Love By The Book
Newcastle, England, 2013
The one word that was most often used to describe Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp was dutiful. Her parents, especially, would quickly remark to everyone how she'd always been responsible, how studious she was in school, and that she never missed service at Church.
Her inward beauty was sometimes overshadowed by her outward beauty which had manifested in curly brown hair, copper-flecked hazel eyes, and a gentle, warm smile.
Henry and Julia had doted on her, their only child, since birth, and watched in pride as she grew into a remarkable woman.
With this wonderful reputation, though, came loneliness.
Claire's keen intelligence brought recognition and respect from many, such as her teachers, but derision and envy from others, like classmates. In high school she enjoyed only a few close friends as many were prone to bouts of exuberant drinking and drug-taking to handle the increased academic workload that was a marked change from their primary years. This set them at odds with Claire's abstinence-minded upbringing and natural academic ability, causing them to avoid her and her (seemingly) unreachable example.
In love, it wasn't much better. She'd defended her parent's insistence on chaperoned dates until she turned 18. As a result, most young men weren't comfortable dating a young woman, AND her parent, so dances and school events went by without invitation; the few young men who were willing to take her out didn't call for a second date.
Despite this, she liked who she was. She felt a great sense of fulfillment with how she lived her life, and it brought a freedom from the guilt and worry her friends seemed to be plagued with.
"Life is definitely peaceful, but could use a bit more than just these studies " she sighed one evening while completing her senior project.
Noticing Nora, her equally dutiful basset hound at her feet, she cooed: "God has a plan for me, love. I'm praying for that 'bit more' soon."
When high school was behind her, she enrolled at University as a business major. With this, Claire's friend group had finally expanded as she met others who were as dedicated and conscientious. She also enjoyed the benefit of being able to still live at home and attend her childhood church. Faith and devotion had been a mainstay of her upbringing and the bond with her church family had been strong. So, with top-notch universities within driving distance, Claire felt it both wise and economic to stay at home while finishing her undergrad, though she planned to travel further for grad school.
Even with a blossoming friend group, and impressive academic successes, true, heartfelt love still eluded her.
The last date she'd been on was six months ago. Allen, a classmate, had been finagling a way to get her out for most of the semester.
"Claire, you're the whole package. Brains and beauty!" he often remarked to her.
Because he had seemed nice enough, proven himself in class to be a leader and achiever, she relented.
He had picked her up late, which didn't sit well with Claire. When they got to the restaurant, Claire momentarily hesitated before the door, accustomed to having it opened for her by her father these 22 years.
"For cryin' out loud. You're not one of THEM are you?" Allen groaned.
Startled, Claire asked: "One of who?"
He then dramatically pushed his nose up in the air with his finger to imply she was too good to open the door for herself.
"My father has always done this for me, not to teach me that I was better than anyone, but out of kindness, which you could use a few lessons in."
Business classes had taught her many things, but one thing in particular she quickly recalled: investment in this relationship- not cash, but something even greater, her heart - would be a risk. With something so valuable, she didn't want to take a chance. She walked down the street, hailed a cab, and went home.
Arriving home so soon after leaving, her parents peered out from the kitchen where they'd been engrossed in their nightly game of cards.
"Claire?" her mother called, running to the front door. "Are you alright?"
Slowing climbing the stairs to her room, she dejectedly answered: "No worries, Mum. I'm just going to bed."
Henry looked at Julia. Without thought, they both went up the stairs and knocked on Claire's door.
"Want to talk?"
"Sure. Come In."
Claire, on her bed petting Nora, looked up to face them.
"I feel like my life may never include love…."
Sobbing, Claire covered her eyes.
Henry reached his beloved daughter first, holding her in his arms while Julia sat beside him.
"You know, it took forever for your mother to find me. Poor woman just moseyed about for years, heartbroken and empty, wondering where I was."
Julia poked Henry in the arm, then smiled.
"I think it's the other way around, DEAR."
Claire, always touched by her parent's humor, chuckled.
"I'm pretty sure Mom's right, Dad" she said, while reaching for a tissue.
"She always is" Henry said, winking at Julia.
"Most of the better things always take time - as hard as that may be to hear."
Leaning into her father, he kissed the top of her head.
"Love is something you don't want to rush, or compromise on. You'll know in your heart when it's true, and you made the right decision in walking away tonight. It will bloom. And when it does, you will be beyond grateful that you never settled for anyone else."
Reaching behind her husband, Julia rubbed Claire's back and whispered into Henry's shoulder: "Don't I know it."
Her parents had found each other in a college bible study. After marriage, they pursued their own passions to great result.
Julia Beauchamp, R.N., was one of three owners of an holistic medical practice. Encouraging herbs, acupuncture, and massage therapy over a dependence on prescriptions - with mindfulness to healthy eating and exercise - she had a loving nature that seemed to bring healing itself. Wanting to have greater knowledge so that she could be of even more help, she was pursuing a doctorate in botanical medicine.
Henry Beauchamp, Architect, had devoted his life to a design ethic that buildings could be modern but keep with a traditional, British aesthetic. Every project was envisioned with concern not only for the environment but for its long-term impact. In this regard, each building was both beautiful and functional which had garnered him an impressive reputation.
Buoyed by her parent's advice and comfort, Claire decided to actually anticipate love rather than fear its absence. At church service the following week, Claire and her parents settled into their pew and awaited the sermon.
"Please turn with me to the book of Jeremiah, chapter 29, verse 11."
After a minute or so of page rustling, Pastor Fairchild asked the congregation to read aloud with him:
'For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' Thus says the Lord."
"God has a plan for each of us" he continued, "but He may not reveal it all at once. There will be blessings, guidance, and even people lined up for those who love Him. Our part," he continued, "is to believe and to make ourselves available to serve and teach. In this regard, God's perfect will manifests."
Tears welled in Claire's eyes and warmth flooded her heart.
"Thank you" she whispered.
After service, David - the assistant pastor, and head of outreach - caught Claire as she was leaving the sanctuary.
"Claire! How are you?"
"Good, David! And you?"
"Breathing and Blessed" he replied with a bright smile.
"I don't know if you've heard about the outreach trip to Scotland next month. One of our members recently asked for prayer for a dear friend who is having trouble keeping up with her farm. She's 85, and her family are struggling to maintain it. They've had it for generations. We've discussed pooling talents from the congregation to help her. Might you and your Mum and Dad be interested?"
Normally Claire would dutifully oblige, but with finals coming up, she needed to study. Now in her senior year of college, with acceptance letters from Universities to do graduate work to consider, she had become solely focused on schooling.
With David looking expectantly at her, a still, small voice interrupted her thoughts: "blessings lined up…believe….and be available."
Startled by the revelation, she told David that she would discuss it with her parents as soon as they got home.
"Do let me know? We'd be so happy to have all of you."
That afternoon Claire was leaning against the kitchen counter while her mother ladeled soup into bowls.
"David caught me after service. He asked if we'd be interested in an outreach to Scotland. An elderly friend of a member is having trouble keeping up her farm."
"Yes, we got an email about that the other day" Henry said. "It's Marjorie Williamson's friend."
"It seems that there is a lot of work to be done, which could salvage the farm and make it profitable again" he continued.
"The message did say that everyone could make a contribution, no matter how small" Julia added. "So, are we decided to help?"
Claire, feeling an urgency and an excitedness to not only participate but visit Scotland, gave an emphatic nod.
"I'm guessing Mrs. Antonucci and the hospitality committee will be thrilled to have so many people to cook for!" Claire mentioned, laughing at the enthusiasm the elderly members had in feeding everyone. "I'll bet there will be a fully-fledged chuck wagon tagging along!"
"Fine, then. I'll send David an e-mail and get the particulars" Henry said while eyeing the soup Julia had set out. "But first, my dearest's tomato bisque."
Inverness, Scotland, 2013
James Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser.
He went by Jamie, usually.
He’d been a dutiful child and a joy to his parents, Ellen and Brian. His younger sister Janet (who went by Jenny) was equally loving, but with a fierce temper when crossed. His youngest sibling, Willie, inherited the largest allotment of the renowned Fraser temper with a dollop of stubbornness on top.
His parents remarked that with each passing child the amount of vim and vigor was rising.
“Maybe it’s best we were blessed with only three, my dear” Ellen had remarked to her doting husband “lest we have a right royal hurricane in our midst!”
Jamie’s extended family included his paternal grandmother Imogene, who lived nearby on their ancestral land, and his Godfather (and best friend) Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser.
This constituted the immediate clan, and the center of Jamie’s life.
And animals, too.
From childhood Jamie had loved all animals, and having grown up on his family farm he’d cared for nearly every kind. At an early age he knew he wanted to be a veterinarian, and was excelling in his junior year at university with plans to open his own practice.
School had been easy, but love had been difficult.
Brawny, blue-eyed and ruddy, he’d been the object of many lasses affections for as long as he could remember. His parents, knowing this, had kept a protective arm around him throughout his teenage years; namely, his Godfather Murtagh.
Dates were supervised and curfews were strongly enforced.
Jamie appreciated this, though he didn’t always like it. But a few friends had overdosed, some had become parents before graduating high school, and others had had sex with several partners which contributed to them being desensitized to the beauty and sacredness of sex.
He’d always felt in his heart that a physical relationship should be with someone he deeply loved and was married to, and who shared his views and beliefs.
This view had been instilled into him and was protected by his parents, along with Murtagh’s constant supervision.
On one date, several months ago (his last) he opened the door for Laoghaire Mackenzie only to be soundly rebuffed: “I ken how to open a door, ye daft man. Do I no look able to do it myself?” she screeched while walking into the pub. “You’ll treat me to a fine and fancy dinner, ye will, for that embarrassment.”
“I apologize, Laogharie. Da taught me this as a way to be kind, no disrespectful.”
When he returned home, after what turned out to be a disaster of an evening, his mother, father and Murtagh were in the family room by the fire.
“Did it go well, then?” his father asked.
Lugging himself up the stairs, heavy with disappointment, he only replied “I’m going to be a monk” and closed himself in his room.
Murtagh waved off Brian and Ellen from going to talk to Jamie as he made his way upstairs.
Tapping on the door, Murtagh let himself in after hearing Jamie’s muffled consent.
Since childhood, Jamie often went to his room when he was upset or angry and laid with a pillow over his face, one arm draped on top of it. This time was no exception.
Murtagh sat down quietly on the chair at Jamie’s desk.
“Dè na trioblaidean a tha thu, mo mhac.” *
After several minutes, Jamie pulled the pillow off his face and turned to face his Godfather.
Am faigh mi a-riamh a 'ghràdh fìor??**
This time, Murtagh was the one to pause.
“Ye ken I’ve only recently married. Didna think there would ever be a lass that would take to this sour puss.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Murtagh saw Jamie smile.
“But she came out of the blue, my Anabella. Fills my heart with so much happiness I’m fit to burst sometimes.”
For Rupert Mackenzie’s wedding 7 years ago, Murtagh - a single man who lived a simple life – needed not so simple attire. As one of the best men, he needed a formal jacket, shirt, kilt, vest and tie; things he never deemed necessary to have in his wardrobe.
To honor his kinsman he grudgingly arrived for his measurements at a small wedding store near Inverness.
When he gave his name at the desk, he was told an employee would be out momentarily.
After several long minutes he considered leaving and wearing what he already had. To blazes with formality.
Not a second after this consideration a woman appeared from the back. She was accompanied by a man.
“Murtagh Fraser? I’m Annabella MacKissick, the proprietress. This is my brother Harold, head seamster.”
She smiled so sweetly Murtagh got light headed.
“You’re attending the MacKenzie wedding the 10th of June? “
“It’s quite an honor being a best man. Congratulations to you and your family.”
“The clan’s pattern is logged in already. Harold will take you through the store to help you choose a few pieces, after which we’ll determine if alterations are needed. Please excuse me.”
To his shock, Murtagh was actually sad she left. Wanting to hurry the process along, he chose things at random.
With the pieces chosen, he endured the endless trying on, questions about comfort and general likeability, and the occasional need for Harold’s measuring. With each new garment, Murtagh kept glancing in the mirror to catch any glimpse of Anabella.
“You may put your own clothes back on now” Harold informed Murtagh, and then excused himself to attach notes to each piece, and hang them with the other wedding members clothing.
Hurrying out of the dressing room, Murtagh waited for Anabella to return.
“Lovely pieces. Really some of our best” she remarked at the pile.
Murtagh’s heart sank. Without paying attention he’d chosen some of the store’s more expensive items.
Anabella noticed the obvious panic in Murtagh’s eyes.
“All alterations are free, and the brands you’ve chosen are currently offering a 20% discount, so you’re in luck!”
Harold, putting the items into a garment bag and hanging them onto the rack designated for the wedding party, raised both eyebrows and threw his sister a look of utter shock.
Seeing it, she narrowed her eyes with a threatening glare.
“In 2 weeks we’ll need you back for a final fitting. I’ll put the appointment information on the back of my business card.”
“I appreciate this. Thank ye again.”
Sitting in his truck, the smell of her perfume still lingering near his nose, and her card in his hand, Murtagh began thinking of the little cherubs that were all over Valentine’s day cards. If it weren’t for his firm belief in God and His perfect work, aligning his day with meeting this amazing woman, he’d reason that cupid wasn’t a precocious little angel with a flimsy arrow but a trained soldier with a sniper rifle.
Murtagh counted the days until his next appointment.
Arriving early on that day, Annabella had seemed to be waiting for him because she greeted him as he entered the shop.
“Hello, Mr. Fraser ..”
“Murtagh, please, Ms. MacKissick.”
“…then you may call me Annabella. We have your clothes ready. Harold will show you to the dressing room. I’ll be with another wedding party in the meantime.”
Frozen by her beauty and gentleness, he could only nod.
Harold assisted Murtagh with each piece to ensure everything fit perfectly. Afterward he led Murtagh to the register.
“My sister will be with you momentar…”
“Ah, everything is acceptable then?” Annabella, appearing out of nowhere, said as she slid behind the counter.
“Thank you Harold. I’ll ring Murtagh up.”
Sighing and shaking his head, Harold left to meet the next customer.
Although a penny-pincher by nature, Murtagh was relieved to be buying quality, tailored clothes for a change. He knew they would last, so wasn’t as upset as he would normally be at the price.
Transaction finished, Annabella handed the receipt to Murtagh and began gathering the items for bagging.
“Errrm. Excuse me, Mistress – I mean Annabella.”
Just the saying of her name caused Murtagh’s heart to stop.
“Yes? “ she uttered as she turned around.
“Truth be told I dinna have a date for the nuptials. If you aren’t presently attached and might care to..”
“Actually, I’d love to. I’ve always done work behind the scenes. I’ve never been to a wedding.”
“Here I was, 40 years old, never been in love” Murtagh spoke very softly, as if the remembrance of that time was too painful to speak of.
“But one thing I knew, and your parents know as well: The Lord’s timing is always perfect.”
“Aye. I know all that. Doesna make the time at present any easier, ken?”
“Aye, I ken alright. Sometimes the wait is necessary, to gain wisdom, or for situations to come together. A lot of times it’s to mature you…give you more time to know the Lord.”
Jamie began to put the pillow back over his face, but Murtagh grabbed it and held it up, swatting Jamie’s hand away.
“Annabella and I have never had a cross word with each other in the entire 5 years we’ve been married. My heart rests as peacefully in her hands as hers does in mine. And she’s blessed us with two children and…”
At this, Jamie sat up.
“Nothing lad. Just….nothing.”
As much as Murtagh knew of Jamie, Jamie also knew about his Godfather.
Murtagh reached inside his sporran, got out his pipe and began packing it with tobacco - the telltale sign he was nervous.
“Annabella is with child again! That’s it, isn’t it!”
Alighting the flame to the tobacco, and drawing long, slow puffs, Murtagh looked seriously at his Godson.
“Dinna say a WORD.”
“Is she well? Is everything alright?” Jamie’s concern lead him to grab Murtagh’s hand.
“Aye, she’s fine. Sae happy. The doctors want her to rest throughout the pregnancy. She’s well past the traditional time of childbearing, but it just makes the bairn that much more a blessing. We won’t be letting on until she’s a few months along.“
Murtagh’s joy was apparent in the glow of his face and the hint of tears in his eyes.
“Jamie, I couldna imagine living with a woman who God did not intend for me. I’ve known many men and women who settled, or chose out of loneliness, with no word or sign from the Lord. A lot of them have already divorced. Ye must also think of the children born in these situations. They can suffer too.”
Jamie knew the truth in what Murtagh said, though it didn’t fill the emptiness that was getting deeper as time lagged on.
“Well, if I can have even half the happiness you and Anabella, and Da and Mam have, I’ll no complain about waiting then.”
*What troubles you, my son?
**Will I ever find true love?
“Goodnight, Murtagh. Thank ye.” Jamie replied.
Turning off the light, Murtagh left Jamie’s room.
Going back downstairs, he sat near the fire again with Brian and Ellen.
“I take it there won’t be a second date?” Brian said through a half smile.
“To put it in the vernacular of the young, ‘it was a hot mess’” Murtagh replied.
Laughing, Ellen and Brian thanked him for his help.
“Err, how are things otherwise?” Murtagh asked.
“Not good. The children are on spring holiday and we’ve considered discussing it with them” Ellen said, exchanging a worried look with Brian.
Lallybroch, the centuries-old farm Jamie’s family had occupied for generations was sat in a gorgeous valley near the town of Inverness. Of late, the upkeep of the several buildings and land, the livestock, along with taxes (historic designation has been denied repeatedly) were eating up a great portion of the income that Brian – an Animal Biotechnologist, and Ellen, an artist with a degree in Design, earn. Whether there would be a Lallybroch to hand down to their children was becoming increasingly uncertain. Every effort was being taken not to sell some of the land in order to generate funds, but there were no options left.
“We’ll no give up, aye? Keep praying. God will come through.”
With an understanding nod to Brian, Murtagh kissed Ellen on her cheek, wished them both good night and drove home.
The following Sunday morning Murtagh and Anabella – with their children Joshua and Miriam – arrived for breakfast. This had become a Sunday morning tradition.
Jamie had been comforted by his talk with Murtagh. He began to feel excited for his future and the weariness was lifting. As he finished brushing his teeth he heard the dogs’ excited whimpers and barks by the front door. Knowing who was there, he ran down the stairs to open the door.
“Good morning Anabella” Jamie softly said, hugging her.
Quirking her head, and looking to Murtagh who was sheepishly avoiding her gaze, she smiled at Jamie.
“Good Morning to ye too, son.”
“I’m so happy to hear” Jamie whispered in her ear.
With this, the first public acknowledgement, her eyes filled with tears.
“I prayed for so many years to find a righteous, loving man, Jamie. And then I met Murtagh….and now we’re to have our third…I can still barely believe how happy life has become.”
“Well,” Jamie went on “I’ll no say anything until ye both are ready. But mind – Mam has an instinct for these things. She may already know” he said, winking.
Joshua and Miriam, anxiously waiting for the adults to stop talking, both looked up at Jamie the second there was a break.
“Good Morning Uncle Jamie!”
“Who said that?” Jamie said, looking up at the ceiling. “I think we have fairies in the house again!”
“Noooo Uncle Jamie! It’s us! Down here!” they both said, giggling.
“Oh! There ye are! Let’s go see about breakfast, aye? Need to make sure Willie doesna eat everything.”
Imogene, Brian’s mother, was pulling scones out of the oven to be handed over to Willie whose job it was to butter and sprinkle them with sanding sugar. Her bacon chive frittata, hash browns, and currant scones were so loved that any attempt to change the Sunday breakfast menu was met with outright indignance.
“Good Morning!” Brian and Ellen said, turning around from setting out plates and silverware.
Crossing from the table to the door, Ellen hugged Miriam. “Come in and have a seat.”
Murtagh looked at Jamie, who mouthed: “I told you!”
“Oh! Good morning! Where’s my little ones?” Imogene sweetly remarked.
Scooting past the table, Miriam and Joshua lunged at Imogene. Hugging them both, she called for Jenny.
“Aye Gran! Over here!” Jenny yelled through all the commotion.
“All of ye need to get the eggs now” Imogene instructed, nodding to the back door.“Fill yer buckets!” she called after them.
The children were always excited to run to the hen house to get eggs, taking the baskets that Jenny had made them.
“Aunt Jenny, how many eggs did ye say we needed again?” Miriam asked as she held out her hand to Jenny who always accompanied them.
“Well, I’d say we’d need two dozen at least. Do ye know how many that is?” Jenny asked 4-year-old Miriam who was holding her hand.
“Aye. Mam’s been teachin’ me my numbers. Two dozen is 12 plus 12 which makes 24.”
Looking to her left, where 3-year-old Joshua was, Jenny asked if he thought 24 would be enough.
“I dinna ken Aunt Jenny. 10 is a lot to me.”
Suppressing a laugh, she tossled his hair.
Hearing Nick and Asta, Jamie’s American coonhounds, barreling down the path behind them, Joshua and Miriam dropped their baskets and ran to meet them.
Squeals and laughter could be heard the whole way back to the house as Anabella, looking on from the back patio, waved. Knowing it was egg-gathering time, the dogs had probably caused a scene in the house waiting for someone to let them out.
“EGGS!” Jenny had yelled back to the children in order to get their attention “OR WE’LL NO HAVE BREAKFAST!”
Scampering back to Jenny and taking her hands, they hurried into the hen house, gathered 24 eggs, and hurried back so that breakfast could begin, the dogs leading the way.
The children quickly handed the baskets to Imogene who made fast work of assembling the eggs and getting the mixture into the cast iron skillets.
With everything assembled, Imogene set the food out.
Everyone moved about the island filling their plates as well as their coffee cups, thanking Imogene for the weekly fare. The warmth of the spring morning had decidedly infected everyone’s mood; there seemed always to come a happier countenance those first warm days after the bitter cold and darkness of winter.
Gathering at the table and reaching for each other’s hands, Brian lead the family in prayer:
"Heavenly, merciful Father we gather today in gratefulness for your bounty and unending love. As we partake of it, may we always be mindful of where it comes from and be as gracious in giving as we are in receiving. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
The time it took to eat was always disproportionate to the time it took to cook so within minutes everyone was full. Rising to grab coats and bags to leave for church, everyone made sure to put their plates in the sink. One fateful Sunday several weeks ago when they were running late everyone had left their plates on the table. They had come home to find nearly every one smashed on the floor, the tablecloth across the room, and two coonhounds suspiciously absent.
Willie, who had the appetite of two people since he turned 16, tried to sneak a scone into his jacket pocket. Ellen, noticing, snuck up behind him and pulled it out.
“MA! I get sore hungry in service. My stomach growls something terrible.”
“If ye’d no eat like a wolf yer stomach might not empty as quick” Jenny spat out.
“Enough, Jenny. Get yer coats, please, and into the car?” Ellen pleaded, guiding she and Willie into the foyer.
“Ma – can I no even take a…” Willie begged.
“No, Willie, ye canna be eating in service. Off to the car, aye? You and Jenny ride with Jamie.”
The church was built in 1800 and had been continually in use since then. Over the past several decades, though, long-time residents had passed away and their children had left for better opportunities or education, causing the existing population to dwindle. The Frasers, though, had been in proud attendance these 216 years.
Church membership was weak, averaging 40 or so, with an uptick at Easter and Christmas. Many were elderly, though there had recently been a few families move to the area out of nostalgia; the interest in genealogy, fueled by online DNA testing, had provided many of them with a direct connection to Scotland and Inverness. Their lineage would be displayed on the website, in some instances, as trans-atlantic arrows which would pinpoint where ancestors had either begun or ended their journey.
After the congregation spent time catching up with each other, they solemnly entered the sanctuary and got to their accustomed seats. As everyone quieted, Reverand McElhinney wished all a blessed morning and discussed church business.
Afterwards everyone rose to sing, referencing the hymn board slides at the front of the sanctuary.
Willie, eyeing his mother several seats down the row, pointed to his stomach and made a face of despair.
Jenny, looking down to see what Ellen was pressing into her hand, sighed and rolled her eyes.
Catching Willie’s attention Jenny dramatically raised the butterscotch candy, making as if she was going to throw it at him, when Jamie intervened by grabbing the candy out of her hand, passing it to Willie.
Jamie turned back, casting a “why are you like this” look squarely at his sister Jenny who cast back her own “why are YOU like this” look.
Taking their seats after the hymns, Reverand McElhinney asked that the congregation turn to the 43rd chapter of Isaiah.
“Let us bow our heads…”
The Frasers, individually, took this brief time to speak with God.
Jamie poured out his heart. “Thank ye, Lord, for showing me true love in my Godfather and Parents. I pray I may have that as well. “
A few seats down, his parents held hands as they asked for help in keeping the farm.
Jenny asked that Willie’s stomach shrink so he wouldn’t create such a commotion all the time. Then she asked for forgiveness for asking that her annoying brother have a smaller stomach. For calling her brother annoying she asked for even more forgiveness then assured God she would just shut up.
Willie prayed for there to be desserts in the greeting room after service.
Murtagh and Anabella, holding their children’s hands, prayed for continued love and the health of the baby.
Imogene prayed that her beautiful family, sat next to her, would be blessed and healthy and that God’s love would be poured out upon each of them.
“Isaiah Chapter 43, verse 19” the Reverend continued:
“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”
After returning home from church all of the Frasers felt a stronger sense that God was, indeed, at work in their lives, though worry still weighed on them.
Willie, disappointed that there were no desserts in the greeting room after service, tried to maneuver past everyone going into the kitchen. Gran arranged the leftovers, on the counter and not on the table, while putting out lemonade as well.
Murtagh and Annabella both walked in from their car carrying two sleeping children. They carried them upstairs to one of the guest rooms, where the children often slept when they visited, so they could finish their naps.
As everyone else made their way into the living room, Brian and Ellen asked Imogene to sit down with them at the kitchen table.
“Mother, I think it’s time we told the children. Can’t keep it from them any longer. Would ye be alright with Ellen and I bringing it up?” Brian asked.
Imogene thought for a few moments.
“As much as I dinna want to upset them, they seem to know something’s amiss. Best to let it out and not have them wonder anymore.”
Brian reached over and hugged her, then they went in to their family together.
Ellen and Imogene both sat down but Brian stood as he spoke to Jamie, Jenny and Willie.
“Children, we need to talk to you.”
Murtagh and Annabella, having taken a seat together on one of the sofas, both gave Brian a reassuring nod.
“Lallybroch has been in our family for generations, as ye all know. We are as proud of this land as we are of our ancestors who built it."
He took a breath and went on.
“The past few years have been difficult. We’ve applied for it to be an historic property, to alleviate the huge taxes, but have been denied. We canna keep up all the outbuildings, and the means that used to bring in additional funds – honey, wool, wax for candles - hasna been profitable. No one buys these things locally anymore; all the corporations that moved in outside Inverness sell the same products, much cheaper.”
“Da,” Jamie quietly said, “Are ye saying we’re losing our home?”
“Not as yet, son, but we’ve run out of options to keep it going. We may need to try selling most of the land to pay off the taxes.”
Jenny walked up to Brian and hugged him.
“Da, ye should ha’ said something. I felt something was wrong. We’d have done anything to help.” “I know sweetheart. It was something we hoped to never have to discuss, but since ye all are on spring break we felt it was time.”
Jenny moved to Ellen, and wrapped her arms around her.
“Way back in the day, in the 18th century, our ancestors collected rents from tenants on the land as a way to keep the farm going. This is not the way any longer” Imogene recalled to the family. “Sometimes they’d pay in whiskey” she laughed, wiping a tear from her eye.
This brought a smile to everyone.
“Dinna fash,” Murtagh spoke confidently, “God will do a new thing.”
“Aye. He will. Now that that’s out, I’d like ye all to be in prayer on this” Ellen said.
Taking this cue, all bowed their heads.
Seeing that each had finished, Murtagh spoke. “If it’d be alright, might I bring up another matter?”
“Of course,” Ellen said, smiling, “this would be a perfect time.”
Annabella pressed Murtagh’s hand. He began to say something but was taken with emotion. Wiping his eyes with his pocket hanky, he looked to Annabella to finish.
“We’re expecting” she said, choking up as well.
“Praise God!” Imogene blurted.
“I have a feeling more good’s to come” Willie, taking everything in, said from his chair in the corner.
Laughing again, the family felt revived in their hope in God’s provision for the future of Lallybroch.
With congratulations offered, Imogene retired to her room upstairs to rest.
A computer had ended up being a blessing she hadn’t expected. She’d held out on getting one, believing they were the destruction of hand-written communication and person-to person interaction, but she quickly discovered that that wasn’t the case. With a computer she ended up being able to communicate more often, and more quickly, while finding old friends as well. One, Marjorie Williamson, had been a friend since childhood. They’d visited when they were able, but communicated more so by “facetime” and e-mail. Today was email day.
I send you best wishes and much love from Newcastle, and hope that this message finds you well.
I have been much in prayer lately, and the Lord placed you upon my heart.
I know that the farm has become a burden; when I last visited, the pain in your voice did not go unnoticed. If you would be willing, I want to offer a ‘wee gift.’
Our congregation has a wonderful outreach program. When I brought you up at our weekly prayer meeting, after we last met several weeks ago, people volunteered to repair buildings, offer legal counsel and financial services, and one of our members is a Business major, happy to offer advice.
You are under no obligation to accept this, of course. But please, Imogene, know the truth in this: I love you, dear friend, with my whole heart. You have given your life for the protection and prosperity of your farm and family. Allow us, your brothers and sisters in Christ, the honor of helping you maintain your legacy. This will be without any cost to you at all.
Think about this and let me know? Saturday, May 3th, is supposed to be sunny. A good a day as any, aye?
Your dear friend,
Jamie, bringing Imogene a cup of tea, found her at her desk crying. “Gran – what’s happened?” he asked, sitting the cup down on her desk. Imogene, her eyes filled with tears, turned the computer screen for Jamie to read.
After a few minutes, he hugged her. “A pathway through the wilderness…” he said, taking her hands.
The following Sunday, directly after service, a meeting was held for all who intended to be part of the outreach trip to Inverness. David, at the front of the sanctuary, gave a tally of those who had already volunteered and asked if there was anyone who had not yet signed up.
Six more hands were raised.
“Wonderful. If you would be kind enough to note your name, contact information, and contribution on the clipboard that will be passed around I’ll prepare a final list.”
Seeing the Beauchamps talking with a group of members seated near them, David moved down the pew in order to thank them for helping out.
“Henry…” David said, a smile emerging on his face as he offered his hand. “Truly grateful you, Julia, and Claire will be participating.”
“Our sincere pleasure, David” he said, shaking his hand.
Taking the pulpit, Pastor Fairchild spoke.
“Could I have everyone’s attention? The outpouring of support for this is humbling. I am deeply appreciative of everyone who has volunteered or donated. I have been in touch with the family we will be serving, The Frasers, who are grateful for our support. If David would come back up, he’ll give a brief breakdown of where we currently are.”
Making his way to the stage, David adjusted the microphone and pulled up files from his laptop which were then projected onto the screen for the audience to see.
“Thank you, Pastor. I’d also like to commend every one of you who have made a commitment to this. No matter what type it was, God’s love is being proclaimed. We have 15 members who will be participating, more to sign up, and several businesses in the community offering services. A tentative date of Saturday morning, May 3rd, has been decided upon. The bus will be leaving the church parking lot very early that morning. We will have ample coffee – no worries” he said, giving a thumbs up to the laughter that greeted him.
The first file was an excel spreadsheet of everyone’s name and their involvement.
“There are two members who will provide financial…” “THREE” yelled another from the pews. “THREE members who will provide financial services” David and others laughed.“…and we have 2 members, partners in a law firm downtown who specializes in estate law, who will be providing legal counsel.
Additionally, Henry Beauchamp will be bringing his architectural acumen along to assess the structural integrity of the farm’s outbuildings which, if needed, can then be worked on. For this endeavor, our friend and church member Carl and a few of his staff from his home construction company will perform the repairs. From many who are not able to attend came $2,000 in donations for supplies.
Janet, who you all know as our amazing office manager, shared some wonderful news this morning.
She volunteers at the new auto mechanic shop just outside Newcastle, called Grease Monkey Girls, answering phones and scheduling service. She recently mentioned our outreach trip with them. Because the business is new, they’re offering to work on the Fraser’s vehicles for free, as well as perform a service check on the church van before we leave, in order to get their name out there. They’ll be traveling behind us in their company jeep.
Claire Beauchamp, Henry and Julia’s daughter, is a business major as many of you already know. Even though she is in the final stages of her current senior project, she will be creating a second one in which she has devised a very creative business plan for the Frasers that is intended to generate more revenue. And her mother, Julia, along with another owner of their holistic medicine practice, have prepared care packages for the Frasers of herbal supplements and vitamins which they will be delivering on the trip. As well, for anyone who may desire it, they will provide a complimentary acupuncture session.
Onto food. The hospitality committee…” at this the congregation erupted in applause “will be preparing many dishes to bring along. If you would like to volunteer or donate, please let Philomena know.
Lastly, Marjorie will speak for a few minutes.”
“Thank you David. I want to thank all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for your generosity and support. A simple prayer request has become such a beautiful outpouring of love and support. Truly one of the highlights of my 30 years as a member of this church.
I remember a time, back in the day, when there used to be barn rearings. In the States they’re called barn raisings. These were times when a community joined together to build a barn for a family. Each member of the community would bring others with them so the blessing – not burden – was shared. You looked out for each other. When a time would come that you would need a barn, or have one re-built, the same would be done for you.
Sadly, this isn’t done any longer, and with other cultural factors has contributed to a lack of connection to our ‘neighbors,’ whether they live next door or a few hours away. Now, though, the term has become synonymous with outreach.
So, I’m grateful that you are sharing in this opportunity with me to love our neighbors, in deed and word, in this ‘barn raising.’
Elements of this chapter have a somewhat sexual tone so may not be appropriate for viewing at work.
Claire arrived home after taking a long walk with Nora, then reluctantly went back to the homework she’d needed a break from. Realizing that she hadn’t checked to see if her recent essay in History had been graded, she logged in to her student account.
Trying to contain her panic, she looked over the assignment sheet, then the essay, to ensure she met all the requirements.
“I don’t understand. Everything was done perfectly.”
Looking back at the online grade, she saw that there was a small word bubble on the assignment line indicating a comment by the teacher. When she clicked on it all it said was “See me.”
She decided not to do any further homework; her mind was spinning. She’d never received anything lower than a B on any assignment in college.
“This has to be a mistake. Maybe he’s confused my paper with someone else’s.”
She ate dinner in her room that evening while working on other homework. Eventually, she gave up and went to sleep.
Grabbing very little for breakfast the next morning– tea and one of the scones her mother had made – she raced off. When she arrived to class early, Professor Randall was already there writing the items to be discussed during class on the smartboard while queueing up the TED talk on Culloden they would be viewing.
Seeing that most of the class had arrived, Professor Randall made an announcement.
“By now you all have received a grade on your last essay. Many far exceeded expectations. But a few of you” he continued, glancing at Claire “fell surprisingly short. If you received a note on your assignment to see me, I’ll wait after class. Otherwise, please begin preparations for your final essay. The guidelines are posted online. And remember – you will need a minimum of 7 scholarly sources, 8-10 pages double spaced, and an annotated bibliography that needs to be turned in and approved before you can proceed. Do not put this off. It’s 20% of your grade.”
The rest of lecture was a blur. Claire was worried that the class, and her GPA, were in serious danger; an F could reduce scholarships and jeopardize acceptance into her top picks for graduate school.
When students filed out at the end, she approached Randall’s desk.
“Ah, Claire. I’m happy to see you’re taking my note, and your grade, seriously enough to see me so quickly.”
“I don’t understand. I did everything perfectly. I checked the assignment sheet and my paper and couldn’t find anything wrong.”
“Well, unfortunately it failed SafeAssign. I was as shocked as you.”
“I would never plagiarize. Not one of my papers have ever incorrectly cited sources, or neglected to give credit for material.”
“I’m sure you can sympathize that this is often an excuse I hear when it has been determined a student’s work has blatant plagiarizing.”
“And I’M sure you can see that throughout this class my papers have been exemplary.”
“It is close to finals. Many students are struggling to complete assignments for other classes and can get behind, causing them to… be creative when putting together a paper for submission.”
“I don’t cheat.” Claire said, nearly in tears.
“And yet, here we are.”
“May I see the paper?”
“Are you accusing me of lying?”
“Just as students can be, as you say, creative in their submissions, instructors often make mistakes. Putting the wrong grades in, posting incorrect information for an assignment…mistaking one student’s paper for another.”
“There was no mistake made” he said, pulling a paper from a pile.
Handing it to Claire, she immediately saw the problem.
“This isn’t my paper. It isn’t the one I submitted.”
“I can pull up the submission as I received it. This was printed from your e-mail to me, dated six days ago.”
“I can check my login for that day with what I sent.”
“It won’t be of any use. It’s been logged as an ‘F.’ Any attempt to adjust the grade at this point would look suspicious.”
“Why didn’t you alert me that there was a problem? You know what type of work I’ve been turning in. It might have been a simple mistake which could have been easily corrected.”
“Claire, you’re an adult now and in an upper level European history class. This isn’t primary school. ‘Do-overs’ are for children.”
“I’ll speak with my advisor about this.”
Gathering her backpack, she turned to leave but Randall grabbed her arm.
“There may be a way to resolve this” he softly said, moving to touch her hand.
“What are you implying?”
“I may not be able to change the grade, but we can discuss the means for you to earn additional credit in order to salvage your GPA.”
Yanking herself from his grip, Claire fought the urge to slap him.
“I will be clear with you. What you are proposing is unethical and unprofessional. In addition to seeing my advisor, I’ll be filing a grievance. You will be held accountable for your egregious behavior.”
He stepped away from her and calmly began putting his notes into his briefcase. He glanced at her briefly to reply: “No one will believe you. I am a tenured professor and respected author. Your little tirade will accomplish nothing other than to further ruin your reputation by filing frivolous complaints and grievances. When they are proven untrue, and they will, you will end up coming back to me to apologize anyway. I may not be so generous then.”
She couldn’t get out of the room fast enough. As she closed in on the door, he shouted for her.
Turning around, she glared at him.
“Do not ruin your academic future out of…prudishness. I’m trying to help you.”
She drove home, distraught, but remembered – surprisingly, from a time when she was young – a verse her parents had taught her: ‘But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.’ You’re right, Lord. Thank you for reminding me.”
The first thing she did when she arrived was to research the grievance process. Later, when she heard her father and mother come home together from work, she was already on her way down the stairs with Nora. They looked up and noticed how visibly upset she was.
“Claire? What’s happened?” Julia softly said, coming to Claire’s side.
“Can I talk to you both?”
