Why had he agreed to this again?
Why did this feel like a date?
Jamie’s palms felt oddly sweaty against the cool rubber of the steering wheel, as he followed the directions Claire had typed into his phone.
The dessert café in question sat on the high street Jamie and Willie had driven past on their way towards the football pitch. Jamie thought he must have driven past it a number of times on his way to run some errand or another, but he had never given it more than a passing glance.
Hitting his indicator with the side of his hand to signal he was turning right, Jamie swung his truck around the corner, and headed onwards towards the car park Claire had promised would be fairly empty. She was right. The place was deserted, especially for a Saturday afternoon – with only four cars and one motorcycle filling the spaces.
“Do ye think we should wait for them?” Willie asked as he unbuckled his seat belt. While his Da had been driving, he’d managed to use the towel to scrape off any mud splatters decorating his shins and football boots. Jamie had turned the heaters on full blast as soon as they’d gotten into the truck so Willie’s hair was bone dry now – the wispy bits standing up in each and every direction.
“Nah, it’ll be fine.” Jamie said. He passed the palm of his large hand over Willie’s cowlick in an attempt to flatten it, but it did no good. The hair was much too soft and stubborn. Instead of staying put, it sprang back up again like a springboard. “We can go in and grab the table and menus while we wait for them, aye?”
Willie waited patiently off to one side, taking pains not to stand in the middle of the road, as his Da safely locked the truck doors and pocketed the set of keys. The dessert café was only a few shops down from the car park, perhaps thirty steps or so. It didn’t take them very long to reach it. A chime above the door sounded as Willie pushed the door open, and the woman’s head from over the counter shot up.
“Take a seat.” She smiled widely at them both, “I’ll bring some menus over.”
Willie picked a vinyl booth tucked away in the corner, the seats covered in black leather and the formica table shining brightly. Jamie had only sat his arse down when the bell above the door chimed again. Fergus came bounding in first, he’d changed out of his muddy football boots into a much cleaner pair of trainers, but was still wearing his black and blue football kit. His eagle eyes spotted Jamie and Willie, not all that hard to do, as there was only one other group sitting on the other side of the café.
“Hallo, Becky,” Fergus called, grabbing the attention of the waitress behind the glass counter, before running over and taking a seat beside Willie. Becky turned around at Fergus’ voice, her entire face lighting up when she noticed Claire, who was holding the door open for somebody behind her.
Jamie could have watched Claire all day.
The way she stood on one side of the glass, Becky on the other with a stack of paper menus in her hands. The two women exchanged smiles and, most likely, pleasantries, appearing to be acquaintances. Becky cut her eyes to where Jamie sat, looked back at Claire and uttered something to make Claire throw her head back and laugh loudly.
“Bonjour.” The small slip of a girl shimmying into the seat opposite Jamie had him doing a double take; eyes no longer focused on Claire but her mini-me in front of him.
“Hi!” Willie replied excitedly. With no siblings to talk of and only one much younger cousin, it was still a novelty to Willie to be around children his age or just a tad older.
“Fergus! Stop kicking me! You’ll get my skirt dirty.” She directed at her brother and then moved her attention back to Jamie, where her gaze settled. “I’m Faith.”
Her accent was strange, not Scottish at all, not like Fergus, who had picked up a little bit of the dialect. She was definitely English, of course, with being raised by an Englishwoman herself, but something else was mixed in with it… Jamie couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was.
“We ken ye are, lass.” Jamie said, as Claire slid into the booth last. She sat beside her daughter, making the resemblance that much more uncanny. Sitting opposite Jamie, she accidentally knocked his knees as she crossed her legs. “If I didn’t ken before who yer Mam was, I’d ken for certain now.”
Claire looked down at the spitting image of herself while Faith smiled up at her mother. Whoever Faith and Fergus’ Da was, he’d given nothing of himself to Faith and only a very small amount to wee Fergus. The Beauchamp genes were inherently very strong.
“Everybody says that,” Claire laughed, with Faith’s exact same giggle sounding behind hers.
Christ, even the way they laughed sounded similar.
Faith tucked her hair behind one ear and then the other. All Jamie could see was Claire doing precisely the same thing after she’d gotten off the swing set only last week.
Was this how Willie and he appeared through the eyes of someone else?
