Christ. This is harder than I thought. My pen hovers above the paper as I stare down at the blank sheets as I attempt to write. How does someone address a person they don’t know? How does someone address a person they’ve never spoken to? How does someone address an inmate ? How do I? I have no clue.
When pen finally meets paper I scribble and decide on going with a simple Hi James . The rough sound of the words being written down fills the room and I sigh as once again. I simply don’t know how to continue. I knew it was a bad idea, or one I should simply not acknowledge. It’s insane. It’s absolutely nuts. Before I can second guess it, I crumple the paper into a wrinkly ball before flinging it across the room. This is crazy and I knew it from the moment when my oh so wonderful friend Geillis sent me that article a few days ago that informed me about an organisation that lets you become pen pals with an inmate.
Why she thinks this is something that I should do is beyond me. It made me wonder if she even knows me at all. I get up to pour myself a glass of water when my phone rings and Geillis’s name appears on the display. Speak of the devil . I pick up and press the speaker button as I rummage in the cabinet for a glass.
“Did ye do it?” She asks right away, excitement brimming in her voice. I can easily imagine the green sparkle in her eyes. I fill the glass with tap water before sighing loudly.
“Hello to you too, friend,” I take a gulp of water, hearing her impatience on the other end of the line.
“I dinna have time fer hello’s.e ken my time is limited so I want tae use it wisely,” she chirps and I walk back to my desk, staring again at the empty stack of papers in front of me. I could lie to her, say I have written it but never heard back. I could just say no until she stops talking about it. I could… “Claire!” She exclaims after a few seconds of silence and I get ripped out of my thoughts, clearing my throat.
“I didn’t and I’m not so sure I will,” I admit, taking another sip of water before setting the glass down again. “This is crazy, Gee. I seriously don’t know why you would think this is a good idea. Why on earth would I need a pen pal who sits behind bars after doing I don’t even know what?!” My eyes travel to the crumpled paper ball on the floor as Isigh and I hear my friend scoff under her breath.
“Ye and I both ken that after Frank dumped ye, ye lost some confidence. And before ye interrupt me, yes it matters. Ye need to practise communicating wi’ people other than me. I canna be there fer ye at all time, wi’ all the flying around the world I have to do for work. And I canna let ye suffer alone.”
“So you think a criminal is the solution to end my loneliness?” I lean back in my chair when I hear Geillis’ heels click and I know she’s close to hanging up the phone.
“People in prison are lonely too, Claire. Mebbe it isna so bad to just go ahead and write that letter. What do ye have to lose? This person canna touch ye, hell he wilna even ken how ye look or who ye are. Just try it.” I hear her talking to someone else and before I know it she rushes into a goodbye and hangs up the phone. That’s the life of a flight attendant. I could never compare it to the one I lead as a bookstore owner.
My eyes linger once more on the empty paper, waiting to be filled with words. “Hell, I need something stronger than water,” I mumble to myself before walking up to my closet filled with my french friends. I pick up the bottle of Merlot, grab a glass and sit back down as I pour it generously. I take a large gulp before hitting the pen on paper, when my mind decides to bless me with numerous thoughts.
What if he robbed a bank? What if he’s a rapist? A murderer? Oh hell, what if he’s a rapist and a murderer?
Suddenly being lonely doesn’t sound that bad.
I take another long sip of my wine, closing my eyes as I try to calm myself down before I shut down the outside world and start to write.
I have no clue how to start a letter to someone I don’t even know, let alone never even met.
I can’t ask you how you are, but yet I still wonder. Are you okay? Is that what you can call it? Okay? Never mind. It’s just always the sentence people begin with. So I apologise in advance if it was stupid of me to ask.
To be honest, I am not writing to you of my own choice. My friend thought it a smart idea to pick up pen and paper and pour out my heart to a stranger behind bars.
I won’t ask you how you landed where you are, even though I am curious about that. But it isn’t what defines you as a person. I would like to ask you how you handle it, being isolated and away from the rest of the world? Does it feel as lonely as it sounds? Does it feel suffocating? I can barely handle being alone in my house without the demons nagging on my brain, their eerie little voices calling out to me as they try to lure me into their darkness.
How do you handle it without being consumed by the darkness?
Well, maybe I watched too many crime movies and prison may not be as horrifying as it sounds, or maybe you’re sharing your cell with someone else.
But then again, you can still feel lonely in a very crowded room. If my questions are too much or too annoying, just throw this piece of paper away please.
Now to some basics about me. I live in Edinburgh, alone, in a huge house left to me by my parents. I own a bookstore close to the castle, just off the royal mile and I absolutely love it. It’s been mine since I was twenty five. Now I’m almost thirty. I know, I sound super interesting, right? (okay lame attempt at sarcasm.)
I’d love to know more about you, but only if you want to tell me of course.
I read the letter five times before sealing it in an envelope, and addressing it to James at the prison. Geillis is right. What can I lose? I haven’t told him any details about my life, not even my name. But he’ll get your address. Stop it.
Before my brain can convince me otherwise, I’m standing up to walk to the post box to drop the letter off. I’m taking a deep breath as I turn on my heel to walk back home with my mind full of a thousand thoughts.
Days passed and walking to my postbox became an activity my anxiety seemingly feeds off of. Constantly watching the postman drop off my mail doesn’t help either. Today is no different, except when I grab my letters, one stands out against all the rest. In beautiful, neat handwriting, I see my name. My eyes drift to the sender’s address and Irun inside as I throw the rest of the post on the coffee table and stare at the letter in my hands.
My fingers graze the sharp edges of the envelope as I try to wrap my mind around the fact that this has been touched by someone who is sitting in prison. Someone who is going through hell, closed off from the free world because he’s done it to himself. Someone who might have hurt someone really bad. I shudder at the thought and somehow the letter becomes this dirty figment with the thought of bloody hands grabbing it. Can I do this? What if there is just a disgusting message inside? But would they even be allowed to let letters like that be sent out? The guards must check them. I pay attention to the item in question with shaky hands. I rip open the thin paper as I take out the letter and read my name across the top.
For someone who doesn’t know how to write a letter to a stranger, you’ve done very well.
“I’ll manage” is the term I use when people ask me how I am.
There are days I even use “alright”, and when your letter came, that was how I felt.
If I tell you why I’m behind bars I’m afraid you wouldn’t want to speak to me anymore, so let’s save this for another time.
Well I can ask you, how are you, Claire? You said in your letter you feel lonely in your big house, why is that? Is there no one spending time with you?
I am in fact alone in a cell. Sometimes I think it’s a blessing but mostly it’s just maddening. Sometimes I speak to the walls, wondering if something or someone might hear me. Sometimes I pretend someone does. This must sound very frightening to you.
You can ask me any kind of question. I’ll try my best to answer them. Honestly.
A bookstore sounds nice, I myself am a passionate reader. You might laugh, but Jane Eyre is my favourite. I used to read it with my sister. Very great times. Thinking about them keeps me sane in the dark place that I am.
There’s actually not much to tell about me. I used to work at an insurance firm along with my uncles and godfather until this happened. Now it’s been five years, and I’m thirty one years old.
What’s your favourite book, colour, drink, food? All these questions. But I also would love to know more about you. To end this letter and for you to hopefully address me next time I want to let you know, you may call me Jamie.
I smack my dry lips as I try to get ahold of my tears that are ready to run down my cheeks. I don’t know what I expected but somehow, it wasn’t this. I did not expect someone so…normal? Someone with emotions? Someone so nice? I can’t really put it into words. I’m inhaling a deep, shaky breath before reading it once again and that time, I let my tears fall freely.
While I’m standing in my shop the next day, shelving some books, I stare at the name of Charlotte Bronte and a sudden idea hits me. I grab the book and sit down at the table, pen already meeting paper and before I know it, I’m writing my second letter to Jamie.
Jane Eyre? You have great taste! I was just shelving some books and this copy fell into my hands and I thought you might want to have it. If you already have one, maybe it’s a sign to re-read it.
It warms my heart to know that my letter has made you feel ‘alright’, so I hope that won’t change when this one arrives along with my gift.
I won’t bring up the reason you’re in there until you bring it up yourself.
“Alright” is my description too when someone asks me how I am, and to my surprise, today I’m actually good.
I used to live with my ex in this big house but he decided he’s better off without me and that is the story I will save for another time.
Talking to walls doesn’t sound frightening to me, it’s something I do too. Quite often actually.
Five years… That must feel like a very long time. Did you love your work? How does your sister deal with you being gone?
My favourite book is Little Women. My favourite colour is green. My favourite drink is wine, red to be more specific, and pasta makes me very happy. What about you?
I’m putting the letter into the book and pushing it into an envelope before writing down the address to drop off the little package on my lunch break. I inhale the fresh breeze that dances around me before I smile at the sky. Somehow I feel different. Somehow this whole thing makes me feel different. Maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe it’s bad. But despite my racing mind I curl up my lips as I’m thanking the universe that I feel a little less lonely today.
When I was younger, my uncle used to tell me about his days at work. Being a Detective ensured that he never lived a dull life. But once his body was riddled with cancer and he was bound to stay at home, he made sure I knew every crazy thing he experienced. I miss him. On some days more than others, and today certainly a little more. What would he have said if he knew I had contacted a criminal? Would he have yelled at me? Would he have asked me to stop? Would he have found it interesting? I don’t know. It’s not like I’ll ever find out.
A few days later I’m looking at my reflection in the mirror. The lines in my face slightly changed and I wonder if Geillis might notice the darker circles beneath my eyes, the slightly more hollow cheeks and my tired gaze. Geillis. I haven’t seen her in months. I smile at my exhausted reflection, excited to see my best friend today, when suddenly the doorbell rings and I jump at the sound, ripping me from my thoughts. Immediately I walk downstairs to open the door. I missed my other half. I missed the person that has gotten me out of a deep dark hole that I was a little too comfortable in at times. The moment I see her, I wrap my arms around her and feel that she missed me as much.
I pour us each a cup of coffee and once we’re sitting on the couch, I feel her gaze on me.
“What?” I watch her through my lashes as the too hot brew burns the tip of my tongue, making me flinch.
“Tell me about yer pen pal.” She starts, her eyes scanning my face as she gracefully sips on her mug. Sometimes I wish I could do things half as decent as Geillis. Like not burning my tongue on hot beverages or falling over a pair of shoes I accidentally left on the floor.
But hey, we can’t have everything.
“He’s okay. He’s a criminal, but well, he’s nice.” I furrow my brows as I realise I’m not really making any sense and I just word vomit at this point. I watch my best friend’s lips curl up, her cheeks hollow with the dimples that result in her smile.
“What?” I ask again.
“Ye like him?” Oh.
“It’s just nice to have someone else listening, G. I can’t really like someone through a piece of paper, can I?”
“Why do ye ask me if ye apparently ken the answer to it?” She asks me, a smirk covering her beautiful face. I sigh in frustration, taking another sip and celebrating that this time the temperature of the coffee didn’t set my mouth on fire.
“There’s nothing wrong in admitting that ye like him, Claire. It doesna mean ye have to marry the guy.” I almost choke on my coffee at the word marry and she bursts out into laughter.
“Ye’re still allergic to that word I see.”
Allergic. I scoff. Damn right I am.
After a second cup of coffee, Geillis asks if she could read the mail I got from Jamie and somehow this was another thing I became allergic to. These letters are meant for me . For my eyes only. And when I’m shaking my head, her green eyes stare at me. “But Claire!”
“I don’t read your private things!” I reply as I’m standing up to bring the dishes into the kitchen. Her footsteps follow right after and I still don’t dare to look at her after the mugs are long resting in the sink.
“What is so private that you can’t show me?” She asks when a sudden gasp fills the room.
“Claire! Dinna tell me ye sent the man nudes…”
“Jesus H. Christ, no! It’s just… private.”
I don’t know why I act so protective about some letters I exchanged with a stranger over the last few weeks. But knowing I have this little world with a person that doesn’t know me, that little bubble away from reality, gives me comfort. I never had something like that, even with my exes. And Jamie, he makes me feel special. Our letters grew longer the more we talked. He told me about his family estate, Lallybroch and that his sister still lives there to this day with her husband and three children. His parents passed when he was very young, leaving him and Jenny to the care of his uncles. He rarely spoke about his uncles and I had a feeling not to put pressure on the subject.
“Earth to Claire.” Snap. Snap. Snap. Geillis’ fingers snap in front of me, ripping me out of my little bubble.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Christ, Claire.” Is all she says, before she shakes her head and talks about her last two months she was gone. As a flight attendant she travels the world when I’m stuck in a house that’s too big for me. And sometimes I’m jealous. But hearing about all the Karen’s she has to deal with, does make me feel a lot better. She also talks about a man named Arthur and how his profession as a pilot makes him a thousand times hotter and all I can do is roll my eyes. That’s just so typical .
After a few more hours of men-talk, Geillis stands up. Arthur called. And the mere look on her face, that desperate gaze of desire tells me enough. I lean back into the couch when she pouts.
“I really need it.” I’m rolling my eyes in answer but only spread my arms to embrace her into a long hug and a promise of meeting tomorrow. When the door clicks into its lock and silence envelops me; loneliness greets me once more. Not long though, because my phone rings three minutes later, the screen lights up with No Caller ID and I decide to pick it up.
An inmate from the Edinburgh Federal Prison would like you to accept a call.
Jesus H. Christ.
An inmate from the Edinburgh Federal Prison would like you to accept a call.
What should I do?
An inmate from the Edinburgh Federal Prison would like you to accept a call.
I gave him my number so I should accept it. Right? Before the robotic voice can repeat her words, I open my mouth, “I accept.”
After hearing the click of the transfer, I’m the first to speak.
“Hello?” I ask in a voice so tiny I don’t even recognise it. All I hear is his laboured breathing and I swallow thickly, unsure if he is going to say something. “Jamie?” I try again and now I hear him breathe in a shuddering breath, the sound alone forcing me to close my eyes.
“Claire,” he breathes.
His voice. It is different from what I'd imagined. It is much lower, with a vibration that reaches your gut, or something else. Jesus H.
“Hi.” I breathe in response and for a few more seconds neither of us says anything.
“It’s good to hear yer voice.” Scottish. What else did I expect?! We are in Scotland after all. I’m shaking my head as I try to collect myself.
“It’s good to hear yours too.”
“I didn’t know why I expected ye to talk wi’ a Scottish accent, I mean I ken yer no from here.”
“I knew you’re from here and expected you to not speak with an accent, so don’t worry.”
It is then we laugh. The feeling of sharing a good laugh with him is something I didn’t realise I would hold close to my heart. The sound carries me on a cloud, letting me see the world from a whole new perspective. When he laughs, god, there is nothing else I want to hear and I somehow hope he feels the same about mine.
Suddenly it becomes quiet and for a second I can only hear the muffled voices of other inmates in the background and before I can think of what I was about to say, the ‘ how are you’ slipped already out.
“I’m sorry I-”
“I’m great, Sassenach.” He exhales and I believe him.
“I thought I’ll manage and I’m alright are the only answers to this question. Plus, I might not get rid of my English accent but there’s no need to call me a Sassenach .”
I cringe when I say the word. Coming out of Jamie’s mouth, Sassenach sounds nice. Like a word made to be spoken from his tongue. And I want him to always call me that.
“Well, hearin’ yer voice helps.” I can hear his smile through the phone and imagine what he’d look like. “And I dinna mean to offend ye, Claire. I’m sorry.”
“I’m joking. Another lame attempt at sarcasm.” I answer and he suddenly grows quiet. For a second I think he might not say anything at all in response, but then I hear him breathe and his voice fills my ear once again.
“How are ye , Claire?” He asks me with a sincerity that almost brings tears to my eyes. He cares. About me . Surrounded by all this negativity. He cares about me .
“I’m okay.” I answer. “Geillis returned from being gone for two months but she’ll only be here for a few days. Then it’s just me and my bottle of wine.” I laugh dryly and Jamie to my surprise is still quiet.
“Ye dinna deserve to be alone. I’ll try to write ye longer letters.”
“Jamie, your letters already made it to four pages. I don’t want your hand to fall off.”
“Dinna fash about my hand, I ken ye like the longer letters.” He’s right. In all honesty, mostly I re-read his letters about three to four times before putting it next to me and letting his words sink in. That’s the impact his writing has on me. And now hearing his voice along with his words? God, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put those papers down.
“Just write them for as long as you see fit, Jamie.”
“Alright.” He replies and a louder voice appears from the background. “Shite. My time is up, Sassenach.” And my mood drops from one second to the other.
If the call wouldn’t have been limited to fifteen minutes, I don't know if we would ever hang up because time with him goes by differently. Time with him is nothing more than a word. Time with him is non-existent.
“When can you call me again?” I ask to my own surprise. I’m glad it didn’t come out too desperate, hopefully .
“I’ve phone time twice a week which I usually spend callin’ my sister.”
Of course. How could I forget about his family? Before I can say something else he takes a deep breath. “But I’ll use one to talk to ye, Claire. So I’ll call ye in a week.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” I say and so does he. And with a ‘ be careful’ I hang up, and my stomach churns with twisted feelings.
That night I’m going to bed with a weight grabbing my heart and my brain shouting at me. I don’t know what is going on but something definitely is. The phone call somehow upset me. In both good and bad ways. Good because talking to him is something I want to do every day for hours and hours on end. Bad because time reminds me of where he was. Of what he was. He is dangerous and in what ways, I don’t know. I need to know.
I’m sitting up in bed, grabbing pen and paper that now have their place on my night table and I start to write, ending my letter with one sentence that has been floating around in my head since the first time pen met paper.
I know I said I wouldn’t ask, but I need to know why you are where you are.