They walked into the family room. Henry, putting his arm around Claire’s shoulder, sat beside her and Julia on the sofa.
Claire tried to gather her racing thoughts. As she iterated what had happened, her Father and Mother listened intently. When she had finished, Henry took her hand, trying to suppress the rage that was manifesting in his own.
“This cannot be left unaddressed” he said, his words measured but sympathetic. “Have you decided how you would like to handle this?”
“I’ve just been on the school website looking for how to file a grievance. It’s not a difficult process.”
“Returning to class is out of the question” Julia said, firmly.
“Definitely. I’ll be stopping in the office in the morning with the grievance in my hand.”
“We are sorry you had to deal with this, and will help you in every way. How are you feeling?” Henry said, looking into Claire’s eyes.
“Better since we talked. You hear about this happening, on the news and such, but it’s much more horrible when it happens to you.”
After dinner, and more discussion on what needed to be done, Claire went to her room to prepare everything for filing a grievance. It was during this that a pop-up appeared on her screen, notifying her of an e-mail she just received.
It was on her student account, so she opened it immediately.
You are being sent this message in regards to Professor Frank Randall, Chair, History Department, and class HS 409, European History, 1200-Present, in which you are enrolled Tu/Th, 2:15-4:15.
Professor Randall is no longer employed with this University.
For the remainder of the semester the Assistant Chair for the History Department will be taking his place, effective immediately.
Please resubmit your most recent assignment for re-evaluation and grading via paper copy enclosed in an 8x11 manila envelope with your name, class number, as well as day and time of class on the front before 5:00pm tomorrow to the Vice President for Academic Affairs.
Moving forward, all assignments will be evaluated and graded by the Assistant Chair, History Department, Acting Chair, History Department, as well as the Vice President for Academic Affairs.
We sincerely regret any inconvenience this may cause.
Taking her laptop downstairs, she found her parents in prayer at the kitchen table.
“Excuse me, Mum, Dad…”
Sitting the laptop down on the table, Henry and Julia both read the email.
“You obviously weren’t the only one he targeted, but I appreciate how quickly the university took action.” Henry said.
Just then several new pop-ups appeared on the screen, in rapid succession. Claire recognized some of the e-mail addresses as those from students in her class.
“It looks like everyone in class got the same message. They may know what’s happened.”
The first message, from her classmate Karen, was nothing but exclamation points and caps:
“THE GOOBER WAS TRYING TO EXTORT FROM STUDENTS FOR BETTER GRADES!! JESS AND RUDY BOTH FILED GRIEVANCES LAST WEEK WITH THE DEAN!!!”
“Oh my word….” Claire slowly said.
Opening another e-mail, it was much of the same:
“Jess and Rudy just told me he once hit them each up after class, telling them their papers were plagiarized and they could make up some points *cough* *cough* if they were willing. This is insane.”
The last she looked at was the most telling:
“Randall was faking students out with a paper he printed, saying it was the one that he received from them. He printed a student’s name at the top and showed them how plagiarized it was, and how they got an F. The guy always creeped me out. Should have paid attention to the comments about him online. No wonder there were so many openings in his class. Glad they’re reviewing all our essays.”
Claire turned her laptop around for her parents to read the messages.
“’Oh my word’ is right” Henry said.
Julia added: “Proverbs 11:5 – “The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness."
Julia asked Claire if she still wanted to file a grievance.
“I need to bring my paper in anyway. I’ll explain what happened. I don’t see a need to file a grievance at this point. Randall’s gone.”
Walking into the VP for Academic Affairs office the next morning, Claire spoke to an Assistant, saying why she was there, and asked if she could be seen. Immediately the Assistant walked her into Vice President Sanderson’s office, and introduced her.
“Thank you for stopping by, Claire.” The Assistant then handed Claire’s envelope to Ms. Sanderson and shut the door on the way out.
“I’m incredibly sorry for what’s happened. We’re doing everything possible to ensure the rest of the class runs smoothly” Ms. Sanderson kindly said.
“I appreciate that. May I speak with you?”
“Of course. Please feel free.”
Claire again went over the entire story, seeing the Vice President’s face randomly twist in disgust and anger.
Moving out from behind her desk, Ms. Sanderson sat in the chair beside Claire.
“I am truly sorry that this happened to you. Our counselors are available at your convenience should you wish to talk to them. What we are proposing to any student who experienced this situation is that after the essays have been re-evaluated, if the percentage you have at that time is satisfactory to you, you may be done with the class and have that as your final grade; you will not have to take a final. Should you wish to have a higher percentage, you may continue in the class – online if you choose – to improve your grade.”
On her way home, Claire saw an alert from her student account. Her grade had been changed to an ‘A.’
“It’s over. Now I can work on the project for the Frasers. It’ll be a nice distraction.”
Elements of this chapter are sexual in nature and therefore may not be appropriate for work.
With spring break being over, the Fraser children went back to school. While Jenny was at junior college nearby, and Willie in high school, Jamie was further away at University.
Saying goodbye to everyone, Jamie threw his backpack in his car and anticipated his hour drive. He’d always wondered why his parents hadn’t sought room and board at school; knowing the financial difficulties that they’d been dealing with, he understood now. Although he was given substantial academic scholarships, none of them covered housing. Rather than finance the cost of a dorm, his parents had bought him a small, used car.
He received a text before he’d even pulled out.
“Hey! Missed you on spring break. Madrid was AWESOME. G.”
As he scrolled down, a picture of her in a bikini, sitting on the beach with a cooler of Coronas followed.
He tossed the phone onto the passenger seat and pulled off.
She’d had his number since they’d met in computer science last year and worked together on a group project. Since then they’d somehow managed to have other classes together, like Economics this semester. Despite his complete lack of interest, she continued to keep in touch.
He didn’t want to be rude by not replying but he also didn’t want to encourage her.
“I’ll text her when I get to school. Better get on the road.”
Walking into class and taking a seat, he felt a hand from behind press itself onto his shoulder and knew what to expect when he turned around.
“Are you ignoring me?” Geneva said playfully.
“No. Needed to get on the road and planned on replying when I got here.”
She squinted her eyes at him and tilted her head. “If you say so!” she said, laughing, and rubbing his shoulder.
When the instructor discussed the upcoming final, a group project, Jamie asked several students beside him to form a group in an effort to avoid working with Geneva again. Thankfully they proved to be some of the more responsible ones in the class so completing the work, and completing it on time, would not be a worry. They devised what to do and assigned each member their part.
Geneva, though, asked one of the members after class sometime later if she could join and they relented. Now, as each prepared their parts and reviewed the others, Jamie would need to be in touch with her.
He’d tried to avoid this but she was not one to be ignored. She stood close to him when they talked. She asked him to walk her to her car after class, or said she got dropped off and her friend bailed on her and could he take her home. Although he obliged, not wanting a lass to be left on campus alone, he always took another couple with him.
Now, with the increasing number of texts, he’d finally had enough and decided to say something.
At the beginning of one class she brought him a tall coffee as a thank you for taking her home the night before.
“You know,” she cooed, “you can come in for a while when you drop me off. Do you always need to leave so quickly?”
“Geneva, I dinna mind helping out when you’re in a bind but I’m no interested in a relationship. I hope ye understand.”
She took that as a challenge.
“Well, I’ll just have to change your mind” she said, shoving the coffee at him and storming into the room.
That weekend Jamie couldn’t concentrate on his homework. Every time he tried to go over study guides, or finalize his part for the group project, another text from Geneva came in, with another photo, and they were getting more revealing.
“Please dinna contact me with anything that isn’t related to our project” he texted back.
He saw the three dots in the bubble indicating that she was replying, but it went away with no response.
“Good. Maybe that will stop all of this.” Her persistence, though, was beginning to weigh on him.
Murtagh, visiting one Friday afternoon, noticed Jamie come home for the weekend from school and go straight to his room. Murtagh looked at Brian, Ellen and Imogene as they sat having pie and ice cream in the kitchen.
“Dollars to doughnuts it’s a lass” Imogene offered while reading the paper.
“He’s been very tight-lipped with us” Ellen said. “I sat with him for an hour last weekend and he wouldn’t open up.”
“Aye.” Murtagh softly said.
Taking a plate of pie and ice cream up the stairs, he knocked on Jamie’s door.
Jamie opened it. He looked exhausted and thin.
“Thought I’d bring some pie before Jenny and Willie get back from the movies. There wilna be a crumb left after your brother gets to it.”
Jamie nodded and went back to his desk.
“Son, is there anything…”
“I’m fine. I have a lot of work.”
“Seems to me like the work has you.”
Jamie put his head in his hands.
“What is it. It’s no like you to be so upset and moody.”
“It’s a lass. We’re in class together. She’s a little pushy is all.”
Murtagh thought for a few minutes, prayed actually, then saw what was going on. “Son. Stay away from her. There must be a blessing coming to ye or you’d no be tested so.”
“She’s beautiful. Strong willed.”
“Jamie, do ye think what yer feeling is true love? Hiding? Depressed? Doesna sound like love to me.”
Jamie slammed his fist on his desk.
Murtagh turned around and closed the bedroom door. “Let it out son. There’s only you and I here.”
“I’m 22 years old and a virgin. I’ve no even kissed a woman. I don’t know what to do. She’s so persistent and…”
“Ye need a lass who’s respectful of yer body, and yer spirit. Do ye think she is?”
Jamie’s phone, laying on his desk beside his books, lit up. It was another text from Geneva. A winking emoji accompanied a pic of her reclining on her bed, topless. He tried to hide it but Murtagh saw.
“Well, let’s go talk to yer Da and Mam”
“I think they would like to know who’s captivating ye so much you dinna eat or talk.”
Murtagh went to the door, opened it, and waited for Jamie. “Bring the picture. We’d love to know more about her.”
“I canna do that! Are ye mad?”
“If yer too ashamed of her, what does that tell you? Do ye remember ye said ye wanted a relationship like what yer Da and I have? That," he said motioning to the phone, “isna it.”
“WHAT IS?” Jamie yelled.
“Do ye want a union that’s blessed or a union that’s quick?” came Murtagh’s contained response.
Jamie pushed past him, stormed through the kitchen and out the back door.
Murtagh went downstairs and sat back down at the table, sighing.
Imogene, looking up from her paper and over the top of her glasses, remarked: “Lass?”
Jamie walked to the stables. Being near the horses had always calmed him. Even as a child, when Jenny or Willie got on his nerves, he’d clean the horse’s stalls, or brush them. The physical work always calmed the emotional strife.
His favorite was Molly, an Appaloosa who had a sweet temper, and a gentle gait. Whenever she saw him she’d get excited and fuss to get out of her stall.
He brought her out into the remaining afternoon sun.
It had been months since he’d looked over the property so he attached her saddle pad and saddle, adjusted the bridle and bolted off. He’d covered a few acres before he stopped, looking at the beautiful land. Molly fidgeted, wanting to go further.
“Aye, girl. Rest a minute.”
As soon as he’d said that, Molly reared and nearly toppled them both to the ground. Having ridden horses his whole life Jamie instinctively righted her. He immediately dismounted, checking her for any injury.
It was then he saw what caused her to be spooked. A grass snake was slithering on the ground into the afternoon sun, having come to warm itself from the cold, dark confines of the woods.
Jamie moved Molly away, and soothed her by stroking her neck.“‘tis alright. Dinna be afraid.”
Jamie looked to the ground where the snake was and in that moment he felt God speak to him. It was an image of the snake in the garden.
“Yer right, Lord. It didna go well for Adam and Eve did it? Thank ye for the reminder.”
Jamie leaned against Molly for nearly an hour. She contentedly nibbled at the fresh grass, occasionally reaching back and giving him a nudge with her head, bringing Jamie to scratch her ears.
Strengthened, Jamie rode Molly back to the stable and walked back to the house.
He came in the back door, walked past everyone to his room, grabbed the plate of pie, and returned to the kitchen to sit at the table. Everyone looked at each other but didn’t say anything.
“I apologize for my behavior” he replied, glancing up before he tore into his food.
Everyone moved to the living room where a fire was still warming it. Though early May, the evenings were chilly. Conversation turned to the church from Newcastle coming in the morning.
“’Willie and Jenny pulled out the old picnic tables from the shed and placed them about the yard behind the house” Imogene brought up. “They were so happy when I told them. I’ll be making breakfast in the morning and a huge pot of coffee. Do ye both have all the necessary files and such for them to see?”
“Aye. Everything’s been compiled and assigned into files on my laptop. I have 3 flash drives filled with them as well if they need to take them.” Brian said.
Without thinking, they linked hands and prayed, thanking God for his help and asked for blessings on those making the trip.
Jenny, doing embroidery with her mother, tapped Willie’s leg with her foot.”
“Must ye eat the whole pie? Dinna save seconds for anyone?”
“I never bother you when you stick your head in the bag of crisps do I?”
Imogene, reading a book, looked at both of them.
“Sorry Gran. We’ll be heading to bed. We placed the tables about the yard. Let us know how to help in the morning” Jenny said.
“Aye. Sorry Gran.” Willie got up to take his plate into the kitchen. “What Jenny said. Let me know how I can help tomorrow.”
When they had left, Brian and Ellen looked at Imogene with no small amount of surprise.
“That look has taken a lifetime of practice. You’ll get it one day.” Smiling to themselves, Brian and Ellen shook their heads.
Jamie, who had been quietly sitting on the floor with Nick and Asta, nodded to everyone and went to bed. Exhausted, he brushed his teeth and changed into his bed clothes. Before turning out the light, he completed his last task for the day.
Phone>Contacts>Geneva>Block this Caller
Newcastle, May 3, 5:00am
Church members were arriving early for the 6:00am departure. Many went to the kitchen where there was ample coffee, as promised, as well as a light breakfast, and then checked in with David.
When David saw that all members had arrived, he conferred on last minute details with Pastor Fairchild who then addressed everyone.
He stopped on his way to the kitchen, the buzzing of conversation and activity not what he suspected this early.
“Can’t say I see this much enthusiasm on Sunday mornings at 11:00!” he said into the pass-through window.
A chorus of laughter greeted him. “Maybe you should have sermon in the dining area while we pack in bacon and eggs over here!” came a response.
Entering the kitchen where everyone was gathered, excited at their enthusiasm, Pastor Fairchild began a short address:
“Good and Blessed morning. A few points before we leave: Carl and his 2 sons have already gotten a head start. They took one of their company trucks in order to haul the materials they purchased this past week. Philomena, her sister, and a few of their grandchildren left her house early as well, taking 2 of her grandson’s trucks with all the food and everything that’s needed to serve it. Our friends, the Grease Monkey Girls, should be in the parking lot already. GPS has us arriving at 8am.”
Pastor Fairchild and his wife Ginny then gathered everyone together for prayer, the focus of which was to be a blessing to the Frasers, a light for God’s love, and to have a safe trip.
Claire, along with her mother and father, were the first to get their seats in the van. Sitting down beside her daughter, Julia remarked how peaceful Claire looked. The past week had been incredibly painful for all of them and Julia worried the trip would be too much for Claire right now.
“You’re not normally an early bird. Did the coffee hit the spot?” Julia asked.
“It certainly helped! I can’t put my finger on it, though. I’m just at peace, and a bit happy.”
As the van pulled out, the sun was just rising over the beautiful field behind the church, signaling a spectacular morning.
Lallybroch, May 3, 5:00am
Imogene awoke with hope in her heart. Taking a few quiet moments for a prayer of gratitude, she dressed and walked downstairs to the kitchen. Nick and Asta, scurrying out of Jamie’s room at the sound of her footsteps, followed right behind her. Beginning the familiar rhythm of making food and coffee, she heard the dogs whimpers and squeals soon after. Murtagh and Annabella, Miriam, Joshua, and Harold had arrived.
“Aye! Good Morning!” she called to them, coming into the living room. Nick and Asta ran to greet them, though it was Miriam and Joshua they singled in on due to the inordinate attention and affection they got.
“Harold,” Imogene said, putting her arms around him, “How goes the shop?”
“Seems the whole of Scotland is getting married this month! I’ve no wanted Annabella to be on her feet all day so I’m running things at the store, and she’s taking care of appointments and whatnot from home. Glad to be here today, though.”
Imogene kissed both Annabella and Murtagh, then gathered the children in a huge hug. “Who wants a scone?”
Hearing the noise and barking downstairs, Jamie quickly finished up shaving. He checked in the mirror to make sure he didn’t miss any spots and was shocked at what looked back at him. His face was fresh. It had obviously been quite some time since he’d used a razor. But more noticeably his eyes were bright, and the dark circles were gone; last night’s sleep was the first sound one he’d had in months and it showed. He felt relieved, for some reason, and if the smile that overtook him was any indication, he was happy too.
Brian and Ellen, coming downstairs together, greeted everyone as they made their way into the kitchen. “Pastor Fairchild sent me an e-mail last night” Brian mentioned as they sat down to eat. “They expect to be here by 8:00 so we’d better eat quickly and be ready to welcome them.”
Willie and Jenny, normally not up until much later, were dressed and agreeable as they found their places at the table. Brian and Ellen exchanged a glance of worry.
“Mam and Da,” Willie said, “Jenny and I are not gonna fuss at each other today. This is no time to be disagreeable and we made a promise last night to be helpful and considerate to everyone, even each other, and especially our guests. We’re ready to do anything ye wish.”
“I’m verra happy to hear that” Brian said “This is a day of great blessing to this family and I pray we’ll be grateful to all that come.”
Finishing up breakfast brought another round of barking from the dogs. Brian went into the courtyard as Carl pulled in, with Philomena and her sister right behind them.
“Brian?” Carl said and he hopped out of his truck. “I’m Carl from the Newcastle church. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Carl, it’s a pleasure to meet you as well. We’re very grateful for your help.”
As Carl, his 2 sons and Brian began discussing the outbuildings, Ellen and Annabella came out to greet anyone else that had arrived.
Philomena and her sister were looking for space for their trucks when Ellen directed them to pull up in the yard. As the women got out, with their grandchildren, Ellen strove to meet them.
“I’m Ellen Fraser, and this is Annabella Fraser.”
“I’m Philomena, and this is my sister Giovanna. We have the hospitality committee at Newcastle church.”
“The food smells amazing! How thoughtful of you to bring it!”
“It’s our pleasure. Might you have a place to set up?”
Ellen motioned for Jenny and Willie, who were hovering in the doorway, to help the women get everything into the house.
Catching everyone by surprise, a lime green jeep ambled up behind Carl’s truck. Honking their horn and waving, the Grease Monkey Girls squeezed in. Murtagh, coming out of the house with Miriam, left Joshua with Annabella as he greeted them.
“Pleased to meet ye. I’m Murtagh Fraser, and this is my daughter Miriam.”
“We’re happy to meet you! I’m Jen. These are my sisters Carly and Vivian.”
Looking at their jeep, Murtagh nodded his head, impressed. “Ye own your own body shop, aye?”
“Absolutely! And do all scheduled maintenance as well.”
Miriam, intrigued by the artwork on the jeep, walked up to the door and touched it. “Did ye color this yerself?” she asked, causing the ladies to laugh. “Nope! We had someone else do that. Would you like to see the inside?”
Her mouth dropped open and she turned slowly to Murtagh: “DA! Can I?”
“Aye, love. Then how about a turn for me?”
The church van pulled in, unmistakable with “NEWCASTLE CHURCH” emblazoned on both sides. Ellen, looking to Brian, pointed towards the van. Coming alongside them, Imogene looked expectantly for her friend.
The pastor and his wife Ginny exited first, followed by Henry, Julia, and David who were greeted by Brian, Ellen and Harold. Marjorie, off next, hugged her friend.
“Marjorie” Imogene muffled into her friend’s shoulder, “I canna say how much..” Unable to finish for the tears, Marjorie pulled her back and looked at her: “You don’t have to, my dear.”
Jamie, seeing that his family were all engaged in conversations, looked to the church van and who might still be on it. Several other members stepped out and were greeted by his mother and father. Looking on from the porch steps he saw a young woman in a t-shirt and jeans exit. She had short, curly black hair a tendril of which was hanging at her cheekbone.
All seemed to go quiet in Jamie’s mind, which allowed for one word to drop unhindered into his heart: “Behold.” A peace overcame him, and he moved quickly to greet her.
“Might I be of service, Miss? I’m Jamie Fraser.”
“Oh! Hello. I’m Claire Beauchamp.”
She extended her hand, which he took gently in his own.
Nick and Asta, bounding from person to person in sheer excitement, eventually found Jamie and Claire.
“I love hounds! Are they yours?”
“Aye. Nick and Asta. American Coon.”
“ I have a basset. Nora.”
“Bottomless pits. Yours?”
“Not usually” Claire said, laughing “unless it’s scrambled eggs.”
Jamie was entranced, and at a loss for words.
My family and I….we’re extremely grateful.”
“I’m – we’re – very happy to be here.”
Everyone began walking toward the house. Jamie guided Claire to the porch where he reached for the door, but then worried he might offend her. Claire hesitated to accept, but looked to Jamie in gratitude. “Thank you. You’re very kind” she said, then walked in in front of him. “My absolute pleasure.”
A few more rounds of coffee were had then David made two announcements:
“Although we’ve all mostly become acquainted, I’d like to mention the reason behind our bringing mechanics. Jen, Carly and Vivian have recently opened a full-service auto shop in Newcastle. They grew up in a family of mechanics; fathers, grandfathers, uncles, a few Aunts, and even great-grans that worked in shipyards during WWII. They decided to start their own business and also give weekly classes to women, and any men, on how to maintain vehicles. They have graciously volunteered to accompany us and provide free maintenance to the Fraser’s vehicles here today.”
A chorus of claps filled the small room.
“Well, I’ve got a bairn that is itching to help so we’d be happy to assist” Murtagh said, Miriam’s face lighting up in a smile as he looked down at her.
“Lastly” David continued, “Henry and Julia Beauchamp’s daughter Claire,” he motioned to her as she stood by Jamie and her parents, “soon to graduate with a degree in business, has prepared a business plan that she’d like to present later with the goal of helping the farm to generate more income.”
Claire nodded to everyone’s applause.
Harold and Ellen, along with Pastor Fairchild and his wife, moved to the kitchen where they sat with the accounting and tax experts. Ellen discussed what problems they’d been having, how they tried to resolve them, and what the outcomes were.
Jenny and Willie, along with Imogene and Julia, worked on setting up the food for lunch and dinner with Philomena, Giovanna and their grandchildren.
Coolers were filled with drinks, trays of food were being warmed in the oven, platters of fruit and desserts arranged, and plates, napkins, utensils and cups were set up on folding tables in the enclosed porch to facilitate the lunch buffet. Dinner was comprised of other trays that were held in the refrigerator; these would be enjoyed later, outside on the tables arranged throughout the yard.
Henry, Brian, Carl and his sons James and John decided to take the 4-wheeler that was often used to inspect the land.
Ellen caught Brian’s attention before he left and tilted her head to Jamie and Claire who were deep in conversation. Brian winked at her.
“Son,” Brian mentioned, as he walked towards Jamie, “why don’t ye both accompany us? We’ll take the ATV if ye want to ride the horses?”
“Would ye be comfortable with that arrangement Claire” Jamie asked hopefully. “If not, we could just walk around some.”
“That sounds great.”
Making their way to the barn, a brisk walk from the house, Jamie saddled Molly for Claire while he saddled Aurora, another Appaloosa, for himself.
“Are ye sure of yerself on a horse” Jamie asked with a tinge of worry.
“When I was young I pestered Mum and Dad for a horse. Nearly to the point of being a nuisance!” Claire said. “The compromise to owning one was to have lessons. I took them every summer for several years. I’m a bit rusty, but I’m sure it will all come back.”
“Aye. Good. Molly is a sweet lass. Perfect for getting your sea legs back” he said with an attempt at a wink. He helped her into the saddle then got astride Aurora and they trotted off towards the springhouse, the first outbuilding to be inspected.
Like bike riding, it all came back quickly to Claire. Jamie purposely kept Aurora at a slow gait, though, to be ready should Claire need a hand. The land was stunning, and Claire stopped at one point to take it in, looking in every direction.
“What a magnificent view. I can understand why your family has stayed for so long.”
“Aye” Jamie said, seeing the land from another’s eyes. “It hasna changed much, thankfully. Sometimes I imagine what my ancestors felt and thought as they rode the same ground.”
Jamie went over the buildings that were on the land – the springhouse, hen house, sheep pen, stables, barns, smokehouse, the remains of a chapel, and foundations of what were tenant houses. There was also a summer kitchen and two ice houses. An overgrown orchard lay at the perimeter.
“We found a lot of tapered candle molds once, so there must have been bees kept somewhere too.”
Claire was taking this all in, reconfiguring her business plan with the new information.
They continued on, but stopped at a dilapidated fence - a short distance from where their fathers were at the springhouse. This time they dismounted.
Jamie was the first to speak.
“Yer shirt – what does the lettering say?”
Smiling, Claire told him: “Fueled by sweet tea and Jesus.”
“What is that? It’s no hot?”
“Last semester some students moved into a dorm who were from South Carolina.”
“Aye. The U.S.”
“Yes. They were part of an SCU study abroad program.
Despite being our guests, they treated us to the most wonderful food and drink, and what I’ve come to know as ‘southern hospitality.’
They live on brewed tea! Since it wasn’t as available here as they were used to, they made it in their rooms. Got pounds of a loose tea, gallons of spring water and ‘cold brewed’ it. Said it was the best way. The “sweet” was something called a simple syrup made of equal parts sugar and water that was boiled. There were just as many who drank it unsweetened, though.
They always welcomed anyone to stop in to visit and chat – their doors were always open.”
Jamie found her story, and storytelling, mesmerizing.
“At the end of the semester they threw us a barbeque in one of the common areas. There was pulled pork, collard greens, cole slaw, cornbread and a pecan pie that was indescribably delicious - all they made themselves.
I miss them a lot. But I kept the sweet tea recipe. If I can expect that the rest of America is even half as wonderful, the country is one big smile.”
“You’d have liked…” Claire stopped suddenly, afraid she’d been too forward.
Jamie, entranced with her story, raised his eyebrows as a way to ask why she stopped.
“I’m sorry. I overspoke.”
“Nay, lass. I’d be happy to hear what you were going to say.”
“It’s just that…I think you would have really liked them.”
Jamie was touched that she thought of him as warmly as she did them.
“The only contact I’ve had with the states was when I went with Da to attend his work conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the Northeast a few years ago. People there were funny and warm too. They love their sports teams” Jamie said, laughing. “One of them was named The Pittsburgh Penguins. It is an ice hockey team. We were given tickets to a game.”
“Ice hockey?” Claire asked.
“Aye. Like the old game of Shinty, but instead of a ball they use a small black disc called a puck and they scoot it about on the ice until they maneuver it into a net.”
“Oh. Must be difficult on skates.”
“Skates, and with hockey sticks. Fans were yelling and cheering and banging on the glass enclosure. Great fun. Lots of hooting and hollering when they got a goal. No just men either; nearly half women and children. Would be nice to go again” Jamie quietly said, hazarding a glance at Claire.
“New York City seems fascinating. I’d wager they have sports there? And museums and more amazing food” she hazarded back.
“Ye fancy sports?” Jamie asked, encouraged.
“I do. Dad follows rugby pretty intensely, and Mum loves soccer. I’ve always grown up watching it, though I never played. Would be fun to see American versions.”
At that moment a dove flew over their heads and landed on the fence. Claire, not wanting to startle it, mouthed the words “OH MY GOSH” to Jamie. It was only inches from where they were leaning. He couldn’t help but recall being near this same field, just yesterday, and seeing a snake instead, along with God’s warning of trouble. Now, though, the message was much different. He instantly remembered that a dove represented the Holy Spirit.
“Bird of peace” Jamie whispered. Claire, looking excitedly at the dove, nodded.
“We should probably catch up?” Claire asked, looking to Jamie and moving towards Molly.
“They’re no too far” he replied, steering Aurora towards the pasture.
Back at the house, Miriam was perched on the bumper of Murtagh’s truck peering into its engine with Vivian.
“’tis like all these parts are it’s organs, like in a human” she said into the cavernous pit of steel and wire. “Didna know there was so much.”
“That’s a great observation, Miriam. All these parts work together to make the truck run, just like yours do to make your body run.”
“And is the…the… oil?” “Yep. It’s oil” “like blood?”
“It definitely is.”
“What’re ye doing next?”
“Well, I think I’m going to change a few of this these things” Vivian pointed to an air filter with her screwdriver. “They’re called filters. They filter the oil and the air that’s used in the engine.”
“Absolutely! They filter air, but what filters your blood?”
“Aye. I need a minute to think.”
Vivian smiled and began to remove the first filter.
“That would be the… liver.”
“My goodness! You know a lot! The liver in an engine is another filter, for the oil.”
“She and her Mam have been studying an anatomy book of late” Murtagh said proudly. “We’re expecting our third and we’ve been discussin’ how the baby forms.”
“Congratulations! Fascinating, isn’t it?” Vivian asked Miriam.
“Aye” she replied, transfixed by the engine. “Can I hand ye yer tools?”
Inside, Ellen and Harold were buoyed by the advice from the men and women from the legal and tax firms. “We can help with obtaining an historic designation; there are different ways to apply and it should be approved,” Martin explained, “which should greatly reduce future tax debt.” “But with regard to the current debt,” Tamara, an estate lawyer, recommended “ filing appeals which, if accepted, could clear some of it.”
“I feel so much better” Ellen said, thanking them. “We’re glad to help, Ellen. They’re really some of the best in the business.” Pastor Fairchild said.
In the field, Carl and his sons, having glanced over most of the buildings, concurred that a focus on barns, which could use the most work, with minor stone and mortar work on the chapel would be the best approach. “We can get some of it started today, of course, and leave the materials for a future visit.”
“Ye’ve done more than we expected, Carl, and we couldna ask ye to come again. If ye give us what to do, we’ll take it from there.” Brian said.
Just then Jamie and Claire rode up, both smiling. “What’s the verdict?” Jamie asked.
“Barns and chapel. Most everything else is holding steady” Henry answered. “Have a good ride?”
“I sure did, Dad” Claire replied, patting Molly. “It’s so nice to be riding again.”
“It all came back, huh?”
“All the lessons paid off!”
“Well, friends, how about we head back to the house to eat?” Brian said, smiling up at Jamie and Claire.
Bonus chapter coming on Sunday!
Annabella came downstairs to a house full of hungry people after laying Joshua to nap in an upstairs bedroom. The smell was intoxicating. She couldn’t place what the food was exactly but followed the scent into the closed-in porch where everyone was filling their plates. Her appetite had just begun to return after months of nausea, so she was grateful she could actually enjoy what was brought.
Murtagh, seeing her, put his plate down and went to ask what he could do to help. “Ye feel like eating a bit? I’ll make it. Here – I’ve made a place for ye to sit and be comfortable.”
“Yer such a sweet man.” She kissed him on the cheek.
She went down the tables, unable to decide which to put on her plate first. With the return of her appetite came a preference for sweets, just as there had been with Miriam, so she stopped for desserts first.
Jamie and Claire had just gotten their plates and were finding a few chairs where they could sit down. Seeing that neither of them had been able to bring drinks, Jamie got up: “I’ll get us both sweet teas?” “Yes” she said, laughing. “You’ve got to try it.”
Returning with 2 large cups, he took a swig and thought for a moment. Claire, trying to eat slowly and mannerly despite how hungry she was, looked hopefully at Jamie: “And? Don’t worry about offending me if you don’t like it.”
“’tis refreshing. I mean that. I’d find it a great treat on hot days.”
“Well, I’m glad you like it. This calzone is hitting the spot for me.”
They ate and talked, laughing easily at almost everything. Brian and Ellen, as well as Henry and Julia, were noticing how quickly a relationship was forming between their children.
“How was it ye made it? Boiling tea bags?” Jamie said, intending to have fun with Claire.
She looked up, her mouth full of calzone: “No – brew ith colth!”
Jamie, smirking, replied: “I’m sorry – what was that?”
She took a moment to chew, giving Jamie a look of playful reproach: “You know what I said!” which caused them both to laugh out loud.
Taking their plates when they finished, Jamie asked: “Would ye mind staying here a minute? I’ll be right back.”
“I’m so full I can’t move so that won’t be a problem.”
Jamie scanned the room looking for Murtagh after throwing his plates into a bin. Catching his eye across the room, Jamie motioned outside by tilting his head toward the back door. Murtagh, acknowledging what he meant, nodded his head.
Once outside, a cup in his hand, Murtagh spoke before Jamie did: “Truly son, this iced tea concoction is bliss. Would never have thought to ice the stuff. Dinna think I can handle iced coffee though.” Murtagh made a sour face and shook his head.
“I’m sorry son. What is it ye needed?”
“I wanted to thank you for saving me.”
“The Lord saves, of course, but I appreciate the thought.”
“Ye showed me that what was happening with Geneva wasn’t love. I didna see it for how overcome I was with loneliness. But God spoke to me. Made it clear as crystal there’d be trouble if I gave in.” He continued. “She kept texting me last night from a friend’s phone after I blocked her. I eventually opened the window and threw the phone as far as I could.”
Murtagh raised his eyebrows. “Well, that’s one way to handle it!”
“I’m disgusted…sickened just knowing I could have lost everything on that wretched lass, rather than waiting for the blessing ye mentioned.
“Come wi’ me?”
Jamie had Murtagh follow him to where Claire was sitting. “Claire, I’d like to properly introduce you to my Godfather, Murtagh Fraser. Murtagh, this is Claire Beauchamp.” Murtagh saw that Jamie was beaming, and Claire was unable to contain her smile.
“God Bless ye lass, for all you and your church are doing. It’s greatly appreciated.”
“It’s our pleasure. Your home is beautiful, and your family” Claire glanced up at Jamie “are wonderful.”
In the other room an anxious Miriam was waiting for Vivian and Carly to finish eating, watching for when their plates were empty. The second she saw them get up she broke free from Annabella’s hand and ran across the room.
“If ye dinna mind, and have had yer meal, might I help again with fixin’ the cars?”
“I was hoping you’d be my helper again” Vivian said. Carly and I will be doing a 5 point inspection on Jamie’s car. Care to be our counter?”
“Would I! I’ll be right back. I’m gonna ask my Mam’s permission first. Dinna leave without me!” She ran through the crowd to Annabella.
“MAM MISS VIVIAN AND MISS CARLY ARE NEEDIN’ ME TO COUNT SOMETHIN. MAY I GO?”
Annabella broke into a laugh. “Well, I wouldna want to be holdin’ them back from their work! Of course. Mind your manners, Missy.”
She ran to Vivian and Carly who were waiting for her at the front door. “MAM SAYS I CAN BUT TO HAVE MY MANNERS ABOUT ME.”
Wiggling in between the women, who each took one of her hands, they walked to Jamie’s car.
Work continued on the farm throughout the afternoon: Carl, James and John – along with Brian – did some preliminary structural support to one of the barns and applied some mortar to an area on a chapel wall. Brian, with Ellen, reviewed plans and paperwork for the tax appeal and applications for historic designation.
Imogene and Marjorie helped Giovanna move more trays of food from the refrigerator to the ovens for dinner, but Imogene took a moment to thank David who had been stopping to help everywhere he could.
“My family and I…we’re so grateful.”
“Mrs. Fraser, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
“Yer a dear man. God Bless ye.”
As evening settled in, everyone made it back to the house where a second round of food was set out. Jenny and Willie, playing with Miriam, Joshua and the dogs, had been given the rest of the evening off for the work they’d put in. This time everyone ate in the yard, relaxing from a day of work and planning. Pastor Fairchild gathered everyone as near together as possible and introduced Claire, giving her the opportunity to present her plan.
She nervously walked to the front, but seeing the beautiful land stretched out in front of her the new plan she’d conceived seemed right as rain.
“Thank you, Pastor. Initially, my thought was to have your home added to the driving tour of Inverness which is something created for tourists to see areas of Scotland. There is a fee charged to tourist groups which is split to all the participating homeowners. But after the personal tour and history that Jamie gave on our ride, I have a completely different idea. Of all the buildings, the barns and chapel will return the most investment when repaired, especially if electricity is added. So, my new recommendation is for Lallybroch to be a wedding venue.”
A sea of stunned faces greeted Claire.
“How far is your church?” she asked Ellen, seated directly in front of her.
Ellen answered quickly: “About 3 miles.”
“Perfect” Claire answered.
“A barn can be used for receptions, as well as showers. The chapel, if renovated, could be used for the actual service or it could be had at a local church.”
She pushed on.
“You would need a website, brochures, licenses, and a fee schedule: just a ceremony, ceremony and showers… different combinations. And since you have an orchard and beehives that might be rejuvenated, an LLB brand of preserves, honey, and candles” she looked at Jamie “could be a separate business to the wedding venue or even combined. Then there’s birthday parties with horse rides, apple picking, honey tasting, fresh eggs, fetching water from the spring house, and…” Claire took a breath “if you have the right area of land you could plant grains to start a Lallybroch distillery.”
Henry and Julia looked at each other with both surprise and pride. "She did it!" Ellen whispered.
“This may seem daunting, but I’m perfectly prepared to assist in implementing any area you might be interested in.”
Brian stood to speak: “Absolutely brilliant, Claire. I speak for my family when I say that we are thrilled with everything you proposed and we’d love to get started as soon as possible.”
Applause filled the warm, evening air as Jamie looked on, proud and grateful.
David began gathering the church members to leave, amidst saddened goodbyes and well-wishes, while ensuring clean-up was tended while Brian got all of his family together to make sure they personally thanked each church member, especially Philomena and Giovanna for the incredible work in feeding everyone.
In the courtyard, with the trucks pulling out, Miriam whispered to Murtagh whose leg she was clinging to: “Da?” Annabella came around to her and kneeled down. “What’s wrong my sweet lass?” Sniffling, Miriam wiped her nose. “I dinna want the car ladies to leave.”
Annabella kissed Miriam’s cheek. “Well, honey, they have a long ride home and must have families of their own to get to” Murtagh said, smiling down at her. Just then a hat came out of nowhere and was placed on Miriam’s head. It was green with “GMG” embroidered on it. She took it off and looked at it.
“That’s a hat only mechanics in our shop wear. That means you’re an employee!” Vivian said kneeling beside Annabella.
Miriam smiled and hugged Vivian, then Jen and Carly who had come over. “We do a show on the computer called a live stream every week. We work on cars while people watch and ask questions. Will you watch and talk to us?” Carly said.
“Aye! I will!”
Imogene, hugging Marjorie before she got on the van, made her promise to call when she got home. “You never change. Made me do that every time I left your house after school.”
“I always will! Thank ye, friend. Yer a true blessing.”
“As are you.”
