I shut the door behind me, put the basket I was carrying on the floor, and took my boots off by the kitchen entrance. It was starting to rain. The kind of light annoying cold rain that makes your hair curl with humidity, yet not hard enough to do much other damage. I took a peek out the window, and tilted my head towards the sky. The clouds were dark, but it didn’t seem like a storm was coming.
I noticed how Claire had put the kettle on, and how despite the sound of water touching the windows, the rest of the house was silent. A perfect comfortable kind of silence.
With the basket full of chopped wood in hand, I went into the living room. Claire was sitting on the couch, legs curled under her body, head tilted slightly to the side, eyes fixed on the book she was reading.
I paused by the fireplace, took the wood out from the basket and set it properly. Rain might come, but we would be warm. With the fire ready, I got up, went back into the kitchen, and turned off the kettle. I searched in the cabinet for a mug, and poured her a cup of tea. It was already late afternoon, and we’d better start making dinner.
I took the cup, walked back into the living room, but stopped for a moment. Leaning against the doorframe, I took a mental picture of her. She was wearing a long crimson shirt, black leggings, and a pair of colorful striped socks. Her cheeks were pink, her lips a tone of natural red that made me crave to kiss them at once. She was carelessly playing with her hair with one hand, the other marking the page she was reading… or at least the page she was trying to finish. It seemed like she hadn’t moved to another paragraph since the last time I checked. As I stood there, watching her, I took a long moment to memorize her physical features. The way the light hit her eyes, the way her long lashes batted when she blinked, the way her chest moved whenever she took a breath. God she was beautiful.
I took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. My heart ached. It wasn’t a painful kind of ache, but the type of ache that is caused by uncertainty. One that comes from being afraid of losing something valuable. The impression that you might be too happy, and somehow the universe will have to balance things out, and it could all be taken away just as quickly as it came.
Which is why no one knew about us, yet. I hadn’t told my sister Jenny about her, nor my closest friends. This wasn’t because I was embarrassed to tell the world that I was in a serious relationship with a beautiful English woman, of course, I just wanted to keep her to myself as long as I could. I wanted to keep us to myself, before the rest of the world could have a say in it, or taint what we had. Were the feelings causing this much uncertainty just the anxiety for what’s to come, for the unknown, for the possibility of losing her, or was it the fear that there was a chance of being with her for the rest of my life? I didn’t know if it was too soon to call it what I thought it was, but… it was a brand new feeling, one I had never felt before. Love in all its form, with all its expectations, anticipations and promises.
“Claire-“ I said her name without realizing it, but she didn’t look up. Whatever she was thinking about – and it wasn’t that damn book – had her lost in her thoughts. “You know you can stop reading that book, if it’s that bad.”
She looked up, and half-smiled at me “It isn’t bad,” she said, shutting the book. “I was just… thinking.”
The name sounded foreign, and it took a minute before I could register it, since it was the last thing on my mind. I stood up, then, crossed the room, and placed the tea mug on the coffee table. “What about her?”
“She-“ Claire paused, moved in her seat, and put the book aside. I could tell that there was something she was desperately trying to tell me, but she was being careful, searching for the right words. Then, she shrugged, bit her lips, before opening her mouth again. “When did she start working for you?”
“Why?” The question intrigued him more than surprised him.
“I just- I need to know, okay. It’s just- there’s something about her that I… don’t trust.”
“Claire-“ I started, knowing from the expression on her face that dismissing the question wasn’t going to lead us anywhere. Though I didn’t see why this was important, there was no point in not telling her the whole story, either. “Her grandmother, Mrs. Fitz, used to work for my parents, as a housekeeper. She basically raised Jenny and I. Growing up, Laoghaire was always around the house, helping her grandmother, playing with us. And well, Mrs. Fitz, she’s like family. When my parents died… if it wasn’t for her, I don’t know how things would’ve turned out.” I paused, and turned my back to her with the excuse of inspecting the fireplace.
Claire didn’t speak, it was obvious she wanted to hear the rest of the story, so I went on. “About two years ago, she had a stroke. Nothing serious, well… it could’ve been if it wasn’t for Laoghaire. She found her in the middle of the night, on the floor, and rushed her to the hospital. She recuperated, but… she can’t work anymore. So, we let her go, of course. However-“ I stood up again, and made my way back to the doorframe where I was leaning a few minutes ago. “She begged me to help Laoghaire. You see, Mrs. Fitz is the only family Laoghaire has.”
