Chapter 1: The Kid With the Invisible Friend
Real isn’t how you are made. It’s something that happens to you.
Sometimes it hurts, but when you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.
It doesn’t happen all at once.
-Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
I stared at the chart and frowned.
“Delusions, hallucinations... defiance ? Defiance isn’t a medical problem. Certainly not in a…” I checked the age of the patient. “ Ten year old?”
“I didn’t write that part,” my coworker and friend, Joe said. “But the rest of it…”
“...Sounds more like a case for a psychiatrist, not a doctor,” I finished, returning the file to his desk before turning to go.
“Claire,” Joe called me back, and it was enough to give me pause, since he so very rarely used my first name. It was either Dr. Beauchamp in public, or his funny nickname for me; Lady Jane, when we were alone.
“You’re one of the best diagnosticians in the country,” he reminded me. “You really think this file would have made its way to you if every other avenue hadn’t been exhausted?”
I crossed my arms. It wasn’t that I was just resisting treating the child, but I had patients coming out of my ears already, and I was, quite honestly, getting exhausted. I didn’t like wasting my time on cases that could easily be handled by someone else. It wasn’t heartlessness, just practicality.
“What is it?” I asked him. “There’s some reason this means something to you, and I want to know what it is before I take the case. What, his parents big donors to the hospital or something?”
Joe smiled. He knew me well enough to know I would take the case. “Or something,” he said. “Kid doesn’t even have parents. He’s in the foster system.”
“Oh…” I replied flatly, beginning to understand. Joe himself had spent a bulk of his childhood and adolescence in foster care, until a good family finally adopted him at the practically un-adoptable age of fifteen. Naturally, it had giving him a special soft-spot for any child going through the same thing.
And I could certainly sympathize with an orphan. I was lucky enough to have a loving uncle willing to take me in when I suddenly became orphaned at five years old, but if it hadn’t been for him, I would have just been shuffled into the system like all the rest.
“So no, no one is putting up big funds for this kid,” Joe continued. “He’s been dismissed as a behavioral case by every other doctor he’s seen, but his case worker seems convinced that it’s a medical issue, not a behavioral one. No one is helping this kid because...no one cares. The case worker is an old friend of mine, she asked me personally if I could help. I can’t, but I thought maybe you can .”
I sighed and let my shoulders droop. “Oh fine ,” I said. “Have Rachel set up an appointment, but for now I have to go. Frank’s going to be pissed as hell if I’m late for our date again.”
“Oh, of course, can’t keep Frank waiting,” Joe droned, earning a glare from me.
It was no secret that he wasn’t Frank’s biggest fan, though he kept his opinions mostly to himself. But it was bullshit, because Frank was never anything but nice to Joe.
I took the file back from him and left, flipping through it on my way to the elevator.
According to his case worker, his hallucinations and delusions had persisted for as long as she’d known him, which was since he was seven years old. But they’d never caused a problem until recent months.
I rocked my head from side to side, considering. If it was a mental disorder such of schizophrenia, or even something milder like autism, it would make sense that issues with behavior or aggression would increase as the the boy neared puberty. I still felt like a therapist would be better equipped to diagnose him, but if no one else was taking it seriously, then I would.
I hurried into the restaurant, sort of hoping that Frank would be in the middle of a work call and wouldn’t have noticed my tardiness. But no such luck, the poor man was sitting at the table for two, staring off into the distance.
“I’m sorry,” I said, taking a seat opposite him. “Traffic was a bear.”
Frank nodded. “Yeah, I heard there was an accident on the highway.”
I was a little surprised. Frank was normally highly annoyed whenever I was late, and never tried to hide it.
“How was work?” I asked, picking up the menu.
Frank launched right into a rundown of his day, sharing a funny story about one of his students that came into class hungover but tried valiantly to hide it, and I relaxed, glad I wasn’t in the doghouse again .
Frank and I had been together for four years, having met by chance at Harvard while I was there presenting a lecture to medical students and he was on his way to teach his 8am history class. He was nothing like what I’d envisioned for myself in a life partner. He was quiet, serious, and taught my least favorite subject. But he was intelligent, responsible, had his shit together (unlike most men I’d dated,) plus, he was good in bed. We got along fairly well, had fun together, and respected one another professionally.
I suppose the only issues in our relationship were our challenges with etching out quality time together with our busy schedules (okay, it was mostly my busy schedule,) and his complete abohorrance of marriage.
His parents’ marriage had been a disaster, he said, and he had no desire to follow in their footsteps. I tried to reason with myself that it didn’t really matter if we got married as long as we were happy together, but sometimes it did make me sad that I wouldn’t get to have the whole wedding experience; white dress, big cake, the whole shebang.
Our other issue was a bit more of a sore spot…
“How’s your calendar looking?” he asked.
I chuckled. “Sometimes I can’t tell if you’re asking about my work schedule or my fertility schedule.”
“Well, they do have to match up,” he chuckled. “It wouldn’t do us any good if one schedule said ‘good to go’ and the other one didn’t.”
I laughed. “Good point. Actually, this is a good night.”
Frank smiled, pleased, and motioned the waiter for the check.
A year and a half ago, we’d decided that we wanted a baby. We were in good places financially, in a stable relationship, and it just felt right. It had all been so exciting those first couple of months. I took myself off birth control and we went at it like rabbits. But as time wore on, and nothing happened, the excitement wore off and anxiety settled in.
I’d wanted to go to a fertility doctor, but Frank was still hesitant about it. My OBGYN and friend, Geillis, suggested an app we could use to track the times of the month I was most fertile, so I’d been keeping careful track of my ovulation and the times we were intimate. It had only been a couple of months, so I hadn’t lost hope just yet, but every time I started my period, I felt defeated.
When we got back to the condo we shared, we went about our typical evening routine. Showers, teeth brushing, checking emails, packing lunches for the next day.
When we got into bed, Frank immediately pulled me into his arms, kissing me. I admit, I wasn’t really in the mood, but I did my best to give myself over to him and let the sensations relax me after my long day of work.
We were both able to settle into peaceful sleep after, hopeful that maybe this time would be the time.
I entered the examination room, smiling at my young patient.
Fergus St. Germain was born in the United States, but his France-native mother had taken him back to her country shortly after he was born. After she died of a drug overdose when Fergus was five, he was shipped back to America to live with his father. But the father, sadly, had no interest in raising a child, and turned him over to the system.
The boy sat on the bed cross-legged, peering at me through a curtain of dark wavy hair that hung in his face. He was a cute little thing; big blue eyes, freckles on his nose, and a quirk to his mouth which made him look like trouble - but in a good way.
“Hello, Fergus,” I said. “I’m Dr. Beauchamp. How are you, today?”
Fergus glanced off to the side, and then his face scrunched up and he laughed.
I looked over at his case worker, a woman by the name of Louise de la Tour, who shrugged. “He does that a lot,” she said.
“Fergus,” I repeated his name, trying to get his attention. “How do you feel?”
“Fine,” he said. “I’m not sick.”
I gave him a long look, needing to remind myself that this wasn’t one of my usual cases. I didn’t often treat children, but I supposed if I ever wanted to be a mother, I needed to learn how to talk to one.
“Oh,” I said. “Then why are you here?”
Fergus looked at me in surprise. Clearly he hadn’t been expecting such a question.
“I guess because Mr. and Mrs. Grant say I’m crazy.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Grant?” I asked, glancing at Ms. de la Tour.
“His most recent foster parents,” she explained. “He’s currently in a group home.”
I looked back at the child. “Why did Mr. and Mrs. Grant say you’re crazy?”
“Because they can’t see Jamie, and I can.”
“Jamie?” I asked. “Who’s Jamie?”
Fergus’s eyes cut over to the corner of the room, and despite myself, I followed his line of sight, seeing, of course, nothing.
“Jamie is his...imaginary friend,” Ms. de la Tour said.
It certainly wasn’t unheard of for a child to have imaginary friends, though I supposed ten was a little old for it. But still, I didn’t see how that was a problem for a doctor.
“Why don’t you tell me about him?” I asked Fergus.
Fergus perked up, seeming happy that someone was taking an interest. “His full name is James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. He’s from Scotland and he thinks you’re really pretty.”
Fergus cackled and leaned away, as if this person in question was cuffing him for saying that.
“Well…” I said, smiling. “Tell him thank you for me. Does Jamie ever tell you to do anything bad?”
Fergus scowled at me. “Of course not!”
“Do you...ever have any headaches? Dizziness? Do you ever see anything else that other people say isn’t there?”
Fergus shook his head after each question.
“Well...if it’s okay with you, we’re going to run a couple of tests, just to be sure.”
Fergus glanced to the side again, as if seeking council from his invisible friend. “Okay,” he said at last.
Once the nurse came in to take Fergus to his MRI, I wheeled the little stool around and sat facing his case worker.
“In Fergus’s file, it says that his delusions have recently caused issues with aggression. Can you elaborate on that?”
“Fergus is a sweet boy,” Louise said. “Truly, innately kind. But the past three homes he’s been placed in have complained of, quote, ‘disturbing behavior.’ Temper tantrums, fighting with his foster siblings, stealing, and other...unusual behavior. But that’s not even what they say is the reason they’ve sent him back. It all stems back to Jamie . This isn’t a typical childhood imaginary friend. Fergus really thinks that Jamie is there, and he becomes very agitated when that’s disputed.”
I sighed, folding my hands. “I have to tell you, I’m really not sure that this is a medical issue.”
Louise sighed as well. “A ten year old boy...already aged out of the most adoptable stage. A ten year old boy with a medical condition...even more difficult, but the sympathy factor is bound to reel in some well-to-do family, especially considering his cute face. But a ten year old boy with a mental disorder? He wouldn’t stand a chance.”
Finally I understood. Ms. de la Tour was just hoping something was wrong with Fergus medically, as twisted as that sounded. What was really sad was that she hoped that, because she cared.
“I get what you’re saying,” I said. “But I can’t fabricate something medically wrong with Fergus. Obviously I want to rule out a brain tumor, but I really don’t think that’s the case.”
“But you can check,” Louise said. “You can talk to him. Just...check.”
I offered her a smile. “I can certainly check.”
I sent the case worker to the cafe to get some lunch, and when Fergus came back from his MRI, I went to see him.
“Did it look like I was getting eaten by a monster?” he was saying, though there was no one else in the room. “No, it didn’t hurt.”
“Hey,” I said, announcing my arrival.
Fergus looked away from the side of his bed to me, and smiled. “Hi, Dr. Beauchamp.”
I walked in and sat on the edge of the bed. “How’s it going?”
“Are you a Sassenach?” Fergus asked suddenly.
I blinked, taken aback. “Am I a...” I chuckled. “God, I haven’t heard that word in forever. Where did you hear that?”
“Jamie called you that,” he said. “What does it mean?”
“From what I understand, it’s not all that complimentary. But basically, it means an English person, which is what I am.”
“He doesn’t mean it bad,” Fergus said, face scrunched in contrition.
I smiled again. “I didn’t think so. Your case worker says you’ve had some problems with your last couple of foster homes. Did Jamie cause any of that?”
Fergus shook his head. “No. It wasn’t his fault. All Jamie has ever done is look out for me.”
The boy said this so firmly, so seriously, that it gave me a chill. He really did believe that this ‘Jamie’ was a real person, and I found myself looking to the other side of the room, where Fergus had looked, and I mentally berated myself for being so fanciful.
“Jamie said that maybe he should leave,” Fergus said quietly. “That maybe I wouldn’t get into so much trouble if he wasn’t around. But I’m the only one who can see him.”
“How long have you seen him?”
“Ever since I came here after my Maman died,” he said.
I patted his knee. “Well, I don’t think Jamie ought to leave just yet.”
Fergus grinned. Beamed, really. “You hear that?” he said to the other side of the room. “If the doctor says it, you have to listen.”
Fergus’s MRI and blood tests all came out normal. There was nothing to indicate he was anything but a perfectly healthy ten year old boy. I did some extra reading on schizophrenia and other mental disorders, as well as neonatal abstinence syndrome, but Fergus didn’t have the right markers for any of those. If I had to wager a guess I’d say he could have ADD, but I was far from an expert on that and besides, attention-deficit-disorder didn’t cause hallucinations.
There wasn’t much I could do for him, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I wasn’t naive enough to think that his behavioral issues weren’t there just because in the hour total I’d been around him, he’d been nothing but sweet and respectful, but I couldn’t help but feel like any issues he had weren’t his fault, and were unrelated to ‘Jamie’.
I’d had an imaginary friend as a young child. Not uncommon for an only child. Her name was ‘Lacey’ and whenever I did something wrong; ate biscuits before dinner, broke a lamp, tripped a boy on the playground, I blamed it on Lacey. But I knew, really, that Lacey wasn’t real. I had imagined what she looked like, but I couldn’t actually see her. And by the time I was six and a half, I’d forgotten all about her. Fergus appeared to see Jamie as plainly as he could see me, but if that was true, then it was completely outside of my expertise and out of my hands.
I tried my best to put him out of my mind, but he would sneak in unexpectedly, with those sparkling blue eyes and that watered down but still noticeable French accent.
I never would have expected the page not even a month later that led me to the emergency room where Fergus was being brought in, with a broken arm.
“What are you doing down here, Dr. B?” Dr. Allen, one of the ER docs asked. It was true; I was rarely in the ER, outside of multi-car accidents and the weird night when everyone else was out sick.
“I heard you had a friend of mine,” I said. “Fergus St. Germain?”
Dr. Allen smiled. “Ah, the kid? Yeah, he’s in bed twelve. Just got back from x-ray.”
I tapped on the wall outside of the curtained area around bed twelve before pushing the curtain aside and stepping through. Louise was sitting on the plastic chair beside Fergus’s bed, and the boy himself was propped up by several pillows, the injured but yet un-casted arm covered up with a towel.
“Fancy meeting you here,” I said breezily.
Fergus’s face split into a wide grin, and it was adorably dopey thanks to the pain medication he’d been given. “Hi, Sassenach!” he exclaimed.
“Dr. Beauchamp,” Louise corrected.
“It’s alright,” I told her with a smile. “So what happened?”
Fergus’s smile fell, and his glance to the side informed me that ‘Jamie’, too, was present.
“He got into a fight with his foster brother,” Louise said, looking tired. “Fell down some stairs.”
I looked at Fergus again, and his brow was scrunched up in anger.
“Ms. de la Tour,” I said. “Do you want to go get some coffee while I’m sitting with Fergus?”
Louise looked relieved at the offer of a break. “I think I will, thanks. Fergus, want me to bring you anything?”
“Chocolate chip cookie?” the boys asked hopefully.
“Tell you what,” she said, standing and throwing her bag over her shoulder. “I’ll bring you two.”
After Louise walked out, I sat on the edge of Fergus’s bed, like I did before.
“Alright, kid, spill,” I said. “You didn’t really fall down the stairs, did you?”
Fergus’s eyes widened and looked aside. “Are you talking to her?”
“No, he’s not,” I said, arching a brow. “Let’s just say I’m perceptive.”
“Some cash went missing from Mr. Banner’s sock drawer,” Fergus said with a sigh. “Aiden is who stole it, and he was going to buy weed and blame it all on me. I confronted him, we fought, and he pushed me down the stairs.”
I shook my head, my heart clenching. “W...why didn’t you tell Ms. de la Tour that?”
Fergus bit his lower lip. “Because the reason I knew what Aiden was doing was because…” he looked away.
“Because Jamie told you?” I prompted.
The tech arrived to put a cast on Fergus’s arm, so I got out of the way.
“Is he okay?” Louise asked, arriving with a little paper bag in her hand.
I nodded. “He’s getting his cast, he’ll be fine. He told me that he was pushed down the stairs, by his foster brother.”
Louise sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Dr. Beauchamp, I know what you must be thinking, but Fergus’s foster brother wasn’t even home when this happened. I just don’t know what I’m going to do about him. This was his fifth home in three months. One of them only lasted four days. I’m out of options.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“I mean I’m out of options,” she said. “I have no more foster homes available right now. He’s going to go back into the group home and…” she huffed and crossed her arms. “Despite their best efforts...it’s a rough place to be. Those kids, they’re all older. Bigger. All from broken homes. And Fergus, with a broken arm…”
“What does it take to be a foster parent?” I blurted suddenly.
Louise blinked. “What...do you mean you ?”
Admittedly, I’d spoken without really thinking, but the more I let it sink in, the more I was sure it was right. “I...yes. I’m financially stable, I have a spare room. I have...well, I have a boyfriend that I live with, but we’ve been in a committed relationship for four years, and we’ve actually been trying to have a child. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to take in a foster child.”
Louise’s eyes widened. “Dr. Beauchamp, if you’re sure , then...yes. There’s an application process, of course. House checks, background checks, all of that. But I can get all of that expedited. I mean, I trust Joe, and he gave you a glowing recommendation. Truth is...he needs somewhere to go tonight …”
“Okay,” I said, my mind whirling with logistics. “Just...tell me what I need to do.”
Louise smiled. “This is wonderful, Dr. Beauchamp but...are you sure ?”
“Yes,” I said firmly. “I’m sure.”
Chapter 2: Garbage Bag Suitcase
Claire is excited for Fergus’s arrival, but disappointed in Frank’s reaction.
Thank you for all the kind comments on the first chapter!!!
I’d like to note that I’m taking a very “movie-ish” approach to foster care. There’s obviously a lot more involved in becoming a foster parent than just “my friend trusts you and you seem nice, so please take in this orphan!” Lol.
Also, special shoutout to everyone who commented about how Frank is going to react to this 😆
“You what ?!”
“I thought you’d be happy,” I said, feeling at a loss.
I taken off after talking to Louise to go home, talk to Frank, and get the spare room set up for our new ‘guest.’
“Happy?” Frank asked sarcastically. “You thought I’d be happy that you sprung something like this on me? This isn’t like bringing home a stray puppy, Claire. You’re talking about taking in a kid . And not just any kid, but a kid with problems.”
“Fergus is a sweet boy,” I said. “Yeah he’s had some issues, but if he were put into a good home with good people…”
“Oh I see, you think you’ll be able to fix him? He’s not sick, Claire. At least, not sick in a way you can treat.”
“I don’t understand. We’ve been trying for over a year to get pregnant…”
“With our child,” Frank broke in. “I want to have our child, Claire. My child. The fact that you don’t understand the difference…”
“I know it’s different,” I hissed. “But we don’t have a child, and this child needs us right now!”
Frank shook his head, and waved a hand to dismiss me. “He can stay the weekend,” he said. “But that’s it.”
He turned and stalked to our bedroom, leaving me standing there stunned and speechless. True, I hadn’t thought Frank was going to be particularly happy that this was so happening so suddenly, without time to properly prepare, and I wouldn’t have even blamed him for being upset that I hadn’t talked to him before agreeing to it, but it had never occurred to me that he would just reject the idea completely without even giving it, and Fergus, a chance.
At that point, all I could do was hope Fergus would win him over as surely as he did me, and change Frank’s mind.
It was after nine that night when came the knock on the door.
Fergus stood there, shuffling his feet nervously, a bright blue cast on his left arm. Behind him stood Louise, holding a garbage bag of all things.
“Here we are,” she said cheerfully, a nervous look on her face, no doubt afraid that I’d changed my mind after having time to think about it.
“Hey, Fergus!” I said, stepping aside to let them in. “Come on in! You must be tired.”
Fergus nodded, his eyelids already drooping.
“He’s already had dinner,” Louise said. “Here’s his medication, and I’m sure you know all about how to take care of the cast. And here’re his things.”
I looked down, realizing she was handing me the black plastic bag. “In a garbage bag?”
Louise smiled apologetically. “If I could afford to buy them all suitcases, I would. But it gets the job done, right, Fergus?”
Fergus nodded again, wandering tentatively around the living room, peering at the pictures on the end table.
“Frank,” I called. “Could you come in here and meet Fergus?”
I’d told Frank that under no circumstances was he to let on to Fergus or Louise that he didn’t want the boy there, and he’d agreed for propriety’s sake if nothing else.
Frank came in, shaking Louise’s hand and nodding at Fergus, who nodded back with exaggerated primness that made me smile.
Louise caught on to it too, and knelt down to him, giving him a stern look before it melted into one of genuine concern. “You’re going to be okay here, you know? Behave yourself, and do as Dr. Beauchamp and Mr. Randall say, alright?”
Fergus nodded. “Thank you, Louise.”
Louise kissed Fergus’s forehead and stood. We then went on a brief tour of the house, and I saw her nod in approval at Fergus’s bedroom. I hadn’t had time to learn all of the rules for fostering, but I knew a bed of his own was of utmost importance. Granted, I wouldn’t have even considered this arrangement if I couldn’t offer him a room and space to call his own.
“I guess I’ll go and let you all get settled,” Louise said, looking like she wished she could drag her feet longer. I didn’t blame her; it was an emergency placement on the recommendation of her trusted friend, but it still must have been nerve-wracking for her. “I’ll call tomorrow though, just to see how he is.”
“Of course,” I said, walking her to the door. “We’ll take good care of him.”
“Please do,” Louise said sincerely, and then was gone.
“So,” I clapped my hands once, turning to face where Fergus and Frank were staring one another down. “Are you still hungry, Fergus? Would you like a little snack before bed?”
Fergus perked up at the suggestion. “Yes!”
I led him into the kitchen, pointing out where various necessary things were located. “And don’t be afraid to help yourself to anything. I fear we keep things pretty healthy around here, you might just have to get used to that. But if you tell me what some of your favorite snacks are, I can pick them up at the store tomorrow.”
Fergus stared wide-eyed at the big black refrigerator, but then his eyes widened further when he opened it to find it well stocked with fruits, vegetables, juice, yogurt, etc.
“Claire,” Frank hissed at me while Fergus was rooting around. “Don’t give a ten year old free access to the fridge. He’ll eat us out of house and home.”
“If he does, it's because he needs it,” I hissed back. “He’s a growing boy. It’s not like we can’t afford it.”
“I know,” Fergus said. “Do you remember the Andersons?”
“What was that?” I asked.
Fergus looked up at me sheepishly. “Sorry...not you, Dr. Beauchamp. I was talking to…”
“Jamie, right,” I said, nodding. “What was that you were saying, about the Andersons?”
Fergus wrinkled his nose. “They kept a padlock on the fridge.”
I huffed. “Well you’ll find no such thing here. Have you found something you want?”
He didn’t seem all that interested in what was in the fridge, but then his head whipped around like he heard something, and he turned back to me hopefully. “Could I have one of the scones?”
“Oh, of course,” I said, moving toward the counter. “I forgot we…” I paused, reaching behind the coffee maker where the box of scones was, then looked back over my shoulder at Fergus. “How did you see these?”
“I know it probably looks a little girly,” I said to Fergus as he climbed into the bed. In truth the guest room was fairly neutral in decoration, but the bedspread was rose pink, and there was an antique wardrobe with roses carved into it that had, until that evening, held some of my clothes that didn’t fit into the closet I shared with Frank. “But we can pick out new bed things, and anything else you like to make it a little more your own.”
Fergus shrugged. “It’s okay, you don’t have to go to any trouble. I know I won’t be here long.”
I frowned. “Why do you say that?”
“I never stay anywhere long. And Mr. Randall doesn’t like me.”
“That’s just not true,” I said firmly. “He doesn’t know you. And he’s not really very experienced with children. Neither am I, for that matter. Just give him time. I want you to try and feel at home here, Fergus.”
“Thanks, Dr. Beauchamp, but...it’s really better if I don’t. No offense, you’re really nice but…” he looked away. “It’s okay. At least I get to keep Jamie with me.”
I smiled, even though my heart was breaking a little. “That’s a very good thing. Would you like to tell me a little more about him? Is Jamie a little boy, like you?”
Fergus shook his head. “No, he’s grown up, like you. He’s really tall, with red hair. And he wears a kilt, which looks like a skirt but…” Fergus flinched away, laughing. “But he hates it when I say that! He’s always around to take care of me. He even stopped me from falling all the way down the stairs.”
“How...how did he stop you? Are you saying he can move things?”
I was wary of challenging Fergus, not wanting him to think I didn’t believe him, but I was curious about what he’d say. “Could he move something right now? Like...that picture on the wall?”
Fergus grimaced. “He can’t do it all the time. If he does it once, he can’t do it again for a while. He has to recharge, sort of. Like a battery. He’s still tired from saving me, and besides, he likes to save it for when it’s important, and he doesn’t like to scare people.”
“Right, that makes sense,” I said, fighting a smile. “Well, it’s very late, and you’ve had a very long day. How’s your pain?”
He looked at his cast, giving it a little pat. “Not so bad.”
“Good. Now, I’m just across the hall, okay? Call out, or come find me if you need anything . You won’t bother me.”
Fergus smiled, his cheeks dimpling. “I will. Thank you...Sassenach.”
Chuckling, I stood to go, passing by the mirror on the side of the wardrobe. When I did, I could have sworn I saw something reflected there that wasn’t me or Fergus, but when I looked again, all I saw was myself, staring in confusion. I looked at Fergus again, who was watching me with a knowing grin.
“Goodnight,” I said, trying not to act like I was running from the room.
When I shut the door behind me, I shook my head, feeling silly for letting Fergus’s imagination make my own go into overdrive.
After tucking Fergus in, I retired to the bedroom I shared with Frank, who was scowling at me from over his phone.
“What?” I asked shortly. “Come on, he is a perfectly pleasant little boy.”
“He’s ten and he talks to an imaginary friend,” Frank said. “I overheard you just now. Claire, we can’t keep a child like that in our home . What if he snaps or something?”
“Will you keep your voice down? He’ll hear you! And for Christ’s sake, Frank, you can’t honestly expect me to believe you’re scared of him. He weighs sixty pounds, if that.”
“Like you haven’t heard the horror stories. We should keep our door locked.”
I shook my head, suddenly feeling loath to get into bed with him, but the sofa in the living room wasn’t the most comfortable and our guest room was occupied. “Forget it. Fergus needs to be able to come in if he needs me for anything. You’re just going to have to deal with it.”
“What do you plan to do with him on Sunday? You work that day.”
I didn’t respond, but he quickly picked up on my expression and he shook his head. “Oh no. He’s your project, Claire. I won’t be responsible for him.”
I had originally believed that Frank would be willing to look after him on Sunday, and hoped that it would let them bond a little, but I saw then that that had been a foolish thought.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said glumly, crawling into bed but turning my back on Frank and remaining at the very edge of the mattress. “I’ll figure it out.”
Frank was gone early the next morning, claiming he had work to do at school, but that was just fine with me.
To say I was disappointed in Frank’s reaction to Fergus was putting it mildly. True, I shouldn’t have sprung it on him without discussing it first, but it had just honestly never occurred to me that a man who wanted a child so badly would hesitate to open up his home to one in need, especially considering the possibility that a biological child might not even happen.
I’d worn pajamas to bed instead of my usual t-shirt or nothing, in case Fergus had come in the night, and when I got out of bed I took care to put on a robe as well, not entirely sure what the protocol was when you brought a young boy into your house.
But as I was splashing water in my face, I thought I caught a whiff of something burning, and just when I was beginning to wonder what it was, it grew suddenly much stronger and I flew out of my room and to the kitchen which was becoming engulfed in dark smoke, making it there right as the smoke alarm started up.
“Fergus?!” I shrieked, darting through the smoke to find the fire extinguisher.
“I’m sorry!” he exclaimed, and I found him standing beside the stove, clouds of smoke rising up from a skillet, but no flames.
Discarding the fire extinguisher, I snatched the skillet off the burner, scalding my palm in process.
“ Fuck !” I snapped, tossing the skillet and what looked have once been bacon into the sink before throwing open the window.
That taken care of, I switched off the stove, then grabbed the broom to take a swing at the smoke alarm, beating it ruthlessly with my uninjured hand until it finally shut up.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I breathed, cradling my hand. “Fergus...what the hell happened ?”
“I’m sorry,” he said again, his voice shaking. I turned to look at him, and he was standing in the corner of the kitchen on the other side of the table, practically cowering. “I’m sorry!”
Everything in me simply deflated, and as my own panic faded, I could see the fear in his eyes, and it broke my heart.
“Fergus…” I began softly. “It’s...it’s alright. I’m not angry. I was just frightened, that’s all.”
“I didn’t mean to,” he said, on the verge of tears. “I just...I just...I thought I’d make you breakfast...to thank you. Jamie was trying to tell me how but he didn’t know how to use your stove, and it was hard with just one hand and...and…”
I went and sat in a chair near him, beckoning him closer, but letting him come to me instead of the other way around. After a moment of hesitation, he came up to me, wringing his hands.
“That was really sweet of you to try,” I said. “I gotta say, I can’t remember the last time someone made me breakfast!”
Fergus sniffed, but then he frowned. “Not even Mr. Randall?”
I chuckled and shrugged. “We both stay so busy, we hardly ever eat breakfast together, much less make it for one another. It’s something I’ve wanted to change but…change isn’t always so easy, you know?”
He nodded in understanding. “I’m really sorry. So is Jamie, he wants you to know that.”
“Well, tell Jamie I forgive him, and I forgive you, too. Just...next time, I’d rather you ask for help. I just wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Like you…” he said worriedly, leaning over to look at my hand. “You’re hurt!”
“Just a little burn,” I said, showing him my reddened palm and the small blister forming there. “Luckily, I’m a doctor.”
“Jamie says that pouring milk on it will help.”
I nodded. “Jamie’s right, that does help to take the sting out, but I have some salve in my bathroom that’ll do the trick too. You didn’t burn yourself anywhere, did you?”
He shook his head. “But I burned all of the bacon. What are we going to have for breakfast?”
“Why don’t we go out? There’s a cafe right down the street that makes the best pastries. We can walk there.”
“Okay!” he said excitedly.
“Go change, and I’ll go take care of this and get ready.”
Leaving the mess for later, I went to my bathroom to apply salve and a loose bandage to my palm, hissing in pain and frustration when I struggled to wrap it with my left hand. I suddenly got a weird feeling that I was being watched, and turned around, thinking Fergus had come into my bedroom, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Shaking myself, I hurried to Fergus’s room, worried he’d hurt himself, but he was just standing there in his jeans and holding his shirt in his right hand.
“I need help.”
Chuckling, I went to help him get his shirt on around his cast, but we were both struggling one-handed, and wound up laughing so hard we could hardly get anything done.
“Well, at least with your right hand, and my left hand, we can function as one person!”
“Barely,” he chuckled. “Do you need help?”
I gave him a sideways look, but realized by the look on his face that the question had been entirely innocent, and not some stupid trick other boys his age might try to pull to see an undressed woman.
“Thanks, but I think I can manage.”
“Better stay here this time, Jamie,” Fergus said. “I don’t think she wants you in there when she’s getting dressed .”
“Quite right,” I said lightly to cover up how unsettled I felt at the implication that Jamie had supposedly gone with me before, considering the funny feeling I’d gotten while bandaging my hand.
The cafe was just a couple of blocks away, but I marveled at how Fergus was just taking everything in around him, pointing out big houses, little dogs, kids on hoverboards.
“Most of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in are nothing like this,” he said. “Are you rich?”
I chuckled. “I’m comfortable.”
He watched a woman pushing a cat in a pram and laughed. “How come you don’t have any pets?”
“Frank doesn’t like them.”
“What, pets ? How do you not like any pets?” he asked. “It’s one thing not to like dogs but just...pets?”
“Well, we both stay so busy with work anyway, it wouldn’t really make sense to get a pet.”
Fergus glanced up to his right, then back at me. “But it made sense to get a kid?”
He caught me out, and I wasn’t really sure what to say. “I don’t know,” I said honestly, then held out a hand to stop him, then pulled him off to the side of the walkway. “Maybe I didn’t think this through at all, and I don’t know if it was right, but...if you’re ready to take a chance, then so am I.”
The corner of Fergus’s mouth quirked up in a smile. “ Je suis pres.”
I smiled back as we resumed walking. “That’s...I am ready, right? Are you fluent in French?”
Fergus held up his good hand palm-down and wagged it back and forth. “Ish. But that’s not why I say that. It’s Jamie’s clan motto.”
“Clan motto? Oh that’s right, you said he’s Scottish. Why does a Scottish clan have a French motto?”
“Beats me. He’s never given me a good answer for that.”
We reached the cafe, and the hostess asked for how many, and I said ‘two’ before taking it back, eyeing the small two-tops. “Make that three,” I amended.
“Three?” Fergus asked as we were shown to our table out on the porch. “Is Mr. Randall coming?”
“No,” I said, suddenly feeling a little foolish. “I just thought maybe Jamie would want to sit with us.”
Fergus gave his right side a wide-eyed look, then grinned. “He says thank you!”
My foolish feeling faded in the face of Fergus’s obvious pleasure. I didn’t know if indulging his fantasy this much was a good thing or not, but I had a feeling he’d experienced very little indulgence in his life, and for however long he was with me, I wanted to correct that a little.
We went to the grocery store and I let Fergus pick out whatever unhealthy foods he wanted, but he insisted I pick some of my own favorites as well, and together we loaded our cart with Doritos, Oreos, Cheez-wiz, and my contributions of brownie batter ice cream, dark chocolates, and the makings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Jamie’s suggestion, according to Fergus, was more bacon, so that we could give breakfast another try.
We spent that evening curled up on the couch watching Marvel movies and nearly making ourselves sick with junk food.
When Frank came home, Fergus was in a food coma, so I left him bundled up on the sofa for the night and turned in.
“I’m taking a personal day tomorrow,” I said to Frank. “On Monday, I’ll see about getting Fergus into the Boys and Girls Club, or something. I wonder what ages are allowed in the hospital daycare…”
“Whoa, wait, stop,” Frank said. “What Monday ? We agreed that this was just for the weekend.”
I sighed, having rather hoped that Frank would have at least softened to the idea of having Fergus around until another suitable placement could be found. “And what if Louise can’t find another foster by Monday? Frank, this boy has been shuffled around from home to home most of his life. I am not turning him out unless I know for damn sure he’s going into a good situation.”
Frank’s jaw clenched. “I didn’t agree to this, Claire.”
“I don’t know why you’re getting so upset!”
“I don’t know why you’re trying to manipulate me into something I don’t want! This is my house, too.”
“I know,” I said flatly. And he was right. If he really didn’t want to do this, it wasn’t fair of me to try and make him. It wasn’t fair to Frank, or to Fergus. I just didn’t know how I was going to tell Fergus.
Suddenly, our bedroom door flew open, and we both nearly jumped out of our skins. I stared, expecting Fergus to be there, but there was no one in the hall. And then, I thought I felt something touch my wrist. I looked at Frank, but he was standing a foot away.
“What the hell…” he said. “Must have been a draft.”
It was then I heard a clatter, and I went to go check on Fergus, concerned when I didn’t find him on the sofa.
“Fergus?” I called, hearing him moving around in the kitchen.
Figuring he was in search of a late night snack, I went in, prepared to tell him that he really shouldn’t eat any more junk, but I stopped dead in my tracks.
Fergus was sitting on the floor of the kitchen, rocking back and forth and hyperventilating...with a steak knife clinched in his fist.
“Fergus…” I said softly, not wanting to startle him. “Fergus, kid, what’s wrong? What are you doing?
But Fergus was just staring straight ahead, a blank look in his dilated eyes.
“Jesus Christ!” Frank exclaimed, grabbing my arm and pulling me back. “What the hell?!”
“Stop!” I snapped, snatching my arm away. “I think he’s asleep.”
“ Asleep ? He has a fucking knife!”
“Get out of here, Frank,” I growled, stepping over the spilled box of coffee pods that were scattered across the floor. “Fergus, hey…”
I was afraid of waking him too suddenly, in case he startled too badly and cut himself, but he was holding the knife dangerously close to his chest, and with the way he was rocking I was terrified of what might happen if I didn’t wake him up.
