“Up ye get, Willie.”
As with every school day, Jamie would attempt to awaken his son at half seven in the morning. Willie would protest, burrowing under the covers asking for another ten minutes, until eventually, eyes still closed and face creased with the remnants of sleep, he would shuffle to the bathroom.
Jamie, himself, would watch this charade with a small smile on his face. He was exactly the same as a boy, and even well into his teenage years. However, that routine had long since changed since Willie had been born and thrust into Jamie’s sole protection. And only a couple of years ago, had their routine changed again, when Jamie decided to buy his plot of land from his own Da and become a full time farmer. No more lie ins for him, Jamie was usually seen up at around six to get all his jobs done, or sometimes even earlier, if there were an extra long list of things to be accomplished.
Stomping above would symbolize Willie had finished his business in the bathroom and had moved onto getting dressed in his school uniform. The young lad would bring down a small pot of hair gel as he came down the stairs. Sitting at the dining table and eating his bowl full of parritch with an added dollop of blueberry jam, Willie waited as his Da warmed a tiny amount of gel in his palms and then through Willie’s hair.
This was their school morning routine, and only on a weekend did it change, but ever so slightly. For the past ten years, since Willie had come screaming into the world, it had worked for the two of them. They were content; neither of them saw any point in changing it. Don’t fix something that isn’t broken , was one of Granny Ellen’s favourite sayings. And so far, everything seemed to be working just fine…
Spring was by far a farmer’s busiest time of year. The crops were being harvested, washed and thrown into crates. Jamie’s crop would join his Da’s and his brother in law Ian’s, before being distributed to the local greengrocers and sold on the shelves to paying customers. It was back breaking labour. Less than an hour into the process, Jamie, and the small team of lads he employed, would be stripped to nothing but their trousers as the weak Scottish springtime sun beat down upon their backs.
By the time Jamie had finished his square section, the sweat was pouring off his brow. He lifted a forearm to wipe the beads away before they reached his eyes, getting a whiff of himself as he did so. A shower would be in order before picking William up from school.
The pollen from the growing wild daffodils in the field clung to Jamie’s bare skin, as he lifted his knees high and walked to the lambing shed. A large clump of the pollen had actually stuck to the crook of Jamie’s arm, its staying power helped by the sticky, almost powdery, texture of the pollen and also the sheer amount of sunscreen Jamie had applied this morning. Curse of being a redheaded devil – sunscreen was essential to be applied all year round, not just in the summer season.
As forethought, one of the lads working on Jamie’s plot of land in exchange for money, had left the barn door of the lambing shed wide open. At least this meant the ewes could choose if they wanted to be out in the fields, grazing and watching the world pass by, or take shelter in the barn.
It was much cooler inside, and Jamie let out an audible sigh of contentment. He blinked twice, letting his eyes adjust to the dark. Slivers of sunlight through the cracks in the slates of wood, and a distorted shape of the barn door against the shadowed floor, were the only strips of light, making it possible to see the three ewes lying down inside. They each lay on the bed of hay Jamie had lain down earlier on in the month, only looking up at the sound of heavy footsteps.
Getting down to his knees, Jamie let one of the expectant mothers sniff the back of his hand. He probably smelt of greenery, an almost sour tang that would stay on his skin for days. Once the ewe had deemed him safe, Jamie skimmed his hand down her flank, feeling the roundness of her stomach.
“Not long now, lass.” He said to her, closing his eyes and picturing the wee lamb curled inside her womb. If they were lucky, the ewe might bare two lambs this time around, but Jamie was only know for certain once she started the lambing process. However, knowing these three ewes had moved away from the herd was a good sign their lambs were to be born any day now.
Jamie’s knees cricked as he stood back up to his full height. The other two ewes seemed comfortable enough, and once he was satisfied they had enough clean water in their trough, Jamie let himself wander back into the fresh air. The heady smell of hay was replaced at once by the scent of manure as the wind began to pick up speed in the opposite direction.
Jamie began walking in the direction of the house. A quick flash of his watch, told him he had less than half an hour until it was time to pick Willie up from school, hopefully, without having to visit the Headmaster’s office again. Brewing a small of cup of tea was first up on Jamie’s agenda, and then he’d get on with preparing the vegetables and potatoes for his and Willie’s Shepard’s pie.