“Oh, so her parents-”
“Emigrated a long time ago, never came back.” I replied, crossing my arms. “So, I took Laoghaire in to help with the house. She cooks, and cleans. I’ve never had any trouble with her, and she is responsible.”
“She’s in love with you,” she let the words out as fast as she could. I stared at her for a second too long, and before I could say another word, Claire asked, “Did you not know it? I saw her, the way she looks at you…” her golden eyes now set on my own, fierce and challenging me to disagree. Instead I asked,
“Why on earth are you bringing this up right now?”
“So you don’t deny it. You knew it.” she grimaced and now averted her eyes.
Claire wasn’t entirely giving me news. I had noticed the way Laoghaire stared at me at times, the way she spoke or tried to get my attention. The fact that she could have a small crush on me, wasn’t something I wasn’t aware of, but it didn’t matter to me.
“I know this is silly, that I probably sound ridiculous, and I’m not being jealous. It’s just- I don’t trust her.”
“She took the note I left you!” Claire raised to her feet so quickly that the book left on the other side of the couch fell to the floor. “Did you not care that I left you a note, one you couldn’t find, making it so much harder for us to meet again? Did you not ask her about it? Did you think I perhaps could be lying about it?”
“Claire, it doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me.” She crossed her arms firmly against her chest. “She obviously tried to separate us.”
“I asked her about the note, and she told me she didn’t see it.”
“And you believed her?”
“Do you not believe me now? It was her, surely it was her.”
“Claire-“ I took a deep breath, her cheeks were now flushed, indicating anger. The night we met, I had taken Claire back to Lallybroch, we slept together, and ended up spending the next couple days getting to know each other. Unfortunately, she was called to work, leaving me with nothing but a note with a message. A note I never saw. He had his suspicions that Laoghaire had something to do with the disappearance of said note, and he had confronted her when Claire met him again, and they talked. Laoghaire insisted that there was no note, and he dropped the subject. Why bother with it now?
“You trust her to go around the house, meddling with your life, touching your things, like…”
“Like she owns you!”
“Owns me?” I asked, nervously rubbing the palms of my hands together. “I don’t know what’s gotten into ye Claire, but this attack of jealousy isnna very suiting of ye.”
“Especially when I gave you no reason to doubt me!” My voice sounded deep and calmer than I expected. “So, what do you suppose I should’ve done about it? Fire the girl, when I had taken on the responsibility with her grandmother to look after her? Should I simply dispose of her over a hunch-“
“A hunch you have about her,” I quickly went on, not giving her space to cut me off. “Laoghaire is my responsibility, seeing her safe-“
“How is Laoghaire your responsibility?” Her voice raised over mine. “She’s not a child. She’s a woman, a grown woman… she’s old enough to know better.”
“The moment I promised her grandmother I’d look out for her, she became my responsibility. And when I make a promise, I don’t break it.”
“I’m not asking you to break a promise. I’m asking you to be careful. She clearly doesn’t seem to have the best intentions.”
“You’re asking me to doubt the character of a person I grew up with. Laoghaire, she… she has been in my life longer than you.”
She took a deep breath, let her arms fall to the sides of her body, and looked at me in astonishment. “Then I guess you should keep her.”
I reached for her arm when she started to walk away, but she jerked free. “Claire- stop!” The words had come out wrong, and I didn’t mean for them to sound the way they did. But when you’re angry, you say things without thought, and this argument grew fast- out of nowhere- like wildfire.
She was already making her way out of the room when she turned around. “Would you feel the same way about it if I said the same thing to you? If I compared you to, let’s say… Frank.”
“Frank?” The mention of the man’s name took me by surprise. “What does he have to do with any of this?”
“Nothing,” Claire replied, with a defiant stare. “But how would you feel if I said he’d been in my life longer than you? If I put my opinions of him above the ones I have of you?”
“You had a life with Frank. It’s different.” I had never shared my true thoughts about the man with Claire, never let it show how much I despised him for what he did to her. It never really bothered me that she had been engaged before, set to be married to another man. But the thought of having another man hurting Claire was another story.
“How different would it be if he had tried to separate us, and I knew about it, yet did nothing about the matter… considering only my opinions of him? How would you feel?”
