Places I love come back to me like music,
Hush me and heal me when I am very tired;
I see the oak woods at Saxton's flaming
In a flare of crimson by the frost newly fired;
And I am thirsty for the spring in the valley
As for a kiss ungiven and long desired.
Claire walked along the sidewalk of the parking lot, heading towards her car in the late afternoon; she couldn't wait to get home and finally rest. But that would have to wait — at least for now — since there was a little boy with curly hair who was sitting on a stone bench behind her vehicle.
Her brow went up to her forehead almost immediately at that sight. It was already close to five in the afternoon and the students were free from three-thirty, so what was he still doing there? On his own?
“Hello there,” she said to him, opening the back seat door to put her belongings inside before she went to sit next to him. “What are you doing here all by yourself? Shouldn’t you be at home already?”
Fergus looked up, um pouco de incerteza no olhar.
“I kind of missed the bus and would need to walk a lot until I get—”
“Well, why didn't you say anything? They must be concerned about you. I think we better go to the office too—”
He stood up and gestured with his hands.
“No, please! Okay,” the boy shrugged, sighing. “I'll tell the truth!”
The teacher smirked, crossing her legs and trying to maintain a serious face.
“I was… Uh, I was sort of there with, uh, Marsali—”
“Sort of ?”
He had his head down, kicking some pebbles on the floor, but the teacher could have sworn she saw him roll his eyes.
“Me and Marsali— we kind of like have a hiding place in there,” he pointed to the path which led to a forest behind the school. “And I lost track of time.”
Claire had a full grin now, but it disappeared the moment the boy looked up.
“So you did lose the bus,” he nodded. “Because you were in the woods with Miss MacKimmie.”
“That’s, uh, correct.”
“And I shouldn’t take you back to the office because—”
“Because Mr Abernathy forbid us to go into the forest,”
Her eyebrows shot up and now she couldn't help laughing.
“Oh, but look at that!”
The boy sat down next to the woman again, giving her the best puppy-eyed look he had.
“You know you're my favourite teacher, right?”
“Your secret is safe with me, Fergus.”
“Yes, I knew it! Would you mind giving me a ride to—”
Claire stood up, dusting her pants and turning the car key on her index finger. The boy took the backpack from under the seat and opened the back door of the vehicle. As the teacher drove through the parking lot, towards the main exit, the boy swung his legs restlessly in the back seat.
“What did you two do in the forest?” she asked, looking quickly at him in the rearview mirror.
“You know,” was his answer.
“No, I do not .”
“You must have an idea…”
The woman laughed, “I'd rather not .”
But he groaned.
“She hates me now, miss.”
“Are you sure?” she asked before teasing him. “After all, she went to the forest with you!”
“I ruined it!”
He was silent for a few seconds and she waited for him to clarify.
“I ended up using the wrong poem! I thought maybe she would like it, since, well, we were in the middle of the forest!” The boy was gesturing in the back seat, quite upset. “But she left and I stayed there trying to understand what happened! And then I missed the bloody bus!”
“Language!” she warned. “Wait, wait. What do you mean by 'using the wrong poem '? You're my best student!” she joked.
“I know!” he groaned again, throwing his head against the front seat. “I thought that maybe she’d like Poe .”
Claire smiled, stopping the car at the light and turning to look at it. The boy looked defeated as if it were the end of the world.
“The Raven ?” she asked, to which he nodded. Claire twisted her mouth. “Perhaps it was not the best choice for that moment.”
“How am I supposed to know what to say at the right time?” he asked her, his eyes full of interest. The woman sighed, not sure what to say.
Since she was — at times — limited in speech when she was at important moments. That sent her back to the airport two weeks ago, saying goodbye to Jamie and watching his plane take off to Scotland.
Two weeks and their conversations were no longer the same as before. Well, it was obvious that the two of them would have a little busy life. Claire worked from Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 5 pm and came home very tired. But still, she didn't want this to be their routine — Long Distance Relationship. It didn't suit her at all. But, what was the question again?
