Over the next week, Jamie started to integrate into the rhythm of the household. He spent most of his free time either reading or in the barn with the horses. Claire was very pleased at how he seemed to charm Fearg. She watched him take the great beast into the paddock one day and marveled at how relaxed Jamie was. He was a very accomplished rider and Fearg saw Jamie visit Molagan and give her ear scratches and bits of cookie and, darn it, he wanted those things, too. Eventually he realized that nipping, biting and trying to unseat Jamie were good ways of being isolated and getting no attention - sugar cubes or cookies came when he did what Jamie asked of him. Claire came into the house while Jamie was putting Fearg in his stall and laughed to Mrs. Fitz, “Typical male, Fearg – he fell under the sway of your cookies!” Mrs. Fitz blushed pink and turned back, pleased, to the salad she was making.
Claire had allowed him to eat his fill on his first Tuesday with her and he was mortified that he vomited the food back up, just as he had at Joe’s office. Aghast, he crumpled at her feet, ashamed, tears in his eyes, “Mistress, I’mma sorry. I did it again, I wasted yer food.”
Claire raised his chin and said quietly, “Jamie, that’s not your fault. It’s mine. I’m the doctor and I should have known better. Please forgive me. I’ll ask Mrs. Fitz to give you several very small meals throughout the day so your stomach can adjust to real food again. She held her hand out to the kneeling man, “Come on, up with you. I’ll have no more upset over a few pennies worth of food, yes?”
He gulped and looked at her navel, “Yes, mistress.” He let her pull him up and she led him back to his bed.
She frowned as she looked at his face, which was pale. In fact, he looked rather peaked. “Jamie, how are you feeling right now? Are you feeling worn out, like you’re getting a cold or something?”
He looked at her in surprise, “Aye, mistress.”
She sighed inwardly, men. “Were you going to say anything to me, Jamie?”
He blushed nearly purple and looked at his feet, “O’ course no, Mistress. Nobody cares if a slave gets sick unless it may die. Otherwise, it may be punished for complaining.”
Claire winced at “it;” no person was an “it,” for God’s sake.
They reached his bedroom and Claire ordered him right back into bed. Mrs. Fitz brought up more broth, soda crackers and 7-Up. Claire brought her laptop and sat with Jamie as he sipped the clear broth, praying he wouldn’t throw up this food, too. She shuddered to think of possible injuries to his internal organs.
Before she met Jamie, she’d never been able to stomach reading about the new slavery or how slaves were treated. When she’d contemplated buying him, however, she forced herself to watch a documentary from a few months back when a reporter for BBC went undercover as a new slave. He had sold himself to a training center where there were several moles, posing as trainers and center staff who wore hidden cameras so they could record exactly what slaves went through. The reporter and moles were able to get the footage safely away and escape the center by hiding the footage in a woman’s underwear. The documentary provided the government with enough ammunition to close that particular training center down for repeated and egregious human-rights abuses. The reporter, however, wasn’t so lucky. He suffered horribly in the center and ended up permanently injured. Nonetheless, he became a fervent anti-slavery activist. In tribute, the BBC donated his sale price, two-hundred thousand pounds ($277,900.60) to Amnesty International’s “Free Our Brothers and Sisters” campaign. After she watched the reportage, she was determined to save and protect the helpless boy she’d met in the street that day.
By Thursday, Jamie had a fever and a racking cough. Claire diagnosed pneumonia and put him on antibiotics. He managed to fall into a restless sleep on Thursday night. When Claire got home from work, she had just changed into comfortable yoga pants when she heard a bloodcurdling scream from Jamie’s room. She ran to him and was horrified at what she saw. Jamie was tangled in the bedclothes, red-faced, sweating and obviously in the grip of a nightmare. He cowered in his bed, neck tendons taut and straining, arms thrown up over his head to protect himself from an unseen assailant, “Master Randall, please, no! I- no’ that – “ and he curled up into an even tighter ball, sobbing, “I’ll be good, I promise, master!”
Claire ran to the door and nearly knocked over Mrs. Fitz, who carried towels, aspirin and ice packs in her arms, “Doctor, run, get me that heavy letter opener from yer desk, aye?”
Claire nodded and was off in a flash.