“Fergus, wake up…”
“No…” he murmured between gasps of breath.
“Fergus, honey, it’s alright...you’re safe...nothing’s going to hurt you…”
I knelt beside him, my hands fluttering around uncertainly for a moment until Fergus cried out and pressed the knife closer to his abdomen, so I didn’t hesitate and wrapped my hand around his, yanking it back at the same time I squeezed one of the fingers peeking out of his cast, trusting the slight pain to wake him up immediately.
I watched awareness and fear flood Fergus’s eyes, and his body jolted violently, but when he pulled his arm with surprising strength, his grip firm on the knife, it was flung up above his head, along with my hand still wrapped around his, and the knife flew from his fingers and went sailing across the room.
Fergus blinked rapidly, his breathing evening out. “Sassenach?” he said weakly.
“Shh…” I hushed him, pulling him into my arms. “It’s alright, you’re alright.”
I looked over his head at the knife laying on the floor, unable to make sense of the way it just flew out of his hand without him throwing it, and then at the coffee pods all over the floor, likely the cause of the clatter that led me to check on Fergus.
The box of coffee had been on top of the refrigerator. I couldn’t imagine how it had fallen off, and Fergus wasn’t nearly tall enough to reach it.
It was almost like...it had happened on purpose.
Chapter 3: In Which Frank is a Creep
Claire and Frank fight about Fergus, and Claire makes a decision that may change everything.
“I’m so sorry,” Louise said over the phone when I called her after getting Fergus into bed. “I should have said something. Fergus has sleepwalked before, but as far as I know nothing like that has ever happened. Did he say anything?”
“He had no memory of any of it,” I said. “I don’t even think he remembers holding the knife, but I didn’t want to say anything to him about it. I guess it’s my fault, I let him overdo it on the sweets. I know certain foods can be a trigger.”
“It’s not your fault,” she said. “I didn’t properly prepare you for this. I was too excited about finding him a safe place for the weekend with a doctor and a good person, I didn’t prepare you properly. I can come get him now, if need be.”
“No!” I exclaimed, then caught myself, lowering my voice. “No...it’s okay. No one was hurt. Does he have to go?”
“Well...no,” she said in surprise. “I just figured that was part of why you were calling.”
“It’s not his fault,” I said firmly. “I’m not sending him away.”
“I’m glad,” she said. “I’m going to pick him up in the morning, if that’s okay. I know you need to work, but I want to see if I can get him in to see his therapist.”
“Okay,” I said, my gut clenching. What was wrong with me? Frank had put his foot down about Fergus staying past Sunday, and yet there I was, committing even further. “I’m going to look into some day camps for him to go to while I’m at work.”
“Sounds good,” she said. “I know he likes horses, if that helps at all.”
“It does,” I said, thinking. I hadn’t figured he’d be into a sports camp, but I thought I knew of a few stables around that might have summer programs.
I hung up with Louise, then checked on Fergus, but he was sleeping soundly.
I returned to the kitchen to clean up, but it had already been done, and Frank was sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of whisky.
“When is she coming for him?” he asked.
I took a deep breath, and squared my shoulders. “She’s not, not tonight. Frank, please, can we at least talk…”
Frank shot me a disgusted look. “You can’t be serious. That kid had a knife !”
“He was sleepwalking ,” I said. “Having a night terror. It wasn’t his fault!”
“It doesn’t matter! That boy isn’t right in the head, Claire. There’s just something...not... right about him. I want him gone. Tonight.”
“What if we had a child, Frank?” I asked, crossing my arms. “And it turned out something wasn’t quite right about them? Would you send them away too?”
“No, because for one, neither of us have a family history of mental disease, I checked, so that’s unlikely. For two, it would be our child, so it’d be different!”
“ How ?” I demanded, letting the I checked slide for the moment being, but would revisit later. “Just because I push them out of my body? How does that make them more deserving of love than a child that’s alive right now and needing us?”
“I didn’t say he didn’t deserve it,” Frank snapped. “But it isn’t our responsibility to give it. We’re not his parents. It’s not our fault they were shit people. And besides, if we kept him, what happens when you get pregnant? No way in hell am I trusting that kid around our baby. No telling what he’ll be like the older he gets. For all we know, he could have been molested or something, and you know that can turn men into molesters.”
I took a step back, barely able to believe what I was hearing. It was like I was talking to another person. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“With me?!” he exclaimed. “I’m not the one suddenly obsessed with some random kid! You think you can fix him but you can’t , Claire.”
Frank blinked at me. “What?”
I took another step back. “I said get out. Stay with a friend, I don’t know, but I need some space to think.”
“A...are you fucking serious? I am not leaving!”
I stared him down. “The condo is under my name, Frank. You moved in with me , remember?”
“You’ve lost your mind. You cannot seriously be kicking me out because of that kid .”
I’d only meant for Frank to leave for the night, but the more he sneered condescendingly in my face, the more I decided kicking out sounded like the better option.
“I’m kicking you out because that kid has brought out a side of you that I really don’t care for, but I’m glad I’m seeing it now, and that we never brought a child into the world together.”
“This is bullshit,” he muttered, pushing past me. “I am not leaving.”
“Yes, you are,” I said, following him.
He turned around to face me, and I fought against flinching. Whenever we got into fights, he had a tendency to use intimidation against me, not that he’d ever raised a hand to me, but it struck me then just what a shitty thing it was for him to do.
“I’m drunk,” he said, waving the glass in my face. “You seriously want me to drive?”
I didn’t really believe he was that drunk, and I could have pointed out that he could get an Uber, but at that point I was growing tired of arguing with him. “Fine, Fergus and I will leave for the night, but when I get home from work tomorrow you and all your shit had better be gone.”
Frank whirled on me again, but this time he grabbed my upper arm and squeezed painfully. I froze in shock and sudden fear. “You’re going to regret this,” he hissed.
“Are you threatening me?”
Frank released me and stumbled backward with a low ‘ oof ,’ then stared at me in confusion. “What the hell did you just do?”
I shook my head and him and brushed past him into the bedroom, hurriedly shoving a few necessities into my overnight bag.
I absolutely hated to wake Fergus up after the night he’d already had, but I couldn’t very well carry him to the car.
“What’s going on?” he murmured sleepily, eyes widening when he saw me putting his clothes into my spare duffle bag.
“Is Louise coming now?” he asked sadly.
“What? Oh, God, Fergus, no…” I said, feeling terrible for how it must have looked to him. “You and I are just going to my friend Joe’s house for the night, that’s all.”
“Okay…” Fergus said, looking skeptical but followed me trustingly out of the house.
“What’s wrong?” he asked as we headed to my car. I opened my mouth to answer him, but realized he was looking at that particular point about two and half feet above him.
“Everything is fine,” I told him. “Get in the car, and I’ll try to explain.”
Fergus got into the passenger seat and buckled in. “Jamie said you and Mr. Randall had a bad fight, and you told him he has to move out.”
It wasn’t surprising that Fergus had heard all that, though I was sorry he had.
“Yeah,” I said. “He’s going to be gone when we get home tomorrow.”
“It’s because of me...isn’t it?”
“No, Fergus. Actually, I think this may have been brewing for a while. Okay, yeah, you being here brought some very ugly parts of him to the surface, but if anything, I should be thanking you for it.”
“Jamie said he tried to hurt you.”
I frowned. “Frank’s got a temper, but I don’t think he’d ever actually do anything.”
“He squeezed your arm.”
I stopped far too shortly at a red light, causing the car to screech.
Fergus’s door had been closed. I remembered shutting it when I tucked him in, and I remembered opening it to wake him. But even if it hadn’t, even if he’d been peeking under the door, Frank and I had been standing outside the kitchen, completely out of sight of Fergus’s bedroom. I glanced at my arm, but I was wearing a sweater, so if Frank had left a mark, Fergus couldn’t see it.
“How did you know that Frank squeezed my arm?” I asked slowly as the light turned green.
“Jamie just told me,” Fergus said. “I’ve never seen him this upset. He was scared that Mr. Randall would do something bad and that he’d be too tired to stop him. He said he tried though,” Fergus glanced into the backseat. “I’m worried, he doesn’t look so good. He must have done too much at once.”
I didn’t respond, too busy focusing on not crashing my car to even attempt to come up with a rational explanation for things.
I’d texted Joe before leaving, but the man slept like the dead, so I didn’t think he’d get the message before morning. When we got to his house, I pulled the car straight through to the rear of the house where his garage/guest home was.
“Is this where Joe lives?” Fergus asked.
“No, this is his guest house, but I have a key, and he won’t mind us crashing here.”
I let myself into the small apartment. Frank and I had stayed there for a week when our condo was being refloored, and once I’d come late at night much like I was now, after a fight. After that night, Joe had made me a spare key and made me promise that I would make use of the place if I ever needed to again, and I’d had no idea at the time what a lifesaver it would be.
“You can take the couch there,” I said, getting spare blankets out of the linin closet. “I think I might just take another personal day...oh shit !”
“What?” he asked in concern.
“Louise is supposed to pick you up tomorrow to take you to your therapist,” I said. “I need to let her know that we won’t be there, but I hate to call her again so late,” I plopped down on the sofa beside him. “Oh God, what is she going to think about all this? No way this is going to look good for me as a foster parent, having had to rip you away from our house in the dead of night after a fight with my fucking boyfriend...sorry for the language.”
“I don’t have to tell her,” Fergus offered.
I shook my head. “No, we won’t lie. Maybe she’ll be okay if I assure her that Frank isn’t coming back. I’m sorry, kid, I shouldn’t be ranting to you about this. Try and get some sleep, okay?”
“I’m worried about Jamie,” he said, cutting his eyes to our right.
“I...I’m sure he’ll be fine after a good night’s rest,” I said, unsure of what else to say. “Are you feeling okay?”
He nodded. “I’m fine. But...you’re a doctor...can’t you help him?”
I bit my lip, scrambling through my over-tired brain for an appropriate response. After all, at what point did indulging his imagination become feeding his delusion?
“Fergus...you know that Jamie isn’t…” I stopped, unable to say the words to his sweet, trusting face. “What I mean is, you know I can’t see him, like you do.”
“I know,” he said with a slight roll of his eyes. “I could talk to you for him, like a translator. I think though that if you tried, really tried, you could see him. Or at least hear him.”
“Ask him how he’s feeling,” I said, avoiding the other part of his comment.
“He can hear and see you ,” Fergus said patiently. “Just not the other way around.”
“Okay...” I said, looking over Fergus’s shoulder. “Jamie, what’s wrong? Are you tired? Do you hurt?”
I felt absolutely ridiculous, talking to thin air, and I decided then and there that I needed to talk to Fergus’s therapist myself so that I could seek advice on how this whole situation should really be handled.
“He says his head hurts,” Fergus said. “And now he say dinna fash .”
“What?” I asked, chuckling.
“It’s what he said! He says it means not to worry, that he’ll be fine, though he’s verra grateful for your concern. Fergus glanced back, and then at me again. “He also wants you to know that you did the right thing by kicking Randall out, that he’s a cad.”
“Cad?” I echoed, arching a brow. “I think someone has been watching a lot of old movies. Alright, if Jamie’s sure that he’s okay, I think you should both get some sleep.”
“Where’s Jamie going to sleep?” Fergus eyed the length of the loveseat, and then the very limited floor space between the sofa and TV.
“He can’t curl up there with you?”
Fergus laughed. “He’s too big , Sassenach. And he’s real stubborn about not letting me sleep on the floor.”
“Well, then he can bunk with me. The bed is plenty big enough.”
Fergus appeared to think that was reasonable, but then he made a face. “Jamie says that wouldn’a be proper at all .”
I was impressed with Fergus’s Scottish impression. “Sorry, Jamie,” I said to the empty space behind Fergus. “It’s either share with me, or curl into a ball on the floor. Your choice.”
I ruffled Fergus’s hair and went into the small bedroom, quickly changing into my pajamas (feeling absurdly awkward, as if Jamie was an actual person who might follow me into the room without me knowing,) and crawled gratefully into bed.
I curled onto my side as the weight of everything that had happened that evening started to sink in.
Had I made a mistake in throwing away my four year relationship with Frank over a two day relationship with an orphaned child? But then I remembered the hatefulness in his eyes as he talked about Fergus, and then the aggression when he grabbed my arm.
No, I hadn’t made a mistake, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt like hell.
I was tired enough I didn’t cry into my pillow for very long. But as I was drifting off to sleep, I felt the strangest sensation. It was almost like I was being wrapped up in a pair of strong arms. I was certain that if I returned to wakefulness the feeling would fade, so I surrendered to slumber, because of how good the embrace felt.
Chapter 4: Hands, Touching Hands
Claire is trying to figure out her next step following her breakup with Frank when she receives an alarming message.
I took another day of leave on Monday (I had plenty of days, so other than being mildly surprised and concerned that I was actually sick, my supervisor was perfectly fine with it.) But the call to Louise was awkward to say the least. I explained to her the situation as succinctly as I could, though I admit I allowed my fight with Frank to sound far less volatile that it was. She arrived soon after to pick up Fergus.
“Ready?” she asked Fergus cheerfully.
“Ready,” Fergus said, though he didn’t look too sure.
“Is um…” I began, feeling a little strange talking about Jamie as if he were real in front of another adult. “Is Jamie okay? Are you still worried?”
“No, he’s okay,” Fergus said. “He’s not here, though.”
“Not here?” Louise asked in surprise. “Where did he go, Fergus?”
“He’ll be back,” Fergus said quickly, looking at me. “He just went back to your house to make sure Mr. Randall is leaving.”
“Oh that’s...nice of him,” I said.
Fergus darted off to the bathroom before they left, and Louise turned to me. “Wow. Jamie hasn’t left Fergus’s side once in all the years I’ve known him. I’m not sure if this means Fergus is starting to let him go, or if his concern for you is just really that great. Either way, this is sort of a big deal.”
I crossed my arms, remembering that weird feeling the night before. “Have any of Fergus’s previous foster families said anything about anything sort of...weird happening, in relation to Jamie?”
Louise’s shoulders drooped a little. “A few. Look, Claire, I know this whole Jamie thing seems intense but never once has Fergus indicated that “Jamie” is in any way a negative influence. If anything, he’s just Fergus’s way of having a bit of stability and affection in a life where he doesn’t get much of that. He doesn’t have a devoted parent...so he made one. Some of his foster families report being frightened of “weird happenings” but it’s just their own imaginations getting carried away with what Fergus believes. I admit, he can be pretty convincing.”
“That he can,” I said. “And I’m not afraid . The whole Jamie thing doesn’t scare me. I guess I’ve just let Fergus carry me away, like you said. I wanted to talk with his therapist, to find out if I’m doing the right thing by playing along.”
“I don’t know what she’ll tell you,” Louise said. “But in my humble opinion, don’t stop. Not yet, at least.”
I nodded, then smiled at Fergus as he reappeared and grabbed his backpack. “I’ll see you later, kiddo.”
“Know what?” Fergus said at the door. “I believe you.”
I was humbled by his trust, as tentative as it was, considering all he’d been through and having only known me a few days. I stood there a long moment after they’d gone, letting the weight of everything happening start to sink in.
“Lady Jane?” Joe called, knocking on the slightly ajar door as he let himself in.
“Hey,” I said, sitting down on the sofa.
“I said hi to Louise and Fergus outside. So…” he began, crossing his arms. “How bad was it?”
“End of the line,” I said flatly.
“Whoa,” Joe blinked, then sat beside me. “Okay...I know you two have your fights, and it’s no secret that I’m not Frank’s biggest fan, but...this still kind of seems out of nowhere. Are you sure?”
“I never could have imagined that he’d react that way about Fergus,” I said. “Not just upset that I surprised him, not just resistant. He was disgusted . How can I even consider sharing my life...having children with a man who can have that kind of hatred for an innocent child?”
“I don’t think you can,” Joe said softly. “I’m really sorry, LJ.”
“Yeah, me too.”
He patted my leg. “Well, come on. You can’t face a breakup on an empty stomach. Gale’s made pancakes.”
“Blueberry?” I asked hopefully, my eyebrows raising.
Joe chuckled. “Naturally.”
“I always thought you were too good for him,” Gale said. “You need someone more...lighthearted.”
“Lighthearted?” I asked.
“You know,” she waved her hand. “ Happier . Frank was always so serious, all the time. You can be smart and mature without being dour .”
I smiled and shook my head. I didn’t say that Frank wasn’t always so dour, but I was in absolutely no mood to defend him.
“What are you going to do about the kid?” Joe asked.
“Well, as long as this debacle doesn’t wreck my chances, I want to be his foster mom.”
“For real? Like full time? You realize how many adjustments you’ll need to make to your life.”
“I’ve been trying to get pregnant for a year, I have considered all that. I…”
I gasped, glancing down at my forearm, a sudden chill running down my spine.
“LJ? You alright?”
It was insane. I could see my arm, see that nothing was touching me, but I felt a hand wrapped around it, as plainly as I knew I was breathing. I could feel four fingers and a thumb. A calloused palm. Heart thundering in my chest, I reached across with my free hand and touched the empty space, snatching it back in alarm when my fingertips met skin that didn’t belong to me.
I looked up at Joe, finding him and his wife staring at me in concern.
“Are you okay?” Gale asked. “You look pale all of a sudden.”
The sensation on my arm pulled .
“I...I’m sorry, I just remembered something is all. Breakfast was great, Gale, but I gotta get going.”
Joe followed me to his front door and held it open. “You call me if you need anything, you got that? You’re always welcome here.”
I smiled at him, though I could feel how shaky it was. “I will. Promise. Thank you.”
I practically ran to my car, jumping into the driver’s seat, then started the engine. For a long moment I just sat there, gripping the steering wheel and trying to tell myself that I hadn’t lost my mind.
“J...Jamie?” I spoke quietly. “Are you...fuck. Are you here?”
The sensation returned, this time on my hand, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! You...you’re...real...”
The hand squeezed mine. I wanted to cringe away, but resisted. “How are you real? What the hell are you?!”
I jumped again when the touch left my hand, and my car’s GPS suddenly came to life, guiding me toward my condo.
“You want me to go home,” I said, hearing how high-pitched my voice sounded. “Alright. Great. Awesome. Wow. Home it is, I suppose.”
My body was completely rigid the entire way, and it was lucky I didn’t crash. I couldn’t see anything sitting in the passenger seat, couldn’t feel anyone touching me anymore, and yet I could sense a presence.
I realized that I’d been sensing that presence ever since bringing Fergus into my home.
Jamie was real. Whatever he was , I hadn’t the slightest idea. But somehow, some way, he was real .
I walked up to the door of the condo, my hands shaking slightly, and hesitated outside of the door. For some reason Jamie had told me to be there, and I had a feeling it wasn’t good.
“You’re here, right?” I asked. There was no ‘answer,’ but I could tell he was next to me, in the way I might be able to tell Joe was standing near even without looking at him.
I let myself into the house and stopped dead, heart sinking.
Frank had left alright, taken his things and then some. What he left behind was left a complete disaster.
Books were tossed onto the floor, an entire end table had been knocked over, the fridge had been left wide open since the night before, by the smell of it.
“Bloody hell,” I muttered, almost afraid to go into the bedroom but needing to see it for myself. Sure enough, the bedroom was in possibly worse condition.
The contents of the closet had been strewn all over the room, and some of my clothes looked to have been stepped on carelessly while he’d been moving his things.
The more I walked around the condo the more things I noticed missing that weren’t necessarily his. The TV, toaster, a writing desk that had actually been Uncle Lamb’s...but its loss actually didn’t bother me as much as the vase. Finding it missing was like a punch to the gut.
“He took my blue vase,” I said aloud, feeling like I needed to explain why I was staring forlornly at the kitchen table. “It was the first thing I bought for myself when I moved out of my uncle’s house. I saw it in a shop window and it just called out to me, and it was one of the few things I brought with me to the United States when I came. Frank knew that it meant something to me. He only took it to hurt me. How the hell could I have stayed with a man so long that could be this petty and cruel?”
There was no answer, and the fact that I had actually been expecting one startled a sudden sob out of me, and so I stood there in the middle of my destroyed house, crying over a vase, as well as the knowledge that I might truly be going insane.
But then I felt a warmth...not quite the solid touch that I’d felt before, but a sensation as if someone was standing very close to me, and that person perhaps had a fever. It should have been frightening, but instead I felt comforted...in a strange way.
I immediately called Joe to tell him what happened, and although he was tied up at the hospital, he swore he’d be with me as soon as he could and would send help in the meantime.
Within the hour, two of the hospital custodial staff had arrived; a pair of burly, bearded men by the names of Rupert and Angus, brothers from Scotland.
I knew them only in passing, and their looks and mannerisms were a bit rough around the edges, but it was clear from the moment they stepped through the door ready to get to work cleaning up the place that they had good hearts. They fussed and bustled the entire time over the piece of shite boyfriend who’d done this, and whether I needed them to go ‘rough ‘im up a bit .’
Since Frank hadn’t even left food in the fridge and had certainly cleaned out the liquor cabinet, I ran out to get pizza and beers for the men, since they refused quite adamantly to be paid.
“All done, Dr. Beauchamp,” Rupert said when I returned.
“Oh my God, you both are amazing!” I exclaimed. “I was so worried about not getting it cleaned up in time for Fergus to come home. Are you sure I can’t pay you?”
“Pizza and beer is more than enough for us,” Angus said, already digging in. “And maybe next time I need stitches, you can hook me up.”
“Consider it done,” I laughed.
“Be careful what ye promise,” Rupert warned. “ This eejit gets hurt at least once a week.
The house was much sparcer than before, but at least it was clean, and didn’t look like it had been ransacked.
I’d left the door ajar when I’d come in with the pizzas, so Fergus let himself in, heading straight for the pizza.
“Well, hello to you, too,” I said with a smile.
“Sorry...hi, Sassenach!” Fergus chirped around a bite of pizza.
“Sassenach?” Rupert laughed. “Dr. Beauchamp, d’ye know what that means?”
“Yes,” I said. “And he means it affectionately.”
Fergus nodded. “My friend Jamie calls her that.”
“Who’s Jamie?” asked Angus.
“My friend, he’s sitting right next to you,” Fergus explained.
Rupert and Angus both glanced at the empty chair between them, at Fergus with raised eyebrows, and then back again.
“Jamie,” they both said, raising their beer bottles in salute.
Louise, who’d trailed in behind Fergus, looked around the living room. “Wow, when you said your boyfriend was moving out…”
“I’m so sorry about all this,” I said. “I know what you must be thinking, but the timing of all this has just been crazy and…”
“Claire, it’s okay, really,” she said, holding up a hand. “Life happens. I really do understand if you have too much on your plate right now to be a foster parent. And I think Fergus will, too.”
“But...but I want to be his foster parent,” I said. “I can understand if my life looks too messy, but what I mean is you can trust that something like this will not happen again.”
Louise blinked in surprise. “Really? Well...look, Claire, if you think you can handle it, I certainly don’t want to remove Fergus from your care. He likes you, and for him that is a huge step that he could even say it. But one thing that all kids need, but especially kids like him, is stability.”
“And he’ll have it,” I assured her. “Frank is gone, he’s not coming back, and I have no interest in dating anyone else in the near future.”
Louise chuckled. “Relax, foster parents aren’t expected to be nuns. I’m going to keep checking up on him regularly, and of course there’s more paperwork you’ll need to complete, but as far as I’m concerned, you have yourself a foster kid.”
Grinning, I hugged her, and she laughed while patting my back.
“Alright, Fergus, I’m out of here. I’ll see you next week.”
“Bye, Louise!” Fergus called, waving before returning to conversation he was having with Rupert and Angus.
“We’d better get going too,” Rupert said, standing. “Later, kid.”
“Thank you again, for everything ,” I said, giving them both a hug.
“I’ll remember what you said about those stitches,” Angus said, tapping the side of his head where what looked to be a healed-over cut.
Once they were all gone, I turned back to Fergus, amazed that I was really officially his foster mother. (Pending paperwork.)
“How was your day?” I asked him.
“Boring compared to yours,” he said. “Jamie was just telling me what Mr. Randall did. I’m really sorry about your vase.”
“Oh, that’s alright, I…” I froze, glancing over at the empty chair. One of the men had set an open bottle of beer in front of it, likely to amuse Fergus.
The proof was already undeniable, but having it confirmed yet again like that made my heart stop. I sat at the table next to Fergus, across from the ‘empty’ chair.
“He’s real,” I said.
Fergus glanced back and forth. “You can see him?”
“No,” I admitted. “But...the thing about the vase. I only said that to him . And at Joe’s...I...I felt him touch my hand.”
“He can only do that sometimes,” Fergus said. “But I think he’s getting better at it.”
“And then he needs to recharge,” I said, remembering what Fergus had said before. Jamie had touched my hand, my knee, adjusted the GPS, but then after that had done nothing. And yet I’d been able to feel him there the entire time.
“It was sorta weird,” Fergus said, then glanced up at me, continuing his statement in full since he seemed to be answering a question from Jamie. “Being without him all day, I meant. He’s been with me all the time, ever since I met him.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I hope you don’t think I...took him away from you.”
Fergus shook his head. “Oh! No, I’m glad he stayed with you. You needed him more, today. He likes you, you know,” Fergus smirked then, and gave me a saucy look. “I think he like likes you.”
When a bottle cap went flying across the table, Fergus only dodged it and laughed, while I could feel my own face paling.
“See? He’s getting better at it.” Fergus said, still laughing.
“I...I don’t understand something…” I said, gulping. “You said people never believe you about Jamie. Why doesn’t he just do...things like that to prove it?”
“He has ,” Fergus said. “But that’s when people start screaming, freaking out, and calling priests to make me exercise.”
“You mean exorcised ? Jesus, Fergus, has that really happened?”
“Once,” he said. “The priest just threw water at my forehead and said ‘ be gone demon ,’ but the family sent me back the next day anyway.”
I grimaced. “So what...what is he, exactly? A ghost?”
Fergus shook his head. “No. I asked him that, too. He said, and I quote, ‘I’m no’ dead yet, ye wee numpty .”
“How come you’re the only one who can see him?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, and neither does he. But he spent a long time all on his own, so that’s why he sticks with me now, so he has someone to talk to.”
“So...what does he look like?”
Fergus smiled. “I told you.”
“You said he’s tall and wears a kilt, that doesn’t exactly paint a picture in my head.”
“Fine,” he stood up, and motioned for Jamie to do the same before pulling a chair over to the wall just outside the kitchen. “Stand against the wall,” he said to Jamie, then held up his hand more than six feet off the floor. “He’s this tall, and he’s real big and strong looking.”
“Like Rupert?” I asked.
Fergus wrinkled his nose and shook his head. “No, like with big muscles . Like one of those men on the cover of those kissy books on the bookshelf.”
I blushed a little at that, wondering if I needed to put the ‘ kissy books’ away before Fergus decided to read them. “Seriously? He looks like one of those men?”
Fergus nodded. “Uh huh. And he has red hair, and blue eyes.”
I tapped my fingers against the table. “Has he...has he ever seen me get dressed or something?”
Fergus glanced up and laughed. “He said of course not . But last night, he was in the room when you changed, but he promises he closed his eyes. He says he would never disrespect you.”
I narrowed my eyes at the space beside Fergus, choosing to believe them for the time being. “Can he walk through walls?”
“Not a ghost, remember?”
I laid my hands flat on the table. “Well how am I supposed to know?! I don’t even know what the hell he is !”
All of a sudden, a very sad look came over Fergus, and he glanced back and forth between us a moment before speaking quietly. “Jamie asked if you would rather he leave.”
“No,” I said at once, and Fergus beamed. “No, I don’t want him to leave. Where does he sleep, when we’re here?”
“On the sofa,” Fergus said.
I hummed. “Well, now that Frank’s gone, perhaps we could turn his office into a room for Jamie. If he can’t manipulate things all of the time, why does he need to lie down to sleep?”
“Well, alright,” I said, standing up, trying to convince my own mine that all this was normal. “Since Frank made off with everything, we’ve got some shopping to do. Let’s go.”
Chapter 5: Someone There
Claire and Fergus arrive home to a surprise; Claire finds herself in need of help.
In which, I, the author, succumb to peer pressure and post this chapter that I had ready anyway lol.
You’ve lost your damn mind, Beauchamp , was the constant echo in my mind in the days following Frank leaving.
I was a woman of science, and there was no scientific explanation for what my life had become. But how could I deny the proof of a physical touch on my hand?
We went right out that evening to pick up groceries, then Fergus and I (and Jamie) sat down together with my iPad to choose new bedding and furniture for the house and their rooms.
Jamie, apparently, was very uncomfortable allowing me to purchase things for him, but I argued that he couldn’t very well go out and get an imaginary job and I preferred to have him inhabit a space of his own as opposed to my living room.
Once the shock of Fergus’s imaginary friend being an actual, living being started to wear off, so did the awkwardness settle in. The awkwardness of being aware of a grown man who I didn’t really know, and couldn’t see, living in my house. He obviously had good intentions, whatever he was, but it was still just...weird.
And then there was the nagging speculations running through my mind of what in the hell he even was. He insisted he wasn’t any sort of ghost...but would he even know it if he was? One might think Fergus’s devotion to him would eliminate him being some kind of demon...and did I even believe in such things?!
But every time I wondered if the stress of my breakup with Frank had just gotten to my head and Fergus’s imagination had pulled me in and Jamie wasn’t real at all, the sink of dishes would be magically washed, or a glass of wine would suddenly appear next to me after a particularly hard day at the hospital.
Fergus said that Jamie had been working very hard, trying to master the ability to manipulate things more without getting so tired. The two reasoned that it was like building up muscle, and I supposed that made sense...as far as anything else in this situation did.
Jamie had been following Fergus to the riding camp he’d been attending while I was at work, but the day was quickly approaching for Fergus to start school.
“He won’t go with me to school,” Fergus said with a pout. “He says he already had his schooling, and that I need to do it myself.”
“I think he’s right,” I said. “Children don’t take parents or older brothers to school, after all.”
“But what if there are bullies ?”
I took his hand and squeezed it. “I hope there aren’t. But if there are, I hope you’ll talk to me about it, and we can try to work it out. What’s Jamie going to do while you’re at school?”
Fergus shrugged. “Stay here, I guess. Or maybe go back to the stables to see the horses.”
“He likes horses, huh?”
Fergus nodded emphatically. “Loves ‘em. He says his family used to have a lot of horses at their estate.”
I looked up at Fergus in surprise. “He has a family?”
Fergus shrugged. “He doesn’t talk about it much.”
I thought that was curious. How does an invisible man have a family? Were they invisible, too? I suddenly had a thought of there being a whole race of invisible people that apparently only certain others could see, and wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
I’d arranged my schedule so that I was off for the first few days of school for Fergus. Joe and Gale had both graciously offered to pick him up on days I had to work late, but I wanted it to be me at first.
When I picked Fergus up from his first day, I was relieved when he bounced into the car with a smile on his face.
“Hey!” I greeted him as I slowly pulled away from the parent pick-up line. “Good day?”
“ Great day!” Fergus gushed. “My teacher is really funny, and instead of yelling at me for fidgeting too much, she let me sit on this big ball instead of a chair and it was really cool. At recess, everyone wanted me to play basketball with them because I’m tall, and Aiden, who sits next to me at lunch, is really cool. He wants me to play Fortnite with him.”
“What, like at his house?”
He shook his head, then turned and looked out the window. “No...it’s uh, it’s just a video game. But I told him I don’t have it, it’s no big deal. Probably a boring game anyway.”
“Ah,” I said, fighting a smile. “I wonder what Jamie’s gotten up to today.”
The change of subject perked Fergus right up. “I don’t know! I can’t wait to tell him about my teacher, and Aiden.”
“What did he usually do when you were at school before?”
“Sometimes he went with me, sometimes he stayed home, but my other foster families usually had people there all the time so it’s not like he had the place to myself. One time, I came home from school and Jamie was acting really weird. He told me to call Louise. Wouldn’t tell me why. But they wouldn’t let me use the phone so Jamie told me to be bad. Really bad. Like kick and scream and everything. It was weird cause he’d never told me to do that before, but I did, and the foster parents called Louise themselves. He never did tell me why.”
“Jamie?” Fergus called as I let us in, darting into the living room before skidding to a stop. I came up behind him and froze too, blinking in surprise.
There, perched on the sofa, looking for all the world like he owned the place, and staring at us like we were the intruders, was a little ball of gray fluff that might otherwise be a cat.
“Aww!” Fergus cooed, going immediately to pick up the kitten.
“Where did it come from?” I asked.
Fergus glanced up, and then chuckled. “You should see Jamie’s face right now. What’s that word? Sheepish? I think that’s what he looks like. He says…he says that he found it on his way home from the stable earlier, and it followed him. Animals can see him too, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know,” I said, reaching down to scratch the kitten’s head.
“Can we keep him?” Fergus asked. “Please?”
I took the kitten into my arms, and he started to purr, making me chuckle. “Well, I like cats. I’ve never had one, though, because I’m gone at work most days.”
“But Jamie is here! He can take care of him! Besides, he needs someone to keep him company while we’re gone!”
The kitten chose that moment to press his case by licking my hand with his sandpapery tongue. “Oh, alright. Does Jamie have a name for him?”
“Adso,” said Fergus.
“Well, Adso, welcome to the family,” I said, placing the cat down once he started to wiggle. I watched as he pranced over and started rubbing his little head against thin air, and I smiled.
Fergus was thrilled with his new bedding. I’d never heard of a child getting so excited over something as simple as a blue and gray plaid comforter, but I supposed when one hasn’t had anything like that of their very own, it’s an exciting thing.
I let him arrange his room exactly how he wanted it, with a desk, storage trunk, and a bookcase we’d yet to assemble.
Jamie’s bed was brought in and assembled by workers, and I added a lamp that I didn’t know would be used or not, and a few framed pictures to make it look homey.
“You like it?” I asked, speaking directly to him for the first time since the incident with Frank, since Fergus wasn’t in the room.
In answer, the picture tilted a little to right, straightening it, and I decided to take that as a yes.
After a discussion with Joe, and some helpful advice from Rupert and Angus, I decided the best gaming system for a child Fergus’s age was a Nintendo Switch. I did a little research on Fortnite, and while I wasn’t thrilled with the amount of shooting in the game, I realized it was an immensely popular game among kids, particularly boys, and decided that at this point it might be a little more important for Fergus to feel included than my own opinions on gun violence in video games.
“What’s this?” Fergus asked when I handed him the wrapped package. “My birthday’s not till March.”
“I know,” I said. “I just felt like getting you a gift, that’s all. You’ve done so well in school so far, I feel like you’ve earned it.”
Fergus excitedly ripped open the package, but when he reached the box beneath the wrapping he froze.
“D...do you like it?” I asked nervously. “Is it not the system you wanted? Would you have preferred an Xbox because I…”
I was cut off when Fergus’s arms were suddenly around my .middle, squeezing so tightly I could barely breathe.
“Thank you,” he murmured into my shirt.
I chuckled and patted his back, feeling just a little overwhelmed by this display of gratitude. “You’re welcome. Now, there will be rules where this thing is concerned. You can only play it if your grades stay up, and I don’t want to see it replacing time outside, or playing with the cat, or spending time with me and Jamie, got it?”
Fergus pulled back and shook his head emphatically, his eyes bright with unshed tears. “I won’t! I promise!”
“Well, go on. Here’s a gift card for some games. You can play until supper.”
Fergus literally jumped in place and then threw himself onto the couch before ripping open the box. He had the game set up and was playing Fortnite in record time.
