Somewhere in Northern Italy, 1983
John leaned back against the pillows, one hand behind his head, “When is he coming?” Isobel asked and plopped down on the bed beside him.
“Any minute now, his plane arrived this morning from Scotland.” John quirked his eyebrows up, he knew Isobel had a thing for Scottish men.
Every year, John’s family spent the summer at their Italian home and their neighbours, the Dunsanys accompanied them, owning the decently sized house next door. Italy was a nice change from the cold stuffy weather of England. “I wonder what he’ll be like?” John rose from his bed to look out the window, but there was no sign of a car approaching.
“Perhaps he’ll be like the last one, a conceited know-it-all,” Isobel laughed, brushing her hands through her stringy brown hair. John liked Isobel, she was sweet and they fooled around sometimes but he wasn’t attracted to her, it was just a youthful exploration.
“Yeah, let’s hope not.” John said under his breath. John’s father was an archaeologist and, during the summer months, he would hire an assistant come to help him catalogue his findings. They were always young men, working on their PhDs, somewhere in Europe. Just then a honk came from outside the open window and he heard the faint sound of his father’s footsteps on the cobblestone pavement. “That must be him.” John and Isobel ran down the stairs to get a glimpse of the new assistant who would be with them for six weeks.
“Welcome! Welcome!” His father, Gerard said as he greeted the red haired man, “Oh, my, you’re much bigger than your pictures!” He laughed placed his hand on the back of the man’s shoulder. The large man was clad in loose cotton shorts and a billowing half unbuttoned dress shirt with sunglasses hanging between the material.
In a thick Scottish accent, the man replied, “Och, I couldna fit all of myself in the pictures it seems.” John liked him immediately, his clothes, his chiseled jaw and that accent — he could listen to it all day. This was all very superficial of course, but he hoped he would get to know more about him over his stay.
As his father and the man approached him, John stuck out his hand in introduction, “Hi, I’m John Grey.”
The tall man took his hand, firm in his grip, “Jamie Fraser.” He smiled, and there was a warmth that fell over John and he was now very much looking forward to the summer.
Jamie walked past John and he caught a slight whiff of lavender and whisky. “Make yourself at home, Jamie. “ La nostra casa è ora la tua casa .” Gerard led Jamie around, giving him a quick tour while John followed closely behind. Isobel waved goodbye and turned to head back to her own house next door, John almost missed her departure due to the fact that he was staring at the back of Jamie’s head, watching his auburn curls bounce with every step.
“John, dear, will you take Jamie’s things up to his room?” His mother, Benedicta, asked him, her hand soft on his shoulder as she shook him out of his daze. She gave him a knowing look, one John didn’t quite know the full meaning behind but as her eyes darted over to Jamie, he blushed and kissed her on the cheek.
John then looked over at Jamie who was staring at him, his own smile plastered on his face. “Follow me,” John called to Jamie and started up the stairs to his room, which adjoined Jamie’s with a shared bathroom.
“’Tis a lovely house ye have, John.” Jamie remarked as they walked through the halls.
“Oh thanks. It’s quite different from our home in England and I love the weather here. I’m sure you’ll find it’s a nice change from the Scottish rain.” He laughed and set the suitcase he’d been carrying on the floor of his bedroom.
Jamie’s shoulder brushed against him as he passed. John watched as the large Scot jumped onto the bed face first with a sigh.
“If you need anything, my room is connected through the bath right there,” John looked down at Jamie but there was no response as he had fallen asleep.
“A lazy one aren’t we.” John smiled to himself and crossed through the bathroom to his own room and sat down at his desk, resuming writing a letter to his brother who was currently back in England. John missed his brother, Hal, it was usually the two of them all summer, riding around Italy, chasing girls and staying out all night. But since Hal got the internship with the Prime Minister, he wasn’t able to join them this year.
An hour later, his mother was calling up for them to join them downstairs for dinner. He stood from his desk, laying his headphones over his journal and crossed through the bathroom to his old room. Jamie was splayed across the bed, arms out and mouth agape. John noticed that Jamie was smiling in his sleep which he found quite endearing.
Walking over to his bookshelf, John picked up a heavy book and “dropped” it on the ground with a loud thud. Jamie immediately jumped and stirred, his eyes opening to stare up at John.
“We’re being called down to dinner,” John said, his gaze never leaving the ocean blue eyes.
“Och, I’ll have to pass this time. Was up all night packing and saying goodbye to friends,” he sighed and closed his eyes again.
John walked to the door, “Oh and could ye close the door?” Jamie said and promptly pushed his head back against the pillow.
The next morning, John sat outside with his parents over breakfast. The house had a large orchard on the property that grew fresh fruits like peaches, apricots and pomegranates. John took a sip of his apricot juice as he heard the loud steps of what could only be Jamie descending.