I took several deep breaths, trying to remain calm, but feeling my throat close in unsaid anger. The fact was that I did know how I felt about the matter, or at least how I was feeling just thinking about it.
“You know Laoghaire has feelings for you, yet you act like it doesn’t matter.”
“Because it doesn’t! To me, it doesn’t matter. She’s just a girl with a crush. So what? She’s young, and impressionable… She doesn’t have anybody, except for her old poor sick grandmother, and-“
“And… you?” She said the word with such bitterness that it made me acknowledge just how much the whole matter was hurting her. “I respect the promise you made to her grandmother, but don’t expect me to pat you in the back like a hero. I also know what it feels like to grow up without parents, and deep down I sympathize with Laoghaire in that way, but she shouldn’t have done what she did and come in between us.”
“Claire-“ I glanced at her to find her eyes watering, and took a step forward. How did we come to this? How was it possible to go from completely and utter happiness to this? “You want to know why I didn’t care about the damn missing note? I didn’t care, because I found you. I’ve looked for you across the city, I didn’t care that I seemed like a crazy person going into every damn hospital asking for you. Note or no note I was set on only resting when I found you. And I did. We’re together, that’s all that matters. I didna care a fig about Laoghaire, or what she may have done or not, because I had you. Because I have you. I’ve done nothing but prove my love for you.”
We both stopped talking, and the words hung in the room between us, its truth piercing our souls. Claire softly gasped, not being able to hold back the tears in her eyes. I reached for her, and she didn’t move or try to get away from my touch. So, I wiped her tears with my thumb. She took my hand, pressed it against her lips, kissing it softly. I held her waist, pulling her closer, dropping my forehead to hers. “I’m sorry,” I said, regretting ever raising my voice to her, or hurting her with my actions.
“I’m sorry, too.”
“No, I didn’t realize you were so upset about-“ Laoghaire, I meant to say, but decided to let the name float away.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner how I felt.”
I could feel her tears falling on my shirt, and held her closer, if that was even possible. Her body was shaking, her voice trembling with the weight of emotion. Placing one hand under her chin, I lifted her face and set my eyes on hers. Her eyes were sparkling, contrasting with the shadow of her tears. There was so much more to say, but only one thing truly mattered. “I love you, Claire Beauchamp.”
She nodded, gently, then quieted another sob with a smile, “I love you too, James Fraser.”
“I promise no one is ever getting in between us again. I promise.” As I spoke the words, I knew that that was the most important promise I would ever make.
The next day
She had insisted on a picnic by the beach despite the weather. Granted it was cold, but no longer raining. So, we packed a few sandwiches, and whatever snacks we could find, two large blankets, and headed outside. We lazily walked to the beach, one hand intertwined with the others - holding on to each other like we would a lifeline - and our items with the free one. I held hers firm with the knowledge that she loved me. The thought warmed me from within, and I smiled at her. Sensing this she looked up at me, smiled, squeezed my hand and leaned closer to me.
When we reached the beach it was empty, as one would expect it to be in such a remote location and in such weather. We laid two blankets on the sand, and sat facing the ocean. We set out to unpack our food but the light breeze was making such a wild display of Claire’s hair that it ended up in her mouth, and in mine, which then caused us to break into uncontrollable laughter. She laid on her back giggling as she was trying to tame her hair and I just couldn’t help but lean down and kiss her, gently and thoroughly. When we finally got our food set out - tuna sandwiches Claire had prepared, and a bottle of red wine I managed to find, we ate quietly, basking in each other’s company, talking about whatever crossed our minds. I, for once, was determined not to bring up yesterday’s argument. It seemed like she was trying to focus on anything else, as well.
We finished eating and sat side by side, leaning into each other, for some time. I took her hand, examined it carefully, before bringing it to my mouth. I smiled against it, brushing her long fingers on my lips. My warm breath contrasted with the cold of her skin.
“I wish we could stay here forever!” Claire said, almost in a whisper, smiling graciously back at me.
“Forever seems like a long time, no?” It was a rhetorical question. Forever. I couldn’t express just how grateful I felt for being in the little empty beach, sharing these moments with the woman I loved. She had given me forever in more ways than one, within a short number of days. But did it really matter? The concept of time and space didn’t seem to be real. Not here, not now, at least. When it came to the love I felt for her, I couldn’t find a beginning, nor an end. Together, we were infinite.
