It had been a delicate dance. Claire’s anger and turmoil rose and ebbed as she tried to force her memories to the surface. She still didn’t understand why, now that she knew the truth, they didn’t flood her. Frank drove her around the town, they revisited the sites they had explored on their honeymoon, they retraced the steps Claire could remember from the past, but her anger kept them held safely, like a dam.
The two of them had also dug into every historical book of Scotland the reverend owned and anything else they could get their hands on, hoping Jamie or Murtagh would be mentioned, but aside from what Frank had already found, there was nothing.
Claire was exhausted and came to a logical conclusion hours after arriving back from a walk around Castle Leoch. They had watched Bree dart in and out of the ruins, completely mesmerized by the vastness, and the energy that still permeated from the walls. They had returned a few hours later, as Frank wasn’t feeling well and needed to rest. He sat on the couch, feet propped up, a whiskey in his hands. Claire’s gaze was fixed beyond the window, her legs curled beneath her.
“She still playing with Roger?” Frank asked quietly.
“Mm,” Claire hummed. “They seem to be getting on quite well. I’m glad she has a friend to play with here.”
The silence fell around them slowly, like particles of dust drifting aimlessly toward a comfortable surface. Several minutes passed.
She turned this time, her eyes answering and responding to him.
“I think we should go to the stones tomorrow.”
She shook her head, her attention drifting back to the window.
“Why are you doing this?” she whispered, emotionally fatigued.
“I want you to remember.”
“Why?” She repeated calmly.
He took a second to gather his words. “Because what I did was wrong. And I want to make it right.”
“So, you’re doing this for you?”
“No,” he frowned, “no, I’m doing it for you.”
“Oh. Alright then. You may stop now.”
He shook his head, she could feel his frustration rising, his agitation stirring as he planted his feet on the ground and leaned forward. “Claire, please.”
“No,” she said sharply. “If all you need is an absolution of guilt, then granted. You’re absolved. But please stop dragging me around, encouraging me to remember this life I can only seem to grasp in tiny increments, when it doesn’t matter anyway.”
“What do you mean? Don’t you want to remember? Don’t you miss Jamie?”
She whirled around then, eyes flashing through the sliver of sunlight filtering into the room. She pursed her lips together, doing what she could to stop the irrepressible wildfire of emotions swirling inside her. “Yes,” she began, through clenched teeth, “I do miss Jamie. I miss him. Every. Day. I know now why I miss him, I understand what I’m missing. I have been so utterly broken over this for years, when I didn’t have the knowledge of what I had been through.” She swallowed hard and took a deep breath, the muscles in her face relaxing slightly. “But now, I know. Now I can see why I have felt so completely hollow, and why you resented me.”
Frank opened his mouth to protest. She raised a hand to stop him. “But, it doesn’t matter now. None of it matters now.”
“How can you say that?”
“How can you say otherwise?”
“Because,” Frank stuttered as he continued, the words tumbled out as though they were shards of glass in his mouth, “the way Jamie spoke of you, the— the heartbreak I could see I— Claire, as much as I didn’t want to believe it, what you two had was— is... I could see how heartbroken you were, the whole time, and even without a shred of his memory, that kind of love Claire—” He slammed his tumbler on the table. “I’m trying to right a wrong here, but admitting this isn’t easy. I hate that you found with him what I wanted you to have with me.”
Tears were dripping off her chin now, her gaze still fixated on the window. “It still doesn’t matter, Frank.”
“What?” She stood and moved to the mantle, eyes gliding over the photos, her brain ignoring every one. “What am I to do with all of this now? I can’t remember everything, and even if I could, what good would that do me?”
“It could give you comfort. You could know that what happened was for a reason. It was for you and Brianna. And… Jamie.”
She scoffed. “I can understand that intellectually now, Frank. Why should I be tortured with more memories of a man I can never see again?”
He stood now too. “But you will see him again! I showed you that document.”
