Claire looked up from her desk at the little boy careening towards her, curls askew and bright orange backpack almost as large as his body. She smiled and put her pen down, waiting for him to reach her.
“Miss Claire! Miss Claire!” the boy said breathlessly, stopping in front of her desk. He grinned widely, mouth displaying a gap right in the front. Was that—was that chocolate all over his face? She dearly hoped it was chocolate and not something else.
“Good morning, Jamie,” Claire said pleasantly. “And what’s that all over your face?”
Jamie looked on either side to him, as if to make sure no one else was listening. Then he leaned in and whispered, conspiratorially, “Chocolate.”
“Chocolate?” Claire mock gasped. “For breakfast? Well, aren’t you a silly boy.”
He giggled. Claire reached over the desk and ruffled his curls.
“After you put your backpack in the cubbies, wash your face and hands so you’re all clean for circle time, okay?”
“Aye,” he said seriously, before scurrying off. She sighed with a smile. You weren’t supposed to have favorites as a teacher, as it could negatively impact the rest of the students, but Claire would be lying if she said she didn’t have a soft spot for the small Scottish lad currently tripping over himself in his excitement to get to the cubbies.
“Sorry about the mess.”
Claire looked up to find one of the largest red-headed men she had ever seen, looking at her with a sheepish expression. With curls just like wee Jamie, she figured this must be his father. It was only the first week of school, and she had yet to meet all the parents. She stood up and walked around her desk, extending her hand for a proper handshake.
“Chocolate for breakfast?” she asked with a raised eyebrow, extracting her hand from his firm grip after a moment. Her stomach felt warm, as her eyes met his piercing blue orbs. Enraptured, she couldn’t look away.
“I thought a chocolate croissant would be a nice treat,” the man said with a grin, eyes twinkling. “I think about half ended up in his mouth. The rest is on his hands, face, and unfortunately, hair.”
At that she couldn’t help but laugh, shaken out of her trance. The man (the beautiful, gorgeous man) chanced a glass behind him, only to see wee Jamie making an even bigger mess at the sink. Claire thought she could see him splashing water on the other children, and willed herself to not go over there. The man turned back to Claire, smiling dancing on his lips. “Don’t tell my sister, eh?”
The pieces clicked into place, and Claire sighed with relief that she hadn’t been momentarily lusting after a married man with children. “So you’re the fun uncle, then?”
“Aye,” he said proudly. “Sorry, didn’t introduce myself. Jamie, Jamie Fraser. Wee Jamie is my sister’s son.”
“Miss Claire! Miss Claire!”
“Well, I’ll let you get back to the rascals,” Jamie said with a smile and a touch of…regret? “Lovely to meet you Miss Claire.” He gave her a small mock bow, before turning on his heels and walking out.
“Alright, alright,” Miss Claire sighed, crouching down to the size of the munchkins next to her. “Shall we start with a story this morning?” They nodded excitedly, and Claire ushered them towards the story circle.
But as she began to read Goldilocks and the Three Bears, her mind was preoccupied with the red-headed Scottish man who had happened upon her classroom this morning. She couldn’t help but wonder when she would get to see him again. At the thought, her stomach fluttered.
Six Weeks Later
Claire looked at herself in the full-length mirror. She had decided to wear a bright red dress today and had blown out her hair. Without meaning to, she had gotten in the habit of dressing nicer on Thursdays and doing her hair. She tried to tell herself it had nothing, nothing at all, to do with the fact that one of her student’s uncles dropped him off every Thursday morning, but…well, you can only lie to yourself so much.
For the last six weeks, Jamie Fraser had dropped off wee Jamie Murray every Thursday morning. Most times, they were only able to exchange one or two sentences before she was whisked away by the kids, but she looked forward to those 30 seconds every week. She had developed a real, honest-to-God, school-girl crush, and didn’t know exactly what to do about it. Claire was calm, cool, and collected. She never let men get in her head like this, and was rattled by how nervous he made her. Should she ask him out? Would that be inappropriate? Unprofessional? She fret, constantly, debating the proper thing to do. All she wanted to do was listen to his laugh again and again. But what if he was offended if his nephew’s teacher made a move on him? Would he complain? Would she lose her job? Or what if – She closed her eyes, forcing herself to stop with the stream of hypotheticals. Get it together, Beauchamp.
Claire had been up late the previous night, studying for her anatomy exam on Friday, and felt slightly delirious with exhaustion. Upset with herself for being so preoccupied with Jamie, she blamed her scattered thoughts on her lack of sleep and stress.