Mrs. Fitz put the icepacks on the floor and hit them with the butt end of the letter opener until the ice shattered and then laid the packs on Jamie’s forehead, the crooks of his elbows, feet and hands. Claire realized the older woman was using a folk remedy – the skin on these body parts was thinner than the rest of the body, so cooling them would help the body regulate itself.
Mrs. Fitz did not touch Jamie, as much as she wanted to console him. Instead, she spoke to him in their primary language, “Jamie, a bhalaich, ye’re home an’ safe. That man canna get to ye here. Can ye hear me, lad? Jamie? Please, come back ta us!”
Gradually, the ice packs seemed to help. Jamie quieted down and eventually stilled, to the women’s immense relief. Claire passed a wand thermometer in front of his forehead, “Jesus, 40 degrees Celsius (103.5 Fahrenheit). No wonder.” She took a cold washcloth and carefully washed Jamie’s face and neck, soaked it again in cold water and wrung it out. She unbuttoned his pajama top and washed his torso – and Jamie’s eye’s opened sluggishly. He whispered hoarsely, “Mistress? Why’re ye here? Is somethin’ the matter?”
She exhaled slowly, “You were having a nightmare, Jamie. You screamed and begged a ‘Master Randall’ not to do something and that you’d be good.” We ran in and discovered you’re running a fever.”
Jamie closed his eyes, “Aye, Master Randall was one o’ my trainers. I’m sorry to have disturbed ye, mistress, Mrs. Fitz.”
Claire smiled at him, “You couldn’t help it, Jamie. Now,” she reached over him to the bedside table, “Here’s some antibiotics and acetaminophen; I’m hoping giving you a bit more than is normal will help reduce your fever. Jamie couldn’t help but breathe in her essence, a perfume of honey, jasmine and Dove soap. Her enticing breasts swayed slightly in front of him and he gulped and shut his eyes. Claire straightened up and held the pills in her cupped hand, extending it to Jamie. He took the pills carefully but couldn’t avoid brushing her palm with his fingers. Without realizing it, four pupils expanded and four eyes grew darker at the whispery touch.
After another week in bed and another three weeks of supervised small meals, Jamie’s stomach had slowly gotten used to food and Jamie stopped worrying that his present meal would be his last. Mrs. Fitz was glad when she stopped finding rolls, bannocks and individually wrapped protein bars Jamie’d hidden in his closet. She remembered the first time she’d found his stash. She’d found the carefully wrapped rolls and wondered why on earth the boy was doing it – and then, she saw a squirrel in a pine tree outside Jamie’s window, an acorn in his mouth. Her heart broke and her eyes filled with hot sympathetic tears. She never said anything to Claire or Jamie about it - it’d be another thing to worry Claire and embarrass Jamie.
Claire had started to trust him enough to let him take Fearg for longer rides on her property, which overjoyed him. He vowed to himself to do nothing to have this privilege taken away. He kept both horses well-groomed and -exercised and even Claire noticed that they seemed more content.
On a late Saturday morning, the doorbell rang. Mistress and the Abernathys had an outing at a local beach planned. Mrs. Fitz had kindly packed a large picnic basket for everyone and it sat near the door. Claire ran to the door and JJ squealed and almost launched himself into the air to get to “Atie Atie Atie!” She scooped him up from his Daddy’s arms and twirled him around, both laughing at the other. Claire pulled up JJ’s shirt and gave him a huge, messy, loud raspberry on his belly and the baby crowed in joy.
Jamie had been kneeling, head bowed, at Claire’s club chair and had not moved when Claire greeted her friends. He was happy they were going to have a fun day at the beach. His attention wandered as he remembered how often his family would go to the beach when he was younger and nearly teared up – he wouldn’t have any more days like that now. He told himself in a scathing inner voice to remember his place in the household – he was a purchase with a receipt, after all, like tires or flour or a soup ladle. He supposed he could work on the barn roof and finish it today. Mistress had mentioned the possibility of chickens and he wanted to research the best breed for her situation online.
The Abernathys and Claire walked over to Jamie. He didn’t raise his head as he hadn’t been spoken to yet.
Joe spoke first, “Hello, Jamie, it’s good to see you looking so well.”
Without looking up, Jamie answered, “Thank ye, Master Abernathy.”
Gayle smiled at Jamie, “I’m Gayle, Jamie, do you remember me?“
He answered respectfully, “Aye, Mistress Abernathy, I canna soon ferget a lady who intimidates someone like Mistress Dunsany,” and everyone (except Jamie) laughed at the memory of Gayle strongarming Geneva.
