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Just A Friend

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A noise rouses me from my deep sleep. My legs ache as if from unaccustomed exercise and I feel in desperate need of a shower. Last night’s activities come hurtling back into my mind as I become aware of the large, warm body lying next to me. What had I been thinking? Actually, that was the problem—I hadn’t been thinking. My body betrayed me and totally bypassed my brain. I can’t even blame alcohol. Two beers each—last night can hardly be classed as a drunken mistake.

A loud snore makes me turn over to face the reality of what I’ve done. Jamie is lying flat on his back, still asleep. The duvet is loosely tucked around his torso, leaving his chest exposed. I feel myself blushing slightly as I notice the evidence of our nocturnal tryst—an angry purplish bruise on his shoulder and another above his left nipple.

I don’t want him to wake up just yet. I don’t really want to be having an awkward conversation at this time in the morning. And, the fact is, I don’t really know what I want. Actually, I do know—I want it to be this time twenty four hours ago—when Jamie and I were friends. Everything’s shifted now and I’m worried that it’s the end of our friendship.

So, we do need to talk, I know that. But not here, not now, not with the smell of sex in the air and my lips still tingling from his kisses.

With a muffled sort of ‘hmmph’ noise, Jamie rolls onto his side, facing me—fortunately still asleep. Under the duvet, one leg trespasses onto my side of the bed, trying to wind its way around my calf. I hold as still as possible, willing him not to wake up, trying to delay that inevitable moment of awkward realisation.

My mouth feels very dry. And I’m sure my breath must stink too. I can’t go to Geillis’ smelling like this—all garlic and sex and sweat.

Of course, brunch! I reach behind me and fumble around for my phone on the bedside table.

My phone tells me I have precisely one hour before I’m due at Geillis’.

“Shit!”

Jamie groggily opens his eyes as I leap out of bed and quickly gather up my sweatshirt from the floor, wrapping it around my torso. He looks half asleep and somewhat confused. Part of me just wants to reach out and stroke those auburn curls off his face. The other, more sane part of me holds back, not sure of the message I want to give to Jamie or what Jamie wants to hear.

Securing the sweatshirt under my arms I sidestep towards the door, conscious of his eyes following me.

“Morning.” I venture, clearing my throat.

“Morning,” he replies, warily.

“Look,” I begin. “I know we need to talk about...about...er, last night. But I need to get to Geillis’ for brunch. If I’m late she’ll think there’s something wrong. So, sorry, I need to have a shower after…well… after...”

“Aye, I ken.”

“Can I call you later and we’ll sort something out?” I find it difficult to look him in the eyes.

“Ok… er… I suppose. Till later then.”

*********

Once in the shower, I wash quickly but thoroughly, removing any trace of Jamie from my skin. It can’t, however, remove the turmoil going on in my head. The same thoughts keep revolving around my mind—what have I done? Was this a one night stand for Jamie? Does he want a ‘friends with benefits’ set up? Is this the end of our friendship? What do I actually want?

So many questions but I’ve got no answers.

Unbidden, an image pops into my head, scattering my questions to oblivion.Jamie’s face last night, close to mine, sharing the same breath as slowly, so slowly, he enters me, watching me. Even now, my body responds instinctively to that memory. A spark flickers in my groin, only to be extinguished as I think I hear the front door slam.

As I step out of the bathroom with my robe tied firmly around me, I’m not surprised to find that I’m all alone.

**************

The brisk walk to Geillis and Dougal’s house does nothing to clear my mind. Normally, I love this walk through the park on a bright Sunday morning, watching children feeding the ducks while parents relax on the benches. The fresh air and wonderful scenery in the middle of Glasgow’s urban sprawl usually fills me with a sense of freedom and relaxation—but not today.

The ping of my phone causes my heart to race. As I read the message from Geillis, asking me to pick up croissants en route, I can feel my heart rate return to normal but my thoughts are still completely tangled up. Am I pleased or disappointed that it wasn’t Jamie?

***********

Armed with a bag full of still warm croissants, Geillis lets me into her house. There’s no sign of Dougal.