When she had decided to go to nursing school in the evenings, after being a kindergarten teacher from 8 AM to 3 PM, her friends and colleagues had told her she was crazy. She knew it would be difficult, but she assured them she could handle it.
Now, she wasn’t so sure. She had barely gotten 4 hours of sleep last night, and had still woken up early so she could look nice for that damn bloody Scott.
As she drove to the school, she practiced saying hello to Jamie in her rearview mirror.
“Oh, hi, Jamie!” she said out loud, trying out a surprised tone. No, too forced. “Hello Jamie,” she said coyly. Ew no. She shook her head, cringing slightly, and decided to spend the rest of the drive mentally reviewing her anatomy flashcards.
By the time she plopped down at her desk, she had nearly worked herself up into a full blown panic attack. Whether she was more nervous about tomorrow’s test or today’s upcoming encounter with her crush was unclear. Deep breaths, Claire. He is just a man dropping off his nephew. You say good morning, and then he leaves. A simple interaction.
The kids started to pile in and Claire greeted them all fondly, putting the finishing touches on her lesson plans for next month at her desk.
Claire’s head whipped up at the small voice. “Good morning wee Jamie!” The boy waved at her before running straight to his cubby. Claire looked behind him, trying to mask her excitement, only to see his harried mother, Jenny, walking in. Claire arranged her features so as to hide the fact that she felt crestfallen. Where was Jamie?
“Morning,” Jenny said breathlessly. “Wee Jamie has a doctor’s appointment so I’ll be dropping him a bit late tomorrow.”
Claire nodded absently. Pull yourself together. She stood up, smoothing out her dress. She felt silly wearing it now. She could have slept an extra 40 minutes!
“No problem at all, Mrs. Murray,” Claire said with a small smile. Jenny looked at her curiously, smirk playing on her lips.
“I told ye,” she said. “Calm me Jenny.” She smiled, patted Claire on the arm and walked out.
Before Claire could sit down again, she heard a large crash come from the direction of the play kitchen, followed by at least two children crying. She sighed, looked up towards the ceiling, and muttered a little prayer to God to give her the patience to get through this day.
“James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser!”
Jamie sat up on his bench, putting his weights down. The only person who had keys to his loft was his sister Janet, so he had no trouble guessing who was yelling at him from the doorway.
“In here!” he called. Jenny rounded the corner, face shiny with sweat. She was wearing yoga pants, and had clearly just come from one of her Pilates classes after dropping wee Jamie off. Jamie usually took care of the weeun on Thursday mornings so Jenny could go to the earlier spin class that she liked. It was the least he could do after all Jenny had done for him, and it also gave Jamie time to bond with his nephew. He treasured their Thursday mornings together, and hoped to keep the tradition going as he got older.
“There you are,” she said, undoubtedly breathless form the stairs up to his flat.
Jamie nodded, wiping the sweat off his forehead. He went to grab the shirt he had thrown on the floor, and then stopped. Jenny was one of the only people he could comfortably not wear a shirt around, and he forgot how freeing it was. He put the shirt down, and continued wiping himself down.
As he towelled off his back, a memory, unbidden, suddenly welled up within him of the last time he had let a woman who was not kin see his bare upper half. Annalise. He remembered the look on her face when she saw the scars crisscrossed against his back. Pity. Revulsion. Was that really a year ago? Had he not been with a woman in over a year? Jamie shook his head, trying to clear it of its dark thoughts. Coward.
He had stayed home today to finish up a large canvas for a commission, but was completely stuck creatively. He had been up since sunrise staring at the damned thing, and had decided to go for a run and lift some weights, hoping it would spark inspiration in him. He looked at his watch and realized he had completely lost track of time, and been working out for over an hour. Dammit. This canvas wasn’t going to paint itself.
“What’re ye doing here, Jenny?” he asked curiously, now wiping the sweat off his neck. Was she mad he hadna dropped wee Jamie off today? He loved the boy, but he needed to work on his commission –
“I’m not mad about wee Jamie,” Jenny started, reading his mind. “Ye ken I appreciate all ye do for us. For him.” Jenny smiled, and Jamie smiled back. There was something about Jenny’s smile, however, that let Jamie know she was not yet finished. “But,” she said, dragging out the word. “I do think someone was a little bit mad.”
Jamie looked at her in confusion, not understanding. Was wee Jamie mad at him? His chest squeezed and his mind whirred, thinking of activities to make it up to him. A ball game this weekend, perhaps?
