalier. As Claire got into the car, she saw Dave and Geillis standing at the top of the stairs. Dave smiled relaxed as always. But Geillis looked at her with eyes wide open. Suddenly, Claire became very calm. After this action, it shouldn't be hard for her to convince Geillis that she really was Fraser's fiancée.

         Jamie sat in the back seat next to Claire and told the driver to go. Then he leaned over to Claire and whispered:

         "Claire, I... it..."

         No, he couldn't say it. It would be a lie. He couldn't say that he was sorry they kissed. Nothing could be a bigger lie.

         Claire leaned over.

         "It's okay. The danger of them spreading some rumor that might jeopardize Fergus' adoption...”

         Fraser nodded.

         "Yes, exactly."

         They remained silent for a moment. Then he added:

         "We did it for Fergus."

         "Yes, of course," Claire replied whispering, "We only did it for Fergus."

         Both looked straight ahead and without knowing, they both thought the same thing:

         "We did it for Fergus."

         It was not a lie, but it was not the whole truth either. If they had been honest, they would have had to admit that they had done it just as much for each other. They had done it because deep down they wanted to.

         Neither of them slept well that night. Each of them thought about what pictures and reports about "Dr. Fraser and his fiancée" would probably appear in the newspapers of the German capital the next day.
         Jamie was less concerned about this. He had called Ned Gowan while they were still driving home and informed the lawyer about what had happened.
         Claire also wiped the thought of the press aside. She trusted Jamie that he would handle these things and that she and Fergus would continue to be safe.
         More than what the gossip press would spread about them, they were both moved by how they would deal with the feelings they had for each other. Alone, in the darkness and silence of their bedrooms, each of them had faced the truth.
Jamie had known for quite some time. Ever since he had seen Claire's photo on her application, he had felt the desire to meet this woman. But after she walked into his office and into his life a little over a month ago, he realized that she was the woman he had been looking for for so long.
         Fraser decided that he needed to give Claire space. He could not propose to her. For one thing, he didn't know if she had any feelings for him at all, and, more difficult, she could get it all wrong. Maybe she would think he wanted to save the two million and her salary? No, he had to give her space. Maybe she would someday develop feelings for him somehow, feel something for him as he felt for her ...

 

image  Part of a picture by Free-Photos

Part of a picture by Free-Photos

         Claire lay still for a long time too. In her thoughts, she went through the whole evening again. From the moment she stepped out of the elevator and felt his admiring looks at her, to the moment he put his arm around her shoulders in the dark during the talk. She also recalled the unintentionally overheard conversation of the women in the toilet. At the memory of their open mouths and the startled looks, she had to giggle again. Then the pictures of Dave and Geillis slid in front of her eyes. She would have loved to play mouse with her friends that night. What would she have heard? Geillis was certainly very excited. Guaranteed, she had talked Dave into it the whole drive home and the rest of the evening, showering him with her theories and ending up saying that she couldn't wait to call Claire. Dave in his quiet way had no doubt said that Geillis should not worry so much. Everyone could have seen that Claire was doing well. Geillis would agree and snuggle up to him, but her thoughts would not stop circling. Still, Claire did not worry much about Geillis. They would talk on the phone and Geillis, this personalized lie detector, would not be able to see her face. Calmly, Claire would tell her that the closeness in which she and Fraser had to work together had caused them to fall in love. It had just happened that way. And when she looked at it closely, it was not a lie. The closeness in which they had to work and live together for Fergus's sake had had this effect on her, and at least in her heart feelings had developed that went beyond the feeling of friendship. It had really "just happened". When one got to know Fraser better, when one saw the person and not just the business tycoon, one couldn't help but feel attracted to that person. But she had seen more. She had witnessed the fatherly love that Fraser had for his foster son. Every day she had witnessed the warmth and care with which he met this little person. Nothing seemed more important to him than being a good father to Fergus. But how did Fraser feel about her? Did he feel anything for her at all? She closed her eyes and put herself back in the moment when her eyes met and it took less than a second to assure herself of her approval. Once again, she felt his lips warm on hers and how he pulled her to him. Had this only been a show for the reporters or had she not felt a deep passion that was expressed in this kiss? For a moment she had had the impression of seeing a deep desire in his eyes and this feeling had filled her with joy. It had been easy for her to kiss him again. A feeling of warmth and joy had permeated her entire body, and as she kissed Fraser passionately, she had hoped that this scene would not take place in front of the entire capital press, but rather in Fraser's or her apartment. She looked at her watch and noticed that it was just after midnight. In six hours the alarm clock would ring. She decided that it was time to finally go to sleep. And indeed, she had fallen asleep half an hour later.

Chapter Text

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

 

         The next morning, Fraser and Fergus looked up in amazement and delight as Claire joined them for breakfast. Normally, "the men" had breakfast alone on Saturday and Sunday mornings because they were early risers and Claire liked to sleep in on her days off. After breakfast, Claire asked Fraser if he had ten minutes for a private conversation. She had just made her request when Fergus looked up in horror. Then he looked at his father angrily:

        "Papa, what happened last night?"

        Fraser and Claire looked at each other in surprise, then replied, as if from one mouth:

        "Nothing!"

        Fergus, who had slipped from his chair in the meantime, ran to Claire, who was sitting on the other side of the table, and held his arms out to her. Claire lifted him onto her lap.

        "Claire, you're not going to leave us, are you? You're not, how do you say, quiddeling?"

        "Quit, Fergus, that's quitting. No, I'm not quitting."

        "Then why do you want to talk to Papa? On a Sunday morning?"

        Claire pulled the boy's head to her chest. Without realizing it, she slowly began to move her body back and forth as if to lull him to sleep.

        "Fergus, your Papa hasn't done anything wrong and I'm not going to quit. I have to discuss something with your Papa, business stuff, boring stuff. Meanwhile, you can go upstairs, wash your face, brush your teeth, and put your clothes on."

 

“Breakfast” by marijana1

"Breakfast" by marijana1

 

        The little curly head nodded.

        "I am so looking forward to spring and summer, Claire."

        "So, can you tell me why?"

        "Because when it gets warm again, I'll play soccer with you again."

        Claire laughed, then stroked Fergus over the head again and let him slide slowly to the ground. The boy immediately wanted to run out of the room, but Claire called him back again:

         "Fergus!"

        Astonished, the boy turned around. Claire pointed her head in the direction of Fraser:

        "Fergus, your Papa loves you very much and he would never do anything to hurt or harm you.”

        Fergus understood. Slowly, he walked over to Fraser, who stretched out his arms and lifted him onto his lap.

        "Excuse me, Papa."

        Jamie pressed the boy to his chest.

        "Apology accepted."

        They remained like that for a moment. Then Fraser went on:

        "I would never do anything or want Claire to leave us. I'm happy that you're so good with her, that you get along so well. You have nothing to worry about. I do want you to be well, Fergus."

        "Thanks, Papa."

        Instead of an answer, Fraser kissed the child on the forehead and pressed him to his chest again. Then he put Fergus on the floor and said:

        "Go now. Wash up and get dressed. Let's go to the museum village at Düppel."

 

“Museum Village Düppel” by Lienhard Schulz, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=305226

"Museum Village Düppel" by Lienhard Schulz, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=305226

 

        Fergus beamed and he could not help but ask:

        "Claire, would you like to join us..."

        "No, today is your day with your Papa. And for me today is my day off. I'll see you for tea or later for dinner."

        Fergus nodded and surrendered to his fate. As he closed the door behind him, Fraser asked:

        "Claire, what's on your mind? Have you seen the Sunday papers?"

        "No, but I can imagine what they're writing."

        Fraser reached for the chair next to him, where one of the Berlin Sunday newspapers was lying, and handed it to Claire.

        "Berlin's new glamorous couple publicly declared their love"

        was to be read there. And of course, the corresponding pictures were also to be seen. One of these pictures had been moved into the center of the page and was framed by a kitschy big red heart.

        Claire shook her head, closed the pages, and returned the newspaper to Fraser.

        "No, that's not why I want to talk to you. It’s about David Gehrmann and his girlfriend, Geillis Duncan."

        Fraser looked at her in amazement.

        "I've known Geillis for several years, and I've known David since they've been together for about four years."

        Fraser didn't say a word and kept looking at her questioningly.

        "You will certainly wonder why I didn't tell you this last night. Or the moment we met them. I was so surprised and needed some time to process this. I didn't want to hide it from you."

        "Okay, but what's the problem?"

        "Geillis was the one who showed me your ad in the 'Wirtschaftswoche' and urged me to apply for the job."

        "Did she also work at the ...”

        "No, she was an independent fashion consultant for many years ... in the higher-priced segment. But since she has been together with the 'rich Dave' ... she only does that now and then. She loves to have breakfast with a croissant, a strong coffee, and a cigarette and to read some gossip magazines on the side. But she ran out of them and was ‘forced’ to look into the 'Wirtschaftswoche' that Dave had left on the breakfast table. She came to me very excited and showed me the job offer. Geillis knew that I had inherited some debts from my late husband and ... she said that with the three times my nurse's salary it would be able to pay them back faster. That same evening we put together my letter of application."

        "But this is a good story. I must be very grateful to her friend for drawing your attention to the job offer. What's the problem?"

        "The problem is that Geillis and I have been close for many years. She knows me better than perhaps anyone else. She sees through me when I try to lie to her and I expect she'll call me in the next few days with questions."

        Fraser nodded.

        "I see."

        For a moment they were silent.

        "What could we do to convince your friend? Do you have an idea?" Fraser then asked.

        "I don't know. All I know is I don't want to face her questions... alone right now."

        Fraser nodded again.

        "What do you say if we invite Geillis and Dave for dinner and give them the home story the tabloids want us to do?"

        "That would certainly be one way..."

        Claire didn't seem to be sure and suddenly there were some soft knocks at the door. They both knew that this would be Fergus and that this was the end of the time when they could talk in private.

        "Come in!"

        Fergus stepped through the door and smiled. After closing the door behind him, he ran to meet his father, who picked him up and put him on his lap. Fraser looked at him with a slightly probing look, then he said:

        "You did good!"

        "What?" the boy asked, turning his face up to Frasers.

        "Well, you washed and dressed properly, and most of all you knocked!”

        Fergus sighed.

        "That's what I've been training with Claire... for the last week. She said it was rude not to knock and that you don't do that.”

        "Claire's right. Now go get your jacket. Then we can go."

        As Fergus stormed off, Fraser turned to Claire again:

        "Thank you. I spent many weeks trying to teach him. At some point, I gave up. He was always so enthusiastic and forgot about it."

        "He will and can continue to be enthusiastic. There is no way I'm going to talk him out of it. But now that he's in school..."

        Fraser smiled and nodded.

        Suddenly a call came from the hallway:

        "Papa, are you coming? I'm ready."

        "Duty calls. I've got to go," said Fraser and stood up, "we'll talk again tonight about what we can do about Geillis and Dave.”

        "Thanks. Have a good time. See you for tea?"

        "Yes, sure," returned Fraser. He almost leaned over to her to hug her and to give her a kiss on the cheek. But he could just hold himself back in the last moment.

 

“Window” by OlgaofDG

"Window" by OlgaofDG

 

        When "the two men" had left, Claire cleared the table and brought the dishes into the kitchen. She knew that this was not one of her duties. But why should the dishes be left there until Mrs. Curtius came and prepared the table for tea? In the kitchen, Claire made herself a big sandwich that she wanted to eat for lunch. Then she took the elevator to her apartment. After making herself a cup of tea, she sat down at her desk and began to write an entry in her diary. There were so many thoughts going through her mind and journaling had been Claire's way of organizing her thoughts and giving them direction for many years. Two hours later, she made herself a fresh can of tea and started eating her sandwich. Afterward, she picked up a book, lay down on her couch, and started reading. When she noticed that she was getting tired, she set the alarm clock on her smartphone, and some minutes after that she fell asleep.

        Shortly after four pm, Claire's smartphone rang. She stretched herself. Then she got up, folded the blanket, and went into the bathroom. Ten minutes later she entered the dining room, where she was greeted by "the two men" and a large pot of fresh tea. The intense aroma of the tea enveloped her, and for a moment Claire thought that there was no way she wanted to be anywhere else right now. Mrs. Curtius had already set the table and around the teapot trays with small sandwiches, scones, and tea cakes were waiting for them to enjoy. Claire had to smile as she watched Fergus, who was still talking to her excitedly, with his eyes was all over the tasty delicacies. Fraser, too, had not escaped Claire's gaze and he grinned.

 

“Museumsdorf Düppel” by Andreas Paul - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21251947

“Museumsdorf Düppel” by Andreas Paul - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21251947

        During the meal that followed, Jamie had to warn his foster son several times not to speak with his mouth full, otherwise, he would have to call him a rowdy buffoon. Fergus laughed, knowing full well that Fraser never meant any harm when he had to rebuke him. But then his hunger was satisfied and he began to tell Claire about what he had experienced that afternoon ‘with Papa’. He described in detail the trip to the museum village of Düppel. It was one of the ten most visited museums for children in and around Berlin.            

         At 11:00 a.m. they had taken part in a guided tour of the medieval village and visited various craft houses. Afterward, they went to the stables where they could observe shaggy historical animal species such as Skudden sheep and grazing pigs.

 

“Skuddenschaf im Museumsdorf Düppel” by Lotse - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24947309

"Skuddenschaf im Museumsdorf Düppel" by Lotse - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24947309

        Finally, they visited the Center for Experimental Medieval Archaeology. Here father and son experienced how weaving and braiding were done and what traditional handicrafts looked like in the Middle Ages. They listened to a short lecture about how tar was made from wood and what the Neanderthal man had to do with it. There were medieval games for children in the afternoon, but by now "the Frasers" were really hungry and Jamie asked the driver to take them to the Island Café on Potsdam's Friendship Island. There "the Frasers" and the driver had lunch, watched the pedal boats pass by, and enjoyed the beautiful landscape. Afterward, they took a walk through the lovingly laid out garden and visited the extensive water playground, which, however, was no longer in full operation due to the season. When they returned to the parking lot, they were happy but also a little exhausted. Together they were looking forward to being soon in their warm home and with Claire. However, none of the "Fraser men" mentioned this. They both just said how much they were looking forward "to have tea".

 

“View from the Friendship Island Potsdam to the Museum Barberini” by Bärwinkel, Klaus - Own Work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59439592

"View from the Friendship Island Potsdam to the Museum Barberini" by Bärwinkel, Klaus -
Own Work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59439592

        After tea, they went over to the winter garden where Fraser had built up the electrical railway a few days earlier. While "the two men" devoted themselves to their hobby, sending all kinds of trains over the tracks, Claire placed one of the armchairs in front of the fireplace so that she could feel the warmth of the fireplace in her back. It also allowed her to observe "the two men" and to look through the Panoramic window into the slightly lit garden every now and then.

        At 6:00 p.m. Claire left to set the table for dinner. The food prepared by Mrs. Curtius was in a special refrigerator, so Claire only had to set the plates, glasses, and cutlery. She could then take out the plates with cheese and sausage, as well as salads and bread, and put them on the table. Had she ever felt so much joy doing chores like this before? Claire could not remember. Suddenly, she remembered a phrase that Uncle Lamb had whispered softly in her ear whenever she thanked him for anything: "What you do for love is always done well."

 

“Dinner” by JillWellington

“Dinner” by JillWellington 

        After they had eaten, Fraser took Fergus to shower and Claire cleared the table. Then she joined "the two men" who were already sitting on the pirate bed in Fergus's room. To Claire's surprise, there was a big book on Fergus's knees that she had never seen before. He held it out to her and she read the title: "A year in the Middle Ages: Eating and celebrating, traveling and fighting, ruling and punishing, believing and loving.”  

        "Fergus proudly announced, "Papa gave me this as a present today," and immediately added, "Will you read it to me, Claire?"

        "No," she replied, adding, "Today is my day off. Your Papa is reading to you today. But I like to listen and you can snuggle up to me while listening. Okay?"

        Fergus beamed and handed Fraser the book.

        When the child had fallen asleep, they quietly left the room. Fraser pointed to the door to his living room.

        "Let's just have a quick chat about what we're going to do about Geillis and Dave."

        Claire nodded.

        Fraser asked if she wanted a drink, but Claire refused. As they sat in the armchairs in front of the fireplace she wasted no time:

        "I thought about what you said this morning. I think it's the only way to convince Geillis."

        "All right. I'll call Dave. But may I remind you that I am leaving on Wednesday for a ten-day business trip to Scandinavia and Asia. I will not return until Saturday of the following week."

        Fraser had pulled his smartphone out of his pocket and started wading through his calendar.

        "I kept the days after that, Sunday through Wednesday inclusive, to spend time with Fergus and give you time off. The earliest we could meet Geillis and Dave would be at the weekend after. Do you think you can get Geillis at distance by then?”

        "Yes," agreed Claire, who knew what he was getting at. "After all, I'll be responsible for Fergus 24/7. I can't meet with her or make long phone calls."

        Fraser nodded. Then he added:

        "And you don't have to tell your friend about your days off either."

        "Exactly. There's no law, even in Germany, that requires me to do that."

        Fraser stood up and Claire thought he wanted to end the conversation, but he slowly walked over to the glass door leading out onto the balcony and looked out. He began to speak softly:

        "Claire, I don't know how you feel about all this. I ... don't know what you think of me. Our company ... we ... move millions, sometimes hundreds of millions across the globe every day. I often wonder how it could have come to this. We started a small business many generations ago and now it has become a multinational corporation.”

 

"Fireplace” by ianetmoreno

"Fireplace" by ianetmoreno

 

        He paused for a moment.

        "I try to do everything I can to make sure it's not just about profit. We support charitable organizations and NGOs all over the world. And wherever we employ people, we not only pay the legally required minimum wage. Here the minimum wage is a little over 8 euros. We have been paying over 13 euros for years. I want employees who do not need two or three jobs to feed their families. And yet ..."

        Again he paused for a moment.

        "I don't know, Claire, what you're thinking, Maybe you think I'm a person who uses his money to get what I want. No matter what it costs. But, you know, I don't care about any of that. The company, this house, it all means nothing to me. I could sell it all tomorrow and I wouldn't miss it for the world."

        Fraser turned and looked at Claire.

        "The only thing that means anything to me, Claire, is that little human sleeping in his pirate bed over there."

        He took a deep breath in and out. Then he went on:

        "When I found him at that bridge in Paris ... at first I thought that there was only a bundle of dirty clothes lying there ... but then this bundle moved... That evening, he first met me dismissively, even aggressively ... I sat down on the blank stones at some distance from him and began to talk to him ... and sometime that evening he gave me the greatest gift that you can give a person. He gave me his trust."

        Fraser swallowed. But only seconds passed, and then he was in control again.

        "I presume you know the Greek Stoics?"

        Claire smiled.

        "You couldn't be my uncle's niece and not know them," she replied.

        "I thought so. One of the Greek Stoics, Seneca, writes in one of his letters to Lucillus: 'Nothing good that we possess can really please us if we cannot share it with friends.’  I cannot give the child back the five years of his childhood that have already passed. But I can do everything to make the next years of his life better. I want to offer him all the possibilities ... he is a bright intelligent child. I want him to have the opportunity to go to the best schools, the best universities ... if he wants to. I want him to discover and develop his abilities and talents. Everything else here is not really of lasting value, you can't grasp it or hold on to it. What people call success, all the things that newspapers turn into headlines is only a fleeting phenomenon. These things only acquire value because people attach value to them. When I die, do you really think I would miss having made a hundred million more profit? Certainly not. But I know that I will regret every opportunity I didn't take to do good to this cheeky dwarf. Do you understand that?"

 

“Father and Son” by Olichel

"Father and Son" by Olichel

 

        Claire had stood up and joined him.

        "Yes, I understand that."

        "Then you understand that we're doing this all for Fergus."

        She could have answered "yes" quickly, but when she saw what feelings were reflected on his face, Claire not only understood him, she felt what he felt.

        Gently, she put her right hand on his shoulder.