She shook her head and turned back to the front when she heard some annoying honkings behind.
“Maybe try to tell her how you feel,” she suggested as if it were easy.
How can I suggest this to a child when I can't do it myself?
“Tell her that I love her?”
“Wow! Are you sure about that? Love is a very strong word, don't you think?”
He shook his head, “no, I think it's quite simple, actually.” He smiled. “Thank you, miss.”
Her eyes crinkled at the corners. Maybe he was right. Perhaps it was too simple to say, but adults made it seem more and more complicated with time. It was just 4 words and 8 letters. She was used to reciting poems bigger than that, right?
Jamie stared at the bedroom ceiling while baby Willie slept soundly beside him. It was great for him to be back in Scotland because he was close to his son again, but, on the other hand, he was far from who he wanted to be with too.
In the past few weeks, he had been working hard and he was glad about it. If a while ago, he had thought he would never be able to stand on his own, now things were changing, little by little.
His book had become number 1 in Scotland's bookstores and, according to expectations, would become the first in the UK. That was pretty crazy, wasn't it? How had it all happened this way?
Well, he had to forget about his daydreams as Geneva had entered the room again.
“Hey, what time are you going home?” the woman asked, sitting on the bed next to the baby and stroking the red hair on the top of his head.
Jamie raised his arm to look at the watch on his wrist, "I can go now if you want," he laughed.
Geneva tilted his head to the side and he looked at her.
“Spill it out,”
“I've been thinking about going back to work, you know?” she confessed. “I understand that I had to stay for a while and it was very important for me, but…”
The boy sat on the bed, frowning. It was good news, right? It meant that she was ready to return to normal reality and the therapy was really working, but... What did she really mean?
“I'm glad to hear that…”
He turned his face to her and noticed the woman's expression.
“What is it?”
Geneva sighed and carefully took little Willie on her lap, cradling him in her arms.
“You know it won't be that easy, with both of us working…”
He nodded, frowning.
“I still have the vet clinic here in the city and I want to go back as soon as possible, but... well, honestly, I don't feel comfortable calling a nanny to look after Wills.”
The woman snorted, standing up and shaking her body slightly to cradle the baby.
“It's not an option…” she had a hand on her chin. “What do you think about maybe calling Mrs FitzGibbons?”
She looked at him hopefully, as if it were the last thing that came to mind. Jamie didn't respond right away but instead analyzed what she was saying.
She was going back to work, so she couldn't be with Willie every day and they would have to think of someone to do that. Well, Jamie could take care of the baby, certainly, as long as he had no commitments, right? But that would also leave him limited to do other things.
“I'm sorry if I took you by surprise, but…”
He shook his head.
“It’s fine! You’ve every right to do that,” he started.
“I just don't know how it’s gonna be like now, going forward...”
“Maybe Mrs FitzGibbons could help, yes, but... Well, my uncle will be quite upset that he doesn't have her there so often. Either way, do what you have to do. For now, I'll take care of him and then we'll see how it goes.”
Geneva nodded, leaving the room and Jamie followed her into the living room. City lights illuminated the room before she switched on the living room light.
“I think... I mean, well, we're friends, and—”
The woman rolled her eyes, “say it, Jamie,”
“You know, when I went to London, I— Uh,” he groaned. “I'm with someone”
That caught her attention; the eyebrows shot up and the lips curved. Soon after, she laughed.
“What are you laughing about?”
She approached him, bumping the boy's shoulder.
“I'm sort of like seeing someone as well,” she said with the shy smile growing on her face.
Jamie had a quizzical smile.
“Who's the lucky one?”
“Just someone I've known for a while…”
“Oh, that's great, right?”
“Yep! Just— please don't be awkward about it and I promise I will do the same.”
“It's a deal,” he held out his hand for her to shake.
“Just—” the woman walked over to Willie's room to place him in the crib. “How are you going to do it? I mean, you and ...?”
“ Claire, her name is Claire.”
She noticed the way his lips curved in a sweet smile and nodded.
“I hope we make it work, somehow.”