“Someone who was wearing a beautiful red dress this morning, and seemed absolutely devastated when I walked into the classroom instead of you,” she continued with a pointed look.
“Claire?” he gasped, understanding.
“Ye are truly a daft oaf,” Jenny laughed, setting her stuff down on the couch.
“Ye think she wanted to see me?” he asked, still confused and trying to catch up.
“I don’t think,” Jenny said firmly. “I’ve never seen her that dressed up. She had mascara on! And when it wasn’t you who walked in after wee Jamie, I could almost smell the disappointment.” Jenny was smiling so wide Jamie thought her face might break.
Jamie looked up at her, face flush from exertion, yes, but also excitement. Miss Claire had put mascara on, and a pretty dress. On a Thursday. That meant…well at the least he meant she had tried to look nice, and at the most it meant she had tried to look nice… for him. His heart skipped a beat. Did she not know how beautiful she was, to him and to any man? He couldn’t believe that maybe, just maybe, she had taken a liking to him, too –
“I’ll pick Jamie up today,” he said without thinking, his mouth moving faster than his brain.
“I thought ye might say that,” she smiled. “Come over for dinner after.” She picked up her bags, and turned to walk out.
“And ask the poor lass out for coffee, will ye?” she said with a wink.
Why did I even bother to blow my hair out? Claire thought to herself, throwing it up into a ponytail. The ends were covered in paint, and she was sure she would find glitter from her root line to her honeypot. Her shower later would take an hour, at least.
She sighed, continuing to clean up the art supplies from the floor on her hands and knees. She looked at her watch, noting with surprise that pick-up would begin in 5 minutes. The kids were at the cubbies, packing up their bags with their projects from the day. The day had gone quicker than expected, but then again it always did when the little ones got their hands on crafts. She spent so much of the time wiping the paint off their floor and their pint-sized bodies that she wasn’t sure how any even made it on the paper.
Claire looked up with a start, only to find Jamie (big Jamie, that is) towering over her.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, doing her best to stand up with grace (and failing miserably, she was sure). “Hi there!” Hi there? Seriously? After all the greetings we practiced this morning –
“Sorry I missed ye at drop off, Sassenach,” he said with a grin. Sassenach? She assumed it was Gaelic, and made a note to look it up later.
“Oh,” she said, surprised and blushing furiously. “I didn’t even notice!” Liar.
He looked at her with a sparkle in his eye, and she knew that he knew she was lying. She swallowed over the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. He looked her up and down, noticing the bits of paint, glitter, and construction paper strewn about her person.
“Busy day?” he inquired, mouth quirked to one side.
“Quite,” she said, trying not to smile.
“Me too,” he said, showing her his hands. They were covered in freckles of paint. She grabbed one, and looked up at him, questioning. “I’m an artist for a living,” he explained.
“Jamie never mentioned that,” I smiled. “When we did family day, all he said was his dad made whiskey and his uncle was a soldier!” I laughed. “I suppose he meant a different uncle.”
Jamie’s smiled tightened. “Aye,” he said brusquely.
“Uncle Jamie!” a mop of curls crashed into his leg, and whatever tension had been on his face drained immediately.
“Hello there, lad,” Jamie said, crouching down so as to be eye level with his nephew. “Did ye have a fun day with Miss Claire?”
“Da best!” Wee Jamie exclaimed. His missing tooth was giving him an adorable lisp, and Jamie ruffled his curls before standing up. “Jamie, why don’t ye go outside and I’ll meet ye in a second?” Wee Jamie nodded excitedly and went to the hallway.
Jamie looked at her, face suddenly shy. Claire’s breath caught in her throat, and she willed herself to school her features so as not to seem over eager.
“I was wondering,” he started, before pausing and clearing his throat. “If ye’d like to get coffee with me sometime?” At the end he looked up, locking his piercing blue eyes on hers.
“Yes,” Claire responded, breathlessly. “Yes, I’d love to.”
Jamie smiled so wide and beautiful that for a second Claire’s mind went blank on the next thing to do. What do I do next? Do we shake hands? Why did she loose all her normal social skills with this man? It was seriously distressing. She felt like a pre-teen quaking in her knickers every time they made eye contact.
While Claire was having an internal freak-out, Jamie had pulled out his phone. With a small smile he handed it to her, and Claire quickly put in her contact info.
“Looking forward to it,” he smiled, slipping his phone back in his pocket. “Miss Claire.”
He walked out and Claire collapsed onto the edge of her desk, running her fingers through her sticky hair. She took a deep breath and then smiled wider than she had in months. I guess the red dress paid off after all.