        "Jamie, you are a good father. You really are."

        Fraser looked at her and swallowed.

        "Do you really believe that or..."

        "No, no 'or'. I'm convinced of that because I've seen it with my own eyes every day I've spent here with you and Fergus so far.”

        "Thank you, Claire. It means a lot to me when you make that judgment."

        He was silent for a moment, but Claire sensed that deep inside there was something still moving him.

        "Claire, tell me honestly, did you take this job for the money?"

        Now she had to laugh.

        "It would be a lie if I told you that the generous salary hadn't played a role in my application. About the other money ... I didn't know anything yet. As I said, my husband left me a mountain of debt and Geillis quite rightly said that with the money I earn from you I could reduce that debt. But in the end, it wasn't the money that tipped the scales in favor of taking the job. You know, I lost my parents when I was five years old as well and ... somehow there was something that connected me to Fergus right away. No, it wasn't the money that tipped the scales."

        A slight smile came over Fraser's face.

        "Thank you, Claire. For everything, you're doing for Fergus and me. Sleep well."

        Claire wanted to tell him so many things, but she knew it was better to keep quiet now.

        "Good night, Jamie."

        As Fraser turned his gaze back to the dimly lit garden, she walked to the door. But before she touched the handle, she turned around briefly.

        "Jamie?"

        "Yes?" Fraser asked in surprise.

        "You're a good father. You're a good father, don't you forget that."

Chapter Text

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

 

        Wednesday, the day of Fraser's departure, came quickly. Much faster than Claire had wished.

          By Monday, Jamie had come home from work early in the afternoon. Claire, Fergus and he drank tea together and then took time to play with Fergus in the conservatory. Claire, who had stayed nearby, heard Fraser gently preparing the boy for his extended absence.

“Father and Son” by giselaatje

"Father and Son" by giselaatje

 

          "It's the last time this year I have to go away for any length of time."

          "Hmm.”

          "I can do a lot of things through a video conference, but sometimes it's just necessary to watch things on location."

          "Hm."

          "I'll try to call from the road every day so we can at least have a video chat..."

          "Hmm."

          "Fergus?"

          "Yeah?”

          The boy, who until now had devoted himself intensively to a new modern ICE model, looked up to Fraser.

          "Do you hear what I'm saying?"

          "Yes. You're off. For ten days. But we'll talk on the phone."

          Fergus looked up at the ceiling and moaned softly.

          "Yes," said Jamie, also looking up at the ceiling and...sighing. Then he started again:

          "Claire is with you and will take care of you. Please be nice to her and listen to her.

          Fergus looked at Fraser, tilted his head slightly to the side, and rolled his eyes.

          "What? Is that too much to ask?" asked Fraser.

          "Papa, the last time you went on a business trip and I had to stay with Mrs. Curtius... did I do something wrong?”

          "Except for the broken crystal bowl...," Fraser replied with a slightly ironic undertone.

          "Oh, Papa! I didn't do that on purpose!"

          "I know you didn't," Fraser replied, pulling the boy towards him. "And if you break another one, that's nom problem," he added and began to tickle his son until they both laughed out loud. When they had calmed down again, Fraser pressed the boy to himself once more.

          "I just want you to know that this is a whole new situation for both of you. I know you're sad that I can't take you with me. But I just can't this time. Because of school. And it's not easy for Claire either. She has to take care of everything alone. Do you understand? And that's why I'm asking you to support her and not give her extra work. I want you to take good care of her.”

          Claire, who was listening to the conversation between father and son from the dining room, had to pull herself together not to giggle too. Fergus's laughter was just too infectious. At the same time, she was amazed at how Fraser did everything possible to ensure that the child did not focus on the negative aspects of his absence, but on a new task of his own.

          "Will you promise me that?"

          "Hmm."

          A few moments passed, then Fergus spoke up again:

          "Dad, will we ever continue together again?"

          "Yes, of course! When I come back from this trip, I will stay here for a while. And then it will soon be Christmas. We'll make ourselves comfortable, enjoy your Christmas vacation, go to the Christmas market in Dresden ... and of course visit this one in Potsdam ... and then we'll celebrate a really nice Christmas. And during your Easter vacations, we will go to Marseille, to Aunt Jenny, Uncle Ian, and your cousins.

 

"Marseille” by dkatana

"Marseille" by dkatana

          "Oh really?"

          At that moment, new life seemed to have taken possession of Fergus.

          "Is Claire coming with us, Papa?"

          "I...don't know. Um... you know, Fergus... Claire often works a lot more than she has to, and if she has to take care of everything for the next ten days all by herself... at some point I'll have to make up for all those overtime hours... maybe she wants to take a vacation herself during the Easter vacations... visit friends... just be alone?

          But Fergus was not ready to give up:

          "We can ask her."

          "Yes, we can. But we will do that when the time comes. Let's see how the next two weeks go first."

          Claire had sneaked quietly out of the dining room and "the two men" had devoted themselves to playing with the train again.

         After dinner, the usual good-night ritual for Fergus followed. But on this evening it could only take place in a shortened form. Fraser was expecting two more guests with whom there were business matters to be settled.

          Claire and Jamie had just quietly closed the door to Fergus's room when the smartphone vibrated in Fraser's pocket.

          "They are here. I'll go and open the door."

          "Okay, I'm going to sit in the living room in case Fergus wakes up again."

          "Thanks, Claire.”

          Shortly afterward, Fraser came back with two older men. One of the men was Ned Gowan, who greeted Claire warmly. The other man was introduced to her as Dr. Alexander Freitag, a notary public. The three men disappeared into the library.

          Shortly thereafter, Claire, who had made herself comfortable with a book in Fraser's living room, was interrupted by sounds from the baby monitor. From the device that she always carried with her when she put Fergus to bed and that now stood beside her on the coffee table, a kind of "conversation" could be heard. She reached for her smartphone and clicked on the app that enabled video surveillance in Fergus's room. What she now saw and heard amused her at first, but then it made her realize the whole problem of Fraser's upcoming business trip.
          Fergus, cuddled up in the pillows and blanket of his pirate bed, was holding one of his stuffed animals. As he stroked it, he obviously told the animal about the conversation he had had with his father that afternoon:

          "Daddy's going away for ten days. That is more than a week. So it will be longer than the last time. We can't go with him because I have to go to school. That's stupid, I know. I would have liked to take you with me too. But we both have to stay home. I don't know why school is so important. I could have taken the books with me on the trip...”

          Fergus babbled on for a few more minutes. Then he sighed once more and fell asleep.

"Child and Cuddly Toy” by PublicDomainPictures

"Child and Cuddly Toy" by PublicDomainPictures

          Claire, still holding the smartphone in her hand and looking at the sleeping boy, also sighed. It had not escaped her notice how the atmosphere in the house had changed after the conversation between father and son. Everything was as usual, and yet it seemed as if a kind of sadness layover ... everything. Not the heavy kind of sadness that one knows from misfortunes or the like. This sadness was of an easier kind if one could call it that. Nevertheless, it was still sad.
          Claire had noticed it in Fergus, which was only too understandable. But after Fraser had given Mrs. Curtius instructions for his absence, she thought she saw this mixture of concern and sadness on the caretaker's face. She herself was not free of this feeling either. She did not even know what to call it. If someone had asked her, she would not have been able to give a definitive answer. At first, she had put her gloomy mood down to the grey November weather, but after the weather had cleared up in the past few days, she could no longer do so.
           Mr. Curtius had made the garden winterproof. No leaves were lying around anymore, the bushes were cut, the lawn raked. The majority of the trees surrounding the house had shed their leaves and were now stretching their bare branches towards the sky as if begging for a new dress of green. But since one could now see directly to the Jungfernsee and the Königswald opposite, the green of the fir trees continued to dominate the view from Claire's panorama window.

       Once again Claire looked at her smartphone, but the video surveillance showed only a peacefully sleeping curly head. Reassured, she turned back to her reading.              

          Two hours later, the lawyers said good-bye. Fraser accompanied them to their cars and then hurried back to the house. He did not want to keep Claire waiting any longer than necessary.

          "Thank you for staying so long."

          "Oh, well, I've had plenty of reading to do, so..."

          Claire held a big book out to Jamie.

          "Oh! Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte! Well, I hope you don't think you're dealing with any similarly... horrible people in this house."

          "Oh no," she fought it off, "certainly not. But you are right, this book is a heavy fare. But remember Einstein’s famous saying? You can learn something from everything, and if only how not to do it. So you need not worry that I will apply the educational methods described in this book to Fergus.”

          "Oh, I would never even think of that."

 

“ Cover picture of the Wuthering Heights issue of 1926″ via WikiMediaCommons, By Percy Tarrant (1881 - 1930) - own property, picture-PD-alt, https://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2846396

“Cover picture of the Wuthering Heights issue of 1926″ via WikiMediaCommons,
By Percy Tarrant (1881 - 1930) - own property, picture-PD-alt,
https://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2846396

          She had got up from her armchair and was about to leave.

          "Claire, just a few more words..."

          "Yeah?"

          "I will come home early again tomorrow and then I will bring three men from our security department. They'll stay here the whole time I'm away and keep you and Fergus safe."

          "Is that necessary? Do you think one more reporter..."

          "No, actually that should not happen any longer. I just feel better knowing that you and Fergus... just in case...”

          "Good."

          "The men will live downstairs, in the guest rooms that adjoin the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Curtius. Mrs. Curtius will take care of their meals etc. The woman, who comes once a week to help her clean the house, will be here every day during this time to help her with that too. The men rotate: one is on duty, the second is on stand-by and the third has free time.”

          Claire nodded. Fraser reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a wallet from which he took a credit card. He handed the plastic card to Claire, who accepted it and was surprised to find that the card had her name on it.

          "I have set up an account that you can access with this card. In case ... anything unforeseen should happen and it is necessary that you have a large amount of money at your disposal.”

          Jamie saw in Claire's eyes that she knew exactly what he was thinking.

          "Don't worry, Claire. I don't expect anything like this to happen. I just don't want to take the chance that if something does happen and I'm 20 hours away by plane, you won't be able to act."

          Claire nodded again.

          "You still have to sign the card on the back. Don't forget that. That's all for today. Tomorrow you will get my keys and I will show you where all the documents are that might be important.”

 

Bodyguards of the BKA This image was taken or made by Oliver Wolters.((View all images of Oliver Wolters English: Please watch the licensing informations of this image. I would also appreciate an email to ratatosk[at]ratatosk.de with details of use.English: Please watch the licensing information of this image. I would appreciate any references to publications (ratatosk[at]ratatosk.de) or specimen copies, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Bodyguards of the BKA This image was taken or made by Oliver Wolters. (View all images of Oliver Wolters English: Please watch the licensing information of this image. I would also appreciate an email to ratatosk[at]ratatosk.de with details of use. English: Please watch the licensing information of this image. I would appreciate any references to publications (ratatosk[at]ratatosk.de) or specimen copies, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons)

          Early Tuesday afternoon Fraser appeared as announced with three men, whom he introduced to Claire and Fergus as Jan Börnsen, Lars Just, and Kai Friese. Each of the three men, who would be responsible for the safety of the two from now on, was at least 1,90 meters tall and wore a boxer haircut. Their elegant black suits could only superficially hide what muscular bodies were hidden underneath. While Claire simply accepted the presence of the bodyguards as another circumstance of her job and greeted them warmly, the expression on Fergus' face left no doubt that he was deeply impressed by the three giants bending down to shake hands with him. Claire wondered what was going on in her little protégé's mind. But Fergus' mouth revealed these thoughts faster than she would have liked:

          "Do you carry a gun?" Fergus asked the giant, who was just about to greet him:

          "Hello Fergus, I'm Jan.”

          The bodyguard smiled. Apparently, it was not the first time he had been asked such a question by one of his young proteges.

          Jan Börnsen opened his jacket and on the left side of his chest, a pistol holster became visible, in which a gun was stuck. Claire knew what was about to happen. But this time she was surprised not by Fergus, but by Mr. Börnsen:

          "Before you ask Fergus, no, you are not allowed to touch it. A weapon is a dangerous object with which one can seriously injure or even kill oneself or other people. In order to be able to handle it properly, you have to undergo training. Only in a real emergency, you may use a weapon. Much more important than the mastery of a weapon is the mastery of one's own body if one wants to be a bodyguard. If your Papa allows it and if you want to, you are welcome to watch when we train Judo."

          Fergus looked at Fraser. He smiled and nodded.

          "If Fergus doesn't bother you..."

          "He won't."

          Fergus beamed. But then the whole situation with the three giants seemed to overwhelm him a little and Claire noticed how he grabbed her legs and pressed himself against her. Gently she pulled him to her and stroked his brown curls.

          "But now we'll finish our homework first," she said then and pushed the boy back to the dining table where his notebooks and books were lying.

          In the evening, after they had put Fergus to bed, Fraser invited her to the library, which also served as his study. He presented her with a steel ring with a number of different keys lined up on it. Then he showed her which compartments or cupboards they belonged to.

          "In case of emergency, you now know where to find all the documents concerning Fergus."

          Claire nodded.

          Fraser pointed to another closet door behind his desk.

          "This is where the safe is," he said as he opened the door.

          "The code for the safe is the full sequence of numbers from Fergus's birthday. Read backward, though."

          Again, Claire nodded.

          "If you need a large amount of cash very quickly, open it."

          Claire sighed. Then she gave herself a jerk:

          "Jamie, please, tell me..."

          "What?"

          Fraser, who until that moment had been standing facing the safe embedded in the wall, turned to her.

          "Do you expect anything bad to happen? Are there any signs that Fergus might be kidnapped?"

          He smiled. Then he gently put both hands on her arms.

          "No, Claire. There are no signs and there are no threats made. If there was the slightest sign, I would not go on a business trip. You can be sure of that. But my life has taught me that it's good to be prepared for every possibility."

          He looked into her eyes and was silent for a moment. Then he said with slight emphasis:

          "You don't have to be afraid. There is no current threat situation. I just want to be sure. I trust you with my son and I do so gladly. I really do. But I also want to be sure that you and my son are okay. Do you understand that?"

          Claire nodded again. She would not have been able to respond much to Fraser's explanations either. She was too fascinated by his deep blue eyes.

          "All right," said Fraser, "then let’s see to those last things."

          He pointed to the door and let Claire go ahead.

          Arriving in the hallway, Fraser pointed to a door on the left.

          You know this is the door to the stairs. It leads directly into the hall. Always keep this door locked. As you know, our little pirate loves to sleepwalk and then not even notice. I once caught him sleepwalking down the stairs and into the kitchen at night. He had put a chair against a cupboard and tried to climb into it. When I got there, he was trying to climb into the wall cupboard with the glasses."

          Claire looked at Fraser with an astonished look.

          "Yes," Fraser cleared his throat, "anything could have happened. I still don't understand how he could have got down the stairs without falling."

“Stairs” by pdumond

"Stairs" by pdumond

          Claire shook her head.

          "Children! Sure, the door stays locked."

          Fraser pointed down the hallway.

          "Here on the right is my bedroom and this is the key to it. I will lock it when I leave. Sometimes Fergus comes early in the morning or even at night. That doesn't happen often, but now and then when he has bad dreams. If he comes here during my absence and doesn't find me, he might get scared. That's why I put some Post-it arrows here."

          Only now Claire saw the yellow sticky arrows. They were five big arrows that were placed at about Fergus's eye level. Each of these arrows had her name on it and pointed the way to the guest room across the hallway where Claire would sleep in the absence of Fraser.

          "That's a good idea," she said with a smile.

          Fraser was radiant and obviously a little proud of his idea.

          "Isn't it? He can decipher your name, and if he walks around in the hallway, the skylight automatically goes on anyway. If he doesn't come into my bedroom, he'll know where to find you. I hope that doesn't happen."

          Fraser opened the door to the guest room and turned on the light.

          "The guestroom has a separate bathroom. Mrs. Curtius has prepared everything for you."

          "Thank you."

          Claire took a quick look around the large, bright, and nicely decorated room.

          When she came back into the hallway, she saw Fraser kneading his hands.

         "Yes, I suppose that’s all then, or do you have any questions? If you cannot reach me, Dr. Gowan is always available to help you."

          Claire nodded. Somehow, words failed her.

          "Then I wish you a good night. I'll be seeing you..."

          Claire took the hand extended to her and shook it.

          "See you in the morning."

          At 4:30 a.m., Claire's alarm clock rang. Tired, she dragged herself into the bathroom, showered, and got dressed. Fraser wanted to leave the house shortly after 5:00 a.m. The drive to the airport would take about an hour, and since his flight to Reykjavik was scheduled for 8:30, he would be there 2 hours earlier, as it was customary.

          When Claire arrived in the second-floor hallway, she saw Fraser carefully closing the door to Fergus's room. Obviously, he had said good-bye to his son with the last glance. He smiled when he saw her.

          "Good morning, Claire," Fraser whispered.

          "Here we go. The suitcases are already in the car and the driver is already waiting."

 

image  “Night” by gartengoere

"Night" by gartengoere

 

          Claire followed Fraser into the hall, where he took his coat out of the closet and put it on. She opened the front door and briefly waved to the driver, who had got out of the car and opened the passenger door for Fraser.

          Before he stepped out of the door, Fraser paused briefly.

          "Thanks again ... for everything, Claire. I'll be back in ten days, and tonight I'm trying to reach you both on Skype."

          It was hard for Claire to smile. But she forced herself to.

          Like the night before, Fraser put his hands on her arms and looked into her eyes.

          "Claire, you can do this. You're a strong woman, and I trust you."

          She nodded. Then she forced herself to wish him a safe journey.

          "Thanks, everything will work out fine. I'll see you tonight."

          Fraser quickly climbed the few steps to the carriage and got in.

          A feeling of loss filled Claire's chest and took her breath away for a moment. Only with great effort could she suppress her desire to cry.

          The carriage turned and she saw Fraser waving to her again through the window. She waved back. Then the driver accelerated and the car disappeared into the dark mists of the cold November morning.

          Now she could no longer suppress the tears. She wiped her eyes, then took a deep breath. Suddenly a warm hand lay on her right shoulder.

Chapter Text

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by tap5a)

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by tap5a)

 

 

           When Claire turned around, she looked into the face of Mrs. Curtius.

           "Claire, I understand that you are queasy about this task. I know how much Mr. Fraser loves his son and ... now you have the responsibility for Fergus. It's not easy. But I assure you, we will support you in everything."

           The housekeeper gently put her arms around Claire and hugged her.

           When they had disengaged from each other again, Claire replied:

           "You're right. It's like he put a 100-carat-diamond in my arm and said, 'Take good care of it!" However, this little diamond is very much alive and not always controllable ..."

           Mrs. Curtius smiled.

           "That's very much to the point. Believe me, the last time I had to watch him, I didn't breathe a sigh of relief either until Mr. Fraser came back."

           The two women looked at each other for a moment, smiling. Then Mrs. Curtius continued:

           "Will you come with me to the kitchen? I have to prepare breakfast for the security people, and if you'd like, you can join me for a cup of coffee?"

“Kitchen” by shadowfirearts

“Kitchen” by shadowfirearts

 

           Claire nodded and followed the housekeeper. She had been living in the house for a few months, but until now she had never had a chance to talk to the housekeeper in a quiet and detailed way. Shortly thereafter, she sat on one of the raised counter stools at the kitchen counter in front of a steaming cup of coffee, watching Mrs. Curtius prepare huge portions of scrambled eggs and fried ham in large cast-iron pans. It looked as if the housekeeper had never done anything else, so easy seemed her work. She was a joy to watch and Claire suddenly wished she had similar skills. She followed the individual steps with interest, noting also how easy it seemed for the housekeeper to carry on a conversation on the side.

           Claire had already emptied her second cup of coffee when at 6:40 am, the alarm on her smartphone reminded her that she had to wake Fergus in twenty minutes. She thanked Mrs. Curtius, then set the dining room table for Fergus and herself.