Henry and Julia got into the van, allowing Claire time alone to say goodbye to Jamie. He came from the house to see she was petting a wiggling Nick and Asta, and walked her to the van. His heart was beating with the ferocity of a balloon held out the window of a speeding car.
“Claire, would ye mind if we stayed in touch? Maybe…if ye dinna mind, I mean…”
“That would be lovely. Here’s my number” Claire said, smiling, as she handed him a small piece of paper.
“Mine is…uh….I’m picking up a new phone this week, with a new number, so I’ll be in touch in a few days. If that’s alright.”
Claire offered her hand: “I hope to hear from you.”
He took her hand, but lovingly placed it between both of his: “Ye will. I promise.”
Bonus chapter. :)
Jamie left home early so he could avoid any traffic on his way to school. It was his last day of classes and he was looking forward to it being over so he could concentrate on spending as much time with Claire as possible.
Pulling into school he saw Geneva and a friend walking into the building. He waited a few minutes until they were inside before he got out. She’d not been bothering him and he hoped it would stay that way.
When class was over and Jamie was walking to the parking lot, his phone buzzed to alert a text message. He reached behind him and pulled his phone out of the side pocket of his backpack. Smiling when he saw it was from Claire, he started to reply when Geneva grabbed his phone out of his hand.
“Oooooh. Who’s ‘Claire’?”
Filled with panic, Jamie went to grab it back but Geneva pulled it away from him.
“Geneva – give me the phone.”
“Are you cheating on me?” she said, laughing.
“Stop this nonsense.”
“Claire must be something special, aye?” she said sarcastically, a hint of anger in her eyes.
“Don’t do this. Give me the phone.”
“Hmmm. I don’t know about that, considering I’ve gotten nothing from you. And changing your number? Is that how you show me how much you care?”
She erased the message he had started and began her own. “Sorry love” she said mockingly as she typed “Not interested anymore. I’m going to keep the hot girlfriend I have. Get lost.” Geneva moved away from Jamie and took a selfie. “Ok…’attach photo…’”
“GENEVA. GIVE ME THE PHONE” Jamie demanded.
“Well, dear, it seems we both want something. And just to let you know…I GET WHAT I WANT.” She purposely showed that her finger was on the blue arrow about to send the message. “Well? What will it be?”
“Lord,” Jamie said to himself “please help me. I don’t want Claire to be hurt.” The snake in the field came to his mind, and the reminder of what it could cost to give in.
“You’ll get nothing from me.”
Geneva raised her eyebrows. “Then Cinderella gets a message that will bweak her wittle heart.”
Jamie stood his ground: “I will not sin against God and bed ye. Everyone else may do yer bidding, but I WON’T.”
Stunned by Jamie’s declaration, Geneva looked down at the phone then looked up at Jamie. His jaw was set, his eyes showing fierce determination. “Do you love her?” she said, a tear rolling from her eye.
“Aye. I do.”
“Why?” she said, a slight tremor in her voice.
“She’s devoted to God, most importantly, but also because I feel peace with her.”
She leaned against her car, staring at the message. “Do you hate me?”
“No, Geneva. There’s someone for you, it’s just no me. It’s Claire who I’m meant for. “
The one tear was now followed by a trickle of tears. “Oh my god. What have I done.” Overcome with guilt, Geneva handed his phone back. “I’m so sorry, Jamie. Please forgive me.”
Trembling with relief, he grabbed it before she could change her mind. “I forgive ye.”
“ I hope you’ll be very happy with…Claire.” She wiped her eyes and lifted her head up.
“Are ye alright, Geneva?”
“Yes.” She said slowly. “Quite possibly for the first time.” She got her keys from her bag then hugged Jamie, and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you.” She opened her car door, got in, looked once more at Jamie, then drove off.
Jamie removed the photo and message, thanking God for keeping him steady.
Rather than a return text, which he’d originally planned, Jamie called Claire. When she picked up, the relief at hearing her voice nearly brought him to tears. “Claire, I know this is short notice, but would ye like to meet somewhere for dinner? I’m closer to ye, being at school, and could be there in about an hour or so. “
“Yes. I would love to.”
This same evening, in the parking lot of a Tapas restaurant, sat a 55 year old man.
Several months ago he lost his wife of 30 years to cancer. Though the thought of having anyone other than her in his life was intolerable, his friends – their friends – had encouraged him to date. “Don’t think of marriage. Just look at it as companionship” they said “she’d not want you to die right behind her from grief.” So he started attending a group for people who were widowed. At first it was unbearable. He could not even admit she was gone; saying as much struck him with so much pain he thought he would actually die from it. But over the months it got, not easier, but less painful.
Now he was waiting in his car for a woman from that group who had been supportive and kind. She’d lost her husband, also of 30 years, to a young woman who was texting and driving; she’d plowed into two cars stopped at an intersection, pushing them into a crosswalk, killing one and injuring others. “Let’s just have dinner. Nothing fancy or serious” the woman from the group had said while talking after the last meeting.
He was early, wanting to give himself time to prepare and think about what the conversation might entail. After going over the subjects that might be easy and not remind them of their spouses, he looked up to see a small car pull in. He smiled. The car he and his wife had gotten when they first moved out on their own had been something similar. A young man with copper-colored hair exited and sat on a bench near the front door of the restaurant. Another small car pulled in on the side of the restaurant shortly after. A woman with short brown curly hair, which she kept trying to tuck behind her ears without much luck, got out, locked the doors, and walked toward the entrance. The man bolted off the bench and ran to her.
He embraced her, then took her hand to go into the restaurant. She stopped and said something to him, possibly a question. He paused, then hung his head. He lifted it a minute later and said something, touching her face. She said something back, and kissed him. He put his arms around her again, and they stayed embraced for a few minutes before they walked into the restaurant.
“Bless them, Lord, with a long healthy life, children, and peace. May their time on this earth be long and may the icy, bitter hand of death not touch them until they are old and gray” the man in the car said through tears.
Henry and Julia, having sat on their deck for most of the evening making plans for Claire’s graduation party, were now enjoying a late dinner while waiting for Claire to come home.
Nora, who’d been asleep at their feet, barked and scurried towards the front door. As they heard Claire come in and sit her bag down, they yelled for her to come sit with them outside.
“Ugh. I’m stuffed.” Claire said as she plopped into a chair. “Tapas is misleading! I must have ordered 10 plates just myself.”
“I was just about to ask how dinner was! So – filling is what I’m hearing?” Julia said, laughing.
“How’s Jamie? Is he done with classes?” Henry asked.
“Yep. Just today.” Claire said, staring off into the yard.
“Mind if I talk to you both?”
“Go right ahead” Henry said, holding Julia’s hand.
Claire hesitated, unsure how to tell them how serious things had become between her and Jamie in less than a month.
“He hugged me so warmly when I got there. Like he was afraid he’d lose me. We were walking into the restaurant and I asked if he was alright. He put his head down for a minute then looked up at me. He told me he loved me.”
Julia, knowing the unmistakable look of love in Claire’s eyes, asked: “How do you feel about that?”
“I love him too. It’s only been a month, but I know in my heart this is right. I trust him, he’s a good man, and I want a future with him.”
Henry, worried this was going too fast, wanted to find out Claire’s thoughts: “What’s next, then?”
“That I don’t know. I’ve been accepted at the two schools in London, and two in the U.S. Until we talk, I’m not sure how I’ll proceed. He invited me to come to Lallybroch to start things rolling with the business plan I devised. We’ll probably use the time to talk about ourselves as well.”
Throughout the next week, before she was to make the trip, she used the time to create something more comprehensive for Brian and Ellen, but also prayed that God was fully behind all of this. “I don’t want to be with someone you don’t intend for me. I know that one of the ways you show yourself is by bringing us peace, so please, Lord, grant me peace and I’ll know this is right.”
When she pulled up to the house Nick and Asta fell over themselves running out the front door ahead of Jamie. He buckled over laughing, while Claire – still in the car – burst out laughing herself. When she opened her door they both jumped in with Asta plopping himself down on the passenger seat as if she were the chauffeur come to take him out for the day.
Claire got out and hugged Jamie, then both of them spent 10 minutes coaxing the dogs out of the car. “All I had to do was say ‘Claire’s coming’ and they’ve been sitting at the door since.”
Looking down at his hands, Jamie realized he was a mess. “I apologize for being unkept. Have been working on the barn with Dad and Willie. I’ll scrub up inside” he said, escorting Claire into the house.
“I’m sorry Mam’s not here. She’s just won a commission to design a mural for the lobby of a new office building. She’s gone to meet with the committee, and took Jenny with her but said to send you their love. Da’s here though.”
Claire heard the ATV pull up behind the house and shortly after Brian came in the back door. “Claire, my love, I’m a mess or I’d hug ye properly. I’ll offer my hand though as soon as I’ve washed it!”
“I’m no a mess” Willie gently said, moving to hug Claire. “Well, then, a hug it is!” Claire said.
Now sat at the table, Claire and Jamie, Brian, Willie and Imogene discussed what to start first to make LLB a business. They talked until dinner, making checklists, doing internet research, creating a timeline of getting the work done, and when it would be possible to “go live.”
With Ellen and Jenny home, the family had a quick dinner in order to give Jamie and Claire time alone. While everyone scurried away, Jamie got to Claire so he could help her out of her chair to go to the porch, the wind coming warm and gentle through the screen.
“Ye’ll be rooming with Jenny. I hope ye don’t mind” he said as they sat on the sofa.
“Of course not. I never had a sister and always imagined what it would be like to share a room.”
“She’s excited for the same reason. Only ever had her two smelly brothers.”
He put his arm around her, causing her to sink into his side contentedly. “Do ye have plans for the summer?”
“Nothing much. You?”
He felt her smile.
“Claire, would ye feel it too early to talk about the near future?”
“I was hoping we could.”
“Well, we love each other. ‘tis a good starting point. Have you decided on where you want to do yer graduate work?”
“No. I…Jamie, if it takes me from you, I don’t want to do it.” She sat up, turned to him, and tucked a leg under her. “If that sounds too strong, I apologize.” Claire sighed heavily.
“Lass, ye dinna need to ever worry about tellin’ me yer feelings…” He lifted her chin “ever. And neither should we ever lie to each other. I want to know the truth about ye, and I promise to give ye the same about myself. We canna build a strong relationship without it.”
Claire laid her head on Jamie’s shoulder.
“If ye dinna mind, I’ll tell ye what’s on my heart.”
She nodded her head.
“I have another year of uni left, but will be helping Dad with starting the business until then. When I graduate I want to be helping him full time. Since I was a lad I’ve loved animals and have worked towards becoming a vet but now..I don’t think that’s what I want any longer.”
He stroked Claire’s back.
“It was fine before I met ye, but now…the work to become a Doctor, then specializing, then the round-the-clock hours…it will be too much of a strain on our relationship.”
“Jamie, please don’t…”
“I’m no doing it to appease ye, or out of sacrifice. I truly dinna want to commit to so much time and work that I never see ye. YOU are my life and I wilna have it any other way. Graduate work, I feel, we can easily accomplish. ‘tis only another few years. Like I said, it seemed like a fine idea, but now I hope to avoid a lot of the pitfalls young couples make in striving for so much so early that they end up losing what they have in the process. And with bairns..”
Jamie clammed up, embarrassed.
“What is it?”
“I’m sorry. I overspoke.”
She cradled his face with her hand.
“I want children. No worries there. It’s good that the issue came up with everything else.”
“I just didna want to presume.”
A warmth and joy filled her eyes, so much so that Jamie pulled her hand to his lips and kissed it.
“I think I’ll switch to a business major. It might mean a few additional classes to complete my degree, but I’ll talk to advising this week and maybe take summer courses to stay ahead. With the extent of the areas our company would cover, seems I should know what I’m doing.”
He slid to the side and pulled her up so he could look at her directly.
“Claire, I have waited my whole life for what we have, and God brought me my heart’s desire. I will make sure nothing, no one, interferes with our happiness. My dedication to our relationship will never waiver. I promise.”
“You have my promise as well.”
She pulled her other leg onto the sofa and sat opposite Jamie.
“I have acceptance letters to London and U.S. business schools. But I’m thinking of applying to a few here in Scotland. It would help, I think, in our having more time together. I could live in a dorm.”
Jamie fiddled with a lock of hair that had popped out from behind her ear.
“That would suit me just fine. So, I think we have a plan, then. Are ye at peace with it?”
“I am. Definitely.”
“Let’s commit our plans to the Lord then, as the bible says, and he’ll cause us to succeed.”
They prayed together for a moment but heard the quietest of whines come from the door to the porch. Claire looked at Jamie, who rolled his eyes.
“Come on, then.”
Nick and Asta pushed aside the screen door then walked sheepishly to his side.
“What is it? Walks?”
At this, both began to wiggle uncontrollably.
“Shall we walks, Claire?”
“Indeed. Let’s walks.”
After they’d walked the dogs - taking a leisurely stroll through the yard - Jamie and Claire went back to the porch and continued talking. It was after midnight when they stopped. Jamie walked Claire upstairs and showed her to Jenny’s room, then kissed her goodnight. She stepped quietly into the room but was surprised to see a small desk light on and Jenny reading a book in bed.
“I was about to give up that ye’d make it to bed. Jamie can talk a person’s ears off.”
“I’m at fault too.” Claire smiled.
“I’ve sat out some things ye could use, and laid out one of my gowns in case ye needed one.”
Claire’s suitcase was on the bed, and beside it was towels, washcloths, soap, and one of Jenny’s gowns.
“Thank you! You’re very thoughtful.”
Claire went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and change into her pajamas. When she got back, Jenny was sat upright with her hands folded in her lap.
“I’ve been thinking of ways I can help with the new business” she said with more eagerness than Claire expected, considering how late it was. But she remembered what Jamie said about Jenny’s excitement for sharing a room and it was looking as if the “staying up late and talking” aspect of a sleepover had begun.
“Tell me – what are your ideas?” Claire said, crawling into the other bed and adopting the same pose as Jenny.
“Well, I’ve an eye for photos. Mam picked up a camera for me at an estate sale.”
“Are the photos in the hall and family room ones you’ve taken? They’re stunning!”
“Aye. And those as well” Jenny said, pointing to the wall.
“This will be very helpful. The brochures and website are the first place, of course. We’ll need photos of the land, some of the buildings, and places in town.”
“I’ve also worked on the school newsletter, and got high marks in both of my computer design classes so I could help designing the brochures and website.”
“You’re going to be a very busy young lady, and it will be a relief having someone who can multi-task.”
“Mam will do well there too. She’s the real artist.”
“What are Willie’s strengths?”
Jenny answered so quickly Claire wondered if she’d already considered what everyone’s role would be.
“He’s an organizer. I think it’s called ‘logistics.’ When yer church visited he’d decided where everyone should be, where we’d eat, how to sit out the picnic benches, and the best way to clean up.”
“That is a great skill. I’ll be sure to speak to him.”
Claire could see that Jenny wanted to know more, but not about the new business; she sensed questions about her relationship with Jamie would pop out, entering the “truth-or-dare” phase of their sleepover.
“Jamie never stops yapping about ye.”
“He’s crazy in love.”
“Jamie’s a wonderful man. He’s easy to love.”
Jenny rolled her eyes slightly. She then looked down at her hands and started to say something but stopped. A few minutes later she just went for it: “Can I be one of your bridesmaids?”
Claire smiled, and blushed slightly.
“I apologize. I ken ye have friends to come before me.” She looked down at her hands again, her dark hair covering her face.
“If it gets to that point, of course you can.”
She looked up and smiled. “Thank ye! Well, I’m sure yer talked out so maybe we should get some sleep.”
“Good night, Jenny.” Claire turned off the light, thankful there was no ‘dare’ to follow the ‘truth.’
Early the next morning Claire rolled over to find Jenny gone and a commotion downstairs. The clock on the bedside table showed it was only 7:30. The dogs were even racing around.
She got her robe out of her suitcase and walked downstairs. The ruckus was due to the arrival of two men for breakfast.
Jamie was in the foyer when he saw Claire at the bottom of the stairs. He took her hand and helped her down the last few.
“Claire, these are my cousins Rupert and Angus. They’re on their way to a gig north of us and stopped for breakfast.”
“Ooooh! ‘ello Claire! We’d heard Jamie snagged himself a girlfriend somehow!”
Jamie immediately pulled her into the kitchen, then through to the porch.
“Oy! Dinna hide the lass!”
Imogene got both Rupert and Angus by the backs of their shirts, preventing them from going any further towards the porch, and made them sit down at the table.
“Do ye both need to be frightening the lass so? Can ye no ever have manners?”
“Och. ‘tis all in fun, aye?”
“Both of ye sit down and dinna move.” They both laughed to themselves as she took biscuits out of the oven.
Claire, dumbstruck at being rustled about, looked at an exasperated Jamie. “Feel free to leave. I’ll no hold it against ye. You’ll always be in my heart.”
Laughing, she put her arms around him and laid her head on his shoulder. “I wouldn’t leave you if you had 9 crazy cousins.”
“I hope ye still feel the same by the end of the day.” He kissed her forehead. “Why don’t ye get dressed then meet me down here to eat.”
When Claire came back into the kitchen, Rupert stood. “Sorry, Claire. We didna mean any harm. I’m Rupert. ‘tis a pleasure to meet ye.”
“It’s very nice to meet you too, Rupert.” Claire took the seat that Jamie was holding out for her.
Angus stood quickly beside Rupert, seeing how well it worked for him, brushed his hair back, and stuck out his hand. “I’m Angus. If ye ever get tired of Jamie, I’ll be happy to…”
Rupert smacked Angus on his arm. “Do ye never learn?” he whispered. “She’s a proper woman, aye?”
Angus rubbed his arm. “Sorry, Claire. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“And I yours.”
Jamie’s eye seemed to be twitching.
Jenny and Willie walked in through the back door with a basket of eggs which they handed to Imogene. Seeing Rupert and Angus, they ran to hug them. “We didn’t know ye were coming for breakfast!”
“We’re on our way north for work and couldna just pass by!” Rupert happily said, hugging Willie then Jenny.
The obvious glee Jenny and Willie had in seeing their relatives, which seemed to be returned, assured Claire that the rough outside covered good insides.
“Tall as a tree ye both are!” Angus said, hugging them both.
Brian and Ellen came into the kitchen when Imogene had put a second bowl of scrambled eggs on the table, Rupert and Angus having devoured the first. As breakfast wound down Claire asked where the men lived and what they did.
“We’re just down the way. We’ve our own business - organizing music festivals. Mostly in Scotland, but we’ve helped with a few in England as well” Rupert said.
Claire’s eyes flew open. “So I could assume you use vendors for seating, tents, food, lighting and such?”
“Aye, lass. Can we be of any help?”
“You absolutely can!” Claire nearly yelled.
Happy to have a chance to promote himself, Rupert ran down the list of dependable vendors he used and how long he used them.
“What might this be for?” Angus asked, looking around the table at the grins.
Claire looked to Jamie to be the one to bring up the family’s new business.
“Lass, ‘tis all yours. Go ahead” he said, squeezing her hand.
“The Frasers are starting a family business. I’ll be helping them.”
Angus nodded his head, mulling over the surprising news.
“Weddings.” Jamie clarified.
“For any particular people?” Rupert asked as he looked back and forth between Claire and Jamie.
A tap was then administered under the table, directly to Rupert’s shin. He looked at Imogene, then whispered from the side of his mouth “I was just asking.”
“The money-maker will be the weddings, but there are plans to possibly start a distillery as well.” Claire said, suppressing a laugh.
“Aye! I’m on board with that” Angus said, winking.
“Anyway” Claire continued, "it will be important to have reliable vendors, so I’m happy to hear you have people that we could connect with.”
“I’ll be takin’ the pictures for the website and brochures. Miss Claire said I could.” Jenny blurted, looking to Claire for back up.
“Absolutely” she said rubbing Jenny’s arm.
“Well, then” Rupert added “ ye’ve called yer cousin Willie?” he said, looking at Jamie.
Claire raised her eyebrows and turned slowly to Jamie. “More cousins?”
“Aye. He’s just out of seminary.”
Claire leaned into Jamie and whispered in his ear “I need to know EXACTLY how many family members you have, where they live, and what they do.”
Everyone went outside to see Rupert and Angus off after breakfast then Willie, Jamie and Brian rode to different parts of the land to see where a barley field could be planted, how to utilize the water from the spring house, and whether the land needed to be re-zoned. As they rode over the property they stopped to consider what the best way to start a crop would be.
“We’ll probably need soil testing, honestly.” Brian said. “And we’ll need to find out annual rainfall. We’ll have to rotate crops – that much I do know.”
“We’ll have to look at the varieties of seeds that will suit the soil, then buy a planter.” Jamie offered, looking off into the distance. “Since we have to go to the courthouse anyway, we should try to find original plans for land to see if a crop was already here. Just build off that.”
“Aye. I’ll ask Mam if we’ve anything already.”
“We’ll need to get the wedding business up first, though.”
“ARE you and Miss Claire going to get married?” Willie said as soon as Jamie finished his thought.
“Son…” Brian began to reprimand.
“It’s alright, Da.” Jamie interrupted. “I wilna discuss that with anyone until Claire and I have decided so you’ll have to wait.”
“She’s nice. I like when she’s around. You’re not as grumpy either.”
Jamie shook his head and grinned as he maneuvered Aurora toward the house. “Grumpy…”
Claire stayed behind to help Ellen and Imogene clean up. She’d felt they might want to talk to her about the relationship with Jamie.
“Claire, ye dinna need to help, love. You’re our guest.” Ellen very sweetly remarked.
“Well, I’d like to make sure I get invited back!”
Imogene, filling the dishwasher, laughed out loud. “No worry on that front, my dear! Jamie loves you somethin’ fierce.” When she finished the loading, she gave Claire a kiss on the cheek then excused herself. “Time for my morning nap.” She gave a quick nod to Ellen then left.
Claire had grabbed a wash cloth and was wiping down the counters and table when Ellen, putting some bowls into the refrigerator, used their time alone to start the discussion.
“Mam’s right. Jamie loves you very much.”
Claire turned from rinsing out the wash cloth to look at Ellen.
“I love him too.”
Ellen’s face seemed to relax. She got two coffee cups, filled them from the pot, and motioned for Claire to join her at the table. “I’m no going to ask ye what plans, if any, ye may have discussed together. I’d just like to know what yer feelings are.”
Claire plopped two sugar cubes and cream into her cup from the bowl and small pitcher sitting in the middle of the table, then took one of the spoons Ellen offered.
“I can only imagine the worry a parent must have when their child begins to date seriously, but I want to assure you that I respect Jamie’s heart and spirit. I will never dishonor him” Claire looked pointedly at Ellen to ensure she understood Claire’s full meaning “or his family. God has blessed me with a righteous, loving man and that is something I am grateful for.”
Ellen, her arms on the table and the cup of coffee between both of her hands, looked earnestly at Claire. “I believe ye. And what’s more, I trust ye. There’s a glow about ye, and it’s even brighter when yer with Jamie.”
Ellen filled her cup with a bit of cream. “We all care for ye, of course. Especially Jenny. Yer the sister she never had and she’d have ye move in today if ye could! Has been planning what the two of you could talk about and do for a week.”
“That’s so sweet! She’s the sister I never had as well. We had a lovely chat last night...well, this morning!”
“Aye! I heard! She was down here chattering away first thing this morning about helping with the website and brochures. Had to coax her out to get the eggs so she’d stop!”
“She’s quite gifted.”
“Aye, that she is. She’s out now taking pictures.”
“Congratulations, by the way! I understand you got a commission to do a mural. That sounds very exciting.”
“I’ve no done anything on this big of a scale. It’ll be in the lobby and have a water feature. ‘tis a real blessing to have been chosen.”
“I’m glad we got to talk. Thank you for having me this weekend. It’s a pleasure to see all of you again.”
Ellen reached across the table and took Claire’s hand. “We’re happy to have ye. I want ye to know...this is yer home now too.”
Brian, Jamie and Willie came into the kitchen to four women chatting at the table. Jenny was excitedly showing the pictures she’d taken around the property to a very impressed and enthusiastic Ellen, Claire and Imogene.
“This one is so beautiful, Jenny!” Claire said, taking the camera from Jenny and scrolling through the images. She tilted the camera for Ellen and Imogene to see.
Jamie came to Claire’s side, put his hand on the back of her chair, and brought his head down nearly to her own. “We’ve got some winners, aye?” he said, hoping she’d give him a slideshow.
“Absolutely. Look at this one.” It was sunrise coming over the house. “Then look at these.” Jenny had gotten clear, perfectly composed shots of the chapel, the barns, and the henhouse.
“Ye’ve definitely got an eye, sister.”
Claire handed the camera back to Jenny. “There isn’t a bad one in the lot.”
Jenny’s face flushed. “Thank ye so much.”
“Well everyone, I need to be leaving.”
Jamie helped Claire up from her seat. “Aye, my dear. I’ll meet ye at the car.”
Claire went upstairs to pack her things. She noticed an envelope with her name on it beside her suitcase. She began to open it when Jenny appeared in the doorway.
“Ye dinna need to read it now. I know ye need to be going.”
Claire smiled at her, then packed the rest of her things. She put the envelope in her purse and threw it over her shoulder. “I’ll read it when I get home then.”
Jenny, trying to hold back tears, put her arms around Claire. “I’ll miss ye. Please call when ye arrive.”
Claire held Jenny, then pulled her away to look at her.
“I’m sure I’ll be back soon. Until then, feel free to get started. Send me what you work on, alright?”
Jenny nodded then wiped her tears. Claire took her hand and they walked downstairs.
Brian, Ellen, Willie and Imogene were waiting at the door. Each hugged her goodbye, wished her well, then promised to attend to the matters they had discussed yesterday.
“We’ll be in touch verra soon. It’s coming together faster than we thought.” Brian said gratefully.
“Thank you for having me.” Claire looked at the beautiful faces in front of her. She said a silent prayer of gratitude, thanking God for the unexpected blessing of Jamie and his family.
Noticing Jenny, Claire nodded to her. “You’ll let me know?”
Claire went to her car where Jamie was waiting. He had a bouquet of wildflowers in his hand that he’d picked on the way back to the house. The stems were wrapped in ribbon.
“Just a wee gift to remind ye of us and how much yer loved.”
Claire hugged him, then lifted her face to his. He held her head with his other hand, gently stroking her cheek, and kissed her.
“Call when ye arrive?”
“Mind if I call Jenny before you? She asked first.”
“’tis fine with me.”
Claire took the flowers while Jamie put her suitcase in the back seat. She turned to him, somewhat surprised.
“You’re left handed. I hadn’t realized that.”
“Aye. Cack-handed I am.”
“An English term?”
“Nope. In this case it’s American. It’s common to describe a left-handed pitcher as a southpaw, or anyone left-handed I gather.’ Heard it from my American friends while I watched a baseball game on the telly with them.”
She got in the car and buckled her seatbelt, looking up to Jamie who was leaning on the door.
“I’m already tired of leaving you.” Claire said.
“Aye. I was about to say the same thing.”
They stayed that way for a few minutes, unwilling to part.
“Mum and Dad are planning my graduation party. You know, of course, that you’re all invited. Do you think Miriam would like to come? I saw how attached she was to Jen and Vivian.”
“That would be wonderful. Thank ye for thinking of her.”
“You and I can drive her over to the shop. She can see everything first hand.”
“Murtagh said she’s been watching their weekly podcast and waving at the computer screen.”
He leaned in and kissed her again.
“I truly love you Claire.”
“And I truly love you Ja….”
Two dogs, sitting on the ground waiting patiently, had had enough and jumped up to the window doing their best to quickly get in the car before Jamie could stop them.
Claire laughed out loud while Jamie pulled them down and made them sit again.
“I apologize. We all seem to love ye quite a bit!”
Still laughing, Claire took Jamie’s hand, kissed his palm, then closed his fingers.
“I truly love you too.”
Quiet whines came from outside the car. “And you, and you” Claire said, reaching out and patting them each on the head.
Claire could think of nothing other than Jamie on her drive home. She wondered how his hair would look, unkept, and grown in from the perfect fade he had now. “Loads of curls.” She wondered if he would look younger or older without his soft, shiny beard. “Younger.” At every thought of him, from his voice, the way he lovingly looked at her, to the respect that permeated every action he made towards her Claire felt an overwhelming combination of contentment, joy, and gratitude.
Arriving home in time for dinner, Henry and Julia got up and filled a bowl full of chili for her and got some lemonade and cornbread.
“Just in time, Pumpkin!”
After hugging them both, she held off eating until she made two calls. “Go ahead and eat” she waved to her parents “I promised to call when I got in.”
First was Jenny, as she promised: “Hi Jenny. I’m home. Aww – I enjoyed being there! Can’t wait to hear from you. Love you too. Bye.”
Claire took 2 bites of her chili, unable to hold off. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Then on to Jamie:
“Howdy! Yes – I’m home. Yes – I called Jenny. I loved being with you too. Call me later? Good. Love you.”
Having a hard time suppressing their smiles, Henry and Julia stopped for a moment to look at their daughter; happiness was radiating out of her. Claire smiled back then inhaled her dinner.
With dessert came discussion of her weekend, the progress on the new business, and odds and ends of her time apart from that.
“We should discuss the your graduation party. I put together a preliminary list” Henry said, pulling it off the kitchen island behind him “so give me the go ahead and I’ll order the invitations. Oh! Pastor Fairchild asked if we’d like the field behind the church to have it in, and Philomena and Giovanna – as a gift to you – are willing to cater. Thoughts?”
“I don’t know what to say! I mean – yes to both! I really did want to have it outside.”
“I’ll look for a place to rent tables and canopies. There should be…” Julia began.
“Before you do that, I have someone that could help.” Claire said, a bit of a giggle coming out of her.
Claire looked down the list. “Hmmm. Jamie’s family. It would be a long drive and they’d have to stay overnight. I don’t want them to bear the cost of that. What do you think?”
Julia thought for a few moments. “I’ve got it! Henry – who’s the retiree the church checks on every week. He’s Scottish, isn’t he? Herbert…
“Yes! His wife passed a few years ago. His house is rather large, and he says how much he misses his family being around. Do you think he might want to put them up?”
“Wow. That’s perfect. I’ll actually pop over on my lunch hour tomorrow and see him.”
“That’s settled then. So, how are things with Jamie” Julie asked over her tea.
“Wonderful” Claire said, beaming. “Every day I love him more.”
“As much as you’re comfortable telling us, were you able to talk?”
“Yes. He brought it up, actually. I think I’m going to apply to a few schools in Scotland for grad school. Being so far apart is weighing on me. ”
“Understandable” Henry said.
“And I can be closer to help with the business. He’s going to switch his major to business from veterinary science which might mean some additional classes, but we’re both aiming to finish graduate work. That’s about the extent of it, except for…”
Claire wanted to clamp her hand over her mouth, but put her head down instead. Henry and Julia were both looking expectantly, their eyebrows raised.
She twisted her lips back and forth, weighing whether to add what she nearly let slip.
“we both want children.” Claire very quietly added.
“That’s actually important for you to know, and we appreciate your willingness to share it with us.” Julia very softly added. “Your father and I know two couples who had a whirlwind romance, got married, then found out – in one case it was the wife in the other it was the husband – that their spouses didn’t want children. It was heartbreaking.”
“He was worried I might not, but I do. I’m glad it came up, actually.” Relieved that they weren’t alarmed she and Jamie had discussed something so personal and important this early in their relationship, Claire straightened up, then continued.
“What really touched me was the extent of his thinking. He said he wasn’t going to pursue being a Veterinarian because the work and long hours would keep him from me, and that he didn’t want us trying to achieve so much right away that we’d never be together. This meant a lot to me.”
Claire looked at her parents, both transfixed at what she was saying.
“But he also said that he’d waited all his life for me, and he’ll never let anything interfere with our happiness.”
Henry nodded. “I feel much better about him, having heard that. That’s the dedication a Father is looking for.”
Claire broke into a huge smile: “Yea. It had an impact on me too.”
After eating, Claire took Nora upstairs with her, threw her suitcase and bag on her desk, and crawled in bed. Taking her phone out to wait for Jamie’s call, she remembered Jenny’s letter.
I hope you don’t mind if I call you that. You feel as much to me.
This weekend was wonderful, and I appreciate having the honor of being in your wedding - should it come! - and having a hand in the business you’ve devised. I promise to do my best and help wherever I’m asked.
There’s so much happiness and hope in my family and it’s all because of you. Thank you so much.
For the next few hours Claire talked to Jamie – he phoned exactly when he said he would – and fell asleep cradling the phone to her ear. Jamie, on the other end, could hear her soft breathing.
“Ye must be fast asleep, Mo Nighean Donn. Do ye ken how much I love ye? Ye are an angel from Heaven come to fill my heart with joy. Beannaich Dia thu agus gad chumail, mo leannan.”
Unwilling to hang up, Jamie laid the phone on the pillow beside him and fell asleep.
Claire woke up to a cell phone stuck to her cheek. She’d been so exhausted she didn’t move all night. She immediately plugged it in, then pulled herself out of bed. The phone buzzed several times with new text messages as it turned back on.
They were all from Jamie.
“Ye fell asleep mo nighean donn”
“No, ye dinna need to apologize”
“Was happy to listen to yer soft breathing”
“ I laid the phone beside me and fell asleep”
“Will call when I get back from courthouse”
“I love you.”
She smiled as she read through the messages, following his train of thought as he had anticipated her own.
“Alright, Nora” Claire said to her sleepy hound “we both need to get moving.”
After breakfast Claire set up her laptop and began researching schools in Scotland who had graduate programs in business. One, in particular, touted an “immersive” field trip to New York which allowed for direct experience in an important, global business environment.
“That would be incredible. Jamie could come with me.” She noted the contact information and sent an e-mail.
When she’d sent it, she saw a message from Angus had come in.
“Claire, dear! I got your e-mail from Jamie. I’m including a partial list of our vendors below. Have used them for several years. Top notch people. Call with any questions. Hope to see you again soon.”
The companies, though small, had a high percentage of satisfied customers as judged by the comments on their own website and popular review forums. She sent a few names to her Mother for securing canopies, tables, and chairs.
She made a list of what she wanted to finish in the afternoon, then stopped to make lunch which she packed into a small bag.
One of the things she loved about her church, apart from the people, was that it remained open during the day. Built over a hundred years ago it stood majestically at the end of a long, rambling road on land that had been donated with the specific intention of building a church; many villagers, at the time, had had to travel for miles. Gothic in architecture, the dozen stained-glass windows added to its beauty. The bell in the tower, produced at the famed Whitechapel bell foundry, had always been rung weekly but in modern times was only used on certain occasions like weddings and holidays. The rose and peony bushes that encircled the front and entrance steps never failed to captivate her with their pink hues and familiar fragrance. It was a most perfect greeting.
Poking her head into the church office to say hello to Pastor Fairchild and Katherine, she walked through the sanctuary doors and stood just inside. Having this intimate moment in the heart of the church always touched her. The long stained-glass windows on each side were scenes of Jesus’ life: his humble birth, his baptism, the miracles he performed, his sacrificial death, then his glorious resurrection. The one that had currently captivated her was the baptism window, showing him with his cousin John and the dove descending from Heaven. Although she’d seen this hundreds of times it was as if she’d seen it for the first time, having been reminded of the dove that landed on the fence post while she was talking to Jamie.
As a child, which side of the church she asked to sit on depended on the sun. She’d gauge where the strongest light was and asked her parents to sit in a pew that was beside a window so she could trace the colored shapes that shone through. Without fail she brought not only her bible but a set of colored pencils and paper each Sunday. Now, 20 years later, she looked to see which window the sun was shining the brightest through, and sat to be able to see the colors on her lap.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It had been a long time since she’d eaten lunch here alone. In the past she’d visited out of loneliness and emptiness, eventually foregoing the visits because she didn’t want to tire God with her prayers of worry. She eventually realized that every time she came and made an effort to reach out to God, it mattered to Him, and that coming to Him – even crying and hurt – gave Him the opportunity to speak to her and comfort her. Now, though, it was nice to be able to sit here in joy and gratefulness.
At Lallybroch, Brian and Imogene were sitting on the front steps drinking coffee.
“Do we have any old maps or histories of Lallybroch that ye know of? Would be good to know what was planted where, what the chapel was used for and such” Brian asked.
“I dinna think we have any maps. But I do have a few diaries. Might be something in there. Farmers back in the day kept pretty extensive notes on their fields, and sometimes wrote about their family.”
Imogene walked inside and up to her room. She pulled down a box from on top of her wardrobe and sat it beside her on the bed. In it were old wedding portraits, war bonds, newspaper articles, and letters. Underneath it were 2 leather journals. One was written over a 2 year period, about 1850, and the next picked up where the first left off for another 2 years. There were, indeed, extensive notes on crops, climate, harvesting and yield. In the back of one journal, though, were 4 pieces of paper, folded into envelopes. On the outside of each was written the types of seeds contained inside: “Barley 1” “Barley 2” “Barley 3” “Rye.”
“Blimey. I didna think these would ever be of use.”
In town, Jamie had filed papers necessary to start a business and obtained further forms, stopped to see his Mother and her work on the mural, then stopped at the historical society as his last errand for the day.
Once inside, Jamie asked about Lallybroch and was sat in front of a computer while the only 2 volunteers there went to find local history books.
Within minutes Jamie saw that his ancestors had made and sold Scotch to great success. As well, the chapel had been in operation for close to a century, marrying dozens of couples in the area. He smiled to himself. “And if we get it repaired, I’ll hopefully be the next one.”
Sorry for the late posting. I wanted to wait until the AO3 upgrade was finished.
So many things were running through Jamie’s mind as he left the historical society. “How do you create a recipe for whiskey?” “Does a chapel need to be blessed before you have services?” “How much beeswax is needed to make candles?” To avoid the sun where he stood waiting to cross the street, Jamie backed up a few steps and waited in the shade of the building beside him. The lights in the window of what was a jewelry store caught his attention. They were bright, clear, and focused on a ring with an unusual amber-colored stone.
The discussion he and Claire had when she visited reassured him of the seriousness of their relationship, but becoming engaged was something he wanted to talk to his parents and grandmother about, and Murtagh, before he proceeded. Simply put, he’d not thought any further than that.
Until right now.
He turned away from the intersection to press his face against the window, gob-smacked at how the ring sparkled. There were other rings and bracelets displayed in the small window, but none were as beautiful.
“Son – ye dinna need to stand out in the heat gawping at the window! Come in and see it for yerself!” said an elderly man holding open the door to the store.
Jamie turned to see who was talking, surprised at the greeting, then walked in ahead of the man.
“I tried getting yer attention – did ye no see me waving at ye from the other side of the glass?” the man laughed.
“I’m so sorry. I didna see ye.”