A few days passed and Geillis went back to work, leaving me to my own thoughts and impatience to wait for Jamie’s answer. If he would answer. I’m standing in front of the kitchen window, glaring at the postman as he pulls a letter from his bag and tosses it in the box. I feel it in the depth of my gut. It’s Jamie’s letter. My heart is racing at the mere thought and I impatiently watch the mailman depart, and the moment the van’s motor starts, I open the front door to get my mail.
I’m sitting on the couch, staring at the envelope laying in front of me. This piece of paper churns my stomach in ways I can’t explain. This piece of paper holds something that wakes a fear in me that I didn’t know even existed. This piece of paper could destroy this little bubble I built with a stranger. It could break a much bigger part in me than I thought.
My trembling fingers open the letter, the sound of ripping paper filling the room and as I unfold the papers in my hands, I exhale a shuddering breath.
Take a deep breath, Beauchamp. Take a deep breath.
I can’t do it. Not yet.
I put the letter on the coffee table, not being able to read further just yet. I know that I asked for it. I know that I might’ve overstepped a boundary, I bloody know. But as I hold the pieces of paper in my shaky hands, I don’t know anything anymore. I’m taking a deep breath as I side-eye the letter and feel the tears sting the corners of my eyes. Is this the end? Is that little bubble going to disappear the moment I read it? Can I handle it if he chose not to tell me? Can I handle it if he chose to tell me?
I can’t help but let the tears roll down my cheeks, with no one to brush them away but me.
It must have been hours later, when my ringtone brings me back to earth and I wipe my nose on the sleeve of my sweater, glaring at my best friend’s name on the blurry screen. Usually G is the first person I want to talk to when I feel like this, but somehow having had this intimacy with Jamie, this new friendship, makes me not want to tell her at all. It makes me want to succumb to this loneliness waiting for me, and for the first time ever, I decline the call of the person most important to me.
Of course she doesn’t drop it. Her numerous phone calls force me to mute my phone and put it face down on the table next to the letter. When I see the papers again, breathing becomes harder and a sudden urge to scream roars in my chest. I always get myself into things like this. Not thinking a situation through because of the influence of others. Some may call me naive, but I call it desperation. Desperate for attention. Desperate for someone to see me. Desperate for someone to listen. Desperate for someone.
As new tears spill, I pick up the papers again, letting the tips of my fingers brush the sharp edges, flinching at the contact. I try once more.
A letter has never been so hard to write. Please excuse my shaky handwriting but I am very nervous. Writing it is like reliving it, a nightmare with the guilt nagging within every inch of my body. To think what I’ve done is terrifying and nauseating all at once and I hope you’re prepared. But before I tell you, I want to thank you for these last two and a half months. It’s been the greatest time I’ve had in the last five years and I’ll cherish your letters forever. Your friendship has given me light in very dark times, and it’s that light I’ll hold onto until I succumb to darkness forever.
I can’t suppress the sob that is shaking my chest and I press one hand against my mouth. I don’t know if I can read it. I don’t know if I want to read it. But to keep this going I want to know, no, I need to know. Once again I wonder how a person that sits in prison could reach my heart with words. How he could just make me forget about everything else and put my main focus on him. On me. On us .
Before I could think another thought, I grind my teeth together and continue reading.
A long time ago, as I’ve told you, I used to work in a firm along with my uncles. I liked the work. Not my favourite but it paid well and the travel time was perfect. Despite having worked hard, I was able to visit my family and play with my nieces and nephews almost every day. After a while, I recognised things that felt very wrong. Young girls entered my boss’ office while only my uncles were allowed into the room. They made sure of it. I knew what they did, but had no proof to go to the police with it, so my old friend Geneva offered to help me. At first I didn’t want to endanger her or put her in a situation like that, but seeing these girls, knowing I could expose them what they did, led me to ask her to act as bait so we could have evidence that my ex-boss and uncles were indeed, sex traffickers. She did. And got murdered in the process.
At this point, my mind is racing. Actually racing. I re-read the paragraph to be sure that I’ve read it correctly. He is no murderer. He is no criminal. He is a victim to a crime he did not commit and yet, he wrote this letter as if he killed this woman. As if he’s guilty.
My eyes skim over his handwriting once again, shock coursing through my body and I start to shake. The tremors flowing through my hands.
No. NO! This is wrong.
“This is so wrong!” I sob, my eyes ripping open. “This is fucking wrong!” I brush my hand over my tear stained face before my fingers disappear into my mop of curls. I pull softly on my hair, shaking my head in disbelief. “Jamie, you-” I don’t know what to do. I want to scream at him, I want to tell him that he does not belong where he is. I want to fight for him. I want to grab his face in my hands and tell him he’s free. He should be free.
I sniff angrily as I put the paper back in front of me, reading the last bit of his reading.
It might not be me who stabbed her but it felt like I held the knife. It felt like I needed to pay for this so I took the blame, knowing the firm was too powerful anyway. Not that I wanted to fight, because it was me who led her there. It was me that caused her death. It was me and I will live with that for the rest of my life. A young woman died because I asked for her help. A young woman who had her whole life in front of her gone in a breath and I am sitting here, breathing, and with every inhale I hate myself a little more. I hate myself so much that my lungs want to burst some days. But writing to you, Claire, made breathing a little easier again. For once I didn’t want my lungs to burst. I begged them to go on, I begged for air so I could receive your next letter. And knowing this might very well be the last one to send you, hurts. It hurts. But it might be for the best. I wouldn’t want to put you in danger.
I hope you’ll always beg for more air, Claire. I hope that life will always light up for you, leading you on a path you deserve. Just know that I won’t blame you if you decide not to write back to me. I couldn’t blame you.
I’m choking on my own tears when I let the letter drop to the ground. This isn’t right. This just can’t be true. Out of all the inmates I could’ve written, I wrote to a man that sits there innocently yet carries so much guilt?! “Tell me what to do. Tell me what to do.” I pace up and down as I speak into the air. I don’t even know who I am talking to at this point, whether it’s myself, Uncle Lamb or maybe my parents who I don’t know anything about.
A sudden thought crosses my mind, and I walk upstairs, grabbing a pen and paper. I would answer him. I’d reply, telling him that he should see his innocence the way I do. And risk never hearing from him again? Shit. I’m throwing the pen and paper to the ground, my mind on fire as it tries to come up with a solution.
I have to help him. I have to make him see that he does not belong there. He isn’t the evil man he thinks he is. He tried to erase the bad guys, and tried to save a lot of girls in the process. And because one woman tried to help him, willingly, he blames himself.
I think I might be sick.
I walk back downstairs, my eyes focusing on the floor when I walk into the living room, the letter still there. Jamie’s truth, still there. Jamie’s truth. His truth. The truth.
I need to tell him what I think. But not in a letter, not in writing. I couldn’t put my thoughts into words. I need to look at him when I say it, need to see his facial expressions to see if he really believes that he’s guilty. I grab my phone to dial the number of Edinburgh Federal prison when a male voice greets me.
“Edinburgh Federal Prison, MacDonald speakin’!”
“Good afternoon, I would like to know when it would be possible to visit an inmate.” I hear him chew, letting me wait as my impatience must have been audible in my voice. “Please.” I add pleadingly and I hear the smack of his voice before his raspy breath fills my ear.
“Claire… Claire Beauchamp.” I answer nervously and when he chuckles. I feel the flush on my face.
“The inmate's name.” God.
The officer cleared his throat. “Fraser gets four hours of visiting time a month. He used one already so yer in luck. Come by whenever it suits ye from 10-4pm Monday through Saturday” And before I can add anything, he hangs up and I don’t hesitate. I don’t want to waste time. I grab my jacket and put on a pair of boots before I leave the house. It is time to put a face to Jamie Fraser’s name.
One time, Uncle Lamb told me a story about a woman that went to jail for murdering her husband. They put her behind bars after she pushed him down the stairs.That’s what the police thought. Years later the woman spoke up, saying she had been assaulted and acted out of self-defence. No one believed her. Not until her best friend fought for her and got her out after nine years in prison.
The story seemed crazy to me, unbelievable and something that I’d watch on TV while eating a bowl of warm popcorn. And now? Now I am on my way to visit my pen pal that is supposedly sitting innocently in prison.
When did my life turn into a movie?
I press the button on my coffee machine, letting the hot brew fill my mug as I turn on my laptop. If there is a reason Uncle Lamb told me about his cases, this was it. I mentally thank my uncle before sitting down to watch the screen. I’m taking a sip from the too hot mug and flinching at the touch before putting it down and resting my fingers on the keyboard. The cursor blinks and I’m taking a deep breath.
I type his name into the search bar, scrolling through numerous links to Facebook profiles with the same name. I hit the News button to see if maybe his crime from several years ago was published. No chance. To minimise my search I type in James Fraser murder and feel a lump building in my throat. To have his name next to that word, breaks my heart in ways I can’t explain. This word does not belong to his name. This word… It makes me want to vomit. I hit the enter button, scrolling through news when I see the headline and exhale a shuddering breath.
RANDALL SHIELD INSURANCE MURDER. MAN ARRESTED FOR MURDERING COLLEAGUE.
I click on it, reading the article while holding my breath. It sounds wrong. There is no mention of the sex-trafficking he told me about. No mention about him trying to solve this case. Absolutely zero information about any kind of trial. The only thing they mentioned was what a monster Jamie supposedly is and how he brutally murdered his colleague.
At this point, my hands are shaking, reading the words over and over again until I just shut my laptop and try to focus on what truly matters, To get to the prison and see James Fraser for the first time ever.
I arrive at the prison after a thirty minute walk. I didn’t want to drive, using the fresh air to clear my mind before the storm hits. It’s nerve wracking, terrifying, to think that in a few minutes I’ll be sitting face to face with Jamie. I’ll look into his green, brown or maybe blue eyes, telling him that he is innocent. That I believe him. That he has been sitting in there for someone else for all these years.
Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.
After I make it through security, I get taken into a grey room. A plexiglass wall spans across the room and chairs are lined up on each side. The room is filled with sad men and women, visiting their loved ones, disappointed children watching their parents suffer, and empty chairs waiting to be occupied. I take a seat at number five as the officer told me to, and rub my sweaty hands on the tops of my thighs. God. This feels horrible.
The curtain behind the plexiglass moves, and I watch him enter. Two guards on each side are holding him by his upper arms, his hands in handcuffs attached to a chain on his waist. He wears a red uniform, indicating his status as a High-Risk inmate. I look up at his face and almost feel like the air got knocked from my lungs. His eyes are blue, the first thing to stand out on his face. His red curls frame his face so beautifully it makes me question whether he’s even real. He looks like an ancient Greek god and I wonder if I ever thought this way about another human being before. Not a chance. He stares at me, waiting for the guards to remove his handcuffs. Before he sits down he rubs his wrists, his eyes never leaving mine.
I pick up the phone next to me, waiting for him to do the same. He is so close yet so far away from me. The plexiglass between us makes me want to hug him even more and I crave his embrace. Just a simple embrace. “Hi.” I breathe out and watch him carefully, my eyes scanning every single feature of his face.
“Christ.” He answers, his voice raspy. “When they told me, I dinna think it was true. But yer truly here.”
To see his lips moving and his throat bobbing while he talks, was a whole new world. A whole new, better world. I could watch him forever. I suppress the urge to put my fingers on the plexiglass trying to reach through it.
“If you thought you wouldn’t hear from me anymore after that letter, then you were very mistaken, James Fraser. And you’re wrong about so much more.” I couldn’t keep it in. The dread of telling him that he’s innocent. Hell, I want to scream it at the guards, want to scream it into the whole fucking world letting the universe know that this man, this beautiful man, sits there for someone else’s crime. He deserves freedom and I will fight for him . Just like that best friend from the story Lamb told me.
“Claire, I am a murderer. There arena many people on this earth that prefer to speak to one. So dinna be offended by my question but, why?”
Why? He asks. Is he serious? Can’t he see it? He must see it.
“Jamie you aren’t what you think you are. You didn’t kill her.” When Jamie looks at me, his eyes watery after I finish my sentence, my heart breaks and I swear that I can hear the crack. I watch when his hands come up to meet his face, the palm of his hand pressing against his eye to rub away the tears before they fall. “You did not kill her.” I repeat, knowing this moves something in him. Anything. His blue eyes meet mine like waves crashing into the depth of my irises.
“I did.” He replies, his voice as cold as ice. I’m shaking my head in denial. He can’t be serious. He just can’t. “Have ye no read my letter?” He scans me and I nod.
“I did read your letter and I am telling you, you did not ki-”
“Dinna say it.” He interrupts me, clutching the phone in his hand.
“Why?” It is now me who asks and he stares at me. His face is as close to the glass as possible and when he speaks, it is low and the words chosen carefully.
“Because I am guilty of her death, Claire. I dinna want to hear it again.”
He may not. But I do.
I sigh, watching him carefully as he leans back in his chair.
“How are you?” I eventually ask, knowing if I will pressure him, if I continue trying to make him see his innocence, he will hang up and stop talking to me. Which makes me even more eager to set him free. He sits up straight, eyeing me and I could swear his lips curl up slightly.
“I’ve imagined ye differently.” He dodges my question but I don’t mind, I just listen as I watch him. “I imagined ye wi’ black hair and green eyes. I dinna think ye had curls, I thought yer hair was straight and restin’ on yer shoulders.”
“Is that bad?” My insecurity asks, not me, because when I hear myself saying these words, I wish I could’ve taken them back.
“Bad? No.” He exhales with a sharp breath, pressing his palm up to the glass, my own hand instinctively meeting his. “Yer beautiful, Claire.” Says the Greek god.
I almost burst out into laughter but it only comes out as a chuckle, but before he can ask I say. “I imagined you with almost no hair at all. Buzzcut to be honest. Your eyes were dark brown and you had a beard.”
“Ye’ve imagined me like the criminal they mostly cast in movies, Sassenach?” He laughs and there it is again. That laugh. The laugh I want to hear forever. The laugh I want to carry around with me. The laugh that makes me feel carefree.
“Basically.” I answer, laughing with him.
“So, am I looking better than ye’ve imagined, or are ye disappointed?”
His gaze is intense. So intense that I almost stop breathing and I’m shaking my head. “Not disappointed.” I whisper, our hands still level with each other.
God. It is getting hot in this room. I’m shaking my head to forget about those feelings coursing through me and I take a deep breath. “How are you?” I ask again, hoping that this time he would answer in honesty.
“Seeing ye, Christ, I dinna remember the last time I felt like this.”
“Like what?” I almost mutter too quickly when he smacks his lips together and I see tears burning in the corners of his eyes.
“Like I forget for a moment where I am or what I did.”
Nothing you did. Nothing! I wanted to say but I know I can’t. “I messed up my life, Claire.” He adds, probably knowing what I want to say. “I have to pay for that for the rest of my life.” I’m shaking my head in disbelief.
“This is not your price to pay.” I say and he leans back again, shaking his head. “It isn’t! You tried to do good, you tried, Jamie and you failed. But that doesn’t mean that you have to take the blame for those people.”
“Powerful people, Claire, very very powerful. And she would be alive if I didna ask her.”
True. Still not convincing enough.
“Those are things you can’t control. She gave you consent. She agreed on going with you to do this.” I sigh as he stays quiet. “Let me ask you differently. If you would have known what happened to her, would you still have asked her?”
“No.” He breathes out, shaking his head. “God, no.” He furrows his brows and I know he was replaying it all over in his head.
“See. That makes you different from these people, Jamie. That makes you innocent.”
“Stop saying I’m innocent, Claire.” He grits out through his teeth and I exhale in frustration. Alright. This can’t be it. This won’t be it.
“Alright.” I breathe out to calm him down and I know I am in this alone. I have to figure it out by myself. Without him knowing.
“How are ye, Sassenach?” He eventually asks and we spend the last thirty minutes of my visit talking about books and things we like to do. Jamie tells me that he is trying to write some poems and he’d send me one in the next letter and I’d send him a picture of my book shop.
And once I’m bidding him farewell, I feel my heart sink to my stomach. Time is too short. I don’t want it to end. I want to keep talking to him about books and poems. I want to look into these beautiful blue eyes a little longer, watch his fingers tap softly onto the metal table. I want to just watch him. After his goodbye Sassenach it feels like someone rips away a Christmas present I got and when he disappears behind the curtain, I could cry.
I leave the facility, breathing in the breeze of fresh air before letting a few tears roll down my cheeks. Stop saying I’m innocent. I’m shaking my head when those words echo in the depths of my mind. Stop saying I’m innocent. I can’t believe it. How could he say that? Stop saying I’m innocent.
“No!” I eventually say into the air. “I will never stop saying it!”
I thought I’d upload a chapter a wee bit early!
After my meeting with Jamie, the days began to drag by even slower, and my house feels all the more lonelier. How am I supposed to go on and not be able to be there for him in the way I know he deserves
I can still see his piercing blue eyes holding my gaze as he told me to not say he was innocent. He’s in sheer denial and I already know he is as stubborn as they come. Well, what he doesn’t know is that I am just as determined and stubborn as he is.
I’m sitting down on the couch, grabbing the laptop before writing down the Insurance company name into the search bar. When I hit enter I feel my stomach churning at the site of the company logo. The one place that changed Jamie’s life forever, that made him what everyone accused him to be. That made his life a lie.
When my eyes glance at the word Careers , an idea hits me like a ton of bricks and I click.
My Uncle Lamb once told me how he got a job as a call centre agent to solve a case. He scrolled proudly through his CV that was all a lie, and I smiled as I was about to do the same thing. I open an empty document, starting to write down a life I’ve never lived, and once I finish I lean back proudly as I’m taking a sip from my mug. Once I hit send on my application, I inhale deeply, hoping that I can free Jamie and give him the life he deserves.
