The sun was only just setting behind the trees as Jamie ran up the stairs and headed for the shower.
He washed quickly before stepping out of the shower tray carefully, so as not to slip and break his neck, and wrapping the fluffy towel hanging on the radiator, around his waist.
The house was eerily quiet without Willie running about, as Jamie headed for his wardrobe and picked out a pair of well-worn jeans and a smart button up shirt. He supposed he’d never given it much thought before. But then again, he’d only been away from Willie a handful of times in the lad’s life.
One of the old wooden floorboards creaked downstairs, probably swelling up as the hot water from the shower ran through the pipes hidden under the slats. On instinct, Jamie listened out for the sound of Willie’s voice, hollering something, or perhaps humming to himself as he recalled a catchy pop tune he’d heard on the radio. But no sound floated up to Jamie’s ears.
This house was much too big to be quiet…
It had been set in stone since the beginning, that Jamie would stay close to his family, on their shared patch of generational land. Only once had it ever crossed Jamie’s mind to say no and choose a different path for himself.
It had all started with one of the biggest arguments Jamie could remember ever taking place in his family.
For months upon months, behind everybody’s backs, Jenny and Ian had secretly been dating. The truth only spilled out, when Jamie caught his older sister, and his childhood best friend, in a very passionate lip lock behind the cattle shed. Ian had had his hand up her shirt, for God’s sake.
Jamie had begun shouting blue murder, launching himself at Ian, and the two boys took off in a tumble down the hill, neither willing to let the other win. When Ellen came around the corner, basket full of eggs sitting on her hip, to see what on earth was the matter, she found both boys scraping - fits flying and blood pouring from both noses – and tears streaming down Jenny’s cheeks.
Ellen, of course, had seen her daughter’s side of the story. She, herself, had fallen in love and married a man who her family did not agree with. But Da and Jamie were firmly standing against her – no matter how much Jenny pleaded she loved Ian.
It took another week for Ian to show his face again, a face, which was badly bruised and marred thanks to Jamie’s handiwork. The eejit had come bearing a promise ring, turning to Brian and asking for Jenny’s hand in marriage when the time was right for the two of them.
Jamie had stormed out by then, fuming as his fists clenched and unclenched in a repeated pattern. Still, to this day, he didn’t ken exactly what Ian had said to Jamie’s Da that day, but whatever it was, he managed to wear him down and Brian agreed to their future marriage. Jamie had been so mad; he’d packed his bags there and then. At just sixteen and with nothing but a small backpack on his back, Jamie had bid goodbye and started walking, drowning out his parent’s protests.
He’d had no particular destination in place, but he knew he’d stumbled upon the right place as he read the sign hanging above the door ‘Mrs Baird’s B and B’. He fumbled for enough cash in his pockets to pay for at least one night’s board; the fates must have been on his side, for he found an extra stash of forgotten money in the pocket compartment of his backpack.
With a mixture of sheer determination to make a stand, and pure stubbornness, Jamie stayed in Mrs Baird’s B and B for three solid days. His whole family had betrayed him, taking Ian’s side just like that ; instead of punishing him for the way he’d been groping Jenny. He simply wasn’t going back to a bunch of traitors. He’d make his own life for himself, away from the farm and the backstabbers who occupied it…
Jamie guessed he would have stayed there longer, had Jenny not knocked on his door on the third night, and demanded he let her in.
Jenny berated the shit out of him, for one of a better word, but Jamie noticed the worry etched across her features. In the end, the two of them made up, as they always did. Jamie had always found it incredibly hard to stay mad at his sister for long, the first best friend he’d ever known. And for all he wanted to stay mad at her and Ian, this time was no different than any of the others.
It had taken Ian longer to win Jamie over to the idea of him marrying Jamie’s sister and practically being allowed to do unspeakable things to her. Even the thought of it now brought bile to the back of Jamie’s throat. But in the end, Ian succeeded with a shit-eating grin covering his face.
To his memory, that had been the only time in his life that Jamie could remember not wanting to follow his Da’s plan, and live on the farm. And even then , the anger had only been brought on by teenage hormones and an urge to rebel for once in his life.
Planning permission and construction work for the home Jamie currently called his own had begun just a couple of months after Willie was born and handed into Jamie’s sole care. By no means, were Brian and Ellen kicking their only son and grandchild out, but they knew it would take a number of years, for the house Jamie would eventually make his own, to be completely finished. By that point, Willie would no longer be a baby, but a toddler, and Jamie a young adult with his life ahead of him. Of course, they’d want their own space to grow and thrive in.