“’tis no bother. Which of the set got yer attention?
“The amber colored ring.”
“Ah. It’s a real ‘gem’” the man said, attempting a joke. “My name’s Alfred. I’m the owner.”
“My name’s Jamie. Pleasure to meet ye.”
Alfred pulled a chair from the floor and placed it in front of the case which sat directly behind the window Jamie had been looking in. He then went behind the case and sat on a stool.
“If ye dinna mind me askin’, what drew ye to the ring? Engagement? Birthday? Anniversary?”
“I’m hoping for an engagement.”
Alfred saw the tentativeness and worry common in new buyers.
“Son, between you and I, I do this for pleasure now. I’ve made enough to retire but I just love people and jewelry too much.”
Jamie relaxed, worried Alfred would go into full-blown sale mode.
“Mind, it’s no always a happy business. I’ve sold many a ring and bracelet only to have them brought back for resell just a few years later. I could only guess what had gone wrong. But then there’s the times where couples have come in to pick out their wedding rings, then stopped by with pictures of the wedding. A few have even become like family, eventually bringing their children in. That’s what keeps me here. Sorry for rambling. So - would ye like to see it then?”
“Aye. Verra much.”
Alfred winked at him, pulled keys out of his pocket, unlocked the window, and pulled out the ring. He reached under the case and got a cream-colored velvet stand and sat the ring on it. He then reached for his loupe, handing it to Jamie so he could look at it more closely.
“It’s a cushion cut, one carat, brown diamond surrounded by 16 2.2mm white diamonds and 8 2.2mm white pearls. Turn it about and look deep into it. Ye’ll see there are no flaws.”
Jamie’s hearing seemed to stop at that moment. His mind went blank, save for the man’s last words: “…look deep into it. Ye’ll see there are no flaws.” Claire. He’d been able to see deeply into her heart, and Alfred’s words described it perfectly: flawless.
The outside, obviously, was beautiful. The band was simple, but the setting wasn’t; it was very artistic. The stone was surrounded by tiny diamonds and pearls in a frame of 4 of the squiggly bracket symbols on a keyboard.
“I’ve no seen a diamond? ‘tis a diamond ye say? this color. Is it artificial?”
“NO, lad. ‘tis the real thing. But only certain mines in the world produce these brownish ones.”
Jamie sat the loupe down so he could see it directly again. He laughed to himself. “The color of iced tea.”
“This is set in 18 carat gold but I can reset it in rose gold, silver or even platinum.” Alfred said, snapping Jamie from his thoughts. He nodded, contemplating whether it was wise to buy this so impulsively.
“Lad, if yer unsure – I’m no the type to pressure anyone into a sale – I’ll hold it for ye. Ye can call me at week’s end and I’ll no be upset if ye dinna want it.”
He turned his gaze from the ring to Alfred.
“It’s everything I want for her, but I dinna think I can afford this.”
“Luck’s on your side then. Today is special, ye see. I give some of my best deals on Mondays.”
Alfred’s playful smile touched Jamie. “And what would they be?
“Well, today’s special pricing is…” Alfred offered his hand to Jamie to shake on whatever Jamie was able to pay.
“I canna inconvenience ye.”
Alfred continue to hold his hand out.
When first examining the ring Jamie had slyly put the tag under the loupe so he could see the price, noting it was 1500 pounds. Since he’d met Claire he’d been saving every penny for such a time as this. His internship at University was a blessing because it paid him while he worked over the summers, and with his car being a gift, and scholarships paying for tuition, he was able to save what he earned apart from what he gave to the church and the “rent” he’d agreed to with his parents. To date he had slightly over 1000 pounds.
“1000 pounds” Jamie smiled, joining hands with Alfred.
“900 it is” Alfred said, shaking Jamie’s hand back.
Jamie gave his credit card and Alfred excused himself to finish the purchase. After several minutes he came back with a small black bag.
In the bag Alfred had put 2 extra velvet boxes so Jamie could pick which one he liked best. “The ring’s in the black box, but I gave ye a pale blue one and a white one as well. I can size it too.”
As Jamie got up to leave, Alfred invited him back to visit. “I’d love to meet her. If yer ever back in town, bring her by, aye? And Jamie” Alfred paused, his demeanor taking the first serious tone “I’ve seen how things can change. It’s just part of life. If it doesna work out with yer lass, or ye change yer mind for any reason, bring it back within 90 days and I’ll give ye a full refund. No questions asked.”
“Thank ye. I’m grateful for everything.”
“Best wishes, lad. Pleasure to meet ye.”
On his drive home Jamie thought about how much different his day would have been had the ring in the window not caught his attention. It was the very ring he wanted for her despite not ever thinking what it might look like.
He noted the change in scenery as he drove from the city into the country. City blocks turned into rambling hills as he got closer to home. He thought about how everything in his life – his family, his career, and his heart – had been blessed after having met Claire. Then he recalled a bible verse:
“All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God. You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.”
Imogene walked back outside, handing the journal to Brian. “What’s in the back might be most interesting.”
Brian looked up, took the journal, then turned to the back.
“Actual seeds?” he asked after looking at each packet. “I canna believe it.” Intrigued, he looked through the journal finding, as Imogene had said, hand-written columns showing yield and profits per year.
Also tucked into the notes was the recipe for “Lallybroch Whiskey.” He closed the journal over his finger and turned to look at Imogene, dumbfounded. “We had our own whiskey!”
It was at this point that Jamie pulled up.
“How goes the investigations?” Brian asked as Jamie got out of his car.
“Not a motherload, but interesting nonetheless” he said smiling. “What do ye have there?”
“Mum found a journal from an ancestor. Seems we had our own brand of whiskey. If that wasn’t enough, we’ve seeds from 3 strains of barley and one of rye.”
“The records I have confirm as much!” Jamie said sitting down beside his father. “And we performed weddings in the chapel. For quite a while.”
Jamie showed them what he found. “Look at these copies of wedding registries. Dozens of couples married here. And these – pub records that show how may barrels of our whiskey they bought.”
“Claire really had insight.” Imogene said, looking at Jamie.
“Aye. That she did.”
“We’ll need to delve into where the fields were planted and look into getting that seeder we talked about. Let’s look to see if there are any pictures to accompany the weddings to have an idea what the chapel looked like. That will help with restoration.”
“What would be fun is going through the antique stores for pews, old stained-glass windows and such.” Imogene added.
“Did ye see yer Mam?” Brian said, captivated by the photos.
“Aye. Busy as a bee.”
Jamie excused himself while Imogene and Brian looked over what Jamie brought home. He purposely left the bag in the car when he saw his Da and Gran so as not to cause any fuss. He went inside to see Nick and Asta. They groggily got up from their beds, accustomed to afternoon naps before dinner.
Ellen had just pulled in, causing she, Brian and Imogene to come into the house excitedly discussing all that had been found out. Jamie used the opportunity to sneak back into his car, get the bag, and take it to his room. He put it in the bottom drawer of his desk.
He sat there for a while, contemplating what to say to his family. A soft tap on his door brought him out of his thinking to see Brian in the doorway.“’tis lovely to see so much life back in the family, aye?”
“Do ye have a moment?”
“Aye. Of course.” As Brian walked in he motioned his head toward the door as a way to ask if Jamie wanted him to shut it. Jamie nodded.He sat in the chair beside Jamie’s desk. Jamie opened the drawer, pulled out the black velvet box, clicked it open, and sat it on the desk for Brian to see.
Brian looked at the ring for a few moments, smiled, then looked to Jamie.
“Ye got a lot done today.”
“Aye” Jamie replied, laughing.
“’tis verra beautiful.”
“The owner was a grand guy. It hadn’t been my intention to buy it, though. Was just looking in the window of the store waiting to cross the street. Saw this and knew I couldn’t walk away. Classy, beautiful, unique… Claire. So, I bought it.”
“Well, I canna say it was a bad decision, then.”
Brain looked at the ring and thought about how quickly children grow up. His beloved son, always a dutiful, loving boy had now decided to marry.
“I’m sorry that I didna talk to you or Mam about how seriously I feel about Claire.”
“It’s obvious enough ye didna have to say anything. Even though we’ve taught ye well how to treat a woman, and what commitment means, do ye fully ken what the greater meaning of the marriage vows is?”
“Aye. I’ve been reading what the Lord says about marriage.”
“Then ye know how seriously He takes it.”
They both laughed.
“The traditional vows are a very solemn promise. Are ye prepared to be faithful to her, no matter what? “
“What if illness befalls ye, requiring all ye have to get them well. Will you never leave her side? Do ye trust she’ll never leave yours?”
“I would give everything I had to make her well, and I know she’ll do the same for me.”
“I’m sure ye’ve thought of children.”
“Quite a bit.”
“Jamie, children are arguably one of the greatest blessings from God. Ye must be willing to make sacrifices for them. Love them. Protect them.”
“Agreed. You and Mam have shown me what it takes to be good, dedicated parents. I learned well.”
“Thank ye, son. So I guess what’s left for me to say is if there’s any doubt, any at all, dinna move forward. Yer heart must be sound and sure.”
“I ken that. I love her, Da. God brought me the woman I prayed for and I’ll treat her as such.”
Brian looked thoughtfully at his son. “Then ye have my blessing.”
As he left the room, he looked back at Jamie. “Ye’ll be speaking to Murtagh as well?”
“Aye. That’s for sure.”
Brian winked at Jamie then left.
Jamie spoke to both Ellen and Imogene that evening. Sitting across from them at the kitchen table was a bit daunting, but their wisdom, love and approval made it all worth it. Imogene made no attempt to hide her excitement: “I havena been to a wedding in years! It’ll be wonderful seeing everyone from Claire’s church again. And think of all the family we’ll have here too. I think the Americans call it a “shindig.” Ooh! It’ll be a blast!”
That weekend Jamie went to stay with Murtagh. With Annabella nearing her last trimester he was devotedly staying close to her and ensured she only traveled when necessary.
When Jamie pulled into the their driveway he noticed 2 little faces beside the curtains in the front window. In a split second they were gone, reappearing on the front porch.
He picked each one up in his arms and got them – and his bag - in the front door.
“Mam and Da said ye were coming to stay,” Joshua said as Jamie sat him down. “Miriam and I have been sat here looking out the window for ye.”
“Jamie?” Murtagh yelled from the kitchen.
“Aye! And two wee sprites!”
“Och!” Murtagh said coming into the sitting room. “Where did ye get them?”
“Found them on the front porch! Are they yours?”
“I canna tell for all the dirt! If they were to get washed up so I could see them properly I might be inclined to give them a biscuit from the jar!”
“Uncle Jamie we’ll be right back! Dinna leave!” Miriam grabbed Joshua’s hand and they both ran like flashes up the stairs to wash.
Murtagh hugged Jamie. “Welcome lad! Roast chicken and vegetables are ready. And Annabella made…”what’s for dessert, dear?” he yelled back into the kitchen.
“A marscapone cannoli cheesecake” Annabella said, coming around the corner. “Jamie!” She hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. “Come sit down.”
Once in the kitchen, Jamie got himself some ice water from the refrigerator door and noticed sonogram pictures that were placed there with magnets. He looked closer, then turned around.
Murtagh was helping Annabella into a chair at the table when they both caught his eye.
“Oh. About that…” Murtagh said.
“YER HAVING TWINS?”
“We are” Annabella said, rubbing her belly. “We could only see one for a while, though there were 2 heartbeats. Caused us some worry so we didna say anything. But in our sonogram this week both of them could be seen. Boy and a Girl.”
Jamie stuck his hand out to shake Murtagh’s, then clapped him on the arm. “’Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them!”
“Full indeed!” Murtagh said, proudly.
Scurrying could be heard in the hall as Miriam and Joshua rounded into the kitchen.
“Da? DA! It’s me, Miriam!” she said, waving her hand as close to Murtagh’s face as she could. “Can ye see me now?”
“Oy! There ye are!”
“Da? I’m down here too. It’s Joshua!”
“There’s my bairns!”
He pulled the biscuit jar from the counter and put it down for them to reach in.
“One for now, then if ye eat ye can have another.”
“AWESOME!” Miriam yelled.
After dinner conversation and some game playing, Annabella and Murtagh got the children to bed.
“G’night Uncle Jamie” Miriam said through the railing on the stairs, blowing him kisses.
“G’night Angel” he said, blowing kisses back.
Joshua, a proper gentleman, merely waved.
Jamie got the ring from his bag and put it in his pocket. When Annabella and Murtagh returned and sat down, Jamie got the box out, opened it, and sat it on the table.
Annabella immediately got up to look at it closer: “Oh my word, Jamie. It’s stunning.”
“Aye, Lad. She’ll be blown over by it.”
“I’m glad ye think so. Saw it in the store window and bought it on the spot.”
“We’re happy for you, son. Congratulations.” Annabella said as she went back to her seat.
Murtagh became serious: “Ye’re prepared then for a lifelong commitment?”
“I’m seeing it as a privilege, actually.”
Murtagh raised his eyebrows and nodded his head.
“When Murtagh walked into the shop something came over me. It was a feeling I can’t describe.” Annabella said wistfully.
Jamie immediately identified: “Exactly. You just know.”
“There’s something that comes over ye when yer in synch with God’s will. When the answer to yer prayers is standing in front of you…” Annabella said, looking at Murtagh.
“Aye” he said, smiling at her. “I left the store that day with the emptiness and loneliness completely gone. And what’s more is that I didn’t feel angry any longer. What’s that verse… ‘The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich and he addeth no sorrow with it.’ It feels like ye’ve been healed. ”
Murtagh continued: “But son, I wilna sugar coat advice especially when it comes to something this serious.”
“That’s why I’m here. Ye steered me through a hurricane, and I’m deeply grateful. I made it out to the promised land.”
“The union may be God’s intention and ye may know in yer heart it’s right, but that doesna guarantee there will no be trouble, though I pray that for ye, of course.”
“Ye’ll need to be vigilant in fighting for the marriage. Pray for it every day. We’re three parts: mind, body, soul. Care for all three – hers and yours.”
“It may seem as though we’ve had a stress-free marriage, and for the most part we have, but there have been many who shamed us for having children so late in life. Doctors who said it would be too hard at our age, that we put the babies at risk for birth defects. Something as simple as an off-hand remark really hurt our spirits, then we started questioning if we were actually being irresponsible.” There was pain and sadness in Annabella’s eyes. “But I remembered asking the Lord for a righteous man, and to be able to have children, and he answered me above and beyond what I had hoped for. I had to remember this and stop being discouraged.”
“This is what I needed. I’m grateful for all ye’ve shared.”
“If ye can promise me ye’ll do all this, ye have our blessing.”
Claire sat on the livingroom floor with her mother addressing and sealing invitations.
“Talk to Jamie?”
“Oh my goodness! I forgot to tell you! He called last night. He found a lot of history on Lallybroch. It used to perform weddings in the chapel! He said there had been dozens back in the day. AND they used to make their own whiskey! Imogene found an old journal in her room with the recipe and barley seeds, and Jamie found pub records which showed how many barrels it used to buy from them. Can you believe it? And here I recommended they do both for their ‘new’ business when in fact they’d done it already.”
Julia stopped and looked over at Claire. “You really tapped into something amazing.”
“It’s a gift” she said, attempting a bow. “When will Dad be home?”
“He’ll be here shortly. He just caught up with Herbert Macauley. Said the man ‘was a hoot.’”
As soon as Julia had said that, Nora began barking, causing both women to laugh. Henry came in, calmed an excited Nora, then took up on the floor to help with filling and sealing envelopes.
“G’day Ladies. How were things with both of you today?”
“I’ll let Claire go first.”
Claire told everything Jamie and his family had found.
“I’d say you have impressive foresight. How will this change any of the business plan.”
“It won’t that much other than to include it in all advertising. I want to look into their original business – make sure the name and such haven’t been taken.”
“And you, my dearest?” Henry said, putting a stamp on an envelope and looking at Julia.
“Lots more patients than usual. I’m seeing how much better the public opinion is of acupuncture and alternative medicine. And I’m seeing a lot of referrals too.”
“Alrighty. Sounds like two productive days.”
Julia looked over the top of her glasses at Henry, wanting more of the story of meeting Herbert than had been expressed in the last text message. “And you?”
Henry smiled. “The man is an absolute gem. Former teacher, pilot…played his bagpipes for me! He’s thrilled to host the Frasers. Really seemed to light a spark in him.”
Julia looked at Claire. “Guess we have a place for them to stay, then!”
“How goes the hunt for a grad school in Scotland?” Henry asked.
“Sent an inquiry to one that has a great business program which includes a field trip to NY. That’s about it so far. Mum – did you get the info. on the vendors?”
“Yep. Called them each and got right through to someone. They’re getting me prices.”
Just then Claire’s phone rang. She pulled it from her purse and saw it was Jamie.
“Mind if I take this? I’ll be right back to help.”
Julia waved her hand to tell Claire to take her call and not worry.
“Howdy do my love. I just got an e-mail from Jenny. Brochure looks like a professional did it. I’ll need to have her amend some of the copy to give more historical background with the new findings.”
“I’ll catch her this week. She made something I think she called a ‘mood board.’ Her scope has been impressive.” Jamie had the ring on his desk in front of him, running his fingers over it.
“Oh! We’re putting together invitations to my graduation party right now. Your family are invited and I’ve found a place for you to stay. There’s an elderly man who the church checks on every week. He’s from Scotland. His wife passed a while ago but he still lives in their big house. Dad asked if he’d be interested in putting your family up and he’s already looking forward to it! How do you feel about that? I don’t mean to force you, it just seemed…I mean, if you’d rather not I would completely understand.”
“It was kind of you to go to all this trouble. The whole family can celebrate with you now. Thank ye, Claire.”
“Oh, good. The invitations will be mailed tomorrow. And - I’ve contacted a university in Scotland. They’re business program isn’t just lectures – there’s a trip to New York City.”
Claire hesitated for a few minutes.
“If everything works out and I’m accepted, I’d love for you to come with me.”
“Aye. I was just thinking how much fun it would be to see the city with ye. Thank ye, again, for thinking of me.”
“I’m always thinking of you. How goes it with documents and such?”
“We’ve decided on a name – Lallybroch Enterprises. We went with that because of all the businesses we plan to start. We’ve either filed forms or are filling them out. Gran wants to go to antique stores looking for pews and a pulpit for the chapel.”
“That sounds fun! Still working on the chapel?”
“Yes. We’ve all been out there every evening. It looks amazing.”
It was Jamie’s turn to pause.
“I miss you. Would ye consider coming to stay for another weekend before we all arrive for the party? I’ll pick ye up and bring you back. It’ll give us even more time together.”
Claire had been aching to see Jamie, and was hoping to not have to wait the month until her party.
“Yes Yes and Yes. This weekend, or next, or…”
“This? Are ye busy?”
Jamie’s soft laugh was one of his most endearing qualities.
While everyone was in the kitchen - a rare time when they were all in the house together – Jamie said he wanted to bring Claire back to spend another weekend.
His parents had secretly been expecting such an announcement. “Aye, son. Would be lovely to see her again. We’ve much to catch up on” Ellen said, wrapping her arm around Brian’s waist. He returned the gesture by placing his arm around her. “Of course” he said. “Why don’t ye pick her up instead of her driving herself again.”
“Have already decided to do just that. I’m leaving early Friday morning.”
Jenny was noticeably excited. “We can get more of the business finalized. Let’s get pizza and milkshakes Friday night. Willie and I can go get fruit from the orchard while Jamie is gone.”
“Why don’t we save that for Saturday, aye? Yer Mam, Da, and I will take ye – give Jamie and Claire some time alone” Imogene said, winking at Jamie. “We dinna need to – what do you youngins say – be up in their business 24-7.”
Willie covered his mouth so as not to giggle out loud, but it escaped anyway, causing everyone else to laugh with him.
“Sorry, Gran” Willie said, still trying to keep himself together. He threw one back at her: “Yer one hip cat.”
“And dinna ye forget it!” Imogene said, getting up and kissing Willie on his head as she made her way to get the dog’s leashes. “I’m taking tweedle dum and tweedle dee on a walk. Peace out.”
“Then I’m going to clean my room before she comes” Jenny said, grabbing some rags and cleaner from under the sink. She pulled out the floor duster from the utility closet as well, then drug everything upstairs.
Friday morning, way before the sun’s rays had begun to blanket the sky, Jamie got up and kneeled beside his bed.
“Lord, I thank ye for all I have. My life, my family, are greatly blessed and it is yer grace that is behind it all. What had been heavy burdens – the tax problems, financial worries, and the potential loss of our estate -have been turned into blessings. Each day ye are restoring greater hope to us. If I havena already done so, thank ye for Claire. Please bless this weekend with peace. In Jesus name, amen.”
He showered, dressed, then walked over to pat Willie on his back. He rustled, then turned over.
“Are ye leaving now?”
“Yes. I’ll be back this afternoon.”
“Have a safe trip” Willie mumbled, then turned back over.
Imogene was up and sitting at the kitchen table, eating breakfast and reading her bible, when Jamie came downstairs.
“Goodbye, Gran. I’ll be back soon.”
“Have a safe trip son.”
When Jamie grabbed his keys from the hook both Nick and Asta – formerly asleep and snoring by Imogene’s feet – became wide awake and ran to the front door.
Imogene rose from the table and went to fetch them back so Jamie could leave. “Come here, then. Let the boy leave.” Neither of them budged. They looked longingly at Jamie, forming a solid wall of determination as they stood side by side.
“Alright. Ye both can come.”
They wiggled and tripped over themselves, pawing at the door. Jamie walked back and grabbed their harnesses.
“Son, I’ll get them to stay. Dinna fash.” Imogene said, motioning for the dogs to follow her back into the kitchen.
“Somehow they know who I’m going to see. It’ll be alright.”
After he got them harnessed in the back seat he pulled out, waving to Imogene who was at the front door.
The ride began beautifully. The sun was now slowly rising above the hills. Jamie stopped to get coffee and breakfast, pulling into the drive-thru of a new coffee shop.
As he pulled up to the window to pay, the woman noticed Nick and Asta in the back.
“Oh my gosh! They’re beautiful! Coon dogs?” Her American accent was a stark change from the Scottish brogue he was accustomed to.
“YAY! Friends from home! Well, not really. But kind of.” Her laughter was a joy to hear. A lot of people, especially those at drive-thru’s this early in the morning, were usually grumpy and rude.
When Jamie handed her his card, he remarked that she was a long way from home.
“I’m going to University here. Really liked their Biology department.”
“Well, best of luck to ye.”
“Thank you!” When she handed Jamie his bag and receipt, there was a second smaller bag.
“I hope it’s ok. There’s a small cup of whipped cream for the kids.”
Jamie laughed out loud. “We appreciate it! Have a nice day.”
“You too!” She waved to Nick and Asta as Jamie pulled out.
He pulled into a parking spot and held the cup of cream between the seats so the dogs could enjoy it; this was the only way he’d be assured of eating his breakfast in peace.
He eventually left the parking lot, satiated and caffeinated, and returned to the highway. The time seemed to go quickly and he expected to arrive much earlier than the GPS had advised. Nick and Asta had laid down right as the drive began and fell asleep. Shortly before pulling into Claire’s, though, they woke up and began whimpering. How they knew where he was going and who he was going to see surprised him.
“How do you both know?” he said into the rear-view mirror as he made his way into her driveway. While he was releasing them from their harnesses, Claire came onto the porch with Nora.
Jamie got out of the car, crossed to the back door, then adopted the pose of a butler by putting one hand behind his back as he opened it.
“Yer servants, milady.”
Nick and Asta jumped out and looked around. When they saw Claire they bounded to her.
Jamie eventually got his own audience, hugging her and giving her a much-awaited kiss. She laid her head on his shoulder, sinking into his embrace: “I’m so glad to see you.”
Henry and Julia, in the kitchen arranging brunch, peeked around the corner when they heard all the commotion of Jamie’s arrival. They’d purposely taken the day off; after Jamie and Claire would leave, they – with Nora – were going away for a weekend camping trip.
“I hope it’s no trouble that I brought my dogs.” Jamie said, waving down the hall.” They’ve an affection for Claire and wouldna be left once I got up to go.”
“The more the merrier!” Julia said, walking to hug Jamie.
“They’re fine hounds. Glad to see all of you again.” Henry said, offering his hand.
Julia guided Jamie into the kitchen. “Come in and sit down. I’m just pulling a frittata and hash browns out of the oven.”
“Yer very kind. Smells delicious.”
Jamie pulled out a chair for Claire, then seated himself beside her, patting his leg for Nick and Asta to lay down at. Nora, at Claire’s side, looked at her with confusion.
“It’s alright. They’re new friends!” Nora seemed to accept Claire’s response and promptly laid down.
Claire rose, seeing that there weren’t drinks.
“Forgot drinks! We’ve iced tea, of course, lemonade…”
“Or an Arnold Palmer?”
“Yes” Claire said, laughing, as she took glasses down from the cabinet, “or some lovely spring water we fetched from a spring outside of town that Dad and I go to. Fancy any of these? We’ve coffee, too.”
“Have just had my coffee so would fancy some spring water, actually. We’ve a few spring heads on the property that we gather from as well. Have always appreciated it’s sweetness.”
“How’s your family?” Julia asked, passing the food around then taking the chair that Henry pulled out for her.
“Everyone is well, thank ye.”
Looking at Jamie, and touching his arm after she sat down, Claire mentioned that she told her parents about the journal and history of Lallybroch.
“Aye. It was quite the surprise. Dad and I are considering where to plant. It will be a proud day to see our whiskey going out in barrels the way it used to. Independent brands have the public’s eye now.”
Henry and Julia were glad to have Jamie there. Apart from when they initially met him, they had been hearing about him only through Claire; now, they could see for themselves the truth to everything she’d said. He was utterly devoted to her.
Henry had picked up on a few glances Jamie had given him which seemed to mean he wanted to speak to him alone. So, after brunch, Henry quickly caught Julia while she was preparing the fruit tray to say he wanted to take Jamie outside to give them a chance to talk. When they were finally finished, Henry rose to clear away the dishes then asked Jamie if he’d like to walk the dogs before they left.
Grateful that Henry caught on, Jamie sat the rest of the dishes in the sink and kissed Claire on her cheek.
“Need to get the rest of the energy out of them before the trip back or they’ll be fighting to be sat in your lap.”
Realizing that “that” conversation would be taking place, Claire hugged him and said she’d be in the living room with her mother looking over the contracts they’d gotten from Rupert and Angus’ vendors.
Once outside, Nick and Asta found a tennis ball and brought it to Jamie. Nora, lower to the ground and not as fast, nonetheless insisted on being included.
“I appreciate the time, sir” Jamie began, throwing the ball. Henry, impressed with Jamie’s intro, nodded his head.
“I didna want to continue further into the relationship with Claire without declaring my intentions to ye.”
“I appreciate that. Truly.”
“I love her. She is the answer to my prayers, and as such I will respect her and devotedly commit myself to her happiness and well-being: mind, body and spirit.”
Henry’s eyebrow arched a bit, but Jamie jumped to reassure him.
“Please be assured that I wilna touch her.”
“That’s an assurance I appreciate, and fully expect you to honor.”
“I promise ye. I will.” Jamie wasn’t sure how to segway into his main intention, so just got to the point:
“The truth is, sir, I want to ask for her hand in marriage.”
This definitely caught Henry off-guard. “You’re this certain?”
“Without question. What I feel for her…I canna imagine that I could feel that for anyone else. “
Henry was quiet for several minutes.
“I assume you’ve spoken to your family?”
“I have. Both my parents and my Godparents have blessed my decision but not until they gave me a stern talking to. I am grateful to have their marriages as examples, so sought their guidance. And approval.”
“Then you won’t mind a bit more from another one?”
“Not at all. I hoped for as much.”
Henry pulled out two chairs at the patio table. He needed a few moments to gather his thoughts, which Jamie kindly, and patiently gave him.
“I’ve often thought about what I’d say when this time came, but I just didn’t expect it so soon.”
Jamie looked worriedly at Henry, expecting that he might want more time.
“She’s a good decision maker and has lead her mother and I to believe her feelings for you are serious. I found respect for your family, and we were treated graciously when we visited.”
Henry turned fully to Jamie at this point. Internally, Jamie braced for impact.
“Besides Julia, Claire means everything to me. I will not approve of this union unless you guarantee – with God as our witness – that you will honor and respect her as your equal from today and throughout your marriage. Will you raise any children with gentleness and kindness and Godly love? Do you promise me…”
Henry had teared up at this point.
“..that you will make her happiness your utmost priority? Lastly, will you nurture her mind and spirit so she grows in her walk with God?”
“I solemnly promise.”
“The Bible says you’ll become one flesh. This is to mean that what you do will affect her. Will you be mindful of your actions?”
“Before I give any approval, I’d like to get her mother. I’d not want to proceed without her approval. Would that be alright?”
“Yes. Of course.”
Henry excused himself and went to the living room. Both Julia and Claire looked up.
“Julia, my love, may I have a moment of your time? Claire – I apologize. I hope that’s alright.”
“No problem, Dad. I understand.”
Julia stopped Henry when they got to kitchen. Jamie, leaned over with his elbows on his knees, his hands clenched together, could be seen through the doors to the patio.
“Is everything alright?” Julia asked, concerned.
“Well, yes. Jamie’s asking for our blessing to propose to Claire.”
“Oh my. I wasn’t ready for this.” Julia wiped away a tear. “No matter when it happened, it would still feel so sudden.”
“I definitely agree. But remember that Claire has said it felt right and she trusted him. Quite honestly, I trust him too. He’s a good bloke, and his family are wonderful. But I’ve asked him to make promises, of course, which he has heartily agreed to. I wouldn’t go further until I knew your own heart.”
“I trust her that she trusts him. God would certainly have steered her differently had this not been His will.” Julia took a very big breath. “Well, then. Let’s not keep him.” She took Henry’s hand and they walked onto the patio.
Jamie immediately stood and pulled a chair for Julia to sit.
“Well…” Julia said, sitting down. “I’m to understand you want to marry our Claire?”
“I do, Ma’am.” Jamie replied, seeing a hint of a smile on Julia’s face.
“This has come as somewhat of a surprise, of course, though not completely unexpected.”
Jamie shifted in his seat to be facing Julia. “I understand. Do ye have any concerns, or questions?”
“If you have addressed Henry’s concerns, then I will accept that.”
“I’ve promised Mr. Beauchamp that Claire will have my loyalty, dedication, love, and…respect. Forever.”
Julia looked at Henry. “Then you have our blessing” Henry said.
Jamie rose and took his hand in both of his, then hugged Julia. “Thank you.” He whistled for Nick and Asta. “Let’s go then, aye?”
The drive back to Lallybroch began smoothly. With their precious cargo now in tow, Nick and Asta laid down in peace on the back seat as soon as they got in.
With each small conversation Jamie had with Claire, giving away nothing of what he spoke to her parents about, he noticed her curiosity seemed to grow. Jamie remained tight-lipped, though after half an hour he decided to toy with her.
“Something on yer mind?” Jamie said, looking ahead.
“Nope. Not at all.”
“Is my driving no to your liking?” he said, a smirk playing on his face.
“Then are ye hungry? Want a bite to eat?”
“Must be the…”
“You’re not going to tell me, are you?” Claire said, her arms crossed as she playfully peered at him.
“Tell ye? I dinna understand. Tell ye what.” It was becoming harder for him to not laugh outright.
She hid her own laughter, pretended to be angry, and stared out at the road.
Eventually she sought to reassure him that she didn’t, actually, need to know. She reached over and put her hand over his on the steering wheel: “You know I respect your privacy, right?”
“I ken ye were just foolin’”
Arriving at Lallybroch was more of a festive affair than Claire had expected. The Fraser clan was at the door when they pulled in and just getting into the house involved a long line of hugs. At the end of the line, Claire finally got to Annabella: “You look so beautiful! When is the due date again?”
“The bairns are due in just several weeks now.”
“Bairns? How many?”
“Twins.” Annabella smiled and gently rubbed her belly.
“I’m so happy for you! I can’t wait to meet them. Please – don’t stand on my account. Let’s sit down and catch up.”
“Aye. That would be lovely, though I’ve gotten a bit tired of all the sitting. Needed to get out for a little while.”
Ellen excused herself to finish dinner while Jenny, Claire, Willie and Annabella- with Miriam on Claire’s lap and Joshua on Annabella’s - talked on the sofa.
“We’re going to the orchard tomorrow” Jenny said during a moment of quiet. But not you and Jamie. Gran says ye both might want time alone.”
Willie, sitting in the chair opposite the sofa, added: “Aye. We’ll get peaches and berries to make milkshakes with pizza for dinner. I canna wait.”
“We’ll probably…” Jenny began when Ellen, within earshot, interrupted and called she and Willie to help set the table. If given much more time, Ellen thought, Jenny may well have given Claire enough to deduce why they were going to be left alone.
“Are you excited to be a big sister again?” Claire asked Miriam who had pulled Claire’s arms around her.
“Aye. Da says it’s like being captain of a ship. I’m to be a good leader so my sib….seb…”
“sib-lings know what’s best to do.”
“Well, you’re a smart, responsible young lady so they’ll be very glad to have you.”
Miriam turned to the side and looked up at Claire.
“I hope you and Uncle Jamie get marrit.”
“That’s very sweet of you to say.”
“I dinna want to only see you once in a while. If ye were to get marrit, I could see ye all the time.”
“I would enjoy that. I guess Uncle Jamie and I will have to talk about it.”
“Will ye be lettin’ me know then?”
At this point Annabella intervened: “Enough questions, dear. It’s their business, ken?”
Miriam caught her mother’s raised eyebrow and took its meaning. “I apologize Miss Claire.”
Claire smiled down at her and kissed the top of her head. “Apology accepted.”
Murtagh waved for everyone to come eat. Miriam hopped off of Claire’s lap and took her hand as they walked to the table.
“If ye be needin’ someone to throw flower petals, I’m an expert at walking slow and smiling. And Joshua’s out of nappies now. That’s if ye be wantin’ any help and such.”
“Weddings are a very big job and I’m grateful to know I can count on you for two very important tasks. IF we decide to get married, the job of flower girl and ring-bearer are yours and Joshua’s.” Claire winked down at Miriam whose smile went to both ears. “Thank ye Miss Claire!”
Dinner conversation revolved around taxes being addressed, licenses being initiated, renovations continuing, and the lien being appealed and won. It’s such a relief to have these matters decided” Brian said while passing glasses of water down each side of the table. “Without these distractions we can make more sense of when the business can go live.”
Jamie leaned over and whispered into Claire’s ear: “I didna bring ye here to work. This weekend is for us to enjoy.”
Brian, eyeing the conversation, realized he allowed business talk to overtake dinner. “Claire, I apologize if it seems I’m putting business issues onto ye. We’re happy yer here.”
Later on Claire sat with Jamie, Imogene and Brian in the enclosed porch to look through the journal while everyone else went for a walk.
Claire held it tenderly in her hand: “The penmanship is impeccable…” she said flipping pages “and the notetaking is so precise. Date planted, weather conditions, what the soil was amended with, yield… What an amazing glance into the past.”
“Aye” Brian said, still shocked that they had it to begin with. “I canna find a name, though. Only dates that crops were planted.”
“The way it’s shaped makes me think someone kept it in a pocket. It’s curled and the bottom corners are worn, like it was shoved into a jacket or trouser pocket pretty repeatedly. Maybe there are purchase orders somewhere in town, from feed stores, for instance, that indicated who could have bought grain from your ancestors” Claire added “which could give more clues. No matter – I find it thrilling that we’ll be continuing on with something from so long ago.”
Jamie, his arm draped behind Claire on the back of the wicker couch, was envisioning a time in the future where the family business would be thriving again. The setbacks they’d been enduring had become, in God’s hands, the setup for not only Jamie finding Claire, but how they would prosper once again. While they discussed stream flow rate, for getting water to the distillery, Jamie was reminded of the 23rdPsalm and said a prayer to himself: “Lord, ye were indeed with us in the valley that seemed to foreshadow destruction. But now, I thank ye for leading us to still waters and green pastures. For this, and all other goodness from yer hand, I give ye praise.”
Claire, somehow sensing what Jamie had done, turned her head to him and kissed his cheek.
Imogene seemed to remember something: “I have a genealogy chart somewhere that I’m going to find. Don’t think it goes too far back, but we can start…”
Somewhere off in the kitchen they heard two loud thuds, and some scrambling. Before anyone had gotten up Nick – followed by Asta - came to just outside the screen door to the porch. Only the tip of his nose could be seen, while Asta looked longingly inside.
Imogene got up, shaking her head: “What have they done now? We put the food away.”
As she opened the door, Nick could finally be seen. He had a leash in his mouth.
“Good gracious you two!” She looked back into the porch “These two jumped up to the hooks from a chair to get the leash. Must have landed on their arses.”
Claire started giggling. Jamie looked to the ceiling, possibly as a plea to heaven. “Yer asking for a walk, I assume?”
After breakfast the next morning, Brian, Ellen, Imogene, Willie and Jenny left for a day of fruit picking and antique browsing.
Claire had loved being with Jamie’s family. She’d grown up without siblings, and at times was lonely for the company and friendship that came from having them. Now, though, she was grateful to have a day alone with Jamie.
“So, what’s the agenda for today?”
“Well, I thought a picnic lunch in the field where we may be planting, then a walk to see the repairs on the chapel.”
“I don’t think these flip-flops will be the best thing to wear for a walk. I’ll go upstairs to change my shoes and be right back.”
Jamie went to find the family’s old picnic basket tucked away in the pantry. It seemed so much smaller than he remembered it. On many trips as a child this would accompany them, whether it was just down to the river or to places farther away. He, Jenny and Willie used to fight over who got to hold it; Brian and Ellen didn’t want it bouncing around in the boot of the car so had to arrange which two laps it would sit over during the ride. One pair of hands held one handle, and another pair of hands held the other. With Willie being the youngest, and for many years the smallest, he wasn’t able to hold onto it securely enough to keep the contents from being tossed about; consequently Jamie and Jenny held it for many of the trips. This caused a lot of frustration and calls for holding it entirely by himself when he got older to make up for all the times he wasn’t able to when he was little.
Now, many years later, Jamie had a quick inclination to ask if he could hold it. He shook his head and laughed to himself. The basket had withstood being dropped, left out in the rain, tumbling empty down a shoreline when it had been forgotten to be secured, and sat on by the bottoms of three Fraser bairns. The inside, a beautiful tartan material, had been washed of many stains. Even after so long it was still dependable and sturdy and would, hopefully, be passed down to another generation of Frasers.
He carried it to the counter and pulled the drinks, cheese, bread, relish, fruit and chocolates from the refrigerator. He quickly thought to get a blanket, so walked to the laundry room and pulled one off the shelf. The most important item, the ring, was tucked behind a hole in the lining. He intended to get it into his trouser pocket without Claire seeing.
