Claire’s graduation day was supposed to be a good one. After years of countless hours of studying, exams and work, it was the day she would officially become Doctor Beauchamp – Trauma surgeon. She had dreamt of that day since her childhood when she had decided at a young age to become a healer and to save people.
But instead of a happy day – it turned out to be the crappiest in Claire’s life. Everything had started well, Jamie had made her some breakfast before he left for his studio and promised to be at the ceremony in the afternoon.
Since they had started dating almost 3 years ago, he had never broken a promise to her…until today when at the time the ceremony started, Claire couldn’t see him in the crowd. She could see her friends and her uncle but her boyfriend was nowhere to be found. She knew once he started to paint, he wouldn’t see time fly but she also knew he would never miss her graduation…at least she thought so.
During the entire ceremony, and the party that followed, Claire faked a smile and lied about Jamie being at home with a bad flu. She lied about Jamie feeling awful for missing this moment – because in reality, she had no idea where he was and why he was not there. Minutes became hours until she could finally escape the party in her honour to go and look for him.
Jamie had always a rough time around May because she knew it was the anniversary of the accident – the one that took his brother and father’s lives – but he had seemed fine this morning and he would always talk to her whenever he was down and on the verge of drinking. He went to his alcoholic anonymous meeting every week, improving month after month, becoming better for himself. His art was thriving – Jamie had recently signed with a prestigious gallery and was preparing his first solo show – and she thought he was happy.
Maybe she had been wrong.
She tried their apartment first but it was empty. She then made her way to the park where he liked to go when he needed quiet time but she could only hear children laughing and saw an elderly couple sitting on a bench. She then looked through the windows of a couple of pubs but Jamie wasn’t there either – much to her relief. The last place Claire hoped she would find him was his studio – his sanctuary.
She rarely made her way there because she knew he didn’t like to show his work until it was done and she respected that. Sometimes though, he would invite her for date nights and they’d end up eating pizza and making love on the mattress on the mezzanine. She loved his studio – it was full of little things that made Jamie…Jamie. From countless books on the shelves to an old record player in one corner, an almost dead cactus – he swore would get back to life – to his numerous dirty paintbrushes and half-finished masterpieces. It was her favourite place because Jamie’s DNA was in every corner of it.
The studio was hidden in Carfax Close and the stairs leading to the door were old and a bit dodgy but she managed. She could see the light was on and she could hear some music inside – he was there. Usually, she would knock but this time, she went straight in. She was hurting and she wanted to know exactly why he did such a thing to her.
Claire expected to find him on his stool, a paintbrush in hand and his eyes concentrated on a painting but instead, Jamie was laying on the leather sofa, a bottle of whisky in his hand and his eyes closed. She stood still, vision blurring, and at that moment, she heard her heartbreak. It was a small, clean sound, like the snapping of a flower’s stem. She had never seen him like this and never thought she would. Yet, here he was.
“Jamie,” Claire did as best as she could to control the shaking in her voice – a mixture of sadness and anger trying to come up at once.
Opening one eye, Jamie raised his bottle, “Sassenach!”
“What the fuck, Jamie?”
“Och, ye sound mad,” Sitting up, Jamie took a sip of his drink.
“Put that bottle away, right now,” Claire said through clenched teeth.
“And why would I do that?”
This wasn’t the man she knew nor the man she loved – but it was a part of Jamie she had known was alive somewhere inside of him and was finally seeing it brought to the surface. Claire was furious and hurt, she wanted to yell and throw objects at his head but she needed to help him first because no matter how she was feeling, living her life without him would be unimaginable.
Claire made her way towards the sofa slowly, her eyes never leaving his. He was drunk and most likely capable of doing something stupid – Jamie was also a tall and strong man who she knew couldn’t hurt a fly if sober but she had no idea how he reacted when he was this intoxicated.
“How much have you been drinking?”
“Like I kept count,” Jamie looked at her almost amused and shrugged. She saw another empty bottle laying under the coffee table and felt her stomach tighten.
Claire sat down next to him and watched his face for a bit. There was something different in his eyes, something she had never seen before and she hoped to never see again. Slowly, Claire took the bottle away from him and put it aside, “Do you feel better at least?”
“What?” Jamie frowned.
“Do you feel better after drinking almost two bottles of whisky and looking like that?”
“Dinna try to be a therapist, Christ,” Jamie ran his hands through his hair, making it stick up. His cheeks were flushed red and his eyes were wild.
“I’m not, it’s a serious question,” Claire crossed her arms and stood straighter. She looked confident but she felt like shit – he didn’t need to know that. In his state, he wouldn’t notice anyway, “Are you thriving?”