Jamie had always believed he’d fill his house with his family – with a loving wife, three or even four, bairns, who would constantly cause a racket causing Jamie to good naturedly roll his eyes, but secretly he’d love.
Quite obviously, that hadn’t happened, and Jamie didn’t need the empty creak of the dusty floorboards to remind him or his own Mam to tell him time was ticking on.
As soon as the thought popped into his head, Jamie felt guilty. Even more so, as he spotted the tub of hair gel, Willie brought down to the kitchen table every school day for his Da to use on him.
Yes, Jamie’s life hadn’t panned out the way he’d thought, the way he’d expected, the way he’d hoped and dreamed.
But it wasn’t a bad life, not at all.
He had Willie, and that was enough. It always would be. And if Jamie’s life path had taken him where he’d expected to go… he wouldn’t have Willie with him. That horrible thought alone was enough to snap Jamie out of his thought process.
Christ, he needed a drink.
Tonight was supposed to be light and fun, not dragged down by the demons living in the dark depths of Jamie’s mind.
With only a pair of clean black boxers on, Jamie made his way into the kitchen, pouring himself two fingers full of whisky into a glass and knocking it all back in one fell swoop. He badly needed some Dutch courage, and perhaps if he got a little bit tipsy at home, Jamie wouldn’t find himself spending much at the overpriced bar.
It had been a number of years since Jamie had frequented the place himself, and he knew to expect a change inside. The arrangement of the high tables and chairs were changed, the music different, and even the dance floor had been widened to give customers more room to let themselves loose. But what Jamie didn’t expect, was to be surprised by all these changes, before he even got a foot through the door.
“Got any ID, please?” The bouncer standing on the door asked, arms crossed over his chest. He wore all black, head shaved to make him seem more menacing, but Jamie saw through his shitty disguise quite easily. It wasn’t hard to do, not when Jamie had done it himself, back in the day, to appear older.
“Are ye talking to me?” Jamie asked, pointing to himself. It had been a long number of years since his eighteenth birthday.
“Aye.” The kid held out his hand expectantly, waiting for Jamie to hand over his ID. “If I think ye look twenty five or under, I’ve gotta ask for yer ID.” The bouncer shrugged. “It’s the law, mate.”
Jamie fished about in the back pocket of his jeans, to find his wallet and stash of cards. “Aye, I quite ken it’s the law, lad. But ye canny be older than twenty-two yerself.”
“Twenty three, actually.” Laddie smiled, showcasing one gold tooth. Jamie handed over his ID, feeling a bit of a prick, standing just outside of the bar, while his small ID card was inspected. He was almost thirty, for crying out loud.
“Birthday soon, aye?”
“Eh? Och, aye.” Jamie nodded, practically snatching his ID away, as the bouncer handed it back, and stuffing it into his wallet. “The big Three O.”
“Well, have a good night, mate.” Thankfully, the red rope was now undone, and Jamie could slip right through. He gave a sharp nod of his thanks to the kid on the door, before bypassing the old cloak room that was hardly ever used and following well-worn treaded steps to the bar. At least that hadn’t changed.
“What can I get ye?” The man behind the bar asked. His hair was salt and pepper grey, matching the colour of his handlebar mustache and groomed beard. Jamie was glad to see at least somebody here was older than he was.
The coins jingled in Jamie’s palm, as he counted enough out for a full pint. “Just a house beer, please mate.”
“Coming right up.” The bartender turned away, searching for a fresh glass. While he was waiting, Jamie took the opportunity of glancing around himself, searching for Peter, or perhaps one of the other rugby Da’s he might recognize. This side of the bar, the lighting was still dimmer than outside, but just light enough to be able to make out people's faces and the group of lassies on the dancefloor. From experience, Jamie knew the other side of the bar, back up to the front door, was a lot darker. Nobody ever understood why. Surely, it should be lighter at the door of the club, so ye could see where ye were walking as ye stumbled drunk. But, nevertheless, the lighting was just another thing to Dog and Parrot had chosen not to spend extra money on and change.
“Here ye go, mate.” The pint, with a mouthwatering head of foam, was placed on the bar countertop. “That’ll be three pound eighty, please.”
