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Which Will it Be?

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“I’m sorry!” I exclaim again.

I’ve honestly forgotten how many times the phrase has slipped past my lips. But that’s what happens when you’ve managed to drop three separate glasses, and proceeded to watch them fall off the ledge, hit the hard, wooden, sticky floor and shatter into a thousand tiny pieces.

A thousand tiny, almost impossible to see pieces, which Jamie had quickly swept away with the assistance of a dustpan and brush hiding beneath one of the many shelves.

“It’s no’ a bother, Claire lass.” My heart does a stupid pitter patter at the sound of my name upon his tongue. “Ye’re still learning, remember?”

My fingers flutter around the over-the-half-way full bottle of expensive vodka, a small metal spout protruding out of the top to make pouring certain measures easier. “But--”

“Ye need to be less hard on yerself.”

That’s the understatement of the century, Mr Fraser.

“Everybody drops things,” Jamie continues. “Especially when they’re learning.” I watch the flexing of the back of his hands as he glides the sweeping brush across the floor, collecting debris. I cut my eyes away sharply when his come to glance up at me… Hopefully I haven’t been caught staring.

“In fact, lass, I still drop the occasional thing, and Angus?” Jamie scoffs over the sound of the glass shard hitting the bin. “Angus’ is the worst. He’s got fingers as slippery as butter.”

“Right.” I nod jerkily, wondering who the hell Angus is, and committing his name to my memory. He sounds like one of the other bartending staff that I might be working alongside. “D--Do you want me to pay? I mean, I’ve dropped three perfectly good glasses and--”

“Ye don’t need to pay for these practice ones.” Straightening his knees, Jamie rises back up to his full height. I’m not a small woman by any means, standing at around five nine, but he still towers over me. Strangely, I feel protected by that, rather than intimidated, as I had imagined. “But we charge a fiver for each glass ye break while working a proper shift.”

“A fiver?” I repeat. “Like five pounds? You’ll take five pounds out of my pay every time…” I can hear the pitch of my voice becoming higher, as I mentally try to calculate how much Murtaugh might deduct from my wage. I need every penny I can get, and yet… I’m a clumsy bugger…

A large, warm hand comes down to cup my shoulder.

I peer at the hand, my eyes widening of their own accord as my mind comes to the realization that it belongs to Jamie. His hand. The one attached to his arm. His very very attractive arm, with noticeable veins bulging against the skin surface and…

As if sensing my… fear?

Is this fear I feel?

Or something else entirely?

I’ve a funny feeling it’s something else entirely. Something that sets my body on fire.

Well, whatever it is, it must have been emanating out of my pores, because Jamie rips his hand away as if burnt. As if instead of his flesh meeting the material of my cotton blouse, he’s touched my bare skin and finds it ridiculously, scorching hot.

“I’m just joking, lass.”

“What?”

“I’m just joking about having to pay a fiver for anything ye break.” The tip of Jamie’s tongue pokes out from between his lips, wetting just the inner section, and leaving behind a natural gloss that I find my eyes unmistakably drawn too.

“You’re joking?” I say his words back to him, meeting his steel blue gaze.

“Aye, I’m sorry.” The coins that must be residing in his pockets jingle, as he shoves his hands into the slots. The movement makes his broad shoulders hunch over… I don’t think the posture suits him. “It’s a stupid joke. Ye said ye need the money, and I didn’t mean to scare ye, Claire.”

“I—I--”

“Forgive me, lass?”

Words, caused by the sheer panic (which is now beginning to dissipate now that my mind is functioning again and not just imaging flashing numbers), sticks in my throat, but at least my brain knows what to say.

“Forgiven. But don’t you dare do that again, Jamie Fraser.”

A breathy chuckle, and an ‘I won’t, lass’ pops past his lips, causing the tail end of my ponytail to stir. I hadn’t been aware of just how close we were standing, and make to take a step back.