It doesn’t take long for Randall Shield Insurance to get back to me and before I know it, I walk through the door of the building to head to the front desk. A woman looks at me with a reserved smile as she asks for my name and who I’m due to meet with. Her plastic nails hit the keyboard slowly and she turns her head to face me. “Mr. MacKenzie will be with you shortly. Have a seat.” And that is that. I’m sitting down to wait, with pride floating through my system.
The whole interview process was easy.
The man stared more at my chest than my eyes and without too many questions asked, he hired me.
I know I have to abandon my bookstore for a while but due to the amount of my inheritance, I don’t really care. What I care about is getting my friend out of this prison he’s been in for five years, and with the money I would earn from this position, I could pay the costs for my business my inheritance doesn’t cover.
As I return home, I get a call. After I accept it and the click connects me to Jamie, I exhale a breath as guilt starts to nag on me. I can’t tell him, not yet. Not until I have enough evidence. Not until I can prove his innocence for good.
“Sassenach, how are ye?” He asks and we fall into the usual conversation. He sounds tired and all I want is to wrap him into my arms, his curls tickling my chin as he falls asleep and finally rests.
Before we can end the call and I see the time run out, I sit down on the couch, tears welling up in my eyes and I exhale a shuddering breath.
“Lass, are ye cryin’?” He suddenly whispers and I don’t know how he had guessed it. My silent confirmation makes him stir and I listen as he switches the phone to his other ear. “Claire, what’s wrong?” He asks, his impatience audible as he knows just as I, that this call will soon end.
“I’m okay.” I whisper but I know he won’t drop it. “Our time is almost up.” My reminder makes him exhale and I’m standing up to walk to the window.
“Claire please, I canna wait fer a week to know what worries ye.” His voice pleads and I close my eyes to let the tears separate from my lashes.
“I just wish…” I breathe. My lungs try to work in unison with my emotions. “Things were different.”
For a few seconds all I hear is his raspy breathing and I want to say something, begging him to say a word but his throat clears the next second. “I ken, but it’s my own fault, Sassenach. To be here is to come to peace wi’ the guilt that is nagging on me.” I want to protest, my shaky inhale causing him to continue before I can say something. “I ken ye think otherwise but this is it. This is the life I threw away. There is nothing more fer me than this .”
“ This …” I cry, waving my arm in protest. “Is not what you deserve and you know it, Jamie. No matter how much you blame yourself the world would see your innocence. You have to bloody see that!” I raise my voice as sobs shake my chest. My hand clasps around my mouth as more tears roll over my cheeks.
“Ye have to stop, Claire. Ye have to forget to believe in this illusion o’ yers. The world has seen me guilty all those years ago. The world was right to do so.”
“I won’t have it. I won’t have you rotting away in prison when we– you could have a life, Jamie! I won’t bloody have it!”
“I canna speak wi’ ye like that, Claire. Ye have to stop. Please. I-”
Time’s up . The voice of the guard stabs me like a knife to my heart and I sink to the floor.
“I can’t stop.” I whisper. With Jamie already gone, the line breaks with the same click it connected with fifteen minutes ago. “I can’t.” I say again into the air, hoping someone, somewhere would hear me.
I’m starting the next day at Randall Shield Insurance and arrive ten minutes too early. Mr. MacKenzie is already waiting for me. He smiles when his hand hovers like a ghost on my back as he leads me to my desk. I smile back, giving him that small fake victory as I’m sitting down. “Mr. Fitzgibbons here will train ye with in our system. We will have a meeting to welcome ye this afternoon.”
“Will I meet Mr. Randall?” I ask as innocently as possible as I flutter my eyes open. “It’s just I’d like to thank him for this opportunity.”
“Mr. Randall is a busy man, Ms. Beauchamp, but I’m sure he’s pleased to have ye supporting the team.” I nod, my smile never fading from my face. It was worth a try and I know I’d get to meet him eventually.
The day goes by quickly. Mr. Fitzgibbons, to me now Murtagh, has shown me everything he knew, and to my surprise calls me a fast learner. We walk together to our cars, the man and I immediately sharing a bond. I don’t know if I am about to make a huge mistake with what I’m about to say or maybe actually get somewhere.
“Murtagh.” I start, the man stopping in front of his Audi to turn around and face me. “You said, how long have you been working here?” He furrows his brows, his gaze lingering on me and I try to stay calm, my lips still curling up into one of my innocent smiles. “Almost ten years.” I nod in response, letting him think that I was trying to process this information. I open my mouth only to close it again and shake my head. “Alright.” I answer and turn around to go.
“Why are ye askin’, lass?” He asks and I smirk at the little trick Uncle Lamb taught me.
Make them think you want to say something, Claire Bear and once you turn away I bet everything they will want to know what you were thinking.
I turn around to face him and shrug my shoulders. “I was wondering if you knew Jamie Fraser.” He flinches. Not just a little, a lot. His pain switches from grumpy to painful and he braces his hand on his car as he inhales a shuddering breath. Murtagh takes a few steps towards me, his eyes finding mine. “Ye’re one o’ those.” He answers and it was my turn to furrow my brows.
“Yer one o’ those people that earn money from writin’ about other people’s sufferin.” He gets angry. His dark eyes turning darker and I inhale a sharp breath before shaking my head. “Ye only took this job to get more insight, eh?” He walks towards me, forcing me to take a few steps back until my back hits my car. “Or are ye one o’ those lassies that die to ken a prisoner?” His chest is heaving, my hands coming up in defence as I keep shaking my head.
“I’m none of those!” I speak up, making him halt in motion. His eyes scanning me from top to bottom. “I am not trying to be any of those things!” I exclaim and his body relaxes.
“Then why do ye ask about him?” He eventually says, his hand brushing through his hair and I know I hit a weak spot. “Why would ye ask about my godson?” His voice breaks and my back stiffens. Godson. Godson? I shake my head as my mind fills with so many questions.
But they can wait because the man in front of me is close to breaking down. The man in front of me is in pain. The man in front of me does not believe his godson was guilty. The man in front of me is hopeless and sad and lost. And lonely.
I brace my hands on his shoulders as I take a deep breath. “I am not here to hurt him. I lo–” I shake my head softly, my voice a mere whisper. “He’s no-, He’s no-” Murtagh breathes heavily and I squeeze his shoulder softly. “I know.” I reply and his head shoots up as his dark eyes meet mine.
“I know he’s not. That’s what I’m trying to prove.”
Murtagh looks at me, his eyes wide in shock before he tumbles a few steps back. I try to take a step forward, cautious of not overstepping anything.
“Murtagh,” I start, his head only shaking as tears form in the corners of his eyes.
“Ye dinna believe he’s guilty?” He breathes out, my gaze softens at the pain edged into the man’s face.
“No, which is why I’m here. I need to get to the bottom of this,” I start, determined to tell him everything, “Jamie believes he’s guilty, so I won’t be able to let him know I—”
“How do ye ken the lad?” He interrupts me, curiosity brimming in his still sad eyes, “I mean he hasna spoken o’ a lassie before. And he certainly hasna had the chance tae meet one during the last few years.”
“I wrote to him a bit ago, and he answered. We’ve been developing a relati– a friendship. I once asked him why he was there, and he told me. His story did not really prove that he’s guilty. It just tells me that he’s blaming himself for trying to do something good that went horribly wrong.”
I feel my heart hammering against my chest during this conversation. Murtagh is barely able to look at me as he processes through all I’m saying. When his eyes meet mine, the air almost catches in my throat. The frustration for this situation, the time he’s lost with a family member, loneliness, every single trace of those emotions is visible in his visage. He takes a few steps towards me, halting as he stands closer.
“Why on earth would ye believe him? What makes him different to ye? What made ye decide to go these lengths for a men ye barely even ken?” His mouth turns downwards as he speaks those words, his throat bobbing while his voice breaks.
I barely know how to give him an answer that would make even a bit of sense and I know my hesitation scares him. Murtagh exhales deeply through his nose, thinking he won’t get a reply but as his back turns toward me I take a deep breath, “He makes me feel something after having not felt anything for a very long time. Despite being where he is, he makes me feel safe. And when I read his letters, I know they speak truth.”
“The moment I saw him and looked into his eyes, I knew he was innocent. Don’t ask me how and why I just knew . You may think I’m crazy or I want to hurt him and that is your right, for what you have lost and been through. But Jamie deserves to be fought for. He deserves a chance at life or else he will rot away in there with this guilt nagging on his bones until there’s nothing left of him anymore and I–,” my voice breaks at the mere thought of my spoken words and I’m taking a deep breath before I continue.
“I can’t think of it.”
Murtagh looks at me, his gaze not telling me anything before it drops to the ground.
“I’ve been trying to free the lad ever since he got in there, Claire. There isna anything here that can prove his innocence. Yer wastin’ yer time.”
Frustration and anger boil in my chest at the hopeless words of Jamie’s godfather. How dare he give up on his godson? How dare he tell me that I’m wasting my time helping a family member of his he so deeply cares about? How bloody dare he?
“I know for certain that I’m not wasting my time, Murtagh. And I won’t leave this job, not until I’ve met Mr. Randall myself.”
He flinches at the man’s name and I almost continue talking when I watch Dougal and Colum exiting the building. They both are lost in a conversation when Dougal breaks out in a loud laughter that fills my stomach with nausea and Murtagh immediately notices my shift. In a few strides he stands next to me again, close enough so his next words won’t be heard by anyone but me.
“If you take one wrong step, Claire, yer gonna be in danger. So ye better be careful at the game yer playin’ lass.” And then he walks to his car without looking back, the motor of the vehicle fills the air around me before he departs and I see Dougal looking at me with a smirk on his face.
“Care for a dram, Claire?” He calls from a distance and I force my lips to curl up into a faint smile before I shake my head.
“Thank you for asking but I’m rather tired. It was a very informative day so I want to make sure to get enough rest.”
For a moment he looks like he doesn’t accept a no but Colum’s hand braces on his brother’s arm, forcing him into the car with a slight nod before he gives me a half-hearted wave and once the car leaves the parking lot, I lean against my Ford, exhaling the breath I didn’t know I held.
This is going to be a journey, and a damn long one for sure.
The next few weeks pass in a blur. Jamie phones whenever it was possible, leading up till it was almost time for me to visit him again.
I haven’t found out anything about the case so far, which makes going to work harder as frustration builds up inside of me. I still haven’t met Mr. Randall, but when I’m opening an email from him this morning, sent to all his employees, I shoot a glance to Murtagh who looks like he’s opened the exact same one.
TO: Randall Shield Insurance Colleagues
I’d like to invite you all to our quarterly meeting regarding sales, administration, finances and further on. As well I want to use this opportunity to welcome our newest member of RSI, Claire Beauchamp. She has started the position alongside Murtagh Fitzgibbons, handling back office matters. She’s managed by Dougal MacKenzie, Manager of Sales and Customer Service Department.
Please know that this meeting is obligatory. If you are on leave or have already an external meeting scheduled, please reschedule or make sure to take another day off.
Please accept this invitation byl this afternoon.
Randall Shield Insurance
I’m looking at the date, exhaling frustratingly through my nose when I see on the day I took the afternoon off to go see Jamie. I feel the string in my eyes as the tears blur my sight and swallow hard to press down the anger and sadness filling up my chest. And the moment I collected myself as best as I could, I hit the accept button before standing up abruptly from my chair and before Murtagh can ask where I’m going I don’t even spare him a glance as I mumble, “I’m going for lunch.”
The moment I’m standing outside I let some tears roll from my lashes at the pain filling my heart. I had been looking forward to seeing Jamie again for the past month, knowing that it won’t go through. God. I’m shaking my head before taking off for a walk, preparing myself for the phone call I’m having with him tonight and his broken voice when he hears that our meeting will not go through.
I arrive at home later than I wanted, and the moment I step into the house, the phone rings. The robotic voice asks me to accept and when his voice fills my ear I just want tolet my emotions pour out of me, but I stop myself, wanting him to talk about his time first.
“How are you, Jamie?” I breathe out, stepping out of my heels before trotting into the kitchen to heat up last night’s leftovers.
“It was a crazy week fer sure. Christ I canna wait to see ye on Friday.”
“About that…” My voice drops and I’m clearing my throat. “I actually can’t make it.”
“Oh, ‘tis alright, Sassenach. Dinna fash.” He brushes it off but the pain in his voice is as audible as Murtagh’s and I wish I could just tell him why I can’t come. But if he finds out what I’m doing, he may not want to see me at all anymore and that might be selfish but I don’t think I can handle it.
“It’s not. I really wanted to see you,” I breathe out before a few seconds of silence fill the line.
I know what he’s thinking. What if I changed my mind about him? What if I’m too scared of him? What if I no longer want to see or call or write to him? What if?
“Why was your week crazy?”
“Oh, dinna fash, Claire. Just a few crazy inmates is all, nothing I canna handle. Tell me about yer–”
The sentence breaks off and the next thing I hear is Jamie screaming curse words at someone before loud clattering fills my ears.
“Ye fucking bastard!” A scream of pain. Clatter. Thuds. More screams.
My breath quickens as I continue to call out for him but all I hear is an officer, close to the phone line.
“Let’s go Fraser, isolation is waitin’ for ye.”
And a few seconds later the line breaks up.
And the room around me fades away, my heartbeat the only thing I hear as panic rises inside of me and before I can move or even stand up I feel my stomach turn, before I empty my lunch onto the carpet I just bought last month.
I’m trying to call the prison, to no avail. They won’t give me any information. I even call Murtagh who barely understands a single word I say as I’m trying to catch my breath.
“I’ll try to get more information, lass, dinna fash! I will gi’ ye a call back.”
After I hang up and silence surrounds me once again. The officer’s voice continues to echo through my mind and I wonder if I heard him say those words correctly, as if Jamie really had to go into isolation. But my biggest worry and the question that is nagging at me every passing second is if he’s okay.
His cursing, the clattering, the anger in his voice, it makes me shudder just thinking about it.
The second my phone rings, I jump from the ringtone, my finger hitting the green button quicker than intended when I see Murtagh’s name popping up on my screen.
“Please tell me he’s okay,” I say, pacing the floor as I’m biting nervously on my fingernail.
“He’s like ye said, in isolation. They said he got in a fight wi’ an inmate. I dinna ken what it was about, but they told me we canna visit him fer a month.”
It feels like someone has reached inside of my chest and is slowly squeezing my heart. Breathing becomes harder as I clutch my phone.
“Lass?” Murtagh’s voice is filled with concern as he repeatedly calls out my name. When he threatens to come over I take a deep breath to reassure him.
“I’m alright. Don’t worry.” I fake a smile to make my voice sound warmer. I wouldn’t want him to come over, I wouldn’t want him to see me like this, hell, I’m not even letting Geillis see me like this.
“If ye need anything, ye ken where to reach me.”
A few seconds of silence before I hum in question.
“He’s a strong lad, he’ll get through it.” I bite down on my lip to avoid shedding the tears that build up in the corners of my eyes.
Jamie might be strong and get through it, but I’m not so sure if I will.
Friday comes around too quickly and I’m staring at the piece of paper that has my speech written on it for the quarterly meeting. As if I’m not anxious enough already about everything going on, I have to stand in front of the whole firm and introduce myself. The very same firm that is responsible for putting Jamie where he is.
Usually I’m a very outspoken person and can handle people very well, but not if my thoughts are scattered all around, not if I can’t control the way I’m feeling, not if my mind drifts away to a certain Scot wrongfully behind bars. Murtagh has tried to call me the last few days and I kept telling him at work that he doesn’t have to worry about me, yet my glass face betrays me on a daily basis and has the poor man worried even more.
“Are ye ready?” He says from behind his desk while he watches me straightening the hem of my blazer while taking a deep breath.
“As ready as I can be.”
“Ye’ll do great,” is all he says, before walking inside the big conference room that is slowly filling with more and more people.
I did great and it’s a small thing to be proud of, yet I still smile with pride at the applause from my co-workers and my boss, Jack Randall, who sits at the head of the table, glaring at me with his dark brown eyes that send a shiver down my spine. His lips are curled up into a tiny smile before he whispers something to Dougal sitting next to him. Dougal’s shoulders shake with laughter at whatever he said and I walk back to take my seat next to Murtagh.
“I’m proud o’ ye lass.” He smiles while still clapping his hands a few more times for me.
Two more weeks pass and I haven’t heard a single thing from Jamie. No written words to read, and no phone calls to plan, and I’m going slowly but surely crazy. I’ve become so accustomed to hearing from him that this feels like a black void slowly swallowing me. And it truly scares me.
I’m sitting in front of the TV, watching the News when I realise it’s almost midnight on a Sunday evening. I groan in protest at the thought of having to go to work tomorrow and decide to send Murtagh a message that I’m calling in sick. All I want to do is sleep, bury myself in a blanket and close my eyes until I’m able to see Jamie again.
Another few days pass and I’m back at work, watching Dougal pass mine and Murtagh’s office to head upstairs where Jonathan’s office is. I turn to face Murtagh whose gaze follows the man as well.
“I think it’s happenin’ again.” His voice is just above a whisper as he comes over to sit next to me. “Back then, he used to go upstairs all the time, Jonathan using Dougals position so it wouldna be suspicious fer him to constantly visit the boss’ office.”
“He’s heading up there for the third time today,” I say and Murtagh nods.
“We have to think smart and we canna rush anything. We just have to be more alert and have our phones wi’ us at all times in case we can record something that may prove Jamie’s innocence.”
It sounds so easy, yet it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I wonder how on earth Uncle Lamb could've found joy in dedicating his whole life to find proof of crimes like this.
I nod in response and we both continue to work, while my gaze lingers on the steps where Dougal just disappeared, as I again am lost in my thoughts of finding a way to get Jamie out of prison.
