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Lost Summer

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September 2012, Albany, NY

"Claire!"

I jumped, nearly spilling my coffee. "Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, Gillian. You shouldn't go sneaking up on people like that."

"Sorry, darling. I was just excited I found you here," Gillian said, pouring herself a cup of coffee and looking at me with a glimmer of mischief in her emerald green eyes.

"It's too early to be excited," I responded, rolling my eyes at her.

"Early? You weren't the one doing a c-section at 3 AM. Sometimes I think you picked your specialty because it means you don't have to take as many middle of the night emergency calls."

"Yes," I replied, smirking. "Because Perinatal-Neonatal Surgery  was the easy way out."

"Alright, alright.  You don't have to remind the rest of us mere mortals that you're a genius."

"So, are you going to tell me what you're excited about or do I have to ask?" I looked at my watch, knowing the Residents would be waiting for me to do rounds.

"Oh! Yes, of course. You are going on a date tonight!" she replied, looking at me over her coffee mug with wide eyes.

"No," I replied. "No more blind dates."

"Claaaaaiiirree," she said in a fake whine. "I don't know why you bother saying no, when you know I won't take no for an answer."

"Gillian, how many blind dates have you set up for me? And how many of those have worked out?"

"But this one will be a double date! Doug and I will be there, too."

I groaned. Doug , her latest beau, was not my favorite person.

"Please, Claire. Doug promised his friend he'd fix him up with someone."

"Doesn't Doug have any friends he can fix him up with?"

"None that he hasn't already slept with." She giggled and winked.

Not wanting to unpack that statement, I ignored it and replied, "And who is this friend of Doug's that I'm meant to go out with?"

"I think he said his name is John ? Or maybe Jake? It's not important. You'll find out tonight." She spoke as if the matter was settled.

"Gillian, I don't know."

"Come on, Claire. Doug says the poor guy hasn't had much luck in the dating department."

"Oh, we'll make a perfect match then. Two undateable people, what could possibly go wrong?"

"Claaaaiiiireee," she whined again.

"Fine," I acquiesced, putting my mug on the counter. "I'll go, but you have to promise not to ditch me with this guy like you did last time."

She pointed her finger at her chest and made an X. "Cross my heart." She gave a small squeal and turned to run out of the doctor's lounge.

I sighed and had just turned on the water to rinse my mug out when Gillian popped her head back in the door. "Oh. I forgot to tell you. Doug says he's Irish or something. Accents can be fun!" She winked at me and headed out the door again.

I went through morning rounds wondering how I had let myself get talked into yet another blind date. Since I'd moved to Albany two years ago and started my job at Capital Region Medical Center, I'd managed to convince most of my coworkers that I was not interested in happy hours and dinner parties. Gillian Edgars, though, was relentless.

The truth was that I had actually come to think of her as a friend, after she'd worn me down until I had no other choice. She constantly regaled me with stories of her dating adventures, keeping me entertained during the procedures we partnered on. During long nights in the doctor’s lounge, she forced ridiculous bodice ripper novels on me and then giggled with me over the smuttiest parts. She showed up at my apartment on Saturdays and dragged me to the farmer's market.

No, I hadn't been looking for a friend, preferring to keep to myself and stay in on my days off, but Gillian had chipped away at me until I had no choice but to accept her overbearing love. And that was how I found myself on an endless streak of blind dates with every man in a twenty-mile radius.

You'll get through this one, Beauchamp, I told myself. Just like you've gotten through every other one before.

Gillian and I were pulled into a last-minute surgery, so we were both running late for our double date. I rushed home to change quickly, grateful that I didn’t have time to agonize over what to wear or talk myself out of the date completely. I chose a simple black dress and threw it on, examining myself in the mirror.

There wasn't much I could do with my hair without washing it and starting over. I had straightened it that morning, but by this time of day, my curls were straining to spring free, causing a massive poof of frizz sitting on top of my head. Glancing at the clock, I rubbed some frizz-ease into my fingers and pulled my hair back into a ponytail, shrugging at my reflection.

My phone vibrated and I glanced at the text on the screen.

Gillian: I'm outside. Hurry up!

No time to touch up my makeup, I threw on some red lipstick and headed out the door.

"You ready?" she asked me, as I slid into the passenger seat of her sports car.

"As ready as I'll ever be."

When she pulled into the restaurant parking, I checked my hair and makeup one more time in the visor mirror.

Gillian looked at me smugly. "I thought you didn't care how this date goes."

"Well, I'm not about to look like a slob. It's not as if I don't want to find a nice guy!"

"Are you sure about that, Claire?" she asked, suddenly serious. "Because I've watched you pick apart every man I've set you up with for the last year."

"I can't help it if I'm picky!"

"Just remember, it's a date, not an autopsy." 

When we entered the restaurant , Gillian walked past the hostess and stood on her tiptoes, looking around for Doug and his companion. When she spotted them at a table across the room, she pulled me by the arm.

His back was to me as we approached the table, but I knew it was him. Nobody else in the world held his shoulders in quite that way. Nobody else’s hair was that particular shade of red, a mixture of copper and auburn and claret all mixed together in a mass of curls.

I stopped dead in my tracks, my palms instantly sweating, and tried to take in a deep breath. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. Gillian gave me a strange look and I shook my head at her, holding up a finger to ask for a moment. Get it together, Beauchamp. I closed my eyes briefly and swallowed hard, my mouth suddenly feeling like I'd been chewing on sawdust.

Doug noticed us then and stood up as Gillian dragged me the few extra steps we needed to get to the table. Taking his cue from Doug, my date stood and turned around. He had a wide smiling of greeting on his face that disappeared when he saw who his mystery date was. His face went completely white and I could see his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat as he took a hard swallow. His light blue eyes locked into mine.

I vaguely heard Doug introducing us from across the table. “Claire this is – “

Unable to take my eyes away from his, I just smiled and finished the sentence for him. “Jamie Fraser.”

"Claire Beauchamp," he replied, his voice hoarse. His throat must be as dry as mine right now.

We held each other's gaze for another moment and then his face broke out into a genuine smile. I laughed nervously. "Hi," I said, feeling the heat rise in my cheeks.

"Hi," he replied.

"I take it you two already know  each other?" Gillian asked, her voice breaking our trance.

I smiled at her as Jamie pulled my chair out for me. "I guess you could say that," I replied as I took a seat.

July 1982, Raquette Lake, NY

My first conscious memory is of Jamie Fraser  dumping a muddy bucket of water over my head at the beach. We were both two years old at the time, me in my bikini with my little pot belly sticking out, he in nothing but a cloth diaper. He toddled over to me with a crooked grin on his face, his auburn hair sticking straight up on top of his head, and tipped the entire bucket over my mass of brown curls.

As soon as he did it, he burst into hysterical laughter right before I burst into hysterical tears.  When he saw my tears, his laughter turned into cries, and we both ran to our mothers for comfort. My mother enveloped me in her warm arms and gave me kisses on my muddy face. She pulled an extra towel out of the beach bag and wiped the mud off.

Jamie came back to me then, his lower lip still pouting and quivering, his arms stretched for a hug. At the age of two I was apparently not prone to holding grudges.  I hugged him back and he said to me, “Sowwy Cwaire.” Then we ran off to play together, all transgressions  forgiven.