“Don’t go too far.” I could swear his arm moves, from where it’s been pressing against the side of his own torso. As if he wants to reach out and grab something, but then thinks better of it, and decides to just keep his hands safely in his pockets. “I still need to teach ye how to make a strawberry daiquiri before ye go home for the day.”

I stand there, feeling rather like a lemon, as Jamie sets about bustling around me, grabbing a bottle of something dark, and another, taller, glass.

Like me, he seems to work better when he has a goal in mind to complete.

“Okay,” says Jamie, laying out all of the ingredients, and what I’m soon beginning to recognize as a cocktail shaker. “Come stand here, Claire, lass.”

I follow his instructions, pressing myself against the lip of the bar until my hip bones meet the hard marble material… and then something comes up behind me.

Similar to before, my mind has only a few seconds to process what is happening, before the sensation is taken away, and I’m left confused.

Jamie.

I’m sure he’d come up behind me, that his broad chest had grazed over top of my back, making the fine hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I turn my head to the left, searching for him, only to find him passing a light amber coloured pint to a burly customer, in exchange for a gold coloured ten pound note.

“Thanks, mate, that’s braw.” I hear him say, over the sound of the till drawer opening, and the jangling of small coins. I blink, even rather dazedly for myself, as I watch Jamie deposit the change into the customer’s outstretched hand, swallow up the three steps that separates us, and then position himself behind my back once more.

Those forearms and hands of his, the ones I’ve been admiring all day, come around to the rest on the counter in front of both of us, boxing me in.

“I--”

“Start off with the strawberries, lass.”

An electric current shoots through my body as I feel his chest rumble with each passing instruction, pouring forth from his mouth.

“In the bottom of the cocktail shaker, they go,” he continues, unaware of my body’s reaction. My newfound body reaction. “Now the sugar, and the rum.”

“How much sugar?” I voice, quietly congratulating myself when I don’t stutter.

Jamie’s middle finger, which I notice for the first time is rather crooked, taps against the marble surface, indicating the spoon he’s laid out. “Two teaspoons worth, Sassenach.”

“Why do you keep calling me that?”

“Because that’s what ye are.” He says it so simply, both as a fact and a statement. “Pour the rum in.”

For the second time, I turn my head, but this time to peer over my shoulder. At him. My eyes bounce off his neck, which is in my straight line of view, and then upwards, to his face.

A face, which is neither grinning nor stoic, but rather, somewhere in between.

I curse myself again for not being able to read people better. But Jamie, himself, must not have that problem, for he knows exactly what I’m silently asking.

“Pour the rum until I say stop.”

When my hand doesn’t move to wrap around one of the two bottles of alcohol, Jamie speaks again.

“The dark coloured one.”

Inside the cocktail shaker, I begin to pour the dark coloured liquid, waiting until Jamie tells me no more. I wish I could say I’m focusing on remembering how to make the strawberry daiquiri. But that would be a lie.

I’m focusing more intently on the body heat traveling through Jamie’s fine t-shirt, and through my own blouse, before seeping into my skin.

When I pick up the second bottle of alcohol, (‘strawberry liqueur’, reads the wrinkled, white label,) and the shiny tablespoon, both of my hands shake. I over pour. Extra droplets of liqueur splattering into the cocktail shaker.

Jamie’s hand, which wraps around my own unsteady right one, is just as warm as before, and just as big. It practically engulfs mine.

I hold my breath.

“Don’t worry too much, Sassenach.” We lower the bottle together, listening to the satisfying clunk. “This one can just be a bit stronger than usual.”

Peeling his hand away from my bare skin, this time a finger at a time, Jamie snatches up a round, juicy, bright green lime.

For a millisecond, I feel as if I can breathe again.

But that breath is quickly stolen again, when Jamie’s other hand comes round my left hand side, picks up a knife, and begins slicing the lime right down the middle.

