“In a church of my own we're perfect together I recognize you in the stained glass.”
With a sigh I turned to rest my forehead against the small window adjacent to me, rolling my eyes at the inevitable rush of passengers jumping out of their seats two point five seconds after the fasten your seatbelts sign turned off.
Jesus H. We’d all be getting off the plane eventually. Obnoxiously standing in the aisle did nothing to speed up the process.
I was tired and famished (neither of which held any weight on mood improvement) and after several flight delays, it had been a very long day.
A light snow shower had begun to fall and I debated the decision to spend the night in the city. The drive to Lallybroch was a twisting and winding route, difficult to navigate in the dark even for those long familiar to it. Definitely an endeavour more suited for fresh, rested eyes and daylight.
Christmas with the Fraser-Murrays was a tradition and one of my favorite times of the year. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks.
My long-time girlfriend, Jenny Murray, had insisted I spend Christmas with her family the year my Uncle Lamb passed away. To know Jenny is to understand that once her mind is set, there is little to no choice in the matter. Not a Christmas had passed since then that I didn’t spend at Lallybroch.
Lamb was my only family. I’d been an orphan since I was a child, but that term never held any significant meaning to me. I was so young when they died, memories of both my parents were few. Like a slideshow on a viewfinder replaying the same projections over and over, the images growing blurry and faded with time.
When my phone rang at 2:46 a.m. (I still remember the exact digits glaring in the darkness of my bedroom), my guts churned. The nurse’s tone was gentle on the opposite end, informing me my uncle had slipped away peacefully. Lamb had strict DNR orders. There would have been no “we did everything we could.”
Claire Beauchamp. Orphan. For the very first time, I felt, I was, truly alone.
With shaky fingers, I scrolled the contacts in my phone and dialed a number I hadn’t for some time, but could have quoted the digits in my sleep. Jamie answered after a moment, his voice sleep-husky. I apologized for calling in the middle of the night and only managed to croak out the word “Lamb” before the dam broke and I burst into tears.
“Claire, mo nighean donn, I’m so sorry”, he murmured.
He drove an hour that night just to lie in bed with me while I sobbed until I choked, soaking his shirt with snot and tears.
To an outsider, I’d struggle to pin down a definition of Jamie Fraser’s place in my life. As Jenny’s little brother, naturally we’d grown up together. My Uncle was a wanderer, an explorer; yet he had traded in his wanderlust for a home with four walls and a stable childhood for his niece. I met the Fraser siblings on my first day in a new school. Jenny sat next to me in class and offered to share her favorite colored pencils. We’d become instant friends.
Jamie was a year younger than Jenny and me, but we had always gravitated towards each other. Our friendship was different from what I shared with Jenny in an inexplicable way. Two souls finding a home in each other.
We were each other’s first kiss. First everything.
At sixteen, when my crush bailed on a date, Jamie refused to let me sit at home devastated. Pulling together an impromptu dinner by the lake behind his home, we spent that evening floating in our swimsuits while he listened to me wallow in teenage angst, interjecting sympathy at all the right moments. He was a balm to my bruised heart.
We lost our virginity to each other on a humid, summer evening when I was seventeen. Boredom at one in the morning resulted in the two of us sneaking whisky from his father’s cabinet and listening to music in Jamie’s car; and kissing that led to wandering hands and lips and an awkwardly sweet first time. I didn’t regret it, and to this day I smile when my mind drifts back to that night. As I lay there with him afterwards (Jamie was a cuddler, to the surprise of absolutely no one), while Elton John’s “Your Song” played on the stereo, I remember thinking he’d make some woman a really fantastic husband one day.
We never admitted to being in love with each other. We had never labeled ourselves. We saw other people. Best friends who had sex occasionally. It was simple to us. It didn’t need to be more.
I was on his doorstep, alcohol in hand, after he had called off his engagement to his girlfriend he’d met at university; admitting he didn’t love her like she deserved and refusing to let either of them go through with it. The red imprint of a slap on his cheek was still evident when he opened the door. The evening ended with Jamie crying on my shoulder in the center of his bed.
In our mid-twenties when his father died of a sudden heart attack, Jamie frantically begged me with pained, red rimmed eyes to distract him. “I have to get out of here, Claire, please.” We took off on a weekend road trip, driving aimlessly with no real destination in mind. On our way back to Lallybroch, Jamie abruptly pulled over to the side of the road, pulled me into an embrace, and hugged me and hugged me, mumbling something in Gaelic that I didn’t understand. I returned his gesture just as tightly, neither of us speaking. Despite the tragic circumstances, those two days are among my most treasured memories.
We knew what we were to each other; and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, should I need him for anything, no matter where I was, he would find a way to make it happen. Just as I would for him.
Our careers had relocated us to different cities. Phone calls, texts, and FaceTime became less and less of a regular occurrence. I hadn’t seen him since the previous Christmas. I missed my friend and was eager to get off this plane and start my holiday.