“Ah, look who it is,” Gerard said, raising his hands in the air, “Jamie, recovered have we?”
Jamie took the seat next to his father and picked up a boiled egg, immediately peeling the shell off. “Aye, the moment my head hit the pillow, I was out. I didna even hear John come back from dinner.” At the sound of his name on Jamie’s lips, John felt something in him stir, curiosity maybe?
“That’s great, Jamie, I’m glad you could rest,” Benedicta smiled across the table, pouring him a glass of apricot juice.
John sat back quietly, eating the bits of his breakfast and just watched as Jamie took the proffered glass and slowly drank the juice, a little bit of the orange liquid spilling down his mouth and neck.
“This apricot juice is most likely the best thing I have ev’r had!” Jamie sighed and set the glass back down on the table and his mother refilled it to the top. John looked at his father, amused, already knowing what he’s going to say.
“The word apricot comes from the Arabic — it’s like the words ‘algebra’, ‘alchemy’, and ‘alcohol’,” Gerard said to Jamie, “It derives from an Arabic noun combined with the Arabic article ‘al-‘ before it. The origin of our Italian ‘albicocca’ was ‘al-barquq’…”
Benedicta tries to hide her smile and picks up the morning newspaper from the table as Gerard continues, “It’s amazing that today in Israel and many Arab countries, the fruit is referred to by a totally different name: ‘mishmish’.”
The corner of Jamie’s lips quirked and John settled in to his chair, “I beg to differ.”
“Ah, do you?”
“The word is not actually an Arabic word.” Jamie replied, folding his hands over his firm stomach.
“How so?” Gerard replied with a smirk of his own.
“I’m diving into a bit of etymology, one of my passions, so bear with me,” the Scot laughed, “Many Latin words are derived from the Greek. In the case of ‘apricot’, however, it’s the other way around.” Jamie grins over at John, catching him off guard and John felt a blush creep up his neck.
“Here the Greek takes over from Latin. The Latin word was ‘praecoquum’, from ‘pre-coquere’, pre-cook, to ripen early, as in precocious, meaning premature.” John watched Jamie’s lips ast they formed the complicated words.
“The Byzantines - to go on -“ he laughed again, “borrowed ‘praecox’, and it became ‘prekokkia’ or ‘berikokki’, which is finally how the Arabs must have inherited it as ‘al-barquq’.”
The Grey family was silent, sharing looks between one another until John laughed and Gerard said, “Passed with flying colours.” Jamie looks from his father to his mother before settling his eyes on John.
“He does this every year.” John laughed, remembering the one man who came to stay with them one year who had no idea what any of it meant and agreed with his father on his wrong understanding of the derivation of the word.
John finished the rest of his own juice and looked back to Jamie, “I can show you around today.”
“Aye, that’d be great.” Smiling he took another bite of his fourth egg and reached for a piece of toast.
John led Jamie through the small town on bikes, the sun scorching high in the sky, a gentle summer breeze in the air. They peddled to a small cafe in an unpopulated area and took a seat across from each other at a small table.
“So John, what do you do around here?” Jamie asked, taking a sip of his iced latte, his eyebrows raised in question.
John licked his lips, tasting salty perspiration, “I read mostly, go out at night — play chess.”
“Oh I love chess! We’ll have to play together sometime,” Jamie offered, his legs crossed under the table and bumped against John’s knee.
“Great. I’ll probably beat you, just letting you know,” John grinned and took a long sip of his own iced coffee.
“We shall see about that,” the Scot said, his blue eyes crinkling against the rays of the sun. John stared back into the Scots eyes and thought he saw a flicker of flirtation but it was gone as soon as it came.
“When you go out,” Jamie said, his hand brushing back loose curls that fell over his eyes, “are there girls that go wi’ ye?”
“Of course, there always are. You’ll meet our neighbors soon, the Dunsanys, they have two daughters around my age.”
“A bit young for me perhaps,” Jamie attempted a wink, “How old are ye anyways?” He laughed.
John answered, suddenly feeling like a child, too young to be taken seriously, “I’m nineteen.”
“Och, I coulda sworn ye were at least twenty or twenty-one.” Jamie grinned, taking another sip of his latte, “I’m twenty-three, so only a four year age difference.”
“Are you religious?” John suddenly asked, out of the blue, pointing to a silver cross necklace hanging around Jamie’s neck.
Holding the small cross between his fingers, Jamie smiled, “Och, I’m Catholic, born and raised, are ye religious at all, John?”
“Oh yes, my family is Church of England. Although we don’t necessarily partake in everything -- casual you could say,” his lip quirked up at the side, earning a similar smile from Jamie.
It was ease of conversation that John liked when he talked with Jamie. Nothing was forced, no one was trying too hard.
