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Our Lives Illuminated

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The coffee shop was close to campus, and Claire, running late after a lecture went too long, rushed down the sidewalk in order to meet Joanie. She could feel her phone buzzing in her pocket - knew it was Jamie wondering where she was. They normally had lunch together on Mondays, but she hadn’t seen him that morning, and had completely forgotten to tell him about her lunch plans.

Breathing hard, she swung open the glass door and spotted Joanie right away. The woman’s greying hair was cropped neatly at her chin, and as always, she wore a warm smile, standing up as Claire made it to the table. Claire’s arms enveloped the smaller woman, and her jasmine smell filled Claire’s nose as they released one another.

“Have a seat, dear. I ordered the usual.”

‘The Usual’ was a black coffee for Claire and a matching one for Joanie. The white ceramic mugs were patterned with gray swirls and dots. The strong coffee was hot, and she blew on the top to cool it, waiting for Joanie to kickstart the conversation.

“How are things, Claire? I know you got that information in the mail regarding your mother, but you never told me anything else about it. Did you open it?”

“Yeah, I did. Jamie helped.” She nodded, taking her first sip. It was so good, and she needed the pick-me-up. Her morning lecture had been a drain, and she’d wanted nothing more than to go back to bed the second her alarm had gone off that morning.

“Oh, I’m so glad! It must be a relief. I know it weighed on you for quite some time.”

“Mmhmm. I know my last name is shared by my mother, now.” Claire paused, forming the words in her mouth. They rolled around on her tongue like marbles. “Julia Moriston Beauchamp. Assuming she hasn’t remarried since that information was put in the file. I suppose you don’t know whether Beauchamp is hers or my biological fathers?”

“Dear, you know I don’t know anything. They kept that information sealed up, away from us.”

“Yeah. I know,” Claire replied, giving Joanie an understanding look.

“How are things with you two? I thought he might join us?”

Joanie didn’t have to explain this question to Claire. She was asking about Jamie - the constant companion who had accompanied Claire to many meetings with Joanie. Claire shrugged at the question, not knowing what exactly to say.

“He’s good. We’re good. I just… didn’t get a chance to tell him I was having lunch with you. He was out last night, and I didn’t see him this morning.”

“Is that him calling you now, then?”

Claire grimaced, pulling her ringing phone out of her bag.

“Yep, that’s him. Mind if I text him real quick?”

“No, not at all,” Joanie said, shooting Claire a look before taking a sip of her coffee. Claire screwed her face up in confusion, but bowed her head to her phone, choosing to ignore said look.

Sorry, I had a last minute meeting with Joanie today. I’ll see you later, okay?

The dots at the bottom of her screen danced as Jamie typed his reply.

Oh, okay. I’ll see you at home, Sassenach.

She had a pained expression when she looked back to Joanie, who wore a small smirk on her lips.

“What?” Claire asked.

“Nothing. You should’ve asked him to come, is all. I may be old, Claire, but I’m not blind. Yet.” She pushed her large bifocal lenses up her nose as she smiled. “Is he still seeing that one girl… what’s her name?”

“Anna?”

“That’s the one.”

“No. I mean, I don’t know. She’s not been around since the new year.”

Joanie only smiled, nodding her head. Claire watched as she wiped her mouth with her napkin even though it was clean. Joanie tapped her fingers on the table; something Claire knew she did when she was holding back. Claire was surprised, however, when the subject of Jamie was dropped in favor of more talk about Claire’s birth mother.

“Have you thought about calling Julia? I assume there was contact information?”

“There is. I don’t know how current it is, though. The address is one out in California, and the number is a U.S. one, too.” Claire gulped. The thought of calling that number made her throat dry. Luckily, she didn’t have to say anything else right away. Her phone buzzed in her lap and she was thankful when Joanie nodded at her to answer it. Jamie had sent her another message.

It’s been a shit Monday. Want to meet for pizza and a drink after your afternoon class?

She replied quickly, telling him it was a fantastic idea, that she’d see him then. She sighed, running a hand through her hair to get it out of her face. Her coffee was almost gone, and she wanted another.