           The day went almost exactly as she had expected. After breakfast, she took Fergus to school, accompanied by two bodyguards. Afterward, she lay down again to catch up on some lost sleep. Around noon, she picked up the boy from school, again accompanied by two bodyguards.

           At lunch with Fergus, she watched him closely. But the little curly-haired boy was bright and chipper as ever. After a short break, they set about doing his homework together. An hour later, Claire noticed his concentration waning. She suggested they take a nap now. When they got to Fraser's apartment, she showed the boy that she had set up in the guest room for herself and that if he woke up during the night, he would find her there.

           "Where's Papa today?" asked Fergus, to Claire's surprise.

           "Today and tomorrow your Papa is in Iceland. He should have arrived by now, he may even be in his first meeting. But we'll find out when he calls us tonight."

“Island - Green Rush” by KarinKarin

“Island - Green Rush” by KarinKarin

 

           "Are you taking a nap too, Claire?"

           "No, or I won't be able to sleep tonight. I'm going to sit here in the living room and read some more. And when I wake you up, we can play a game together."

           "What kind of game?"

           "It's a surprise."

           Fergus gave her a slightly annoyed look and rolled his eyes.

           "Ooch Claire!"

           "No way! There are two surprises today. But not until there's time."

           A little reluctantly, Fergus crawled into his bed. Claire handed him the little beige bear that Jamie had purchased at a Swedish furniture store and brought back for the boy from his last business trip. Clearly, "Stuffy" had become Fergus's favorite stuffed animal. Claire closed the window blinds. Then she stroked Fergus's hair once more.

          "Sleep now. You still have a lot of growing to do. That's sometimes exhausting and you need time to rest every now and then. I'll wake you up later and after tea, we'll play. I promise."

          Quietly she closed the door of Fergus's room. When she reached the hallway, she stood indecisive for a moment. Then she checked the door to the stairs again. It was locked. Good, she wouldn't have to worry about that anymore. Claire decided to take a little tour of the rooms on Fraser's floor. To the right of Fergus's room was the library, which also served as Fraser's study. From Fergus's room and from the library, one could access a narrow balcony on the south side of the house. But this balcony was very rarely used. A window also led out to the garden from the side of the room used as a library.

“Library” by moritz320

“Library” by moritz320

 

          Claire closed the door behind her. On the left side of the hallway now followed the door to the stairs and then an open space  - open to the hallway with a window facing the west side of the house. She stopped for a moment and looked at it. I wonder what it was for? What reason had there been for not providing another room here? She took a few steps to the window. From there she could look down to the street in front of the house. Once again she looked around. What sense this free space should have, she did not understand, but she took it upon herself to ask Jamie about it. On the right side now followed Fraser's private living room, which was also called the 'fireplace room'. She passed it and reached the door to the guest room on the left, where she had made herself comfortable for the time of Fraser's absence.           Then she stood in front of Fraser's bedroom. She looked for the matching key on the key ring he had given her, opened the door, and turned on the light. What Claire saw next amazed her. While most of the rest of the house was modern and decorated in bright colors, she now had the impression of having entered a museum. The focal point of the room was a four-poster bed made of dark wood. The bed was the size of a marriage bed and clearly came from another century. She estimated that it dated from the beginning or middle of the 18th century. Two antique chairs stood in front of a large window whose view led out into the garden. To the right, Claire spotted a table with a mirror that was clearly the forerunner of what was called a 'dressing table' in the present time. On the opposite wall was a narrow, tall chest of drawers, richly carved. At the foot of the bed had been placed a chest whose iron fittings indicated that it was much older than any of the other pieces of furniture. Claire ran her hands over the wood and over the hardware. From its shape and texture, the chest appeared to be at least one hundred years older than everything else in this room. All of the furnishings were crafted of dark wood. The only other color in the room was blue. This was the color of the wallpaper, as well as the bedding. As Claire looked more closely at the wallpaper, she realized that it only gave the impression of being as old as the furniture. A layman would certainly not have noticed the difference, but Claire had spent too much time at her Uncle Lambert's side, and as the niece of the noted Oxford historian, she noticed the difference immediately. This wallpaper was a very accurate reproduction of a wall painting that was at least two to three centuries old. But why did a man of Fraser's age have wallpaper made that showed such a wall painting? Was he desperate for wallpaper that matched the antique furniture in his bedroom? And why had he furnished his bedroom with furniture of this type in the first place? Slowly, she walked around the large bed until she came to a stop in front of the nightstand on the side where Fraser was obviously sleeping. Next to a bedside lamp, which was of more recent date but also in antique style, was a book. On the dark blue cover was written in white letters "The Complete Poems of John Donne." Without thinking further, she reached for the book and was about to open it. Then she saw that there was a bookmark sticking out of the top of the book. She opened the book at that point and read:

That Time and Absence proves
Rather helps than hurts to loves

ABSENCE, hear thou my protestation            

   Against thy strength,            

   Distance and length:            

Do what thou canst for alteration,        

   For hearts of truest mettle          

   Absence doth join and Time doth settle.    

Who loves a mistress of such quality,            

   His mind hath found            

   Affection's ground    

Beyond time, place, and all mortality.  

   To hearts that cannot vary  

   Absence is present, Time doth tarry.          

My senses want their outward motion            

   Which now within    

   Reason doth win,      

Redoubled by her secret notion:        

   Like rich men that take pleasure    

   In hiding more than handling treasure.        

By Absence this good means I gain,  

   That I can catch her              

   Where none can watch her,            

In some close corner of my brain:      

   There I embrace and kiss her,        

   And so enjoy her and none miss her.

 That Time and Absence proves

Rather helps than hurts to loves

ABSENCE, hear thou my protestation            

   Against thy strength,            

   Distance and length:            

Do what thou canst for alteration,        

   For hearts of truest mettle          

   Absence doth join and Time doth settle.    

Who loves a mistress of such quality,            

   His mind hath found            

   Affection's ground    

Beyond time, place, and all mortality.  

   To hearts that cannot vary  

   Absence is present, Time doth tarry.          

My senses want their outward motion            

   Which now within    

   Reason doth win,      

Redoubled by her secret notion:        

   Like rich men that take pleasure    

   In hiding more than handling treasure.        

By Absence this good means I gain,  

   That I can catch her              

   Where none can watch her,            

In some close corner of my brain:      

   There I embrace and kiss her,        

   And so enjoy her and none miss her.

 

           In the second paragraph, all the lines had been underlined with a pencil. Once again, she quietly read the entire poem. It was not unfamiliar to her. Her uncle had owned a complete edition of John Donne's works. But it did surprise her a little to find such a book on James Fraser's bedside table. And why had he underlined that verse? Was there a woman in Fraser's life after all? Claire took a deep breath, then closed the book and put it back the way she had found it. Once again she looked over the bed. Then she carefully stroked the covers and looked around. A door contrary to the bed led from Fraser's bedroom into his bathroom. Claire looked through the open door but did not enter. This room too was held in blue and withe. She left the room, locking the door behind her.

           When it was time for tea and she went to wake Fergus, she found the boy playing in his bed.

           "Do I get my surprise now?" asked Fergus firmly.

           "Now first there's cocoa for you, tea me, and fresh sandwiches for both of us."

           "Oh yes!"

           A moment later, when hunger and thirst were satisfied, Claire removed a box from a burlap bag.

 

“A game of Settlers of Catan” by Yonghokim - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77327301

“A game of Settlers of Catan” by Yonghokim - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77327301

 

           "What's this?"

           "It's a game, it's called 'The Settlers of Catan' and there are many versions of it. This is the edition that fits your age and looks what this is on the box."

           "It's a parrot. He's wearing a pirate tricorn and he's got a map in his claws."

           "You did a good job of recognizing that," Claire praised the bright boy.

           "Yes, I know parrots from the zoo. In Dresden. I've been there with Papa. The zoo is huuuuuuge!"

           Fergus stretched his little arms as far apart as he could - to make it clear to Claire that the zoo was really ‘huuuuge’.

           Claire nodded with a smile. Then she unpacked the game and explained the rules to Fergus.

           After 40 minutes, they had finished the first round of the game.

           "Well, shall we play another round?"

           "Do we have that much time? When is Papa going to call?"

           "Yes, we still have quite a bit of time. Your Papa can't call until after dinner, and before that, there's another surprise for you."

           "Another surprise?"

           "Yes, but not until after dinner."

           Fergus rolled his eyes while Claire rearranged the game pieces.

           When they finished the second round as well, Claire let the boy play with his train set some more while she went into the kitchen to help Mrs. Curtius set the dinner table.

           After dinner and a shower afterward, Claire took Fergus to his room.

           "Do I get my second surprise now?"

           "Yes, you little rascal, but you'll have to move aside to get it."

           Fergus made room and Claire sat down next to him on the bed. Together they sat leaning against the wall of the room when Claire pulled out her tablet and asked:

           "Do you know 'The Show with the Mouse,' Fergus?"

           "No, what is it?"

           "The mouse is a cartoon character and there are shows with the mouse for kids on TV."

           "No, I haven't seen that yet. Papa doesn't like me to watch too much TV. Are we going to watch a show like that now?"

“Children and The Mouse at the WDR broadcasting studio” at the launch of the first podcast episode -  Von Superbass - Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84390983 Source: Von Superbass - Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84390983

“Children and The Mouse at the WDR broadcasting studio” at the launch of the first podcast episode -  Von Superbass - Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84390983

 

           "No, but the mouse also has a podcast for some time, a kind of radio show, and that's where the mouse tells goodnight stories."

           "Oh really?"

           "Yes, and tonight and every night as long as your Papa is on his business trip, we'll listen to one of those good night stories."

           "Aren't you going to read to me from our book?"

           "No, we'll do that when your Papa gets back. Otherwise, he'll miss so much, won't he?"

           Fergus nodded in agreement, then asked:

           "What story are we going to hear tonight?"

           Claire tapped on her tablet and the page 'Goodnight with the Mouse' came up. She pointed to it and read aloud:

           "Today we're going to listen to a program about trees - with forest workers at work, a tree in the rainforest, and, of course, the mouse. Are you ready?"

           Fergus nodded and Claire pressed the button.

             The last chords of the podcast's closing music had just faded away when that familiar sound announcing an incoming video call was heard.

           "Papa! It's Papa for sure!" exclaimed Fergus excitedly.

           Claire opened the app and moments later Jamie appeared on the screen. He too smiled when he saw Fergus and Claire. Fergus waved enthusiastically and Jamie waved back.

           "How are you, Papa," Fergus asked.

           "I'm fine and how are you?"

           A stream of information immediately poured out of Fergus's mouth, starting with today's experiences at school, to the new game he had tried with Claire, to of course listening to 'The Show with the Mouse' together, from which he had learned many new things about trees.

           Jamie followed his son's report with great interest. He wanted to ask something, but before he could, he was bombarded with questions by the boy. Witty, but at the same time careful and descriptive, Fraser tried to answer his son's questions.

           Twenty minutes later they said goodbye to each other and Fraser promised, if he had the chance, to call again the next evening.

           Claire wrapped Fergus in his bedclothes, stroked his hair, and gave him a light kiss on the forehead.

           "Sleep well, Fergus. If anything is, you know I'll either be in your father's living room or the guest room. There's a bottle of water next to your bed and I'll leave that little string of lights on."

           "Hmmm."

           "Good; I'll see you in the morning then."

           Claire turned to go.

           "See you in the morning. ... Claire?"

           "Yes, Fergus?"

           "Thank you for the nice day."

           Once again, Claire walked back. Smiling, she looked at the child and stroked his head once more.

           "I was happy to do that for you."

           Then she left, closing the door behind her. She stood listening for a moment longer, but all remained quiet in Fergus's room. Claire looked down the hall, considering for a moment how to spend the rest of the evening. Then she made the decision to sit and read in Fraser's living room for a while longer. When she entered the room, it was still warm, although there were only embers glowing in the fireplace. Claire glanced at the small round side table that stood near the small seating area in front of the fireplace and held a selection of Fraser's whiskeys. It was tempting to help herself to it, and Fraser wouldn't have minded, she knew. But the responsibility she bore for Fraser's son held her back. Claire had just sat down in one of the armchairs in front of the fireplace when the tablet she was still holding reported the arrival of another skype call. She opened the app, and to her surprise, Jamie appeared on the screen.

Chapter Text

“Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz“ by  tap5a  

 

 

 

 

           "Papa, did you know that the Siberian tiger is the biggest cat in the world?"

           "Papa, did you know that a monk invented soda water?"

           "Papa, did you know why Moka faux was invented?"

           "Papa, did you know that the first Christmas market was held in Bautzen back in 1384?"

           "Papa, do you know where the term 'glasses' comes from?"

           "Papa, do you know if titmouse dumplings are good or bad for the birds?"

           "Papa, did you know that Vikings didn't wear helmets with horns at all?"

           "Papa, did you know when writing was invented and when apothecaries began to exist?" 

           Fergus spoke about squirrels, trees, dogs, lighthouses, penguins, pyramids, birdsong, whales and dolphins, and of course, The Mouse. And this, of course, every new evening. Afterward, he let himself be told where his Papa was, what he had experienced and seen.

 

Luftbild Berlin (City West, Potsdamer Platz, Alexanderplatz und Tiergarten) via By Ralf Roletschek - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 at, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50048592

 

           From Iceland, Fraser had flown first to the Swedish island of Gotland, then to Helsinki, and then back to Frankfurt am Main. One night later, he flew first to Bangkok, then to Hong Kong, and finally to Taipei. The return trip took 22 hours and took him from Taipei via Bangkok and Amsterdam finally back to Berlin. He arrived there around noon and was picked up by one of the company's chauffeurs. He had himself driven to the headquarters, where Ned Gowan was waiting for him and briefed him on current business developments over a light lunch. Fraser looked through his mail, packed a box of files, gave final instructions, and about 5 pm another chauffeur drove him to Potsdam. As the car left the underground garage, he dialed Claire's number and announced his arrival.

           Claire was in the dining room when Jamie's call reached her. When she hung up, Fergus was standing in the doorway.

           "Was that Papa?" he asked excitedly.

           "Yes," Claire replied, unable to suppress a joyful smile.  

           A few minutes before 6 pm, Fraser's car turned into the street leading to the house. He asked the driver to stop for a moment. Then he opened the window a crack and took a deep breath of the cool evening air. Closing his eyes, he paused for a moment. Fraser knew exactly how Fergus would welcome him. But Claire he would meet today for the first time after ten days of absence. He had to prepare himself inwardly for that. He took another deep breath, then asked the driver to move on. Shortly after, the car stopped again. Contrary to his habit, Fraser got out in front of the front door and let the driver bring the car into the garage. He himself took only his briefcase. Once again, he took a deep breath, then opened the small gate in the fence that separated the property from the street. Through the skylight above the front door, he saw that lights were on in the entryway and the hallway. He took the steps of the small staircase with a few sweeping strides and was about to take his keys from his pocket when the front door opened and Claire smiled at him. He couldn't help but smile joyfully as well. Claire stepped aside and let him into the house. Fraser walked through the porch and as he stepped into the hallway, he saw Fergus standing in the doorway to the living room.

           "Fergus!" he exclaimed joyfully.

           "Hello, Papa," the boy replied, coming slowly toward him.

           Fraser looked at him in wonder:

           "Aren't you glad to see me again?"

           The boy approached him and Jamie took him in his arms.

           "Oh yes Papa, but I ... wanted to ... be considerate. Claire explained to me that you need to rest because you have Jack's leg."

           The adults looked at each other and began to laugh uproariously. Now it was Fergus who looked at them in amazement. Claire approached Jamie, who still had Fergus in his arms.

           "It's called 'jet lag', not 'Jack's leg'. But you'll learn that soon enough."

           She stroked Fergus's brown curls and gave him a fleeting kiss on the forehead. Then she looked at Jamie and asked:

           "Do you want to go to sleep right away, or are you going to stay a little longer? Are you hungry? Thirsty?"

           "We'll sit in the living room for a bit, won't we Fergus?"

           The boy nodded.

           "Then I'll bring sandwiches and tea in a minute?"

           Jamie nodded, and while Claire disappeared into the kitchen, Jamie carried Fergus into the living room, where he set him down on the sofa. Then he took off his coat and laid it over one of the armchairs. At that moment the door opened and Claire pushed a serving cart into the room. At the sight of the platters of sandwiches, Fergus straightened up in his seat expectantly. Jamie went to help Claire, but she directed him toward Fergus with a motion of her head. Jamie nodded, sat down, and pulled the boy close.

           "Well, don't we have it good? Look, so many sandwiches!"

 

“Snack” by  congerdesign

 

           Jamie took one of the plates and held it out to Fergus. As expected, the youngster had a hard time deciding. But then he reached for a sandwich with chicken, tomato, and mozzarella. Meanwhile, Claire poured herbal tea into three cups and pushed two of the cups toward Jamie and Fergus. Then she, too, sat down. They stayed together for about 40 minutes, eating, drinking, and talking a bit. Then Jamie and Claire managed to convince Fergus that it was now time to go to bed. They agreed that Claire would put Fergus to bed alone one more time that night. Together they went upstairs to Fraser's apartment, where outside the door was his suitcase, laptop bag, and a box of business documents. Jamie unlocked the door and let Fergus and Claire go inside. Then he put the things away in his study. Half an hour later he was lying in his bed, freshly showered and fast asleep. Fergus, too, had already fallen asleep. Claire, on the other hand, had retired to the guest room, where she would sleep that night as well.

           Fraser had put his smartphone on his nightstand, not thinking that it had rejoined the domestic network when he entered the house. He shouldn't realize it until several hours later.

 

  Iphone by  Pexels

 

           Claire woke up immediately when she heard the cry that sounded from her smartphone paired with the baby monitor. Since she had been watching Fraser's son day and night, she no longer slept deeply but was always on guard inside. She jumped out of bed, threw on her robe, and ran out of the room. In the dark hallway, she bumped into a mountain of meat. Then the automatic light came on and she recognized Jamie.

           "What are you doing sneaking around outside my door?" she snapped at him.

           "I'm not sneaking around your door! I heard Fergus crying ..."

           At that moment, another scream rang out from Fergus's room. Together they ran down the hallway. Claire reached the door first, threw it open, and rushed toward Fergus's bed.

           "It's all right, Fergus. I'm right here, you just had a bad dream."

           The boy woke up and looked at her with wide eyes. Then he clung to her. Claire began to sway slightly. Jamie sat down next to her and gently stroked Fergus's back.

           "It's all right, Fergus. You don't have to be afraid. Claire and I are here."

           Claire gave Fergus some water to drink, then accompanied him to the bathroom. Back in bed, Jamie wrapped him in his comforter. When they heard Fergus's steady breathing, they left the room. Slowly, they walked down the hall. Before Claire turned into her room, she said:

           "I'm sorry I snapped at you like that ..."

           "No problem, I ... had forgotten that my smartphone ..."

           "It's okay ... Just turn it off. I am here if he should have another bad dream. But usually, it doesn't happen twice in one night. Now go to sleep and get some rest. Good night."

           "Good night, Claire."

           Jamie slept until noon the next day. When Claire picked Fergus up from school, he came down from his apartment, talked to Mr. and Mrs. Curtius, and then strolled around the garden a bit. As soon as he heard the car turn into the driveway, he climbed the steps of the spiral staircase and headed for the dining room, where he planned to wait for Claire and Fergus. This time, his foster son's greeting turned out to be stormier:

           "Papa! You're awake!" exclaimed Fergus, who looked into the dining room from the hallway and immediately wanted to rush toward Fraser. But Claire held him by his jacket:

           "Fergus Fraser! First, we take off our dirty shoes and our jackets! We don't want to make Mrs. Curtius any more work than necessary, do we?"

