Six months later
Jamie admired the diaphanous wings of the dragonfly, trellised by veins, twice frozen: once by the tree sap into which it had inadvertently flown thousands of years ago, and again by the shutter of his camera. Enlarged to monumental proportions, they seemed to convey some deeper message. About the architecture of nature, the viscosity of memory, the duality of time that could rush forward and remain frozen simultaneously. Or perhaps he was just being maudlin.
“You can still change your mind and let me list it.” John came to stand beside his friend, admiring the rich tones of the photo.
“This one’s no’ for sale,” Jamie said, not for the first time. It was a foolish impulse, but the photograph reminded him of Claire. Because the fossil belonged to her, because he’d taken it that evening at the bothy when she’d first bared herself to him, but mostly because the amber was the exact shade of her eyes.
“Pity,” John continued, “because it’s the only one left.”
“What?” Jamie’s head whipped towards his agent who was wearing a smug grin.
“The other nine all sold. Estelle just closed on the last one. Congratulations, Jamie. Selling out your first Chelsea gallery show is remarkable. Doing so at the opening, well…” John slapped him on the shoulder, before nudging him with his elbow. “Aren’t you happy you finally bit the bullet and made the move to New York?”
“Aye, happy,” Jamie lied.
Walking down the sidewalk the morning Claire left him sleeping in hotel sheets that smelled of her skin, Jamie had pulled out his phone and called his agent, directing him to set up representation with a Chelsea art gallery. Two months’ later he was unpacking his camera gear and a duffle bag of possessions in a simple clapboard cabin tucked behind the windswept dunes of the Long Island seashore, paid for by the proceeds of his years as a sex surrogate. Except for the payment from Claire, which he’d refused to accept from Geillis during their final meeting, firmly insisting that she donate it to a local woman’s shelter.
“And what shall I tell Claire if she asks?” Geillis inquired as Jamie rose to take his leave.
“Tell her…” Jamie’s voice stumbled on the rocks in his throat, forcing him to clear it and start over. “Tell her that I’m grateful for everything that she gave me.”
“Well, if you’re going to persist in your strange attachment to this photograph, then please come network a bit,” John urged. Jamie reluctantly followed him across the room towards a cluster of art critics and journalists, all wearing variations of the same black outfit. He felt like a sideshow attraction in his Fraser tartan and crisp white button-down that he wore for formal occasions, but John insisted it only added to his ‘cachet’.
“Smile a bit, would you? Bat those bonnie blue Scottish eyes and at least pretend to be enjoying your wildly successful evening. Jamie?”
Midway across the room, Jamie’s universe slammed to a halt. Near the door stood a slender woman. Flouting artistic convention, she wore a citrine dress, a sunbeam bursting forth against the monochromatic tedium of the rest of the room. Her hair was a lazy tornado of dark curls juxtaposed against the pale cumulus of her skin. Feline eyes skipped eagerly around the crowd, searching for someone with a hopeful longing that he yearned to assuage.
She caught sight of him, smiling tremulously. His concrete feet stayed rooted to the spot as she approached, frozen in time as surely as an insect trapped in amber.
Instead of greeting him, the woman turned to admire the photograph on a nearby wall. It was the ram’s horn, every bump and fissure topographical in its hyper-detail.
“It’s almost hypnotic, isn’t it?” Her voice was that strange combination of wispy and sure that he’d tried to recreate in his mind during the hundred lonely nights since he last heard it. “Like a familiar song played in a slightly different key.”
Jamie grunted his agreement, still not able to believe what was happening.
“But there’s something melancholy about it too. A homesickness, maybe?” she continued.
“Desiderium,” he spoke at last, the word gritty in his throat. “A grieving desire for something lost.”
“That’s the name of the exhibit, I believe. I read about it in the Sunday Times back in Edinburgh.”
“And ye came all the way from Scotland for the opening?” he asked in disbelief.
“Well,” she shrugged helplessly, “I wanted to meet the artist.”
She turned towards him, and it was then that he could read the uncertainty in her uncommon eyes.
“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp,” she emphasized the last name as she extended a hand in greeting.
“James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser,” he replied with equal precision. As their palms met something certain and infinite settled over him, like oil on the choppy waters of his soul.
“Jamie?” With a jolt he realized they were still standing in the gallery, unable to look away or release their hold on one another, and that his agent had been watching their exchange with sharp interest.
“Aye, sorry John. This is Claire Beauchamp, from back home. Claire, may I introduce John Grey, my verra good friend and agent.”
After some polite chatter that he could barely hear over the rushing of his blood, John gave him a significant look and excused himself. Jamie glanced with yearning towards the gallery door, then back at the cluster of reporters who John was now working with practiced ease.
“I really need to…” he apologized.
“Go,” Claire gestured. “I’m the one who dropped in on your big day unannounced.”
“I’d verra much like to…” he paused, worrying his tongue along the back of his teeth and searching his memory for the near-forgotten protocol. “Would ye like to get a drink with me? After the show? I shouldna be verra long.”
A smile dawned across her face, warming him as surely as the rays of the summer sun.
“I’d like that very much. It will give me a chance to see the rest of your work. You’re incredibly talented, Jamie.”
It was the first time she’d called him by his real name. A rivulet of hope burst through the dam of asylum he’d built around his heart. Still, he was loathe to turn his back on her, lest she disappear once again.
“What is it?” Claire asked when he didn’t release her.
“Ye’ll wait for me?” It came out as a plea. He wasn’t just talking about their plans for the night. There was a minefield of pain and memory between him and their happily ever after. He was terrified she would lose patience and give up on him before he could cross it.