Another two weeks pass and when I wake up I realise that the month is over. A sudden warmth fills my stomach when I head downstairs to call Murtagh for news.
“He’s out of isolation and back to his usual visitin’ hours.”
“Which is today.” I say to reassure myself rather than him, but I hear his agreement through the phone.
“Ye go lass. I’ll visit him the next time,” he says and I thank him before hanging up.
A month can be short when something horrible awaits you, and you don’t really want it to come to pass, yet it can also drag out so long that it feels like sheer torture, like a black hole trying to lurk you into darkness, only wanting you to suffer. That’s how these weeks without Jamie felt.I know it’s silly to feel this strongly about someone I have never touched. About someone that sits behind bars because according to the law he is a felon. But to me, his soul is pure, his presence makes me feel alive, he makes me excited for a future. And if I’m being honest, I can’t remember the last time I felt this way.
I push the hem of my blouse into my black jeans before looking at my reflection in the mirror, nodding in acceptance before heading back downstairs to leave for his visiting hour. The streets are thankfully empty which makes my parking at the prison a little early. I feel the insides of my stomach flutter as I’m watching the prison yard filled with inmates. Somehow seeing these men always makes me swallow. To think Jamie lives amongst them, with the thought that he’s guilty… Honestly I do not want to think of it right now.
I check my watch and decide to head inside, security moves surprisingly fast and before I know it I sit down on one of the empty chairs, waiting anxiously for him to appear. I put my bag on the small table in front of me when the curtain moves and he appears. I almost forget how to breathe.
His red hair is darker, a beard slowly replacing the stubble I saw the last time. The lines on his face are harder, his cheeks hollow from lack of nourishment and dark circles linger beneath his blue eyes that have no sparkle. I reach for the phone next to me, Jamie mirroring my movement and when he parts his lips and loses a tear.
“Sassenach,” he breathes out, his voice raspy, “Ye look tired, are ye alright?”
What little breath I had in my lungs comes out in a small gust into the mouthpiece of the phone. His first concern is how I’m after he spent a month completely isolated from the rest of the world.
“That question is what I’m supposed to ask you. Please tell me you’re alright,” I automatically bring my hand to the glass, my skin begging for his touch yet when he brings his hand upon the glass, no warmth can be felt and I feel tears pooling in my eyes.
“I’m so verra sorry,” he whispers, clutching the phone in his hand, knuckles going white
“Jamie…” My voice is soft, reassuring, and I feel the urge to hug him, to hold him, to tell him that everything will be alright.
“It’s all my fault. I shouldna have intervened. But they attacked the new lad and I couldna watch it all happen. I’m so sorry!”
“It happened, and we’re here now, alright? The most important thing is that you’re not hurt… I thought when I heard you fighting… I wasn’t sure if you were well, I couldn’t bear it… I–” I can’t hold back the tears in my eyes before they trickle down my lashes and he shifts in his seat before his jaw clenches and my dam breaks beneath his gaze. More tears follow, his palm presses hard against the glass.
“Dinna cry, mo nighean donn, I beg ye. To ken I canna hold ye, to ken I canna comfort ye, is a whole other prison than the one I’m sitting in.”
“I just want you here with me,” I whisper as a sob is softly shaking me.
“Tis not going to happen, Sassenach,” his mask is up the next second and I wipe my tears from my cheeks.
“It will happen.”
“No.” Dark blue eyes linger on me and I shift in my seat.
“I will prove your innocence, Jamie and there is nothing you can do about it.”
“Ye canna prove it.”
“I already am.”
His brows furrow in confusion and I straighten my back. It’s time to enlighten Jamie and tell him what I’m up to.
The silence surrounding us is deafening. I clench the phone harder as I continue to look at Jamie who hasn’t moved an inch. If his chest wouldn’t indicate his breathing I’d have thought time was standing still.
“Will you please say something?” I sit up straight, scooching closer with my chair, yet he doesn’t budge while his silence pounds against my ears.
“Jamie,” I try again, my voice a little louder this time and he finally clears his throat as if waking from a trance. Before he even speaks, I feel his energy shifting, knowing that nothing good is coming from this conversation.
“Dinna tell me that tale of yours is true, Sassenach.” His voice is low, threatening in a way that sends shivers down my spine and I bite my lip anxiously, avoiding his intrusive gaze.
“Claire.” A demand. He wants me to talk, yet I don’t know what to say. Most certainly nothing he wants to hear. I decide to peer up at him, regretting it the second Jamie’s eyes meet mine. All his kindness is gone. There is only rage, anger and fear lingering in the lines of his sharp cheekbones and his clenched jaw. He’s tapping his fingers nervously on the table causing me to stir in my seat.
“Ye will stop wi’ this nonsense Claire, d’ye hear me? This is nothing to joke about! I canna protect ye here and I canna bear sittin’ here knowing that yer close to these mad bastards. Ye have tae promise me to quit and stop wi’ playing detec-”
Before he can finish his sentence I hang up the phone with a loud clatter, his lips part in surprise as I stare at him, trying to keep my tears from falling. I’m not able to answer, I’m not able to promise him that I will stop and if I listen to him, I know he could make me give up. I know that he has that power over me. One word from Jamie and I’d drop the world to just see him smile, to make him happy, to help him make his time in here more bearable.
And if he continues to talk, if he continues to let me know how upset this all makes him, the thoughts of his concern, his suffering and his rage will make all of this for nothing, because I would listen. That is exactly why I stand up without another word, without hesitation as he presses his hand flat against the plexiglass. It is why I turn around, ignoring the way he smashes his hand against the wall that separates us. Which is why I only let my tears fall once I’m standing outside.
Days or weeks pass, I don’t really have a sense of time anymore since I left the prison abruptly. I’ve had some calls from the facility but ignored them, knowing that if I pick up, I’d be in danger of caving. His voice would break me while I’m in a situation where I need all the strength I can get.
I’m getting to the office far too early, heading right upstairs to copy some papers I forgot to prepare yesterday, when I hear mumbling voices coming from Mr. Randall’s office. I furrow my brows before putting down my files and sneak very closely to the slightly open door. I don’t even hesitate before hitting the record button on my phone.
“We did it once and we can do it again, Dougal. The company has suffered since Fraser’s arrest.”
“Aye, but if this comes out, we canna frame the lad, ye ken that!” I swallow thickly, clenching my phone hard before checking twice if I really hit the record button.
“We won’t get caught. The police finished all investigations and we got clean. Fraser is sitting behind bars for life and we have nothing to fear. But you know exactly how much money these girls and boys can bring us.” He claps Dougal on the shoulder. The whole conversation is just very nauseating, the mere thought of listening to two men plotting something so horrible. I swallow hard before continuing to listen.
“Ye dinna ken that Jack and I dinna have a good feeling wi’ it.”
“You can’t drop out because you’re way too deep with me. I want you to call Frank. He’ll know what to do.” A long pause of silence before Dougal exhales a deep breath.
“We may have gotten away wi’ framing Jamie, but I dinna believe we’ll get away a second time. Tis’ too risky. Folk are gonna start asking questions. Questions you and I both dinna have the answers to.”
“I said, call Frank.” Shuffling sounds are coming from inside and I straighten my back before heading back into the copy room, pressing the button to pretend that I’ve not just recorded a voice message that could get Jamie out of prison. The mere thought of him stings my heart and I realise how much I miss him. There isn’t a day, even a moment that goes by where my thoughts aren’t surrounding him. When Dougals voice appears from behind me I jump, turning around to face him.
“Yer early,” he says in a sharp voice, his eyes hovering over my legs,over my curves before they halt a little too long at my chest. He doesn’t even put in effort to look into my eyes and I feel disgusted beneath his leering eyes so I turn my attention back to the pile of papers.
“I forgot to copy those yesterday, so I thought I’d come by early to finish up before my shift.”
Another tip my Uncle Lamb had taught me, always stick as close to the truth as possible, lowering the risk of getting caught. Most certainly if you’re cursed with a glass face like mine.
I press the copy button again, feeling Dougal still hovering behind me and I know exactly what he’s gawking at this time.
“Listen, Claire,” his sulky voice almost makes me flinch and I swallow when my copies are finished and I’m forced to turn around and look at him, “We’re all headin’ out tonight for a dram. Maybe ye will join us this time.”
I force a smile on my face, “It’s very nice of you to ask me, Dougal, but I’m already meeting a friend.” No lie at all because I do have to let Murtagh listen to the recording and Dougal nods in response.
“Aye, maybe next time.” This time I nod awkwardly and let him leave first before I head back to my desk to sit down. I don’t hesitate before taking out my headphones to listen to the quality of the recording. I cringe at every word as if I was standing in the middle of that room and when Murtagh comes in. I immediately let him know that we have to meet up tonight because I might have a way to get Jamie out.
Murtagh stares at me as he listens to the recording for the third time.
“This is all the proof we need Claire, ye have to go to the police wi’ it.”
“Are you sure this is enough?” I ask, biting nervously on my lower lip. “Because I can’t have him go through an endless trial and let him have hope only for it to be crushed all over again.”
At this, Murtagh listens to it again, doubt crossing his features before he looks at me.
“It’s a start,” he then says, euphoria slowly fading as reality intrudes his thoughts, “Yer right, lass, we might need more but we are on the right track. We only need to collect enough proof that they will release him wi’ out needing a trial.”
“I’m on it. I will head into the office early again, see if I can record something else.”
“Be careful lass.”
“I always am.”
The next few weeks I go into the office early without success. I don’t have any new recordings on my phone, nor do I have any other leads.I’m close to losing hope when a strange man heads to the stairs that lead to Jack Randall’s office. He must have missed me as he passed. I look at the clock, only now realising it’s close to midnight.I’m glad no one else is here but me. I grab my phone, taking off my shoes before following him upstairs.
Thoughts of Jamie cross my mind and I’m thinking about what he would say if he could see me now. Would he be angry? Worried? Would he simply ignore me? I shake my head to put my focus back on and take out my phone when I hear several voices. But this time I actually record a video, hoping to catch some faces.
“I got you some girls,” the strange man says and I can feel my stomach churn at the thought of helpless girls being somewhere around here, taken from their friends or families or their daily life.
“How much do we owe you?” Randall.
“My driver will handle that. I won’t risk being seen here and I warn you Jack. If this ends like it did with James Fraser, I’ll have your balls and feed them to you for breakfast.”
“Yes, yes. Don’t you get ahead of yourself Stephen. It’s not my fault that you’re afraid.”
“I am not afraid,” his voice is sharp, a threat floating through the air and my body is covered in goosebumps.
“Whatever you say,” Randall says and I can hear a few footsteps that make me stumble backwards. I collide with a cable and fall backwards, the men inside the room falling silent the second my body hits the floor with a thud. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck .
I’m grabbing the phone that fell from my hand when the footsteps come closer and I run towards the stairs, thanking the Lord that I decided to take off my shoes. Fuck, my shoes! I don’t see any time to get them and hope they stay beneath my desk as I run out into the cool air, hiding behind the closest parked car. My chest heaves up and down as I sink to the ground and when I don’t hear anything after a while, I run towards my car before driving away and without hesitation. I head to Murtagh’s, not giving a shit as I poundhis door close to one in the morning.
“I’ve never seen him before, Claire but we got to bring this to the police before more people get hurt. No matter if it brings Jamie out in an instant or no.”
“He will get out,” I say, still breathing heavily from the adrenaline rushing through my body. “He will…,” breathing becomes difficult and I press my hand to my chest as tears spill from my eyes, “He will get out, he–” Murtagh’s arms are around me the next second before he presses me close onto his chest as I break into sobs. All my pent up emotions come crashing down on me at once as I continue to repeat the sentence over and over again in my head.
Jamie will get out.
The next few hours are a blur and I vaguely remember the officer’s questions. I can only think about how grateful I am for Murtagh as he leads us through the statements. I’m a nervous wreck next to him and when I take a gulp of fresh air I turn my face towards him, the old man suddenly not looking as grumpy anymore.
“They said it looks good, lass.”
“What?” I breathe out in disbelief, my foggy brain slowly brightening again.
“They will immediately investigate it, he said with the proof you’ve given them, Jamie could be free within the week.”
The week. He could be free within the week? I barely catch my breath when he pulls me into his arms and I try to push down the hope stirring up inside of my chest.
Not would be.
But I have to think that he will be free.
I have to think that within the week I will see him in front of me. I will hold him close. Or not. I don’t know how he’s going to react if he sees me again after two months of not hearing a word from me.
Maybe he won’t want to see me at all.
It would hurt, for sure; It would probably break me. Oh yes, it would. But if he truly chooses to not have me in his life any longer, at least I’d know he’d be free. At least I’d know I have given him justice, a second chance at life. I have fought for him, long after he gave up.
I never thought this day would arrive, nor did I ever think I’d be as nervous as I am now. My eyes drift over the cream sweater I’m wearing, then down to my black jeans that hug my legs nicely. I take a shuddering breath at the thought of meeting Jamie today after all this time. Will he be angry? Will he be glad? Does he even want to see me again?
I bite my lip at the thought, trying to ignore the nausea that is lingering in my gut. I have to remember that if he doesn’t want to see me, that's okay, that’s his choice and I’ve brought it upon myself with my stubbornness.
But at least he will be free.
I jump when the doorbell rings, my hands try to flatten my curls as I try to tame them as best I can before I open the door to find a just as anxious Murtagh in front of it.
“Christ lass, ye look pale.”
“I could say the same,” I remark before letting him in. “Would you like a glass of water before we head out?”
“Mebbe something stronger.” I nod in response before heading to the small cabinet that holds the stronger liquor for days like this. Well, not that I usually go through days where a man I have feelings for gets out of prison. Feelings. I swallow thickly at the thought wondering if it will change the moment I see him in front of me with nothing between us.
I hand Murtagh the glass of whisky before taking a sip of my own. The liquor burns my throat in a pleasing way, calming my breathing and the turmoil lingering in my stomach.
“It will be okay, lass.”
“How do you know? We haven’t seen each other for months,” I take another sip, emptying the glass before refilling it again.
“He isna angry, he’s worrit. During all the phone calls I wi’ him, the first thing he asked each time was how ye were faring.”
“I just couldn’t let him stop me,” my voice is shaky as I look at Murtagh, tears dwelling in the corners of my eyes, “He could've made me stop and I couldn’t allow it.”
“I ken, and I’m glad ye did no stop.” He takes a few steps towards me and I let the tears fall from my lashes as I keep looking at him. “If Jamie chooses to no talk to ye, he’d be mad and I wouldna allow it. He would first have to talk to me, aye?”
I smile beneath the tears at his words, wrapping my arms around the man. Murtagh has become a steady presence in my life and I’m so grateful for him and everything he has done for me since I met him. Having him with me almost makes me feel like I have a family, someone to confide in, someone to love.
“Let’s go, a leannan . It’s time.”
We drive up onto the prison parking lot, the air around me feels all the more stifling than before and I barely manage to get out of the car without stumbling over my feet. I breathe in a gulp of thick air before Murtagh looks at me.
“I’ll go” he offers and I nod, thankful for him for going inside. I couldn’t go there, meeting Jamie in the narrow space surrounded by officers and other people. No, when I meet Jamie for the first time it will be beyond the walls of that prison.
I watch as Murtagh disappears inside the main entrance. I’m looking up into the grey sky as I pace up and down, time going slower than I ever experienced. How will it feel to touch him? To see him in front of me as a free man? How different will it feel, if it even feels different? Is it supposed to? A thousand questions swirl in my head as I continue to walk up and down, the gravel beneath my feet crunching when I hear the door of the prison open and I turn my head instantly.
And there he is.
He stops when his eyes meet mine, I feel warmth pooling in my stomach when I catch the blue of his eyes even from halfway across the lot. He drops the small bag with his belongings to the ground and my chest is quaking with the onslaught of a sob as l my knees buckle. In a few strides he comes up before, catching me with his arms before my knees hit the ground.
I bury my face in his chest as I let go of the sadness and frustration inside of me,inhaling his scent, feeling the warmth of his skin caressing my face as his fingers disappear into my mess of curls. I wrap my arms around his middle, pressing him close to me as he cradles me into his lap. Jamie’s fingers massage my scalp slowly as he whispers me soothing words in Gaelic before I hear him sniffle.
The sign of his own tears makes me look up, my hand immediately cupping his wet cheek when he lowers his forehead to mine before brushing my nose with his.
“I’m sorry,” is the first thing I manage to say when a sob shakes his chest, the tips of my fingers digging softly into his cheek. “I’m so sorry, Jamie.”
“No.” His voice breaks and I reach out my other hand to hold his face in my hands. “Ye have nothing to be sorry for, Sassenach.”
My eyes close at the mention of that, my name and I press myself closer to him, the feeling, completely indescribable.
“Thank ye,” Jamie whispers, his hand coming up beneath my chin to tilt up my face and it’s the first time I look into his eyes with nothing in between us. The deep blue irises like an ocean that I could get lost in if I don’t pay attention. His eyes are slanted as he holds my gaze and I inhale a shuddering breath. Jamie’s fingers move from my hair down my spine and I can see his throat bobbing. “Ye’ve given me the greatest gift, mo ghraidh . Ye’ve made the impossible, possible and I will always be grateful to ye. I owe ye my soul”
I wrap my hands around his neck, playing with the curls that linger at the nape.
“I couldn’t hear you telling me to give up, Jamie. I knew you’d be the only thing that could stop me from following this plan. I had to get you out of here because my life has become unbearable without you. And people might call me crazy for…” I stop before I word vomit my feelings to Jamie, but his eyes darken as he continues to look at me.