“Ok, so in what? Fifteen years? What about Brianna? Do I just leave her here? Just like that?” She jeered at herself, “What a wonderful mother that would make me.” The conflicting emotions felt impossible. The guilt in the idea that she could leave Brianna, mixed with the agonizing thought that she would never see Jamie again.
He shook his head. “I don’t know Claire, I don’t know when you go back, it just showed that you do.”
She grappled with the pull, with the guilt. The idea of going back to Jamie was exhilarating, terrifying, and all-consuming. She wanted him. She needed him. She was desperate for his essence. The air around her felt thin when she thought of a life without him, like she would be destined for a life of slow suffocation if it didn’t end with her in his arms. And then the guilt. How could she leave Brianna? Ever? How could she forgive herself? Brianna would have no one, Frank would be gone by then, long before then. Claire would be leaving her without a family, indefinitely. How could she forgive herself for that? How could Jamie forgive her for that?
Frank stepped closer. “Jamie said, in the letter, that he would come back. Maybe— maybe you go back with him?”
Claire sighed. “I know I don’t remember much, but I am certain that if he was going to come back, he would have been here much sooner than now.” As the words moved past her lips they felt like an ultimate truth. Whether he was stuck, in trouble, or dead, if he could make it back through the stones, he would have come for her by now. Her heart sank as the deepest, darkest fear swept over her. What if he chose not to? “It doesn’t matter, Frank. At least not right now. And you exhausting yourself trying to help me remember isn’t doing anyone any good. I can’t get to him now, he can’t get to me. Brianna is still so young, I can’t even fathom the idea of not being with her. This just leaves me in this void, where nothing I do will bring me back to Jamie. And I have to accept that. We need to let it go.”
“But I don’t have much more time to help,” Frank protested.
“I don’t need your help with this Frank. Now isn’t the time. We need to focus on you, on Brianna, and on what the next year looks like for us.” Claire furrowed her brow before a calm knowing fell upon her face. “That’s why she was there.”
Frank cringed at the given title.
“Sorry,” she cursed how crass she sounded and tried to soften. “That’s why she was at the house. You told her about your illness, didn’t you? That’s why she came?”
Frank nodded. “I told her there were some things I needed to take care of with you and Brianna.”
“But she knew you didn’t have much time,” she said it more to herself than to him.
Frank shrugged before sitting back down on the couch. “I am sorry for that, Claire.”
She dismissed the apology. “We should go home. You should have a chance to spend some time with her before—”
Brianna came barrelling into the room, covered in dirt. “Mummy! Me and Roger found a huge ant hill! Come see!”
“Wow!” Claire stood back, grinning, taking in the sight. “Did you crawl in there yourself to get a better look?”
Brianna cocked her head questioningly.
“Nevermind. I’ll come see. But you’ll need to have a bath before dinner, darling.”
Frank stood. “Why don’t we go out for dinner tonight? Somewhere nice.”
“You’re not feeling well, Frank.”
“I’m going to go rest for an hour, come wake me up then and we’ll go, alright?”
Claire nodded reluctantly before being dragged out of the house by her daughter.
Brianna squealed as Claire dumped another cup of water over her head. “Alright. What else needs a wash?”
Claire watched Brianna’s mental checklist as she held her hands up, checked her feet, put her fingers behind her ears, and then shrugged.
“What about this?” Claire’s palm slid behind the jewelry that hung delicately around Brianna’s neck. The one Jamie gave her. She hated taking it off. Claire slowly poured a cup of water into her palm, watching the drops slide off the gem in the middle.
“Oops. I shouldn’t have worn this in the dirt. I guess I should take it off sometimes, to keep it safe.”
“That is very smart.” Claire shook the water off her hands and reached for the chain around her own neck. “Look.” She pulled the matching necklace from beneath her shirt.
Brianna’s mouth gaped open. “You have one too? It’s so beautiful, mama.” Her little hand reached for it, her fingertips meeting the smoothness of the stone. “Did the same man give it to you, too?”
Claire nodded, swallowing the lump that was forming in her throat. “Yes, he did.”