“Claire, I won’t tell you what to do - you know that by now - but I will give you my two cents. You needn’t be afraid of things that have never come to pass. If you call Julia, she may answer. You may like one another, and you’ll have another person in your life who cares about you - at least in some small way. What’s the worst that can happen?”

“She could not answer at all, and I’d be back at square one. Or… she could be completely uninterested in getting to know me, which I think would hurt more.”

“I want you to remember: she is an unknown entity at the moment. You owe her nothing, not even that phone call. You make the decision when you’re ready. And also remember: you can call me anytime, and I know for certain that you can lean on Jamie. No need to do this alone, like you’ve done so much in your life. Cherish the family unit in front of you now.”

Claire held back a scoff.

“Family unit? Me?”

“All families aren’t a mother, father, and two and a half kids, Claire. You know that. Families come in all shapes and sizes. You’ve a family in Jamie, you’ve my family. This thing with Julia? It may sting, but don’t let your soul be swallowed by it.”

Claire actually scoffed this time, causing Joanie to frown.

“I’ve not really given it much thought.” Claire pushed her coffee away, suddenly sick of it. She was lying of course - a hobby of hers now, it seemed. She’d thought about Julia nearly constantly since opening the envelope. She wanted to know more about this elusive woman, wanted to insert Julia into her life, wanted to be able to claim a parent as her own. She knew, though, that this was all a pipe dream. She’d likely be too afraid of rejection to get too close.

“You’ve always held everyone at arm's length, Claire. And if that works for you, that’s fine. Yet I see in your face that you desperately want to have Julia in your life, that you want her to see you as her child.”

Joanie paused, letting Claire absorb her words. She wondered where Joanie was going with this. Claire was her child, was she not? Surely there would be some… connection between them, no matter what? Isn’t that what mothers always said about their babies? ‘I loved you the moment I saw you!’ Claire sat back in her chair and sighed.

“So what if I want that? Is that so wrong? Everyone else has it. Why not me?”

“You already have that, Claire. Do you not realize it? That’s what I’m talking about - cherish what you have in front of you. Don’t put all your hopes on this woman who you know nothing about. You’ve got too much going for you - and none of that has to do with your biological mother. It’s all down to you. You’re braver than you think. Smarter, too. Not to mention beautiful. And do you know who would repeat these very words if given the chance?”

“Who?”

Joanie pointed at Claire’s phone, and it took a second but she realized what the gesture was intending to say.

“That boy you’re talking to all the time. What’s his name again?”

“Oh, God. He would not.” Claire swatted her hand at Joanie, fighting a smile.

“Yes, he would.” Joanie patted Claire’s hand in reassurance, then raised her eyebrows in question. “Are you working tonight?”

“No, thank goodness. Tomorrow, though. I can’t wait to be done with it. Of course, that might be my life for the foreseeable future. A server at a pub.” Claire sunk lower in her chair as she thought about it. Her, a middle aged woman, apron tied around her waist, asking college kids if they needed another pint while on first or fifty-third dates. She, however, would go home to an empty flat, where she’d wake up every morning with back pain, and walk around town smelling of grease and alcohol.

She cringed, hoping that wasn’t her future. She looked at her phone to check the time, and saw she needed to wrap up her meeting with Joanie soon. Her afternoon class started in ten minutes.

“Thanks for the talk, Joanie. I gotta run, though. Class awaits.” Claire stood, gave Joanie a quick goodbye hug, and made her way back out into the street where she felt relieved to have that conversation over. Joanie had always been good at getting under her skin, much like the therapist she’d sent Claire to. Claire hadn’t enjoyed that one bit, but unfortunately Joanie wasn’t someone she could, or even want to, avoid, so she always let Joanie say her piece, even when it wasn’t what Claire wanted to hear.

Making it to the lecture hall just in time, she sat in a huff at the back of the room, unable to concentrate on anything but the conversation she’d had with Joanie. The professor may as well have been absent for all the attention Claire paid her.

