As the wind began to pick up, Jamie looked out over the water of the loch, serenely still. The sun was just beginning to rise over the hills behind him and he got to his feet, dropping the bottle of whisky that had kept him warm through the cold hours of the night.
Shoving his freezing hands deep into his pockets, his bleary eyes followed as the tip of his boot made indentations in the pale sand. Without thinking, he drew the crude shape of a heart before dashing his heel straight through the middle, obliterating it from view.
Nobody would share his sentimentality today.
As the feeling began to return to his fingers, he felt the cold, smooth edges of the pocket knife that he always carried with him. It was a token that made Jamie feel close to his father, even long after his passing, serving as a tangible connection for when he needed reassurance. The rough pad of his thumb ran across the indent of his father’s initials, B.R.D.F., and he sent up a silent prayer of remembrance.
If he hadn’t drunk more than half the bottle, Jamie might have given his next choice a little more thought. But the only thing stronger than the alcohol running through his system was the insatiable feeling of needing to be close to her, to feel her. He flicked out the sharp blade and immediately dug it into the mound of his palm. Watching as the blood chased the knife around the shape of the C that he cut into himself, he made sure that it would be deep enough to scar so that a part of her would be with him forever. She would always be his Claire, no matter the fact that in a few hours, on the other side of the world, she would become Mrs Frank Randall. Her initial carved into his skin would keep her locked away in his heart, never to be parted.
In the years to follow, he would think of that moment as rock bottom.
Before he would take his sister’s advice and seek out a therapist, someone who would help to put words to all the feelings of inadequacy and grief that had plagued him since he was a young man, Jamie was stuck. He was still young, only 30 years old, but the cloud that had been hanging above his head for the past decade had bled its poison into his nervous system, manifesting fingers that wrapped around his spine and used his limbs as though he was its own personal puppet.
Jamie Fraser was a host to his own grief.
He knew that he should have felt content. His time was spent working with his childhood best friend and he always had a hot dinner come the end of the day, courtesy of Jenny. He loved getting to spend time around his nieces and nephew, entranced by the way that they seemed to be sprinting past every milestone right before his eyes. Come night time, he would collapse into bed, sighing heavily at the thought of a day well spent and wait until sleep would take him.
But then the dreams would come.
They weren’t always bad. Sometimes he dreamt of their days in Amsterdam as he walked that one step behind her just to watch the way the wind made her sundress move like waves around her shins. He could picture the slightly sardonic smile that she always had ready, her lips curving themselves to taunt him about the lack of speed he walked with despite the length of his legs. In his sleep he remembered the sound that she made when their bodies joined after all those years of starvation, could see the look of wonderment in those whisky eyes. Could hear the whisper of his name pouring from her throat. Those were good dreams.
But the bad outweighed the good, more often than not. He would also dream about running through that fucking airport, time and time again, never quick enough to catch her. Sometimes he saw her through a wall of glass, clutching her boarding pass with fingers that had gone white from the strength of her grip. His fists would pound on the wall until it shook, like a man gone mad with need, but still she would not turn to him. She could never hear him. And he knew that if he could just get to her, make her listen, that she would have no opportunity to deny what they shared together. And they would spend the rest of their lives by each other’s side.
When he woke from the bad dreams, he would be drenched in sweat and the room would spin. A few times he had been woken by Jenny’s insistent hands shaking his shoulders, sometimes with a scared Maggie cowering in the doorframe.
“Just a nightmare, mo cridhe, dinna fash. Uncles can have nightmares too, ye ken?” Jenny would send a strained smile to her daughter before ushering her out of the room and towards her own. “Back to bed wi’ ye.”
Jenny turned back to her brother, the smile dropping from her face like a stone into water.
“Ye canna be screaming the house down, the weans will be falling asleep in class.”
“I was screaming?”
“Aye, I’m surprised the beasts aren’t bellowing in the byre wi’ the noise ye were making,” she sighed as she sat down on the edge of his bed, Jamie running his hands roughly over his face and finding them slick with sweat. “Mebbe ye should speak to someone.”
“Janet, dinna be daft,” Jamie scoffed, immediately quieting when he saw the flash of anger snap over his sister’s face.
“Then what are we tae do? Because ye canna go on like this, mo brathair,” she said with a finality that he knew better than to argue against.
The next morning, Jenny cornered him as he poured over the projections for their first year in the whisky business. The preliminary figures were daunting to say the least and he kept finding himself counting the 0s as if he couldn’t quite believe that anyone had actually invested a sum that large. But, rightly or wrongly, Dunsany trusted that Jamie and Ian knew what they were doing and for the most part had left them to it. With a lot of hard work and not a little bit of luck, Broch Mordha Distillery seemed to be in a surprisingly good position. He knew that the hard work was still ahead of them but with Jenny’s insistence that he take some time to work on himself, Jamie found himself pondering the business card that his sister had dropped into his hands.
And so, the following Wednesday, Jamie sat in a chair that was too small for him by half and pulled at his fingers, finding comfort in each onomatopoeic pop of air that burst from his overworked joints, the sound filling the otherwise silent room. He looked around trying to find something to focus on rather than the woman who was staring him down.
His new psychiatrist came highly recommended and it had been nearly impossible to have found someone in Broch Mordha that hadn’t known him from birth. Growing up in such a wee village, there was usually only a few degrees of separation from someone who’d either looked after him as a wean or had played with him in the playground which didn’t make the idea of spilling his innermost secrets all that appealing.