“Five menus for ye.” Becky, the waitress was back, placing the menus one by one in front of everybody. “I’ll come back for yer orders, but does anybody ken what they want to drink?” She fished her tiny notebook and pencil out the front of her apron. “Normal water for ye, Claire, and ye, Faith? And a strawberry milkshake for ye, Fergus?”
“Yes, please, the usual.” Claire said. “What are you two having?”
Willie ordered a strawberry milkshake the same as Fergus, while Jamie asked for a pot of tea, desperately needing something to warm him up and dry him out.
“Bring two cups, won’t you?” Claire called as Becky turned to input their order into the computer system. “I’ll have some tea, as well.”
The menu placed in front of Jamie was full to the brim of sugary treats, not the place to be if you were watching your weight or diet conscious. Jamie had already decided he wanted two slices of French toast with a side of fruit, and Willie had picked the nutella pancakes. Trust him to pick the item with the most chocolate packed into it.
“I’ll have French toast too,” Fergus declared, putting down his menu and staring out at the rain, which had started to come down heavily again and form large puddles on the concrete pavement outside.
“Good choice.” Claire ran her tongue against her pink lower lip in thought. Jamie tried not to look as it became shiny with her saliva. “Do you want to share something, Faith darling?”
“Can do, Maman.”
Her trimmed fingernail skimmed down the page. “What about the blueberry pancakes?”
“Oui. With an extra side of hash browns?” Faith asked hopefully.
Their separate orders were placed with Becky after she’d doled out the drinks. Faith’s extra side of hash browns included of course.
“Why don’t ye speak Scottish?” Willie asked Faith, once he slurped down half of his milkshake in one go.
With her paper straw still in her mouth, Faith regarded Willie with an appraising stare. She sat up a little taller as she spoke clearly. “Because I am not Scottish.”
Claire let out a snort at her daughter’s straightforward answer.
“Well, she isn’t wrong is she, lad?” Jamie ruffled his son’s hair, biting his lip to stop from laughing too hard at Willie’s dumbstruck expression.
“I am French, '' Faith gestured to her Mam. “Tell him, Maman.”
“French?” Jamie questioned. It made sense now, the peculiar pronunciation of Faith’s words and her fluid way of integrating the French language into the English one.
“Yes.” Claire smiled at him as she poured out a cup of steaming hot English breakfast tea and pushed it towards him. “Both of my babies were born in France.”
“But ye’re English,” Willie pointed out again, face pulled into an expression of confusion.
“Yes Willie, I’m English.” Claire began to explain, stirring a hefty amount of milk into her own cup of tea. “I was born in a small town called Oxfordshire, an hour or so out of London, but I moved to France when I was quite young. Faith and Fergus were both born there, before we moved back again to England.”
“Oh.” Willie seemed happy enough with that answer. Questions forgotten, he asked his Da if he could play on his phone. Jamie unlocked it for him, and soon the three bairns were engrossed in a game of virtual snap.
Claire’s knees knocked against his again. How many times did it count before it was no longer an accident?
“How old were ye?”
“Hm?” Claire, too, pulled her eyes away from the bairns to the man sitting across from her.
“How old were ye when ye moved to France, Sassenach?” Jamie repeated his question, tone ever so slightly lowered to stop the children from butting in.
“Seventeen. Wait, no… sixteen. Seventeen?” Claire rubbed her lips together as she attempted to recall. “Oh, I’m not exactly sure. It was such a long time ago.”
“Why did ye move in the first place?”
“Family stuff…” She didn’t sound so sure, not to Jamie’s ears, at least.
“Och, do ye regret it?”
“No.” Claire shook her head, curls bouncing about all over the place. “I regret some things, but not that. I got to have my babies, and that’s the most important thing.”
Jamie nodded his head slowly. From the moment he’d found out about Willie’s tiny fetal existence, he’d fallen in love. It sounded like Claire had felt the same way as soon as she’d found out about the two tiny lives growing in her womb.
“I’m guessing ye were young then, when ye had Faith and Fergus?” The tea was just the perfect temperature as Jamie brought the rim of the cup to his lips and swallowed some of the liquid. It warmed his mouth and throat, all the way down to his stomach.
“Eighteen and twenty.” Claire watched him over the rim of her own cup.