Claire held her phone in her hand instead of pulling out her book, fighting the urge to call Jamie, though she knew he was busy. Claire considered herself a realist, and had thought about calling Julia, had thought that perhaps it wouldn’t be a happily ever after. She wasn’t stupid. But to have someone else confirm these thoughts was jarring. Claire sighed, too loudly apparently, as the person sitting in front of her turned to glance in her direction.

“Sorry,” she mouthed, rolling her eyes. Finally pulling out her notebook, she began to pretend to take notes, though her mind was still miles away. In California, to be exact.

//////

The restaurant was loud, as usual, and Claire sat alone at the table she’d picked out - near a window so she’d see Jamie coming. He was late, but she wasn’t worried. She ordered a couple drinks and a large pizza to share and sat waiting patiently. Tapping her foot on the floor, she watched people stream in the door. It was getting busier, and she hoped Jamie came soon before she was asked to give up her table.

She was relieved when she saw him, towering over the rest of the crowd as he pushed his way inside. Seeing her, he waved, and she was surprised to notice he was out of breath as he came to the table.

“Sorry, Sassenach,” Jamie huffed, “I ran into Anna.”

Claire’s top lip curled up on one end at the mention of Anna. She quickly wiped the snarl from her face, hoping Jamie didn’t notice.

“Oh.”

Jamie waved his hands dismissively, then leaned his elbows on the table. Spotting the drink Claire had ordered for him, he curled his hand around the glass and took a long pull.

“She’s so frustrating,” Jamie said, shaking his head. Claire saw him squirming in his seat as he looked at her. “Did your meeting with Joanie not go well, Claire?”

Claire made a face, irritated that he could tell just by looking at her that something wasn’t right.

“It was fine,” she said simply, choosing to nudge the conversation onto him. “What happened with Anna?” She didn’t care one way or another about Anna, but she didn’t want to bring up Julia at their favorite pizza place. It would forever be tainted.

“Oh? Hmm. Nothing,” Jamie answered, shaking his head as the server brought their pizza. “She’s just... annoying.”

Claire let the subject drop, and as she took a swig of her beer, she caught Jamie’s eyes as he took a slice of pizza from the pan. She watched the cheese stretch out over the table as Jamie laughed, placing the slice onto his plate. She followed him, grabbing her own piece, and together they tucked in.

“So, give it up, Sassenach. What happened with Joanie? I can tell you’ve got something on your mind.”

Claire finished the bite in her mouth before answering, desiring to word her response just right.

“Joanie wanted to prepare me for the worst, I guess.” When Jamie’s face screwed up in confusion, she quickly added, “My mother - contacting her, I mean. I told her I hadn’t done it yet, so she felt a lecture was required, I guess.”

“Well. Why don’t you just call Julia and see for yourself? My gut feeling is that she’d be happy to hear from you. She did leave you that note.”

Claire shrugged her shoulders, wishing Jamie wasn’t so damn logical all the time. He was right, and she knew it.

“It’s all right to be scared,” he continued, eyeing her. “I would be. I hate talking on the phone.”

“Gee, thanks. You’re making me feel so much better.”

“What time is it in California now?”

Claire watched as Jamie did the math in his head. He pulled out his phone, did something she couldn’t see, his tongue sticking out as he pondered. He held a hand up, counting his fingers out loud for a brief moment, then stuffed his phone back in his pocket.

“It’s like mid morning there. We can go home and call now if you want.”

“What? No way. I am not calling right now.”

“Why not?”

“Because!!! What if… what if… what if I interrupt some important meeting she’s in and she’s angry with me.” Claire winced as she pulled the scenario out of thin air.

“Uh… if that’s the case then… fuck her?”

Jamie downed a third slice of pizza as Claire finished her drink. She couldn’t eat anymore, and just wanted to get home, to find another distraction from this frightening conversation.

“So, why did you say it was a shit Monday, Jamie?”

“Ugh, I’d rather not talk about it. My head is already done in by the three papers due in the next few days, and to top it off I’ve got to somehow get you to call your mother.” He nudged her under the table with his foot and she met his cheeky grin with a scowl.

“You’re going to pester me until I do it, aren’t you?”