I felt a hand touch my lower back and I smiled, hoping that meant I’d received Jamie’s approval.
“I’m not trying to buy his love or anything,” I said. “It’s just that...if there’s any kid who deserves to have the things he wants, it’s him.”
The pressure of the hand increased, and along with making me think he agreed, it made me feel strangely warm. I shook off the feeling, however, and went to sit beside Fergus with Adso on my lap to watch him play his game.
I moaned as I woke up, cursing the sun for rising.
The night before, I’d felt a scratchiness in my throat that I’d attributed to a mild allergy to the cat, but when I awoke that following morning, my head was pounding worse than the worst hangover I’d ever had, and my throat was on fire.
“Fuck,” I hissed, getting to my feet, even though my very skin seemed to hurt.
Surely I didn’t have the flu. I got flu shots regularly as per hospital requirements. Granted, one could still get the flu even after vaccines, and there were plenty of viruses that mimicked the symptoms, but I hadn’t been sick with so much as a cold in years.
“Sassenach, you don’t look so good,” Fergus said as I came into the kitchen. He was already sitting there, having some cereal, and I realized I’d overslept.
“Shit, you’re going to be late for school,” I sighed, leaning heavily on the counter. “And I’m gonna be late for work.”
I felt something touch my head and I jumped, opening my eyes, (not having realized I’d closed them.)
“Jamie says you have a fever,” Fergus said matter-of-factly. “No work for you.”
“I have to go to work, and you have to go to school,” I said. “Just let me go get dressed and I’ll take you.”
I shuffled into my bedroom, feeling like the ground was trying to drag me down. I yanked off my tank top and pajama bottoms, longing for a shower but not having the time.
When I went to grab my scrub bottoms however, they were ripped out of my hand.
“Hey,” I snapped, whined really. “You said you’d never watch me change!”
A robe was wrapped around my shoulders instead, and I simply didn’t have the energy to be angry.
“I guess I’m sick, aren’t I?” I asked. “Fine, I’ll call out. But I at least have to get Fergus to school.”
“Sassenach?” Fergus called, knocking on my bedroom door. “Jamie told me to call Joe and I did. He says he’ll be here to pick me up in ten minutes.”
“Well don’t you think of everything,” I muttered. Somehow my illness had sapped all of the awkwardness I normally felt when talking directly to Jamie.
Joe arrived shortly after to get Fergus and promptly prescribed that I remain in bed for at least the rest of the day, and that he’d be back with Fergus and to check on me later.
I managed to get myself some water, thinking I should probably have a bite to eat, but it was all I could do to drag myself back to bed, where I collapsed, robe and all.
I woke up again a couple of hours later, but every movement sent pain lancing through my skull. I patted around on my nightstand for my phone, and my fingers came in contact with warm ceramic.
I pried stinging eyes open and looked to see a steaming mug of tea beside a plate of shortbread biscuits.
“Joe?” I called, hearing how wretched my voice sounded. I called again, but no one answered, which suggested to me who had left it there.
“Thank you,” I whispered, feeling as though he was in the room, and sat up.
The tea had a little bit too much honey for my taste, but I was too touched by the gesture to care. A half of a biscuit managed to settle well enough in my uneasy stomach, but I could feel even without checking that my temperature was high, and I needed to go in search of something to bring it down.
I got unsteadily to my feet, and felt a sudden tenseness in the air.
“Relax,” I said. “I need some medicine, plus I may as well use the washroom while I’m up.”
After taking care of personal business, I pushed the bathroom door open so that Jamie would know that I was alive while I rummaged for some Tylenol. I didn’t know how I knew that he was watching me like a hawk, but I did.
“Ugh, I feel horrible,” I said. “I’m just going to take a quick shower so that I don’t feel sick and gross. Don’t look at me that way...and yes, I know you’re giving me a look. I’ll feel better being clean . I’ll even leave the door open. Free peep show. Whatever.”
I dropped my robe, uncaring whether Jamie was watching, but the steady awareness I felt that told me he was watching, vanished, as if he’d suddenly looked away. Or at least my fever-addled, fanciful mind imagined it so. I thought it was rather sweet, really. Later, when I wasn’t feeling so shitty, I might sit back and wonder how I knew whether he was looking or not. Later.
The hot water felt heavenly, despite my overheated skin. I let it just run over my head, closing my eyes against the sensation.
Unfortunately, the heat of the water seemed to trigger wracking chills, and I shivered, cranking up the temperature to almost scalding in effort to feel warmer.
My vision began to blur, and I was afraid suddenly that I might very well pass out, which I was still aware enough to realize that would not be good inside a tub. So I did the only thing I could think to do, which was to sit down. But once I was sitting, I truly didn’t think I was going to be able to stand up again.
I cursed myself for not bringing my phone into the bathroom where I could reach it. The world was still spinning, and I could barely keep my eyes open.
“Jamie?” I called out weakly, unsure what he’d be able to do, except perhaps...hopefully...bring me my phone.
The shower curtain was pulled to the side, something that would have looked unsettling had my mind been a little less clouded.
“I don’t think I can get up,” I said, leaning my head against the tiled wall and closing my eyes.
Eyes closed, everything felt weightless, and when rough palms slide underneath my knees and behind my shoulders, I didn’t question it.
Nor did I find it odd when I was lifted into the air, opening my eyes just long enough to confirm that I was floating in midair.
My cheek was pressed against a clothed chest. I could smell horses, grass, and something warm and masculine. I thought I could perhaps even hear a heartbeat, but it could have just been my own pulse rushing in my ears.
I was placed gently on the foot of the bed, and dried off with a soft towel. The invisible hands skirted shyly around my breasts, and avoided the area between my navel and knees entirely. It made me chuckle dazedly. What a gentleman.
After I was more or less dry, an oversized t-shirt was nudged toward me and I pulled it on before crawling back under the covers.
“Will you stay with me?” I asked.
There was a brief pause, but then I sensed more than felt him lie down beside me. I rolled toward where I knew he was.
“I wish I could see you,” I murmured. “Preferably naked, if only to level the playing field a little considering the display you’ve gotten today.”
I was already drifting back off to sleep, but I could swear I heard a deep, rumbling, and beautiful laugh.
Chapter 6: 5:00, Not a Minute Later
Claire recovers from her illness, and returns to work all while continuing coming to terms with Jamie’s presence.
I felt a cool hand touching my brow and moaned, turning away from it. “I’m fine , Jamie. Just let me know when four hours have passed and I’ll take more Tylenol.”
“Whoa, LJ...I think you’re really out of it.”
The masculine voice surprised me, and for a brief, fevered moment I thought Jamie had spoken to me. But I opened my eyes, and there stood Joe, hovering over me with a concerned look on his face.
“You okay, there?”
I pushed myself up into a sitting position, wincing when it made my head pound. “Been better, but I think maybe I won’t die.”
“Well, you just thought that I was Fergus’s imaginary friend so you’ll excuse me for being a little concerned.”
I gave him a flat look. “I must have been having a weird dream. Fevers will do that. Is Fergus okay?”
“Yeah, he’s fine,” he said, glancing at the empty mug of tea and plate of biscuits on my nightstand. “Doing his homework in the kitchen. He wanted to come check on you himself but I wanted to come and make sure you were decent and I think you’re only dressed in a shirt there. And your hair’s wet...did you seriously try to take a shower while you were home alone and sick?”
“Obviously I survived. Hand me my pajama pants?”
I didn’t bother telling him that I wasn’t exactly home alone, but if I started rattling on about Jamie, Joe would probably haul me off to the hospital.
Joe stepped out while I wiggled into my pajama pants then rolled ungracefully to my feet. I marvelled again at how I could just tell that Jamie was not currently in the room.
Sticking my feet into my fluffy house slippers and wrapping up in my robe, I shuffled into the kitchen to see Fergus.
He was sitting at the table, busily completing his homework.
“Can you check these?” he asked, sliding a sheet of math problems across to the empty space beside him. He looked up at me, and smiled. “Hi, Sassenach! Are you feeling better?”
“A little, thanks,” I said, sitting at the chair on the other side of Jamie. “Did you have a good day at school?”
Fergus nodded. “I told Aiden about my new Switch and he was really excited that we can play together now,” he glanced up and away from me. “Jamie wants me to tell you that you should eat something. All you’ve had all day was tea and, like, one cookie.”
There was a clang, and I looked up to see that Joe had almost dropped the tea kettle he was filling.
“I could probably go for some soup,” I said.
“Joe and I brought some chicken soup from Grant’s Deli,” Fergus said.
“I’ll heat it up,” Joe offered.
After victoriously showing me completed homework, I told Fergus he could play his game for a few minutes until dinner. I felt Jamie remain beside me, and I could feel his eyes on me.
“That was weird, right?”
“What was?” I asked.
Joe crossed his arms, leaning against the stove. “That Fergus knew that all you’d had was tea and a cookie. I saw the plate on your nightstand. Weird that he knew that.”
I shrugged, but didn’t exactly know what to say. How do you tell your best friend that you were carried out of your shower by your foster son’s imaginary friend and not sound like a raving lunatic?
After heating our dinner and being reassured that Fergus and I would be just fine on our own, Joe left and I curled up on the sofa with my bowl of soup, uncaring that Fergus hadn’t yet put down his game.
“Jamie’s really tired,” Fergus said without looking up. “He wants you to know that he can’t stop you from spilling that bowl, so please stop tilting it.”
I scowled and straightened my bowl. “I wasn’t going to spill it,” I mumbled. “Is Jamie okay?”
Fergus nodded. “Yeah, he’s excited because moving things is getting a lot easier for him,” he looked up at me. “He said that it didn’t start getting this much better until we met you. I wonder why.”
“I have no idea,” I said honestly. “I hope he understands how grateful I am.”
Fergus looked away, and then back at me. “He knows. Also, he says your furry slippers are the...his words...most darling things he’s ever seen.”
I blushed, realizing Jamie wasn’t exactly seeing me at my best here, and was no doubt grossed out by me. I then realized what a ridiculous thought that was. After all, he was sort of like a roommate, right? What did I care how he saw me?
It took days for me to start feeling back to normal. Fergus was so sweet, tripping over himself to fetch things for me and make sure I was taking medicine. I had a feeling that Jamie was reminding him about the medicine, and I frequently felt a warm touch on my forehead to check for fever although it was apparent that he, too, was in the process of recuperating.
Jamie’s silent, unseen care was touching. I had no idea why he bothered himself so much with me, unless it just stemmed from his love for Fergus, and wanting to make sure the boy’s caretaker was fit to be so.
As I recovered, I wished that there was a way of doing something kind for him .
Going off from what Fergus had told me, Jamie was a bit behind the times. I supposed it made sense. A man who couldn’t interact with society was bound to have little interest in its technological advances. He didn’t apparently know how old he was, but Fergus’s description of him made him seem rather young to me, though if he was some kind of ghost after all, he could be any age.
I began to develop an idea then, unsure if he would like it or not. However, it wouldn’t take much physical effort from him, and it might even be a good way of exercising his ability to manipulate things.
I was finally well enough to return to work, on one of the few days that Joe and I shared the same schedule. Unfortunately, Gale was out of town visiting her parents, which meant I was stuck on what to do with Fergus.
“Why can’t I just come home by myself?” he asked. “Jamie will be here.”
“I know that, you know that, but to anyone else looking in, you’d be home all alone until late, and that’s a no-go, kid.”
Fergus rolled his eyes. “I’m ten years old . Lots of kids my age stay home alone. And I’m not alone!”
I cursed myself for not having reached out to some of the parents of kids in Fergus’s class. Having a fellow parent willing to babysit my kid occasionally would come in handy...although that would mean I’d probably wind up babysitting in return…”
“Okay…” I sighed. “You know the way to the hospital from here, right?” Fergus nodded. “Take the bus home, do your homework, and then at five o’ clock walk to the hospital with Jamie. You can hang out in the break room and play your game until I’m off. Deal?”
“Deal,” Fergus agreed, grabbing his backpack.
“Five o’clock,” I reminded him. “That means you start walking at five . Not five o’five, not five thirty. Where’s Jamie?”
Fergus pointed at the couch, and I pointed in the same direction.
“Five o’clock, Mister. Got it?”
I watched and laughed as Adso was disturbed from his morning nap on the couch and ‘magically’ raised on his hind legs before gently bobbing forward in a nod...or perhaps a bow?
It was a good thing that it was a slow afternoon at the hospital, because I couldn’t stop worrying and checking the clock obsessively once it was 5:00, and cursing myself for not having had the foresight to get Fergus a cell phone.
“You sure are leaning into this parent thing awfully fast,” Geillis said with a chuckle.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s like you’ve become a different person overnight. You’ve dumped your boyfriend, replaced him with a kid and a cat, taken more time off in two months than you have in two years, and now you’re pacing around like a mother chicken. I mean all this in a good way, mind you.”
I squinted at her. “Really? Because that didn’t sound like it, not from your perspective.”
Geillis laughed. “No, really. You seem really happy, Claire. I’m happy for you.”
This time I smiled. “Thanks, Geillie. I am happy. Fergus is a great kid. And...it feels good to feel needed. Outside of work, I mean. To have people to come home to are always excited to see me, and me to see them. I never felt that way with Frank.”
Geillis held up a hand. “Whoa, wait. You said people . As in plural. Who else besides the boy? Are you seeing someone else?”
“What? No!” I backtracked, though I knew damned well what a terrible liar I was, and what a persistent person Geillis was when it came to ‘ hot gossip .’ “I just meant...you know, Fergus and Adso.”
Geillis arched a skeptical brow. “Adso? You mean the cat? You’ve been single for two months, Claire. Surely you’re not already ready to become a crazy cat lady.”
I stuck my nose up in the air. “No, crazy cat ladies tend to not have children or significant others.”
“Do you think you might adopt the kid?” Geillis asked.
I quickly clung to the change of subject. “Well...to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what that process looks like. Whether I’d be allowed, or whether that would be something Fergus wants …”
“I can’t imagine you not being allowed to. From what you said, the kid’s been bounced from home to home most of his life. Surely they’d jump at the chance to let you adopt him if that’s what you wanted.”
Before I could respond, I heard my nickname being called, and I sighed in relief, turning to see Fergus being escorted my way by the smiling receptionist.
“ There you are,” I said. “It’s been…” I glanced at my phone again, realizing it was only ten after. “Oh, well, I guess you made good time.”
Fergus chuckled. “Jamie insisted we leave ten minutes early just in case.”
“Smart man. Did you finish all your homework?”
“Yep. And Jamie checked it.”
“You locked the front door?”
Fergus’s eyes widened and he looked up and to his side in concern, but then he smiled in relief. “Sorry, I forgot, but Jamie locked it on our way out.”
“Good. Thank you, Jamie. Now, Claudia, would you mind very much showing Fergus to the break room for me?”
“Not at all,” said the receptionist with a kind smile before leading Fergus away.
“I’ll come check on you later,” I called after him.
“Whoa,” Geillis said after they’d left.
“What?” I asked, glancing to my side when I caught the sensation that Jamie was beside me, having evidently remained behind.
“He’s really serious about the whole imaginary friend thing,” she said. “Are you sure that’s healthy?”
I had a sense that Jamie was bristling at her comment, and I caught myself before reaching out to him in reassurance.
“His caseworker and therapist say he’s doing fine,” I told her.
“Sure...but, I meant more for you . You just accepted that a non-existent person checked your kid’s homework and locked your door.”
“I trust that Fergus did what he needed to,” I hedged. “We all have a little voice in our head that reminds us to do things, Fergus’s is just louder is all. If you’re that worried, I’ll check his homework when we get home, and my Ring camera will tell me if anyone tries to get into the house.”
Geillis raised her hands in defense. “Okay, okay, sorry. I shouldn’t judge.”
I smiled to show her that there were no hard feelings, and then she got a page that had her hurrying away.
An arm brushed against mine and I smiled. The corridor was empty, so I glanced to my right. “You’re going to shadow me, is that it? Well, you’re in luck, my pager is going off so it looks like it might be a busy evening in the emergency room after all.”
It had been a long, long night.
A four car pile-up on the highway had brought in twelve people. Five had only mild bumps and bruises, three had broken bones, fractures, and contusions but would otherwise be fine, while three others remained in critical condition.
But the twelfth…
It had started when a driver made an illegal left turn, colliding with an SUV which caused the two vehicles behind it to rear-end each other. And in all this, a pedestrian simply trying to cross the street, at the crosswalk and while his light was green, was hit.
I tried my best to save him, but in the end his injuries were just too great.
He was elderly, appeared to be homeless, and had no ID. I hadn’t even had a name to write on his death certificate.
I dragged myself into the women’s locker room, knowing that if Joe were to see me he’d be scolding me for not taking it easy so soon after being sick.
The locker room was blessedly empty, so when I felt a presence sit beside me, I didn’t have to pretend I didn’t.
“Were you there for all that?” I asked him. “Sorry, never mind. I know you can’t answer me.”
Jamie took my hand, and I turned mine over to lace our fingers together, resolutely not looking down so that I didn’t see how silly my hand looked, holding air.
“He was just minding his own business, legally crossing the street. It wasn’t far from where you and Fergus walked to get here. How easy it could have been him.”
Jamie squeezed my hand hard, which I took to mean but it wasn’t .
“If I lean against you, am I going to fall off this bench?”
In answer, Jamie released my hand, but instead I felt his arm go around me, and pull me toward him.
If I closed my eyes, it felt almost like a normal hug.
I could feel soft fabric, firm flesh beneath. I felt a chin perch on my head, calluses on fingers as they rubbed my arm.
But there were differences.
I couldn’t feel every point of contact that I should have. There were missing bits here and there, almost like Jamie was full of holes. But those places would reappear while others vanished, as though there were parts of his body that he constantly focused on keeping touchable.
I wondered if he could feel me. I wanted to ask, but didn’t know how to without sounding ridiculous. So instead, I kept my eyes closed. Instead, I just let him hold me.
Instead, I just pretended.
Chapter 7: Text Me Maybe
Claire considers a way she might be able to communicate with Jamie without Fergus being present.
Ok, let me just say I’m blown away by the response this fic has gotten!
What makes me especially happy is it’s based on a non-fanfiction story idea that I came across in one of my old notebooks recently. I realized, reading it again, that I liked the idea and want to write it as a novel, but while I’m working on that I couldn’t help but give it the Outlander treatment as well 😁
It was a relief that the day after the car wreck was one of my regular days off. I definitely needed the time to collect myself and regroup.
I’d lost patients before. I’d lost patients in even sadder circumstances than this one. But something about this man who’d been all alone, who no one had yet come to look for, struck a chord with me, along with the fact that it could have so easily have been Fergus and Jamie.
Could Jamie even be hurt? He couldn’t walk through walls, but also couldn’t pick things up without concentrating. But even if he could be hit by a car...was he capable of dying?
It was a thought I didn’t want to dwell on very long, so I decided to try and get my mind off of it by putting my new idea into motion.
Until that day I’d arranged my schedule to have weekends off so that I could be with Fergus. But weekends were a busy time at the hospital of course, and it was unavoidable that I would have to work them sometimes. It was the first day I’d had off that Fergus was in school, and I felt a little bereft.
But I knew that I wasn’t alone...or...I thought I knew.
“Jamie?” I called quietly, walking into the living room, in case he was asleep. (Still had yet to determine if he really slept or not.)
Disappointment creeped in, and I wondered if he’d left for the day, not particularly wanting to be alone in the house with me. Or, perhaps he was just trying to give me some time alone of my own.
But then Adso perked up from his place on the back of the couch and let out a soft mrrp and I became aware of Jamie’s presence.
“Ah, you are here,” I said, watching as Adso leaned into an invisible scratch. “Will you come sit with me? There’s something I want to show you.”
I sat down on the couch with my iPad and attached keyboard and patted the space next to me.
“Now, Fergus told me that you struggle to manipulate things that are small and precise, like a pencil, and that you’re a little wary of computers. But I want to try something. Do you know how to type, at all? Or...shit...I don’t even know if you read…”
I felt an elbow against my side and chuckled. “I’ll take that as a yes. So here…” I turned the iPad toward him, but kept it resting in my lap. “You can use the keys to type out sentences. It’s not as much work as writing, you literally just press the buttons. Whatever you would like to say to me. That is if you want to talk to me.”
For a moment there was nothing, and I thought maybe he wasn’t interested, but then I heard a soft tap and glanced around at the screen to find a single “h” in the word document.
“That’s a start,” I said wryly. “I know the letters aren’t in alphabetical order, but I assure you they’re in an arrangement that makes sense once you get used to it.”
There were more taps, an exhausting amount of time between each one, but finally, there was a nearly complete message on the screen.
I could barely contain the bubble of excitement within me, nor the surprising rush of endearment that the first thing he said to me was just a sweet greeting.
“Hi, Jamie,” I said back. “See that long button there? That’s a space. Watch.”
I typed out, it is so nice to finally talk to you, slow enough that he could follow what I was doing.
“ thank you,” he typed.
“You’re welcome,” I said. “I’ve been wracking my brain for a way to have a conversation with you without Fergus having to be interpreter. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner.”
“ no,” he said. “ thank you for loving fergus.”
I smiled. “You don’t need to thank me for that. He’s easy to love.”
For a long moment I sat there, a little awkwardly, trying to think of something to say. For weeks I’d wanted to ask him a million questions, and now suddenly that we were able to actually communicate in a way, I couldn’t think of a single thing to ask him.
While I was thinking, Jamie started typing again, a little bit faster this time.
“ i ken you have a thousand questions. i can see them on your face as plainly as if you were speaking them. but the truth is i do not have many answers. i do not know why i am here. i do not know why you cannot see me or why fergus can. i do not know how to get home.”
“Home?” I broke in. “Where is home for you?”
“Well...I mean, we could get you to Scotland…”
That was awfully blunt and cryptic, but he didn’t seem inclined to elaborate.
“ can you please show me how to make capital letters”
I chuckled, then showed him the caps lock, shift, and how to make question and exclamation marks. He was a very quick learner.
“ I am so glad to be able to talk to you Sarsaparilla.”
“Why did it change the other time?”
I could barely hold the iPad still for him, I was laughing so hard, and he kept trying to type while I moved, but it was coming out in increasingly frustrated nonsense garble.
“I’m glad to talk to you, too, Jamie,” I gasped, trying to collect myself. “Now let me show you the backspace button, and explain about autocorrect…”
Jamie and I sat and talked most of the day, mainly about casual things like Fergus and Adso. It sort of just felt to me like talking with a friend over the internet, except occasionally this friend would throw a piece of popcorn at me or poke me in the arm.
As his typing gained confidence, more of his personality came out. Jamie was funny, playful, and an unfailing gentleman. I could almost picture a boyish smirk when he teased me for not being a morning person.
We even practiced texting on my phone, since the size of it might be easier for him to pick up on a regular basis but he complained of having big thumbs that kept messing up the words. I told him to stop making excuses for the fact that he texted like a grandpa so he grabbed my hand and pressed his thumb into my palm to prove it.
To be fair, his hands were enormous.
I heard a jingle outside the front door and Fergus let himself in, surprising me that it had already gotten so late.
“Hey, Sassenach! Hey Jamie!” Fergus greeted happily. “Sassenach, you’re still in pajamas! What are you guys doing?”
“Come see,” I said, beckoning him over. “Show him, Jamie.”
I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy when Fergus focused his gaze on Jamie, watching with a smile as Jamie typed out ‘Look what I can do!’ on my laptop.
“Brilliant!” Fergus gasped.
“ It was Claire’s idea.”
Fergus beamed at me and plopped down on the sofa beside me, pulling Adso into his lap. “This is great! I can’t believe I never thought of that. Now you guys can talk and be friends!”
“I think we’re already there,” I said with a smile.
Fergus glanced around at Jamie, then back at me with a funny expression, waggling his eyebrows.
“What?” I asked.
Fergus shook his head. “I just wish you could see the look on his face, that’s all.”
I’d decided that if Fergus and Jamie were going to be home alone on occasion, they needed cell phones. Initially I was going to just get one for Fergus, but then I decided that Jamie might like to try texting while he was home alone, or that Fergus might need to get ahold of him on his way home from school. (I was also a little curious if they could speak on the phone together since Fergus could hear as well as see Jamie.)
Because of being in the foster system, Fergus wasn’t allowed to have a regular cell phone, but I was able to get him one specifically for children that only stored my number, Louise’s, Joe’s, and Jamie’s and had no internet access. For Jamie, I got him an iPhone like mine, and Fergus informed me that he made a grumpy face, stating that he didn’t ken how to use the accursed thing. I told him he’d figure it out.
Sure enough, it was just a couple of days before I received a short video of Adso attacking a paper bag while I was at work, along with a victorious message of “ I remembered how to record!”
“Oh, what’s that smile for?” Geillis asked me, looking over my shoulder as her expression fell in disappointment. “Your cat?”
“Yeah, it’s cute,” I said. “What did you think I was looking at?”
Geillis shrugged. “I don’t know, that smile just looked more like a steamy conversation with an even steamier man smile, not a watching cat videos smile.”
I stuck my chin up. “Shows what you know. Besides, we’re standing in the middle of an emergency room. Do you honestly think I’d be trading steamy texts right now?”
Geillis shrugged again. “I would, if I had a man.”
“You make it sound like I do . Have a man, that is.”
She smirked. “Don’t you?”
“No, what’s made you think I did?”
Geillis rolled her eyes. “Oh come on , Claire! You have had your nose in your phone more in the past week than you have in the entire time I’ve known you. You’ve never been big on texting a lot, or spending a lot of time online.”
I sighed and stuck my phone firmly in my pocket. “I just gave Fergus a phone, you know that.”
“Yeah, uh huh, but I know he isn’t texting you at school. And I hope that goofy, dreamy look on your face you get, biting your lower lip to keep from grinning like a fool, isn’t because you’re talking to Fergus .”
“I do not look like that!”
“Yes, you do,” said Angus, passing by with his cart.
“Oh, you mind your own business!” I said to him but he just chuckled and continued on.
“Well, I’m sorry that my face made you think otherwise, but I’m not seeing anyone. I just ended things with Frank, and I’m not looking for a new relationship. I’m focusing everything on Fergus right now.”
“Who said anything about a new relationship?” Geillis asked, wide-eyed. “Post break-up is the best time for casual sex. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Come on, are you on Tinder? Is that it?”
“No,” I sighed, deciding the best way to end this conversation was to just walk away. “I have paperwork to do.”
Just then, I got another text, and since Geillis was no longer around, I checked it.
“ Do you want to watch another Movie tonight?”
“Sure ,” I texted back. “ In fact, there’s a couple I’ve been meaning to suggest, but they’ll have to wait until Fergus goes to bed. Not kid appropriate.”
“Are you trying to seduce me, Sassenach?”
In effort to restrain my laughter, I snorted instead, and looked around quickly to make sure no one heard.
“ Sorry, ” he continued. “ I just realized that may have come off strange in written form. I’d never actually suggest such a thing.”
I couldn’t help it. He was just too precious. “ Oh, I don’t know, maybe that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m always up for a challenge, after all. Seducing an invisible man? I think that might make me the most seductive woman in the world 😉.”
“Wait! How do you make that bonny wee face?”
“Check the bottom left corner, there are a whole bunch of faces that help tell the reader what mood you’re trying to get across with your text. They’re called emojis.”
“ Ah! I see! Emoji, like emotions .”
I chuckled and shook my head while the typing bubbles appeared and disappeared several times while Jamie explored the emojis.
“😸 I hope you have a Good rest of your Day, Sassenach. And, by the way, what you said before? I think you already are. 😉.”
I frowned, unsure what he meant by that. “What I said before…” I muttered to myself, and then the usage of the winking face caught up to me.
“Well played, Jamie,” I said to myself, biting my lower lip. “You learn fast, lad.”
Chapter 8: Parenthood is Hard Sometimes
Claire gets a call from the school about Fergus.
“Dr. Beauchamp?” Claudia called my name as I walked past on my way to my next patient. “There’s a call for you.”
“Could you take a message?” I asked distractedly, trying to make sense of some of the handwritten notes on the patient chart.
“It’s the Elementary school…”
That certainly got my attention, and I hurried to the nearest nurse’s station to take it. “Claire Beauchamp speaking,” I said nervously, unable to come up with a good reason why Fergus’s school would be calling me in the middle of the school day. Was he sick? Did he reinjure his arm?
“Hi, Dr. Beauchamp, this is Natalie Winegard, principal at Adams Elementary, I’m calling in regards to your foster son, Fergus.”
“Is Fergus alright?” I demanded, uninterested in introductions.
“He’s fine, Dr. Beauchamp. But I’m afraid there’s been a...situation.”
“Situation? What sort of situation?”
“Fergus is in my office right now for fighting.”
I leaned against the wall beside the phone, baffled. Fergus? Sweet, agreeable Fergus fighting?”
“He may have a black eye, but he has some ice on it now and otherwise he’s unhurt. But we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to violence, Dr. Beauchamp. I’m afraid you’re going to need to come pick up Fergus for the day.”
I groaned and covered my face with my free hand. “I...I have patients to see…” I said weakly.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Beauchamp. Rules are rules.”
“Right, of course, I’ll be right there.”
Principal Winegard gave a clipped goodbye and hung up. I pulled my cell out of my pocket and saw that I had two missed calls from the school, which may have been part of why she’d been so short with me. No one at the school knew me very well, so I must appear like an inattentive parent to them.
“ I have to go pick up Fergus from school,” I texted Jamie. “ The principal just called me saying he’d been in a fight. Do you know anything about him having problems with another kid?”
The answering bubbles appeared and disappeared a few times right away, telling me he was probably struggling to type correctly. “ What?? No, I thought he was getting along with the other lads. He had some issues at other schools he’s been to, but the other lads bullied him.”
I was afraid it could be something like that. I’d heard enough statistics to know that Fergus might not tell anyone right away if he’d been bullied.
“I know it might be kind of strange, but do you think you could meet me there and come in with me? I’d like it just knowing you were there, listening.”
“Of course I will, Sassenach. Dinna fash, I will be right there with you, I promise.”
I told Claudia that I had to leave, and she assured me that she would get another doctor in to see my patient.
I was tense the entire drive to the school, feeling totally out of my depth. I’d had my share of visits to the principal’s office as a rebellious teenager, but I’d certainly never been on the parent’s end of things.
I walked into the front office, trying to discern whether Jamie was there, but I was so nervous, I couldn’t get that sense that I usually did when he was near. But then I felt his hand slide into mine, and all at once the nerves dissipated and a calm washed over me.
The friendly receptionist showed me into the back where the principal’s office was, and outside the door were two desks facing away from each other, and in those two desks were two little boys.
“Dr. Beauchamp,” Principal Winegard said when I approached, but I ignored her in favor of going straight to Fergus’s side, kneeling next to him.
He looked up at me with the most heartbreaking, fearful expression, that I knew right then and there that no matter what happened or who’s fault it was, he had my full support.
“Hey,” I said quietly, offering him a smile. He was holding a paper towel-covered Ziplock full of ice to his temple and I gently moved it away.
Fergus smiled back tentatively, and the relief on his face at the sight of Jamie made me glad I’d asked him to come.
“You said a black eye,” I said to the principal, standing and crossing my arms. “You didn’t say anything about that contusion. Did he see the nurse?”
Principal Winegard blinked. “Y...yes of course. We have a full incident report written out. Now, do you mind if we speak in my office?”
I looked at Fergus. “You alright? Does it hurt badly? You don’t feel sick or anything do you?”
“No, Sassenach,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt very bad.”
I nodded, and Principal Winegard directed us into her office. I glanced back at the other boy, who was glowering in Fergus’s direction. He was much bigger, which was surprising since Fergus was one of the biggest in his class, but he was a little older than the others due to having been held back in fourth grade. However, Fergus was tall, not bulky, whereas this other boy already had the starting of becoming a quarterback.
There were three chairs facing the principal’s desk, and since Fergus went to the one closest to the wall, I sat beside him and felt Jamie take the one at my left.
“As I said on the phone, Dr. Beauchamp,” Principal Winegard began, folding her hands together on the desk. “We have a zero tolerance policy on violence here.”
“I understand,” I said. “But what exactly happened ?”
“According to our P.E. coach, they were doing centers, and Fergus suddenly tackled the other child, hitting him repeatedly. Several students were questioned and attested that it was unprovoked.”
I glanced at Fergus in surprise, unable to even picture that. I opened my left hand on my knee, and Jamie placed his over mine again. “Fergus?”
Fergus looked up at me from underneath his eyelashes. “It’s true, Sassenach. I hit him.”
“Okay...but why ?”
He shrugged. “Unpro...unprovoked?”
I gave the principal a look then turned back to him. “Yeah, I don’t believe for a second that it was unprovoked, Fergus. I’m not saying it’s okay that you hit him, but I want to hear your side of this.”
This time Fergus looked at me in surprise, then at Jamie for confirmation. It occurred to me that he must not have been expecting me to want to hear his explanation.
“He always teases me for being a foster kid,” Fergus said, starting off quietly but then growing in confidence. “But I can take teasing. That wasn’t why. There’s this girl in his class and he always picks on her. Calls her names, pulls her hair, throws things at her. She tells me about it at recess. She’s tried telling on him to the teacher and her parents but everyone just says that he does it cause he likes her . And then…”
He trailed off and I gave the principal a look of concern.
“And then what, Fergus?” Principal Winegard prompted.
Fergus bit his lip and looked at Jamie. “I promised her I wouldn’t tell.”
I took his hand. “Fergus, if this boy has done something to that little girl, then something needs to be done about it. You need to tell us.”
He sighed, and it appeared that Jamie was telling him the same thing. “She told me that yesterday at recess he cornered her behind the slide and pantsed her. And today during centers at P.E. he was telling everyone about her…” Fergus blushed red and gave his lap a pointed look. “And I just couldn’t take it! She’s a nice girl, and she didn’t deserve that! He wouldn’t stop and when she started to cry I just lost it! I’m sorry, Sassenach, I’m sorry, Jamie!”
As he began to cry, I pulled him into my arms, though the positions were awkward due to the chair arms. “It’s alright,” I whispered into his hair. “It’s alright, darling.”
I looked up at the principal. “Are you going to do something about this?”
She sighed. “I’d like Fergus to write this down, and I certainly will call the girl’s parents and talk to them and her about it. But I’m afraid right now, it’s Fergus’s word against the other boy, and zero tolerance means automatic out-of-school suspension.”
I gaped at her. “Are you serious? A little girl is getting bullied and sexually assaulted by another student at your school, under the nose of her teachers, and when my son does something about it after no one else would, he’s to be suspended ?! That’s fucking bullshit!”
“There’s no need for language, Dr. Beauchamp…”
“I think if there’s ever a time for language, it’s when children are being hurt Principal Winegard. Is that other boy going to be suspended as well?”
The principal at least had the decency to look a little shamefaced. “According to witnesses...he didn’t fight back…”
I leapt to my feet, feeling the firm weight of a hand on my lower back. “You have got to be kidding me! So that little bastard gets to remain at school where he can continue to abuse the little girl!”
“I assure you we will launch a full investigation of this, and the children will be separated…I’m sorry, I have to follow protocol…”
I scoffed. “Well, Principal Winegard, if this is protocol, you need a new goddamned protocol. Let’s go, Fergus.”
Fergus jumped up and hurried after me as I stormed out of the office, glad the other boy wasn’t still sitting outside so that I didn’t have to look at his ugly little face.
When we reached the front office, the receptionist gave Fergus an apologetic smile. “His teacher said she’ll email his work over,” she said kindly.
“Thanks,” I said, trying not to snap at her, since it was obviously not her fault.