September 2012, Albany, NY

Forgiveness is a funny thing. As a child, you give it freely. A simple "I'm sorry," can erase almost any hurt. As you grow older, get burned a few times, develop a few scars, it becomes harder and harder to give. "I'm sorry," is the beginning of the conversation, not the end. And if you're burned enough times, develop scars that will never heal, forgiveness becomes an abstract concept, something Oprah talks about giving for yourself. And there are some wounds that can never be mended, not with a million "I'm sorries."

But you forge ahead and move on, wearing your scars like a layer of protection.  And if you happen to cross paths with the one who cut you the deepest? Well, you put on a brave face and make it through a blind date with him, keeping as much of your dignity intact as possible. 

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September 2012, Albany, NY

I couldn’t help but stare at him. It had been…Christ, it had been   years. I searched his face for the changes I knew would be there after all that time. The well-defined bone structure that had been softened by baby fat in his youth was now all sharp angles. I could cut my steak on that jawline.  The straight line of his nose was now interrupted by a bump, likely the result of a broken nose at some point along the way, giving it an almost rakish quality.  His eyes were the same, ocean blue and slanted at the corner, like a cat’s, though there were fine wrinkles beginning to develop at the corners. Otherwise, nothing had changed: same lopsided smile, same cock  of his head, same crooked tooth in the upper right quadrant of his mouth.  

I wondered how much I had changed in the last fifteen years. I didn’t think much was different, but I wasn’t one to spend much time in front of a mirror. I realized he was examining my face, too, and I suddenly regretted not making Gillian wait five minutes so I could have applied some eyeliner before we left.

When Gillian cleared her throat, I shook my head slightly, breaking our locked-in gaze. I took a slow sip of my water and smiled at her and Doug. “So,” she said finally. “Are you going to tell us how you two know each other or are we all going to sit here with our mouths open catching flies the entire night?”

I glanced at Jamie and we both started to speak at the same time:

“Well, you see – “

“Our parents were – “

“You go first – “

“Go ahead – “

Finally, Jamie sat back in his seat and put his fingers to his lips, making a zipping motion. I smiled nervously and began the story.

July 1974, Raquette Lake, NY

Our parents had been taking camping trips together since before either of us were born. On my parent's first camping trip together as a young married couple, my mother, Julia, forgot to pack the propane for the camp stove. It had rained all day, making setting up camp a miserable experience, and they didn't finish until it was dark. My father, Henry, set up the camp stove by lantern light, cursing as his eyes strained to read the directions that came with it.

Finally completing his task, he had turned to my mother and asked, "Where did you pack the propane?" My mother responded, "What propane?" And then they began arguing with each other in the way that married couples do when they are exhausted and hungry and at their wits end.

They were about to throw in the towel, pack up the camp and go home, when a voice said, "I'm sorry fer eavesdropping, but ye ken it's hard no' tae hear when we're all outside and the noise carries. Anyway, my wife, Ellen, and I couldna help but overhear about yer issues wi' the camp stove, so I brought ye this." The tall dark-haired man held out his hand; in it was a small, green portable propane tank.

"Oh, we couldn't possibly," my father replied, holding up a hand in protest. "But that's very kind of you, uh…"

"Och, sorry. Where are my manners? Brian Fraser. And, really, I insist."

"Henry Beauchamp," my father replied, taking the green cylinder from his hand. "My wife, Julia. Thank you so much, Brian. We'll go into town tomorrow first thing and replace it."

"Dinna fash," Brian replied. "We've got plenty. In fact, would ye like to join us fer dinner? Ellen says it's just about ready and she always cooks enough to feed an army."

My parents attempted to refuse politely, but Brian insisted, and my parents found themselves sitting around the picnic table with the Frasers, enjoying a meal of hamburgers and baked beans.

They ate every meal together after that, and when it was time for both couples to break camp and head their separate ways, they exchanged phone numbers and promises to spend another week camping together the following summer.

September 2012, Albany, NY

“And they did?” Gillian asked.

“Aye,” Jamie chimed in. He’d barely strung more than two words together since our date started, and I was surprised to find that his melodic Scottish accent still gave me a sense of peace, like hearing your favorite song on the radio . “Though by the next year my brother Willie had come along.” My heart fell into my stomach at the mention of his name, but Jamie seemed nonplussed about it. “Then a few years later my sister Jenny. Then finally, me and Claire.”

“And they did this every summer?” Doug asked.

“Yep,” I replied. “For the first ten years of our lives.”

“What happened then?” Gillian asked. She was in her glory watching a real-life soap opera play out in front of her very eyes.

I reached for another sip of water, looking down. Jamie cleared his throat and adjusted himself in his seat. “My family moved back to Scotland before the next summer.”

Suddenly Gillian slapped herself on the forehead. “Oh, Claire, I’m sorry. I forgot that was when you went to live with your Uncle.”

I gave her a small smile. “It’s ok. I don’t expect you to remember every little detail of my life.”

July 1990, Raquette Lake, NY

The summer we were ten, Jamie and I were inseparable. His older sister, Jenny, had decided that she was too old to hang around us anymore, and our parents seemed preoccupied most of the time, so we had little adult supervision and a lot of free time on our hands. At night we would sneak out of our tents and walk to the beach, scared to hold hands but deliberately bumping them into each other while we walked.

We would sit on the beach and talk for hours about our families, our friends, what music we liked, what TV shows we watched. We laid on the sand together and he told me about what we were looking at in the night sky. “That’s Andromeda,” he told me.

“Is that a constellation?”

“No,” he replied. “It’s a whole other galaxy!”

“A whole other galaxy?” I asked. At ten years old the concept blew my mind. “So like, we’re in a galaxy, but we can see another galaxy? Can they see us?”

“I dinna ken. I dinna even ken if there’s life there. And even if there is now, it’s so far away that you wouldn’t be able to see what’s happening there now for another two and a half million years.”

“That doesn’t make any sense!”

“Aye, it does. It’s two and a half million light years away!”

“I don’t get it,” I replied, rolling my eyes at him.

“It’s like time travel, almost,” he replied. “If someone from Andromeda were looking at our galaxy right now, they would see what our galaxy looked like two and a half million years ago.”

“Seems weird,” I replied. “What’s that one?” I asked, pointing at what I hoped was a constellation this time.

“That’s the Sagittarius Teapot. Ye see? There’s the top handle and the side handle. And over there is the spout. It even looks like it’s steaming some nights, but ye canna tell tonight.”

I stared for the longest time, unable to see what Jamie was seeing. The harder I looked, the more random the stars seemed to appear. Finally, Jamie turned his head to me and laughed. “Yer squintin’ yer eyes like an auld lady. Just let yer eyes relax and stop thinking so hard.”

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. At first, I tried to think of the best way to get my eyes to relax, but then I realized that was counterproductive, so I counted slowly to ten and then opened them. “Oh my god!” I yelled. “I see it! Jamie, I see it. That’s so cool!”

He smiled at me and squeezed my hand.

On our last night at the beach, he kissed me. I closed my eyes as he pressed his closed lips to mine with his hands resting on my freckled shoulders. It was a chaste kiss by almost any measure, but at the time it was the most romantic thing that had ever happened to me. After, he asked me if I would be his girlfriend, and I said yes.

The next morning, with our family’s cars packed up and ready to go, Jamie and I promised to write to each other every day until we could see each other again the next summer.

