The last time Claire had seen Jamie Fraser was about sixty years ago. The first time they met, she was only sixteen and even if he was a few years younger than her, she fell madly in love with him.
From the moment they met, she never stopped thinking about him and she knew her heart was beating for him only.
It had been almost a year since she and Lamb had settled in Paris, when new neighbors moved in the building in front of the one where they lived. He was moving in with his older sister (who was Claire’s age) and their parents. She remembered seeing him get out of the car, looking around, scared by his new surroundings that he now had to call home.
He was fourteen at the time, but he looked older than that. He was tall and skinny, he had beautiful slender blue eyes and a long, thin mouth, but the first thing she noticed was his hair.
The most glorious mop of red hair she had ever seen.
The sunlight was catching in the auburn locks as he stepped out of the car. Her heartbeat increased and she thought it would burst out of her chest.
She had never been in love before, but if this was how a person felt at the sight of their loved one, she wanted to be in love forever.
“We should go see them,” Lamb said. “Welcome them to the neighborhood.” He patted her back, and they walked out of the building and crossed the street to meet them.
The father had dark short hair under a hat. Claire immediately saw they weren't French. She bet in her head that they were scots, by the look of them. She thought about the time they were in Scotland a few years before. When she heard the man say something to his daughter in English, she recognized the accent. She smiled to herself.
Lamb noticed too. “Other outlanders in the city of light,” he smiled at them.
The man lifted his head towards the voice, a big smile on his face.
“We see you're moving in,” Lamb said. “We live across the street. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Thank ye,” the man said, shaking Lamb’s hand. “I am Brian Fraser. This is my wife, Ellen, my daughter Jenny, and my son Jamie.”
“Enchanted,” Lamb shook the kids’ hands. When she heard the voices, Ellen came to stand between her children. “I am Quentin Beauchamp, or Lamb, and this is my niece Claire.”
She smiled at them, her eyes resting on Jamie longer than the rest of the family. He was looking down at his feet, his hands buried in his pockets.
“So you're from Scotland,” Lamb smiled.
“Aye, we come from a village near Inverness. We moved here for my wife’s work and for the kids to go to school.”
“What do you do?” Lambert asked Ellen.
“I’m a professor,” she said shyly.
Claire’s eyes opened wide. Suddenly, she wasn't interested in the son anymore. “What do you teach?” She asked her.
“Wow,” Lamb and Claire said at the same time.
“Aye, she worked verra hard to become a professor. And now she's going to teach in Paris,” Brian looked at her fondly.
“I've never met a woman professor,” Claire said.
Ellen blushed, looking at the young girl.
“Claire wants to become a surgeon when she grows up,” Lamb said proudly, putting a hand on his niece’s shoulder.
“Really?” Ellen looked pleasantly surprised. “That's amazing! I encourage you to do it,” she smiled kindly.
“And what do you do?” Brian asked Lamb.
“He's an archeologist. But now he's going to teach at university as well,” Claire answered for him. “Maybe you'll teach at the same university.”
After chatting a bit, Lamb invited the family to come for dinner the day after. They were happy to accept the invitation.
The day after, they met again and this time, Claire talked more with the children. She became friends with Jenny and slowly, Jamie started opening up to her. Jenny explained to Claire that he was sad to leave Scotland and that he'd been the only one not excited about the idea of moving to Paris.
As the days went by, Jenny made friends with other girls in the street while Jamie and Claire started spending all their free time together. They became the closest friends.
Lamb became friends with Ellen and Brian, so they often met for dinner, all the families together. Claire was in admiration with Ellen, who she saw the mother she never had the chance to know.
With each day spent with Jamie, Claire was falling more in love with him and she felt like he was too. He wasn't a shy and tormented young boy anymore, but a smart teenager that was always interested to hear what Claire had to say.
One night, they smoked together for the first time and kissed, sitting in a park close to their homes. They were in love and thought they would be forever until Ellen suddenly passed away. Two months later, the heartbroken family moved back to their homeland.
During their last day in Paris, Claire watched them put their bags in the car. Tears were streaming down her face, and even if she didn't want to cry, she couldn't help it.
Lamb came to stand behind her and patted her back. “Time to say goodbye.”
Everybody was seated in the car but Jamie. When Claire crossed the street, he took her in his arms. He was sixteen now, taller and broader. She loved to be in his arms; she felt safe.
She breathed him in, remembering what it felt like to be close to him, to feel the heat of his body as he held her.
“I can't let you go,” she whispered.