. . .
Claire settled on the bed while letting out the laugh, “well, you seem a little uncertain about that .”
Jamie snorted on the other end of the phone as he positioned his mobile on the nightstand so that the woman could see him better.
“The important thing is that I tried and—”
“And it didn't work,” she added, laughing. “You couldn't flip a pancake, which is quite—”
Claire saw him crossing his arms.
“Nah, it doesn't really matter,”
She noticed the man looking at her for a few seconds without saying anything. As if his gaze could say everything that few words could not express.
“I missed you,” he revealed. “A lot.”
Jamie saw her move her hair, putting the strands behind her ear.
“I did too.”
“Happy birthday again, beautiful.”
They both settled into that routine; although it was something against their will. Claire had promised that she would travel to see him when she got a break from work since it would be challenging for Jamie to travel at that moment, having to take care of Willie and planning things with the book.
There was the time when he drove to the farm, with Willie well protected in the car seat in the back seat. It had been a big event, even Uncle Dougal acted silly when he saw the baby. With Mrs FitzGibbons and Murtagh equally happy. It was nice to be with his family and full of love, but Jamie wanted Claire to be there with him to enjoy it all.
Two weeks turned into two months very quickly. Willie was now seven months old, more active and playful than ever! When possible, Jamie and Claire spent hours and hours on the phone, not always being as they would like, but always being better than not talking.
Now Jamie could ask Claire for help with the decisions he needed to make, speaking freely and most of all, he had direct access to Mr Quentin Beauchamp.
And he was being of great help, giving several important advice so that Jamie could follow the best path. What he hadn't said to Claire, however, was that he had received a message from someone.
Yes, he had been a little shocked to find the message in his mailbox.
I believe this message is of great surprise to you.
But, well, I must tell you that it is of an even greater surprise to me to write it.
Anyway, I would like to congratulate you on your book. I confess that I opened a smile when I read the title. Not very creative, are you?
Taking into account that mine is about The English Soldier. Well, I believe that our characters are historical enemies.
And, in an imaginary timeline, they met. Ha!
Best wishes to you, Jamie Fraser.
That message had left him a little unsure of what to think. But he replied, thanking him. Well, it was better to be polite at the time, since they weren't in person and he couldn't punch him in the face.
Claire was sitting on the carpet, among the students, while listening to a presentation by one of them about the English romanticism period. The students would have to re-read a popular work, and the little boy was showing everyone a picture that he had painted himself to represent the story which he chose. She had to apologize and excuse everyone, however, as her cell phone suddenly started to ring, getting everyone's attention.
The woman left the room and frowned as she did not recognize the number. She knew it was a call from Scotland because of the code, but still. Claire waited a few more seconds and again the same number called, she then finally answered the call.
“ Hi, is this Claire? ”
The teacher did not recognize the voice but responded affirmatively.
“Hello Claire, I'm Geneva, Jamie's— ”
Okay, that was odd. She never expected to get a call from Jamie's ex.
“I'm sorry to call you right now, I imagine you're working now. You are a teacher, right? ”
“Yes, yes I am. And yes, I'm working but it's okay. Could you enlight me on what's the reason for this call?”
There was silence and then—
“I'm sorry Claire, but I had to call you. Jamie is in no position to do that now and— ”
“Murtagh. Uh, unfortunately, he passed away that morning. ”
“Pardon? I don't think I quite understand. You said that—”
“Yes, Murtagh passed away .”
Claire was both shocked and speechless. She couldn't believe what she had just heard. She leaned against the wall and took the phone out of her ear, looking into the void. The woman's breathing became a little irregular and, after a few seconds, she noticed that a student left the room to call her and the boy approached, asking if she was okay. The teacher nodded and returned to the call.
“I'm sorry, I... Good God. I can hardly believe it. What happened to him?”
“A massive heart attack. Out of nowhere... he was working on the farm, it looks like he was picking up some boxes and— Oh, wait. ”
Claire heard what appeared to be a whining baby, which she thought was Willie.
