23rd December, 09:36 p.m.
That year would be our first Christmas in the new house and I was not happy, as expected, I was stressed. I thought I could get away once again from the responsibility of throwing a party for the whole Fraser family, but we didn't expect Willie to have severe pneumonia at the beginning of the month, thus preventing the three of us from going to Lallybroch as we had in the two previous years. And since last week, nothing Jamie and I would talk to those hardheaded Scots would be enough to get them to give up the idea that Ellen had to come to Boston to spend that holiday period with our little family.
We were tired, very tired. And still too worried about our little one, even after that hard moment. Willie had turned 3 in September and, due to his young age, still had some weaknesses inherent in that time of life. I thought this year would be different, but I was completely wrong. I swear I never imagined that I would suffer so much when I saw my son as helpless as the first days of the month. Even after leaving the hospital he kept coughing a little, but thank God he had no fever for over a week and played around the house as if nothing had happened, like the happy child he was.
Those moments were difficult but softened by Jamie's presence. I nearly collapsed at some point inside that hospital room and I don't know what I would be without him by my side, my Scot is my fortress at any moment of imbalance and I ask the universe every day how I could find such an understanding man, such a companion. He has so much patience with me... I think that's called LOVE after all...
At that moment, before Christmas Eve, Jamie and I were running out of time to decorate the house to welcome five people. Yeah, everything was late. We had to work hard to make up for our absent shifts at the hospital when Willie needed us, and they weren't just a few days away. While Jamie was standing on a small staircase, putting on the decorations of our big pine tree with great skill, I finished some ornaments to hang on the walls, the best way I could, after having already fixed our old garland outside the front door. Yes, I know we have a boy who believes in Christmas at home and we should have decorated it earlier, but Willie's pneumonia was too severe for us to think about it... And we didn't have the time to do it later.
"Sassenach, can ye reach that star on the table for me?" Jamie spoke as he finished putting sparkly little balls in the treetop.
"Jamie, I don't think we'll be able to finish everything in time..." I took a deep breath, my hands on the table. "I've never thrown a party like this before. You know I've never had many people in my house, let alone for Christmas!"
"But they're not just any people, a leannan!" he looked over my shoulder with a broad smile on his lips. "Ye know them verra well and I think ye're making a tempest in a teapot!" I handed Jamie the star and he put it firmly on top of the tree, coming down the stairs right away.
"Have you seen how your parents' house looks at Christmas time? Oh, of course, you have, you grew up in it!" I crossed my arms as I frowned, and Jamie walked up to me, wrapping his arms around my trunk firmly as he rehearsed such a typical laugh from him. "It even tightens my heart with anguish when I know we won't be able to offer anything compared to what we received there!"
"Stop being so melodramatic, woman!" He kissed my neck and the smell of his body mixed with his perfume caused butterflies in my stomach. The same as always. "My mother is retired and had many years to make a mistake in the Christmas decoration, I ken verra well! Besides," he started talking softly in my ear. "she has Mrs. Crook... she's the one who knows how to decorate our house well..." I looked at Jamie with a certain astonishment and he smiled at me with complicity, trying to blink one of his eyes and looking like the most beautiful owl. "I ken a lot of her other secrets if you want me to tell you..."
"I don't need to know any more, Jamie!" I repressed it with my eyes, keeping my face closed. "And I hope you don't keep telling my little secrets to your family!"
"Ye should stop reversing the situation, Dr. Fraser!" I tried to stay serious, but with him it was always impossible. "And I ken verra well yer potential... Remember how beautiful our old apartment looked on Willie's first Christmas?" his face was clearly holding another monumental laugh.
"Oh, yes." My face of displeasure finally made him laugh. "With a tree bought at the last minute that resembled a rooted pine tree and some poorly decorations that looked more like they came from another planet!" I rolled my eyes before I sank my head on his shoulder. "It's no use, Jamie, I wasn't born for this..."
"The decorations were a bit strange, I canna deny it..." lifting my face so I could look at him, Jamie made a face and I couldn't help laughing at him, getting a tighter hug in return. "But dinna ye remember how happy Willie was to see so many different colors? He was so small in yer arms..." that memory made my heart fill with love.
"His eyes were so bright!" And I knew mine were glowing too when I remembered my baby in his first months of life. "And his little laugh of contentment? Those cute little hands wanted to take everything he saw ahead!"