“Why are ye here?” Jamie got up at once – not wanting to face her.
“Why am I here? I don’t know maybe because I fucking care about you?” Claire got up too and turned him around, “And look at me when I talk to you,” Her tone was low but firm – she needed to show him she wasn’t afraid of him.
Jamie kept his eyes glued to the floor – he reeked of alcohol and cigarettes.
“If you don’t talk to me and you seek comfort in a bottle, I can’t help you, Jamie. You’re hurting but you don’t want to let me know what is wrong with you. Today was important for me and instead of having a great time, I spent my time worrying about where the hell you were and wondering if anything terrible had happened to you.”
“I dinna ken why ye’re even wi’ me, Claire,” Jamie threw his hands in the air, “I ask myself the same question every day but I canna for the life of me understand why ye would waste yer time wi’ me.”
“This is the alcohol talking, not you.”
“Och no, tis’ me,” Running his hand through his copper curls, he looked at her, “Ye’re wasting yer time and ye will only get hurt from me. I’m no’ good for ye, just leave.”
“I’m not leaving,” She said firmly – first closed and eyes glued on his.
“Leave!” In the two years they had been together, it was the first time Jamie raised his voice to her. But again, she wasn’t scared. She refused to think he would hurt her but she wasn’t going to push him. Without a word, Claire gathered the bottles and quickly made an inventory of the place to see if there was anything similar laying around.
Once she was sure the only beverage in the studio was water, she took a good look at him again and left – it was useless to talk to him in such a state.
Claire sat on the stairs near his door and wiped her wet cheeks while Jamie stayed in his studio. She didn’t know how long she would need to stay there, waiting for him to sober up but she wouldn’t move an inch.
Time passed slowly, and she didn’t know how long she had been sitting there but was startled at the sound of the door opening behind her.
“Claire… will ye come back inside?”
Without a word to him, she stood, bracing herself for the conversation they were about to have. He still reeked of alcohol, and she shivered – Claire had only seen him drunk just the once, the night they met.
“What do you have to say for yourself?” Claire said, crossing her arms over her chest to protect herself.
Jamie walked over to the couch and sat down slowly, his hands dangling between his legs. “It wasna just my brother and Da that died that night. And there’s somethin’ else ye dinna know…”
Claire’s heart sped up, unsure of exactly where this was going.
“It was me who was driving the car that night,” Jamie said softly. “It was me who swerved when I saw the deer in the road, and it was me who killed my father, my bother…and her.”
Claire looked over at him then, seeing his shoulders start to shake, “Her? Who, Jamie?”
“I killed them all,” He shouted, his voice trembling. “We were to be married a month later, me and Mary.”
Married? Claire had never known about any of the women before her, let alone him almost marrying another woman. She felt betrayed by this new information, and she knew it was painful for him to talk about, but they shared their lives together. Apparently, they didn’t share everything.
“I can never forgive myself for crashing the car, but it’s fitting that my punishment should be that I live while they canna…” Jamie stood from the couch and turned to look at her. “Do ye see, why I’m no good. Why I deserve to live in misery, I lost the love of my life and half of my family in one night at my own hands.”
“Love of your life?” Claire stuttered, taking a step back from him. “Is she why you never want to talk about marriage, Jamie?”
“Aye,” he said, looking miserable.
“If she was still alive… we wouldn’t be together would we?” Claire felt tears spill over her cheeks.
“Claire if she was still alive – I wouldn’t have even met you,” He nodded.
“That’s what you believe? Then why exactly did you serve me some bullshit about how meeting me was meant to happen huh?” Claire couldn’t stop her voice from raising, she was growing furious and she knew it wouldn’t help him.
“You told me that your brother and father died in a car crash and that’s why you started drinking, but you never said there was a woman there and you also neglected to tell me about the fact that you were on the scene of the crash, let alone the one driving that night.”
“I was ashamed, Claire! Can ye no see that?” Jamie walked over to her, but paused, seeing her body language shift.
“I do see that Jamie. But what I don’t understand is why you never fucking told me about… any of this! We’ve been together for almost three years and yet I don’t know about the worst day in your life? When everything changed for you… “ Claire looked down at the ground and then back up to his face. “We were supposed to be in this together, Jamie.”
“I ken that, Claire.”
“I would have come to you,” She sniffed. “I would have left my graduation and been here for you because I love you!”
Jamie walked another step closer to her, reaching out his hand to touch her, but she stood frozen.
“I failed you, and I’m sorry. I will never be her.”