Looking out the corner of his eye, Jamie made sure the bairns were still occupied, before finding Claire’s gaze again.
“Aye, me too. I’d only turned twenty a couple of months past, when William was born. Bit of a surprise, a happy surprise, but still a surprise.”
“Two surprises for me, too.” Claire agreed. “But like you say, happy surprises, well… at least happy surprises for me. The same couldn’t be said for the other party involved.”
Jamie was saved from replying by Faith, trying to wiggle out of the booth in search of the toilet facilities. Claire stood up to let her out, and Jamie kept an eye on her as she weaved through the many empty tables.
The other party involved, Claire had said. Surely, that could only be Faith and Fergus’ Da? By the sounds of it, he hadn’t been too happy at finding his Claire pregnant, not once but twice – and partially by his own doing, mind you…
“Two French toasts!” Becky was back at Jamie’s side, placing a plate of food in front of him and leaning over the table to place Fergus’ on the table. “One nutella and one blueberry. With Faith’s extra side of hash browns! Is that everything, Claire?”
“Yes, perfect. Thank you!”
“Shout me if ye’s need anything!”
Unwrapping the knife and fork out of the napkin, Jamie seized both utensils and cut the side corner off of one of his slices. The toast slices were crisped to a lovely golden colour, topped with a sprinkling of white icing sugar to offset the savoury egg flavour. His mouth watered as he brought the morsel up to his lips and then chewed slowly to enjoy every last bit.
“How is it?” Jamie thought Claire must have been asking Fergus, or perhaps even Willie, but he looked up from his plate when she tapped the top of his foot with her own to get his attention.
“Wait, are ye talking to me?”
“Yes, I’m talking to you.” Claire giggled. She nodded to Jamie’s second, or was it third, forkful of food. “Is it any good?”
“Better than good, delicious.”
Faith appeared back from the toilet, sliding into her seat and picking up a crunchy hash brown piece whole. She popped it into her mouth, humming and bouncing about the seat in enjoyment of her food.
The boys had worked up an appetite running all over the place, and Jamie’s stomach was usually endless. But Claire and wee Faith seemed just as hungry, too. The chatter and excited squeals among the table had gone quiet, replaced by the sound of chewing and cutlery scraping across the plates.
Jamie finished his meal first, wiping his mouth with the edge of his napkin to get rid of any crumbs. He lifted the lid of the teapot, checking to see how much liquid was left, and only finding enough for one cup.
“There’s only enough left for one more cup, do ye want it?” He offered Claire, whose tea mug had only dregs left in the bottom of it.
“No, it’s fine. I’ve got some water left over.” Claire pushed the teapot closer to him, and Jamie noticed the tips of her index finger and thumb were stained a pretty periwinkle colour from the blueberries she’d been picking off the pancake stack and eating.
Pouring the last bit of strong tea into his mug, Jamie turned his head to check on Fergus and Willie. “Are ye having a good celebration, Fergus lad?”
Fergus peered behind Willie’s back to meet Jamie’s eyes. “Aye, thank you.”
“I’m glad he’s having a good time.” Claire leaned more over the table, easy to do so now there wasn’t a giant, boiling hot teapot, in the way. “But I’ll be honest, this wouldn’t be my celebration pick.”
“Oh, and where would ye pick then, Sassenach?”
“I’m more of an outdoorsy, or staying comfortably at home, kind of gal. I moved around a lot as a child, so now I’m older, I like to be in my own comforts as much as possible.” Claire shrugged. “Either that, or live on a farm somewhere, and then I could have the best of both worlds. Time to spend outside in the fresh air, and then retreat to my little home in the woods. Do you know what I mean, or do I sound crazy?”
“Nah, ye don’t sound crazy at all. I’m the same… probably why I became a farmer in the first place.” Jamie let the words hang in the air.
“You’re a… a farmer?” Claire’s eyebrows were so high up, Jamie worried they’d disappear into her hairline. “You live on a farm?”
“Aye, born and bred. It’s not a little house in the woods, mind you. But it is a little house on the farm.”
“So you’re living in my dream home? Is that what you’re telling me, Mr. Fraser?”
It was involuntary that Jamie’s right eyebrow rose at the Sassenach’s use of his surname. “Aye, I guess ye could say so. I am living my own dream life, after all.”