Geillis notices me looking around.

“I’ve sent him tae see his mam,” she explains. “She’ll be desperate tae see her wee boy and I dinna think she’ll be that arsed about whether I’m there or no’. Besides, as much as I love him, I’ve been wi’ him all day every day fer two weeks and I need a bit of girl time. Ye dinna mind do ye? He’ll be back afore ye’ve gone. And I wanted ye all tae myself.”

I settle myself on the sofa in Geillis’ cosy kitchen while she busies herself brewing the coffee and setting the table.

“So tell me,” I begin. “How was St Lucia?”

Geillis’ description of their days spent relaxing on gorgeous sandy beaches, snorkelling in the warm blue ocean, and evenings spent drinking cocktails in little beach bars watching the sunset turn the sky golden, makes me long for a holiday like that and I suddenly realise how much I want to share it with someone special.

Eventually, she realises her coffee’s going cold. “So, enough about that. What’s been happening here while I’ve been away? Any news, eh?”

I look down at my plate, now full of flakes of buttery pastry and idly push a few back and forth. “Oh, nothing much. Work keeping us busy, as ever. We missed you, you know.”

Geillis tilts her head, trying to catch my eye. I look up and try to make my face as expressionless as possible.

“Claire,” she sees right through my glass face. “What’s happened? What’s gone on?”

I say nothing.

“Let me guess. Is it tae do wi’ work?... Jamie...er…?

At the mention of his name, I stop playing with the croissant crumbs.

Her face breaks into a huge grin. “It’s ye and Jamie, isn’t it? Ye’ve slept together. When? C’mon, spill.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk to Geillis about it, but as soon as she says that, I realise how much I need to tell someone.

Pushing my plate to one side, I rest my arms on the table and lay my head on them. “I’m not sure what I’ve done. Yes, we slept together last night, and now I think everything’s ruined. That’s it...our friendship gone.”

A chair scrapes across the floor as Geillis comes to sit beside me. She engulfs me in a tight hug and leans her head on my shoulder as I sit up.

“Claire, ye canna ruin a friendship with sex,” she cajoles. “It’s like ruining ice cream with chocolate sprinkles, eh.”

“If only it were that simple.”

“It could be that simple. Why not? Jes’ think about it...think about what ye want.”

“I want everything to go back to how it was—Jamie and I as friends.”

Geillis pulls away a little bit and looks me squarely in the face. “Truly? Is that what ye really want. Claire, think about it. Dinna lie tae yerself.”

“I—“ I pause and try to corral the thoughts rushing around my brain. Is that really what I want or do I want more? I’ve been telling myself for so long not to get involved, not to get hurt, it’s become my automatic response—don’t form relationships, get out before it gets too serious. I’ve never really questioned it before. But now Jamie has ignited emotions, feelings that I tried to keep locked away.

“I want Jamie in my life.” The words burst automatically from my mouth. And Geillis is right. It is simple. But—

“See, ye finally admitted it. Ye need him, don’t ye?”

I nod silently as tears fill my eyes. But I’m scared, I’m terrified of this feeling, this need for him. I’m scared of allowing myself to relax, to love someone and then to have it all vanish. That happens—they can just be taken from you in an instant. I’ve learnt that. And I’m frightened of being rejected.

“This isn’t easy for me,” I talk slowly, trying to find the right words to explain. “I don’t know what to do. I’m used to not getting involved, not having a relationship. If I let my guard down, relax, lo—“ I stop myself from that premature declaration. “And then what happens? People leave and I’m on my own again. Only this time it’s worse because I know how happy I can be.”

Geillis rips off a piece of kitchen towel and hands it to me. “Nothing but the finest here,” she smiles. “I ken ye sae well, Claire. Ye’re ma best friend and I ken what’s going on in yer head. I’ve seen yer fighting this fer weeks. Even when ye wouldna admit it tae yerself. Ye wrap yerself up in this shell, afraid tae let anyone in, afraid tae let yerself get truly involved. That’s why ye date men like Frank—they’re never going tae touch ye. And yes, it’s scary sometimes. But ye need tae take the risk.”

