Rain lashed violently at the bedroom window and Brianna observed each drop on the glass racing downwards against each other, leaving crystal clear tracks behind. In the distance, lightning illuminated the mountain peaks, and thunder galloped fast towards Inverness, though she barely noticed.
Having given up on sleep for now, she sat cross legged in the middle of the bed in one of the guestrooms of the late minister’s house. The sheets and covers were spread far and wide around her, telling a crumpled tale of the tossing and turning she had done to escape the rampant thoughts inside her mind. On her lap was a stuffed Aberdeen Scottie, once well-loved by Roger, and she absently stroked its worn-out black fur.
Tomorrow, her mother’s story would conclude in this time. A story that disrupted Brianna’s preconceived notions of logic, and forced her to adapt to a reality that existed outside the boundaries of reason. In a few hours, her mother would leave, would travel back centuries. Though Brianna made a genuine effort to support that decision, she had not yet made peace with it.
Her thoughts remained somewhat self-centered, driven by a sense of abandonment that sat heavy on her chest. And amidst the selfishness that corroded her heart, reason was almost completely shoved aside by jealousy, though she did have the decency to feel ashamed enough to not mention it, not even to Roger. The truth was, Brianna felt jealous of a man she did not know, her father, her real father, because in a few hours he would have her mother all to himself.
Not even Roger’s words from earlier, filled with both sense and empathy, had been enough to completely settle the imminent collision between reason and heart. There were still far too many doubts in her mind.
His voice filled the silence of the room, and it was as if her mind had materialized him. His voice sliced through the privacy of her thoughts with that Scottish brogue, warm and smooth, and for a split-second, Brianna wondered how she could go back home, go on without hearing that melodious lilt calling her name every day.
Roger was leaning against the doorframe, staring through the partly open door. There was a look of concern across his face. His eyes, clear and alert even in the dim light of the bedside lamp, seemed to ask a myriad of questions, to which she had no clear answers. Are you alright? Certainly not. Will you ever be? No guarantees.
“Come in,” she said, “I can’t sleep anyway.”
Roger was still dressed in the clothes he’d worn all day, not having bothered to go to bed yet despite the late hour. She wondered if he, too, was having trouble digesting the choices made by her mother and all they encompassed.
He sat at the foot of the bed, the wooden bed frame creaking under his weight.
“Anything else on your mind?” he asked.
Brianna was immediately glad he asked, not sure how she would be able to tell him otherwise.
“Mama is about to leave. I think she still has doubts. Maybe because of me. It’s visible all over her face.”
Brianna had learned over the years to read the emotions on her mother’s face, fleeting glimpses of feelings she rarely voiced. Her mother’s face amplified all her thoughts, and ever since they discovered that Jamie had survived, it reflected a conflict far too great to deal with without pain. She had been confronted with the horrible truth that whatever, and whoever, she chose, she would be giving up on the other, and losing one part of her heart in the process.
“That makes sense.” Roger said, calmly. “No matter how much she wants to see Jamie again, she’s leaving her daughter behind. I canna imagine how torn she must feel.”
Brianna sighed, feeling limp and resigned. “You were right earlier. I need her, I always will, but I’m not a child anymore.” Her hand reached for his, seeking the comfort she had not allowed herself to enjoy earlier. “And I’m not alone either.”
He did not speak, but instead held her hand firmly, squeezing it back in reassurance.
“But what if she doesn’t go?” Brianna asked, her voice a whisper, finally letting out the one question that had been circling her brain for a long while, a record spinning endlessly.
“If she does not go, it will be because she wants to be here for ye. And that’ll be her choice.”
“She has to go-- it can’t just be over for them, not now, after we’ve found him. She needs to be with him and I can’t be the reason they remain apart. I can’t be that selfish,” she hissed under her breath, looking down at her lap while she picked at Uncle Angus’ ratty plaid bonnet.
The bed creaked again as Roger slid toward her, pulling her into an embrace. His arm circled her shoulders, and she leaned on him willingly. Warmth radiated from his body and steadied her. Maybe it should bother her how easily he reached for her these days, but the truth was that she craved his touch just as much, despite the multiple warnings her mind produced. Too much. Too fast. Too soon.