The ‘baa’ of a sheep in the field reached Jamie’s ears, and he was reminded once again of the ewes in the shed. It was looking like at least one of the lambs would arrive this weekend. Willie would be pleased. In the mean time, Jamie would need to find a pair of rubber gloves for the pair of them, and give the vet a heads up, just in case. The work of a farmer, no matter how many helping hands he had, was never done…
“Aye, I am.”
“I’m wee Johnnie’s Da,” he stuck his meaty hand out for Jamie to shake. “Peter.”
“Nice to meet ye.” Jamie wasn’t 100% sure, but he was almost willing to bet Johnnie was one of the three lads Willie had been hanging around with recently.
As they waited for the bairns to finish school, Jamie and Peter chatted cordially. To nobody’s surprise, Peter was a massive rugby fan, and had already enrolled his son into a under elevens rugby league.
“Ye should think about signing ye’re laddie up,” Peter suggested.
“Aye, I’ll ask Willie, see what he thinks.” Jamie rubbed his thumb against his lower lip in thought. “He’s already asked me to sign him up for football, so he starts that next weekend, or is it the weekend after? I’ll have to check the…”
“Sorry to interrupt,” a distinctively feminine voice sounded next to Jamie’s right hand side. The two men turned to face the stranger in tandem. “I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m Debbie, Katie’s Mam.”
Peter coughed what sounded rather like a choking laugh into his fist.
“Katie?” Jamie asked. He’d shifted his hand away from his mouth as soon as he’d noticed Debbie’s eyes staring at his lips. Now his left hand hung down by his side, two fingers tapping away at his thigh.
Debbie’s face dropped partially, but she recovered quickly. “Aye. My Katie sits next to ye’re William in science. They’re partnered up together. Didn’t he tell ye?”
For the second time in mere minutes, Jamie rifled through his thoughts. First, he couldn’t remember what date Willie was due to start football practice, and now, he couldn’t remember if Willie had ever mentioned this Katie lass. Surely he hadn’t. Jamie was pretty confident he’d remember if, and when, his son started taking notice of the wee lassies. Over the course of the past two weeks, there’d been no mention of any lass, let a known Katie. Willie was much too interested in telling his Da about the worm his friend had picked up and slung across the playground, and pestering Jamie with questions about when the baby lambs were going to be born.
“I don’t ken he did…”
She tutted, a ‘what can you do’ expression playing about her face. “I’m sure he did, Jamie. It must just be hard for ye, being a single parent and all, to take everything in the wee laddie says.”
How the fuck did she already ken his name? And why did the words coming out of her mouth sound very much like a back handed compliment?
Jamie said nothing, moving his head to look forward. Where the hell was the welcome distraction of ye kid, when ye needed one?
Debbie sidestepped back into Jamie’s center line of vision. She wasn’t a very tall woman, not at all like Miss Beauchamp, but something about Debbie made it very hard to ignore. Perhaps it was the sight of her blonde hair; curled, styled, backcombed and hair sprayed within an inch of its life, until it stood up around her head like something from the eighties. Or it could also have been the set of fake breasts, which jutted out from her chest in a strange fashion. The tight top she wore didn’t help matters in the slightest, Jamie worried they’d explode at any given minute.
“Any who,” she sing sang. “I just wanted to introduce myself, and also let ye ken about the spring festival.”
“The spring festival?” Jamie repeated.
“Aye.” Debbie looked smugger by the second as she realised she’d struck the jackpot. Jamie quite clearly knew nothing about the spring festival, and she was the lucky woman who’d get to explain it to him. “We hold the spring school festival around the beginning to mid May. It takes place on the big field, right over there.” Debbie pointed haphazardly over her shoulder. Jamie followed her finger enough to see the stretch of grass she must have been talking about.
“Different activity stalls, music and a few rides are usually set up, it’s just a bunch of fun for the bairns, really. But we do ask the parents to get involved, manning the stalls, keeping any eye on the donations, that sort of thing.”
“Where do the donations go?”
“Oh, back into the school. It’s shared as equally as possible between the year groups. All the money goes to extra playground equipment for the wee ones and usually, to the day trips out for the older bairnies.”
The high pitched peal of the school bell rang out, signaling the end of the school day as Jamie said, “So, all the parents help oot?”
