I couldn’t see anything but himself and the young French lad who had answered the door. And yet, unable to explain it in any language I spoke fluently, I believed him.
I...I could feel another presence in the room with us.
Wait...were there more than one?
“How many can ye feel in here wi’ us, Claire?” Jamie asked, as if he were reading my mind without breaking eye contact with me.
I looked around the room, as if expecting one of these invisible beings to show themselves to me forthwith. “I, uhm...I can feel at least one...but something tells me there’s more than one.” I refocused my attention back to Jamie. “How many are there, exactly?”
Jamie just smirked, and leaned back in his seat. “Three. Two of them are permanent residents here, my father and my brother. My father is looking at ye in a way that I would verra much pummel his heid in for. Were he alive.”
He glared in the direction where I assumed his late father was standing (or floating? Did ghosts and spirits float or could they stand? I’d have to inquire later.) “My brother is sitting beside ye, looking up at ye wi’ such a fascination, it’s both endearing and funny.” I heard him chuckle a bit while looking at the bottom of the bed. “And the other...is yer uncle.”
In my head and my heart, I quite believed him. He must have a rare gift indeed, because despite Mary Hawkins-Randall’s no-nonsense approach to life now that she was widowed, even she had been persuaded without any doubts or logic to convince her otherwise. Though, I knew I needed to be absolutely sure that I was dealing with the real thing. A real medium who could actually communicate with the actual dead.
“Now,” I put out my best hospital matron voice, “I’m sure you think you have a real gift, and while I am inclined to believe you, I need to be sure. You gave me the benefit of the doubt, and heard my story. Now, I’m going to ask the same of you. If my uncle really is in here with us, there are one or two things about me that only the real Quentin Lambert Beauchamp would have known. If you can tell me one of these facts...”
Out of nowhere, Jamie started laughing. In fact, to my complete horror, he was laughing at me!
“Och, Christ! Ye canna be serious!” He wasn’t looking at me when he spoke. So I had to assume that, while he had been listening to me, my late uncle also held his attention. There were tears threatening to stream down his face as he continued to laugh.
All at once self conscious, heat rising in my cheeks, and wondering if I had made the right decision to come here after all, I muttered, “Wha!? Wha- I...what did he tell you?”
Instead of replying, to my horror, he started singing! Jamie was a right terrible singer too, if I was being modest.
“The moth took off and saw a tree, above a big flower she spied a bumblebee!”
I flushed multiple shades of scarlet and the heat continued to rise in my face as my mind went into overdrive. Not only because Jamie had learned about one of the most horrifically embarrassing events in my childhood, but the fact that after all these years, even with him being dead, Uncle Lamb remembered.
To my chagrin, I started turning red for completely different reasons. Jamie wiped at his eyes and took several deep breaths to calm himself.
“In my defense,” I began, trying to come up with some sort of explanation. I failed. “I was seven years old,” I finished lamely. I was transported back to that time, my throat acting like it was going numb like it did all those years ago. Thank Christ I was not allergic to bees, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.
“Seven years old and nobody had taught ye not tae eat a live bumblebee?!” Jamie exclaimed. The hooting laughter returned, his ears going their own shade of red. “Och, Claire! Ye tickle my heart wi’ yer innocence.”
I crossed my arms across my chest hotly and said to no one, “I have half a mind to bring you back from the dead just so I can kill you myself, Uncle Lamb!”
I meant it in jest; I don’t think I was capable of intentionally wanting to hurt anyone, feelings or otherwise. I was willing to believe Jamie and his abilities were real, but what I had suggested (if other cultures’ beliefs were to be conceived as real) was necromancy. I loved and missed my uncle terribly, and always will, but I also believed that what was dead, needed to stay dead.
At that moment, I wasn’t so sure Jamie would believe me if I had said it. Compared to me, he had sobered the instant the jeer had left my lips. His previous laughter and jovial demeanor evaporated within the space of two heartbeats.
“Ye canna,” was all he said, cold and austere. “It isna possible.”
He was now starting to scare me. I felt a shiver run down my back; something told me that Jamie had some first hand experience in the subject. I didn’t want to know who, if anyone, he had tried and failed to bring back to life. And what price he had to pay to make it happen.