“The funeral will be tomorrow at 10 am. ” the girl completed.
Claire nodded, but then remembered that she couldn't see her and replied, “Thank you. Could you please send me more details by message? About the location and everything else?”
“Oh, you’re coming, then? ”
“I'll try my best.”
And that was what she needed to do. Claire returned to the classroom, apologizing to the students and telling them, albeit superficially, what had happened and that she would need to leave. It was close to three in the afternoon. The teacher then hurried to Joe's office and asked him to release her, due to what had happened. The director did not hesitate, asking if he could do anything to help her and giving her condolences.
Claire then hurried to the car. She had two options: pack up and go on to London, which would take about two to three hours and go to the airport to catch the first flight to Glasgow. Or she could go to the nearest airport, which was the East Midlands. On the way home, she called Jenny and told her about the incident, and also asked her friend to research the earliest flight to Glasgow that day.
It was not an option to stay at home and just call. She needed to do something.
And that meant going to him.
Jamie had received numerous messages from Claire later that day and now he knew that she was flying from London to Glasgow. Initially, the boy had said that she didn't need to make so much effort for it and that he would be fine. But he knew that Claire was not happy to read that and was too polite to say. Anyway, he was happy — if he could use that word at that moment — that she would be there with him, in a few hours, face to face.
He had spent the day on the farm, receiving and also helping everyone who was suffering from that loss. At the end of the day, he drove back to the city, hoping to meet Claire the next morning and to just… rest. Forget that day and rest.
Jenny had managed to book the 4:30 am flight for Claire and the teacher arrived in Glasgow around 6 am. She didn't have the heart to call Jamie, instead, she took a taxi and asked the driver to take her to the address she had.
She felt extremely tired, her back hurt and her head ached a lot. She just wanted to be with him as soon as possible and, perhaps, if possible, sleep. She reached the Scotstoun neighbourhood and found the building, knowing that her name had already been given at the lobby.
“ Have a great day,” she had said to the taxi driver as she got out and then, shortly after, entered the building to take the elevator up to the third floor.
She had to ring the bell twice with regret, for she feared he was sleeping soundly. After a few minutes, she had the impression of hearing a few footsteps and, finally, the door was opened.
Jamie seemed to have just woken up, as she predicted. His hair was slightly dishevelled, his face was puffy and his eyes narrowed.
“Shouldn't I have picked you up at the airport?” he said, a bit confused.
“I'm afraid you wouldn't have woken up in time,” she teased, with the corners of her mouth curved.
Jamie nodded, opening a shy smile and letting her in.
She looked at the boy's apartment; it was quite cosy, with a large sofa near the entrance and a small dining table in the back. What she really wanted to know was the bedroom, more specifically his bed. How soft would it be?
“We must leave now if we are to get to Inverness in time,”
Well, apparently, she wouldn't know about that information anytime soon... It would take three and a half hours in the car before they reached Inverness.
“I didn't know we were going to have to— Well, of course. I hadn't thought of that,”
“Aye,” he said from the room. The woman sat on the sofa, waiting. “I made my way here yesterday, to wait for you and now I will make my way back there. Again.”
She felt a little guilty, maybe it wasn't his intention, but still, she tried to get it out of her head. He should be extremely tired and sad, so she would do her best to make the situation a little more comfortable for both of them.
“I'm sorry, I think I could have taken the train to Inverness and met you there, I ended up not thinking about it either.”
“It's okay,” he said, now returning to the living room wearing jeans and a navy blue long-sleeved shirt. “I'm sorry we can't stay here any longer, but the road is waiting for us.”
Claire ended up convincing Jamie to take the train to Inverness, instead of going by car, since he had driven so much the day before. The man, as stubborn as he was, had not liked the idea much. He said he felt a little “limited” about being without his car.
That had been another thing: Jamie had bought his first car, with his own money. It was clear that it was not one of the most expensive models, but it was enough for him.