I kept her hand in between my own, softly touching her skin, and dropped my gaze. Could this be real life or just a dream? Like the ones you have as a child, ones that never seem to end? Could all this be an illusion? The illusion of this perfect still, yet overwhelming sense of happiness.
“I might have to go to France next month,” I said, lifting my sight back to meet hers. The idea of separating from her hurt more than afflicted pain itself.
“I’ve a meeting with distributors.”
“I didn’t know the French were keen on drinking whisky.”
“They aren’t,” I replied, with a lighter tone. “That’s why I’m going there.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“A few days.”
She stood in silence for a minute, moved her eyes from me, and glanced at the ocean. The sun was still up, but there were a couple of clouds on the horizon. A dozen seagulls were returning to land, resting on the dry land ahead of us, an indication that tonight would be raining.
“Well, just…” Claire started, moving her stare back to me. “…be weary of the French girls”
I laughed under a breath. She’d mentioned she wasn’t jealous, and I trust her word for it. Yet, I couldn’t help, but to enjoy the little green-eyed monster that suddenly every now and then made an appearance.
With an impulse, I took her face in my hands, and holding her gently, pressed my mouth to her lips. There was only one girl that mattered to me.
We kissed for a while, tangling ourselves in each other’s taste, the warmth of our bodies coming together against the chilly ocean breeze. And when we broke free, Claire gave me a half-smile. She kneeled in front of me, and took off her jacket. The air was freezing cold, and I could see her nipples through her shirt. She stood up, looked around, and gave me a teasing smile. “No one’s here.”
“Seems like it.”
“We’re alone,” Claire went on, kicking one boot off, then the other. “I mean- if you don’t count the seagulls…”
Sitting with my elbows against the sand, I watched as she unzipped her black jeans, pulling them down. She stood there, fearless, goosebumps and all. Her fair skin was contrasting with the bright sun, her red lips were the color of dark wine, and her hair batted against the wind with fury. She grabbed the hem of her shirt, slowly pulling the fabric away from her body, through her chest, then her head. She bit her lower lip, before tossing the shirt my way. I didn’t know what I wanted more, to touch her and have her right here, or to watch her forever doing this torturous striptease.
I licked my lips with desire, as she reached for the hem of her underwear, and unhurriedly started pushing the pink panties she was wearing down her long legs. I breathed hard trying to control the need to have her right then and there. Like a painting she stood before me, a vision of a naked goddess, with the water as her background, and the light hitting her eyes gently.
“Claire-“ I tried to stand up, and hand her back her jacket. Claire shook her head, and mouthed the word no, before kneeling back down again. Sitting on my lap, she started taking off my own jacket and shirt. Then, she placed her fingers on my lips, and shushed me, teasingly. As cold as it was, I didn’t protest.
I felt her hands play with the zipper on my pants, and helped her take them off, then my boxers. We stood naked for a minute, admiring each other, and feeding off each other’s warmth.
Then, she licked her lips with decision, leaned forward, and put her wet tongue on my neck. Tracing a path down my shoulders, Claire stopped when she reached my collarbone. I caught her mouth, kissing her ardently. Her body shivered against my own. I held her closer, placed my hands on her back, and pressed her breast against my chest.
She reached for a blanket, and wrapped it around her shoulders. With a free hand, she reached for my length, and we both laughed when she didn’t find its usual size.
“It’s too damn cold,” I said, hiding my embarrassment.
“I’ll keep you warm.”
We kissed again, sweet and tenderly, as her hand touched my length, holding her grip firmer with each stroke. I began to relax, the world disappeared around me, and Claire was the center of the universe.
She pushed herself up, and wrapped one arm around my neck for support. My hands fell down her back, lifting her ass, giving it the occasional squeeze as we kissed. Claire moaned against my mouth, deepening the kiss. My heart was starting to beat faster, and I broke free for air. “God, I want you.” I tangled my hand on her hair, and gently pulled her face just so I could see the desire in her eyes. I leaned down, bit the skin just under her ear, and whispered. “I want you so much.”
She mumbled something I didn’t quite understand, and with a push, I was inside of her.
Cold, tireless, and risking possible pneumonia, we made love. Carving her nails on my shoulders, she rode me to exhaustion. And when the wind around us was nothing but a light breeze, she closed her eyes, and cried my name out loud.