Jamie got Nick and Asta into their cages – to ensure the house wouldn’t be torn apart looking for food, primarily, but also to ensure they didn’t try to sneak out and follow he and Claire. With that taken care of, Claire met him and, hand-in-hand, they walked out the back door.
She looked over at him as often, and as curiously, as she did on their drive to Lallybroch. And just as he did on the ride, he avoided giving away anything.
Swinging their clasped hands back and forth, Claire looked up at Jamie: “You’ve got quite the stone face, James Fraser. I wonder what you’re up to.”
“I dinna ken what ye mean. I’m merely taking my dearest love on a picnic lunch.” He looked at her and winked.
The field came immediately into view. Acres of verdant grassland now supplanted what, most likely, had once been grain.
Jamie laid out the blanket, sat the basket down, and helped Claire sit.
“I’ve read that planting in the fall can alleviate a lot of weed issues, but we’re unsure what types of seed we have and whether they’re best planted in spring or fall. Da and I are going to take them to the agricultural extension office. Maybe they can help.”
Claire opened the basket and sat the food out. She made a plate for Jamie, then for herself.
“Won’t it be exciting to see little plants come up? And knowing they were saved so thoughtfully from an ancestor? I can’t wait for that first glass from the Fraser distillery.”
“It will be a great time. I plan for a huge launch party.”
Claire moved the food around on her plate, then looked lovingly at Jamie. “I remember the afternoon when the church came and we sat together to eat. I think that’s when I knew.”
Smiling, Jamie glanced at the basket. “I have ye beat by an hour. I knew when ye stepped off the bus.”
“That soon, huh?”
“Aye. I felt it.”
Jamie pulled a dish out - the last of the food. Inside was 2 hand-made truffles for dessert. Presenting it to Claire to pick from, she almost refrained from taking one.
“I’ve never seen chocolates so pretty. They’re too beautiful to eat.”
“Well, if ye dinna want yours, I’ll..”
Claire grabbed one and quickly popped it in her mouth. After a moment, she detected an unusual flavor.
“I definitely taste the dark chocolate, but there’s something….different. Ooooh. Wait….It’s whiskey, isn’t it?”
Jamie popped his in his mouth and nodded. “Indeed.”
“Ahhhh. I see what you’ve done there. Nice touch.”
Sitting the basket aside, Jamie laid down. He crooked his left arm under his head, and the other he stretched out for Claire.
They laid together listening to the breeze and birds. Jamie’s ear, trained from so much time exploring their land, could even detect the nearby river.
While Claire was resting against his chest, Jamie – filled with anticipation and no small bit of worry – prayed for God’s blessing: “Lord, ye’ve given me a perfect woman. I pray she accepts my proposal, and that our union ye will bless.”
Eventually, Jamie realized Claire was asleep. “Claire,” he whispered. “Would ye like to see the chapel now?”
Although she murmured yes, she wound herself tighter around him, causing him to laugh.
“Yer mouth says yes but yer body says no.”
She nodded into his chest.
He slowly reached into the basket, off to his left, and deftly retrieved the ring. With Claire’s face buried in his neck, Jamie shoved the box into his pocket.
She stirred again and sat up. She turned around and looked down at Jamie. “Sorry. I always get like that when I have a full stomach.” He pulled her hand to his lips: “I didna mind one bit.”
They packed up the remains of lunch into the basket, folded the blanket, and walked off towards the chapel. As it came into view, Claire stopped. “Having your own chapel is such a lovely aspect of the estate. ”
“It’s always meant a lot to me. I often came here to think and pray. Once Da found out he asked me not to as it wasna safe.”
Walking through the entrance (doors would have to be made, as well as purchasing a bell for the bell tower) showed how much transformation there had been. Having re-mortared the outside, and some of the inside, effectively addressed the issue of drafts. They first were in an anteroom that probably held a holy water font on each side. Stepping into the nave, the beamed ceiling immediately caught her eye. An alcove at the front was probably used to light candles, and the rectangular hole above it may have held a window. Claire immediately envisioned one of stained glass and how it would have shone onto the priest at the front. “Would children have traced the shapes it cast onto their laps?” she thought to herself.
“I’d like to find pictures of any couple who were married here so we can see what it looked like complete. I suspect there were benches on each side and a lectern and baptismal bowl at the front” Jamie’s voice echoed.
“You can definitely tell God is here, despite it not being finished. It’s so peaceful.” Claire closed her eyes. “I imagine the hundreds of people who prayed here, heard God’s voice, were baptized, married…”
Jamie’s heart began to race, but he kept himself calm. “Not yet, lad.”
“I dinna want to interrupt our time here, but we should be getting back to let the lads out.”
“Oh. Of course. After you.”
His palms began to sweat, and his hands were shaking as he lead them not to the back door, but to the front of the house. Coming into the courtyard, Jamie stopped close to the spot where Claire had stepped out of the bus. He sat the basket and blanket down, took her hand, and kneeled on the ground.
Claire turned, expecting to see his face, but instead had to look down to where he was kneeling.
Jamie pulled the box from his pocket and opened it for her to see the ring.
“Not but a few months ago ye stepped out of a bus on this spot. All the loneliness, emptiness, and pain vanished the moment I saw your face. I love ye with all my heart and soul. Yer what I have prayed for not only as a companion and friend, but as a wife. I promise ye my respect, faithfulness, love, and protection for my whole life.”
Tears were falling down Claire’s cheeks. She wiped at them, though it wouldn’t be enough to stop the ensuing deluge.
“Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp - Will ye marry me?”
She nodded, whispering “yes….yes”
Jamie stood and put his hand out for her left hand. When she offered it, he placed the ring on her third finger.
“Ye have made me the happiest man alive. I love…”
Before he could finish, Claire threw her arms around him.
“I love you too.”
She looked down at the ring, now able to see it more clearly, and gasped.
“Jamie,” stunned, she looked up and into his eyes “this is absolutely gorgeous.”
She turned her hand about a few times, trying to catch the sun on the diamond’s facets. “I’ve never seen a stone this beautiful.” Tears fell heavy again. “It’s the same color as…”
Jamie and Claire walked inside and let Nick and Asta out of their cages. They spun in circles, excited to be free. Going to sit on the sofa, Jamie and Claire considered what this meant for the immediate future.
“When yer accepted at University here – yes, I said when – would ye consider living here at Lallybroch?”
“Of course. We could commute!”
“Aye, lass. Will be a fine treat. I’ve always hated driving by myself back and forth, especially after we started dating. I always wished ye were with me.”
Claire pulled her legs up and over Jamie’s lap and laid her head on his shoulder. Nick, then Asta, quietly hopped onto the sofa in the small space left beside Claire and laid together in a ball.
Claire repeatedly brought her hand out, turning the ring back and forth. She looked up at a beaming Jamie who bent down and kissed her. She reached into her back pocket and took out her phone. She snapped a picture of her hand over top Jamie’s, then attached it to a message to her parents:
“Happiest day of my life.”
Three text messages came in rapid succession:
“We’re happy for you both!”
Shortly after, the front door opened and Brian walked in, cautiously looking around. Catching Jamie’s eye, Brian gave a questioning look. Jamie, smiling, nodded and reached for Claire’s hand, holding it up for Brian to see.
“Congratulations!” he yelled, then pulled a bottle of champagne from behind his back. Everyone else, having waited outside on the step for their cue, came in in an excited mass.
Miriam pushed through everyone to see what the fuss was about. Holding Joshua’s hand, she got in front and looked around for decorations or balloons, thinking it was a surprise party.
“Who are we congratulatin’ then?”
Jamie motioned for she and Joshua to come closer.
Standing in front of them, confused and a bit let down that no cake with candles were present, Jamie took Claire’s hand again.
“Do ye know what this means?” he asked, smiling.
Miriam thought for a few moments, then looked to Murtagh and Annabella for help. Murtagh took Annabella’s left hand and put it beside his own for her to see the rings they both wore.
Quickly piecing together what had happened, her mouth, and eyes, popped open:
“JOSHUA! THEY’RE TO BE MARRIT!” She said, looking down at her brother.
She dropped his hand and threw her arms around Claire. “Yer gonna be here all the time now!”
When the laughter had died down, Miriam’s face became serious. Her eyebrows slowly began to rise: “I’m to be a flower girl!” She looked down at Joshua again, his face clearly showing the fatigue of berry picking and antique store browsing. “And yer to be the ring bear!”
He smiled politely, looked at his Mum and Dad, then yawned.
Laughing even louder this time, everyone gathered around the couple to pass along congratulations and admire the ring again.
Annabella reached for Joshua to take him upstairs for a nap when Murtagh intervened, nudging her to a chair. “Rest, love. I’ll get the lad to sleep.”
On their way into the kitchen, Ellen hugged Claire: “Claire, love, we’re thrilled and honored to have ye as our daughter. Not that ye weren’t already. Ye’ll come to live here, of course?”
“I expect that’s what will happen. Thank you.”
Willie took individual portions of pizza dough from the fridge and placed them on baking sheets covered with corn meal. Toppings, sauce, and cheese were divided out in bowls. Imogene prepared a huge salad then Willie filled a bowl with the fruit and got the blender. He stopped to look around the kitchen. There was a hum of conversation. Brian, Murtagh and Jamie were huddled at the table, laughing. Annabella was pushing Miriam’s auburn hair away from her face, listening intently to her daughter who conveyed the joy at having so important a part in Jamie and Claire’s wedding.
Willie looked to his Mother, Grandmother and Claire, leaning against the kitchen island. He heard pieces of their conversation: “Harold…suit the men…Gowns…measurements…” He began to wonder if he’d be allowed to stand with Jamie and the other men at the wedding when Jenny startled him: “They’ll be poor shakes without ice cream. Did ye forget?”
“I didna forget” he snapped. “I wanted to wash and prepare the fruit first.”
Rinsing it in the sink, he placed the fruit into a dozen cups so each would have their own share. He then called for their attention and made an assembly line for each to create their pizza, put it in the oven, and make their shake.
Brian retrieved small flutes from the pantry to fill with the champagne, passing them to the adults only, then stood to speak:
"To Jamie and Claire. May God’s hand guide and bless ye in yer life together. As yer family we will love and support ye - help ye at all times. In Jesus name…” and the whole family agreed by concluding with “Amen.”
Willie continued watching his family throughout dinner. Joshua had gotten up and ate pizza from his Father’s lap while Miriam seemed stuck to Claire. “Would she be Aunt Claire now, I wonder? I’ll ask Mam if I can address her as such” he thought. He caught his brother’s eye from down the table and gave him a thumb’s up. Smiling, Jamie returned it.
Later, conversation centered around wedding details. Willie didn’t realize how much went into the event. Food, THE CAKE, THE GOWN, invitations, decorations…. After an hour’s conversation he left to refill his glass.
While at the blender Jamie came behind him to sit his glass in the sink. He patted Willie on the shoulder on his way back to everyone when Willie turned the blender off.
Jamie turned around. “Aye, lad?”
“Can I have a word with ye?”
Worried, he returned to Willie’s side.
“It’s just that…I…”
“It’s alright, brother. Speak what’s on yer mind.”
“Can I….am I too young to be an usher?”
“I couldna do it without ye. Ye’ve a mind for planning, and I’d be honored to have yer help.”
Relieved, Willie let out a breath.
“I had planned on asking ye properly tomorrow when I got back.”
“Oh. Thank ye verra much.”
With Murtagh and Annabella’s departure, everyone else left to their rooms. Jamie and Claire stayed behind, and when they were alone Jamie retrieved two champagne glasses, filled them, and brought them back into the living room: “To us, and to our future. May we be blessed with happiness, health, and joy.”
They clinked their glasses, drank, then sat them on the floor.
“Ye’ll come to live here, then?” Jamie asked.
“Of course. I’ll drive back in a week or so?”
“I’ll come to help carry what ye may need to bring.”
Succumbing to their own fatigue, Jamie walked Claire to Jenny’s room.
“Good night, soon-to-be Mrs. Fraser.” Claire reached up and caressed Jamie’s face. “Good night, soon-to-be husband.”
They stood together, against the wall. Claire looked again at her ring.
“Thank you, Jamie. I know how much thought you put into this. I mean, not just the ring. Well, the ring, of course, but talking with Mum and Dad too. It was all…you’re a good man.”
“Thank you, and yer verra welcome. The thing is…” Jamie leaned in and whispered in Claire’s ear “yer a grand lass yerself.”
Once inside the room, Claire saw Jenny’s excited face and expected a full discussion on her being a bridesmaid.
“I know yer tired so I wilna prattle on. I’m just sae happy ye’ll be in our family.”
“I definitely am too. And we’ll be roommates soon! That will give us a lot of time to talk about the wedding.”
“Aye. It will.”
Jenny got out of bed to hug Claire, then got back in and fell asleep.
The next morning, over breakfast, Jamie remarked that Nick was not in his usual spot at his side begging for bacon. “Something’s amiss.” He rose from his chair, looked in the three adjoining rooms, but came up empty.
“Asta is here, but…”
Imogene, at the other end of the table, put her fork down and sighed. “Check the leash hooks.”
Sure enough, they were empty. Jamie rubbed his hand over his face. “I know what’s going on.”
He walked to the living room and saw Nick at the front door, leashes in his mouth, refusing to turn around.
“Son, ye canna…”
Just then Asta, complicit in pulling the leashes down most likely, went to stand beside his brother.
“I dinna ken what goes through yer noggins sometimes.”
Jamie walked back to the breakfast table, shaking his head. He looked at Claire. “They know.”
“And yet they miss the rabbit burrow in the yard every day.” Brian said, laughing as he sat the paper down he was reading. “Alright, then. You two get going.” Refusing Claire’s help in cleaning up, Ellen shooed them to the door.
With the dogs properly harnessed in the back seat, Jamie looked over at Claire. “Sweetheart, would ye mind making a stop on the way? There’s someone I’d like ye to meet.”
Claire gazed drowsily out the window, occasionally looking down at her ring. With the proof of her future as Jamie’s wife staring back at her, it still felt unreal. There would be so much to do, and all of it wonderful. Friends that she missed, who had gone on to opportunities in other countries, would have an excuse to visit again. Even though her parents had not once made her feel bad, moving out would quell the anxiousness she’d been feeling at still living at home. Now, she’d be living with the Frasers, helping to create a family business from the ground up, and waking up each day to the indescribable joy that was her relationship with Jamie.
Sensing the thoughts that were playing on her mind by the smile on her face, Jamie reached over to hold her hand. This gentle act, snapping her from her thoughts, made her smile even broader as she looked over at him. He winked, then returned his eyes to the road. “Not much farther. We could get lunch. Would that suit ye?”
Jamie laughed and squeezed her hand.
Several miles later they arrived in town and Jamie parked in a small lot off the main street. They got out, stretched, and unharnessed Nick and Asta. After taking them to a small wooded section nearby to wee, they walked back to the main street.
“So, what’s up buttercup?” Claire asked, wondering what the next surprise was.
“Ye’ll see in a second, dear one.”
At an intersection, about to cross the street, Jamie caught sight of Alfred greeting passersby in front of his store. He looked at Jamie for a moment, then the woman whose hand he was holding, and saw the smile on both of their faces. He waved ecstatically, trying to get their attention over the cars and bustle on the street in front of them. Relieved that he was remembered, Jamie waved back. When it was safe to walk they crossed.
“Jamie, lad! ‘tis good to see ye again!”
“Aye, and ye as well!”
“And who would this be?” Alfred said, toying with Jamie.
“This is my fiancée, Claire. And Claire, this is Alfred – the owner of the jewelry store.”
Alfred shook her hand, though Claire leaned in for a hug seeing how much he seemed to want that over the more formal handshake. He happily obliged.
“Congratulations! I’m honored to meet ye!”
Claire lifted her hand, nearly crying again at the ring’s beauty and the thought that went into its purchase.
“Lass, it looks much better on ye than in the case. Truly – it suits ye perfectly.”
“Well, I’m grateful. I’m….it’s just so beautiful.”
Claire turned her attention to the store - its long-time presence apparent in the art-deco design of the façade and the ceramic mosaic name of the store inlaid on the step in front of the door. “How long have you been a jeweler?”
“Well, if ye count the time I was wrapping the purchases and cleaning counters, it would be 55 years. My parents bought the building – which had been a 3 story general store – and turned the bottom level into a jewelry store and the upper floors into living quarters. I’ve been living here all my life. I’ve forgotten my manners – come inside.”
“The dogs? Will it be…”
“No trouble at all. Bring them in!”
The cool, quiet of the store was a comfort from the noise and crowds outside. There was only one couple sat at the counter with Alfred’s daughter.
“We’ve just gotten through graduations and Mother’s Day so there’s a lull at the moment. Are ye in town for shopping, then?” he asked, genuinely interested.
“I’m taking her back to her home…” Jamie said, then seeing a flash of confusion pass across Alfred’s face, clarified himself: “She lives in England. I brought her to stay the weekend, and propose of course, but she’ll be home for a bit to…” he looked to Claire for help.
“I’ll be wrapping things up at home and moving in with him in a few weeks” Claire said, taking Jamie’s hand.
“Ahh. Well, if ye arena in a rush, could I buy lunch? Scratch that. I’m buying lunch.”
He whispered something to his daughter, congratulated the couple who were sat at the counter, then walked out with Jamie and Claire.
“There’s an American-style deli a few blocks up. Two lads from the states run it. The pastrami sandwich…” Alfred put his hand up and closed his eyes. “It’s not just a meal. It’s an experience.”
Once sat at an outside table, with three pastrami sandwiches and fries, the trio said little as the wonder that is rye bread, house-made brown mustard, and pastrami took hold. The owners had even put scraps into a container and given a large cup of water for Nick and Asta.
Claire had finished so quickly Jamie looked under the table to see if she’d thrown the food on the floor. Alfred, starting his second half, nodded at her and winked. Before they left, Claire ordered three sandwiches to go. “Mum will love this, Dad might, and I want another for dinner.”
When they arrived back at Alfred’s store he hugged them both and gave them a pointed look: “Dinna be strangers, aye?”
“We won’t. And thank you for lunch.”
They waved goodbye to him as they walked to the car. Back on the road, Jamie looked seriously at Claire. The second time he did it, she asked what was wrong.
“I think I’ll need to get a second job.”
“Why? What made you worry?”
“The way ye ate has me concerned we’ll no be able to keep food in the pantry.”
She laughed then slapped him on his arm. “SHUT UP!”
Love by the Book will be on hiatus until Jan. 4
Arriving at Claire’s found Julia and Henry waiting excitedly on the porch. Once out of the car, Julia ran to Claire while Henry shook Jamie’s hand. After hugging her daughter for what seemed like minutes, Julia asked to see the ring, which brought another round of hugging.
“It’ll be a while. Let’s go have some coffee while we’re waiting.” Henry said, putting his arm around Jamie and leading him into the house. Jamie pulled out the same chair he’d just been in a few days ago while Henry ground some coffee beans and put them into the machine.
“She’ll go to live with you, then?” Henry said leaning against the counter waiting for the coffee to filter.
“Aye, Sir. It’s what we’ve decided.”
Nodding, a sad look on his face, Henry perked up knowing how easily his feelings must be showing. He looked down at Nick and Asta, obediently laying at Jamie’s feet and immediately thought of Nora.
“She may want to bring her own hound. Would that be a problem?”
“No. Whatever, I mean, whoever …she wants to bring will be fine.”
Henry brought two cups to the table. “Have you decided on a particular time?”
“I’ll leave that to Claire, but she feels a few weeks. I’ll come to help, of course.”
An uncomfortable silence was building.
“I’m sorry, Jamie. This is harder than I expected.”
Jamie, who’d not picked his cup up yet, moved it out of the way.
“Sir, I didna expect either you or Mrs. Beauchamp to be so glad of this that ye hurried her out the door. I think the best time frame, actually, will be after her graduation party. Maybe in a month or so.”
Henry, who hadn’t touched his cup yet either, agreed. “Yes. I think that will work better. With that finished, we can begin preparations for the wedding.”
“Mmmmm. I smell coffee.” Claire said, bringing in the bag of sandwiches.
Henry held up his cup. “Here, love, mine is still hot. Changed my mind.”
“I’ll trade you, then.” She plunked the bag where his cup had been. “Pastrami sandwiches from an American deli in Scotland.”
Julia, behind Claire, put her hand out. “Hand one over.”
“We were just discussing when you would be moving out” Henry said, pulling a sandwich out. “Might be better to wait until after your graduation party?”
“Yes. That would be better timing” Claire said, exchanging glances with Jamie. “Ok with you?”
“Aye. You’ll be needed here. Maybe we could arrange to have ye bring some things back with us when we go back after the party.”
“And what about you, Missy?” Claire said to Nora, leaning against her leg. Almost as if she knew, Nora began wagging her tail.
On his drive home, a time he often used for reflection, Jamie thought about how he and Claire would feel when their children finally married and moved away from home. The bond with a child begins the moment they’re born and strengthens each moment thereafter; no matter the child’s age, you never stop being a parent. He knew this from his own parents. He’d seen how deeply and fully they cared for him and about everything that mattered to him and never withheld support or encouragement. When children ultimately move out and begin a life independent of you it must surely bring worry and some emptiness. Jamie and his family would be gaining a member, where Henry and Julia would be losing one.
He thought of the beautiful gift Jesus became to the world and how his eventual life away from them must have pained Joseph and Mary in some way. Jamie prayed for Henry and Julia, asking for any emptiness and pain to be replaced with peace.
He then began to consider that his primary role would be changing from son to husband. “I want to provide not only material necessities but emotional and spiritual ones as well. I havena spoken to Reverand McElhinney about this as yet. I should see him soon.”
Just then Jamie heard his phone buzz. He pulled over to take it just in case it was important. He got to the call just as it was about to go to voicemail.
“Mam? Everything alright?”
“Oh - Jamie. Are ye on yer way home or still at Claire’s?”
“On my way back – about 45 minutes away.”
“Annabella’s been taken to hospital. Contractions started this morning and didna leave. We’ve got Miriam and Joshua.”
“I’ll be home shortly.”
There were no new calls the rest of the way so Jamie hoped that meant all was well. He pulled in, got the dogs out of the car, and went in the house. Everyone was gathered in the living room hunched over his Da’s phone.
They jumped at Jamie’s voice. “Well, THIS is what happened.” Brian held his phone for Jamie to see an ecstatic Annabella holding a bairn in each arm.
“The bairns were insistent! No amount of effort to subdue the contractions worked. Given it was a few weeks before the due date, the doctors felt it best to deliver them by c-section to alleviate strain to Mam and babies with regular delivery.”
The feeling of happiness is what Jamie expected to feel. But now, now that he was engaged and about to be a husband - and soon after a father himself, he prayed - the joy of their birth was more profound. He felt different; connected to a wonderful aspect of adulthood that he’d not experienced before.
“Have they chosen names yet?”
“Aye. Esther and Daniel.”
He texted Claire the picture with a message that filled him with joy to write: “Ye’ve got a new niece and nephew Aunt Claire!”
That’s great news! Everyone doing alright?
Very well. :-)
What are their names?
Esther and Daniel
Awww! Congratulations Uncle Jamie!
Thank ye kindly.
Please send them my love!
Will do. I love you.
I love you too. Send more pics!
Anxious to see their siblings, Brian, Ellen, Jenny and Willie took Miriam and Joshua to the hospital. Since there could only be 4 guests apart from siblings per visit, Jamie and Imogene stayed home. Jamie was sat at his desk planning out his next semester, his own upcoming graduation, and preliminary details for Claire moving in when his phone rang. Expecting it was Claire, as a follow-up to their texts, he saw that it was Annabella.
“Annabella, love? Are ye…”
“It isna Mam, Uncle Jamie, it’s me. Miriam.”
“Are ye alright?”
“I…where’s yer Mam and Da?”
Jamie held back laughter. “It’s just that, it’s not like ye to make a call on yer own.”
“I’m 4 and a half. I ken how to make a call. Da learned me how.”
“He taught you how.”
Shaking his head, Jamie asked how the bairns were.
“Oh. They’re right fine. And they smell good!”
“I’m glad of it. I’ll be in to see them verra soon. Yer Mam needs some rest right now. By the way, who was born first?”
“It was Esther. She’s 3 minutes older than Daniel.”
“Just like you! Yer older than Joshua.”
“When will Miss Claire be here to stay?”
“Soon. Probably several more weeks.”
“How many is several.”
“Eight isn’t seven.”
“Several can mean a few or more than that. It only sounds like seven. The long pause surely meant she was thinking. “She’ll be here soon, a leannán.”
The next voice Jamie heard was Murtagh’s. “Jamie? Sorry - she’s been wanting to ask when Claire would be moved in. I finally let her call. Thank ye for talking to her.”
“’tis always a pleasure. Claire sends her love, by the way. Everyone alright?”
“Oh, son. We couldna be happier. They’re strong and alert.”
“It hasna sunk in yet, has it?”
Murtagh laughed out loud. “Not as yet, no.”
“Mam and Da still there?”
“No, they just left. Should be home shortly.”
Just then Jamie heard Murtagh speaking to someone. “Jamie, lad, I’ll phone later. The Doctor’s here.”
“Of course. Talk to you then.”
“Good afternoon” Doctor Connolly said to both Murtagh and Annabella. She looked in the bassinet at Daniel. “Fine young lad!”
“Thank ye.” Annabella said, raising her head from gazing at Esther who had just fed and was asleep in her arms.
“And the lass?”
“Fine as well.” Murtagh said from his seat beside the bed.
“And how do ye both feel about yer new siblings?”
Miriam put her arm around Joshua. “Verra happy” she said. Joshua put his arm around Miriam. “’tis nice to have a brother.”
“Well, then. I’ll need to do an exam.” Miriam handed Esther to Murtagh.
Rather than leave, Murtagh pulled the curtain around Annabella and sat on the empty bed with the children to watch a nature show on television.
Doctor Connolly, looking through Annabella’s chart, sat it down then examined the incision for inflammation or infection.
“I have to say Mrs. Fraser, yer quite the talk here at the hospital, and at the practice.”
“Aye, I imagine. Twins at 45.”
“Yer an inspiration” the Doctor said, looking up at Annabella and smiling. “How’s yer milk? Any problems?”
“None. I’m plenty full, and they’re eating like little piggies.”
“Ye’ll be here a week. Will that be any hardship?”
“No, Ma’am. We’ve been preparing for months.”
“Well, then” Doctor Connolly said, closing Annabella’s gown “if you need anything at all, please ring.” She adjusted the call remote to be more within Annabella’s reach. “And if ye need additional food, I’ll arrange it.”
“Thank ye, Doctor.”
Murtagh pulled the curtain open again, keeping a now bright-eyed Esther steady as he passed her back to Miriam. He looked at his wife, glowing and radiant, then to a sleeping and peaceful Daniel. Both Miriam and Joshua had crawled gently into bed beside their mother, smitten with their new sister. Murtagh leaned down and kissed Annabella. “Ye’ve made me the happiest man alive.”
“Ah, my love” she said, reaching up for him. “Ye’ve done twice that for me.”
Claire sat her phone down after hanging up with Jamie. “I can’t wait to see the babies.”
A longing came suddenly, and strongly, that she’d not felt before; the thought of children and a home had often crossed her mind, but not as distinctly, definably as now.
“I can wait a until they come for the party. But…that’s a lot for Murtagh and Annabella to deal with, bringing them all this way right after they’re born. I should offer for them to stay home. That would mean I may not see them until I move in, though.”
She looked at her calendar. “Mum and I need to get to the church, plan the set-up, work on the menu and go through the R.S.V.P’s, I need to follow up with my grad school application, start packing, let alone have a conference call with the Frasers and create a status update on the business. No, I can’t fit in a trip to see them right now. They probably will want time to bond with them alone, and I was just there. I’ll… I’ll just wait.”
Her phone buzzed.
“Jamie? I…” she sighed. “I was thinking of you.”
“And I, you. Umm, next weekend. I know ye have a lot to do, then throw the wedding into it, but…would ye want to come next weekend to see the bairns?”
“I’d love to! I really want to see them. It wouldn’t be an inconvenience for me to stay over again, would it? I could wait…”
“Claire. Yer family. Annabella will be in hospital for the week so we can pop over for a wee bit after she gets home. Maybe ye can bring some things. I’ll come to get you.”
“I can drive. You were just…”
“My darling, I’m happy to come get you. And I invited you. Dinna worry.”
“You’re sweet. I really wanted to see the babies but I didn’t want to just show up again.”
Throughout the next week Henry and Julia took it upon themselves to finalize everything to do with the party. They’d told Claire she had enough to consider and it was their gift to her anyway. Herbert Macauley was excited for the company and phoned weekly with questions; an hospitable man wanting his guests to have everything they’d need.
On Wednesday Julia and Claire went to the church to meet the rentals vendor. Afterwards, they were walking back but stopped by the office to say goodbye to Pastor Fairchild. He was finishing up a call. They talked with Katherine until he showed up in his doorway.
“My apologies, ladies. Please come in.”
“We’re all set with the seating, tables and such” Julia began, taking a chair “and Philomena has sent me the menu, so…”
“Wonderful. Weather should be beautiful and we’re all looking forward to it.” He noticed a quick glance between Julia and Claire.
“If there’s anything else I can do…” he said, worried there was something more they may need.
“You’ve been very generous. I…just have a bit of news.” Claire began with excitement and nervousness.
He’d counseled enough engaged and newly married couples to know what the look of happiness in Claire’s eyes meant. Rather than hazard a guess, he gave Claire the opportunity to announce the news herself.
“Jamie proposed recently and I accepted.”
“I’m so happy for you! Ginny will be thrilled. We’ll all be! If you’d like there to be an announcement in the bulletin, let me know.”
“Oh! Maybe we will do that.” Claire said, standing, as she and Julia began to leave.
Pastor Fairchild came around his desk and walked with them down the hall. They stopped in the doorway of Katherine's office. “All set, then?” she asked, turning around from her work.
“Absolutely. Thank you for helping. And, by the way…” Claire said, “I’m to be married. Jamie just proposed.”
“Oh dearie! You’re going to be busy as a bee!” Katherine came to hug her. “Congratulations, love.”
On the drive home, Claire got quiet. “Mum, I feel bad. I don’t know where we’ll have the wedding. It would be nice to be the first couple to have a wedding in the Lallybroch chapel after all this time, but…I don’t want to leave Pastor Fairchild out. I’ve been going here all my life.”
“Honey, he’ll want you to be happy. I’ve known of a lot of children – well, I mean young adults even though they’ll always be children to me since I taught most of them in Sunday school – who have met a young man or woman not in the church and married elsewhere. He won’t be upset.”
Claire didn’t seem comforted. “There’s a lot of time to work all this out” Julia said, trying to help. “Don’t be worried.”
For the remainder of the week Claire packed up a lot of things she’d want to take to Jamie’s. While sitting at her desk, staring at her ring, Julia came in with two beautifully wrapped boxes.
“Would you mind delivering these to Annabella and Murtagh? I’ve added your name to the card too.”
“Aww. You’re sweet. Thanks.” Claire sat them gently in another bag of things she planned to take.
“You OK?” Julia asked, leaning against the bedroom door.
“Yes. Just – there’s a lot to do.”
Julia came in and sat on Claire’s bed.
“Have you thought about getting a wedding planner? I think there’s a couple at church who do this. And your gown – Annabella knows a thing or two about that.” Julia winked.
Claire smiled and nodded. “I need to stop overthinking this.”
“That, and don’t rush. Once you have some type of plan and timetable you’ll feel better.”
Saturday morning Jamie arrived with Nick and Asta. As Claire opened the door she saw three very excited visitors. “Why, hello! May I help you?”
“Aye, lass, ye see I was driving by and my dogs got excited as we passed yer house. I dinna ken why, but since we’ve a box of doughnuts from the bakery, would ye be willing to share them with us?”
“I absolutely would! Please come in!”
In order to keep from being knocked over by the scrambling about of the dogs, he held the box up with one hand and placed his other around Claire and kissed her.
“Ooooh. You smell delicious!” she said, taking the box.
“I’ve got four fresh, hot coffees in the car too.”
"Way to go!"
Claire and Jamie packed up his car with several boxes – some in the boot and some on the floor in the back – but made sure to leave the seat open for Nick and Asta. They dropped all of it off at Lallybroch, said hello, then drove to Murtagh and Annabella’s.
Like before, two wee sprites were standing in the window waiting. Miriam, seeing Claire, grabbed Joshua’s hand and yanked him to the front door. She pulled it open then ran into Claire’s waiting arms.
“You know,” Claire said, taking Miriam’s hand “I think it’s alright to call me Aunt Claire now if you’d like.”
“I would like. Thank ye.”
As she and Claire walked onto the front porch, they both realized Jamie was still standing in the driveway. He was leaning against the car, his arms crossed over his chest, making a frowny face.
“Excuse me Miss…I mean Aunt Claire.”
Miriam walked to Jamie and pulled on his arm. “I’m sorry Uncle Jamie for no greetin’ ye properly.” She put her hand out. “Would ye like to come in fer lunch?”
He winked at Claire then took Miriam’s hand to walk in.
“Hello Uncle Jamie and Miss Claire” Joshua said. Claire bent down and hugged him. “I’ve just told Miriam that I think it’s time you called me Aunt Claire. How do you feel about that?”
“Well,” he said shutting the door “I think I’d like that most indubitably.”
Claire, intrigued by his impressive word choice, looked up at Murtagh getting up off the couch. “We’ve been watching cartoons” he said laughing. “Come in! It’s great to see ye both again.” He hugged them both. “I’ll plate the lasagna. Pop upstairs to see the bairns.”
“I’ll lead the way” Miriam said, waving her hand up the stairs to Jamie and Claire. “Up and around the banister. No pushing.” She continued to wave much like a ramp agent does on an airport runway.
“Yes, ma’am” they both said.
Annabella was sat up in bed, Esther asleep on the bed beside her legs, and Daniel getting burped on her shoulder. She quietly mouthed “Hello! Come in!” She patted the bed for Claire to sit, while Jamie pulled a chair to be beside Claire.
Annabella handed Daniel to Claire who gently took him. Cradling him in her arms, she brushed her hand over his cheek. Jamie ran his hand over Daniel’s head.
“He’s so beautiful” Claire whispered, a tear falling from her eye as she rocked him. Jamie wiped her tear away, then rubbed her arm. “Aye, he is.”
“And a peaceful lad, too.” Annabella said, smiling at the tender scene in front of her. “Quiet as a church mouse. But little missy here…” Annabella said, picking up Esther who had begun to squeak and squirm “is a tempest in a teapot. Wilna wait for anything.” She had worked herself into a fit waiting to feed, causing everyone to laugh.
“Ye can take Daniel downstairs, if ye’d like, and I’ll meet ye in a bit.”
With an instinct that seemed to come out of nowhere, Claire took the small swaddling blanket off the bed, put Daniel over her shoulder, then covered him with it. She whispered “See you in a bit” to Annabella, then Jamie followed her out of the room.
Claire put both her arms around him as she went down the stairs, making sure to hold his head. Miriam was waiting for them.
“Da said to usher you into the kitchen when ye came down.” She made a sweeping gesture with her hand towards the kitchen. Jamie tossled her hair. “Yer a fine host, lass.”
“Aye. Mam’s taught me.”
Once in the kitchen Murtagh turned from mixing the salad and rushed to relieve Claire so she could eat.
“No – it’s alright. I’d like to keep holding him.” Joshua moved from his Father’s side and pulled a chair out for Claire.
“You’re a very kind young man. Thank you.” Claire said, sitting down.
“My pleasure, mademoiselle.”
Daniel’s sweet grin, and the feel of his tiny fingers around Claire’s thumb completely captivated her. So much so that she had to be nudged to see that Murtagh had placed a plate of food in front of her.
“Oh! Sorry.” She cradled Daniel in her left arm and began eating with her right.
“I can take him, dear, if ye’d like to…” Jamie said.
“I’m fine” she cooed down at Daniel.
“I just thought that…”
Claire absent-mindedly looked up. “Oh my gosh, Jamie. I’m so sorry! I’ve not let you hold him.”
Just then Annabella came downstairs. Murtagh lunged out of his chair. “mo chridhe – yer not supposed to be up.” He took Esther from her.
“I ken that” she said, gingerly sitting at the table, “but I’ve been in bed now over a week and I’m getting a wee bit tired of it. And besides – what am I to do when I smell lunch?”
Murtagh handed Esther to Jamie. “Here ye go, lad. Seein’ Claire’s got a hold of Daniel.” He winked at Jamie then went to make a plate for Annabella.
“Da” Miriam said, getting out of her chair. “Yer jumpin’ about like a…jumpin’ bean. I’ll make Mam a plate. Ye can relax.”
She drug a chair to the counter, plopped lasagna on one side of a plate and salad on the other, gently gathered a few hot garlic knots out of the cloth-lined bowl, then sat the plate on the counter while she got down. Murtagh had gotten up out of habit, to help her, but she fired back: “I’M NO A BABY. I CAN MAKE A PLATE OF FOOD.”
Murtagh’s eyebrows went up, and his lips pursed. “Young lady” he whispered “dinna raise your voice to yer Father that way.”
“Da” she said just as quietly, rolling her eyes and sighing,” I dinna need help with everything. You and Mam are taken up with the babies so I want to do more, ken?”
Murtagh softened, but looked at her expectantly.
“I apologize. I didna mean to be disrespectful.” She carefully grabbed the plate, slowly took it to the table, and placed it in front of Annabella.
“Thank you, my love.”
“Yer very welcome” Miriam said as she took her seat. She gave a sideways glance to Murtagh, as much to say “At least MOM appreciates me.”
Murtagh ran his hand over his beard and muttered “…Lord help me. I canna handle a second one just like her!”
Celebrations continued into July as Claire enjoyed one of her first adult milestones: graduating from University. The beautiful grounds of her church were filled with friends, family, church members, co-workers of her parents, and her future in-laws as well. The weather was unexpectedly bright and sunny for England, contributing to a higher-than-expected turnout.
Reminiscent of the time they first met, Jamie and Claire got plates of food and sat alone together.
“So, how was it staying at Herbert Macauley’s last night?” Claire said, gulping down what turned out to be her first meal of the day.
“We were up quite late laughing and sharing a decent amount of top shelf whiskey. He’s a grand man. Willie and Jenny took to him, too, as did Miriam and Joshua.”
“I am happy to hear that. Dad really enjoyed meeting him. I’m glad Murtagh and Annabella got a weekend to themselves, though. Very sweet of your Mum and Dad to bring Miriam and Joshua.”
“We’re inviting Herbert to stay for a weekend. He teared up at the invitation to visit Scotland again.”
