On December 7th, Jamie arrived to the small village on the Isle of Skye that was infamous for the tragic bus accident that had killed thirty-five tourists; one of them being his estranged brother, Willie.
Jamie didn’t even remember what had caused the feud between them, seven months prior to the bus crash. It didn’t matter. His big brother was dead and Jamie never had the chance to say goodbye.
During the year after Willie’s death, Jamie tried to find a way to remember his brother. He wrote an article about his law firm, he sent money for the education of Stella, his niece, and he drank. He knew it was not the right thing to do, but only when he was drunk would Jamie stop feeling guilty for his brother’s death.
Nothing worked. So, after kissing Sarah and wishing her a Merry Christmas at the office party, he drove to the train station and bought a ticket to Scotland.
Jamie lived in London, in a small apartment. He had no partner, no pet, no plants; only a bar filled with the finest bottles of whisky and wine. He would not get drunk on cheap alcohol.
He had a very successful career, but he found he had this emptiness inside him. It wouldn’t go away, and got even worse after Willie’s death. His family lived in Scotland and he barely saw them. He wanted nothing to do with them — he was still so bitter and angry. He had never felt loved by them.
His life was a mess.
It took hours for Jamie to reach the quaint village, but he didn’t notice the time passing by. He was lost in his head, thinking about his life, from his birth to Willie’s death. He didn’t consider the last year as living, but mostly surviving.
Jamie was left by the bus on the sidewalk, alone with his leather bag. He took a deep breath of fresh air, looking around. Gradually, Jamie felt a weird sense of serenity fill his soul. Considering the tragic history that was related to the place, the last thing Jamie had expected coming here was peace. He reasoned that he should have come earlier.
Putting his bag on his shoulder, Jamie headed to the local bar that was just on the other side of the road.
A bell rang when he opened the door, and he was surprised to find the place almost empty. There were a few men playing pool and some others drinking beer around tables. Jamie noticed a couple sitting next to each other on the same side of the table. The image of Sarah crossed his mind, but he pushed it away. They had just started seeing each other, and he didn’t want to think about where this relationship was heading just now.
Jamie sat at the bar, putting his bag on the seat next to him.
He looked up at the barmaid. She was tall, with wild dark hair in a messy bun. He felt her amber eyes looking into his soul, making him feel uncomfortable. Her pink lips were curled up in a small smile.
“Hi,” he said in a breath.
He hesitated. “Yes.”
“Welcome,” she said. She stared at him without saying anything. He didn’t really know what to do, as he grew paralyzed by her beautiful eyes. “What can I get you?”
“Uh…” he swallowed, not able to look away from her face. “A whisky, please.”
She smiled and poured him a glass. “There.” She put a napkin in front of him and handed him the glass. “It’s cold outside.”
“Aye,” he smiled, taking a sip. “You’re a Sassenach.”
“Obviously,” she smiled in return, showing off her teeth.
“What are you doing here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Oh, I don’t tell my secrets that easily.” She waved her eyebrows. “What are you doing here?”
Jamie grinned, taking a long sip of whisky, emptying his glass. “Oh, I don’t tell my secrets that easily either,” he responded as he handed her the glass.
She eyed him, the corner of her mouth curled up, before refilling his glass.
There was a cozy atmosphere in the bar that warmed his heart.
“Do you own the place?”
“Yes,” she answered proudly. “I started it almost three years ago now.” She took a glass and wiped it with a towel.
“It’s really nice.”
“Thank you,” she smiled sincerely.
She wasn’t speaking much, only giving short answers and mysterious smiles, but Jamie was mesmerized by this woman. He wasn’t thirsty anymore, but he didn’t want to leave just yet. So, he ordered another drink.
He spent the night at the bar, talking to her or simply looking at her when she was serving other clients. He noticed the crescent moon necklace and the horseshoe tattoo on the inside of her arm. There was something mystical about her, and for a moment, he wondered if she was a witch.
When it was closing time, Jamie rose and put his bag strap on his shoulder. “It was lovely to meet you. I didn’t quite get your name.”
She smiled at him. Her eyes looked tired and her hair was even messier than when he came in the bar. “Claire.”
“Claire,” he repeated with a sly smile. “I’m Jamie.”
After one last look over his shoulder, he left the bar. The cold of the winter night knocked the air out of his lungs. He closed his arms tightly around his chest and made his way to the bed and breakfast that was on the other side of the road.
There was a light on n the lobby, so Jamie made his way inside. An old woman was sitting by the desk reading a book. When he entered, she looked up at him with a smile and greeted him. He eventually booked a room for the next few days..
It was a small room with a bed that groaned loudly when he laid down, but the exhaustion of the day had him falling asleep without even taking his shoes off.
Jamie spent the following day wandering through the village. It was a small community, only taking fifteen minutes to walk through it. The bed and breakfast and Claire’s bar were further down towards the end of the street, in a more deserted area. In the light of day, Jamie saw that the bar was facing the sea. He sat on a bench and stared at the raging water for a few hours.
He didn’t know why he had come here, what he had expected to find. It seemed as if there was nothing to do in this village but wait for the day of your death to arrive. It was depressing, and he realized it didn’t help his state of mind much after all. The peacefulness of the place was becoming heavy.
Yet, he couldn’t stop thinking about the woman from the bar. Claire. There was something about her that made Jamie want to go back and see her. The bar opened at seven, but he didn’t want to be the first client.
The day was unending, and as the hours went by, he was growing more anxious at the idea of seeing her again.
He stopped by a tiny restaurant to eat fish and chips while reading the local newspaper. He stopped by his room to take a long shower and watch television. Finally, he put on his coat and crossed the road to Claire’s bar.
It was earlier than the previous night, so he was surprised when he opened the door to see it full of people. It was loud with the sound of people talking and laughing, but it still had the same cozy ambiance.