That August, his mother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. He wrote to me almost weekly and would mention his mother’s illness from time to time, but mostly in relation to the everyday happenings he reported to me.

I had a soccer game the other day. Da came, but Ma couldn’t make it. She wasn’t feeling well. I wish you could have been there!

I had no clue how sick she was, and I don’t know if Jamie did either. 

She died in November, and Brian Fraser moved his family back to Scotland right after Christmas. We still wrote letters, and I loved hearing about his adventures on the farm his father had purchased, Lallybroch. It sounded romantic and I pictured a pastoral Scottish estate filled with Lords and Ladies, though I knew that was silly. He promised to ask his father if I could come visit him that summer.

I never got a chance to ask my parents. In the spring they were both killed by a drunk driver. Having no other family, my Uncle Lamb assumed guardianship and I was quickly whisked away with him on his latest archeological dig. I spent the next three years living a rather unconventional life, moving from dig to dig with Uncle Lamb and his ever-changing pack of graduate students. I tried to keep up with my letters to Jamie but my constantly changing address made it too difficult. I eventually gave up. 

September 2012, Albany, NY

“So, you were each other’s first kiss?” Gillian asked. “Looks like we finally made a good match, Doug!” she said, slapping him on the arm.

The waiter came over then, thankfully, and we all ordered. Doug and Gillian carried on with their own conversation, leaving me and Jamie to fend for ourselves. I suppose they thought that, with our history, we would have plenty to talk about. When the wine came, I gratefully took a long sip before turning to Jamie. “How is your family?” I asked him.

“Jenny’s doing braw!” he replied, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his phone. He put in his passcode and navigated to his photo gallery. “She’s got six children, if you can believe it.” He swiped the phone showing me photo after photo of his nieces and nephews.

“Six children?” I said, incredulously. “She must be busy!”

“Oh aye, she is. And she owns her own company, too. Have ye heard of Jenny’s Jar Candles?”

“Of course I have!” I replied. “I have about five of them at my house right now.” He looked at me for a moment, letting my mind put the pieces together. “Oh my god! Your sister is the Jenny ? Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, I’ve seen pictures of her, and I knew she looked familiar! But she goes by Jenny…Murphy now?”

“Murray,” he corrected me with a smile.

“Well, if anyone could raise six children while running a million-dollar business, it’s your sister.” I laughed, remembering the way she would boss all of us around, even her older brother, Willie.

“How about your father? How is he?”

Jamie cleared his throat and took a sip of wine before replying, hoarsely, “Da died .”

“Jamie, I’m so sorry,” I said, placing my hand on his arm without even thinking.

“It’s all right,” he replied, giving me a small smile. “It’s been…a long time now.”

Our food arrived and I was thankful for the break in conversation granted to us. Doug talked a bit about politics  while the rest of us politely chewed and nodded, none of us really wanting to get into it about the upcoming Presidential Election in mixed company.

“How is yer Uncle?” Jamie asked.

I nearly choked. Did he really not know? How could that be possible? But then again, how would he know? I’d found out after Jamie left, and since I’d never heard from him again, he wouldn’t have had any way of knowing. It’s not as if a guy that jilts you is going to check the obituaries regularly for news of your Uncle.

“He passed away as well,” I told him. “Heat stroke, while he was on a dig.”

“Claire,” he breathed out quietly. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s alright,” I replied. “It was also a long time ago.”

He chewed his food thoughtfully for a moment before changing the subject completely. “So, Doug says yer a doctor?”

I smiled, happy to be on more familiar territory. “Yes. A surgeon, actually.”

“Oh, I thought ye were a baby doctor like Gillian.”

“Well, I am. I do surgeries on newborn babies and babies that are still in utero.”

Jamie looked impressed, and Gillian chimed in. “She’s being modest, Jamie. She’s one of the youngest and one of the best Perinatal-Neonatal Surgeons  in the country. Our hospital paid a pretty penny to get her to come here and build up our program.”

“That’s amazing Claire. I was wondering how ye ended up back here. I remember ye were going tae Harvard.”

My jaw clenched and I gripped the fork in my hand tightly. “Thank you, yes. I did go to Harvard,” I replied behind a tight smile.

“Jamie works for the State Parks Department,” Doug chimed in. “That’s how I met him, when we were doing a forest fire prevention campaign.” Doug worked for the city fire department doing something in public relations.

I couldn’t help but smile at that. “You always did love the outdoors.”

When the dinner finally, mercifully, ended, Jamie and I walked out of the restaurant behind Doug and Gillian. When we reached the parking lot, he turned to me, and grabbed one of my hands. I pulled it back quickly, feeling a pang of remorse when I saw the look on his face. “I’m sorry, Jamie. I didn’t mean – “

“Claire,” he interrupted me. “I ken there’s a lot that went unsaid tonight, and I ken ye may never want tae see me again, but I was hoping ye might be willing to give me a chance to…explain. And maybe get tae know ye again.”

“I don’t know, Jamie. I think sometimes it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.”“I’m no’ asking for ye to forgive me. It’s just…it was braw tae see ye tonight, and I just thought that maybe ye felt the same way. I suppose that was foolish of me.”

I gave him a tentative smile. “It was good to see you, Jamie. There’s nobody else in my life that knows me from all that time ago.  It was nice to have that for a little while.”

“Then, maybe ye’d like tae get coffee with me sometime? ”

I sighed, unsure of what to do. It had been nice to see him, despite everything that had gone unsaid between us. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to think about it.

“Why don’t you give me your number, and I’ll let you know.” I handed him my phone and he quickly programmed his number into it.

Handing it back to me he said, “Good night, Claire.”

“Good night, Jamie.” 

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September 2012, Albany, NY

Once I was out from Jamie's charming spell, the novelty of seeing him wore off, and I began again to feel the deep hurt that I had kept stuffed away for many years. I spent a week composing text messages to Jamie that I never sent, cursing myself the entire time for letting him give me his number and get in my head. They ranged from long rambling messages telling him all the ways he had hurt me, to short messages telling him in different ways to fuck off.

On my first Saturday off in weeks, I woke up late, stretching luxuriously in my bed. I had big plans to spend the day catching up on Scandal and Dexter in my pajamas all day. I reached over to check the time on my phone and saw Gillian had been texting me.

Gillian (8:15): I'm at the Farmer's Market with Doug and your Scot. Care to meet us?

Gillian (8:30): Are you still sleeping?

Gillian (8:32): Am I going to have to come drag you out of your apartment again?

Gillian (8:35): Jamie says you never texted him. What is wrong with you? I'm coming over later.

I groaned and looked at the time. Ten o'clock. Hopefully Gillian had already forgotten about her plans to come over and bombard me with questions.

I got up and made some coffee and grabbed a yogurt from the fridge. I sat settled into the couch and turned on my TV and DVR, covering my legs with a blanket and getting ready to become a permanent resident of my couch for the day.

Fifteen minutes into the show, I realized I hadn't even been paying attention to what was going on. Damn Gillian and damn Jamie Fraser. Without thinking, I set my mug down on the coffee table and walked back to my bedroom. I opened my closet door and pulled down a box that always sat on the top shelf. Sitting on the floor, I started rummaging through the box.

The fact that all the memories of my childhood that remained could be contained in one box would have upset me, if I wasn't already upset that a good fifty percent of the box also contained memories of Jamie. Torturing myself, I pulled out my old photo album and started to flip through the pages.

