Jamie was scrolling through messages on his phone killing time while waiting for Ian. They’d agreed to meet here for a bite and to catch up before joining the bunch over at Murtagh’s pub later where it would be impossible to have a quiet conversation. Ian was notorious for running late but Jamie didn’t begrudge him the inconvenience and marveled at how well Ian managed being married to his sister, Jenny, and their three children especially with Jenny expecting again. He smiled as he thought of the chaotic household the last time he’d been at Lallybroch with the wee demons running amok. He shook his head at the thought of adding another bairn to the mix and feeling a not so small tinge of envy. God bless ‘em.
He’d gone ahead and taken a table close to the entrance and was nursing his whisky while he waited. It was still early and comfortably quiet while folks trickled in, nodding to a few regulars as they passed.
He liked the food here, it was enough like home, and in truth he could prepare it just as well, but he didn’t always care to put in the extra effort when he cooked just for himself. A new chef had brought his own twist to old favorites and the place had been discovered. Once the newbie influx filled it later, the atmosphere would be completely different, and Jamie wanted to be well away from there before then and cringed at the thought of being trapped with the pretentious crowd.
Yeah, he was well acquainted with many of them, and they would identify Jamie as one of their own, but he still liked to hold himself apart refusing to be co-opted to their gathering.
Jamie looked toward the door each time it opened expecting Ian and noticed a couple standing near the entrance that also appeared to be waiting for someone.
“D…don’t say anything, let her take the lead.”
“Right, like I would, Mary. Please give me some credit.” His exasperation clearly evident.
“I…I’m s..s..sorry, I sh…shouldn’t have s.s.said that, I’m just s.s.so nervous for her. This is a big s.s.step.”
“I didn’t mean to be curt with you, I’m sorry. You know her, she’ll be fine.” He pulled her into a hug and gave her a reassuring pat.
Sassenachs. He subconsciously registered at their crisp English accents. Jamie hadn’t intended to listen to their conversation but was bored and decided to settle into one of his favorite past times, people watching. He kept his phone handy should he need to turn to it for cover, but real life was so much more appealing than what he could access on the small screen. Besides, he rationalized, the couple was making no real attempt to lower their voices and his curiosity was piqued with just those few sentences.
The lass, for that’s all she appeared to be, was a mere waif, whose slight stutter had become more pronounced when chastised. The fella to his credit apologized immediately.
The writer in him was always captivated by potential characters and story lines and his imagination took off. Their subject, a friend, a woman, had recently faced some major changes in her life. A break-up? Job transfer, promotion? No, not something happy, deserving of congratulations. Support, she needed them. They were here for her. Concern and belief; the man gave her credit for strength, the woman, hmmm, he wasn’t exactly sure yet, contradictions between the two. Definitely affection, he ticked off in his mind.
His phone rang and he saw the incoming call was from Ian. “Where are ye man?” he asked but continued to observe the pair as a few more patrons wandered in, none being their party.
He listened to Ian’s explanation that there was a traffic back up on the M80 and thought he was at least 30 minutes out. He was a bit perturbed not so much for Ian’s lateness, but that he’d have less time to visit than he’d hoped unless Jenny would unleash him for the night and let him stay over with him and wondered why they hadn’t planned that originally.
“Dinna fash, mo bhràthair, I’ll see ye when ye get here. I have a head start on ye though which I expect ye to catch up to.” Jamie chuckled warmly at Ian’s insult before disconnecting.
As soon as he’d heard the call end, he dialed his sister, Jenny. After five rings he thought the call would go to voice mail but a very harried sounding Jenny picked up the call. “Hey?!” the sounds of frazzled children filled the background and immediately had Jamie reconsidering the purpose of his call. “Jamie? What are ye calling for? Is Ian there with ye yet?”
“Ach, no he isn’t. Just rang up to let me know he was caught up in traffic on the M80 and was going to be late. Doesn’t sound as though I called at a good time. Is everything okay?”
Jenny laughed dismissing his concern. “Tis fine. Mrs. Crook is helping to wrangle wee Jamie into the tub which he does not want to do before he eats dinner, but he stinks to high heaven and I’m no going to let him come to the table until he’s washed up.”