“And this little octopus is Joseph Junior, or JJ. JJ, this is Jamie.” The baby flapped his arms in greeting and said, “‘Iss, iss.”
Joe laughed, “Jamie, he’s never done this with someone he doesn’t know, but he wants you to hold him and give you a kiss, will you take a sloppy kiss from my son?”
Jamie smiled, “Oh aye, Master, sloppy baby kisses are the best kisses. Come here, Mister JJ,” he added hastily, remembering his training, “a charaid bheag.” JJ reached out to Jamie and when he was sitting on Jamie’s arm, he leaned forward and gave Jamie his version of a kiss – an open-mouthed near-miss of Jamie’s mouth that landed on his jaw, complete with saliva bubble.
“What did you say to him, Jamie?” Asked Gayle.
“Oh, apologies, mistress, I said “my little friend.”
“How many languages do you speak, Jamie?” Joe looked at him in amazement.
Jamie blushed, “Well, we only spoke the Gàidhlig in the house growin’ up, so I’mma fluent in writing and speakin’ it. I learned French in school and spent two summers in France at a cognac distillery in Cognac where I was able to perfect my French – my writin’ and speakin’, both.”
Both Abernathys stared at him for a moment, “Well, honey, I think we’ll be bringing our kids to Mister Jamie for lessons if that’s okay with him,” Joe joked. Claire looked at Jamie and grinned.
Claire raised her voice, “Is everyone ready to get in the car?”
Jamie insisted on loading the SUV by himself, “It’s my job, Master. Please, let me do it,” begged Jamie as Joe tried to help him. Joe smiled sadly and backed away with his hands held up in defeat, “No problem, Jamie, thank you.”
“Alright, everyone, into the SUV.” He scarcely dared hope he’d heard right; might he be allowed to at least drive them to the beach and come back to get them? Even if mistress made him stay in the car while they had fun, he could look at the ocean. Maybe she wouldn’t mind if he rolled down a window so he could listen to the happy people on the beach and smell the ocean air. Luckily, the Abernathys had bought a truck designed to hold all the children they dreamed of having. The beast had heat and massage in every seat, electric windows and even third-row seating. Jamie asked bashfully if he could sit next to JJ. He spent the entire ride speaking his native tongue to the boy, who watched him intently and sometimes put his two cents in. When they arrived, Jamie insisted on unpacking the car while mistress and the Abernathys enjoyed the summer sun. He finished unloading everything and addressed Claire, “Mistress, may I speak?”
She shaded her beautiful eyes with her hand, “Yes, Jamie?”
“Have ye any more tasks fer me? Or would ye like me ta drive back to the house and pick ye up when ye call, or shall I wait in the car fer ye?”
She bit her bottom lip for a second, praying for patience. God, when she does that I just want to – thought Jamie ruefully.
She handed him the second bag next to her, “No.” She handed him the bag, “I want you to take this and go put on your very own swim trunks. There’s a towel, a zip up sweatshirt, a T-shirt and new flip-flops in there, too. When you’re changed, come back to us. I’ll find you and squash you like a bug if you try to go sit in the car, Jamie, so help me!” She crossed her eyes at him and burst out laughing. Jamie couldn’t help himself and he burst into laughter too.
Just as she’d hoped, the swim trunks Claire and Gayle picked out looked great on him. He walked over to them and bashfully asked, “So, mistresses, wha’ do ye think?”
Both women looked at each other and applauded him and Jamie wasn’t sure if he was embarrassed or pleased. “Mistress, may I take off my T-shirt? I dinna want ta offend yer, ah, sensibilities,” he amended quickly.
Claire graciously said yes and both she and Gayle had to swallow hard when they saw Jamie remove his T-shirt. Mrs. Fitz’ food and their care had done wonders. His skin was a warm brown, scattered with freckles and his muscle tone had greatly improved. He had a wondrous six-pack of abdominal muscles which flowed into a pelvis framed by hipbones that no longer jutted out from starvation. His russet curls ran riot in the wind. He looked like a god and many beachgoers, male, female, free and enslaved, shot Claire and Gayle envious glances. Gayle took Claire aside when Jamie was out of earshot,
“Damn, Claire, he is built! Yum yum!”