“For what, Claire?” Jamie’s voice is low, sending goosebumps across my whole body and I bite my lips anxiously.
His calloused hand cups my face when a thumb brushes over my cheekbone and I close my eyes at his touch.
“For falling for a man I hardly know. For falling for a man I’ve barely spoken to. For falling for a stranger behind bars.”
I open my eyes to find him staring at me, a few silent tears trickle from his eyes before his lips tug up into a smile and he presses his lips into a thin line.
“Ye might be crazy, but in the best ways, Sassenach and I wouldna change a single thing about ye.”
I brush my nose with his once again, his breath mingling with mine when Murtagh clears his throat beside us and I break apart from Jamie to look up at him.
“I dinna want to end yer meeting but we are in the prisons parking lot and I dinna want to spend my day here.”
Jamie breathes out a chuckle before standing up in one smooth motion, putting me back on my feet. I wipe the tears from my cheeks before turning around to face Murtagh.
“I’m sorry, Murtagh, let’s go to my place,” I say but the man just waves his hand before grunting, a smile tugging on his lips.
“I’ll drop the two o’ ye off. It looks like ye got a lot to talk about.”
“I couldn’t–” I wouldn’t want to rob time he would want to spend with his godson. Guilt starts to nag on me until Murtagh heads to the door and shakes his head.
“He’ll get enough time to annoy me, so I dinna mind leaving him up to ye fer a wee bit.” He winks at me before getting into the car and Jamie and I take a seat in the back, barely able to take our eyes off each other.
The drive home takes longer than I remembered and I’m glad when Jamie and I are finally by ourselves. I give Jamie a quick tour before I take out a few mugs, and prepare a cup of coffee for the both of us, and hand him the steaming brew. He just stares into the mug, his lips pressed into a thin line.
“Are you okay?”
“Aye,” he picks up the mug, closing his eyes, and brings the rim of it to his lips before taking a tiny sip.
“Is the coffee okay?”
“Oh aye, thank ye,” he flinches when the hot brew hits his tongue, a shudder taking over the muscles of his body when I take a sip myself without taking my eyes off him. He sips the coffee slowly, relief washing over his face when his mug is empty and I bite my lip to avoid a laugh.
“You don’t like coffee?”
He smiles with his eyes facing the table before he looks up at me through his lashes.
“No, but I couldna get myself to tell ye. Ye looked so peaceful preparing it fer me.”
I walk up to Jamie, taking a seat next to him before placing my mug on the table.
“You should’ve told me,” I take his hands in mine, “What do you like then? Tea, is it?”
His eyes move from mine to my lips, causing me to shift in my seat.
“Aye, I’m known to make a fine cuppa. But my true drink of choice is, well…” He moves his eyes back to mine, our faces coming closer. “Whisky.”
I stop, my lips parting in protest as he grins at me. Very well, if he wants to tease I can do the same. I stand up to grab him a glass and put it down in front of him.
“Your first drink in years.”
He swirls the glass in his hands watching the amber liquid as if it is a piece of gold.
“Aye,” he breathes out, bringing the glass to his nose to take a sniff. “And I’ll cherish every drop of it.”
I would’ve never thought that I could watch someone enjoy something as simple as a glass of whisky, something so mundane. But, as I stare at Jamie slowly sipping the amber liquid, I’m entranced. The moment he swallows and his throat bobs, my mouth goes dry. He releases a low hum from his chest before he opens his eyes.
He sets the glass on the table before looking at me and I swallow hard, my breath catching in my throat. The energy shifts when his eyes lock on mine,taking my hand and pressing my palm to his lips. I feel warmth pooling in my stomach when our skin touches.When he presses a second kiss to my wrist he watches me through his lashes, the blue in his eyes beginning to darken.
I make a sharp intake of breath when his lips travel higher up my arm and he suddenly places a kiss onto my collarbone, onto the spot where my neck meets my shoulder, then my jawline. His nose brushes over my cheek and I find it hard to catch air. Jamie puts his forehead on mine and I place my hand on the stubble of his chin.
His hitching breath is mingling with mine when he parts his mouth and I can feel his hesitation. I brush my nose against his in encouragement.
“I would verra much like to kiss ye, Claire,” he breathes, the tip of his fingers whipersing against the skin on my neck. “May I?”
Tears shoot to my eyes at his question and for the first time in a long time, I feel respected, understood. I feel loved. So I nod, giving him permission to finally close the distance.
At first, his lips are a phantom wind on mine, the calluses of his fingers travelling up my neck to eventually rest behind my head before he presses his lips on mine.
I know how it feels to be kissed, to have someone wrap their lips around mine before parting my mouth with their tongue but never in my life could any of those kisses compare to the way I feel when Jamie kisses me. My blood heats the closer he comes, the flutters in my stomach intensify when he swirls his tongue around mine, a fire is burning in my chest, only wanting to expand. My arms come around his neck to press him closer to me, a soft noise is coming from his chest causing me to slightly gasp. My fingers disappear into his fiery red hair, gripping his curls at the roots, and resting there until Jamie pulls back slowly.
He’s as breathless as I am.
“Christ,” his voice is nothing above a whisper and his thumb brushes over my swollen bottom lip. “I dinna think it possible to ever feel this way, Claire.”
“What way?” My voice is one I barely recognise, my hands still in his hair refusing to sever this connection just yet.
“A way I canna explain. It may sound foolish to ye, but when I was in prison, the mere thought of ye confirmed to me that you must be an angel.” He brushes a loose curl behind my ear, his eyes trailing the movements of his fingers before he looks at me again, “Ye’ve come to me on so many nights I dinna think I could find a bit of rest. When the guilt almost killed me, I saw ye standin’ there wi’ yer curls wrapped around yer face. My heart almost burst right then and I couldna even touch ye.” I lose a few tears that I didn’t notice crept into my eyes as I brush away a loose strand of hair that falls over his face as he continues. “And now yer here, wi’ me and I know fer sure yer an angel and ye certainly make my heart fit to burst wi’ whatever it is yer doin’.”
“Would an angel do this ?” I don’t know where the sudden courage is coming from but I mount him right on the chair. His eyes search for mine as his arms come around my waist, pressing me softly onto his lap. I lower my face over his before paying attention to his neck, my tongue travelling down his rough skin before I press my lips onto his shoulder. He tasted like a generic men’s soap, clearly very artificial and cheap, nothing natural about it whatsoever. There was a slight pain that pagned my heart, at the quick thought of the conditions he was in mere hours ago, but I was quickly brought back to the moment because there was something about his taste that I just knew was entirely him. My god was it delicious.The heat of Jamie’s body was being absorbed into me and I can feel him growing hard against me.
I gasp when I grind against his erection, his hands travelling down to my behind pressing me harder against him. I wrap my lips around his, sucking his bottom lip for all it’s worth, our breath mingling together as our tongues play furiously with each other. I move against him, my heated centre rubbing on his erection. I grasp strands of his hair with my fingers pulling him closer when his hand comes up to clasp my breast. Jamie’s moans grow louder, and by the next second I rake my fingernails into his scalp when I hear his hitched breathing.
“Oh god, Claire I’m-” and then his breath stops, his movements falling out of rhythm and the visual alone brings me over the edge and I come with his name on my lips.
For a few moments none of us are saying anything, the only sound filling the heated air is our breathing, when he pulls his head slowly away from me, looking into my eyes.
“I’m so sorry, I dinna mean to, I just havena done anything like it in a verra long time.”
“There is nothing to be sorry for, Jamie. And if so, then I have to be the one to apologise.”
Jamie is softly shaking his head before pressing his lips against mine once more. He then stands up, asking me which way to the bathroom and I can’t help but chuckle, thinking about the sticky situation going on in his jeans.
The rest of the day passes in a blur and before I know it, I’m sitting in my car to drive Jamie back to Murtagh’s place, where he will continue to stay until he finds something of his own.
I pull up in Murtagh’s driveway, turning to face Jamie who is already looking at me.
“What?” I ask, blushing beneath his gaze and he reaches out his hand before pressing a kiss to my forehead.
“I still canna believe yer actually here and I’m not really dreamin’.”
“Then you have to start believing it, because I’m not going anywhere.” I smile before kissing him softly goodbye and as I watch him disappear into the house. I couldn’t help the sense of despair that began to reside in my chest while watching him walk away. I was so tired of saying goodbye to him. Even though now I know I’ll be seeing him much sooner than a month, it still hurts. I didn’t want any more goodbyes now matter how brief. I spent the last few months avoiding him in order to save him, set him free, to be with him, I craved him, and now here I am having to let him go to someone else's home instead of mine. I mean it was crazy for me to think that the first time we truly met each other we’d spend the night together. But it just felt right. Not even if anything were to happen, I just wanted him there with me, comfortably, free.
I drive back home, the butterflies in my stomach still throwing a huge party.When I arrive back home, I decide to order some take out before sitting down on the couch and watch a movie but I find it very hard to concentrate when I look at the whisky decanter sitting on the little end table, thinking about the way Jamie was enjoying every single drop. Or when I look at the used coffee mugs and think about the way he pretended he liked it.
I chuckle at the heartwarming thought and my eyes move to the chair and certain sounds and images fill my mind when I take a bite from my pizza. A sudden phone notification rips me from my heated thoughts and I grab my phone, an unknown number appearing on my screen.
I open the message and frown when a single smile emoji stares back at me and I reply with a question mark, the message immediately being marked as seen. I watch as the three bubbles appear at the bottom of the screen and swallow when another emoji appears, this time the smile is upside down, followed by the clown emoji. I sent back asking “who is this?” only to be met with an emoji of a clock. I decided to not react any longer. Someone must be playing a prank on me, I’ve got too much in my mind to pay any attention to that.
I continue to eat my pizza and watch my movie when after a while my phone goes off again. I hesitantly open it and relief washes over me when I see it’s a different number.
Murtagh got me a phone, including your number. I hope that’s okay. Sleep well, Sassenach. I hope I’ll see you tomorrow. Maybe you can show me your wee bookstore, xx Jamie
I answer with a smile on my face.
Of course that’s okay! And I would love to show the store to you. Sleep well, Jamie. xx
I put my phone back on the couch before finishing the movie along with my pizza and head upstairs to finally go to bed but sleep doesn’t claim me, at least not until a few hours later and my dreams are full of Jamie’s voice, blue eyes and very creepy emojis.
The next morning I pull up to Murtagh’s place, smiling as I watch Jamie through the window, reading the newspaper while drinking a cuppa. I unbuckle my seatbelt before heading to the front door where Murtagh opens before I even get the chance to ring the doorbell. Jamie is coming up behind him quicker than he probably wanted as he almost stumbles over his own legs, erupting a chuckle from me.
He gives me a lopsided grin as he walks up to me, pressing his lips to mine without further hesitation. My hands immediately disappear into his ruffled curls, the world around us fading away when he presses me closer to his warm body.
“I missed ye.”
“I missed you too.”
It doesn’t take long before the three of us are sitting at the table, each of us having steaming mugs in front of us and once I lace my fingers through the handle of mine, I look down into the mug before releasing a deep sigh.
“We need to speak about everything that happened in the last few months, Jamie.” I move my head to face Murtagh who seems to be hypnotised by his coffee. “As well as what happened to the firm. As you might guess, I won’t return and have sent my resignation off this morning before coming here.”
I can see Jamie’s shoulders sink in what I think is relief and I give him a reassuring smile before Murtagh is looking at us.
“Randall and Dougal have been arrested. The firm is closed due to the ongoing investigation until further notice. They havena found Stephen Bonnet yet, but they will.” I can hear the doubt in the man’s voice, his tone a certain amount of reassurance but I think that is more for himself than anyone else. “I wilna head back there either and will apply to Ned Gowan’s law firm, he’s in search of an accountant and I seem to ken a thing or two.”
I nod before eying Jamie, who seems to look at me for a while already, his mug clasped beneath his large hands.
Jamie already knew the gist of what I did at the frim, my motive for getting the job, and my attempt at gathering something, anything to help him. That was the whole reason why he was so upset with me, why I had to shut him out entirely. Even now, with him free and by my side, it was still painful. “I managed to eavesdrop and record a few conversations between Jack Randall and your Uncles as well as Stephen Bonnet. I know you heard them when your lawyers moved to release you, but I don’t know if you’ve encountered Stephen before or not but it seems as if he’s–”
“I ken him.” Jamie’s voice is cold, the tenor voice shooting right to my chest, causing my heart rate to increase. I nod before taking a sip to calm my nerves and set the mug back onto the table.
“I’m just happy this is all over and you’re here with us.” My hand finds Jamie’s who still looks at me with an intense stare, the corners of his lips tugging up into a faint smile. Murtagh grunts his agreement before taking a sip from his coffee.
“I’m verra happy to be here too wi’ ye both. I dinna even think it possible to live this life again.” Tears glisten in the corners of his eyes when he squeezes my hand and brings my palm to his lips, my stomach fluttering from the contact. “And I canna wait to take ye to Lallybroch.”
I smile at him wanting to tell him that I’m looking forward to it too, but the ringtone of my phone rips me from the moment and I look at the men apologetically. I immediately freeze when I see the unknown number from last night on display, sending me another pair of clock emojis. I swallow hard, my thumbs hovering over the display as I stare at the blinking cursor.
“Everything alright, Sassenach?” Jamie asks in concern and I look up at him, forming my lips into a smile before nodding.
“Yes. I just got a notification that reminded me of something I completely forgot to do.” I suddenly push the chair back and stand up, anxiety building in my chest with a panic attack in tow. Jamie follows suit and stands beside me the next second, clearly not believing me a single word.
“I’ll be back,” is all I can manage to say before pressing a quick kiss to his cheek and nodding Murtagh a swift goodbye. And then I leave, walking to my car quicker than usual with the message still roaming in my head. I need to call this number and find out who is taunting me. With this whole situation still being so fresh and Stephen Bonnet still on the loose, I’m more terrified than I want to admit. And I don’t want to bother Jamie, not so quickly after he got out. He deserves a moment of peace, a moment to get used to daily life again. He deserves freedom and I won’t take it away from him after being the one that gave it.
I sit on my couch, anxiously biting my lip as I stare at the emojis mocking me on the screen. I haven’t received anything else and choose to call the number. It goes straight to voicemail, and somewhere I am very relieved about that. I put my phone away, standing up to pour myself a glass of wine.
“You’ve completely lost your mind, Beauchamp,” I mumble to myself before taking a huge sip of the sweet, delicious beverage. I close my eyes at the alcoholic sensation running down my throat and I almost jump when the loud ding of a message echoes through the living room.
In slow strides I walk to where my phone is and exhale a breath of relief when I see Jamie’s second message asking me if I’m alright. I respond with a GIF that includes a woman lifting her thumb up with a huge smile on my face and hope it’ll be enough. But obviously it isn’t and Jamie is ringing my doorbell thirty minutes later.
“Christ, yer as white as a ghost, Sassenach,” he walks in, his hands immediately wrapping around my face before he presses a calming kiss to my forehead. “Are ye sure ye should be drinkin’?” His eyes move to the half empty glass resting on the salon table.
“I’m fine, Jamie, please don’t worry.”
“I wilna worry if ye wouldna give me a reason to. Ye looked startled when ye looked at yer phone, and as timid as a wee bunny when ye answered the door.”
“I merely forgot to do something, it’s okay now.”
He eyes me suspiciously but I press my lips on his, forcing my tongue into his mouth and all conversation is forgotten when his arms wrap around my waist pressing me tightly against him.
“I wanted to show you the store,” I mumble onto his lips; a low hum erupting from his chest before he pecks my lips with his again.
“I’d love to see it.” He brushes a loose curl behind my ear and I smile up at him, bracing my hands on his chest.
“Let’s go then, luckily we can walk,” I say, because not having eaten breakfast I can feel the wine kicking in.
The last few weeks went by in a blur. Jamie came to the store with me almost every single day, helping me build up my business again after neglecting it for a while. I even made it official on the books and hired him as my “marketing manager.” He refused to actually take any pay from me but I sure as hell wasn’t going to budge on that. Not only does he do excellent work for me, but I’m thankful it gives me a chance to be around him as much as possible. At the beginning that terrified me and I was scared that soon we would get tired of each other but actually with Jamie it is quite the opposite.
The time we spend together is still not enough and I find myself wanting to be with him around the clock. I want to feel him close to me every possible second, I want his lips on mine whenever we get this chance and I want him to hold me until I fall asleep and still want to be wrapped in his arms the moment I wake up in the morning.
Jamie and I haven’t been intimate since the encounter on the chair and every day passing by I feel it becoming harder and harder to keep a respectable distance.
The text messages haven’t stopped, but they aren’t coming in as frequently so I let it drop, deleting it the moment it comes in. Even now as I sit with Jamie in a restaurant I receive another clock emoji, i just do the same thing, swiping the message away like some dumb ass commercial before looking back at my date in front of me.
Jamie is smiling at me, our hands touching across the table when the waiter arrives with our food. We both flinch at the interruption but smile gratefully at the waiter before he departs and we both start to eat, talking about things that interest us, our childhoods, and even about serious things we both experienced. Time flies and when I finish my dessert I find myself dreading going home alone.
“Will you stay with me tonight?” I ask. Jamie has slept at my place before, numerous times over the past few weeks. The furthest it has gone was a handful of intense makeout sessions, and cuddling throughout the night. The first time he spent the night, we both had a bit to drink and he insisted he sleep on the couch. Such a stubborn gentleman he is. That night I couldn’t stand the thought of him being in the next room for the entire night without being close to him. It was the middle of the night when I padded out to my living room and curled on top of him on the couch. He barely stirred as he took me into his arms. It felt so natural for both of us. Since then, whenever he spends the night, it goes without saying that he joins me in my bed, no matter how innocent we are both trying to be. But, I’ve never asked the way I am now. I softly sink my teeth into the flesh of my bottom lip before he can answer and watch his blue eyes darken, his gaze flickering to my lips for just a split second.