"See? that's what matters, Sassenach..." he kissed me intensely, and the warmth emanating from his lips and body was like a balm to all my insecurities. "No matter how our house is decorated, or whether we give good or bad gifts..." his fingers ran smoothly over my hair, finally placing a rebellious lock behind my ear. "It's not those things that stay in our memory at the end of everything..." I was sure his look of adoration was as intense as mine. "What matters is the love we share with our family, the little moments we share..."
"And my Christmases made sense again from the first year we started dating..." I smiled lovingly kissing his lips softly before pulling him onto the couch so that I could lie with my head on his lap.
"And that year was chaos!" He laughed and let go of his body heavily over the soft foam and I quickly nested beside him, my head over his legs and my face turned to his. "Without a proper Christmas supper, actually just a hot chocolate, and that same garland on the front door of the apartment... Wow, we were so tired that we slept on the couch before midnight, remember?"
"Your project was taking away all our energy..." just remembering that made me feel all that again. "Everything after the Seattle Congress was so intense that we couldn't even travel to Scotland as we had imagined! But still, even if it wasn't a real Christmas, I was with you..." I caressed his face as he smiled, feeling the slight rubbing of his beard on my fingers. "Besides, all the tension of not being able to assume our relationship in the hospital, it was killing me..." he kissed my forehead long and I felt his intense exhalation against my skin as he sank his fingers into my hair. "But to be able to lie on your lap and feel your fingers caressing me, just like you're doing now while watching 'A Christmas Carol', was very comforting. You were always so attentive to everything, dear..." at that moment, my eyes were showing all the gratitude for being loved again. "I was so happy inside our little bubble, as happy as when I shared those moments with my parents and Uncle Lamb... It was the first real Christmas I've had in years and I only have you to thank for it.
Ever since my uncle died in a tragic accident on a dig in Egypt, when I was about to graduate from Oxford, I have never celebrated any Christmas night, at least not like I used to. Lamb had been my guardian, my protector, my best friend for all my years of life after losing my parents. In fact, he had been my best friend even before I lost them. Lamb had been a part of my Christmases since always, and his gifts were the most fun and unusual of all, coming from all over the world and always with different meanings. As soon as he became my guardian, Lamb abandoned his greatest passion to take care of me. He left the digs aside to give me all the support and love I needed to grow up, returning to work around the world as soon as I moved to Oxford at the age of 16 for my first year of medicine. I missed him so much, but at least he died doing what he loved the most...
"Everything that comes from ye interests me, Sassenach. I wanted to do much more that year, but everything was so turbulent..." his face showed sadness and guilt suddenly, making me sit quickly on the couch to face him.
"Hey! Look at me!" I held my fingers to his chin gently so he'd fix his eyes on mine. "Having my childhood movie back after so many years, after losing my parents as a child and my dear Uncle Lamb years later, was the best thing I could have asked God for, Jamie!" I smiled at him with tears in my eyes. "You've done so much, you do so much for me, every day!"
"Having ye at my Christmases was like bringing the light back to that very important moment..." he turned his body back to mine, holding my hands tightly while he didn't take his eyes from mine. "As hard as it was for my family after Willie's death, they all worked hard to get back on track and celebrate the birth of Jesus... But for me it was never complete, my brother's presence was always missing and nothing seemed to be enough to fill that void anymore..." the sadness of his face quickly disappeared, being replaced by the usual sappy look. "Until ye appeared in my life like a hurricane, messing everything up and turning my life upside down!" I hit his arm lightly and he pretended to feel the greatest pain in the world! "But I always want ye to be right next to me to mess up everything you want!" His hands reached out to the sides of my face, squeezing it gently. "I can't live any other way than that, Claire. I can't live without ye anymore, without ye two."
"I don't even know what it's like to live without my two boys anymore..." I leaned my face so that he would caress my cheek for a moment before I came back to reality. "But let's take advantage of the fact that Willie is still sleeping to finish our beautiful Christmas decorations!" I lifted him with a certain difficulty, then pulled him to accompany me "Tomorrow the whole family will be here to see our masterpiece!"
"Aye, we three are a beautiful masterpiece, Sassenach!" he gently kissed the tip of my nose. "The most beautiful of all..."
"I love you, you fool!" I kissed his mouth briefly before I hit his ass. "Now, let's get to work!"
We were already on the mission to decorate the house for Christmas more than an hour ago and it seemed that things were multiplying by the minute. I had bought the decorations that same day, in a short lunch break between one surgery and another, I managed to go to a department store near the hospital and picked up everything from the shortlist Claire had made in a hurry after we got the call from my mom that the Fraser family was going to land in Boston on the 24th to be next to Willie for the holidays.
