“Absolutely not. No. Not happening.”
“No. I look ridiculous.”
She twirled in the mirror again, examining the pale-yellow suit she had on. The worst part was the custom hat Gaelis had her wearing on top, some type of monstrous creation which simultaneously sported larger-than-life pink flowers in addition to white feathers spouting from the top. She looked absolutely unlike herself and wholly ridiculous.
“I look like my grandmother,” Claire said, her mouth twitching. Though she was amused at the image of herself and was trying valiantly not to laugh, a part of her was also incredibly annoyed that Gaelis would even think to put her in this. The emotions were battling within her, and she wasn’t sure which one would win out.
“Okay, fine,” Gaelis laughed. “Maybe a little. I brought something else over too.”
She held up a robin’s blue dress with a scoop neck top and capped sleeves. It was plain, but pretty, with white detailing in the cloth on the top.
“Oh, I love it,” Claire said. “Let’s try that one.”
As Gaelis had secretly expected, the blue dress fit Claire perfectly. She hadn’t yet fully popped and so could still afford to wear some items of clothing on the form fitting end, but none of her dresses quite fit her the way they were supposed to. Having had nothing to wear, she had called Gaelis an hour before the party nearly in tears.
“You are a life saver,” Claire sighed, doing a twirl in the mirror. “Seriously.”
“My pleasure,” Gaelis said with a grin. “Now let’s go finish setting up the cupcakes. People will be here in 20.”
“Ugh,” Claire groaned, sitting down on the edge of the bed to slide her flats on. “Remind me why I’m doing this again?”
“Because you’re pregnant, and you need lots of things when you’re pregnant, and when you have a baby shower, people give them to you for free,” Gaelis replied, folding up the yellow dress.
“You have a point there, Mrs. Duncan,” Claire conceded. “But a baby shower? My only friends in Glasgow are you and Jenny, and Jenny has to be my friend,” Claire pouted.
“Hey now,” Claire heard from behind her. She turned to watch Jamie walking in to the bedroom, an easy-going grin on his face. “Ye and I both know that Jenny Fraser doesn’t do anything she doesna want to do, aye?”
Claire giggled as Jamie came up behind her and wrapped his hands around her waist, kissing her on the cheek.
“Well I suppose that’s true,” Claire smiled. “Where are you off to?”
“Gonna go for a run and then meet Ian down at the pub for a pint or two,” he said. He kissed her on the cheek again and turned to head out.
“Or three,” he said cheekily, wrapping his knuckles against the doorway. “You ladies have fun.”
Jamie winked at Claire and left, and Claire already found herself missing him. She was so far gone, it still even surprised her sometimes.
“Get that look off your face right now,” Gaelis demanded. “You’ll see your man in just a few hours. Now let’s go drink virgin Strawberry Daiquiris and open cute baby onesies until we throw up pink, ya hear?”
Next week was St. Valentine’s Day and Gaelis Duncan had fully taken advantage of the fact, buying up every single pink item in the party store, even though Claire had not yet inquired as to the sex of the baby (and had no intentions of doing so).
“Yes, your majesty,” Claire replied, rolling her eyes affectionately and pretending to curtsy. Gaelis threw a pillow at her in response, and Claire cackled as she left the room.
Claire took one last look at herself in the mirror, fixed her hair, and smoothed her dress. Showtime.
“Oh, Marjorie!” Claire exclaimed, this time not even pretending to fake-like the gift. “This is lovely! Thank you so much.” She gently placed the cream colored blanket back in its box, marveling at how soft the fabric was.
The act of opening and actually touching all these gifts was finally making the pregnancy—the baby—seem real to her, and she wasn’t surprised to see her hands slightly shaking. Motherhood was impending, and Claire wasn’t quite sure she was ready.
Gaelis had invited many of the primary school teachers (at least the ones Claire liked) to the shower, as well as a few of the young women from their nursing school. Many of the girls had already had their first—if not second and third—child and were gifting Claire all kinds of things they just couldn’t live without or wished desperately someone had given them.