He moves as if I’m not there. As if his forearms aren’t rubbing against my bare elbows where I’d pushed up the sleeves of my shirt. As if his chest isn’t rubbing against my back, with every shift and saw of the knife.

“And then, ye squeeze.”

I stare, transfixed, as Jamie’s hand tightens around one half of the limes, causing the juice from the soft flesh of the fruit to drip and dribble. He catches two white coloured pips in the palm of his other hand, allowing the lime juice to coat both hands.

He’ll be a sticky mess at the end of it.

My heartbeat speeds up. I felt my cheeks flush red. My body feels strangely heavy… like I’m aware of it, in a different way than usual, for the first time in…

“Put the lid on while I wash my hands, Sassenach,” Jamie says, his vowels and consonants butter soft. “And give it all a good shake.”

A shake.

I can do that.

Especially, away from Jamie’s watchful eye, as he walks away to turn on the tap. At least I don’t need to worry about shaking the cocktail maker, which in turn will cause my body to shake… in turn causing my body to move against his…

“Once it’s shaken enough defant, I mean decant,” Jamie corrects himself, “everything into the glass.”

I do as asked, pretty proud of myself when the liquid slithers out a pretty pinkish colour. Pinching the stem of the glass between thumb and forefinger, I hold it up for Jamie to see.

“Verra good, Sassenach!” His praise sends a bolt of something peculiar through my body. “Ye can drink it if ye want.”

“Drink it?”

“Aye,” Jamie says, now flicking off the tap and drying his hands on a small, white, hand towel. “We’re done for the day, but ye may as well drink it before ye go home.”

I nod in understanding, still facing him, but leaning back upon the bar, as I take a tentative sip.

It isn’t half bad. Actually, it’s pretty good, if I do say so myself… with a little bit of a kick to the end of it, where I’ve over poured the strawberry liqueur. But I can’t say I mind all that much, not when it’s so fruity.

“It’s good.” I hold out the glass in front of me. “Want to try?”

Crossing the space between us, Jamie plucks the glass from my hand, and takes a drink; a much bigger mouthful than the one I’ve taken.

The way his lips curl up at the edges, I know he doesn’t mind the way I’ve created the cocktail, but I’m too focused on the bobbing of his Adam’s apple as he swallows, to filter any of his words.

I’ve never quite realised how attractive it is, something to separate his hard male body, from my soft female one.

Strangely enough, I have a sudden urge to push myself forward, and trace the pad of my forefinger along the harsh curve.

“How did yer weekend go, anyway?” Jamie asks, taking another slurp for himself, and then pushing the cold glass back into my palm.

I don’t know what urges me to look down while I take my own refreshment, but I wish I hadn’t when I can see the outline of Jamie’s lips pressed into the thin edge of the glass. I can even make out the tiny lines and creases that must run through those lips of his.

Beauchamp…

“My weekend? It was okay,” I say truthfully, reminded of sitting in the day lounge at the B and B, an old tabloid magazine in hand, staring out of the window as the unusually warm September wind blew inwards, disturbing my wavy locks. “I didn’t really do anything, went shopping for a bit… but that was about it. You? How was yours?”

Jamie’s face is blank again. I recognize it as tactically so, something my father had done over and over again when he was awaiting an answer (or, rather, a mistruth) for something he already knew the answer to.

My father had thought it a game.

A very funny one.

But I hadn’t.

I still didn’t like it, and certainly not on Jamie’s face.

I’m unable to form my features into blankness, it just isn’t in my nature.

My mother had always said one of my worst features was wearing my heart on my sleeve, but I found nothing wrong with that. In fact, I thought more people should do it more often… perhaps the world would be a simpler place then… a kinder place.

“What did ye go shopping for? Anything special?”

That isn’t what I expect to leave Jamie’s mouth, but I go with it anyway.