My mother and father, forever young and vibrant in pictures and my memories, smiled happily in all the pictures. I felt a tear fall from my eye as I traced my finger over the plastic covering the pictures of my parents with me as a baby.  They had tried for many years to have me; they told me I was their little miracle.

The next page held pictures of my first camping trip, one I would never remember. I was just nine months old then, hanging out in a little playpen on the campsite. In the next photo, I'm on the beach on a blanket next to a two-year-old Jenny, both of us grinning. A tiny baby Jamie lays on the blanket in front of us. He must have only been two months old then, I realize.

I skipped ahead to the middle of the album and open to a page where the pictures take on a different tone. There is a picture of me and Jamie holding up fish that we caught in the lake. My smile is gleeful, full of pride. Jamie also smiles, but it is subdued, clouded with pain. I do not need to see the date written on the back to know what summer the picture was taken.

July 1987, Raquette Lake, NY

Willie had been our hero, our leader. Five years older than Jamie and me, he carried with him an air of authority. Even when he was on the precipice of his teens, he was still willing to spend time with Jamie, Jenny, and me.

When Jamie and I were seven, both of us were still using training wheels on our bicycles, something Jenny and Willie had long since moved past. Jenny teased us for not being able to keep up, but Willie was patient, encouraging. Once day, in the middle of our week together, he decided enough was enough and he removed the training wheels from our bikes. “Ye’ll learn now,” he told us.

Our campsites were on a dead and road. There was a small hill and then a large circle of paved road for cars to turn around. There, Willie spent the entire morning with us. He held our bikes as we wobbled along, letting us go when he felt we were steady, and picking us up when we fell. By the time our mothers called us for lunch, we were whizzing in circles without assistance, with Willie cheering us on.

He took all of us fishing early one morning, hooking the live bait for Jenny and me when we screeched at touching the worms and patiently showing us how to cast our lines. We waited as patiently as we could, hoping to catch a bite. After about an hour, Jamie and I were getting squirmy as our patience wore thin. We were about to give up and go back to the campsites for breakfast when Jamie felt something tugging on his line. Willie abandoned his own fishing pole to stand behind Jamie, helping him slowly reel the fish in.

The fish was tiny, too small to feed even one small person, so Willie slapped Jamie on the back, telling him he was “braw,” before helping him unhook the fish and throw it back in the water. Jamie’s face beamed with pride for the rest of the day.

September 2012, Albany, NY

I was grateful again for the plastic covering on the albums as more tears began to fall. The following spring, Willie had been stung by a bee. He went into anaphylactic shock and died on his way to the hospital, weeks before his thirteenth birthday.

The following summer, the whole Fraser family reminded me of shadows; dark, silent versions of themselves. Jamie was no longer the happy go lucky boy he had been. At eight years old, he carried a weight on his shoulders that no child should ever have to bear. He had lost his brother, his hero, his best friend.

Well, that’s enough traveling down memory lane for one day, I thought, closing the album and replacing it in the box. I sat on the floor a little while longer, hugging my knees to my chest, trying to decide what to do next.

Suddenly, I heard my front door open, and Gillian’s voice called out, “Hello! Claire, are you home?”

Cursing the day I gave her a key to my apartment for emergencies, I called back, “In my bedroom! Just a minute.”

Of course, she didn’t give me a minute, but came bursting into my bedroom immediately. “I’ve been texting you all morning and you haven’t –“ She paused when she saw my red eyes and sniffling nose. “Claire, what’s wrong?”

I looked up at her and shook my head. It had been a very long time since I’d had a friend as close enough as Gillian to share my pain with. She sat down on the floor with me and put her arms around me, rocking me back and forth. “You don’t have to tell me, Claire, but it might help.” How long had it been since anybody had held me like this, comforted me? Probably as long as it had been since the last time I saw Jamie.

Taking a deep breath, I sat up and wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. I looked at Gillian, trying to make a decision. Do I keep this part of my life closed off, compartmentalized, along with all the feelings that came with it? If I open the floodgates, can I finally release everything, finding true closure? Slowly, I reach over and pull the photo album back out of the box, handing it to Gillian.

“There’s a lot more history between me and Jamie that I haven’t told you yet.”

I told Gillian everything about Jamie and me. I started from where I left off the other night at the restaurant and told her the entire story, right up through the last time I saw him or heard from him. I told her about my broken heart and how I had picked up the pieces slowly, using them to build a wall to keep out any future invasions.

When I was done, we both sat on my floor, backs against my bed. She was quiet for a long while and then finally said, “You have to talk to him.”

I sniffled and wiped my face with a tissue. “I don’t know if I can.”

“Look, maybe he has a good explanation for what he did. Or maybe he is just a heartless beast and you can finally tell him off. Either way, you can finally get some closure on this and move on.”

I nodded. “I’ll at least text him. God, Gillian, I don’t even know how to start this conversation with him. It’s not like it’s something we can just discuss over coffee.”

She handed me my phone and left after making me promise to text him.

As soon as she was gone, I unlocked it and opened to my contacts. Finding Jamie’s name, I paused, considering and then finally typed the message and hit send before I could think about it anymore.

Claire (12:15): Hey. It’s me, Claire.

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August 1993, Speculator, NY

The summer when I was thirteen, Uncle Lamb was assigned to a dig in a dangerous part of the Middle East, so he shipped me off to a summer camp in the Adirondacks, not far from where I had spent the first ten summers of my life.  Most of the campers stayed for a week or two; I was the only permanent resident. By this point in my life I had learned to keep mostly to myself, not depending on any relationships to last long enough to matter, so I was impervious to the constantly changing flow of fellow campers.

One Sunday in early August, during the weekly "getting to know you" gathering, I was sitting with some of the new girls from my cabin, chatting casually, when I saw Jamie. He stood head and shoulders above his friends and his gangly limbs reminded me of newborn colt trying to stand for the first time. I hadn’t seen him in three years, but I would have recognized him anywhere.

I stood up, brushing the sand off my bottom, and walked over to him. As soon as he saw me coming, his face broke into a huge, metal filled grin. "Claire!"

"Hi!" I said, suddenly shy. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask the same of ye!" His face was full of pimples and his voice constantly cracked. "The last I heard from ye, ye were in Egypt."

"That was a while ago," I giggled nervously. "I'm sorry I stopped writing. It was just too hard, moving constantly. Did you move back to the states?"

"Aye, we just moved back at the end of the school year."

"Well, it's really nice to see you, Jamie."

We saw each other throughout the week, but he was usually with his group of friends and I was with my bunkmates. On Friday night, there was a dance. I put on the dress I had worn to every Friday night dance that summer and pulled my unruly hair into a ponytail.

Jamie was there with his friends, standing around drinking punch and goofing off. I danced and laughed with my bunkmates. Occasionally, I would catch Jamie looking at me, but he didn't approach me until the very last dance. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see his friends teasing and pushing him in my direction.

I smiled at him and he finally came forward.  "Would ye like to dance, Claire?" I nodded and we moved to the dance floor. I placed my hands on his shoulders and he put his on my waist, our bodies barely touching, and we swayed together to I Will Always Love You.

After the dance ended, we hung back a little, letting the crowd of campers get ahead on the way back to the cabins. We walked slowly, holding hands. "We go home tomorrow," he said.