Clearly his throat, and fishing a handkerchief from his doctor’s coat pocket, Jamie dabbed at his face, blew his nose (rather quietly for a man his size, I observed) and tossed the linen square into what looked like a dirty clothes hamper.
I had surmised that this clinic also doubled as his home. It seemed too big to be anything else. He beckoned me to follow him, and we made our way through a dining room, large living room to a staircase that led down to what had to be a basement, or bomb shelter. Most people who had basements converted them to bomb shelters after the start of the war.
It was like walking through a time portal and emerging in another century. The walls didn’t look like they were made of the cast stone that I was accustomed to seeing in a home’s basement, nor the reinforced metal sheets bolted down that most homemade bomb shelters were constructed with. Well, truth be told, I didn’t know what the walls were made of, but it didn’t feel like anything in this time. There were no decorations anywhere in the room. There was only a small rectangular table in the middle that was low to the ground, and two large, fluffy pillows for sitting. I wondered dimly what this room was actually used for.
After removing my shoes at the foot of the stairs, I stood away from it so Jamie could come down. A loud, harsh, whoosh sounded from the top of the stairs, which indicated that the wide, vault-like door had been closed, and securely latched, by the man of the house.
I had never been encapsulated in more darkness and silence in my twenty seven years of life until that moment. The darkness didn’t last long though. Jamie flipped a switch, and the room was slowly bathed in a shallow, red-orange glow. It gave the room of a warm feeling, but only in ambiance. The room was anything but warm.
“Please sit,” Jamie instructed me, gesturing towards one of the giant, fluffy pillows on the floor. I chose the one that would have my back to the staircase. Jamie took the one opposite of me.
We sat there in an awkward silence for a few moments. I wasn’t sure what he was waiting for, and was about to inquire, when I felt that feeling again.
“Who is with us now?” I asked timidly.
“The same spirits,” Jamie answered casually, as if I had asked about the furniture. “My father, my brother, and your uncle.”
“Does your father and brother always follow you around your home?”
“Mostly. It’s a Fraser trait to be insatiably curious, but apparently it doesna die wi’ us.” He smirked towards an empty space at the left knee. “My brother likes ye a lot. I can tell.”
I took that for the compliment I believed it was.
“So, first order o’ business,” Jamie began in a more serious tone, “I dinna usually take on mysterious death cases. In fact, I would like tae have turned ye away the moment ye said yer uncle had died and the police werena listening tae ye. But...” He paused, and I wasn’t exactly convince it was for dramatic effect.
“Uncle Lamb told you something, didn’t he?”
Jamie smiled. “Ye catch on quick. Mr. Beauchamp told me ye might. But aye...when I mentioned he was here wi’ us, he started beggin’ me fer help. Pleadin’ tae be heard. Tellin’ me not tae turn ye away. He offered his own help, in whatever way he could.”
I took this information in, slowly turning it over in my mind. “So...you’re taking this case not just because I asked for help, but because he did too?”
Jamie paused once again, only this time I have no idea why.
“Aye,” he finally, and lamely, proclaimed. “Yer uncle has given me a place tae start. And, it just so happens I’m in a fine position to get in and look at the crime scene myself. Or...what’s left of it anyway. No doubt the area’s already been cleaned up.”
A leap of my heart had me smiling, but then it faded. “Yes. I’m the one who cleaned it up. After the police were finished, that is. The university faculty told me that what was left was mine to do with what I wanted...”
I let the sentence trail off. If I had had things my way, I would have set the entire classroom on fire.
“Normally I would be asking ye fer details about yer lost relative, and a photograph if available, using that information tae summon them tae me. But that work was already done for me. Ye must have a gift yerself...”
I blinked at that, but wasn’t sure how to reply. So, I ignored the remark.
“Anyway...yer right about one thing. Yer uncle was indeed murdered. And if we’re gonna get tae the bottom o’ this, we’ll have tae work together. I canna do this wi’out ye. D’ye trust me, Sassenach?”
There was that word again. Sassenach. Foreigner. Outlander. I’d been called it before, and mostly by Scots who had no love for the English. Old habits die hard I suppose. But the way that Jamie said it...made me feel like anything but.
Like I was his Outlander. A treasure that needed to be preserved and protected.
An odd warmth that spread through me couldn’t be explained in any other way. I felt safe here. Like I’d never lost my uncle in the first place.
“With my life.”