“Ye have to,” he said, but she heard in his voice he didn't mean it. He pulled back and cupped her face with his hands, looking at her. “I will miss you, my Sassenach. Promise you'll write to me.”
“I will. I promise.”
He took a letter from the pocket of his coat. “Starting with this one,” he handed her the letter. “Open it tonight.”
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his mouth. He kissed her back until it was time to let go. “I hope that one day, soon, we’ll see each other again and will be together.”
“We will,” she said, her forehead resting against his. “You were my first love.”
“And my last,” he whispered, kissing her forehead. “I love you.”
It wasn't the first time he said it, but each time he said those three words, in Claire’s heart it was always like the first time. “I love you.” She kissed him one last time and let go of him.
Jamie walked to the car and looked over his shoulder one more time to see her face. He had a picture of her, but he wanted to make sure he'd never forget the features of her. He smiled sadly and sat in the car.
She watched until the car was out of sight, the letter clenched against her heart.
Julia’s eyes were filled with tears and her heart of stone was heavy in her chest after Claire ended the story.
“I didn't know this! You never told me about him.”
“Well, I never really had a reason to,” she shrugged.
“So this was the last time you saw him?”
Claire nodded. She regretted how things had ended between the two of them.
“We wrote to each other for about a year after he left Paris, but then we eventually stopped.”
“Because life happens. We were both very busy with school so we didn't have as much time as before. Eventually, we stopped.”
“Do you know what happened to him?”
“No. Last time I heard from him was in 1965.”
“Wow….” Julia said. “And he saw your account on Sea of Love recognized you.”
“I never thought he would remember me… Almost sixty years later,” she smiled.
“Let's look at his profile, we’ll see what he became.”
It was even more exciting for Claire than this whole online dating thing. For sixty years, she had kept the memory of Jamie Fraser buried in her heart. She had missed him terribly during the years after he left, but after a while, she moved on and met François. She had been in love with him, but she never felt the way she did about Jamie with anyone else in her life.
Even if she, at some point, stopped missing him in every breath she took, he was always there in the back of her mind. Her first love. Her lost love. She often thought about him, feeling nostalgic about the love they had shared, wondering how different things would be if he had ever come back. Or if she had moved to Scotland to be with him.
In all those years, she would sometimes let her mind wander and imagine where he was and what his life looked like. Even if she wasn't part of it, she hoped he was happy.
So when Julia clicked on his profile, she felt her heart start hammering in her chest at the idea of finally knowing what he turned out to be.
Single, that was for sure.
“Member since October 13, 2019,” Julia read over her mother’s shoulder.
“So what does it mean?” Claire asked, lifting her glasses on her nose.
“Well, that he hasn't been lurking on here for too long.”
“Maybe he just got divorced like me…”
“Mom, it's been fifteen years.”
“When you're my age, darling, you'll see time passes by very fast.”
Julia chuckled and read Jamie’s page. “He's a retired engineer!” She exclaimed.
“Will you please let me live this moment? I've been waiting decades to know that, I’d like to gather the information by myself!”
“But I'm curious!” Julia pouted.
“Do you think I'm not?
With a deep sigh, Julia continued reading in silence.
Retired engineer who loves to read and travel around the world. Loves to cook and watch the sunset on the sea. Born and bred scot who always likes a good whisky in good company.
Claire smiled, feeling her cheeks turn pink. He was still like the sixteen year old boy he has been, more than fifty years later.
“I wonder what he looks for in a woman,” she said, scrolling down.
A funny woman who will be willing to travel and hear him talk passionately about Scotland.
Claire chuckled, but Julia frowned. “I guess his forty year old daughter didn't help him to write this. I'm sure it scared many women.”
“No, I think it's cute.”
Noting the emotion in her voice, Julia turned to look at her face. She was beaming, her cheeks red, like she had never seen her before. “Mom, you're smitten.”
“I think I am,” she said, clicking on his picture.
Jamie was sitting on a rock on top of a mountain, a bandana wrapped around his head.
“His hair’s still red.”
“Do you think he dyes it?”
“I don't know. His father didn't have a grey hair on his head.”
“He looks good. Very tall and broad for his age.”
“He’s only seventy two,” Claire remarked. “He's always been very active physically. Always loved to do sports. He was a great tennis player. I went to play with him from time to time.”
Claire fondly looked at the picture for minutes, trying to notice every detail.
“Don't you want to see what he wrote to you?” Julia asked, impatient. She was caught in her mother’s story and already had plans for the perfect first date.