"You will," I replied, "but I'll be stuck here all summer."

"I'm really sorry, Claire. I wish ye didna have tae move around so much. Ye seem lonely."

I was glad it was dark because I didn't want him to see the tears I was fighting back. "I'm alright," I finally said.

When we reached the split in the path where we had to part ways, I turned to him to say good night. Before I could say a word, he bent down and kissed me, tentatively poking his tongue at my lips. I had never French kissed a boy before, and I wasn't quite sure what to do. After a few seconds, he pulled away from me and said, "Good night, Claire," before turning and running off toward the boys' cabins. I realized before it was too late that I had forgotten to ask him for his new address.

September 2012, Albany, NY

Jamie (12:16): Hey

Jamie (12:16): It was good to see you the other day

Claire (12:17): You too

Jamie (12:18): I’d like to see you again. If you want

Claire (12:20): I’m not sure I’m ready for that

Jamie (12:20): I understand

Claire (12:22): I was thinking about you today

Jamie (12:22): Yeah?

Claire (12:23): Just looking through old pictures

Jamie (12:23): Can you send me some?

Claire (12:24): Sure, hold on

 

I pulled out the photo album again, and snapped a few shots, sending them off to Jamie.

 

Jamie (12:26): OMG, these are great!

Claire (12:26): Hahaha, here’s one from when I climbed that tree and couldn’t get down

Jamie (12:27): I remember that. Willie and I had to climb the tree to help you so you wouldn’t get in trouble

Claire (12:29): Do you miss him?

Jamie (12:31): Yeah

Claire (12:31): I’m sorry… I was just thinking about him today

Jamie (12:32): It’s ok. Doesn’t hurt like it used to

Claire (12:35): Maybe this would be better in person

Jamie (12:35): It’s up to you

Claire (12:35): I don’t know if I’m ready to talk about…. everything. But maybe we can get some coffee

Jamie (12:36): That sounds good. Are you free now?

Claire (12:36): Now? I guess so. I don’t even know where you live.

Jamie (12:37): I live right in the city. You?

Claire (12:37): Same

Jamie (12:37): Uncommon Grounds at 1:30?

Claire (12:38): On Western?

Jamie (12:38): Yeah

Claire (12:39): See you then

 

I took several deep breaths, quelling the panic rising in my chest. First things first, Beauchamp. You’re still in your pajamas.

I got dressed and threw on some makeup, trying to cover up the fact that I had been crying half the morning. There was no hope for my hair; I threw a headband in to push the curly mass away from my face and called it good.

Less than an hour later, I was pulling into the parking lot of the coffee shop.  I parked the car and walked in, scanning the room for a shock of red hair. Seeing none, I ordered my coffee and took a seat in a quiet corner.

He came in a few minutes later, and I waved to him. When he sat down with his coffee, neither of us spoke for a minute. Finally, I said, “So, a park ranger, huh?”

He chuckled, giving me one of his signature crooked smiles. “I’m no’ a ranger, but I do get to visit the parks a lot in the summertime.”

“How did you end up there?”

He leaned back in his chair casually. I could murder him for being so calm and cool. My palms were sweating, and I was trying to wipe them off on my jeans without looking like a freak. “I ended up going to college for Environmental Science. I knew I wanted tae do something where I could spend time outdoors.”

“So what exactly do you do?”

“I work on different projects that have tae do with preserving the environment in the parks. Invasive species prevention, endangered species preservation, things like that.” He shrugged modestly.

“That’s really amazing, Jamie.” I was sincerely impressed.

“I’m no’ a surgeon or anything.”

I blushed and rolled my eyes. “They’re both important jobs,” I said. “How long have you lived in Albany?”

He ran his fingers through his curls thoughtfully. “Let’s see. I came back from France in 2000, so twelve years.”

My breath caught in my throat. I took a sip of my coffee before asking, “France? You lived in France?”

“Aye,” he said. “For two and a half years or so.”

It didn’t take much brain power to do the math on that. He’s stayed in France after we’d parted ways. I nodded, not ready to pull on that thread quite yet.

He seemed to sense my hesitancy. “How long have ye been here?” he asked.

“Just a little over two years. The hospital recruited me when they wanted to build up their neonatal program. I was in Boston before that.”

I sensed we’d reached the end of our safe topics. We both sipped our coffee quietly. Jamie’s fingers drummed on the side of his leg. I pushed my hair back from my face.

Finally, he leaned forward in his chair and grabbed my hand. “Claire. I need tae explain. I need ye to understand.”

Tears burned my eyes and I looked away from him. Slowly, I extricated my hand from his. “Did you know, Jamie, that my Uncle Lamb died that week? I said goodbye to you, and I got back to my apartment and there was a message from a lawyer on my answering machine.”

“Claire, I’m so – “

“No. Don’t say it again. Don’t you dare tell me you’re sorry again.” I furiously wiped the tears off my cheeks. “I had to leave for England right away. I ended up deferring my admission to Harvard. There was nobody else left to manage things. I had to handle the burial of Lamb’s remains and sort out his estate. His house in Oxford had been neglected for years. It took me months to get it ready to sell.”

“Claire…”

“I called Louise and Mary every day to see if you’d called. I kept hoping I’d hear from you. Then they moved out and the phone got disconnected, and I finally had to give up hope that I’d ever hear from you.” I paused, not even bothering to wipe the tears away anymore. “Do you want to know the stupidest thing? I kept hoping you’d find me. That entire year I spent in Oxford I kept imagining bumping into you or hoping that you’d track me down somehow.” I rolled my eyes. “So stupid.”

I finally looked at Jamie again, and saw that he was crying, too. Good, I thought. I hope he feels like shit.

“Claire, if ye would just let me explain what happened…”

“No. You know what? I don’t want your explanations. I thought I did, but nothing you could tell me could possibly make up for what you did. I hope you enjoyed your time in France, Jamie. Have a nice life.”

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July 1997, Raquette Lake, NY

After my summer in exile at camp, Uncle Lamb decided it was far too dangerous for me to continue my travels with him through the Middle East, and he thought it was important that I go back to getting a more traditional education. He arranged for me to stay in Upstate New York at a boarding school in Albany.

The summer after I graduated, I subletted a small studio apartment with two of my friends, other girls from boarding school who had no real homes to go to when school was not in session. We had two months until we went our separate ways to college, and the tiny accommodations suited us well enough for such a short period of time. In July, though, unable to stand the cramped, stifling heat any longer, we decided to pack up our things and take a trip to the Adirondacks. Unsure of where else to go, we went to the same campground I'd gone to all those summers growing up. I even sentimentally requested the same campsite.

It turned out I was the only one who knew what she was doing when it came to camping. My friends followed my orders, though, and we managed to get everything set up. I noticed a group of boys who looked about our age had set up camp on the next site over.

My friend Louise had noticed, too. "Looks like there's three boys over there. One for each of us."

Our friend Mary gave her a scandalized look as I laughed and shook my head at both of them. Louise, still keeping close watch on the boys, lowered her sunglasses and said, "Hello, Mr. Gingerspice."

I whipped my head around to look then and couldn't believe my eyes. Even through the trees I could tell it was him, though I could also see that he'd changed since the last time I saw him. He was taller, of course, and his limbs no longer seemed too long for his body. He moved gracefully, almost cat-like, as he kicked a soccer ball around his camp site.