“I hope we see him again. He visits me in my dreams sometimes still.”
Claire swiped at her eyes and cleared her throat, doing her best to conceal her emotions. “He does, does he?”
“It’s ok, mama.” Brianna touched her mother’s cheek gently. “He tells me nice stories. And he gives nice hugs.”
Claire’s bones ached for his arms. “I’m so glad, sweet girl.”
“Brianna,” Claire said, her arm reaching into the backseat to gently shake her daughter.
“But we’re almost at the restaurant.”
“She had a big day. Let her sleep for a minute.”
Claire readjusted herself in her seat.
“Are you starving?”
“No. I’m actually not really hungry.” She wrapped her arms around her middle.
Frank turned off the main road. “Let’s just drive a little then, let her sleep.”
Claire conceded. At least it was a nice evening. They drove with the windows down and the air was warm. Her mind wandered to Jamie as they drove, the familiar flickers of fragmented memory teased her as she relaxed into the movement of the car. She closed her eyes, focusing on Jamie’s face in her mind, getting lost in his eyes. Maybe Frank was right. The daydreaming alone seemed to save her from utter despair more often than not. Maybe they would come back in time, now that she was relieving the guilt that had blocked her before. It hadn’t been long since she found out. She couldn’t force it.
The car brakes squeaked as they stopped and Claire knew where they were immediately. “Fine.” She whispered at him, opening the car door and peering nervously up the hill. She could see one of the stones through the trees, and her heart jumped directly into her throat.
Frank motioned for her to join him as he started walking away from the car. Claire looked at Brianna sleeping in the back seat, Mr. Snigs tucked safely beneath her chin. “She’ll be fine,” Frank said quietly, “we’ll only be a minute.”
She nodded and followed Frank into the trees.
The stones seemed bigger now, more daunting. They held her past, her present, and apparently her future. She had been stripped of her memory here, of her husbands, of her choice, and of her happiness. But she had been gifted with Brianna this way, and only this way, gifted with Jamie, gifted with the unique experience of a parallel life. With all its pain, suffering, hurt, and anguish, she was thankful. She was surprised to realize that she had felt more alive where she was never meant to exist than the place that was more accepting of her overall.
Frank reached a hand back for her, and she took it. Over the years with him she had moved from guilt, into confusion, into hurt, into anger, and when their hands joined it was a silent forgiveness. What happened between them was devastating, irreparable, but there was a bridge that would have been inconceivable before. Nothing could make up for it, but nothing had to. It was over now, and they could finally see each other and understand each other. It didn’t erase the desolation, nor did it provide solace, or even heal the feelings of jealousy and resentment, but it created a space for peace.
They grew closer, the stones growing larger in front of her as she approached them. “The buzzing.” The buzzing.
“I really didn’t do anything. I heard this buzzing sound and… and I just touched the stones…”
It was as if the memory was made from smoke, and it was waved away, reshaping into another.
“The buzzing. It’s so loud. I’m not ready, Jamie, I’m not ready! Come with me! Come with me through the stones.”
“Na, I can’t.”
“You could try. You hear it right? The buzzing?”
“Frank, stop.” She jerked on his hand to halt him in place.
“What is it?”
“Do you hear that?”
“I can’t be this close, Frank.”
“Please!” She pulled her hand from him and half ran out into a clearing. The buzzing faded with the distance. As she turned and looked at the beautiful circle, she hugged herself tight, the tears pouring down her cheeks.
Frank caught up quickly. “What is it?”
“I could hear the buzzing. It’s what happened both times I went through the stones. It’s like they call me in.” She felt torn in two. The aching within her to bolt through the stones, back to Jamie, was deep. And the pullback from Brianna, keeping her from diving through time felt like a rope that held her safely where she belonged.
Frank looked back inquisitively, still in partial disbelief. “I’m sorry, Claire.” He paused. “Did this help you remember anything?”
She nodded. “Yes. Some that I already could remember, some new.” Despite the warmth in the evening, she shivered.