“Aye,” he breathes out and waves to the waiter for the bill. I shoot a glance at my phone to check the time but quietly gasp when I see another message on my screen, yet this time it isn’t an emoji but an image. I immediately open the message underneath the table, my hand shaking frantically when I see a picture of me sitting on this exact table as I laugh about something Jamie just told me.
“ Mo ghraidh ?” Jamie’s worried voice makes me look up and I watch him handing the waiter his credit card without a glance. “What’s wrong?”
I’m shaking my head, swallowing hard as I try to shake off the fear that is nagging on me. “I’m fine.”
“Claire, dinna lie. I need to ken what’s bothering ye.”
“Please, can we just go?” I clear my voice quiver as I look at him and Jamie isn’t saying anything for a bit until the waiter comes back and we thank him.
We both stand up and leave the restaurant, my shaky hand in his as we walk into the dark night. I find myself looking over my shoulders as we continue walking, Jamie obviously noticing my strange behaviour so he stops, turning me to face him.
“I need ye to tell me what’s going on,” Jamie’s hand comes up to cup my face, his thumb brushing over the flushed skin of my cheek and I close my eyes.
“Please,” I plead not wanting to talk about it. “Can we just go home, I need you to hold me.”
He doesn’t say anything as he studies me, his thumb still caressing my cheek as he nods.
“Of course. Let’s get ye home, Sassenach and I’ll hold ye as long as ye need it.” He doesn’t believe me. I know he doesn’t. I hate that I’m lying to him, but I know he isn’t ready for this, and neither am I. Whatever this is, whatever this person is trying to do. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters is keeping Jamie safe.
Jamie and I barely spoke a word on our way home. After him trying to be consistent in asking what happened so suddenly, I just kept brushing it off, my tone suddenly taking an impatient turn. I feel bad for snapping at him the way I did but it is for the best. I just want to protect him. The text and picture still swirls in my mind, causing my anxiety to reach a peak I didn’t know it could. The moment Jamie parks the car, I turn to him and press my lips onto his, digging my fingernails into his scalp, gripping his red curls by the root.
A low growl erupts from his chest at the abruptness of me, and I suck his lower lip between my teeth.
“Let’s go inside,” I breathe out, the air suddenly increasing in temperature. “I need you close, Jamie.” I continue to explore his neck with my tongue, his breath coming in hitches as I feel the tips of his fingers dig into the skin of my waist.
“Sassenach,” he pants, the mental protest clearly audible in his voice. I know he thinks this might not be the best idea after what happened but he doesn’t realise just how much I need it, need him. How much I want him and how much I have to feel his skin on mine. I silence him with another kiss, letting my hand disappear into his damp curls.
“Claire.” Jamie whispers in my mouth and this time I feel his hands softly pushing me aways to put some distance between us. I could cry right on the spot when he looks at me, the mental bond pulling me towards him stronger than ever. I continue to hold onto his hair as his ocean eyes scan me.
“Do you not want me?” I ask, knowing very well the answer to that as I try not to focus my eyes on the growing bulge in his pants.
“Christ, I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe but I dinna think yer in the right mindset to actually make that decision.” His hand comes up to cup my face before his thumb brushes over my flushed skin. “When we lay together I want ye to be there fully, I want ye to want me because ye want to enjoy it, not because ye want to distract yerself from something that clearly upset ye.”
“I want you, Jamie,” I breathe out, pulling him closer to me, “I need you.” I put such sincerity in my voice that I can see him swallow thickly. Without his touch I think I would break. Without his touch I think I would let my mind drift to a place so dark I’m afraid there wouldn’t be any existence of light. And Jamie must feel it the way I do because before I can say another word, he exits the car to come up to the passenger side to open my door.
We stumble inside my house and I barely remember how we made it into the bedroom without having fallen to the ground a million times but when my back hits the mattress I forget everything around me, hell, I even almost forget how to breathe.
Jamie places himself between my legs before lowering his lips to mine. My hands travel down his back and halt at his bottom, pressing him against my throbbing spot. I moan loudly when I feel his hardness against my soaked panties and once again thank myself for choosing a dress tonight.
“Christ, Sassenach.” I think not only I am at a loss for words and before I know it our clothes are scattered around the floor and we are skin to skin.
Jamie brushes his fingers against my peaked nipples, causing a moan to erupt from my chest. I arch my back as I close my eyes. His hardness presses against my wet entrance and I almost scream when his tip hits my throbbing centre.
“I need you,” I whimper, spreading my legs even further to give him better access. “Please, Jamie.”
His lips wrap around a nipple before he sucks hungrily, his fingers brushing down the side of my body. I watch him grabbing his length, guiding it to my wet entrance.
“Christ, I like when ye beg.”
And before I take another breath he sinks himself into me causing all air to leave. I question my existence right at this moment and gasp the moment he starts to move. Our moans fill the air around us and I start to join his rhythm as I dig my fingers into the back of his neck.
Sleeping with Jamie feels nothing like I’ve imagined. It is a feeling I didn’t even know could exist. His touch has become a necessity. His presence has become as vital as the air I breathe. He has become the second half of my heart. As if he feels the same, Jamie quickens his pace, causing me to moan loudly.
I let my hand travel down to rub my fingers in circles over my throbbing centre and the moment my climax hits me, I hear Jamie’s hitched breathing as he spills himself into me. And all I can hear is his heart beating against mine.
The next few hours we are lying on my bed in silence, revelling in each other’s presence. Jamie lets his fingers brush lazily over my skin before I turn around to face him.
“I’m so happy you’re here,” I whisper, brushing my nose against his. He breathes out a smile before pressing his lips onto my forehead.
“And I am happy to be here wi’ ye, mo ghraidh.” Jamie wraps his arms around me to pull me closer to him when the sudden sound of my phone almost causes me to jump. I feel Jamie’s muscles tensing against me as I turn my face away from his before I stand up to gather my clothes and my phone.
“I’ll be right back, I'll freshen myself up.”
“I’m fine, Jamie.”
Before he can say anything else I disappear into the bathroom, pressing my back against the locked door before taking a few deep breaths. I don’t know if I’m ready to check my phone right away for what I know this freak might have followed me home? Hell for what I know he might have found a way inside of here and… No.
Calm the fuck down, Beauchamp.
I turn on the shower to mute the sound of me trying to catch my breath as I lose a few tears.
“You can do it,” I whisper to myself, clutching my phone with my fingers. “You can do it. It is just a text and Jamie is here to protect you.”
I take another deep breath before taking a look at my display and I’m glad to stand in the bathroom and I suddenly feel my dinner rising up through my throat and I empty my stomach into the toilet. The picture of me and Jamie in the restaurant was harmless against this.
I rest my forehead against the cold tiles as I let more tears escape from my eyes.
The creep knows where I live.
The creep knows I am home.
He knows I am in here right now.
Because he sent me a picture of my front door, his gloved hand reaching for the doorknob.
And the emojis make this all more sickening.
I take my phone into my hands again, unlocking it with my shaky hands before I stare into the crossed out eyes of the emoji and read the added text that says Time is running and so should you.
I’m trying to take a deep breath as I clutch my phone with both of my hands, wishing I could unsee the picture that person sent me. First of all I can’t run without worrying Jamie. Second, that person must know I’m not alone and wouldn’t risk actually breaking into my house.
I’m standing up on my shaking legs, hoping he meant it metaphorically and I won’t hear Jamie’s sudden scream outside. I put my phone on the drawer next to me before looking at my pale reflection. God, no wonder Jamie is worried. My curls hang damp on my shoulders as my face is paler than a ghost. My lower lip has teeth marks imprinted in it from my anxious biting. The amber in my irises lost its shine, replaced with nothing but fear.
I can’t let fear win.
I can’t let fear take over.
I grab my phone, opening the chat. My fingers type down the message faster than I can process, and once the sent button is hit I put the phone back face down, pressing my hand to my lips to suppress a sob. I hope my response will silence the one on the other end. I hope the messages can finally stop and I can move on with Jamie, so we can build the life we both so desperately want. When I don’t hear a notification pop up after a few minutes, relief washes over me and I put on the shirt I took with me before heading back into the bedroom where Jamie is already waiting for me.
I’m putting a smile onto my face as I crawl back into bed next to him, pressing my lips onto his warm chest. His hand comes up to brush through my curls as I nestle in close to him. My eyes close and I hear Jamie exhaling a deep breath.
“I’m fine,” I mumble or almost whisper, pressing myself closer into him. “I’m fine, Jamie,” I repeat for him or maybe even for myself.
The next morning Jamie is heading alone to the bookstore, telling me it’s my day off and I should take care of myself. I think I asked him a hundred times if he was sure it was okay and if I should just join him but Jamie is very insistent. After a few, well, more than a few kisses, I’m now sitting on the couch with my current read clutched in my hands.
I haven’t heard anything from the mysterious stalker since last night and I think my message might have actually done its job and silenced him.
I flip the pages, before continuing to read when I hear thunder roiling outside before a heavy pour of rain begins to platter against my window. A shiver runs down my spine at the storm and I stand up to pull the curtains closed.
I hate thunderstorms. Since they are partially responsible for my parents death, they give me a nauseating feeling and I wish I could magically avoid them somehow. I walk to my stereo, putting on some jazz music before sitting back down on the couch, pouring myself a glass of wine. I grab my phone, opening my messages with Jamie.
- Please be careful, Jamie. Wait until the storm passes. Xxx
- It will be alright, Sassenach. It’s just a few blocks. I got some more things to do and I’ll be home by seven.
- I’ll make sure food is on the table.
- We can cook together if you like?
I smile at the screen towards his gesture and bite my lip to prevent myself from grinning like a fool.
- I would like that. I’m sure you’ll take care of dessert. :)
- Of course, Sassenach. ;) I’ll make your favourite.
I’m putting the phone away and picking up my romance novel once again and before I know it, I’m lost between the chapters and forget all about the raging storm outside.
Hail hammers against the windows, forcing me to jerk up from the couch as another heavy thunder shakes the earth. My heart rate quickens immediately and I throw my book onto the table before taking my phone into my hands. No text from Jamie.
My eyes fall on the time and it’s close to 7:30 pm. Nausea coils in my stomach and I walk to the kitchen to look out from the window that faces the street. No sight of him. I text him again, literally staring onto the screen while I’m waiting for an answer as the electricity is falling out with a loud bang , making me shriek.
My whole body is shaking before I sink to the floor with my back pressed against the wall and the tears stream down my face. Hail continues to pound against the surfaces outside, thunder shaking everything around me, rain splattering the windows, and the wind whipping through the streets.
I’m closing my eyes and regret it immediately as it only intensifies the sounds. I put my hands into my hair grabbing the roots with my fingers before I pull. All I can see is Jamie, lying amongst the raindrops on the cobblestone. Blood pooled around him. He’s not moving. He’s not breathing. The only sound is the rumbling thunder around me, the hail crashing onto his skin, searing his flesh with every hit. I scream when I suddenly hear pounding on my door.
No. No. No. No.
I grab my phone and instead of Jamie’s name the unknown number is lighting up on my screen with a text below that makes me almost empty my stomach onto the floor.
Run, Claire. Run. Time is almost up.
The pounding grows louder but the sound is being deafened by the fear screaming in my ears. I hear my heart pounding along with the bangs against my door and before I scream again I hear his voice calling my name.
“Claire! Open the door!”
I want to move but my body is frozen when I remind myself that he hasn’t texted me back. He would text me back. His voice is just an imaginary wish I have conjured to calm my anxiety. I press my palms into my eyes before I scream, trying to make the world go silent when the door suddenly crashes open and the sound of rain is double the volume.
I’m shaking. Sobbing. Even waiting for death before I feel strong arms pulling me from the floor. His voice is soothing in my ears yet the sound sounds so far away. I barely notice as he brings me upstairs and lays me down onto the bed, the rain dripping from his red curls.
My whole body is frozen and I can’t say anything but he seems distraught. He seems stressed and he seems as if he’s talking in slow motion. I keep staring at him, watching him as he lays beside me and pulls me close, his hand disappearing into my own mess of curls.
It is then the sound around me somehow reappears and I cry from relief when his voice fills my ears instead of the storm.
“ Tha mi an seo mo chridhe, chan fheum thu a bhith fo eagal tuilleadh. Tha thu ceart gu leòr. Tha mi an seo agus cha leig mi air falbh thu gu bràth. ” (I'm here my heart, you don't have to be scared anymore. You're alright. I'm here and I won't ever let you go.)
I close my eyes, relishing in his words even though I don’t understand them. His voice alone makes my heart beat in a calmer pace and I press myself against him, tugging him closer by his wet shirt.
“Christ, Sassenach,” he mumbles into my hair as he continues to hold me until my shivers ease and I can finally look up at him.
No words are needed. He knows what scared me. Well, he knows partially. Because if I’m being honest the pounding on my door might have scared me just as much as the storm raging outside. But Jamie doesn’t have to know. He’s here now. He’s fine and I can bury the images of him lying lifeless in the rain deep beneath the surface.
“I’m here, mo ghraidh, ye arena alone and the storm won’t hurt ye, I’ll make sure o’ it.”
I press my lips to his, pulling him on top of me before conjuring up one thought that makes my blood freeze.
Jamie might have saved me from this storm, but I have a feeling there might be a bigger one brewing somewhere close by.
I barely remember how I fell asleep last night and am even more surprised when I wake up alone in bed. The space beside me is still warm and I turn to press my face into Jamie’s pillow, humming in delight at the smell of him. The storm . I immediately stand up and walk quickly out of my room, almost colliding with the tray Jamie is holding.
“Careful Sassenach or ye might have to start yer day without breakfast.”
I smile when I look down at the freshly baked croissants next to the steamy eggs and grab the cup of coffee into my hands, curling my fingers around it before taking a sip. It’s like last night’s storm didn’t happen and I somehow didn’t live through a whole bloody horror movie that night.
We walk back to my room, sitting down on my bed, as Jamie takes a croissant for himself, humming in delight at the warm sweet flavour.
“I was worried last night,” I say, amidst the pressure inside my chest from the unanswered questions. I want to know why he was late and why on earth he didn’t respond to my texts. I was really scared something might have happened to him.
“I’m sorry, Sassenach. I forgot to charge my phone at the store and the moment I wanted to tell ye that I would be runnin’ late is when I realised. I never wanted to worry ye,” his hand comes up to cup my cheek, regret shimmering in the depth of his eyes and I lean into his touch.
“It’s alright,” I smile, not admitting to the fact that I immediately thought the worst had happened. I’m not quite ready to reveal that part of my past, even though I know I can tell Jamie anything.
Guilt surges through me, the mysterious stalker haunting my mind once more and I swallow the urge to feel bad. This is nothing Jamie has to worry about and nothing he has to get himself involved in. He just got out of prison, and I will not put him at risk of ever returning to that place, no matter what.
“It is not,” he mumbles, “I dinna ever want to leave ye again distraught like that, mo ghraidh. I’m so verra sorry.” I’m shaking my head immediately, not wanting him to feel bad for my own past.
“It is,” I whisper, “You are here now and that’s all that matters.”
His thumb brushes softly over my cheekbone, leaving the faintest trail of warmth on my skin and I close my eyes before placing my lips on his. The food immediately gets forgotten when I mount him to get a better access to his body. My hands disappear into Jamie’s red curls as my lips part, inviting his tongue to mingle with mine. Jamie’s hands wander down my back, halting on my bottom, pressing me closer into his lap.
I moan when I feel his hardness pressing against my sensitive spot and the next second Jamie puts the tray on the floor before flipping me down onto the mattress. I smile into his next kiss, biting softly into the flesh of his lower lip. A soft groan slips from his chest, sending butterflies from my stomach to my centre. It doesn’t take long until we’re both skin on skin, our clothes having joined the breakfast on the floor. And I immediately forget about everything. There are no creepy text messages, no accidents, no storms. There’s just Jamie, me and our racing hearts that are beating merely for each other.
A few days pass and I’m standing in the kitchen, preparing my tea while Jamie is out with Murtagh having a glass of whisky at a pub downtown. I haven’t received any strange text messages since before the storm, and am thinking that finally the stalker has given up with this ridiculous game of taunting me.
I take a sip of my steamy cuppa before getting my book and starting the new chapter I have been eager to read all day, when my phone chimes, forcing me to roll my eyes in annoyance. I hate when people decide to disturb me at the exact time I’m trying to have a moment to myself. It must be Geillis. She manages to do it all the bloody time.
I almost drop my cup when I see the Unknown number spread over the screen. I don’t think I’m breathing when I open the message which only includes another set of clock emojis.
Leave me the fuck alone.
My shaky fingers hover above the screen and I’m surprised and terrified at the same time when a few seconds later an actual message follows.
Now where’s the fun in that, Claire?
I’m trying to think if I locked the front door but can’t remember for sure, so I walk as fast as I can to do just that, sighing in relief when I hear the click of the door.
You actually think locking the door helps? Who says I’m not already inside :)
My heart wants to stop beating and race at the same time as I feel my breath catching in my throat. I debate whether to run outside and get the hell out of here, or to stay inside until Jamie comes home and just ignore the messages like I have been. Maybe I could just call the cops and ask Jamie to come home?
But then again, he would know something is up and the mystery stalker probably just likes to play games. Yet, how does he know I just locked the door? I nervously bite down on my lip typing down a message that feels right.
Leave me alone or I will call the police.
I walk into the living room, drawing the curtains closed as a result of paranoia and sit down on the couch, looking back on the screen.