“How’d you guess? No, really though, I’m just tired of watching you wallow about it.” Jamie held up his hands when Claire tried to jump in and defend herself. “ALL I’M SAYING,” he said loudly, “is that I’d rather see you happy and content - and if making that phone call gets you there, then please do it. Your marathon cleaning sessions and late night fridge raids have reached a fever pitch.”

Claire’s mouth dropped. And here she was thinking she’d been sneaky.

“Fine. All right? Fine, I’ll try calling.” Claire put her head in her hands, then felt Jamie’s hand on her shoulder. He gave it a squeeze, and she looked at him.

“I... you don’t have to. I’m just giving you a hard time, Claire.”

“No, no. I’m going to do it. I need to. It’s better to know than not, right?”

//////

Jamie stood with Claire in the kitchen, where she paced as the phone against her ear rang. No one was picking up, and she wasn’t sure whether she wanted voicemail or wanted nothing. She’d prefer a real live person, but so far she wasn’t getting it.

“Maybe it’s a bad time,” she whispered to Jamie.

“Hello?”

Claire jumped, shoved Jamie out of the way, then pulled him back to stand close.

“Hello?” the voice said again.

“I-” Claire’s voice wouldn’t cooperate, and she jumped up and down, clinging to Jamie’s arm like it was a life preserver and she was drowning.

“Is someone there?”

“Hi. Hello. Yes. I..” Claire took a breath as Jamie nodded at her to continue. He mouthed to her to tell the person her name.

“I’m Claire…. Claire Beauchamp,” she squeaked out. “Is this,” she cleared her throat to stall, but continued, “is this Julia…?”

“Yes, it is. Did you say Beauchamp?” The woman sounded eager and inquisitive. Claire noticed her accent - an odd mixture of Middle America and English.

“Yes. I’m..” Claire looked at Jamie who was standing stock still, watching her carefully. He put his hands up in a questioning gesture. Claire flapped her hand at him as she continued to cling to him. “I’m Claire...Beauchamp,” she said again. “I believe I’m your daughter.”

Claire sank down, bending her knees to squat on the floor, causing Jamie to have to follow her. She gripped his arm like she was being electrocuted, unable to let go.

“Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” she mouthed to him as the person on the other end was silent for what felt like eternity. Finally, Claire heard a small noise, and stood again, Jamie standing with her.

 

“Did you get my note?” the now breathy woman asked. Claire could hear her swallow, and she wondered if she was as scared as Claire felt at the moment.

“Yes. I did. Er...thank you.”

She felt stupid for saying it, but felt it was necessary. It was true - she was thankful. It felt empty, though, like those gifts she’d given Jamie for Christmas, when he’d gotten her so much more. Why could she never do enough?

She heard the woman laugh a small laugh, one resembling her own, and she nearly fell into Jamie. He caught her shoulders, putting her upright while laughing a bit under his breath.

“How are you?” Julia asked, and Claire had no idea where to begin.

Mother and daughter talked for a good thirty minutes, until Julia had to get back to work. She asked Claire to call her again, to tell her more about herself. Claire heard a bit about Julia’s job - she was a literary agent, and very busy. Claire had luckily called during her lunch hour, and Claire could hear the city noise in her ear. Before hanging up, Claire promised to call again, and they made plans to talk again in two days time.

Placing the phone down after ending the call, Claire couldn’t help but throw her arms around Jamie’s neck. It was all too much - more than she’d hoped for, and forgetting it was a Monday night, she wanted to drag Jamie out the door for a celebratory drink.

“How about we stay in, Sassenach. I’ll pour us a wee dram here, okay?”

“Okay!” Claire didn’t care where she had a drink, she only wanted something to calm her dancing nerves. She felt every bit of her was awake, and she knew she wouldn’t sleep much tonight.

Jamie poured them each a drink, then handed her a glass. He lifted his glass in the air, and Claire followed.

“To you, Sassenach. So brave.” He grinned at her, clinking his glass against hers before taking a sip.

“Ha, I suppose I’ll have to let Joanie know I did it. I hope she’ll be happy.”

“I’m sure she will be! I’m so excited for you, Claire.”

Jamie pulled her into a bear hug, one that swallowed her whole. She laid her head on his chest, breathing him in. She didn’t want him to let go.