I looked up to see a pretty little girl with hair put into two adorable puffballs on the sides of her head, with bits of pink streaked through them. She looked like she’d been crying. “Did you get suspended? I’m so sorry.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Fergus said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
The girl’s parents were there, apparently picking her up, and her father put his hands on her shoulders, looking at me. “I don’t know if your boy told you what happened, but Annyiah just told us everything, and he was only defending her. For what it’s worth, we’re grateful.”
I smiled, calming down somewhat. “Look, this isn’t over. We shouldn’t let that kid get away with this.”
“Oh, we won’t,” the mother said, looking near to tears herself. “And we’ll do anything we can to keep this off Fergus’s record.”
“Thanks,” I said, nodding.
In the end, Annyiah’s parents and I exchanged phone numbers so that our children could get together to play, a fact both kids were quite happy about. And just like that, I actually had parent friends.
When we got outside, Fergus veered off to the side a little, and I was treated to the slightly strange, but heartwarming sight of him hugging thin air.
Since there couldn’t have very well been a cellphone floating down the sidewalk, Jamie had left his at home, and I was anxious to know what he had to say about all of this, particularly his opinion on the way I handled it.
“I really am sorry about all this,” Fergus said, strapping himself into the backseat.
“I’m not,” I said firmly. “I know I should probably tell you that violence isn’t the answer and yadda yadda yadda, but dammit that kid had it coming. Annyiah is very lucky to have a friend like you, Fergus. So what if you got suspended? Big deal. No one cares about Elementary school records anyway,” I turned around in my seat to look at him. “What matters is unless that boy gets some help and some serious discipline, he’s going to grow up to be a piece of shit who treats women like garbage, while you’re going to grow up to be a real man. I hope you gave him hell.”
Fergus grinned at me. “I punched him in the balls.”
I grinned back. “Good. Now, let's go get some ice cream.”
When we got home, I told Fergus to check his email for his work and get it done for the day, and afterward he was free to play his game as much as he wanted.
“I don’t know if I did right or not,” I said quietly after Fergus skipped off to his room with my laptop. “But I knew stupid little monsters like that in school. All that boys will be boys shit. So maybe I shouldn’t reward him, but the fact that he’s just so good , after everything he’s been through, I have to assume that a lot of that is...because of you. I’m sorry if…”
I was suddenly cut off by the feeling of two warm, calloused hands framing my face, and then a hard pressure on my lips.
I gasped, and then the pressure vanished before it caught up to me that Jamie had kissed me.
For a long beat I just stood there, stunned, and then my pocket vibrated. Jamie’s phone was on the counter, lit up, and I looked at my own.
“I’m sorry ,” he said. “I should not have done that. Especially after what you were just saying. You are just so...brilliant. I didn’t know how else to stop you from apologizing.”
I smiled. “It’s okay,” I said softly. “A kiss from someone I trust is not the same as what that kid did to Annyiah.”
“ You can always trust me, Sassenach. I would never do anything to hurt, or frighten you. Or...not on purpose. A kiss from an invisible man must have been frightening.”
I shook my head. “No, only surprising. Jamie…I’ve been meaning to ask...do you... feel ? Can you feel touch the way we do?”
There was a pause before he responded. “ Yes...but not exactly the same, I don’t think. You can’t hurt me, although I do sometimes feel pain. When I touch you I can feel warmth, and the pleasure of contact, but it isn’t quite the same.”
“But you...like it? Touch. Contact.”
“Very much. I don’t experience it much anymore.”
“Then come here,” I said, holding out my hand and taking small steps forward until my palm reached what felt like his chest. Once there I leaned into him, not quite able to bring myself to wrap my arms around him in the world’s most literal “air hug,” but I felt his arms go around me, and his chin rest on my head.
“So I did okay?” I asked. “I wasn’t a complete parenting fail?”
He squeezed me, and instead of reaching for his phone, he raised mine which I still held in my hand and typed.
“ You are a wonderful mother, mo gridhe.”
Chapter 9: What Do You Get For an Invisible Man?
Claire, Fergus, and Jamie’s first Christmas together is approaching, and Claire wonders what to get them both.
Fergus was suspended for the rest of the week, but he and Jamie had a grand old time at home. Jamie was strict in making sure Fergus completed all of his work in a timely manner, but once he was done, the two spent the afternoons playing video games, watching movies, and making messes in my kitchen with cookie baking, slime making, and various other experiments.
I raced to get home every evening, excited to see them, and not liking missing out on the fun. I’d never really felt like that before. I loved my job, and it was usually a struggle to pull myself away from it to go home, even to Frank.
But now, now it was the other way around. I still loved my job, but lately I spent most of the day counting the hours until I could leave and be with my little family.
It felt odd, thinking of Fergus and Jamie that way, but what else were we except a family? As strange and incredibly unconventional as we were.
And then I got home, and they were always so excited to see me. That was something I honestly couldn’t say I’d really experienced before. Even Adso often emerged from his sleep to rub my ankles and meow for scratches.
Since receiving permission more or less, Jamie had taken to touching me much more often, mostly to alert me of his presence. A hand on my shoulders here, a brush of fingers across my arm there. Sometimes it startled me a little, but I liked it every time.
As Christmas approached, I knew that I had to make it extra special for Fergus. Jamie had confided in me that Fergus hadn’t had very many happy Christmases in his young life. The group home always strove to do their best for the children, but the years he’d been in a foster home, Fergus had at best been treated as an afterthought behind the family’s own children, and at worst ignored altogether. Just the year before the family hadn’t even gotten a tree and had only given Fergus some second-hand shoes that were too small, and a pack of gum.
“I’m not even used to big family Christmases myself,” I said as I opened the dusty box of old ornaments of my uncle’s. Fergus was at Annyiah’s house that afternoon, but later we were going out to choose a Christmas tree and I wanted to have the decorations ready.
“Frank and I always just put up a little fake tree with lights and baubles already on it, and before that my Uncle Lamb and I were usually traveling over the holidays. I don’t think I’ve decorated a real Christmas tree since before my parents died. What did you do for Christmas growing up?”
“ I don’t know. I don’t really remember growing up.”
“That’s...sad,” was all I could think of to say. “You don’t remember anything?”
“ Some. I do remember music, and laughing. I do remember Christmas being a good time.”
I just couldn’t figure out the gaps in Jamie’s memory. He knew his name, that he once lived in Scotland with horses, but seemingly nothing about day-to-day life. Or was he just choosing not to tell me? “Well, what should we get Fergus for Christmas? He already has the Switch, do you know of anything else he really wants?”
“ I tried asking. The wee lad only said he couldn’t think of anything because right now he feels like he has everything.”
The little glass reindeer in my hand blurred as my eyes filled with tears.
“ He loves you so, mo nighean donn.”
When Jamie had called me mo gridhe , I’d googled what it meant. It was Scots Gaelic for my darling , though I’d never mentioned to Jamie since I wasn’t sure what he’d meant by it. But this one?
“What does that mean?” I asked him, preferring to hear it from him.
I watched as one of my curls was pulled straight and then released with a spring.
“ My brown haired lass.”
His , hm? I wasn’t at all sure how I should feel about that.
“Jamie, who are you? Really? You talk about your family and that you had a life before...even if you can’t remember all of it. You say you’re not a ghost, but were you once just a normal man, weren’t you?”
“ I suppose I was.”
Several minutes passed before I received another text.
“ It’s strange. I know that I had a life, I know I wasn’t always this way, but I simply cannot remember it exactly. It’s like, I remember food and drink, and sometimes I miss it, but I don’t remember what any of it tasted like. I don’t even know HOW I know that I’m not dead, I just know that I’m not.”
“Could I try looking you up online, try to find your background?”
“I do not think so, Sassenach. I really prefer just letting it be.”
“Okay,” I sighed, wondering if I’d ever get any real answers out of him. “So, what do you want for Christmas?”
“ I’m like Fergus, Sassenach. You have given us so much. Just knowing you and the lad are safe and happy is gift enough for me. Besides, it’s not as if you can very well give me a pair of socks! 😉”
I laughed to cover up how flustered he’d made me feel, but then I just remembered another question that had been nagging at me. “Do you even change your clothes? How does that work?”
“Nice thing about being...whatever I am. I don’t get dirty, I don’t have to shave, I don’t need to eat, and I don’t even have to take a shit!
...Pardon my language.”
When Fergus got home we simply had to leave right away to get our tree. It was a joy seeing how happy and excited he was. We spent the better part of an hour picking a tree that was just right, and thank goodness we had a very strong invisible man helping us or else I don’t think we ever would have gotten the enormous thing put up in the living room.
I made cocoa, we strung (and ate) popcorn, and we spent the rest of the evening decorating and dancing to Christmas music.
“Mistletoe!” Fergus sang in a comically high-pitched voice as he stood on a chair and quickly taped a sprig of the stuff in the archway that I just happened to be sitting under. “Jamie! That means you have to give her a kiss!”
I chuckled and turned my head in the direction I thought Jamie was. Well, he’d kissed me once before, but I’d been so shocked the first time, I had to admit I was a little curious to experience it again, for novelty’s sake if nothing else.
“Tradition is tradition,” I said, tilting my chin up.
For the second time, I could swear I almost heard the echo of a deep laugh before I felt that warm pressure again, softer this time.
It was gone before I could properly evaluate it, but it mostly felt like a normal kiss. Dry, soft lips, a hint of stubble scratching my face.
Fergus was giggling like a fiend. “I’ve never seen Jamie’s face turn that color before!”
“See anything that catches your eye?” I asked Fergus as we meandered the shops downtown. It was a rare afternoon that it was just the two of us, Jamie having stayed home, claiming he wanted to rest so that he could interact with us better later.
Fergus shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re supposed to get a girl who’s your friend. I don’t want it to be mushy or anything.”
“Well, what does she like?” I asked, fighting back a smile.
He shrugged again. “Fortnite, Minecraft...hey, look at this!” he pointed at a charm bracelet hanging over a display cabinet. It had charms of cookies, cakes, mixing bowls, and whisks. It was a bit gaudy, but cute and perfectly appropriate for a ten year old girl. “She loves to bake. What do you think about this? It’s kinda pretty, right?”
“I think that’s perfect ,” I said, ruffling Fergus’s hair. “Shall we get it?”
Fergus nodded and politely requested the shopkeeper to put it in a gift box.
“What about Jamie?” I asked. “Any idea of something one could feasibly give…someone like him?”
“You already gave him the phone,” Fergus said. “He likes to read.”
“That’s right,” I’d already been eyeing a row of novels when Fergus had spoken. I knew that Jamie read my books from the way he sometimes left them laying around the house, and he was probably getting tired of my “kissy” novels. “What kind of books does he like?”
“History,” Fergus said. “Folklore. That sort of thing.”
When we got home, I sequestered myself in my room to shop online without the risk of an invisible person looking over my shoulder. Without really knowing exactly what I was looking for, it was purely by chance that I came across an antique first edition from the 1940s on Celtic mythology. It seemed to have everything Fergus said Jamie liked. History, folklore, and of course Scotland. I added it to my cart without another thought, resolving to make sure Jamie never found out about its price tag.
“Earth to Lady Jane,” Joe sang, waving a cup of (very) spiked eggnog under my nose.
The hospital Christmas party was never anything big, as we tended to save our budget for a huge New Years Eve bash. Just Christmas music, alcohol, and Secret Santa as doctors, nurses, and other staff drifted in and out depending on their schedules.
“You’re on another planet,” he continued, then sighed. “Let me guess, it’s the holidays, and you’re missing Frank. Look, it’s nothing to be ashamed…”
“It’s not that,” I said firmly. “I’m completely over Frank. I’m sorry, I just have a lot on my mind I guess.”
Joe sat next to me. “Geillie is convinced you got yourself a new man. I wasn’t so sure but you have been awfully distracted and dreamy lately. Don’t tell me you and Fergus’s imaginary friend have shacked up.”
I took far too long to respond, and his laughter faded. “I...I was joking, Claire.”
I forced out a hopefully convincing laugh. “Yeah, sorry to burst your bubble. It’s just me, Fergus, the cat, and Fergus’s imaginary friend , but I think dating Jamie would be awkward if Fergus has to go out to dinner with us.”
Joe chuckled. “Want Gale and me to find you a date for New Years?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Don’t even think about it, Joseph Abernathy.”
“Fine! Fine! At least want me to ask Gale’s permission to give you a kiss at midnight?”
I rocked my head from side to side. “Hm, nah. Can I kiss Gale instead?”
“Absolutely, Lady Jane. So long as I can watch.”
When questioned about Santa Claus, Fergus had smiled and shook his head, saying he was far too old to believe in such a thing.
That may or may not have been true, but I had been the same way growing up, and that didn’t mean I hadn’t been excited over a full stocking on Christmas morning as a child.
After Fergus had gone to bed on Christmas Eve, full of cookies and hot cocoa, I tip-toed into the living room to fill his stocking with candy and small toys...and also an orange, because I’d always had one in mine for some reason.
I sat in front of the cheerily lit tree, enjoying the beauty and the quiet. There was a gentle touch on my shoulder, and a glass of my good whisky appeared beside me.
“Wow, serving drinks, you’re really coming along,” I joked, leaning back against the sofa. “Sorry, I left my phone in my room.”
Jamie tapped at his phone, and then I could sense him sit close to me as it floated toward me. (Watching things float would never cease to amaze me.)
“ I can’t taste whisky, so I need to live vicariously.”
“That’s heartbreaking,” I said, taking a sip and closing my eyes to best enjoy the heat of it. “Because this is so good.”
“ What were you thinking about? When I came in?”
“My uncle. He passed away a few years ago, and he was all the family I had left in the world. He uh, he raised me, I think I told you that. We may not have had traditional Christmases but we had holidays spent all over the world. We even once spent Christmas in the real Bethlehem. I miss him.”
“I’m sure he’s verra proud of you.”
I smiled, leaning closer, even though I couldn’t currently feel him. “I hope so.”
“My da would have all us bairns gathered round the fire by now, telling stories. My mam would scold him for making things up, but she would smile, and I could see the joy and love in her eyes.”
I froze, shocked that he was able to be that descriptive of his childhood, but I didn’t bring attention to it, in case it broke the spell. “That sounds wonderful. Where are they now?”
“Gone. They passed long ago. I dinna have much family left either.”
“I’m sorry. You know, Fergus told me your full name when we first met, but I don’t remember it. Just that it was really long.”
His shoulder pressed against mine, and I found feel it shake with laughter.
“ James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.”
I read the name over a couple of times. “Wow, that is...an impressive name,” I stuck out my hand. “Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Pleased to meet you.”
His hand engulfed mine, but instead of shaking it, he just brushed his thumb over the back of it.
“I wish I knew what you looked like,” I whispered.
The hand holding mine raised it up, slowly, his grip loose to give me freedom to pull away.
When I realized what he was doing, I closed my eyes, not particularly wanting to watch my hand touch thin air.
He pressed my palm to his cheek, then released me, letting do what I would.
A strong jaw, the bristle of a beard attempting to come in. Full lips...but I already knew that. Prominent brow. Slightly crooked nose. A mole on his left cheek.
I tried to paint the picture of him in my mind, but it continued to elude me. I was quite certain, however, that he was beautiful.
I’d expected to be awakened early Christmas morning, but when I got up around eight, the boys were still asleep, so smirking to myself, I first knocked softly on Fergus’s door then quietly crept in.
I tip-toed to his bed where he was sprawled out, snoring away, then leapt onto the mattress beside him.
“Wake up! Wake up!” I exclaimed. “Wake up, it’s Christmas!”
Fergus awoke laughing, trying to roll away from me. “Alright, alright! I’m up!”
I yanked off his covers and dragged him to his feet, but by this time he was excited too, and we both yelled for Jamie to get up as we hurried into the living room.
There’d been a growing number of presents under the tree for Fergus, and I’d seen his cautious eagerness every time he saw a new one appear. But when he saw his stocking leaning against the sofa, full to the brim, he paused and his eyes went wide.
“Whoa!” he breathed, dropping to his knees and carefully pulling everything out of the stocking one by one. He was even excited about the orange.
He opened each of his gifts with care, not just tearing in like I’d expected him to, and then he thanked me profusely between each one, even the seemingly more ‘boring’ ones of clothes and a new coat.
His favorite gifts by far were the kit that would allow him to build his own working robot, and the skateboard with accompanying safety gear.
“This one’s from me and Jamie,” Fergus said, handing me a crudely wrapped package. I knew he’d been doing a few odd jobs for Joe and for Annyiah’s family to earn money for Christmas, but I never mentioned it because he’d been so secretive.
I took the same care in unwrapping the box that Fergus did, having absolutely no idea what he could have gotten that would put such an eager look on his face.
And when I opened the box and looked inside, my heart just stopped.
“Fergus,” I whispered, carefully lifting the blue vase from the abundant tissue paper.
“I know it’s not the same one,” Fergus said, bouncing anxiously and scanning my face for a reaction. “But...Jamie and I just thought...maybe you’d like a new one. Do you...do you like it?”
“I love it,” I cried, pulling him into a hug. “This is the most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me. Thank you.”
“Thank Jamie, too!” Fergus reminded me. “It was his idea, but I worked for the money and picked it out myself.”
“Thank you, Jamie,” I said. “Now, here, this one is from me.”
Jamie tore open his present, throwing pieces of the wrapping at me and Fergus.
“I didn’t know what to get you,” I said apologetically, feeling like the book paled in comparison to the thought behind giving me the vase. “But I thought it seemed interesting…” I looked at Fergus. “Does he look like he likes it?”
Fergus grinned and nodded, and then I felt Jamie press a kiss to my cheek.
“He says he loves it,” Fergus said. “And thank you, Sassenach. And really…” he gave me a bashful look. “Thank you, for everything. I’m glad you’re my foster mom.”
“So am I,” I said, pulling him into another hug and kissing the top of his head.
Chapter 10: Three...Two...One...
Claire attends a New Years Eve party, but feels like she isn’t where she should be.
The New Years Eve party held by the hospital staff was normally one I looked forward to all year. Even before I was with Frank, I always managed to find myself a date, and then when Frank and I were together we were both excited to go.
This year it was being held at a gorgeous event hall by the harbor where we could watch the fireworks at midnight. And I wasn’t even on call this year. But instead of excited, I found myself dragging my feet, wishing Jamie could come with me.
Fergus had been invited to Annyiah’s house and was spending the night, and I felt awful that Jamie would be stuck home alone.
“I hate just leaving you,” I said as I hopped through the living room, trying to walk and buckle the strap on my heel at the same time. “I wouldn’t even go except it's sort of a thing. The ticket sales go to getting new equipment, and we meet with investors, all that.”
I picked up my phone, but there was no answer from him. “Jamie?” I knew he was there, I could tell. “Is something wrong?”
Hands rested on my shoulders and pushed me to sit down on the coffee table. Then he raised my foot, propping it on - what felt like - his leg while he buckled the strap for me, then he took my phone and typed,
“ You look beautiful.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, smoothing the edges of my red tea-length dress to hide how that affected me. “It’s from a few New Year’s ago.”
“ It took me a while to get used to seeing lasses in short gowns, but I’m starting to appreciate it.”
Fingertips tickled the inside of my ankle, and I was so busy trying not to feel flustered that I didn’t catch what he’d said until later. Unused to women in short dresses?
“So I hear I’m kissing you at midnight instead of my husband,” Gale said, bumping my hip with hers.
I laughed. “Oh, that’s alright, you can kiss your husband first. I’ll accept sloppy seconds.”
“How’s Fergus?” she asked. “Joe said he’s staying over at a friend’s house? Is that why you’re so quiet? You’re worried?”
“No,” I said, taking a sip of my wine. “I’m not worried. I’m sure he’s having a ball. I’m fine, really, and please, I beg of you, don’t ask me if I miss Frank.”
Gale snorted. “Don’t worry, I won’t. It just sort of seems like you’d rather be somewhere else tonight.”
I shrugged, then sighed. “Can I tell you a secret?”
Gale winced. “How secret? Because I love you, Claire, but you know I don’t keep much from my husband, particularly where his best friend is concerned.”
“First of all, you’re his best friend. Second, yeah I know, and it’s okay. I just feel like I need to talk to someone without Geillis being lascivious and Joe being overprotective.”
“Okay, then shoot.”
“There is someone,” I said, thinking over my words carefully. “A man.”
Gale grinned. “I knew it, and Joe owes me twenty bucks. So why is it so secret? Oh God, don’t tell me he’s married…”
“No! Nothing like that. I’ve just never actually... seen him.”
Gale frowned at me. “What? Oh, you mean like an internet thing?”
“Yes,” I latched on at once, satisfied that that was about as close to the truth as I could possibly get. “We text all the time, but we’ve never actually been...you know, face to face.”
“Well, that’s not so unusual, not these days,” she said. “Why don’t you want to tell anyone?”
“I don’t know. It’s just...a weird situation. There’s no chance of...meeting in person anytime soon, maybe ever. But he’s...God, Gale, he’s perfect. He’s sweet, gentlemanly, kind of old fashioned but like, in a cute way, not a patriarchal way. He loves kids, cats, horses. I feel like I can talk to him about anything. And yet, I’ve never seen his face...in person,” I amended the end quickly, realizing how bizarre it would sound if I told her I’d literally never seen his face. An internet boyfriend would presumably share photographs at least.
“You fall in love with a person’s soul, not his face,” Gale said, then looked out across the room where Joe was talking to some other men. He noticed her eyes on him and he smiled lovingly, raising his glass to her. “I’m lucky that Joe’s face just happens to be gorgeous too,” she chuckled. “Just because your relationship with this guy is unconventional, doesn’t make it less real. I don’t know why it’s so impossible to ever be with him in person, but give it time. If it’s meant to be, and all that.”
I smiled. “Thanks, Gale.”
“You’re welcome, LJ. Now, I hate to leave you, but this is my jam and I want to dance with my husband.”
I laughed and shoved at her. “Go on, shake it, girl.”
“How about you?”
I turned around to see a smiling, well-dressed man standing behind me. I recognized him vaguely as working in radiology, but I didn’t really know him.
“Want to dance?”
He was awfully attractive, and had a sweet smile, so I grabbed his hand and let him pull me onto the dance floor.
Justin and I shared several dances before making our way back to the bar for drinks. I was pleasantly buzzed, and finally having fun.
Justin was polite, and not overbearing, but the touches low on my back and the way he leaned especially close to my ear to talk to me were suggestive, and the sparkle in his eye when I touched his hand was hopeful.
Here was a flesh and blood man that I could walk down a crowded street with and not have to pretend that he wasn’t there since no one...including myself...could see him. I wouldn’t be called crazy if I tried to introduce him to my friends. If I went home with him that night, I could see him while I touched him.
“What’s so funny?” he asked, and it was only then I realized I was laughing.
“Nothing,” I said, shaking my head, but I was imagining what life would be like with Fergus, a husband... and Jamie, always there, unseen, and unable to go home. It really wasn’t very funny after all.
“Sorry,” I said, stepping back. “I think I’ve had a little too much to drink. I think I’m just going to head home.”
“Home? It’s barely eleven. I was...I was kind of hoping I could give you a kiss at midnight.”
“Sorry,” I repeated. “You’re really sweet, Justin...but…”
“It’s alright,” he said, clearly disappointed but was at least enough of a gentleman to not be outwardly annoyed. “I did have fun tonight, though.”
“So did I. And you know what…” I nodded over toward Geillis who was dancing with Gale. “See my gorgeous redheaded friend over there? Bet you’d get a kiss and maybe more from her if you’re interested.”
Justin’s eyebrows went up and he raised his glass in a toast to me before making his way over to her.
I hunted Joe down, who was laughing at his drunk wife, and pulled him aside. “Hey, I’m heading out.”
“What? What are you talking about? It’s not midnight. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, I just...I want to go home.”
Joe raised an eyebrow at me. “Yeah? Gale told me about this long distance man of yours.”
“That was fast.”
“I don’t know why the hell you didn’t just tell me. Did you think I would judge you for internet dating? But hey, you’re never gonna get a cab right now, and there’s no way in hell I’m letting you walk home in your condition.”
I held up my phone. “Already got an Uber. They’re all on standby for after midnight, so there was one already outside.”
He sighed. “Well...okay. Sorry to see you go. Go on, go FaceTime your man at midnight, but text me first as soon as your in your house safe, got it?”
“Got it,” I said, leaning up to kiss his cheek, then waved at Geillis and Gale - the former of who was too distracted by Justin to notice. “Happy New Year, Joe.”
“Happy New Year, Lady Jane.”
“Bugger,” I hissed, trying and failing to get my key into the lock at the house. But then the door swung open, and I would have fallen right through had invisible arms not caught me.
“I think I’m a little more gone than I thought,” I chuckled ruefully, getting my balance. “Thank you. I need to text Joe to tell him I’m home safe. Promised I would.”
Jamie gently took my clutch and guided me to the sofa where he deposited me before getting my phone and texting Joe for me. He then went to our text conversation to speak.
“ What happened? I thought you’d be out until after midnight?”
“I didn’t want to be there at midnight,” I said. “I wanted to be with you.”
“ But what about your midnight kiss? According to all of the Movies, that seems to be rather important.”
I giggled. “You’ll just have to be my midnight kiss, silly. You’ve done it before.”
He didn’t respond for a long time (or, it felt like a long time. I was in that relaxed, pleasurable zone of drunkenness where I still had my faculties but time had ceased to matter,) and I started to wonder if I’d offended him somehow.
“ It might not be a good idea, lass.”
“Why? Am I not a good kisser?”
“ Haha. That’s not it, Sassenach. Far from it. It’s only...I thought maybe you might meet someone at your party. A real man.”
I frowned. “You’re as real as any other man,” I said firmly. “More real...if you ask me.”
“ How can somebody be MORE real?”
I snorted. “Oh, I don’t know! So, why did you want me to meet another man tonight, Pinocchio?”
“ Pinocchio? ...Never mind. It wasn’t that I wanted you to meet a man, Sassenach. I just thought you might, is all. I was trying to be alright with that.”
I wanted him to clarify that. I wanted him to tell me how he wasn’t okay with it, but I noticed the clock on the wall right as it ticked twelve o’clock.
“It’s midnight,” I said. “Happy New Year, Jamie.”
“ Happy Hogmanay, Sassenach .”
“You needn’t kiss me if you don’t actually want to,” I assured him. “It’s only a silly tradition.”
“Traditions wouldn’t be traditions if we didn’t follow them.”
My tipsy mind was busy making sense of the sentence when I felt two fingers tilt my chin up.
I closed my eyes, trying to imagine his face. Lips covered mine in a slow, tentative kiss.
I opened my mouth, letting his bottom lip slide between mine, and finally figured out just what made kissing Jamie so different, other than being unable to see him.
There was no saliva, no taste, no smell. There was warmth, and the unmistakable feeling of soft but slightly chapped lips, but that was all.
I allowed myself a moment to decide if I was okay with that, and then his head tilted to better fit our mouths together, and a warm, soft, but strangely dry tongue questioningly swiped over my top lip and I decided that I was.
I reached up, resolutely ignoring how I would have looked if someone happened to walk in, and touched his cheek before running my fingers down the side of his neck.
And then I heard - or rather felt more than heard - what was unmistakably a moan and I pressed closer, hoping to make him do it again.
I raked both hands into ridiculously soft curls, and then all of a sudden, Jamie was gone.
I nearly fell face-first onto the sofa, and my heart stopped.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ…Jamie?!”
A hand lightly touched my knee, and I sighed in relief. “Oh my God...I was afraid something had happened. Was that too much? Too difficult?”
My phone lit up as he typed. “ I dinna ken what just happened. But no, I think I’m fine. Maybe I should rest though, just in case.”
“ I agree,” I said, nodding. That split second where I thought Jamie might have vanished completely had shaken me, as well as partly sobered me up. “But thank you, Jamie. This has been the nicest New Year’s Eve I’ve had in a very long time.
“For me, as well. Now come, you best get yourself to bed. You’re bound to have a terrible headache come morn.”
“Come morn,” I quoted teasingly, obediently letting him lead me to my bedroom. “Stay with me,” I suggested once we reached my bedroom door. “I’m not really ready for the night to end. We can just watch It’s a Wonderful Life until we fall asleep.”
It took a moment for an answer, and then I realized it was because he had to go get his phone.
“ I can’t do that, Sassenach. It isn’t right.”
I laughed and rolled my eyes. “What about that night at Joe’s? I know you were in bed with me that night.
“ That wasn’t the same at all. I had no other choice, and Fergus was in the other room.”
“God, what century are you from?” I laughed.
“ Fine. I’ll stay with you until you fall asleep. ”
I grinned in victory and practically skipped into my room, hissing as I struggled out of my dress, trusting Jamie to turn his head. (And how would I know either way? Not that I really cared.)
Once I was in a pair of comfortable pajamas, I crawled into bed, leaving ample room on the other side for Jamie.
“Why do you need to sleep if you don’t need to eat or drink?” I asked.
“ I don’t know. I don’t even know if I really sleep, but sometimes I just need to rest. To stop...being for a time.”
I frowned. “I’m sorry...is it too difficult? Making yourself...interactable, for me?”
“ A little. But I want to do it.”
I bit my lip, wondering if he knew how that sounded, ‘ I want to do it’, but having a feeling he didn’t. He seemed too...innocent.
“Well, just rest then,” I said, snuggling into the blankets as my eyes started to drift shut.
Before I fell asleep, a hand covered mine.
Chapter 11: It’s Not a Sex Show
Claire watches her favorite show, but Jamie has...questions.
So, this is not exactly a complete chapter but just a scene that didn’t really fit anywhere but I wanted to include regardless! This hasn’t been edited, so sorry if there are more mistakes than usual!
I plopped down on the sofa with the remote, narrowing my eyes at the reflection on the TV.
“Fergus...you’re supposed to be in bed,” I said.
“I’m hungry !”
Well accustomed to his voracious diet I waved him in the direction of the kitchen.
“Okay, but no junk. I mean it, kid.”
“I know…” he sighed, padding barefoot into the kitchen.
I glanced at my buzzing phone.
What are you about to watch , Sassenach?”
“My show, that is if somebody would hurry on up to bed!”
“I’m goin’ I’m goin’!” Fergus called from the kitchen. “I don’t want to watch your gross sex show anyway!”
“It’s not…” I started automatically, but...it was sort of true. “Well, fine, but that’s not why I watch it.”
Fergus snorted. “Suuure it’s not.”
He reappeared walking out of the kitchen, with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in one hand, and a ham sandwich in the other.
“Glad you went for a light bedtime snack,” I said wryly. “Go back and get a plate, and try not to leave crumbs in your room, please.”
Fergus did as I asked, and when he came back through, stopped to loop his free arm around my neck in a hug. “Night, Sassenach, night Jamie.”
I grinned, warmed by his easy show of affection. So much that I didn’t even mind that he no doubt left five hundred dirty dishes in the sink just from making a pair of sandwiches.
“Goodnight, Fergus,” I said.
“Enjoy your sex show!” He called over his shoulder before firmly shutting his bedroom door.
I rolled my eyes as I received another text from Jamie.
“ What does he mean? Is this like pornography?”
I chuckled. The show had been on hiatus since before I took in Fergus, so it was the first time I’d ever had to take much consideration into other people when putting it on. “You really don’t get out often, do you? It’s not like that , exactly, but there are some pretty graphic sex scenes and nudity, if that sort of thing makes you uncomfortable.”
“No, it’s fine. Catch me up.”
I gave him a brief synopsis of the show so far, promising him that if he liked this episode, I’d gladly go back and rewatch the rest of the series with him, but I was just really excited to see the new one.
It was a fairly plot-heavy episode, and I almost thought it wouldn’t have anything ‘inappropriate’ at all until the last half, when the main couple were reunited after a long separation and celebrated...well, as they would.
I glanced uselessly to my left where Jamie always sat, wishing I could see his face. I also became aware that I was feeling weirdly...not uncomfortable but… aware of watching this with Jamie. My face heated up, and I shifted in my seat. I’d never been this way with Frank, so what made the difference here? The fact that Jamie didn’t usually watch explicit TV? The fact that I couldn’t see him?
I paused the show, looking at my phone. “Yeah?”
“ Sorry...I did not mean to make you stop it. Never mind.”
I chuckled. “No, go ahead. That’s the power of the pause button.”
“I just had a question is all, but it’s daft. You’ll laugh. Never mind. Unpause.”
“Well now I’m just curious,” I said, glancing to my left. He’d asked a few questions throughout the episode to try and catch up, so what was stopping him now? “I promise I won’t laugh. What’s your question?”
“ It’s only...before they...well...he moved downward until you could not see him anymore, but it was quite clear from HER face that he was doing...something .”
I blinked at my phone. Well, I certainly didn’t feel like I needed to laugh. “You really don’t know?”
“ I’m sorry, it’s as I said...daft.”
“It’s not daft , it’s just…” and then it dawned on me. “Oh, I think I see. You have only vague memories of being a regular man. You don’t remember having sex, do you?”
“ I’m fairly certain I would remember THAT Sassenach. It’s only that I have never...well, I’m a virgin, you ken.”
“How can you know for sure if you have only limited memory?”
“I dinna ken. It’s just one of those things I know that I know. I used to be much worse. There was a time I thought it must be done the back way, like horses.”
This time I did laugh, and felt him nudge me in the arm. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Well, fine. What you weren’t seeing just then was…” I hesitated, feeling my face heat up again, and then I lowered my voice, just in case Fergus was still awake. “He erm...he was...going down on her.”
“ Yes, I saw him go down, but what the devil did he do to make her react like that ?”
I rolled my eyes, but at myself for being awkward, not at Jamie for not knowing. “He used his mouth. His tongue. On her. You get it?”
“ ...Oh. I think so. I didn’t know that was...done.”
I chuckled. “It’s quite pleasurable, for both parties. Women can do that for men, too, you know.”
“Better than the act itself?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe for some people. If I’m being perfectly honest here, the men I’ve been with have not been as...fervent as he was on screen. In other words, I haven’t been with a man before that liked it, or did it well. But I hear from other women that it can be to die for, if you find the right partner.”
“Ah, so it’s a skill then? Makes sense.”
“Most things in life do take practice, yes,” I said. “Did that answer your question?”
“ Yes, thank you. I’m sorry if that was awkward for you.”
I waved him off, even though I could tell I was still blushing. “Not at all. Ask me anything you want.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. In the meantime, may we keep watching?”
Grinning, I hit play, and Jamie and I were treated to another ten minutes of imaginative bedroom activities.
Only now, the heat in my chest that I’d felt before grew, knowing as I did that Jamie had never experienced any of this himself.
Could he? Was such a thing possible for him now? He told me that he could feel. He seemed to enjoy being kissed. And I could feel just about every part of him when he wanted me to. But that didn’t necessarily mean that he was capable of having...well, urges .
I wanted to ask, but I couldn’t bring myself to.
Instead, we finished the episode, and at Jamie’s request, started again at the beginning.
Chapter 12: Voice
Fergus’s problems in school continue, and Claire gets a text that leads to something that changes everything.
Please see tags for updated trigger warnings, although it ends nicely I swear lol.
I was beginning to really hate that principal’s office.
School hadn’t even been back into session following winter break for a week before I was called into a meeting with the principal, and school guidance counselor.
“Fergus sees a therapist every other week,” I said, my arms crossed. “And she has no problem with Fergus’s imaginary friend.”
The guidance counselor nodded his head. “And normally, I might agree. But this is the second fight Fergus has been in as many months, and this time it all seems to stem from another child refuting the existence of this imaginary friend.”
I sighed, wishing sorely that Jamie was here this time, but I’d asked him instead to go and watch Fergus during school, and see if he noticed something happening that the other adults didn’t.
