It was a cold gloomy December morning in Lallybroch when Jamie Fraser stepped out of the warmth of his home towards the forest area. Clouds dominated most of the sky with the promise of rain, leaving occasional small patches of blue to be seen.
The dead leaves were crispy under his feet, the forest’s mulchy perfume was fresh, and always brought childhood memories with each breath. The birdsong orchestra was a perfect companion, the peace of the morning was soul soothing.
He had a backpack with everything necessary for his short excursion. His mission every year was to get a perfect Christmas tree, so he could have his family come over to decorate on the morning of the 24th before their big Christmas Eve dinner.
Having grown up in that area, he knew exactly where to go to get a good tree. He just needed to get to a small stream, cross it and then keep walking towards the forest glade. The sound of running water was a sign he was getting closer.
As he approached the stream, a bunch of messy brown curls dancing in the cool breeze caught his attention.
There was a young woman kneeling next to the water, washing her hands and refreshing her face, eyes closed as a few fleeting rays of sunlight reached her skin.
“Good morning, lass. Are ye lost?” Jamie got closer to her, slowly, using a gentle voice trying not to scare her. Apparently it was just her there.
Startled, she turned around and looked up at him.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! I didn’t see you there” she put a hand to her chest trying to calm herself down.
“Oh no, please, you needn’t be scared of me, lass, I live around here, just passing through” he took a few more steps closer to her “Do ye need any help finding directions?”
“This is actually a bit embarrassing” she looked down smiling, finally relaxing a bit more “I went out for a walk earlier this morning and I think I might have gotten slightly carried away? Directions would be very useful right now, thank you very much, hmm…”
“James Fraser, miss. Ye can call me Jamie”
“Jamie, pleased to meet you.” She stood up and dried her hands on her blue jeans, then walked towards Jamie to shake his hand, which was unusually warm for the current weather “I’m Claire Beauchamp and… something also tells me I might be standing on private property?”
“You’re correct, these woods are part of Lallybroch, my home.” He smiled, delighted by her sense of humor “But dinna fash, lass, you’re welcome to walk around these grounds as much as ye want” He looked down, like making a small bow.
“I’d love to if I knew where I was going,” She laughed shyly.
“If ye don’t mind, I can show ye around, I was just about to go find a Christmas tree if you want to join me in my small quest, unless someone is waiting for ye and you need to return. In that case it wouldn’t be a problem if ye need a ride back”
Claire kept looking at him. What in the name of all the woodland folk tales was she seeing? All of this Scottish-ness rolled into one person: a tall redheaded man, curled messy copper hair, the bluest of eyes, and a jawline so sharp it could cut trees down. She was also pleasantly surprised by his hospitality and warmth towards her, a stranger roaming around his property.
She had been out earlier that morning to collect some herbs and explore a little, had lost track of time and apparently orientation as well. Slightly frustrated after walking for some time without signs of civilization in sight or any phone signal to reach her phone to make a call or send a text message, she had stopped to rest by the stream. And then salvation had appeared in the form of a gentle redheaded giant. Truth was, now she wasn’t in any hurry to leave.
“I’d love to get to know the area a little more, that’s very kind of you, Jamie. I need to let my friend know that I’m alright, it’s been some time. Do you know where I can get some signal with my phone?”
“As soon as we get to the glade you’ll be able to use your phone, lass, it’s not very far from here.” Jamie was very excited she had accepted his invitation, he loved Lallybroch and was very proud of the land he had grown up in.
There was something else though, something he couldn't avoid to feel as soon as he saw Claire all by herself by the stream in the middle of the forest he walked at so many times. He needed to see her safe, even if she wanted to hangout with him a little more or just go back home and never cross paths with him again, he needed to know she was safe.
“Sounds perfect,” she smiled “Where to now?”
“We have to cross the stream first and then walk for about thirty minutes or so. The glade is where we want to go to get a good phone signal and a Christmas tree.”
“I see, it’s a win-win situation then” Claire got closer to the water to assess which rock would be easier to step on in order to make it to the other side.
“Let me cross first and then I’ll help ye, lass. These rocks are kinda slippery and I don’t want ye to get hurt or wet” he offered, looking at her not so very appropriate hiking shoes.
Claire smiled, a little embarrassed about how unprepared she was but in her own defense, it was supposed to be a very short, uncomplicated walk. The forest and her lack of orientation had decided something else.
She looked at her gentle giant cross the stream in only two steps, then he turned around and extended his hand to her. How could it be so warm? Was he some type of walking furnace in human form?
The skin contact, one cold, the other warm, gave them both chills. Inside their minds, they blamed it on the temperature differences in a failed attempt to ignore something that had been there from the very first second they interacted.