Claire finished eating and put her plate aside. Jamie, in response, covered his with both of his hands.
“What.” Claire said.
“Was just worrit ye’d be coming for my food is all.”
“Not this again.”
“Ye seemed to be trying to win a contest the way ye ate.” Jamie dramatically look around them. “Are we on camera? Have we won a prize maybe?”
“We’re not on camera” Claire said, crossing her arms. “I didn’t eat breakfast so I was really hungry.”
“Ohhhh. ‘I didn’t eat breakfast.’ Alright.”
“Har har. Eat up – I need to make the rounds again and you’re coming with me. That is if I can keep myself from everyone’s food.” She stuck her tongue out at him.
“Ye’ll catch flies if ye dinna stick that back in.” Claire laughed, and leaned in to get a quick, margherita pizza and greek cucumber salad kiss.
The sun played on Claire’s gorgeous, curly brown hair in such a way that Jamie saw red and even gold reflected in it. He immediately recalled a memory from his childhood.
When he was a wee lad he had found a compact mirror in his mother’s bag when he was supposed to be looking for a sweet. The family were spending the day by Loch Ness.
Having seen her use it to powder her nose, as she put it, the scent was so enticing he opened it instead of getting the butterscotch candy she always kept for “special” occasions. (“Special occasions” [which were, in reality, “rare” occasions] being the times the three Fraser bairns were agreeable or quiet.)
Pushing the small tab on the ornate gold case, the top flipped open to reveal pink-colored powder, a fluffy little pillow, and a mirror.
He noticed how holding the mirror a certain way made things shine; especially water. The sparkle was mesmerizing, like when the sun hit it. It was the first mirror he’d had that was portable, so he took it about without straying too far.
After making the mirror reflect on everything around him, he came back and looked into it more closely, making faces. After a few minutes of this, and side-splitting giggles, he was startled to see his mother’s reflection in the mirror beside his. Smiling, and tossling his curly red hair, she remarked: “find the sweets, love? Your siblings will only be self-contained but a few minutes longer. I should reward them while I still have time!”
Before he could gather his thoughts again, Miriam and Joshua were sat beside he and Claire with balloon animals in their hands.
“A verra pretty lass made this fer me” Joshua said. “It’s a…what’s a weiner dog called again?” he asked Miriam.
“A Dachshund.” She patted Joshua on the head. “Ye got a Dachshund, brother. I got a horse.”
“And I see you got more than that!” Claire said, pulling Miriams flaming-red hair off her beautifully freckled face to reveal something hand painted.
“Innit pretty, Aunt Claire? It’s a butterfly!”
She leaned into Claire, then put her arm around her back. She coyly glanced over at Jamie, then back at Claire.
“I got a sword. On me arm.” Joshua said, thrusting out his arm.
Jamie took his wee arm in his hand for a closer look: “A fine tattoo for a strong lad.”
Miriam, for a second time, looked between he and Claire.
“Something on your mind oidhche bheag?”
“Why’d ye call me an owl?”
“Because you’re looking back and forth so much.”
“Shouldn’t that be whooo?” Joshua said, leaning back into Jamie’s arms.
“Aye, lad. Except when they’re flying. Was walking by the stream at home one afternoon and a barn owl flew right past me. I hardly knew it went by ‘twas so silent. And the pattern on their feathers look like the night sky.”
“How do ye ken so much Uncle Jamie?” Joshua asked, looking up.
“Knowing yer land and what animals are there – and which may be gone – is important. Let’s ye know the health of the land.”
They had enjoyed the morning at Jen, Vivian, and Carly’s shop seeing how each bay is set up, the machines used to diagnose problems and what a car looks like from the bottom. They were both given GMG shirts and a donut from the box in their office.
With Jamie, Claire made a last round of greeting to everyone who attended – even Rupert and Angus – and helped her church family with any last-minute clean up.
The surprise of her upcoming wedding brought double well-wishes from anyone who did not yet know. Her close friends corralled her for details about colors, place, time and a ‘hen party’ which Claire emphasized would not happen. “No strip clubs. No male dancers. We can go to dinner at a RESPECTABLE restaurant if you want to plan something, but that’s it.”
Angus cornered Jamie and asked about a stag party. “I’ll no be havin’ that. Dinna plan one.” Jamie knew the look in Angus’ eyes. “I’m serious.”
Claire carried the last of the boxes from the house into Jamie’s car. He waited for her there, allowing her privacy to say goodbye to her parents.
Nora sat waiting in the back seat.
She took a last stroll through the upstairs, remembering nearly every moment of her childhood: the nights she’d run to her parent’s room when she had a nightmare or when there was lightening, finding them there when she’d had trouble at school, or for answers about God. She realized that there wasn’t a spot in the house where she’d not had a meaningful, loving conversation – especially her room. This held the most memories: moving her toddler furniture out and carrying her “big girl” bed and dressers up the stairs, painting the walls with each passing phase, nights studying to pass exams, and bringing Nora – and her bed – to sleep on the floor beside her the day they brought her home. Part of Claire deeply wanted to stay, to continue on with them for the rest of her life just as they were. Vacations, card playing, badminton in the back yard, dinner in the kitchen then plopped together on the couch for a movie afterward, the silly guessing games as to who was calling each time the phone rang, but also the quiet lunches in the kitchen after church each Sunday.
The smell of home was something she realized she took for granted. How she wished she could capture it in a bottle to smell every time she worried or needed reassurance. She realized it would never be the same after today, and that was the hardest part of all.
She slowly came down the stairs, hardly able to make them out for the tears, to find Henry and Julia waiting for her.
“This will always be your home.” Henry, afraid that if he hugged Claire he might not let go, merely took her hands in his and kissed her cheek. Julia, on the other hand, embraced her. “Call me soon. We’ll get started on the wedding?” She ran her hand over Claire’s face.
“Yes. Of course.”
Claire took a last look, pausing with her hand on the door to outside.
“Lord, thank you for them. Their sacrifice and guidance are the best example of your love I’ve ever known.”
Jamie was standing at the car. He came around the front to open the door for her. Once she was sat inside, he waved to Henry and Julia then got in.
A few miles down the road Claire opened the package that had been sitting on her seat. It was beautifully wrapped; clearly attention had been given to it. The gray floral pattern was dotted with sparkly gold circles, and a heavy gold ribbon was tied in a beautiful bow. Inside was a large, 10-picture frame. In each frame was a picture of Claire from different stages in her life; her parents on the front step of their house holidng her the day they brought her home from the hospital, her smiling face over the back of her father’s shoulder in the back yard, at about 6 months, and one where she was perched atop her first bike, 2 missing teeth, in the driveway.
She looked over at Jamie, who turned and gave her his warmest smile. “I wanted ye to have something more than just yer memories. I bought the frame, and yer Mam and Da filled it in.”
Another wave of tears came, and she reached to touch Jamie’s arm. “Thank you so much.”
She wasn’t moving out on her own, she realized, but moving in with her new family and fiancée; one loving environment to another. “Surely if God has brought Jamie and I together, I will be blessed” she comforted herself through a sudden pang of sadness.
Once “home,” everyone came to help move her things in. Jenny took most everything upstairs herself.
“I’ve made room in the dresser and wardrobe, found a trunk for ye to use that fits under the bed, and freshened the linens. Oh, and there’s a spot I’ve cleared for Nora to sleep.”
Claire hugged Jenny. Having a sister to talk to and share a room with was an answer to prayer Claire suddenly remembered she’d longed for since she was young. She smiled and looked to Heaven. “I’m grateful you didn’t forget.”
With everyone at work or on errands, Jamie and Claire had the house to themselves. They’d just returned to Lallybroch after a morning riding the horses around the land.
Jamie opened the refrigerator and sat out deli meats, lettuce, and pickles. He got tomatoes that had just been picked from the garden, then pulled out the bread Imogene had made. As they compiled the sandwiches, Claire asked for the mustard.
Jamie stopped, then raised an eyebrow.
“Did ye say mustard?”
Noting his irritation, Claire replied: “I did. Heinz preferably.”
“Oh dear.” Jamie closed his eyes and shook his head.
“No. You’re not a mayonnaise person are you? Please tell me you’re not.”
“Oh dear is right.” Claire crossed her arms and looked at the floor.
“Best thing for chips too,” he said, a slight smirk forming.
Claire slowly raised her head, covering her mouth with her hands. “You’re depraved.”
“I may be, but you’re still out of mustard.”
Claire’s eyebrow went up this time. “And you may be out of a wife.”
“Deal breaker, aye?”
“Hmm. I had such high hopes.”
“Did ye now?” Claire said, continuing the parrying.
Jamie reached in the refrigerator. “It’s Guldens, but to keep the marriage intact I’ll condescend to buy…what was the brand again?”
“HEINZ, dear husband-to-be. And their malt vinegar – for chips.”
Jamie shuddered, pretended to throw up, then handed the mustard to Claire.
Lunch done, Claire – in Jamie’s arms – wondered aloud: “There’s something I said I was going to do today. I can’t remember.”
“Did ye mention sending out thank you cards?”
“Ah. That was it.”
From one of the boxes in her room Claire found the thank you cards, the stamps, pens, and address and gift lists. She brought everything to the table. Claire wrote the note and the address, Jamie was assigned the sealing and stamping. When the stacks threatened to topple over they knew they were done.
“Everyone was so kind. I’m really humbled by their generosity.”
“People love to give. And they love you. I saw it on their faces.”
“Too many think money, cars, or followers online are prosperity. I know this sounds trite but having people who care about you means more to me than any of that. Loving, supportive people are worth more than anything.”
“We’ll have a beautiful family around us, to be sure. Both immediate and extended.”
The only sounds around them as they now sat on the sofa in the screened-in porch were the birds outside, the clicking of the secondhand on the clock in the kitchen, and the dogs snoring.
Nick and Asta had accepted Nora immediately. Maybe, knowing she was Claire’s, had cemented the friendship.
“I think there was one more thing ye needed to do.” Jamie said, cradling his sleepy fiancée.
“MmmHmm.” Claire drowsily said, the sun falling onto her aching shoulders through the window.
Jamie kissed the top of her head.
“Oh – I needed to finish my change of address form.” Claire said, snapping to. “I should get those boxes broken down and into the trash too. Jenny must want her room in order. Oh.. and I…”
Jamie reached over, gently pulled her face to his and said: “A wedding date.”
She smiled, then nodded her head. “Yea. I guess that’s kind of important.”
Looking down at her hand and moving her engagement ring back and forth on her finger, she thought about how much time would be needed, knowing friends who thought a few months would be enough only to find out they didn’t sleep for weeks beforehand for all the work that needed to be done. Then there was cost. She’d always been extremely practical and could not bring herself to spend several thousand pounds. After minutes of silence, Jamie spoke.
“If it’s the mayonnaise that’s causing ye to reconsider, I promise ye I’ll try to mend my ways. Dinna leave just yet, aye? Maybe we can try couples therapy.”
Claire laughed out loud.
“I’m sorry. And no, I accept you for who you are. Bad choice of condiments and all.”
“I’m glad of it. I feel the same of you as well.”
Claire poked Jamie in the ribs with her elbow.
“I was just thinking how long we’d need, and..” She couldn’t bring herself to mention the money.
Jamie waited for Claire, seeing that something was weighing on her mind.
“well, the cost.”
She turned and looked at him. “Jamie, I just can’t see putting so much money into this. Please understand, it’s not that I don’t want to have a beautiful ceremony. We’re neither of us…”
Jamie took her chin in his hand and kissed her brow.
“Claire, we dinna have to have anything lavish. I’m not one for that type of thing either. It can be casual and small. I’d prefer it. Especially if that’s what makes you happy.”
She sighed quietly in relief, the tension disappearing from her face.
“We’ll start with the when, then work on the how,” he reassured her.
“Thank you. That’s….just perfect.”
Rather than the top of her head or her brow again, Jamie kissed her tenderly on her lips.
“As are you, darling.”
She caressed his face, lingering on his stunning green eyes.
“OH! I did forget something! My mail! I’d forgotten to look through it!” She ran upstairs again.
She plopped down beside Jamie, a handful of envelopes on her lap.
“It’s the response to my grad application.” She ripped it open, unfolded it, then sat it on her lap. She looked dejectedly at Jamie.
“I wasn’t accepted.”
Jamie pulled Claire over to him and put his arm around her. “I’m sorry.”
“It said there were more requests than availability” she mumbled into his shoulder.
“Well, at least it wasna any fault of yer own.”
She pulled away, rubbing her neck. “NOW what am I going to do?”
“Dinna take this to heart, a ghràidh. It could be the Lord wants ye elsewhere?”
Angry that she hadn’t been informed there was limited availability, so she could have applied to other schools, Claire felt overwhelmed.
“I need to be alone. I’m taking Nora for a walk.”
She looked for Nora’s leash downstairs but couldn’t find it. She stomped upstairs, looked through several boxes, but it wasn’t there either.
Coming back downstairs, Jamie offered her Nick’s leash. “It may be a bit big, but…”
“I don’t need it. I’ll take her without one.” Claire stormed past Jamie to find Nora asleep under the kitchen table.
Once outside, Claire began to cry.
“I have nothing to work towards. Nothing. Everything was hinged on this. Jamie finishes his degree while I’m here at grad school. I turned down acceptances in the U.S. and London for this.”
Away from home, about to be married, no school, and therefore no class schedule to fit into, she felt lost. Academics has been the foundation of her life ever since she could remember.
Normally, she’d go to her Mum and Dad. She’d call a friend; many of them either in or just out of grad school and able to give her some perspective. But she felt like there was a reason; more than just “we overbooked.”
She stopped and whistled for Nora who had ambled ahead of her. Claire sat down, and Nora plopped beside her, panting but happy.
Pulling the sweet hound to her side – something she commonly did when anxious - tears trickled; slowly at first, then more quickly.
“I had everything planned,” she choked out in prayer “a good schedule to keep Jamie and I on course. What to do for the wedding, how to weave the business together; my planner is my life.” She wiped her eyes, angry: “Everything is falling apart. People are depending on me!”
As she picked clover out of the grass, Jamie’s words – which she’d not even acknowledged – rose out of the anxiety: “It could be the Lord wants ye elsewhere”
Her head fell.
“Oh, Lord. I’m so sorry. You gave me my answer.”
The stress seemed to lift as quickly as it came.
“I was just plowing through, assuming you’d be alright with all of MY plans. It’s just…” she laid on the grass, draping her arm over her eyes “without goals and planning you don’t accomplish anything. I needed these classes to be a better business woman.”
God spoke to her, reminding her that HE brought she and Jamie together, not by her own doing, and He will continue to guide and help her.
She sighed. “You’re right, of course, but I don’t know what to DO.”
Claire realized she, now out on her own and with only a vague blueprint for the immediate future, would be obliged to trust God through this and wait for him to reveal what would be coming. She was relieved that it was God’s hand in her life even though it was leading her away from what she’d planned.
She rolled over onto her side, wondering what these plans actually were, when two hounds began licking her face, their tails wagging excitedly. Claire leaned up to pet them. She turned to see Jamie, who was clearly worried, holding a glass of iced tea.
“I’m sorry if I upset ye.”
He didn’t sit down, but merely bent and held the glass to her, expecting that she might want him to leave.
“The dogs were anxious and cried at the door. I’ll take them back if ye’d like to be alone a bit longer.”
She took the glass and drank most of it, sitting it beside her.
Rather than giving Jamie some crafted, superficial reply, Claire spoke truthfully because Jamie told her to never worry about telling him her feelings, or ever lie to him, because having truth between them is what would make the relationship stronger.
“I don’t know how to handle my plans changing, and I’ve never been denied acceptance to school, so I got overwhelmed. I simply didn’t know what to do with all the anger. These things haven’t happened together before. I’m sorry.”
“I ken your disappointment, so dinna worry about me. I’m no angry.” He knelt down beside her.
“God spoke to me, through you, and I was too cross to hear it.”
“You told me that God may want me to do something else. Clearly He does.” Claire realized how important Jamie had become to her life. She reached over and took his hand. “Thank you.”
Jamie held her hand to his lips and kissed it, admiring her long, delicate fingers.
“Claire, ye’ve sacrificed a lot and I hope ye dinna think I’m unaware of it. I’d like to ask ye something, and I want ye to be honest.”
Claire tilted her head, unsure what he might be asking.
“My classes start in a few weeks, but I have until the week they start to cancel for a full refund. They’re only electives anyway.”
He looked at her with tenderness.
“If ye’d like to move back home, and yer family would have me in, we can manage from there for a time. I can find the same classes at a school nearby so they’re transferable and I can still graduate.”
Claire couldn’t believe what he had just proposed. The love and empathy behind it was extraordinary.
“It was yer church family that came here to help, and still come back regularly. Ye’ve moved out of yer home to live here with me. I’ve ..well, my whole family have been the receivers of yer love and generosity. ‘twould be a small gesture of appreciation to give ye back something that…”
Claire understood what he was trying to say.
Jamie sat down.
“I know what you mean, you wonderful man.”
Physical security is one thing – a home, food and such. But emotional security was also a part of being healthy. Jamie had worried that maybe Claire was putting on a brave face but was deep-down a bit shaken from being away from home and not being accepted to grad school. He wasn’t angry with her when she’d walked out with Nora; on the contrary, he was angry at himself for not giving as much as Claire had.
“Honestly, darling, I wouldna mind.”
“You don’t have to…”
“I know I don’t,” he smiled “but just think about it?”
“Alright. I will.”
She kissed his cheek.
“I do see from all of this that my faith, and trust, need obviously to be strengthened. It’s hard not to rely on yourself, isn’t it?”
Jamie pulled an envelope out of his back pocket. “Oh! I thought this might cheer ye up. It was in the pile of yer mail. Seems to be a card from a family member.”
She took the card, looking first at the postmark then the return address.
For as long as she could remember she’d always been excited to receive cards from her cool, traveled Uncle. Each one she received from him had its postmark scrutinized to know where he mailed it from. This time, it was from Canada.
“Canada?” Claire whispered.
“Is he yer Mam’s brother, or Da’s?”
“Dad’s. Travels around the world on digs.”
“I ken there are dinosaur fossils to be found in Canada.”
“He’s more of an historical archaeologist, rather than a Paleontologist” Claire mumbled, tearing open the envelope.
On the front of the card was a corgi dressed in a bee costume. It read: “Congratulations! I Bee-lieve in you!”
I hope this finds you well. I’m sorry I missed the festivities. I’ll be in England 1 August and will stay a bit with you, Mum and Dad. Can’t wait to catch up. Bringing presents! Love, Uncle Lambert.”
“Oh dear. He doesn’t know I moved out.” Claire said, looking away. “I think the last time we were able to talk to him was when you and I were just dating.”
“Doesna text or phone?”
“He’s rarely connected, to be honest, given the remote places he’s in, though he does keep in touch” Claire said, flapping the card in the air.
“My offer still stands” Jamie said, leaning his head down to meet Claire’s eyes.
She pursed her lips together, then attempted a smile. “I know. I’ll think on it. But we can be there when he arrives?”
“I’d enjoy that.”
The dogs, who’d all been lazing in the sun, now took off towards the house, beckoned by some supernatural force.
Brian, home early from work, walked outside followed by Jenny and Willie who he’d picked up from helping at summer camp at the church.
Jenny ran to Jamie and Claire.
“Da let me drive home!” she said, proud and excited. “He said I can drive in AND back tomorrow.”
“How was it, Da? Any wrecks?” Jamie yelled to Brian who was walking towards them.
“Verra funny. I didna make one mistake,” she said, sticking her tongue out.
Brian sat down, then fell onto his back.
“Apart from when ye bairns learned to walk and we had to watch ye every second, this is the most trying time of parenting.” He let out a very long sigh.
“But Da, ye said I was ‘remarkably careful.’”
“Aye. Ye were lass. Still doesna take away from the impact to my nerves.”
“Well, if it helps I can drive both Willie and I when school starts, both in the morning and back home in the afternoon.”
Trying to get Willie’s support, Jenny added: “And we can run errands fer ye and Mam, and even get some take out. Maybe breakfast before school.” She looked pleadingly at Willie.
“Da, we’re a bigger family now. Ye can text us what may be needed or give us things to drop off or pick up. We could even” Willie continued, a stroke of genius hitting him “stay after school for tutoring or studying. We’re more apt to get our homework done.”
Seeing the plan they both were concocting, Brian wouldn’t relent straightaway. “I’ll talk to yer Mam tonight. In the meantime, set the table for dinner please.”
“Yes, sir.” Walking towards the house, they both looked back, hopeful that Jamie and Claire would convince Brian of the plan’s worth.
“Smooth” Jamie said, snickering.
“Aye, ‘twas smooth alright,” Brian said, sitting up. “If they actually do what they say they’re going to do, I wilna mind. Might actually prevent the ‘is your homework done’ conversations at night. I’ll call the school to see what teachers and students stay after to help. Canna have them there alone.”
Jamie looked at Claire, his look asking if she’d like to tell Brian about her change in plans.
Claire hung her head, but eventually decided it was better to let it out now rather than have to explain later.
“Brian, I’ve gotten word from the Uni I applied to for grad school that I wasn’t accepted. There was higher enrollment than expected.”
Brian leaned towards Claire and rubbed her arm. “I’m so sorry, dear. Dinna let this disrupt your plans. Must be there is another place for ye?”
Claire reached to pat Brian’s hand. “Indeed. It would definitely seem to be the case.”
“If I only knew!” Claire thought to herself.
Over the next few days Claire found enough to keep herself busy. Each morning she made a to-do list and ensured it was completed at day’s end; this way, she’d not worry or be ensnared in self-pity. A “go-live” for the family business was far off; the more Claire got finished, the more that arose. It was like playing whack-a-mole, but it wascoming together. Thankfully, the massive debt had either been negotiated down or excused. The lawyers who had volunteered to help did nothing short of a miracle. While at her desk, in the room she shared with Jenny, Claire was generating status reports on her laptop for the (now) weekly family meeting when she was startled to see Jamie leaning in the doorway.
“Oh my GOSH. How long have you been standing there?”
“A few minutes. Ye really scrunch yer face when yer thinkin’”
Jamie came in and leaned against her desk. “Mam wanted me to fetch ye for dinner.”
Claire rubbed her eyes. “How long have I been….oh DEAR. I’ve been at this for 2 hours.”
“Come on then. Let’s eat, then sit outside.”
“Yes. No more computer for today.”
She and Jamie took their bowls of ice cream, and three dogs, to the front step after dinner.
Jamie only took a bite before he gave the rest of it – as evenly as possible – to the dogs, after which he looked towards the skyline.
Claire sat her bowl down and softly pulled Jamie’s chin so he was looking at her.
“Have I upset you?”
His eyes traveled over her face, and he shook his head.
“Was it my outburst? I am sorry.”
“No lass. I…” He took her left hand and ran his fingers over her ring.
Claire loved the feel of his hand in hers. She knew that these – the hands that would always seek hers, soothe her, help her – would be the hands that would do the same for their children. Swaddle them, hug them, protect them.
“Oh, Jamie. I’m so sorry.”
His eyes lifted from her hand and met hers with a tinge of sadness.
“I DO want to marry you! I forgot to pick a date, so let's find one.”
She saw the clouds of worry dissipate.
“Aye. I’d like that.”
“Well, fall won’t give us enough time to plan, and winter is so bitter. Not the most comfortable time for traveling either. What are your thoughts?”
“I canna say I prefer any time over another. Would there be a lot to do then, even if we have a simple ceremony?”
“Of course. Say we have it at the chapel; that’s the venue taken care of. We’d need a pastor, flowers, invitations, gown and suits, photography – which Jenny could do – lodging for out of town guests, and catering. Maybe Philomena would take that on. We also have to talk about a honeymoon.”
“It’s no that I didn’t understand, just hearing it all together like that…”
“How about June 1st? You’ll have graduated by then, and the weather will be beautiful, too.”
He leaned towards her, rubbing his nose with hers. “Aye,” he whispered.
I will be on hiatus for a few weeks. If you’re subscribed you’ll get notified when I post the next chapter. When I return, the story will be picking up with Claire's decision on moving, Lamb's visit, and soon after the introduction of a new, sinister character.
Thanks to all of you who have been supportive, faithful readers, and to everyone who has taken the time to leave a kudo or kind comment. It means a lot.
Claire was now concurrently managing two task lists: one for the wedding, and one for the business. She’d found, while with her parents, that a large wipe-off board in her room kept the dozens of scraps of paper, and an over-filled planner, neatly in one place. If Henry and Julia needed to know anything – classes, assignments, meetings - they had the benefit of checking the board. Claire found it in her things and with Jenny’s approval, placed it on the wall in their room.
Jenny, who managed her own schedules in her head, began to see the practicality in having everything visible; not only for Claire, but for everyone else as well. While Claire methodically wrote in action items and appointments, she placed a large red heart on June 1st. Jenny, sitting on her bed watching Claire meticulously fill in squares, asked about having one for herself.
“Mam and Da are always asking what my plans are fer the week, and if I need rides or to be picked up. I ken they rely on me to tell them, which I sometimes forget to do. Would ye help me do the same thing?”
“Absolutely” Claire said, snapping a cap back on a marker. “A lot of what I have on here will be things you and I are working on together, so having your own will allow you to see what they are and maybe even remind me!”
Jenny was happy to have Claire at home now, and her kindness and love were having a strong influence in the family. Like borrowing jewelry or clothes, this simple act with her new sister was something she found wonderful.
For the past several nights Claire had been considering what Jamie offered: to move to her house for a while. Even though she very much wanted to and had cried many nights in the dark for not having her parents at breakfast, or even just in the next room chatting, the thought of Jamie having to rearrange his schedule, then not being able to get classes for this semester at another university, causing him to push his graduation out, was a lot to ask. Weighing on her mind as well was what else to do with her time.
She tossed and turned. “I’m completely unaccustomed to having my plans uprooted,” she said to herself. It was the word “uprooted” that caught her attention. “What’s that verse? C’mon Beauchamp. You’ve had years of Sunday school!”
After a few minutes of pondering, it came:
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
That sends out is roots by the stream.
It does not fear when the heat comes;
it’s leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
And never fails to bear fruit.”
“Ahhh! That’s it. I remember Mrs. Kaufman giving us trees to color with a place to put our names on the trunk.”
Reassurance delivered, Claire quickly relaxed.
Jamie, on his laptop in his room, was looking at Universities near Claire if she decided to move. Most classes were already filled up, and he’d need to meet with an advisor to see which of his current classes transferred. It would involve a lot of maneuvering, both physically and academically, but on the whole it really wasn’t so much. Not for Claire.
He leaned back in his chair, stretching his arms well behind his head.
“When we go to visit her Uncle,” Jamie thought, looking at his desk calendar, “we could spend a few weeks there as a vacation. It wouldna involve anything expensive; trips to the park, sightseeing, museums and cinema, and see the Newcastle and St. Mary’s cathedral” he mumbled, looking at tourist-y things to do in Newcastle. “If she doesna want to move back indefinitely, then a few weeks may comfort her.”
Jamie closed his laptop, then stared at his phone.
Ellen had told him stories of how, when she and Brian were first dating, he would call her when he was done with his shift at a restaurant, sometimes around 1:00am, and they would go to a 24-hour diner. Ellen’s face would light up each time she told of how they’d have burgers, fries and a shake. “It was a magic time. One of my happiest memories.”
Jamie held his phone in his hand and took a chance.
“Jamie?” Claire asked, her voice drowsy with sleep. “Everything alright?”
“Yes, love. I was about to get into bed but wondered if ye’d like to go out for a burger? There’s a place not too far that’s open all night.”
“You bet I would! I’ll throw some things on and meet you in the hall.”
“Could this woman BE any more fantastic?” he said, grabbing his keys and a jacket.
As soon as Claire came out of her room, careful to close the door quietly, Jamie reached to kiss her; a means of appreciation for so excitedly accepting his offer.
Instead of indulging this romantic moment, Claire tagged him with a poke on his arm. “Loser buys” she said, running down the stairs.
She was about to round the banister at the bottom, certain she’d be the first one to the car, but Jamie had taken the stairs 3 at a time behind her; Claire had yet to find out he’d had decades of racing his siblings down the same stairs.
“Better have yer wallet!” he said, meeting her at the landing.
Claire took the inside where Jamie used the outside for, what he thought would be, the victory stretch down the hall to the front door; Jamie had yet to find out Claire had a wee competitive streak.
“Forget it Fraser!” She side-stepped him, which caused Jamie’s arm to accidentally knock a framed picture off the wall.
Claire felt terrible. “I’m so sorry!”
Jamie bent to retrieve the pieces but then leapt towards the door.
Claire tried to re-take the lead but the dogs, half asleep, scrambled into the hallway baying in alarm. She knew she couldn’t maneuver around them so, thanks to five years of ballet and muscle memory, she grand jeté’d over them instead. This simple, unplanned acrobatic act put her even closer to reaching the car, and thus, becoming the winner.
Jamie pulled Claire to him with one arm, tickling her, so he could open and unlock the door with his other.
Squirming, Claire was about to hip-check Jamie out of the way when Brian was at the bottom of the stairs, his hair disheveled, tying his robe.
“WHAT IN BLUE BLAZES IS GOING ON?” he half yelled, half whispered, turning on the hall light.
Jamie and Claire collapsed to their knees laughing. Neither could give an explanation through their tears. Ellen came beside Brian, tying her own robe in shock.
Despite his age, Jamie could still be rendered immobile by his mother and father’s glare, so sobered up first, and fast.
Ellen came around Brian and began picking up glass shards off the floor. “Really! It’s 1:00 a.m.!” she whisper-yelled. “Yer Da and I thought the house was being broken into!” She sat the photo and frame aside, vowing to asses any damage to the family photo later. “…like a herd of elephants…” she mumbled.
Brian, arms crossed over his chest, raised an eyebrow which asked for an explanation.
“I…” Claire began.
Jamie, not wanting Claire to take the blame, interrupted her: “I texted Claire and asked if she’d like to go out for a burger then it just… kind of fell apart from there” he answered quietly, running his hand through his hair.
Ellen, eyeing them both somewhat sympathetically now, took her cupped hand full of glass to the kitchen trash bin.
Running his hand over his face, Brian took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I apologize for my language. Are ye both quite finished then?”
“Uh…yes. I believe we are.”
“Yes, sir. We are.”
Ellen, coming back from the kitchen, took some money out of her robe pocket that she’d gotten from the kitty in the cupboard. “If ye were racing to see who would get stuck with the tab, then be finished with it.” She handed the bills to Claire then padded towards the stairs. Brian shook his head and followed behind her, but not without casting a wink and a slight smirk towards them.
When Brian and Ellen were out of sight, Jamie and Claire both covered their mouths to stifle remaining giggles but Jamie then chided Claire for cheating: “I’d have won if ye’d not pushed yer way past.”
“BOO. HOO. HOO. I….”
Jamie’s lips were upon hers, and this time she did indulge him. “I all of a sudden feel quite peckish. You too? he asked, nuzzling her cheek.
“Oh, you betcha.”
Jamie kindly opened the door for her, then they both went to Claire's car after she offered to drive. After getting in, she apologized for the picture getting broken.
“I’ll replace the frame and glass. Sorry about that.”
“’tis no trouble, lass. Dinna worry.”
She pulled out slowly, and without headlights, so that they weren’t any more of a bother.
Once away from the house, though, Claire flicked the headlights on and found an oldies station on satellite radio.
A late-night drive was fun because it happened so rarely. Claire remembered the very early mornings they’d leave on vacation, her Mum and Dad waking her in the middle of the night so they could get to the shore for breakfast. It felt like that now; that they were on a special trip to a place far away. They immediately put the windows down and turned the music up.
“Girl, to be with you is my favorite thing.
I can’t wait ‘til I see you again.
I want to put on my my, my, my, my boogies shoes.
And boogie with you.”
The air was cool and invigorating, the stars were twinkling in the sky, and the roads were emptier than during the day; it all added to the magic of their escapade. Soon Claire’s hair quickly became a wild mess, prompting her to get a hairband from her bag at a red light. Jamie loved sight of her; gorgeous eyes wide with excitement, the chocolate diamond on her delicate finger sparkling as they went under each street light.
Pulling into the parking lot was more of a chore than they expected; it was nearly filled, causing them to have to take a spot somewhat far away.
“I didna expect half of Scotland to be out at this hour,” Jamie said as they got out. He reached for Claire’s hand after she locked the doors and put her keys in her bag.
“It’ll be better than sitting there by ourselves. That’s kind of depressing,” she replied, fixing her fingers between his.
As expected, the diner was nearly packed; for a few moments they thought there would actually be a wait but a host got them into a booth almost immediately.
The waiter, a perky lad who didn’t seem fazed by the crowd, came to get their orders:
“G’evening. Oops – It’s morning now! What can I get fer ye?”
Jamie ordered a burger, chips, and a shake. “Oh, and extra mayo for the chips,” he pointedly said, scrunching his nose at Claire.
“Spot on, Captain. And you Miss?”
“Turkey BLT, with extra, EXTRA mustard, onion rings, and a shake as well.”
“Ye both like yer condiments, aye? Be right back.”
“I should really just call this off. You’re delusional,” Claire said, crossing her arms in mock anger.
Jamie leaned over the table and kissed Claire on her forehead: “Delusional IN LOVE!”
When they were full, but contemplating dessert, Claire dropped her napkin on her plate in triumph.
“Clean plate club.”
“Really? How surprising.”
Claire reached for her shake, noisily slurping up the last drops from the glass.
“Yea. Not everyone can be on my level.”
Shaking his head, Jamie pushed his plate aside.
“Before ye inhale anything else, I’d like to talk with ye about seeing yer Uncle.”
“Oh, we should do that. Thanks.”
“Ye dinna have to give any answer if ye’d like to think about it, but I’d like to propose a stay of a few weeks while yer Uncle is visiting – part visit, part vacation. If, after that, ye’d like to continue staying we could relocate.”
Claire’s heart swelled at his generosity and thoughtfulness.
“I have thought about it, actually. If we relocate it could put your graduation that much farther off and cause us to have to pack up and move two more times. I can’t ask you to do that. But maybe we stay two or three times a year with Mum and Dad, or vacation with them. That would make me happy.”
“If yer sure, then I’ll do all I can to make it happen” Jamie said pulling out the dessert menu.
Jamie and Claire, having snuck in around 4:00 am, had slept right through breakfast. Around 1:00 in the afternoon they both, groggily, ended up in the kitchen looking for coffee and anything to eat.
Imogene, sitting at the table talking to Miriam by video chat, looked over the top of her glasses at the bedraggled pair as they shuffled in.
“Who won last night?” she asked. “I was going to yell down to ye but I heard yer Da about to blow a gasket so I kept my yap shut.”
“Ah. So ye heard.” Jamie said.
“I’ve heard ye bolting down those stairs enough with yer siblings to know the sound of a “last one to the car….” Soooooo. Who won?
“I did, actually, but…”
“No but, lass. I had ye fair and square.”
“In your dreams,” Claire threw back, pouring what was left from the coffee pot into a mug.
“Aunt Claire and Uncle Jamie. Were ye racing each other in the house, then?” came a voice from the laptop.
Imogene turned it around so Miriam could see them directly, her face serious, and her arms crossed.
Jamie, on the other side of the table, had to take the punishment. “Well, yes we were.”
“Ye both know not to run in the house. Ye could fall and hit yer heid.”
Imogene was laughing into her hands. Miriam had mimicked Murtagh perfectly.
“Aye, lass. We wilna do it again,” Jamie said, trying not to laugh at her perfect imitation or Imogene’s fit behind the screen.
Miriam didn’t seem convinced.
“Ye canna be taking chances afore yer wedding, ken? Please be more careful.”
“We will, darling. Thank you for reminding us,” Claire said, coming up behind Jamie and laying her chin on his shoulder.
Imogene turned the computer around and resumed her conversation, while Jamie and Claire pointed to each other: “Stop running in the house!" "You’ll hit yer heid!”
Harold had been maintaining the wedding store mostly on his own while Annabella was at home with the twins. It had been manageable, but there were more customers just recently with cooler fall weather coming soon.
“Love,” Harold sweetly said into the phone “would ye be able to manage the appointment schedule from home this week? Maybe make some confirmation calls?”
Annabella, who had been a bit itchy to help out, contemplated her answer as she looked at her sleeping bairns.
“I’ve a different thought. I’ll ring ye right back.”
Going through her contact list, she clicked on Claire’s name.
“Hello, love. Are you calling to chide Jamie and I for running in the house too?”
Annabella laughed. “Och. No lass, I hear little miss took care of that well enough! But I am calling to ask a favor. Could ye mind the bairns for a few hours tomorrow? Harold is a bit overwhelmed at the store and I’d…”
“Like to get your mind off changing nappies and feedings? I’d absolutely love to. By bairns, do you mean all four or…”
“Heavens, no. I couldna do that to ye. Just the babes. Murtagh’s been called back to active duty for a time. Seems there’s an increase in enlistees. Skill requirements, unit readiness, and what not. Anyhoo, he’ll be out in the morning and back in the afternoon to be with Miriam and Joshua.”
“It would be a genuine pleasure.”
“This would mean the world. 1:00?”
“We’ll be looking forward to it.”
As Claire hung up, Jamie’s call came in.
“Hey – I was just thinking” Jamie began when Claire connected the call, “Why don’t we go out for a burger every week? Without the commotion, AND CHEATING, of course.”
“Ha. Ha. That was really fun, though. Great idea! Oh – I’ve just spoken to Annabella. She asked if I could watch Esther and Daniel tomorrow afternoon. Things at the store are picking up and she’d like to go in for a bit.”
“I can’t wait to see them. I’ve just a bit to finish up with my internship that morning but will be home right after.”
At 12:45 Annabella arrived, and Jamie helped her get them out of the van and carry them into the house. Though they were both asleep, Annabella undid the straps on both seats not just to make it easier to lift them out: “I want them to wake up and know where they are.”
Jamie made a mental note of this, feeling it was something important to know.
“If they wake up someplace new and I’m not here, there could be wailing. Especially Esther. Best to have them oriented before I leave.”
“Ahhhhh.” Jamie said. “Wise.”
“Well, it’s more prevention than wisdom” Annabella replied. “I dinna want ye to regret helping out! So – there’s bottles in the bag, nappies, wipes, and toys. I’ll be back by 4:00.”
She bent to kiss Daniel first, then stroked his cheek. “Ye be a good lad, aye?” He smiled back at her.
Esther, a skeptical look in her eye, would have none of that. Annabella kissed her as well. “’tis a different place, lass. But ye’ve got yer brother and Aunt and Uncle.” At that Esther looked right at Jamie and Claire.
Annabella stood up and attempted a smile. “I should just apologize now.”