Claire seemed to remember he had sent her a message. “Oh!” She exclaimed. “Where can I see it?”
Smiling, Julia clicked on the message.
I do wonder if I've gone crazy, but when I got a message saying I had a “connection” with Claire Beauchamp, I couldn't believe it. I was very happy to get news about you. I was wondering if perhaps you would like to have dinner with me? To catch up on all those years. I'm glad to see you live in Scotland. I hope you are doing well.
“Oh my my,” Claire breathed. “Jamie Fraser. I can't believe it!”
While she was lost in her head, Julia took the computer and started to type an answer. It took a moment before Claire realized. “What are you doing?”
“I'm answering his text.”
“What are you writing?”
“That you're happy to hear from him and will gladly accept to go for dinner at your favourite restaurant next Saturday at five pm.”
“What? Give me that!” She said, taking the computer from her. “Six is too early! Who has dinner at five p.m. anyway?”
“Old people,” Julia shrugged.
Rolling her eyes, Claire erased the message Julia had typed.
“Hey!” She protested. “What the hell do you think you're doing?”
“I can't go out with him,” Claire said, looking at her with scared eyes.
“Why not? If he texted you, it's because he’s interested.”
Closing her arms around her chest, Claire looked at the message Jamie had texted her at two p.m. “What if… What if he doesn't like the person I've become? It's been sixty years, for the love of God. I've changed so much in that time. I'm not eighteen anymore. What if he doesn't find me interesting?”
Julia put her arms around her mother’s shoulders. “Maybe. There's a chance you two don't connect like you did when you were young. But, mom, you lived sixty years wondering what happened to him, do you really want to miss the chance and spend the rest of your days regretting because you missed the opportunity?”
Claire had to admit that her daughter was right.
“Look, I'm sure you were a nice young woman with a lot of interesting things to say, but you are definitely much more interesting now. Jamie loves to read and to travel probably as much as you do. You will have much more to talk about than when you first met him. If he loved you back then, he will likely find you interesting today.”
Encouraged by her words, Claire couldn't help but smile. “If he's on a dating site, it's because he wants to meet someone.”
“To travel with…” She smiled.
Taking a deep breath, Claire started to type a message.
It's a pleasure to hear from you. I will be happy to go out with you. Are you free this Saturday around eight? There is a lovely French restaurant in the Old Town by the National Library. It's a very nice place.
Claire sent the message and looked over at her daughter, hope painted everywhere on her face.
They heard the sound of a notification.
Perfect! I will meet you there.
Seven days before Claire’s date with Jamie. The seven longest days of her life.
At home, she tried to occupy herself by reading and working outside on her garden to stop thinking about their date, but it didn't work. At work, she thought that studying the patients’ cases would change her mind, but he was always there.
She couldn't stop imagining the evening, their conversations and what he would look like. She knew she shouldn't do it because the only thing that could happen was that the night or Jamie would disappointing. Who knew what he had really become during those years?
When she told Joe about the dating site, the message from Jamie and their upcoming date, he didn't help calm her excitement. He was as excited as her, telling her to give all the crunchy details when she comes back the week after.
“Don't be disappointed,” she chuckled. “There won't be crunchy details.”
“Mm, I wouldn't be so sure if I were you. I know you well, LJ, I know you well.” He smirked. What Joe didn't know was that Jamie was different from all the other men she had had a fling with.
Finally, Saturday arrived. Claire barely slept that night and woke up before the sun. She went to sit outside her house, sipping her cup of coffee. It was still dark, but slowly, life was coming back to town.
She looked at the dark blue sky and thought about the last time she’d seen him. It had been decades, but she could still feel her heart break like it had all those years ago.
Claire had given up on hope of seeing Jamie again moons ago. She didn't wear the burden of losing the love of her life. It took her some time, but she had made peace with her past and accepted that he wouldn't be part of her future. She had lived a very happy life even if he wasn't by her side. It didn't stop her from longing for him, from time to time, but it never weighed on her.
But now that there was a chance, now that he was so close to her, she felt like a seventeen-year-old lass in love. And she didn't hate it at all.
She watched the sun rise,feeling peaceful and grateful for her life. She knew she shouldn't imagine things, but from what she'd read on Jamie’s profile, they were a perfect match. She was thinking that she had found a travel partner and a fellow book lover. She was starting to imagine him cooking for her, but she shook her head. “First things first,” she told herself and went back inside the house. She got dressed and did some work outside her house.