"Claire," Louise said, "You look like you've seen a ghost."

I laughed. "Not a ghost but pretty close to it," I told her.

"You know the Fire God over there?"

"Yes," I said. "Come on, I'll introduce you."

I walked through the small bit of woods between our campsites, Louise and Mary at my heels. When I was close enough so he could hear me, I cleared my throat and said, cheekily, "Fancy meeting you here."

He turned around slowly, unsure. When he saw my face, though, he broke out in a huge smile and ran over to greet me. I expected a shy, awkward greeting, but instead he pulled me into a giant bear hug, picking me up and swinging me around. "Claire," he said when he finally put me down. "I didna ever think I'd see ye again." His face had changed; he looked like a chiseled Viking now, with his sharp jawline and high cheekbones. His cat-like eyes were the same though, holding the mischief and mirth they always had.

"What are the chances?" I said, shrugging my shoulders.

"Ye look bonny, Claire. Truly. It's great tae see ye." He left one arm slung around my waist. Turning us toward his companions he said, "Lads, this is Claire Beauchamp."

"The Claire?" a stocky boy asked.

I glanced up at Jamie, but his eyes were fixed on his friend in a death glare. "Claire, this is Rupert," Jamie said. He then gestured to the shorter, wiry boy, "And this is Angus."

I turned to my friends, who were standing behind me with bewildered looks on their faces. I had never told them about Jamie, so I understood their confusion. "This is Louise and Mary," I said, gesturing to them and then nodding my head toward Jamie. "And this is Jamie Fraser. He's one of my...well, I guess he's my oldest friend."

We both laughed then, and I felt his hand give me a gentle squeeze on my side. I wondered if he even realized he hadn't moved his arm yet.

Introductions aside, our friends began chatting and flirting companionably. Jamie moved us to their picnic table, and we sat next to each other on the bench, our legs gently touching under the table. "I thought ye were still traveling the world. Never thought I'd run intae ye here, of all places."

I filled him in on my time at boarding school and he told me about his life in Upstate NY. We had been living an hour away from each other for the past four years.  "Are ye going to college next year?"  he asked me.

"Yes," I replied. "I'm going to Harvard. I got accepted into their premed program." All the nights of neglecting my social life so I could study had paid off and I had gotten a full scholarship to the most prestigious premed program in the country. "How about you?"

"I'm taking a gap year," he said. "The three of us," he gestured to his friends, "are going to backpack around Europe. Total cliché, I know." He chuckled and ran his fingers through his red locks nervously.

We caught up some more and when there was a lull in the conversation, I asked him if they all would like to join us at our campsite for dinner.

Later, after we had stuffed ourselves with hot dogs roasted over the fire, the six of us sat around a roaring fire drinking the beers that Jamie and his friends had managed to purchase with a fake ID. At some point, Mary had paired off with Rupert, Louise with Angus. Jamie leaned toward me and asked, "Would ye like to sneak away to the beach with me, like we did when we were bairns?"

My cheeks flushed as I remembered the stolen, chaste kisses of our preteen years. I nodded and we stood. "Wait right here," Jamie said, dashing off to his campsite with a flashlight in hand.

He moved so gracefully; I couldn't help but watch him. He reminded me of a dancer, gliding across the ground. When he returned, he had a plaid patterned blanket folded under his arm. "Just in case we want to sit," he said nervously. If it hadn't been so dark, I was sure I would have seen the tips of his elf-like ears turn pink.

He held my hand as we walked to the beach. I was surprised at how easily we talked, how it felt like we hadn't skipped a beat. My nomadic life had left me guarded, closed off, and I rarely connected with people until I spent a lot of time with them. It had taken Louise and Mary almost two years to break through my tough outer shell.

But with Jamie, the words flowed easily, and I felt a pull to him, an implicit trust. I could open myself up to him, and it would be safe. I hadn't felt that with anybody in a very long time.

When we reached the beach, he spread the blanket on the sand, and we sat next to each other, staring at the lake. The moon was almost full, and it reflected on the dark water. In the distance, I heard the mournful cry of a loon.

"I've thought about ye, a lot Claire," Jamie finally said, nervously. He stared straight ahead instead of looking at me. "To see ye there today, looking so bonny and braw. Well, I didna ever think I'd see ye again."

I pulled my knees up to my chest, hugging myself. "Same," I replied simply.

He turned and looked at me then. Leaning closer, he put his hand tentatively on my waist. "I want...I would verra much like tae kiss ye now. May I?"

I nodded and our lips met. He was gentle.  I opened my mouth slightly to admit his tongue, feeling the heat rise within me. Gentleness gave way to need, and we both moved our mouths around each other urgently. Jamie's hand crept down to the hem of my shirt, and I gasped when his fingers touched my bare skin. He pulled back, but I grabbed his hand and put it back where it had been. Slowly he made his way up my torso until he found my breast, my nipples standing hard against the fabric of my bra.

Gently, he kneaded and rubbed me, first over my bra and then snaking his way under. He reached around me with both arms and tried awkwardly to undo the clasp. Laughing, I pulled away and stripped myself of my hoodies and t-shirt, expertly removing my bra.

He lunged on me then, pushing me on my back, touching and kissing me as his body hovered over mine. I felt a fire burning between my legs that I had never experienced with such intensity. I reached out and pulled his shirt over his head, running my hands over his chest and back.

He pressed his lower body to mine, and I could feel his erection straining against his jeans. My own hips responded instinctually, and I began to rock against him. We moved together like that until Jamie groaned. "I want ye so much I can barely breathe," he whispered hoarsely. "Will ye have me?"

I nodded. "I've never done this before, Jamie, but I want to."

"Neither have I," he confessed. "We'll figure it out together?"

I laughed and nodded at him. “Do you have a condom?”

“Aye,” he replied breathlessly. He went up on his knees and pulled his wallet out of his pocket, finding the condom inside. Then, he undid his belt, kicking his pants and boxers off. I followed suit with my shorts and panties.

The night air was chilly, and I shivered, but soon Jamie’s warm body was over mine causing a different shiver to run through me. We fumbled against each other, both awkward and unsure, laughing at our inexperience. Finally, we settled into a comfortable position and he found his way inside me. There was a sharp pain at first, and he stopped when I winced. “Do ye want me to stop?”

“No,” I told him. “Please don’t stop.”

It was over quickly, Jamie thrusting erratically with his forehead pressed against mine. It hadn’t exactly felt good, at least the mechanics of it, but the intimacy I felt pressed against him held the promise of pleasure in future encounters.

He lay next to me with a stunned look on his face, breathing heavily. “Did ye like it, Claire? Did it hurt too much?”

“No, it didn’t hurt that much Jamie,” I told him truthfully. “I liked it.”

He held me for a while until we both got too cold. We stood and dressed quickly, gathering the blanket. He wrapped his arm around my waist as we walked back to the campsites, and I leaned into his warmth. We parted ways at the campsites. Jamie kissed me and invited us all over for a pancake breakfast the next morning.

We were inseparable for the next week, the six of us as a group, and Jamie and I as a couple. We spent our days at the beach or taking day trips to hike the nearby mountain trails. At night we sat around the fire together until Jamie and I eventually broke away and went to the beach.