Claire laughed. “It will be FINE. We’ll have a lovely time.”
With Annabella gone, Claire got Esther from her car seat, holding her tightly. By instinct, she began rocking her and singing. Still a bit heavy with sleep, Esther snuggled into Claire’s neck. Claire, breaking from her quiet singing, mouthed “hand me a blanket” to Jamie.
Taken with how beautiful the sight of Claire holding a child was, and how naturally she took to comforting Esther, Jamie hadn’t really paid attention to what she said.
Claire glanced to the bag as a way to say what she wanted, but without words this time.
Jamie raised his eyebrows and nodded. “Oh. Aye.”
Handing the soft, lavender blanket to Claire she wrapped it snuggly around Esther, then resumed her swaying.
Jamie sat down on the floor beside Daniel. “Lad, women are an amazing lot.”
Sorry for the delay.
When Anabella had left with Esther and Daniel, Jamie closed the door and held his fist out for Claire to bump.
“We did it. Nappies and all.”
Claire went to the kitchen to get dinner started. Although she wasn’t a novice in the kitchen, she wanted to take a chance preparing it on her own for the family - grilled chicken and vegetables, cornbread, and something she remembered from her American friends: “Icebox pie.”
“Yer good with bairns,” Jamie said, pulling down plates.
Claire appreciated his compliment. “Thank you, but I have lot to learn. Didn’t have experience with siblings.”
“You know…” he said, pulling things out of the fridge, “we could do this a few times a month, maybe, if Annabella wants to help out until it slows down at the shop.”
A very sudden, very strong, realization hit her. “That’s what I’m supposed to do. I didn’t need more academic experience. I needed more baby experience, and quite probably to help a family member too.”
Jamie had stopped, the fridge door still open, while they both took in how God had answered them.
He sat the bag of marinated chicken on the counter then closed the fridge.
They didn’t say anything for a few moments, standing side-by-side against the counter. Claire reached for Jamie’s hand.
Jamie raised his eyebrow. “What did I do this time?”
“For being you.”
Claire found her phone where she’d wedged it in the couch cushions so it’s vibration wouldn’t waken Esther when she’d fallen asleep on her shoulder.
“I hadn’t been as keenly aware of sound until today,” she said, scrolling through her recent calls to find Annabella, “so I gather that’s one of the things parents worry about a lot.”
“I definitely know ye need to have peace so they can rest. I’m a clod so I’ll have to be more mindful of my steps. And voice. And eating. And laughing. Definitely sneezing.”
Claire laughed, seeing the many ways Jamie was, in fact, thunderous; his size just didn’t lend to quiet expression.
When Annabella answered, Claire began her pitch: “So, Jamie and I were thinking..if you would like to go in more regularly, while the store is busy, I would be happy to help out. They were such a pleasure to…”
“Oh my GOODNESS! Thank you, luv. I was just about to ask if ye’d consider helping out a few times a week. Ye didna seem overwrought when I picked them up so I was a bit hopeful it wasna too awful with them both. Ye read my mind! I’d pay ye, of course…”
“No. Please. You’re family. I couldn’t…”
“Lass, I appreciate yer kindness. If it were once in a while, then I’d understand, but this would be maybe a few times a week and an occasional Saturday, and I wilna take ye fer granted. I’ll speak with Harold and phone back when I have a better idea of days. And Claire, thank ye.”
“You’re welcome. We’ll talk soon.”
Claire looked at Jamie. “She was thinking the same thing.”
The first of August was days away and with it came the bustle of preparing for school: buying clothes and school supplies, coordinating schedules – school and work – which now included Jenny driving she and Willie, though the bus schedule still needed to be posted as back-up. Then there were doctor and dentist appointments, haircuts, extracurricular, birthdays, and a final, weekend vacation before it all began.
Ellen, sat at the table, was creating a month-by-month calendar on her laptop while Imogene - having each family member’s itinerary written on a legal pad – read off details. Ellen assigned each person a color and whether the activity was recurring or one-time. She looked over at Imogene’s detailed notes.
“If I haven’t told you lately, and I don’t think I have, you are very appreciated and very loved. We’re functioning, in great part, to your being here.”
“Aww, luv. ‘tis a blessing to still be needed. Old age is not usually looked on with affection, or appreciation, any longer and many friends feel useless and have no one to care about them.”
She looked down at her notes.
“I’ve been thinking of doing something for them. I’d like to talk to Reverand McElhinney about a church program. A lot of the members are elderly, and there are a lot of others who need help with computers, shopping, insurance – it’s a different world now and can be confusing, especially if ye dinna have family to help. I wilna take time from my own family, of course. From the looks of our schedule it seems as though ye might collapse without me, but…”
Ellen took off her glasses and smiled at Imogene.
“We’ll make time for you, for a change. That really is lovely idea. Let me know how we can help.”
Imogene nodded. “Will do, lassie.”
Now in the country, Lamb had been texting every day. Jamie and Claire had planned out everything they wanted to do. Her home didn’t have another room for Jamie, so he would be staying with Herbert Macauley.
Though most discussion of the trip was done in quiet, sometimes even with gestures, so Nick and Asta wouldn’t catch on that a trip was being planned, they nonetheless figured it out.
Jamie woke about 5:00 the morning they were leaving to take the car for gas so it would be one less thing to do. Practicing his quietness, he stepped slowly down the stairs. At the bottom, he took his keys gently out of his pocket (“do they always make this much noise?”) when he bumped into two dogs wedged together against the front door, leashes in their mouth. Tails wagged furiously as they rose, half asleep, the leashes soaked with drool from having been gripped in anticipation for, most likely, the entire night.
“For the life of me I dinna understand either of you.”
Very sorry about the delay.
“How are your family, Jamie” Julia asked as she brought in a tray of sandwiches.
“They’re well, thank ye. Enjoying a few days at the coast.”
“Lovely this time of year. Water isn’t freezing.” Henry added, remembering a time they took advantage of spring specials; the hotel rooms were cheap, but it was cloudy and the ocean was too cold to swim in.
“Ugh!” Claire remembered. We stayed in the room, with the HEAT on, watching the telly all weekend!”
Just then the dogs rose from their naps and scurried to the front door. Jamie leaned over the back of the sofa to look out the window.
“They’re spot on – yer Uncle is here.”
Henry tried pushing through the tangle of dogs to open the front door.
Henry and Lambert, contrary to typical sibling dynamics, had never fought, nor felt any amount of acrimony towards one another. They had supported each other on life’s path and found that doing so had not only strengthened their relationship as brothers but made them, as individuals, assured and capable. The key, the found early on, was humor, foremost, but genuine concern and empathy as well.
“Welcome, Brother” Henry said, hugging Lamb. “I’m happy to see you.”
“You might not say that if I weren’t gone six months of the year” Lamb said, clapping Henry’s back.
“Probably,” Henry laughed.
Claire got to Lamb next, throwing her arms around her beloved Uncle.
“Ooooooh” she said, hugging him tightly “I’m so happy you’re here.”
Grateful to see her, Lamb was especially joyful. “And I’m even happier to see you.”
Claire offered up her hand for him to see her ring. “The wonderful man who gave this to me is now my fiancée, Jamie Fraser.”
“What? When did this happen?”
“Few months ago.”
“Whoa. There’s a lot to get caught up on.”
Jamie, having stood when Lamb came in, offered his hand:
“Sir, I’m pleased to meet ye.”
“I’m happy to meet you as well.” Lamb gave Jamie a vigorous shake. “Glad we’ll have some time together.”
Lamb moved in to kiss Julia, looking at the food.
“Please tell me these are for lunch. The food on the plane was horrid, so I skipped everything offered.”
“Of course. Come in.”
Lamb plopped into a chair, his head sinking back on the headrest. “Ahhhh. Cramped in that awful seat over the Atlantic. Feels good to stretch.”
The similarity between he and Henry could quickly be seen in the long, strong bridge of their nose, the amber eyes with the golden ring at the outside, and their smile. Where they deviated was in the color of their hair, the set of their jaw, and their personality; Lamb was more introverted, where Henry was more extraverted.
“Alright, then” he said filling a plate, “out with it. Where was the proposal?”
“On the spot where we met.”
Lamb, nodding his head, reached for a fist-bump from Jamie. “Smooth.”
“What made each of you sure that the other was the one?”
“Well, Sir, when I first saw her – getting off the church bus at our home – I felt whole. There’s something that stirs ye deep inside…you just know. Feels as if the Lord is there.”
“Absolutely. I completely understand.”
Henry and Julia shared a look between them wondering where Lamb’s new attitude was coming from.
“I knew then, too. It felt like I already knew him.”
“Alright. Good answers.”
“Now – what’s new in the world of Archaeology? Any articles? Studies?” Henry asked.
“Some extraordinary findings, yes, across Canada. I’m co-authoring some studies, writing a few articles, and doing interviews for a lot of social media as well. Even doing a podcast!”
“Who did you work with?” Henry asked, curious if a possible relationship had started.
“Exceptional teams. Bright, enthusiastic grad students, professors that were not just content to be tenured, but still excited to dig and discover. Can’t tolerate working with anyone who doesn’t like getting dirty. Enough about me – how long will you be here, Jamie?”
Jamie paused a moment, looking awkwardly at Claire. “I’ve moved in with his family. We’re here on holiday for a few weeks before he starts classes.”
“Ahhhhh! I haven’t missed anything else, have I? Please tell me you aren’t actually married.”
Claire smiled. “Nope. Not yet. Not without you.”
“Good! Oh – I’ve brought presents like I promised. I’m at an Airbnb across town so I’ll bring them….tonight for dinner? My treat. I spied a BBQ on the way over – smelled it through the cab window too.”
Claire’s eyes lit up. “Yesiree!”
“We went to New York for a weekend when we got rained out. This place….I couldn’t get the brisket into my mouth fast enough. Feel like round two.”
After Lamb left, Julia whispered to Henry on the way back in the house: “I think there will be a plus one tonight. Just a guess.”
Jamie put his arm through Claire’s: “Think yer Uncle might have a date tonight?”
“I sure hope so!”
Since Lambert was the one who invited everyone to dinner, he made sure he was there early to secure a large table in a nice spot.
The restaurant was beginning to hum; the music – southern blues – was getting louder, the bar was filling up, and the tellies were full of American baseball and local sports. In the middle of a crowd that was coming through the revolving door, Lamb saw Claire and Jamie.
“Hey ho! Mum and Dad dip out?”
“No, they dropped us off and went to park.” Claire laughed. “’Dip out?’”
“How can I be the cool uncle unless I’m up on the lingo?”
“True…True.” Claire began subtly scanning the restaurant. “Have you gotten the table already?”
“Yep, right over there. Go ahead and order drinks. I’ll wait here.”
Claire nearly ran to the table. “Welp, no bag so no date. Just presents,” she said, plopping into the seat Jamie pulled out for her.
When they had all gotten seated, Lamb’s attention was caught by someone at the front. He waved, then excused himself. He walked back with a woman.
“Everyone, this is Ella Rochambeau.”
“French ancestry as well?” Henry said, reaching first to shake her hand.
“Somewhat. My mother is American and my Father is French.”
“This is my wife Julia, our daughter Claire and her fiancée Jamie. Very happy to meet you.”
“Thank you. Lamb has said so much about all of you. Congratulations on the engagement!”
For several seconds they accustomed themselves to Lamb with Ella. He’d never dated, that they were aware of, so this was quite the surprise.
By the attention he paid to her, Lamb was clearly besotted. She was a striking woman of about 40, brunette with warm brown eyes, her makeup – though a bit bold - was flawless, her clothes “artistic.” She wore a massive charm bracelet which jingled with every movement. In short, she was captivating.
“Are you an archaeologist as well?” Julia asked.
“Yes. Lamb and I met a few digs ago. I teach graduate classes in classical archaeology. I love preparing lectures, but I love being in the dirt too.”
Lamb, remembering their first meeting on the field, addressed her dichotomy: “She’s beautiful and practical.”
After the waiter passed out the menus, Lamb ordered the only champagne to be had at a BBQ restaurant, but purposely poured a glass for Ella from the bottle of filtered water when he proposed a toast. Everyone’s face froze, expecting that she was…expecting.
With their hands raised, Ella’s water standing out among the champagne, Lamb noticed the stunned looks and apologized.
“Oh dear. No…it’s not that. It..”
“gives me a massive migraine” Ella finished, shyly, “but my well-wishes are still the same.”
“So..to Jamie and Claire” Lamb continued, “Blessings, health, and happiness. Forever.”
Ella left after dessert, thanking everyone, and expressing that she didn’t want to intrude on their remaining time together. Lamb got her safely into a cab, then returned.
Almost on cue, Jamie and Claire began gathering all the bones and scraps into a bag for the dogs, shoving it into Claire’s tote.
“Lamb, come back for a scotch? We should give the table up – there are a lot waiting.” Henry eyed his brother.
“Absolutely. I’ll be right out after I pay the tab.”
Congregating out front, there was a rush to let out their thoughts.
Claire was first: “My goodness. She looks like she stepped out of a Waterhouse painting!”
Henry was curious: “I’m just glad he’s happy – and he clearly is. I don’t want to pry too much, but I hope he’ll let on if this is serious. This is definitely a first.”
With all that out, they were a bit more settled at home.
“Alright, I’m sure there are questions” Lamb began, smirking over his glass as he leaned back on the sofa.
“No, not really. We’re just happy for you.” Julia said, “but if you’d care to share anything…”
“I know this must be surprising. When I first saw her she was face down in the dirt, her hair tied up in a scarf, humming a song, looking at a fragment through a magnifying glass. Her observation was so astute, so…unbelievably insightful I didn’t have a response. I just hadn’t met anyone on this level before.”
“Did ye know right then?” Jamie asked, smiling at Claire.
“Oh yea. There was a child-like curiosity in her eyes and in the way she put together a story of how the artifact ended up there. Too many colleagues are dry…academic.”
His audience was intrigued, so he continued.
“When I asked a bit about her, I found out she’s kind of a rock star at University. Students queue up for her classes as soon as they’re posted. She’s passionate, knowledgeable, and a natural teacher.”
He was looking down at his glass, now empty.
“I definitely knew what I didn’t want. Years of loneliness will do that to you. But I couldn’t say what I did want. Until I met her.” In a sea of rocks, she was a gem and he had a keen eye.
Ella had found in Lamb a gentle man who saw in her what others missed, overlooked, or abused - her gentleness, generosity and patience – but more importantly, he listened to her and treated her with respect.
“She’s not aggressive, loud, or overbearing; I can’t tell you how refreshing that is. And by golly she loves to eat!”
The question of the seriousness of their relationship hung in the air; it could remain unanswered, but he would not leave his family filling in the blank.
“She does not want intimacy without marriage and said so on our first date. It took a lot of guts to be so outright. She’s been dating since leaving a miserable relationship, and I sensed the dates probably didn’t stay, so she was expecting the same from me. But honestly…when you find a woman like this, why would you NOT honor her?”
Every eye, now widely open, was settled upon him and waiting for what he would say next.
“I want to live my life with her. And her children.”
Henry filled both his and Lamb’s glass at this news.
“I haven’t proposed yet, but I plan to.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Later, in the back yard throwing a ball for the dogs to catch, Jamie leaned into Claire.
“That’s how I felt when ye stepped off that bus. My heart stopped. I was afraid I’d faceplant right in front of ye. Knock myself clean out before I uttered a word.”
At first Claire smiled, then she couldn’t stop laughing. She reached over and took hold of his chin. “James Fraser…have I told you lately how much I love you?”
Before he could finish his answer she kissed him. “I love you.”
Imogene was walking up to the front doors of the church when she saw Reverend McElhinney standing in the doorway, his eyes closed, his head tilted to the sky.
“I assume yer no praying, else yer head would be down!”
He snapped from his thoughts: “Ah, Imogene! Yes, you’re right. We’ve managed for so long with the old a/c unit that once we put the new system in it’s nearly freezing us solid! I needed to come out to thaw.”
He turned and opened the door for her.
“I was truly happy to hear of the project you proposed” he began as they got inside. “It’s an important and easily overlooked outreach.”
Katherine, on the phone and in a long-sleeved sweater, drinking coffee, blew a kiss to Imogene.
“May I offer you a hot cup of anything?” he said waving his hand to the new coffee-pod machine.
Imogene laughed. “I wilna take up much of yer time, but a…” she said, looking through the basket of pods “chai suits me, actually.”
“So, tell me more,” he said, pulling a chair out for her near his desk.
“Jamie’s told me of the older adults in his classes; many coming to fill their days after a spouse passed, or others, ye ken, who just never finished their learning” she said, sitting her tea down on a side table. “He says a lot of them, not all, are having trouble with their assignments and such that are online. They’re afraid to say so, and have found a kind heart in Jamie who’s helped them along. Made me think that I could be of some help– not just with that but with paying bills online, accessing all their accounts, even shopping - other things that go along with school work. I’d like to give workshops where our members, and others in the community, could come to learn more about technology. Maybe include cell phones as well. Doesna have to be just for those who are older, mind, but primarily for them.”
“You’re very kind to do this, Imogene. We’re completely at your service, and you can use the desk beside Katherine’s as a work station. Could you put together a schedule?”
“Aye. I can.”
“Once you have that together, I can put the information on the church website and our other social media. I’m sure there are younger members of church who need to earn volunteer hours for senior projects, or we could even create an intern position. I’m willing to partner with you on this in any way I can. But let me know if I’m stepping on your toes! This is your endeavor, first!”
“That’s perfect. The more involved the better.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Talking to Lamb had gone well into the early morning, so Claire was now dozing on the sofa after breakfast, a dog at either side of her and one at her feet.
Jamie was faring a bit worse; he’d spent the rest of the night and morning when he left Claire’s talking with Herbert Macauley– a weaver of yarns of the highest order – where another scotch was had. He texted at 4am: “Just getting to bed. Have found out more about Scotland than ever taught in school. Lovely gent. Will call when I wake. Xoxoxoxoxoxoxo”
Their plan for breakfast and sight-seeing had become sleeping in and a possible lunch. Even Julia and Henry were dozing on the patio.
At 1:00 Jamie texted again: “You probably woke before me. Sorry, luv. Anything in mind for today, or do we just go down the list?”
“Overheard Mum and Dad mention it would be nice to go to the Lake. Cottage for a few days. Dogs would love it! Maybe Lamb and Ella too, if they’re comfortable. Thoughts?”
Jamie’s reply was two thumbs up.
Claire rounded up the dogs and went outside. “So – I heard you talking about a lake trip?”
“Oh…yes.” Julia said, snapping awake. “Since you’ll be here a few weeks I thought it would be relaxing and get us away from the city.”
“I ran it past Jamie and he says” -Claire held up both thumbs- “ but should we invite Lamb and Ella – her children too? I think he’ll be here for a while.”
Lamb got his phone off the chaise: “I’ll call him.” After some “mmm-hmms” Lamb hung up. “He said he was worried he dumped too much on us and we wouldn’t be ready to do anything together just yet, so was really relieved and excited when I offered. They both look forward to it, but her children are away at university taking extra classes over the summer.”
Julia motioned to the table for her laptop, which Henry retrieved for her. “Alright – just us 6” Julia said. “I already know of a great place. 5 rooms should do it.”
“Yeppers” Henry said, chucking a tennis ball to the end of the yard.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Everyone drove separately: Henry and Julia, Jamie with Claire and their three children, Lamb and Ella.
Arriving first, Julia went into the small cottage functioning as the office while Henry found a parking space. The manager was talking to a young man with three small children.
“… I sympathize with your plight,” he said, pulling the man slightly away from the children to speak more privately. “I do. I was made redundant myself once. It’s rather busy now because families are fitting in last-minute vacations before school starts. If you’d care to come back in October…”
“This was our only trip this year. It’s my weekend to have them. Please – I can’t afford the cabin I secured but anything smaller – even if it doesn’t have amenities.”
“I’ve already explained – there’s nothing available.” Seeing Julia, the manager moved away. “Excuse me.”
He was a middle-aged man with tired brown eyes and a mouth that seemed to have formed permanently into a frown.
Julia glanced at the children, two girls and a boy all under five years old, who sat dutifully on a bench while their father knelt down in front of them. They looked dejected and exhausted.
“May I help you?”
Julia was concerned about the young family. “You may finish with the other customer, if you’d like, I can wait.”
“He is undecided at the moment.”
“We have a reservation. Beauchamp.”
Sighing loudly, the man entered information into a computer, neither greeting Julia nor welcoming her.
“Daddy,” the oldest daughter asked “do we have to drive all the way home?”
“I don’t know. I’m trying to think of something.”
The manager nodded, confirming the reservation, then went to a cabinet on the wall and pulled off 3 sets of keys. As he was putting them into an envelope, Julia retrieved her wallet from her bag.
“I’m going to pay for their rental” she said quietly, nodding to the man and his children. “But anonymously, please.”
The manager raised his eyebrow, though Julia’s kindness softened his rather dour expression. “That’s very kind.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Sat on an inlet, the 5 bedroom house had wrap-around porches on both the top and bottom levels of the back of the house, providing a perfect view of the lake. At the lake’s edge was a boathouse – full of oars, old-fashioned skates, toboggans, paddle boats, kayaks and a lot of fishing poles – that sat on a pier. An entire area was set up for grilling in the yard. Lamb and Ella would be arriving closer to lunch time, so while Jamie and Claire made their way to the boathouse, Julia offered to stay with the dogs while Henry began marinating food for dinner.
Taking up an adirondak chair near the lake’s edge, she heard the sound of children squealing as they ran out of a nearby cottage, life vests on, gleefully jumping into a canoe.
The weather had remained gorgeous while at the lake, spurring the family to undertake nearly every activity they could think of: canoeing, swimming, fishing, hiking, and bicycling. Even Nick, Asta, and Nora had their time as Jamie and Claire had spent a few hours each day throwing balls off the end of the pier for them to fetch and return, or taking them excitedly in the canoes. After full days, evenings were spent in the back yard, tiki torches lit, using the remaining embers of the grills for s’mores.
While lounging on a blanket, hoots of owls and the occasional slap of a jumping fish in the background, Claire thought how genuinely in love Lamb and Ella were. She looked down at the pier, white Christmas lights strung haphazardly on the poles, where Lamb and Ella were dangling their feet in the water, stealing kisses.
“She’s laughed the entire time” Claire whispered to Jamie, sitting in front of her, his arms wrapped around her knees. “And he held her hand when he talked to her.”
“They seem very natural, if I’m to be honest. He tended to her every wish and didna give off that she was demanding of it. Of course, I’m an expert on true love so I’m perfectly suited to know the real thing.”
Claire kissed him on his cheek. “Awwwwww. You’re sweet.”
“Pays to wait, aye?” Jamie said, kissing Claire’s finger that held his ring.
“Absolutely. I can’t wait for the wedding. Wonder how quickly he’ll propose?”
“I dinna think he’ll wait long. But I’m sure they’ll defer to us in being wed first, so maybe theirs will follow later in the year.”
“Oooh! A fall wedding. I wonder if she’ll ask me to…” taking the last s’more from the plate beside them, it broke apart in Claire’s hand so rather than drop half onto the ground she just shoved the entire thing in her mouth. Consequently, the dust from the graham cracker clogged her airway and she sputtered and choked.
Jumping up, Jamie instinctively put this hand out for her to spit into – a vestige of being an older sibling.
Needing to do something, she trusted him and spit everything out. After a few minutes of coughing, and a thumbs up to everyone who was now beside her, she apologized for the panic and mess.
“Wasn’t that yer fourth?” Jamie asked, innocently enough, through everyone.
The small crowd quickly grew quiet.
“So what are you saying, Fraser?” Claire challenged, hoarsely
“Well…. should ye maybe consider portion control? Just thinking of yer health.”
The mischievousness in his eyes, and that confounding smirk, are what saved him, but to be safe he backed slightly away. Lamb, part of the crowd who had encircled Claire, offered a wee bit of advice: “Son, I’d lock myself in the car if I were you. Safe space, you know” Lamb said quietly out of the side of his mouth.
On her feet, still sputtering, Claire moved in.
“You should be more worried about your own health, Doctor Fraser.”
“Yer verra kind. But…” Jamie was laughing too hard to speak, “If….ye ate more slowly….ye wouldna need to” Jamie bent over, gasping “horf yer food on the ground.”
She bolted towards him but he had a few yards lead and was able to get to the house. Running inside, he turned and held the screen door shut to prevent Claire from entering.
The tempestuous, food loving, wild-haired sprite pulled on the handle.
“OPEN THE DOOR! YOU CAN’T STAY INSIDE ALL NIGHT.”
“No can do, mon petit porcelet. Not until ye give me a wee kiss through the screen so I know yer no going to kill me.”
Claire ran to the front of the house, a fake-out, so Jamie ran there to lock it, but Claire flew in the back door, three dogs following protectively behind.
Rather than run away, he ran towards her, taking her up in his arms.
“James Fraser! What are you…”
As he’d seen in enough romance movies, he leaned her over and kissed her. Thoroughly.
“doing..” she whispered breathlessly, “you…..uh….”
“Aye, lass? Ye have something to say?”
“You are diverting attention from your…”
He kissed her again. More thoroughly and much longer.
Afterwards, he stood her up and with his deepest bow and apologized. “I have offended ye, milady. Please accept my humblest apology.”
She looped her fingers in his belt loops and pulled him towards her, nuzzling her nose against his. “You are a sly one, Fraser but don’t think for a minute that you’ll be able to get out of every disagreement with a few well placed, perfect, heart-stopping kisses. No siree Bob.”
“Well, ye can’t fault a man fer trying.”
She pulled his chin towards her mouth and kissed him back. “That I can’t. But…it might behoove you to sleep with one eye open.”
Jamie’s laugh could be heard the whole way into the yard.
Lamb and Ella shyly opened the door, venturing in. “I gather you don’t need medical attention” Lamb asked, looking at Jamie “because Ella and I both have certifications in CPR and first aid.”
Jamie and Claire, cheeks red, coughed out that everything was fine.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Later, standing on the pier together after everyone had gone to bed, Lamb asked Ella – in his arms, looking out onto the moonlight on the lake – what she thought Jamie had done to win Claire over.
“’Since the invention of the kiss there have been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind. The End.’”
Claire decided to pick Jamie up this time and took coffee and pastries to Herbert Macauley’s house early enough that a morning chat wouldn’t put off their day of sightseeing.
Herbert refused an offer to tag along: “Ye dinna want an old man keeping ye back! Besides, I’ve a history club meeting and a group of us are visiting a retirement home. I’ll see ye this evening, Jamie?”
“Aye, friend, ye will.”
Herbert tipped his hat to them both. “Thank ye fer the breakfast, luv!” He bolted to his car.
“So, cathedral this morning, then lunch? After that the museum then home for…” Claire looked up from her phone. Jamie was smirking. Again. “What.”
“I’ve a wee surprise fer ye. It’s no on the agenda.”
“But we had everything planned out so we could see all the things we wanted!”
“Aye, I ken ye like to have things organized. Something came to me last night and I went with it. But it won’t be until the end of the week.”
“And this thing is….”
Jamie pretended to zip his lips.
Claire crossed her arms. “Out with it.”
He pretended to not be able to talk because his lips were zipped together.
"What am I supposed to do…wait?”
“Aye. Ye are.”
“Fine.” Realizing how cross she must look, she thanked him. “Thank you. I can’t wait. So…TODAY what will we be doing?”
“As ye had planned.”
At St. Nicholas cathedral, arriving just in time to hear the bells ring, they lingered in the stunning nave.
“Hmmm,” Jamie muttered reading a pamphlet “this is THE Saint Nicholas. He was patron saint of sailors and boats…” his voice carried. Coming up behind him, Claire added to what he had said: “which explains it’s position near the Tyne. And the minister from 1550-1553 was John Knox – a Scotsman!” she whispered.
Drawn to the architecture, and the stained-glass panels, she wandered around the perimeter of the nave. Suddenly, she felt a wave of sadness and worry. Finding a pew, she sat down, hanging her head.
On the other side, inspecting other elements, Jamie saw Claire. He made his way over and scooted down the pew to sit with her.
“Are ye upset, lass?” He put his arm around her.
She sighed, then turned to him.
“Jamie, you’re Catholic and I’m Protestant. How are we going to marry?”
“Claire, dinna worry. That will be a minor detail.”
“I guess I just didn’t think about it. I know I said we could be married at the chapel at Lallybroch, but by who? Will I have to convert? Will you?”
Her voice was becoming panicked, as well as her eyes.
“Claire. Dinna upset yerself. This will be easy.”
“I don’t want this to pull us apart.” She was tearing up.
He took both of her hands and kissed them.
“NOTHING WILL PULL US APART. Do ye hear me?”
“This will be resolved.”
“You won’t…..change your mind, will you?”
He took her left hand, running his thumb over the ring.
“When I proposed I said ye were the answer to my prayers, then made a promise to love and respect ye the rest of my life. I meant that, Claire. Every word. You are all I want, all I will EVER want, and I will turn this earth upside down for us to be married.” His hand, shaking, wiped a tear that had begun its descent from her eye.
She nodded, smiled, then caressed his cheek. “Thank you. I just get scared sometimes.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Throughout the rest of the week they visited museums, shops, restaurants, and spent time with Henry and Julia; Jamie even refrained from too MUCH sightseeing so that she could have more time with her parents. This was the purpose of the trip, after all. Simple times with Lamb and Ella he could also see were a comfort to Claire.
Towards the end of that week Jamie arrived at Claire’s early on a Friday morning. She answered the door disheveled, in her robe, and groggy.
“Hello gorgeous.” He hugged her and kissed the top of her head.
She took his hand and padded off to the kitchen. Nick and Asta had been staying with Claire; when Jamie had whistled for them to come with him as he left their first night, they had resolutely sat at Claire’s feet. From then on they’d slept on the floor at her bed. Even they looked exhausted.
“I was watching a live feed from a ship called the Nautilus. They do ocean exploration. Next thing I knew it was 3 am.”
She poured a tall insulated mug of coffee, then loaded it with sugar and cream. Reaching for a cup for Jamie, he pulled her hand away.
“I’ll mix yer coffee. Get dressed, and pack for the weekend. We’ll stop by the house for me to get a few things fer myself.”
Claire raised her eyebrow, then wandered upstairs to dress and get her tagalong case.
While she was away, Jamie texted both Henry and Julia.
“We’ll be leaving shortly, and back on Sunday. The dogs will be walked and fed. I appreciate this!”
“Not a problem. I’ll be home shortly. Have a great time!”
“Enjoy! The puppies will be taken care of. ;-)”
Once at Lallybroch, Jamie quickly packed and asked Claire to get her passport. Now somewhat awake, she started to ask where they were going but he made the “my lips are zipped” motion.
Shortly after, a shuttle arrived at the door to take them to the airport. They kissed everyone goodbye, with Brian and Ellen giving him a wink.
Dropped off at the right terminal, Jamie maneuvered them to the gate where they waited to be called to board.
Taking two seats together in the waiting area, Jamie leaned towards Claire and put his arm around her shoulder. Claire scanned the electronic boards for which flight they might be on.
“I’m not telling.”
“Ooooh. Portugal, I bet.”
“Rome? It’s Rome.”
“I’m. NOT. Telling.”
Then, over the speakers came a call: “Flight 373 to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania boarding at gate 5.”
Jamie hesitated for a minute, to trick Claire who had been looking at him each time a flight was called to board, then stood up, reaching for her hand.
“Mademoiselle, our flight.”
“We’re going to Pittsburgh?!”
“Aye. All the condiments you can slather on yer food, and another surprise as well. But ye have to wait for that one. I’m not giving it all away.”
“Awww! You remembered!”
He took her chin in his fingers: “I’ll never forget our first conversation.” He slung his backpack over his shoulder, took her bag and hand, then lead her through the tunnel onto the plane.
Leaning her head into the window frame, holding Jamie’s hand, Claire watched as Britain disappeared. It was easy to forget what the country looked like from above; their topographic distinction from the sky unknown until the invention of the plane. She reminisced on how one’s environment – both physical and emotional – contributed greatly to one’s temperament and she was grateful for how much of her own had come about from the land, history, and people of Britain. As the view of the Atlantic overtook her small island country, and was therefore all that she saw for the next several hours, she changed her reflection to the American people. Her first interaction was with the generous, warm-hearted students from SCU. England was a mere fraction of the U.S., namely the size of the state of Idaho, which probably contributed to how larger-than-life the people seemed. So, who were the people of Pittsburgh? “All I know is that Pennsylvania was one of the original 13 colonies, is nicknamed ‘The Keystone State,’ and some mighty fine dressings come from there.”
Remembering how the SCU students had tried to teach her “southern drawl,” especially ‘ya’ll’ she looked up what dialects were common to the U.S. on her phone. She found a small infographic and held it for Jamie to see.
“Western Pennsylvania has it’s own!”
“I wonder what that means. A specific accent?”
“They say ‘yinz,’ or ‘youns.’” Claire tried to understand what it stood for, scrunching her eyebrows. “Oh…it says it’s a replacement for you all. Ah. Well, it’s pretty astonishing that they have such distinction.”
“Will keep us from being confused when we hear it. Good find.”
“So, you mentioned they love their sports teams.” She leaned closer to him, the roar of the engines and in-cabin air conditioning preventing her whispering from where she sat. “Might there be a game on the schedule?”
“You’re an inquisitive one.”
“That’s not an answer.”
Claire giggled to herself, then leaned her head on his shoulder. Soon, she had fallen asleep.
Waking as the plane was on it’s descent, she squeezed Jamie’s hand who she still had a grip of.
“Rise and Shine, honey.”
“I wasna sleeping. Only resting my eyes.”
“Well, your ‘resting eyes’ sure did sound like they were snoring.”
“Oh, REALLY?” Claire crossed her arms and raised her eyebrow.
“Well, darling…” Jamie replied, turning in his seat to face her “the flight attendant actually stopped to ask if you had a condition.”
“James Fraser! It is a sin to lie.” Her face had turned to stone, but a sparkle was in her eye.
“Ye ken well it is.” He shook his head, rolling his eyes.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Having only brought their carry-ons, they didn’t have to stand with everyone else waiting for bags. Maneuvering through the crowds, looking at the signage, they made their way to the outside of Pittsburgh International.
“If ye’d like a souvenir, I’d recommend getting them elsewhere as it’s bound to be more expensive in here.” Jamie said backwards to Claire, gawping at the T-Rex skeleton between their escalator and it’s twin on the other side.
“We can pick them up on the way back if we forget, I guess.”
“Uhhhh” Jamie said, “we wilna be returning from here.”
“Ooooh. The plot thickens!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jamie opened the door for her as they got into the first taxi in the queue. Giving the address to the Airbnb, they watched block after block go by, disconcerting as it was driving on the right.
Seeing different establishments with “3 Rivers” in their name, Claire asked the driver what it meant.
“Rivers on either side of us, the Allegheny and the Monongahela, meet to form a third, the Ohio.”
“How unique! And would explain all the bridges I saw as we came over the city. But why are so many people dressed in black and yellow?”
The driver looked in his rear-view mirror. “Black and gold. And it’s hockey night in Pittsburgh. Pre-season game against the Islanders.”
Claire saw a smirk form on Jamie’s lips as he continued reading some pamphlets he picked up in the airport.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A tall gothic building in downtown is what the cab stopped in front of. Retrieving their keys from a small office in the 1st level, Jamie stopped short before opening the door to their room. He leaned against it, pulling Claire to him.
“I didna just decide on this trip on a whim.” He leaned in to kiss her. “This is your birthday present.” Before she could say anything he continued. “We wilna have much time next month to celebrate when we’re finally back at Lallybroch; I’ll be at school and studying, and ye’ll be nannying. And in between we’ll be fitting in plans for the wedding. So…”
He opened the door to a room filled with roses.
Very sorry for the delay.
The sight of four dozen pink roses was nearly as breathtaking as the scent that filled the apartment. Displayed in pale green vases, which hi-lited their rich color, Claire was too overcome to speak; Jamie’s thoughtfulness and attention to detail – much like what he had given to her engagement ring – showed what a profoundly beautiful heart he had.
Claire sat her bag down then reached to cup one to her nose.
“’tis an English rose…named Claire.” Not only had he remembered their first conversation to plan out this trip, but he’d gone so far as to find not just any hybrid rose, the type most commonly boxed up from the florist, but an English rose named after her.
She turned to see his eyes filled with love but a tinge of worry.
“They are exquisite, Jamie. Thank you. This is an unbelievably kind thing for you to do.”
His brows relaxed, and he reached for her. “I do love ye so, Claire.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The apartment had five small rooms: living room, bathroom, an area presumably for dining due to the long table and chairs sat in the corner, and at the end of the hall two doors indicating separate bedrooms. The two walls enclosing the living room were covered with curtains. Black metal frames, holding black and white photos of the city, were fanned out across the apartment with larger, poster-sized photos on the walls going towards the bedroom.
“tis small, aye, but what it lacks in space it makes up for in…”
Standing near the curtains he pulled the first set aside, then the other.
Pulling back a sliding glass door, he waved his hand for Claire to step out on the wrap-around balcony.
There, laid out before them was nearly the entire city of Pittsburgh.
“I figured we could have a late-night glass of wine out here tonight…watch the city light up.” He’d barely finished speaking before Claire jumped to embrace him. “Jamie – thank you. Well, for something so beautiful, I’ll pay for dinner.” She pulled out her phone to find local restaurants, settling on a mexican taco restaurant in the heart of Pittsburgh. “Two sites give it four and half out of five stars.” As she was logging in a call-ahead reservation, she coyly asked: “Is 5:00 alright? Just don’t want to…ummm,” she looked over at him from leaning over the railing, “interfere with any other…plans?”
Realizing she was on to him, he took the phone from her hands and made the reservation for 4:00, closed out the app, then handed the phone back to her. “Early dinners are good, aye? Mam always said not to go to bed on a full stomach as ye’d have nightmares.”
Not knowing what, specifically, he had in mind, but knowing something was up, she smiled and put the phone in her back pocket. “Aye, Aye, Captain. Oh! Speaking of sleeping, should we look at the rooms?”
“If ye wish. Pulling the sliding door open, they surveyed the place again, looking at the descriptions on the photos, then walked down the hall. “Do ye have a preference? I got separate rooms knowing if I got one room ye’d no be able to keep yer hands off me. Did this fer my own safety.”
Claire shook her head then peeked into the smaller room. “You’re a goober.”
A yellow plastic bag, propped up on the pillows, caught her eye. She turned to look at him, a half-smile and a raised eyebrow.
“G’head. Open it.”
She sat on the bed, patted beside her for him to sit, then opened the bag. She pulled out a golden-yellow zip hoodie and small hand towel. On one side of the zipper, along the chest, was the word BURGH and on the other side of the zipper was the word PROUD. She stood to put it on, then looked at herself in the full-length mirror propped against the wall.
