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First Christmas

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20201210-113327

December 21, 2013

"Today's the day," Jamie whispered. He kissed my shoulder, and I tried to roll away from him. As usual, I forgot how large my belly was, and found myself at the mercy of his onslaught of cheer.

"Please, Jamie," I groaned, trying to bat him away with my hand. "You know I'm not a morning person."

"Aye, but I am, and ye married me. Do ye no' remember the part in our vows where ye promised to indulge me at least once a month?"

He kissed the tip of my nose and I giggled, reaching my hand up and patting him gently on the cheek. "Hmmmmm, somehow I don't remember that part of the wedding."

***

September 2013

After our engagement, neither of us was sure what to do about a wedding. I was already twelve weeks pregnant when we'd gotten engaged, and by the time September rolled around I had passed the halfway mark and we still hadn't made any concrete plans.

I had no living family, and Jamie only had his sister who was living in Scotland. She was much too busy with her business to travel to the US, and I didn't feel like traveling all the way to Scotland pregnant. We were left wondering if we should wait for a better time or just run off to the courthouse on a Wednesday afternoon.

In the end, we did neither. Instead, Jamie woke me early one Saturday morning in September, one year after our disastrous "blind date," and asked me if I was up for a quick getaway, one last weekend at the lake before it got too cold.

When we arrived in Raquette Lake, Jamie turned the car right instead of left at the intersection that led to the camp ground. "Where are we going?" I asked.

Jamie turned to me and smiled mischievously. "Dinna fash. I told ye we're going to the lake, and we are."

I sighed and laid my head back on the seat, smiling to myself. I had always been a planner, without a spontaneous bone in my body. Jamie had always been the only one who could bring that sense of adventure out in me, the only one who I could put my trust in and let go of my own control. I rubbed my belly contentedly as we followed the windy, lake road. Every day since we'd reunited had been a lesson in taking life's curveballs in stride.

Finally, Jamie turned the car down a tree-lined, dirt road that eventually turned into a dirt driveway. He stopped the car in front of a small, rustic cabin. I looked at Jamie, and he turned to me, smiling. “I canna have my pregnant wife sleeping on the cold ground. Come on.”

As we stepped out of the car, Gillian and Doug, two of our closest friends, came running out of the cabin, holding champagne flutes. “Jamie, what on earth -?”

Gillian ran toward me and thrust one of the flutes into my hand. “Sparkling grape juice,” she said as she embraced me.

Doug slapped Jamie on the back and handed him a glass of what I could only assume was real champagne. Just as I gave Jamie another questioning look, the sound of dirt crunching under tires made me turn my head, and I saw our friend John driving toward the cabin, clouds of dust surrounding his sports car.

Jamie had met John in college and, despite their difference in age and, well, just about everything else, they had become fast friends. John was from England, an actual English Lord, in fact. On the surface he seemed a privileged playboy, In reality he was one of the most generous people that I had ever known; he kept his dearest friends close to his heart and would do anything for them. Including, as it turned out, becoming an ordained minister so that he could give Jamie and me the gift of a wedding on the lake where we had first met and had made so many of our happiest memories.

“Married? Today?” I said, looking from Jamie to John.

Jamie pulled me close and kissed my forehead. “Aye, if ye’ll have me.”

“Of course I will,” I told him, standing on my tiptoes to give him a kiss.

Gillian had brought a dress for me to wear, and as she helped me get dressed in the tiny bedroom, she said, “One year ago, who would have thought that you’d be knocked up and having an impromptu wedding today?”

“Certainly not me,” I said, thinking back on the lonely, closed off person I had been. I looked in the mirror and admired my figure in the long, flowing, blue dress Gillian had picked out for me. It was definitely too much for a lakeside elopement, but I didn’t care. It accentuated my new curves, and I hugged my arms around the bump that was growing larger every day. "It's perfect, Gillian. Really."

Gillian wiped a tear from her eye and embraced me. "I'm so happy fer ye, Claire. Ye deserve this."