Fergus had pushed a boy who called him crazy for having an “imaginary friend.” Fergus had evidently confided in a friend about Jamie, and the story had gotten out. Fergus didn’t have it in him to deny Jamie’s existence, and it had led to an altercation.
“Dr. Beauchamp, I have of course shared my concerns with Fergus’s therapist and his social worker, and the steps you take from here are up to all of you, but…”
“But as I’ve said before,” Principal Winegard broke in. “We don’t tolerate violence here…”
“I know,” I said. “And...believe me, Fergus will be disciplined for this. He’s still adjusting.”
She nodded. “I understand that. And I genuinely believe that Fergus is a good kid, but surely you understand I have an entire school to think of, and with Fergus’s record…”
And there it was. Fergus had had his label since before stepping foot into this school, all because of a file that I knew was probably an inch thick. It didn’t matter that he made good grades, and aside from those two lapses of judgement had been nothing but respectful and obedient according to his teacher. He was a “bad kid” according to his former schools, and that was all they saw.
“I understand,” I said flatly, unsure what else to say.
“I’d like to continue talking with Fergus,” the guidance counselor said. “With your permission.”
I nodded, feeling like at least he appeared genuine in his desire to help.
“Look, I get it,” I said as Fergus and I made our way home. “It’s frustrating, but you can’t just fight people when they tell you that Jamie isn’t real.”
“But he is real,” Fergus argued.
“I know that, but come on, surely you see how unbelievable it seems to most? Maybe...maybe you should just start keeping it to yourself.”
I could see Fergus scowling in the rear view mirror. “Pretend he doesn’t exist? Would you like it if I pretended you didn’t exist?”
I sighed. “That’s different, Fergus.”
“How? How’s it different? Jamie, how come you’re not saying anything?”
Pointlessly, I glanced at the empty passenger seat.
“We’ll talk more later,” I said, wanting to seek Jamie’s opinion on this. “But for now, no Switch for...a...a week. And no going over to Annyiah’s house.”
“What? But that’s not fair !”
Was it? I honestly wasn’t sure. “It is what it is,” was all I said.
When we got home, Fergus charged right in and stomped to his room, slamming the door behind him.
“You haven’t said anything,” I said, looking at my phone. “Did I do the wrong thing?”
“No. The lad deserved to be punished for starting fights. But you’re also asking him to lie.”
“Keeping a secret and lying aren’t the same thing,” I argued.
“ Perhaps not.”
I groaned in frustrating, flopping down onto the couch when my phone buzzed again. But when I looked at it, the text wasn’t from Jamie.
“ I want to talk.”
My frown turned into a grimace as I responded.
“ Nothing to talk about, Frank. It’s over.”
“I just want to talk, and to apologize for how things ended. We spent four years together, Claire, don’t we both deserve a little closure?”
I sighed and tossed the phone down, not having the energy to respond again just then. The phone buzzed a few more times, but I ignored it. It wasn’t until later that night that I realized one of them had been Jamie, asking me if I was okay.
Frank continued to text over the next several days, and left several voicemails. I knew that Fergus and Jamie could tell that something was going on, no matter that I tried to hide it from them.
All Frank would say is that he wanted ‘closure,’ and I was starting to think that maybe it would be easier just to hear him out and get it over with than it was constantly dodging his calls.
Ever since the incident at school, Fergus had been clingier to Jamie, and after his grounding was over begged Jamie to go along with him to the park to play with Annyiah.
I decided it was as good a day as any to get things over with with Frank, telling him he could come over and I would give him thirty minutes of my time, and no more.
“Hi,” he said as I let him in. He looked like he hadn’t been sleeping well, dark circles ringing his eyes. I honestly hadn’t expected our breakup to impact him so strongly, and I found myself surprised.
“Hi,” I responded. “So? You’re here. Say your piece.”
“Come on, Claire,” he said tiredly. “Can’t we sit? Have a drink?”
“That wasn’t the deal, Frank,” I said, crossing my arms. “I said you could come over and we could talk. I said nothing about drinking.”
Frank nodded, and came further into the house. “How’s the boy?” he asked, picking up the comic book that Fergus had left laying around.
“He’s well,” I said. “But I have a hard time believing you really care about knowing how he is.”
“I care if it makes you happy, having him here.”
“Seriously? If you cared about that you wouldn’t have behaved like a spoilt toddler! You trashed my house, you took everything, you threatened me! And now you come in here saying you care whether I’m happy?”
“I regret the way I acted,” he said, holding out his hands. “I lost it when you broke up with me. I was just so...devastated. I miss you, Claire. I’m sorry .”
A part of me wanted to believe he meant it, but it was too little, too late.
“I accept your apology,” I said diplomatically. “But it doesn’t change anything.”
“Claire! Be reasonable!” he exclaimed. “I’m apologizing ! What do you want, for me to get on my knees?”
I took a step away from him, growing wary along with his growing temper. “No, I don’t want anything of the sort. I don’t want you to beg, and I don’t want you . It’s over, Frank. Move on.”
His contrite expression morphed so quickly into one of anger it sent a chill down my spine, and I took another step back.
“I can’t fucking believe you’re going to throw everything we built together away, just like that.”
“What did we build, Frank? A placid, stagnant relationship?”
“We were in love! I gave you everything! Do you know how many women I said no to while I was with you?”
“Am I supposed to applaud you for that?” I asked, mentally telling myself that maybe I should just shut up. My phone was in my jeans pocket, and I fiddled with it, hoping to dial someone’s number without pulling it all the way out.
“What are you doing?” Frank asked, striking out before I could react, getting my phone out of my pocket as I scurried backward, putting the sofa in between us.
“Who the fuck is Jamie?” he asked. I must have dialed the last person I’d texted, which of course would have been Jamie. “You’re already fucking someone else?” he held the phone up to his ear. “Who is this? Listen, you piece of shit, Claire has a man, so fuck off!”
I looked around for Jamie’s phone. Had he taken it? Normally he couldn’t carry it, because if he did, what would happen is a cell phone would go floating down the street, plus it was difficult for him to even hold it for very long. But Fergus could have taken it.
Frank hung up and tossed my phone onto the sofa, then started approaching me again.
“Frank, just go,” I said. “Don’t do this.”
“Do what? Fight for what’s mine?”
“I’m not yours . I’m not anybody’s. Now, leave, before I call the police.”
Frank was faster than I ever thought he could be, getting around the sofa and grabbing me by the wrists, pushing me backward until my back hit the wall.
“Frank, please,” I said, trying my damnedest not to cry. “You’re scaring me. If you loved me you wouldn’t do this!”
“How could I love a whore?” he hissed. “But if that’s how you’re going to be, I suppose I’ll take the whore.”
He covered my mouth with his in a bruising kiss, hard enough that I couldn’t even turn my head. I struggled against him, but Frank was strong, and held me firm.
I finally squirmed enough that I could get a knee into his groin, and he lurched back, grunting, and I tried to make my escape.
He recovered quickly though, and grabbed me around the waist, pushing me down onto the floor, knocking the breath right out of me.
Frank forced my legs apart with his, and I could feel him hard through his slacks. “Frank please,” I begged, sobbing freely, unable to believe this was happening. “Don’t do this.”
“You did this,” he hissed into my face. “This is your fault, Claire.”
Frank and I both froze at the unfamiliar voice, and then Frank was yanked off of me, and forced against the wall.
“What the hell?” Frank breathed, looking all around.
Frank’s head snapped back, as if he’d been hit, and his face paled as he looked at me. “How are you doing this?!”
A knife from the kitchen all of a sudden soared through the room, lodging itself into the wall beside Frank’s head, and then he ran from the house like it was on fire.
In the wake of it all I sat there, feeling stunned, for multiple reasons.
I’d very nearly been raped by a man who I once loved, and then I’d been saved by a man I couldn’t see. But...I could...hear?”
“Jamie?” I said, crying.
A hand cupped my cheek and I flinched before relaxing into it, recognizing the feel of it.
“Where’s Fergus?” I asked.
“With Annyiah and her parents,” said a soft, but deep, Scottish voice. It didn’t come from a certain point, like it would if a regular person was talking to me. It sort of came from everywhere, but nowhere. “He’s safe, Sassenach.”
I flinched again, but this time in shock, and I felt a thumb brush away my tears. “I can hear you.”
There was a gentle chuckle. “Strange.”
“Very,” I agreed. “Don’t leave me.”
“I won’t,” he whispered, and he sat beside me, the ethereal warmth of him surrounding me.
The sun outside was setting, casting the house in a dark blue glow. Jamie rubbed my back as I cried, but once I let it all out, I dried my face on my sleeve and resolved to never shed another tear over Frank Randal again. He wasn’t worth it.
In the silence, I burrowed closer to Jamie, inhaling deep to try and catch those strange, stray scents that I could sometimes detect from him. If I closed my eyes I could almost pretend that he was really there, fully, in the flesh. I could picture him. Tall, broad, strong. I imagined he had almost boyish features, especially when he smiled.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“I dinna ken,” he whispered. “I wish I did.”
I could feel his chin resting on my head, so I tilted my face toward him, searching for his mouth.
His lips met mine gently, cautiously. It was still that odd smooth, dry sensation. But I sought more of it, arching into him.
When I opened my eyes, it was still light enough in the living room that I could see the empty space before me, but I knew of a room with black-out curtains and I stood, patting around for a hand before pulling him along.
“What are ye doing?”
In my bedroom, with the door shut, it was all but pitch black, and it didn’t matter that I couldn’t see him.
“Do you…can you feel me?” I asked, laying a hand on his chest.
“Yes,” he whispered. “I feel ye, mo nighean donn . I...I want ye…but...”
I wasn’t at all sure how, or if this would work, but I needed him. I needed to feel him, and only him, and forget everything about the one that was here before.
I found his lips again, and kissed him with everything I had, not feeling the need to ask him if he was sure, knowing as I did that it took mental effort to make himself touchable to me. And he was touchable, more than I’d ever known him to be.
The fluttering feeling of him, the places that came in and out of existence were more thrilling than unnerving anymore, brushing all over me like the wings of a dozen birds.
“I dinna ken what I’m doing,” he whispered in my ear.
I knew that of course, and even though he was giving his consent with every touch, I realized maybe he needed to know that he didn’t have to. “We don’t...we don’t have to do anything. We can stop, Jamie. You won’t upset me.”
“I’m only not sure what I can do. But I want tae touch ye. I want it so badly, Sassenach.”
The cadence of his voice sent pleasant shiveres right through me. I didn’t care that this wasn’t normal. I didn’t care whether it could last or not. I’d been frightened and assaulted, and right then all I wanted was to feel safe and loved by someone I trusted and cared for.
No...not just that. I wanted my best friend. I wanted Jamie .
“Then touch me,” I whispered.
A hand skimmed up my side, then over my shoulder, ghosting briefly, shyly, across my breasts.
His hesitance was so endearing, I only wished it were possible to see his face.
“I’m no’ sure how long I can keep talking tae ye, and touch ye at the same time. I’m getting tired. I dinna want tae tire too soon.”
I smiled. “We’ve gone this long without talking.”
Jamie chuckled, and raised the hem of my shirt. I helped him by stripping it off impatiently, followed quickly by the rest of my clothes. When I reached for his chest again, my palms met bare skin, and I gasped.
“How did you do that?”
His shoulders shrugged in answer, so I heaved a mental shrug of my own and let my hands drift blindly downward.
But when I would have touched him, his corporeality dissolved, like sugar dissolving in water, only to return a little stronger, as he nudged me in the direction of the bed.
I lay back, and felt him hover over me, the heat of him almost fever-like.
“Are you okay?” I asked him, growing slightly concerned.
“I canna see ye,” he whispered, although it was more of an echo now than a real voice.
“Now you know how I feel.”
“Close your eyes, Sassenach.”
I did, and his mouth fastened to the underside of my jaw, sucking my skin between curiously smooth teeth and biting. Would I have marks when this was over? I hoped to God I would.
Jamie kissed down the column of my neck, then peppered playful kisses across my collarbones and chest.
His body was fluttering in and out of existence in patches again, but what it created was fleeting points of pressure where his body pressed against mine that appeared and disappeared rapidly, like a staccato over almost every inch of me, in rhythm to the beating of a heart that I could not hear, or feel.
It only grew frustrating when I reached for him, and he slipped through my fingers like mist.
I felt rather than heard him moan when his lips closed over a nipple, the sensation more like the phantom effects of a pleasurable dream than real life...but pleasurable all the same.
“Jamie,” I sighed as he continued downward, licking a path to my thighs but leaving no trail of moisture that a person normally would.
He nipped the inside of my thigh, and I jumped in surprise because it felt so sharp and real.
I whimpered and arched my back, needing him to do something before I combusted. “ Please.”
“Can I...touch you?” he asked, sounding unsure.
I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of that question, along with the fact that the show we watched together really had sparked his curiosity, but instead I settled for a breathy “ God yes.”
And then there was warmth at my core. Sensation and pleasure but nothing I could definitively pinpoint as being tongue, lips, or fingers.
The feeling flickered in and out of existence like the rest of him, and I wanted to scream in frustration at the same time I wanted it never to end.
Fingertips dug into my thighs, nearly to the point of pain, but I got the impression he was trying to anchor himself to me.
The sensation left suddenly, and for a moment he blinked away entirely. He was back before I could grow worried, and he was leaning above me. I could almost hear him breathe.
“Sometimes I think I must be dreaming,” he whispered. “That one day I’ll wake up and all this will be gone.”
“You’re not dreaming,” I said, wanting to wrap my arms around him but I was getting the impression that he needed to be doing most of the touching in order to stay corporeal. “You’re here, with me.”
“If I am dreaming, I pray tae God I never wake.”
Something long and smooth slid inside of me, and I briefly thought that he’d gotten ahold of a particular toy that was stashed under the bed, but no, it was Jamie. But like his kisses, his penis lacked definition. It wasn’t unpleasant by any means, but a strong reminder that I wasn’t with a normal man.
I gave into impulse and put my arms around him, pulling him close as he rocked hard into me. Strangely, his back wasn’t smooth at all. In fact it was covered in ridges and lines. Scars?
I could feel him shake as he came, hear a stuttering moan, but there was no rush of warmth inside me. Then again, I shouldn’t have expected there to be.
I let my own hand drift between us. I was so close, and knew it wouldn’t take much to send me over the edge.
Before I could touch myself, the lamp was suddenly on, and I was squinting in the light.
“Christ…” I heard him hiss. “ A bheil thu fior?”
I chuckled, suddenly feeling very self conscious now that I was on full display and talking to an empty room. God, I hadn’t even kept up with waxing like I should have. I wished like hell I could see his expression. “I don’t know what you just said, but I hope it was a good thing.”
I could feel a presence right by my ear. Not breath, but the words still tickled when he spoke. “...the most beautiful woman I have ever seen…”
His voice was getting farther away. “Are you alright?”
He grabbed my hand, and put it on my lower belly, apparently wanting me to do what I’d been about to before he’d turned on the light.
Blushing profusely and almost feeling like I was performing for a hidden camera, I slowly let my fingers drift lower.
I could feel him watching as I parted the folds, lightly ran my finger across my labia, spreading my own moisture before finally touching myself where I needed it most.
I sensed him shift, though the bed did not move, and suddenly he was there again, his tongue joining my hand.
I moved my hand out of my way and let him take over. Being able to feel his touch, but see no one there sent a surprising rush through me and I was coming before I knew it, throwing my head back with a low moan.
His touch vanished, and once I came back to myself, I had the presence of mind to worry. “Jamie?”
A ghost of a kiss pressed into my temple, and I could sense his presence beside me, although I could no longer feel or see him.
I got up to get my phone, and saw that Annyiah’s mom was texting if Fergus could stay for dinner. I told her he could, then crawled back into bed after turning the light back off.
“You’re still here, right?”
My phone lit up. He was typing. “I’m still asleep, Sassenach.”
I smiled. “Good. I hope you stay asleep, too”
Chapter 13: Drop Dead Fred
Claire is anxious over Jamie’s feelings about their night together, and the trio prepare for a visit from Annyiah.
I lay in bed dozing for a short while, but when I felt like I could just sleep through the night, I forced myself to get up and shower and make myself presentable for when Fergus got home.
It was no wonder I felt drained and exhausted. It had been a...strange past couple of hours. And I couldn’t even be completely sure about how Jamie really felt about things, since I couldn’t see his face. I think I had taken for granted just how much of a person’s feelings read through on their face. Not for the first time, I regretted the fact that he couldn’t just be a normal man, no matter how exhilarating his differences could be.
Sighing, I pulled my wet hair into a messy bun and went out to greet Annyiah and her parents, and thank them profusely for feeding Fergus.
“What do you say, ‘Nyiah, pizza and movie night next week?” I asked, figuring it was about time I returned the favor.
Annyiah and her parents agreed that was a great idea, and after they were gone, I turned to Fergus who was looking all around anxiously.
“I think Jamie’s resting,” I said.
“Are you okay?” He asked me. He’d been a little standoffish with me since I’d grounded him, but now he was looking at me with such concern, all lingering anger gone.
I blinked, a hand flying to my neck, wondering if Jamie had left marks after all. “W...why?” I asked nervously. How in the hell are you supposed to explain to your ten-year-old foster son that you just slept with his invisible best friend?! I didn’t think any parenting books would cover that .
“When you called earlier, Jamie got really weird and said he had to go.”
I sighed, thinking ruefully that my experience with Jamie had really done the trick in making me almost forget about what happened with Frank.
“Oh. It was...it was Frank. He was here.”
Fergus’s eyes widened. “Did he hurt you?”
I shook my head. “No, Jamie made sure of that. I’m so sorry, Fergus. I never should have let him back in here. But he’s gone now,” I smirked. “And I’m pretty sure he’s too petrified to ever come back.”
Fergus smiled, then hurried forward to throw his arms around my waist. “I’ll go check on Jamie. Is he in his room?”
Oh... fuck ...was Jamie still in my bed? Was he... dressed ?
“Uh, I don’t know. Go check.”
While Fergus was doing that, I rushed to my bedroom and hissed at Jamie, wherever he was, to get his ass decent, and quick.
Jamie was very quiet for the next several days. He didn’t speak to me again, and I didn’t tell Fergus that I had, if for but a moment, been able to hear him. That ability it seemed wasn’t permanent, or maybe it just took too much energy for Jamie to keep it up with me. When Jamie used the phone or computer to communicate, it was only passing conversation about my work schedule, and how Fergus was doing at school.
I wanted desperately to know if he had just overextended himself that night and was taking longer than usual to recover, or if he regretted what we’d done, but I didn’t know how to ask.
“Sorry I’m late,” I said to Louise, nearly bowling over a gentleman exiting the office as I darted inside.
Louise smiled at me. “Fergus is still with Dr. McKenzie. I’m glad you could make it though, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about your plans for Fergus moving forward.
I sat down hard beside her. “What...what do you mean?”
“I don’t normally take the children I work with to their doctors appointments. I make an exception or Fergus because, well, I think you can see what a special boy he is, and he has been let down so much in his short life. By myself, included. I never want what happened with the Smiths to happen again, with any child under my care.”
“What happened with the Smiths?” I asked.
She sighed, and shook her head. “They called me to pick up Fergus, in a panic because Fergus was having a meltdown that was, I must admit, frightening to see, and I only caught the tail end of it. I really didn’t know what I was going to do with him at that point. I was terrified I’d have no choice but to place him in a facility. Come to find out shortly later that Mr. Smith was arrested on multiple counts of possessing and making child pornography. There were pictures of Fergus on his computer...nothing like what you’re thinking, just normal pictures, but investigators said it was the start of grooming. Fergus has maintained all this time that nothing ever happened to him in that house. He said it was Jamie who told him to behave the way he did, to get out of the house by any means necessary. I don’t know how or what Fergus knew, unless it was just an innate sense that he doesn’t know how else to describe. But it was after that that I made it my mission to keep that boy safe from then on, and I never again questioned Jamie,” Louise shrugged. “I don’t know, sometimes I wonder if Jamie is some sort of guardian angel.”
I wasn’t even aware that I was crying until Louise passed me a box of tissues from the end table on her other side.
To think how close Fergus had come to losing that precious innocence of his, how if it hadn’t been for Jamie...it didn’t even bear to imagine.
“Can I...is adoption a possibility?”
Louise grinned. “I was hoping you’d say that. It isn’t overnight, of course, but if you’re sure, I can start the process as soon as possible.”
I nodded. “I’m sure.”
Louise patted my knee. “Well, I’d like you to take a little time to think it over anyway, before you tell Fergus, and I’ll send you everything you need to know about the process.”
“Hi, Sassenach!” Fergus exclaimed, running out of the therapist’s office.
“Fergus,” Dr. McKenzie said. “Why don’t you show your foster mom the picture you drew, and then go hang it up on my wall while I talk to her and Ms. de la Tour?”
Fergus made a bashful expression and showed me the drawing he’d done. It was quite good, and clearly a picture of himself standing between me and, I assumed, Jamie.
“Wow, Jamie is handsome,” I chuckled.
Fergus took the drawing back and went over to one wall that was plastered with hundreds of children’s drawings, and started looking for a blank place to put it.
Dr. McKenzie smiled at me. “I have to say, Dr. Beauchamp, I could not be more thrilled with Fergus’s progress.”
“Really?” I asked. “That’s wonderful!”
She nodded. “I can see, just in his manner and the way he holds himself, that he’s happier than I’ve ever seen him. He feels safe with you, comfortable. Even the way he talks about how many ‘rules’ you have just radiates how secure he feels. I don’t see any change in his dependence on Jamie, but in time I expect Jamie will just slowly fade away.”
I knew that wouldn’t happen...or rather I hoped not...but I understood what she meant.
“That’s fantastic news,” Louise said. “I could tell too, but it’s a relief to hear it either way.”
“In fact, I think we could lessen Fergus’s visits. Once a month, though of course we can always change that if you start to see him regress at all.”
Fergus and I left the therapy office feeling relieved and happy. Fergus liked his therapist, but the news that he no longer needed to see her every other week was good news to him. And I...well, I was having a hard time not asking him how he felt about adoption, but I understood Louise’s reasoning for me not telling him right away until I really thought it over and studied the process. There wasn’t a piece of me that wasn’t certain that I wanted to be that boy’s mother, but for Fergus’s sake I would take it a step at a time.
And the first step was hopefully a real conversation with Jamie.
Fergus was a whirlwind, tidying up the house for movie night with Annyiah. It was endearing, seeing him get so worked up over a girl coming over, although I still didn’t think he’d reached a point of seeing her, or any girl, as anything other than a friend.
With him busy cleaning his room, I thought it’d be a good time to talk with Jamie.
“Are you here?” I asked, even though I knew he was. In answer, he touched my back.
“Fergus doesn’t know yet, but Louise sent me some information and paperwork that would start the process of adoption.”
There was a moment while the laptop was opened, and I looked over to see what he was saying.
“ Truly? You’re going to adopt the lad, legally ?”
“I want to,” I said. “I wanted to know what you think of it.”
“ Me? Why?”
I gave the approximate area of where his eyes would be in a face a stern look. “Why? Jamie, you’re the closest thing that boy has to a father. You deserve a say in things.”
There was no response for a moment, and then,
“ I’m no father, Sassenach. I’m no but the lad’s friend.”
I shrugged. “Okay, I didn’t mean to imply anything. You love him though, and you’ve been with him for years.”
“ Aye, of course. But a father provides, protects. I cannot do that for him, not forever. Or for you.”
“What are you saying?” I asked, feeling panicked. “You’re not talking about leaving again…”
“I do not know how to leave, Sassenach. But one day, you and the lad will have to move on with your lives. I want him to have a real father...and I want you to have something real, too.”
“So you do regret what happened,” I mumbled.
I jumped at the sound of his actual voice, but then he switched back to typing.
“ I could never regret that. I rather thought you did, though. You never said anything. ”
I rolled my eyes and chuckled. “No, I don’t regret it. Maybe it complicated things a little but…maybe complicated isn’t a bad thing.”
“My room’s clean, is it almost time for Nyiah to be here?” Fergus asked.
I smiled at him, then reached over to quickly but casually delete Jamie’s end of the conversation. “Almost. Did you pick a movie?” I think I might have accidentally placed my chest right in Jamie’s face, because Fergus laughed and slapped a hand over his own.
“I’ll pick when she gets here,” Fergus said. “Can we get extra pepperoni on the pizza?”
I could tell Annyiah hadn’t often been left in the care of people outside her family, judging by the way her mother fussed over her before leaving. I had to admit, it made me a little nervous, too. I’d never babysat, even as a teenager, and being responsible for someone else’s kid was, well, a big responsibility. As big as fostering one. Plus, I wanted everything to go well for Fergus’s sake.
“We ordered the pizza,” Fergus told her, seeming perfectly at ease, thankfully. “Extra pepperoni! Wanna pick out a movie?”
But Annyiah was looking around the living room like she was looking for something. “Is he...here?”
“Sure,” Fergus said, pointing toward the desk where my laptop is.
“Annyiah knows about Jamie?” I asked.
“She’s my best friend,” Fergus said with a roll of his eyes. “Of course she knows.”
Annyiah gave me a skeptical look. “Do you believe in him, Dr. Beauchamp?”
I smiled at her. “Call me Claire, and…” I glanced at Fergus. “Yeah, I do. Jamie is as real as you and I.”
I’d never admitted it out loud to anyone before, beside Fergus, and I had to say, it felt good to do so, even if Annyiah was only a child.
“He can prove it,” Fergus said. “But he doesn’t want to scare you.”
Annyiah’s eyes widened. “I wanna see!”
I took Annyiah by the shoulders and guided her over to the desk. “Jamie, do you want to say hello?”
Annyiah nearly jumped out of her skin when the keys of the laptop suddenly started clacking on their own, and words appeared in the empty word document.
“ Hello, Annyiah.”
“H...how are you doing that?” Annyiah asked. “Is it like, a trick computer or something?”
“No, it’s Jamie,” Fergus said. “Here, watch,” he disappeared and came back with a small bouncy ball. He bounced it off the floor, but before it could go back down, it stopped midair.
Annyiah stared at the floating ball, taking a large step back.
“Don’t be afraid,” I said quickly, suddenly worrying that this was taking a turn for the worse. “He’d never hurt you.”
Annyiah reached out a shaking hand, and the ball was slowly and gently placed in her palm. She jumped, likely feeling the whisper of his hand, and then smiled. “Wow. You have your own ghost!”
“Not a ghost,” Fergus and I, and I suspect Jamie said at the same time.
Annyiah’s quick acceptance was charming, and I wished it could be that easy with my friends.
“I have a suggestion for a movie,” I said, steering everyone back toward the living room. “I already got Annyiah’s parents’ permission to watch it because it has some adult humor, but I really think it’s one everyone here needs to see.”
“What’s it called?” Fergus asked.
“Drop Dead Fred.”
Chapter 14: Burning the Midnight Oil
Claire is working late at the hospital, and Jamie visits.
Happy Valentines Day! Whether or not you have someone to love on today, hope this chapter puts you in a...good mood lol ;)
“You’re still here, Lady Jane?” Joe asked, entering the office that we shared. “It’s after five!”
“I’m way behind on my paperwork,” I said with a sigh. “I’ve tried bringing it home, but I inevitably end up distracted.”
Joe chuckled. “Yeah, I imagine a young kid at home is like that.”
It was true, of course, but what I didn’t mention was the addition of the invisible man who’d suddenly become Mr. Flirt, and was forever touching me, or tickling me, or otherwise attempting to turn my attention away from work. Not that I minded, but, well, it made me very behind.
“I’m determined to get this done tonight ,” I said firmly. “Fergus is at a slumber party at Aiden’s house, and I am not leaving this damn chair until I’m done.”
I knew Jamie had been disappointed when I told him I would be working late on the evening Fergus would be gone all night. Since our discussion a few nights before, some of Jamie’s reservations had lowered, as had mine. Neither of us were under any delusion that we could ever have anything resembling a normal relationship, in fact, we hadn’t even come close to labeling the thing at all, but for the moment it was happy, fun. Also very very different, and not only because Jamie was invisible. Jamie himself, was simply different .
Maybe I was fooling myself, but I hadn’t found it within me to care, yet.
“Well, I admire your dedication,” Joe continued, breaking me from my distraction. “But hey, don’t push yourself too hard, okay? You have a lot on your plate lately. I can help with whatever you don’t get finished tomorrow.”
I smiled up at him. “Thanks Joe, I might take you up on that. Goodnight.”
Alone in the office, with only the glow of one desk lamp and a computer monitor, I set myself to work with single-minded doggedness. The time ticked by in a blur of word and numbers, and when my stomach growled at 8pm, I found myself surprised that it had gotten so late.
And I was only three quarters of a way done.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I muttered, massaging around my eyes.
Needing to look at something else for a moment, I noticed that Jamie had texted me an hour ago asking if I was still at work.
“Yeah, I’m sorry,” I told him. “ I’ve just let myself get way too behind, but this shit has to get done. 🙄”
“And I bet you haven’t even given yourself time to eat.”
“There’s leftover beef stroganoff in the fridge at home that’s been calling out to me lol. Another hour, hour/half tops and I’ll be done. Think if I text you when I’m leaving you’d mind putting the stroganoff on the stove for me? 🥺”
“Of course, Sassenach. 😘”
I bit my lip, refusing to get flustered over something as silly as a kissing emoji like a teenager, but it wasn’t easy.
There’d been no repeat performance of the one from the month prior, even after Jamie and I talked it out and came to the mutual decision that far from regretting it, we were glad it happened.
I wasn’t sure why we hadn’t, whether it was shyness, fear of getting too attached considering the uncertainty the situation, or the simple fact that we were very rarely without a nosy, perceptive ten-year-old in the house. But other than some shy and teasing touches, and lots of flirty texts, nothing had happened.
It was both a disappointment, and a relief.
I went back to work, but my mind was well and truly not in it anymore. I was just wondering how Jamie would react to sexting, and whether I could even manage such a thing, when the office door creaked open, startling a yelp out of me.
But through the open doorway, floated one of Fergus’s lunchboxes, which deposited itself unceremoniously on my desk. I felt a nudge on my shoulder, and then a word document appeared on my computer screen.
“Sorry, Sassenach, couldn’t bring my Phone.”
“Did you honestly carry this all the way in here?!” I exclaimed, opening the lunchbox to find a Tupperware container full of hot beef stroganoff and a Little Debbie cupcake.
“ Getting it to the hospital was easy. It’s dark out. Getting it into the hospital and finding your office without anyone noticing the Magical Flying Supper was another matter entirely.”
I bit my lip again, feeling absurd for actually getting a little emotional. “You are absolutely the sweetest. Thank you, Jamie.”
“ You’re very welcome. Now eat. I dinna like you skipping meals. You’re skinny enough as it is.”
I snorted, but tore into the food obediently. “Skinny? Have you seen my ass?”
“ Oh aye. I’ve seen it. And no, that part is not very skinny, is it?
I dinna know how to make a Winking Face here.”
I swiped out, trying to hit him, but either missing, or he wasn’t touchable enough for me to feel contact. I couldn’t think of an adequate response, so I just reached over and typed “ ;)”
“ Look at that! It DOES look like a Winking Face! Have you almost finished for the night, Sassenach?”
I groaned. “No, not quite. But I think I’ll be able to finish a lot faster with a full stomach, so thank you.”
“Would you like me to go so you are not distracted?”
“No, stay. You can ride home with me later.”
Jamie didn’t respond, but a few minutes later I watched one of Joe’s romance novels (and he read even trashier ones than I did) float off his desk before hovering over one of the chairs in the corner. I smiled.
Another twenty minutes passed, and I sighed, flexing my stiff neck and reaching one hand around to rub it. Two hands suddenly joined mine, and Jamie began massaging my shoulders, his thumbs kneading into the back of my neck.
I sighed again, this time in pleasure. It was very, very distracting, but a nice distraction to be sure.
“Thank you,” I murmured, attempting to hurry and finish up so that we could go home.
His hands were strong, the calluses where they touched my skin just rough enough to give me chills. I opened my eyes, not realizing that I’d closed them.
“Should I stop?” whispered a voice in my ear.
“No,” I said, thrilling at the sound of his voice. “Don’t stop.”
His hands moved down my back, kneading and stroking, before moving back up to my head and raking through my curls.
I whimpered when his fingers caught on the strands, pulling them. And then his lips were on the back of my neck, kissing and nipping.
I gripped the edge of my desk, trying to hold myself together, but I was very quickly losing it after just a few touches and kisses.
There was a knock on the door that made us both jump, and I cleared my throat twice before I answered in a voice that was embarrassingly hoarse, “Come in!”
Geillis peeked her head around the door.
“Joe said you were burning the midnight oil.”
I glanced at the clock, stifling a gasp when Jamie resumed his massage, not having expected him to just keep going. “It’s only 9:30, Geillie,” I said, proud of how my voice didn’t waver. “Hardly midnight.”
“Late enough ,” she said, coming to lean on the side of my desk. “You said Fergus is at a sleepover tonight, right? Why don’t we go out? Neither of us work tomorrow.”
“I...I really have to finish here, Geillis,” I said, gripping the edge of the desk when Jamie started kissing my neck again. Christ, I couldn’t even move away or wave him off without looking crazy!
“Come on ,” Geillis wheedled. “We haven’t gone out for a proper girls night in forever! We can get totally smashed and bitch about men. It’ll be great.”
One of Jamie’s hands starting drifting down my chest, light enough that it wouldn’t make my clothes move, but just enough pressure to make my breath hitch.
“That sounds fun, Geillie, and you’re right, we should have a girls night. Just...not tonight. Next week, yeah?”
Jamie’s hand reached my thigh, and I hurriedly slapped my own over it.
Geillis caught the movement and gave me a look. “Are you okay? You’re all flushed.”
“I’m...I’m fine,” I said, realizing I was breaking into a sweat. He hadn’t stopped kissing my neck...my jaw… “Just super tired. In fact, I think I’m gonna go home after I finish this last report.”
Geillis hummed. “You know, I think I know what you really need.”
Would this woman just leave already? “And what’s that?”
“To get laid.”
Jamie sunk his teeth into the joint of my shoulder and neck, and I smothered a squeak.
“Yeah...you’re probably right about that, too. But again...not tonight.”
Geillis chuckled. “Right. Well...I guess I should probably let you get back to what you were doing,” she picked up the romance novel Jamie had left sitting on my desk and waved it at me teasingly. “No judgement here. When the need arises, it arises. Night, love.”
“Goodnight,” I called after her, wincing in embarrassment at what she’d insinuated. I counted to twenty after she’d left, to give her ample time to make her way down the hall before I spoke. “You son of a bitch !”
There was a warm chuckle in my ear. “Sorry.”
“No you’re not!”
“No, I’m not.”
Words appeared on my computer screen. “Are you angry? Do you want me to go?”
“No, you bastard,” I said. “I want you to finish what you started!”
Another chuckle, and then his presence behind me vanished before reappearing at my feet, gently pushing up my skirt.
When he was behind me, it felt almost normal. (Except for the fact that he could do what he was doing and Geillis not see a thing,) but when he was in front of me, and I could feel his hands skim up my thighs, could see my skirt being bunched to my hips, but still see nothing, with no way of knowing what he would do next, it made me clench in want.
I felt his face between my legs, and I parted them to give him room, scooting down the chair in shameless display of what I wanted from him.
I giggled when my underwear ‘magically’ slid down my legs, and then his mouth was there. That strange, warm, dry mouth that managed to do amazing things to me.
Frank had never been a fan of the act, and then men I’d been with before him had either been the same way, or didn’t mind it but weren’t very...successful. Jamie, for all that he claimed to have no experience, was quite honestly a master. He hadn’t even needed the practice.