“But—“ I try and interrupt but Geillis hasn’t finished.

“Nah, I’m no’ done yet. I ken that, growing up things were no’ always easy but consider this— we’ve been best friends fer what… eight years, nine?”

I nod obediently.

“And I love ye. Ye’re ma family, ye’re the one I depend on. Ye ken mam and dad are bonkers. Anyway, ye love me too, right?”

Again, I nod, frantically sniffing and trying to hold back the tears at Geillis’ heartfelt words.

“Sae, ye’ve allowed yerself tae take the risk wi’ me. And look, I’m no’ going anywhere. I’m no’ leaving ye. Why could it no’ be the same wi’ Jamie? Go on, risk it, take that step.”

I know that Geillis is right. And I think that maybe, with Jamie, I’m ready to try. A feeling of excitement bubbles up inside me as I let myself consider a future with him—only to have the rational part of my brain quickly stamp on that emotion and grind it to little pieces.

“There’s another thing though, Geillis,” I explain as I twist the sodden piece of kitchen towel between my fingers. She gently takes it off me and passes me another.

“I mean, what if he doesn’t want me? What then? It might be just a casual one night thing to him. I can’t go back to being just a friend… I can’t.” Thinking of that, I start to cry, already anticipating this scenario.

At this, Geillis jumps up and rushes from the room, calling over her shoulder “Back in a sec. Just stay there.”

I’m more than a little confused, but, true to her word, she quickly returns carrying her iPad. She sets it on the table in front of us and selecting an app, types in a password.

“Our photographer has saved all our wedding photos here, for us to make our selection. Dougal and I were looking at them last night.” she explains.

I try to focus on what Geillis is saying. Perhaps she’s trying to distract me from my worries, cheer me up by looking at the photographs. I should stop thinking about my problem and let her have her moment of pride. But she's scrolling too rapidly for me to see the images, until she eventually stops.

“Here ye are,” she sighs. “Tell me what ye see.”

The photograph was obviously taken at the reception, after the meal. The white tablecloth is covered with glasses and cups. I’m sitting to the right, talking to someone not in the shot. My cheeks are slightly flushed from food and wine and my hair has started to free itself from its confines. I’m looking happy and relaxed. Jamie is sitting next to me, his jacket casually slung over the back of his chair, his hand resting on the backrest of mine. His face is partly turned towards the camera. There’s a small smile on his lips, but it’s his expression in his eyes I notice, watching me with such softness, such tenderness and, dare I say, such longing, that it takes my breath away.

Geillis touches my arm. “Ye see it, don’t ye? Claire, that is clearly a man in love—and I dinna mean with Great aunt Frances. Seriously, ma pet, rejection is something ye dinna need tae worry about. Sae, ye need tae tidy yerself up a wee bit, dry those eyes and go and get yer man.”

***************

There’s no word from Jamie and so, once I’m home, I decide to take the initiative and contact him. However, inspiration fails me, so in the end I decide to keep it simple.

I think we need to talk. When are you free?

Anytime today

I’m at home for the rest of the day.

I’m on my way

I quickly rush to the bathroom to check that the effects of my tears have disappeared—no red eyes or snotty nose, thank goodness. I add a dab of perfume and a touch of lipstick before running my fingers through my curls.

Time passes slowly when you’re watching the clock. Every second lasts a minute, every minute an hour. I try and focus on something else but fail miserably. Jamie’s presence is everywhere in my flat—from the living room sofa where it all started, to my bedroom where it came to it’s natural conclusion. I retreat to the kitchen but the pizza boxes and empty beer bottles are a further reminder of him. And so I end up wandering aimlessly from room to room, constantly checking my phone, constantly listening for footsteps outside my door.

Eventually, the doorbell rings. With sweaty palms and my stomach performing somersaults, I walk to the door, taking long, slow breaths, trying to keep myself calm.