The police won’t help. But maybe you would like to inform your loving boyfriend. I bet he would love to know once he returns home you won’t be here to greet him.
Okay. This goes way too fucking far. I’m standing up, too anxious to sit as I dial 999 and I hear something shattering in the hallway. I jump at the sound, the operator on the other ending picking up as I run towards the front door.
I need to get out of here. And I need to call Jamie. He needs to get involved whether I want him to or not.
I’m not even close to the front door when my phone gets ripped out of my hand and before I can even answer the police. I turn around and I only see black clothes. No face. I feel a sharp pain to the side of my head and the whole world turns dark.
I wake up.
I’m moving. But I’m not at the same time.
Where am I?
Everything is dark.
It’s quiet but everything is so loud at the same time.
Is that a ringing rushing through the air or is that just in my head?
It sounds like faint church bells in the distance.
I hate it.
Or does it soothe me?
I don’t know.
All I know is I need to sleep. Then nothing hurts.
I’m lying on snow.
At least it feels that way because I’m cold.
My body is frozen.
I need Jamie’s warm arms wrapped around me.
I need to feel his skin heating mine while he holds me. My own personal furnace.
God. I need him to hold me. He can always make the pain go away. Darkness.
How much time has passed?
I don’t know but the pain is less and I manage to open my eyes.
It looks almost as dark as when I had them closed.
So I close them.
And my head hurts a little bit less.
I open my eyes again, my head pounding hard enough to make me nauseous. My hands brace on the dirty cold floor before I push myself up as well as I can, and my back immediately presses against a damp wall. My memory decides to return like a bloody avalanche.
Out of reflex I try to stand up but soon realise the big mistake as metal shackles bite my wrists, causing a pain to shoot up both my arms and I yelp. From the fire in my throat it must have been something I’ve done quite a lot the last few days.
Panic replaces anxiety and my chest heaves up and down in large gulps as I try to take in my surroundings. It looks like a dark, old mouldy warehouse. The floor is covered in debris and dirt and it wouldn’t surprise me if rats roamed the grounds. A single chair stands in the centre of the massive room I’m in. I hear nothing else but rain pattering against the foggy windows and a few footsteps echoing through the room.
“I can see you’re finally awake,” a low sultry voice fills the silence around me and I jerk up to follow its tune and when I take in the sight of the person in front of me I wish I could run. I wish I could be swallowed by a large black hole and never return. He tsks, “Don’t be so shy, Claire, you don’t seem like the kind of woman that shies away from speaking.”
I’m shaking my head frantically, no words able to leave my mouth. He grins as he sits down on the chair, facing me.
“I’m surprised you never figured out it was me,” he chuckles and I want to vomit. “But I guess that’s good because it made getting you here easier than I thought.”
“What do you want?” I manage to say in a shaky voice.
“I want a lot of things, but most of all I want revenge, and you know exactly why.”
I do. Which scares me more than ever and I can’t help losing tears the moment the room fills with the sound of Stephen Bonnets’ laughter.
Thank you all for the lovely and wonderful comments. I hope to answer every one of you soon! But for now here’s chapter 15
I hurl the contents of my stomach onto the dirty floor, tears burning in my eyes from the painful sensation in my throat. I lost all track of time in this place, the isolation making me start to go insane.
Stephen Bonnet has taken me hostage as revenge for sending the police to get his ass behind bars. I have not a single clue for what he wants to use me and if he even plans on letting me live. Another wave of nausea washes through me at the thought of never seeing Jamie again, or him never knowing where I am. He may never know where I went or what happened to me. What if he thinks I left him? I’m sure Stephen made sure that nothing will lead back to him.
Speaking of the devil, the massive metal door creaks on its hinges, the sound followed by loud footsteps that eventually reveal the man in question. He throws a sandwich and a bottle of water my way before taking a seat in the lonely chair, it’s becoming a routine.
“Your boyfriend is searching for you,” he braces his elbows on his knees, his chin resting in the palms of his hands as he looks at me. I press my lips into a thin line, a shiver running through me at the thought of Jamie looking for me. I want to hold back the tears that form in my eyes but the mere thought of Jamie’s distress makes them spill from my lashes. “He was even dumb enough to talk to the police. They questioned him, you know? Regarding his past behind bars.”
Panic surges through me and I shake my head. This is exactly what I was trying to avoid. I did not want Jamie to get involved in this. I do not want him to come looking for me and get hurt in the process. I want him to finally live his life in freedom.
“Don’t worry, love , your knight is still free. But if he continues his shenanigans and lurks the police into my direction I’ll make sure they find some evidence in his pocket.”
“Leave him the fuck alone,” I grit out, balling my hands into fists at the anger and frustration surging through me. Stephen only laughs, the shrill sound echoing through the massive room causing me to slump back on to the wall.
“Or what?” He stands up, walking slowly towards me like a predator that circles his prey. “You’ll warn him? You will be his knight instead? How do you plan on doing that? I’m sorry to disappoint you, Claire,” he spits, kneeling down in front of me. His index finger comes up beneath my chin, forcing me to look at him. “You will pay for the little mistake you’ve made and so will Jamie. The two of you think you’re so smart after ratting Randall Shield Insurance out and uncovering the truth.”
I spit in his face, his posture remaining calm when he pulls out a handkerchief to clean his face but then his hand grips my face firmly, the tips of his fingers digging roughly into my cheeks causing my breath to quicken, and the copper taste of blood to fill my mouth as my teeth forcefully dig into my cheeks.
“I’ve just started to take my revenge, Claire. Remember who has your life in his hands.” He stands up to walk back to the chair, sitting down before he covers his face with his hands again. “I’ll let Jamie play detective a little while longer, leave one or two clues to give him hope only to shatter it right after.” He looks at me, his gaze so cold I could swear the temperature dropped.
“And when he thinks he’s close to finding you, I’ll rip that hope right away from him. He will lose his sanity,” he chuckles, standing up again as he walks towards the exit. “And we all know where men with lost sanity belong.” I watch him leave, my sobs filling the space around me as I reach for the water bottle in front of me. I take a few sips of it but spit it back out as the image of Jamie distraught fills my mind.
He must feel so helpless. Or betrayed. Maybe even lonely. He might be angry, sad. Maybe all of the above. I don’t even try to take a bite from my sandwich, knowing very well it would join the water I just spit out onto the dirt around me.
Three weeks, two days and fifteen minutes.
That is the amount of time she has been gone and I canna even manage to do anything else than sittin’ around trying to find another way to search for her. I came home that night and she was gone. No sight o’ anything. There was no indicated struggle, no intruder, no blood, no trace. Nothing.
But I’ve worked and lived amongst people that ken how to commit a crime without leaving a trace. And I wilna give up until I find her.
I’ve been workin’ close wi’ Joe Abernathy from the police department on Claire’s case. The man kens how much this means to me, kens my past and hasna doubted my innocence once. He’s also the only one that hasna acted like a complete asshole. He takes it as seriously as one should. I turn my head to face Murtagh. The poor man is almost as scared as I am, barely sleeps, and helps wherever he can.
He might be a closed book but I ken he loves Claire like his own. A tear sneaks down my cheek at the thought o’ her and I wipe it away wi’ my hand, washing down the pain wi’ a glass of whisky before standing up to join him beside the window.
“Whoever has taken her, I swear I’ll kill them,” my voice breaks, more tears running down my cheeks but I dinna even bother to wipe them away. I take the last sip of my whisky, Murtagh turning to face me, his own tears threatening to spill.
“Dinna do something that could get ye behind bars again, Jamie.”
I stare out the window, scoffing at his words before facing him.
“I canna promise ye a single thing.” I walk off, putting my glass on the table wi’ a loud thud before leaving the house. It becomes more and more suffocating by the minute and sometimes I just canna bear to be inside fer too long anymore.
Sometimes it feels like I canna breathe. Like the air has left wi’ Claire and now the universe threatens to suffocate me.
I’ve been walkin’ fer some time, my eyes open fer any sight o’ her, even though I ken she wilna just suddenly appear in front o’ me. I wish she would. Sometimes I imagine it, her voice callin’ out to me from the dark, I watch as she emerges, her smile lighting up everything around her. She is what her parents named her. Sorcha. My Light. My Claire .
I sink into a park bench when my phone rings, Joe’s name lightening up on the screen and I immediately pick up.
“We might be onto something, but I don’t want you to get your hopes up, Jamie.”
“What is it?” I clutch my phone almost breakin’ it wi’ my grip.
“There was a sighting of Stephen Bonnet. I know you’ve told me he had something to do with your case and you mentioned that he could be behind all this. I just thought to look more into it and I doubled the amount of men and women looking for him.”
“Where,” I canna manage to form a sentence hearing my biggest fear slowly becoming reality.
“He was last seen close to Randall Shield Insurance in the back of a rented Rolls Royce.”
I hang up immediately, my legs moving sooner than my brain can think and I dinna care how long it will take me but I decide to investigate the area around the company for the next few hours, even though I’ve done it already before. A sixth time won’t hurt.
I open my eyes at the sound of footsteps halting in front of me and I greedily take the sandwich from his hands the moment I lay my eyes on the food. I moan when I take a bite, my stomach stinging at the contact with nourishment but I don’t care. I’m just so hungry.
Stephen takes his usual seat as he watches me eat, staying silent until I’m taking my last bite.
“I'll let you talk to your boyfriend today.”
Of all the things I’ve expected him to say, this is certainly not one of them. I stare at him almost forgetting the shackles that keep me bound to a certain area. I watch as he takes out a burner phone with his left hand, holding my own in his right one. He must have charged it at home.
“You’re going to tell him how miserable you are. I want you to let him know how much pain you are in. I want him to hear your suffering. And if you speak one word about where you are I am going to fucking kill you, do you understand me?”
I swallow thickly, “I don’t even know where I am.”
“They will check all the warehouses they can. They won’t need a detailed location to find this place. So, do you understand me?”
I nod hardly, almost fracturing my neck.
I watch him dial Jamie’s number into the burner phone, copying it from mine and then he hits the speaker and I break down in tears when I hear Jamie’s exhausted, broken voice on the other end of the line.
I call out for him through my sobs, barely able to speak his name but the shuffling in the background tells me he knows immediately that it is me. A sniffle carries through the line and I lose more tears at the thought of him crying.
“Christ Claire, where are ye? Tell me and I’ll be right wi’ ye.”
I hear the slamming of a door and heavy footsteps, gravel crunching beneath his feet as he leaves the house to come get me. Oh Jamie…
“I don’t know where I am, so I can’t tell you but I am alive. I’m oka–” I can’t talk further as the air gets knocked right from my lungs. Stephen’s foot hit my stomach in one heavy blow, making me gasp for air. Jamie’s voice fades into the background as I’m trying to ignore the compression in my lungs.
I whimper with every breath I take and Jamie’s voice is becoming louder and louder by the second.
“Ye fuckin’ bastard! I will fuckin’ kill ye!” I’ve never heard Jamie’s voice like that. Feral. Angry. Helpless. With every word he speaks his vocal cords threaten to break. I want to calm him down, tell him that I’m breathing but a slight wheeze escapes my chest, making me burst out into a heavy cough.
Stephen smiles down at me, still holding the phone close so Jamie can hear every bit of my suffering. He then takes my phone and clicks a button, the voice of a robot filling the air around us so Jamie won’t recognise him.
“Your sweetheart’s time is running out, Fraser. Tick tock, tick tock.”
“Speak fer yerself, Bonnet! Or do ye still no have the balls to use yer fucking voice?!”
This time Stephen grabs my curls, pulling me up and I scream at the burning sensation on my scalp. This time he doesn’t bother using the app and just speaks for himself.
“Did you miss my voice that much, Jamie?”
“Let her go. Claire has nothing to do wi’ this!”
Jamie takes a few deep breaths walking up and down through the gravel and I whimper when Stephen’s grip on my hair tightens.
“Claire is the reason we are here, don’t you understand?” He laughs, the noise alone making me feel nauseous. “Without her everything would be the way it should be. You for one would still be locked up. I wouldn’t be chased by the police and Claire here would be fine. Tell me Jamie, how does it feel to know that she’s bleeding? That she’s screaming your name, begging for you to save her. But you can’t. How does it fucking feel?”
Jamie lets out a frustrated scream and I sob at the sound of him clearly kicking something.
“Jamie it’s okay,” I cry, “It’s my fault, please don’t get involved in this, I need to know that you won’t get involved in this.” At this moment I simply panic, nonsense threatening to spill from my lips as Stephen drops me onto the floor. I feel a sudden sting in my stomach, forcing my arms to wrap around my body as I scream.
The sounds around me fade by the second and I can see Stephen’s eyes widen in shock as he glares in the direction he’s always coming from. Spots of darkness blind my sight and breathing becomes harder. All I hear are what sounds like a thousand footsteps, or maybe even an explosion? I can’t put it anywhere and when I close my eyes I succumb to silence and darkness.
I did what Joe asked me to do. Stay on the phone fer as long as ye can. I dinna ken how he did it but he actually managed to track the burner phone Bonnet’s been usin’. As well Bonnet having made a the massive mistake of chargin’ Claire’s phone again. It gave Joe the perfect chance to geo locate her phone.
We almost arrive at the old warehouse as I’m still talkin’ to Bonnet, Claire screamin’ in the back, I need to physically force myself not to scream at Joe to drive faster. Behind us drive a couple o’ more police cars, to my disappointment. Mebbe it’s fer the best or I would’ve done something that brought me back to jail, leaving Claire alone.
The car comes to a halt makin’ me jump out right away, I could not hear her screams from outside. One o’ the officers holds me back, causing me to threaten severe violence to an officer to let me go to Claire.
Her screams suddenly stopped.
I scream her name through the phone, beggin’ her to talk to me but the sound o’ her voice is gone and her wheezing breaths wi’ it. The moment the police raids the place I follow suit, ignoring the please o’ them asking me to stay outside. I dinna care what happens. I just need to see her, I need to hold her, tell her that everything will be fine from now on.
And then everything happens quickly. They catch Bonnet as I can see from the corner of my eyes, an ambulance is arriving wi’ loud sirens as I fall to my knees beside her small lifeless form. Blood pools around her and I dinna ken where it’s coming from. I cradle her into my arms, press her against me as I ignore the smell comin’ from her. I dinna mind the stench but I mind what caused it. To ken she had to suffer, to ken she had to breathe in this mouldy air fer weeks. To ken she was in pain. Christ, I wish I could take it away from her.
I press my lips onto the crown o’ her head, tears staining her messy, dirty curls when suddenly she gets taken from me. I want to scream, to beg them to gi’ her back. I panic at the loss o’ her, my mind slow in realising that they want to help, not bring her more sufferin’. I’m beside her in a breath, holdin’ her hand the moment they bring her into the ambulance. And I’m not leavin’ her side.
Hours pass. The ticking of the clock almost makin’ me go mad. Joe is sittin’ quietly in a chair, watchin’ me as I pace the floor, undoubtedly wearing a footpath into the tile. Murtagh is grabbin’ us coffee. The man almost suffers as much as I do but I canna comfort him right now, not when I need more than I can give.
The doctors have been busy wi’ Claire for an unbearable amount of time and it scares the absolute shite out of me. My Sassenach. In pain. Bleeding. Crying. Screaming. The images flash through my mind and the air grows thick around me almost makin’ it impossible to breathe.
I lean with my back against the wall, slowly slidin’ to the floor when sobs shake my chest and I cry out loud. I can bear pain myself, but I canna bear hers. I canna bear the constant cries and screams that will haunt my mind till my dying breath I feel sick to my stomach when Murtagh sits down right next to me, handin’ me the steamy cup and a steady hand on my shoulders.
“She’ll be okay, lad, Claire is a strong lass.”
“I failed her.” There it is. The truth of it.
“No, dinna say that, Jamie… Dinna bl–”
In that moment the door opens and the doctor is coming out, his stern face and furrowed brows no solace for the storm raging inside of me. I forget about the coffee next to me as I stumble to my feet, Murtagh and Joe following me quickly.
“How is she?” My voice breaks askin’ the question. Christ, I’ve never felt so scairt in my life. Not even at my own hearin’ when they sentenced me to life in prison. The doctor’s eyes linger on us, mostly on me as he is clutching Claire’s file in his hands. “How is she?” I ask again impatient, my whole body shakin’ wi tremors.
“She’s stable fer now. She had multiple fractions on her ribs and bruising on her neck. Luckily she doesna have any inner bleedings.” I feel relief flooding through me but the moment the doctor’s lips part I ken there is more. “She almost lost the child, due to the impact that’s been caused on her stomach. We want to monitor the baby and her closely until we can say fer sure that they are both through the worst.”
The world stops and I forget how to breathe. Child? Claire is pregnant?
I stumble backwards until my back hits a wall, tears stream down my cheeks as violent sobs shake me. I dinna just fail her, I also failed our unborn child.
Thank you all for your wonderful comments! I didn’t get to reply them yet but I wanted to get the next chapter up early! So, here you go!
The last thing I remember is Jamie’s voice, his panicked sobs until I gave in to the all consuming darkness. I’m trying to open my eyes, frustrated at the amount of strength it takes. And even though I try my hardest, I fail, so I give in to sleep again.
Noises wake me up, I think I hear Jamie and maybe Murtagh? I flinch at the pain flowing through my veins and wish I could let Jamie know that I am here, that I’m okay despite the pain coursing through my body. But my strength fails me once again and sleep pulls me once more into a black void.
This time I feel someone squeezing my hand, the touch shooting a pleasant warmth up my spine and I would smile if I could. Jamie’s broken voice then fills my ears and I feel his tears trickling on to my skin. His pain churns my stomach and I frown. I need to comfort him, I need to be there for him, I need to dry the tears just as he dried mine. So I grab all my strength and flutter open my eyes, the blinding lights sending an uncomfortable sensation to my head. I groan and I feel Jamie shuffle next to me.
