18 years old
Claire placed her lunch tray on the table. Picking up her fork, she shoved the food around on her tray, trying to ignore the eyes that stared at her. She felt them. Every last one of them was boring down on her. The sly glances. The downright scandalized stares. She felt the reactions as if they were almost a sixth sense. The dropped jaws as she passed by. The whispers. The gossip and rumors. The judgement. The hushed conversations as she entered the room. The raised brows of her teachers and the looks of pity and disappointment.
She felt each and every one of them.
She had hidden her pregnancy well. She had been very clever about wearing loose clothing until the day that even those wouldn’t work. Ellen had taken her to purchase the dreaded maternity clothing and today was the first day she had no choice but to wear them at school.
It was the first day that everyone knew without the shadow of a doubt.
Geillis, Louise and Jamie had all taken great pains to be at her side, throwing daggers with their eyes at those who dared to stare too long or gossip too loudly.
That is, until now. She was alone.
She’d never felt so alone in all her life.
She heard a whispered conversation behind her between three 15-year old girls. One whispered in a scandalized voice, “Did ye ken she was...pregnant?”
Then another. “Nae! It’s a wonder she got away wi’ it for sae long.”
“Do ye ken who the father is?”
“I heard it was that Jamie Fraser...ye ken...the tall red-headed dreamy dish that ye’ve been drooling over.”
“Oh, hush ye! I have nae been drooling over…”
“Shhhh! Here he comes!”
Claire looked up as Jamie set his tray down beside her. “I’m sae sorry I’m late. I didnae mean tae leave ye alone tae deal with all…,” he trailed off. She knew exactly what he meant. He felt and heard all that she had. Her face was red with shame. Jamie had always said she had a glass face and today was no exception.
He reached up a tentative hand and brushed the hair behind her ear. “Are ye alright?”
“Ye don’t look alright.”
Misery washed over her as she heard more whispers and titters.
“Here. Eat yer lunch. Our bairn needs nourishment.” They had been reading a book on pregnancy and birth that Jenny, who already had one bairn, had loaned them. Jamie had taken his role as father rather seriously as they were enlightened on the finer points of having a healthy pregnancy. He made sure she ate. He made sure she took her prenatal vitamins. He held her hair back when she threw up each morning and passed her a cool cloth and a glass of water to rinse her mouth. He made sure she got rest and that she put her feet up. He carried her backpack full of books and refused to let her bear the burden of it.
He had done everything right.
But this? For this, he had no answers. The book didn’t address how to handle the shame one felt. The book didn’t address how to shut out the looks of judgement and the whispers. The book didn’t address how one handled something that should have been a joyous situation when it was laden with regret and shame instead.
As the months wore on, she grew accustomed to the tiny being growing within her. She often laid her hands on her tummy and spoke to it, telling it stories of the dreams she had, how she envisioned their life as a family of three had life gone as it should’ve.
But those were just dreams. Reality was much darker.
She jolted out of those thoughts when Geillis and Louise arrived at the table. Geillis was busy telling off a tableful of nosy Nellies to mind their own business when the school’s guidance counselor walked up to the table. Mrs. Graham was a kindly sort who got along with all the students. She sat down beside Claire and offered her a sympathetic smile.
“Hello, Claire. I ken that today might be a little rough fer ye. Would ye and yer friends like tae have lunch in my office? We could chat a bit and ye could have some privacy for a bit.”
Relieved, Claire quickly accepted. She would do anything to get out of this room.
Geillis and Louise had begged off, stating their need to cram for an upcoming test in the afternoon.
Jamie and Claire took their lunch trays and followed Mrs. Graham, prying eyes staring at them as they walked by. Claire could imagine the conversations that would begin as soon as the door closed behind them.
As they settled in the counselor’s office, Mrs. Graham made them feel at ease with conversation. They discussed the weather, the new shelf of books in the library that had been donated by a local organization, the prospect of finding Mr. McDonald’s glasses (which he frequently misplaced), and the likelihood that they would beat the local rival in the big game on Friday.
After a small lull in the conversation, Mrs. Graham finally drew in a breath and leaned back in her chair. “Alright. Enough o’ that. Let’s get down tae brass tacks here. I see yer about tae be a new mother, Claire. Am I correct in the assumption that Jamie here is the father?”
Jamie spoke for them both. “Aye.”
Mrs. Graham nodded. “I’ve suspected so for a few weeks now. Have ye both discussed how ye are going to proceed, then?”
“Aye, we have. We’ll be married as soon as school is out. Claire is staying at my house. Her Da isna speaking tae us right now.”
“I see. So, ye have support, then?”
“Aye. My parents are helping us fer now.”
“And what would be yer plans for the future? Are ye still planning on going tae University and continuing on wi’ yer schooling?”
Claire spoke this time. “We are. I know it will be difficult. I don’t have any doubt about that. I don’t want Jamie to lose his chance at his scholarship. I don’t want to hold him back.”
Mrs. Graham smiled, “O’ course no’. But what about ye, Claire? What about yer dreams and yer plans?”
Jamie began to reply but Claire held him off. “I decided that I won’t be going to University.”
Mrs. Graham frowned and Jamie turned to her, “No! Ye had plans tae be a nurse. I’ll no’ hear o’ it! Ye’ll go until the bairn comes. Ye have yer college fund, sae we’ll be able tae afford it.”
Claire shook her head. “I haven’t told you yet, but Mum called me. She said that she had tried to smooth things over with Dad. He’s dug in his stubborn heels and he refuses to give us one dime of assistance. And that includes my college fund.”
Jamie and Mrs. Graham both gasped, both equally disturbed by the news.
“So you see, I’ll be looking for a job instead.”
Mrs. Graham scoffed at that. “Now, see here, Claire Beauchamp. Ye are too smart tae be working some low-paying job. Ye could easily qualify for scholarships wi’ yer grades and I can help ye get more financial aid. Ye just put that idea right out o’ yer mind.”
Jamie agreed with her and started to argue when the bell rang for the next classes.
“Well, that’s that. Ye can leave yer trays here and I’ll see that they get back to the lunchroom. Ye go on tae yer next classes. In the meantime, ye both think about what we discussed. And please, feel free to stop in anytime ye need tae talk or just need a private space to escape. I ken it can be difficult. I’ll be here tae help ye both in any way I can.”
Mrs. Graham squeezed both of their arms and patted their backs. “Chins up. There’s the twa o’ ye now!”