Jamie handed over his coins, taking his icy cold pint in his left hand. He was about to take a sip, when a meaty hand clapped over his shoulder. “There ye are, Jamie lad! I told the other lads ye’d make it!” Peter stood just behind Jamie, a half finished pint clung in his own hand and a rolled up cigarette perched precariously behind one ear.
Jamie greeted his friend back, picking up his drink and following Peter, to where he and a group of burly men had secured a table. A rare thing indeed, but especially rare on a Saturday night.
The hours ticked by, without Jamie picking up his phone to check the time.
The other rugby Da’s were just as welcoming as Peter had been, taking interest in Jamie’s work life on the farm, and happily buying rounds of pints for one another. Before he knew it, Jamie found some of the faces around him blurring, a sure sign of the amount of strong alcohol sitting in his system. To try and qualm the dizziness, Jamie searched for something in the bar to focus upon. The group of lassies who’d once been up and dancing the multicolored dancefloor, were now sitting at a table not too far away.
It was hard not to miss them.
The one in the bright blue dress, who Jamie recognized from her dancing on the dancefloor, was sitting facing Jamie and the group of lads. Her high heeled feet swung from her bar stool seat, barely brushing the metal rung at the bottom of the stool. She sipped on some orange looking cocktail, mouth dipping down to catch the paper straw, while listening to her two friends who sat opposite her. Jamie couldn’t get a glance at the two lassies sitting with their backs to him, not unless one of them turned their head or stood up to move. But he could see the blonde on the left was wearing some red, skin tight… it might have been PVC. While the brunette, on the right, wore something cream and strappy.
“Jamie, lad.” Peter was standing up, bending over to put his mouth to Jamie’s ear and be heard over the loud music, but still somehow towering over Jamie. “I’m going outside for a smoke, do ye want one?”
Jamie wasn’t usually a smoker, but something about the alcohol in his bloodstream, called out to the addictive, bitter taste of nicotine.
“Aye, if ye’ve got one spare?”
“Course I’ve got one spare, come on,” Peter tilted his head towards the door, just past the group of laughing lassies and to the left of the dancefloor, to the smoker’s corner. “Ye wee red headed devil.”
On weightless legs, Jamie followed behind Peter, focusing intently on not bumping into anything or anyone. Behind the fire safety door, the small smoker’s area was deserted, not a soul even passed out on the picnic bench. Jamie was rather glad for the silent reprieve from the bass of the music, which was making his heart race, watching as Peter placed a cigarette stick between his lips, and brought the lighter up to the end. It might have been nearing the end of April, almost into May, but as the night turned into early morning, the chilly winds found themselves picking up. Peter cupped his hand around the tiny flame, so as to not let the wind blow it out, exhaling sharply through his nose when the cherry of the cigarette finally caught.
Holding it between his thumb and forefinger, Peter plucked the cigarette from out of his mouth, and held it towards Jamie. “Here ye are, lad.”
“Ta.” Jamie settled himself against the concrete wall; taking his first drag, holding it for a second, and then tipping his head back, to blow the white smoke coming out of his mouth, into the darkened sky. He took a gulp of fresh air (well, as fresh as you could get in the smoker’s corner, but at least it was better than the man-made fog from the fog machine, which poured out over the dancefloor every half hour), before taking another pull.
Once Peter had his own nicotine stick lit and balancing between the webbed v of his middle and forefinger, he took a seat on the edge of the bench, and attempted to unlock his phone with a very uncoordinated thumb.
“Ye all right, there?” Jamie asked, laughing through his nose.
“Och, just the wife. Two missed calls, and…” Peter squinted, shoving the phone further into his face. “Can’t even make out how many texts.” He shrugged, smiling and slipping it back into his pocket. He didn’t seem to be too bothered about facing his wife’s wrath. “I’ll be in the doghouse tomorrow, but it was worth it.”
Jamie smirked back at him. “Aye, sure it will be. Not so much when…”
The safety door snicked open and then shut, noisily, and a broad Scottish voice rang out. “Neither of ye laddies happen to have some gum on ye, do ye?”
At the question, Jamie turned his head to face the lass, burning cigarette still in hand.
It was the blonde from the table, indeed wearing something bright red and resembling PVC - the shiny material was easier to see under the golden outdoor lights, instead of the constantly moving multicoloured strobes, coming from the DJ booth inside. Jamie blinked two long blinks, trying to figure out if it was his eyes, or her dress, which made everything, including her face, dull and fuzzy in comparison.