They walked in silence for some time. Claire admiring the beauty of the forest and Jamie admiring her. The way her whisky eyes sparkled whenever she looked up to the trees or how the slightly pink tinged porcelain skin of her face was covered in these tiny perfect golden freckles. And her hair, it was something else, full of wild curls she kept trying to tame unsuccessfully. What a fascinating creature.
“So… do ye live around here?”
“No, I’m visiting a friend for Christmas for just a couple of days, then I have to go back home to London. Her name is Geillis Duncan, you might know her?”
“Ah, yes, we went to elementary school together but then we lost touch growing up. Small world, eh?”
“Small world indeed,” she replied smiling at the coincidence of it all, curious about why Geillis hadn’t mentioned him before. “What about you? What about your life here in Lallybroch?”
“This estate has been in my family for many generations, it’s been mostly crops and cattle as a way to survive but a couple of years back we decided to start with a small family whisky distillery business and so far it’s going well. Do ye like whisky, Claire?”
“I do enjoy it very much, yes. I blame Geillis for that.”
“Ah, blame it on the Scots.” They laughed.
The walk had been so far a very pleasant one, enjoying the mutual company and the way things flowed naturally between them. Even though they were still strangers to each other, things felt at ease. Almost as if they had met before and had walked together around these lands many years ago.
As they got closer to the clearing, some clouds moved away letting the rays of a mellow sunlight pass through the tree branches giving a warm golden color to the grass. The air had that smell of woodland before rain.
When they got there, Claire took a deep breath and stretched her arms letting the sun to bathe her. The trees whispered quietly with the light breeze.
Jamie didn’t dare to move or make a sound, he was spellbound with the woman in front of him, it was as if she belonged there, like an old woodland fairy finally finding her home, like a missing piece returning to its rightful place.
Like coming out of a trance and realizing she wasn’t alone in the first place, she turned around to find Jamie.
“This place has such a magical aura all around it, it’s beautiful, Jamie. I’m so glad I decided to join you. Thank you.”
“I’m glad too, Claire” The way he said her name, made them both blush. Jamie cleared his throat. “It is a magical place indeed, or so my family says, you see that big tree over there?”
Sticking out of the surrounding vegetation, there was an old tree, gnarled roots coming in and out of the ground, rough with age with some patches of moss scattered here and there, but still very much alive.
“It’s an ancient yew tree” he continued “A native tree which the Druids held sacred and it can also be poisonous.”
“Ah, yew berries, yes I know about them and their properties along with the needles and bark. They’ve been used for diphtheria, rheumatism and liver conditions among others,” she stopped talking when she saw Jamie’s surprised expression. “Perhaps I should mention I’m a Doctor with some knowledge in herbs and medicinal plants. Actually, picking herbs was the reason I ended up here.”
“Well, lass, aren’t ye full of surprises eh?” He replied delighted, feeling like he could hear all about her life story for hours. “I’m pretty sure my ancestors gave the tree many different uses but the most recent ones actually gave it a very romantic purpose. Here, let me show ye.” out of nowhere, he grabbed her hand and walked her towards the tree until they were standing under it.
Claire was still experiencing a series of goosebumps waves from the simple unexpected action of him holding her hand, not fully aware of what he was trying to show her. She felt her cheeks burning and a fluttery sensation in her stomach.
When Jamie let her hand go and she finally got back to her senses, she noticed there were numerous initials carved in different places of the tree and they were carved in pairs.
“Aye, from some of the couples in my family. They believed if they carved their initials in this tree, they would have an everlasting love, and as far as I know, it didn’t fail” he pointed to some of them “Here’s my mother and father, here’s my sister Jenny and her husband Ian, my grandparents are over there…”
“Where’s yours?” Claire asked, almost instantly regretting it. She feared his answer and didn’t want a dreamy morning to be ruined by a love story she wasn’t part of. No, she couldn’t deny the way she was starting to feel.
Jamie’s ears turned pink as he looked down to his feet.
“My initials aren’t there yet..”
“Really?” She really didn’t know him that well but still, couldn’t believe how someone like Jamie didn’t have a special one.
“No, It’s true. I haven’t found…” his words drifted away at the realization that what he was saying wasn’t entirely true. Silence fell between them while unspoken feelings were loud in their eyes.
The sound of a muffled ringtone took them out of their bubble.
“Oh, Geillis! Shit! I completely forgot!” Claire took her small backpack off and tried to find her phone as fast as she could.
Jamie stepped back from her to go sit on a fallen tree trunk.
“Geillis, hi. Yes, I’m alright I just got a bit lost in the woods but… yes, I’m fine… I apologize, I didn’t have a phone signal and I couldn’t… Yes, I know and I’m so sorry” she looked mortified “I’ll be back soon, I’m just exploring a little more… no… I know… I’m not alone right now and I’m safe… Jamie Fraser… yes, yes him” another long pause while her friend talked on the other side of the line as she was starting to blush “Geillis, now is not the time… ok, I will. Love you, bye.” She hung up and took a deep breath.