“Aye, most of us,” Peter piped up. “Christ, I remember last year I got put in charge of the face painting stall. Ye should have seen it. The lads at the pub won’t ever let me forget those bloody photos.”
Jamie laughed, a proper, down in the depths of his stomach laugh, at the mental image of muscly Peter painting a bright pink butterfly on some wee lassies cheek. “Ye’ll have to get them oot and show me them.”
A glint of laughter shone in Peter’s eyes. “Come doon to the pub with me and the lads sometime, and I’ll show ye then.”
Debbie had been staring strangely the whole time Peter and Jamie had been exchanging laughter. She giggled a little herself, but it didn’t sound real, more like a titter, as if she were merely playing along.
“Mam! Ma!” A dark haired lassie had latched onto Debbie, pulling on her Mam’s arm.
“I’ll have to go.” Debbie smiled widely, too widely. Teeth, gums, all were on show – Jamie thought he might even have been able to see her tonsils at one point. “But I’ll add you to the Facebook group, Jamie.”
Both Peter and Jamie held their hands up in a silent goodbye. Once he was positive Debbie was out of earshot, Peter turned towards him, lowering his voice. Neither of their boys were anywhere to be seen yet.
“So there’s no Mrs Fraser?”
“What?” Jamie said. “No. No, Mrs Fraser, unless ye’re counting my own Mam.”
“And Willie’s Mam? Is she in the picture?”
“No.” As always, when Jamie thought of Willie’s Mam, of Geneva, he felt a sharp pang of guilt penetrate his heart. He swallowed hard, dislodging the sudden lump in his throat. “She passed away when Willie was young.”
“Sorry to hear that, mate.” There was honesty in Peter’s tone. “So, ye’re a complete single parent?”
“Aye, I am.” Jamie challenged Peter to give him a back handed compliment as Debbie had done, as a number of different people in the past had done. To tell him a wee lad like Willie needed a Mam, a mother figure. To belittle Jamie, and undermine him, explain how things should be done, just because he’d become a Da at the tender age of twenty.
Instead, Peter snorted. “No wife, no girlfriend. Ye’re gonnae have to watch yeself, mate. It’s like vultures in this place, they’ll be all over ye like a rash. Debbie was only the first, just ye watch.”
Jamie wanted to say something else, something in reply, but a glimmer of copper caught his eye. Willie’s hair colour shone in the crowd of school age pupils. It wasn’t as red as his Da’s – Jamie’s was a bright red, always had been, interspersed with a few streaks of blonde and now a couple of greys. The handful of brunette strands running through Willie’s hair, courtesy of his Mam of course, stood out more clearly as he became older.
His Da could still remember vividly the day Willie had been placed into his arms. All bundled up to keep him warm, his skin turning less blue and more pink by the minute. His face had been squished up against the hard fluorescent light. Jamie could still recall the solid weight of him in his arms, his son, his actual, living son with Fraser blood running through his veins. And already a small cowlick’s of bright red Mackenzie hair sitting atop his tiny head.
So, aye, Willie’s hair might become darker as he became older and the years past. But Jamie knew he’d always be a redhead in the grand scheme of things.
A Fraser through and through.
“Thick as thieves, the four of them,” Peter said, watching as the group of four boys, including Willie and Johnnie, made their way towards their parents. “When ye come to the pub, Fraser, I’ll introduce ye to Tom and Michaels Da’s. Their Mam’s usually pick them up, ye see?”
“Aye.” Jamie had only been halfheartedly listening. Willie had broken away from the group, running up to Fergus Beauchamp, who had been walking only a little ways ahead of them. The two boys exchanged words; Jamie couldn’t make out what they were from this far away.
Fergus nodded, and Jamie’s eyes tracked him as Fergus waved goodbye to Willie. A quick search through the throng of parents showed no sign of Miss Beauchamp. Jamie was quite sure he wouldn’t have missed her. Not her height, not her voice and quite certainly, not her outfit of choice or the delicate curves it clung too.
Instead, Fergus stopped in front of a blonde haired woman. Jamie could only see the back of her, but would have guessed she was about the same height as Claire, perhaps only one or two inches shorter. She greeted Fergus with a hug, taking his backpack from him, and listening as Fergus’ mouth started moving a million miles an hour. They began to walk towards the car park without a backwards glance at Jamie.