           "Sorry, Claire," the boy said a little meekly. He took off his shoes, put them on the shoe rack, and slipped into his slippers. But then he was unstoppable. He ran toward Fraser, who had leaned down and caught him with outstretched arms. Jamie carried the boy up to the dining room table, sat down in his seat, and settled Fergus on his lap. Claire put down her coat, took a deep breath, and then listened to the conversation that was developing between father and son. Fraser inquired how the school day had gone. Fergus reported, but then in turn kept asking about Fraser's trip and his well-being. When Fraser asked his son if he was hungry and he answered in the affirmative, he rang the bell, and shortly thereafter Mrs. Curtius brought lunch. Now Claire also joined "the men."

 

“Modelleisenbahn” by  naturfreund_pics 

 

          Jamie and Fergus spent the afternoon and early evening in the garden and then in the conservatory playing with their train set. Claire joined them only for tea and dinner. She had cleaned out the guest room and moved her things back to her apartment. After dinner, she said goodbye to Fergus with a quick kiss on his forehead. For the next few days, Fraser would be caring for his son alone, and Claire was looking forward to a few days with more free time to herself. However, as she sat at her desk and the time came when she would normally sit by Fergus's bedside and read to him, she missed that moment together. In fact, she had to force herself a bit to get back to the tasks she had set out to do that evening. Claire managed to distract herself for a few minutes, but then she suddenly thought of the evening Skype conversations she had had with Jamie every night for the past ten days. She realized that those evening conversations would now come to an end as well. They would all return to 'normality', whatever 'normality' meant in the Fraser-Fraser-Beauchamp constellation. And if she was honest, she had to admit to herself that she would miss the evening conversations with Fraser. But suddenly she was jolted from her thoughts by that familiar sound that announced the arrival of a video call. It was Jamie.

           "Sorry Claire, I'm interrupting again today after all."

           "Is something wrong with Fergus?"  

           "No, no, though of course, he complained that … but I explained to him that he needs to give you rest once in a while, too. The reason I'm getting back to you is ..." - Jamie sighed - " ... our meeting with your friend Geillis and her partner Dave ... I ... would then call him tomorrow and invite them over for next weekend ... if you're okay with that?"

           "Yeah, let's get over with this," Claire replied with a slightly snippy tone in her voice.

           "Claire, if you're not ..."

           "No, no, I'm alright, I ... we are doing this for Fergus, after all."

           "Speaking of Fergus. I've been thinking that I'm going to ask Mrs. Curtius if he can sleep in their living room that night."

           "Why?"

           "Well, uhm, so we don't run the risk that he might somehow slip ... regarding the status of our ... relationship."

           "Well, that's a thought, of course ... But do you think he'll do it willingly?"

           "I'll find some bait ..."

           Fraser smiled.

           "Well, Claire," he then said, "I'll get on the phone with Dave, and tomorrow we'll talk again about it. Is that all right with you?"

           "Sure, but I'll be out all day tomorrow and won't be back until dinner."

           Jamie paused for a moment, then nodded.

           "Of course, take as much time for yourself as you like. Good night, Claire!"

           "Good night, Jamie."

           The screen went dark, but a kind of home movie started playing in Claire's head that would keep her awake for some time.

 

 “Kaffee” by  congerdesign

 

           Claire used her first day off in a long time to sleep in thoroughly. After taking a long shower and dressing a little warmer than usual, she went down to the kitchen, where Mrs. Curtius was already preparing lunch for Jamie and Fergus. The caretaker offered her a cup of coffee, and while the two women talked about the experiences of the past few days, Claire made herself two sandwiches, which she ate at her leisure. Just as she was about to leave, Jamie returned, having brought Fergus, who had to be a little late for school that day, there.

           "Good morn... uhm, good day, Claire."

            "Good day, Jamie. I forgot to ask, but is the car free?"

           Fraser looked at her in surprise for a moment.

           "Basically, it is ... I uhm, wanted to pick up Fergus later though ..."

           "I just want to get into the city," Claire replied, "it would only take 30 minutes and then I'd send the driver back. And tonight, I'd call to have him pick me up again around 5:30. Is that all right?"

           "Sure. I don't have anything planned for today except a little paperwork, picking up Fergus, lunch, schoolwork, and then playing with him ... maybe we'll take a little walk to the lake, but, no, take the car. If something really important happens and I need a driver, I'll have one come from the company. Enjoy your day off!"

           Claire nodded.

           "Thanks!"

           She put on her coat, picked up her bag, and moments later was gone in the elevator that took her to the garage.

           Fraser watched her go, then stood in the hallway for a moment, undecided.

          "Well, Mr. Fraser? How about some fresh coffee?"  

           Surprised, he looked over at Mrs. Curtius, who was still standing at the kitchen counter, watching the whole scene with interest.

           "If it's strong, I'd love it," Jamie replied.

           "There's only coffee here the way you like it: black, hot, and strong!"

           Jamie climbed onto one of the counter chairs and Mrs. Curtius pushed a large mug of hot coffee toward him.

           "Thank you, Mrs. Curtius," Fraser said with a smile, sipping his fresh coffee. Then he decided to seize the opportunity:

           "Tell me, how have the past ten days been with Mrs. Beauchamp?"

 

“Museum Barberini” -  by nofu

 

           At the same time, Claire drove toward downtown and then dropped off in front of a bookstore. The bookseller greeted her warmly, and when he heard her name, his face lit up all the more. Claire had ordered some books, three of which had already arrived, others still awaited. She took the three books, paid, and then retreated to the back of the store, which was home to a small café. She placed her book bag in one of the large dark plush chairs and took off her coat. Before she had even sat down, a waitress appeared and took her order. Claire sat down, pulled up the small side table, and looked in the book bag. She took out one of the smaller copies and began to read. A few minutes later, the waitress brought her tea and a bagel - "smashed avocado, tomato, mint, arugula, and olive oil" - as the card announced it.

 

“Bagel” by  sanfirabogdan

 

        Claire enjoyed the food, but even more the peace and quiet that being in the store guaranteed her. Although the bookstore was bustling with comings and goings, and customers regularly showed up at the café to order pastries or other food as takeaways, patrons rarely strayed into the café's seating area on weekdays. Claire knew this from her previous visits and had chosen the day very deliberately. She stayed for a total of two hours, during which she ordered and ate a second bagel - "tapenade, goat cheese, arugula, tomato". She then strolled slowly through the city, enjoying looking at shop windows at her leisure. In the early afternoon, she visited a new exhibition at the Museum Barberini and then directed her steps toward the Dutch Quarter. There she wanted to try out a café that Ms. Curtius had recommended to her. And the caretaker had not promised too much. She was immediately impressed by the interior, the friendly manner of the staff, and the large, non-mainstream selection of baked goods. Again, Claire sat down as far as she could in the back of the café. She ordered a hot sea buckthorn juice with orange and cinnamon and a cake with blueberry lavender mousse. The time Claire spent enjoying the food and her reading flew by and after two hours it was time to call the driver to come to pick her up.

 

“Haus Gutenberg / Holländisches Viertel / Potsdam” via Von Clemensfranz - Eigenes Werk,
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19986832
 

           Once home, Claire had dinner with Fergus and Jamie. Fergus, who had eaten two large sandwiches and some salad in no time, began to question Claire. Where had she been? What had she been doing? Jamie interrupted him:

           "Fergus Fraser! That's not the way to do it. It's very rude to question someone like that. If Claire wants to tell us something, she will. And if she doesn't want to tell us anything, that's her right too. And besides, we're eating. You're not giving Claire any time at all."

           The boy looked at the plate in front of him for a moment, embarrassed. He blushed to the tips of his ears. Then he looked at Claire:

           "Please excuse me, Claire."

           Claire gulped down her tea. Then she fleetingly stroked Fergus's hair:

           "Apology accepted. You know, Fergus, we'll eat in peace now, and then I'll tell you about my afternoon over another cup of tea. Is that okay?"

           Fergus didn't have to answer at all. The smile that beamed all over his face was answer enough.

           And so, it happened. While Fraser cleared the table, Claire sat down with Fergus in the living room on the sofa and told him about her visit to the Museum Barberini. When she finished her little report, she noticed that Fraser was standing in the doorway, listening as well. He motioned Fergus to say goodbye to Claire and sent him up to the second floor where he was to get "ready for bed" ahead of time. Fergus slid awkwardly from the sofa to the floor, said goodbye to Claire, and sent himself off to his heavy fate with a deep sigh. Jamie glanced at Claire and fixed his eyes against the sky.

          "Don't dawdle, Fergus. I'll be right with you," he called after the boy.

           Claire had also risen and was about to make her way to her apartment.

           "Just a moment, Claire," Fraser asked. Then he grabbed a Din-A-5 envelope lying on the dining room table and handed it to her.

           "I have a little ‘thank you’ here for all your overtime."

 

“Brief” by  Catkin

 

         Claire opened the envelope and, to her amazement, held in her hands a confirmation of a vacation for two at a luxury hotel in Madeira for the period December 22, 2025, to January 3, 2026. Astonished, she looked at Jamie:

           "What's this?"

           "Well, I thought you might like to take a vacation with a friend over Christmas and New Year? You certainly deserve it."

           "So, you don't want me here over Christmas?"

           Now it was Jamie who was taken aback.

           "Maybe if you ... don't want to go ... to Madeira ... we can rebook that ... wherever you want to go."

           He was silent for a moment, then started again:

           "Claire, we can't ask you to spend your holidays with us, too ..."

           Suddenly, the CEO of "Fraser & Son International" looked a little helpless.

           "Jamie," Claire began, taking a step closer. Lowering her voice, she continued:

           "We're clear that our concern is for Fergus's well-being, right?"

           Fraser nodded.

           "For a child of Fergus' age, stable circumstances, regularities, rituals, and good experiences are very important. You've just been away for ten days. Now you're home again for a few days and then I take over again and just before Christmas it alternates again? Do you really think that's good for Fergus?"

           Claire didn't let Jamie get a word in edgewise.

           "He's really looking forward to the run-up to Christmas, and I promised him we'd do lots of crafts and baking together."

           Jamie looked at her thoughtfully.

           "Or do you want to spend Christmas alone with your son? Are you worried I'll have too much influence on him?"

           "For heaven's sake! No, Claire!"

           "Good," she said, pressing the booking forms for Madeira into his hands. "Then there's no need for this."

           Indecisively, Jamie looked at the envelope.

           "But if you need anything, free time or ..."

           "Then I'll say it, loud and clear. I have a mouth and I know how to use it."

           Jamie nodded. Then he asked:

           "Why are we whispering, anyways?"

           "Because this house has ears, little ears that grow on the head of a little boy who hides behind the dining room door and thinks we won't see him."

           Jamie wanted to turn away instantly, but Claire held him back and gave him a look that kept him from rushing to the dining room door and giving Fergus a lecture.

           "Well, Claire," Jamie then said in an exaggeratedly loud tone, "thanks for the info. I have to go see Fergus now though, I'm sure he's already showered and is waiting for me to read to him now."

           Only seconds later, they heard the floor door slam into the lock. Then tripping footsteps could be heard on the stairs.

           Jamie was about to run after him. But Claire's gaze held him back.

           "Give him a moment. He's already gotten a reprimand tonight for his investigative questions. That's enough."

           Jamie sighed.

           "If that's what you mean."

           Together they walked to the stairwell. Outside Fraser's apartment door, they said their goodbyes. Shortly after Claire got to her apartment, the app that paired the baby monitor with her smartphone popped on. She saw Fraser and Fergus sitting on the boy's bed, joking with each other. Then Fraser began reading aloud from the big book they had brought back from the museum trip to Chaff. For twenty minutes she watched and listened to the "two men." Then Fraser got up, tucked the boy in, and walked slowly to the door. Suddenly he stopped. To Claire's surprise, Jamie looked up at the wall clock that hung over the door and concealed the security camera. He smiled and winked one eye. Then Claire just heard the door close. Startled, she put the smartphone aside.

Chapter Text

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

 

          The days from Sunday to Wednesday passed quickly.

          Jamie spent as much time with Fergus as he could these days. He took his foster son to school and picked him up from there as well. The "two men" ate lunch together and then Jamie helped Fergus finish his homework. In the afternoons, they played together or went on little trips to the lake, the woods, or into town. Claire used the time to sleep in, bathe extensively, read, and take short trips into town. Usually, they all did not meet again until tea or dinner. Although Fergus tried, again and again, Claire resisted his pleadingly dramatic requests and did not put him to bed with his father during those days. She didn't want to deprive Jamie of this important time alone with Fergus.

 

“Goodnight” by Myriams-Fotos

 

          On Thursday morning she took over her part again and took care of Fergus, while Fraser went back to Berlin every day to work at the headquarters of "Fraser & Son International".

          As agreed with Claire, Jamie had called Dave right on Sunday to invite him and Geillis. Then, on Monday evening, he and Claire had discussed together how Saturday evening should proceed. Accordingly, Claire and Mrs. Curtius had then planned the evening's meal and service. Marthe Alderburg, the young woman who regularly helped Mrs. Curtius around the house by doing the cleaning, now came every day to "spruce up" the house.

          All these days, neither Jamie nor Claire mentioned that moment when they had looked at each other through the surveillance camera in Fergus's room.

          On Saturday in question, all three - Jamie, Claire, and especially Fergus, of course - were very excited. They had breakfast together and then Jamie went into town with Fergus to do some shopping. After lunch, the "two men" then set off on a little trip to the King's Forest and Lake Sacrow. Claire had urged that Fergus not take a nap that day so that he would be tired a little earlier in the evening and sleep through it if possible.

 

“Lake Sacrow at the King’s Forest, Potsdam” by Botaurus - Own work, Gemeinfrei,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2126081

 

          Right after breakfast, Claire had once again checked those rooms that the guests would get to see. Everything was in perfect order. Mrs. Alderburg, Mrs. Curtius, and Claire herself had done a great job. Claire went through the living room and the conservatory once more. Fergus's electric train had been packed up and placed in a storeroom for this one day. In its place were now white and gold porcelain vases from which lush bouquets of flowers unfolded. Claire once again let her eyes glide over all the furniture and surfaces. Then she went to the windows and checked them once again. But here, too, there was nothing to complain about. If she had invited Geillis and Dave to her home, she would not have made such an effort. Geillis had never complained about Claire's 'cozy order'. The daily stress of work always left everyone with a bit of a mess. But here and now, it was different. Completely different. Ever since Jamie had talked about inviting Dave and Geillis, Claire had felt a new kind of responsibility. It wasn't just about having a cozy evening with friends. Nor was it just about convincing Dave and Geillis that she and Jamie were engaged. No, today she also had the responsibility of representing Jamie and everything the name 'Fraser' stood for. Claire paused for a moment. As her gaze was lost in the sky above the spruce trees of the garden, her attention turned to this question. Could she live up to this responsibility? She hoped so. In any case, she needed to talk to Jamie about this point. Geillis and Dave were friends. They would overlook any mistakes. But what other guests did Jamie like to invite? She needed to be better prepared for such occasions. Inwardly, she made a mental note that she needed to talk about these things with Jamie. Soon.

 

“Tea Time” by RitaE

          An hour after tea, the tailor and the hairdresser had appeared to get Claire ready for the evening. The tailor had brought a simple dark blue dress with burgundy inserts, which fit Claire perfectly and flattered her figure. The hairdresser managed to tame her client's wild curls. Claire had decided to wear an updo.

          "Isn't there a jeweler coming this time?" she had asked, slightly flippantly, when Jamie announced the tailor and the hairdresser to her.

          "No," he had replied, "we don't need him today. Just be in the living room half-hour before our guests arrive."

          Claire had given him a slightly skeptical look and said:

          "Well, you should know. You're the boss."

          Then she had smiled and left.

          The guests were scheduled to arrive at 8:00 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., Claire entered the living room. Fraser was standing by the fireplace, and Claire let out an astonished "Oh!" when she saw that his suit was the same dark blue as her dress. He wore a burgundy tie and pocket square in the same color. The intended partner look was unmistakable. A mischievous smile became visible on Jamie's face. Claire did not respond. She stepped closer, then said:

          "So, here I am, boss. Half an hour before the guests, as requested."

          Jamie reached for a flat, black velvet-covered box that lay on the mantel.

          "And here are the jewels for tonight," he replied. Then he opened the box and held it out to her.

          "Oh, Jamie, this is ..."

          Claire accepted the box, then sat down on the sofa and looked at the jewelry. The box contained a necklace with an Art Nouveau 'wooden anemone' pendant made of gold, a diamond, enamel, and glass, as well as a similarly designed ring and matching earrings.

          "Do you like it?" Fraser asked, who had sat down a little distance from her.

          "Yes, it's ... it's ... beautiful. Where did you get it?"

          "It's an original from René Lalique, dated around 1905. I bought it at an online auction in Frankfurt/Main. Until now, it was owned by a French nobleman."

          Claire was still looking at the ensemble with joyful amazement.

          "May I put the necklace on you?" he asked cautiously.

          "Yes, yes. Sure."

          Claire turned her back to him and felt him carefully place the chain around her neck and hook its clasp. She turned to face him and adjusted the pendant.

          "Does it fit?"

          Fraser held out to her a small mirror he pulled from a pocket of his jacket. She looked into it and was clearly pleased. Jamie held the jewelry box out to her again:

          "Now for the earrings ..."

          She took out the two earrings and put them on her ears, right and left. Once again, he held the mirror out to her. Claire smiled. Jamie reached for the ring.

          "Now for the ring."

          Claire held out her hand to him and spread her fingers slightly. He put the ring on her, smiled, and said with great satisfaction:

          "Very nice. The ensemble fits you perfectly. It's as if Lalique made it just for you!"

 

"Art Nouveau 'Wooden Anemone' Pendant in Gold, a Diamond, Enamel and Glass" by René Lalique, circa 1905
- via fawnvelveteen.tumblr.com

 

          Claire blushed. Jamie picked up the jewelry box and stood up.

          "Thank you for letting me wear it," she said softly.

          Fraser turned and looked at her:

          "You don't just get to wear it, you have to wear it."

          He then walked over to the large antique walnut armoire that stood a good three feet parallel to the sofa against the wall of the living room and placed the jewelry box in a drawer of it. This gave Claire a chance to take a breath. When Jamie returned to her, she asked:

          "Is Fergus with Mr. Curtius yet?"

          "Yes," Fraser said with a smile, "just after seven I brought him over there. Probably the two of them are sitting in Mr. Curtius's hobby cellar having expert discussions about their respective electric railroads."

          "What did you bribe him with, then, to make him so willing to spend the evening and night with the house managers?"

          "Oh, don't ask!"

          Fraser let out a deep sigh and looked theatrically at the ceiling

          "That bad?"

          "Worse!"

          Now Claire looked at him in amazement.

          "He's asked for a 'palace tour'."

          "A palace tour?"

          "Yes, he wants us to visit every palace in Potsdam. Us. That is, he wants you to be there too."

          "I don't have a problem with that, I like tours like that."

          "Claire, have you been listening to me? All the palaces in Potsdam."

          "Yes, yes, how many is that? Three?"

          "Sanssouci Palace, the New Palace, the Marble Palace, Cecilienhof Palace, Babelsberg Palace, Belvedere Palace on the Pfingstberg, the Orangery Palace, the Palace on Peacock Island, Glienicke Palace, Lindstedt Palace, Sacrow Palace, Caputh Palace ..."


Aerial view of the Marble Palace, Potsdam, by  mariohagen


        "Oh!"

          "Yes, exactly. Oh! I probably forgot one or two other palaces."

          "And you really promised him that we'd visit all these palaces?"

          "Well ..."

          Before Fraser could answer the question properly, his smartphone notified him of a new message. He pulled the device out of his pocket and glanced at the display.

          "Our guests have arrived," he said, looking at Claire. Then he held out his hand to her. Claire took it and stood up. Once again, he looked at her.

          "Are you ready?"

          Smiling, she replied:

          "Jes suis prest!"

 

          Shortly after they stepped into the hall, the doorbell rang. Marthe Aldenburg stood ready in her black and white service dress and opened it for the guests. Geillis was the first to step through the breezeway into the hall. Jamie took a few steps toward her.

          "Mrs. Duncan, how nice to welcome you!"

          "Mr. Fraser, thank you so much for inviting me! But please, just call me Geillis!"