“I don’t really have the money to be spending.” Truthfulness… another top trait of mine… “But I thought it nice to get out for a bit, what with it being the weekend and all… I ended up buying these jeans.” My free hand, the one not clutching the now only half filled strawberry daiquiri glass, smooths down the curve of my denim covered hip, while I speak.

Beneath my armor of clothes, my skin begins to heat up as Jamie’s eyes follow the glide of hand, tracing my own body.

“So, how did your weekend go?” I repeat my question.

“Not bad.” Jamie shrugs. “I was here all weekend, really, cleaning up after the speed dating event, and then the Saturday night football game… just a typical weekend at work.”

“Oh, so--”

“I meant to ask ye how ye found the speed dating?” Jamie interrupts. “Get any numbers? Cue up a few dates to fill yer day off spots?”

Slurping down the rest of my drink, I cut my eyes to the side as I place the empty glass upon the bar. I don’t want to add a fourth, or was it a fifth, broken glass to my record. When I turn back to face Jamie, I find his eyes on my upper thighs. But they quickly move away back up to my face, as I begin to speak again.

“It was fine.” I allow my lips to squish up to one side of my face, in a sort of self deprecating wince. “But I didn’t get anybody’s number, and I certainly don’t have a string of dates waiting for me.”

Jamie’s mouth pops open, as if to say something else, but I’m over this topic of conversation. The rum and strawberry liqueur in the daiquiri has pleasantly relaxed my body, but not enough to make my mind hazy.

Actually, the alcohol has only made the exhaustion settling itself into my bones more apparent. I haven’t been sleeping all too well; what with the amount of worries on my brain. But now my trial run is over, I want nothing more than to lie down for an hour or two, and then slip into a hot bath.

Suppressing a yawn, I go to gather my purse and phone from where I’ve safely stored them under the bar for the day. “I really should be going, but thank you for teaching me, Jamie.”

“No’ a bother, lass.” He pushes away from the counter, as I straighten out my legs, and begin to walk through the gap in the bar. “I’ll walk ye oot.”

I feel my left eyebrow quirk up of its own accord, as we walk side by side across the bar floor, past the now mainly empty tables and chairs. “Are you allowed to leave the bar unattended?”

“Not really.” I see a miniscule smirk play about his lips. “But I just served Sean with his first pint, and he’s a regular, so he’ll keep a lookout while I’m away for a second.”

Humming in acknowledgement, my hand shoots out to grasp the brass door handle, but Jamie reaches it before I can get it myself. He leans casually into it, arm above the door frame, so I’ll have to duck beneath his arm to exit. It’s as if this is a daily occurrence.

Maybe it is.

Maybe he does this for every girl that passes by the bar.

Trying not to make a big deal out of it, I duck under his arm, jogging down the two steps, and then turn on my heels to look back up at him.

His blue eyes are already on me.

“Seriously, thank you Jamie. For being so patient and understanding when I broke practically everything around me and--”

His chin dips as he accepts my rambled thanks. “I told ye no’ to worry about it, lass. Ye’re still learning.” Reaching out his right hand, he points to the mobile phone resting safely in my palm. “I’m sure my godfather will be in touch with ye to give ye the weekly work schedule. If there’s any issues ye can ring him… ye have his number, aye?”

“Mhm,” I bob my head, searching for something else to say. “Guess I’ll see you for my next shift then.”

“If I’m working ye will.”

“Oh, of course. I—”

“Enjoy the rest of yer Monday, Claire.”

I understand a dismissal when I hear one.

Forcing my feet to move, I call over my shoulder a “See you, Jamie.”

I blame the alcohol in my system, which makes my heart rate seemingly skyrocket as I hear Jamie holler. “Sassenach?”

“Yes?” I turn fully, facing him head on.

“I like them,” he announces. “The jeans I mean. They must be worth whatever ye paid, because they make yer arse look phenomenal.”

And with that, he shuts the bar door firmly, unbothered by my gaping, jaw practically on the floor, expression.