“Hi, Da.” Willie announced his arrival.
“Hiya lad. Right, were gonnae get going, Peter. I’ll see ye on Monday.”
“Bye, Fraser,” Peter bid. Johnnie and Willie waved their goodbyes to one another, before the two Da’s and their boys, went their separate ways for the weekend.
“Did ye have a good day at school?” Jamie asked once he’d given Willie a boost into the passenger seat of the beat up truck.
“Aye.” Willie leaned forward, changing the dial to the latest football scores rather than the radio station Jamie had selected earlier. Once he was happy with his choice, Willie reached behind himself for the seat belt, pulling it taught across his lap and shoulder, before listening intently for the click of the seatbelt holder. “We got to have a longer lunch break as a treat because it’s the weekend.”
Following the same routine, Jamie only turned the key in the ignition, once his own seatbelt was safely secured. “Ah, that’s braw. I saw ye talking to Fergus before. Everything all right between the two of ye’s now?”
“Mhm.” Bent at the waist, Willie fiddled with the zip on the main compartment of his backpack. He drew the zipper back, enough room for Willie to shove his hand inside and root around.
“Fergus gave me these this morning.”
Jamie could only take his eyes off the road for a split second, but it was enough to see the clear Tupperware box balancing on Willie’s bony knee.
“What is it?” He asked.
“Homemade biscuits. His Mam made them, ye ken the Sassenach woman, with the pretty hair?”
As if I could forget her lad…
“Miss Beauchamp, ye mean? Ye thought her hair was pretty, eh?”
“Aye, well it was, wasn’t it?” Willie shrugged, breaking the seal of the Tupperware box, and pulling out a golden baked circle.
“Anyway, Fergus’ Mam, Miss Beauchamp, baked them as ‘sorry’ biscuits. Or so Fergus said.” Willie bit into the one in his hand; Jamie could hear the perfect crunch as his son chewed.
Jamie drummed his fingers along the top of the steering wheel, rolling the car slowly to a stop, as they approached a red light. “Why would she need to bake biscuits? Sorry for what?”
“I dinna ken, Da. Sorry her lad punched me…”
“Some of which was ye’re own fault.”
Willie rolled his eyes at his Da. “Or sorry she made us wait so long when we could have been home feeding the chickens. I’m not so sure why. But they taste really good, better than Granny’s… Don’t tell her I said that,” Willie tacked on as an after thought.
Jamie chuckled. “Don’t ye worry, I won’t.”
“And his sister iced our initials on them, five for me and five for you. Look.” Willie held up the rest of his uneaten biscuit. Jamie could just see the end of the letter ‘W’ piped in white frosting. While the stoplight still blared red, Jamie chanced a peek inside the Tupperware box. Indeed, a neat letter ‘J’ stared back at him, this time written in blue frosting.
“His sister?” Jamie asked, unable to stop himself as the light turned green and he put his foot back on the pedal.
“Aye, he’s got an older sister. She's twelve.”
Interesting… Miss Beauchamp didn’t look old enough to have a ten year old son, let a known have an older daughter.
And then, as an after thought… how the fuck had she known the initial of his first name?
A sharp turn and the truck trundled onto a country road, much quieter than the busy dual carriageway had been. “Did ye thank him?”
Willie had popped the rest of his biscuit in his mouth. He opened his lips, ready to answer his Da’s question, but one look of Jamie’s face had him shutting up and chewing. Don’t talk with your mouth full was one of Da’s golden rules.
Sure he wasn’t going to spray crumbs everywhere, Willie shoved the Tupperware box safely back in his backpack and then spoke up. “Course I did. That’s what I was doing when ye saw me talking to him.”
“Good lad,” Jamie praised his son. “I’ll get it washed up and ye can return it him at school on Monday.”
Willie nodded, settling his head back and listening to the football scores without any other care in the world. Oh if only, Jamie wished, his own thoughts could be that quiet, rather than spinning like a whirlpool as he pictured fit Miss Beauchamp baking in the kitchen – an apron tied around her petite waist, so as not to damage that tight, little skirt of hers.
Realising where his thoughts were going – straight down to inappropriate town – Jamie rolled down his window, allowing cold air to blow in.
God, a couple of fingers of whisky wouldn’t cut it tonight. He’d need the whole bloody bottle at this rate.