Claire smacked her friend’s arm playfully and gasped in mock disgust, “Why, Gayle, shame on you!” and both women giggled to beat the band. Joe just snorted, rolled his eyes and muttered, “Women!”
Jamie was not prepared when mistress took off her skirt and T-shirt. He was glad JJ had buried his nether regions under about six inches of wet, cold sand as her skirt slipped off and he saw her Norma Kamali Diana Mio One-Shoulder Ruched swimsuit. Jamie’s inner voice chided, Och, Dhia, man, she’s yer owner! Ye canna think o’ her tha’ way! Ye are no’ her equal, no’ anymore. She’ll never have ye. Ye must honor her investment in ye an’ work hard fer her so she dinna regret ye an’ sell ye on!
Jamie loved the beach and the water and gladly played all afternoon with JJ, taking him into the water, building sandcastles and just enjoying being around a small child again. Joe thought it was sweet that Jamie was trying to teach JJ his name, “JJ, my name’s Jamie,” he said, carefully enunciating his name and patting his chest. He did this throughout the day, but the child didn’t repeat his name – he just grinned and patted Jamie’s cheek with a drool-covered hand, which only made Jamie collapse in giggles. JJ had run to Gayle for “ooice” (juice) and was now getting sunscreen smoothed on his chubby arms.
Jamie was picking up JJ’s dump truck, pail and shovel and heard a familiar voice in his ear, “Well, well, what do we have here?” Jamie froze as he recognized Master Esslington’s nasal whine. “You better remember how to greet your betters, boy, or I’ll make you remember it. Present!” Jamie’s muscle memory took over and he dropped to his haunches in the sand, head down, fingers interlaced at the nape of his neck, quivering in fear.
Claire and the Abernathys were distracted by the sudden lull in the chatter of voices around them. Other beachgoers were watching the interaction between freeman and bondsman very carefully, wondering what history the two men had. Gayle said, “Oh God, Claire, look!” Claire’s head whipped around and she saw Jamie’s humiliation, her fury mounting as she watched the two men. Claire had been willing to talk calmly to the other man until he put his hand on Jamie’s head and left it there, calmly scratching his head like he was a pet. Afterwards, Claire couldn’t quite remember everything that happened. Everything grew deathly still around her as her focus narrowed to the invading hand on Jamie’s head. She saw red and a primitive part of her subconscious roared, “MINE!”
Good afternoon, Master , how may I -”
“Jamie! Stop! Come here this instant!”
“Yes, mistress!” and he hurried to their blanket.
She looked up into his agonized face and laid a comforting hand on his cheek, “Are you okay, Jamie?”
Stunned by her gentleness when he’d expected a slap or worse, Jamie nodded mutely. As soon as she knew he was okay, Claire whispered, “You did nothing wrong. Stay here,” and marched over to the ballsy stranger.
Quickly, Gayle handed Jamie the baby and whispered, “Can you hold him for a minute? Joe and I need to go after her and make sure Claire doesn’t hurt that guy – too badly!” and Gayle smiled evilly, flashing her perfectly white teeth at Jamie.
Claire stormed up to Esslington, “Just who the hell do you think you are, ordering him about like that, touching him like you own him? HE BELONGS TO ME,” she snarled.
Jamie’s heart leapt at mistress’ declaration. Hers. She called me hers, for all to hear, his heart whispered to itself.
Esslington looked down at the curly haired dynamo beneath him and smiled like a hungry predator, “My name’s Esslington, madam. I was just saying hello to one of my trainees is all. No harm meant. May I ask your name?“
Claire snapped, “You most certainly may not! I don’t care who you are! You stay away from him, do you hear me? You don’t look at him, talk to him, touch him or give him orders, ever again!”
He drew himself up to his full height of 182 cm (6’0”) loomed imperiously over the tiny woman and snapped, “And you would do well to watch your shrewish tongue, madam!” Before Esslington could blink, he had about 450 ml (15 oz) of sticky Irn Bru dashed onto his face and clothes.
Esslington growled and started towards Claire but Joe stepped up, “Back off, man. I don’t want to have to defend her, but I will if you force my hand.”
Enraged, Esslington swung at Joe, who ducked, popped back up and plowed his right fist into the other man’s nose. The resulting crunch was so loud that even Jamie heard it and winced. Blood as crimson as Claire’s rage flowed from Esslington’s nose and soaked into the thirsty sand below. The five of them simply left Esslington groaning on the sand and went home.