“How much do I owe you?” Claire drew one of her tote bag straps down her arm, hunting for her card to pay for their meal.
“I’ll pay,” Jamie insisted, already standing up to go get his wallet out of the car.
“You won’t. It was Fergus and I who wanted you to come with us, I’ll pay.”
Fergus and I wanted you to come with.
Fergus and I…
I wanted you to come with…
“Be quiet, both of ye’s,” Becky reprimanded. “I’m not letting any of ye’s pay.”
“Becky.” Claire admonished. “Please…”
“No, Claire. Ye’ve done enough for me and my family, and this is the only way ye ever let me repay ye. Ye aren’t paying!”
Jamie sat back down, hearing the finality in the waitress’ tone, and with a pout on her lips, Claire closed her tote bag. Becky looked rather pleased, collecting their empty plates together and making her way to the kitchen with them.
Claire shook her head. “She does this every time.”
“What? Refuse to let ye pay?”
“Yes, every single time. I treated her Grandad at the hospital, open heart surgery, and ever since then, she thinks she has to repay me in one way or another.”
“Ye performed open heart surgery on her grandad? At the hospital?” Jamie tried to not let his mouth fall open, but he didn’t think he was very successful.
“Yes… I’m a surgeon. Didn’t you know that?”
Jamie was dumbfounded, to say the least.
Never in a million years would he have put Claire Beauchamp, the delicate, petite woman sitting in front of him, the woman who wore 1940s style impeccable outfits and never had a hair out of place, as a bloody surgeon.
“But ye… ye… ye’re always dressed so nice and ye aren’t scary and…”
“Surgeons aren’t scary, Jamie,” she laughed. “We’re normal people like you, I promise. As for my dress-sense, it’s a little strange at the best of times, I know. I have to wear scrubs when I’m in theatre, performing. But for usual staff meetings and introducing myself to new patients, I’m allowed to wear whatever I please.”
“I don’t think it’s strange,” he said.
When Claire appeared confused, Jamie carried on.
“I don’t think ye’re dress sense is strange, Sassenach. Ye like what ye like, and I just so happen to think ye look good in it. Ye suit it.”
A demure sweep of the eyelashes downward, a purse of the lips and Claire smiled like the cat that’d caught the cream.
“Well, thank you, Jamie. I just so happen to think so, too.”
Jamie schooled his expression into one of disbelief once more. “Still can’t believe yer a surgeon, though.”
“Would it help if you saw me dressed head to toe in my scrubs?”
“Mhm, it might.”
At least then, that round arse of hers in those jeans and skirts, wouldn’t be quite so tempting.
Jamie could have sworn Claire winked before she spoke again. “I’ll see what I can do, then.”
As the bairns ran ahead, hopped up on fuel and sugar, Jamie and Claire walked behind. Twice, Jamie’s bare arm brushed against the knitted fabric of Claire’s long sleeved jumper. But she said nothing – as if it had never happened.
“How’s yer work schedule looking this week? Ye busy?”
“Yes, I will be.” Claire nodded. “I’m on afternoons all week, so no school drop pick ups for me. Is Willie coming back to football next weekend?”
Was it too forward to offer to pick Fergus up for her?
Shut up, ye eejit…
“Aye, he loves it already. He’ll be telling everybody once we get home.” Jamie smiled, picturing his Ma’s animated face, as she listened intently to Willie’s play-by-play of his game. “Guess we’ll see each other next Saturday, then?”
They’d approached their cars by now, Claire’s dinky, pristine Nissan Juke in contrast to Jamie’s large truck with rather dirty horse blankets still lying in the bed. Her keys jingled in her palm as Claire unlocked the doors for Faith and Fergus to climb inside.
“Yes, I’ll see you then. But don’t forget your extra supplies this time!”
“I’ll try not to, aye?”
“If not, I suppose we’ll just have to share again, won’t we?”
Her cheeky grin was back.
Jamie thought he’d never seen anybody look more gorgeous in all his life.
“Aye, Sassenach. It wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“No, it wasn’t bad at all, Jamie… We made it work, after all.”
“Aye, exactly.” His middle finger skimmed his upper lip. Jamie was very aware of Claire’s fixed stare, so what if he traced his cupid’s bow to see Claire’s eyes glimmer? “Made it work, indeed.”