“Everything alright, lass?”
“Yes, she was very worried but not anymore since I told her I was with you, apparently she trusts you too. And she also says hi.”
“I will send her some whisky on yer behalf, for the trouble.”
Claire nodded, knowing that would be the perfect apology gift. “Sounds like I have high chances to be forgiven then,” they laughed. “So tell me, Jamie, how is it that you come here to get a tree just one day before Christmas Eve?”
“Jenny, Ian, and the kids get here tomorrow morning to stay and spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. One thing we do as a family tradition is to put on the ornaments all together. And I like to have the freshest and prettiest tree waiting for them” he explained, his ears getting slightly pink again.
“That’s very sweet and thoughtful of you, Jamie.” he was a gentle giant after all, Claire thought to herself.
Jamie got up and rubbed his hands.
“Alright, let’s do this then” He was excited about taking a Christmas tree home but there was also a sad feeling lurking somewhere in the back of his mind because he knew that a goodbye was getting closer. “Would ye mind helping me choose one, Claire?”
“Yes, of course, I would be honored” she made a small bow and then walked towards a bunch of pines not taller than her. “Any advice on what criteria should I use when choosing one?”
“Just the one ye like the most, that’ll do” He watched her while she closely examined the trees, thinking about how good and soul soothing it felt to have someone else with him being part of something he usually did alone.
Well, not just someone else, Claire.
After successfully picking up a new Christmas tree, they went back under the yew to sit on the fallen log.
“I propose, as a closing ceremony to this verra fine tree cutting morning, to toast with some hot coffee. What do ye say, Claire?” He asked her, raising his eyebrows.
“Coffee sounds great,” she made a chef’s kiss gesture.
“Oh, and I have some Fraser whisky here as well if ye want to add to yers to make it even more celebratory,” he tried to wink but failed miserably.
Claire smiled widely at how extremely cute she found his failed wink attempt.
“And whisky sounds like the perfect addition, thank you, Jamie. What a lovely closing ceremony.” She just couldn’t stop smiling, she felt strangely comfortable being close to Jamie, and that wasn’t a common thing for her with men in general. Especially with one she just had met.
The truth was, there was definitely something there, between them. A feeling of belonging, an easiness they’ve never found with anyone else before. The scariest thing of all was that they were strangers to each other, two people that had met by chance in the middle of a forest.
But was it chance? Or destiny?
Either way, they both felt extremely lucky that December morning, so they silently toasted to that: luck.
Jamie and Claire knew what came next: an unwanted goodbye.
They walked towards Lallybroch in complete silence, thinking about different ways to somehow have an excuse to stay in touch, too afraid to say anything.
It was almost noon and Jamie offered Claire a ride to Geillis’ place because he knew she had to go back, not because he really wanted her to.
While in the car, they talked about the land, the scenery, the whisky business, places to visit, and what plans they had for Christmas.
Jamie told Claire that after opening the presents and having breakfast he usually went for a walk to the forest glade to sit under the yew tree. It was a peaceful place for him and a way to remember his parents and the rest of the family members who weren’t on this earth anymore.
Claire told him she didn’t have her parents either and actually not any close relatives alive so every time she had the chance to take some days off work for the Holidays, she spent them with her best friend.
As soon as the car stopped, Jamie got out to open the door for Claire while she felt those flutters in her stomach again. The things he did, the way he treated her, he could easily be named the King of all men.
They stood next to the car looking at each other and smiling in silence for what seemed an eternity, neither of them had the courage to say goodbye.
“When do you leave?” He cleared his throat.
“The afternoon of the 25th. I have to be back to work on the 26th for an early shift,” she looked disappointed.
“Well, Claire…” he took a deep breath. “This was a lovely morning, I thank ye for the company and I hope to see ye around someday when you visit yer friend again”
“No, thank you , Jamie. You really saved me out there in the forest. I bet I’d still be roaming around if it wasn’t for you. Thank you for letting me discover and enjoy the beauty of your land and be part of your tree cutting tradition. It was a very special day.” she couldn’t help to blush immediately after saying those words.
Jamie got one step closer to her.
“I want to…” he stopped, his breathing had hitched and the palms of his hands were sweaty “I’d verra much like to hug ye, Claire”
Without saying a word, her arms went around him in a tight hug. He followed.
“I will tell the kids about you, Claire.” He spoke close to her ear almost in a whisper “I’ll tell them I met the bonniest woodland fairy and she helped me pick the perfect tree.”
“That’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard, Jamie, you need to stop saying these things, I-”
“I’m sorry, lass but I just can’t help it,” He finally let go to look at her face. “I…” he hesitated “I better go now.”