“Sassenach?” God, he sounds so broken, his voice barely above a whisper. He sniffles before grabbing my hand securely into his. I open my eyes again, this time I see the outline of him beside me until the image becomes clearer.
He lets out a breath of relief, standing up to press a kiss to my forehead. Tears trickle onto my forehead and fall to my pillow. I want to reach up and comfort him with a mere touch, but I can’t manage to lift my arm. I groan in response, licking my dry lips to attempt a few words of solace.
“Shh, dinna speak mo ghraidh, dinna use yer strength, ‘tis alright.” He sits back down beside my bed, not letting me go for a second. It is now I look around, realising I am no longer in the abandoned warehouse but in a hospital. I can’t help but shed a few tears of relief to Jamie’s concern, his calloused thumb comes up to brush them away and I close my eyes.
I missed him. I missed us .
“Ye’re alive. You are whole, mo nighean donn and I wilna ever let ye go anymore.” I manage to nod, softly squeezing his hand as slowly my strength returns by the second. Then I watch Murtagh enter the room with the doctor in tow and let him examine me before exhaustion takes me back to the land of dreams.
I don’t know how long I’ve slept but when I wake up this time I’m more lucid. I feel my muscles slowly gaining back their strength and I squeeze Jamie’s hand softly. He jolts up from his chair, his exhausted face breaking my heart. The red of his hair lost its shine, the stubble on his chin is overgrown and in the same duller red as the ones on his head. I lift my hand to brush over it, my lips curling up when he closes his eyes. I immediately lose that smile when tears roll from his lashes and I’m shaking my head before parting my lips to attempt words of comfort.
“I’m alright,” I whisper, “Please don’t cry.”
He turns his face, pressing a kiss to the palm of my hands before he sniffles. There’s something else he wants to say but he seems to be unable to find the right words. I pull him closer, pressing my chapped lips against his. Jamie’s chest is shaking and I let my fingers disappear into his curls, tugging him closer. He lets out a whimper and before I can do anything else to calm him down he breaks down in tears, his head slowly falling into my lap as he cries.
I can’t help but cry with him, my fingers wrapping around his hair as I attempt to comfort him with my touch. But he continues to shake, the tremors wracking his every breath.
“Jamie, this is not your fault.” I’m proud when my voice comes out steadier than before. “Look at me, please,” I plead when he continues to cry into my lap. It’s like he doesn’t even hear me, it’s like he’s trapped in the guilt haunting his mind. “Jamie, please talk to me.”
He takes a few seconds before finally lifting his head, Jamie’s red rimmed eyes look at me and I can see the storm raging in the depth of his blue eyes. I automatically reach for his cheek, letting my hand envelop his beautiful face. God how I missed him. I want to pull him in for another kiss but he stops me, his hands placed on my stomach.
“Claire,” he whispers as his gaze drops to his hands caressing me through my hospital gown. I furrow my brows in confusion, deciding to let him talk and give him the time and space to collect his thoughts. “I am so sorry, mo ghraidh. Tha mi air thu fhèin agus ar leanabh gun bhreith a chuir ann an cunnart agus airson sin mothaichidh mi ciontach gus a’ chòrr de ar làithean. Tha mi an dòchas aon latha gun urrainn dhut mathanas a thoirt dhomh airson mo pheacaidhean agus gaol a thoirt dhomh mar a rinn thu aon uair roimhe. ” (I have endangered you and our unborn child and for that I will feel guilty until the rest of our days. I hope one day you can forgive me for my sins and love me like you did once before.)
I continue to look at him as he drifts off, speaking Gaelic. I don’t want to interrupt him, not as he’s processing whatever goes through his mind. My disappearance must have triggered something in him that is beyond my imagination, but I want him to know that I am here, that I can give him the comfort and solace he needs. I won’t ever leave him.
He then looks at me with big blue eyes, more tears escaping the corners of his eyes, a single sob shaking his chest. He didn’t realise that he hasn’t spoken english so I remind him before placing my lips to his cheek to kiss the tear away.
“Try again,” I encourage him before he takes a deep breath, clutching my hands into his.
“I am so verra glad you are alive, mo ghraidh. To have ye here in front o’ me wi’ yer heart beating steady and strong, Christ. I’ll be thanking the Lord every day fer that for the rest o’ my days. But I will also beg the Lord fer forgiveness until I take my last breath for it is my fault that ye had to go through what ye did,” his voice is shaking and I’m scared to interrupt him, scared he will stop talking if I do something as simple as breathe too loud. His thumbs stroke my stomach and it feels as if this mere touch is what keeps him going, what keeps him steady. It seems like he’s gaining faith to speak from it.
“Please promise me ye wilna hate me fer the next words I’m tellin’ ye,” he swallows thickly, his thumbs halting the movement and I look at him with a steady gaze.
“Nothing you do could make me hate you, Jamie.” It’s the truth. I can’t even imagine feeling like that towards him, not when the things I feel for him are the strongest feelings I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Jamie lifts his head to press a brief kiss to my forehead before looking into my eyes.
“Ye are wi’ child, Claire. The both o’ ye barely made it but ye are so strong. Ye are both fine and the wee one is growin’ by the day, even has a steady heartbeat.” He sniffles, losing another few tears, “I’ve heard it meself.”
I stare at him in disbelief, understanding now his hands on my stomach, his nagging guilt, his continuous tears. He blames himself for me almost losing our child, he blames himself for the suffering me and our child endured. Oh Jamie …
I look down at his hands, the news slowly hitting me. I’m pregnant. The baby is fine. I’m fine. We are fine. I exhale an emotional breath, tears rolling down my cheeks at the thought of the small miracle growing inside of me. We’re fine.
“Thank you,” I breathe out before pulling Jamie close, my hands resting on his cheeks as I cradle his face. I brush my nose against his, closing my eyes at the contact with him. “Thank you, Jamie.” He presses his lips to mine, the both of us a puddle of emotion and when he releases me he lowers his face to my stomach, pressing a faint kiss to it.
“No Sassenach, thank you .”
Healing is a process that everyone goes through differently. Some process things silently, pulling themselves into the deepest corner of their minds while they try to wrap their head around the reason they feel this way. Some put on a smile on their face, pretending the world is fine when inside that cloud of darkness is all consuming. And some are defensive, trying to prove to the world that they're strong enough to manage, that nothing can break them because they’ve gone through the worst things imaginable.
I feel like all of the above. His face still haunts me with every breath I take, every second of the day, and ever since I’ve left the hospital to go back to the space where everything happened, I find myself sometimes, barely able to breathe. I’m trying. I really am, for Jamie and our unborn child.
But how do you hide the shock that surges through you at your boyfriend’s voice in your ear, because you think it isn’t his? How do you wake from a nightmare that soaks you in sweat, and manage to go back to sleep to get enough rest? How do you breathe when there is not enough air to fill your lungs? How do you make your child feel safe, when all you feel is fear?
“Mo ghraidh?” Jamie’s footsteps echo through the kitchen and I turn around to face him, curling my lips into a faint exhausted smile. I see the concern in his eyes, the lingering fear that I’m going to break, so he steps closer and my heart beats faster.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of Jamie, or his touch, I’m afraid that when he holds me I will break down completely. That I won’t be able to hold my head up and go through life the way I did before. And I have to.
“Claire?” His voice is firmer now, closer and I lift my head up, realising I’ve once again drifted off, into that little dark corner of my mind. He reaches out his hand to brush my cheek, making me step away slowly as I cross my arms in front of my chest. The way Jamie’s face crumbles, makes my heart ache in a torturous way. “Please, ye have to speak to me, it’s been almost two months.”
My hands fall to my stomach, no big changes yet, but still I feel the little life depending on me. I smile at him, “I’m okay.”
“Ye dinne believe so yerself. Ye’re a ghost, Sassenach and I dinna ken what to do. Ye dinna even remember Murtagh being here yesterday, the ol’ man was worrit to death. Let me help ye, please .”
“There is nothing to help, Jamie, I’m just getting used to normal life again. It takes time.”
“And I’m willing to give ye all the time ye need,” he reaches out his hand to my face and this time I don’t falter. I let his calloused fingers brush over my cheek, let them leave goosebumps in their trail and when I feel my eyes burn, I take a deep breath and walk around him to the fridge, to check for supper.
“It’s almost time for supper, do you have something in mind?”
I only hear him sigh, then leave the room and seconds later the sound of the tv rings through my ears. Like always. Like everyday. And it’s all my fault.
The sound of forks and knives are the only thing that fills the room as we silently eat dinner, the food tasting like ash in my mouth.
“Ye got to eat more than that, Claire, ye’ve got to feed the wee bairn.” I smile in answer and continue to eat. He’s right. I got to think of the little human growing inside of me.
Jamie places his hand atop of mine, his thumb brushing over my fingers as I continue my meal, I feel his gaze boring into mine, searching for contact, for affection, for anything he won’t find.
“The sight o’ ye tears my heart, mo ghraidh. I canna look at ye without hearin my own heart breaking.”
That catches my attention. His shivering voice, the break in his tune and when I look at him I watch the tears fall from his lashes, coating his stubbled cheeks. I exhale a shaky breath before curling my fingers around his hand.
“Please don’t cry,” I barely recognise my voice when I speak out loud. The sound nothing more than a choking breath as I fight for words. But it seems to only feed Jamie’s pain and his chest is starting to shake, his face crumbling and then he drops to his knees in front of me, his forehead resting on my knees as he lets himself break.
“I canna bear to see ye like this, Claire, to see ye and not be able to do something. I feel like yer breaking because o’ me, because I failed the both o’ ye. I want to fix it, I want to silence the guilt that nags on me wi’ every breath I take but it eats me up everytime I look at ye and see the emptiness in yer eyes…Christ… yer eyes.”
My fingers disappear into his curls as I let my own tears silently fall down my cheeks, lips pressed tightly into a thin line to keep me from sobbing. But the world stays blurry and tear after tears drip into his red hair, causing him to look up at me, his large hands coming up to cup my face.
“Will it ever go away?” I whisper, the choked sob escaping my lips when Jamie presses his forehead against mine, his thumbs brushing away my tears over and over again, “Will the fear and pain ever go away? Will his face go away? Will I ever know that I wake up in our bedroom rather than that warehouse or the hospital? Will I ever not flinch at every single sound?”
My dam breaks. And with it, so do I.
I drop to my knees in front of Jamie, his arms coming around my shaking form as he presses me against his chest. His fingers disappear into my curls, massaging my scalp in soothing circles as he mumbles words in Gaelic into my ear. And I just cry, and cry and cry and cry until no more tears are left and I give into exhaustion. My eyes stay closed, breathing ragged and I feel the ground beneath me disappear as Jamie heaves me up to carry me into our bedroom. Slow, calming steps until my back touches the soft mattress beneath me.
Jamie sits down on the edge, his finger brushing away the curls sticking to my face. A kiss to my forehead, “I’m proud of ye, mo ghraidh,” a kiss to my left cheek, “Ye are the strongest woman I know,” a kiss to my right cheek, “and our bairn will ken that as well,” a kiss to my nose, “And whenever it is ye need me, I’ll be here,” as kiss to my chin, “And will continue to tell ye how proud I am of ye,” a kiss to the corner of my lips, “And I dinna ken how long it will take ye to be rid of all the things that happened because I still dream o’ the horrors of the past but then I look at ye, yer chest rising, yer wee curls tickling yer ivory skin and I ken that it will be fine,” a kiss to my lips. “Ye set me free, Claire, let me do the same fer you.” His words are a whisper to my lips, every sentence ended with a kiss, “Let me set ye free from the demons roaming yer mind.” Another kiss. And another. And another.
His words repeating in my head.
Let me set ye free from the demons roaming yer mind.
Let me set ye free
So, I let him.
My hand is resting on my swollen belly, a thumb stroking the fabric of my shirt as I stare out of the window. Our girl should be here within two months. I smile at the thought, thinking about holding our daughter in my arms. Will she resemble Jamie? Will she have his fiery red hair or my unruly dark curls? Will she have eyes as blue as the ocean or will she have the whisky-like undertones of mine?
“How are you feeling, Claire?” Helena is ripping me from my thoughts, my face turning into her direction and I look at her calm face, her expression soothing me in an instant.
“I’m actually feeling okay,” I smile, nodding softly before taking a deep breath, “It is strange to say so, but I’m looking forward to everything awaiting me and Jamie.”
“That’s wonderful to hear,” she smiles, her fingers interlaced on her lap as her eyes scan my belly. “Do you feel ready? A few months ago you were afraid that you might not be?”
I nod immediately, my other hand joining the one on my stomach, “Yes, I have never been more ready for anything in my life. Jamie and I can’t wait to meet her.”
Helena nods and I could swear her shoulders drop as she exhales a breath of relief. “I’m so proud of you Claire, during these past months you have made immense progress, you have appeared at every single session and have cooperated so well. I hope you will continue to do so.” I exhale the breath I’m holding, curling my lips into a faint smile.
“Of course. And thank you, Helena. Without you I wouldn’t have made it.” She reaches out her hand and I take it in mine.
“You have done the work, I simply held your hand through it all.”
I stand up, smiling at my therapist that has become a wonderful friend to me during all these months. “Jamie and I would love to invite you and your wife for dinner this coming weekend.”
“We would love to come!”
“Perfect, I’ll send you more details later.”
She leads me out of the room and I smile at Jamie who puts away the magazine the moment I step out. I smile at him before he pulls me into his arms.
“I’m proud o’ ye, mo ghraidh.” I’m proud o’ ye. That is the first thing this darling man says to me each time I have a session. His hand comes to rest on my stomach, his lips pressing against my forehead. “Now come, I’ve planned something for ye.”
I look at him in surprise, “You did? What is it?” He smiles at that, pulling me softly out onto the street without giving me an answer. I almost ask again when he covers my lips with his and I lose all track of the words I was going to say. My arms come around his neck, pulling him closer and I silently wish for us to be at home where I can drop onto the sheets with him and spend the rest of our night in bed.
“Later,” he groans softly onto my lips, his fingers digging softly into the flesh on my hips. “Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?”
“It’s going to be a surprise.”
We arrive thirty minutes later, the sun has set behind the horizon and night is calling. Jamie makes sure I’m not stumbling over my own feet as he leads me down a narrow path through woods and hills. I almost protest, the walk dragging on, when I get a glimpse of a faint light on top of a hill in front of us. Jamie doesn’t say a word as we walk up the hill.
I can’t hold back the gasp that erupts from my lips when I see the fairy lights illuminating the centre of the hill where a blanket lays. On top of the blanket are all kinds of fruit, cheese and drinks. It looks beautiful.
“Come wi’ me,” I follow, still speechless before I drop onto the blanket, Jamie sitting down opposite of me. He makes sure my glass is filled with water and my plate full of refreshments when he looks at me, his eyes shining like the stars above us.
“Jamie…” I start, my hand reaching out to brush over his stubbled chin. “It’s beautiful.” My voice is nothing above a whisper and Jamie’s lips curl up into a faint smile before he clears his throat.
“Claire,” he starts, reaching out to take my hand in his, his gaze never leaving mine. “The moment ye first wrote to me, I knew ye were special. Someone wi’ a big heart, someone who has so much love to give.” I tear up, trying to hold back the tears that threaten to spill, “I thought at first, it must be too good to be true, to have someone wantin’ to write me, to have someone outside that cares about me. I dinna think ye’d continue to write me.”
“But I did,” I whisper, a tear rolling down my cheek.
“Aye,” he breathes out, “Ye did and Christ, I will always be grateful to ye that ye did. And I canna put my gratitude into words about what ye did after.”
“I set you free,” I sob lightly at the realisation, at the words I used. The onslaught of emotions hitting me with every breath I take. Jamie’s hand squeezes mine softly in reassurance.
“Aye, and ye did so much more, mo nighean donn. Ye saved me and ye continue to do so every single day. I want you to know, Claire, that I want to give ye everything I have for the rest of my life. I want ye to know that ye always have me wi’ ye, no matter where I am or will be. Ye’ve given me the life I so desperately wanted and thought I’d never get.” He places his hand on my stomach and I’m losing more tears by the second.
“I love ye. Wi’ all my heart,” Jamie reaches into his pocket, a small box appearing in front of me and I cover my mouth with my hand to stifle a sob. He holds the tiny box out in front of him, his own eyes glistening with tears when he opens it.
A beautiful ring appears, the silver band holding a tiny sparkly diamond in its centre and once more I fill the air with a gasp.
“It’s beautiful,” I whisper, looking up into Jamie’s blue eyes.
“Just like ye are, mo ghraidh, and I hope ye will do me the honour of becoming my wife.”
I barely breathe, barely able to find the words when he says the word wife . I nod before I say yes, my hand automatically reaching out to him so he can brush the ring onto my finger.
“Say it,” he whispers, his throat bobbing from the emotions rushing through him, “Say it, mo nighean donn.”
I close my eyes, taking a deep breath before putting a smile on my face. When I look at him again, his eyes shining with all the love he holds for me and our unborn daughter I exhale a shaky breath.
“Yes, I want to become your wife, Jamie.”
The ring is on my finger the next second, his lips covering mine a few seconds later and before I know it I’m laying flat on the blanket beneath us when he kisses me again.
I smile onto his lips, pressing him as close as I can, he gasps in my mouth, erupting a moan from me that gets lost in the breeze that brushes over our skin. I don’t even think another thought when my fingers open his belt, then the zipper of his jeans. Bless the Lord, I'm wearing a dress.
And between our breaths and moans and kisses I continue to smile. I continue to feel happy. I continue to feel free.