***

Gillian and I walked down to the dock with our arms interlocked. When Jamie saw me, his jaw dropped, and John placed his hand on Jamie's shoulder to steady him. He pulled me in and kissed me as soon as I was close enough, and everybody laughed. "No skipping ahead to the end!" John teased as we pulled apart.

Though we had little time to prepare our vows, we both spoke from the heart.

Claire, I've loved ye as far back as I can remember and probably before that, too. I remember lying with ye when we were bairns, looking at the stars, and knowing it even then. You've always been my Sorcha, the sun my life revolves around. I ken I've let ye down in the past, and I wasna there fer ye when ye needed me most, but I swear that will never happen again. Wherever ye go, whatever ye do, I'll be in yer orbit.

Jamie, we've both lost so many people that we loved. We lost each other for a while, too. It changed me. Once you came back to me, I realized that without you, I was only living half a life; I only had half a heart. We are true soulmates, meant to be together forever. I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with you.

After a celebratory lunch together, our friends stood to leave. I hugged Gillian goodbye and managed to dodge Doug's hug, but thanked him for joining us. John hung back, and after Gillian and Doug left, he reached into his pocket and handed Jamie a set of keys. "A wedding gift for you."

"I can't thank you enough for arranging all this, John," Jamie told him. "We'll get the keys back tae ye when we see ye next."

John threw his head back and laughed. "No, I didn't mean just for the night. It's yours. This cabin is my gift to you."

I gasped and took the keys from Jamie, trying to hand them back to John. "It's too much," I said. "We can't possibly accept this."

John closed his hand over mine. "I know how much this lake means to you, and you both have been such good friends to me. Please take it and enjoy it." He glanced down and placed his hand on my belly. "Though I'm sorry you'll need to do a lot of renovations on it. It's really only built for two right now."

***

December 21, 2013

We were married, the owners of a cabin, and the owners of a new home right outside of Albany soon after. As we settled into our new home, Christmas approached, and Jamie was anxious to get the house decorated for the Holidays.

I was lukewarm about the idea. I'd spent so many years traveling with Uncle Lamb or by myself at boarding school, I had really lost the Christmas spirit. I hadn't even had a tree in years.

Jamie was excited, though. He was one of those people who started playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving and was dying to have our new home look like Christmas threw up all over it. I had worked every weekend in December so far, and he'd made me promise that we'd get a tree together.

I hoisted myself up to a sitting position, and Jamie took his cue to rest his head on my enormous stomach. I lazily threaded my fingers through his hair, curling the locks around my fingers and watching them spring back to life when I let go. "I can't believe I'm spending the first day of my maternity leave trudging out to the woods to cut down a tree. What have you done to me, James Fraser?"

He rubbed my belly and looked up at me innocently, reminding me so much of the boy he'd once been. "Making ye a happy woman, I hope."

"Well, you're the only person in the world that could entice me to do this, so I suppose you must be doing something right. Can we stay in bed a bit longer, though?"

Jamie smiled at me and pulled me back down so I was laying on my side. He curled around me and I immediately could feel what needed to be done to keep him in bed. Kissing my neck, Jamie reached down and rucked up the oversized t-shirt I had worn to bed. "I think I could be persuaded," he whispered into my ear.

Giggling, I pulled the shirt the rest of the way over my head and felt Jamie wiggle out of his boxers. His erection pressed against my arse, and I moaned, rubbing against it.

We'd been through the many stages of pregnancy sex: the abstinence of the first trimester due to neverending morning sickness, the constant fucking of the early second trimester as my hormones raged, and the increasingly creative postions of the third trimester as we maneuvered around my constantly growing belly. At almost thirty-seven weeks pregnant, we had settled into only one or two remaining positions that were comfortable.

He brought his hand to one of my breasts, and I gasped even at his gentle kneading. "So sensitive," he whispered, playing with my nipples with a feather-like touch.

I groaned and rolled my hips backward, feeling thankful for his long arms as he reached around me. His fingers found my clit and I breathed in sharply before relaxing into his hand. Every nerve ending in my body felt like it was on fire.