He immediately spotted Claire standing by a table, talking with two fishermen. Her fists were on her waist and she was laughing. Jamie was immediately taken aback by how stunning she was. Her hair was still like an aura around her head.
She saw him and smiled. He had to remind himself to breathe before smiling back and walking to an empty seat by the bar.
“You’re back,” she said, a few minutes later. She stood in front of him behind the bar.
“I am back. I told you it’s a nice place.”
She smiled and handed him a whisky. “How long are you staying here?”
“Just a few days. And since there aren’t that many things to do here,” he raised his glass in front of her.
She chuckled and went to serve another client.
It took a couple of hours before she could speak to him for more than two minutes. Once the clients were gone and just a few remained, she went to him and let out a proud sigh. “What a night.”
“Is the place always full like that at this time?” Jamie asked.
“Yeah, it usually is on the weekend. Another one?”
“Are you trying to get me drunk?”
She smirked. “Don’t take it personally,” she filled his glass, “it’s my job, after all.”
Jamie chuckled and watched her pour herself a glass. “I think I deserve it.” She clicked her glass with his and took a long sip. He watched her with the corner of his mouth curled up.
“You know I was thinking about you today?”
She raised her brow, encouraging him to continue.
“I was walking around the village and I wondered why an Englishwoman would move to a village this boring.”
“Oh, I don’t find it boring. Not at all. You see, I have my bar and a small apartment on the second floor. It has a fireplace and a big library. I have a spot right by a big bay window where I can paint. I love it. It’s calm, it’s peaceful. I used to live in London and I had a very small apartment. Even though I was surrounded by thousands of people, I felt more lonely than in this little village with 300 people.”
Jamie studied her face, wondering what kind of life she lived in London before moving here.
“That’s interesting. What did you do in London? Did you own a bar?”
She chuckled. “God, no. I was a surgeon.”
Jamie’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “A surgeon.” It was the last thing he had expected.
She grinned in her glass before taking another sip. “Surprise you?”
“Yes, not that you don’t look like you could be one. It’s just… very different than this and your art studio upstairs.”
“Yeah, well, sometimes that’s what we need. Like you, for instance. What are you doing here? Are you in some spiritual trip? Usually people go to warm places in the middle of winter.”
Jamie smiled sadly. “I guess you can call it that.” He didn’t want to talk about himself, as he was too captivated by Claire; but if he wanted her to trust him, he had to open up a bit.
“My brother died in the bus accident last year.” He saw a shadow cross her beautiful face. “We weren’t on good terms and I never had the chance to say I’m sorry, to say goodbye, to tell him I love him. I guess I’m trying to find a way to do so.”
“I’m sorry,” she said in a whisper. “That accident was tragic. I lost a friend of mine too.”
He looked up at her. “You did?”
“Yeah, my friend was also a surgeon from London. He was coming to visit me. You see, I burned the bridges to my old life, but he was my best friend. So he spent Christmas here with me and when he left, well…”
“I’m sorry. God, that’s terrible.”
She nodded. “Life is. We just need to find something to make it less terrible,” she smiled sadly.
That night, they talked until it was closing time. Unlike the day before, they talked about personal things, things they had never told anybody. It seemed so easy to do so; as if they had known each other their entire lives.
“Will you come back tomorrow?” Claire asked shyly, guiding Jamie to the door.
So the day after, he was there as soon as the bar opened. He wasn’t the first customer, but this time, he didn’t care that he was there early. He had dinner while talking to Claire. As more people started to come in, he had to let her work, but he knew she wished she could be talking to him instead of working. A few hours later, when she was less busy, she came to sit next to him. She lit a cigarette and handed it to him, which he declined.
“I don’t smoke.”
She shrugged and took a long sip.
“I leave tomorrow,” he finally said.
For a split second, he thought he saw sadness in her eyes, but then it was gone.
“Oh,” she said. “I hope you enjoyed your time here and that you found what you were looking for.”
Peace, that was what Jamie was looking for. His brother was dead, there was nothing he could do to change it.
“You think my brother knows I’m sorry?”
Claire looked at him and shrugged. “Do you believe in God?”
“I used to, but now I’m not so sure.”
She thought about it for a long moment, smoking her cigarette. “I think you have to listen to your heart. It will tell you what you need to know. But siblings forgive each other, because that’s what families do. So, yes, I believe he knows.”
Jamie smiled and took her hand. “Thank you.”
She smiled back and bent to kiss him. They both were surprised by the gesture. “Sorry,” she apologized, pulling back, her cheeks turning pink. She got up and went back to work.
Jamie spent the night thinking about that kiss. Claire didn’t come to see him until the bar closed. When she did, the bar was empty, so Jamie closed his arms around her and kissed her.
They made their way to her apartment, not able to keep their hands off one another. They kissed deeply, took their clothes off, and jumped into bed. The way she kissed him, the way she touched him, healed him. And he hoped that it was the same for her.
At that moment, Jamie realized that he had found what he was looking for her. For the first time in years, he felt at peace. No weight on his shoulders, no aching heart. Everything he needed was in his arms.
He fell asleep with his head resting on her chest; and when he woke up the morning after, he left a note on the nightstand. He kissed her goodbye and went to gather his things at the bed and breakfast. As he sat on the bus, looking at the sea by the window, Jamie smiled to himself. He had found a safe haven, he had found peace, and he knew it was a feeling he was never going to let go.
He felt at peace, but he also felt as if he was living in a haze. He had drank a lot during the weekend and he wondered if this was real, or if it was just a dream. Was Claire even real?
He doubted for a moment, but never in his life had a dream made him feel so alive.
When Claire woke up, the sheets were cold. She noticed the paper on the nightstand and a smile lit her face when she read it.
To new traditions.