          Geillis beamed at Jamie.

          "I'd love to, but only if you call me Jamie."

          Fraser shook her hand but otherwise held her at arm's length on her right arm, preventing her from giving him cheek kisses. Claire, noticing immediately that Jamie was uncomfortable with the situation, turned to Geillis and greeted her:

          "Geillis, dear, at last, we meet again!"

          The women embraced and were immediately engaged in a conversation. Jamie, meanwhile, greeted Dave and then invited everyone present into the living room. Out of the corner of her eye, Claire watched how closely Geillis 'scrutinized' everything as she walked over.

 

          "Dinner is about to be served. We'll take it in the dining room then. But pass the time until then with a prosecco."

          Fraser pointed with one hand toward the sofas. But at that moment, Geillis discovered that the living room opened into the conservatory.

          "Oh, a conservatory ..."

          Jamie and Claire looked at each other and smiled.

          "Would you like to see it, Geillis?" he asked.

          "Sure!"

          Jamie took a few steps toward the wall and flipped a light switch. Immediately the lamps lit up, illuminating the passage to the conservatory. Geillis, who had taken a few steps toward the conservatory, let out a loud scream:

          "No! Something so beautiful!"

          Again, Jamie and Claire looked at each other and smiled.

          Jamie walked over to Geillis, put his arm on her left shoulder, and led her a few steps further into the conservatory until they came to a stop in front of a small round table on which stood a plain white vase with a fresh bouquet of South African protea flowers sticking out of it. Before any of the others present could say anything, Geillis allowed her excitement to continue:

          "Oh! That's French Vase No. 4!"

          "Exactly," Jamie said, looking at Geillis, "You possess the eye of an expert!"

          Geillis smiled in flattery.

          "And because that is so," Jamie continued, "this vase, along with its contents, is yours, dear Geillis."

          When Claire and Jamie had planned this coup, Claire had expected Geillis to be very surprised, but she had not thought her friend would be so speechless. All that came out of Geillis' mouth was a sort of stutter:

          "But, ... but ... I ... I ... can ...  can ... not ..."

          "Oh yes, Geillis," Fraser objected, "you can accept this gift. Because it's not really a gift at all, it's just a small expression of Claire's and my gratitude for you being the one who brought us together."

          Claire, who had stepped to the other side of Geillis, hugged her friend and gave her a warm squeeze.

 

Vase from the Royal Porcelain Manufactory Berlin, ca. 1860, with an image of the Palace of the Crown Prince at Berlin
by Sean Pathasema/Birmingham Museum of Art, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15927109

 

          "Jamie asked me what we could do to show our gratefulness to you and at first I thought of proteas, your favorite flowers. Jamie then said they should go with a matching vase and well, yes, I remembered how taken you were with French Vase No. 4 when we visited the Royal Porcelain Manufactory Berlin two years ago."

          "You wouldn't believe how often I thought of that vase. But every time I considered buying it ..."

          "Well," Jamie interjected, "you won't have to fight that inner battle in the future. She's yours. We'll wrap her up in her original packaging later, and then my chauffeur will take you and it home safely."

          "Thank you so much, Jamie!"

          In a very spontaneous moment, Geillis did manage to wrap her arms around him and press a kiss to both his cheeks.

          "Thank you," she said again, now to Claire, "such an expensive gift!"

          To Claire's surprise, Jamie still held Geillis by her hands, looked into her eyes, and said:

          "This, Geillis, is nothing compared to the gift I received."

          He let go of her and turned to Claire, pulling her close and kissing her left temple. Now Dave also went to Geillis, hugged her, and whispered something in her ear. At that moment, a bell sounded from the dining room.

          "Oh, dinner is ready! Now we didn't even have an appetizer!"

          Claire took Jamie's right arm:

          "We can drink that later, darling. Come on, let's have dinner."

          Again, Claire watched as Geillis 'scrutinized' everything she came to see in the dining room: the precious house china in white and gold with Fraser's large monogram on it, the large matching linen napkins with white china rings resting on them, the finely ornamented silverware, the shining crystal glasses. They sat down and shortly thereafter Mrs. Curtius and Martha Aldenburg appeared and served the soup. As Jamie went to pour the wine, Geillis held her hand over it, to his and Claire's surprise.

          "Could I have a still water, perhaps?"      

          Jamie nodded.

          "Yes, of course. Chilled or ..."

          "Regular, please."

          He put the wine bottle back in the cooler, then disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a bottle of still water and poured Geillis a glass of it.

          "Water? You?" asked Claire now, also surprised.

          "Oh, you know Claire, women get older and ... sometimes less is more."

          Geillis smiled at her and Claire knew this was not 'the whole truth'.

          But then she was distracted by Jamie, who was toasting Geillis and Dave and their friendship together. They toasted each other and began to eat. The soup was followed by a light dish of cooked hake with lime sauce on fennel and duchess potatoes. As they ate, a casual conversation evolved. Dave and Geillis talked about their recent trip to New Zealand and how grateful and happy they were that Dave's father had survived the stroke well. Geillis watched with interest as Jamie's right hand kept finding Claire's left between courses, grasping it and gently caressing it.

          To end the meal, Marthe Alderburg served "Berlin Air" for dessert. Afterward, the couples went first to the balcony and from there to the garden for a few minutes. Here, too, Geillis noticed how Jamie took every possible opportunity to pull Claire to his side, put his arm around her, and smile at her.

 

"Berlin Air" by SKopp - Own work, CC-BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42204525

 

         A week earlier, Claire had bought 30 small, square baskets filled with wintry arrangements of natural fir branches, natural fir cones, a few red baubles, and golden stars. The baskets hung on hooks about 50 cm high, resembling a shepherd's crook, and lined the garden paths at intervals of about a meter to the right and left. Between the baskets, invisible to the walker, an electric wire had been laid that allowed the lights, also built into the boxes, to light up with just a flick of the appropriate switch. Geillis was thrilled and Claire explained to her that she planned to light up other areas of the garden with similar lights for Christmas. Jamie, who seemed engrossed in a conversation with Dave about some business development, listened more closely. So, so, how good, he thought, to hear about that for once.

          When they returned to the living room, there were fresh glasses, drinks, assorted fruit, and munchies waiting. Jamie and Dave settled down on the sofas, expecting the women to join them. However, Claire asked:

          "Jamie, darling, I'm sure you men won't mind if we leave you alone for a while? I'd love to show Geillis my study."

          "No, we wouldn't," Jamie replied. Before she could turn around, he briefly grabbed her right hand, held it tightly, and kissed it.

          "You just have to promise me that you two will return safely today. Otherwise, Dave and I can't guarantee anything. There are several bottles of Scotch whisky here."

          He grinned.

          "Don't worry, we'll be back in time. And you two," she gave Jamie and Dave a stern look, "will be good. You know snoring men sleep on the sofa!"

          They laughed. Then Claire took Geillis' hand.

          "Come on, let's go!"

Chapter Text

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

 

 

 

Claire led Geillis to the elevator and together they went to the third floor. She opened the door to her apartment, turned on the light, and invited her friend in.

           "Oh, wow! That's what I call a view!" exclaimed Geillis when she saw the large panoramic skylight.

 

           "Yes, I'm enjoying it very much. You can see all the way across Lake Maiden."

           Claire led Geillis around the great room. The friend surveyed the well-equipped small kitchen, the area with the dining table on which stood a vase of yellow roses, the desk under the large window, the shelves of books Claire had used to divide the study and living areas from the kitchen and dining areas, and the sitting area with its two sofas and oriental coffee table. She already knew much of the furniture and home accessories from Frank and Claire's former apartment.

           "To the left is the bathroom and to the right is the bedroom."

           Claire opened the doors.

           "What?" asked Geillis in surprise as she looked inside, "You still have a bedroom here? But surely you don't use that anymore, do you?"

           She giggled and then gave Claire a big grin.

           The latter knew what was coming now and looked at her friend for a moment, aghast.

           They went back into the living area and Geillis dropped onto one of the sofas with a slight 'plop'. Then she tapped the seat next to her with one hand:

           "Sit down, Beauchamp, and tell me. I want to know everything, every detail!"

           Claire dropped into the seat next to Geillis and looked at her (still) stunned. For days she had tried to prepare for this conversation. But try as she might, she simply hadn't been able to think of a way through which she could escape Geillis' brazen questions.

           "My goodness," she heard her friend say, "you don't have to tell me fairy tales!"

           "How ...?"

           "Oh, are you slow on the uptake today! You're not going to tell me that you live in this huge, beautiful house with your 'fiancé' like ... Little sister and little brother! Claire, this man is crazy about you. But so crazy! He can't keep his hands off you for a moment. And the way he looks at you! Whether you sit next to him or walk across the room, he can't take his eyes off you. Young teenagers in love are nothing against you, nothing at all! I'm surprised you look so fresh and rested. If Dave and I weren't your guests tonight, I'm sure you wouldn't be wearing that beautiful and sinfully expensive dress. You would certainly be lying exhausted in your Eva costume next to this extremely handsome, strong and probably also very persistent Viking. And what woman would blame you?"

           Claire blushed and looked at the floor, hoping some hole would open up there and swallow her.

           "Well, I'll say! Claire, honey, your glass face confirms what I thought. This man is so 'crazy' about you! When was the last time you got a full night's sleep?"

           Claire looked up to the roof ridge and rolled her eyes, Geillis chuckled and grinned all over his face.

           Claire mustered all her strength.

           "Geillis Duncan! You impertinent ..."

           "... Bitch!" her friend completed the sentence.

           Now both women had to laugh out loud because the term 'impertinent bitch' reminded them of a prank they had once played on an acquaintance years ago. That man had called the two girlfriends that when he had fallen for their prank. The memory of this incident had the effect Clair desired. Geillis refrained, at least for the time being, from the investigative questions she had wanted to ask about her friend's nightlife with the extremely handsome CEO of Fraser & Sohn International.

           Claire needed a drink right now. She stood up and walked toward the kitchen.

           "Do you want something to drink, Geillis? I have red and white wine, but also whiskey and ..."

           "No, thank you. Just still water, please."

           Geillis heard the friend in the kitchen filling two glasses, and a moment later Claire returned with a glass of whiskey and a glass of water. Now, Claire had decided Elizabeth Beauchamp would go on the attack.

 

“Küche” by ginsburgconstruction

 

           "Now that you've talked at length about my love life, let's talk about your beautiful cocktail dress."

           Geillis looked at Claire in surprise.

           "Oh, it's nothing expensive, nothing special. Lace & Beads," she tried to fend off her friend's advance.

           Claire sat down next to Geillis again, put the glass of water down for her and took a big sip from her whiskey glass herself.

           "Well, I like it," Claire said with a smile, ".... Especially these flounces falling one over the other. Underneath, you can quite gallantly conceal an incipient pregnancy."

           Geillis almost dropped her glass.

           "Aha," Claire thought, "I knew it!" Turning to her friend, she said:

           "My goodness! Geillis, honey, you don't have to tell me fairy tales! Have you forgotten that I was a nurse? In the neonatal and pediatric ward?"

           Claire had only meant to tease Geillis, and she hadn't expected her friend's reaction that followed. At first Geillis had just looked at her, startled, but the next moment she burst into tears and began sobbing unrestrainedly.

           Claire immediately put her arms around her and pulled her close.

           "Geillis, forgive me, I didn't mean to hurt you! What's wrong with you?"

           It took some time for Geillis to calm down. Then it burst out of her:

           "Yes, Claire ... I ... am pregnant ... But ... I'm so unhappy. It wasn't planned ..."

           Geillis fell silent and Claire handed her a tissue. After wiping away tears and blowing her nose, Claire asked:

           "Do you ... do you want ... to ..."

           No, she couldn't bring herself to say the word 'abort'. But then she saw Geillis shaking his head:

           "No, that ... I can't ... can't do that to Dave. He's so excited about the baby."

           "But then what's the problem? You have a partner who loves you, who will take good care of you and the child ..."

           Geillis was silent for a moment, then burst out of her again:

           "I ... I love my life as it is ... I ... mean, the way it was. I ... didn't want a life like that. So ... as a... housewife and mother. There are women who are... made for it. They see it as their vocation, they ... they couldn't imagine a life without children and ... yes, it's good for them, too, but I ... "

           Inwardly, Claire had to agree with Geillis. No, she really didn't seem to be made for such a life. Claire knew her friend only as a free spirit who lived her life as it came to her. In her life there had been quite a few good-looking and, above all, solvent men, but whenever a relationship became closer, its end was sealed with it. There had been a few men who had proposed to her, but Geillis never wanted to be locked up in that "prison," as she put it. Claire had never judged this behavior; she had always accepted Geillis as she was. They were fundamentally different, but perhaps that was what made their friendship so appealing.    

           Again, Geillis began to cry. Claire pulled her close and stroked her back soothingly. At one point, Geillis reached for a new handkerchief Claire had placed next to her glass. Then she said:

           "Claire, I'm scared. I'm afraid I won't be a good mother. I ... I'm afraid that I'm going to feel like I'm in a prison and that it's going to radiate to the child and to Dave. I'm afraid ... that our relationship will suffer."

           Once again, Claire pulled Geillis close and stroked her back.

           "But Geillis ...," she said then, about to give reasons that - yes what?

           "Nothing Geillis, Claire! I am afraid! I'm so terribly afraid I'm going to lose Dave!"

           "But you just said he was looking forward to having the baby. Why would you lose him?"

           "Precisely because of that! What if I can't be a good mother? What if I can't love the child because ... because I never wanted to live like this? He will hate me and ... leave me. You know I'm almost ten years older than him. In the department he runs alone, there are countless women younger and better looking than me .... "

           The women were silent for a moment. Then Claire heard Geillis say:

            "I know, Claire, I've always acted as if ... like ... this thing with Dave was nothing more than a stage in my life .... But, if I'm honest ... if I'm honest, I have to admit that I love Dave more than I've ever loved any human being. I don't ... I can't live without him. We have so much in common ... Dave has always wanted children, a family. I just kept pushing this topic further and further away from me, hoping that one day he would just give up on this idea. And now it's happened... Claire, he's going to hate me if I can't love this child!"

           "Geillis," Claire objected, "it's like you said: you have so much in common and that's why neither the pregnancy nor the child will break you apart. It's understandable that you are ... confused at first. All women are in such a situation. But you will see, everything will turn out well."

 

”Bücherregal” by StockSnap

 

           She hoped that her words would come true. Once again Geillis wiped her tears and blew her nose.

           "I'm so glad, Claire, that I can finally talk to you about this. I didn't really realize the pregnancy until we were with Dave's family, and when I told him, he ... he told everyone right away. They were so excited, especially Dave's parents. His dad is so hopeful to see another grandson. Oh, Claire, I'm talking so out of order, and the very first time we meet I have to burden you with these things. I... I know you have a new life and, ... that you've had to adjust, but ... I've missed our meetings and conversations so much these past few months."

           Claire smiled and lightly squeezed the hands of the friend who had taken hold of her.

           "Geillis, believe me, I've missed you a lot too. What do you say we get together right away next week and talk things over quietly?"

           "You would do that?"

           "Sure I would! You're my best friend! I'm sorry I've been so out of touch these past few months... But it was like you said. Everything was new here and ..."

           "You don't have to apologize. You've started a whole new life ... I just hope I haven't spoiled your evening now. You've made everything so beautiful for us ..."

           "But Geillis! What kind of friend would I be if I didn't have an open ear for you! How often have you listened to me when I was frustrated about ... Frank's escapades? Who ate with me in front of the TV, watched three seasons of "Ku'damm Berlin" in a row while we ate ice cream with a spoon straight from the package and then pizza?"

           Now Geillis had to smile a little, too.

           "Oh yeah, those were the days!"

           "Come on, go to the bathroom, freshen up a bit, and then we'll go down to see the men," Claire said, continuing with a twinkle in her eye, "Who knows what else they're up to. I'll call you first thing tomorrow and then we'll discuss when and where to meet."

           While Geillis disappeared into the bathroom, Claire took the last big swig of her whiskey. She had expected many things, but not a conversation like this. Then she got up and took the glasses to the kitchen. There she filled her glass with whiskey again and drank it empty in one go. This conversation had touched a sore spot in her and she had to pull herself together so that this evening would have a good ending. Shortly after, Geillis appeared. Claire was already heading for the door when her friend held her back:

           "Claire, just a moment. We've talked almost exclusively about me now. Tell me one thing, please: are you happy, I mean, here, with Jamie?"

           Claire looked at her and was silent for a moment. Then she said:

           "You know I have my problems with the term 'happiness' ... I thought I was happy with Frank until .... well."

           She looked down at the floor. Then she continued:

           "What I can tell you is that I'm happy. I'm comfortable. Jamie is ... accommodating, kind, very attentive, loving, gentle. He's generous ..."

           "Which is evident in your beautiful dress and the Lalique ensemble you are wearing. If I look at it right, it's an original piece, isn't it? It must have cost a fortune. It looks wonderful on you."

           Claire blushed.

           "He said he bought it at an online auction."

           "This man really cares and that shows he loves you, Claire. I wish so much for you to be happy here."

           Claire had that wish, too, but she didn't want to talk about that now. She hooked up with Geillis and said:

           "Come on, we can't leave the boys unattended for that long."

 

Chapter Text

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

 

           When Claire and Geillis returned to the living room, the two men were standing in front of the fireplace. To Claire’s surprise, Jamie extended his right arm to her and when she came within his reach, he immediately pulled her to him. He smiled and kissed her gently on her left temple.

 

“Champagne glasses” by  Myriams-Fotos

 

           “It’s nice to have some 'guy-on-guy’ time, but without our 'better halves’ we’re missing something, aren’t we Dave?”

           Dave, who had also pulled Geillis close and welcomed her back with a kiss, nodded to Jamie. Geillis whispered something in Dave’s ear, to which Dave smiled and let out a loud

           "Oh!“

           Jamie looked at him questioningly.

           "Is there any news I don’t know about yet?”

           Dave cleared his throat, still smiling.

           "Well, since Claire already found out, we shouldn’t keep it a secret from you.“

           "I’m listening,” Jamie said, turning his questioning gaze now to Claire.

           To Claire’s, Jamie’s, and probably Geillis’ surprise, they heard Dave say:

           "Geillis and I are expecting our first child!“

           A moment of surprised silence fell. Jamie was the first to recover his voice:

           "Dave! Geillis! Congratulations!”

           Fraser walked up to the couple and enclosed them in a light embrace.

           "Claire! We’ve got a wonderful reason to celebrate!“ he exclaimed as he broke away from the couple a moment later.

           Without waiting for a reaction from his 'fiancée’, he then said:

           "Come, sit down. I’ll get us a bottle of champagne. This calls for a celebration! Claire, why don’t you take four champagne bowls from the cupboard?”

           Then he was gone through the door to the dining room. While Dave and Geillis took their seats on one of the sofas again, Claire went to the cupboard and got the desired glasses.

           Shortly after, Jamie returned with a champagne bucket filled with ice and a bottle of “Moet & Chandon” sticking out of it. He pulled the bottle out of the ice and opened it with a loud pop. Then he poured for everyone. He then raised his glass and said:

           "To a strong and healthy child! And to the happy parents!“

           They toasted each other and drank. Then they all sat down again and a conversation developed about children in general, then about siblings (to this part of the conversation Jamie and Dave contributed quite a few very funny anecdotes from their childhood), and of course Dave and Geillis asked about Fergus.

 

“Paris bridge” by  pierre9x6



           When Jamie told about how he found his now foster son in Paris and the effort it had taken him to bring the child to Germany, his face literally blossomed. From the very first day at the Fraser house, Claire had been aware of how much Jamie loved the boy and it was quite obvious that he had always wanted children. Then she heard Jamie say:

           "But it’s only since Claire has been looking after him that Fergus has been developing better and better. It’s a joy to watch him grow up. You’re so limited in time when you’re a single father who has to run an international business. I am so grateful for Claire’s support. She has the ability to nurture his creativity, to channel his thirst for knowledge - it’s just a joy to watch him grow up. But none of this would be possible without her.”