“Did something happen?”
“He was out in the fields with Bran and they came across the carcass of a red deer and Bran decided to have a roll about with it. Well Jamie decided he had to pull Bran off it and Jesus Jamie, I can hardly stand my own child. He’s been chasing Maggie and Kitty about trying to grab ‘em so everyone’s a bit wound up. It’ll be hard getting ‘em down for bed tonight.”
Jamie was laughing at Jenny’s account imagining his nephew chasing his sisters about and the squealing that would be inevitable. “Why’d ye call?”
“Oh well, I was going to ask about whether ye’d let Ian stay over with me tonight since he’s been held up.”
“What, ye have to call and ask my permission? Does my clot-hied think he canna talk to me and ask himself?”
The sounds of laughter approaching drew Jamie’s attention back to the entrance and he cut his call short, “Sorry, I’ve got to go, Jenny, I’ll tell Ian to call when he gets here.” And hung up before hearing her response.
The couple he’d been observing turned toward the door at the sound as well as their faces lit up with expectation. A couple walked in arm in arm, laughing as they entered; the woman wearing a long cloak with a hood over her head against the rain.
“C…Claire!” the woman beckoned with excitement.
“Oo, I’m wet, sorry, just a sec, let me get this off,” as she rebuffed the embrace, she lowered the hood and moved to unbutton the cloak. Her date stepped up behind her and helped to lift it from her shoulders as she turned looking back over shoulder. “Thanks, Joe.” Her face was bright with the smile that exuded warmth and matched her laugh.
Another Sassenach, he registered noting her posh English accent and wondered why he’d even noticed; a detail for a character he was formulating? Jamie’s breath had caught in his chest as the head of glorious dark chestnut curls reaching well past her shoulders turned to reveal the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Claire, he’d heard her named. She was tall and wore a soft white sweater with a deep vee neckline and he groaned in an exhale as he noted how her trim fitting black jeans clung to the curves of her small frame accentuating her glorious arse. Jesus ….
“Oh, it’s so good to see you, Mary, I’m so glad you could come,” and opened her arms as the young woman stepped into her embrace.
Jamie noticed Claire’s date, Joe, and the other fellow exchange a glance, as they shook hands without speaking and Jamie wondered what it was about.
“Don’t forget me, Claire. Do I rate a hug too?”
Claire turned toward “the fella” and smiled reaching him and running her hands up his forearms to hold his upper arms as she spoke, “Of course you do Alex, come here.” She opened her arms and leaned toward him, awkwardly bumping heads. “Oops!” she pulled back rubbing her forehead and sharing a laugh, hers being the most delightful, clear bell that Jamie’d ever heard. “Sorry about that, I shouldn’t have closed my eyes.” She laughed softly this time and turned and rested her head on his shoulder for a moment as she patted his back as though comforting him.
From where he was sitting Jamie had a perfect view of her aged whisky brown eyes as she looked directly at him. Jamie smiled at her embarrassed to have been caught staring and inclined his head a bit in a silent greeting before she closed them off to his view. She’d paid him no mind at all and he felt an unexpected disappointment, and dropped his gaze to the table though she held his entire focus and now intently eavesdropped on the conversations.
Claire pulled back and faced Alex, “Thank you for coming, though as Mary’s little lamb, I knew you were sure to come and I’m so glad.” She gave him a kiss on both cheeks as she started to break off from the embrace, but he pulled her back.
“He’s a fucking arsehole, Claire.”
Claire pulled back, blinking her eyes furiously staving off her tears, and forcing a smile. “Too right! But hold your darts. Wait until you see what Joe and Geillis have arranged for us at the pub after this.”
Joe’s an arsehole? No – someone else.