Jamie slipped one leg between mine and lined himself up, slowly sinking into me. He bit down on my shoulder and started thrusting gently. We moved at an achingly relaxed pace. My body yearned for more, but we both knew from experience that it would only end up hurting. We kept on at a steady pace, Jamie's hand working my clit as we moved together.

It didn't take me long to fall apart around him. His body was finely attuned to mine, as if he could feel the electricity coursing from my nerve endings. He followed soon after, burying his face in my curls as he pulsed inside of me.

His hands moved back to my stomach, and the baby responded with a healthy kick. "He knows your touch," I said, placing my hand over his. "Just a few more weeks until we get to meet him."

"I canna wait, Sassenach." He gave me a squeeze and kissed my cheek. "But first, we need a Christmas tree."

***

Four hours later, we were back at home with the largest tree I had ever seen strapped to the roof of Jamie’s hybrid SUV. "Three hundred sixty four days of the year, you dedicate your life to saving the trees, and then you go and chop down the biggest tree in the forest," I teased, turning the heat down.

"It wasna the forest, and ye ken it," he shot back, leaning in to kiss me after he put the car in park. "Ye look so bonny with yer cheeks all rosy and yer curls sticking out from under that wee cap."

When we got in the house, Jamie set me up on the couch with my feet up. He made me a cup of hot chocolate and went outside to tackle the tree. I giggled into my mug listening to his Gaelic curses.

He dragged the tree into the house, getting snow and pine needles everywhere. "Dinna fash," he grunted. "I'll clean it all up."

After wrestling the tree into the stand, he stood back with his hands on his hips, looking up proudly. It reached almost to the top of our nine foot ceilings and looked to be almost as round, taking up the better part of an entire corner of our living room. "Looks good, darling," I told him. "What's next?"

He walked over to the couch and replaced the pillows under my feet with his lap. "Weel, now we have tae let it settle."

"Settle?" I giggled. "I didn't realize this was such a...process."

"Aye, it is. But just you wait. I'll have this house looking like Santa's workshop by supper."

"I'm going to hold you to that," I laughed.

***

I spent the next several hours watching from my spot on the couch as Jamie ran around the house like a mad man. He'd gone to Target the weekend before and spent an obscene amount of money on lights and decorations. While the tree settled, he set up an entire Christmas village on top of the buffet in the dining room, covered every doorway with tinsel, and lined our front porch with enough lights to guide an airplane.

I dozed off as he covered the tree with about 500 strands of lights, lulled to sleep by his cursing and muttering. I was awoken around three by Jamie gently nudging my arm. "Sassenach, it's time tae put the decorations on. Will ye help me?"

Reluctantly, I reached my arms out and let him pull me out of my warm cocoon. I waddled over to the tree with him and had to admit it looked lovely with the lights. Jamie came up behind me and handed me an ornament. "You put the first one on, Sassenach."

I looked at the small, delicate ornament he placed in my hand. It was a glass heart etched with the words

Our First Christmas

Jamie & Claire

2013

I let out a small sob and held the ornament to my heart, leaning back into Jamie. He wrapped his arms around me and rocked back and forth. "I didna mean tae make ye cry, lass."

"Oh, it's just my hormones," I lied, brushing the tears away with the back of my hands. Our First Christmas, meaning first of many. Just like that, with one ornament, I realized for maybe the first time in the whirlwind of the past fifteen months, Jamie and I really were building a life together. His time in my life was no longer relegated to summer vacations and chance meetings. He was here with me, every day, forever.

Jamie leaned down and whispered in my ear, "It's no' our very first Christmas though, is it?"

***

December 1987

Our parents had decided that we should all spend Christmas together on the lake, so they rented a small, rustic cabin, not unlike the one that John would later give to us as a wedding gift.

It was the last time we would all be together.

We pulled into the small driveway, and I jumped out of the car before it had barely come to a full stop. Brian and Ellen came out immediately to greet us, but I ran past them looking for Jamie. He was sitting on the floor in front of a large fireplace playing with a combination of action figures and Barbies. He grinned at me with half his teeth missing as I sat down next to him and picked up one of the Barbies thoughtfully.