“One of us has to say something at some point. Otherwise I’ll have wasted an hour that I could have spent on paperwork and you’ll be down £75.”
Jamie’s eyes flew to hers, blue meeting green. He hadn’t expected the voice. For some reason, he’d thought she’d be all light and breathy but it was deep, almost hypnotic. The antithesis of her physical person, sleek red hair falling delicately across one shoulder. Jamie thought she must be forcing herself to use her professional voice but his ears didn’t miss the familiar way her lips curled around the words.
“Yer from the Highlands?”
He found himself instantly more comfortable the minute that she rolled her green eyes at him, “My name is Geillis Duncan. Not exactly fae Spain, am I?”
A small smile played across his lips at the sound of her last two words devolving into ‘ahm uh’ despite her best efforts. Doing another sweep of the room, his eyes settled on a framed photo on her desk. Dr Duncan on a beach somewhere with a man, both smiling blissfully at each other and completely ignoring the camera.
“And after spending time on sandy beaches, ye decided that Broch Mordha was the next adventure?”
Dr Duncan followed his line of sight and smiled warmly at the sight of the photograph.
“My husband, Arthur. He was a good man.”
All at once, it dawned on Jamie why Dr Duncan would be credited as a grief specialist. He felt guilty at the prospect of having sought help for something as simple as a broken heart when the woman sitting in front of him had lost her husband.
Jamie pushed the palms of his hands against his denim-covered knees, trying his hardest not to drum his fingers against his thigh.
“Y’alright?” The doctor asked kindly.
“Feels stupid, being here,” he muttered. “Like I don’t deserve to feel this way over something so small.”
“Something as small as love?”
Geillis Duncan’s green eyes pinned him to the chair. She didn’t move an inch to give him an inkling of what she was thinking, no tilt of her head or narrowing of her eyes. Instead, she kept her stare straight. Jamie felt like he was sat under the world’s largest microscope.
“Jenny says I’m grieving,” he found himself admitting, as though the directness of the good doctor’s gaze had drawn the truth from him like poison from a wound.
“Jenny is your sister?” she asked, not waiting for him to respond before continuing with another question, “And you disagree with her?”
Did he? Jamie knew that he was feeling something. That he’d always felt like he was on a different frequency from the rest of the world. Well, everyone apart from her.
“What are you thinking right now?”
Christ, Geillis Duncan didn’t miss a thing, did she?
“Nothing, just…” he sighed heavily before rubbing a hand across his face and coming clean. “Claire. I was thinking about Claire.”
At the sound of her name, his skin felt prickly and hot, the space between his fingers began to sweat and he took a breath in a vain attempt to steady himself.
“Do you want to tell me about Claire?”
Jamie looked up at the question, expecting some pity or even derision. His gut-reaction when asked about Claire was to go on the defensive, normally needing to shut down Jenny before she got going about his pining. But Dr Duncan met him with a calm openness that surprised him. She genuinely wanted to know.
“We met at university.”
And he told her the entire story. Slowly, at first, the words trickling from him. Only giving the most general account of the friendship that had begun so many years ago. The doctor let him speak, rarely saying anything and letting the silence be filled by Jamie putting his thoughts into words as he began to dig deeper and deeper into his history with Claire, the feelings rushing out of him like a torrent. To have the chance to speak to someone that was on the outside of everything that had happened in the past years, he found himself saying things that he didn’t even realise that he felt.
“It feels like part of me is missing. That whatever makes me me, she took half of it and I’ll never get it back. I dinna ken if I’d even want her tae. If it means that part of me is with her.”
Dr Duncan scribbled something in her notebook and Jamie would’ve given his left arm to know what she’d written. Did she think him a sentimental fool?
“At what point do you think that you gave her part of yourself? Amsterdam? When she left?”
“The second I saw her fighting with those bloody boxes at uni. Like my whole perception of the world shifted to immediately include her in it. And nae even because I wanted tae, it just was a certainty. From that point on, she would be inextricably linked with me.”
“But she’s not with you. She’s in America and she’s married.”
It wasn’t new information. Jamie knew that both of the things the good doctor said were factual statements. Claire was in another continent and had been for years. She was Claire Randall. For some reason, hearing the words from Geillis Duncan’s mouth broke the tenuous hold that he had on himself.
He couldn’t help but sob.
“People experience grief in different ways, Jamie. There is no benchmark for what effects us. Stop worrying about it being enough to hurt you. It did hurt and it still does. That’s all that matters.”
As kind as her words were, they did nothing to soothe the sharp edges of his heart.
He sniffed, dashing the back of his hand under his eyes, “So I’ve got to pay through the nose for someone to tell me that I’m allowed to miss her?”
“Well, you signed an agreement to the pricing structure here,” she said as she rolled her shoulders slightly, relaxing back into her chair, “but I’m afraid to say that I won’t be telling you anything. We’ll just keep talking until we can come to a better understanding of your situation than you had before.”
“Sounds like a cop out,” he tried to joke.
“Aye, mebbe,” her accent suddenly thickened as she conceded the point to him with a wry smile. “But ’tis the situation yer in, like it or no’.”
Jamie laughed and nodded his head, looking once again at the carpet and trying to get a grip back on himself.
“That’s our time but I’d like to see you again next week, if that’s okay? Same time?”
Jamie got to his feet, knees cracking, and shook her proffered hand.
“Aye, next week. Thank ye, Dr Duncan.”
“Call me Geillis. I’ll see you then, Jamie. Take care of yourself for me.”
And for the first time in a long time, he didn’t feel like he was lying when he replied with, “I will.”