           Claire, who had already been sitting next to him the whole time and around whose shoulders he had put his right arm as if it were the most natural gesture in the world, felt him pull her even closer. She looked at him and then saw him smiling all over her face.

           Just before midnight, Dave and Geillis set off. The chauffeur appeared and together with Jamie he lifted the 'Vase No. 4’ along with the Protea flowers into a prepared wooden box, which he then - a small double-ended cart - took to the elevator and from there to the garage to the car in. Jamie and Claire escorted the guests into the hall and after Geillis and Dave had put on their coats, to the front door. After giving each other another hug, the friends walked to the car, which had already pulled up in front of the house. Jamie and Claire stopped on the top step of the small staircase that led to the front entrance and waved at them. When the car had disappeared from their sight, they returned to the hall together.

 

“Protea” by  nagra76

           “Excuse me a moment, I’ll just go …,” Jamie said, pointing to the door of the guest bathroom.

           Claire nodded and went back to the living room. There she cleared the glasses and the champagne bucket from the table and brought everything back to the kitchen. When she returned, Claire took the flat jewelry box from the closet and sat down on one of the sofas. While she was taking the jewelry off and putting it back in the box, she had to pause for a moment. She noticed how the strength with which she had held herself upright since the conversation with Geillis was drying up more and more. And then she just couldn’t hold back the tears anymore.

           Just at that moment Jamie also returned to the living room and he immediately noticed that Claire was not well. But he had already had this impression since the two women had returned to the living room. When he had reached out his arm and pulled Claire to him, she had put one of her arms around his back and the other over his stomach. This could have been seen as a gesture to make it clear that he was hers. But Fraser had rather had the impression that Claire felt an urgent need to hold on to him.

           With a few sweeping steps, he hurried to her.

           "Claire, what is it? Are you not feeling well? Has … Has this evening overwhelmed you? Did I do something wrong?“

           Without even consciously realizing it, he knelt in front of her and grabbed her hands, which were folded in her lap.

           Claire disengaged her right hand from his, placed it on Fraser’s right, and squeezed it:

           "No, Jamie, you didn’t do anything wrong. It … has nothing at all … to do with you … or Fergus … or with us.”

           Then she burst into heavy sobs and slapped both hands to her face. Jamie put both arms around her and pulled her close. They stayed like that for a while, until Claire calmed down a bit.

           She reached for the handkerchief Jamie held out to her, wiped her tears, and blew her nose. Then she said:

           "I already had the impression that Geillis was pregnant when I greeted her in the hall. As soon as I saw her dress. Then when we were at my apartment …. I voiced my suspicions and she confirmed it.“

           "But why does that make you so … sad. It’s a great thing that they will have a child, isn’t it?” asked Fraser in wonder.

           Claire looked at him, wondering if she should really tell him. But then she decided to:

           "It’s … not a wanted child, Jamie. It … wasn’t planned and … Geillis …“

           "Does she want to a …”

           "No! No! They’re going to have the baby. You saw how excited Dave is and how proud he is to finally be a father.“

           Claire paused for a moment. Then she continued:

           "Geillis … Geillis is afraid that she can’t love the child because she actually envisioned her life without children. She’s afraid it’s all going to have a negative impact on her relationship with Dave.”

           "And that makes you so sad. I understand.“

           Jamie’s expression darkened. He looked down at the floor and nodded.

           "No,” Claire objected, “I … it’s perfectly normal for her to be so upset right now. A lot of women feel that way in a situation like this. But it doesn’t have to stop there. As a nurse, I’ve many women where that feeling changed over time and they’re really good, loving mothers to this day. And of course, I will try to help her. I would like to meet with her later this week and talk to her. Then we’ll go from there.”

 

“Taschentuch” by  bloomingnakanishi

           Fraser looked at her in wonder. He paused for a moment. It was clear to him that the question he was about to ask would probably cause Claire pain, but he needed to know what was bothering her.

           "But, if this can change, if you can help her, Claire … why are you so sad?“

           And, as he had guessed, Claire’s pain immediately erupted:

           "Because it’s so terribly unfair! It’s so unfair Jamie!”

           From Claire’s suddenly wide-open red eyes, sheer desperation looked at him. He felt her hands clench under his and she trembled with inner rage and despair. It took only a few seconds, then another flood of tears streamed down Claire’s cheeks and again she was shaken by deep sobs. Jamie put his arms around her and pulled her close. A foreboding formed in his mind, but he didn’t dare speak it. When Claire had calmed down a bit and dried her tears again, she said:

           "It’s so unfair, Jamie. Why do women who don’t want children have children, and why do women who would love nothing more than to be a mother have to resign themselves to never having children?“

           Fraser was silent. What could he have said? But he would have had little opportunity to speak either, for Claire continued immediately:

           "Every year in this country alone, more than 130,000 children are aborted. 130,000, that’s the number of inhabitants of a city like Heidelberg. Can you imagine that? And no! Before we misunderstand each other, I am not passing judgment on these women. I don’t know the individual fates, I don’t know what moves them, what they go through and I don’t take the right to judge them. But, in this country, there are many institutions that advocate for them and that care about them. And that’s a good thing because no woman should be alone in a situation like this. There has been support for them for many years. But involuntarily childless people hardly have a lobby! And yet every tenth couple between the ages of 25 and 59 in this country is involuntarily childless! One in ten couples, Jamie! And what are these people advised to do? Well, if you can’t have children of your own, then adopt! That’s what childless couples are told. But you don’t need me to tell you how hard that is. Not only as a single man like you! Even as a married couple! Even if the man has an extremely well-paid, prestigious job at a world-renowned university and the woman is willing to stay at home! Even if the couple has their own house with a garden and a good reputation! Even then it can take years! Why do so many married couples go to the former Eastern Bloc countries and adopt a child from a Russian or Ukrainian orphanage? And then, when you are a couple and decide to … for this terrible, … this infinitely exhausting ….  fertility treatment, then you also only get some financial support for it since 2012! Only since 2012!”

           Again, Claire’s eyes welled up with tears, which she wiped away with the large men’s handkerchief. Jamie, meanwhile, was silent, inwardly praying for the right words.

           "I never told you, but…. my late husband, Frank, and I, wanted children. Very much so. For Frank, it was especially important. But also, me … It was already decided before we got married. The house we bought when we moved to Berlin had two children’s rooms. We always called them that, too.  For many years we tried again and again, by all means. We both wanted it, but … In the end, it tore our marriage apart. Frank… he… turned to other women until… until he found one with whom he wanted to start a family. I didn’t find out the details until after he had passed away. It was one of his colleagues and … well … it had been going on for several years. Shortly before he died, he had made the decision to leave me. Frank had already set everything in motion. Only death prevented him from putting it into action. He wanted to divorce me so that he could marry her. Frank never said it, but I knew him well enough. It was clear that he wanted to marry this woman because he hoped to finally have children with her. Children! The children I couldn’t give him.“

           Again, Claire was silent for a moment, then it burst out of her again:

           "In this country, you are nothing if you remain childless - as a woman. If you are a single man - or even a married one - and have countless affairs, you are looked at as a Don Juan, a Casanova, a womanizer, a lady-killer! In the old boys’ clubs and at the young boys’ parties, such a man is celebrated. But if you are a married childless woman …  Without knowing the reason for your childlessness, judgment is passed on you. You are seen as selfish, egoistic, irresponsible, less helpful, less mature, and less happy. And you feel yourself to be so … unnatural, inferior, deviating from the norm, as if you are not a real woman at all. The social pressure is enormous … My parents had died early and Frank’s parents were already dead. So, there were no grandparents who kept asking us about grandchildren. But in our circles of colleagues, the question naturally came up again and again. 'Don’t you want children?’ - 'How long are you going to wait?’ - as if that was the question!”

 

“Leere Krippe” by congerdesign

 

           A distinct bitterness was visible on Claire’s face.

           "My Uncle Lambert would never have asked such questions. But on his face, I saw it again and again. How he would have loved to have had 'grandchildren.’ How he would have liked to see something of him, of the Beauchamp’s, live on … Frank and I, of course, tried the medical methods. You read about it again and again in magazines and … The fertility clinics also do a lot of advertising. But nobody talked about the possible risks, the side effects of the high hormone doses for a woman, or the very low success rate of getting pregnant at all, let alone the probability of giving birth to a child. Nor did we tell anyone in our circle of friends or colleagues about the artificial procreation attempts. Not even Geillis knows. Who wants to explain this complicated and embarrassing procedure to friends or colleagues and then have to answer questions all the time? When will the baby finally come? Two of these attempts and two more within the following two years failed. We finally had to realize that we could never become parents. Frank then converted the children’s rooms into a guest room and into a … storage room … a … storage room. However, … we hardly got any guests after …. He was more and more absent in his spare time … well, later I found out where he was.“

           Claire blew her nose and Jamie saw her eyes fill with tears.

           "It’s so unfair! It’s so unfair!”

           Claire’s voice had gone hoarse, yet the words continued to flow out of her.

           "Imagine that in your neighborhood, in your circle of colleagues, women get pregnant who don’t even want to be, and you, you remain childless. And this happens not once or twice, but many times.  And then you are left by your husband because of that. Left behind like a … broken, useless object of utility! … Nobody thinks much about what women like me go through. Nobody! We have no lobby. Do you hear me? Absolutely no lobby! Do you hear me, Jamie?!“

           Jamie pulled her close and gently pressed her head against his left shoulder. As Claire’s sobs slowly subsided, he felt her tears soaking his shirt. Then he said softly, but clearly:

           "I hear you, Claire. I hear you, I really do. And I know how it feels. Believe me.”

           Claire lifted her head and looked at him uncomprehendingly.

           "I’ve always wanted a family, too. But I never found the right woman. And then I found Fergus, and it was … like a sign. He … he’s a gift. A wonderful gift. A precious gift. I will do everything for him …“

           "Yes, he is a wonderful child. A rascal, but a beloved rascal,” she said, still sobbing.

           "And he loves you, Claire. He really loves you. I haven’t even had a chance to tell you yet, but do you know what he asked me one of the nights I put him to bed alone?“

           Claire shook her head.

           "I read to him from the book I bought him at the museum village. You remember, 'A Year in the Middle Ages: Eating and Celebrating, Traveling and Fighting, Ruling and Punishing, Believing and Loving.’ Under the theme of 'Loving’, it is of course about how people got married in the Middle Ages. It is said that people married much earlier than they do now, and Fergus asked me how old you had to be to get married today. I told him that usually you could get married at the age of 18. He looked at me and I could almost see the little wheels turning in his head. So, I told him that he would soon be seven years old and that it would only be eleven years until he was eighteen. He said nothing but suddenly looked at me very grumpily. When I asked what made him so angry, he replied, 'Then it will be forever before I can marry Claire!’”

           "Oh, no!“

           "Yes, Claire!”

           Now even Claire had to smile a little.

           "He loves you, he’d marry you on the spot. If he could.“

           Again, tears rolled down Claire’s cheeks.

           "I love him very much, too, Jamie. I’m … so glad you took him in.”

           She wiped the tears from her face and Jamie, slowly rising from his knees, sat down beside her.

           "Claire, I heard you, really heard you, and I know what it means to feel this way, too. Now I’m asking you to listen to me carefully.“

           She nodded.

           "Fergus loves you, he really does. And I, I am deeply grateful for everything you do for us and …. We’re both very fond of you. You’re not an employee to us, you’re … our best friend. And you matter to us … very much. I want you to know that… whatever happens after these three years, whatever you decide, you will always have a place in our hearts, Claire. And you will always have a home with us. Always.”

           "Thank you. Thank you so much. That’s …“

           "Perfectly natural,” Fraser finished the sentence. Then he rose and held out his hand to her:

           "Come on, I’ll take you up to your apartment.“

           Claire grabbed his hand and carefully let herself be pulled up by it.

Chapter Text

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz

Foto: Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

 

           They took the elevator and shortly Jaime and Claire were standing outside the door to Claire's apartment. Jamie was about to say goodbye when Claire said:

           "You weren't even here after I moved in."

           It wasn't an accusation, just a very matter-of-fact statement, but it struck Jamie. It was true. Claire had moved in and then suddenly so many things happened. The appointment at the clinic, Fergus' school enrollment, that annoying annual party at the New Opera House, the long business trip. And in between, there was always a lot of work, trips with Fergus and ... other things.

  “Door” by  Morgengry

  “Door” by Morgengry

 

           "Yes," he admitted thoughtfully, "that's true."

           "Would you like to stay a moment?"

           Claire had unlocked the door and was gesturing through it.

           Jamie got the feeling that she was less concerned with showing him the apartment than with the fact that she was reluctant to be alone right now. He nodded and stepped inside.

            Claire followed him, turned on the light and said:

           "Feel free to look around, I'm going to the bathroom for a minute to change this tight dress for something more comfortable."

           Jamie looked around and noted with approval how homely Claire had made the small apartment. He stepped to the desk that stood under the large window and read with interest the titles of the books that lay there in a small pile: "The Pedagogy of Johann Amos Comenius," " Wilhelm von Humboldt and his Theory of Education," "Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory," Alfred K. Treml: “General Pedagogy. Foundations, Fields of Action, and Perspectives on Education."

           Claire returned from the bathroom, now wearing black jeans and a white T-shirt. She had removed her makeup and looked very tired.

           "Well, did you find anything interesting to read?"

           Her question was followed by a lengthy yawn.

           Jamie looked at her in amazement.

           "Those books ..."

           "Yeah?"

           "Have you always had them, or did you get them especially because of Fergus ..."

           "I discovered a very nice little bookstore in Potsdam with a café attached to it, and that's where I ordered them. I liked to refresh old knowledge and learn new things. After all, Fergus should enjoy the best education we can give him, right?"

           Jamie nodded thoughtfully.

           "Why don't you sit down," Claire said, pointing in the direction where the sofas were.

           Jamie followed her request.

           "Would you like water?"

           "Oh, yes, thank you. After all that alcohol ..."

           Claire disappeared toward the kitchen.

           "Are you comfortable here? Do you like the panoramic window, or ..." he called after her.

           "Absolutely. The window is wonderful. Especially when you can look out over the lake in the evening and see all the lights. But I'm glad you can put the sunroof down when the sun is fully on it. Otherwise, it would heat up too much."

“Seat” by  Hans

“Seat” by Hans

 

           Claire returned with a tray on which were two glasses and a bottle of mineral water.

           "Should I put in an air conditioner ..."

           "Heavens no!"

           Claire had filled the glasses with mineral water and handed one to him.

           "But ..."

           "No, Jamie. Air conditioning is extremely bad for the environment. You can control that with ventilation, too. And since the house, including my apartment, has quite a few windows and sun blinds, that's quite enough."

           "O.k., I just wanted to ..."

           "I know. You want us all to have it as good as possible here. But we can do better with less CO2 in the long run."

           She smiled and toasted his water glass in jest.

           "Cheers!"

           Jamie had to smile.

           "Cheers!"

           They were silent for a moment then Jamie asked:

           "Did you draw any conclusions from your reading in terms of... I mean, do I need to change anything .... should we ..."

           Claire placed her water glass next to Jamie's. Then she went to the desk and opened a drawer, from which she took a clip folder with a number of sheets. She sat down next to Jamie and opened the folder:

           "I haven't gotten far yet, but I've made a list of ... there it is  ... important points .... How we can help Fergus develop."

           She handed the open folder to Jamie and a conversation ensued about Fergus, his abilities, and educational support options.

            Jamie was excited and went through the folder with Claire's notes, commenting on this and that point, weaving in experiences from his own childhood.

“Water” by  congerdesign

“Water” by congerdesign

 

           His enthusiastic monologue ended only when Claire, already fast asleep, sank her upper body onto his lap and began to snore audibly. Jamie almost cursed out loud, he was so startled. But Claire didn't seem to notice anything. She stretched and continued snoring. Her breath, smelling strongly of alcohol, filled the air. Jamie froze and wondered what he could do. He didn't want to wake Claire after all he had put her through that evening. But neither she nor he could remain in that posture through the night. Could he leave her alone in her drunken state? Claire had never talked about ever sleepwalking, but Jamie knew that alcohol could alter deep sleep and thus increase the possibility of sleepwalking. When he had read several books because of Fergus' sleepwalking, he had also read that alcohol could increase the urge to have a 'night tour'. He sat around perplexed for a moment, then decided it was better to stay with Claire. The fact that the sleeping woman was muttering some unintelligible words reinforced his decision. Besides, Fergus was in safekeeping with Mr and Mrs Curtius, so he wasn't needed there that night.

           Slowly, Jamie pushed the coffee table aside with his right leg. While holding Claire with his right arm, he grabbed the back of the other sofa with his left hand and pulled it toward him. The action turned out to be laborious, but after ten minutes of careful work, he managed to pull the second sofa into place so that it was parallel to the one on which he and Claire were sitting. When he had pulled it close enough, he carefully rolled Claire onto the second sofa. To his relief, she didn't wake up. She mumbled some more unintelligible words, then began to snore loudly.

           Jamie reached out and took the blanket that was on the back of that sofa he was sitting on and carefully covered her. Then he stretched out on the vacated seat but had to realize that the sofa was not long enough for his length. He would have to sleep with his knees bent ... His stiff legs would remind him of that. So it would be a proverbial unforgettable night. He had to smile. This was not how he had imagined the first night with Claire. As if she had heard his thoughts, Claire spun around on her sofa, took a deep breath, and then said loudly and clearly, "Yeeeepppp!" Jamie had to muster all his strength not to laugh out loud. This woman was such a special blend of beauty, strength, joy, determination, and at the same time she was fragile and of a depth, he had rarely encountered. Would there be a future for him with her beyond the contractually agreed time? For a long time, he was still preoccupied with this question, but at some point, he too fell asleep and only woke up again when a shrill wail of sirens woke him up.

           Jamie sprang up from the sofa and suddenly found himself sitting opposite the sleepy Claire.

           "What ..."

           "Tthat's mmmy aaaa alarm clockkkk," she replied.

           Jamie got up and followed the sound until he found the source of it on Claire's nightstand. He pushed all the buttons on the device until the noise finally died away. Then he turned back to Claire.

“Clock” by  stevepb

“Clock” by stevepb

 

           "Wwhat are you do do do doing here?" she asked, rubbing her eyes. Then she looked around at the odd placement of their couches.

           "You fell asleep last night during our conversation and ... since I didn't want to wake you .... You were also talking in your sleep ... I didn't want to wake you .... and thought it better ..."

           "Oh, thank you," she said, stretching and yawning profusely.

           Jamie had to smile.

           "Ha ... Did I snore very ....?"

           Once again, Claire yawned profusely.

           "I survived it. The guys in the armed forces saw more wood in one night than you do."        

           He got up, went to the kitchen and filled a glass with mineral water.

           "The Alka Selzers are in the last drawer, far right," she called after him.

           He found the packet of tablets and dropped one into the glass, which he handed to Claire a moment later. She waited for the tablet to dissolve and then drank in large gulps.

           "Thank you."

           "You're welcome."

           Jamie waited until she had drunk the entire glass, then asked:

           "Do you feel able to ..."

           Claire nodded.

           "Yeah, I'm going to take a shower and then come down for breakfast ... what time is it?"

           "Are you sure?"

           She heard the honest concern in his voice.

           "Yes."

           "It's 7:30."

           "I'll be with you at 8:15. But make me a strong coffee, please."

           "Of course."

            Claire got up and disappeared into the bathroom. When she returned to the living room twenty minutes later, the sofas and coffee table were back exactly as they had always been. The pillows had been fluffed and neatly placed. The wool blankets lay, neatly folded, on the backs of the sofas. Claire shook her head slightly.

           "James Fraser," she thought then, "what am I going to do with you?"

           When she then appeared for breakfast, she was already awaited by Jamie and Fergus. As Jamie stood up and pulled her chair away from the table, Fergus approached her and whispered:

           "Good morning, Claire."