During the trip, the woman constantly found herself looking at him, analyzing the details of his face. He was so serious, silent, reserved. She regretted seeing him that way and understood that the situation was not the best. Probably something that would affect him for a long time to come. But still, being close to him again and supporting him in such a difficult time was her priority. The good thing was that she took the opportunity to sleep too, just like him. And they went by train to Inverness, sleeping soundly, side by side.
The ceremony ended up taking place in a small church that, as Jamie told it, they used to go on Saturdays and the boy remembered several memories there since he was little. Murtagh always there with him. There were a lot of people inside, it had probably been the most crowded burial she had ever been to. Well, it was true that she hadn't gone to many funerals, but still.
Claire didn't have the heart to approach the coffin. She preferred to remember the smiling and kind Murtagh, and didn't want to have another image in her head instead.
Jamie was surrounded by people all the time, each time someone came to hug him and also Mrs Fitz Gibbons, Murtagh’s aunt Claire had just met. She was also introduced to his uncle, Dougal, who showed a keen interest in starting some conversations with the woman, but which she politely declined.
What caught her eye was seeing the young Geneva Dunsany. The woman was young, much younger than she certainly was, and also very beautiful. She had approached Jamie to hug him at one point and spotted Claire.
“I'm glad to finally meet you, not so much for the circumstances.”
“Likewise,” the teacher replied.
“I think it's also a little uncomfortable for you... to be here with all these people you don't know.” The young woman said, showing a gentle smile. “I know it may sound a little, uh, weird, but... Jamie and I have become good friends.”
Claire nodded, showing a smile for her too.
“Thank you for the call.”
Geneva gave a sly smile, “It's so much better this way, isn't it? We don't have to be enemies or something.”
Claire chuckled for the first time since she had arrived, “I agree.”
. . .
They decided not to return to Glasgow that day. Both were already exhausted enough and the best option was to stay at Uncle Dougal's farm until the following day. Luckily for Claire, she had brought a change of clothes in the travel bag, and so had Jamie. She knew little Willie was at the grandparents' farm, with his mother Geneva and Jamie had told her that early in the morning, they would go there so she could meet him before leaving. It had made her anxious, for whatever reason.
Jamie. Well, that was still bothering her a little. She tried to be as kind as possible to him, but maybe the distance makes things harder than she expected.
“Oh, I forgot to speak, Brianna and Roger would try to come this morning too,” he commented as he put on a clean shirt to wear after showering. They were both in his old room now, at dusk. It was a little small and cramped, with wooden furniture adorning the room. “But they couldn't come, however, because Roger needed to go to an audience or something, about a robbery he had in his building. The bloody dubber ended up wounding a lady in the lobby.”
The woman raised her eyebrows, slightly surprised by his choice of words. She sat on the bed, letting out a yawn and moved her neck to the sides.
“Well, I think that's it,” he said, opening the door. “I'll be downstairs if you need me,”
The woman let out a grunt and rolled her eyes.
“Jamie, stop that bullshit right now.”
That surprised him.
“Please come here.” She called, but he didn't move, his hand still on the doorknob. “Listen,” the woman sighed, walking over to him. “I know these two days have been extremely difficult for you, but I don't want to feel like I'm a stranger here.”
“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you feel that way.”
“I know, and I understand. But you need to let this out.” She gently took his hand and closed the bedroom door. The voice low and gentle. “You have not shed a tear since I got here. And I know you want to.”
She saw him swallow, his jaw set and his eyes down. The woman held his face in her hands, allowing her body to be glued to his. She kissed his cheeks and lips again and again and felt his arms finally wrapping around her waist.
I think it's quite simple, actually.
“Look at me,” she requested, to which he obeyed. The watery green eyes now shone in the dim light of the room. “ I love you and I'm here for you. I wouldn't think twice.”
It didn't take long for the man's shoulders to shake, his chin to vibrate and the first tears to fall freely, down his cheekbones and flooding Claire's shirt, which held him tightly.
“I love you too”, he whispered, amid all the chaos that surrounded him. In the old room, where everything had happened since he was a child, now with the woman he loved in his arms. He found the rest and support he needed to be mended back together again.