His breathing stopping for a solid 5 seconds. “Sorcha… ye canna mean that. This…” he motioned to the mess of the room and to himself, drunk and falling apart, “All of this was my own fault.”
“You promised me, James Fraser, that if you ever felt like drinking that you would talk to me, but I see that the trust doesn’t go both ways.” She started to head towards the door, but Jamie grabbed her arm, pulling her into his.
“Claire! Please!” He was desperate, he needed her more than he needed air to breathe. “Please don’t go, I can’t do this… I –” Tears fell from his eyes and his face crumpled under the weight of it all. His knees gave in, bringing them both to the ground and Claire simply sat there, letting him hold her.
Jamie sobbed into her neck, tears staining her shirt, his breath hot on her chest. Slowly, Claire moved one hand to rest gently on his back and he let out another wracking sob. “Shhh,” she said softly into his ear.
“It’s me who failed ye,” Jamie sniffed, hiding his face in the crook of her neck. “How can you ever forgive me?” He finally pulled back, face puffy from crying. “I ken that ye canna trust me anymore.”
“Jamie…” Claire sighed. “I do trust you. I just don’t understand why you don’t trust me.”
He didn’t have a reasonable answer for her, not then. Jamie pushed back the curls from her face, looking into those whisky eyes that he had fallen in love with. “For so long, I hid that part of my life away. I was afraid, Claire. Afraid that the longer I waited to tell ye… ye would be more likely to leave me. Afraid ye would leave me the minute ye’ll see how ugly I am.”
“You thought I would leave you because of this?” Claire ran her finger across his ruddy brow.
“Aye, ye are goin’ to leave me right?”
Claire pulled him to her, tangling her fingers through his hair. “Jamie, no. I could never leave you. I’m just hurt… wounded.”
“Wounds heal, Sassenach,” Jamie whispered.
“That they do. And yours will too, Jamie.” Claire kissed the top of his head and he pulled back to look at her. “But you need to tell me, you have to. I know that your sponsor has been very helpful, as well as the group, but if we’re going to be in this together… if you’re going to heal from this properly – then it begins with trust.”
Jamie nodded, sniffing, “Aye. Trust.”
“I might not be the love of your life, James Fraser…but you are mine.”
He looked at her, studying every feature on her face. “Oh, Claire. It’s ye who are the love of my life. When I said that –”
“You meant it.”
“Aye,” He focused his gaze on her. He was sobering up a bit from all the shouting and crying but he hadn’t felt this drunk in a long time. “I did mean it. But my life started anew when I met you. So, Sassenach… ye are the love of my life, my new life that ye gave me.”
Claire nodded and looked at him, “You need to rest, you’re exhausted and so am I.”
“Aye, but dinna leave okay?”
“No, I won’t,” Claire got up and offered him her hand, “Come on, let’s go to bed.”
Jamie kissed her palm before grabbing her hand and getting up slowly. Together, they made their way towards the mezzanine and laid on the mattress up there. His arms came around her, enveloping her. “Claire?”
“I’m sorry,” Jamie said, stroking her arm softly. “For missing today. It was meant to be all about ye, but instead, I ruined it by no bein’ there for ye and draggin’ ye into all my mess.”
Claire shifted slightly to rest her chin on his chest, “Jamie. Your mess is my mess. But thank you… for apologizing. I know deep down you weren’t intending to hurt me.”
“No, I wasna.” Jamie brushed his finger against her cheek, “To be honest, I wasna thinkin’ of ye at all. Only my pain and misery, and I wanted to drown myself in it.”
“I’m glad you’re safe, Jamie. Thank God you didn’t do something stupid,” Claire smiled softly, laying her head once again on his chest.
“I don’t want anyone else to know what your skin feels like underneath the sheets, Claire.” Jamie kissed the top of her head, his fingers tapping against her arm. “There’s no one else but ye, and I feel as if the sun doesna shine when yer no around.”
“Oh Jamie,” Claire rose to kiss him. “When we first met, you know I had been recently engaged myself.” Jamie nodded and Claire shifted to sit on her knees, facing him. “I never thought that I would fall in love, not like we did. Not after my first real relationship ended so horribly. But now… lying in your arms,” Claire felt new tears fall on her cheeks and this time they weren’t filled with sadness. “I don’t want to waste another moment, Jamie.”
Jamie slid a hand behind her neck, pulling her to him and placing a firm kiss on her lips. “You don’t have to be afraid, Jamie. It’s just the two of us… we can get through this.”
“We will get through this,” Claire added, almost as a whisper against his lips.