Her legs shifted, grabbing Jamie’s attention, as her black wedge heels clicked against the uneven, concrete stone floor.
When Peter began to answer for the both of them, Jamie returned to attention back to the starry sky sitting peacefully above him. “Sorry, lass. I dinna…”
The lass in red cut Peter off before he could finish. “Jamie fucking Fraser?”
At the sound of his given name, Jamie turned to glance at her again, eyes narrowed. Heels clicking, she moved closer to him, as if wanting to get a better look. “Is that ye?”
Jamie got a waft of her body spray, something classic and expensive. “Depends on who's asking…”
“It’s me!” She pointed to herself, when Jamie still didn’t register. Shit, how much drink had he consumed? “Me? Geillis Duncan? From the hospital?”
“Don’t remember her, lad?” Peter chuckled, shaking his head in mock disappointment.
The words from her mouth were floating about Jamie’s mind, flashing big and bright in a rather endless dark cavern of nothingness.
How did he…?
Jamie just caught the tail end of something Peter was saying, something that caused this Geillis to shoot him a scathing look.
“ I’ve never slept with him,” she pointed over her shoulder, with her thumb to Jamie, but continued talking to Peter as if Jamie wasn’t there. “ye stupid eejit. Ye think I’d just be letting him stand there, if he couldn’t remember sleeping with me? Don’t be so daft.”
Dr Geillis Duncan…
Dr Claire Beauchamp…
“Aye, Claire, exactly.” Geillis nodded, smiling smugly at her best friend’s name. Jamie guessed he must have accidentally said that last bit out loud.
“Shit, sorry, Geillis.” Jamie threw the dying cigarette butt onto the floor and ground it in with the heel of his shoe. Once it was out completely, he stooped down to pick it up and flicked it into the waiting bin. “Dinna ken how I missed it was ye.”
Geillis gripped his forearm and just laughed good naturedly. How on earth had he missed it? “It’s okay, laddie. I won’t take no offence, but I think our Claire will if ye don’t notice her .”
“I’m going back inside before I freeze my bollocks off,” Peter interrupted, the loud sound from the bar pouring out from the slightly ajar fire exit. “And then the wife really won’t have a use for me. I’ll meet ye back at the table, Jamie lad.”
Jamie waved Peter away, much too focused on what Geillis had to say.
Sassenach was here?
“Is she still…”
“Aye,” Geillis nodded. “She was in the cloak room last time I checked.”
“I’ll take ye to her,” Geillis held the door open again; looking over her shoulder to make sure Jamie was still listening. “I’m walking that way anyway to go home with the hot bartender.”
Jamie just got the words ‘good for ye’ out of his mouth and heard Geillis laugh brightly, before they were drowned out once more by the music and humdrum of many voices overlapping.
A couple practically dry humping the table and eating one another’s faces off now occupied the lasses table, which had still been full when Jamie had made his way to the smoker’s corner. If they weren’t careful, the whole table would be tipping over at any rate, their drinks - a beer and a hardly touched syrupy cocktail - adding to the stickiness of the floor.
The lad’s table was just as Jamie had left it. But Peter, and his big mouth, must have mentioned something to the other Da’s, because as Jamie and Geillis walked past, he could hear their raucous whoops and whistles, even over the nineties rave anthem blaring overhead. Jamie rolled his eyes, but soon wished he hadn’t as the floor swam beneath him. It didn’t help that the lights above were becoming dimmer, as they walked to the old cloak room.
Geillis stepped ahead of him, shoving a drunken man out of the way, and taking a hold of the doorknob.
“Claire, lassie.” Jamie heard her say. “I’ve brought ye a surprise.”
“A surprise?” Sassenach repeated, the smile on her face, apparent in her voice. Well… at least to Jamie anyway. “Please tell me it isn’t another drink. I think I’ll be sick if you force feed me another apple flavoured shot.”
“Apple, Sassenach?” Jamie stepped into the cloakroom behind Geillis. The box room was tiny usually, but add in Jamie’s viking stature… let’s just say the cloakroom was definitely not built with three people in mind. “Everybody kens strawberry is the only drinkable flavour.”
Shock coloured Claire’s face, before it morphed into pure elation.