On the beach, on those nights we spent together, I discovered a connection with Jamie that I had never dreamed fathomable. As we discovered each other’s bodies and became more confident, my physical enjoyment grew, but it was the feeling of us melting into one another that made me weak in the knees. I submitted my entire being to Jamie, and he to me, and we were no longer two separate people joining, but one amorphous being. It was impossible to tell where Jamie ended, and I began. It was the most powerful thing I have ever experienced in my entire life.

We tearfully parted ways on our last day. Jamie and his friends would be leaving for Europe in a few days, but I wrote my number and address on a slip of paper, so we could keep in touch until he returned. “Are ye sure ye won’t come wi’ us, Claire?”

I shook my head. “I really can’t. I have too much to do to get ready for college.”

“I promise I’ll call ye as soon as I can and write to ye, too.” He kissed the top of my head and breathed in the scent of my hair, which I was sure just smelt like campfire. “When I get back, Claire, I’ll come to Harvard and find ye. Will ye wait for me?”

I nodded, tears falling down my face. “I will.”

“I love ye, Claire. Good-bye.”

I smiled at him, unable to say good-bye.

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October 2012, Albany, NY

“I saw your Scot this weekend,” Gillian said, barging into the doctor’s lounge and interrupting my five minutes of peace. I had a crazy day ahead of me and was in no mood to talk about anything, let alone Jamie Fraser.

“That’s nice,” I responded.

“Don’t you want to know what we talked about?” she asked, blatantly ignoring my hints that I wanted to be left alone. Our friendship had been a bit strained since I had cut ties with Jamie once and for all.

“Not really.”

“Well, you’re going to hear it, anyway,” she responded. “And I don’t care at this point if you never speak to me again, since you’re barely speaking to me now anyway.”

I rolled my eyes and gestured for her to go on. Best to get this out of the way.

“He’s absolutely heartsick over what happened, Claire. And he told me why…what happened. Now, I told you when you went to see him last month that you needed to listen to his explanation so you could get closure, but that’s the one thing you didn’t do. And I think you need to hear it Claire. I think, if anything, it will give you some peace in your heart.” She grabbed my hand from across the table. “It’s not my story to tell, Claire, but I really think you need to give him a chance and listen.”

She got up and walked away, leaving me completely speechless and unable to form a coherent thought. What could Jamie have possibly told her that made her react that way? She knew my whole story. She knew the bastard spent a week, no, a lifetime, making me fall in love with him only to use me and discard me the second he was done. What possible excuse could he have that would move my best friend to take his side?

I pushed my thoughts aside and focused on my busy schedule. I had two surgeries and a full slate of appointments ahead of me. The last thing I needed to worry about was Jamie Fraser.

Of course, when you’re trying not to think about something, that’s all you can think of.  All day, as I concentrated on my surgeries and met with my patients, a voice in the bank of my head was chanting, call him, call him, call him. It sounded a lot like Gillian.

I went home that night and opened a bottle of wine, hoping to drown out that annoying little voice. Instead of subduing it, though, the wine had an amplification effect. I turned on the TV and tuned the station to a mindless reality show, hoping to get lost in it. But nothing could muffle the sound of my own conscience.

Finally, three-quarters of the way through the bottle of wine, I picked up my phone. I hadn’t deleted his contact information.

Claire (9:12): Hi

Jamie (9:15): Hi

Claire (9:15) I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive you

Jamie (9:16): I know

Claire (9:17): But I’m willing to listen

I watched the three little dots telling me that Jamie was typing for what seemed like an eternity.

Jamie (9:20): Ok

Claire (9:20): Do you want to meet up?

Jamie (9:21): Sure, when?

Claire (9:21): How about now?

Jamie (9:21): Now?

Claire (9:22): It doesn’t have to be now

Jamie (9:22): It can be

Claire (9:23): I forgot! I can’t go anywhere!

Jamie (9:23): ???

Claire (9:24): I’ve had a little bit of wine

Claire (9:24): You could just come here

Jamie (9:25): Are you sure?

Claire (9:25): Unless you’ve become a serial killer in the last 15 years, I think it should be fine

Jamie (9:26): Alright. Text me the address

I sent the address and threw my phone down on the coffee table, staring at the bottle of wine. Liquid courage, indeed.

By ten o’clock, I was wishing I’d had a little more liquid courage, or perhaps that I'd had a little less thirty minutes ago. I paced the apartment, straightening things up as quickly as possible. There’s no way Jamie needed to see what an utter slob I was.

There was a tentative knock on the door, and I checked the peep hole before opening it. God damn, even through a peephole, he’s ridiculously good looking. I opened the door and stepped aside for him to come in. “Do you want something to drink?” I asked. “Water? Wine?” Rat poison?

“Just some water, please,” he answered, taking a seat on the couch. I brought him the water and made it a point to sit in the chair furthest away from him as possible. Then, I poured myself another glass of wine and waited.

He cleared his throat and I raised my eyebrows at him. “Claire,” he said hoarsely. “I just need to say that I’m so sorry. I – “

“I don’t want you to tell me you’re sorry,” I interrupted. “I want to know why. I’ll listen this time, but you need to tell me. I need to know.”

July 1997, Paris, France

“I was heartbroken to leave ye, Clare. I almost didn’t get on that plane. Rupert and Angus practically had tae hit me over the head and drag me wi’ them. All I could think about was getting back to ye. I thought…well, that’s no’ important.

“We landed in Paris and didna even bother to find a place tae sleep; we were too excited. After we had some food, Angus got the idea that we should rent motorbikes tae tour the city. Everything was fine at first, but we all sleep deprived and started getting too cocky about our abilities. We were zooming down a street and I didna see the stop sign. I went right through the intersection and a car smashed intae me. The bike got tangled up in the bumper and the car dragged me quite a way before it was able tae stop. I dinna remember anything after that.

“I woke up three weeks later in a hospital in Paris. I couldna move because my leg had been shattered and I had to lay on my stomach because the road had torn my back to shreds. My mind was verra messed up for a while, between the injury tae my head and the pain medicines. All I remember is my sister Jenny being there sometimes when I woke up.

“It was a full six weeks after the accident that I was well enough for them tae tell me that my Da had died. When he was told of my accident, he started to get ready tae come tae Paris to be wi’ me. He told Jenny he was afraid I wouldna make it. He ended up having a stroke before he ever got on the plane. I wasna able to say goodbye or even go tae his funeral.

“That’s when I tried tae get a hold of ye. I made my sister dig through all of my things tae find that wee piece of paper ye wrote yer number on. I called it, but the line had been disconnected. I even tried tae call yer old school, but they didna have any information they could give me about where ye went.

“I felt like I’d lost everything. I didna even want tae get better. I laid in that hospital bed for weeks just wishing I would die. I wouldna do my therapy or cooperate with anyone. After a couple weeks of that, Jenny had enough. She came flyin’ intae my room one day telling me that she wasna going tae let me die, and she wasna going to have me be a cripple, and she wasna going tae have me lie about all day feelin’ sorry for myself, and by the time she finished tellin’ me all the things she wouldna let me do, it seemed the only thing left for me tae do was tae get well.

“So, I got better.  I had a lot of surgeries and a lot of setbacks, but after three months in the hospital, I finally got released to a rehabilitation facility. I spent another six weeks or so there. That’s where I met Annalise.

“She was one of my physical therapists, and I willna lie tae ye, I fell for her hard. I dinna ken if I was still soft in the head from the accident or just so lonely that I would have given my heart to anyone who was kind tae me, but I fell for her. When I left rehab, I moved in with her, and tried tae start my life over.