“Have a Merry Christmas, Jamie.” Claire got closer to his face and slowly kissed his cheek. The fluttering feeling in her stomach getting out of control.
Then she grabbed her backpack and walked towards Geillis’ place leaving Jamie standing there, touching his cheek, treasuring that unexpected kiss.
It was a cold but sunny Christmas Day morning in Lallybroch when Jamie Fraser stepped out of the warmth of his home and the company of his family to go towards the forest glade area.
He walked slowly but steady, immersed in his thoughts. Well, just one thought.
The feeling that something was missing followed him all the way to the glade and he knew precisely what it was.
As soon as he got there, something made him stop in his tracks: a bunch of brown messy curls floating in the sunlight. It was her, his brown haired lass and she was sitting on the fallen log under the yew tree with a big smile on her face.
He walked towards her unable to hide his surprise and excitement. He could look at her smile and stare in her eyes forever.
“Claire, what are ye-”
“I didn’t want to leave without having a celebratory Christmas coffee with you,” she showed him the small thermos in her hand. “I’m really hoping you have some whisky with you.”
“Well, lass, ye must ken I always carry some whisky with me when I go out to the woods,” He smiled back to her, still unable to believe she was right there in front of him and could barely contain his happiness.
Claire patted the tree log as an invitation for him to sit next to her.
“I’ve been here for a while and thought I had missed you, but I’m glad I didn’t. I hope this is ok?”
“Dinna fash, lass, this is indeed a verra nice surprise. I didn’t expect to see ye again until next time you were visiting, or maybe not even then.”
“Well…” she turned to her right to look at him.
“Claire,” he said her name slowly, like if he was pronouncing a sacred word. “I don’t want to leave yer mind to wonder…” he made a pause to find the right words and some more courage ”Because, for all I know, you could’ve been walking in a completely different direction but you weren’t, and I found ye and…” He grabbed her hand and took it into his in the most delicate way, “I don’t want to let you go just like that.”
“I’m here now, Jamie, and it’s crazy because we just met two days ago and now I’m sitting next to you on Christmas Day and I don’t even know what I’m doing but I just felt I had to be here today and-” She felt the warmth of Jamie’s hands on each side of her face and just couldn't keep talking any longer. Lost in his blue ocean eyes she felt at home, safe, and at the same time ready to jump into the depths of the unknown. She closed her eyes at the feeling of his thumbs caressing her cheeks.
And then, a kiss. A first kiss so pure, so full of care and devotion that Claire lost the notion of her own body. All she could see when she opened her eyes was Jamie and his eyes like open doors to his soul.
“It feels like my heart is going to burst any time now, Claire.” He said in a whisper, closing his eyes. She took a hand to his chest and kissed him again.
This time the kiss was more needy and desperate, more like a goodbye kiss. There was no trace of delicacy on their lips, clashing in a fight to get closer and closer, tongues meeting in the middle of that battle trying to imprint the way their mouths tasted so they wouldn’t forget.
They stopped at some point to gasp for air, foreheads touching, eyes staring at each other in some sort of ecstasy.
“Please don’t leave.” Jamie pleaded.
“I don't want to, but I must,” she kissed his forehead and got up “Geillis is waiting for me to go get lunch and then take me to the airport.”
“I know.” He looked disappointed. “At least let me drive ye back?”
“Of course, that would be nice.”
They walked under the trees shade holding hands, enjoying every second, taking in every detail so they wouldn’t forget, so it stayed with them until the next time.
“Claire, would ye give me yer phone number? I’d very much like to call you sometime if that’s alright.”
She gave him the warmest smile and then a last kiss before getting out of the car.
“I already did,” she said, amused by Jamie’s confusion. “I left it with your ancestors. Hope to hear from you soon. Goodbye, Jamie”
“Goodbye, Claire.” he replied as he watched her walk away, trying to memorize the scent she had left behind.
As soon as Jamie got to Lallybroch after leaving Claire, he rushed back to the forest glade knowing she had left something for him there. Totally delighted by her lovely and very original ways to do things, he got closer to the yew tree searching for a clue leading to her phone number.
First, he looked where the fallen log was. Nothing. Then he got closer to the tree examining every inch until he saw it, his heart skipping several beats.
Carved in the yew tree, the very same tree several members of his family carved their couples initials on with the hope of an everlasting love, there was a letter ‘C’ and a plus sign. Not too far from that letter, tangled in one of the roots, there was a piece of paper with a phone number.
Jamie smiled until his face hurt, feeling like he was in a dream.
Before leaving the forest glade, he carved a letter ‘J’ next to the ‘C’.
Him and her, on the yew tree. His brown haired lass.
Mo Nighean Donn.