January 20th, 2019
Claire was running late (as usual), and had just texted Frank to let him know she was on her way home from work. Being promoted to Chief Resident at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, while amazing and the highlight of her career thus far, also came with its obvious stress. She had been late more times than she had been early since her new role and while Frank was a forgiving man, Claire knew he could only take so much of her tardiness.
But it’s not like Frank had been perfectly punctual in their entire four year relationship. A history professor at Edinburgh University, Frank Randall had his fair share of late nights grading papers and tutoring students.
A quiet ding came from Claire’s pocket and she pulled it out to check the message.
Frank: No rush
“No rush he says,” Claire muttered under her breath as she wrapped her scarf loosely around her neck. “We’ll see if you’re in the same mood when I get home, shall we?”
Claire had an awful habit of talking to herself and had received her fair share of odd looks on the street and on public transportation. She held her own however, being born and raised in England by strong and loving parents, Claire wasn’t afraid to be herself — strange habits and all.
Edinburgh had become a second home to her after she finished university at Oxford. That’s where she had met Frank who was a teaching assistant in one of her classes. They began dating, taking things slow at first but soon Claire found herself packing her bags and following him to Scotland — a country she had never even been to before.
Call it love, call it a foolish thing to do, but Claire adored Frank and had no regrets about uprooting her life.
Twenty minutes later, Claire unlocked the door to her home, relishing in the warmth as she stomped her snow clad feet on the welcome mat.
“Frank, I’m home!” She called out, but heard no response.
Unbuttoning her brown tweed coat, Claire slid her arms out of it and laid it across the chair in the entryway. How odd. Frank was usually home at this time of day and always called out to her when she entered.
Brushing it off as nothing but good thick walls, Claire strolled into the kitchen to see what Frank was making for dinner. Even odder. There was nothing on the stove — no pots or pans, and no glasses of wine waiting on the counter to welcome her home after a long day.
This wasn’t like Frank to not cook dinner, especially on Fridays, their home date nights. Checking her phone for any missed messages, she saw no new notifications and so she laid her phone out on the counter and resolved to search the house.
“Frank?” She called out his name as she climbed the stairs to their bedroom. If she was being honest with herself, his lack of presence around the house shouldn’t be too out of character… especially recently.
They had been having problems, as most couples do at some point in their relationship. Claire wasn’t too much of a fool in love to admit that Frank had his flaws — as did she. At times, she found herself flinching when he raised his voice above normal volume because the phone company had billed them wrong again. Or when he smashed his fists down on the table angrily whenever Claire had told him about applying for the Chief position at work.
He was always supportive of her dreams, but not when they got in the way of their time as a couple. This was all very understandable — who wouldn’t be upset that their significant other would ultimately be spending less time with them? But Frank had held it over her head… her commitment to her job. Even if he didn’t voice his every thought out loud to her, Claire had felt the iciness in his touch the past couple of months and the greedy way he came to her in the night, spreading her legs and entering her without warning.
She often wondered what her parents would think of Frank if they were still alive. Henry and Julia Beauchamp died in a terrible car accident when she was only fourteen and since then she had been under her Uncle Lamb’s guardianship. Her uncle had been her rock when she lost both her parents, and had encouraged her to follow her dream to become a doctor and save lives — making up for the sheer fact that she wasn’t able to save her parents lives.
The light was on at the end of the hall in their bedroom, and for some reason Claire felt that she needed to be quiet as she padded down the hardwood floor.
“Frank?” She tapped her knuckles softly on the door before pushing it open. “Are you in here, love?”
“In the bathroom, Claire! Just a moment,” came Frank’s muffled voice from behind another closed door to her right.
Looking around the room, Claire noticed that their bedroom was slightly disheveled and wondered what Frank had been doing. He always kept the house in tip top shape, not a chair out of place which frankly annoyed Claire to no end. A home was supposed to be lived in, not simply a shell to hold furniture and things.
Her feet were sore from a long day of speed walking through the hospital hallways and Claire stepped out of her tennis shoes — boring and bland, the kind that were stereotypical for doctors. The sound of running water came from the bathroom and Claire sighed to herself, impatient for Frank to come out.
As she took another look around her room, Claire noticed something sparkle out of the corner of her eye on the nightstand. With her heart racing, Claire glanced at the bathroom door before going over to inspect the sparkly object.