Jamie stands in the doorway. He’s wearing his favourite rugby shirt and jeans that I’ve seen him wear so many times, but somehow today he looks different. I feel so aware of his body underneath his clothes, I need to catch my breath.

“Come in, please.”

Today he’s holding back—yesterday he needed no such invitation. With a brief hello, he follows me into the living room, standing awkwardly next to the sofa.

“Will you sit down? Drink?”

“No, thanks. I’m fine.” He sits on the sofa, wiping his hands on his jeans. Maybe he’s as nervous as me. Maybe Geillis and I have got it wrong and he’s here to put me straight.

I sit on the chair opposite him. An awkward silence descends. It’s so strange—not even twenty four hours ago, he was making me scream with pleasure, and now we can’t even look each other in the eye.

I clear my throat. “Jamie—“ I begin.

“Claire, please. Can I say what I need tae say,” he interrupts me nervously, looking down at his hands.

I’m finding it difficult to keep still, my knee won’t stop jiggling and I keep biting the inside of my cheek, but I let Jamie speak.

“Yesterday...last night…I didna plan that... I didna come here for that.”

Even through my nerves, I can’t help but smile at this confession. “I know that, I was the one who invited you here, remember? And I was the one who—”

“Aye, ye were. But I wasna sorry. And I’d be lying if I said it wasna welcome. In fact, I’d been wanting it for the longest time,” he pauses and takes a deep breath before continuing. “That is...I mean...not jes’ the sex but a relationship wi’ ye, Claire. I held back because I thought...think...thought ye jes’ wanted tae be friends. But now I need tae tell ye this, after what’s happened, I dinna think I can go back tae that. Mebbe we could try, if that’s what ye want, but for me that’s no’ going tae be enough.”

Finally, he looks up at me and I see it. I see what the photographer captured. How could I have missed it? And, just like that, a weight is lifted off me and my stomach stops it’s somersaults only to be replaced by a feeling of excitement and anticipation.

In one swift move, I’m at his side. Reaching out to touch his cheek, my fingers stroke the soft bristles. He turns to me, eyes now full of confusion—am I trying to console him as I deliver unwelcome news?

“Jamie,” I speak softly. “I didn’t think I wanted a relationship.”

His body tenses and he tries to turn his face away as I continue.

“But, then I met you. I thought I just wanted you as a friend. But I was scared to admit to myself that I wanted—want— more. So, I don’t want us to be just friends. That’s not enough for me now. I’m ready to move forward.”

He breathes a large sigh and I feel his body relax. A huge grin lights up his face. His arm draws me in and I snuggle there, resting my head on his chest.

“Sae, Miss Beauchamp, do ye want tae go out wi’ me then?” His voice sends vibrations through my body.

“Jamie, we’ve already been out loads of times.” I laugh.

“Ah, but this is different, this is courting,” he over enunciates the last word. “We go out, aye, but this time there’ll be hand holding, secret looks and then we rush home when ye canna keep yer hands off me.”

I playfully punch his shoulder. “Or vice versa.” I’m feeling bold and playful now, almost giddy with relief. “Maybe you won’t be able to keep your hands off me.”

His hand, snaking down my back to rest against my bottom, proves the truth of this statement.

“Mebbe,” he kisses the top of my head. “Sae, would ye like tae go out fer dinner tonight, as a couple?”

It’s amazing how natural, how right this feels to me. I sit up. “What I would really like is dinner here. We don’t have to go out.”

“And?” Jamie gives me his attempt at a wink and, as usual, fails miserably.

“Well, maybe an early night? It’s been a stressful day.”

He glances down at his watch. “It’s four thirty. Is that early enough fer ye?”

“Never too early,” I laugh as he leans in and wraps his arms around me, showering my neck with tiny kisses that send shivers down my spine.

“Oh, Claire,” he whispers between kisses.

And just like that, with Jamie’s arms around me, I feel like I’m home. I’ve found what I never even realised I was searching for. All the doubt and worry in my mind has disappeared. It seems so clear now. This isn’t scary, it’s exciting. This is where we’re meant to be—moving forward together.

This isn’t the end. It’s just our beginning.