"Whatcha playing?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Just acting out stories," he said.

"He's playing with dolls," Jenny said with disdain. She was curled up in an armchair next to the fire looking at Jamie disapprovingly.

I opened my mouth to defend Jamie, but Willie emerged from the kitchen then. "Leave him alone, Janet. He can play with whatever he wants to."

Jenny rolled her eyes. "Boys don't play with dolls, and ye ken it, Willie."

Willie plucked the book Jenny was reading out of her lap. "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Sorry Jenny, this is a boy's book. I can't let you read it anymore."

Jenny stood up, her face red with fury. "It is not! Give it back." Willie held the book over her head and she jumped up and down trying to snatch it from his hands.

"Well, it's got boy characters so it can't be for a girl."

"Stop it, Willie, or I'll yell for Ma!"

"Ye yell fer Ma and I'll tell her that ye were harassing Jamie while he was playing nicely." Jenny stopped jumping and crossed her arms. "Now apologize to Jamie, or I'll throw your book in the fireplace."

"YOU WOULDN'T!" she screeched, stamping her foot.

"Wouldn't I?" Willie replied. He dangled the book in front of the fireplace for good measure.

"Oh, fine! Sorry, Jamie," she managed to spit out. Willie dropped the book in Jenny’s hand and walked away.

***

The rest of the day we spent making popcorn garland and paper decorations while our parents dragged in a giant Christmas tree. We decorated it with our homemade ornaments while the adults sipped eggnog, and Christmas music played on an old record player.

As the afternoon drew on, the light suddenly dimmed. Our fathers stood in the window together and finally declared that a snowstorm was rolling in. Jamie and I exchanged a worried glance, and he whispered to me, "What if Santa can't find us in the snowstorm?"

"Don't worry," I told him, "Santa knows how to find places in the snow."

"But what if he's never been here before? He might not know the way." His voice wavered with worry.

"I'll think of something," I told him.

***

That night we hung our stockings over the fire and sang Christmas carols, drinking big mugs of hot cocoa. Jamie's face was etched with worry the entire time, and I knew I had to come up with a plan.

After my parents put me to bed, I lay awake, waiting for all the noises in the cabin to go quiet, all the bedroom doors to shut, all the lights to go out. Then, I crept quietly to the room Jamie shared with his siblings and kneeled down by his bed. "Are you awake?" I whispered.

"Aye," he whispered back.

"Come on," I said.

I ushered him to the small mudroom. "Put your boots and coat on," I told him.

He gave me a questioning look but obeyed. We put on all our winter gear, including coats, scarves, and mittens. When we were completely bundled up, I told Jamie to wait.

Ducking into the kitchen, I grabbed two saucepans and two wooden spoons from the cupboards and handed one set to Jamie. Then, I grabbed a flashlight and we walked out the back door into the cold, snowy night.

Despite the storm, the moon cast a magical glow, making everything appear a hazy blue. I signaled to Jamie to follow me, and we trudged around the house to the front porch. I settled in one of the rocking chairs and gestured for Jamie to join me.

"What are we doing?" he asked me as he settled into his own chair.

I flicked on my flashlight and pointed it toward the road. "See? When Santa comes, he'll see the light."

"Then what are the pots and spoons for?" he asked.

"If we hear him coming, we can bang them together so that he can follow our sound too." I sat back in my chair, smugly proud of my plan.

The only thing I hadn't accounted for was how cold it was. We were soon shivering, and I wasn't sure how much longer we could manage. We tried taking turns doing jumping jacks while the other held the light, but it was late and we both grew tired.

"Maybe we can sit in the chair together," Jamie suggested.

I knew from our many wilderness survival lessons that body heat could keep us warmer, so I climbed into his rocking chair with him and we snuggled up together, letting the light fall on our laps.

That was how Willie found us. Thankfully, he had gotten up to go to the bathroom and noticed that Jamie wasn't in his bed. He checked my room and found I wasn't there either and immediately sprung into action. Luckily, he found us a few minutes later.