Yes, they wouldn't just stay for Christmas, they would celebrate the new year with us too, in fact, it would be a smaller version of Hogmanay that was made in Lallybroch every year since I could remember. That had only made Claire even more nervous, she knew how seriously my family took that date, with a huge celebration for the whole family and friends. But what I tried to make Claire understand was that we didn't need to do anything big like Lallybroch, what mattered most to me was to be by my family's side, with my wife, and most importantly, by my son's side.
Willie had given us a scare weeks before. What seemed to be another flu of the countless that he had caught since he started school turned into pneumonia that left him in the hospital and knocked us off the ground. Although we were doctors and saw people in much worse conditions than Willie, being on the opposite side of our usual scenario was very difficult. What comforted us was to know everyone in the hospital and to know that he was in good hands, but that did not take away that tightness of my chest and a low voice, but insistent in my head, that brought all my fears of when I saw my older brother in one of the countless rooms of that white corridor of the hospital.
I knew it was totally irrational, my son was not in the same situation as my brother, but no matter how hard I tried, that feeling of powerlessness before my son's health took over my mind every time I saw little Willie lying in the hospital bed. He was so small that he disappeared among the many things in that room, the device that helped him breathe while his lung was still very irritated and without his full capacity, made him seem totally helpless. But I couldn't break down, not when I saw that Claire was as apprehensive as I was. She did not leave our son's side and I remained firm the whole time the two of them were awake, but when they fell asleep, my eyes overflowed with tears that I could no longer hold and in the silence of the night, I tried to calm my fears and to remember why our son had the same name as my brother.
But now little Willie was home well, still with a bit of pneumonia, but nothing to take his joy from seeing the house full of people who loved him and the decorations he loved so much. I had already finished decorating the tree and was satisfied with what I had managed to do in such a short time, Claire was not so sure:
"Jamie! Why is only the front of the tree decorated?" she asked outragedly as she examined my work closely.
"Because it's almost leaning against the corner of the room and no one will see what's behind it? Sassenach, we don't have enough time or decoration for a tree this size! And before you accuse me of anything, it was the last one left in the shop that still looked alive and fit to be part of the Frasers' Christmas!" I smiled gladly at the giant pine tree I had bought the same day, after Claire insisted that she didn't want an artificial tree this year, since in Lallybroch that never happened, of course, she wanted to bring the Christmas scent that flooded the house every year.
"It's okay, it's no use insisting on that, I'm too tired to argue with you!" she said by putting her hands on her back.
"Would that be a Christmas miracle?" I laughed and she just looked at me nastily. "I ken what we need to finish this decoration!"
I went to the little cabinet I kept in the room, there were the rarest and most important bottles of whisky for me, the ones I only used on special occasions and today it was one of them. I poured a dose for each and walked slowly to my wife. She was distracted by the Christmas lights that insisted on not working when we needed it most. I hugged her by the waist, putting the glass in front of her and inhaling the light vanilla aroma that emanated from her hair:
"Umm, special reservation for today? To what do I owe this honor?" she asked as she took a sip of whisky.
"The first Christmas with our whole family in Boston, that's a reason to celebrate, isn't it?" when I noticed she was relaxed, I pulled her closer to me.
"Definitely," she answered by taking a deep breath and being silent again.
We stayed there for a few minutes, enjoying our drink, hugging and admiring everything we had done in the house so far. It was far from perfect, much less than anything my mother did in Lallybroch, but I was still happy, it was something ours and that would bring us new traditions, happy memories that would end once and for all with sad memories of other Christmases, others that had made us suffer, but that was something distant now.
Before we could return to our tasks, we heard a scream from upstairs. It was Willie, and clearly, something had happened. Claire made mention of moving, but I quickly kissed her head and said I would see what had happened. In three long steps I climbed the stairs and entered our son's room, who was sitting on the bed with tears in his eyes and coughing a little:
"Willie, a leannan, what happened? Are ye in pain?" I said as I knelt beside him on the bed.
"Da... Santa, he thinks we're in Lallyboch, I'm gonna be without a present..." and the tears were running down his cheeks.
I took a deep breath to hide the laughter as I knew what was taking my little one's sleep away. I settled in his bed and quickly he went into my lap, holding me tight, as he always did when he had some nightmare at night. As I did with his mother, I began to run my hand through his hair and whisper words in Gaelic in his ear until his sobs stopped and his breathing returned to normal:
"A leannan, remember when Mama and I helped ye write the letter to Santa?" he just agreed with his head. "So ye told him where ye lived?" once again he answered only by nodding his head, now negatively. "He doesna need to ken where ye are on Christmas morning. His reindeers, those who help with the sleigh, ken where every child is and the gifts always arrive..."