It was an earring. And not one of hers.
In a matter of a few short seconds, Claire’s world turned on its axis. She looked down at the small diamond in her hand and felt hot tears well in her eyes. Her throat was tight and her breath caught in between her ribs like someone had punched her.
She should have known. Frank had been somewhat aloof the past few weeks, his attitude completely shifted from how he used to act. What used to be heated arguments over dinner about her attending another work conference over the weekend, turned into a nod of the head and a “See you on Monday,” farewell.
But he clearly still felt comfortable using her body for pleasure whenever he needed it. Just last night, Frank had kissed the back of her neck sending a chill down her spine. Needing to feel some kind of human comfort from the stress of her hectic week, Claire had rolled over to face him and joined together with him.
Her belly was coiled tight now and she slid her fingers down over her neck, breasts and stomach, fingers trembling at the thought of those same fingers she knew well on another woman.
The bathroom door opened with an ear splitting creak and Claire froze, her back turned away from him.
“Sorry about that darling, I was just in the shower — had a hard day at work,” Frank said and came up behind her, his hands sliding up her back and over her shoulders.
“Don’t touch me,” she whispered and she wondered if he had even heard her. An answering squeeze to the tight knots in her shoulders told her that he hadn’t.
“I said don’t touch me, Frank,” Claire said it a little louder and finally turned around to face him. The sight of his face — the hard lines that decorated his cheeks, the chiseled jaw and brown eyes made her sick now, almost violently so.
“Claire, what’s gotten into you?” He looked at her with almost a scowl, as if it was her that had done something wrong.
Afraid that her words would fail her, she lifted up her fist to Frank and slowly, one finger at a time opened her hand to reveal the diamond earring of his lover.
“Fuck,” he said under bated breath. So it was true.
Claire dropped the traitorous piece of jewelry onto the floor between their feet and stormed for the door. She was jerked back by Frank’s grip on her arm and she whirled around, slapping him with a force so strong her hand stung.
“A hard day at work?!” Claire felt the strength return to her voice as she spoke, and smirked as he rubbed his red cheek. “The only thing that was hard about your day was your cock, Frank.”
“Claire,” he sighed and his hands rested on his hips which were only clad in a towel. “Can we please be civil about this? You must have known, surely—“
“Civil? For fucks sake, Frank!” Claire scoffed and spun on her heel, heading towards the closet to retrieve an overnight bag. Thankfully her best friend, Geillis lived just a few streets over. There was no way Claire could fathom spending another night under this roof.
The fact that Frank wasn’t putting up a fight gave her mixed emotions. On one hand, it made it easy to hate him, but on the other… it only crushed her, making her feel pathetic — like she wasn’t someone worth fighting for.
“Just tell me,” she said seriously as she came back into the room, bag hastily packed. “Do I know her?”
She saw the twitch of his eye and thought she might be sick right there on the carpet.
“You’ve met her a few times,” he confirmed and sat down on the bed. “Her name is Sandy and she works with—“
“Oh spare me the details, please!”
“I’m sorry, Claire. This isn’t exactly how I wanted this to happen.”
Claire looked at him, a feeling of grief for their relationship washing over her, and only felt hatred for this man.
“It isn’t?” She laughed, an almost evil witch sounding laugh. “So you were planning on still sleeping with me while you had your affair? Were you ever planning on telling me?”
“There were conversations,” he mumbled, “Between Sandy and I about ending it.”
“Ending your affair?”
“No,” he said defensively and looked up at her. “About ending our relationship.”
Claire closed her eyes, counted to three, took a deep breath and walked out of the room. There was no use in further discussion with Frank because it wouldn’t be a discussion, only an excuse to make her look like a bigger fool than she already felt.
When she reached the front door, she heard footsteps on the stairs behind her and paused, her hand on the doorknob.
“Yes?” She said this to the door. Claire wouldn’t spend another minute looking at his face. A face she had loved and spent lazy mornings running her fingertips over. A face that had once looked at her with so much love it was as if she was his whole world.
“You will come back to collect the rest of your things, right?”
“Fuck you, Frank Randall.” She opened the door quickly and slammed it shut behind her, clutching her overnight bag tightly.
As she walked down the street, every step taking her closer to Geillis, she began to look for her phone to tell her friend she was coming over.