He seemed to know exactly how to move, where to touch, how to make me practically lose my mind, how to bring me to the very edge before backing off and building me back up again.
I covered my mouth with my hand; the last thing I wanted was someone to come checking on me for screaming. And wouldn’t I look interesting, splayed out in my office chair, all alone, writhing in pleasure?
My orgasm rolled over me in delicious waves, extending longer than it ever had before. I let my jaw drop in a silent scream and gripped the arms of my chair to the point where my nails dug into the leather.
When it was over, I sat there, my legs trembling.
“Christ,” I breathed. “I actually feel like my soul left my body there a second…”
Jamie chuckled, the sound quickly becoming addictive to me.
“Come here,” I whispered, reaching out for him, but I couldn’t find him.
“ That’s alright, Sassenach,” he wrote on the computer.
“What? But...I want...I want to return the favor. I can do whatever you want, Jamie, or...need.”
“All I wanted was to pleasure you, mo nighean donn. I can’t let myself get too tired again. And besides...I already…”
I blinked. Then chuckled. “Oh. Well, I’ll just consider it a rain check then. You know, Jamie, for someone who didn’t even know what that was a few weeks ago, you’re awfully good at it.”
“ I may be inexperienced, lass, but I know how to do my research. I said I was a virgin, not a monk.”
Not a monk, indeed.
Chapter 15: The Great Orange Avalanche
While grocery shopping, Claire gets some friendly attention that doesn’t sit right with a certain imaginary friend.
“Trolly,” I said flatly, examining two apples for bruises.
“ Cart ,” Fergus retorted.
The argument had been going on for the better part of our shopping trip, all over what to call the thing I was currently pushing and filling up with groceries for the week. “What else did I say we needed?”
Fergus glanced up. “Jamie wants to know why you don’t just make a list.”
“I did make a list,” I said. “And then I lost it. Now help me pick the nicest head of lettuce.”
“Jamie, are you as bored as I am?” Fergus asked, shuffling after me.
I chuckled and rolled my eyes. “Well, I’m sorry that grocery shopping isn’t exactly entertaining , but I’m buying food to feed your belly! Why don’t you go look at the magazines?”
He perked up a little. “Can I get a comic book?”
“Sure, but hey…” I called as he darted away. “I’m checking the rating on it this time!”
I’d assumed that Jamie had trailed after Fergus, but when a head of lettuce suddenly tumbled into the cart, I laughed.
“Thanks,” I muttered under my breath, trying not to make it look like I was talking to myself.
“Hi, Fergus’s mom!”
I blinked and spun around, giving the boy behind me a wide-eyed look. “Oh! Hey, Aiden. I just sent Fergus to the comic books.”
Aiden grinned and looked around at the man pursuing oranges. “Dad, can I go find Fergus?”
The man nodded. “Sure, but I swear to God if I see you with a Cosmo magazine again…”
Aiden grimaced at his father then glanced at me in embarrassment. “I know, I know.”
I was still feeling a little stunned as Aiden hurried away, but his dad was chuckling. “Sorry,” he said. “Can’t resist embarrassing the kid occasionally. Perks of being a parent, am I right?”
“Hm? Oh...yeah...sorry, it’s just…I’ve never been called Fergus’s mom like that before.”
Aiden’s father’s look softened. “Oh, yeah, Aiden told me that Fergus only recently came to be with you,” he smiled. “I still remember the first time one of Aiden’s friends in pre-k called me Mr. Aiden’s Dad , I just about melted. Nothing compared to first time they say it though.”
I smiled back. “He has his affectionate name for me, but I’m not... mom . And that’s fine.”
Aiden’s father nodded, then stuck out his hand. “I’m Simon.”
“Claire,” I said, shaking his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Did you and your husband always know you wanted to foster, or was it more by chance?”
“Definitely by chance,” I chuckled. “But it’s just me.”
Simon nodded. “So you’re a single parent too, huh? It’s quite a ride, isn’t it?”
I nodded with a wry smile. “That it is, but one I’m quite enjoying. Fergus is a great kid.”
“Oh yeah, Aiden talks about him all the time. We should get them together sometime. Maybe you could...both come over for dinner one night…”
I’d been excited about gaining another parent friend, and one who could empathize with being a single parent at that, but then I noticed the way he leaned in, and realized he might not just be reaching for a friend.
All of a sudden, the neat stack of oranges next to Simon went cascading to the floor, and when he backed away to avoid them, wound up tripping over one and landing flat on his back.
“Shit!” I hissed, reaching down to help him. “Are you okay?!”
“Yeah,” Simon said, grabbing my hand. “How did that…”
He had stood up, and was standing close to me, but then his trolly suddenly rammed him in the side, almost knocking him right into the table where the oranges had once been.
“What the hell?!”
“Sir, is everything okay?” Asked a young employee, who was staring in dismay at the fallen oranges.
“Yeah, I...I’m so sorry,” Simon said, starting to pick the oranges up. “I must have bumped them or something.”
I felt my mouth hang open in shock. What had seemed like a freak chain of events to Simon had been an obvious and deliberate sabotage, and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be very angry.
Either way I hurried to help pick the oranges up, and once everything was set to rights, Simon smiled at me again, this time a little befuddled.
“So...anyway, do you think it would be okay if I gave you a call sometime?”
I smiled and looked away, imagining I could see a very guilty party standing there. “Sure. It would be nice to let the boys get together.”
Simon nodded, thankfully getting the message without me having to explicitly turn him down right there in the produce aisle in front of an irritated stock boy. “Right. Well, I’m going to go find my kid and nurse my bruises,” he winced. “Figuratively and literally.”
I watched him go, and then forcefully tossed one of the oranges into the cart. “Go get Fergus and tell him it’s time to go,” I said levelly, ignoring the looks I got from both the stock boy and an old lady passing by.
“Fergus, could you please take the trash out?” I asked when we got home.
Fergus nodded, grabbing the bag. “Can I ride my skateboard for a little while?”
“Just be careful, and wear your helmet.”
Once Fergus was gone, I crossed my arms. “So...would you like to explain?” After a moment of nothing, I chuckled. “Oh no, don’t pretend you’re not here. I can tell.”
My phone buzzed. “ How can you tell?”
I narrowed my eyes at my phone, for lack of anything else to narrow them at. “I just can. Now, would you like to tell me what the hell happened in the store?”
“ I’m sorry, Sassenach. I accidentally knocked over the oranges.”
“Accidentally huh? You, who has to concentrate in order to touch things managed to accidentally knock over a pyramid of oranges and shove a shopping trolly into an innocent person?”
“ Not sure how innocent he was. He was coming on to you, Sassenach .”
I snorted. “Yeah, I know. But he wasn’t being lascivious or anything. He was just flirting. Politely. Did that really warrant a slapstick routine?”
There was a long pause, long enough I actually wondered if Jamie was refusing to answer.
“ If he could have seen me standing right there next to you, he would not have flirted with you like that.”
I wasn’t entirely sure what to feel. Annoyance? I hadn’t really been interested in Simon, even though he had been pretty good-looking, seemed nice, and must be a good parent since his son was so well-adjusted considering his parents’ divorce. Without Jamie, I likely would have indeed been very interested. But the key words there were without Jamie .
It wasn’t Simon’s or anyone else’s fault for assuming I was available, since to all outside eyes, I was. But while the relationship I had with Jamie was unusual and likely unsustainable, it was a still a relationship, as far as I was concerned.
“Even if you weren’t...you, you wouldn’t always be standing next to me. Just because a man flirts with me doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean I’m going to take him up on his offer.”
The air around me felt thick, tense, and it took me a moment to realize it wasn’t me feeling that way. It was Jamie.
“ You should,” he said. “ To expect anything else would be unfair.”
I knew he was upset, but I couldn’t help but find a little humor in the situation. “You were jealous,” I pointed out needlessly.
The word bubbles popped up and vanished a few times, and I tried not to smile at how flustered he was.
“ Aye I was jealous! Standing there like the damned fly on the wall watching that man salivate all over you! And you, batting your wee eyelashes at him.”
“I was not batting my eyelashes!” I cried in offense. “Look, Jamie, I wasn’t interested in Simon like that! I’m sorry you got upset but…”
I was cut off by Fergus’s reappearance through the front door, looking between Jamie and I with a perplexed look.
“Sorry,” he said. “Should I leave again?”
Fergus’s eyes were tracking something back and forth across the room, making me think Jamie must be pacing.
“No,” I said firmly. “Come get washed up for supper.”
Fergus nodded and removed his shoes. “Are you guys having a fight or something?”
“No,” I said more gently this time. “Just a misunderstanding, is all.”
Fergus went to the kitchen to wash, so I texted Jamie instead of talking aloud.
“ I get what you’re saying okay? But listen, I don’t go around letting men go down on me unless we’re on an exclusive basis. Assuming you’re not going out and using your mystical magical charms on other women, you’re just going to have to trust that I have no intention of dating another man right now.”
“Mystical Magical Charms? Really?”
“Yeah shut up.”
“I’m sorry for what I did to Simon. You’re right, he did not deserve it. How could he possibly resist YOUR Mystical Magical Charms?”
“You don’t have to use that Emoji, lass. I’m staring right at your face.”
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t.”
“No, I don’t.”
“And Sassenach? In answer to your question, absolutely not. Whether I was real or not, there would be no other for me.”
“Good,” I said aloud, though the intensity behind that statement was a little overwhelming.
A finger touched the bottom of my chin, tilting my face up, and I closed my eyes before lips briefly touched mine.
A snigger caught my attention and I glanced over at Fergus standing in the doorway of the kitchen, grinning and shaking his head fondly.
I blushed, thinking again how unusual I must look kissing thin air, but then I remembered.
In Fergus’s eyes, there was nothing unusual about it.
Chapter 16: First Dance
Claire, Fergus, and Jamie attend Annyiah’s parents’ vow renewal.
“A wedding?” Fergus said, peering at the white and silver invitation. “I don’t get it...I thought Annyiah’s parents already were married?”
I chuckled. “It’s a vow renewal. The twenty-fifth anniversary is a pretty big deal, so they’re celebrating it with like, a wedding redo . Apparently their real wedding was kind of a rush job.”
“Rush job? Why?”
I rolled my eyes up and rocked my head from side to side. “I’m going to take a wild guess and say it had something to do with Annyiah’s twenty-five year old sister.”
“Why?” Fergus asked, then looked to the side, getting an answer I couldn’t hear. “Oh. Why would they have to get married just because she was pregnant? Unmarried people have kids all the time.”
I smiled, able to see how it wouldn’t make sense to a child brought up around all kinds of parental dynamics. “In some families, having children out of wedlock is frowned upon. But clearly it worked out for them, they seem to really love each other.”
Fergus chuckled. “Yeah, Nyiah says they kiss all the time and that it’s gross. Okay, are we going to this ‘wedding redo?’”
“Well, sure,” I said, checking the date on the invitation. “Looks like it’s pretty dressy, so we’re going to have to buy you a suit.”
Fergus wrinkled his nose. “A suit ? Seriously?”
“ Seriously ,” I shot back, mimicking his tone of voice. “And I’ll bet you anything Nyiah will expect you to dance with her, so, be ready for that.”
“ Dance ?!” Fergus squawked. “But I can’t dance!” His eyes moved back to his side and he scowled. “Yeah, but, not in front of people ,” he groused in response to whatever Jamie had said.
I chuckled, writing out our RSVP. There was a space on the card for a plus one , but I ignored that. Fergus and I could just be each other’s date.
“I don’t see why not,” Fergus said to Jamie. “Sassenach? Jamie wants to know if he can come. He’s curious about what a vow renewal wedding is like.”
“Of course he can,” I said. “But...he knows I...can’t…”
My phone lit up, and I looked at it.
“I ken ye can’t acknowledge me there, Sassenach. Dinna fash.”
I smiled apologetically in his general direction, then instructed them both to get ready, because we were going suit shopping.
The vow-renewal was held in a botanical garden across town. There were rows of chairs on the grass, and just beside it all was a large tent set up for the reception.
Fergus was quiet and solemn as we were shown our seats, unused to being in such a “fancy,” as he put it, atmosphere. I felt a little awkward myself, not knowing anyone else there but the couple of the hour and their youngest child.
There wasn’t a seat left empty beside us, and I felt badly that it meant Jamie would be forced to stand somewhere, just watching. It made me feel a pang of sadness, that I hadn’t been able to put his name on that RSVP and walk proudly into the ceremony on his arm.
The ceremony was short and simple, but beautiful, performed before a backdrop of flowering trees, and a gorgeous sunset.
Tasha and Dominic’s four children stood on either side of them as they recited their vows. They weren’t the traditional ‘wedding’ vows of a future of love, but promises to keep the same love, trust, and commitment that had been keeping them going strong for the past 25 years, on into the next 25 and beyond.
It brought tears to my eyes, seeing the adoration written into their faces as they gazed at each other, even after over two decades of their lives. How lucky they were, how fortunate, to have found something that strong.
“Hey, Fergus!” Annyiah exclaimed, running toward us at the reception.
“You look beautiful, Annyiah,” I said, admiring her flowing lavender dress, then elbowed Fergus in the side. “ Doesn’t she?”
Fergus gave me a look. “Uh...yeah.”
Annyiah grinned bashfully, no matter how begrudging his compliment had been. “Thanks!”
I gave Fergus another meaningful look, and he sighed. “Do you wanna dance, Nyiah?” He asked.
Annyiah frowned and looked back at the dance floor where couples were swaying to a slow song.
“No,” she said, her nose wrinkling. “Can’t we just wait for the Cha Cha Slide like normal people?”
Fergus perked up. “Yeah!”
Annyiah looked around. “Is Jamie here?”
Fergus nodded, then laughed when Annyiah jumped and swatted at her head, presumably because Jamie had pulled one of her curls.
“We can’t eat any cake till my parents cut it,” Annyiah said. “But there’s cupcakes! Think Jamie would help us swipe some?”
Fergus looked at Jamie, then at me, and I got the distinct impression that all three of them were imploring me for permission.
I chuckled. “Go for it,” I said, grinning as they darted away.
Without Fergus there as my buffer, I was forced to meander around, trying not to look too out of place. I felt a touch on my waist, and I smiled, catching sight of Fergus and Annyiah again, sneaking victoriously away from the dessert table with their bounty.
Two fingers pinched my hand, guiding me to bring it behind my back, palm up. Something small was placed there, and I glanced over my shoulder to see that I was now in possession of a contraband mini-cupcake.
Snickering, I turned away from the crowd and hurriedly ate it.
“I saw that,”
Jumping, I turned around only to be faced with Dominic’s father, giving me a stern look before it quickly melted into a jolly grin. “I already stole three!”
The boisterous elderly man ended up convincing me to dance with him, and I giggled as he spun me enthusiastically on the dance floor. After that, I found myself feeling much less of a stranger with the bride and groom’s family, even though I danced, quote, “like a white girl.”
Fergus made his way back to me as dinner was served, and I brought him with me to offer Tasha and Dominic our congratulations.
The couple did the traditional “first” dance, (or first of this quarter of a century, as it was teasingly called,) and even a father-daughter dance between Tasha and her dad. Dominic danced with each of his three daughters, to everyone’s delight, and then the DJ announced it was time for a mother-son dance, and all mothers and sons were encouraged to participate.
I grinned as Tasha took the floor with her nineteen-year-old son, and then after a few moments of letting them be the center of attention, women gradually started bringing their boys up for a dance, boys both young and old, (including Dominic and his eighty-year-old mother.)
I felt a nudge at my side from Jamie, and then glanced down at Fergus, who was watching the dance floor with a blank expression.
Biting my lower lip, I echoed Jamie’s nudge on Fergus. “Well? I know you don’t really like to dance but…”
Fergus looked up at me in surprise. “...Really?”
I shrugged, not wanting him to feel pressured. “Well, yeah. If you want to.”
Fergus shrugged too, looking a little embarrassed. “Do you ?”
Jamie nudged me again, and I understood. Grinning, I grabbed Fergus’s hand and led him to the dance floor, letting him blush and look like he was being dragged, even though I could see the happiness shining through his eyes.
Annyiah beamed at us as she watched us take the floor. And even though Fergus and I could barely keep rhythm through our giggles, and I was unused to dancing with someone half my height, it was honestly the most fun I’d ever had.
And the most love I’d ever felt.
By the time we made it home, I was still mildly buzzed on wine, and Fergus was in a cake-coma. Judging by the way his arm levitated and he shuffled toward his bedroom like a zombie, I guessed that Jamie was leading him there to tuck him in. I didn’t peek in, though I wanted to, imagining Jamie gently removing the boy’s shoes and kissing his forehead before pulling the blanket to his chin.
I smiled, leaving them to it, and went to my own room to remove my jewelry and dress. I wrenched my arm behind me, but this particular dress - a form-fitting, dark blue sheath dress that made my ass look amazing - had always been a pain to unzip at the end of a long night.
“Jamie?” I called quietly, watching my door slowly creak open through the reflection of my mirror.
“Don’t do that,” I chuckled, smiling so he knew I was teasing. “It’s creepy when doors open like that. Could you please unzip this?”
I waited a moment, then felt the ghost of a touch on the back of my neck. My zipper lowered as slowly as the door was opened, but it was considerably less creepy.
It was cold with my back exposed, but I felt what I thought was his finger trail down my spine, leaving goosebumps in its wake.
“Ye looked sae bonny, dancing tonight,” he whispered in my ear, making me shiver. “I ken it meant th’ world tae Fergus.
I wanted to know why he could only speak to me in these quiet, intimate moments, but I was a little afraid that if I brought attention to it, he’d stop.
I pulled off the dress, able to feel his eyes on me, from my legs encased in black thigh-highs, the black thong I wore to prevent panty-lines, to the servicably plain but matching black bra.
“It meant a lot to me, too,” I said as quietly as he. “I only wish I could have danced with you, too.”
I hand touched my shoulder, gently turned me around. Hands lifted mine, leaving one to rest on an invisible shoulder, while the other remained safely in a palm.
Jamie started to sway, gently back and forth, to a song as unheard as he was unseen.
A hand left me to reach over and switch off the overhead light, leaving only the illumination of my bedside lamp. The hand returned to my waist, so big his thumb brushed my shoulder blade, and in the shadows I pretended that I could just make out the shape of him. And really, I’d touched him so many times, I felt like I really could see him in a way.
I leaned my head against his shoulders, catching my reflection in the mirror. There I was, dancing by myself in the middle of my bedroom wearing only my underwear. But instead of feeling silly, I smiled contentedly at my reflection, thinking how I’d never seen myself look quite that happy.
“I love you,” I whispered.
There was a pause, and I almost tensed in uncertainty, but then his answer filled my mind and heart, if not my ears.
“I dinna ken much about what I am, or what will happen. I’ve only ever known two certainties; one is that I will do anything for Fergus. The other is that I love you.”
Chapter 17: Remember Me This Way
Claire is planning Fergus’s birthday party when they learn something that will change everything.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Fergus!” I squawked. “I just tripped over your backpack again!”
“Sorry, Sassenach!” Fergus exclaimed with a slight edge of exhasperation, running out of his room to gather up his offending belongings and put them where they belonged.
I sighed and shook my head. But in a way, small misbehaviors were nice to see, because I knew that Fergus tended to overcompensate sometimes so as not to displease me, since it was in homes he didn’t like that he misbehaved in order to be removed. He was finally becoming comfortable enough to be a typical, sloppy, almost-eleven-year-old
“Did you decide who all you wanted to invite to your birthday party?” I asked him. He’d chosen to have it at the local skatepark, where he was quickly improving on his skateboard.
“Nyiah and Aiden,” he said, listing the first obvious two. “Chase, Cole, Janiel…”
I glanced at him. “Come on, not a single other girl? Not even just for Nyiah’s sake?”
Fergus rolled his eyes. “Well, maybe Kayla. She’s Nyiah’s friend, but I don’t think she likes to skate.”
“Well, she might just like hanging out with the rest of you,” I reasoned. “At least invite her.”
“Okay. Do you want to invite Mr. Joe so you have a friend?”
I chuckled. “That’s not a bad idea, thanks. Of course if he’s busy, I always have Jamie.”
I felt a nudge on my arm in answer, and smiled, just as there was a knock at the door.
“I got it,” Fergus said, peering out the peephole. “It’s Louise!”
I furrowed my brow, wondering why she was dropping by unannounced.
“Hey,” I greeted her. “Come on in. Are you doing a house check?”
Louise hovered by the closed door, and I could tell right away something was wrong.
“Fergus,” she said gently. “Could I have just a moment to talk to your foster mom?”
Fergus looked between us nervously. “Uh, sure,” he walked to his room slowly, and I heard him whisper to Jamie to stay and tell him what we were saying, later.
“Something’s wrong,” I said, my heart climbing into my throat. “Is there an issue with the adoption paperwork? Do I not qualify or something?” I hadn’t told Fergus about the adoption just yet. I wanted to put the ball into motion first, make sure that everything was in order, and then on his birthday I planned to formally ask him if he would like to be my own son, permanently.
“That’s not it,” she said, looking defeated. “Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush. Fergus’s birth father never terminated his parental rights.”
“ What ? How can that be? He turned him over to the system!”
“And promptly disappeared,” she said. “There should have been a court date that eliminated his rights, but...like so many...Fergus just got shuffled into the system, and...for a lack of a better term, was forgotten.”
“Okay,” I said, crossing my arms, and wishing they were Jamie’s. “So you’re going to eliminate his rights now, right?”
“I had to show that an effort was made to contact him, and he had to be given a chance to accept his rights. Claire, I contacted him. He said...he said he wants Fergus back.”
I shook my head, suddenly feeling like the walls were closing in on me. I felt a tight, almost bruising grip on my wrist. “No...no no no. He can’t do that! He doesn’t get to just ditch his son for six years and then try to take him back like nothing happened!”
“You could take it to court, Claire,” she said. “But...if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t know that you would win. Courts almost always side with the biological family. And, the foster system’s first goal is reunification. And there’s nothing else standing in his way. He has no record, seems to be an upstanding person, and, well, he’s loaded. He claims he was too young to know what he wanted back then, but now that he’s older, he wants a chance to be a father.”
I let out a choked sob, and this time I did feel an arm around me. “No! This isn’t fair!”
I gasped and spun around to find Fergus there, staring at me with big eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“Fergus…” Louise began.
But Fergus was looking to my left, at Jamie.
“What?” He whispered. “My...father?”
Louise smiled. “He...he said he’s sorry for leaving you, and he wants a chance to make up for it.”
I wanted to scream, I wanted to throw something, but here was this little boy about to have his world turned on end all over again, and I knew that I had to try and make it okay for him.
“He wants you, Fergus,” I said, trying to make it sound like a good thing. “He wants to take you home.”
Fergus shook his head. “But…but I am home!”
I went to him, trying to pull him into a hug, but he resisted. “No! I don’t want to go! Louise, tell him no!”
“I can’t do that, Fergus,” she said sadly. “He’s your biological father. Look, I know it’s scary right now, but this is your real father, honey. And he’s going to take really good care of you, I’ll make sure of it. Oh, Fergus...don’t do that, sweetheart…”
I looked down to find that Fergus had his thumb in his mouth, and he snatched it away, though his eyes darted around in a near panic.
“When?” I asked Louise flatly.
She shook her head. “Monday. God. Claire, Fergus...I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
“Me too,” I said.
Louise left after that, and I sat down heavily on the sofa.
Fergus hesitated a moment, but then he curled up on my lap, his thumb in his mouth like the small child he no longer was, but had never really gotten to be.
I didn’t bother to correct him, and instead just wrapped him in my arms as best as I could what with how big and long he was, and cradled him. Jamie sat beside us, his arms around us both.
“Make them let me stay,” Fergus said.
“I would if I could,” I said. “I’m so sorry, Fergus. But...maybe it’ll be okay. Maybe you’ll like your dad.”
Fergus pressed himself closer, and I just held him.
Monday was only four days away, not nearly long enough to try and come up with an alternative. I did some research, but from everything I read, Louise was likely right in that the court would side with Fergus’s biological father, and the lengthy court battle might do Fergus more harm than good.
So long as this Robert St. Germain was a good person, and genuine in his desire to raise and love Fergus, it ultimately would be better for Fergus if I just let him go.
But how? How was I supposed to just let him go?
We moved up Fergus’s birthday party to that Saturday, and luckily most of the parents allowed their children to go, even on such short notice.
Fergus played with his friends, but I could see how strained his smile looked. How a shadow followed him wherever he went. I felt the same.
“I’m sorry I even got you involved in this,” Joe said, sitting beside me at the park. “This is just shit, Lady Jane.”
“No, don’t apologize,” I said. “It hurts right now, but I’m glad to have had Fergus, even for just a little while.”
“If this Robert guy really cared about Fergus, he wouldn’t try to take him away like this.”
“I have to just hope that he really does want to be Fergus’s father. It’s the only way I can get through this. I just...I wish we had more time, you know?”
Joe put his hand on my shoulder. “Well, I’m here for you, LJ. Whatever you need.”
With the pain of having to say goodbye to Fergus, I didn’t even want to contemplate saying goodbye to Jamie. Of course, a small, selfish part of me wanted him to stay, but I knew he wouldn’t. Couldn’t. Whatever reason Jamie existed in this world, he was clearly meant to stay with Fergus. We hadn’t even really talked about it. I was simply avoiding the subject, and because of that, I really had no idea how Jamie was reacting to it all.
It was all just happening so fucking fast .
On Sunday night, I awoke to feel arms around me, a body pressed up against mine from behind.
“I don’t want to leave you,” he whispered in my ear.
“I know,” I said. “But Fergus needs you, even more than I do.”
“He needs you . I dinna know if I can be with him forever.”
“Where would you go?”
“I dinna ken.”
I rolled over, and of course he wasn’t there, but my mind could almost imagine the outline of him.
“Stay with me,” I whispered. “Tonight, at least.”
“As ye say, mo nighean donn .”
He kissed me, and I could swear I could almost taste him, but it was probably just my imagination.
His kisses grew bolder, his hands mapped out every inch of me he could reach. His body came in and out of corporeality more than usual, sometimes flickering away entirely before bursting back to life, pulsing all over in perfect time with the clenching of my core. When I tried to rake my fingers through his hair, he hissed and pulled away.
“Did I hurt you?” I asked.
Jamie froze a moment. “Hurt me again, Sassenach,” he murmured before kissing me more, and I tried to imprint it in my memory, the feeling of his invisible mouth against mine. Tried to remember it, remember him exactly the way he was.
My clothes vanished almost as magically as his did, and when he entered me, I didn’t care that it didn’t even feel real. I didn’t care that I couldn’t be with him as a normal woman could be with a normal man. I didn’t care if I could never walk down the aisle with him, or give him children.
I didn’t care.
If Jamie was nothing but a soul, tethered somehow to a separate plane of existence, I wanted him anyway. It was as Gale said, after all. You fall in love with a soul, not a body.
Monday dawned a rainy, gloomy day, which was fitting, really. A bright, sunshiny day would have been an insult to everything we were feeling.
I suggested that Fergus and I play a video game together, to keep his mind off things. Louise had called to say that she and Robert St. Germain would be there at ten, and that Robert was willing to sit with us a while and let Fergus and I get to know him a little. I tried not to hope that it would be like a movie and that he’d see how happy and settled Fergus was with me and have a change of heart. I didn’t want to be disappointed.
I hoped that he could keep Fergus in his same school, or at the very least allow him to remain friends with Annyiah. I hoped he would allow Fergus to remain friends with me, too, but again, I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
“I don’t want to play anymore,” Fergus said, setting down the controller.
I patted his leg. “Come with me, I want to give you something.”
I went first to my room, and then led Fergus to his own, where his suitcase sat still open on the bed. I’d gone right out and purchased him real suitcases, and made sure they were nice ones. No more garbage bags.
“I want you to have this,” I said, dangling a small opal pendant on a chain. “My uncle gave this to me for my eleventh birthday, and I want you to have it. You needn’t wear it, I know it’s probably too girly for you, but I just wanted you to have something to remember me by.”
I took a deep breath, trying to keep my composure. It wouldn’t do any good to lose it in front of him. A warm hand rubbed my back, and I felt a little better.
“Thank you, Sassenach,” Fergus said quietly, taking the necklace and, to my surprise, putting it on.
“And here, keep your phone,” I said, handing his to him. “Know that you can call or text me whenever you want. Night and day. I want you to put Jamie’s phone in the bottom of your suitcase. If your father decides he doesn’t want you to have this phone, you’ll have Jamie’s.”
It probably wasn’t a good idea to ask Fergus to hide something from his father right off the bat, but I needed to feel like I was giving Fergus a safe out, just in case.
“You’re always going to have me, Fergus. No matter what. If you’re eighteen and just need money for a ride home because you were out with your friends and got stuck, or you’re twenty-five and just went through a breakup, I’ll be here for you. Always.”
Fergus sniffed and leaned toward me, putting his arms around me. “I’ll miss you. And so will Jamie.”
“I’ll miss you both too,” I said, stroking his hair.
There was a knock at the door, and Fergus and I both just sat there, not particularly wanting to answer it.
“Come on,” I said at last. “Let’s at least give the guy a chance, huh?”
Fergus shrugged and followed me into the living room.
Louise smiled as I let her in, followed by a tall, attractive man with dark hair and vibrant blue eyes.
There was really no mistaking that this man was Fergus’s biological father, but even when he smiled kindly at me, I couldn’t forget the fact that he’d abandoned his own son for six years.
“Hello, I’m Robert,” he said, extending his hand toward me to shake before turning to Fergus. “Hi, Fergus. How are you?”
Fergus shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets.
Robert winced. “I guess I deserve that. You probably don’t even remember me. You have to believe me, Fergus, when I say I regret the way I left you. I never even knew you were born, and when they came and told me I had this five-year-old son who barely spoke English from a woman I hadn’t seen in years...I was scared. I was only twenty-two years old, still a boy myself in many ways.”
I had to admit, he seemed sincere. And being so young at the time, it was understandable that he made a mistake he regretted, even if I didn’t particularly sympathize.
“Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of you,” he continued. “I even looked for you, but I didn’t know where you’d ended up after I turned you over. And then they called me, saying you hadn’t been adopted yet and I...I want another chance.”
“But I like it here ,” Fergus said quietly.
“I know you do, and I’m sorry,” he turned to direct that comment to me, as well. “But I have this really nice house in New York with a big yard, and a dog named Alfie.”
“New York?” I asked. “Y...you don’t live in Boston?”
He shook his head. “No, not anymore. But the schools there are excellent, and I know he’ll be happy.”
“Could I still talk to him on the phone? Visit occasionally?”
I wanted to believe he meant that. Had to. “He um, he has a cat. Will that be a problem?”
Robert shook his head. “No, no problem. Alfie is fine around cats.”
“No, Sassenach, I want Adso to stay with you,” Fergus said.
I furrowed my brow. “What? Are you sure?”
He nodded. “I don’t want you to be alone.”
His words shattered what was left of my heart, and I pulled him into a hug.
“I think it’s time to go,” Louise said, tears in her eyes as well. “Get your things, Fergus, dear.”
Fergus and I went to get his suitcases, and I relished the feeling of a hand on my wrist. Jamie and I had already said our goodbyes the night before, but it still hurt that I couldn’t say anything to him now.
Robert took Fergus’s bags, but when they reached the door, Fergus suddenly stopped. “No! No! I don’t wanna go!”
“Fergus,” Louise said, taking his hand.
“No!” Fergus snatched his hand back and ran to me, wrapping his arms tightly around me. “Please! I wanna stay here! Jamie, help me!”
“Fergus, don’t,” I cried, helpless to do anything but stand there while Louise pried Fergus off of me. “I’m so sorry.”
Louise and Robert had to manhandle Fergus out of the house while he screamed and cried. “Mom! Please, I don’t wanna go! Mom !”
“I’m sorry,” Louise said once more, and then shut the door.
I slid down to the floor, hugging my knees and sobbing as Fergus’s cries got farther away until they stopped altogether.
No hand touched my shoulder in comfort, but I didn’t need to feel the absence of that to know that I was all alone.
It was fluffy while it lasted 🥲
Chapter 18: What Would You Do If You Were Here?
Claire struggles with the loss of Fergus and Jamie, but manages to find a small moment of closeness with Jamie from a distance.
I am BLOWN AWAY by the response to the last chapter! Over 90 comments! And yeah, most of it amounted to “how could you?!” But I love the support all the same, lol.
I tried my best to get back to my life, but my life had changed, so it was a little easier said than done.
I waited for a text from Fergus, but Louise informed me that shortly after their arrival in New York, Robert had taken Fergus’s cell phone, stating that a clean break was probably best. This was following what was evidently a powerful meltdown at the airport that almost had them removed from the plane, and had alarmed Robert. Louise even agreed with Robert for Fergus’s sake. She sent me regular updates, however, letting me know that she was keeping a close eye on things and would even be flying out to check on him herself, even though Fergus would be monitored by child services in New York for the time being.
Joe, Gale, Geillis, and even Annyiah’s parents kept trying to invite me out, or over to their houses, but I declined every time, opting instead to go home and curl up on the sofa with Adso.
I was just existing. Floating aimlessly in space. I wondered sometimes if that was how Jamie felt.
I hadn’t heard from Jamie, either, which made me wonder if Robert had found and taken away Jamie’s phone as well.
I was wandering around the house, noticing the ways Fergus’s presence was still there. A tennis ball in the corner of the room, a dirty sock wedged halfway underneath the sofa that I was still working up the heart to discard.
There was less of Jamie, but that night I noticed something I hadn’t before.
I stepped into his bedroom, and there on the nightstand was his book, the one I’d given him for Christmas. I didn’t know whether he’d forgotten it, or wasn’t sure if it would be safe to bring it.
I sat on the edge of the bed and picked it up, sad that he hadn’t kept it, but also a little glad that I had something of his that I could hold.
I flipped open the book randomly, and realized he had dog-eared some of the pages.
“Craigh na Dun,” I read aloud, struggling to pronounce the unfamiliar words. It was a circle of standing stones in the Scottish highlands, and no one knew who put them there, or why. According to legend, people had gone there, and disappeared.
The other pages Jamie had marked all pertained to the that particular stone circle, and I wondered why he was so interested in that one specifically.
A little over a month had passed since Fergus and Jamie left when I got a text at work that almost made me drop my phone.
“ Hello, Sassenach .”
“ Hi!” I texted back frantically. “ Wait, is this Fergus?”
“No, lass. This is Jamie. Robert confiscated my Cell Phone from Fergus and put it in his office. I do not want to remove it from here in case he blames Fergus for it, but they’re out for the day, so I had to talk to you.”
“I’m glad ,” I said. “ Is Fergus okay? Why doesn’t Robert want him to talk to me? Is he treating him alright?”
“He told Fergus that it is better to just move on. Fergus had a very difficult first couple of days, and not even I was able to console him. I think it scared Robert a bit. But aye, the lad is alright now. He’s settled down, slowly returning to himself. Robert is strict, and tends to overcompensate by trying to buy Fergus’s affection with expensive gifts, but he is not cruel. Just not very...loving.”
It was a relief that Robert wasn’t unkind or abusive, but still sad that he didn’t seem to know how to love Fergus the way he needed to be loved. I genuinely hoped that he would learn, and fast.
“ I miss you,” I said. “I miss you both so much .”
“ We miss you, too, mo gridhe. I’m trying to stay positive for Fergus’s sake, but it is so clear that the lad aches for you. As do I.”
I covered my mouth with my hand, then groaned when I felt myself get a page. “ I’m sorry, Jamie, I have to work. Will you try to text me later?”
“ Whenever I can, Sassenach. So long as he doesn’t get in his damned head to throw this Phone away.”