           She looked at him in surprise:

           "Good morning, Fergus. But why are you whispering?"

           "Dad said you have a headache and that it hurts when we're loud."

           Claire pulled the boy close.

           "That's right. Thank you for being considerate."

           She sat down and Jamie pushed her chair to the table.

           "Thanks."

           "You're welcome. I'll go get your espresso."

           Shortly, Jamie returned with a tray containing a cup of the requested espresso, a large glass of sparkling water, and a plate of fragrant country breakfast. Jamie placed both in front of Claire.

           "This is the best thing to have with a Kater (= german for a masculine cat, also a synonym for ‘hangover’) like yours."

“Breakfast” by  congerdesign

“Breakfast” by congerdesign

 

           "Kater?" asked Fergus, "Where does Claire have a cat? Can I see him?"

           Claire and Jamie had to smile.

           "No, Fergus, Claire doesn't have a cat. But the headache she has is also called a 'Kater'."

           "But what do headaches have to do with a cat?"

           "In the old days, if you had the kind of headache Claire has now, you'd say, 'I have catarrh.' ' Catarrh is an inflammation of the mucous membranes. And because the complaints that come with this particular headache are similar to those of catarrh, people used to say, 'I have catarrh.' Over the centuries, the word catarrh then became the word ‘Kater’ in German. That's what happens sometimes when a language evolves."

           "I see. Hmm. Too bad."

           "Come on," Jamie urged the boy, "eat your breakfast and then we'll do something." At that, he nodded his head briefly in Claire's direction. Fergus understood and returned his attention to his toast.

           For almost the rest of the time, they ate breakfast in silence, interrupted only by a request for new toast from Fergus or a request from Claire for more espresso.

           After eating, Jamie and Fergus cleared the table while Claire took a seat on one of the sofas in the living room and drank another espresso. Shortly after, Jamie and Fergus joined her to say goodbye. Jamie had promised Fergus that he would take him on a little trip to the Dutch Quarter that morning.

           "We'll be back for lunch. You're welcome to stay here if you like."

           Claire nodded.

           "Have a good time," she said then and had to put her hand in front of her face because a big yawn escaped her mouth.

           Jamie smiled, then was gone. A moment later, Claire heard the front door slam into the lock. She lowered her upper body onto the sofa and stretched out her feet. Then she straightened up once more, grabbed a blanket and pulled it over her body lying on the sofa. It took only moments, then - despite the espresso she had enjoyed - she was asleep again.

           She didn't wake up again until she heard sounds coming from the dining room that suggested Mrs Curtius was setting the table for lunch. Claire stood, too, and stretched. Then she folded the blanket, set it aside, and slipped on her shoes. As she stepped through the door into the dining room, she was greeted by Mrs Curtius.

 

”Table” by  jeanvdmeulen

”Table” by jeanvdmeulen

 

           "Good day, Claire. Do you know when Mr Fraser will be returning?"

           Claire's eyes fell on the clock that stood on the wall facing the fireplace. It read 12:30. Before she could answer, she heard, the elevator and not a minute later, the voice of James Fraser:

           "Fergus Fraser! First, take off your shoes and coat!"

           "Yessss," came the child's annoyed reply.

           The women looked at each other and grinned, trying to suppress a loud laugh.

           It wasn't long before the dining-room door opened and Fergus rushed into the room:

           "Claire!" the boy exclaimed full of joy, but then he abruptly slowed down and asked in a whisper:

           "Are you feeling better?"

           Claire pulled Fergus to her and gave him a hug.

           "Not quite yet, but much better!"

           "Oh, I'm glad. I have sooo much to tell you!"

           "Have you had a lot of experiences?" she asked, shifting her gaze from Fergus, who was pressed against her, now to Jamie.

           "Yes, we have ..." began Fergus, but he was interrupted.

           "Fergus Fraser, we're going to go wash our hands first, and then we'll have lunch. We don't want to keep Claire and Mrs Curtius waiting unnecessarily."

           Fergus looked at his father first, then looked at Claire and rolled his eyes. Jamie gestured toward the entrance hall with a wave of his hand, and Fergus trotted out with him unwillingly. Jamie followed him.

             When "the men" returned from the bathroom, Claire pulled the boy to her once more:

           "You can tell me everything in peace after dinner."

           "Are you staying?"

           Surprise and delight spread across Fergus' face.

           "Sure I will! I'm dying to hear what you've seen. But now we'll eat first, and then we'll help Mrs Curtius so that she can enjoy the Sunday, too. Afterwards, we'll sit down in the living room and you'll tell me everything in detail. Is that o.k.?"

           Fergus nodded enthusiastically. Claire saw Jamie roll his eyes now. She knew what he was thinking. It was her day off and again she was spending her free time with them, devoting herself to Fergus and his well-being instead of thinking about herself. She could talk to him about it later.

           Lunch went relatively quiet and, after Claire (with the help of "the men") cleared the table, she fulfilled her promise to Fergus. For almost a full hour they sat together on the sofa and Fergus told her en détail what he had experienced. Jamie had sat down in one of the armchairs by the fireplace to read the Sunday paper. From time to time his face peeked out from behind the large pages and looked over at Claire and Fergus. A warm shiver ran through him at the thought of how well Fergus and Claire were getting along. When Fergus finished his report, he slid off the sofa and ran to his father:

“Train set” by  naturfreund_pics

“Train set” by naturfreund_pics

 

           "Are we going to play with the train set?"

           Jamie, who had already been expecting something like this, put the paper aside and followed Fergus into the conservatory. Claire watched them go, picked up a blanket and lay down on the sofa. It took only a few minutes, then she was already asleep again. "The men" didn't wake Claire until dinner time, surprising her with the fact that they had already set the table.

           An hour later, Jamie and Claire put Fergus to bed. The exercise in the fresh air took its toll and before Jamie had finished reading the first page of a story, the boy was asleep.  

Chapter Text

Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

 

            On Tuesday of the following week, Jamie came home shortly after lunchtime to give Claire a little more free time. He sat with Fergus and helped him with his homework, then they went into the garden where the "two men" chased a few laps behind a football.

“Ball” by  derJani

“Ball” by  derJani

 

            The temperature had dropped considerably since the beginning of October, but the fun they were having playing and the physical action well made up for the difference. After the sun came out from behind the clouds at around 4pm, they even worked up a bit of a sweat. A short time later Claire appeared on the first-floor balcony and announced that tea was ready. Jamie and Fergus entered the house through the garage door, changed their shoes in the basement and then took the lift to the second floor. There they changed their sweaty clothes and a short time later sat in the dining room where Claire and Mrs Curtius had already set the table. Fergus noted with excitement that there was that tangerine cheesecake that he loved so much. Claire watched Fergus and had the impression that the physical activity had done him good, but had also tired him out a little. He would certainly fall asleep quickly tonight.

            "Will you read to me, Papa?" asked Fergus after he had eaten the second piece of cake and was clearly full.

            Jamie smiled at him.

            "Yes, I'd love to. You go on into the winter garden. I'll have my tea and then join you."

            A moment later Jamie and Claire heard the sound of the electric train. Claire looked at Jamie:

            "Don't you feel like reading to him? I can ..."   

            "No, no. I'm just a bit knocked out by the unaccustomed exercise and I want another cup of tea in peace."

            He smiled and Claire reached for the teapot to refill his cup. But before Jamie could reach for his cup, his smartphone rang. He looked at the screen and Claire saw his puzzled expression.

 

“Tea” by  fotshot

“Tea” by  fotshot

 

            "Matthieu! Good afternoon! How are you?"

            Jamie was obviously surprised, but it didn't seem like a negative surprise to her.  

            "Friday, you say?" he continued, "Yes, that might work, but I'll have to check with Claire again. I don't know at the moment if anything else is already planned for Friday."

            He listened to the voice on the other side of the line for a moment, then said:

            "Right, that's how we'll do it. I'll call you first thing in the morning then and let you know. Sure. Please give my greetings to Teresa and your little crown prince!"

            Once again a silence fell on Jamie's side.

            "Yes, Matthieu, I would be delighted. Thank you so much for calling! See you then."

            Jamie hung up, then turned to Claire.

            "So, so, you have to ask Claire first," she said with a smile.

            "Yes, at least I have to discuss it with you. Matthieu and Teresa von Klarenberg are good friends. They bought a house very near here over a year ago. It's a beautiful, large property, but it needs extensive renovation. Parts had fallen into disrepair and it is a listed building. Matthieu will be at the site on Friday afternoon to see how the work is progressing. He asked if he could come by for a quick visit in the early evening."

            "Who are these von Klarenbergs?"

            Before Jamie could answer Claire's question a loud shout sounded from the winter garden:

            "Papaaaa! Paaaapaaa! Are you coooomiiiing!"

            Claire and Jamie looked at each other and both rolled their eyes. Then Jaimie called out:

            "Yeheees, Sooohooon! I'm cooooming!"

            Making his way towards the winter garden, Jaime turned to Claire once more:

            "I'll tell you about the von Klarenbergs when we've put little Quengel to bed."

 

            Three hours later it was time. They had eaten dinner. Then they had put Fergus, who had almost fallen asleep at the dinner table, to bed. Again, Claire had barely needed to read one page from his current favorite book, then he had disappeared into "the land of smiles". Jamie and Claire left the pirate room on quiet feet.

            "Shall we sit in the fireplace room for a moment? I wanted to tell you about the von Klarenberg family."

            A few moments later they were sitting in the big comfortable armchairs in front of the burning fireplace, each with a glass of whisky in hand.

 

“Fireplace” by  StockSnap

“Fireplace” by  StockSnap

 

            "Matthieu von Klarenbergs is the descendant of a noble family with roots in France but also in Silesia. It is said that the estate they owned until the end of the Second World War was originally a commandery of the Teutonic Order, also known as the Teutonic Knights. It is not known exactly. Another order could also be a possibility. The oldest known ancestor was a knight who probably came to Silesia with Henry VII. A descendant of this knight acquired the estate in the 15th century. Later it was rebuilt into a small baroque castle. In the 17th century they were first raised to the rank of barons, then in the 18th century to the rank of counts and finally to the rank of imperial counts. In 1850 they were elevated to the Prussian princely rank. However, all that remained was the title of count.
            Various German rulers were guests there during military conflicts and maneuvers - Frederick the Great, Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II. The family divided into different branches over the centuries, but they still managed to keep the estate together for a long time. But with the end of the First World War and the division of Upper Silesia, their economic decline began. Part of the family remained in Silesia, other family members lived in different parts of Europe.
            During the Second World War, the property was confiscated by the Nazis and as a result the rest of the family fled to the West. After the war, the family members gathered here in Berlin. They seized the opportunity and established themselves in the food trade. Over the decades, they thus managed to regain wealth.
            Matthieu's father, who was born before the war, was head of the family for a long time. He died a few years ago and today Matthieu is head of the house of the Counts of Klarenberg. His wife, Teresa, comes from an Italian noble family that has been at home in the richest region of Italy, the Emilia-Romagna, for centuries. They owned a large vineyard there. Matthieu met them during a stay in Italy in autumn 2015. But that is a story in itself. And it's not my job to tell it. But Matthieu will be happy to tell you the story if you ask him."

            Jamie sipped his whisky, then continued:

            "Then in May 2016 Matthieu and Teresa got engaged and in September 2016 they got married."

            "That was quick," Claire agreed.

            "Yes," Jamie agreed, "but clearly they are a good match."

            "Do ... they ... have children?"

            "Two. Their son, Maurice Justus, was born in August 2018 ..."

            "Oh, he's almost Fergus's age then."

            "Yes. This summer, in August, their daughter was born. Her name is Friederike."

            "And how long have you known the family?"

            "Oh, since I was young. Matthieu's father and my father knew each other, were friends, did business together ... Matthieu is a year younger than me. We played together when our families met, celebrated together ..."

            "Did you also go to school together?"

            "No, we lived too far apart for that. But we often saw each other during the holidays and, as I said, when our families met. That used to be the case quite often. Then our studies separated us. I began my studies in Berlin. Matthieu started studying in Paris the same year later. When I moved to Paris two years later, he had just got a place at Oxford. He stayed there for several years, while I returned to Berlin from Paris via Frankfurt am Main and Heidelberg. A few years before his father's death, Mathieu also returned to Berlin and joined the family firm. After his father's death, Matthieu got a very good offer from a German food consortium, which he accepted. He invested the profits widely and can now live off the profits and concentrate largely on his family and the things that interest him."

            "Does he know about us? I mean ... Does he know ... the truth or ..."

            "No one but us ... and Ned Gowan knows the truth. And let's keep it that way."

            Again, Jamie drank from his whisky.

            "Don't you trust him?" asked Claire, startled at the same time by her question. So, she immediately followed up with:

            "Sorry, it's none of my business."

            "You don't have to apologize and yes, it is your business. Just ask."

            "Well, I ... I mean, if he's such a good friend, why ..."

            "He is a good friend, my best friend even. And yes, I trust him. I wouldn't hesitate for a moment either and trust him with my life or Fergus'. But I am convinced that it is right to involve as few people as possible. Anyone can accidentally slip up. Anyone. The fewer people who know our secret, the less likely it is to happen."

            "I understand. And you would like ... that ... me to meet him?"

            "Yes, I would be delighted. Of course, I could meet him in some restaurant in town, but I'm sure he would find that very strange. He knows about you, he's read the newspaper reports. And if I didn't invite him here ..."

            "Then he would ask what's going on with us?" continued Claire the sentence.

            "Exactly. I could tell him some story, of course, but ..."

            "You don't want to?"

            "Yes, I don't want to tell him any more than necessary ..."

            They were silent and both drank from their whisky.

 

“Whisky” by  Peggychoucair

“Whisky” by  Peggychoucair

 

            "Besides," Jamie continued after a few moments, "I would be very happy for you to meet him. I think you'll like him."

            "You're not trying to set me up now, are you?"

            "No," Jamie laughed impulsively and then put his hand over his mouth. After another sip of whisky, he chuckled softly to himself and shook his head:

            "No, no. I wouldn't be able to do that at all. Matthieu is ... an extraordinarily upstanding, loyal person. He loves his wife and children more than himself. He would never cheat on them. Not only because he loves Teresa and the children more than anything, but also because he knows how it feels to be cheated on."

            "Do you plan to tell him the truth later?"

            "Yes, when it's all over, when Fergus is my son, then I will speak to Matthieu. I know him well enough. I have every confidence that he will understand me. He is a father who loves his children more than anything and who knows what you would do for your children."

            Claire gave a soft sigh, then asked:

            "What did you have in mind for Friday night?"

            "Matthieu could be here at 7 pm. I would suggest we ask Mrs Curtius to prepare a light menu. Fergus will have his dinner beforehand, but he can still greet Matthieu. Afterwards, Mrs. Curtius can put him to bed. I will make a little deal him."

            Jamie smiled:

            "Fergus likes Matthieu and his family very much. Maurice and he have already become a bit friendly and Fergus was thrilled when I told him they were moving here near us. I think he will go for my little 'deal': He gets to say hello to Matthieu, but he has to agree to Mrs Curtius putting him to bed."

            Claire rolled her eyes and smiled, then took another sip of her whisky.

            "Then after dinner we can sit down and have a drink and talk a little. Matthieu has a driver who will take him home."

            "Where do they live?"

            "The family has owned a prestigious townhouse in Berlin for generations, it's a building from the Gründerzeit. A nice house, but not necessarily for children. They have some small balconies and a little greenery in the courtyard of the house, but ... "

            "Nothing compared to a property with a garden and lake access in Potsdam?"

            "Exactly."

            "Well, let's get to know our soon-to-be neighbor better," Clair said, holding out her empty whisky glass to Jamie. When he looked at her questioningly, she said with a smile:

            "You could let the air out of this glass."   

            Jamie smiled too, reached for a bottle of Scotch whisky and poured:

            "So you're okay with me inviting Matthieu?"

            "Yes, of course," Claire replied, looking pensively at the golden sparkling whisky she was swirling gently back and forth in her glass, "let's do it." She looked at Jamie and said nonchalantly:

            "This whisky has convinced me."

            Jamie watched in amazement as Claire took a large sip.

            When she noticed the expression on his face, she began to giggle softly.

            "Of course, it wasn't the whisky that convinced me, although it tastes very good. If Fergus likes Matthieu and his family so much, then we should take this opportunity to strengthen relations, especially with the children. Fergus has found some friends at school now, but the families live so far away ... and I haven't really found access to the mothers either. They are real helicopter mothers. I understand that they want to protect their children after all the kidnappings of children from industrial families. But Fergus needs more contact with friends of the same age and I would be happy if Fergus and Maurice could spend time together. How far is the family's new house from here, then?"

            "Well, it's not a new house. It's a Manor built in the early 1920s by an industrialist. The property before that belongs to a royal court supplier, whose company, by the way, still exists today. If there was a direct road, it wouldn't take five minutes to walk. Just up our street and then turn right. But unfortunately, the road ends in front of another house. The properties are separated by a high wall. So we have to go down the road, then turn left and go up the parallel road again. Number 8."

            Claire nodded and emptied her glass.

            "Well, another sip?"

            Jamie reached for the whisky decanter that sat on the small round table separating the two armchairs.

            "Oh, no. Thanks," she rebuffed, "I've got to go to bed. Fergus has to go to school and if we're going to have visitors on Friday night, I'll have to plan that a bit with Mrs Curtius too."

            They both rose and Jamie escorted Claire to the front door:

            "Good night Claire. Thank you for supporting me."

            "We're doing it all for Fergus," she said with a smile and then added, "Good night Jamie."

Chapter Text

Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dom und Parlamentsplatz (by   tap5a)

 

          The next morning Jamie decided on the spur of the moment that he would work from home that day. When he came into the dining room, Clair was already there and Fergus joined them moments later.

          “Are you going to the office later today, Papa?” Fergus asked in surprise.

          “I’m not going to the office at all today, I’m working from here,” Jamie replied and had to smile when he saw Claire’s surprised expression.

          “But first I’ll take you to school - together with Claire.”

          “Oh, that’s nice,” Fergus said, but then was distracted by other matters of importance and asked, “Can you pass me the cherry jam, please?”

”Breakfast” by gamagapix

”Breakfast” by gamagapix



          Jamie reached for the jar of the requested fruit spread, nodding to Claire in the way he always did when he wanted to tell her a thing “out of Fergus’s reach”. Then they returned their attention to their breakfast.

          When Claire had sent the boy to his room to fetch his satchel, she asked:

          “Has anything … happened?”

          “No, there’s just nothing important to do today. I can do what needs to be done from here. I thought we could take Fergus to school together and afterwards I’ll show you the property and the mansion that Matthieu and Teresa have bought. Or aren’t you interested in that?”

          “Oh yes, I am! I …,” came Claire’s spontaneous reply. She blushed a little and then added in a lowered voice:

          “I … had also … thought that … I might … I could take a walk there.”

          “Good! But tell me if I’m messing up your plans for the day.”

          “Only if our little excursion takes up the whole day.”

          “I can reassure you about that. It won’t take long. We can only see the manor and grounds from the street anyway. What … do you have… planned for today?”

          “Well, I was going to take Fergus to school as usual and then I was going to discuss everything with Mrs Curtius for Friday evening. We have to plan, after all. The menu for the evening, a little decoration and also what we can offer our guest afterwards. I wanted to talk to her also about whether we should ask Alice Bodenser to help us.”

          Jamie marvelled at how routinely Claire seemed to plan their guest’s visit.

          “That sounds good,” he said, adding, “As I said, we won’t be long.”

          Fergus appeared. He had put on his autumn jacket and was carrying his satchel:

          “Are you coming? It’s time and I’m going to be late.”

          Claire and Jamie looked at each other, shook their heads slightly almost in sync and followed Fergus out into the hallway.

           After taking Fergus to school, Jamie instructed the driver to drive to a nearby address. Less than ten minutes later, after first passing the historic dairy and a small marina, the car stopped in front of a property surrounded by a high fence. Old trees towering far into the sky, still heavily leafed, screened the manor from the roadside so that only parts of it could be seen. But that was enough to get an initial impression of it. When Claire saw the size of the mansion, she let out a loud

          “Oh!”