“Damn it,” she cursed, her hands franticly searching her jean pockets for her phone. Claire began to shiver in the cold January air and realized that in her haste to get out, she had left her coat on the front chair… along with her phone on the kitchen counter.
There was no way she could return to that house, even if it was to retrieve her phone. Her dignity would not be squashed another time tonight. Instead, Claire wiped away the few frustrated tears that leaked from her eyes and kept walking, only hoping that Geillis was home.
When her trembling hand rang the doorbell and the red headed woman opened the door, Claire’s bottom lip shook and she collapsed into her open arms.
“There, that’ll fix ye right up,” the ginger scot said as she handed Claire a full glass of whisky. They had stood on Geillis’ doorstep for five minutes before Claire managed to pull herself together enough to make it to the couch.
“Now,” Geillis took a seat beside her, pulling the fuzzy blanket over her feet. “Will ye tell me what the hell happened tonight?
Taking a long sip for bravery, Claire swallowed deeply letting the liquid burn down her throat. Her right hand fidgeted with a loose thread on the couch and she kept her eyes forward on the roaring fire as she spoke, giving Geillis a play by play of her eventful evening.
“That fucking bastard!” Geillis all but stood up, her face beaming red to match her hair. She set aside her own glass of whisky and gathered Claire into her arms. “I’m sae sorry, lass.”
“I just feel so stupid,” Claire wiped at her nose. “When I think back, I knew there was something off but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just didn’t want to let myself think he would still be sleeping with me while he had an affair.”
“He’s a damn fool, Claire. I never liked him and ye ken it well. The moment ye introduced us, I felt my wame turn and I got weird vibes,” Geillis rose from the couch and refilled both their glasses.
Claire welcomed the whisky as it warmed her body. It was like a balm to her wounded soul and made her mind fuzzy. She wanted to curl up in a ball under the covers and imagine that this entire night hadn’t happened.
“Ye ken yer welcome to stay here as long as ye need.”
“Thank you,” Claire smiled sadly and then remembered. “I will need a massive favor from you.”
“Of course, I’ll do anythin’ for ye,” Geillis smiled and gave her leg a gentle pat.
“I don’t think I can face going back into that house. Would you be able to collect my things for me tomorrow? I also left my phone on the kitchen counter,” she sighed.
Geillis nodded and pulled out her own phone. “I’ll make a list of everything so I dinna forget.”
“You really are the best friend a girl could ever ask for,” Claire smiled and then felt a new wave of tears come about, but this time they were happy tears of gratitude.
“Och, dinna cry, Claire — ye’ll only make me start,” Geillis pulled her in to another embrace, stroking her unruly mop of curls between her fingers.
“Sorry,” she sniffed again.
“Ye’ve nothin’ to be sorry about, lass. Now… tomorrow I’ll go and get all yer wee things, but I’m afraid tomorrow evenin’ I canna be wi’ ye, that is unless ye wanted to come wi’ me to Broch Mordha.”
“Broch Mordha? What’s up there?” Claire sat up slightly, trying to recall the geography of Scotland.
“Och, tis a small town, but a few friends of mine ken of a local distillery that is launching their new whisky and I promised to go wi’ them to the grand opening.”
“Oh,” Claire thought about her work schedule and realized thankfully that she had the next three days off. “I don’t mind tagging along, that is if it’s alright.”
“Are ye sure?” Geillis asked. “I would prefer if ye did come just so I can keep an eye on ye to make sure ye dinna off yerself.”
“Geillis!” Claire laughed, a welcome sound and hit her friend on the arm. “I’m not there… yet.”
Geillis winked at her and pulled her into another hug, “That’s my lass. Let’s get ye into a nice hot bubble bath and then off to sleep. Tomorrow we’ll deal wi’ whatever comes yer way.”
They both rose from the couch and Claire followed Geillis to the bathroom. For the first time that day, Claire looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize herself. Her riotous brown curls were a frizzy mess around her slim face which was looking haggard. Bags under her red eyes from the crying and puffy cheeks to add — she didn’t feel too hot.
Once the bath was ready, she shed her layers and climbed in slowly, letting her body adjust to the changing temperature. Claire laid her head back against the bath, eyes fixated above her on a black speck on the white ceiling.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” she muttered and submerged herself under the water, letting the weight of the world wash away.