They finished their coffees in silence and both stood to climb back on to their bikes. John was unstable and as he put his foot on the peddle his foot slipped, causing the bike to push against Jamie. His hand reflexively went out and clutched at Jamie’s shoulder to hold himself steady, a wave of electricity went through his body at the contact.
“Sorry,” John stammered and righted himself back on the bike.
“’Tis no worries, mate.” Jamie smiled and together they peddled back to the Grey’s house.
The next day a few of John’s friends come round to play a game of volleyball in their big backyard. Isobel came and of course brought her older sister, Geneva. John knew Isobel was quite jealous of Geneva, she was beautiful and very charming whereas Isobel was quiet and held back how she truly felt most of the time.
He laid back on a towel spread out on the lawn.
“He seems a big improvement from the last assistant,” Isobel smiled, casting her hand over her eyes to look over at Jamie who was playing a game with some others.
“Yes, indeed he is.” John dropped his book to his chest and found himself staring at the long lines of Jamie’s body and noticed the man had deep scars on his back. He would have to ask him about those sometime.
“And Geneva is quite taken with him, I see,” Isobel scowled and crossed her arms over her chest, pulling her sunglasses onto her face.
John found that he too was jealous of the way that Jamie hugged Geneva, but he pushed that thought aside and told himself he was jealous because he fancied Geneva, not the other way around. “Who wouldn’t be, that is the question.” As he stared over at Jamie, he noticed that Jamie was now on his way over to them.
“John, did ye want to come and play in the next game?” He asked, clasping a large hand over his shoulder.
John shook his head, trying to act casual about the touch, “No. I’m perfectly content to sit out here, soak up the sun.” He stretched his arms out in front of him.
Jamie began to rub his hand over his shoulder, back and forth almost as if he was massaging his muscles, “Well, ye need a bit of sun. Yer quite pale,” he laughed and with a gentle slap against his skin, Jamie turned and left, back to the game.
That brief moment of contact, much like yesterday on their bikes, left John reeling and he spent that night thinking about Jamie’s hands somewhere else on his body.
One night at dinner, about six days into Jamie’s stay, before Jamie came down, John asked his father what he thought about Jamie. “Do you think he’s a bit arrogant though?”
His father looked up at him, “No, not at all.” He grinned, “Well maybe a little but who isn’t? I actually think he’s more shy than arrogant however.”
“Meanwhile, we have to put up with his arrogant shy arse, for six long weeks!” His mother chimed in which made John laugh.
“I think you’ll grow to like him, John.”
“But what if I grow to hate him?” John replied, but he knew no one could possibly hate Jamie Fraser. It was only his confused feelings that made him say this.
It was another hot summer afternoon, all of John’s friends had left to go down to the river but John stayed back, too deep in his own thoughts to imagine having fun.
No one was in the house, to his knowledge and John was feeling very relaxed so he laid back against the bed and let his hand wander down his bare chest. He settled it over his boxers, feeling his bulge against his hand. It was thoughts of Jamie that aroused him, picturing his toned back, his wavy curls. Normally if John did this, he pictured a woman but things had changed ever since Jamie came to town. It wasn’t just the Scot’s good looks, there were many handsome men and John wasn’t ashamed to think that. But it was Jamie’s mind that captivated him, and he felt almost like he’d known him his entire life.
His hand slid down into his boxers and he took a firm hold of himself, shutting his eyes and began to stroke himself.
Just as he was about to finish, he heard footsteps in the hallway and quickly pulled his hand out, a deep red spreading across his chest and face.
“Oh, John. There ye are.” Jamie smiled as he came into the room, “Why are ye no’ wi’ yer friends down at the river?”
John sat up from the bed, trying to cover himself, “I just didn’t feel like it.” A poor excuse.
“I see. Well ye wanna go for a swim? Just us two?” Jamie asked, hopeful.
“Sure,” John felt that same stirring deep in his stomach, “just give me a minute and I’ll meet you outside.” Jamie grinned, almost as if he knew that John had just masturbated.
John stood from the bed and walked to the bathroom, grabbing his swim shorts and sliding them on. He looked in the mirror and felt confused, did he really think about Jamie in that way? John thought he must be making it all up in his head, that Jamie could be attracted to someone like him. But the lingering looks at dinner, the way Jamie included him in activities, it had to mean more.
Jamie hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself, but ever since his arrival he had been taken with John. He’d only kissed a few guys, it was never serious and didn’t amount to much more than making out when he got too drunk. He hoped that John hadn’t seen the way he’d been looking at him over dinner and he prayed to God that John couldn’t read his face. Because if he did, he would learn that Jamie thought about kissing John and wondered what his mouth would taste like on his. John was young and impressionable, Jamie knew he shouldn’t tempt him, so he would try and hold his feelings back.
There was also the issue of Jamie’s fiancée… Claire, waiting for him back home. Jamie hoped this trip to Italy would clear his mind.