“You know, I could never figure out how much I was like Daddy. It was never the mannerisms, and certainly not the hair.” She chuckled, but there was no hint of humor in her voice. “Now I know I could never be exactly like him, no matter how much I loved him, not even if I followed in his footsteps.”
He turned to look at her, but she averted her eyes. She spoke again, this time with only a slight tremble to her words.
“That man, Jamie, my father,” her voice caught on the word, “has spent his life wondering if his wife and child made it safely through the stones. He deserves to know, Roger. And if Mama can’t make that decision, I will make it for her. I owe it to myself to know where I came from, too.” Her voice had become stronger as she spoke, though it was not the longing for a father that moved her. No, she had known a father’s love all her life and was glad for it. She was moved instead by the curiosity to know the man who captured her mother’s heart completely, and a strange sense of duty to tell him they were alive.
“What d’ye mean by that?” he asked. And as close as they were, she felt his heartbeat quicken under his woolen sweater.
She went on after a moment of silence, her tone close to a whisper, determined. “I’ll go through the stones myself to find him.”
His reaction was immediate. He stood up from the bed quickly and looked down at her, green eyes wide open in shock and anger. Maybe fear. “No Bree, ye canna do that.”
“Why not? We both know that I could do it.”
“We also know it’s dangerous!” he nearly shouted.
“It’s dangerous for me, but not for my mother? What kind of double standard is that, Roger?” Her voice rose to match his, defiant and aflame with irritation. She had been prepared to be met with resistance, but had not anticipated the strength of his reaction, how it would feel.
“That’s not what I meant.” His hands came up in the air in frustration as he started pacing the room.
Brianna swung her long legs from the bed in an elegant move for someone so tall, and her bare feet landed on the floor with a soft thud. She crossed the distance between them in a single stride and pulled him to face her. Her face glowed with barely contained anger, turning into a brilliant red that masked the freckles across her cheeks.
“Then what?” she roared.
His hands closed around her upper arms with such desperation that she had to bite her lower lip not to yelp from both pain and surprise. She was rooted in place by his firm grip, forced to look at the fire that burned freely in his eyes, and she observed, completely fascinated, how that desperation had transformed his usually soft expression. His jaw was clenched, and even his olive skin, not usually prone to flushes, had acquired a faint red hue.
“Yer mother has done it before! She is going back to find the love of her life and I canna-“
Lose mine, her mind completed. The thought caught her off guard. It seemed too soon for such an assumption, even though she could not deny the tenderness growing between them, beyond mere friendship, an attraction that kept pulling them slowly towards each other.
“You can’t what?” she demanded through gritted teeth, daring him. There was a side of her that wanted to probe his veiled words and touches, to truly know what feelings lay underneath. Her question echoed on the walls and came back to her ears sounding desperate for confirmation.
His mouth opened, though no sound came out, and for the first time since they met, she saw him at a loss for words. Roger attempted several times over, failing each time. Eventually, he sighed and gave up, his feelings not yet ready to be acknowledged.
Perhaps he sensed that she wasn’t ready, either.
They breathed together for a moment, his grip on her arms loosening as they both became aware of how close they stood. How, with a slight shift of their heads, they just might…
“Look, Bree,” he said, his voice quiet as he started to let her go, “this is not a decision ye can make on impulse. Ye should get some rest, and we’ll talk about it in the morning, aye?”
Her eyes flashed. “This isn’t just a whim, Roger. If my mother doesn’t go, I will go to Edinburgh to find my father, whether you want me to or not. He deserves to know.”
Brianna loosened her arms from him and moved across the floor to the bed again. She took a moment to arrange the sheet and blankets around her neatly, though she watched him from the corner of her eye. He walked towards the door, shaking his head as he went.
“Will you come with me?"
It was her unfiltered, irrational side that spoke as she decided to test his limits, to understand how far he was willing to go for her.
Roger froze at the door, his stillness betraying the energy from the charged question, and for a moment, the room remained silent. But the answer was there, while thunder roared in the sky above their heads.