“Villa Starck” von Writtenby - Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21051134

“Villa Starck” von Writtenby - Eigenes Werk,
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21051134


          Jamie looked at her with a smile.

          “This … this is even bigger …”

          “Than my house?” finished Jamie.

          “Yes, yes … Really,” Claire replied, still puzzled.

          “Shall I … buy a … buy a bigger house?” asked Fraser, struggling to suppress a smile. He would have liked only too much to know what Claire was really thinking and what kind of house, what kind of environment, she would really want to live in.

          “No, no, that’s … I … it,” she defended herself.

          “Well, maybe now  that you've seen this, you might think you’re working for a not-so-well-regarded household …”

          Jamie was unable to finish the sentence. Claire sparkled at him belligerently from her amber eyes, then delivered a short but firm boxing blow to his chest.

          “Whew,” was all Jamie could manage to utter.

          “Yes! Whew!” triumphed Claire. “That’s what happens when you make a fool of a poor old employee!”  

          Jamie had regained his composure and chuckled.

          “Employee’s right, everything else isn’t.”

          He gestured for her to go back with his right arm. They looked at the entrance to the property, then went back to the car and had themselves driven home.

 

“Homeoffice” by JamesDeMers

“Homeoffice” by JamesDeMers

          While Claire went to the kitchen to talk to Mrs Curtius, Jamie, mysteriously filled with new energy, sprinted up the stairs to the second floor and headed for his study. Once there, he dropped into the leather office chair at his desk and pressed the speed dial on his smartphone display that connected him to Matthieu von Klarenberg.

          “Good morning, Jamie!” it rang out to him only a few moments later.

          Matthieu was obviously very awake and in a very good mood.

          “Good morning Matthieu! You’ve unmistakably had a good strong coffee already.”

          “Are you jealous, my friend? Don’t you get good coffee there in your fancy office building on the Gendarmenmarkt?”

          “I’m not in my fancy office building today …,” Jamie returned, amused.

          “You’re not? Have you become a slacker like me?”

          “Quite apart from the fact that you’re anything but a slacker, I’m at home today because there’s nothing important on my plate and I can do everything else from here. It gives me a chance to spend more time with Fergus. I was on a business trip for ten days recently and …”

          “… you have something to make up for now.”  

          “Yeah, right,” Jamie returned, “but that’s not why I’m calling. I wanted to tell you that we’d love it if you’d come over to our house for dinner on Friday night, and we could spend some time together afterwards, too.”

          “So? Claire has given her permission?” enquired Matthieu, unable to suppress the irony in his voice.

          “She didn’t have anything planned for Friday night and is looking forward to meeting you,” Jamie returned, slightly ironically.

          “I’m glad to hear that, I’d love to come, honestly Jamie.”

          “I’m looking forward to seeing you too, Mathieu.”

          “But?”

          “Nothing but. I, I … would have … just…  one more request for you.”

          “I’m listening.”

          “Fergus is really looking forward to you and your family moving near us soon and I know he will be happy to see you. Therefore, I will allow him to stay awake until you arrive … so he can greet you.”

          “And what’s the problem?”

          “Well, I want to ask you … Claire and I haven’t told him about us yet …”

          “I see,” Matthieu said. He did not manage to suppress the astonishment that resonated in his voice. After a moment he had regained his composure:

          “May I ask why not?”

          “Well, Fergus has had enough to deal with this year. I had to go on several business trips in the spring and he had to stay with Mr and Mrs Curtius all the time. Then suddenly a complete stranger comes into our house and I tell him that from now on she will look after him every day, in other words, become a substitute parent for him, so to speak. School enrolment follows and he has to adjust to many new people, start learning. Then another long business trip on my part. Plus, the relationship with Claire is …”

          “Jamie?”

          “Yes?”

          “You are sure about Claire, aren’t you?”

          Jamie heard the concern that resonated in Matthieu’s voice. He knew his friend well and knew that this concern was genuine.

          “I am 100% sure, Matthieu. I love her and I want nothing more than for us to be a family - her, Fergus and me. Fergus loves her, she loves Fergus, I love her …”

          “But you are you … not… sure she loves you?”

          Again, the astonishment in von Klarenberg’s voice was unmistakable. Jamie felt uncomfortable in his seated position, pushed back the desk chair and stood up. He went to the large window front that faced the south side of the house and whose door next to it led onto a narrow balcony. Then he said:

 

“Window” by StockSnap

“Window” by StockSnap


          “It’s … complicated.”

          Matthieu von Klarenberg groaned loudly:

          “Jamie, please! We’re not on Facebook here!”

          “No,” Jamie replied softly and sighed, “thankfully not!”

          “But?”

          Fraser began pacing up and down in front of the window.

          “Oh, I can’t think of a better word. It’s really complicated. Claire was married and her husband cheated on her … in a very … shameless way …. Multiple times with … multiple women.”

          “Merde! Merde! Merde!”  

         Jamie jerked the smartphone away from his ear to protect his eardrums from his friend’s loud verbal outburst. When Matthieu had calmed down again, he said:

          “I knew, Matthieu, that you would understand.”

          “Yes, I understand only too well. She has divorced the bastard in the meantime though, hasn’t she?”

          “She wanted to, but it never came to that. The bastard died of a heart attack before …”  

          “Oh! Great!” exclaimed von Klarenberg only to add: “Some problems are solved quite simply in the good old biological way.”

          Jamie heard the sarcasm and sighed softly.

          “You understand that it’s … not easy … for her … to trust again.”

          “Yes, of course, I do. And how I understand that.”

          A moment of silence fell.

          Matthieu was the first to pick up the thread again.

          “I also understand that you two want to be really sure until you tell Fergus.”

          “Exactly. We can’t expect him to … We can’t give him the hope of having a mother, a family… and then the whole thing just… falls apart. He’s been through this crap before. I don’t want him to go through it again… We won’t tell him until everything is ‘in the bag’.”

          “Yes, that’s quite right. The right thing to do. I won’t mention anything to Fergus. That’s what you were going to ask me, isn’t it?”

          “Exactly. Thank you for understanding.”

          “Not for this.”

          “I look forward to welcoming you then on Friday evening, 7 pm. Please give our warmest regards to Teresa and the children.”

          “The pleasure is all mine. After all, I haven’t seen Fergus and you for almost a year and then of course I’m very excited to meet Claire. Please give her and Fergus my best.”

          “Gladly.”

          The men ended their conversation.

 

“Chaiselongue” by Vassil, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

“Chaiselongue” by Vassil, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


          Only seconds later the door of Matthieu von Klarenberg’s study opened and his wife Teresa entered. He rolled his desk chair back a little, turned in her direction and spread his arms. Teresa, still dressed in her loose, light silk morning coat, came and sat on his lap. Then she gently took hold of his face with both hands, pulled it to hers and kissed her husband passionately. She broke away from him and looked at him with her deep blue eyes for a moment. Matthieu let his warm hands slide slowly down her sides. Then Teresa kissed him again, deeply and intensely. When she broke away from him to catch her breath, Matthieu held her a little at a distance:

          “If we keep doing this …”

          “Then we should lock the door?” Teresa asked, letting her gaze wander to the chaise longue that stood against the far right side wall of the study.

          “That’s not really what I meant …”

          “So? What did you mean?”

          Gently, Teresa let the index finger of her right hand trail from his left ear along his jawline and over his black three-day beard.

          “Jamie called me,” Matthieu said, his face turning serious.

          “Fraser?”

          “Do we know another Jamie?”

          Teresa ignored the question.

          “What did he say? Are you going to visit him and his fiancée on Friday night?”

          “Yes, I’m going to visit them, but there’s something we need to talk about.”

          “Are you worried, darling?”

          “Yes,” Matthieu said softly.

          Teresa looked at him, then pulled his head gently to her chest.

           "Tell me about it,“ she whispered softly.

Chapter Text

 Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dome and Parliamentary Square (by   tap5a)

Panorama Helsinki / Finland - Dome and Parliamentary Square (by   tap5a)

 

 

            Friday, and with it the announced visit of Matthieu von Klarenberg, came sooner than Claire would have liked. While she had regarded the visit of Dave and Geillis as a meeting with people she knew well and who would not resent any mistakes she might make, the evening with von Klarenberg would be the first meeting with a friend of Jamie's whom she did not know. And as Fraser's official fiancée, she acted as mistress of the house alongside him as hostess. She had felt the responsibility that came with it since the moment Jamie had announced the visit. Claire had planned the preparations and details of the evening all the more thoroughly and was grateful that Mrs Curtius had been at her side with advice and encouragement. Nevertheless, she found it difficult to suppress her inner excitement when, half an hour before the guest's arrival, she entered the living room on the first floor, where she met Jamie.

 

“Gewaff” by Dat doris, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“Gewaff” by Dat Doris, CC BY-SA 4.0
<https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

           Fraser was standing in front of the fireplace and turned as Claire entered. She had chosen a simple green dress for the evening with a few unobtrusive embroideries on the top that showed fine thistles. Her hair was braided into a half-crown at the back of her head and pinned up.

           Jamie smiled when he saw her.

           "Is it all right for you?" asked Claire. They had previously agreed on their attire for the occasion.

           "Yes, quite wonderful. All that's missing is the jewellery," he said, picking up a jewellery box that had been lying on the mantelpiece, waiting for this moment. He opened the red velvet box and held it out to Claire. It revealed a delicate necklace of radiant freshwater pearls and a pair of earrings, each with an oval pearl, the plugs hidden behind silver French lilies. Two bangles of an ivory-like material, whose silver clasps proved to be exquisite silversmithing on closer inspection, were also part of this jewellery ensemble.  

           "Will you hold this, please?"

           Claire reached for the jewellery box and Fraser took out the necklace to put it on her.

           "What kind of material are these bangles made of? Is it ivory?" she asked as she felt the pearl necklace wrapped around her neck.

           "No, they are the polished arms of two boars."

           "The canines of male boars?"

           "Exactly. They have been a highly sought-after trophy by hunters for centuries. As you can see from the silver clasps, they have been in our family for many generations."

           Claire took one of the bangles and looked at it more closely. Where the silver held the tusks together, it had been fashioned into small oak leaves with the Fraser family motto "Je suis prest!" in the centre.

           She put the bracelet back and Jamie handed her the earrings so she could put them on. When this was done, she accepted the bangles. Claire looked at them again in amazement, but then quickly put them on as Mrs Curtius called out from the kitchen:

           "Mr von Klarenberg's car has just arrived!"

           Jamie stowed the jewellery box in a cupboard of the living room and threw on his jacket. He extended his right hand to Claire and looked at her expectantly.

           "Come on, let's go," he then said and, when she hesitated, added with a smile, "Matthieu doesn't bite!"

           Shortly afterwards the house bell rang. Alice Bodenser opened for the guest, invited him into the hall where Jaime and Clair were already waiting, and took his coat.

           Jamie approached Matthieu with outstretched arms and greeted him:

           "Count von Klarenberg, what a pleasure to welcome you to my humble home!"

           The addressed laughed out loud, then took Jamie in a boisterous embrace, patted him audibly on the back several times and said:

           "Lord Broch Tuarach, I don't think anyone has patted your lordship's clothes out for a long time, right?"

           Both men laughed and gave each other another friendly hug. Then Jamie turned to Clair:

           "Claire, I want you to meet my best friend, Matthieu von Klarenberg. Matthieu, this is Claire."

           Claire had been meaning to google the von Klarenberg name throughout the week to find out more about him and maybe find a picture of him and his wife. But when she returned to her apartment in the evenings, tired of her work, she had always postponed this intention until the next day and then forgotten about it altogether.             From Fraser's stories about his friend, a certain image of Matthieu von Klarenberg had formed in Claire's mind. But now that she was personally confronted with him, she realized how limited this image was. And she was all the more impressed by the person who now stood in front of her.

            Matthieu von Klarenberg was no different from Fraser in his height of 1.90 meters, nor in his muscular build. Both men had remarkable charisma and their presence in a room did not need to be made known for them to be noticed. Each of them defined the presence of a room as soon as they entered it. But while Jamie was more reserved and liked to disappear into the crowd to avoid being noticed, Klarenbergs' charisma was almost palpable. This man knew who he was. This man knew his impact. And it was obvious that he was in no way thinking of hiding his person or his abilities.

           "Mrs Beauchamp," the guest said, extending his right hand to her, "it is a pleasure to finally meet you."

           Claire grasped his hand and inwardly wondered if she had to curtsy to von Klarenberg as she knew people would do in movies. Why hadn't she asked Jamie about this! Now it was too late! Spontaneously she decided against it:

           "Good evening, Count von Klarenberg. I am very pleased that you are our guest today."

           "Oh please, Mrs Beauchamp," Matthieu replied, "let's leave the titles. I allow Jamie to use it because he always teases me about it, but please do call me Matthieu."

           "Thank you very much, but then please call me Claire too."

           "Good evening, Claire."

           The guest, whose black dinner suit was obviously tailor-made and whose matching leather shoes were guaranteed to have cost more than one of Claire's monthly salaries, bent down and reached for a narrow brown wicker basket containing a plant wrapped in cling film. Von Klarenberg took the plant from the wicker basket and handed it to Claire. Dark green leaves and stems protruded from a white and gold flower pot towards her.

 

“Coelogyne multiflora“ by Nicolas Picand Herba.fr - This file has been  extracted from another file: Coelogyne multiflora 3.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0,  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76729413

“Coelogyne multiflora“ by Nicolas Picand Herba.fr -
This file has been extracted from another file: Coelogyne multiflora
3.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76729413

 

           "This is a Coelogyne multiflora. Unfortunately, this fragrant orchid only blossoms in winter, but then it produces countless flowers. There, between the pot and the foil, is an envelope. My wife has put a short instruction inside on how to treat it. We hope you enjoy it. Jamie told me that you like potted plants better than cut flowers."

           "Oh yes, that's right. And here I have a present to look forward to. Thank you very much, Matthieu. I am very happy about that. Please pass on my heartfelt thanks to your dear wife as well."

           "I'll be happy to pass that on to Teresa."

           "Matthieu," Jamie now intervened, "there is someone else here who would also like to greet you."

           Von Klarenberg turned to Jamie and caught sight of Fergus, who had come down the stairs with Alice Bodenser unnoticed and was now standing beside his father.

           The guest squatted down and held out his arms:

           "Good evening my pirate friend, how nice to see you again at last!"

           Fergus broke away from Fraser and ran into von Klarenberg's arms:

           "Uncle Matthieu! Good evening!"

           "Hello, Fergus!"

           Von Klarenberg reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small present from it:

           "Here's a little present for you, Fergus. I'm to give you the warmest of greetings from Maurice and Teresa."

           "Can I open it now?" the boy asked excitedly.

           "Yes, sure."

           It took only seconds and Fergus had turned the beautiful wrapping, complete with bow, into paper and recyclable waste. What emerged was a photo keychain with a picture of Maurice and Fergus on the front. The boys were sitting next to each other on a sofa and laughing happily into the camera. On the back, it showed a photo of Teresa and Matthieu von Klarenberg with their two children.

           "Oh, that's lovely," said Claire, who had also leaned down to Fergus.

           "Yes," Fergus exclaimed, "now I can have you with me all the time!"

           The boy was thrilled.

           From Jamie came a very different announcement to Fergus:

           "So, what do you say when you get a present?"

           The boy leaned over to Matthieu and gave him a kiss on the cheek:

           "Merci beaucoup, Uncle Matthieu!"

           "Avec plaisir, mon petit ami."

           "And now it's time for the Land of Smiles, son," came the next announcement from Jamie.

           "Yeheeesss, Papaaa!"

           Fergus rolled his eyes, then shook hands with Matthieu and Claire.

           "Good night, Uncle Matthieu! Good night, Claire!"

           Both adults got another kiss on the cheek. Then it was Fraser's turn.

           "Good night, Papa."

           Fraser picked the boy up and gave him a kiss as well.

           "Goodnight Fergus, sleep tight!"

           Alice Bodenser took the boy by the hand and led him up the stairs. The latter obliged and waved vigorously as he departed. When he was gone, Jamie gestured to the door of the sitting room:

 

“Aperitif” by efes

“Aperitif” by efes 

 

           "Come, Mrs Curtius has prepared an aperitif for us in the living room and then let's see what kind of menu the ladies of the house have prepared for us."

            A few moments later, Jamie and Matthieu were standing by the fireplace. Fraser handed his friend a filled glass and toasted him. Claire, who had been in the kitchen removing the cling film from the scented orchid she had been given, walked past them to take the plant into the conservatory. Just as she had set the plant down and turned back to the men, she heard Matthieu laughing loudly. Jamie joined in the friend's laughter as well.

           "Well, did I miss a good joke?" asked Claire as she joined the men. Instead of getting an answer, the friends started laughing out loud again. When they finally calmed down, Jamie handed Claire a glass as well. Matthieu looked at her with a high red face and said:

           "Sorry, Claire. We were just laughing our heads off at the title of a documentary."

           Fraser's friend pointed to a television magazine lying on the couch table. Emblazoned on its cover, which showed a huge young Highland stack, she saw the headline, "The Secret Life of Red Deer."

           Jamie spoke up:

           "We were just imagining a herd of red deer plotting to become stars on German television."

           "Exactly," Matthieu agreed, "the red deer will spread rumours that they have a big secret and poof, an army of German documentarians are on their trail."

           Claire shook her head slightly. But before she could say anything, the bell rang from the dining room, indicating that dinner was ready.

             Claire and Mrs. Curtius had deliberated for a long time about what to serve for dinner. It was helpful that Mrs Curtius knew Matthieu von Klarenberg and could therefore assess his tastes. They agreed that beef fillet tartare with parmesan brûlée would be served as a starter and venison with black salsify and pear as the main course. As for dessert, they planned an orange mascarpone cream with raspberry sauce.

           After they had sat down at the table and the starter had been served, the moment occurred that Jamie had already "warned" Claire about. When they had put Fergus to bed the night before, he had asked her to stay a moment. He had skirted the issue a little but then opened up to her that "the von Klarenbergs are people who took their faith very seriously".

           "You could also say," Jamie said, "that they are very religious."

           "But?" Claire had asked.

           "Well, Matthieu would say - and Teresa would agree with him - that they have nothing to do with 'religion'. Religion, Matthieu always says, is man's attempt to be reconciled to God again by doing good works, and that is contrary to the Gospel. For the Gospel teaches that it is by grace that man is reconciled to God. And the means by which this grace becomes effective is faith in God. His creed, if you want to sum it up, is: we don't have religion, we have faith in a living God."

           "So, why does that concern you?"

           "Well, you ... You have to expect that ... he prays before ... having … a … meal."

           "If that's all there is to it. What's the problem? Or is there something more I have to expect?"

           "No, I ... I just didn't want this to catch you off guard."

           "Good, now I'm 'warned'," Claire had said, taking her leave for the evening.

 

“Betende Hände” von Albrecht Dürer by Google Arts & Culture, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21792217

“Betende Hände” von Albrecht Dürer
by Google Arts & Culture, Public Domain,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21792217

           And now it had indeed happened. After the beef fillet tartare with parmesan brûlée had been served, von Klarenberg had lowered his head, closed his eyes and prayed silently for a moment. He had then wished Claire and Jamie bon appétit and himself enjoyed the food and wine.            
           To Claire's surprise, a lively conversation ensued between the individual courses of the meal. Matthieu did not miss the opportunity to praise the choice of dishes and wines. He praised Claire's selected taste, Mrs Curtius' exquisite cooking and his friend's excellently stocked wine cellar. Every now and then, loud laughter rang out, for example when Jamie and Claire told of some funny experience with Fergus or when Matthieu told of the pranks Maurice had pulled last summer. Silence, even a moment of awkward silence, only fell when Claire spontaneously asked:

           "Why did you and Teresa take so many years between Maurice and Friederike, Matthieu?"