"Do they know?" he widened his blue eyes. "Magic, Da?"
"Aye, it's the magic of Christmas. But ye ken something Santa doesna like? A child who doesna sleep and disrupts every delivery he has to make!"
At the same time he rushed under his covers and said a quick good night. I couldn't contain the laughter this time, Willie was really my son, something Claire couldn't get enough of saying. I kissed him on the forehead and walked out of the room in silence, facing his mother:
"Ah, Dhia!" I said it by putting my hand on my mouth to avoid screaming. "Sassenach, do you want to give me a heart attack? Listening behind the door is awful!"
"Oh yeah? And Santa won't like that either?" she smiled ironically.
"Uhum..." I answered pulling her by the waist. "If ye're not a good girl, ye're gonna be without a present..." she only answered with a little moan after she felt my teeth on her neck.
Aye, I can tell ye the decor of the house took a while to complete. This did not result in long hours of sleep, even more with a fully rested 3-year-old boy eager for the arrival of his grandparents, uncles, and cousin. With two large cups of coffee, we witnessed Willie emit screams that I did not know were possible to come from a child that size when he saw the large tree decorated in the room. His eyes sparkled with each discovery he made of a new ornament and we knew that all the work had been worthwhile.
Lunchtime was set with the arrival of my parents and my sister. And that's how chaos set in at the Frasers' house. Willie and wee Jamie rushed to their room to play, quickly forgetting the other members of the family who they claimed to miss so much. My mother and Jenny took over the kitchen to help Claire with the preparation of all the food for the next day. My father, Ian, and I were wiser and we stayed in the living room, drinking and watching a rugby match on TV, once or twice we went to Willie's room to see if everything was okay, after all when those two were silent, it didn't turn out well.
The day passed quickly and I noticed that I had seen Claire only at a glance a few times during lunch and the afternoon. When I left the shower, I found my wife lying on the bed, totally exhausted:
"Unused to the rhythm of the Frasers?" I laughed as I saw her open one of her eyes.
"Why in Lallybroch I don't get tired like that?"
"Because Lallybroch is bigger than our house and we can run away from my mother and Jenny's orders?" I smile as I sit next to her. "Come on, I'll give you a bath to relax."
"Another Christmas miracle?" she laughed still with her eyes closed.
"Sassenach, ye are offending my ability as a good husband..." I said it while I held her in my lap.
"I'm not offending you, but remember that Santa Claus is watching these good deeds of yours..."
I didn't stop the laughter while I was taking her to the bathroom. The rest of the night we spent talking and reminiscing about previous Christmases, and for the first time I saw my parents sharing stories of when my brother was still alive without that usual sadness, they seemed happy to tell Claire important moments from our childhood. When the boys went to sleep, we took all the presents to put under the tree, and I noticed that it had become small for the exaggeration of things that my parents had brought, they knew how to spoil their grandchildren.
The next day, I opened my eyes as I heard footsteps down the hall. I was a light sleeper because of the hospital's shifts, and I knew the children were awake, probably eager to open their presents. I looked on my cell phone and it was still six in the morning, my body complained about the few hours of sleep, just as Claire grumbled beside me:
"Why does our son have to look so much like you? Couldn't he enjoy sleeping like his mother?"
"And what would be the fun in that, Sassenach?" I laughed, which was interrupted by shouts of "Mama and Da".
We got up and went to the room in our themed pyjamas, another Fraser family tradition we liked to keep, on the morning of the 25th everyone opened their presents wearing the most Christmas pyjamas we could find to buy. When we arrived at the room, everyone was already there and my father started his Christmas ritual, he liked to deliver all the presents, one at a time, waiting to see how each one would react when opening a package.
I sat in my armchair and pulled Claire onto my lap, the seats in our room were limited, but I liked having her close to me anyway. Our son was attached to his grandfather, his face lit up with every gift delivered and his reactions were the best:
"Da! Look! Mama! That's what I wanted!" He talked about it non-stop when he opened one gift after another.
The smile didn't come out of my face and I saw it was reflected in my Sassenach's face. She saw that I was staring at her and approached me, giving me a quick but affectionate kiss. Our faces were sticking together, forehead to forehead and I closed my eyes taking a deep breath:
"I love ye Sassenach, I love ye even more because ye gave me this boy who is everything to me..."
"I also love you Jamie, this is the best gift Santa could have brought me!"