Claire had not realized how much stuff was required to have a baby and was feeling more than slightly overwhelmed. And—she suddenly realized—queasy. Was it all those finger sandwiches or morning sickness or nerves or both? Probably the daiquiris, she reasoned. Babies probably didn’t like that sort of thing.
As the party began to wind down, Claire found herself getting even more and more wound up. Why had no one told her she needed so many things to have a baby? There was so much she didn’t know. What the fuck was a diaper genie? Why did breast pumps look so painful? She felt like she might have a panic attack.
“I’m gonna go put some of the food away in the fridge,” Claire said in a low voice to Gaelis. She was sitting on the couch, squished in between Gaelis and Jenny, and truly felt like she couldn’t breathe. Gaelis nodded and continued talking to one of the women standing on her other side, and it took all of Claire’s will power not to break out into a sprint to the kitchen.
As soon as she reached the kitchen, she splashed some water on her face and took a deep breath. She was fine. She was fine. She was fine. Could she stay in the kitchen for the rest of the shower? Probably. There were only two nursing students and one other teacher still lingering. They wouldn’t even notice.
Claire wiped her face with a paper towel and grabbed some crackers to settle her stomach. She leaned against the counter, munching them thoughtfully. She’d enjoyed the party and was grateful to her friends for all the necessities she had just been gifted, but the reality was starting to crash down around her.
Was she ready for this?
“Everything okay in here?”
Before Claire was able to contemplate too deeply, Jenny walked into the kitchen, eyebrows knitted in concern and hands full of empty paper plates. She tossed them in the trash and walked over to Claire, wrapping an arm around her as she continued to morosely munch.
“Did everyone leave?” Claire asked. She knew her voice sounded sulky for someone who had just received a large number of presents, but she couldn’t help it. Her stomach was still flip-flopping around.
“Just about,” Jenny said, rubbing Claire’s arm. “Gaelis was showing Stacy out, last I saw. I think she was gathering up some of the champagne bottles.”
“Man, can that women chatter,” Gaelis said, walking into the kitchen with bottle-laden arms. She threw them into the recycling bin with a clatter, turning to face Jenny and Claire expectantly. “Everything good?”
Gaelis and Jenny both turned to look at Claire, their eyes wide and blinking innocently. Claire wondered if she looked as pale as she felt.
“Yes,” Claire said out loud, smoothing her dress. She was fine. “Everything is great. Perfect, really. I couldn’t have asked for a better shower.” She injected as much pep into her voice as she could muster without risking the very real possibility of vomiting right on the spot.
“Are ye sure you’re okay?” Jenny asked, peering at Claire. “Ye looked a bit green there for a minute.”
“It’s the morning sickness,” Claire said, turning to gather more of the trash scattered around the kitchen. “I swear I’m fine.”
“Showers can be overwhelming,” Gaelis said, coming up behind her to help. “It’s okay if you’re freaking out.”
Claire looked down at the dishes in the sink and took a deep breath. Did she really want to talk about this right now?
No, she decided. She wanted to be alone.
“I’m fine,” she said, putting on her very best winning smile. “I mean it. I am so grateful to you both to the shower. I think I just need to be alone.”
Taking in their unconvinced looks, Claire forged ahead.
“You were right,” Claire said, trying to sound believable. “It was a lot of people. I’m just feeling really tired.” The words leaving her mouth felt sticky and cluttered and wrong, but she felt like she was about five minutes from either crying or vomiting, and all she knew was that she wanted to be alone if and when that happened.
Jenny and Gaelis looked back and forth at each other.
“Are ye sure, Claire?” Jenny asked. “It’s my pleasure to stay and help ye clean up.”
“Seriously,” she said, busying herself by wiping down the counter. It wasn’t doing enough to distract from the nausea, so she tossed the paper towel in the trash with a huff. “I’m fine, I promise.” She turned and smiled brightly at the two again.
“Okaaaay,” Gaelis said slowly, not one to miss a hint. “We’ll head out. You call if you need anything, okay?”
“Absolutely,” Claire said, trying to not let the relief show in her voice. She hugged the two of them tightly, silently thanking them again for the party.