“Memorize my phone number in case he does. So long as you can get to a cell phone or computer you’ll be able to contact me. Tell Fergus I love him.”
“I will. Goodbye for now, Sassenach.”
I was frustrated that I hadn’t been able to talk longer with Jamie at work, wishing I had just fucked off to an empty exam room or something. I missed Jamie and Fergus so much it hurt, but not even being able to talk to Jamie on a regular basis anymore was particularly hard. I’d become so accustomed to basically having him with me 24/7 on my phone. Sometimes I considered just texting him anyway, so that he could see it the next time he got ahold of his phone, but I knew that Jamie was deleting our messages as they came, in case Robert found him. That would be the last thing we needed, was for Robert to think that Fergus was texting me about himself in the third person.
When I got home, I decided to catch up on some paperwork (I no longer had any distractions at home,) and as I nudged Adso off my laptop, I saw a notification on GoogleDocs. Opening the blank document that Jamie had sometimes used to communicate, I found that it had been edited.
“ Fergus told me that you can see updates to this. ”
Laughing out loud, I typed a reply. “ Look at you, being all technological. Are you there right now?”
His reply came quickly, and I caught myself doing a happy little dance in my seat.
“ This really isn’a a good idea, Sassenach. Robert is being verra careful with Fergus’s use of the Internet and Fergus said that it is being monitored. I am on Robert’s office Computer now. I just needed to...well, if I canna hear your voice, this is the next best thing.”
I sighed, my hopes of having found a reliable form of communication having been dashed.
“ Thing is, I can’t even say I completely blame Robert, not if he really thinks he’s doing what’s best for Fergus.”
“I do think he’s trying, Sassenach. But if he closes Fergus in too tightly, th’ lad is bound to break out. Men like us, we dinna like to be imprisoned.”
“Is that how Fergus feels? Imprisoned?”
“Honestly, I canna get Fergus to really talk about how he’s feeling. I think it was all just too MUCH feeling.”
“I can sympathize with that,” I said, thinking. “ How long do you think you have?”
“Robert has taken Fergus to a Baseball game and willn’a be back for a few hours. I might have liked to see it myself. I have seen the Yankees play on Television. But I thought perhaps if I wasn’t around, Fergus might be able to bond a bit with his father.”
“Don’t talk like that,” I said. “Having Robert doesn’t make Fergus need you any less, you know. You’re the most important person in the world to him.”
“But I’m no’ the lad’s father. Robert is.”
“Debateable,” I muttered aloud, but decided not to argue with Jamie now, since I didn’t know how long it might be before we could talk again.
Smirking to myself, I typed again. “ Have you missed me?”
“Good thing that th’ maid cleaning in the kitchen canna hear me, because she’d have been most curious about the laughter coming from this room. You know I miss you, Sassenach.”
“Yes, I know you miss me, but how MUCH?”
“What th’ devil sort of question is that??”
“Well, I’ll tell YOU how much...I miss it when you join me in bed, when I feel you just suddenly there beside me, touching me.”
“Oh? Is that all you can say, is ‘oh?’”
A few letters appeared and were backtracked. I giggled as things like ‘Christ…’ and ‘You wee dev…’ were started and abandoned as he tried to figure out how to respond.
“ I miss watching you,” he said at last. “ I ken that sounds mightily voyeristic of me, but when you’re just walking about the house in those wee scraps of fabric you call Shorts and a Tank Top, no’ paying attention to where I might be, it’s like I and only I get to see you the way you are when no one else is around. You sing, you dance, you curse at inanimate objects when you knock them over, and it’s the most wonderous thing. And then...then I remember you really DO ken I’m there, but you dinna mind.”
This was decidedly NOT where I was expecting this to head when I started it, but Jamie’s words brought instant tears to my eyes, even as my mind rebelled against the absurd idea of being loved in a way where something so mundane can be that important to a person.
“ You would think me a lecher though,” he continued. “If you had any idea of the way I stared at that round arse of yours whenever you bent over.”
I laughed, even though it was watery. “ Silly man. Why do you think I bent over so much in those shorts when I knew Fergus wasn’t around?”
“You love it.”
“I do. But now I’m thinking I should have taken advantage when I had the chance...”
Now he was getting it. “ Oh? Do tell. What would you have done?”
“I’d have come up behind you, and when you went to stand up, I’d have pushed you back down. Gently, of course, making sure you were willing.”
Even in a fantasy the man was nothing but a gentleman. “ And? If I was willing?”
“ Those Shorts looked so soft, I always wanted to see the way they slid against your skin when I grabbed you. You didn’a wear anything under them, did you?”
Actually, I did, since I did live with a little boy, but for the sake of the conversation… “ Nope.”
“ I’d have enjoyed that a moment, but it wouldn’t be enough, so I’d slide them down, then run my finger along that line where your skin color changes a little. I’ll never forget the heart attack I felt when you took Fergus to the beach that first summer, and I saw you in that wee rigging you called a Bikini.”
I had still been working on accepting Jamie’s very existence when we took that beach trip, and now I was wishing we could have gone again so that I could properly enjoy knowing that Jamie’s eyes were on me the entire time...and what if he did something like he did when Geillis was in my office…
“ You’re getting off track,” I said, adding a ;) to make sure he knew I was being playful.
“ Of course,” he said. “ So you would be there, bent over, and I would be able to see all of you.”
I bit my lower lip, fidgeting restlessly. He wasn’t even being explicit but somehow just the thought of what he was describing was setting me off like nothing else.
“ I would kneel down, spread you wider…”
“Fuck,” I hissed aloud, sliding my own hand up my inner thigh along the outside of my leggings until I could press my palm to where I was aching and throbbing.
“ I dream about tasting you ,” he said. “I canna quite imagine it, and yet I crave it more than I have ever craved food, or whisky. But I know what you sound like. I know the pitch of your voice when I kissed you there. I know what it feels like when you clench around my fingers. And if I was there with you now, I would drive you to the point of coming over and over, until I would finally fuck you from behind…”
I covered my mouth with my hand, my orgasm shocking me by its sudden appearance and intensity. And there I thought I was going to have to coax him through it, and yet the man could be out there writing the next romance novel bestseller.
“ Sassenach?” He wrote. “ Was that...too much?”
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I said. “I think you could have made me orgasm with that even if I HADN’T touched myself.”
“You...were touching yourself?”
I smirked. “ Well...weren’t you?”
“I...shit. The maid is coming in to clean, Sassenach. She has her wee earbuds in but I canna keep typing.”
I quickly screencapped the document before Jamie could delete it, needing it for future...perusal.
“ Promise someday we might can try that for real?” I asked.
“Real, Sassenach? I honestly dinna ken. I’m not sure when I can talk to you again, but I miss you, mo cridhe.”
“I miss you, too,” I said, and then the document vanished. I sighed, feeling similar to how I might if Jamie had just made love to me only to get up and leave immediately. If anything, I felt almost more bereft than I had before.
Adso was meowing at my feet, no doubt wondering what on earth was wrong with me and why I wasn’t feeding him. Smiling, I picked him up to carry him to the kitchen.
“We’ll see them again someday,” I murmured to the cat. “Just you wait. After all, New York isn’t so very far away.”
“Are you serious? England ?”
“I know, but it’s out of my hands, Claire.”
Louise had called that morning, three months after Fergus went to live with his father to inform me that Robert’s job was reassigning him to a location in England where they would stay for about a year before eventually settling back in their home country of France permanently.
In the past three months, I’d had two brief text conversations with Fergus while his father was out of the house, and Jamie was able to help him get to the phone locked in the desk. Each time Fergus had told me he missed me and his friends, and wished he could come home.
I’d spoken with Jamie only a little more, not counting our...conversation that night Fergus and his father went to the Yankee game, but it was becoming less and less frequent. Jamie had told me that Fergus did not talk about him in front of his father, which I found surprising since Fergus had never been shy about telling people about Jamie.
How could Jamie get to England? I presumed he’d be able to sneak aboard the same way he snuck into cars. I wondered if he would be happy about it, since it was closer to Scotland.
“How are you going to keep an eye on Fergus if he’s all the way in England?” I asked.
“I know it’s hard, Claire, trust me, I know. But...I think it’s finally time we both let go.”
I snorted. “Let go? What, forget about them...him?”
“Not forget. I know I’ll never forget Fergus,” she chuckled. “ Or Jamie. But you have to understand, this is the goal. For Fergus to have a permanent home, whether that’s being adopted, or reunited with a biological parent. I have to move on. I have a lot of other kids that need my attention, and you have a life, too, Claire. Fergus will always have a special place in your heart and I know you’ll always have a place in his. But for now...the best thing we can hope for is that Fergus will let you go, too.”
“I know,” I admitted sadly. “I know.”
“If you’re ever interested, you really do make a great foster mom, and there are a lot of other kids out there who need a great foster mom.”
“No...no I don’t think so,” I said. “I don’t think I can.”
“I understand. If you ever change your mind, though, you have my number. Goodbye, Claire.”
“Bye, Louise,” I said, then hung up.
So that was it, it was really over. In less than a year, my life had been completely turned upside down. For a time I was the happiest I’d ever been, and now...it was just over. Just like that. Like the closing of a book after reading the final chapter.
I would have given anything to be able to call Jamie. Just to talk to him, to maybe hear that gorgeous voice of his, that I’d experienced far too little of.
I grabbed my laptop and sat on the couch with it, thinking. More than once I’d been tempted to google Jamie’s name, just out of curiosity, but he’d asked me not to.
But why? Did he know that there was something to find and didn’t want me to see it?
I started to type his first name, but then to my surprise, his full name popped up as a suggestion, meaning he or Fergus must have already tried. I hit enter, and was brought to a google page full of men who shared some of Jamie’s names. James Alexander. James Fraser. Alexander McKenzie. Alexandra McKenzie was actually the name of Fergus’s therapist. But nothing that listed all of Jamie’s many names together.
But that got me wondering, so I checked all of the search history.
Some of it made me smile. They’d searched for blue vases, and Fergus had googled math problems, homework help, and silly memes.
But there were things there I didn’t understand. Multiple searches for things involving death and purgatory. But he’d seemed so certain that he wasn’t any kind of ghost? Jamie had apparently googled that Craigh na Dun, and on a particular website he’d visited frequently, someone - a woman who described herself as a druid of all things - stated that the stones were a gate between planes of existence. A place where the veil of time grew thin.
Fanciful nonsense, of course, but then again, could I really doubt anything when I’d known and made love to an invisible man?
“Why was this important?” I murmured. Jamie - and I assume it had been Jamie - must have been looking for answers. But what, exactly, was the question?
Chapter 19: Easier Said Than Done
Claire works to get back to her life without Fergus or Jamie in it.
It was only by chance that I was in the ER that day, and happened to notice a familiar name on an intake form.
“Do my eyes deceive me?” I asked, smiling as I entered the curtained-off section.
“Dr. Claire!” Annyiah exclaimed happily.
I checked her intake form, and frowned. “Chest pains? What’s going on, Nyiah?”
“She’s been complaining of it for weeks,” her mother said, face pinched with worry. “Ever since school started back. I thought it might just be anxiety, but…”
“We have to check to make sure,” I finished for her. “Don’t worry, Tasha, I’ll see to it personally.”
Annyiah’s mother sighed in obvious relief. “Thank you so much, Claire.”
I put a STAT on Annyiah’s blood work and EKG, but like her mother, I had a strong feeling that her issue was more emotional than medical. I knew from recent experience though that the two types of pain felt very much the same.
When she returned from her tests, I sat down with her while Tasha stepped out to call her husband.
“How’s school going?” I asked her, getting a noncommittal shrug in response. I smiled. “Hey, come on, you can tell me.”
“It’s not bad ,” she said. “Not like it was before. That one boy from fifth grade went to another middle school, so I don’t see him anymore.”
“But middle school presents it’s own brand of issues,” I said. “Right?”
She gave a half smile and nodded. “It was easier when Fergus was around. I felt like I had...I dunno...more…” she waved her hand, floundering for the right words.
“Confidence?” I suggested.
She nodded again. “Yeah. Like, if he was looking out for me, I felt like everything was going to be okay. It’s the way he said Jamie made him feel.”
“I understand,” I said. “Really, I do. Fergus has that effect on people, I think. But that was just him, Jamie didn’t make him that way. Just like Fergus didn’t make you confident. He just maybe brought it out in you more. Only real friends do.”
Annyiah sighed. “I don’t know why my chest hurts, and I get so…” she struggled for the words again. “I don’t know, scared whenever I have to go to school. If I’m not sick or anything, then what’s wrong with me?”
I sat beside her on the bed and rubbed her back. “Nothing is wrong with you. Everyone just has their threshold, I think, of things they can take. Does it feel any better, talking about it?”
Annyiah blinked, thinking. “Yeah, kind of. I try to talk to my mom, but she doesn’t seem to get it. She always loved school.”
“If it’s okay with you, I’d like to give your mom the name of another doctor, one whose job it is to talk with you, and help you work stuff out. Fergus used to talk to her, and he liked her a lot.”
“Dr. McKenzie?” Annyiah asked. “Yeah, he told me about her. Uh, yeah, that would be cool, if you could tell my mom.”
“Then I will,” I said, standing. “Say um...have you...have you talked to Fergus?”
Annyiah frowned. “Not since he moved to England.”
“But before that, you did?”
“Yeah, we texted, and played Fortnite and stuff. But ever since he moved, he’s never on. Why? Don’t you ever talk to him?”
I shook my head. “No.”
She smiled sadly. “He really misses you, you know. He said his dad is okay, nowhere near the worst parent he’s ever had, but he’ll never be home with him. Home was only when he was with you.”
I looked away so that Annyiah couldn’t see me tear up. Regardless of my feelings, the last thing I’d wanted her to say was that Fergus was unhappy and missing me even after months of separation. It would have hurt far less if she’d told me he was happy.
I just wanted Fergus to be happy . If anyone deserved it, it was him.
Annyiah’s mother returned and when Annyiah’s tests came back clear, I gave Tasha the number for Dr. McKenzie, and told her of the conversation Annyiah and I had had. Tasha was grateful, and assured me she would make an appointment with her. Before they left, Annyiah gave me a big hug.
“Hey, there you are,” Joe said, meeting me in the hall. “You’ve been in ER all day?”
“Friend of mine was here,” I explained. “Fergus’s friend actually, Annyiah. She’s okay, though.”
“Ah, that explains the look on your face.”
“The one that makes me want to roll you up in a blanket, give you hot chocolate, and tell you everything is going to be okay.”
I meant to laugh, but instead it came out as more of a sob, and Joe steered me into an empty waiting room and pulled me into a hug.
“I don’t wanna tell you all that basic shit when someone is going through something,” he said. “Like, it’ll get better, or everything happens for a reason.”
This time, I did chuckle. “I hate it when people say that.”
“That said,” he took me by the shoulders and pulled me away. “It wasn’t for nothing, Claire. You and that kid…I don’t know, it’s like you were made for each other in a way.”
“What, like soulmates?”
“Why not? Who says it’s only reserved for romantic couples?”
I rolled my eyes, even though I automatically had to think of Jamie. “Well, that’s hardly a comfort to me right now, Joe.”
“I just mean that you have to believe it’s not over. That everything will work out. You might just have to...wait. Time will tell.”
I managed a smile and nodded, and Joe kissed my forehead before leading the way out.
I was truly sympathizing with Annyiah on my drive home. My chest was aching, but I knew no amount of aspirin was going to help it. The feeling worsened though as I let myself into the house, and I barely managed to feed Adso and drag myself into my room before I collapsed onto the bed, fully dressed.
After a time, Adso joined me, meowing softly before curling up beside me. I pulled him close, trying to let the feel of his fur anchor me, but I felt like I was flying apart.
I closed my eyes, trying to remember what Jamie’s touch felt like, and I could almost feel him, his rough palm on my cheek. The sound of his throaty laugh in my ear. His arms tight around me.
I whimpered in pain, releasing Adso so that I could squeeze my pillow instead. Could I be having an actual heart attack? Or a brain aneurysm? My head hurt . Like my skull was splitting in two.
I gasped, opening my eyes, looking for something that was never there to begin with.
For a moment, I could swear he was there. I could feel him, the way I could before. And there, in my mirror, was an outline of a man.
“Jamie!” I cried, reaching for him, reaching for nothing.
And then, suddenly, it was gone. The pain, the feel of him, everything. Like a bubble had suddenly popped, and I was just left there, feeling empty and cold.
I drifted off to sleep then, unsure of what had just happened, and wondered if my mind had simply given up on feeling.
I felt very strange that following morning. Hollowed out and tired. I went about my day, and then my week, and then my months, just carrying this empty chasm inside of me.
I learned to hide it, learned to smile and laugh and act like I was still whole, but I wasn’t.
I threw myself into my work, putting in grueling hours that I knew concerned my friends, but it was the only time I felt like I wasn’t just falling apart at the seams. I was helping people. Healing people. I couldn’t be healed, so I did the healing instead. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
I didn’t hear from Jamie or Fergus anymore. No texts, no messages. That door had finally closed, and this time, I knew it was for good.
Being at home was the worst, with only Adso and memories. It felt a bit like Jamie had always felt to me, like I was full of holes that sometimes filled themselves in while new ones took their place.
I knew I should just move on. I knew it. But it was simply easier said, than done.
Oh, I still found moments of genuine happiness, like when Joe called to ecstatically inform me that he was going to be a father. I had rushed to their house, crying tears of real joy, promising to be the world’s best aunt.
Or when Geillis shyly told me that she’d met someone - over the internet, in fact - but she was nervous of everyone finding out because that someone happened to be a woman and Geillis was well known for being all about men. But I’d eagerly asked when I could meet her new girlfriend, and Geillis was happier than I’d ever seen her, and I was so, so glad.
Tasha texted me a picture of Annyiah, beaming beside a group of other children and covered in flour. Apparently she’d discovered a baking club at school, and the group had won a contest that would let them compete in a baking show on TV. The happiness I’d felt in my chest was very real, knowing that Annyiah had realized her very own confidence.
I saw on Facebook that Aiden’s dad, Simon, was engaged to a beautiful woman who it seemed that Aiden adored. The three of them posed for a photo, the very picture of a happy family.
That one had caused a stab of loneliness and envy within me, but nevertheless...I was happy for them.
But in all of that, in the day-to-day workings of my life, in the job, the spending time with friends, the caring for my cat...none of it was the same.
I was not the same.
I really didn’t know if I ever would be, again.
Chapter 20: One Year Later
Over a year has passed since Claire last saw Fergus, and months since she’d last spoken to Jamie, and one morning she receives a surprising phone call.
Short chapter today, but I’ll try to update it again extra soon!
I thought at first that the buzzing was Adso purring, but when he hopped off the bed in annoyance and the buzzing continued, I awoke more fully and realized that it was my phone.
I nearly knocked it off the nightstand in my half-asleep fumble for it, assuming it must be the hospital, since no one else would try that hard to call me so early in the morning.
“Hello?” I said, not bothering to look at the number.
My entire body jolted into complete alertness, and my heart thumped. “ Fergus ?!”
“Y...yeah, it’s me.”
One year, and two months. That was how long it had been since I’d last heard his voice, the last being a frantic scream for his mother that had scarred my heart and lived in my nightmares ever since. It was just the tiniest bit deeper, a bit scratchy at the edges with incoming maturity. His birthday had recently passed, and he was twelve now. On the cusp of being a teenager.
I stood up, although where I thought I was going, I didn’t know. “Hi! Um...how are you? Are you alright?”
“I’m okay,” he said, sounding just a little awkward. “How are you?”
“Okay,” I agreed. “I’ve missed you. I wanted so bad to call you on your birthday.”
“Yeah. I missed you, too. How’s Adso?”
I smiled, glancing at the cat as he stared impatiently at me from the doorway to my room, waiting for his breakfast. “He’s good. He misses you too. And...how’s Jamie?”
There was a pause on the other end, and then an intake of breath. “I...I don’t know.”
My brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“He isn’t here, Sassenach. Jamie’s gone.”
“Gone? Gone where?”
“I don’t know! He’s just gone !”
I sat down on the edge of my bed. “Maybe he just got overtired or something, and he’ll be back.”
“No, Sassenach. It’s been months. He’s really gone.”
Immediately, I remembered that day. That single night, all those months ago, when it felt suddenly like a small piece of myself that hadn’t already been shattered by the loss of Fergus, had died. I remembered hearing Jamie’s voice, and then like the snap of a broken rubber band, nothing. I thought at the time that it had been an exhaustion-induced waking dream. But could it have been something else?
“I’m so sorry, Fergus,” was all I could think to say, as useless as it was. “I think he always knew this would happen someday.”
Fergus sniffed, and there was a rustling, like maybe he was wiping his nose. “He came into my room one night, but it was so weird. He was see-through to me, almost invisible, and it was like he was trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t hear anything. He looked scared , Sassenach! And then the next morning, he was gone. Just...gone.”
“I don’t know what to say, Fergus,” I said as levelly as I could, even though I was feeling struck by grief. He was really gone . But I didn’t know how long Fergus had to talk. I needed to know he was at least physically well. “Have you been okay, other than that? Your dad treating you alright?”
Fergus snorted, and I hated how jaded it made him sound. He wasn’t the sweet, carefree little boy I remembered. “How should I know? He’s never home. When he even is, all he does is order me around and then turn around and buy me stuff to make up for it.”
“He’s never home?” I asked. “Who takes care of you?”
“I had a nanny for a while, but she quit. I think it had to do with...well, something that happened between the two of them after I went to bed, I’ll leave it at that. After she left, Robert decided I was old enough to stay home alone while he’s on business trips, but he has a housekeeper who checks up on me.”
At twelve, Fergus may have been perfectly capable of taking care of himself, but he was still only a child, and shouldn’t have to.
“That’s not right, Fergus. Look, I’ll talk to Louise, maybe she can…”
“It’s too late,” he broke in. “I can’t do this anymore. Not without Jamie.”
My stomach plummeted, and I broke out in a sudden cold sweat. “Fergus...what do you mean? Where are you?”
“He used to talk about this place near where he grew up. I think when we moved here, more of his memory came back or something. He said it was a place where people disappeared.”
“There was something about that in the book I gave him,” I said. “Craigh na Dun. Do you think it has something to do with the way he...was?”
“Maybe, I dunno. He said that one of his last memories before knowing me was being there. I feel like there has to be a reason for that, and I need to find out what it is.”
“Okay…” I breathed, grateful that he didn’t sound self-destructive in any way. “How are you going to go about that?”
“By going to Scotland,” he said, as if it were the simplest thing in the world.
“By going to...Fergus! You’re not thinking of running away?”
There was static as his reception faded slightly, but then he came back strong. “I uh...already did.”
“Jesus, kid!” I exclaimed, standing up only to sit back down again. “Where are you?!”
“Right now I’m not sure I can tell you without you ratting me out.”
I growled in frustration, both at the situation itself and the thousands of miles between us. “I don’t want to rat you out, Fergus, but this isn’t safe! You’re not safe! Regardless of how you feel about him, your father is probably worried sick!”
“He’s out of town, and won’t even know I’m gone for days,” Fergus said in disappointed resignation. I had the feeling that he really had wanted to like his father, and I hated that he’d been so brutally let down.
I realized that lecturing him would get us nowhere, but I had to at least suss out where he was exactly, and what his plan was.
“Okay, so how are you getting to Scotland?”
“I have my passport, and I have money. So long as I can find a ride that won’t ask too many questions…”
“A ride...Fergus,” I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. He was over there all alone and I was so helpless . “You can’t just hitch a ride! God, this isn’t a movie! You’re twelve fucking years old, you can get hurt!”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve been on my own, Sassenach,” he said. “I can take care of myself.”
“You always had Jamie with you,” I pointed out. “Besides, if you’re so self-reliant, why did you call me?”
“...because you said I could. You said no matter what I could call you, and you’d be there. Did you mean it?”
I sighed. “Of course I meant it, Fergus. I meant it with all my heart. But what is it you want me to do ?”
“Will you come?”
“Come? What... there ? To England?”
“Yeah? What, did they ban you from the country when you left or something?”
He chuckled, but it was rife with nerves.
“If I came there, Fergus, I would just have to take you home, you know that.”
“But why ? I don’t want to be there, and I don’t think he really wants me there either. I think he regretted it the minute he took me to New York.”
“Fine, then I’ll talk to Louise, I’ll get a lawyer. I will fight for you Fergus, I will spend every cent I have to get you back, but first you have to go home .”
“I can’t do that,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “I can’t go back, and I can’t even go home with you, not without knowing that Jamie is at least okay. He would never quit if it were me. I can’t quit on him.”
“No! I called you because you said you’d help me. So help me now, Claire. He’s your friend, too. He’s more than that to you, I know it.”
My mind and heart were at war. Of course I wanted to help Fergus, and of course I wanted to find out what happened to Jamie, but things just weren’t that easy.
“There are laws, kid,” I tried once more. “I have no legal right to even be talking to you right now, not without your father’s permission, much less fly there and give you a ride to Scotland!”
It was the mom that did it, and the little bugger probably knew that. I gave Adso a look, and he gave me one back like ‘ what? He’s your kid.”
“Where are you now?” I asked.
“I know you mean well, that’s why I’ll wait and tell you when you get here.”
“Uh uh, no dice, kid. You’ll tell me where I can find you, and you will tell me right now. I’m not taking any chances.”
Fergus sighed. “Right now I’m at the library, but I don’t know how long I can stay here before someone notices the stray kid.”
I was already looking at flights on my phone. “Soonest I can be there is tomorrow afternoon. What are you going to do? You can’t be out all night.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Fergus! If you’re dad is gone just go the hell home and I’ll pick you up tomorrow!”
“I can’t. I’m already in Liverpool.”
I groaned louder this time, flopping back on my bed. I remembered Louise saying that Fergus’s father had moved them to somewhere around Chester, which would be hours away on foot.
“I rode my bike,” he said cheerfully, answering that question.
I got off my bed, setting my phone down on speaker so that I could start pulling clothes out of my closet. “Alright, I’ve got a flight leaving in a couple of hours. You said the library? The big one? There ought to be an Asda or something nearby that’s open 24 hours. Go there once it’s dark.”
“A kid can’t walk around a store alone all night, they’ll call the cops!”
“That’s a hell of a lot better than what else could happen to you! Now do as I say!”
“Yes ma’am. ”
“I want you to text me with updates constantly , do you understand me? All night. Make sure that phone is completely charged before you leave the library,” I glanced at my phone then, realizing I’d never even checked the number it had come from, but wasn’t surprised to see Jamie’s name there. My heart gave a lurch.
“If something were to happen and I can’t reach you, there’s a park not far from there. Sefton park, do you know it?”
“Yeah, I saw it when I got to town.”
“Good. I’ll meet you there tomorrow afternoon, by the Peter Pan statue. Okay?”
“Okay.” He sounded smaller all of a sudden. Much less assured.
“Hey,” I said softly. “I’m on my way. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“See you tomorrow. Be careful, yeah? And hey, I love you, Fergus.”
“I love you, too.”
Chapter 21: Meet Me in Liverpool
Claire travels to England to get to Fergus.
There was no doubt about it. I was losing my damned mind.
In the span of twenty minutes, I’d purchased a plane ticket, called the hospital to put in some emergency leave, and then called Geillis to ask her to feed Adso for a few days, figuring that between her and Joe, she was the least likely to ask too many awkward questions. In fact, she only praised me for getting away for a bit, teasingly making the assumption that I was off to meet my ‘internet boyfriend.’ I let her believe it, because that was easier.
I packed only a carryon-size backpack, shoving in comfortable, serviceable and warm outfits along with the rest of my necessities. I also gathered up a few first-aid supplies (ever the doctor,) and then, on a whim, I went to my jewelry box and found a ring that had once been Uncle Lamb’s, and a necklace that had belonged to my mother. I had the fanciful notion that maybe having those parts of them with me would give me the strength to do what needed to be done with Fergus. I wasn’t completely sure yet what that was...but I felt fairly sure that it would ultimately end in goodbye, and I needed all the strength I could get for that.
It was an interminably long flight from Boston to London, a two hour layover, and then a flight from London to Manchester, where I had to then hire a car to take me to Liverpool. By the time I made it there, I felt like a zombie. Probably looked like one, too.
I’d been to Liverpool many times before moving to the states, and had in fact dated a man from there briefly. But it hardly felt like going home, no matter my British roots. Home had never really been anywhere for me, not in the sense that it was for most people.
The only time I’d ever really felt home was when I’d had a home with Fergus and Jamie. And the old saying ‘you can never go home again’ had never felt more brutally true. Jamie was gone, probably forever, and Fergus was no longer mine.
My motions were hurried trying to get to Sefton park, thrilled to see him again, even though I knew it would only open up wounds I’d tried so hard to stitch up, only to leave them gaping again when it would come time to part ways.
True to his word, he’d texted me constantly. The librarian had eventually started paying a bit too much attention to him, so he’d left, first scouting out the park before getting something to eat and eventually browsing Asda until the hour grew late, at which point he hid inside a stall in the men’s bathroom until morning.
The hours that I was on the plane and unable to get texts from him were the worst, and I debated yet again whether it would have been smarter just to contact Fergus’s father and tell him what was going on, or at least call the local authorities.
Besides loyalty to Fergus, the only other thing that stopped me from doing just that was the knowledge of how cunning and street savvy he was. ‘ Canny ,’ as Jamie used to say. If I sent the police after him, I felt sure that he would get away, and then not even I would know where to reach him.
No, the best thing for Fergus, even if it might not potentially be the best thing for me in the eyes of the law, would be to get to him, make sure he was safe, and talk him into going home.
I’d been texting him constantly that I was on my way, but I still felt like I was holding my breath the entire way to the park.
When the Peter Pan statue came into sight, I doubled my speed, eyes darting around the crowd for a familiar mop of dark curls. When finally I spotted him, hunched over in a black hoodie, I released my breath at last and called out his name.
Fergus snapped around at the sound of my voice, blue eyes going round, and he ran to me, throwing his arms around my middle and squeezing tight.
“Are you alright?” I asked, stroking the considerably longer hair on top of the head that now rested just below my chin, not at my rib cage where it had last time I’d hugged him.
“I’m fine,” he sighed, his body releasing copious amounts of tension as he leant his weight against me.
I grabbed his chin to tilt his face toward mine, looking for all the ways he’d grown. The pudgy roundness of boyhood was rapidly shaping into the sculpted angles of a man, though his cheeks were still soft like a child, and his eyes still bright and wondering.
I smiled at him, kissing his forehead, then pulled him back into my embrace.
“You hungry?” I asked him.
He chuckled. “ Always .”
I took him by the hand, noting that he was still child enough not to mind holding mine, and we found a small pub not too far away where I ordered him an extra large order of fish and chips which he attacked with gusto.
“So, other than your father not being around, how have you been?” I asked as I picked at my own food, feeling almost a little awkward. But then again, we hadn’t seen one another and had barely even spoken in over a year. It was like when he’d first come to live with me, two strangers, well, three, testing out the waters of becoming a family.
Fergus shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t know. It could be worse, I guess. Robert buys me everything I want.”
I knew damn well that stuff didn’t even touch what Fergus needed from a parent. “What about school? Do you have friends?”
He wrinkled his nose. “Not really. It’s this stuffy prep school for just boys, and the guys there are all rich jerks. Before Jamie…” he sighed, his face contorting in grief. “Before he left, he would follow me around school, making fun of them,” Fergus grinned then, remembering. “I think he was trying to be like that movie you showed us, remember when Annyiah came over?”
I laughed. “Drop Dead Fred, yeah I remember. He didn’t honestly pull pranks like that?”
“Maybe not just like that, but he’d pull locker doors open in front of guys’ faces, release the lab rats, or even just stand behind them while they were talking about all the ‘girls who liked them’ and make faces and hold up his pinky like this,” Fergus demonstrated Jamie’s juvenile joke about small packages being carried by big braggarts.
I shook my head, laughing, having a hard time imagining Jamie doing all that (then again, I couldn’t really imagine him doing anything ,) but if Fergus had been having a hard time, it was no surprise that Jamie would do anything within his power to make him smile.
“I got really good at pretending he wasn’t there…” Fergus continued, but then trailed off, his face falling, and the glimpse of the old, cheerful Fergus that I’d spotted for only a moment faded.
“What do you mean?” I prompted.
“Louise told Robert about Jamie,” Fergus said. “And he told me as soon as we got to New York that I was way too old for that sort of thing, and to shake it off. I didn’t really care, I’ve heard as much before, you know? But then he caught me talking to Jamie and he went ballistic.”
My throat tightened in fear. “Ballistic? Fergus, did he hurt you?”
He shook his head. “No, nothing like that. If nothing else, he’s never raised a hand to me. It’d almost be easier if he had, huh?”
“Don’t say that,” I said firmly, reaching across the table to take his hand. “Don’t ever say that. Besides, just because Robert didn’t hurt you physically, doesn’t mean he didn’t hurt you.”
Fergus nodded. “He told me that if I kept talking to imaginary friends, he was going to send me to a doctor, and the way he said doctor didn’t sound like it was going to be someone like Dr. MacKenzie. I honestly just think it really scared him, though. He uh...he sort of let on that, you know, mental illness sort of runs in our family.”
“I didn’t imagine him, did I?” Fergus asked weakly, tears welling in his eyes. “Did I imagine it?”
I pulled my chair around the table closer to his, ignoring the looks we were getting from nearby diners. I grabbed his chin gently, urging him to look at me. “Fergus. You did not imagine Jamie. He was real .”
“Robert wouldn’t let me talk about him, or you,” Fergus sobbed. “I made myself pretend that Jamie wasn’t there when Robert or anyone else was around. He didn’t argue, but he got quiet. Then one night, he came into my room, and he just stood there. He was like an actual ghost. I’ve never been scared of him before, but I was then. And it was like he was trying to say something to me, but I couldn’t hear him! And then he just...I dunno...he looked so sad and walked out. And then the next morning he was gone. I kept waiting for him to come back...and he never did! Was it my fault? Because I pretended he wasn’t there?”
I honestly had no clue whether or not that had anything to do with Jamie’s departure, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let Fergus think that.
“ No , honey, it wasn’t you. Jamie knew this was going to happen someday, he told me several times. Whatever he...was...he knew he was only temporary.”
“I had to call you,” Fergus said, sniffing and wiping his nose on his sleeve until I stopped him and handed him a napkin. “I swear there was a minute I even wondered if I made you up. Robert made me feel like I was crazy. Besides, I didn’t wanna be alone anymore.”
I pulled Fergus roughly into my arms, halfway onto my lap. “I am never going to leave you alone again,” I whispered, meaning the words with all my heart. I knew then, that no matter what happened, I was not going to force Fergus back into that house. I didn’t know how I would succeed, but I would fight for him.
I motioned for the check, and the waiter thankfully didn’t ask any questions about our tearstained faces as I paid and led Fergus out of the pub and toward my rented car.
“So what now?” he asked, getting into the passenger seat, looking exhausted and far too old.
I took a deep breath, then released it steadily, reaching a hand up to touch my mother’s necklace, and Uncle Lamb’s ring where it hung on the same chain, praying to them that I was doing the right thing...no matter how reckless. “You tell me,” I said at last. “You said you had a plan, right?”
Fergus blinked in surprise. “Really? You’re not taking me back?”
I looked at him. “When does your father come home?”
“Day after tomorrow.”
I took another breath. “That’s not a lot of time, but if we drive straight, we can get to Inverness and back before then.”
“We’re going to Craigh na Dun?!”
I smiled. “No idea what we’ll find there, but you’re right. We owe it to Jamie to at least try and find out what happened to him.”