"Come on," he said, lifting me out of the chair. I wrapped my arms around his neck, and he grabbed Jamie with his other hand, urging him out of the chair.

Back inside, he built up the fire and bundled us both up in blankets in front of it. Jamie and I shivered together as our numb limbs tingled back to life. Willie handed us each a mug of cocoa and sat down with us. "What were you two eejits doing?"

We explained our plan, and Willie threw his head back, laughing quietly. Finally, he gestured toward the tree. "I guess your plan worked. Santa came."

We'd been so cold and tired that neither of us had noticed the stacks of presents under the trees or the stuffed stockings on the mantel. "He came," Jamie whispered in awe.

"Yes, he must have come while you were sleeping. Now come on, let's get you two in bed."

He tucked us both into my bed and kissed us both on the forehead. "Please stay put the rest of the night, aye?"

We nodded sleepily and drifted off almost immediately, snuggled together in my warm bed.

***

December 24, 2013

My labor started in the early morning hours on Christmas Eve. My due date wasn't for another three weeks, so when the contractions first started, I hoisted myself out of bed, went to the bathroom, and drank a huge glass of water before crawling back into bed. I fell back into a fitful sleep until I could no longer ignore the pain that was coming at closer and closer intervals.

I tried to slip out of bed and go downstairs without disturbing Jamie, but he shot up like a jack in the box as soon as my feet hit the floor. "What's happening? Is everything alright?"

"Um, yes, well, I think I might be in labor." Another contraction gripped me and I held onto the bed post and did my best to keep breathing.

Jamie was already out of bed and getting dressed. When the pain flowed away, I laughed. "We can't go in yet. It's too soon. We just have to wait it out."

Jamie looked at me with his mouth agape, a fire in his eyes that beckoned back to an instinct to protect fiercely. His red hair stood on end and his entire body was tense with anticipation. I lumbered over to him and put my arms around him. "It's alright. It just means that we get to share some more quiet together, just the two of us."

We went downstairs and Jamie turned on the Christmas tree lights. "Perfect," I said, "That's all we need."

We sat on the couch with the room softly aglow with all the colors of the rainbow. Jamie brought me food, since I knew it wouldn't be long before I couldn't keep anything down. And for several hours, we lay together, speaking in low tones, mixing memories of the past with the dreams of our imminent future.

Around sunrise, my contractions started to increase in regularity and intensity. Jamie began pacing the room in between contractions, but I insisted we stay home longer. With every contraction, Jamie tried to nudge me toward the door, and I dug my heels in harder.

When my water finally broke, Jamie stared at the fluids pooling at my feet triumphantly. "Don't give me that look,” I yelled at him as he bounded up the stairs to get me fresh clothes.

He came down with our overnight bags and loaded them in the car but I still wasn't ready to leave when he came back inside. Having delivered many babies myself, I was sure I knew what I was doing when it came to my own labor. "It's perfectly fine to wait up to twenty-foooooo-" I bent over, grasping my belly.

When I came back to my senses, Jamie was already on the phone with Gillian, who was my OB/GYN in addition to being my best friend. He handed it to me with another victorious look in his eyes.

"Gillian, I'm fine." I said as soon as I held the phone to my ear.

"Just the same," she said calmly, "I'd rather you be fine at the hospital."

I rolled my eyes and handed the phone back to Jamie. "Fine," I said, "I'll go. But you two are being ridiculous…" I barely spat the word out before I was paralyzed by another contraction.

"Sure we are," Jamie replied, ushering me out the door.

Six hours later, I gave Jamie my own triumphant look as the nurse declared that I was, "Still only five centimeters!"

"Do ye like winning this game?" Jamie teased. "Because it doesn't seem like having yer pain prolonged is much of a prize."

"Oh shut up," I hissed through another contraction.

Though I wouldn't admit it to him at the time, Jamie was doing everything right. He fetched me ice chips and cold washcloths, rubbed my back when I needed it and backed away when I hissed at him not to touch me. As my energy began to wane, he held my hand and encouraged me in a soft mixture of English and Gaelic.