She put her hands in the pockets then wrinkled her eyebrows. Pulling out a piece of paper from one of the pockets, she saw that it was some type of ticket.
PPG PAINTS ARENA
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
She sat back on the bed beside him, taking his hand. “Jamie, you’re amazing. I’m gob-smacked.” After a few minutes, she said: “Yellow’s my color. Makes my eyes ‘pop’ don’t ya know.”
“Well, ‘twasn’t my intention to make ye stand out, mind, but to blend in.”
“Ahhh. When in Rome. We don’t want to be wearing…” She looked inside the hoodie at her blue blouse “blue.”
“What’ve you got, then?”
“A black pull-over jersey with the same phrase.”
Holding the small hand towel, which had the words “TERRIBLE TOWEL” on it in black, she cocked her head. “Ok. Burgh Proud is Pitts-burgh Proud. I get that.” She laid it over her lap. “This I don’t get.”
“It’ll make sense later. Just dinna lose it.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The restaurant, humming with conversation and laughter, was a sea of black and gold from the front to the back. The bar was 2 deep the whole way around. The atmosphere was electric. Funky, modern décor, hip and somewhat industrial. Bottom-lit art took up the side walls that were lined with tufted leather-back seating and re-claimed wood tables and chairs.
Thrilled by the vibe, Jamie put his fist out to Claire for a bump: “Dude,” he had to yell, “this rocks.”
“Yea. I know how to pick ‘em.” Uncharacteristically, Jamie blushed.
A young man, the only host at the stand, asked if they had called ahead: glancing at the small wait area with several seats and a large square sofa filled with people, Jamie was relieved to say “Yes. Fraser. Two for 4:00.”
Wiping off one of the areas on his board, he lead them to a small two-top that had just been bussed. After Dani introduced herself as their server, and placed two regular menus and a specials menu, she asked if they’d like drinks.
“We’re no from ‘ere..” Jamie yelled to her.
“That’s so cool! Let me guess…Scotland?”
“Aye. Spot on.”
“Oh my gosh! You came all this way to see the Pens?” she laughed, eyeing their tops.
“Partly yes. ‘tis a gift for my best girl.”
“Aww. Birthday, maybe?”
Claire smiled, and rather than yell “YES. IT IS” she nodded.
“Well, sweetie, I’ll make sure you get a special treat. Are you from Scotland too?”
“No. England.” Claire mouthed.
“Wow! We’re glad to have you! So, drinks to start?”
“Whiskey recommendations?” Jamie asked.
“How about this one…” Dani pointed to a line on the drinks section.
Jamie showed it to Claire. It was an international whiskey competition award winner. American. Single Malt. Notes of caramel, mocha and coffee.
Jamie gave her a thumbs up, then two fingers indicating two of them.
Six tacos, a free slice of cheesecake, and a glass of whiskey later, Claire eyed Jamie from the haze of the caramel, mocha, coffee elixir she’d effortlessly downed. He was a spectacular man, and she wondered how she could ever love him more. Leaning back with his arm over the chair, he scanned the restaurant, drumming his fingers on the table to the song that was playing. Catching her eye, he winked in that goofy way he did. He took his phone off the table and motioned for her to lean in towards him. He held it up to take selfie.
“Night one of yer birthday trip.”
I'm very sorry for the delay.
Eating up the hour before the game started, they stopped in a nearby store that sold Pittsburgh merchandise. Choosing little hoodies for Miriam, Joshua, Esther and Daniel - for fall was a time where sweaters weren’t enough and a winter coat was too much – a small section near the register caught Claire’s eye. Filled with leashes, bowls, tags, and collars, she went down the stack of “Steeler Nation” dog sweaters for the largest size. Gauging that the large would only fit Nick, Asta, and Nora’s heads, Claire was about to ask if there were bigger sizes when the man she assumed to be the manager and cashier came up beside her.
“What breed do you have?”
Jamie, at the counter rolling his eyes, said “two coonhounds and a basset.”
“Ahh. I’ll go in the store room. We don’t keep the bigger sizes in the front.”
While he was away, Jamie looked to Claire, shaking his head. “They dinna need these, ye ken.”
“I respectfully disagree,” Claire said, waving a three pack of Steelers tennis balls at him.
He smiled at her thoughtfulness.
“How about these?” The manager said, holding up three XL black sweaters with gold lettering.
“Yes. Those look perfect.”
Jamie ran his hand over his beard, looking to the ceiling – maybe for divine intervention – then sighed. Claire caught his look, then dramatically pushed the tennis balls towards the pile of sweaters and hoodies on the counter. The owner laughed, then began filling the bag as Claire was signing the receipt. He had placed stickers, three trollies, and a few dog treats in the bag.
They both looked at him in surprise.
“Is that some type of train?” she asked, putting her wallet away.
“Since youns aren’t from here, this is from a classic children’s show that began here in the 1960’s. It was called Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and featured the trolley. Thought since you were buying children’s items it might be a nice little surprise for them as well some stickers and a few dog biscuits to take home. Ermmm – Britian and Scotland?”
“Yes and Yes. Thank ye!” Jamie said, appreciative of the generosity. “It’s for our nieces and nephews. And dogs.”
“On your way to the game, I gather?” he said, nodding to their shirts as he finished bagging everything.
“We are.” Looking out the shop’s front windows, Claire and Jamie saw increasing groups of people making their way to the stadium.
“Have you got your towels?” the cashier asked with a tinge of alarm, reaching for similar ones to theirs that were folded in piles behind the cash register.
Pointing to her bag, Claire said “My well-prepared fiancée made sure of it. So…what’s the story behind waving a hand towel?”
“Well, a local sportscaster named Myron Cope started the tradition back in 1975 which has been copied by other teams, of course” he replied with a bit of derision, “but it was started here. Anyway, came about just as a gimmick for our football team the Steelers to get the team and fans pumped up. I’d say it was a success,” he winked. “Alright then, don’t be late. Thanks for stopping by.”
It had been years since Claire attended a sporting event and it was thrilling to be here, in the U.S., renowned for its sports teams and sports fans. This trip would remain in her heart; from Jamie’s indescribable thoughtfulness, primarily, but also because she got the smallest taste of what this huge country was like.
Stopped beside him at the crosswalk, his hand protectively around her back, she said to herself: “it’s been only months.” Months ago she felt there would never come a righteous, loving man, that there would not be a comfortable, personal way to use her business knowledge, or that the extended family she’d envisioned having as a child would ever come to be. Now, all three things had arrived because of God, of course, and the Scot who now held her heart reverently in his.
As the sign flashed ‘walk,’ she reached her hand up to his face and kissed him. “I love you.”
“I love ye too, angel. But let’s shake a leg, aye?”
Maneuvering into the crowd, they simply followed everyone else until they were at the entrance to the Arena. Once inside, they stopped to the side to take in the stadium. Banners hung and display cases were jotted about to recognize former and present players. The hum of activity was exhilarating. Still full from dinner they bypassed the food courts and found their seats, though there were a few things that looked - and smelled – delicious.
Jamie eyed Claire as they sat down.
“I’m just wonderin’ where ye put all the food.”
“I just noticed there was a line at that Sandwich place. It must mean it’s popular with the locals. Just an observation.”
“If I didn’t have a hold of ye ye’d have floated over there.”
“Here. Practice your wave.” Claire dumped a towel in his lap.
At the first intermission, Jamie excused himself. Claire, excited for having seen two Pittsburgh goals and being able to yell “Let’s Go Pens!” while waving her towel with the crowd, had secretly developed a hunger though she would not have divulged this.
Scooting in front of the others in their row, Jamie returned with a large box of drinks and two sandwiches.
“I’m not THAT hungry, but a little taste…”
“Yer starvin’, dinna fib.”
Unwrapping it, she noticed it had chips on it. And sauerkraut. Wrinkling her eyebrows, Jamie – who had already taken a fairly large bite of his – managed to get out while chewing: “Pittsburgh staple according to my mates in line.”
Also in the box were the largest fried onion rings she’d ever seen.
“I love this place.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Walking back after the game, Claire commented on how much everyone – though strangers to one another – seemed to act like family.
“Aye. Very hometown vibe,” he replied, unlocking the door to their room. “Glad the Pens won.”
After sitting on the balcony for a few hours, laughing and full, the evening’s first chill blew over them, signaling it was time to go in. Claire paused outside her door, looking up to Jamie who stood enticingly, handsomely, in front of her.
She nuzzled his cheek, thankfully not full of prickly stubble but rather a thick, soft, curly beard, then landed intentionally on his lips. She was reminded – in yet another tender moment but with a far more serious consequence- what she had said to herself just that evening: “It’s been only months.”
With a shaking hand, and a pounding heart, she then kissed the inside of his hand. “I’ll see you in the morning?”
He ran his own shaking hand over her cheek. “Aye, lass. For the next adventure.”
The street noise outside her room – honks from angry drivers, snippets of AM talk shows from passing taxis, and the general hustle and bustle of a city waking up propelled Claire to rise as well. Slipping on her sweatshirt and jeans then into her trainers she hurried out to get them coffee and food before Jamie woke up.
About to run out the building’s front door, the GPS on her phone indicating where a few breakfast shops were, a van double parked streetside was unloading baked goods from the back. Outfitted with a black, gold and white vehicle wrap of the business name, phone number, and social media addresses, it’s bold graphic was difficult to take your eyes off of. She held the door for the two men to bring in pallets of warm bags of bread and pastries, condensation on the inside a clear sign they were just made. As she looked back while the men were coming in, she noticed an area beside the front counter was already prepared for breakfast.
“I didn’t know breakfast was included!” she squeaked, excited that so much was already there.
“Enjoy!” the men said, leaving with now empty pallets.
“I will!” she called after them.
Making two plates, she realized she wouldn’t be able to carry the coffee too. Just then she heard a door open and a young woman appear from the office, bringing the croissants and bagels from the bags left in her office. She brought out condiments and creamers too.
“Good Morning! You’ll definitely get your pick since you’re first down here.” Claire thanked her, impressed she was so cheery this early. The young woman found a tray for Claire to put her cups and plates on, then held the door open for her to go up the stairs.
Quietly coming into their room, Claire laid her key down to re-assemble the plates, sugared the coffees then tapped her foot on Jamie’s door.
He quickly opened it, having just dressed. “I’d intended to bring ye breakfast myself, after all it’s yer birthday…”
Before he finished she kissed him. “Not to worry, love. I’m happy to oblige” she said, sitting everything down. “AND LOOK!” Claire threw a dozen packs of Heinz ketchup out of her pocket onto the bed.
“Sure there’s enough?”
“You hush.” She broke open two and poured them over her hash browns and scrambled eggs. "Oh, and here's YOUR stuff." She threw mayo packets too.
Jamie opened the curtains to let in light, looking out to the horizon. “Did ye sleep well?”
“I did. It’s so quiet here I didn’t wake up once. You?”
“Just as well.”
After eating together in silence, Claire curled beside Jamie while she finished drinking her coffee. She could feel the spot where Jamie had been laying by its warmth, then snuggled into it. It had been an exhilarating night. America was more than she expected.
“Sooooo” she said somewhat sleepily, sitting her cup on the table. “What’s in store for today?”
“Well, we need to be out by 11:00, then to the train. A car will be here at 10:30.”
“To take us….” She mumbled into his chest, already curled up for a nap.
“North ‘tis all I’ll say” he whispered, rubbing her back. Turning the television on, he flipped through channels to find the weather then settled on a morning news show.
The hum of a city coming alive in the morning had always excited Jamie. Growing up so far from town, and even farther from a large city, he’d only ever known mornings that were birdsong, the smell of his mum’s scones or his Dad’s parritch, and the requisite need to run downstairs before his siblings.
When they'd gone on holiday, and had a stop in the city, he would have trouble sleeping. Knowing that shops didn’t close at sunset, but stayed open until nearly sunrise, he would sit at the window wishing he could be there in the thick of things. The world woke up with beautiful sounds no matter where you were, but it always seemed better somewhere else. He imagined the trucks he distinctly heard were carrying food; produce that would have been gotten from warehouses that got it from other states or even overseas, restaurants brewing coffee, planes both landing and taking off, boats a ways off were probably docking with imports.
He laid his head back, listening to the morning stretch of this historical city.
Hundreds of year ago, Pittsburgh was a critical place for the installation of military forts, with both the French and British taking advantage of it’s unique geography. Now, with its ties to chocolate, steel, and sports it had a flavor that Jamie would not soon forget. What a proud city, indeed.
Just then his phone rang. Startled, he grabbed it from the bed.
“AYE! I overslept! Please – 5 minutes and we’ll be right down.”
“No problem, buddy. I’m out front.”
“I’m sorry, love. We’re late!”
“Criminy,” she said, looking at the clock on the dresser, “we sure are.”
Shoving everything into their bags, they ran down the stairs. Leaving their keys in the office, they thanked the young woman then ran to the car.
“Pleased to have you! Come again!” she waved from the door.
The driver leaned out his window to confirm he was taking them to Union Station, then popped the boot open for them.
“Yes, thank ye.”
“Where are we going again?” Claire asked coyly, slamming the boot shut.
“A city so nice they named it twice.”
Simply getting to their train would be a more drawn-out endeavor than Jamie had imagined, for the architecture of Penn Station alone was breathtaking. In the rotunda, to begin with, your eye was pulled upward almost by force, then there were the sounds of the immediate streetscape echoing in it.
Inside the main hall it continued. “This is what’s missing in architecture. I just can’t put my finger on it.” As a child, Claire had sat on a stool at her father’s side as he put together comprehensive, multi-paged building designs which always fascinated her. “There’s a sense of permanence and class. The merging of brick, steel, glass and marble - combining so many materials and still with an end result that isn’t chaotic? Remarkable.” The intricate design work several feet up drew her closer. “After the art deco style that came within a few decades, I feel like everything went down hill.”
“There is truth to all ye said. ‘tis why I love ye so much – ye bring more to my life than I’d ever expected. Oh! We’ll have to discuss this more on our trip.” Boarding an Acela, the conductor came down the aisle checking tickets. “Philly, Jersey or New York?” he asked, holding his hand out.
Handing him both, Jamie replied: “New York.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Arriving at another Penn Station, excitement gripped Claire. Waiting behind the line of people exiting took forever, but once on the platform she raced for the escalator, keeping hold of Jamie’s hand.
Asking a few people which way to get street side, they eventually found themselves standing in front of the Madison Square Garden. The hum of activity was indescribable. It was unequaled to anything they’d experienced before. Craning their necks to see the tops of the buildings, the wrap-around flatscreens were filled with unending advertisements and promotions; an absolutely unexpected surprise. With honking horns, whipping wind, and the delicious aromas from different vendors it was a lot to take in.
“I didn’t know I could be this hungry,” Claire said, locating the aroma to a small greek truck across the street.
“Well, let’s keep our appetite back until after we check in, aye?”
Getting in the first cab in the line that waited outside the station, Jamie gave the address. Unlike Pittsburgh’s old-world charm and personal character, New York was unapologetically bold.
Store fronts whizzed by: haute couture, prêt-à-porter, then novelty and souvenir shops. Parks were filled with kite flyers, families, and dog-walkers. On one block you would see a centuries old church, such as 253 year old St. Paul’s Chapel, frequented by Revolutionary families, was overshadowed by the glass and steel buildings beside it. The past clearly remained, but the future would not be held back.
Their small brownstone, an Airbnb that he’d gotten a one-time-only price for, came into view as the driver pulled over to let them out. The keys were in a lockbox that Jamie had the combination to. Opening the door, he stepped aside the let Claire go in first. She dropped her bag and hugged him. “You have quite effectively ensured that no man will ever take your place. Not that anyone ever could.”
Their first moment alone in hours, Jamie held Claire close. “Thank ye, lass. Yer just as irreplaceable.” For several moments they lingered in their embrace, the chugging of the train and the jerking of the cab finally over. It was lovely to be still and quiet.
“The owner was thrilled we took it, and even filled the refrigerator with food,” Jamie eventually said, remembering Claire was hungry. “Would ye care if we made something now, then went out later?”
“That suits me just fine. I’ll even cook.”
Jamie set out plates on the patio’s table, nestled in the brick-laden enclosure, and found a new york playlist for them to listen to on his phone.
Opening the fridge, Claire saw two small bottles of prosecco with a note: “Enjoy your stay!”
“Awww!” She looked over what was available and settled on making chicken cacciatore. For dessert she sliced sicilian oranges and honeycrisp apples.
After prayer, they ate quickly, toasting to a successful stay.
“Dinna forget” Jamie said, sitting down his fork and knife “that this is ‘the city that never sleeps’ so we can be out until the wee hours.”
Claire leaned back, closed her eyes, then clasped her hands behind her head.
“I’ve been watching videos lately that I just find fascinating. People set up cameras in the forest, near a stream, in every season, and for hours you can watch and listen to the beautiful sounds of nature. But I saw one recently where someone had opened a window from a building in some big city and captured hours of the street below. Probably sounds stupid, but I listened for the whole 3 hours.”
She took a long breath. “There is no other city in the world that will sound just like this. It’s like New York is a body and we’re listening to it breathe.” His gaze, if she was able to see it, was filled with love and admiration.
“I know you have a plan,” she remarked, her eyes still closed and a slight smile forming. “What’s next?”
Smiling himself, he quietly opened his phone to the email confirmation of the tickets he’d gotten to a Broadway show that evening. Touching Claire’s arm to get her attention, he held it for her to see.
“On the Town,” a dance-filled, nostalgic show had none of the tragedy, horror, or sexuality of nearly everything else playing, thankfully, so would ensure the rest of the evening could be spent in good spirits. Uniquely American, it enriched their stateside experience.
After the show, they both stood on the sidewalk. They were definitely connecting with the New York vibe, and there was no chance it would stop. Hailing a cab, Jamie leaned in the front window: “Katz’s deli.”
“Ooooh!” Claire mouthed.
“Now, there’s a bit of a procedure we have to adhere to” he cautioned as they scooted inside. “We’ll get a ticket when we get in, then we have to know our order when we’re called to the counter or risk a tongue-lashing. They are famous for many things, ken, but it’s their pastrami or corned beef sandwiches on rye that is most sought after. So, I recommend we get that. And we have to say ‘fries’ not ‘chips’ or we might get reprimanded a second time, or end up with crisps.”
“’When in Rome.’”
Scaffolding on nearly every block showed just how much New York kept moving forward, expanding on its already solid reputation as being the best, most desired. Impossibly tall buildings loomed through the windshield but, out the windows, art deco office buildings followed fast food restaurants which followed statue-focused parks.
Katz’s deli, the New York landmark, provides customers – some who have been coming for generations – phenomenal food. Sure enough, they were given a numbered ticket inside the door. Holding them for dear life, they maneuvered to the end of the shortest line, for there were several “cutters,” a term for the employees who hand-cut the meat for the sandwiches. Though relatively small, it nonetheless was bursting with energy. Dozens of customers filled the perimeter, dozens more were in lines, and the walls shone from neon signs.
Claire got the pastrami, Jamie the corned beef, then both had the unbelievable luck to be offered half of a four-seat table by an elderly couple who – seeing the near panic that indicated first-timers – waved them over. The couple were pleasant, kind, and after quick introductions wished them a good meal.
Jamie watched Claire study the 4” high sandwich as she pulled it apart. “There’s no way to be polite about it, aye? Just dig in” he said, shoving his own into his mouth. To his amazement, as well as the couple beside them, Claire quickly finished not only the sandwich, but the fries too.
The turnover was impressive, causing Claire to consider what the business model was. “130 years running! How do you stay successful for that long? Everyone’s vegan now and into clean eating.”
“Well,” Jamie replied, motioning to the packed restaurant, “not everyone.”
“They ship nationwide, it said at the front. They embraced technology for online ordering, shipping and local delivery. Extended their customer base.”
“Well, we need to deliver ourselves outside and give someone else a chance to sit” Jamie said, reaching for Claire’s hand. Opening the door for her, he gave her the evening’s plan: “I’ve decided to give ye the freedom to choose what ye’d like to do.” He pulled her to him, kissing the top of her head. “The world is yer oyster.”
Across the street, the faint sound of fiddles could be heard from a small pub where people were queueing up. “Let’s see what that’s about.”
Sure enough, a small Irish band was inside. The chalkboard on the sidewalk read “Fancy a wee dram? Irish barrel dancing tonight!”
“Don’t have to ask me twice!”
It was midnight when they left the pub. Dancing, singing, and a round of sliders and shakes – only one wee dram of whiskey for each – they bid the lovely people they’d shared the night with a heartfelt goodbye.
“This felt good,” Jamie said opening the door for Claire “to be with people. Laugh and sing.”
“It really did.”
Outside, a humid breeze greeted them. Expecting empty sidewalks and streets, to their shock both were thriving. They stood back, against the pub, to make way for the crowds that needed the space.
For several minutes they took it all in, realizing both the time for them to return to Scotland, and it being tomorrow, had arrived simultaneously. No one seemed tired; it was as if midnight excursions for food and entertainment were commonplace.
“It really is the city that never sleeps,” Claire said loudly over the throngs of excited, energetic people that filed in front of them.
“Well, I’d imagine that here in a few hours it will come to a standstill. They have to sleep sometime.”
Seeing an in, Claire grabbed Jamie’s hand and onramped into the crowd.
“I’m exhausted, unfortunately. Would you mind if we made our way back?” Claire asked, yawning but wishing she could keep going.
“I’m glad of it, actually.”
No after dinner cordial or coffee, nor star-gazing; they kissed each other goodnight and immediately found their beds.
At 7am, Jamie rose to make sure he got their breakfast this time. Since a proper deli was located – thanks to the internet and star reviews - he got bagels, latkes, fruit, spreads, and coffee; not easily though, for his research into the best places for such fare had meant he was not the only one there.
Hurrying to arrive before Claire woke up, he snuck into the house only to find her lounging at the courtyard table, her face tilted to the warm morning sun.
“Good morning, luv!” She said, waving, but not turning around. The doors were open, which made placing all the food on the table easy.
“New York bagels, latkes, coffee, and…” he said, placing the containers of spreads and fruit on the table “accessories.”
Just about to take his first bite, Jamie’s phone rang. Glancing at the screen he saw it was Miriam.
She giggled, waving her hand. Joshua’s face appeared halfway into the screen, making a goofy face.
“’ello to you too, Nephew.”
“What’re you doing Uncle Jamie? Da says yer in New York? That’s in the United States of America.”
“It is! We are having breakfast. What are you doing?”
“Why are you having breakfast at lunchtime?” Her face got suddenly serious.
“There’s a difference in time, sweetie, because we’re so far away. It’s lunchtime there, but breakfast time here. Traveling around the world puts you in different time zones.”
Joshua seemed intrigued, nodding his head.
“Oh. Where’s Aunt Claire?”
Jamie turned the phone around, allowing Claire to wave hello.
Miriam smiled, waved back, and blew her a kiss. Claire caught it and blew one back.
Jamie turned the phone around. “How are the bairns?”
“I think the phrase Mam used the other day was ‘cute as a bug in a rug.’ Daniel laughs a lot.”
Over the top of the phone Claire mouthed “AWWW!”
“When will you be back?”
“We’re coming back very early in the morning.”
“Will we see ye then?”
“No, lass. In a few days.”
Her mouth wrinkled in disappointment. “Alright. I’ll wait.”
Murtagh’s voice from the other room could be heard. “Time to go!”
Joshua waved. “Bye Unky Jamie and And Claire!”
Miriam waved then made a heart with her fingers. “See you soon.”
Claire spread cream cheese and fried onions on her latkes. “So we’re to leave later today?”
“There are still a few things to see here, then to the airport at 6pm.”
Claire prepared a pumpernickel bagel for Jamie. “Then we better fill our tanks.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After riding a double-decker tour bus – passing notable sights such as The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and The Brooklyn Bridge, they also passed through Manhattan’s financial district. Jamie grabbed Claire’s hand; heartfelt reassurance for the opportunity she had been so excited for. The undeniably spectacular city came at them at every turn. It wasn’t just the large and well-known, the recognizable buildings or landmarks; it was also the people, the unending commerce and activity that together made for one of the most unique and unforgettable experiences to ever be had.
Dropped off at Central Park, the remainder of their time would be spent eating a late lunch from one of the many and incredible street vendors and a long walk. Sat under a tree, the remnants of two gyros and Oranginas beside them, Claire took in her very last moments.
“Jamie,” she whispered, for he was dozing slightly.
“Aye, lass” he whispered back, reaching for her with his arm.
“I will never forget this,” she said, leaning into him. “I’m overwhelmed by how wonderful every moment was. Thank you.”
Jamie took her face in both of his hands. “Lass, I will spend every minute I’m alive doing this, and more, so you ken how much I love you.” He pulled her lips to his, holding her in his arms, grateful indeed for every moment.
I hope all of you are well. My apologies for the delay in posting.
On the sofa beside Claire, Esther lay with utmost content as her soft green eyes caught sight of the swaying trees out the window. She glanced one to the other, captivated by the waves of leaves that floated off each one into the wind.
Daniel, over Claire’s shoulder, had just finished his bottle and was being encouraged to burp by Claire’s soft pats on his back. She covered him with a swaddling blanket, tucking it snugly around him, as she rocked back and forth. He nuzzled his head into her neck, his soft, regular breathing a clear sign he had fallen asleep.
Esther, who was focused on the tree branches, showed no signs of napping. Claire caressed her cheek. “You’ve been a right angel today, sweet girl, no tempest yet!”
Laying Daniel in the small pack-and-play in the sitting room, she covered him with an additional blanket, rubbing his dark, curly hair.
Jamie had left for class, his only one on campus, having been able to switch his other two to online. November had come in discreetly; the still strong sunshine gave the illusion that summer was still about, still holding court, but early Christmas adverts spoke to obvious and quickly approaching winter.
Claire’s days, when not nannying, had become filled with wedding plans, refining the business’ website, how the farm needed to be configured to provide all the services, marketing, and excitedly, designing a logo and a line of merchandise.
The house had become filled entirely with energy and life since they returned from the States; Imogene and Brian were fully invested in learning the farm’s history, identifying the mystery seeds, and doing a test planting of a few to see if they were still viable. Imogene hosted workshops at the house for the community which were gaining in popularity, Lamb and Ella had been to visit regularly, having decided to live in England for a few years while they took a break from digs. Jenny, now able to drive she and Willie to school, had taken to finishing her homework early so that she could continually help Claire with anything to get the company closer to launching: she looked into beekeeping so they could sell honey and candles, screen printing companies, while running small errands with Ellen or Brian to log her driving hours.
Sitting back beside Esther, now tired of the outside and focusing on Claire’s face, Claire picked her up and cradled her in her arms. Wrapping the other swaddling blanket around her, Claire sang her lullabies. But after just a few, Esther’s well-known agitation returned. No amount of rocking, singing, or walking about seemed to ease her angst.
Just as Claire was about to give her a bath, for it seemed to soothe her temporarily, she heard Jamie’s car pull in. Esther’s cries were reaching a fevered pitch when, just as Jamie walked in the door, Esther grunted, filling her diaper.
Claire, a look of shock and concern on her face, looked to Jamie who’s own concern had immediately turned to laughter. He came to kiss both Claire and Esther. “Ah, lass..” he said quietly to Esther, “ye’ve a need to eat more slowly.”
While Jamie – holding his nose – took the diaper to the bin, Claire took a now sleepy-eyed Esther to lay beside her brother. “You know, Jamie, I think she might have a food allergy” she said, concerned, as she came from the sitting room. “I remember from my biology classes that certain foods can cause exactly the symptoms she has.”
He followed her to the kitchen, where they both washed their hands. “They can have them that early?”
“I remember a few case studies we read where children with rashes or fussiness were misdiagnosed as contact dermatitis or colic when it was allergic sensitivity to foods.”
Just then Anabella came quietly in the door. She looked curiously, then both Jamie and Claire motioned to the sitting room when she asked after the children.
“I’m sorry for being a tad late.”
“It’s never a problem! I love them. But, I’d like to mention something if that’s alright.”
“My dear, I’m never one to turn away advice. Please feel free.” Annabella sat her bag down, the took up a chair.
“I think Esther may have a food allergy. Her fussiness is always after she eats which is followed by a rather, well, disagreeable reaction.”
Annabella thought for a moment. “I’d not thought of that. The other have never had an aversion to anything.”
“Well the common allergens – as I’m sure you already know - are peanuts, strawberries, shell fish, dairy, and gluten. Might there be any of those in your diet?”
Annabella searched her mind, going over everything she ate on a daily basis. “Oh my word….I have strawberry marmalade on my scone every morning.”
“I mean…I can’t be sure. I just thought…”
“Claire, love” Anabella consoled her “ye’ve a good sense about ye. This may be a clue.”
When Anabella brought them back a few days later, Esther was all smiles. “My dear – ye’ve found the answer,” she said, sitting her car seat down. Jamie came in behind her with Daniel. “I’ve moved away from the marmalade and she’s right as rain. Has been all coos and smiles.”
“Ye’ve a mind for this, Claire. I’m ever so grateful.” Annabella said, taking her keys out of her bag. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“I can’t believe I thought of that,” Claire said, relieved that she had been of some help. She lifted Esther from her seat, while Jamie retrieved Daniel from his.
Arranging Esther on her lap, Claire remarked: “This has been one of the best experiences of my life. I love being with them. I’m so glad….classes didn’t work out.” She smiled at Jamie.
“Aye, lass” he said, smiling back at her “so are the weeuns.”
A part of this chapter is sexual in nature so is deemed NSFW.
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I want to thank all of you faithful subscribers who have stuck with the story despite the lengthy breaks between chapters. I apologize for the lack of updates.
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“Claire, have ye a mind what colors ye’ll like for your wedding?” Jenny asked quietly from her bed.
“That’s one thing I have in the ‘to do’ column, among others. There’s a few combinations I’ll show you. It can easily be decided down the road, but other things need more planning,” Claire whispered back.
“Ye’ve been working on a lot. Dinna forget that winter break is coming up and I’ll have time. And I drive, ye ken.” She heard Jenny suppress a yawn. She had taken easily and happily to driving, appreciating the ability to do more for herself and the family.
“You’re always a help, and I’ll definitely need it. Some things I’ll be doing with Jamie, but I have December and January deadlines coming up- ordering the wedding invitations, securing the church, getting the caterer…” Claire stopped. She hadn’t heard Jenny say anything so turned in her bed quietly to see if she was still awake. She had fallen asleep with both hands under her cheek.
“You’re an angel, Jenny Fraser” Claire thought to herself.
Once Claire’s mind got working, no matter when, it wouldn’t stop. She snuck out of bed to get her laptop, then began adding to her spreadsheets and task lists until her mind had dumped out everything it created. It was 1:30am, and now her stomach was grumbling. She sighed. “And now something else is awake.” Just as she slid her legs over the bed to go downstairs to get a yoghurt, she smirked. She unplugged her phone from the charger to send a text.
She waited for the typing bubble. After several minutes there wasn’t a reply, so she tried again.
Finally, the typing bubble appeared then the emoji with the raised eyebrow showed up.
Claire replied with the hamburger emoji followed by the french fries emoji, the burrito emoji, the pizza emoji, the taco emoji, and finally the cookie emoji.
Waiting for Jamie’s reply, she heard two quick taps on her door instead. She changed into whatever clothes were laying on the chair so she didn’t wake Jenny, then slipped on whatever shoes were under it. Her bag was on the table, which she lifted quietly then snuck out the door.
Jamie was at the top of the stairs. He waved his hand for her to go first. She started to go down the first step but couldn’t tell if it was a trick because she couldn’t see his eyes. And yet, even in the dark of the hall, she caught that flash of mischievousness. She scurried down as fast as she could, but Jamie took the stairs slowly, one at a time, not giving any hint to a last-minute maneuver. She was just about the step off the landing and turn into the downstairs hallway when Jamie wiggled past her and bolted to the door.
“I WAS GOING TO PAY ANYWAY SMARTYPANTS” she loud-whispered, coming right behind him. Keys out, he gave a V for Victory, running to get the car.
The dogs hadn’t moved from their beds so Claire quietly closed the door behind her. A smile plastered on his face, he pulled up. Claire gave him a Bronx cheer then got in the other side.
“What was it ye said there? ‘Jamie, you’re so much smarter and faster than me?’”
“Hardly! I said I was going to pay any way smartypants.”
He left the car to idle, leaning over for a kiss. “Lass, ye make me laugh and I love ye somethin’ fierce.”
She took his face in her hands, nuzzling his nose, then kissed him. “Back at ya.”
Pulling out, he glanced over at her. “My treat.”
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The 24 hour shop wasn’t as bustling as the last time; it was November, and weeks from Thanksgiving. They ordered what they had before, a warm bond settling between them. There were moments, random instances, where they could feel the connection between them deepening: a playful text in the wee hours when the complacency of life was making you weary; watching your fiancée hold a bairn with indescribable love and tenderness; the way you cry about your well-made, well-focused plans falling apart but your fiancée listens, re-directing your pain into hope with heartfelt understanding.
They already knew the union they had was perfect; knew without question it was blessed by God because there was never any discomfort being with the other, and trust flowed so freely.
Claire, now wide awake and full, went over the timeline for the wedding, that she already reserved appointments with Annabella for fittings, could he call Angus and Rupert for estimates, and the reception place needed to be chosen. He took her hand, turned it over, and kissed her palm. “As ye wish.”
On the way home, the heat on rather than the windows open, Claire got drowsy. Jamie stopped the car to the side of the house – his usual parking spot - and turned it off. Claire looked over at him as he gazed out the windshield.
Jamie pointed to the horizon. “The sun, soon.”
The golden-red mixture made the horizon look like it was on fire. “Wow, we were gone long.”
She scooted over the worn bench seat into Jamie’s waiting arm. She lifted her head towards his– more as a means to convey how deeply happy she was in this moment – when Jamie met his mouth to hers, then ran his lips down her neck. As he pulled the collar of her shirt away to nuzzle her collarbone, his soft, curly beard tickling her sensitive skin, she wound her hand in the hair at the nape of his neck, pulling his head so that his lips met hers again. Breaking for air, she lifted his shirt to caress his chest, lightly kissing his neck. His head sunk back onto the head rest as she found swirls of hair to wind around her fingers.
About to pull her atop his lap, “ways of escape” employed in quick succession: a reminder of his promise to Henry, the direction from Murtagh (“Do ye want a union that’s blessed or a union that’s quick?”) a talk Brian had with him growing up (“remember Son – be the protector of both yours and yer lass’s purity.”) As he went to move her hand away, Claire, equally convicted, moved to the other side of the seat.
“I’m sorry, Lass, for allowing the indulgence.” Jamie rolled the windows down, needing a blast of cold morning air.
Claire took Jamie’s hand. “It’s not your fault. And I’m sorry too.”
After several minutes watching the beautiful sunrise, Claire spoke: “You can put the window up now. I think we’re decidedly frozen.”
Jamie, snapping to, laughed. He turned in the seat towards her: “Lass, yer a good woman and I thank ye for…the help. I keep thinking I canna love ye more, then I do.”
Claire brightened. “Aww, my darling. I’m not accustomed to failing tests, and I won’t let you either. I love you.”
Once inside, he placed both of their coats on the coat tree. He looked at her warmly, grateful to have her in his life. Out of the workings of his heart, a sly smile grew.
Claire put her arms around him, merely raising an eyebrow as she looked him in the eyes.
Gently brushing past her cheek, his lips settled near her ear to whisper: “We could always make the wedding sooner.”
1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
This is a quick piece while I put together a longer one. I had thought about what changing the date of their wedding would entail and this whole scene popped into my head. I hope you enjoy. :)
Jamie had many times been sat in front of his parents, like this, but under circumstances that usually involved a note from a teacher, neglected chores, or a disrespectful attitude; errant decisions that had resulted in unfortunate outcomes. This time, though, he was proactively deciding to prevent an unfortunate outcome while protecting the honor of his fiancée, a promise he made to her father, and the good stead he wished to keep with his own family:
“Claire and I would like to change our wedding date.”
He clasped her hand, then straightened his back. Claire looked somewhat nervously past Brian and Ellen, to the wall behind them.
Brian’s eyes narrowed, ever so slightly, while Ellen’s flew somewhat open.
“Might I ask the reason?” There was a small waver in Brian’s voice.
Claire, immediately recognizing what track the conversation had just jumped to, blurted out: “I’M NOT PREGNANT.”
Startled, Jamie jumped.
“Ooh. Sorry. Didn’t mean to yelp like that.”
The color came quickly back to Ellen’s face. “Oh.”
“We, uh…have decided on April 12th rather than June 1st. See, I’ll be graduating in mid-May, but by the beginning of May I’ll have most everything done. I’ll get enough done early so I can take my finals by then, so April is a nice time.”
“I see,” Brian said. He had a habit of nodding his head long after he’d said something, as if he was saying even more in his mind than he had let out.
“Anything else?” Ellen asked, worried there could be more they were holding back on.
Jamie and Claire shook their heads in unison.
Ellen cocked her head. “Well then, we need to…” She studied them both for a minute. “…get the lead out, as they say. We’ve got roughly four months.”
With this change in plans, Brian needed to broach an issue that needed to be decided, and now more quickly: “Have ye decided on a church yet?”
They began slowly to deflate, as if small pinholes were letting the air out of them.
“That will be first order, yes?” Jamie looked anxiously at Claire.
“Of course. Yes! Then we’ll tackle the venue guest list vendors which Rupert and Angus can help with and Annabella for fittings I mean after I pick out my gown THEN we’ll have fittings and invitations which surely…” Claire looked anxiously back at Jamie “we can have done this week!”
Brian almost imperceptibly rolled his eyes. “Let’s talk tomorrow.”
“Yes, Da. We…”
Brian and Ellen had made their way into the kitchen.
“…will. Thank ye,” Jamie said into the empty family room.
Claire made a nerdy laugh, which Jamie mimicked, then they both high-fived – purposely missing – to indicate how Un-well things had just gone.
“Is there ever a time ye DO feel like an adult with yer parents, and no just a bungling bairn?”
Claire snickered. “’bungling bairn’. Good one.”
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The next morning Claire video-called Julia.
“Hello, luv! What’s up?”
“Muuuuuuuuummmm.” Claire exaggeratedly said.
“Honey? You OK?” Julia smile flattened a bit.
“Jamie and I want to move the date of the wedding to April 12.”
Claire made a scrunched up face, raising her eyebrows. She always did this when she didn’t want to give a reason for something she’d done.
Julia sighed. “Oh, Claire.”
Claire added a shoulder shrug.
“OK, just checking.”
Julia stared at her. “We better get cracking, Miss.”
Then they both laughed.