Around lunchtime, Julia arrived and parked in front of her house. “I found the perfect dress for you!” She exclaimed, getting out of the car with the dress wrapped up. “You're gonna love it and I'm one hundred percent sure Jamie will too.”
They ate together and afterward, Claire took a long bath while Julia watched television. She eventually fell asleep, feeling relaxed and hot in the bathtub. About an hour later, her daughter knocked on the door, wondering if she was alright.
Claire got out and dried her hair while listening to There Is A Light That Never Goes Out on The Smiths playlist Julia had put on. She put on some makeup and Julia helped her do her hair. “There’s not much that can be done with hair like that, I'm afraid.”
Claire was sitting in front of the mirror in her bedroom, Julia standing behind her.
“Trust me, I know that fine well,” she sighed. “But you know, I like your hair better. I'm glad I have it and not dad’s hair.”
“I'm glad too. You know,” Claire said, studying her daughter’s face in the mirror, “you do look like him. Sometimes you smile and I can see him. But all in all, you look more like me and it makes me happy. Uncle Lamb used to say you look like my mother. And you have her name. Somehow, I feel like when you're here, she is too.”
“You miss her?” Julia rested her hands on her shoulders.
“Can you miss something you never knew?”
“Yes. You missed having a life with Jamie.”
Claire smiled, putting her hand on hers. “I had that. I would have taken more, but at least we had two beautiful years knowing each other.”
“Did you ever…. You know… With him?”
“Julia!” Claire exclaimed, shocked. “Don't ask me personal questions like that!”
“Well… I mean it's nothing to be ashamed of! I know you, you know. That's why I thought you had. But at the same time, things were a bit different back then. I believe. So, tell me! Did he deflower you? Did you deflower him? ”
“I'm not telling you that kind of information, young lady.” Claire said, blushing.
Julia smiled, lifting Claire’s hair in a bun. “So you did?”
“End of the conversation,” Claire chuckled.
They stayed a moment in silence while Julia tried to find something to do with her hair. “It looks better when it's down. Wear it down,” she said and surprised her mother with a kiss on her head.
Claire was ready for the date. She was wearing the beautiful red dress Julia had bought for her and had a bit of make up, but nothing to hide the imperfection of her face. “How do I look?” Claire asked her, standing in front of the door.
“Glamorous,” Julia smiled fondly at her mother.
“Do you think Jamie will think so?” Claire asked, her cheeks turning pink.
“He'd be blind if he didn't.”
She kissed her cheek. “Thank you, Julia. For everything.”
“I just want you to be happy. And I think Jamie could be the one to make you happy.”
“I was happy before him.”
“I know that, but you are allowed to have someone. Someone that will want nothing but to be with you all the time. Someone that will do crazy things for you. I think that you and Dad loved each other, but it was not the kind of love that happens once in a lifetime. I think what you have or had with Jamie is special. A love that never leaves you and that endures time. No matter what, you always end up finding a way back to one another.”
Claire smiled, cupping her daughter’s cheeks. “Look at you, being all romantic! What's happening to you?”
Julia chuckled. “I think that now I see you and I believe in it,” she shrugged.
Finally, Claire left and took a cab to the restaurant. Her heart was hammering in her chest. She was about to do something crazy, something she didn't know but had wanted to do for years.
She looked outside the window. The nightlife in the city. Young people just starting their lives, not knowing what was coming ahead of them.
Claire had lived more than half of her life. It had been a wonderful life, filled with adventures and moments she would never forget. She had been fearless, from the moment she started walking to the moment she and Julia had created the account on the dating site. As a child, she would never sleep with a light on even if she was afraid of the dark. When she was alone in the desert while Lamb was in his tent, studying artifacts, she often feared something would come up and take her.
When she was small, Claire never wanted to step in puddles. She couldn’t bring herself to believe that the perfect, smooth expanse was no more than a thin film of water over solid earth. She believed it was an opening into some fathomless space and if she stepped in, she would drop at once and keep on falling. Even now, when she sees a puddle in her path, her mind half halts, though her feet do not, and she hurries on.
She opened the door of the cab and saw a puddle right at her feet. She looked at it. She had had her fearless moments and her moments of longing. She had put a cross on a life she had terribly wanted to live when she was younger. A life François was never able to give her, no matter how hard he tried.
It's always been him, she thought. From the beginning it was him.
Every decision she had made in her life, it had all led to this moment. Once more, it came down to him. Her first love. Her lost love.
Getting out of the cab, Claire stepped in the puddle.
“You were my first love,” she had said to him, all those years ago.
“And my last.”