Frank put his hands on her arms. “I’m sorry, Claire. For everything.”
She shrugged. “Me too.”
She allowed him to take her in his arms for a moment. It felt as though the ruins that their destruction had caused in each other was beneath their feet, with the torment finding a balance in the rubble.
Claire pulled back and cocked her head. “Did you hear that?”
“No. I can’t hear the buzzing.”
“No, I thought I heard…” she strained to listen.
“Mama?” It was faint in the breeze.
“Oh, Christ. It’s Bree. Let’s go.” She yelled back in her direction. “We’re coming!”
They watched Brianna come out of the forest, into view on the edge of the stones. “Mama?”
“Over here!” She waved, though Bree didn’t look.
“What’s that sound?”
A foreboding dread shot through every nerve in Claire’s body. “Oh, God.” Her shout was panicked now. “Bree! Don’t move!”
Frank picked up her running pace immediately. “What is it?”
“She hears it too! She can travel!”
“Jesus,” Frank whispered as he began to sprint.
“Why is it buzzing? Are there bees?” Bree’s innocent voice was filled with curiosity.
Claire watched in horror, losing sight for a moment as Brianna walked closer to the stone in the center. One arm was outstretched, her stuffed bunny dangled from her other. “Bree! Don’t touch it! Bree!”
As Claire emerged past the outer circle of stones, she saw Bree disappear, Frank’s hand grasping at the air less than a second later. The buzzing was prominent and intense now. They stood there for a moment, both in shock, both reeling.
“Where did she go?” Frank asked, panicked.
“Through the stones. Oh, God.” Claire’s hand flew to her mouth.
She could see the sheer incredulity in his face. It was one thing to understand a concept intellectually, but to see the impossible materialize before your eyes was quite another. There was no time to comfort him. “I have to go after her.”
“Can you be sure you’ll go wherever she went?”
“No. I— I don’t know how it works, but I have to…”
“Yes you do,” he said frantically.
She walked toward the stones, the terror threatening to overtake her. Frank reached out for her arm to stop her. “Claire.”
She looked up at him, then back at the stones anxiously. The sooner she found Bree the better, there was no time.
“I know.” He took a deep breath and spoke quickly. “Listen, when you find her, don’t come back.”
“You belong with him, you both do. I kept you both from him for too long. Plus, we don’t know how dangerous traveling back would be. We don’t know what happened with Jamie, and why he couldn’t come back.”
“Deserves to know Jamie. I don’t have much time left, Claire, you know that yourself.” She could see the pain behind his eyes, the understanding that this was the last time he would see his daughter. That there would never be another chance to say goodbye. “Just, please, do me one favor.”
She nodded, impatiently. Her daughter was alone, in another time, and she needed her mother.
“If there is any way to send me a message, maybe through a newspaper, or any other way you can think of, to let me know that you both made it, that will bring me peace.” He shook. “I’m terrified, Claire.”
Her arms wrapped around him tightly, then. “I’ll find her, I swear I will.” She realized they had already scoured every newspaper, every history book, and he would keep looking, but if they had made it and tried to send a message that way, it didn’t work. A vague thought crossed her mind. “Do you remember that room, at Castle Leoch? The one we…”
“I’ll hide something there too, a letter, or… something.” She closed her eyes in concentration, trying to remember which parts of that room were intact. “The far corner of the room, I’ll put it there. Beneath a stone, or in the wall.” She hated that there was no guarantee that it would last long enough for him to find it, that someone wouldn’t find it in the meantime, but she had no more time to brainstorm. It was the best she could think of in the moment.
“Go,” he whispered against her hair. His lips crashed down on hers, quickly and fiercely before pulling away and nodding. Her mind raced with every fear of every possibility. What if she couldn’t find Brianna? What if Bree was hurt, scared, alone, what if this was the last time she saw her daughter? If she did find her, what if they couldn’t find Jamie? Then she turned and pressed her palms against the coldness of the stone, Brianna’s face vivid in her mind.