When little had changed twelve hours after my water broke, Gillian and I agreed it was time to hang the pitocin to move things along. I insisted on getting my epidural before we started the meds, and that was the only time Jamie left my sight during the entire day.

With the sweet relief of numbness from the waist down, my exhausted body gave in, and I drifted off to sleep.

When I woke up, the room was quiet. Jamie was sitting up in the chair next to my bed watching A Christmas Story. I squeezed his hand and he immediately turned his attention to me. "How are ye feeling, mo ghraidh? Ye slept fer almost three hours…"

I tried to listen to him, but my body was overwhelmed by an intense pressure and I finally put up a finger and shushed him. "Do. Not. Talk." I said emphatically.

I was too groggy to realize what I was feeling but when the nurse came in to check on me, she could see it on my face immediately. "Ready to push, then?" she asked cheerfully.

I had been holding my breath and bearing down without even realizing it. I nodded at the nurse and let the air out of my lungs with a little chuckle. "I guess so."

"It's time?" Jamie asked, springing to his feet.

I nodded and reached my hand out to him as a flurry of preparations started happening all at once around us. He wrapped his arms around me as lights were switched on, carts were rolled in, and half the bed was collapsed in favor of a pair of stirrups. I'd been on the other side of this scene hundreds of times, but I had never even considered what was going through the mother's head in that moment. Fear, anticipation, exhaustion, all mingled together as I pressed my head against Jamie's chest and took in one last breath of our life before.

I pushed for an hour and a half. Every time I wanted to give up, Jamie would squeeze my hand and tell me how proud he was of me, encouraging me to keep going.

"I can see the baby's head!" Gillian declared finally. "Just a couple more pushes, Claire."

I mustered all the strength I had left and continued my pushing, gripping Jamie's hand as he told me I was the strongest woman he'd ever seen. Gillian warned me to slow down, but I was at the point of no return. I bore down as hard as I could and felt a moment of the most intense pressure I had ever felt in my life followed by the most intense relief.

The room was in happy chaos around me, but all I could see was the squalling baby in Gillian's arms. She looked dumbfounded herself and later told me that she had only been shocked by the speed at which I had propelled the ten pound butter ball out. After a moment, she snapped out of it and looked down, declaring, "It's a boy."

I felt Jamie's tears mixing with my own on my cheeks as he leaned his head against mine and they laid our son on my chest. I wrapped my arms around him, felt his weight on me, his mouth already rooting at my chest, and said the only thing that came to my mind. "He's huge!"

The room erupted in laughter around me, but they could have been light years away for all I knew. My entire world consisted of me, Jamie, and the squirming bundle pressed warm against me. Somebody laid a blanket over him, but I peeked under and counted his fingers and toes. Jamie’s face was permanently plastered with a wide, crooked grin as he kept his arms around both of us. He hadn't said a word up until that point and as the baby latched onto my breast, Jamie pressed his lips against mine and whispered, "How is it I love him so much already?"

***

The next two hours went by in a blur. The baby was weighed and measured; I was stitched and helped to my feet for the first time. The baby was whisked away for a bath and further check up. I was brought to my room and Jamie helped me clean up. Jamie called his sister and reported the news - A baby boy. Ten pounds, five ounces. Twenty-one inches long. Born at 12:01 AM Christmas morning. No name yet.

After what felt like an eternity, my son was finally brought back to me, cleaned up and bundled like a burrito. Jamie plucked him out of the bassinet and held him close, kissing his button nose before placing him in my arms. It had been hard to tell before he was cleaned up, but our son had a full head of curly, chestnut brown hair and eyes the same shade as Jamie’s.

"Willie," Jamie said breathlessly, seeing his brother's likeness in his son.

I nodded as fresh tears came to my eyes. "Yes," I said. "William James Fraser."

At the sound of his name, our son woke, crying out. I pulled the top of my nightgown down, and Jamie helped me maneuver until Willie was suckling contentedly at my breast. "It's been a wonderful first Christmas for our family, Sassenach, though not the quiet one we planned for," he said.

"Nothing has gone according to plan since you came back to me, Jamie," I told him. "And I wouldn't have it any other way."