Fergus grinned, then frowned. “Well, what then? You said I didn’t have to go back to Robert?”
“Yeah, I did...but truth is it may be unavoidable short-term. That is if I want a chance in hell at adopting you legally. You understand, don’t you, that what I’m doing right now technically counts as kidnapping, and if we’re found out...then that’s it, kid. For you and me, anyway.”
“I don’t want you to get into trouble,” he said.
I snorted, having a feeling it might be too late. “Me either. But even if that happens, even if I can’t take you home with me, I swear I’ll do everything I can to help you. There are a lot of people back home who love you and who will help you if I’m unable. Louise, Joe, Annyiah’s family.”
“But I don’t want to live with anyone but you .”
I smiled. “I know. We just need to be prepared, you know? But I think Jamie is worth the risk, do you?”
Fergus nodded at once. “Yeah.”
“Alright, then buckle up, and go ahead and try to get some sleep while I’m still wired. I may need you to help keep me awake later.”
“Okay. And Sassenach? Thank you.”
I reached over and ruffled his hair. “Thank me when this is all over and I have successfully avoided prison.”
Chapter 22: Blink
Claire and Fergus take a risky road trip to Craigh na Dun
Fergus was out like a light from almost the moment we got on the road, the poor boy exhausted beyond reason.
I was exhausted, too. I’d tried to sleep on the flight to England but it was fitful at best, and when I woke from my doze I’d just felt even more tired than before.
I glanced at him periodically, reassuring myself that he was there, and he was safe. But what now?
I wanted to believe that Fergus was right, and our adventure to Inverness would give us some clue about Jamie. Who he was, where he was, what happened to him. But part of me was afraid it was all for naught, while the other part was even more afraid that we wouldn’t like the answers we found.
Once my eyes started growing heavy, I contemplated waking Fergus to help me stay alert, but then my phone rang, and I grimaced to see that it was Joe.
“Hello?” I answered, hoping against hope that he was just checking up on me after hearing of my leave of absence.
“Heeey, Lady Jane,” Joe crooned, his voice dripping in cheerfulness, and I inwardly groaned. “Please tell me you’re at home. Or, maybe on a spontaneous little getaway with that long distance boyfriend of yours. I need you to tell me that, Claire. Tell me you’re in Boca Raton with Mr. Zoom Date.”
I grimaced. “I’m not...in Boca Raton…”
“Jesus fuck, Claire! Louise de la Tour just called me asking if I knew where you were, come to find out she got a frantic call from Fergus’s father this morning saying he’d run away and wanted to know if she’d heard from him. Then I find out from Geillis that you took a sudden leave of absence and that she was watching your damn cat.”
“And now?! Now there are fucking police on their way to your damn house! Where the hell are you?!”
I sighed. I’d just been about to pull over to talk to him, but after his last words I changed my mind and kept going.
“At this point,” I said resignedly. “Maybe it’s better if I don’t tell you.”
“Are you out of your goddamned mind, Beauchamp?! What the fuck?! You have him though? He’s okay?”
“He’s fine,” I said. “And that’s all I’m going to say. No sense dragging you into this. The plan was to help him get back home…”
“Then do that. Take him home, Claire, now. Just admit that you made a mistake but that you were just trying to help him out. I’m sure his father will realize you meant well.”
“I can’t, Joe. Look, I can’t go into detail, but there’s something Fergus and I have to do, first. Afterward, well...I guess I’ll face the music.”
“What could you possibly have to do?”
“I really can’t explain, but someone’s life could be at stake.”
“Who’s ?! Fergus’s imaginary friend?!”
Joe had said it mockingly, but I chuckled. “Well, yeah.”
“Lady Jane, you’re...you’re not making any sense.”
“I know, I know. Just...you have to try and trust me for now, okay? But if this all goes to shit, will you make sure Adso is taken care of? Maybe you could give him to Annyiah. She might like that.”
“Shit...don’t talk like that, Claire, please.”
“We’re gonna be fine, Joe. I promise.”
“I love you, Joe.”
Joe sighed. “I love you, too, Lady Jane.”
I hung up, turning my phone off completely and then gripping the steering wheel with sweaty palms.
“My father found out, didn’t he?”
I jumped, glancing at the passenger seat, not having realized Fergus had woken up.
“Yeah,” I said calmly, even though I felt anything but calm. I’d lied through my teeth to Joe when I said everything would be fine. Everything would not be fine. Not for me, at least. “I thought you said your father wouldn’t know you were gone?”
“He must have come home early! I’m so, so sorry!”
I reached over and patted his knee. “It’s alright. We’ve come too far now, though. We’ll just keep on to Craigh na Dun.”
“But you’re gonna be in a lot of trouble, aren’t you?”
I smiled at him. “Eh, it’s just a first offense. I’m sure it’ll be a slap on the wrist.”
I didn’t really believe that, especially given the type of person I suspected Robert St. Germain of being, but no sense in making Fergus feel worse about it. “But what I do know is...I’m not going to be able to take you home with me. I probably won’t even be allowed to see you again. You get that, right?”
Fergus turned and looked out the window, and I could see him trying to swallow his tears. “W...well what about when I’m grown up?”
“Well, when you’re grown up, you can visit me in jail!”
“That’s not funny!”
“Then why are you laughing?”
Fergus and I both continued to laugh, maybe just a tad bit hysterically. Jesus, maybe we were both mental. But I heaved a mental shrug and a fuck it to the world, and turned up the radio, determined to at least enjoy what time I had left with Fergus.
It was dark when we reached Inverness. My original plan had been to find an inn to stay at for the night, then hunt down Craigh na Dun in the morning, but that bloody other shoe was going to drop at any moment. If police were already looking for me in Boston, there was no doubt in my mind that they were looking for us here. They might not look for us in the Highlands right away, but it wouldn’t be long.
Luckily, it was drizzling, so it was a good excuse for Fergus and I to both wear our hoods up, hiding our noticeable curly hair. It was also lucky that I could reasonably pass as being Fergus’s mother, so no one gave us a second look.
Not wanting to turn our phones on where they’d be more easily tracked by GPS, we found a tourist center still open that had maps. After grabbing one, and some sausage rolls from a street cart, we sat in the car trying to find this mysterious circle of stones.
“There!” Fergus said, pointing a finger still greasy from his roll to a spot near the battlefield of Culloden.
“That’s not that far from here,” I said. “We sure that’s it? I mean, it just looks like a typical tourist hiking spot.”
Fergus shrugged one shoulder. “One way to find out.”
We slowly drove along the dark, winding road leading up into the mountains. Some of my stress and worry about the situation melted away and was replaced with something else. Something strong, and unnamable. Urgency, maybe. Need perhaps. Over it all I felt something I hadn’t felt since Fergus told me his plan.
The feeling that we were going the right way .
“Right there!” Fergus exclaimed. “I see a sign!”
Sure enough, there was an old wooden sign pointing up toward Craigh na Dun with a little hiking symbol beside it.
“Guess this is it,” I said, peering up the hill, but unable to make anything out in the dark. Take your backpack, we might have to camp out here somewhere tonight.”
“Do you know how to camp?”
I snorted. “I’ll have you know that I’ve slept in rougher conditions than this thanks to my uncle, thankyouverymuch. Have you ?”
Fergus chuckled. “ Touche.”
Fergus had a flashlight that he used to illuminate our way up the hiking path toward the top of the hill. But the closer we got, the less certain I was beginning to feel.
The air was turning colder, the wind stronger, and a chill that didn’t have anything to do with either of those things went down my spine.
“Do you hear that?” Fergus asked.
I did. It was a low humming, a buzzing really. It had started so quietly I almost didn’t notice it increasing in volume the farther we went.
“Fergus, I don’t know about this…” I said.
“No, we’re almost there!” he exclaimed over the din. “I can feel it!” He reached back, taking my hand, and together we crest the hill.
The moon had slipped out from behind the clouds just enough to cast an eerie glow over the cluster of standing stones.
The sound here was at a zenith, nearly hurting my ears in its intensity.
“Fergus!” I cried. “Something’s not right! We should leave!”
“No!” he called back. “What if it’s Jamie? What if he’s trying to come back?!”
“It’s not Jamie, Fergus! I don’t know what the hell this is, but it’s not him! Now come on !”
The thing was, I did feel something. Something like that strange, inexplicable sensation that only occurred when Jamie was near, and it was drawing me toward...whatever it was. But my desire for Jamie did not come before my utter fear for Fergus’s safety.
Fergus did turn to look at me, but then his eyes drifted past, widening. “Uh oh…”
I followed his line of sight down the hill. From up there were could see the highway, and the dark shape of my hired car parked along the side of it. Only now, there were others parked next to it, and the flashing blue lights gave me a pretty good idea of just who it was.
“Shit,” I hissed. “Fergus…”
“What do we do?” he asked.
I looked down at his fearful, pleading eyes, feeling completely helpless.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do,” I said.
“But we’re so close ! I just know Jamie is here!”
I looked up at the stones, feeling the pull, resisting against it.
“I know he’s here,” Fergus said again.
“Claire Beauchamp?” A man called, as four figures appeared at the top of the hill.
“If you’re going to do something, do it fast,” I said. “I’ll try to stall them.”
I walked toward the officers, holding my hands at my chest, palms out.
“Claire Beauchamp?” The officer repeated. “Where is Fergus, Claire?”
“He’s right here,” I said, wondering why he didn’t seem to feel the need to raise his voice. In fact, none of the officers looked like anything was amiss besides me . “He’s fine, he just needs...a moment.”
One of the other officers skirted around me while the one who had spoken pulled out some handcuffs.
“Wait!” I cried.
“Fergus,” she said, approaching Fergus where he stood beside the largest stone. “Come on son, it’s going to be alright. Let’s get you home.”
“No!” Fergus screamed. “I’m not going back there!”
I wanted to go to him, but I was stopped by a firm hand gripping my forearm.
“Everything’s alright, son…”
“NO! JAMIE!” he called into the charged air. “JAMIE!”
“Let me go,” I cried, struggling. “I can calm him down, just let me go to him!”
The cop holding me eyed me speculatively, glancing up at Fergus in concern.
The woman going for Fergus reached out for him slowly, trying not to frighten him into running, but Fergus glared hotly at her before spinning, and after a brief hesitation, touched the stone.
In just the one blink of an eye, Fergus was gone. Just...gone. No puff of smoke, no dematerialization. Just a blink.
“What the fuck ?!” Someone exclaimed.
“Fergus!” I screamed, fighting against the officer’s hold.
“Get her into the car!” One of the shouted, and I was being dragged away.
I had no idea what the hell had just happened, but what I knew with absolute certainty was that I would not just leave Fergus alone. I swore I wouldn’t.
“Let me GO!” I screamed, managing to get the heel of my boot back and into the officer’s shin. He was just startled enough to loosen his grip and I didn’t hesitate. I ran as fast as I could, feeling something pull me, like a rubber band drawn taut, close to snapping. I heard voices yelling at me to stop, but I ignored them in favor of the voices drawing me in even as they filled my heart with terror.
I threw myself against the stone, squeezing my eyes shut against the inevitable impact, but the impact never came.
The voices, the buzzing, rose into a roar. I felt the rubber band begin to snap.
Chapter 23: A Place With No Cell Service
Claire wakes up on the other side of the stones, but just where is she exactly?
I would be hard-pressed to accurately describe what happened, only that when it was over, I felt like a discarded toy that a particularly cruel child had just spent hours flinging around by the head.
I wasn’t exactly unconscious, but it was some time before I came back to myself. And when I did, I was laying flat on my back on the cold, damp ground, and staring up at a sky that was quickly lightening with the rising of the sun.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I muttered, using my late uncle’s favorite curse, then gasped. “Fergus!”
I sat up quickly, ignoring the throbbing in my head and the roiling of my stomach. “Fergus?!”
There was an early morning mist covering the ground, giving the hill an otherworldly appearance. It might have been beautiful had i not been so utterly confused and afraid. How long had I been out of it?
I slowly became aware of the fact that the buzzing had stopped, and on the heels of that, I became aware that I was alone.
The four police officers had vanished. But so, it seemed, had Fergus.
I stood up on legs that felt as unsteady as a newborn giraffe’s, and looked all around for a sign of him.
“Fergus!” I called.
What had the stones done ? Fergus had disappeared right before my eyes, and I’d tried to follow, but where the hell did we go?
Everything looked the same as far as I could tell. My backpack was still strapped to my back. My body still felt whole. But something felt...off.
Wondering - hoping - that maybe Fergus had gone back to the car for some reason, I started to head that way, but stopped cold.
In the place I remembered there being a highway, and a little white sedan parked on the shoulder, there was nothing but trees.
“What the fuck…” I breathed, stumbling backward.
Panic rising in my throat, it was pure luck that I happened to look down and notice boot prints in the mud. They were about my size, but were headed down the other side of the hill, and I knew they had to be Fergus’s.
I could hardly imagine him leaving me laying there on the ground, unless perhaps he’d been so frightened that he’d gone for help.
Regardless, I took off, keeping my eyes glued to the ground, my heart lodged in my throat.
On our way up the hill, Fergus and I had gone along a well-marked, maintained hiking path, but just like the highway, it was gone too and I went stumbling over branches and weeds, my rising panic making me clumsy.
“Fergus!” I called again. How far could he have gotten? I’d followed him by only minutes.
I tripped, sliding down the last decline and hitting my side painfully on a rock.
“Fucking hell,” I grunted, pushing myself doggedly to my feet, but then I paused, trying to catch my breath and collect my bearings at the same time.
What had that book of Jamie’s said about Craigh na Dun? God, I wished I had brought the damn thing, but it had been too heavy for my backpack.
“A place where the veil of time grew thin,” I mumbled to myself. But what did that mean ? What did it do to us?
It was then I had a horrible thought. What if the stones had done to Fergus - or me, for that matter - what it had done to Jamie?
I’d long since lost track of Fergus’s footprints, but I looked around all the same. “Fergus?” I called quietly, feeling a little ridiculous.
But Fergus being invisible didn’t explain the disappearance of roads and pathways.
The cops were, for the moment, gone, and honestly I was at the point of no longer caring if I was found. Rather, I kind of hoped for it.
Pulling out my phone, and cursing myself for not doing it sooner, I turned it on, hoping Fergus had done the same.
I immediately hit the speed dial still marked for Jamie, but sighed in defeat when I got nothing but dead air. I sent a text anyway, thinking maybe he’d get it when he turned it on, but the damned thing wouldn’t even send.
“Shit, of course I would have no service,” I groaned, noting an absolute lack of bars or wifi signal. “Naturally. Perfect.”
I was well and truly lost at that point, and wondered if I would be better off going back up the hill to try again. But then I caught the sound of footsteps, and before I could become worried about some kind of wild animal, I became far more worried about the crack of a gun.
Ducking automatically, I winced, thinking they must be hunters. But the men who appeared out of the brush didn’t look like any hunters I could ever imagine.
It had to be some sort of reenactment, or that weird acting game I sometimes saw costumed people play in the park. Some of them were in kilts, while the others were dressed like Revolution-era redcoats.
I contemplated getting their attention, but then a bullet went wild and struck a tree right at my left, so I hit the ground instead.
“Jesus!” I hissed. Those were real bullets!
More confused and frightened than ever, I was on my feet and running the second the men went the other direction.
Branches pulled at my clothes and scratched my face, roots tripped me and collided with my shins, but I kept running, barely able to see through my own blind panic.
I was looking back, making sure I wasn’t being followed, and didn’t see the brick wall until I was running smack into it, sending myself flying back on my ass.
The brick wall - or rather, the sturdy, sizable man, had fallen back as well, and was now looking at me with wide, astonished eyes.
We froze there a moment, staring one another down, waiting for the other to make the first move.
He was dressed in one of the kilts, was filthy from head to toe, and holding his arm at an awkward angle. Had I hurt him?
He was just staring at me, like I was a unicorn or something, and I opened my mouth to ask him just what the hell his problem was when I heard more voices headed in our direction.
Without preamble, the man grabbed my wrist and hauled me to my feet, dragging me bodily along until we reached the side of the cliff, and he ducked into a small, shallow cave, yanking me in with him. I started to fight, to try and get out, but he pulled me back firmly against him with a hand over my mouth.
“We’re both dead if ye make a sound,” he whispered in my ear, and I froze...but not because of what he’d said.
The hand over my mouth, which slid slowly down to my waist once he’d gotten my compliance...it was familiar. As was the feel of a body pressed against my back, the whisper in my ear. The smell of horses, grass...something else.
His grip tightened when the men - redcoats - drew near, and I could feel him hold his breath. Something cold touched my hand, and I looked down to find him slowly nudging the handle of a small knife into my palm. I took it, not because I thought I could use it, but because I didn’t know what the hell was happening and didn’t know what else to do.
Through the gap between the rocks, and the curtain of leaves and branches, I watched as one particular man stopped, making my blood run cold.
The arm tightened around me again, and I shrank back against him.
“It’s not him,” came the urgent whisper in my ear, but it only made me flinch harder.
My knee-jerk reaction was that Frank was out there, wearing a costume, holding a bayonet.
However, on second glance, it wasn’t Frank at all, but someone who looked so eerily like him that it made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
They miraculously didn’t see us, and eventually carried on, but we stood there for a long time, locked in an uncomfortable embrace until finally the arm released me.
I stumbled out of the cave, spinning to face the man, realizing I still held the knife. But he didn’t approach me again, or try to grab me, but just stared at me again with that disbelieving look.
“Claire?” he whispered at last, his voice low and raspy.
I could feel my skin draw up, a chill run through me. My heart screamed at me what it knew, but that my mind stubbornly refused to believe.
“H...how do you know my name?” I asked.
He smiled. A soft, boyish smile. Handsome, even underneath all the dirt.
“I...thought I had dreamed ye,” he said in wonder, coming closer. “I thought my fevered mind had conjured ye...I never thought…”
I hadn’t realized that he’d continued approaching me until we were a hairsbreadth apart, and I was shaking my head slowly, while the rest of my body shook violently. It couldn’t be .
“Close your eyes,” he whispered, taking my hand and bringing it up to his cheek.
I did, if only to stop the spinning in my head, but then just like that, a calm washed over me.
Features I knew only by touch, but I knew them like I knew my own heart, a low chuckle that reverberated through his chest and into mine where he pressed against me.
When I opened my eyes again, I was staring into the most stunning blue eyes I’d ever seen, settled into a face so heart-breakingly beautiful, regardless of the filth, that I could barely breathe.
Chapter 24: We Meet Again
Claire and Jamie search for Fergus.
My exhausted, over-extended mind scrambled to catch up to current events. I knew that my mouth was gaping open like an idiot, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself.
Jamie, the unseen, spectral being I’d known, befriended, had gradually fallen in love with, and then lost was standing before me, an honest-to-God man .
He was at once everything and nothing at all like I’d imagined. In my heart he’d been handsome, but I think I would have thought so regardless of his physical looks. This person standing in front of me was quite honestly magnificent, in every sense of the word. I’d known from touch that he was tall and muscular, but somehow the living version was even larger than life than I could have dreamed.
Even caked with mud and - was that blood? - his messy curls were a vibrant shade of red. His skin naturally fair but tanned reddish-brown from the sun. And his eyes...by God, his eyes.
“Hi,” he said softly, the corner of his mouth quirking up just a little.
“Hi,” I said back with a gasp, feeling like I couldn’t breathe.
All at once, his smile faded, turning into a look of alarm, and that was when I realized I really couldn’t breathe.
“Sassenach,” he said, guiding me to sit on the ground before I could fall. “Breathe, lass, it’s alright.”
He held a hand on my shoulder but otherwise kept himself apart, giving me space. I tried to force myself to breathe slowly, having been on the other end of hyperventilation more than once, but it was much easier said, than done.
I was vaguely aware of him continuing to speak softly, pleadingly to me, but I wasn’t aware of anything but the dark spots gathering in my vision or the inescapable panic that came with not being able to get enough air.
He suddenly grabbed my hand, pressing my palm firmly to his chest, and I could feel it expand and contract. Slowly, over and over, I could feel the rush of air in his lungs, and I made my own follow suit.
I didn’t know how long it took, but I gradually came back to myself, and I looked at where my hand rested against him. I could still feel him breathing. His heart thumping.
He was real. He was alive .
“I’m...I’m sorry,” I murmured, removing my hand.
“It’s alright,” he said gently, letting me go. “You’re safe, mo nighean donn .”
My eyes shot up at the name, the name only Jamie had ever called me.
“It’s really you,” I said in astonishment. “You’re...you’re here. You’re…”
He chuckled. “Aye, flesh and blood, Sassenach. And so are you . Question is... how ?”
I blinked at him incredulously. “You’re asking me that? Me? I don’t bloody well know how! You...you were gone and Fergus and I... Fergus !”
I scrambled to my feet, and Jamie hurried to follow, grabbing my elbow in case I wobbled, I suppose.
“Fergus?” he echoed. “Fergus is here too?”
“Yes...well, at least I think so. I followed him through the stones but when I came out, he wasn’t there. I thought I was following his footprints…”
Jamie close his eyes and shook his head. “Wait, what d’ye mean through the stones? Are ye talking about Craigh na Dun?”
“Yes. Those bloody standing stones. Didn’t you walk through them too?”
“No,” he said, confusion written all over his face. And God...how unbelievable it was to see that! “I didn’a. I...well, I’ll explain it all, but first we have tae find Fergus.”
I nodded, but as my panic started to wane slightly, I became aware of the way he was holding his arm. “You’re hurt.”
Jamie looked at it like he’d forgotten all about it, but I could see, even through his shirt, that his shoulder was dislocated. “Do you still not feel pain?” I asked him.
He smirked. “Oh, I feel it alright. I was just a wee bit distracted for a moment, is all. Is there anything ye can do? Can ye fix th’ joint?”
I nodded. “Yes, I can pop it back in. Come here and sit down with your back to that rock there.”
I was anxious to find Fergus, so much so that my mind had barely let me catch up to this astonishing turn of events. But my doctor’s mind plowed on ahead and I couldn’t just let him go on like this.
“I haven’t anything to give you for the pain,” I warned him.
“No matter,” he said, pulling out a flask and taking a long pull from it. He then blinked both his eyes…was he trying to wink? and smiled at me. “Finally got my taste back for whisky, and for everything I gave up it was a half-way decent consolation prize.”
I managed a half smile for him and then offered him a twig to bite down on.
“Think you’re able to get this off?” I asked, tugging on his white shirt.
He smirked again. “Getting me naked already, aye?”
I blushed as he laboriously managed to pull the shirt over his head, and then I winced at just how bad his shoulder looked. Beyond that, I couldn’t stop myself from noticing other aspects of his torso, namely the fact that he was even more fit than I’d thought he was. His chest was smattered in reddish gold hair, hair that I distinctly remembered feeling against my own naked chest…
I shook my head to clear it, then focused again on his shoulder.
“Christ. Alright, hold still, I have to get the joint in the correct position before it will slide into place.”
Jamie chuckled, and I shot him a glare.
“Oh stop that! And get your mind out of the gutter. You’re supposed to be in pain.”
“I am,” he said, with a smile that completely contradicted that statement. “A great deal of it. But I just canna help it; I’m happy, Sassenach.”
I blushed again, this time for another reason, then set myself to work.
The joint luckily popped back in after one try, and Jamie gasped in relief.
“It doesn’a hurt anymore!”
“It will,” I said. “I’ll need to bind it up, and you’ll have to keep from using it for a few days.”
“Easier said than done, Sassenach. These aren’a exactly safe times here. Not like your home.”
“Where are we?” I asked, removing my own belt to use as a sling.
“Not where, exactly. It’s when .”
I blinked at him in confusion. “Come again?”
“Dinna ask me how , but we’re in th’ past , Sassenach. Your past, I mean. 1743, to be exact.”
This time my eyes closed as I tried to process this new information.
“What ? It…it can’t be…”
“Look, I ken it sounds impossible but it’s true. And really, is it any less believable than an invisible man? Though, I never knew people could actually go back, though. I never left.”
“Wait, slow down...what are you saying?”
Jamie took a deep breath, then let it go. “I’ll tell ye, I’ll tell ye everything, but first we must find Fergus. It isn’a safe tae stay here at any rate.”
I helped Jamie back into his shirt then bound his arm.
“Dinna fash,” Jamie said. “Fergus is canny, we’ll find him.”
He stood, then offered me his good hand to help me up. I took it, feeling the familiar calloused palm, barely able to make it compute in my mind that the presence that I’d taken for granted as just being invisible was now a living, breathing man.
It was exhilarating.
And, if I was being completely honest with myself, it was scary.
Jamie was like a hound dog on alert, carefully leading me through the woods with his hand on the handle of his sword. I’d tried to give him back his smaller knife, but he’d told me to hold onto it, just in case. I tucked it into my boot.
“Ah, there ye are, a charaid ,” Jamie said fondly at the sight of a large black horse, drinking from the stream. He glanced at me. “I knew he wouldn’a go far. Come on, Sassenach.”
I approached the horse warily, having never had the same interest in them that Jamie and Fergus shared.
“Donas is an ornery old beast,” Jamie said, hauling himself into the saddle. “But he’ll obey me, and willn’a mind you coming along.”
He held out his good hand and I clambered into the saddle behind him, holding on for dear life. Donas threw his head back in a irritated manner, and I suspected he minded my coming along a bit more than his master claimed he did.
“What if those soldiers found him?” I asked, fear making my stomach churn. “You were running from them. Would they hurt him?”
“I think Fergus would know tae hide from anyone he doesn’a ken. But at this point, I’m rather hoping that if anyone found him, it’s my uncle.”
“Your uncle?” I echoed. “Would that have been one of the men I saw when I first came through the stones, in a kilt like you?”
“Aye, but we were separated. No matter.”
“What are you going to tell them about me and Fergus?”
Jamie chuckled. “No idea. For now, let’s just focus on finding our lad.”
I felt a warmth deep within me at the way he said our lad, but I decided not to dwell on it.
Worry twisted in my gut, it being the only thing keeping me from being elated about actually finding Jamie in the flesh .
I couldn’t fully enjoy the revelation though, not until I had Fergus back, safe.
But even still, my mind and heart raced, wondering exactly where we stood now. We had been as close as two people had been once, but that had been under very strange circumstances. So far, Jamie had seemed happy to see me, but he was standoffish in a way, having made no effort to touch me beside what was necessary.
I rode behind him, my arms around his waist. And being behind him that way, without any of the reminders of the imaginary friend I’d known, I could almost believe that I was on that horse with a completely different person. This person who smelled of blood and unwashed skin and sweat that I could feel dampening his shirt. Whose heart pulsed a rhythm against my hands and my chest. A stomach that made slight rumblings of hunger. Muscles that flexed when he moved to guide the horse.
I pressed myself closer.
“I ken you’re worn out,” Jamie said sympathetically. “We’ll double back tae Craigh na Dun, hopefully skirt around any lingering Redcoats. I dinna think Fergus would have tried tae venture too far from th’ stones. We’ll find him soon, and then we can all get some rest.”
I started to say that sounded like a great plan to me, when Jamie suddenly tensed all over, then jerked his horse off the path and into the bushes.
“What’s happening?” I whispered.
Jamie shushed me, reaching back to squeeze my knee reassuringly.
I could hear the sounds of another horse, but just one it sounded like. We waited, Donas remaining remarkably still and quiet for an animal, until Jamie exhaled and relaxed.
“Dinna fash, Sassenach,” he said, guiding Donas back into the open. “‘Tis only my godfather.”
“Godfather?” I echoed, leaning around him.
The older, grizzled-looking man and paused and reached for his sword when we first emerged, but also relaxed once he realized who it was.
“Ye near tae gave me a heart attack,” the man groused. “Twice! Just now, and when ye got it intae your damned heid tae fall off that beast ye call a horse and disappear.”
“Apologies, a ghoistidh,,” Jamie said, and I could hear the smile in his voice. “I was a wee bit distracted, is all.”
Murtagh craned his head around to see me, raising one bushy eyebrow. “Aye, I can see that. And just who might we have here?”
Jamie dismounted, then turned to help me down as well. He took my hand and led me to his godfather, introducing me proudly.
“Murtagh, I’d like ye tae meet Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Erm, that is, Dr. Claire Beauchamp.”
Murtagh’s other eyebrow joined the first to touch his hairline, and he looked at Jamie, then back at me.
“He knows me?” I asked.
Murtagh scowled. “I ken this lad woke up after two months o’ bein’ half-dead ranting and raving like a madman about a woman named Claire Beauchamp and a lad named Fergus and I thought I’d finally convinced him that it had been a dream.”
“That he did,” Jamie agreed. “But it wasn’a,” Jamie turned to look at me, touching the tip of his finger to the underside of my chin. “Unless I’m dreaming still, in that case, I dinna think I want tae awaken.”
I smiled back, but a little awkwardly, remembering the last time Jamie talked about not wanting to “wake up,” and that had been after the most unusual and also most incredible sex of my life.
Murtagh looked like he was waiting for something, and very impatiently at that.
“I promise I’ll explain everything tae ye,” Jamie said, then looked at me. “ And you. But first, Murtagh, we’re looking for th’ wee lad. He’s been separated from Claire and we need tae find him.”
Murtagh frowned. “Aye? What does he look like?”
Jamie held his hand out to the approximate height that Fergus had been before his growth spurt, so I took his hand and raised it a good three inches. “Black curly hair, blue eyes.”
Murtagh’s scowl deepened. “I think I saw your lad.”
“ What?!” I exclaimed, pushing past Jamie, not liking the expression on Murtagh’s face. “You saw him?! Where?”
Murtagh grimaced and looked to Jamie. “I split from Dougal and his men tae look for you, and nearly came upon some redcoats. They had a lad, as ye just described, and he was fightin’ and screaming as they put him on a wagon and took him away. I would’a liked tae help him, but I was alone.”
Jamie nodded, his jaw clenched tight.
“Jamie!” I exclaimed. “W...what are we going to do? Surely they wouldn’t hurt a little boy, right? He...he’s not even Scottish!”
“No, Sassenach,” Jamie said, grabbing my shoulder and giving it a squeeze.
“Jamie…” Murtagh said, grunting. “I agree th’ British would have no cause tae harm a lone child. But…I saw a certain Captain of Dragoons with whom we are acquaint going wi’ them.
Jamie’s calm concern evaporated in an instant, and he released me, suddenly hissing a string of words in another language before ending it with “mother-fucking son of a bitch.”
Murtagh’s brows shot back up at that, and he looked a little impressed.
“Jamie, what the hell?” I demanded. “Who is Murtagh talking about? Is Fergus alright? Tell me Fergus is alright!”
Jamie touched my arm again, trying to soothe me but I could see he was a volcano about to explode.
“Th’ captain Murtagh speaks of is th’ one we saw near th’ ravine. Jonathan Randall.”
“The one who looked like Frank?” I asked, then shook my head, trying to catch up. “Did...did you say Randall ? Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, that’s Frank’s last name!”
“Your Frank was a piece of shite ,” Jamie growled. “But this man is a monster, Sassenach. We need tae get tae Fergus and now .”
I felt my blood go cold, and my throat close up. “Jamie…”
“We’ll get him,” Jamie said firmly. “Murtagh, d’ye ken which way they were headed?”
“North,” Murtagh said. “Reckon they must be headed tae Fort William. There’s a English command set up in Brockton, but that’s th’ other way.
Jamie spat out a few more of what I assumed to be Gaelic curses, and then took a deep breath and nodded decisively. “Murtagh, I’d ask that ye please keep Claire with ye, watch over her. I’ll…”
“No,” I broke in. “I’m going with you!”
Jamie shook his head. “No, I’ll no’ have ye anywhere near Randall. I’ll get Fergus out myself.”
“And just how will ye do that?” Murtagh asked sarcastically. “March right on in, wi’ th’ price on your heid, take on a whole prison of redcoats, and skip out scratch-free wi’ th’ boy?”
“I’ll sneak in,” Jamie hissed. “I ken th’ place, after all.”
“Ye’ll get yourself kill’t.”
“I’m English ,” I pointed out, stepping between the arguing men. “I can go in and just tell them I’ve lost my son. They’ll have no reason to doubt me, or refuse me. Fergus is twelve, what could he have possibly done to get himself arrested ?”
“Twelve is man enough here, Sassenach,” Jamie said lowly. “And ye don’t ken what Randall is like. No, out o’ th’ question.”
“Fine, then I’ll just go myself,” I said, sticking my nose in the air. “I’ll ask directions on the way.”
I started to walk away, fully expecting Jamie to stop me, but not for him to grab me rather roughly and spin me around to face him.
“You will do no such thing!” he spat, eyes flashing in anger.
I snatched my arm away, fighting the urge to slap him. “Get your fucking hands off of me! You don’t get to just grab me like I’m a doll and you do not get to tell me what I can or can’t do! I don’t care what century we’re in! Just who do you think you are?!”
Jamie took a step back, but his furious expression didn’t fade. I felt the barest stirrings of unease, but didn’t dare let it show. After all, how well did I really know this man?
“I’m nobody,” Jamie ground out through clenched teeth. “I’ve no home, no title, no’ a penny tae my name. I have nothing , d’ye understand me? Nothing but you, and Fergus. Now, I dinna ken how all of this has happened, I dinna ken how it’s possible, but it happened . And in that time, I raised that lad. He is mine tae protect. And whether you like it or not, so are you. For you and Fergus tae come here only tae lose one of you...or both…”
I watched, my heart sinking, as Jamie began to crumble in on himself, beginning with his face until his shoulders hunched in. In an instant he went from a powerful, intimidating man to someone much younger, and much more afraid, making me wonder yet again just how old he was.
I went to him, lightly touching the side of his face. “You’re not going to lose us,” I said firmly, praying that I was right. “But neither can you do this alone. Please, Jamie, let me help. Fergus is mine, too.”
Jamie took a deep breath through his nose, then nodded, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he tried to swallow his tears. “Alright,” he said. “But ye must promise tae follow my lead. You don’t know this time, and ye certainly don’t know Randall, or Fort William.”
“I promise,” I said at once.
“Weel, if you two are done,” Murtagh broke in. “Shall we go?”
Jamie smiled at his godfather. “Aye. Thank ye, Murtagh.”
Murtagh grunted. “You can thank me by giving me quite an explanation along th’ way.”
Jamie huffed a weary chuckle. “Oh aye, there’s plenty to explain,” he looked at me. “And a few things you need to understand before we reach Fort William.”
“How long will it take?” I asked, my worry increasing. I’d had in my head that it was close, my brain used to being able to get places quickly. But we were in the land without cars.
“A day and a half,” Jamie said resignedly.
“Well...can’t we catch up to them? Get to Fergus before they get him to the Fort?”
“It’s been several hours already,” Murtagh said. “If we rode as fast as we could, maybe, but even if we managed tae get your lad away from ten Redcoats without getting shot, we’d be stuck w’ exhausted horses that canna escape. One of their men was hurt, so I dinna expect them tae take their time in getting there.”
“We’ll move quickly,” Jamie said, grabbing his horse’s reins. “Rest only as long as we must, and we’ll make it tae Fort William by nightfall tomorrow. We’ll try it your way, Sassenach. Send ye in tae petition for Fergus’s release, and if that fails, I’ll sneak him out.”
“We’ll need tae make a stop in th’ next town,” Murtagh said.
Murtagh made a vague gesture at me. “Ye canna be sending her into a jail full of men dressed in a pair of breeks can ye?”
Jamie gave my attire an appraising look. “Oh, aye, I suppose we canna. We’ll want them tae find ye respectable, Sassenach. We’ll find ye a gown.”
“Whatever it takes,” I said, letting Jamie help me onto Donas. “Let’s just hurry.”