“How about I come over tomorrow and help clean up the rest?” Jenny suggested as she put on her coat by the door. “I’ll bring over breakfast.”
It sounded more like a command than a question, so Claire readily agreed. She kissed Jenny on the cheek again, and all but shoved them both out of the apartment.
Claire leaned her back against the door, taking in a deep breath. The nausea had dissipated significantly, but the apartment still felt like it was closing in on her. She needed to get out. She needed air. She needed to be somewhere very far away from here.
She went to her room and changed into something comfortable, hoping to kill enough time to exit her apartment unseen by Jenny or Gaelis. After 15 minutes, she figured the coast was clear and grabbed her keys.
Once on the street, Claire paused and thought about where to go. She knew she needed to go somewhere, but where? Somewhere quiet, peaceful. Where she could think. Where she could breathe. As she started to walk, she knew exactly where to go to gather her thoughts.
When Jamie got home, the apartment was empty. He sensed it as soon as he got in. The living room was covered in pink balloons and half eaten cupcakes, unwrapped presents scattered on the couch. He called out for Claire anyway, though he knew he wouldn’t get a response. He wandered into the bedroom, and then the bathroom, but still no Claire.
Jamie was no longer actively sweaty from his run, but a hot shower was still very much in order. As he had predicted, he and Ian had certainly not stopped at three pints. Jamie wasn’t drunk, but he was definitely a little bit tipsy.
Where are you? He texted Claire as he peeled off his still sticky clothes. Just got home.
When Claire still hadn’t answered after his shower, Jamie began to worry. Had she gone somewhere with Gaelis or Jenny? He decided to text his sister.
Jamie: Are you with Claire?
Jenny: No. Is she not home?
Jamie: No. Was the party okay?
Jenny: Yeah, great. She said she was tired. She seemed overwhelmed, tbh.
“Dammit,” Jamie cursed to himself. He knew it wasn’t traditional, but he should’ve stayed at the shower. He told her that he had wanted to. I should’ve insisted. Jamie had a gut feeling that it would be too much for Claire, and now she was probably sitting in her car somewhere crying, and he wasn’t there.
“Fuck,” he cursed again. He dialed Claire, pacing around the living room, and was surprised when she answered.
“Hey,” she said, her voice crackling through the phone. Jamie’s chest clenched in relief. He had already been imagining the worst, head swirling with images of Claire in an accident or hurt.
“Sassenach,” he said, trying to keep his voice calm. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” she said. Her voice sounded distracted. “I’m at the park by city hall. I just needed some air. I’ll be home soon.”
“I’ll come get you,” Jamie said, immediately reaching into his drawer for a clean t-shirt. “I’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
“No, no,” Claire said quickly. “I just—need to be alone.”
Jamie felt his stomach clench. Alone. That meant without him.
“Okay,” he said. What else could he say? If Claire wanted space, he would give her space, even if it killed him to do it.
“I’ll be home soon, okay?” Claire said through the phone. “Jamie?”
“Yeah, of course,” he responded quickly. “I’ll be here.”
The phone clicked shut and Jamie kept gripping the phone.
Claire had wound up at the park by the city hall, lost in her thoughts. As the sun began to set, she knew it was time to go home. Still, she could not move from the bench. She felt glued to it, weighed down by all her hopes and fears and dreams and anxieties.
The air was cold, spring having not quite yet come to Scotland. She shivered as a gust of wind blew past and wrapped her coat around herself even tighter. Earlier, there had been families in the park, but as dusk settled around her, she was the only one left. She kicked her shoes in the dirt mindlessly, scuffing up the white leather. The nausea had long past, but the ghost of the unease was still sitting in her chest.
Finally, overcome with exhaustion and suddenly filled with an aching need to be safe in bed, she texted Jamie.
Come take me home.
Jamie was there, sitting in his car, in less than two minutes.
He would never tell her that he had been around the corner for an hour, and in return, Claire would never tell him that she had expected as much right along. But the way they gripped each other’s hand in the warmness of the car was all the other needed to know.