Jamie looked up as another small contingent led by a loud brash ginger headed woman, a Scot, entered and joined up with the others, most exchanging hugs. The other woman, an American, went over and gave Joe a kiss before turning to Claire for a hug. So Joe’s not her date. The new fella greeted everyone politely but no hugs were exchanged. The woman, Claire, she’s solo, was evidently the guest of honor for their evening’s gathering and Jamie matched up the group trying to puzzle out the dynamics. (Mary/Alex; Claire; Joe/Gail; Geillis; Denny)
Jamie’s attention was so caught up with the tableau developing before him he hadn’t noticed Ian step in with a group of others now crowding in the entrance until the hostess started escorting Claire’s party to their table. Their departure left an opening and Jamie noticed Ian standing in the door and started to rise from his seat to call his attention to their table. He lifted his hand in a half salute and called out, “Here, I’m here,” just as Claire was passing his table.
He’d been momentarily distracted with Ian’s arrival and missed that she was passing right in front of him until he’d hailed Ian, but now she hesitated in her step and turned her face toward him and gave him an impish smile, “So you are,” before she was led on by her red headed friend who was hugging Claire’s arm and turned and shot Jamie an appraising look over her shoulder after they’d passed him and then bent her head to Claire saying something.
Christ. Jamie plopped back down in his seat, as Ian joined him.
“What’s the matter man?” Ian clapped him on the back as he tracked Jamie’s gaze and an awareness dawned on him. “Oh, Jenny’ll be sorry that she missed this, I canna wait to tell her,” he smirked at his best friend as he shook his head.
“Tell her what?” Jamie dragged his eyes away from the woman and back to Ian and furrowed his russet brows in consternation. “There’s nothing to tell.”
“Oh, aye there is. Ye’ve been hit by an elf dart, a direct hit I’d say and found yer match James Fraser.”
“Dinna be daft Ian, that’s just superstition and folktales.” but Jamie couldn’t help but dare a quick look back at her.
Laughter broke out from his friend. “Jenny’d tell ye to close yer trap or ye’ll catch flies rather than that wee faerie.”
Jamie finished the remains of his drink and clamped his mouth shut as he turned to his friend ignoring his jibes and changed the subject as he signaled for the server to order. “Ye made it a bit quicker than ye said.”
“Aye, turns out a few cows were wandering about the roadway; traffic opened up once I got past the hold-up.”
“Well ye might give Jenny a call; I did and asked her if she might consider letting ye stay overnight since we’d be getting a late start. We dinna see ye enough as it is, what’s going to happen when ye have four bairns? Jenny’ll never let ye loose.”
“What d’ye mean five?”
“Twins… She wanted to wait to let folks ken, she’ll be mad that I told ye,” Ian couldn’t hold back his grin.
“Holy mother of God!” Jamie stared at him for a moment before he reached out and clapped Ian on the back in congratulations, his smile spreading into a wide grin. “I’m never going to catch up with ye. Can ye no give Jenny a breather?”
“Ye think it’s up to me? Ye ken yer sister, weel maybe no the side I do, she’s very “
“SEAS! Enough, I dinna want tae hear about ye impregnating my sister.” Jamie held up his hand with a look of horror on his face. “That’s as bad as thinking about Mam and Da having sex.”
Ian laughed at Jamie’s feigned horror, “Ye’ve got tae come down off the mountain and start before ye can think about catching up, and ye ken what it takes for beautiful, perfect weans as we have?”
“Aye, that helps, but practice, practice and more practice,” Ian scoffed and patted Jamie’s arm as he waved Ian off. “What about that lass ye’ve been eyeing, dinna think I havena noticed, she’s awfully bonny.”
Claire, her name is Claire.
Jamie unerringly looked in the direction Ian had and his gaze immediately landed on her. Her party had been seated at a table just a couple down and across from Jamie’s and as luck was blessing him this evening, Claire was seated directly across from his view. She was seated between the redheaded woman on her right and the man he’d thought her date was on her left but next to him sitting at the end of the table was his wife and Jamie noted the way he kept holding her hand though his attention seemed focused on Claire. Actually, everyone’s attention was.
“Aye, she is.” Jamie wanted to say more but was reluctant to endure more teasing from Ian. He’d shelved his love life after the Annalise debacle and aside from casual dates urged on him usually at the insistence of wives of well-meaning friends, no woman had caught his attention or held his interest and he wasn’t sure what had triggered it now. She suddenly looked directly at him and awarded him with a smile that warmed him to his backbone. Christ, how she touched him, his Sassenach, unconsciously laying claim to her.