“It didna take me long to realize that what I felt for her was no’ love. But I didna ken what else I could do. I felt indebted to her in a way, and I tried tae make it work. I thought I could just live my life in Paris and never have to come back here and face the memories, or you.

“I lived wi' her for about two years even though I kent it wasna going anywhere. Finally, she ended up cheating on me, so I left. That’s when I came back.”

October 2012, Albany, NY

Tears streaked his face, matching my own. When his story was finally over, we sat silently, not looking at each other, hearing only the murmur of the TV from the apartment downstairs.

Sometimes, during a surgery, there’s a moment where something goes wrong and everybody is talking at once and there’s blood everywhere and you can’t see anything, and your brain just won’t tell you what to do. But your body has memorized the steps; your hands know exactly what to do. So you let your body lead you through the crisis.

In that moment, I couldn’t think straight or even know what I was feeling, but I stood and walked over to him, sat down next to him, and embraced him. He sat still as a stone at first while I hugged him around the neck and then slowly, he brought his hands up and around my waist. We were hugging and whispering “I’m sorry” to each other and our tears were mixing together on our faces as I took his mouth to mine and kissed him for the first time in fifteen years.

The world shifted, and I felt whole again. I hadn’t lost everybody after all.

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July 1986, Raquette Lake, NY

Jamie had come back from a trip with his dad to the little country store near the campground. I was eating my lunch at the picnic table and he came over and sat down next to me. 

“Do you want some of my sandwich?” I asked.

“Aye,” he replied, helping himself to half. 

“What’d you get?” I asked with my mouth full, pointing at his left hand which was clutching something I couldn’t see.

“It’s a surprise,” he replied, looking at me with his jack-o-lantern grin.

“Show me!” I insisted. 

“I will later,” he whispered. “It’s a secret.”

Later that afternoon we were off playing by ourselves in the woods. We would play out all kinds of pretend scenarios: Jamie and me as robbers, Jamie and me as cowboys, Jamie and me as sheriffs. Whatever games we played, we were always on equal ground. Never was I a fair maiden in distress looking for a prince to come rescue to my rescue.

We had collapsed on the ground giggling until Jamie sat up and looked at me seriously. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the object he had been clutching in his hand since earlier that day. Opening his hand, he showed me the plastic ring he had purchased. “Claire,” he said, “yer the brawest girl I know. I ken I have tae get married someday, even if I dinna want tae. Will ye marry me so I dinna have tae marry anyone else?”

I looked at him curiously. “Aren’t we too young to get married?”

“We can be handfast,” he replied.

I crinkled my nose at him. “What does that mean?”

“My Da told me about it. In Scotland, ye can get married if ye just hold hands and tell each other ye want tae be married.”

“And that’s it?” I asked suspiciously.

“That’s it! And then yer married fer a year and a day.”

“What happens after that?” I asked.

“We’ll do it again next year summer. Then we can keep being married.”

“Do I have to kiss you?” I asked.

Jamie considered this. “No, I dinna think so. Only if ye want tae.”

I shrugged. “OK, I’ll marry you. What do we do?”

“Hold my hand,” he said, reaching out. I placed my small hand in his. His palms were sweaty. “Now, I’ll say, ‘Claire, I want ye tae be my wife, and I’ll be yer husband.’ And now ye say the same thing tae me.”

“Jamie, I want to be your wife and I want you to be my husband.”

He slipped the ring on my finger, it was much too big, and said, “Now yer my wife.”

Impulsively, I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

“I told ye that ye didna have tae do that,” he said, holding his hand up to his cheek where I had pressed my lips.

“I know,” I shrugged. “I wanted to.”

July 2013, Raquette Lake, NY

Jamie and I didn't need to sneak away to the beach anymore, but we kept the tradition alive anyway. We walked the familiar path together quietly in the dark. His arm was looped around my waist, a tartan blanket under his free arm.

When we reached the beach, he spread the blanket out for us. He sat down first, pulling me down to sit between his legs, my back leaning against his strong torso. I rested my headbon his chest and relaxed into the familiar pattern of his breathing. The moon was full and reflected in the lake, light dancing across the gentle ripples of the water. 

"I love ye mo nighean donn ," he whispered, tickling my ear with his breath. I wrapped my hand in one of his and squeezed in response. The air was cool, perfect for being cuddled up together.

One of Jamie’s hands reached back and I felt him fumbling for something in his pocket. "It's a little too late for condoms," I teased him. Instinctually, his hand moved to my belly, spreading out over the tiniest bump, imperceptible to anyone but us.

He brought his other hand back around me, a small box now sitting in it. "I ken this is only a formality," he said softly, "being that I married ye when we were six years old."

"That was only temporary," I teased as butterflies began fluttering in my stomach. "You said it was for a year and a day. We never did renew our vows, you know."

He chuckled quietly as he opened the box, revealing a small diamond ring. My breath hitched in my throat as his large fingers delicately pulled the ring out. "Claire, in my earliest memories, I loved ye. There has never been a time in my life that I can remember that I didna love ye. And there will never be a time when I dinna love ye. It's always been forever for me, Claire. Will ye," his voice broke and he cleared his throat. I knew if I turned around I would see tears in his eyes. Hoarsely, he went on. "Will ye marry me Claire? Will ye spend the rest of yer life wi' me?"

He picked up my left hand and slid the ring on. Bringing the hand up over my head, he kissed my knuckles. Then, teasing, he said, "Are ye gonna answer me, lass?"

I turned around and kneeled in front of him, placing both hands on his cheeks. "Yes, I'll marry you, James Fraser." He brought his mouth to mine and laid me back on the blanket.

He kissed my mouth, my cheeks, my eyelids. When he pulled my shirt over my head, he kissed my breasts, larger and heavier already. He slowly made a trail to my belly, kissing reverently. He paused and whispered, "Wee un, it's yer Da. Yer Ma's gonna let me make an honest woman of her." I laughed and ran my fingers through his curls.

He continued his trail down my body, unbuttoning my jeans. I arched my hips so he could slide them off me. He grabbed hold of them before I could put them down and buried his head between my legs, making me cry out in ecstasy.

He knew my body intimately, knew when to lick lazy figure eights over my most sensitive spot and knew when to redouble his efforts, sucking with his hands gripping my bottom, rendering me immobile. He would show me no mercy.

When I fell apart around him, he let me down gently, briefly parting from me as he stripped off his clothes. As I was still quivering with aftershocks, he climbed on top of me, pausing for only a moment before he drove home, thrusting into me over and over again. 

I clung to him, raking my finger over the scars on his back, begging him for more, more, more. When he brought me to my peak again, we fell over together, his forehead pressed against mine, both of us gasping in each other’s air.

As we lay together afterwards, cuddled close, still exploring each other gently with our hands, I couldn't help but think of those nights on the same beach all those years ago. The connection I had felt then, the deep, trusting intimacy that passed between us, was still there, made stronger by our joy in finding each other again.

"I canna wait to keep making memories here wi' ye, Claire," he whispered. "You and me and our bairns."

"I love you, Jamie," I replied. "I've always loved you. And I'll never be apart from you again."

"When the time does come that we do part again," he said softly, running his hands over my hair, "if my last words are not I love ye, ye'll ken it’s because I didna have time."